Tag Archives: saving money

Don’t Give Up; Give Away

We knew we wanted to end the trip on this note: our kids, grinning ear to ear, dressed in aprons and hairnets while clutching their bags filled with “custom-made” candy bars and commemorative “Hershey Chocolate World” tins.

We had accomplished more in two days than any family should be able in our long weekend trip to Pennsylvania: Independence Hall, the Liberty Bill, Ben Franklin’s Print Shop, Philadelphia Museum of Art (complete with running up the steps while playing the Rocky theme song), Philly Cheesesteak, Lancaster County, Hershey PA.

Problem was, it was only 6pm Saturday evening, and knew that the trip had come to its natural conclusion.  We had planned to get a hotel room and putz around for another day, but my husband had another plan: drive home now.  Save the hotel money.

We were all for it.

Getting the kids excited about spending another 3 ½ hours in the car would have been impossible but for a new game we’d recently installed in our family: The Savings Jar (pictured above with our “Bean Jar” from earlier posts).  Every time we decide not to spend money on something already in the budget, we write down the cause and the savings, and put it in a glass jar: “No hotel 3/2/12: $150”, “Ate ice cream at home instead of Cold Stone Creamery: $14” (yes, it’s that much for 5 people!); “Found same shoes at thrift store: $35 saved”.

Now it’s nice to save money and keep track of your progress, but what’s so fun and meaningful about the Savings Jar isn’t the pieces of paper that go into it, but what we DO with them: once the total has built up enough, half of the savings go toward a meaningful, intentional fun family purchase (TBD) and the other half to a meaningful, intentionally chosen cause.

What I love about this game is that it not only motivates us to save, but it makes sure that when we do, we have something to show for it- not just an abbreviated vacation and a fatter bank account.

Having a POINT to any sacrifice we make is key- otherwise, we fail to fully use what we have gained, or even worse…sacrifice for nothing.  Finding a way to recognize, appreciate, and use the savings in our lives can guide us to making intentional choices that will ensure nothing goes to waste.

What if we can do this kind of thing with ALL of our savings?

So often, we work so hard to save time and money, only to have them disappear into oblivion…never felt, used, enjoyed, or shared.  We work so hard to finish a job quickly, only so we can finish another job quickly.  What if we used the time saved to relax? Meditate? Reach out to a co-worker? Stretch?

We work hard to save money at the grocery store.  Where do those savings go? What if every time we saved $5 in coupons, $2.50 went to the Food Bank?

Sometimes “savings” are thrust upon us against our will.  The concert is cancelled.  Our date stood us up.  We broke our leg so can’t do the ski trip. What do we do with our new-found extra time, money, and opportunities?  Seeing the abundance in these situations is life-changing. Every time we can’t do one thing, it means we can do something else.  Don’t waste that something else.

And sometimes we sacrifice for no purpose.  I do this all the time- refrain from doing something I really want to, or purchasing something I can easily afford, just so I can feel good about myself for “doing without.”  This is stupid.  Unless we can see the good in it, don’t do it.  Period. Money and time are precious resources- they are meant to be used and enjoyed.

In this season of Lent, when many of us are giving up something, let’s make sure it goes somewhere.  Let’s not just give up, let’s get and give away.

Right now my favorite verse in the Bible is Romans 8:28: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.”  I see its application everywhere, but this week, let’s apply it to the things we are giving up-

This week:

1)      Inventory the things in your life that you are giving up, and ask yourself “Why?”  Examine your answer, and find ways you can quantifiably enjoy and share the results.  If you can’t answer “why?” then re-examine the point of your sacrifice!

2)      Look for new places in your life where you can painlessly “lean up” your spending of time, energy, or money…then find a place for the savings that both benefits you and your world.

3)      Consider starting a Savings Jar of your own, if it appeals.  If you already have another method of doing this, share with us!

4)      Meditate on Romans 8:28 in relation to the things under our stewardship.  What “things” could “work together for good” that we could give away? What “purpose” could they,  be “called” to?

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Simply the Least

There is a magazine I dread coming through my mail slot every month:  “Estates and Homes”.   This free publication is filled with elite listings of city mansions and rural vacation homes (usually river or equestrian), ranging from $650K  “charming investment opportunities” to $if-you-have-to-ask-you-can’t-afford it “estate living at its best.” Why on earth they send it to me I have no idea- must be some sick sadistic joke.

