Hello. I’ve started this post three times now and I keep erasing my words because I don’t know how to lightly transition into what I’m going to write. So, here goes.

God has put it on my heart ALL YEAR LONG to give up spending money on things I don’t need.  I’ve done a fair job at cutting back on expenses and simplifying.  We even went papertowel-less a couple months ago.  But, you know what?  That was easy.  The thing I’ve been most afraid of is saying no to shopping for stuff.  Stuff that brings me temporary comfort.  Stuff that is disguised in “I need this” clothing.  Stuff that tries to take my attention away from what matters more.  Until now, I’ve felt my stuff and the needs behind why I buy that stuff were stronger than God’s ability to be sufficient for me. I am still scared out of my mind hesitant about doing this because the alternative to spending money on things I don’t need is seeing clearly that God is enough for all of my needs and letting go of control of my happiness.  Letting Him be my happy.  And that may take work or struggle or facing how very connected to my stuff I am.  Me + stuff = BFFL.  OK, it will most definitely take all of those things.  It will take me learning a new deeper lasting happy.

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Gracie at my parents house last weekend, playing piano for the first time. : )

A few months ago, my dear friend Nancy posted that she was doing a “Contentment Challenge” where she wasn’t buying anything new — clothes, accessories and stuff — for three months.  Read her post about MTH and how God placed this on her heart here.  Right around that time, I went to a conference with her where Jen Hatmaker, author of 7, was speaking.  I sort of laughed the idea of giving up spending in my heart.  Haha!  Yeah right.  That’s too hard, I thought.  I’m just too weak.

And you know what?  I AM too weak.  And that’s exactly the point.  After months of praying and being challenged by scripture, I am seeing that God made us that way so we would rely on Him fully.  Paul’s words in Philippians have been ringing in my heart the last weeks:

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.  (Phil 4:12-13)

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Grace making buttermilk biscuits with my mom last weekend.

I want God to be the only source of my strength — my true sustenence.  Not new clothes or a better bigger prettier faster ____ (whatever it is at the moment).  I want to rely on Him to make me feel whole and new again, not Target (sorry, old friend).  I want to live simply and give abundantly.  Like, actually DO it.  I want to have margin in my life to stop and get on my knees to pray rather than be surfing Amazon for lightning deals.  I want to be weak so He can be strong in me.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Cor 12:9)

But, before I tell you what I’m doing, let me preface it by saying this:  this is not about rules.  It’s about doing what God has been urging me to do.  If He puts it on my heart to buy something for a good reason, I will do just that.  Like Jesus healing people on the Sabbath, this is not about following guidelines just for the sake of guidelines.  God is bigger than rules.  It’s about fasting from something that I feel is keeping me from a deeper relationship and understanding of God’s heart.

So, if you are not doing this challenge with me, I still love you a whole lot.  With sugar on top and extra sprinkles!  I won’t judge you for making your Christmas list and checking it twice.  I still have a shop and a business that people buy things from, but I pray each purchase inspires them to what matters or somehow points them to Him.  You could certainly argue that no one needs a wedding magazine or PowerSheets.  That is true.  But, I make them because God put in on my heart to inspire people to what matters in marriage and to help people set good goals that build His Kingdom.  For me personally, filling out my own PowerSheets this month is partly what brought me to write this post.  I got my head clear, took a good look at my goal progress this year, and — with just a few months left in the year — realized it was TIME.  Time to stop worrying about taking this Challenge and just do it.  So, remember that a close relationship with God is not about spending vs not spending or being a missionary vs being a designer.  It’s about the heart.  It’s about using what you have — or don’t have — to glorify Him.  If you do join me in this #ContentmentChallenge, remember the heart of why we fast from something in the first place – to glorify Him.  To draw close to Him.  To live with less so that He can be exactly what He is – more.

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Painting for the very first time with my mama.  So many sweet firsts on our visit.

