The Joys of Living on Less
About the Guest
No one wants their children to do without. But sometimes we forget that providing our children with enough, is, well ... enough. Author Jill Savage, a mother to five, talks about the joys and benefits of living with less so that your family has more.
No one wants their children to do without.
The Joys of Living on Less
Bob: When Jill Savage and her husband were facing some financial challenges, they realized it was time to make some hard choices, like what to do about the pickup truck and the payments.
Jill: I watched my husband struggle with that decision, because he loved his truck. He’s a handyman kind of guy, he likes to build things, and I knew that that was really going to be a sacrifice on his part. And yet, in order to live out the vision that we had, it was a decision that we needed to make so that we could live with less financially.
So we did. We had to sell the truck. It took him a couple months, and eventually we were able to pay it off and then to actually buy another car with cash, and now we have no car payments.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today® for Wednesday, September 21st. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll talk today about families making tough choices so they can live within their means.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I have to tell you two car stories to start things off here, okay?
Bob: Car story number one – I’ll never forget my kids telling me this. A classmate who had turned 16, and for his 16th birthday when he arrived home there was a used car in the driveway.
Dennis: How used?
Bob: Well, you know it was maybe a year or two used. It wasn’t all beat up; it was a nice used car.
Dennis: Yeah, okay.
Bob: Basic model Chevy something. I don’t remember what it was. But, arrived home, 16th birthday, used car, “Happy Birthday” was chalked onto the window, and Dad said, “Come on. Let’s go for a ride in the car.”
So the teenager got out, excited, the car, they’re driving it around, and they drove for about five minutes and when they got back, they couldn’t get in the driveway because the child’s real birthday present was there. It was a brand new Infiniti, and Dad was laughing about the fact that they’d played a trick on the child with this late model used car.
The poor child was thinking that’s what they were getting for their birthday, when Dad really had the souped-up Infiniti. Now this got shared at the dinner table one night by our children, prior to their 16th birthday. Right?
Dennis: Oh, yeah.
Bob: You know what the message was, don’t you?
Dennis: Lobby – lobbying.
Bob: Which brings me to car story number two. When our oldest was driving, we decided that we had enough money that we could buy an old used – and I mean an old and used – Camry. I think I paid about $4000 for this, and it had 130,000 miles on it, something like that. A good, dependable vehicle, get her around town, no problem, and she was happy to have it.
Her younger sister, though, looked at that vehicle and said – I’ll never forget – she said, “There’s no way I’m driving that car when I turn 16.” Right? She was still a few years away. And I said, “Okay.”
So as her sister drove the car around and got along fine and went off to college, it came time for her younger sister to turn 16, and I reminded her. “You know, you said there’s no way you’re driving this car. It is the only one we have, so you can make the decision. You’re either driving it or there’s nothing to drive.” I remember her kind of grudging, “Yeah, I’ll drive it.”
Well two years later when she was a senior and headed off to college, we decided to sell the vehicle because it had served the girls well, we could still get some money out of it. I remember her saying, “I don’t want you to sell my car. I love that car.” Right? The one that five years earlier said, “No way I’m driving it,” now she loves that car.
It is just interesting the perspective that we have, that kids have, on stuff and how time can change that perspective, how our attitudes – it really is a part of parenting to help set a tone for what contentment needs to look like in your family.
Dennis: Yes, and unfortunately we as parents are susceptible to the same disease –
Bob: That’s right.
Dennis: -- as your second-born daughter, there. It’s like, man, we would really like to have this over here.
Bob: Have that newer car, yeah.
Dennis: I can’t believe we’re having to drive this. Well, we have a guest with us who’s going to help us bring some clarity to this. In fact, just the title of her book – I think it’s therapeutic. I think it just brings about some analysis where it needs to happen. Living With Less So Your Family Has More. Jill Savage joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Welcome back, Jill.
Jill: Thank you.
Dennis: Jill is the mother of five children, married to her husband, Mark. She’s an author, speaker, an encourager, an equipper of moms through her ministry, Hearts at Home. Jill, Bob’s illustration here, as we’ve said, is not just that of teenagers. It’s the same disease we all have as human beings, isn’t it?
Jill: It is. We all struggle with wanting more stuff. But here’s the interesting thing. Have you ever said these statements? “I’m tired of living with constant stress. I feel disconnected from my spouse. I feel disconnected from my kids. I want to laugh again.
