Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Penny Pinching: 9 Easy Steps to Spending Less

As newlyweds MJ and I had to learn new ways to save money. The ones I have listed below are so helpful, and they do not require you to make drastic changes to your life.

1. Create a budget and stick to it.
     If you don't have a plan, you will never be able to spend less. Make a budget, and decide where all of your money will go - no matter whether it is spent or saved. Include monthly costs (rent, groceries, gas, etc.) and budget for unexpected expenses (car parts, school expenses, etc. - for us it was my repeated doctor visits). A budget is useless if you do not keep up with it. Consistently check to ensure that you are staying within your limitations. If you don't know how to make a budget, find an older or more experienced person who does and ask them to help you.

2. Communicate about spending.
     Because MJ keeps up with our budget and accounts, I usually consult him before I spend more than $20. He has never asked me to do this, but I am glad that we talk about finances. Our friends who did our marriage counseling told us that money is one of the main instigators of arguments in marriage. There is no need to put additional stress on your spouse by spending money that you don't have. I never want to do that to MJ, so we talk about what we feel like we can spend.

3. Don't go to the mall.
     This may seem silly, but there is a larger principle behind it. Generally, you won't want it if you don't see it. Stay away from places like the mall when you don't have extra money to spend. The goal of every store is to get you to buy something. "Window-shopping" when you are trying to save is a terrible idea. And to all the ladies out there - limit your time on Pinterest when you're broke. Pinterest is a virtual mall. It is filled with unusually expensive outfits, home decor, and jewelry that you don't need. Don't tempt yourself if you're trying to save!

4. Sleep on purchases over $45.00.
    The best way to know if you really need or want something is to sleep on it. You can usually tell within two or three days if this would be an unnecessary impulse buy or if you actually need it. Also, don't make huge purchases alone. Consult your spouse to see what he/she thinks. They may think of a large upcoming expense for which you need to save.

5. Figure out how you relate to cash.
     If you tend to spend cash when you have it, only keep enough cash with you for three or four tips at restaurants (in case you use a gift card). Some people like us are less likely to spend dollars here and there (which usually adds up quickly) if they do not have cash with them. If you are less likely to spend money when it is in your pocket instead of your account, keep the money you have budgeted for that week in your wallet.

6. Eat at home.
     Eat lunch and dinner at home whenever possible. It is usually much cheaper (and healthier) to cook something for dinner than go out, and it is nearly always cheaper (and healthier) to eat lunch at home. Fast food is no exception. You usually spend as much as you would at home or more (a ChickFilA combo is usually between $5-$7 per person). 
     We've discovered the joy of eating leftovers in the past year. It is a good feeling to know that you are saving money and still getting what you need. 
     When you do go out to eat, order water & share meals when reasonable. Go to restaurants where you will get your money's worth (Macaroni Grill gives you as many loaves of bread as you want, and you're guaranteed leftovers!).

7. Get Netflix instead of cable.
     We have not missed cable one bit. I realized that it took up way too much of my time anyway. There is more than enough to watch on Netflix (movies, TV series, documentaries, etc.), and it saves you money. A fun date night idea is to get a $5 pizza from Little Caesar's & watch two documentaries on something you're each interested in. You're sure to learn something (about each other and some random topic) and laugh. And you only spend $5.00!

8. Only use coupons on items that you will use.
     You could give me a coupon for $4.00 off a $5.00 jar of olives. I could use that and buy a food that I hate and will never ever eat, or I could save the dollar and buy organic tomatoes (which I will use) instead of regular ones. Do not use coupons to get food or items that you will not use. You end up with alot of stuff you will never use and you have spent a little money here and there that adds up in the end. What's the use of being Couponing Queen of the Universe if you will not use what you buy? Don't use coupons for the sake of using coupons. You may spend more than you need to spend. That being said, try to use good coupons. If you have a coupon that will get you a pound of ground beef for $1 (what a dream), use it and find good recipes that require ground beef.

9. Designate a "No-Spend Day" each week.
     Pick one day out of the week that will be your "No-Spend Day." Do not spend any money on that day. It is alot easier than you think. Spending less is all about getting creative & accomplishing what you need to by spending less. Use creativity and see how much you can do for free on No-Spend Day. For example, on Tuesdays you could eat breakfast at home, go to the Dixon Gardens & Art Gallery after 10am for free (ok, maybe donate a dollar), then go to the zoo, eat a packed picnic lunch there, and finish off the day biking around Shelby Farms. FOR FREE.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Blindness & Grace

       We tend to be blind to our own shortcomings, so it is always interesting to me when I discover one of my own less-than-flattering habits (to put it lightly). Actually, it isn't so much that I discover it as it is revealed to me. The process usually goes something like this: normal experience, revelation concerning self, denial (internal temper tantrum), acknowledgement, crossroads, decision.

     A few weeks ago, I was severely annoyed when someone messed up...a typical experience for most of us. I was grumbling internally until I realized that I had done precisely the same thing two days earlier. Suddenly, I could so clearly hear, "You expect perfection from others and less than that from yourself, and you give less grace to others than you expect to receive." Blinders removed. The widened view was a little too much to handle at first.

