FIRST-PERSON: 'Frugality' can be a good word

MILL VALLEY, Calif. (BP) -- A few days ago, I had an interesting conversation with the manager of a local shopping center. I remarked, "Black Friday seemed like a big success. I hope you have a good holiday sales season." She replied, "We expect it. In fact, our stores have been exceeding last year's sales by double digits for the past few months. People are spending money again. I think they have frugality fatigue."

That was a new phrase for me -- frugality fatigue. I suppose it means a person is worn out from the emotional and physical drain of not spending money. Sounds like a troublesome syndrome that will probably be elevated to disease status soon. Perhaps a 12-step program will be created to ease people back into their spending patterns. After all, heaven forbid Americans might actually live within their means, save some money for the future, and give money away rather than spend it on themselves! Frugality fatigue sounds like shorthand for "spend some money I don't have so I can feel better about myself for a few minutes."

How did frugality became a problem from which to recover? I thought it was a positive character quality -- a partner with generosity and selflessness. Oh well, I'm out of touch again. I have been living below my means, saving for the future, and giving money away rather than spending it on myself for more than 30 years. Funny though, I'm not a bit tired!

The opposite has been my experience. It energizes me to give part of myself -- represented by my resources -- to others. Jesus said we find our lives when we give them away. Giving money away rather than spending it on myself has not worn me out; it's given me an emotional boost. Being generous, and seeing the results, is more energizing than the temporary thrill of buying something I don't really need.

Frugality might have a bad name because some confuse it with stinginess. Being stingy is being cheap, hoarding what you have for personal enjoyment. Frugality is being careful with what you have, stretching it to its maximum, so you can having something left over to share with others. Stinginess is repulsive. Frugality is attractive. Stinginess screams "it's all about me." Frugality whispers, "The needs of others matter more than my wants."

During this Christmas season, take stock of your use of the resources God has entrusted to you. Determine to live frugally in 2012 -- living within your means and having something to share with others. And, take my word for it. Frugality, producing generosity, won't wear you out. It will satisfy you more deeply than any impulse purchase you will ever make.


Jeff Iorg is president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif., just north of San Francisco. This column first appeared at his blog, JeffIorg.com.