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“I never expected we’d still be living on the same budget — 9 years later!”

Guest post by Katie of Embracing a Simpler Life

Early in our marriage, my husband and I used the cash-envelope system to carefully track each dollar we spent.

I was in grad school, and we were saving to buy a house.

When I quit my job two years later to become a stay-at-home mom we also quit shopping (except for Aldi and clearance at the thrift store), so a simple spreadsheet was an easy budgeting solution.

As one child became two, and as two children became three, we continued working hard to budget, save, earn extra income, and plan. We were thrifty, and yes, it was a strain.

Last year, we moved to a new place, became debt-free, started homeschooling, and my husband gave up the predictability of a salary in favor of pursuing his own businesses. There is less security and much more potential for him now. All our past diligence has opened the door for this move, but it has also put us right back where we’ve always been — on a careful budget.

Currently, we use a budgeting app to track all our spending. We are thrifty, and, if I’m honest, it’s still a strain.

The truth is, I did not expect to be on the exact same budget 9 years into our marriage.

  • I thought that all our hard work and diligence would have lead to some sort of breakthrough in our monthly spending.
  • I thought I would be picking out cute clothes for my kids at Target instead of relying on consignment trade-ins.
  • thought I would have my house all set up with decorations, organizers, and furnishings, not balancing on the edge of the bathtub to get a near-full-length view of my outfit and shoving kids’ shoes into broken plastic drawers.

However, as I’ve grappled with contentment again (for the umpteenth time) in recent months, I see that my concept of contentment has been rooted in the belief that it would be temporary. I wasn’t prepared to be grateful and happy tracking every dollar for the long haul, I was just sort-of holding my breath until things would be different.

That day hasn’t come.

And so I’ve been thinking. What does it mean to be content, really content, in a socially-connected world filled with beautiful farmhouse kitchens, backyard patios draped with string lights, and beautiful beach vacation photos?

What does it look like to be grateful when life doesn’t meet the perceived status quo?

And actually, I think I’ve figured something out.

For me, I’ve realized that true contentment flows from believing in God for His unseen, eternal promises. You see, when I set my heart on heaven, I am trusting that God has prepared something unspeakably better than anything I could have on this earth.

Ecclesiastes 4:6 says, “Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.” (NIV)

In this life, I run the risk of becoming consumed with the accumulation of more, bigger, and better.

If I’m not careful, the desire for possessions can pull me in like an ocean current, and which could cause me to unintentionally devote my life to acquiring things that could never replace the peace, hope, and joy I’ve found through my contentment in Christ.

I feel the undertow every day.

But here’s the truth:

“More” focused living leads us to encumber ourselves with debt, which in turn prevents us from giving generously to the needs of others. We work extra jobs to afford that mortgage and those upgrades on that new vehicle. We feel we must have two handfuls because they look oh-so appealing, so we toil and chase the wind to have them.

“More” focused living leads us to consume our minds with what we want and how we are going to get it. We devote hours upon hours to dreaming and shopping, either browsing in stores or online. What do we really gain from all our striving after so many wants and desires?

They might make us happy for the moment (they’re not bad in and of themselves at all), but all the pleasure we take in our possessions and experiences is as fleeting as the wind. That new car will soon be stained and scratched; that new furniture will be nicked; that new outfit will cease to delight us, and that vacation, a distant memory.

So, I’m learning what it means to find tranquility in what I do have, and to thank God for it!  And I’m learning to allow God to be the guardian of my desires and to trust Him as He guides us down a path of simplicity and trust right now.

Katie Bennett is a blogger and podcaster at Embracing a Simpler Life, and author. Her newly released devotional, Heavenly Minded Mom: 90 Days to Embrace what Matters Most, calls mothers to a new way of seeing life, by seeing it in light of eternity. Get Katie’s free scripture writing plan here: 30 Days to a Heart Set on Heaven.

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  • Mylynda says:

    This is such a heartfelt post and completely spoke to me where I am at right now. A few days ago, I had to confess and ask God to forgive me for having gods before Him by way of money, success and employment. I have been so busy chasing after a comfortable financial state that I have slacked on chasing Him. Thank you for being so very honest with your experience and this testimony has confirmed what God was whispering to me when I prayed.

  • Amy Marohl says:

    Sometimes I do struggle with “more” focused living. Today, in fact, I needed to hear this! I love how you share that God prepared you for this time through all of your experiences so it was “nothing new under the sun” for you. I too have been prepared for now. I feel very encouraged by this article. Thank you for sharing!

  • April says:

    This article truly spoke to me!

  • Lynn says:

    Amen! One of the best posts I’ve ever seen on this blog!

  • Beth L. says:

    This was beautifully written, and it speaks exactly to how I’m feeling right now. I’m driving a car that’s 15+ years old and trying to remember to be content that I have a car at all! A great perspective to have in this possession-driven society, so thank you.

  • Rebekah says:

    This was a huge encouragement and challenge to me! After almost 11 years of marriage we still are renting and neither of our parents are thrilled about that. But we are not to be people pleasers, but instead we should be God pleasers.
    My husband is a full time pastor and we chose to have 4 children. The most important thing to our Lord are human lives so why decided we ought to invest in what He cares about the most – lives. Lives are far more important than the wood, hay and stubble in this possession driven world.
    Even if we never own a home on this temporal earth that is ok. Christ is preparing me a beautiful home in heaven.
    Thank you for your words of encouragement.

  • Shu-Hsin Bredthauer says:

    Beautifully written! Thank you.