What I’ve hated about this magazine is how it makes me feel.  Flipping through the thick, glossy pages, my reactions to each picture have fallen into one of two categories: snobbery or envy.  Snobbery if I’m able to label a home as gauche, overpriced, or a McMansion.  Hmph.  I wouldn’t want that one anyway.

Then…one will catch my eye. Whew.  That would be nice.  Ha! No wonder.  Estate living at its best.  Never in a million years could I have that.  Envy.

Two minutes after opening the first page, I have done nothing but remind myself of everything I cannot have, everything other people are enjoying besides me, and yet still managed to make myself feel superior to them because I’m trying to convince myself that at least I have better taste.

And this is what I do to relax and have fun!

This past week, though, I tried a different approach.  What if, when I opened the magazine, instead of viewing it as a tease for everything I’ll never have, look for the things I like that I CAN have?

This tiny change in perspective was absolutely revolutionary.  When I found myself obsessing over a certain property, I realized that what I loved was the idea of having a place to go on the weekends where we could enjoy friends, family, and a beautiful natural setting without having to drive far, make reservations, or have me cruise direct every minute of our day.

Did that dream have to come with 4 marble bathrooms and a private loading dock?

As I looked at these beautiful homes (I can call them beautiful now because I’m no longer threatened by them) I started to appreciate new things about each: This one is only 20 minutes away! This one has a volleyball net! This one is near a horse track! Cool.

Next step: What’s the LEAST it would take to enjoy those things ourselves? Could we rent a cabin a few times in these areas and explore? Are there campsites that offer these amenities? Do we have friends who’d loan us their place? Is there a special spot in the city that can become our family’s “special place” (you don’t have to own it, just love it) to enjoy on the weekend?

What’s even better, I realized that if I strip a desired possession or experience down to JUST what I want, I  am no longer burdened by the extras that would have taken up so much of my time, money, and energy.  I’ll never have to clean, and pay for, 4 marble bathrooms in order to get a spot on the river.  I realize now that even if I could, I wouldn’t want to.  For the price of those 4 marble bathrooms, I could have my spot on the river, pay for every other vacation my family would take in the next few years, and spend the excess time and money I still have left over on helping others.

And there’s something else this mentality gives me: peace, gratitude, and contentment.  If I’m ever invited to one of those fantastic houses as a guest, I’m going to be able to appreciate and enjoy it to the fullest…because now I don’t have to want it for myself, or convince myself that I wouldn’t want it anyway.

It’s okay to want things.  It’s okay to spend money we have on things that make us happy.  But what those things are can be surprisingly simple: Love.  Peace.  Joy.  Relaxation.  Time.  Beauty.  Water.  Air.  Sun.  Trees.  Family.  Space. A place to simply Be Still and Know.

If we seek those in their purest form, and we’ll be able to afford it…and have time and money leftover to help others find it, too.

“Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet?” – Ezekiel 34:18

We Already Have It, We Already Know It, Just Ask.

The morning of December 26th, I asked my kids what they wanted to do.  “Go shopping!” was the universal answer.

I’m sorry, what? Do you SEE all the toys literally at your feet amongst the clutter of paper and boxes? You can’t play with these for even a DAY before asking for more?

We see the ridiculousness of this mentality so easily in our kids, but how often do we see it in ourselves?

As the New Year dawns, we are full of two things: resolutions and clutter. Accomplish these, throw away that.  Acquire this body, get rid of these old things.  Learn this new skill, stop doing that.  Pursue and purge.

And according to most magazine covers, this effort will involve a shopping trip (for organizers now!), a gym membership, and a class of some sort.

What if instead we just started playing with all the toys at our feet?

Yes, the boxes and wrapping paper need to be recycled, and if something is broken in our lives or closets, it either needs to be fixed or thrown away.  We can start with that.  But instead of looking at everything we own and are as being inadequate, why don’t we just start USING what we have?

You have a perfect body already.  You just need to USE it, and it will reveal itself.  You’ve already been given the great advice on how to solve your problem- just take it..  Your shelves are filled with life-changing wisdom and entertainment in the form of books you’ve already bought, just finally read them.  Start with the Bible.

