Jodi Cole Meyer has been on a journey with the book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess (B & H Books) by Jen Hatmaker. In past months she’s limited herself to seven kinds of food or seven items of clothing and she’s given away something every day of another month. She even gave up consuming media for a month. Her latest challenge was to limit where she spends her money.
Q. This month you’re spending your money in only seven places. What is the purpose of narrowing your spending outlets?
A. Our characterization as “American consumers”—rather than citizens or producers or volunteers—really highlights that often how we interact with our community is through a money exchange. The places I visit regularly in my community are places where I buy things or services, and often my monetary exchanges on any given day rival any other kind of exchange I may have had. Cutting down on the places to spend money makes you very aware of how you are interacting with your community, aware of how much of your activities are money-based, and just how many options we have when it comes to spending money.
Q. Which places have you chosen?
A. I had to wiggle things around a bit on this one to get to seven. For instance, I have nine monthly automatic payments set up in my checking account. If I counted all of them, we couldn’t eat this month. So I lumped the auto-payments (mortgage, insurance, recurring donations, credit cards) into one line. I know this seems like cheating, but it was still hard. Here are my annotated seven:
1. Auto-payments. If it comes out automatically, I counted it as this one.
2. YMCA. The only exception to the above rule. It comes out automatically from our checking account, but since I was hoping to actually use the facilities this month, it seemed like I would have to count it as its own item.
3. Mobil gas station. I chose one close to my house.
4. Meijer. This almost seemed like cheating, because you can buy anything at Meijer! But I don’t generally shop there; I shop at a grocery store on my way home from work or at a warehouse club. But you can’t get everything at those stores, so I had to drive a bit farther to get groceries.
5. Hudsonville Lanes Bowling Alley. On a lark, this year my husband and joined a bowling league (we are so not bowlers—this was a whim, I tell you), and so we are committed to bowling twice a month. This one hurt, because this is not a place that would place higher than, oh, say, a theater. Or a clothing store. Or a bookstore. Or a coffee shop.
6&7. Two local restaurants, because we had both of them as dates on the calendar to meet friends.
Q. Did you make any of these choices considering who the money would go to?
A. I didn’t really have the luxury of deciding that. Other than deciding which grocery store I would go to, I had commitments to spend money at all of the other places.
Q. Partway through the month, do you feel that you have any new spiritual insight into your financial life because of this exercise?
A. This is going to bore people who have read my last posts, but I was newly reminded of how mindless my spending is. I pulled into a jewelry shop to get my watch sized, and was disappointed when it was closed . . . until I remembered that this store was not on my list. My watch would just have to swing around on my arm for another couple of weeks. Even when I am focused on changing a habit, on being mindful of how and where I spend my money, I still fall into habits of convenience, expediency, and ease. If I truly believe that all of “my” resources are actually God’s, then mindless spending is not an insignificant oversight—it deserves my attention, my consideration . . . my care.
I have been in developing countries where things simply aren’t available. There are only certain times you can get supplies, there aren’t stores on every corner, and you only eat food that you prepare yourself. Here we can not only get nearly anything nearly any time, but we have dozens of options for any item we need. We can so easily take for granted the plenty with which we are blessed!
One thing that was interesting to me was that in many ways, it simplified my life even if it wasn’t convenient. I didn’t have to figure out which grocery store I wanted to go to. I didn’t have to figure out where to meet friends or decide if I wanted to see a movie in the theater or wait for it to come out on NetFlix. My husband and I had very short discussions about where to go out to eat (a new development, I assure you). While it was less convenient to go eight miles to pick up eggs or to hope that the gas gauge is more forgiving than it appears as you try to make it to your one gas station, it is simpler, and in an age of excess, that is good.
Q. Is it even possible to live this way long-term?
A. I couldn’t do it even for one month without fudging the whole auto-deduction thing. I couldn’t buy many of the books I want or need, and my clothing purchases would be pretty limited. I don’t really think there are clear benefits to living this way long-term, but doing it for a short time makes you realize just how big a part of your life buying things is. I don’t want to be primarily a consumer. Limiting your spending also limits your interactions, and that makes me sad—I long for relationships with my community that are not just dollar-based, but that are more cooperative and less customer-based.
That said, I think differently about spending money . . . actually I just think about it, which is different.
Q. How has this affected your family?
A. My family loves checking up to make sure I’m following through. Two of them had birthdays this month and so their present options were pretty circumscribed. They find it fun, though, and a challenge. I think it may have been their favorite month . . . especially since I had to choose a bowling alley as one of my seven. They thought that was great!