Contentment

Romantic Ideas for Every Budget and (Every Kind of Couple)

Dearly beloved, Valentine’s Day is nearly here again, and of course we’re panicking. We have no idea of what to get our loved ones and we’ve saved no monies. This means we’re clueless AND cashless. We need some romantic ideas and they need to be very, very inexpensive.

Every year I ask Eric what he wants for Valentine’s. Every year he responds with the same answer, and I will leave you to your imagination because this is a family friendly blog and I cannot type that sort of thing out.

So I guess we’re not completely out of ideas when it comes to special, romantic events. But sometimes we’d like to spruce up the usual festivities, yes?

Yes.

And this is where a normal blog would give you a list of great ideas for your special night. But I’m not a normal blogger, honestly. Assuming I could come up with a hundred romantic ideas, they could all be terrible for you.

Here’s the thing about being in a relationship– what counts as romance and caring varies wildly from person to person. What speaks love and delight to me might make a normal woman throw her husband out of the house for the week. I’d probably clap my hands with joy if Eric came home with the vacuum I want.

(Note to Eric: don’t actually buy it. It’s $500 and once I’m done being happy I will take that thing back to the store for a full refund.)

So we’ll skip all my crazy ideas and get right to the point where you find what your spouse needs, without my interference.

How to find romantic ideas for your beloved:

Sit down casually with a magazine or two. Be near your dear one.

Casually peruse the magazine and pretend like it’s full of very interesting articles.

Say something like, “Picnics. Such a nice idea,” like the magazine has an article on them. (See how tricky I am?)

Notice how your lover responds. If he wrinkles his nose and starts lecturing on ants and food spoilage, then you know he’s not into picnics. Move along. Find another “article” and gently murmur something about trips to San Francisco, the temperature at the top of the Hancock Center, or how delicious the new restaurant in town sounds.

(I found this blog post, and it actually has some pretty good ideas if you have zero of your own.)

Continue suggesting completely random things until your help mate finally, finally indicates some interest in a subject/event/activity.

You are now getting closer. You’re discovering what this wonderful creature in front of you finds exciting and romantic. Now you just need to dial it back until you can afford it this year.

But wait. We’ve already determined there’s no money this year.

Okay, maybe you can’t actually get what your beau wants this year. But you at least have an idea, the slightest direction, to head. If nothing else, you can say, “Honey, I love you so much. And I’d love to buy you a monster truck for Valentine’s Day, but it’s not in the budget. Here’s an adorable toy version!”

Of course this isn’t as good as a real monster truck, but it’s waaaaaaaaaaay better than a tie he doesn’t want.

But wait again! Now you know what he loves, and you hate it!

Ah, here’s the terrible truth about being in a relationship. Sometimes you literally loathe what they adore. This is where the love comes in. The love part goes with what makes them happy, not you.

I know. It’s painful.

You may mail me hate letters when you’re out in a deer blind, freezing off your toes because your husband wanted a “romantic” hunting date. Or, feel free to mentally shoot darts at a photo of my face while you hold your wife’s purse and wait outside the women’s dressing room at Macy’s.

I’m sort of sorry. But the whole point of this exercise was to make our loved ones feel loved, right? Some times that means you freeze your butt off in a deer blind or have to go shopping. But here’s the thing– if we do this right long enough, then eventually we become those sweet old couples who hold hands and walk through the park. It takes lots of sacrifice to get there, but I’m pretty sure it’s worth it.

Eventually. Maybe not today. But a thousand small choices on their behalf will eventually lead to a life of love.

Want to be truly content? Memorize these 5 Bible verses.

5 Bible verses on contentmentToday I present some Bible verses on contentment just for you, my tender internet reader. You might want to bookmark (Pinterest!) this post for the days you hate everything you own and you want to set fire to the house and move to St. Thomas to live in a yacht with no screaming children.

Not that I have ever personally fantasized about this. I have no idea of where this extremely detailed dream originated.

Moving on, then. Let’s get to the verses that keep me from lighting the fuse and looking for yachts.

