Today’s chapter of Lori Alexander’s book is called “Talking About Your Financial Health” It makes me sad. I’m mostly sad with it because of two reasons. First, there’s a tremendous opportunity here to give good advice that could ease peoples financial burdens that’s misused, but also it’s written entirely from the perspective of someone that does not understand the realities of poverty or finances beyond the most simple level.
This chapter mostly talks about how to pinch every penny so that you can live on one income and harps on the fact that many people have credit cards and credit card debt. It does not address issues like coming up with more income in creative ways, like perhaps mom holding a part time job, or coming up with a way to make money from the home. It’s all do without those pesky smart phones and other luxuries – just like a recent statement by Utah’s Jason Chaffetz about how the poor should be spending the money they spend on Iphones on healthcare instead. Poor blaming class warring with no basis in the reality of poverty.
Lori starts the chapter by explaining what consumer debt is, how there are now many families deeply in debt and that hardly anyone in our country can distinguished between ‘Wants’ and ‘Needs’. I’m guessing by her words that she would echo Chaffetz’s Iphone remarks.
“Please know that Ken and I have been there. We’ve had our moments of financial struggles.”
Really? Please elucidate since nothing I’ve ever come across on her website has ever indicated that Lori has struggled with money ever. Certainly not the kind of poverty that sometimes leaves you trying to figure out if you’re going to eat, or go to the doctor, or repair your car. I got to experience that type of poverty first hand in college where it was sometimes a choice of eating or buying the required textbook for a class. I worked three jobs then. That type of poverty is not overcome with lecturing someone on their wants versus needs, or on not buying Iphones or using credit cards. Usually it takes upgrading your work situation and skills, usually via additional education and using the income from a better paying job to very slowly dig yourself out.
That’s if nothing disastrous befalls you to derail all of this. There was an article today at Alternet that outlines what people who’ve never struggled financially do not get about the working poor – 6 Things Paul Ryan Doesn’t Understand About Poverty. Lori demonstrates in this chapter that she does not understand those things any better than she understands using your money to create more money instead of salting it away in a low interest savings account.
“It’s hard to feel chipper when life is a financial scramble. It’s my belief that today’s American families—overtaxed and squeezed by stagnant pay—are barely keeping their noses above water. Many are living paycheck to paycheck.”
Paging Capt. Obvious. Yes, it’s all over the news since even before the housing bubble burst about the sad shape many families are in. Lori goes on to claim that it is mostly by judicious purchasing that you can save several hundred dollars or perhaps thousands of dollars a month.
Sweetheart, if you have an under-educated man working for minimum wage in an unskilled job with zero worker protections supporting a stay at home mom who has a baby every 18 months because they live Quiverfull there is no way that there’s going to ever be thousands of dollars in savings a month. I don’t care if they only shop at yard sales and the Dollar Tree, that income is never going to be enough.
Which is one of the big problems with the Evangelical world. They teach early marriage, no real education and no birth control yet expect everyone to clearly be able to afford to support that family. It’s wishful thinking at best, or in my mind a criminal way to condemn people to generations of poverty.
“Better yet, I think the Transformed Wife can be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.”
This allows Lori to riff on how stay at home mothers have the time to find those bargains, cook those huge meals from scratch, and clean their own homes so they don’t need a maid (like Lori.) You’re not even allowed to worry about the lack of funds that this lifestyle causes or the extreme poverty you find yourself in because worrying is not trusting God.
“Just as God can direct you to a dependable used car that won’t break down every other month, He can also help you find a much needed used pair of kids soccer shoes at a garage sale.”
Saving money takes time and intentionality. While buying used and shopping sales are good ways to stretch a dollar not everyone, especially Quiverfull mommas, have the time to do the types of things that take up lots of time. Particularly not when doing all the other things Lori orders them to do, homeschool, cook from scratch, clean the house, well you get the idea.
“Our consumerist society encourages us to overspend and to believe that more is always better.”
There’s some truth to that statement. But that’s what advertising agencies do, they create a need from a want to fatten their clients bottom line. Knowing that makes resisting it even easier. So does keeping a smaller number of possessions and doing a couple of times a year sort through your possessions with an eye to giving them away or donating those things you no longer need.
