Excitement and Panic

Things are exciting around this joint, I tell you. The new walls are finally getting some paint, and the kids are back in school with a full social schedule, and my book’s publication date is finally growing near. It has been so far off, forever, that it seemed probable that it would never actually arrive.

But just like any huge event that lurks in the distance, the date eventually arrives. There’s a Green Plastic Monkey in my Purse will be published in the beginning of March. Just this week I got an email from the publicity department asking me for all sorts of details that they will use to publicize the book far and wide. This caused me some mixed emotions. On one hand I feel excitement from the top of my little red-head to the tips of my tiny little toes. (All the parts in the middle are much larger, I’m afraid. I just have a little head and little toes. Genetics are such a beast.)

Here I present my tiny little toes. Just for you. Because I love you all.
Here I present my tiny little toes. Just for you. Because I love you all.

On the other hand, sheer panic stung right through me when I sat down to fully comprehend what is about to happen. You know that feeling when someone drags you on a roller coaster, and you finally reach the top of the first hill? You look down and you think, “Oh, dear. Dearie, dearie, dear.” You aren’t sure you’re ready, but you know you’re strapped in to a moving cart someplace near the clouds. Getting out is not an option. So you sit tight and hope that no one dies.

No one is going to die, here. I’m quite certain. But I am wrestling with a similar sort of panic. And to top it off, I’ve started a new book proposal. Since the first book is about parenting, I thought it might be a nice complement for the second book to be about marriage. I have an outline, and Scripture chosen, and a few good reference books waiting. But the more I write, the less this book is about marriage. So far I have 4,500 words written on how not to be a selfish idiot. Anyone who has ever been married or in any other human relationship knows that this is a good place to start a book, but still. The more I write the more confused I become.

I take comfort in knowing this has happened before, and it will happen again. Life is confusing. We struggle. We wrestle. And by and large, if we do not give up, that struggling and wrestling works some sort of magic and the process moves along. Things become clear again. We see the end result.

We aren’t the only ones who wrestle, either. Jacob wrestled with God. John the Baptist struggled with doubt. Jesus struggled in prayer before He died. If these godly men had to work out their faith and get through a difficult process, I can do the same.

But what do you all think—should I go for the marriage book, or the do-not-be-a-selfish-idiot book?

This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!”

But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

“What is your name?” the man asked.

He replied, “Jacob.”

“Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.” (Genesis 32:24-28, NLT)

The Complete Tightwad Gazette: Money vs. Time

Welcome back to our series on the Complete Tightwad Gazette!  Today we’re going to discuss the delicate balance between saving time and saving money.  Most families find it impossible to save both and simultaneously keep their sanity.  Yes, we could work full-time jobs while growing all our own food, but most people need to sleep.  This is why we invented grocery stores, thank you very much.

In her book, Amy Dacyczyn wrote about this very problem.  She and her husband solved the problem by coming up with a formula and a chart to determine if a chore was worth the time and money it saved.  I will let her explain in her own words:

I often time how many minutes a job requires to determine how many times I could, in theory, complete the job in an hour.  I then calculate how much money a job saves.  I multiply the times per hour by the savings per job to determine the hourly value.  For example:  A 10-minute task saves $2.  The task could be done six times an hour.  The hourly worth is $12 per hour (page 103).

She then took that hourly wage and added two other factors:  1) other values that add to the chore, like environmental impact or family time, and 2) personal enjoyment.  For example, I could keep a cow, and then make my own yogurt from the milk.  My daughter eats a ton of yogurt, so this could save me $4 a week.  Also, I’d be saving the environment by not buying yogurt in those plastic containers.

However, I have no idea of how long it takes to make yogurt when you start with an udder and a pail.  Days, I’m guessing.  And we can’t ignore the cost of keeping the cow; that’s not cheap.  And then we have to add in the fact that I hate taking care of animals, so my enjoyment factor would be about -10.  Added all up, that $4 a week for yogurt is becoming a bargain.

On the other hand, I do bake my own bread.  I love to do this, Eric loves to eat it, and I can churn out gourmet loaves of bread for about 50 cents each.  It takes a bit of time, but it’s totally worth it.

I rarely find it worth my time to run around town finding all the best deals.  I know other people who do this, coupons in hand, and make out like bandits.  This whole experience usually makes me so crabby that I am unfit company for the rest of the day, so I have given up.  But I do keep my eyes peeled for good deals, and I snap them up when I see them.  Today I found nuts on clearance at Wal-Mart for $1 a canister, so I grabbed four.  It took me about twenty seconds to save $12, and I think that was well worth my time.

If I use Amy’s formula, this gives me an hourly wage of $2,160.  And as I sit here typing this post with cashew-breath, my enjoyment of the experience is about a 10.  Win, win, win!