1 Timothy 6:6-8

Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content (NLT).

1 Timothy 6:6-8. ContentmentI love how this passage reframes our expectations for us. We worry endlessly about the future and material possessions, but after having food clothing (and a safe place to live, I would add), what do we really need? Not much.

Philippians 4:11-13

Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.

Philippians 4:11. ContentmentThese particular Bible verses on contentment have been bandied around for years, right? We tend to gloss over them because we’ve heard them so many times, assuming Paul was a nut who lived so long ago his opinion hardly counts.

But Paul wasn’t some Super Christian with Super Strength. He was just a normal guy who had been totally transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit who now lives in us. He was, however, totally focused on one goal: glorifying God and spreading the good news to anyone who would listen. We could benefit from his focus, which would put our discontentment into perspective.

Hebrews 13:5

Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.”

Hebrews 13:5. ContentmentYes, Lord. Yesyesyesyes. I will try to remember. Amen.

John 14:27

“I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”

John 14:27. ContentmentJesus came to bring us abundant and full lives, but we often miss it because we’ve taken our focus off of him and his provision and put it on… well… everything else. Setting our minds firmly back on Christ with these sorts of Bible verses on contentment will always lead us back to where our desires should be.

1 Chronicles 29:13-14

“O our God, we thank you and praise your glorious name! But who am I, and who are my people, that we could give anything to you? Everything we have has come from you, and we give you only what you first gave us!”

1 Chronicles 29:14. Gratitude and contentmentThis passage comes from King David’s prayer of praise as he surveyed the materials gathered to build the Temple. Everyone had given willingly to build this glorious place, which was still just a shadow of what God deserved. With joyful hearts everyone sacrificed to show their gratitude for who God was and what he had first done for them.

David and his people recognized God’s abundant blessings in their lives. I guarantee we’ll feel more content when we do the same.

***
I could go on and on if you had hours to read this post. What ones did I miss? What Bible verses on contentment are your favorites? Let me know where you turn when you need a good reminder. I’d love to know!

 

The Nester vs. Melissa Michaels: An Epic Battle of Christian Home Decorating Books

Christian home decorating books
Home decorating books have moved into the church, my friends. Consider Joanna Gaines, the Nester (Myquillyn Smith), and Melissa Michaels, all women who love Jesus and hate ugly rooms.

And frankly, this is a welcome relief. I’m a little tired of fighting over the big theological issues like predestination and the dumb things like the temperature of the women’s bathroom. I think we’re all ready for a little neutral territory, a little bit of fun in the middle of this crazy church lady life. So while some may roll their eyes at Christian home decorating books, I’m all for them. 

Christian home decorating books
So let’s take my two favorite home decorating books and put them head-to-head in an epic literary battle, shall we?

(This is probably where I should apologize for many of the pictures in this post. I’m guessing photos of book pages are probably some sort of copyright infringement, but since I’m basically begging readers to go out and buy these books from legitimate sources, I’m taking my chances with the Christian publishing world’s legal teams. Please don’t sue me. Amen. Also, be prepared for affiliate links below.)

The Nesting Place: by Myquillyn Smith

Quirky. The Nesting Place is quirky, and hand to the heavens, that is my favorite part. The Nester (because Myquillyn is hard to say and– apparently– impossible to type) is fond of using stumps for side tables and deer antlers for just about anything.

Her rooms are goofy and fun and she’s not afraid to show you the dark underside of her decorating, like chairs that are missing a leg or fabric that’s frayed.

home decorating books
It’s old, okay? The poor sweet chair has some issues, but we still love it.

My own house looks like this, so I feel right at home in her book.

But wait. There’s more. My other favorite part of the book is where the Nester goes explains all thirteen homes her family has lived in, why they moved, and the financial challenges they faced. Real life, in other words. Home decorating books don’t have to be full of fantasy and debt!

