Friday, August 6, 2010

Too Frugal

At what point does frugality become a moral issue? When is the line drawn by cultural norms, instead of actual “wrongness” or “rightness”?

I just had a rather interesting back and forth with a PF blogger. He thought cutting a dryer sheet in two or putting two good nylon legs from two pairs together when the other legs got runners to save money was "too frugal". I draw the line at “thou shalt not steal” This command actually covers a broad range, from doing your neighbor’s finances good, to seeking to better your own.

So if I ask for free samples only to receive something free, with no intention to consider purchase, that is harming my neighbor’s finances. If I put money in the bank to gain interest or use it to start a business or get an education, that is seeking my own financial benefit, but is not wrong.

Another is “thou shalt not murder” Any practice that shortens life, or decreases health is eliminated. So avoiding the dentist for 20 years or eating only jelly sandwiches to save money when you have the means, is out.

Current gray areas include dumpster diving, trash picking, gathering aluminum cans off the street. In these cases the command to “honor your mother and father” comes into play. It includes the rights of authorities to enact laws. So if a dumpster has a “keep out” sign, it’s locked, it’s on private property, or the local laws prohibit it, then don’t dive. In the realm of “equals” these practices become issues, if they cause a brother to stumble, encouraging him to sin against conscience. In those cases, don’t tell him, or do it in front of him.

To withhold what is due God is a moral issue. You shall have no other gods before Me. If in order to save money I don’t pay the tithe, that reveals a heart attitude. I am worshiping mammon and not God.

There’s a different set of constraints and freedoms if God’s law is used as a moral basis for frugality. A greater freedom to pick mulberries from a tree in a field to munch on, or take a needed chair from a pile on trash day.

One point. We may be able to say definitively something is morally wrong (any form of stealing or coveting) but there's a whole range of preferences. I know someone that "never bought anything at a yard sale" and never would. But if another mom didn't buy stuff at a yard sales/thrift shops her family would go without the basics. The one lady has the means to decide either way. The other doesn’t. This becomes an issue when it causes a brother to stumble, when we look down on the “poor” man as a moral failure or look up to the “rich” one as somehow morally superior. If someone wants to halve their dryer sheets or double up on nylons, why do I think it odd? We shouldn't make distinctions where Christ hasn't. And if we are aware of a situation, don't we have a greater obligation to share with those in need?

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