What are your favorite ways to save money, and how much time does it take each time you do it?

The Tightwad Gazette: Best Money Book Ever

Let’s do a quick show of hands–who out there is a huge fan of The Complete Tightwad Gazette?

Anyone?

Well, my friends, you will be after this post.  Welcome to the best money book ever written. Back in the day when our kids were small, our income was small, and our debts were huge, this book was my financial lifeline.  Written by Amy Dacyczyn about twenty years ago, the book is actually a compilation of six years of her very successful newsletter.  Yesterday I realized the obvious–this is an early version of a blog!  She wrote quick, simple articles from a personal point of view.  Except the poor woman didn’t have a smart phone to upload her pictures in a flash–she actually had to draw them all.  And then she had to print the whole thing out on real paper and mail it out each month.  I promise this blog wouldn’t exist if I had to mail it out.  I am that lazy.

As you can imagine, some of the ideas Amy Dacyczyn (pronounced “decision”) printed have fallen out of circulation since 1990.  For example, page 342 contains a reference to Breck shampoo, which I don’t think even Wal-Mart sells anymore.  And of course the internet and technology have moved past what anyone could have anticipated 22 years ago.

I will also admit, and Amy admitted herself, that some of the ideas are a little far out.  Not every money-saving idea will fit every family.  In one article she discussed how her family bought a large amount of canned goods with no labels; then they spent the next few months guessing at what the cans contained and making up meals once they opened them.  Think ongoing “Dinner Surprise” and you are on the right track.  There is no way on earth my husband would agree to that, and it takes a lot for him to put his foot down.

But when you get past the twenty year old time gap and some unusual approaches, the woman and her contributors had the right idea.  Amy’s basic desire was to have a large family, a large old farmhouse, and to stay at home with her children.  She then arranged her finances to fit until she and her husband could manage those dreams.

I’d like to share some of her principles that changed our family finances, so off and on I’ll be sharing some ideas from the book.  Today we’ll start with a foundational article called “Seeking the Minimum Level” (pg. 87).  Amy challenged her readers to think about what they were doing and buying, and why.  Do we really need all those shoes?  Do we really need the pre-packaged snacks?

Find one small thing to cut back.  Use less dish soap.  Don’t buy the new shoes yet. Go one extra day before you wash the towels.  Then continue to cut down your use until you find a level that is uncomfortable for your family.  When you’ve hit an uncomfortable point, then go back up one notch.  Just one.  Not back to the way it used to be.  Repeat this over and over with various expenses, and soon you’ll have trimmed your family’s finances with little stress.

How simple, and how beneficial!  Thinking differently will have you spending money more wisely.  What are your financial dreams?  Are you willing to try anything new to reach them? Let me know what you think!

Counting the Cost

This week money is flowing out of our checking account like lava out of an exploding volcano.  Kaboom!  There go hundreds of dollars for new tires.  Pow!  There’s the birthday gift for a kid we barely know.  Sizzle!  There go two extra tanks of gas for trips to Grand Rapids.  And finally-plop!  That last bit of lava is the steaming hot vacation money, falling out of our pockets as we head north for the weekend.

The volcano is eating us alive!  Well, sort of.  Lucky for us, we’re kind of budgeting nuts around here.  And by budgeting nuts, I mean we have color-coded spreadsheets, a computer program that tracks our spending to the penny, and stacks of books from Dave Ramsey and Crown Financial Ministries on our bedside tables.  We’ve spent almost eleven years getting our finances in order.

As you can imagine, sometimes this is not fun.  Many times it is terribly not fun.  For example, today it is well over 95 degrees outside, and we refuse to pay for air conditioning in this house.  We are sweaty.  We are grumpy.  We are about to go to Wal-Mart and enjoy their air conditioning for an hour.

However, there are times that Eric and I grin at each other, knowing full well that all that stinky financial self-control is paying off.  We’ve already counted the cost (as much as we are able) so when the volcano explodes on us, we are prepared.  We have new tires for the trip up north, where we will cheerfully support the local economy by paying $6 for a gallon of milk and some bread.  Bring it on, Tourist Traps!  We are prepared for your outrageous prices.

Jesus advocated the concept of counting the cost before committing to a project.  In Luke 14 He discussed the sacrifices neccessary if we want to carry our crosses, build a large project, or even go off to war.  Anything we do has a cost associated with it.  Are we prepared to pay it?  Have we considered the sacrifices we must make in one area to fully fund a higher goal?  Jesus said:

28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish…’33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.  (Luke 14:28-30 & 33, NIV, biblegateway.com)

It’s my prayer for you today that you are also fully counting the cost of your choices (financial or otherwise).  It can feel like a huge bummer at first, but the pay off is completely worth it!

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