Lesson 10: Live Below Your Economic Peers

A $1000 tip for a trip to ItalyWhy would anyone choose to “live below your economic peers?” I can think of two reasons. The first is simply to make a Christian witness that you can do it and still live a satisfying, happy life. The second is that, for most of us, it is far healthier than always working for more, more, more.

People around me often try to explain choices in life, such as their jobs, their housing, and their decisions not to have children with the words, “I live this way, so I can afford the lifestyle I prefer.” Usually that means they want freedom from any obligation, so they can do whatever they want.

Their words are uttered in a society where many are living above their economic peers, borrowing money so they can do whatever they want. The financial industry encourages and profits from this lifestyle that causes constant anxiety. I felt that frustration in the voice of a waitress who recently revealed she hoped to come even, if tips were good that week. She meant she hoped to be able to pay off her credit card debt and begin to live on what she made. It was evident it would bring tremendous relief.

Most of us are pretty well off, so living below your economic peers would be a form of self-denial. It would mean disciplining ourselves, so we do not spend everything we make on ourselves. Instead we would practice two other items on the Kirkridge Lifestyle: “Be generous” and “Practice fasting or reducing one’s needs or wants.” These clearly reject the half-truth that passes for wisdom, “Nobody can really help anyone else.”

Almsgiving has always been regarded as an essential part of all three Western religions. A friend, Kerry Walters, has been writing recently about almsgiving being midwifery. He means when it is properly practiced, it is more than simply giving material aid. It also treats the receiver as a human being worthy of respect and thus enables her to live that way. In addition, it enables the giver to realize her humanity through her act of compassion. Generosity is inherently a characteristic of what it is to be human, if we confess God is generous and we are made in his Image.

Living below your economic peers is a Christian witness that challenges the half-truths, “You can’t do anything without money” and “Everyone has their price.” When Christians act as the conscience of our society, they demonstrate you can live a satisfying life without the stress caused by frantically defending and increasing your affluence.

The discipline also acknowledges the Bible definition of justice always includes caring for the needy. There will always be some who cannot participate fairly and equally in an economic system. The big question is how best to help them. Certainly one way is for Christians to go further than most by giving more to the Church, more to worthy charities, and bigger tips to waitresses. That will inevitably mean living below our economic peers.

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  1. John Myers says:

    We have been sold this idea by the society in which we live. We choose not to admit we have bought into materialism, that somehow it is necessary and we could not imagine living without cable, a smartphone, a new car, and a house with 5000 square feet of living space. We have two incomes, never see our kids, never see our spouse, and go on expensive vacations to spend quality time with each other. Image not living that way. Would you be able to remain married? Could you go live in the weeds together and be happy enough that God has provided this wonderful garden in which you live?

    As I read last week’s lesson that discussed the Kirkridge Lifestyle, I could not help but think about the Amish. If you look at that list, it looks pretty Amish to me. I’ve often thought I could ‘go Amish’ and be happy. They have their priorities right. I think we all could benefit by examining our Christian life in that context, and ask yourself how you can change your life priorities to those that better align with goals centered on the question “how does this help me leave this world better than I found it”.

  2. Lupe Andrade says:

    Brief thoughts to living above, within, or below your means.
    It seems to me that, to begin with, “means” are not clearly understood by most people, especially in modern day “affluent/wannabe affluent” societies. “Means” seems to be understood as those things which are obtainable not only through work, income, savings or investment, but also through credit cards, credit lines, loans. deferments and other forms of pushing payment and responsibility to the background and toward the future, with the possibility always understood of being able to accomplish this “pushing back” almost seamlessly in coming episodes through re-financing and other means.

    The competitive nature of this new reality can clearly be seen in things like the opening of the new Hermès store in Washington, D.C. which features (read The Post!) things like ten thousand dollar handbags and other trinkets. Why not? One must have a Hermès bag, mustn’t one? After all, it does things no other bag does, like hold three times as much at half the weight through molecular transposition, right? Or maybe the colors are unique? Say “ancientgold yellow” or “newlymintedrich green? Or were the alligators who happily gave up their lives and skins leading sumptuous lives of their own, giving the end product a “happy glow” that passes onto the owner?

    Ridiculous, and yet… people, especially those who do not own these bags and trinkets, hunger for them. And in order to have them, it has become licit to beg, borrow or steal.

    Yes, STEAL. Today’s papers have another interesting tidbit, about five mega-banks paying billions in fines on fraudulent trillion-dollar transactions. Yet, somehow, the word “fraudulent” seems to disappear between the billions and the trillions. The banks that engaged in STEALING did not feel the slighted bit guilty about it. They, their shareholders, management and employees were all happily living beyond their means. They would have been shocked, hurt and bewildered if anyone had suggested the live within their means -legally- spending a little less on those little luxuries that make their life worth living. Or perhaps they would simply have laughed. How ridiculous!

    And yet, when a government agency imposes those fines and sends a few of these bankers to prison, that is not the real news. The real news that anyone takes away from the articles is that millions and billions of dollars are there to be made in illegal but fashionable ways, if one only could have the right ideas, moxie and access.

    Charities? Another article today talks of cancer charities stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Horrible, right? However, that article, to the modern reader might just mean that hundreds of thousands of dollars are there to be had, even in properly manipulated charities. Tithing? For the birds? Volunteer work? Only if there are cameras around. Fasting? Of course! Countless beautiful young things fast in ways never thought of, in the pursuit of the thinner body to wrap in gorgeous Hermès garments.

    Read today’s paper, dear Fritz, and dear friends, and think about Fritz’s words and how they might apply to today’s lives: ours and our descendants. The things I mentioned frighten me, I must admit. Lupe

  3. Myron says:

    I must admit that “living beneath your means” struck me as a sort of gratuitous and arbitrary attempy to display virtue, or self-restraint, or whatever, by a public posture of humility. Just to demonstrate discipline? But in the June issue of”Money” I found what might be a compelling argument. Their “Question of the Month” was “What’s
    the secret to a couple’s financial happiness?” Among several responses, such as joint decision-making, individual bank accounts and “Let you banker wife be in charge of it all,” was the idea “Live beneath your means.” Brilliant, don’t you think?

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