     Resistance came, but I knew I wouldn't win this one. I began analyzing my life and realized how great this tendency is. I expect others to be perfect, but I expect to be given second and third (and fourth) chances for myself. I began to think, "What if people expected of me what I expect of them?" I didn't have to think for a long time. I already knew how that felt. There have been countless people in my life who have expected me to be perfect - or certainly near perfect. It is suffocating, pressure-inducing, unrealistic and unfair. And I do it too.

    So came my crossroads of consistency. Road One: I can continue holding everyone else to a standard of perfection and simply begin expecting the same of myself. Road Two: I can begin extending to other people the unending grace that I have found in Christ. He lavishes one-way love (as Paul Zahl put it) on me even though I have done everything to make myself undeserving. The first road will lead to self-hatred because, just like everyone else, I will fail. The second road will lead to Christ-likeness and a exhibition of the Gospel in my life. I am called to go down that second road, so here I go. I know sometimes I will drift back to the first (I get distracted easily), but I really want to follow that second road. I think life will be much happier there.

A great read for recovering perfectionists/legalists/'good girls' is Emily P. Freeman's Grace for the Good Girl.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Marriage Lessons: Year One

MJ and I have been married for one year, so I thought I would rekindle my love for writing things down by reflecting on a few things I have learned over this short period.

People think you are extra responsible if you’re married at a ‘young’ age.
            You become the “‘old’ married couple” quickly. Everyone assumes you know much more about life than you really do. You know how to cook ALL the meals. You know how to fix ALL the domestic problems. You know what the responsible decision is in ALL situations. They’re partially right. It is really comical because we still feel like kids in a lot of ways, but marriage will mature you and your way of thinking.

You need less than what you think that you need.

            Marriage and sacrifice go hand-in-hand. Being married so young and still in college, we have had to learn to do without things that we thought we needed.  I think this is especially difficult for women (new clothes, home d├ęcor, jewelry, shopping as a hobby, etc.). However, it makes you realize what is important in life and what is not. Marriage is worth the sacrifice.

You are selfish, and it will show.

            I am way more selfish than I knew, and it showed this year. I quickly realized that I can choose to have petty arguments over stupid things, or I can recognize that marriage is part of my sanctification. Marriage makes you look more like Jesus because every day you have to make the choice to deny yourself (in big and small ways) what you really want in order to love and serve your spouse.

In marriage, you’re free to be you…and you are weird.

People have weird habits, and spouses become oddly comfortable. The pressure to be accepted has subsided with a life-long commitment, and the weird habits are voluntarily exposed. I’ll never forget MJ showing me how he folds towels. It’s weird…to me. And my way was weird to him. Our vows should’ve included, “For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, for when you leave clothes on the end of the bed or for when you leave a pile of shoes by the door, for when you sing “10,000 Reasons” for the ten-thousandth time or for when you take up your side of the bed…and mine.”

Different doesn’t always mean wrong.

Your spouse’s different way of completing a task isn’t always the ‘wrong’ way. We both look for efficient ways to get things done. However, we have those weird habits previously mentioned that are not always efficient. I used to ask, “Why don’t you do it this way?” a lot. If I saw a faster, ‘better’ way of doing something, I thought I was being helpful by suggesting that he do it that way. However, when he did the same to me, I was frustrated that he would not let me do it how I had planned or wanted to do it. I learned that a different way isn’t always a wrong way. Just because he wants to take the roads that he knows rather than taking the fastest route does not mean his way is wrong. Suggestions are fine every now and then, but I don’t need to point out that I would’ve done it differently.

Marriage is fun.

            It is so awesome to share the littlest and biggest life happenings with your best friend. Some of my favorite moments have been when MJ and I are just being stupid together or doing simple things like going to get ice cream at 10pm. There are lots of laughs and smiles to be had.

Marriage is hard.

            If you think six years of dating is adequate preparation for marriage, you’re wrong. Been there, done that…this year was still tough. No amount of dating can completely prepare you for marriage because they aren’t the same. People told us and statistics show that marriage is hard (especially the first year), but everyone thinks they will be the exception. There are unforeseen frustrations and arguments, but if you honor God and fight for a good marriage, you will come out better and stronger on the other side of every issue.

Marriage is the best.

            There’s no other way to say it. It’s so comforting to know someone will be by your side no matter what. It is good to have a person in this world who knows everything about you and still says each day, “I chose you forever.” I love MJ more today than I ever have because of our marriage. God created marriage as a picture of the Gospel – we don’t come to God with a list of good things we have done hoping He will take us. He makes a covenant of salvation with anyone who comes to Him and says to Him, “I have sinned, but I trust Jesus’ life and death were enough to forgive that. I am forgetting the life I knew and am walking with You now. I want to commit myself and my life to You.” He responds with a resounding and perfect “I do” commitment of His own. In the same way, MJ and I left the separate lives we knew. We brought nothing to the table that day except a covenant of unwavering commitment that will be kept forever. Marriage is God’s way of changing us, loving us, and showing us a mirror of how He has loved us – deeply, unconditionally, and faithfully.

“Two are better than one…” Ecclesiastes 4:9