(Alternate title: Yo, why go LoDo, bro?)

Just this morning, as she was climbing into my car, my 6-year-old asked for some bubble gum. My car is associated with bubble gum in her mind because, well, I’m not Thoreau. I glory in the small pleasures of life, a category into which bubble gum fits squarely. Normally happy for anyone to partake in anything I also enjoy, today’s response was different: “Sorry, kid. No gum…and no money for gum.” She got over it, and she didn’t question the notion that our family doesn’t have the $1.27 that my stand-by gum (Bubble Tape, since you asked) would put me back.

We have just closed the books on an annual family tradition in which we spend as little money as possible through the month of February. LoDoFeb, as it’s been dubbed, is our rhythm of intentionally saying no. (And, heck, it can be yours, too. Matter of fact, we recommend it. You can have LoDoMar or LoDoNov for all I care, but you’re going to have to deal with more than 28 days of it if you do. Sorry.) As with any form of asceticism, I’m always a bit relieved when it’s over (because I can get back to my indulgent, freewheeling lifestyle), but while I’m inside it, I’m always thinking about it and reflective of its benefits. This year, I’ve been considering the broader question:

Why say no at all?
Why would we intentionally deny ourselves anything,
if we don’t have to?

I live below my means. (This has nothing to do with my income, by the way: I lived below my means when I made $9,000 a year. It has to do with my upbringing and specifically my fiscally conservative, German-and-Scottish-bred mother, Linda, bless her Texan heart.) That means that I not only have the money to live the way I do, I have money for more. I could always “live it up” more than I do. Always. But I have decided, over and over again, not to ratchet up my spending. Before we get too deep into this, I’ll just say that this is absolutely not a personal credit to me. I prefer having this reflex, but it’s not because I’m any better than anybody else. Like I said, it was just drilled into me as a kid and has been reinforced in adulthood.

I haven’t improved my car when I could. We didn’t move into a bigger, nicer house as soon as we could. We haven’t upgraded furniture or clothing or tech or vacations when we could. And now, thanks to LoDoFeb, I not only don’t spend according to my budget, but we actively choke our budget until it flows at its slowest possible drip. Here’s five reeeal good reasons why:

A man’s life does not consist
of the abundance of his possessions.

1, I’m forgetful.
That verse above is unquestionably true, but dang it, I’m an American, and that’s just not how I experience the world. I live among people who get $6 Starbucks whenever we want, then deal with the consequences later. We have our ideal meals pretty much every night, regardless of the price tag, then shrug our shoulders at the end of the month and go, “I dunno…that’s just what groceries cost!” We feel morally obligated to have whatever the latest Bluetooth-high-fidelity-noise-reducing-wireless earphones that have just come out. And our lives tell us that life’s quality is contingent upon our possessions—both their quantity and their quality. Somehow we forget the glory days of college: for me, that was a time of nearly zero funds (my weekly dough was whatever the tips were when I waited tables the previous weekend; Taco Bell was a serious night out with the fellas) and nearly unlimited joy. We had nothing and we had a ball. I forget the truth that we don’t need much money at all for love, or fun, or significance, or access to truth, or anything that you’d call LIFE.

If anyone wishes to follow Me [as My disciple],
he must deny himself [setting aside selfish interests],
and take up his cross [expressing a willingness to endure
whatever may come] and follow Me
[believing in Me, conforming to My example in living
and, if need be, suffering or perhaps dying
because of faith in Me].

2. It’s one of the costs of entry into a life of following Jesus.
Sure wish I could rewrite the Bible sometimes, but here it is, naked and unvarnished. If you want to follow Jesus, you have to say no to yourself, over and over, in a thousand different ways. No getting around it. This happens in your thoughts, your career choices, your relationships, and absolutely with your money. “I want…” followed by “no.” That means I need to grow my “saying no to self” muscle. Note to humans: You were not born with this muscle. Note to parents: Good luck, because your kids weren’t either…as you know. This muscle could be called “self control,” and it’s one of the results of the Spirit of God being active in your life. If you don’t ever grow self control, the “saying no” muscle, you’ll simply never be mature and walk as deeply or as intimately with Jesus as you want.

The world and its wanting,
is on the way out,
but the man who does the will of God
is set for eternity.
John the Apostle

3. I’m building people.
As noted above, I have kids (both physical kids and spiritual sons I’m building into). As noted many times in the Bible and on this site, if they don’t have an appropriate relationship with money, they will be sunk, spiritually (and thus, my lifetime investment in building a family would be sunk). I want to train my kids with regard to money. They, like me, are surrounded by a culture of wanting and even the glorification of wanting, but they lack whatever wherewithal I possess to bob and weave my way through it. They are defenseless against a lifetime of pursuing their momentary lusts unless they get trained otherwise. Ergo, parents! It’s my job to teach them to “say no to worldly lusts”, so having a period in which their mom and dad don’t buy them what they want is formative and helpful to them. We make sure that we’re saying no to them all year long, but LoDoFeb is a time to say no pretty much wholesale.

Have something to share
with those who’re in need.
The Apostle Paul

I’ll not offer as a [sacrifice] to God
that which costs me nothing.
King David

4. We are going to be a family of givers.
One of the fun wrinkles of LoDoFeb is that, while we’re spending less, our budget will remain exactly the same. That is, we’re not “saving” any of what we don’t spend. We’re taking the difference between our normal budget and what we spent and we’re giving it away! We make this a cause for celebration in our home, and it shows us all that saying no to our momentary wants can produce a good that’s much more valuable than bubble gum. This year, we’re giving our difference to a widow we know and love. True giving is always costly: if you always say only yes to yourself and also throw a bit toward charity, that gift, biblically, is much less valuable than giving with sacrifice attached to it. Since we want a family culture that produces giving experts, we get excited about that more valuable kind of giving.

Be on your guard against all types of greed

5. I want to be lean and mean.
For all of us, it’s so easy to think that our current lifestyle is the minimum we could possibly exist on. For most people, the lifestyle you currently enjoy is the most expensive one you’ve ever experienced. We are convinced that we NEED new shoes twice a year (you don’t); we HAVE to eat out six times a month (you don’t), and that our luggage just HAS to be updated annually (it doesn’t). You’ll never hear me say that any of those things is inherently sinful—they’re not. But what is sinful (inasmuch as sin is believing a lie) is the idea that we couldn’t get by with less. This is why we freak out when we think we might possibly lose our jobs, or that our income or dividends will decrease from year to year, or we get anxious when unexpected costs barge into our lives. We just think we’re going to have a really rough time with less! LoDoFeb teaches my whole family, every single year, that nope, we can get by on less just fine. It becomes a game, seeing where we can save. My wife is great at it; she takes a strange delight when she can find apples for 50 cents cheaper than she budgeted for. I found a $10 gift card in my backpack this month and just about screamed in my car. I took home lunch leftovers from the staff kitchen where I work more than once, and it became dinner. Yay! (And if you think there’s a better deal going than the amount of calories you can buy for a five-spot at Taco Bell, you’re out of your freakin’ mind!)

1. We WILL remember Jesus’ teachings about money!
2. We’re GOING to follow Jesus!
3. We WILL develop self-control!
4. We ARE going to be givers—forever!
5. We CAN get by on less. We’ll be fine!

Thanks, LoDoFeb. See you next year. Wink!