Lori does not suggest you educate yourself and your family to being wise about advertising or any sort of keeping down the number of things you own. She blames it squarely on the fact that we have huge numbers of stores at our disposal, bemoaning that it’s not like it was years ago when your only option was to order everything from the Montgomery Wards catalog and wait avidly for the Wells Fargo wagon to bring it out to your rural farm.
Now we move on to dealing with the debt you already have.
“You should live within your means and only buy what you can afford.”
Again, no one argues with that. But… see the above referenced article. There are influences and factors that sometimes make that difficult. She says she and Ken only buy with cash and only borrow to buy their homes.
There’s nothing in this world wrong with credit, what is wrong with credit is when you borrow beyond your ability to pay it back. Which leads many people into larger and larger sums owed to creditors. A kind of financial bondage very hard to break. I’ve seen a much higher percentage of personal bankruptcies in my old church from people with huge credit card debt.
Lori says this about paying back your excessive debts –
“It may mean forgoing a family trip or tightening up the shopping budget for the next year…”
No, no, Lori, this is not the debt reality of most of the families I know and knew in Quiverfull. We’re talking about people that can only get another car when someone in a better financial situation that them donates their old car. People that put off having medical treatment until something is a hideous emergency. People that feed their children food not fit for animals, like your heroes the Pearl family have done. That is the type of hardcore poverty many of her readers live in, and skipping a family vacation and getting Aldi brand bread instead of Roman Meal isn’t going to make much of a dint.
Here’s how you handle and win against debt. First, most communities offer locally funded and run debt counseling services. Not the ones you see listed on the television, but legitimate non-profit organizations like Consumer Credit Counseling Service. Their employees will sit down with you, your bills and your projected income and help you work out a livable budget. Sometimes they will deal with your creditors and get interest reductions and late fees waived for you, bringing down your debt even quicker. There are even Christian credit counselors you can go to.
If your church offers a financial course, like, as much as I don’t really like the guy – Dave Ramsey or something like Crown Financial Ministries, consider at least attending a few sessions. While both of these are old systems of budgeting that have been around a long time and may not work for everyone getting an education on how to budget is a good thing to learn, a key to turning around your situation more than Lori’s advice to stay home and pinch a penny while praying for those soccer shoes.
“Saving money on household items may allow you to support that missionary family you met on furlough, or let you financially respond when your church announces a building drive.”
While having some funds set aside to bless those you want to bless is never a bad idea, this notion of Lori’s that any of her followers are just a couple of homemade meals or pizzas away from frozen or takeout from being able to donate is pretty laughable.
This all leads to a five page rant on the evils of credit cards.
“I can’t believe how many people think that a credit card doesn’t have to be paid in full each and every month!”
She does not bring up Chaffetz’s Iphone, but Lori goes into a long thing about buying an Apple watch on a credit card and how long it would take you plus how much more it costs when you finance it on a credit card. She claims some abnormally high interest rates are on credit cards without making the connection between credit scores and high interest rates.
Having a healthy credit score can mean the difference between some very low interest rate credit cards and paying fees and interests that should be illegal they are so high. This is particularly a problem I’ve seen happen for one income families when something happens to the father and the mother suddenly finds she has no credit history and/or a low credit score and finds she only qualifies for high interest cards or loans.
What every woman can do is to intentionally establish credit in their own names, even if they are stay at home mothers. A small balance credit card, say a store credit card that just about everyone qualifies for, charge a few things, or charge something once a month and pay it down will see your score going up every few months. It’s really as simple as borrowing a small amount and faithfully paying it off on time. Which means if something horrible happens and you are on your own you already have some established credit, which some employers require for work.
Here’s what Lori completely misses about credit cards. You can actually make money or save large amounts of money just by taking advantage of some of their programs. Example. I got several free trips to Costa Rica just by signing up for a credit card through the airline we always use. They gifted us with enough flying points to take the red eye flight down to Central America and back for free. When I got my Amazon card I was given a hundred dollar credit to use on anything Amazon sells. There are offers like that available! Many stores offer a discount on your first day’s purchase with their new store credit card.
