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.

 

Time to move? Considerations for your new family home.

new family homeAre you thinking about buying a new family home soon?

I’m going to guess you can list the shortcomings of your current house in detail. You know exactly what areas need more room, more organization, and more light. You know how many bathrooms you wish you had and where the laundry room should be. Perfect. You’re creating the list of what your new family home needs with every exasperating room in the current house.

I did the same thing. Our first home was a tiny starter house with no discernible floor plan. The washer and dryer were in the kitchen, there was no proper place to put boots and shoes, and the basement was terrifying.

Eventually we moved to a new family home, praise be the the Almighty, and I did not make the same mistakes when choosing the new place. But now that we’ve been here a few years, I’m still surprised by a few things. In some ways this new house suits us even better than I thought it would, but other things have developed that I didn’t anticipate.

family home

Here’s what I learned. You might find it helpful for your own house search.

Kids’ stuff gets smaller.

When we lived in that teeny house, I swear to you– our daughter searched out every giant stuffed animal in Kalamazoo and then conned her grandparents into buying it for her. When we moved into this new house, I was grateful for the room for the stupid stuffed toys. But the child outgrew those toys in just a few years, and now all she needs is her phone and a few books. You might not need as much room as you think in a few years.

Kids’ interests change. Plan with flexibility in mind.

Don’t overspend on something that might not matter in two years. Sure, Dylan might play with his Thomas the Train table for hours today, but in two years he might be into drumming or Legos instead. You might not need an extra family room then. Pools, trampolines, and room for sports might become a huge asset with older kids. Plan for big kids, and plan for their eventual big friends. A house with many options will serve you well.

Pay extra for only what matters to your family.

If I see one more gourmet kitchen with a granite countertop, I will pluck my eyes from my head. Yes, of course some families love these rooms, and for them, it’s worth the extra expense. But I spend as little time in the kitchen as possible. For us, a library nook was worth the extra cost. Family rooms, extra garage storage, or acreage only makes sense if your family needs them.

Privacy is huge as kids get older.

Trust me, when your kids are thirteen and eleven, everyone is going to be okay with bedrooms far, far away from each other. We live in a bi-level, and our floor plan is great for bigger kids. It would be a nightmare if we still had little ones who were up several times a night. But at these ages, we want to be in one place and the children want to be in a completely different place. Trust me, if you can afford it, you will never regret a separate wing for your master suite.

Two toilets are a life saver. But two showers might just be a hassle.

Cleaning two showers is super dumb. I hate it. The kids are supposed to be in charge of cleaning the downstairs tub and shower, but something is going terribly, terribly wrong down there. No matter how many times I explain the concept of mold and hard water stains, they don’t believe they can clean them away. I don’t know what people do with more than two bathrooms– cleaning them must become an endless nightmare.

So that’s what I know so far.

I’m sure I’ll be surprised at all new things as the kids grow into high schoolers. Do you have any advice for me? I’d love to hear what you love and hate about your house, and what you’d like to see in your new family home. Comment over on Facebook! That’s where all the real action happens.

 

 

Some Bad News About Your 2017 Goals

goals for the new year2017 is going to be a great year for you and your family, I just know it.

You’ve written down your 2017 goals, right? Maybe you’ve even come up with a spreadsheet to carefully lay out your entire plan. Month by month, you know what steps stand between you and Goals of Fabulousness.

That’s a real thing, you know–Goals of Fabulousness. And you shall reach them! I have all faith in you!

If your 2017 goals include lowering your debt and freeing yourself from financial bondage, I know that by December you’ll have made headway. Of course the unexpected might happen and you might not be able to totally reach your initial goal, but it’s okay– you’ll still be better off for having a plan and doing your best.

Maybe your 2017 goals include buying a new house or having a baby. We call these goals HUGE LIFE CHANGES. Good for you, sister. Go get ’em.

Maybe you just want a tidier house or a less crazy schedule. Fine! No one says your 2017 goals have to include a whole new life. Small goals are usually achievable, which makes them my favorite kind.

Okay, but here’s the bad news about your plans.

You can’t do it all. You can’t expect miracles, either. And this is okay.

