There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. –Luke 16:19-21 (NIV)
“Frugality: Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.”
In this Bible story, we see a rich man who lived in luxury. In ancient times, purple dye came only from a kind of shellfish and was exorbitant, so only the super-rich royalty could afford it. This man would have been the talk-of-the-town, but the Bible doesn’t even mention his name. However, we do learn the name of the beggar: Lazarus, which means “God is my helper.” Lazarus longed to eat the rich man’s table scraps, and the fact that the dogs licked his sores indicates the hounds did more for Lazarus than the rich man did, even though he lived at his doorstep.
The rich man’s problem was not that he had money. His problem was, he was self-centered and self-indulgent. Many incorrectly believe “money is the root of all evil” is in the Bible, but that’s misleading. It’s an incomplete quotation. The full text of I Timothy 6:10 is: “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (NASB) So, money is not the cause of many problems, but loving it is.
Blessed with great wealth, it seems the rich man shared none but kept it all to himself. He wore purple and fine linen daily while a starving man with open sores lay at his front gate.
Frugality is not the same as miserliness. According to Franklin, frugality means “waste not.” However, it also includes spending what is necessary to reasonably take care of yourself and others.
Hetty Green, known as “the Witch of Wall Street,” was the richest woman in the Gilded Age. When she died in 1916, she had amassed a fortune worth between $3-4 billion in today’s money. However, she wore coats indoors during New Jersey winters and cooked oatmeal for lunch on bank radiators to save on utility bills. Her son injured his leg in a sledding accident as a child, and in her reluctance to pay the few dollars for proper medical care, he finally had to have his leg amputated. All this earned her a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as “the world’s greatest miser.”
Franklin’s first of 13 virtues was temperance, that is, avoiding extremes. With money and goods, frugality is the “sweet spot” between the extremes of miserliness and overindulgence. It can be summed up as: spend and enjoy when needed; remember to share; but don’t waste.
The old saying goes, “you can’t take it with you.” So, sharing now is a way of “sending some on ahead.” Another saying claims: “You never see a hearse with a U-Haul behind it.”
In this fifth week of the new year, remember this about your money: spend some, share some, but don’t waste.
This is Part 5 of a 13-Part series, based on 13 virtues that Benjamin Franklin sought to incorporate into his daily life, each of which has a scriptural basis. Franklin began this system in 1726, when he was incredibly only 20 years old. He realized that, since each year has 52 weeks, one can repeat this series four times annually. A chart like the one Franklin designed to help one mark one’s progress can be found here.