  • Maureen says:

    Great piece, a beautiful lesson without being ‘holier than thou’, if that makes sense.

  • Jen says:

    I resonate with this so much, from a different perspective…this last year my husband gave up an amazing career and 6 figures so we could become missionaries. We moved from a huge 5 br house to a rental tiny in comparison as we complete training. It’s been painful at times to compare as friends move out of their starter homes to dream homes, upgrade their cars, their clothes, their vacations, etc, while we do the exact opposite. Thank you for the perspective check. I don’t often dwell on it, but when I do, it’s so painful. Mark 10:30!

    • We’ve seen our friends all upgrade their homes too. That in particular has been hard, so I can relate to what you’re saying very well. You and your husband are so wise to value eternal things over the world, and God will surely reward your obedience and sacrifice! I think you would be really encouraged by my book Heavenly Minded Mom (it’s available for preorder right now). If you’re interested, you can check it out here:

      God bless you!

  • What a beautiful reminder. I can absolutely relate to your story, too! My husband and I paid off our debt and always thought we were working towards a “better” life. But somewhere along the way, the Lord totally changed our hearts and our priorities. I quit my job, I now homeschool and things are as tight as they ever have been. But we have so much more peace and fulfillment. We truly feel like we are living a better life! It just looks a little different than we thought it would.

  • Heather says:

    This article really resonated with me. I too am tired of constantly watching every penny, of struggling with making a small budget stretch. And while there are things we need to accomplish, such a paying off debts, I do need to practice more gratitude and contentment.

  • Abby H. says:

    Thank you so much for these encouraging words. My goal is to be debt free by the end of the year (car note and a one credit card). It’s a struggle but I refuse debt to be my bondage. The Lord has called us to be good stewards and he will hold us accountable of what we have. I believe once we are free from debt, we will position ourselves to see God’s blessings when we bless others freely. Be blessed!

  • Jen says:

    Amazing that this post was up today, of all days, as I come to the realization that my job is causing significant stress for my family and I need to let it go for my health, my marriage and my kids. I don’t have another one lined up but we have, and can again, live comfortably on one salary.

    This is speaks so loudly and clearly to me today: “Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.”

  • Michelle says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this! It’s so easy to play the comparison game and it truly is “the thief of joy”! We’re almost 13 years down this road and still struggle sometimes. We chose this life in the ministry and we have more blessings than we can count (especially 6 little ones!) and yet sometimes we get distracted when friends and family have seemingly seamless lives. Contentment brings so much joy to the journey, but it’s a constant choice.

  • What a beautifully written post! Thank you for sharing from your heart, as it spoke to mine!

  • Diane says:

    Your wisdom is exactly what I needed this week. While doing some early spring cleaning I’ve been noticing all the things in my house that could use an upgrade. Then I think about how I expected to be able to afford a gorgeous home by the time I reached this age, and it simply hasn’t happened.
    But you’re absolutely right. As you said, “I need to find tranquility in what I do have and thank God for it”.

  • Sia Hills says:

    LOVE! Yes, setting our sights on things that have eternal value. I have buried a child, and I can promise you we do not take any of our “stuff” with us. Not even the clothes he was wearing. At that moment, all of those things that we work so hard to get meant nothing. I have learned to place my heart and mind on Gods eternal promises, and to always remind myself of what things have everlasting value and what do not, and work to put my efforts into the things that do.

  • Esther says:

    Thank you so much for this post! I really loved it!

  • Ellen Greeley says:

    Wow! Thanks for sharing this. Beautiful and convicting. Filled with HOPE as well.

  • Clare C. says:

    Love this! Thank you for being so authentic… I’ve often felt that God must have made me successful at living frugally because He intended for me to use those skills.

  • Karen says:

    Such a refreshing perspective. I really enjoyed this article. In a time when everyone is scrambling to accumulate More! Bigger! Newer! This speaks to a simpler way! Thank you for reminding us we are to put our hope in the Lord and do what is pleasing to him ; not what is pleasing to ourselves in the materialistic moment. Thank you for your post

  • Sheila says:

    What a gift to find this post when I most needed to hear it. After years of saving and achieving our goal of a cross-country move to a warmer climate after my husband’s retirement, my carefully made plans felt like they were falling apart when my job search has proven to be far more difficult than I’d ever imagined it would be. As I sat checking my email for notices from job search sites, I came across this post and it was just the reminder I needed to be thankful for all that we have instead of focusing on the one thing I’ve been unable to attain. Despite this setback, we are still fortunate enough to be living in the warm sunshine in a paid for home with well-practiced money saving skills that will get us through this unexpected period of unemployment. You have given me the peace of mind I need to be able to take a calming breath and know that this will all work out in time, maybe just not in the time I had planned. For this I am grateful.

  • Doreen says:

    This post echoed many of my thoughts exactly. We have been married 8 years, 5 of those years have been spent as missionaries in a foreign country. We watch every penny and many are the times I tell my children, no, we don’t NEED that. . . whatever extra it is they want. I struggled with contentment at first. But the longer I live this way the more free it is. I know now that no matter where I go on the globe, this way of living with little is the way I would choose. One thing that changed everything for me was reading the early church writings. Especially those of Clement of Alexandria. I had to realize that people were the same back then they are now with their desire for stuff, but God’s desire for people hasn’t changed. He wants His people free to go where He wants them and to LOVE other people instead of stockpiling “treasure” on earth. Thanks again for your encouraging post.

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