Repeat after me:

My plans for the new year are just helpful guidelines to get me to the next place in life. It’s okay if I don’t experience a total life change. I will be kind to myself when things go awry.

Because let me assure you– things will go awry. Unexpected bills will show up, the pregnancy test might come back negative (or positive, which can be equally upsetting), and the house purchase might fall through.

Reaching your goals is going to require sacrifice in some areas. If you want to run a marathon this year, you’re probably not going to have as much time to build strong friendships at your church. If you have twins, you’re probably not going to be able to finish your MBA this year. You might want to be able to manage everything you’re already doing plus add in these new plans, but something is going to have to give. Something will need to be cut out.

And this is okay.

Goals are great, don’t get me wrong.

They’re awesome and give structure to our vision. They help us build the life we dream of having. But sometimes we forget that our plans are there to serve us; we don’t have to be enslaved to them.

For years I thought that failure to reach a goal meant that I was a personal failure. I was enslaved to my own plans.

This was stupid and terribly, terribly misguided.

Of course I wanted to build up the savings account and pay down the debt and keep a perfect house and build blanket forts with my children, all while having a perfect marriage. But I am one human.

After many years I realized New Year’s resolutions don’t really mean a whole lot. You know what matters much, much more? Consistent self discipline. That’s the thing that really moves us from the lumps we are right now to the glorious future we envision for ourselves.

You were probably hoping for something much shinier, right? Something sparkly and exciting? And I give you consistent self-discipline as a guide. Bummer.

But please listen to this old woman’s many years of wisdom– it’s far better to have a small, reasonable goal and slowly, diligently meander your way there. The alternative is to drive yourself and everyone around you crazy while you strain for some unattainable perfection.

Please. I beg of you.

Be reasonable, be consistent, be diligent. I’m willing to bet your year and your life will be far better off this way. I want you to succeed and I know you can do it. I just want you sane at the end of the year. Sane and successful!

Before I leave you, let me give you a few recommendations. These are all books or products I have found to be helpful as I move from one place in life to the next. (All are affiliate links, beeteedubs.)

  • Start, by Jon Acuff. This book will help you “do work that matters.” Plus, Jon is hilarious.
  • The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo. I can feel a new session of decluttering coming. This house is driving me mad. Marie to the rescue– she’ll give us the step-by-step directions to get it all done.
  • Bullet Journal: This link takes you to a slightly different list maker than I use, but the premise is similar. Bullet journaling is a way of keeping all your papers and things in one place. I started one this summer and it has changed my life. No more yellow notepads all over the house!
  • Debt Proof Living, by Mary Hunt. Yes, you can totally revamp your family’s finances this year. Try Mary’s way. She’s smart and learned the hard way.

I know you can do it. Your 2017 goals are going to be fabulous. Let me know how it works out!

Jess

 

Dear Ladies: Don’t Forget Yourself This Christmas Season

Christmas for women

As I write this, Christmas is just a few breaths away. Women everywhere are on their last nerve.

Children are hardly able to eat, sleep, or concentrate at school with the looming holiday. I’m sure teachers are counting the milliseconds before they can release the little darlings into their parents’ care for the break.

Husbands are darting in and out of stores, finishing their shopping.

But the rest of Christmas is really up to us women, isn’t it? I don’t mean to sound resentful, but there would be no decorations, no food, no presents for Great Grandma, and no stocking stuffers if it wasn’t for us.

Let’s not get me started on Christmas cards. Is there a man on the planet who has ever said, “Gee, let’s pick out our outfits for our Christmas card photo shoot!”?

NO. THIS HAS NEVER HAPPENED IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD.

It’s up to us, dear women. Christmas is up to us.

It’s not that our families don’t care, it’s just that they sort of think these things appear magically. You know, maybe Santa brings them down the chimney with the gifts. It’s no surprise that we’re a little exhausted and cranky. We’re taking care of our normal activities, plus we’re trying to bake five special dishes to take to five different potlucks.

Lady friends, let’s show ourselves some grace this season. Let’s give our families the present of our very best selves– the rested, happy, not-crazy version of us.

It doesn’t have to be this hard.