The Challenger: The Inspired Room, by Melissa Michaels

I didn’t think there could ever be a decorating book that might come close to The Nesting Place, but I was wrong. The Inspired Room landed on my front porch last week and I was smitten. Her decorating style is freakishly similar to my own, and now I’m desperate to use old maps to wallpaper (I use that term loosely) a small wall.

christian home decorating books
Maps as wallpaper!! Genius! She also has practical things like color palettes, a resource list, and seasonal decorating.

The Winner: Both of them.

I know, that’s cheating a little. An epic battle can’t come out in a tie, but this is my blog so I get to set the epic battle rules.

I love both books because both authors have a firm commitment to decorating with contentment and joy. I refuse to accept that I can only love my home if I gut the kitchen and then borrow money for a $70,000 remodel. That’s dumb and irresponsible. Both the Nester and Melissa understand that our homes are places of refuge, and that comes slowly.

They understand that a beautiful, welcoming home comes one little step at a time. We slowly work our way to something prettier, more functional, and valuable– we don’t just run to the store and buy it all on credit.

But please do run out and pay cash for these two books. You won’t be sorry!

Bring back the everyday tablecloth: Get more mileage from your old table.

everyday tablecloth
Dear Fellow Lovers of Home Things,

I have been shopping for dining room tables. I have shopped and shopped and shopped until my eyes crossed. So I finally came home and threw a tablecloth on my table, and saved myself $2,000.

Not that our table is really the problem. I love the thing, but with two kids and a ton of guests, it takes a lot of wear and tear. Our chairs are really the problem– they’re getting so rickety that we stand a very high chance of dumping a guest to the floor here pretty soon. One day Eric (who is not a large man) sat back, a spindle popped out, and he handed it to me across the table.

We weren’t sure what was going to fall off/down/apart next, so I started looking for different chairs. (But more about that in an upcoming post.) I found plenty of chairs, but they were either very expensive, very ugly, or just as rickety as the ones we needed to replace. I started to realize that solid chairs often came with solid tables, and I might as well replace everything at once.

Why is this taking so long?

This whole process took months because 1) I am picky, 2) we need just the right size table to fit in our kitchen, and 3) I am cheap.

In the mean time, my tablecloth collection came in handy, protecting the table from further scratches, looking pretty, and growing on me.

Audrey pointed out that our tablecloth was getting so filthy that we were starting to sit at other spots on the table to avoid the crumbs. She was right– you can’t wipe off cloth very well. I tried. It didn’t work. And then I started looking for vinyl, wipeable options. (Like this adorable retro one from Amazon!— (affiliate link.))

The unspeakable cloth: Vinyl

If tablecloths in general aren’t in style at the moment, you can imagine that vinyl tablecloths are even less popular. The options are limited and most of the patterns look like they’ve been on the shelves for thirty years. If you look long enough, you can find some good ones.

They work so well, once you find a pattern you can live with. They cover and protect the table, and you can wipe off spills and crumbs. My own mother has had several high quality ones over the years, often cut from huge bolts at the fabric store. Her table is forty years old and still looks perfect. She had those vinyl covers on for most of our early years (because three children are h-e-double-hockey-sticks on wood). But now that my siblings and I can be trusted not to gouge the furniture with forks, she keeps it uncovered most of the time.


I say it’s time to bring back the everyday tablecloth! They keep our nice tables looking nice, but also, they give us time to save and shop wisely if our table is in rough shape. You could cover a table for eternity and no one would be the wiser if you become dedicated to the Art of Tableclothery (totally a thing).

They aren’t expensive; I’ve found my favorite ones at garage sales and discount stores. And every thrift store I’ve ever visited has about a million of them. Why can’t we get creative?

Sure, our families might wonder about them at first. They might feel like they’ve wandered into an episode of Leave it to Beaver, but they’ll get used to it. Maybe you’ll feel like putting out the good plates, sitting down with friends, and sharing a little longer over your pretty table.

pretty tablecloth

Living within your means: Is it possible anymore?

Is it possible to live within your means? Why would you even want to try?

Living within your means is a nice idea, right? Like staying married to one person your whole life, or working thirty years for the same company, or being able to fit into your old uniform at your fortieth reunion. Nice, grandma-approved ideas, all of them. They worked fine for her generation. And for most of the generations before them, honestly.