I’m earning more, but I feel like we’re living with less. I’m tired of rushing from one activity to another. I’m weary of drive-through meals. There are simply not enough hours in the day. There has to be a better way of doing things.”
Bob: You’re saying if I live with less I’ll find a solution to those things that you’re talking about?
Jill: That’s what we have found.
Bob: That I’ll have better relationships, that I’ll have less stress, I know people living with less and they’re going, “This is really hard. It’s killing us, because we’re under a pile of financial pressure.”
Jill: Well, when we talk about living with less, we’re not just talking about living with less money. We’re also talking about living with less stress, living with less activities than what is culturally acceptable. We’re talking about limiting the number of volunteer activities that you say “yes” to, the number of activities that you allow your kids to be involved in.
Because, you know what? Home has just become this place where we just drop off our backpacks, and then we head from one activity to another to the McDonalds drive-thru to another, we come home, we fall in bed at night. There’s no meaningful sense of relationships.
Dennis: I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes by Thomas Carlyle. He said, “For every one hundred people who can handle adversity, I can only show you one who can handle prosperity.”
Dennis: In other words, adversity reduces your choices. It moves you into a corner where the only place you can look is up.
Dennis: Prosperity –
Bob: Life does get simple at that point, doesn’t it?
Jill: It does.
Dennis: It gets very, very simple, you know? Few things matter at that point where you’re going through something really tragic or life-threatening. But prosperity moves you to the middle of the room where there are lots of choices, lots of doors, lots of opportunities, and with it comes a real battleground in our soul over what our real value system is all about.
Bob: And there have been many times that I’ve quoted to our family or to friends from Proverbs chapter 30, where the writer of Proverbs at that point says, “Grant me neither poverty nor riches.”
Bob: And goes on to say, “If I’m impoverished, I’ll be tempted to steal and dishonor you, God. But if I have riches, I’ll be tempted to forget you.” There is a spiritual warning that comes with affluence that I think we too often overlook.
Jill: Well, you know what? When you were saying that about prosperity, we live in a culture – it’s more than prosperity financially. The opportunities for our children are endless. There are so many opportunities for them to be involved in, so many activities and lessons and to improve their skills. It’s just nonstop.
And we begin to buy into this belief that that’s what a good parent does. A good parent allows their kid as many opportunities as possible.
Jill: What we have found is that a good parent also helps their children to understand that life is all about making choices, and that boundaries is something that we need to learn, even in childhood, because you’re going to need to learn that for a life skill in adulthood.
Dennis: You mentioned earlier that your ninth-grade son doesn’t have a cell phone, and undoubtedly that shocked some listeners to say, “What? You’ve got to be kidding me.” What I want you to unpack for just a moment because it really goes with the theme of living with less so your family has more – why doesn’t your son have a cell phone? I mean, what’s really behind that decision? Is it purely a financial decision?
Jill: No, it’s not purely a financial decision. It is very much a financial decision in our case. We have five children, and adding five cell phones onto the family is a bit ridiculous. Our budget won’t allow that.
Bob: Oh, but wait. There’s a family plan, Jill.
Jill: (laughing) Yes, I know that.
Bob: Yeah, okay. Alright.
Dennis: Unlimited texting!
Jill: You still pay for that family plan.
Bob: That’s true. You’re right.
Dennis: Someone has to pay for the family plan.
Jill: Exactly, and so it is a boundary. It is a financial boundary that we have drawn. And that is healthy. Now we have made that decision for other reasons besides just financial reasons. Part of that is also recognizing that we don’t feel that a cell phone is necessary until our kids are driving. It’s a safety issue for us, and that that is the appropriate time for them to get one.
Now it’s harder and harder to hold that line, as younger and younger kids get cell phones, but we still feel that that is a valuable decision for us as parents. Our job as parents is to lead our kids, not to have our kids lead us, but for us to lead our kids. And so we’ve made that decision from a parenting perspective, a philosophical perspective, and definitely a financial perspective.
Bob: Jill, you describe in the book a season, and this was a fairly recent season, when your family income was cut by 75 percent. And you lived like that for how long?
Jill: Oh, we still are.
Jill: Yes. We still are.
Bob: Okay, so what were the big rocks, what were the big chunks that had to change about how you did life when that much money was cut out of your monthly budget?