But what if, after we’ve inventoried our house, our bodies, and our lives, we realize we still don’t have enough to get us started?  Stop and Ask.  Don’t go out and shop.

That network of love and support we crave and so often ignore is also supposed to be used, and within it is all the help and advice and abundance we need- we just need to pay attention to it, and use it.  When I didn’t know what books to read this year, I asked my Facebook friends.  Since I don’t have any of them, I’ll ask my local library, who will give them to me for free.  That tool you need to complete your task? One of your friends has it and considers it clutter.

But more than anything else, we absolutely cannot, must not cut ourselves off this year from the greatest resource we have and are ignoring: our God.  Just look at the promises of abundance so many of us (myself included!) walk away from, every year:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5)

“Every good and perfect gift is from above.” (James 1:17)

“Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (2 Peter 1:2)

“If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us- whatever we ask- we know that we have what we asked of him.” (1 John 5:14)

 We cannot spend another year walking away from grace, peace, wisdom, and “anything (good) we ask for” while spending our time, energy, and money trying to acquire it on our own, only to throw it away.  Every gift we need is right in front of us, and being offered to us- let’s just recognize it, appreciate it, and use it!

Knowing THAT makes it a guaranteed Happy New Year!

This week:

  1. Walk around your house, and inventory what hidden blessings there.  What do you already have that you just need to use?
  2. Who in your life do you need to simply pay more attention to? Make a list and start today.
  3. What do you already KNOW you need to be doing to have the life you were meant to have? Don’t go beyond the obvious.
  4. What are your stumbling blocks? Who do you know that can give you advice, guidance, and support on them?
  5. Find your Bible.  Decide today, if you haven’t already, to start using it as a primary resource for everything you need.  If you don’t know how to start reading it, ask, follow a lectionary study, or, at the least, you can follow my quick guide:
    1. For learning the core of the Christian message, read the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John)
    2. For quick, handy advice: James and Proverbs
    3. Other easy, digestible books: Philippians, I and II Corinthians.

I wish all of us a year in which we recognize what amazing gifts we have at our fingertips, and use them to create Love, Peace, and Joy in ourselves and in our world.

Efficient Giving

I can still see the look of hurt and disappointment on my mom’s face after I opened my “big” Christmas gift.  “What IS it?” was not the reaction she was expecting. At the same time, I remember my own disappointment, because it wasn’t what I asked for, and wasn’t anything I needed.

See, that year, what I’d asked for had been pretty boring and simple.  Gifts that, honestly, weren’t that fun to give, and Mom worried wouldn’t seem that special.  So Mom went maverick.

Flash forward 25 years, and the exact thing repeated itself, only this time with me on the other end.  My son asked for a few friends to sleep over for his birthday, so I geared myself up for an elaborate event, complete with games, prizes, decorations, and crafts.  Of course, these efforts resulted in a pretty hectic day and short temper by me, and to make it even worse, I realized halfway through the party that my son didn’t appreciate any of it!

When I pulled him aside for the obligatory lecture on gratitude, he stopped me short by saying, “But Mom…I didn’t ASK for ANY of this! I just wanted my friends to come sleep over!!”

As we gear up for this holiday season, how many of us may be spending time and energy on things that are not being asked for?

The loads and loads of gifts under the tree?  The elaborate stocking for Him filled with hard-to-find Man Things (while ours is thinly filled with whatever was handy in the checkout aisle)? The beautiful clothes and toys given to hungry children?  Are these really the things being called for by those receiving them?

So, how do we know?

ASK.

Before doing anything, ask what is needed, or valued by the recipient.  We need to sit down with our families and ask them “What are your favorite things about the holidays?”  If our hand-made bows around the yard don’t appear on that list, it’s time to reevaluate.  What’s more, we will probably find that in our effort to make everything *special* we could be neglecting the simple things that hold more meaning to our loved ones than anything else.

The same goes for our charitable works and donations.  Many of us are so eager to help out during the holidays, so volunteer our services by calling up a charity and saying, “I’d like to help with XYZ….”  Problem is, they may not need our help that way.  Maybe they need us in a few months, or not at all.  Maybe they need money instead of toys.  Just ask.

