Living a Step Behind

This week I’m thinking about a great illustration that our pastor used a few years ago in a sermon on putting others before ourselves.  He was helping our church accept that if we chose to live by the Biblical principles of money management, we should expect to see obvious differences in our lifestyles in comparison with our peers at work.

By tithing 10% of our income and giving generously above that, we would be one step behind.

By financing our lifestyle with cash flow instead of debt, we would be two steps behind.

By saving for the future, we would be three steps behind.

The upside, of course, is that we will benefit from following these principles because money will be in its proper place in our lives – not worshipping it as an idol but being able to use it to sustainably provide for ourselves and bless others.  These principles are how we behave as good stewards of God’s money.

I used to feel a step or two behind my peers when I was single and paid more attention to how other people lived.  I wouldn’t say, even though I was doing all three of those actions starting after my first semester in grad school, that I necessarily felt fully three steps behind my peers.  Maybe none of us made enough money for it to be really noticeable.  Sure, some of my classmates drove newer cars, lived without roommates, or ate out every day, but the differences didn’t feel huge.

Now that I’m married I don’t directly compare myself to my peers often anymore because we hardly know any other dual-PhD-student married couples and I’ve turned more attention inward.  I suppose I could imagine some significant lifestyle upgrades that we could enjoy if we didn’t tithe, didn’t contribute to our IRAs, and ran up credit cards, but there’s no way I would want that over what I have now.  By living this way we have more monetary security – from non-indebtedness and savings – as well as a clearer recognition that God is our ultimate provider.

Do you perceive your lifestyle to be lower than that of your peers because you give, save, and/or pay cash?  Do you feel envious or are you happier handling your money that way?

photo from teachernz

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17 Responses to "Living a Step Behind"

  1. aaron says:

    haha! I definitely read, “Sure, some of my classmates drove newer cars, lived without roommates, OR ATE EVERY DAY, but the differences didn’t feel huge.” I thought, “That would feel pretty huge to me!”

    I always feel like my lifestyle is lower than everyone with whom I work, and they perceive it, too. I enjoy the giving, though, and security as you do. It just grates me hard when folks try to tell me that I should have this or that, or live differently. Explaining my lifestyle becomes hard since I don’t want to bring attention to giving.

    1. Emily says:

      Haha, yeah, you know, I’m REALLY frugal – I fast every other day!
      Those kinds of comments would grate on me too. I guess I would just respond with something like “I’m working toward some other goals.” I don’t really talk about giving at work either, unless it comes up specifically. I’m pretty sure all my closer coworkers know I’m a Christian though, so they should (?) assume we at least tithe.

  2. H says:

    I suppose another way to think about this would be to call it, “Living a Step Ahead,” as I am very happy living out these principles!

    I presume that those who don’t choose to follow them find themselves happy with their own lifestyles? I wrestle with this sometimes, especially among certain peers. I don’t think it’s my place (or personality) to do anything other than live as an example. But, I have a hard time engaging in conversations among my peers that include joking-complaining comments like, “I’m going to have just as many student loans in grad school as I did in college.” How does one bring up these principles thoughtfully? or challenge the culture around us without creating divides, or appearing didactic?

    1. Emily says:

      I totally agree that the overall situation is living a step ahead by letting your lifestyle fall a step behind!
      I agree that I largely live by example by being open about our priorities, especially concerning saving for retirement since that’s more of a universal want over debt-free-ness and giving. I think that it can sometimes be helpful for others who genuinely don’t realize that it’s possible to save on our stipends. A lot of people say something similar about car loans, you know? That they plain didn’t realize it was possible to buy a car without a loan.
      I haven’t encountered anyone in a PhD program who is taking out loans for grad school that they have mentioned. I think if I heard that I would be so shocked that I would blurt out “But our stipends are enough to live on – why are you doing that?” That wouldn’t be very thoughtful or polite! But sometimes people have situations going on that can be very sensitive, like health problems, family members who need monetary help, or private debt from the past that they are paying off with lower-interest student loans. I guess if it was a closer friend I would probe a little to see if they had one of those crazy situations going on, and if not perhaps get somewhat didactic. Maybe start with the big picture (do you want to retire/buy a home/go on vacations?) and then discuss how debt handicaps your future before getting down to what’s currently going on with their spending.

  3. Nick says:

    I’ve recently had some discussions with coworkers and others who have similar work and wage histories and it turns out that all of their hoarding and partying and telling me what I’m doing isn’t going to make much of a difference (i.e. “what’s an extra $500 or $1000 per month going to do?). I think the difference in net worth may have convinced a few of them to come over to the “bright” side. Being a giver/saver has made me much stronger in so many other aspects of my life. I’m convinced you make up way more than you give and live with way more stability.

