A case against conspicuous consumption
Professor aims to show how living with enough helps us give away more
Roger and Jane Stichter’s children understand money management better than a lot of people. They’ve been earning salaries since they were 10 years old.
When Roger took a pay cut, so did the children. When his salary rose, so did theirs.
“It brings more reality into their lives,” Roger said, adding that he and Jane wanted to make a point that conditions can change.
“We thought we would better prepare our children for life,” Jane said.
As Roger points out, most adults aren’t paid a certain amount for each task they complete. They’re paid a salary that they’re expected to earn.
And while the amount of work the children do matters, other factors are part of the equation too.
“Their work has to be of an acceptable quality,” Jane said, “and sometimes their attitude enters into it.”
What kind of work?
Their children helped with preparing meals, setting the table, clearing the table, washing dishes and cleaning, including vacuuming. They also pitched in with outdoor jobs such as mowing, raking, and washing vehicles.
The Stichters had three boys (Adam, Luke, Jeremiah), then five girls (Susanna, Rebecca, Jubilee, Angella, Jericho). Rebecca died in 1999 after spending about 21 of her 26 months at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. Their two youngest daughters are in high school.
Roger said he and Jane have kept their children’s salaries modest, but they can buy clothes, gifts, put money in savings, and tithe.
Some of the children have been “frugal to the extreme,” Roger said, while others spend quite freely.
With seven kids, you get seven distinct personalities. “We treat our children fairly, but you can’t treat all seven alike,” Roger said.
When there’s a family workday, everybody works. Anyone who doesn’t work doesn’t eat that night.
“Most of them only missed one meal,” Roger said. “A couple of them missed two.”
Roger and Jane are experienced with fasting, and they’ve seen real hunger. They knew missing one meal wouldn’t harm their children.
Jane and Roger took Study-Service Term trips to Haiti and Belize while students at Goshen (Indiana) College. “Those trips had a big effect on us,” Jane said. “We felt like we really understood hunger.”
She added, “Growing up Mennonite, I learned a lot about stewardship. We wanted our kids to understand that, and to understand generosity and being compassionate.”
Accounting, and teaching accounting
Money has been a large part of Roger’s life, and not because he’s tried to accumulate as much as possible.
He’s a professor of accounting at Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana, who earned a bachelor’s degree from Goshen College; an MBA from Indiana University South Bend; and a DBA from Anderson (Indiana) University.
In addition to academia, Roger has worked as corporate controller for a long-term care company and as chief financial officer for a child-care nonprofit organization.
He wrote a book called The Principle of Maximums: Living with Enough to Give Away More and another called Devotionals from accounting classes.
Living with enough to give away more
In Maximums, Roger explains the concept of setting “maximums” for how we spend our money – on clothes, housing, vehicles, other possessions, entertainment – even retirement.
Roger said as he thinks about money and generosity, he often thinks about Philippians 4.
In Philippians 4, Paul writes, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
Paul thanks the people of Philippi for sharing with him and says he wants “more to be credited to your account.”
In Devotionals, Roger writes, “Paul seems to be saying that when we are generous in meeting the needs of others, God increases something owed to us,” adding credits to our accounts.
What we want vs. what others need
Roger says, “I want to be as generous as I think I can be.” And generosity relates to how much of our money we devote to ourselves.
That’s the core of Maximums, where he writes, “If we aren’t careful, we become focused on what we want and not focused on how we can help others who have their basic needs unmet.”
Roger draws from several other works in Maximums, including Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt; Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity by Ronald J. Sider; and Lynn A. Miller’s The Power of Enough.
Maximums includes this blunt passage from Platt’s book: “I wonder if followers of Christ 150 years from now will look back at Christians in America today and ask, ‘How could they live in such big houses? How could they drive such nice cars and wear such nice clothes? How could they live in such affluence while thousands of children were dying because they didn’t have enough food and water? How could they go on with their lives as though the billions of poor didn’t even exist?’”
Earning and giving
Devotionals from accounting classes contains biblically inspired observations Roger has shared with his students over the years.
He figures many students will forget much of the accounting he’s taught, but the devotionals will have a more lasting impact.
“I consider myself a Christian, not a Christian accountant,” he said. “First who you are is a believer, a Christian, then an accountant” or whatever occupation you find.
Roger said in Maximums, “I often tell my students that I hope they become extremely wealthy. Not so they can have a lot of stuff, but so they can give a lot away and impact the world for Christ.
“I don’t believe wealth is wrong, but keeping wealth for ourselves while others are in need is wrong.”