Of course, all of this money making by using credit cards does depend on one thing, paying the card every single month in full. But since Lori is only concentrating on how to cut expenses someone must step in and point out all the obvious she missed, like using your credit buying power to save money. Knowing how to use your credit to your advantage is just as important as learning to budget and save money.
Other types of savings Lori never touches on except to say buy used is the savings you can get by keeping your house in good working mechanical order, doing upgrades when you can and not rushing down to the thrift store to only get very old appliances. Replacing your appliances with newer ones with better energy ratings can save you money, as well as small steps you can take at home like being mindful of how much electricity you are using. It’s not spending money, it’s investing in your biggest asset, your home, making it worth more.
She does not touch upon something else important, the need to save and invest. If you’re just putting your extra money aside in a low interest saving account you’re missing half the picture. You should be investing some of your savings into something else that will pay a higher percentage. Many brokerage and investment places, like Vanguard or T.D. Ameritrade, will let you open an account with very little money, that you can keep adding to so you can invest in the future.
Money and credit are tools designed to help you achieve whatever it is you want from the future. Do you want to support missionaries? That’s much easier to do if you’ve taken steps to grow your money. Want to go on a mission trip yourself? Send your children to college? Go on a round the world trip? Proper handling of your finances is the first step.
This is one of the big failures of both this book and the world of Evangelical churches and families – the failure to teach people how to handle what money they have coming in. It goes well beyond figuring out how to buy used and save the difference like the Duggars say. You have to know how to grow what you’ve got. Even the Duggars have the potential to go broke if they don’t learn how to handle that reality tv money.
My list learned from a lifetime of success and failure in the area of family finances. Following these rules has enabled my husband and myself to live debt free, send our kids to college and is allowing us to relocate and retire to the beach. We’ve having our tight times, and I’ve been the kind of thrifty Lori talks about in this chapter and in the blog post. But her ideas miss some of the larger more important issues of family finance.
- Don’t go overboard on buying things.
- Use, reuse or give away on a regular basis.
- Understand your credit options and your credit score.
- Get help from credit professionals if you end up with a credit crunch.
- Establish credit and make every effort to pay off your credit cards monthly, or as quickly as you can.
- Take advantage of the free money and percentage back offers.
- Invest in your home.
- Don’t let your savings languish at a low interest rate.
- Educate yourself on finances, don’t just depend on your husband to do it all and know it all.
- Do comparisons of costs and values before shopping.
- Sometimes the cheapest option will cost more in the long run.
- Take advantage of financial planning classes in your area, if you’re not sure where these are held your pastor or the folks at Social Services have a list of all the options for financial education.
- If income is less than expenses find a creative way to increase income, like more education towards a better job, or a part time service you could provide to make more money.
…but most importantly….
- Make sure your spouse and you are in complete agreement over what happens with the money coming in. None of this advice is worth a hill of beans if one partner is scrimping and the other one is blowing income on frivolities like skydiving lessons or get rich quick schemes (true stories from my old church) Lori misses that this unity and agreement must happen for a family to succeed. It has nothing to do with any notion of submission either.
The other part of that unity is allowing the partners to do those tasks they are personally best suited for. My husband handles the day to day of our checking accounts. I handle investments, stocks and bonds. It works best for us and we both are secure enough in our strengths and weaknesses to allow the right person to do each job. It’s too much for just one partner for us.
Not only must there be unity there has to be grace, love and mercy. If you and your husband are saving up for the down payment on a home and he comes home one night after a discouraging long day at work with a take out pizza that you have both agreed you would not buy any longer, just recognize that his slip in your agreement might be the thing he needed in the moment. Forgive, forget and move on. Offer him mercy, grace and love. Start anew tomorrow on that budget.
I’m sorry this has been so long-winded, but Lori skipped so much vital information that has to be discussed for the financial health of people’s family. I would hate to see anyone flounder for lack of information.
Next week is all about trusting God. Hopefully with more than used cars and old soccer shoes.
Suzanne Titkemeyer is the admin at No Longer Quivering. She’s been out of the Quiverfull Evangelical world for nine years now and lives in the beautiful Piedmont section of Virginia with her retired husband and assorted creatures. She blogs at Every Breaking Wave and True Love Doesn’t Rape
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