Interview with Margaret Feinberg about Five-Star Living on a Two-Star Budget, with Christian Book Previews' editor, Debra Murphy
CBP: Can you share with us your Christian testimony?
Margaret: My father's Jewish and my mother kind of had her own belief system. They were married about eight years trying to have kids, and both simultaneously became Christians. And right about that time I was conceived, and so I was born into a Christian home. Pretty much grew up in the church, had some of the richness of my father's heritage, but then married to the Christian faith, which is amazing because my father is a Messianic believer. Grew up in the church and definitely spent time in high school and particularly in college, making my faith my own, which was a bit of a bumpy journey. You try things that the world offers and decide that maybe that's not the best way to be living. I always had that sense of knowing God, and that desire to know God, do what it takes to know him more.
CBP: Can you tell us a little bit more about that bumpy journey?
Margaret: Yeah, oh my gosh. Off to college, you're on your own so you drink and you date like crazy, and do the sorority, and just had a wild freshman year. At the end of the year, my youth pastor from high school said there was a conference, "which is a Methodist conference that we're going to, would you like to go?" And I said, "Absolutely." So I went and attended the conference. It was during that time that I really felt God's presence and his hand on my life, and I felt like he said, "You are my child, and I have called you. Come back to me." It was one of the pivotal times in life when God grabs you by the scruff of the neck, and says, "You're my kid, come on back." From that, I changed the way that I was living, and drinking and all those things. Just came back to him.
CBP: So you finished college, what about your career?
Margaret: I've written several books for twentysomethings and young adults. Graduating from college, I was a religion major. That and 25 cents still won't buy you anything at Starbucks. After graduating, I had an internship at a small Christian publication, called Christian Retailing, and spent the summer interning. Finished that up and had no idea. My mom and dad called and said, "We are going on a missions trip. Would you like to go?" And I said, "Well, I don't know." They said, "We'll pay." I said, "I'm in." Are you kidding? So we went down to Honduras, and instead of just staying for a week, I stayed for a month. Came back, worked some more, saved up some money, went back down and stayed for another month. Figured out that I probably wasn't called to missions. That wasn't the thing I was created to do. Did what most college graduates do, they call us the Boomerang Generation for a great reason: we fling out and come right back. Moved back in with mom and dad, and I thought, If I could do anything with my whole life, what would I want to do? I wanted to write. And I wanted to write more than I wanted to eat, which is a really good thing because when you're a writer, it's a lot like being a starving artist. But from there, after I started to freelance, started really small writing views in the back of Christian publications and worked my way up to news stories and feature stories and eventually cover stories and a bunch of different national magazines, and eventually broke into books.
CBP: You said that you wrote for twentysomethings, so what are some of the subjects you've written on?
Margaret: Goodness. I wrote a book with W Publishing called Twentysomethings: Surviving and Thriving in the Real World. I have a book coming out in May with Tyndale House called What the Heck Should I Do With My Life? I've spoken at a number of conferences, and it's just one of those areas that I guess I resonate with. I've lived it, so I think that in your twenties you often think you're the only one who's struggling, the only one who's going out and going "Oh, my gosh! Why is this so hard? Why am I so alone? Is God ever going to bring the one?" You're not alone. In fact, we're all thinking the same thing. We may look really cute on the outside but on the inside we're still all asking the same questions.
CBP: We feel like we're creating the circumstances for the first time, but we're recreating it. So you co-wrote this book with Natalie Nichols Gillespie. How did you guys come together?
Margaret: We were both, back when I was freelancing, we ended up being writers for a lot of the same magazines. So we both wanted to go to the same convention, which was actually a Christian booksellers convention, and so we said, "Okay, let's grab a room together and we can go and do this together." So we built a friendship over the last 8, 9 years.
CBP: Where do you live?
Margaret: I live in Juno, Alaska, of all places.
CBP: How did you get there?
Margaret: Oh my goodness. My aunt had a bed and breakfast. My uncle died suddenly and she needed help with the B&B. So I went up one summer to help her, came back a second and a big, tall, strapping Norwegian stole my heart. Now I am married and live in Alaska.
CBP: Where is Natalie?
Margaret: Natalie lives in Weeki Wachee, Florida.
CBP: What inspired you to write a book on this particular subject?
Margaret: You know, there are tons of books on the market about living cheap and to me doing extreme things to save money. And that's just not my style. I'm not one to carry around a coupon book. If I'm going to get 50% off, I'm so in. I mean, the only thing better than getting a great product, is getting it on sale. I thought than rather than focus a book on being cheap or trying to save every dime, let's focus on saving the dollars in the tens and hundreds. Then let's use that money to do something that maybe makes our world a better place. To care and to provide and to give to others.