The Guidelines (modified from Nancy’s just slightly):

  • Prepare your heart, organize your closet, and make any necessary purchases that you might need during these months or plan for them. (This is not a last minute shopping spree! This is one final trip to the store for items you will need, and the opportunity for you to say your goodbyes to Target.)  I’ve already made my list of things I will likely purchase and have prayed about all of these things: family photo albums from Artifact Uprising (my pictures are useless on my computer and need to live somewhere we can see and feel them), a Christmas tree (actually counts as a donation since we get it from Trosa), business needs (needs only), and I’m not counting Grace’s needs like the obvious — diapers, wipes, warm clothes for winter and her 2nd birthday is the week before Thanksgiving so I’ll probably get her some balloons.  The rest I may make.
  • I am fasting from buying new clothes, household items, accessories and general stuff.   There’s a lot in that category and for me, it’s mostly the occasional trip to Target that gets me in trouble.  Food, items for basic living and experiences (like going to visit the zoo with Grace) are not a part of this fast for me.
  • I’m also focusing on giving during this time.  I’m trying to give something away every day.  Whether something physical, a prayer or encouragement.  Just something that is given to someone else.
  • I am hoping to do this through the New Year.  Yes, that means Christmas is included.  After organizing our whole house this weekend,  I know we have more than enough craft supplies to make gifts for family.  Also, charitable donations don’t count, so I can still do my yearly holiday purchases from Heifer.org as gifts for people.

UPDATED 12/3: After much prayer and God presenting many opportunities for us to fill needs for others, we have decided to give gifts that bless others and help them feel hope, not just donations. We’ve already started and it has been so gratifying!

  • Choose something to read during this time.  I recommend any of the following: Seven, Interrupted, and the Bible : )  (Feel free to leave additional recommendations in the comments!)  I’m trying to finish the Bible by the end of the year (in Amos right now) and also have Radical and Not a Fan to finish.
  • Gifts are okay!   Remember the heart of this.  It’s not about rules.  If someone gives you a new dress or piece of decor during that time, receive it graciously.  If you need to buy someone else a gift, by all means, do so.  The point is to learn more of ourselves and the Lord.
  • Necessities are okay!  If you lose your glasses, buy a new pair. Just don’t start justifying new purchases for items that you already have. (“I really NEED this bathing suit, even though there are 8 in my closet already.”)
  • Actively pursue something good that helps to replace your tendency to buy stuff as a source of comfort.  Something that points you back to what matters most.  For me, it may be prayer, singing hymns with Grace, reciting scripture out loud, slow dancing in the kitchen with Ari, painting,  gardening or taking a deep breath and thinking about Heaven, where we will have no stuff anyway.

I would also recommend using this as a time to become a better steward of your finances.  I know, I know!  First I tell you I’m giving up shopping and now I’m talking about budgeting. (!!!)  Stick with me here… : )  Having a financial plan has helped me to get to this point because I have been learning that all I have is not mine.  We are just stewards of what God has given us and we are to use it wisely.  We are blessed to be a blessing.  For a general primer on money management, read The Total Money Makeover and our resident Creative Director, Emily’s, Marvelous Money posts. With the help of Nancy’s husband, Will, who is also our financial coach (I highly recommend him!), we’ve outlined a budget and we now have solid goals like working to aggressively pay off Ari’s student loan so we can get to things like saving for Grace’s college and helping my parents if they need support in their later years.  Will also gave me a list of scriptures about finance that I have tacked to my office wall so I am constantly reminded of where God wants my focus.    My mind and heart can get so off-track!

financial compass lara casey

OK.  I have to get back to work, but let me finish by saying this: (as my dear friend Emily says)  grace, not perfection.  I didn’t want to blog this because I am human and fallible and I will likely mess up somewhere.  But, what makes me oddly excited about even the thought of “messing up” is the hope that God will change me in this experience.  He already has in preparing for it.

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In our garden together last week.  I love getting out with her and hunting for garden treasures. My tomato plants trees are out of control!

I am excited to get to know Him more and to rejoice in Him more.  I am excited to simplify.  I am excited to learn to be more resourceful.  I am excited to savor what I do have more.  I am excited to learn a deeper gratitude in this.

I’d love to hear from you if you are joining me in this.  I’ll be using Nancy’s #ContentmentChallenge hashtag to keep you updated on my progress and can’t wait to be encouraged by yours, too.  Here’s to living with less (even though in comparison to the rest of the world we are so rich regardless) and to learning to be content!

Show Comments (55)
  1. Emmy Storms

    So impressed by you, Lara! I love this idea and have been thinking about doing something like this for a while as well, so it’s inspiring to see that you’re starting it now!

  2. Jenni Bailey

    I love this. I read about Nancy’s challenge on Instagram and it was so inspiring. I’m thinking of doing this only with the variation that I wont bring new THINGS into my home. I will gift my girls with experiences instead of stuff and care for what I have without adding more to the pile.