Eric and I want to live within our means, we really do. And we’re mostly successful at it, if you take a broad, modern-day approach to the idea. If you take my step-grandmother’s approach, we’re sort of huge failures.

This is what I mean:

Housing

Yes, we have a mortgage. We borrowed money to buy this house because we didn’t have $140,000 in the bank to buy it outright. We could have bought a cheaper house but we didn’t have $90,000 or $40,000 or even $10,000 in the bank, either. And if we hadn’t bought a house, we’d be paying the same amount in rent (for a far less pleasant living situation).

However, when we bought this house we crunched the numbers mercilessly to make sure we could afford not only the mortgage, but everything else that goes with the house:

  • taxes
  • utilities: heat, electric, garbage, water, HOA fees, internet, etc
  • distance to our jobs: car maintenance, gas, etc.
  • exterior stuff: gas for the lawnmower, a lawnmower, landscaping supplies
  • interior stuff: curtains (America! Stop using blankets as curtains! It hurts my friggin’ eyes!), furniture, etc.

This is important, because we’ve seen some friends who’ve forgotten about all the extra stuff, and it’s a huge shock when a person realizes a propane tank can cost $800 to fill, several times a winter.

Vehicles

We have about the same story here. We do borrow for cars, almost every time we buy one. But we stay away from the $50,000 land yachts and head for the $10,000 used section of the lot. Eric spends (literally) months researching each option until he’s happy with the engines, the frames, the recall notices, everything.

AND I MEAN EVERYTHING. And then we buy the car. To date we’ve paid off every vehicle loan years ahead of schedule.

Moment of transparency: As of this writing, we’re seriously considering buying a brand new car. We’ve never done that before. But we like the idea of buying something with no mileage on it, then taking excellent care of it, and driving it for a decade or two.

College

Once again, we borrowed. We could have done a lot better, but we could have done a lot worse, too. I left school with about $8,000 total in debt, and Eric graduated two years later with $22,000. Because we soon had babies and a mortgage, it took us the full ten years to pay Eric’s loan back. This grieves me still. But honestly, there are only so many ways you can spread the resources in early family life.

But compared to today’s graduates who are leaving with over a $100K in college debt and then finding jobs that pay the same amount Eric and I made at our first jobs, we had it easy. I am not at all comfortable with the automatic assumption that going to an expensive four-year school is the best way for most students.

I’d be a lot more comfortable if these kids were forced to do a mock budget for a $30,000 salary that includes a $700 monthly student loan payment.

living within your means, budget

Everyday Purchases

This is where Eric and I don’t do too badly. We track every penny, and I mean that. Thanks to budgeting software we can tell when we’ve overspent in our grocery, eating out, or gift budgets.

We’ve been married for eighteen years, and I can tell you this– it’s a combination of the very large purchases and the everyday stuff that keeps you living within your means.

Obviously, if w’ere going to go with the old definition (and probably the wisest definition), most of us probably don’t live within our means. If we did, we’d be living with our parents and walking to work until we had enough saved for a house and vehicle.


But if you use the broader definition, I think most of us could make it. If we’re able to save wisely and give generously each month, pay our bills, and then add in a few wants, I think we’re on track. It’s not easy, even with the looser definition of the term. But it’s possible with some planning and discipline.

Here are some of my favorite resources for helping me stay on track. I hope you find them helpful!

  • frugalwoods.com: The Frugalwoods have an amazing challenge going on in January of 2017! You’re going to be living within your means by February, if they have anything to say about it.
  • daveramsey.com: The ultimate king of debt-free living isn’t going to take your excuses. Rice and beans, beans and rice, until your debt is gone. Amen.
  • hisandhermoney.com: Tai and Talaat will have you cutting your expenses or growing your income with their podcast and blog.

 

Set Goals for Your Family: 5 key factors in making great decisions

“How do we set goals for our family? It seems like we have so many things we want to do, and we don’t know where to start!”

