My 7 Takes this week are because I woke up remembering I wanted to mention these gorgeous First Communion dresses from Embroidered Heirlooms: I had the chance to see them and touch them a couple years ago, and they really are that well made. Now’s the time to order if you want to have one for the spring.
1. Let’s clarify: My girls wear the polyester department store special. And that’s only because someone up and gave us a hand-me-down dress, otherwise it would not have happened. It was a little big on #2 daughter, but there’s a lot you can do with safety pins these days.
–> So before you spend a lot of money on a handmade dress to last the generations, ask yourself: If this item were to meet a box of Sharpie markers on the way home from church, how would that affect me?
I don’t for a moment endorse your purchasing things you can’t afford, whether financially or emotionally.
2. So, today’s topic: How Much Money are You Allowed to Have and to Spend, Before People Start (Rightly) Pelting you with Catechisms?
To answer the question, we don’t need to know which dress you’re supposed to buy — that’s the thing that confuses everyone. What we need to know is: Is it moral to purchase a First Communion Dress?
3. You’re already scratching your head, because you got this great deal at the consignment shop last June, and you’re absolutely sure that $15 is not too much to spend, so how could someone even suggest there’s something wrong owning an FCD?
Well, obviously I don’t think there’s anything wrong with owning such a thing, or I’d be a tad quieter about the one hanging in my closet. But the trick to understanding the morality behind income issues is this: If it’s okay to own the dress, it’s okay to buy the dress.
4. You could argue that one should not buy special-occasion formal wear. You could argue that it’s okay to buy the white dress only if you do like the Haitian ladies and wear it all year. You could argue that it’s okay to buy the FCD, but you’re only allowed to own two other dresses, the nice one you wear every Sunday till you give it to the poor next Easter, and your weekday one that you protect with a burlap apron over, and a hair shirt under.
But once you go off and say, “It’s okay to own an FCD, no permit or registration required,” the only question left is: How much can I spend and where should I acquire the thing?
5. Let’s pause here and list the things we aren’t discussing:
- “I’m jealous because so-and-so is dripping with money, and I’m eating used oatmeal for dinner.”
- “She’s just showing off.”
- “Do you really need thirty pair of stirrup pants?”
- “She’s not really Catholic anyway, she just wants a big party.”
- “If you used forty acres of silk, 3 knuckle-sized diamonds, and trained litter-bearers to escort your daughter to her FHC, that would be excessive.”
Those are all bad arguments. Distractions. Off-topic.
6. So. Here’s what confuses us: In our culture, when we think “Holy Poverty”, the first thing that jumps to mind is, “Look at this deal I got at the thrift store!”
We confuse “not spending a lot of money” with “not living luxuriously”. Whole books are written by good Christian ladies explaining to you how you can live like a king on $2 a day. In their proper place, there’s nothing wrong with those books: If you don’t have any money, and you still want to be both fed and not naked, and perhaps even sleep indoors at night, it’s helpful to know how to pull that off.
And there is holiness, much holiness, in learning to cheerfully make do with what God gives you. Absolutely.
But that legitimate spiritual exercise should not disintegrate into a game of, “How many toys can I amass for my dollar?” Far worse is if it becomes, “Thank you Lord that I’m not like that surgeon over there who pays full retail.”
7. Somewhere along the line, someone has to be the one who bought that dress / couch / textbook you snatched up at the garage sale. Someone has to fund the wages of the worker who neatens the clearance racks at the end of the day. Someone has to pay the whole bill for Catholic school tuition so that your kid can get the scholarship.
–> If that person doesn’t bring in enough income to pay retail, you don’t get to live like a king.
What’s a living wage? It’s enough income that one can live in “decent and frugal comfort” without:
- Someone else picking up the tab for part of our legitimate expenses.
- Paying slave wages to the people who provide us with our stuff.
Try it. Make a list of what someone raising a family really needs for a year. Include the FCD or not, as you like.
Don’t forget to include a portion for things like taxes. For example, if your local public schools are spending $12K a year per student* (and let’s say you determine that’s a legitimate cost — perhaps benchmark them against Catholic school tuition at a school that provides all the special-needs services, buses, and everything else, on an all-salary, no-monk teaching staff), then the living wage tax bill needs to include that amount for tuition. Remember to multiply that by the number of children the family should reasonably hope to have. Don’t forget to add in what you think is an acceptable per-capita spending on sidewalks, roads, police, military, and sanitation workers.
Then add up the cost of acquiring those items without resorting to sweatshops.
You included a bit for the savings account, right? Emergencies, illness, and old age do happen to nearly everybody. Throw in a modest sum for the poor box and the maintenance of the Church as well.
Back to the dress, now that you’ve got your annual living-wage salary figured out: Estimate how much time it takes to sew up an FCD, and you can figure out what the wage of your seamstress needs to be in order to make that decent frugal living. Gives you a new perspective on what a fair price is for that white dress.
*Homeschoolers don’t be smug. Those amazing per-student costs people report rarely (if ever) include an amount for your salary, nor for the cost of the buildings in which you educate your child.
First Holy Communion dress photo courtesy of http://www.embroideredheirlooms.com/index.html.