    • Lara

      I really love that. No new THINGS. Yes, that’s exactly what’s been on my heart.

  3. Mary

    At first I thought this was insane. Then I thought it was great, but not for me. And now I’m intrigued. I just moved to a new state for my husbands job where I don’t know a soul and instead of turning my focus (and all of this new free time I have!) to the bible, I have filled it with “exploring my surroundings” aka finding the nearest target and buying things that fill the void of friendships I left behind. I didn’t want to read this, but I’m so glad I did. Thanks Lara :)

    • Lara

      Haha! You had the exact same thoughts as me! First I thought it was nuts, then great but not for me… and then God kept putting it on my heart. Praying for you in your new home!

  4. Sarah Teeter

    Lara, thank you for living so honest and open. I love reading your posts, whether through the blog or on FB/IG and leaving inspired, but also refocused on God. I am participating with a group of friends in the 7 Experiment (workbook version) and already it is changing my world. While I participated with Nancy’s challenge earlier this year I realize I still hold onto so much stuff. The 7 Experiment is coming at the right time to continue simplifying me, so I can be fuller in God. By the way how is the no paper towel piece going? I’m looking at doing the same and have material set out to make cloth napkins!

    • Lara

      So great! I loved reading 7 and simplified so much after that. Going paper towel-less was really simple. We just have a bunch of cheap kitchen towels from walmart that we keep in a stack and use them as needed. We keep a “dirtier” one by the sink to clean up messes. And we have a set of cloth napkins that we use for dinner and other things like packing an apple in my purse for Grace when we need a snack. They get washed once a week and we try to be really conservative with washing them. We haven’t missed paper towels at all! : )

  5. Sara

    This spoke right to me and was right on time! I woke up with a conviction today to simplify, and to talk to my husband about our finances. Thank you for this Lara! Thank you for putting yourself out there over and over again, and challenging us to make what matters happen in our lives!! xo

  6. Vanessa Collins

    Seriously convicting post, Lara. Especially the Target part. *Gulp*. I honestly feel like this is impossible for myself. But that’s prolly a good place to be, because then I’d have to rely on GOD.
    As far as book recommendations, there are 3 I’ve read recently that have rocked me to the core, challenged, and refreshed me. “The Insanity of God” by Nik Ripken and “Kisses From Katie” by Katie Davis will probably only strengthen your resolve for this challenge as well as help focus you on a powerful, sovereign and all-sufficient God. Another amazing book is “The Explicit Gospel” by Matt Chandler. SO clear and precise and God-centered.
    Thank you again for sharing your challenge with all of us. You are brave.

  7. Beverly

    My Husband and I have been spending less and budgeting more wisely for over a year now (partly by choice, partly by circumstances). It has been a glorious time to see and experience God as our Provider. In this time, we have grown more intentional in our spending and we have a greater appreciation for everything in our life! It has also promoted more thoughtful date nights. :)
    Less is most definitely more!

  8. Stephanie

    I adore reading your posts and following your Instagram. You have inspired me in SO many ways since I stumbled onto your page a few months ago. This post spoke to me right away and is something I too feel the need to do. I have been placing so much of my energy on “things” and somehow always end up at Target buying things that truly don’t serve me. I love the concept of no new things ! Thank you for sharing this challenge and for always spreading God’s word in such a beautiful way.

  9. Rachel

    What a wonderful idea! I’d also recommend Packing Light by Allison Vesterfelt. It just came out and is about her year long journey of selling everything and travelling around the country. Incredible insights.

  10. Kylie

    This spoke directly to my heart! Loved doing the Contentment Challenge this summer and felt SUCH a change in my soul afterwards. Simplifying has been placed so hard on my heart lately and I am right there with you! I want to be weak so I can turn to Him to be my strength. Constant prayers for you, cannot wait to hear how everything’s going and give you the BIGGEST hug next month, sweet friend! xo

  11. Lauren

    I’ve had Nancy’s contentment challenge post up for a couple weeks now. It’s definitely on my heart to try it. And I’ve heard 7 is so good. I can’t wait to pick it up! Even though those 2 sentences are contradictory :)

  12. Em

    Lara! I’m so excited you are doing the Contentment Challenge. I’m currently in the midst of Month 2 and it has been quite the journey. I had never realized before how much I just pick something up “just because” or how target and their dollar section gets me every time I walk in the door!

