Saturday, September 8, 2012

Living in Poverty While Filthy Rich

If you’ve been peeking in on these parts long, you know that my little family of four tries to live pretty frugally. We choose to do this for a number of reasons. We don’t want to have debt, we don’t want to be wasteful, we want to be able to live generously, we want to differentiate between wants and needs, and we personally hold to the belief that our money is not our own, but given to us by God and therefore we have a responsibility to Him to spend and give wisely.

But I’ll let you in on a little secret – we also live frugally because we have to. When I quit my job to stay home with the twins, our already frugal budget had its belt strap tightened quite a bit. According to the U.S. government, we are now living below the poverty line.

Through this financial adjustment, I'm learning quite a lot. I’m discovering creative ways to make rice and beans taste delicious (well, palatable at least … because I’m really not that great of a cook). I’m learning to live with the A.C. set just shy of comfortable. I’m learning to really differentiate between wants and needs. I’m also learning to appreciate the little things (like strolling the twins through the air conditioned mall while sharing a smoothie with Devin - this is now high-end family entertainment for us). And I’m developing a more thankful heart for all the things I do have. Like constant access to clean water, a roof over my head, clothes on my back, a loving family, and a never-gone-hungry belly.

I’ll let you in on another little secret – even living below the poverty line, my family is still wealthier that 80% of the world’s population*. That is a lot and some days, like when I have to put back an item in the grocery store because it just isn’t in the budget for the week, I certainly don’t feel rich. I feel poor. And I feel sorry for myself.

But then I remember that today I woke up in a comfy bed, in a two bed/two bath apartment, took a hot shower, walked into my closet and had an abundance of clothes to choose from, I greeted my loving husband and my healthy children. Later, I got into my air-conditioned car, drove to the aforementioned grocery store where I was accosted by the sheer number of choices available to me, and I bought enough food to keep my family well-fed. So I had to put back an item or two? I have in this short, daily, oft-overlooked series of events, more than most people in the world could ever hope for. 

The life most of us live in American is not normative, which is hard to remember when your culture is seeped in choices, opportunities and material possessions (even in a “down” economy). Maybe that’s why it is so easy to ignore the poor sometimes. We generally don’t run across them in our daily, American lives and/or we don’t realize how much we truly have in comparison to most of the world. A world where millions are dying because they don't have clean water. Where the poorest of the poor are living on one dollar a day. Where, in the most impoverished countries, one-in-five children die before their fifth birthday. One-in-five. That is insane.

So, when I treat myself to the occasional Starbucks latte as a "please get me out of the apartment and give me a break from the kids before I go crazy" mental breathier, from the perspective of someone living on one dollar a day, I have just spent about four days wages. My family lives on around $54.00 per day**, so if I were to apply the same math, to the eyes of those living in extreme poverty, my tall toffee nut latte cost $216.00. Wait what??? Talk about living extravagantly. 

Globally speaking – I am filthy stinkin’ rich (which is an interesting term isn’t it?). I’ve got it good. Like, really, super, unbelievably good. I often ask myself (and God), “Why me? Why did I luck out? Why do I have enough? Why are my children not the ones dying of hunger and disease?” These are hard, painful questions for me to consider. On one hand, I am so grateful that my life is what it is, yet I feel a strong sense of “survivor’s guilt” sometimes at my wonderful circumstances and that they are not available to everyone. The only answer that has ever satisfied those questions is this: I have been blessed so that I can bless others. That is the only way I can to reconcile in my own heart and mind the vast, unfair, and growing chasm between the world’s rich and the world’s poor.

I’ll admit, this idea itself can seem unfair. After all, my husband works hard to provide for us - we earned that money. We deserve it and we need it. Why should we give it away to others?

Because many others don’t have the opportunities that we have. They work hard from dawn-to-dusk and still can’t afford to put food in the bellies of their children. Progress in their lives is destroyed by war, disease, corruption, lack of education, the ever-present need to simply survive… the list goes on. These are not things they have chosen and often things they cannot change on their own. And if our circumstances were reversed, if I had been born into a war-torn county with little hope or opportunity to rise above the life-ending poverty I found myself in, I sure as heck would pray that they would choose to help me. It’s that whole, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” thing.

Helping the poor and making a difference in the world is not difficult. We can all do something. Plus, there are numerous organization already established that have make this process easy and accessible for us. Giving up a little (or a lot) of what is “ours” so that others can have a better life is likely not going to destroy us. Choosing to adjust our lifestyle, thought-process, spending habits and hearts in order to joyfully give more (of our time, money, talents and other resources) can be hard (at first), but it can also be so rewarding. And - I will warn you upfront - a little bit addicting (and totally, 100%, you-won’t-regret-it, worth it).

*See how globally wealthy you are here: 
** That number is based on our family's total annual income.


  1. That was a great post. Nothing like perspective to sober you up, is there? I have read your blog sporadically since I first saw you dancing your babies out on youtube. : ) I am a birth doula, a massage therapist and a Compactor (The Compact on yahoogroups). And I try to be a better steward of the Earth and help those that I can. Thanks for all you do. I can envision your babes growing up not knowing any different than doing for others. It is a beautiful vision!

    1. "not knowing any different than doing for others" - I love this Lisa! Thank you!

  2. Wow, Jennifer. You succinctly illustrate why we feel so enriched when we DO give to others in's because we are fulfilling God's divine purpose in our lives. Thank you. And go have a latte. I'd gladly buy it for you!

    Many blessings to you and yours!

  3. And the only thing worse than people dying from starvation and disease is them dying without Jesus as their Savior! I also think that as a Christian, I have so many spiritual blessings (apart from physical blessings like money) that God wants me to share, too. How come I know the truth and I am free and have hope while so many are living in bondage and despair? Even if we only have a small amount of money to give away, we always have a ton of HOPE!

    1. TRUTH Bethany! It is so hard for me to remember (I don't know why) that there is more to the world's needs than just the physical. People need Jesus and while I KNOW this, I get distracted how NOT like Jesus the church is sometimes. Jesus loved the poor and the outcasts and we've neglected that side of His ministry for a really long time. I really think the best way to get people to love/follow Jesus is to love them like He would have.

  4. Well said, a great reminder. Thank you!

  5. How beautiful it is to stop and delight in the smallest of things. There's no doubt that your family is so rich!! How foolish to confuse the word "rich" with only money and material things. There is capital in our self-worth and happiness -- given to us freely by Christ :) Love your heart girl!


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