Tuesday, October 26, 2010

$80 Tea

I accidentally bought $80 tea a couple of months ago.

Trust me. This illustration of American excess on a social worker's salary was accidental but it could have been prevented.

My parents raised me to be a fairly financially smart kid.  I earned a $1 a week in allowance money, dependent on chores being completed.  I'm not sure how old I was when I stopped getting an allowance but I'd hazard a guess that it was around the time that I started pet-sitting and babysitting.  I had a work ethic at a young age.

My parents allowed me to get my first credit card when I was a freshman in college.  The deal was I had to pay it off every month, no exceptions.  I quickly learned that lesson.  Given that I was also paying for half of college, I worked a bunch and watched my budget.  I was on my own for grad school, worked even more, and had a very lean budget.  After my first job with a decent salary, I stopped pinching those pennies.  I tried to be wise but I'm aware that I could have saved more.  I could have given more.

Still, the last few years, I have upped my giving in a lot of ways.  Then I moved. There have been unexpected expenses and unplanned needs. And living on my own means no one else splitting rent or utilities anymore.  Everything is manageable but I haven't sat down to create a budget yet.

$80 tea is a wake-up call.  Or at least it should be.

There were free samples at Teavana and I was completely taken with the Youthberry and Wild Orange Blossom blend. Maybe I was distracted when the cashier told me about the special deal- a pound of tea with an air-tight canister.  I didn't stop to do the math. By the time she told me the grand total, I was in shock and it was too late to back out.

I left, knowing that my spending habits had to change and fast.

Still, when I read chapter 6 of Radical, I hadn't created a budget yet.  There's no rationale to it.  I've spent less, to be sure. I've kept myself from buying all the sweaters I want (this takes huge self-control- I am powerless against a good cute sweater) but I haven't looked at my new income vs. my expenses.  That's not how my parents raised me.  It's not how God would want His steward to act either.

This is the wake-up call that I need.

And so I'm trying to answer these questions:
  • What if we took a serious look at [the blind spot of materialism] and actually began to adjust our lifestyles for the sake of the gospel among [the poor and needy]?  I don't want to be immune to statistics like 26,000 children dying of starvation every day.  This statistic was quoted at a Shane and Shane show last year and no one gasped in shock, which they commented on.  That statistic should horrify us and bring us to our knees until we figure out what we can do about it.
  • Why not begin selling and giving away luxuries for the sake of the poor outside our gates?  I'm not sure that I have anything to sell or give away beyond my usual Goodwill donation.  But I pray my eyes will be opened to see what else I can do.
  • Why not begin operating under the idea that God has given us excess, not so we could have more, but so we could give more? Even though I commiserate about my social worker's salary, the truth is I do just fine. I live in America and that means, even as a social worker, I have more than billions of people in the rest of the world.  I can afford $80 tea, even if it sickens me. Lazarus couldn't afford even a morsel of food. I am positive I can give much more than I already do.  I'm trying to be sensitive to how God would use my money.  Or rather, His money.  Reading this chapter, however, illustrated that I still have much to learn.  
  • What if you and I had simple caps on our lifestyles and were free to give the rest of our resources away for the glory of Christ in the neediest parts of the world?  This one nailed me.  I've heard of people that set caps but figured it only applied to the wealthy.  Now I know that's not true.
  • What could happen if we stopped asking how much we could spare and started asking how much it was going to take?  Yikes. 
  • How many clothes do I really need?  My friends and I started a clothing swap a few years ago so we could have some fresh looks at no cost. as well as clean out our closets.  I've thought about starting up a Nashville-version.  I've also figured out one item for my 32 Things in January (see 31 Things if you're not sure what I'm talking about.)  What if I only shopped at resale/thrift stores for the next year?  What if I couldn't spend more than $5 on an item of clothing?  I love a good bargain, I love thrifting, and this would prevent any unnecessary clothing purchases, which ultimately frees up money to be used how God sees fit.
  • What luxuries does God intend for me to savor and what luxuries does God invite me to sacrifice?  This portion of the book reminded me of the ending of the movie Schindler's List, where Schindler looks at all the things he could have sold to save more Jews.  Here, I think we're looking at priorities.  I don't think it's bad for me to buy a CD or a new sweater but if it comes at the expense of being used by God, then I'd better look at the return policy ASAP.  However, this does mean that my dream of owning something from Chanel is on hold indefinitely.  I just can't justify the cost!
  • If we have savings, where is the line between responsible saving and irresponsible hoarding? I'd been saving for a house before I moved.  Now I'm in the position of needing to buy a new car. When I read this chapter, a knee-jerk reaction would be to hold off on a new car. Except my Corolla needs some big wear-and-tear repairs and I've discussed this with my parents at length for the last year or so.  Still, I'm not committed to buying a new car- it might be new-to-me instead.  Right now I still have student loan debt and dreams of being a homeowner but when those are dealt with, I pray I can be in a place to answer this question thoughtfully.
  • Am I standing with the starving or with the overfed?  To be determined.
Am I more like the rich man or more like Lazarus?  Even though we'd all like to say Lazarus, I would guess that most American Christians fall into the rich man's camp. While there's a balance between giving to the poor and enjoying God's blessing, it is far too easy to enjoy God's blessing.  This must be why the prosperity gospel is so popular in our country.  Everyone is attracted to bigger, better, more, and new.

Just in case I missed Platt's message, my pastor said the following this past weekend.  When more time is spent on things than people, materialism is at work and we are off-kilter.

I don't want to live my life like that anymore.
This post is part of the Radical Read-Along hosted by the fantastic Marla Taviano

In case you missed it last week, here's my volunteer quest for reals.  I shared 8 different opportunities and just learned about a potential new ministry at church so it could be 9 pretty soon.  I have a glimmer of an idea of which causes I'll commit to with time and which with money.  Stay tuned...


  1. Oh, wow, Leigh. I love that you answered all those questions. And so honestly. I love that quote from your pastor. (and I LOVE thrift stores!) :)

  2. Oh crap...I think I would have freaking at the $80 bill, too! Oops!

  3. very profound and deep thoughts that every person in Canada and the US should consider and heed. and I know a book I'll need to read sooner rather than later. thank you for sharing your thoughts on Radical.

  4. I like the idea of setting a cap on a piece of clothing...I could look at it as a challenge...thank you for sharing your heart.

  5. i really like your list. sometimes i really struggle with how to live that way. we live on a tight salary with three littles. it's hard to figure out what is my selfishness/cultural blindness and what do we really need. i like your thrift store idea. i've been leaning that way for a while at least for my own shopping.

    oh, and i've added your blog to my list of google reader subscriptions. :)


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