    I have not been 100% perfect but God is working on my HEART in huge ways…and that is what is the most important right?

    I can’t wait to see how God uses this to mold us more into his likeness!

  13. Artifact Uprising

    Lara – oh how I love your honesty and your persistence to be the good and find it in others. Thank you for the kind words about our company – you know where to find us – we’d love nothing more. xoxo katie

  14. Sheila

    Lara – perfect timing! I am only on month two of Nancy’s challenge and now super excited to also to be on board with you! I am not sure I will go to Christmas, but I already feel God working. Your story about how Ari gave aways his favorite sweater (a few posts back) really struck me, and helped me begin to realize the importance of giving – letting go – to be open to His Gifts! Have a beautiful day Lara and thankful for your heart!! xo

  15. Mycah

    Lara, I can’t tell you how much I needed this. I have loved reading your posts on Instagram for some time now, and have been a huge fan of SW for years. But yesterday was the first time I came to your blog. I believe the Lord brought me to your blog for a reason, because your post was EXACTLY what I have ben praying about and what has been on my heart recently. I started crying when I read it, because I knew that He was speaking to me loud and clear. Your post prompted me to have a much needed discussion with my husband last night about how I have been filling my life with too much “stuff” (Target trips and JCrew Factory 40% off everything sales get me every time!) to give myself a temporary fix. I selfishly continue to fill my life with more clothes, accessories, etc. when I should be giving more to our church and others in need, paying more on my student loans and just saving in general. I have been praying about this and have asked God to change me in this area of my life. I have been asking Him to draw me closer to him because I desire to know Him more. I just wanted to thank you for writing this post and let you know that I’m going to do the Contentment Challenge with you. I know it’s going to be hard, but I’m excited for how it will change me!

  16. Tabitha

    Lara, seriously are we sisters? Well, we need to be! God has been working on my heart with this issue for the last year. And I’m sad to say that I’ve tried to ignore it and “forget” it away. I’ve actually filled out several Tending Lists that outline spending less, but I seemingly wiggle my way into excuses for my next purchase. It is very much like you described: little things here and there from Target or that cute shirt from Forever and maybe a book or two from Amazon. But this adds up and I’m left still feeling unsatisfied after the purchase. I realize it is Christ that I’m thirsting for. His boundless, amazing grace! I know that God has used you to speak to me again. And this time I want to commit to Him that I will take this challenge. I need to fast from spending and do it with joy in my heart! God has blessed me beyond my wildest dreams and I can carry my cross so to speak by giving up the little things like Target trips and Amazon wishlists. I feel like God is trying to transform my heart so I can be prepared to become a stay-at-home-mother. We’re used to two incomes and my prayer has been to allow us to thrive on one income. God is answering prayer today beautiful girl!!! I’m excited!

  17. Jessa R.

    Dear Lara,

    Thank you. Your words are equal parts encouragement and inspiration. To use the #contentmentchallenge hashtag, am I allowed to modify the guidelines a bit or would you prefer to keep the hashtag pure?

    • Lara

      Do whatever you feel like God has on your heart to do! And feel free to use the hashtag so we can support you : )

  18. Jenn

    Girl, you are speaking to my heart. I’m feeling the need not only to simplify the stuff but just our life. Being a working mom is hard, and overwhelming, and we make it so much more complicated than it needs to be. There is a fight for our heart every day over stuff and expectations and our TIME. Reading this is so refreshing, and so life giving. Thank you for being so transparent! You are not alone, that is for sure :)

  19. Sarah

    Oh, how I needed to read this today! I have been mulling over how to cut back my spending in order to get back to the basics — to the true lining of my heart…family, friends, faith, trust, and focus. After reading this, I truly think October is the month…and maybe, just maybe 2014 will be the year to live a lighter but greater and fuller year! Thank you so very much! You inspire me daily – such a beautiful heart!

  20. Jenny Collier

    I began the Contentment Challenge on September 1st for the same reasons. And I messed up the first week — I came clean, announced it on my blog to hold myself accountable :), and started over. I need this not only for my pocket book but for that change in my heart. Things do not equal happiness!

  21. Bailey Robert

    Oh, girl. I needed to read this. The Contentment Challenge has been knocking on my heart all summer, but boy did I have my list of reasons (excuses really) to put it off. It’s my birthday, I’m moving across the country, I need new clothes for work, and so on and so on. All that was feuling the flesh and my search for satisfaction in the worldly things. I was thinking again about starting this challenge when I stumbled onto your post, and that was the last encouragement I needed! And you know what? I’m excited. And scared, to be honest, because I know my tendencies. But it will be a challenge and I’m eager to walk with the Lord in this and see what He does in my heart, life, and finances. Thanks girl!