Jill: Oh, huge changes. We completely changed the way we shop. Completely. I began to learn new strategies, what they call super-couponing. I began to tap into and recognize I had more time than money, and so therefore I needed to leverage the time to actually earn money for my family. But I’m not earning it in income, I’m earning it in savings. So I began to shop differently.
We actually make our own laundry detergent, and we do it about every six months. One load of laundry detergent every six months costs me $7.00. Huge change, because we were spending $12, $14 in laundry detergent a month.
Bob: Is there a recipe for that in here?
Jill: Actually there is on my blog. We give you all the instructions on how to do that. It’s a free download.
Jill: And so that was a huge change. We transitioned to some higher deductibles in our insurance so that our monthly insurance costs were changing. We ended up with one vehicle that – the transmission went out, so we went down to one vehicle, and we lived on that one vehicle. And that one vehicle we still owed money on, and partway through, about three months into this decrease in our income, we had to look at that and we said, “We need a vehicle that we don’t owe a payment on.”
Dennis: That’s what I was going to ask you. Did you owe any money on your house, on your cars? You said you did on your car.
Jill: We did, yes.
Dennis: How about your house?
Jill: Yes, yes. We still had that house payment. And then when we were three months into the one vehicle, we had to look at the reality of we still owed another three years on this truck that we had. And you know, this was a hard one.
I watched my husband struggle through this. And yet, in order to live out the vision that we had, it was a decision that we needed to make so that we could live with less financially, and we had to simplify our finances.
So we did. We had to sell the truck. It took him a couple months, and eventually we were able to sell it, to pay it off, and then to actually buy another car with cash. Now we have no car payments, and what freedom that has been.
Dennis: And what about credit card debt?
Jill: That credit card debt we worked hard to pay off before we made that transition, because we did not want that weighing us down. So we worked really hard in the process. And that would be something I would encourage families to do – is to stay away from that credit card debt. We got into that debt because we did not have appropriate emergency funds. Honestly, we didn’t understand the need for that until later in our marriage, and after we had racked up some debt.
So that is one thing we have worked hard to teach our kids, is to build up emergency funds – you have to expect the unexpected. And then when the car breaks down you don’t go to the credit card. You instead go, because you knew that eventually cars do break down, and you have that money in the bank.
Dennis: What about a couple who are listening to us and they’ve said, “You know, this sounds really good. Maybe living with less so our family can have more –“Do you have one, two, three steps that they could begin to take as a couple that would make a huge difference, or just help them pick some low fruit here at the beginning?
Jill: Yes, I think it is really important, especially if the couple can be ahead of the game on this, to learn to live on one income from the very beginning. I really wish we would have understood that. It would have made this transition much easier for us, and that’s what we have encouraged others to begin to do, is to live on one income earlier rather than later. If you want to have that freedom you’re already living on that.
So you’re setting a budget, and that budget is based upon one income. The other income you’re socking away. You’re putting it away for the future, you’re putting it away for retirement, you’re putting it away for an emergency fund, you’re putting it away for your child’s college, whatever you want to put it away for. But then it makes that so much easier if, for instance, one parent would decide that they want to stay at home.
And we encourage couples to do this even before you have kids, before kids are even in the picture. Learn to just live on a limited amount of income, and then sock the rest away. Give the rest away. Learn to have that heart. You know, it’s not ours anyway. It’s all God’s, and He just asks us to steward it. So that would be step number one, is to be intentional about living on one income.
The second step I would say is to truly evaluate what you are spending money on. Really look at and ask yourself the question, “Is it about the high cost of living, or is it about the high cost of the way that we’re choosing to live? What choices are we making that are costing us more money that what really needs to go out?”
I recently walked through this decision with a friend of mine as they were trying to live with less, and we evaluated how much she was spending on eating out. They were eating out more than they were eating at home, and honestly, when she sat down – In fact, I helped her. We put it all in an online checkbook, because she hadn’t been keeping track of it. Do you know that the amount they were eating out was equal to the paycheck she was bringing in, and it was eye-opening for her. She went, “Oh my gosh. I am working just so that we can eat out.”
Bob: So we can drive thru the drive thru lane.
Jill: Yes. And it was eye-opening to her, so when she really evaluated what they were spending money on and really looked at that – Sometimes you have to make hard decisions. That’s a valuable decision – you eat at home, you’re going to probably eat healthier as well, but you’re going to spend less money.