Last week I posted about the Tightwad Gazette, a book that encourages families to set their most important goals and then gives them frugal tools to reach them. A friend of mine had some questions about the goal-setting aspect of the post. She told me they have a ton of things they’d eventually like to do as a family, but they can’t do all of them. She isn’t sure what goals need to be thrown out and what ones need to be made a priority.

I gave her question some thought all week, and these are the five key ideas we’ve found helpful to set our own goals over eighteen years of marriage:

Pray about your goals.

There are obviously a million good things your family could do, but who’s to say which ones you should attempt?

I like to give God a voice in the proceedings. He has a vested interest in our lives, and he also has the clear vision of where we’re going.

Our family lives in this town, in this house, and in this school district because of questions we asked God more than thirteen years ago. Slowly and gradually, we’ve built a life here. Some days I wonder why, but deep in my bones I know we’re supposed to be exactly where we are.

There have been lots of times I’ve prayed about something and it seemed like God was asleep at the wheel, honestly. But now, looking back, I see his hand. His answer might not come quickly or audibly, but hindsight makes his presence and involvement clear.

Pay attention to recurring themes and dreams.

Good goals come back to you over and over again. They make an impression on you that grows a little deeper each time. You’ll begin to watch the people in your life, and you’ll notice when their choices result in disaster or blessing. You’ll start to notice a theme in what appeals to you and what it takes to reach those goals.

Maybe you want to be able to travel extensively when the kids are a little older. You may notice that families with five or more kids almost never travel further than the next county. Also, one income families probably have a hard time getting to Greece over the summer.

set family travel goals
Exhibit A: Here we have our sum total of two children, standing on a castle top overlooking the Irish countryside.

Or, maybe you want to homeschool your kids. You will probably notice that families who do this successfully rarely live in houses on Lake Michigan. Or, you may also notice their distinct lack of imported sports cars and wine cellars. You would correctly surmise that homeschooling requires intense time management and financial discipline. But you would also see the blessing in that decision, and you would decide it’s worth the struggle.

Notice what goals excite several members of your family, (especially you and your spouse).

I don’t want to say that the kids don’t count in goal setting, but they sort of don’t count. (Well, maybe they get a half vote.) But we’ve noticed that kids naturally adapt to their family environment, and it’s the parents who set that environment. For example, our kids think an afternoon of reading books while wrapped in snuggly blankets is perfectly wonderful. They don’t even hate our jazz.

Our nephews would probably pull their eyeballs from their sockets if they had to live with us. They’d seriously rather die. They’re used to afternoons running through the woods and geocaching and going on adventures.

So ignore the kids and turn to your spouse. Eric and I have each had all sorts of personal goals die a natural death with this test. For example, Eric spent his teenage years running snowmobiles all over their family farm. He might have planned a life like this, teaching our kids to do the same. But it turns out I hate being cold and driving loud equipment through snowy fields, and I wasn’t keen on spending that much money on the hobby. Owning a fleet of snowmobiles is not a Clemence Family goal. (As of this writing.) ((But Eric has a wild look in his eyes today, so we might end up with that fleet by the weekend.))

As for me, I had grown up in an old, white house on a farm. And Eric had gown up in an old, white house on a farm. Of course we’d do the same, right? NO. Turns out old farmhouses are DIY nightmares and we have no interest in mowing that much grass. We function best together in a new house on a quarter acre.

And we lovelovelove to travel as a family. That’s become our new family goal– where can we go next?

set family travel goals
Here we are (with Grandma!) in Ireland last fall. I KNOW it looks like any forest anywhere, but trust me. It’s an Irish forest.

Getting out of debt opens the doors to most of the other goals. Make it a priority.

Seriously. The world opens up when the debt is vanquished. All the best goals for your family hinge on financial freedom, and that requires as little debt as possible. If you need a bigger goal to motivate you through the debt payoff, fine. Dream big and wide. But be relentless about digging your way out of debt first, before you do anything else.

Focus on the short term goals, especially when your kids are young.