  22. Natasha

    I’m near the middle of a 6 month Contentment Challenge (started July 1st). Talk about a heart shift Lara. It has been tough, but it’s been so rewarding to move even closer to God and what really matters. More love, less stuff <3 *hugs*

  23. Amy

    I love reading what God is doing in the life of others believers! Your willingness to be molded by Him, is such a witness! Thank you for sharing your journey to become more like Him!

  24. Shefali Lindsey

    Lara, this is so beautiful! Thank you dear friend for inspiring me to go home and talk to Bryan about joining you in Contentment Challenge. As wild as this sounds, I am excited to focus on what matters most with Noah and Bryan. Much love.

  25. Kia

    Hey Lara, I just finally had to come here to comment because I wanted to say thank you. I have been a follower of you since 2011, wanted to attend the MTH2012 workshop in San Francisco and couldn’t swing it but then life took a weird shift for me and I stopped focusing on my photography business so much but more on my family. I started blogging more about being a mom to two young women that I hope to show through my everyday routines that God is good and that he is the provider and knows our needs. I pray everyday that he shows me my calling in life , even though I’m in my 30s. I’ve watched you share your faith more and more everyday and I know that I am meant to do the same with my girls, my family and those I come into contact with daily. I know you’re headed to the Influence Conference and I pray that I am in the position to attend next year so I can thank you in person. So, here’s a thank you for now. Thank you!

  26. Ashley

    Thank you for outlining this so well. This has been a desire of mine and my husband’s for sometime. Our main goal: to get rid of debt (thank you dave ramsey ha!) and find peace in contentment. We have both grown up in a world of privilege and even now have plenty and still, every time we do a monthly budget, it ends in tears because it still feels like not enough. This plan is so organized that it makes it possible and like you said “i am too weak to do this” is exactly the heart God wants to work with. Ah- hah moment! Thank you!
    I plan on blogging my journey along the way and hopefully encourage others to do the same.

  27. Hope Easter

    I think I will definitely take this challenge! I need to get my finances back in order, and back on track to building wealth! I love Dave Ramsey!!!

    <3

  28. Rhiannon

    I had to come back and read this post as I sit in the airport after a few days with my parents in Florida. My gut and my heart has been telling me to revisit the Contentment Challenge again after a succesful month at it this summer. Living with less sounds delicious and fulfilling. I’m hoping to jump back in again soon. Love you, Lara! :)

  29. Chelsea

    These pictures are so precious!

  30. Amber

    I gave up Target and purchasing home/holiday decor in 2012, and have challenged myself to buy no new clothes in 2013. It’s interesting how giving these things up can be so freeing. I’ve noticed I am much more mindful about my shopping after doin challenges like these. Good stuff!

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  36. ND

    How about including in there all the money u spend on your hair and nails…. What is it that God says about vanity?

    • Lara

      Hi there! I actually already don’t get my haircut more than a couple times a year and I don’t get my nails done, but I agree. Keeping healthy and well-groomed can be a great thing for well-being, but there is a lot of excess in much of our culture.

  37. Paula

    Mmmm this post spoke to my soul. I’ve been preparing my 2014 business & personal goals. As a photographer, I do buy a lot of props. God clearly spoke to me as I was praying over my 2014 vision & mission statements, and said he doesn’t want people to see THINGS. He wants them to see HIM, and the fruits His Spirit brings – Love, joy, etc. So part of my 2014 Vision is just that – to hone my photography and not rely on the props, but the life, the nature, and let His Light shine. I accept the Contentment Challenge! Thanks for your post, and your inspriation.

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  48. M.Nicole

    Hi! I just discovered your blog and I’m enjoying it immensely. This post is soooo very timely for me as God has been tugging on my heart about my spending lately. Between buying things to fill a God-sized void to viewing (read stalking) fashion blogs for new fashion ideas I have more things in my closet with tags on them than I care to admit. This is after cleaning out my closet and giving things away! SMH! My contentment must be in Him alone and I’ve been toying with the idea of a spending freeze for the New Year. This post was pretty confirmation that I just need to go on and do it. I’m not missing out on anything buy not buying new things.

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