Matthew 7:7-12 says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks the door will be opened.  Is there anyone among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

Even God waits to be asked, and gives in accordance!

But wait…there’s something missing from this equation.  What if we, or our children, ask for something stupid?

God has an answer for that too.  He gives us instead something we NEED.

We can take these two principles to heart this Christmas, and give nothing less, and nothing more.  Instead of giving a bunch of things we THINK our loved ones, or those in need, will like, we can give them what they ask for, then only add what they need.

My son wants a football; he needs an alarm clock.  I’m going to give him both.  I am not going to give him the $150 Lego set I think looks cool but he’s never mentioned.  My husband wants a specific book for which he’s left the ISBN number on my desk (boring!), but hasn’t realized he needs a new jacket.  I’m going to give him both, but not the Delux Grille Set from Lowe’s I think he’d enjoy but he hasn’t noticed every time he’s in there.

And God’s gifts are the same- He knows what we want, and also what we need but don’t realize.  Everything He asks us to do is for our benefit, even His own son’s birthday! And we can be assured that we will get everything we need, plus everything that will authentically and sustainably make us happy, and able to pass on that abundance and joy to others:

And God is able to make all grace overflow to you so that because you have enough of everything in every way at all times, you will overflow in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8)

Ways to Fully Enjoy the Advent Season

Upon opening the last present Christmas morning, my then 5-year-old uncle famously walked over the Christmas tree, pulled the plug, and announced, “Christmas is over.”

It was probably 8am.

Don’t we often feel that way? Not only has advent been replaced by a frantic countdown calendar entitled “Only – Shopping days until Christmas!”, but the concept of “The 12 days of Christmas” has been completely forgotten.

Somehow, the entire Christmas season has been reduced to that single moment of our families running down the stairs and saying “OOOOOHHHH” at the magical bounty we’ve created for them under the tree.  Starting the season early just means getting a jump-start on locating, purchasing, wrapping, and cooking the items necessary to create this snapshot image.

Trying to save money, reduce waste, and spread contentment and gratitude under this mindset is almost impossible, because we’ve created this formula:

Christmas = room full of gifts, therefore fewer gifts = less Christmas = deprived kids.

Many of us add an hour of church on Christmas Eve to this equation, plus nagging reminders to our kids about the Real Meaning Of Christmas, the Joy of Giving, and the Threat of Coal in the Stocking, but we all know the above formula is the dominant one.

But what if we gave ourselves and our family an entire SEASON of authentic, sustainable gifts, and then made Christmas morning last for days and weeks, rather than an hour?  Sound exhausting and expensive?  Exactly the opposite.

Through trial and error, and some stumbling across wonderful advice from friends and authors, I’ve compiled a list of inexpensive and even FREE ways to help us celebrate Advent as an entire season of sustainable joy, abundance, and gratitude rather than a frantic race leading to a fleeting moment of indulgence and entitlement.  Many of these tricks are for families with young children, but can be adapted to any situation.

3 Fun Ways to stretch out Advent:

The Bean Jar:  Starting December 1st, set out an empty jar next to a bowl of dried beans.  For each good deed done in our family, a bean goes into the jar.  Yes, it works the other way, too, in our house, at least. Christmas night, Santa replaces the beans with jelly beans (therefore knowing how Good or Bad everyone was), taking the dried ones back to make soup for the tired elves.

The Book Basket: This involves wrapping up 25 Christmas or winter-themed books and letting the kids unwrap one per night.  I use books we already have, but throughout the year search thrift stores and library sales to add a few surprises.  My kids LOVE this tradition, and even though they read chapter books independently by now, they cuddle up next to me (yep, even my 11-year-old) and allow me to stretch out a little more childhood in our family.  Plus, they get to unwrap 25 presents before Christmas morning!!

The Activity List:  Starting NOW, start brainstorming fun things you’d like to do this Christmas season.  Put a price limit on the entire thing, and treat the budget like one of your Christmas gifts…opened early!  Make sure many can be done spur-of-the-moment.  I seriously urge you to involve your kids in this list, because when I asked mine what they wanted to do, the simplicity of it often shocked me: Draw a picture of Santa Claus.  Make a paper chain for the Christmas tree.  Sing a song.  These are the things kids treasure, and we often miss them because we’re trying to give them a Barbie Dream House.