I used to plan ahead, and I mean way ahead. Like a decade. But that only exhausted me, because so many things can change in the next six months. It’s nuts to freak out over the next ten years. I think short term goals of a year are the most productive. And even then, I break those year-long goals down into quarters.

Once you have decided your family is complete, once you know you’re done with school and student loans, once you’ve found a community to call home, then the longer term goals begin to make more sense. But trying to plan for retirement or save for a second home makes no sense when you’re trying to decide if you’re having another baby or going back for a masters degree.

Keep yourself sane and stick with goals you can manage with what you know right now. You’ll feel more productive and in control when you’re not trying to manage ten years down the line.

Even after eighteen years of marriage…

Eric and I have still have a constantly evolving conversation about what our next goals are. We never feel like we have it perfectly planned out, and our friends often laugh out loud when we start talking about the future. We tend to bounce from one idea to another, at least verbally. I’m sure we seem like unstable weirdos pretty often.

Our lasting and most important goals, though, have gradually become clear as we’ve communicated, worked together, and been open to reformatting what we thought was the perfect plan. The next goal makes itself obvious, just in time. I bet you’ll probably find the same thing true in your life!

 

Pray A to Z: a book to help us pray like we promise we will

pray-with-purposeWhen a friend reveals a terrible thing going on in her life, we might respond with a hug and “Oh, how hard. I’ll pray for you.”

And then we forget.

We watch the news and our retinas are burned out by the horrible things we see broadcast and we think I should pray about that more.

But we get distracted.

The church emails the really long and detailed prayer list and our eyes glaze over immediately, completely unprepared to pray for Mr. Stone’s prostate surgery on Thursday.

BECAUSE I’M NOT PREPARED TO DISCUSS MR. SMITH’S PROSTATE WITH THE ALMIGHTY, okay?

I’m just not.

Guilt ensues.

We feel guilty about how we don’t actually pray for our friends, family, and community enough, but we have no idea of how to fit that into our lives.

We want to worship and focus on God’s mighty attributes, but the children and the piles of laundry are so much louder than God most days.

Guess what. Someone saw this need coming and they wrote a book for us, and then a copy was thoughtfully provided for us for free here on the blog. It’s called Pray A to Z (***affiliate link) and Amelia Rhodes understands our messy, crazy lives. Her organized brain has categorized our concerns so we can actually pray like we want to do.

pray-a-to-z-coverFrom A (adoption, abuse, Almighty…) to P (pregnancies, Pain, Promise Keeper) to Z (zest, Zion, zeal), we can read through the simple, quick entries to direct our thoughts outward to God, seeking him.

Let’s take a peek inside Pray A to Z

Of course I turned first to the Finances entry, because that’s how my brain works. I loved how this section fits in exactly with what we talk about on this blog all the time:

Father, forgive me for where I have allowed the love of money to creep into my life. Help me remember to put my trust in You, not in a bank account, in possessions, or in what money can do for me. Let my security rest in You, not my stuff. Help me learn to be content with what I have, and not always be searching for the next great thing. Grow my desire to use money to serve You and Your kingdom… (p. 54).

I love prayers that are written out, simply because they gather my thoughts and intentions and express them so beautifully. This book is a gentle way to keep me on track and focused on the right things when I pray, instead of running my brain around like an anxious chicken.

Amelia Rhodes
Amelia Rhodes

Win a copy!

If you’d like to be more prayerful, more worshipful, and more competent to discuss Mr. Smith’s prostate with the Lord (just kidding, there’s no Prostate chapter), this book is exactly what you need. You can click the icon below to be entered into a contest to win a copy for yourself!

Pray A to Z Amelia Rhodes
Amelia Rhodes is fabulous, and I know you’ll love to get to know her. You can find her at her website, ameliarhodes.comFollowing God into the Unknown is my favorite series on her blog, and you can read all about how her family believed God was calling them to downsize and move to a new house. It’s a story of faith, contentment, and rejection of modern culture’s expectations. You’re going to love it; check it out!

The Tightwad Gazette: Timeless Financial Advice for Your Family

What financial advice stands the test of time?

