Living Simply, Giving Generously

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Billionaires Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett recently pledged to donate most of their wealth to charity. Kim Riemland introduces us to a middle class couple who is proving generosity is possible even on a budget.


(Locator: West Bloomfield, Michigan)

Jill Warren: “So we made a nightstand out of our old suitcases.”

United Methodist Pastor Bob Schoenhals and his wife Jill Warren live a comfortable but frugal life near Detroit, Michigan.

Jill Warren: “One of the things I got out of the trash and really like is an old coat rack. It kind of looks like a floor lamp but we use it to hang things on.”

In their kitchen, an old church altar serves as a cupboard and offering plates take the place of artwork.

Jill Warren: “I use coupons and we shop at discount stores. I think we have nice clothes, we buy nice things, but they’re all from the Salvation Army or Goodwill. I mean except our underwear and socks.” Alison Warren: “I was really kind of embarrassed that my parents shopped at Salvation Army and Goodwill and so I never told anybody.”

Through 17 years of marriage and raising a daughter, they have consistently given away up to 60 percent of their annual income. Their thrift has added up to a total that surprises even them.

Jill Warren: “We figured out it’s between $380,000 and $520,000 which is a lot of money by any measurement.” The ah-ha moment came when Bob and Jill got married and realized how much stuff they had accumulated. Jill Warren: “That’s when it became clear to me that we could live with much less in our lives, and the less we had, the more we could give away.” Jill Warren: “Up to 20% of our income supports our church life and then up to 60% goes to Habitat for Humanity, the Heifer Project, the Potato Project.”

The generosity doesn't stop when times get tough. Bob Schoenhals: “I remember when Jill and I were both out of work and living in Vancouver. We were walking down the street and a guy came up to us. He asked if we could spare any change.”

Jill Warren: “I think I had only 30 cents and he said, ‘Never mind. You need this worse than we do.’”

At West Bloomfield United Methodist, church members like Chris Droulard are encouraged.

Chris Droulard, West Bloomfield United Methodist: “I feel I should do more simply from knowing them. I’m inspired to give more.”

The couple doesn't expect everyone to give so generously but they do expect others to do what they can.

Jacky Beach, West Bloomfield United Methodist: “It definitely causes me to think about how wasteful I am. I do believe we’ve been given many, many gifts and it’s our responsibility to be good stewards.”


You can reach Rev. Bob Schoenhals and his wife Jill Warren through their church, West Bloomfield United Methodist Church, at 248-851-2330.

Posted: Oct. 6, 2010