Sue Springer, a third-generation member of the Church of the Nazarene and creator of the money management workshop "Tightwads for Jesus," is a woman who believes people should get back to basics where money is concerned. The basics are offered in the Bible, she says.
"Riches don’t make you happy. But neither does poverty. It’s that middle road," Springer said. "There’s nothing wrong with being well off, it’s more of just facing your reality. We’ve got a society of people who are living in a fantasy."
Springer and her husband, Ross, live thriftily, which in turn gives them financial freedom and access to the finer things in life.
Springer said she used to run to the mall "clicking her heels" to shop away her tax refund. But her husband said now she’ll disappear for hours and return only having spent 50 cents or $1 — perhaps on a discount case of navy beans.
She drives a shiny new Cadillac she paid for in cash. She wears largely thrift-store clothes and she gets "teed off" if she has to pay more than $6 for a pair of shoes.
The Arlington resident even has her own side business as a tea etiquette consultant, but will halt everything for a "bargain alert" — when she’ll call other women from church to let them know about a sale on corn flakes or canned green beans.
Before she created "Tightwads for Jesus," Springer and her husband were something of a debt statistic. They had nearly a dozen credit cards. Years of small, legitimate purchases had added up to more than $31,000 in debt.
Like many Americans, every month they would throw money at their own, personal black hole.
One day, she heard Floyd Cummings, a retired pastor from the church, speaking about the principles of tithing. He discussed the differences between wants and needs, and told parishioners that if they tried to donate 10 percent of what they earned to the church, God would provide them with the means.
"I was sitting in the audience and I thought to myself, ‘I should listen to this man.’" Springer said. "So I decided right then and there, I thought, ‘I’m sick of living with this debt.’"
She decided to become a tightwad — "to cease spending for a season."
"If you want more of what you got, keep going what you’re doing," Springer said. "But if you want to make changes, you’ve got to make some changes."
While paying a steady tithe — or 10 percent of their income — to their church, she and her husband made some changes. They stopped eating fast food and stopped eating at restaurants. They shopped for closeout bargains at grocery stores and for good finds at thrift stores. She ripped up credit card offers that came in the mail, and renegotiated lower interest rates on the accounts she did have.
With relentlessness, discipline and "double and triple payments" on their credit cards, their debt was gone in 2 1/2years.
"I think people feel hopeless. I had one person say, ‘I was born in debt and I will die in debt,’" Springer said. "They’re resigned to it when they don’t really need to be. It’s trading slavery for freedom."
Once the couple were out of debt, she started sharing her experience, at first informally with friends who also were in debt. There seemed to be a need for frank, common-sense talk about money, she said.
"A friend of mine at church, we decided we’d start a support group for people who wanted to get out of debt or keep out of debt, and to do it while eating and living well," Springer said. "I’m not into hamburger recipes."
Using her personal experiences, the Bible and a book by Christian financial counselor Larry Burkett, Springer constructed "Tightwads for Jesus," initially called "Jesus Saves and So Can You."
She grounded the class around the importance of giving money to the church and the blessings that can come from it.
"In a nutshell, were it not for God, you would have absolutely nothing!" Springer wrote in a handout. "God is concerned with our attitude, and money is the testing ground before God of our true willingness to surrender self to him." She cited Matthew 6:23-24, which is about the impossibility to serve two masters.
Apart from tithing, there are other principles for managing money God’s way, she said.
Rather than get-rich-quick schemes, people should seek God’s increase, as well as his decreases.
She teaches that people should avoid buying things if they don’t have "peace" about the purchase.
Springer said people should evaluate and separate their financial needs, which are vital, from wants, which are not.
People shouldn’t go into debt to do God’s work, but she suggested giving rather than lending to help the needs of others.
And whether privately or in front of a packed church community room, Springer speaks fire and brimstone about the "dangerous trap" of credit card companies.
"They’re after you. They don’t care about your future. They don’t care about you as a person," she said. "What they care about is the dollar."
One of the biggest problems in America comes because "predatorlike" credit card companies coexist with legions of people who are willing to use credit to live beyond their means, she said.
"If you get down to it, all you need is a shelter, a place to wash your clothes and dependable wheels to get you from A to B," she said. "My identity is not tied up in things."
Biblical principles can apply whether you’re a believer or not, she said.
"Giving back — it frees your head up," she said. "It’s a matter of the heart. I’m sure if you gave begrudgingly, it might be a little different."