Financial advice must go beyond simple math lessons. The important stuff doesn’t have anything to do with cereal coupons or BOGO sales at the QuickMart. The best financial advice starts in our minds and hearts, giving us the right motivations and perspective on how we’re spending our money.

Years ago I was a fairly hysterical young wife and mother. And I mean hysterical in the “hey, that lady in the library’s budgeting section should be medicated,” not the “ha-ha, she’s funny kind of way.” 

I had a lot of goals for our family and we didn’t have buckets of gold dropping from the clouds. I turned my energy to learning everything I could about frugal living, budgeting, and stretching our income.

The dream that keeps on giving, I tell you

And this is where The Complete Tightwad Gazette  (*affiliate link) came into our lives, for better or worse. I found a copy in our little bitty library, a giant, 959-page tome of light shining into our financial situation. Amy Dacyczyn was a woman not unlike myself– a mother who wanted to raise her family in a certain way, and she was going to require some ninja-level skills to achieve her dreams.

Her dream was to have a big family (six kids!), live in the country in a charming old farmhouse, and not use daycare. This was a tall order, even back in the 80s and 90s.

The Complete Tightwad Gazette is a compilation of all her ninja-level frugal living skills, bound up for us today. But let’s be honest– we’re not living in 1992 anymore. Some of the advice in the book is now a bit laughable. For example, there are several entries on how to save money on stamps and envelopes. I can’t even imagine worrying about envelopes today. There’s also an article on saving money with CD membership programs, and some random advice on powdered milk.


So let’s skip all that and get right to the stuff that still applies to our lives today. Here’s the financial advice from Amy Dacyczyn that changed my life, and my family’s future. I’m confident this still applies for your family, too.

Set your family’s goals, then work relentlessly to meet them.

There’s no point to frugal living or budgeting if you don’t have a goal. Even if your plans are as simple as Save enough to pay off the last doctor’s visit, that’s fine. But the goals and the priorities are the place we all start.

It’s okay to live a counter cultural life to reach those goals.

Listen, it wasn’t normal to have a passel of kids and live in a huge old farmhouse in 1992, either. The Dacyczyns were weirdos even then. But they didn’t care. They were willing to wear garage-sale clothing and become DIY experts to live the life they envisioned. Nothing has changed in that regard.

It takes big and small sacrifices to reach the most important goals.

The most worthwhile goals require more than switching to the cheap toilet paper or using a coupon for coffee. We might have to severely limit our housing costs, our grocery bills, our insurance costs, and then still micromanage the tiny expenses.

It’s worth it in the end.

The Dacyczyns made their choices and lived with them happily. They got their big old farmhouse and raised their big old family there. They drank reconstituted powdered milk and ate produce from their own garden, exactly the way they wanted to live. Your goals might be completely different, but you can revel in your own success when you achieve what’s best for your family.

Those are my favorite bits of the Dacyczyn story. Sure, I benefited from their muffin recipe and giggled at the article on dumpster diving. But really, their life gave me the courage to set our own goals and then to be content with the sacrifices those goals required.

It’s what this entire blog is about, all these years later.

I hope you’ll pick up your own copy of the Tightwad Gazette, and let me know what works for you!

 

The Ms. Mediocre, Slightly Chubby, Often Cranky, Bad Hair Day Pageant

pageant for normal womenIn a move noted as “bold” and “long overdue,” a new pageant arrives on the scene this season.

Viewed by many as the obvious alternative for 99% of human women, the Ms. Mediocre, Slightly Chubby, Often Cranky, Bad Hair Day Pageant offers what traditional beauty pageants lack– common sense and a firm grip on reality.


Competitions are scheduled in the following crucial life skill departments:

  • Chasing a toddler through a busy parking lot while holding two bags of groceries
  • Politely helping your best friend realize her eyebrows have grown out of control
  • Speaking to teenage offspring without using all the swears
  • Messy buns and other half-arsed hair options
  • Yoga pants vs pajama pants: how, when, and where

Interested applicants are encouraged to apply quickly and decisively. Judges expect a torrential onslaught of candidates, as no one has ever shown interest in the common woman before.

