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Taking a month to find out what really matters

‘The Spending Strike’ author challenges money habits of East Iowans

July 26, 2013

MUSCATINE, Iowa

The author Sarah Baker, who lives in Cedar Rapids, decided with her husband and three children to take a month off from spending money ― except for the non-negotiables, such as mortgage, insurance and utility payments. 

It went so well she wrote a book about it. 

Baker, a college instructor, recounts her family’s month of living frugally in a charming and honest book called The Spending Strike. The Rev. Karen Downey Beals, pastor of Springville (Iowa) Presbyterian Church, said her church used the book and its accompanying workbook and invited the author to talk about her family’s experience last month during worship and a brunch that followed. 

One young mother of four told Karen that after reading the book, her family is talking more about how they spend money and becoming more aware of the importance of spending time together rather than spending money on things they don’t need.

Smith said her family’s January 2012 spending strike netted nearly $600 in savings, money that Smith tracked every day during month. She was used to plunking down $1.30 each morning for a cappuccino; her husband, Josh, spent $5 every day on snack items at a nearby gas station. Cutting out both put more money in their bank account. 

Smith also counts as savings the money saved cooking at home from ingredients on hand rather than bringing home a pizza on days that mom and/or dad are stressed. On one occasion, she included in her savings ledger the money she would have spent visiting one of her favorite online shopping sites on a snow day, which she says were often high-spending days before the spending strike. 

There’s also money to be saved by throwing a family movie night complete with popcorn rather than taking everyone to the local multiplex ― with the requisite snack item purchases on top of the ticket prices. 

She also got the idea of serving up a restaurant that came to the family. Baker would ask her children what they’d order if they were at their favorite restaurant, then search online for a recipe for a similar dish. The children ended up enjoying the meal more at home, she said.

During the strike, Baker said she also got back into the habit of going to adult Sunday school classes offered at her church. On one occasion, the class studied Jesus’ parable contrasting the homebuilding practices of wise people and foolish people. 

“The Bible says a lot about money. A lot,” she writes. “Could we truly put into practice the words of Jesus and survive in modern-day society? … Could our family realistically resist the temptation to follow the crowd? One of my favorite verses came to mind: ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’ (Philippians. 4:13). It is interesting how quickly our family spending strike transformed from a one-month experiment to a life-long challenge just by attending a single Sunday school class.” 

As you read the book, you find yourself rooting for the Baker family. When the eldest child, Javan, decides to give up three days of hot lunch Tuesdays at school because there’s only enough money in his account for two, you want to give the kid a high-five. When the family decides to invite the extended family over for a potluck supper rather than go out for a meal that would mean ending the spending strike, I thought things would not go well. But of course it worked out fine, and the Bakers didn’t need to worry about how their children would behave at a restaurant. 

The Spending Strike probably goes further than my family might ever attempt, but the book is valuable if only for this message: the Bakers are an average family, and they did it. They took on the overwhelming drumbeat from the media ― spend, spend and spend some more ― and turned it around by agreeing, if for a month, not to participate. 

Baker has eight strategies for succeeding at something like her family accomplished. Those strategies include believing you’ll succeed, getting the whole family involved, holding each other accountable, praying to ask for God’s help, staying away from temptation (shopping centers and online shopping sites), accepting that it won’t be easy (but that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us), taking time to reflect each day on what goes well and thanking God for our many blessings, and, once the month is over, establishing new spending habits. 

I’ve noticed over the years that no matter how much income I’ve enjoyed, it never seems to be enough, and so I’m tempted to try something like what Baker recommends, or at least keep closer tabs on everyday spending to help rein it in. 

I’m also struck, like Baker is, that saying no to impulse, unnecessary spending is a way to glorify God. The spending strike made her whole family more grateful for what they have, not resentful of what they don’t. Surely God finds that pleasing. 

A short talk by Sarah Baker is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dQpVQpB0t4. She’s on Facebook at SarahBaker413.

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