what poverty taught me about wealth

Last year on the World Race, I didn’t spend very much money personal money on a day-to-day basis. Occasionally I would splurge – on new running shoes or a trip to the Great Wall – but on average I spent less than $100 a month. The main reason for this is because I went a year without an income. But also, I lived among the population of the world that lives on only $1 or $2 a day.

Living in poverty, even by choice, will change your spending habits pretty quickly.

Though I now have an income, I’m still hyper-aware of how I spend my money. I might even be more attentive, because there’s more money in my account and it’s easier to lose track when you’re just swiping a card instead of carrying around a bunch of bills and coins (that are different in value and shape from last month’s currency).

These days I’m noticing that the things I learned while living among poverty very much apply to how we can live - Biblically – among wealth. Here’s what poverty has taught me about wealth:

You really don’t need more to be satisfied.
Seriously, simplicity is so so liberating because you’ll finally realize what you really need to survive and be satisfied, and what is just cluttering up your life.
Last year I worked among people whose total worldly possessions would probably (on average) fit in a broom closet. Now, I’m working with some of the wealthiest people in San Antonio. Suffice it to say that in the mansions there doesn’t always seem to be much joy, but from those mud huts and shabby shacks came overflowing amounts of joy, peace, and freedom. 

Just because you can afford to buy it doesn’t mean you should.
In the Third World, a dollar goes so much farther than in the States so it’s easy to get carried away at the little tienda down the road or at the market where a whole week’s worth of fruit is 50¢. The same thing happens in America though. We see a sign for half off or get caught up in the savings of online shopping, and we end up buying stuff that we don’t really need just because we “got a good deal on it”. I have to remind myself of this all the time lately: just because I can, doesn’t mean I should. May as well save that money for something else – something necessary – than just spend it casually.

Identify your “comfort buys” and cut back on them.
If you’ve ever lived abroad, you’ll know how comforting American food can be. After being away a while, you’ll start buying American brands and products just because they’re familiar, regardless of whether you actually buy those things at home. And in America, we have our own “comfort buys”. They may be cheap trinkets, food from a particular restaurant, something in the checkout aisle that grabs our attention. Whatever it is, it’s something we habitually buy because it’s probably cheap and it somehow comforts us with its familiarity or nostalgic qualities. It’d be wise to identify such products and refuse to be controlled by the impulse to buy them.

The Lord always always always provides. Thank Him grandly when He does.
When you’re broke, it feels a lot more necessary to rely on God to provide for you. But when you’re less broke, it can be easy to take credit for your own prosperity. In both circumstances, it’s important to remember that the Lord faithfully provides for His children – every time. And when He does, we need to respond with grateful, humble hearts.

You shouldn’t feel guilty for having more; you shouldn’t feel ashamed for having less.
I’ve been on both sides of the fence on this one. But here’s the deal: you have what you have – financially and materially. Be grateful for it, and use it well. Work hard and be faithful,  just doing the best with what you’ve got right now. Don’t sweat it (or boast about it) if everyone around you is in a different situation.


 

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About Emily Peterson

I am a native Texan who has traveled all over the world and back but I'm still convinced that Texas is one of the best places on Earth. I enjoy: playing guitar, being outdoors always, going barefoot, reading & writing, swimming & running, and of course - Jesus.
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3 Responses to what poverty taught me about wealth

  1. Rebekah says:

    This is good advice. Always such an eye-opener once we experience the other side of the economical spectrum. During college I learned to be super frugal, but after a couple of months in Africa frugal had an entirely new definition. Afer realizing that guilt-tripping myself wasn’t the key, I’ve finally figured out a balance of “need” and “want”.
    And you know what? God ALWAYS provides for my needs, and he even sometimes surprises me with wants. :)

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