Perky, thin, gorgeous women with full and natural breasts will be shot immediately upon application, officials stated in the press conference held early this morning. Shot to death, they clarified.

The pageant is expected to be held sometime in spring, but an exact date is hard to determine, as NORMAL WOMEN HAVE TOO MUCH TO DO TO BE PRANCING AROUND THE STAGE AT A STUPID PAGEANT.


When an official date is scheduled, we will be the first to let you know. Stay tuned for further details.

How to control holiday spending so you can afford to pay your January mortgage payment

control-holiday-spendingAll the shiny things are in the stores! But we want to control our holiday spending, right? Because we still need to afford the rest of our life once Christmas is over.

Today I was in Lowes to buy sandpaper for the cat (it’s a long story and you really don’t want to know), and I took a moment to peruse their lovely holiday decorations.

They have a giant JOY sign that costs $1200. I mean, it’s huge. The letters are as tall as I am, maybe taller. It would look really cool in my front yard, BUT IT COSTS $1200.

Good grief.

It’s stuff like this that wreaks havoc at Christmastime. Of course we’d like the giant JOY sign. Of course we’d like to buy our friends and family everything they could dream of owning. Of course we’d like to put plane tickets to the Bahamas in our sister’s Christmas stocking!

But most of us can’t afford these things. And if you can afford these things, I bet you aren’t actually reading this blog post. You’re too busy rolling in your piles of gold coins.

The rest of us have to get a grip on our holiday spending or we’re going to be homeless and hungry in January. Here’s how we are going to do that.

We’re going to stay out of the stores. Instead, we’re going to go to the library to find excellent, free ideas for holiday fun. There are entire books on affordable holiday ideas! But mostly, we’re going to stay out of the stores. The marketing department of your favorite store has your number, sister. They want to control your holiday spending for you, and they know what makes your heart beat faster. They know what looks so beautiful to you, their ideal customer, that you lose your mind and whip out your credit card. Trust me, they’re way ahead of you. Stay out of their way because your mortgage company will not accept “but the JOY sign was so pretty” in lieu of a payment next month.

We’re going to do some math and figure out the Christmas budget. This is hard and ugly and might involve some crying when you realize you have $20 to spend for Christmas this year. You get an hour to be depressed, and then you will pull yourself together, be proud of yourself for accepting reality, and you will get creative.

photo-1477921749929-1b7a5d38b68a

We will have honest conversations with our loved ones. Maybe it’s our spouse, or our best friend, or our mom. This might be painful. But your loved ones would be horrified to know you’re spending holiday money you don’t have on them. Love them enough to be honest. And also, this honesty might be a life saver for them! Maybe they don’t have enough for Christmas this year, either. Maybe you can have a potluck night instead, or go to a free holiday concert together. But until we’re having honest conversations with our people, we won’t be able to take care of each other in the most loving ways.

We will remember that children do not need an explosion of presents on Christmas morning. If your kids are old enough to understand the concept, begin by helping them understand the family reality right now. They understand and can adapt far more than we give them credit for, and trust me, they’ll be able to feel your stress if you spend too much. Let their holiday be breezy and fun like it’s supposed to be. If your kid is too young to understand money or presents, then please, please, please, go to the thrift store and buy them a few delightful things. I swear to you they’ll never know the difference.

It doesn't have to look like this at your house.
It doesn’t have to look like this at your house.

We will go to church and remember that Christmas was never supposed to be about blinking lights and credit card debt. We will remember a tiny baby, placed in a manger, worshipped by shepherds from the hills. We will feel profoundly thankful and we will tell our Heavenly Father how wonderful he is.

I do know this– Christmas begins and ends in our hearts. If we’re miserable and sad, no amount of holiday spending will buy enough presents to fix us. But if we choose joy and simplicity, no lack of money can ruin the season for us.

So may we choose wisely, and may we choose joy!

***

I found a few ideas on Amazon. Maybe these will help! (*Affiliate link)

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