But for myself, I know for Mark and I, we had to look at some hard decisions like cable television. In our first living with less journey, cable television was something I can live without, but my husband loves cable television. He loves to have his TV options, and it was a sacrifice. But we looked at that and we said, “Alright. The cost of cable is this, it doesn’t fit in our budget,” and so we went without that for 17 years.
And you know what? I don’t think our kids were hurt by that. We certainly weren’t hurt by that. We had a lot better communication because we weren’t sitting next to each other watching the television, but we were more face to face playing board games and spending our time differently in the evening.
So look at those things in your life that you’re spending money on, and really ask yourself, “Can we do this differently? Can we make some different decisions so that we can drop the level of money that is going out and that we’re spending money on?”
Bob: Is this season for you where you’re at 25 percent of what you used to bring in on a monthly basis, is this a season that you hope someday you’ll be out of it and you can go buy a box of Tide again? Or is this the new normal for you?
Jill: You know what? I believe the answer to that is that it’s both. I don’t think we want to go back to where we were, because honestly, it has simplified life. Even just paying the bills is simpler. I have less bills to pay, and I love that that only takes a few minutes every month instead of an hour.
Jill: So that would be one thing. But I think, yes, there are some things that I would go, “You know, it would be nice to put that back in our life again.” We’re down to – we can eat out two times in a month, and yes, it would be nice to eat out once a week, maybe, or something like that that would be more convenient. So I think we would probably go back in the middle of that.
But I’m thankful for this living with less journey. I think it’s been healthy for our kids. I think it has been healthy for them to see that less can be more. I think it’s been healthy for us. And so I don’t regret it one bit.
Bob: And you’ll still make your own detergent no matter what, right?
Jill: I will. I like my own laundry detergent.
Dennis: Jill, as I’ve listened to you this week talk about living with less so your family can have more, I’ve reflected back on kind of how Barbara and I did life. You don’t know this about us, necessarily, but the way we presently draw a salary is through people who support us personally on a monthly basis, or on an annual basis. And if the money comes in, we can earn up to a certain amount, and if it doesn’t come in we don’t get up to a certain amount.
Our salary, over the years as we were raising kids, was a very modest salary, and our kids wondered why we couldn’t have more. And as I look back on it, I think we experienced a little of what you’re talking about. We had less, but our family did have more in that process.
What I want to just remind our listeners about is Philippians chapter 4, verse 19. Paul said, “And my God shall supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
I kind of became convicted at a point here as we’ve talked about all this of having less so we can have more – it is God who grants the abundance that we have to be able to live here in America, and for most of us, we have more than really we need. And there are listeners who are really struggling who needed to hear this and needed to recalibrate, but we need to be reminded that it’s God who provides. God will supply your needs through His Son, Jesus Christ. And it’s not just spiritual redemption; it’s about Him supplying your needs day in and day out.
I could tell stories right now of how God supplied for us so we could get our kids through college debt-free, and how we would have done that – if you’d have told me that could have been accomplished back on the front end when we first went into full-time Christian ministry, I would have laughed at you, because there was no way humanly possible you could do that, because at the time we were earning $560 a month as a couple. And there is the God factor.
Jill: There is. And you know how we describe our living with less journey, is we have had a front-row seat at watching God work, and that’s been the impact.
Dennis: And I can identify with that statement. I just appreciate you being vulnerable sharing your stories, and I hope God does supply a little bit more so you can buy a box of Tide, too, if you want to.
Bob: I’m going to the blog and looking this up.
Dennis: I want to see what’s in it.
Bob: I want to see this $7.00 laundry detergent.
Dennis: Is it Borax, or –
Dennis: I bet it is.
Bob: You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com, and find out Jill’s recipe for laundry detergent, and find out more about her book, Living With Less So Your Family Has More. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information on the book, and if you want to start making up your own laundry detergent in the bathtub you can do that as well. I-800-FLTODAY is the toll-free number if you’d like to get a copy of Jill’s book. That’s 1-800 “F” as in Family, “L” as in Life, and then the word “Today,” or again, go online at FamilyLifeToday.com.
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Now tomorrow we’re going to talk about husbands stepping up and getting in the game, even when it’s hard to do that. Brian Goins joins us tomorrow to talk about husbands playing, even when they’re hurt. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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