CBP: Who's your target audience?
Margaret: It is anybody who likes to shop at Target. If you like to shop at Target, you are going to love this book. Because we want cool stuff, we want stuff that meets our needs, but at an affordable price.
CBP: Your message to people, can you expand on that?
Margaret: Yeah, the message is that if you will choose wisely, step back and think about what is really important to you, then you can spend your money in the ways that bring you most joy and satisfaction. Five-star living is not just about buying expensive things, it's about a lifestyle. It's about saying, "I'm going to choose to cut back in some areas so I can spend in some areas that will really make a difference in my life. And maybe in the process save some money so I can give to other people." So throughout the book we've developed what we call Live-it-and-give-it principles, that talk about here's a way that you can save money, but here's a way that you can use it to bless and encourage and help other people. I think that giving a one-time donation is great, but there are things that you can make as part of your lifestyle. Whether you go to the grocery store and get the buy-one-get-one-free, and then you take all the free ones and donate it to the soup kitchen. You can take things and make more out of what you have.
CBP: How do you get all those research tips?
Margaret: We spent a ton of time talking to people, and also on the internet. The internet is a bargain hunter's mine. There are so many websites that can help you find deals on travel or if you want to do some basic shopping or fashion, purses, etc. There's a huge directory in the back of the book that lists a ton of resources, many that you probably never heard of before, that can help you.
CBP: I thought it was incredible resource of websites. I notice that the book's genre is Personal Finance. But isn't it so much more?
Margaret: It is. There's several chapters about balancing a checkbook, the importance of getting out of debt, the basic financial principals that we all know but kind of are sometimes slow to practice. It goes further because it talks about the different aspects of how you're spending your money, and maybe ways you can save and then what you can do to do more with it.
CBP: What other areas do you cover?
Margaret: We cover beauty, clothing, kids. Natalie was great. She is a stepmom, she has six children. She had that chapter completely covered. There's another on entertainment. There's another one on large purchases, whether you're purchasing a house, what questions to ask yourself if you're going to buy or sell. Buying a car. Buying a new television, and appliances that can be rather expensive.
CBP: What about the Scripture and Christian testimony within this book?
Margaret: Absolutely. You'll find it throughout, because the principal isn't go out and save lots of money so that you can spend it all on yourself. It's not a selfish lifestyle, because we don't believe that's truly five-star living. To live for yourself is kind of dead-end living. But rather to say, okay, here's how I can better be a steward with what I have, my resources, and use it for the glory of God. There's a number of Christian organizations that we highlight throughout. Here's some ways, whether you're adopting a child or you're contributing to something like the Dictionary Project, which helps get kids dictionaries at a young age. Whatever it is that stirs your heart and your passion, focus your resources in that area.
CBP: Well, thank you for doing all that research in that area, I found it very valuable. In your book you write, "The goal of Five-Star living is that you don't have to make lots of money to make an impact. Simply by taking little cutbacks here and there you can multiply your savings but increase the amount that you give." What happens to you then if you give sacrificially?
Margaret: The joy is unbelievable. I recently did a study of looking at the attributes of God. One of the things that was highlighted was God's kindness and also his generosity. He's been so unbelievably generous with each one of us. Not just in our salvation, that we can go to heaven. It's so much more. It's a richness that envelopes the soul, not only for what is to come, but for what is now. And when we are generous with other people, we tap into God's generosity, we reflect him. The joy that comes out of it is amazing. We also find that he continues to provide for us. When we test him, "I don't know if I can give that." It's amazing to see what God provides.
CBP: I think I saw another aspect of it, that you were being good steward of the money you were given. What are some of the benefits of giving as it relates to kids?
Margaret: Giving is not a one-time event, it's a lifestyle. You can never start teaching your kids too young. Whether it's the practice of tithing, whether it's the practice of resourcing, like, "Okay, my toys are old, I'm getting new ones for Christmas. What can we do with this? Who can we give to?" Teaching them as young as possible.
CBP: Is there a value to us by freeing ourselves of our possessions by giving?
Margaret: Absolutely. There's nothing like simplicity. Americans could all use a little bit more, actually.
CBP: So what's on the horizon for you?
Margaret: Well, we have What the Heck Should I Do With My Life? coming out in May with Tyndale House. I think I'm going to be working on a couple of books for Zondervan Publishing. Natalie has a fabulous book coming out on adoption. She is bringing one over from China, and writing about that experience and providing a resource guide for anyone who's thought about adopting and gone, "Oh my gosh. I don't even know where to begin." Her book comes out this summer with Integrity Publishers.
CBP: Well, thank you for your resources!