If you have concerns that some of those using food banks simply manage their money poorly, or that they have injudiciously got into debt, or that food banks encourage dependency, then you are not alone. I share those concerns. However, I am pretty sure that many people using food banks are desperate and I feel disinclined to try to judge whether they rank as the deserving or undeserving poor. The food I donate to my local food bank is largely cheap stuff, value brands. If anyone is desperate enough to want £15 pounds worth of this kind of food, I reckon they must be in need of one sort or another and they are welcome to it.
I am in the fortunate position that I have never really felt short of money or gone hungry. However, a few years ago, when Mr M gave up work and we were relying purely on my salary, we did find that we were spending more than we had coming in some months and we had to think about money more carefully. We were used to pretty much spending what we liked and suddenly the big bills that came in, such as the clutch on the car and the washing machine both needing to be replaced in the same month, were a real problem. We had savings, but I began to understand why people without any reserves might resort to pay day loans and get caught up in the iniquitous interest rates charged by companies such as Wonga with their evil little puppets masquerading as benevolent old folk.
Mr M soon learnt to economise, he now works an average of two days a week and we have more coming in than we have going out, but we do still try to live simply as a point of principle. One of the things that I've have noticed about Quaker friends is how simply they live, and this remains a touchstone of Quakerism. It is also true that Christians ought not to value money or material possessions. How anyone can find any justification for the prosperity gospel given the frankly bloody uncomfortable things Jesus has to say about money, I don't know.
So here are my ideas for living more simply.
1. Recognise that we are pressurised by a consumer society which is constantly telling us we need more and that our lives are not worthwhile without things. This is the you deserve it culture. It goes to great lengths to make you spend money when you will quite often be just as happy and comfortable (more so in fact) without the new clothes, new TV, new computer, new sofa. Really think about whether you need to replace something or whether you need new shoes, or a phone or whatever it is. The "because you're worth it" AKA "we long to rip you off" guff was used to market L'Oreal shampoo. Measure your worth in something more important than a bottle of shampoo anyway and, rather than thinking about what you deserve, think about the fact that L'Oreal shampoo costs anything from 5.99 to 17.99 per 250 ml bottle ( I kid you not) and that any bottle of shampoo ( I like the Creighton's range at 99p for 250ml at Bodycare but that's just one of my little luxuries) will do exactly the same job. Honesty, it will.
2. Given the frightening cost of fuel and energy, not to mention the impact on the environment, turn the heating off and put on a jumper! David Cameron can't admit to saying that with his millions but I can. I do admit to being a bit of a wimp when it comes to the cold, but I live with a family of hard men (... they wish...:) "What cold, Me? No I'm fine" is the standard response in our family when I am shivering. As a result we don't usually put the heating on until the October half term, but Mr M (now also known as Scrooge) has vetoed it this year due to the weather this half term being so mild. When it comes to the lights on, the whole situation is reversed and I am the one who goes around turning lights off and giving lectures about the environment.
3. Don't waste food! I get really passionate about this one and I constantly try to curb food waste in our family because I hate throwing away food when so much of the world is starving and food prices are rising across the world. Plan out your food use for the week. Write a menu. Go out with a shopping list and stick to it. Use up the stuff in your cupboards and freezer. Check your fridge for stuff you could use lying unloved at the back. Think about how to use up leftovers creatively. Don't worry too much about best before dates and be aware that some food can be eaten after the "use by" date - use your nose and your common sense and read the advice on Love Food, Hate Waste. Cook more vegetarian meals because this reduces your carbon footprint. Go foraging and make nettle soup (OK, I haven't done this yet, but I will if we fall on hard times...)
4. Keep on giving to charity. Unless you are incredibly short of money/ heavily in debt then always aim to give. See frugality as a means not just to save more but also to give more. If you don't give, or if you begrudge giving, you will become a miser. Then your life will be impoverished. God loves a cheerful giver, and giving should be a source of joy.
5. The same goes for yourself. Don't become so obsessed with saving money that you deprive yourself of the things that you need or truly enjoy. Don't be pressurised into spending money, think about what you spend and whether you really want or need what you buy, but enjoy your possessions and treat yourself and others sometimes! If you have lots of precious things in your life that aren't money, you enjoy what you do have, you are in the incredibly fortunate position of having enough to live on, and you have enough to be able to give to others, then you are truly rich.