So let’s go ahead and cheat a little for the potluck. Bring something from the deli. We’ll put it in a nice dish and smile mysteriously when they ask for the recipe.

When we get sick of wrapping presents, let’s stop. Hide those suckers, unwrapped, all over the house and tell the kids it’s a scavenger hunt.

When we run out of money, let’s give ourselves permission to STOP SHOPPING. It’s okay to have limited resources. It’s not okay to bankrupt ourselves in the name of Christmas joy.

The little kids probably want to sit next to us and look at the Christmas tree. They probably would enjoy making a snowman or decorating cookies together. They do not need professional level gingerbread villages or hand sewn pajamas.

The older kids want more time to nap and watch YouTube videos, so that’s easy enough. We can nap when they nap, just like when they were babies!

Women, sit down with a mug this Christmas

The husbands and the rest of the family would probably appreciate it if we’d stop snapping their heads off. So let’s sit down with a nice mug of something warm and give ourselves a break.

(If it’s been an especially long day, a wee glass of wine might not hurt, either.)

Let’s go back two thousand years.

Remember back to the original Christmas, when Mary had the most beautiful experience ever. It was held in a literal barn. There was no potluck or Christmas tree or ugly sweater contest. She did not festoon the manger with twinkle lights or hand-embroider stocking decorations.

Mary had a quiet, holy night, contemplating God’s gift to the world. She held Salvation in her arms and nursed him at her breast.

Let’s not miss the beauty of the season by trying to make everything beautiful. It already is. It’s already the most blessed, holy holiday we have, partly because a woman was willing to allow God to work through her.

We still have the opportunity to let God work through us in this season. May we be open, willing, and rested enough to follow where he leads us.

 

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.

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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)

Priorities: A worksheet to help you plan the next right thing for your life.

Perhaps you’ve reached a point in your life where you really want to do the best thing for yourself and your family, but you have no idea of what that best thing really is. You aren’t sure what your priorities really are.

Should you work more hours and cushion the budget?

Work less hours to be home with the kids more?

Go back to school? Find a different career? Volunteer more? Volunteer less?

The options are endless and every decision leads to a different place in the future. How are we supposed to find the best path?

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But before we get our knickers in a knot, let’s calm down. There certainly are a lot of choices in every life, but there doesn’t have to be one, solitary healthy outcome.

I’m serious. You can make a lot of different choices and end up in a lot of different places fifteen years from now, but most of them will be good and healthy and fine. You’re going to be fine and your family is going to be fine.

Unless, of course, you take up heroin or chain smoking or bank robbing. Those are terrible priorities. Stay clear of those things and you’ll probably be fine. You might become a doctor with a nanny who takes care of the kids, or you might become a stay at home mom with an Etsy shop. Maybe you’ll own your own restaurant or maybe you’ll cater small parties from home. Fine and fine.

We worry a lot about the future but seldom remind ourselves that it all works out, somehow.

But still, we have to actually make a decision and then act on it, right? Life choices all begin in the same place: mulling the problems and potential solutions over in your mind. We have to find our priorities, and we can’t do that without some serious thinking.

Today I’ve included a little worksheet/graphic for you at the end of the blog. If you like to write and think slowly, print it off and get yourself a pencil and an excellent beverage. But maybe you’ll just bookmark this link and work from the graphic itself; whatever works for you is fine.

The worksheet has one purpose– to help you identify the problem in your own life that is causing you the most pain, and then to identify one priority and solution to start on the path to simple living.

It’s easy to think “Yikes, lady. I have way more than one problem and I want to do all the things to fix everything all at once.”

And I’m here to tell you the truth: Doing all the things will make you all the crazy. . You have to say yes to a few things, the most important things, and then you’ll have to say no to a lot of other things.

This little worksheet will help you think through where you are now and where you want to be. It’ll bring you one little step closer to the next place in your life. It will help you simplify everything.

I was at a conference recently, and the Hope*Writers encouraged us with this– if we get stuck, just do the next right thing. Then repeat and repeat. I hope this worksheet will help you figure out what the next right thing is for you!

 

Printable. Find your priorities

 

 

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