    1. Emily says:

      Thanks for the encouraging observations! I’m glad you’re having a positive influence on your peers.

  4. renee says:

    I’ve often thought that tithing is one of the truest tests of my faith.

    And I dislike it when members of “certain political parties” complain about paying taxes, but then don’t take personal responsibility to live a life of charity and volunteerism. I know the controversy is deeper than that, but nonetheless, the hypocrisy gulls me.

    1. Emily says:

      The tension between tax-paying and giving doesn’t bother me as much as the tension between claiming to be a Christian and only giving a few percentage points of income. It doesn’t mean that they’re not saved, of course, but if they are going to make a big deal of it in a public space I think they should live out that basic command (among others). I guess that makes me judge-y. :/ It’s sort of a chicken-and-egg thing – giving 10% to look good without truly internalizing why it’s important wouldn’t mean much either.

  5. I don’t feel envious of anyone I know because I’m perfectly content with the decisions we’ve made since we chose to get out of debt. Those decisions–to give, to use cash, to save–are all the result of hard work and I certainly don’t feel that I’m a step behind anyone because that’s how we manage our money.

    1. Emily says:

      What a great place to be!

  6. WorkSaveLive says:

    Wow, great post. Glad I came to check out your site!

    I would DEFINITELY say my lifestyle is lower than my peers. Not because we couldn’t have a great lifestyle, but because we tithe and are very focused on paying down debt, etc.

    I used to have a problem and was slightly envious of their lives, but now I really take pride in knowing that I’m doing what’s right and what’s responsible for my family.

    I know that things will be different 20 years from now. I will be able to live the life that I want and everybody else in my generation is going to be praying that Social Security doesn’t collapse.

    1. Emily says:

      Thank you!
      Maybe it takes a little time once we make those cuts to adjust to the lifestyle and start feeling proud of our choices – that’s how it worked for me, I suppose.
      This post – living a step behind in lifestyle so we can truly live a step ahead – goes hand-in-hand with DR’s motto of “live like no one else so later you can live like no one else.” I’m so glad you’re on that track!

  7. […] at Work Save Live wrote on Living a Step Behind “I used to have a problem and was slightly envious of their lives, but now I really take […]

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  9. Emily too says:

    I do feel a step behind, and I don’t even manage to tithe :/ That’s partially because I have less funding than many of my peers, so I need to save 25% when I have income to just get by when I don’t (unlike many of my peers in the sciences, my department doesn’t give full summer funding, but it’s not a “break” because that’s when we do the bulk of our research). I don’t mind not having new clothes or a dishwasher or laundry at home like many of them do (even though I’m not that in love with the laundromat), and I don’t really mind not having the nice new phone or computer at all.

    But at the same time, I’m still looking for the balance. It can be good to “keep up” in some ways if it helps you build relationships. I say, “hey, instead of going out, want to come over to my place?” about as much as I think people will put up with it, but if you make a rule of never, ever spending money on a social event, nobody will ever invite you to one. For example, if someone making the same amount you do wants to go out to dinner for their birthday, it’s kind of jerky to say you won’t go – that’s putting your financial principles over your friendships, which I’m not sure is very Christian either.

    1. Emily says:

      It sucks to get paid less than your peers. Kyle and I both receive the baseline stipends in our departments so even though others with nice fellowships get paid more, we don’t feel behind in terms of income. Do keep in mind though that some students receive help from their parents, have taken out student loans, or are accruing credit card debt. If going out with friends is a priority for you, you just have to fit it in along with your other goals. Stick with water and order an appetizer or split an entree to stretch your money further. Like I said in my other comment, I’ve gone out many times without ordering food (I leave a tip if I get service from the waitstaff) and it’s weird at first but I explained it with my strict diet, which people seemed to understand. I think it’s just a matter of clearly delineating your priorities. What can be let go so that you can spend time out with friends?

  10. […] Why are finances, specifically, this last remaining taboo?  Perhaps it’s because it’s so easy to deceive others about our own money.  Most of our lives are lived out among others so our behaviors are observable – what we eat, where we worship, our bodies, our (FB) relationship status.  But our money is kept secret behind password-protected firewalls.  Even what you think you know from what you see others spending could be a deception, as lifestyle can be inflated by credit or kept tamped down with high savings or giving rates. […]

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