The Home Economics of Generosity, (Part 2): The Home Based Economy
After Laurie and I were married I took on the responsibility to be the money manager for our family. This is just the way things developed in the course of time. Probably I picked up some of my capacities, habits and attitudes for managing the household economy from my dad, who was an accountant. He handled money matters in the family I grew up in. I’m not saying that handling household finances is always a man’s responsibility. I know families where the woman is the money manager and things work quite well. Some couples share this responsibility.
When we had three small children, we struggled to make ends meet. It seemed that no matter how hard I tried, we were always coming up short on money at the end of the month. That was frustrating to me. I asked a friend of mine with a wealth of practical wisdom, love for God’s word and business experience, to help me do better by looking over our family budget with me.
After reviewing the numbers with me, he gave me a few insights that have proven helpful for me in the long run. First, he helped me see that the area in which it was easiest to save a tremendous amount of money was in our grocery bills. Secondly, he urged me to think about ways I could develop new sources of income apart from my work as a pastor in a church.
After discussing our family budget with my friend, I asked my wife to reflect with me on what I had
learned. I felt a little nervous about that conversation, because Laurie and I had often argued about money. Each of us used to blame the other for spending too much on things we didn’t really need. This time, however, I sat with her and asked her to focus on keeping our grocery bills within a monthly limit of $400. The conversation went well. She agreed to give it a try.
Laurie worked harder at limiting grocery bills and I worked harder at tracking our family expenses. Our financial situation improved. We were not overspending. At the end of the month, we had something left over. Not long after that I was offered a contract to publish a series of Bible lessons I had written for children. The publisher offered me $500. That was not a lot of money, but it was a great encouragement to me at the time. It helped me to see that working together and with focused effort, we could do better.
I’m telling you this story, because it illustrates two important things.
First, husbands and wives need to learn to trust each other as they communicate about the family economy. Without confidence in each other, there will be no peace in the household, and there will probably also be tremendous strains on the family finances. No matter who becomes the family finance manager, the efforts of both are crucial for making the family economy work harmoniously.
The second thing this story illustrates is that a great part of the household economy is centered around homemaking. Before discussing homemaking in sharper focus, I want to throw some light on two things that should help us take homemaking more seriously. The first thing is that homemaking as a vocation for women has been denigrated by the women’s liberation movement. Since the 1960s, women are being told that it is a much more dignifying thing to earn money outside the home than to contribute to the household economy through the traditional work of cooking, sewing, nurturing children and employing their skills and talents right where they live.
When I went to high school, guys and girls were separated into classes called “industrial arts” and “home economics.” Industrial arts was the technical name for “shop class,” where young men were taught to forge metal tools like crow bars and carve wooden bowls on a lathe. In “home economics” young ladies learned to cook and sew. In our high school most of us did not take these classes very seriously.
As a result of political influence from the women’s movement in the 1970s, school curriculums changed. Around 1994 “home economics” got a name change. It is now called “consumer sciences.” Also, boys and girls are no longer automatically thrown into groups based on gender. Today boys and girls in American schools choose whether they want to be in a shop class or a consumer sciences class.
The name-change from “home economics” to “consumer sciences” is not altogether good. It may cause young people to think about the home as a place only for “consuming” things that are produced elsewhere. This is most regrettable. I prefer to use the term “home economics,” because I want to help you see that your home is a place not only for consuming, but also for producing the things you need. By working in our homes, we can spend far less money, and thus we can have a surplus of goods and funds to share with others for the sake of God’s kingdom.
In the next posting were going to take a closer look at homemaking, as we see it discussed in the Bible. For now, it’s important for me to point one huge difference between life in ancient times and life in our time. In ancient times almost 100% of the family economy was based in and around the home. A man and his sons were most often farmers. Their farm was very close to their home. They walked to the fields to work every day. If a man also worked as a smith or made carts or ploughs, he probably did it in some space in or very close to his home. Women and their daughters cooked and sewed, of course, at home. Parents passed on the knowledge of these skills to their own children. Families ate the food they grew in the fields and cooked it themselves. They wore the clothes they made themselves from wool they combed from their sheep and spun into yarn.
In our time, a huge part of the household economy comes from sources outside the home. Our economy is driven by the money we usually earn outside of our homes. Most of us don’t grow our own food, but buy it in a grocery store. We may buy food in stores that has been cooked by someone else. Or we may eat in restaurants. We buy clothes made for us in factories in other countries. We drive cars to an office or store where we do our work. Instead of working to grow food, we work to earn money and buy the things we need with that money.
Because money dominates our thinking, and talk about money prevails in the news cycles, we may fail to see what enormous value homemaking and household management have for our families. Their benefit is immense. Our capacity to live generously, in large part, depends on the way we order and manage our home economy. We’re going to look more closely at this in the next posting.
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