The best part of all three ideas is they give us practical and teaching methods to get the season in line with our values.  The Bean Jar encourages us to help others, recognize good behavior in our kids, and begin a healthy dialog about right vs. wrong.  The Book Basket can start the habit of a nightly devotional with our family, especially if we choose our Christmas books carefully.  And the Activity List can encompass service projects, educational opportunities, and time for fellowship.

With all of this, the Christmas season is already looking pretty good, and we haven’t even gotten to Christmas morning…that’s next week!

Celebrating Authentic Holiday “Seasons”

It’s the day after Halloween, and I bet some of you have already seen your first sign of Christmas advertising.

It used to be that Christmas Commercial Season began as soon as Santa made his way past Macy’s department store in New York City Thanksgiving morning, which was bad enough, according my mom’s rantings.  Now, it begins the morning after Halloween night.

This is ironic for a few reasons.  First, we still have a holiday to celebrate, and it’s one that involves being thankful for the things we already have, rather than planning what we already want to get next.  Second, today is All Saint’s Day…the whole POINT of Halloween…in which we traditionally give thanks for the sacrifices made by those extraordinary people who gave up everything for their faith and their world, followed by All Soul’s Day November 2nd, in which we give thanks for everyone who has gone before us.

But these concepts don’t sell candy, cards, and toys, so we skip them completely to make room for more time for thinking about everything we NEED and WANT.  And more time for advertisers to tell us and our children what those things are.

In the last post, we discussed how to streamline our approach to the impending holiday season by focusing on what values we want to celebrate and preserve, and, on the flip side, what drama and waste we want to avoid.

This week, let’s think about how we can preserve the true SPIRIT of each holiday by stretching it out into an entire season.  Just as a bad habit is most easily broken by replacing it with a good one, we can fight the damaging commercialism of the holidays by replacing it with something authentic, pure, and simple.

Halloween: It’s not too late to salvage this! Spend some time today and tomorrow in gratitude for the “saints” and “precious souls” in our lives who went before us and helped us get where we are today.  Let’s talk about them at dinner tonight with our spouse or children.  Write a letter or call any living saints we have in our life and let them know what they’ve meant to us.  Mark your 2012 calendar to remember these two days next year and approach Halloween with them in mind.

Thanksgiving:  All too often, this holiday has been reduced to a marathon car trip, hours alone in the kitchen, a 30-second prayer, an hour of gluttony, and more hours in the kitchen cleaning up while the men watch football.

How can we turn the 30 seconds of thankfulness into an entire season?  Younger families can create a “thankfulness jar” for kids in which every day, something is written down to be saved and read at the Thanksgiving meal.  Older families with tech-savvy teens can create a Google document where everyone contributes funny stories and memories over the month to be shared at the gathering.  Single adults can reach out to one person a day in the form of a letter, a phone call, and email, or a coffee date, in which each person is told how much they are valued and appreciated.

By proactively celebrating the values of these holidays we endorse, we avoid a season of discontent, despair, and debt.  We also avoid any feelings of depravity from our children, because they will begin to view the season as something more than what commercials are telling them, and will be able to hold onto an entire season of pure, authentic, sustainable memories instead of looking for the quick, cheap thrill that’s gone in a moment.

Next week, we will continue this discussion with Christmas, and how to revive the concepts of advent and the 12 Days of Christmas to create a spirit of abundance and contentment in ourselves and in our children.

This Week:

  1. Share any Thanksgiving traditions you have that can be used to stretch out the season for all of us.
  2. Make a list today of all the people for whom you are thankful.  Write out a plan for how you will reach out to each of them between now and Thanksgiving.
  3. Start each day with a prayer of gratitude.  Keep a list of what the things are, and return to it often.
  4. Check out these links for wonderful prayers of thanksgiving, and read a few aloud:  http://www.churchyear.net/thanks.html
  5. Read the following passages in the Bible in which prayer and thanksgiving are intertwined:
    1. Daniel 6:10
    2. Philippians 4:6
    3. Colossians 1:3
    4. Colossians 4:2
    5. I Timothy 2:1