Thursday, July 31, 2008

Seed for the Sower

There is a huge difference between Old Testament giving and New Testament giving, and I am so excited to share it with you today. I am going to be giving you a little bit of history and some scripture, but hang in there with me. Because when the light comes on in your Spirit, it is going to change the way you look at giving.

The difference between Old and New Testament giving really comes down to a matter of covenants. I don’t know if you have ever heard of covenants before, but basically it is a contract with terms for keeping the covenant. In the Old Testament, or old covenant, the basis for pleasing God was obeying all of the Laws and rules set out by Moses. It was a covenant between God and men in which men were obligated to fulfill ALL of the rules or suffer the consequences and truly it was doomed from the beginning. In fact, God knew that it was doomed because He knew that it was impossible for men to keep all of those laws. But what the law did do was reveal our need for Jesus, and that was the plan all along.

So Jesus came and perfectly fulfilled the law in our place. And in His death and resurrection, He made a New covenant. Only, this covenant isn’t with God and men. It is a covenant between God and Jesus… Jesus who is perfect and can never break the covenant. The only thing we have to do to be partakers in the benefits of this covenant is to believe in Jesus. The Bible then says that we are IN Christ. In other words, everything that he did perfectly for us comes from simply believing in Him and being “in Christ.” Galatians 2:20-21 says, “I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith I the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”

So we are under a New Covenant and any attempt to gain righteousness by doing the “law” just makes a mockery of what Jesus did on the cross for us. Righteousness is yours through what Jesus did! And here is the wonderful thing about giving under this New Covenant. Under the Old Covenant, giving was always given after the harvest came in. Under the law of Moses (the rules that God gave to Moses known as the law), you would wait to see what your harvest would be and then you would bring a tenth of your harvest to give to the Lord. Interestingly, the “tithe” under the law was never money. It was always part of your harvest or crops. I don’t think New Covenant giving is all about money either. I think there are so many areas that the Lord might lead you to give in like your time, your energy, making a meal for a friend, or giving your services. Who says it has to only be money? That’s actually not scriptural at all. Living as a giver is much bigger than just your finances, although it has so much impact on your finances (which is why I’m talking about it :) )

Anyway, so under the Old Covenant you would give after the harvest, but in the New Covenant your giving DETERMINES your harvest!! You don’t wait to see what comes in and then give. You ask the Holy Spirit what to give and THEN see what comes in. What an amazing concept. This is the reason that I believe giving has to be one of those categories in your budget where you can’t necessarily lock yourself down into a number. Matt and I ask the Lord what we are to give and we put that amount into our budget, but many months it is more than that. We give according to the Spirit, and you know what… the Holy Spirit is never stingy. :) He is not stingy in leading us, but neither is He stingy in the harvest. We don’t see our giving as what we “owe God” after we have earned our pay check. We see our giving as our seed we are sowing BEFORE God’s provision for the month. In fact, the New Testament actually likens your giving to seed. If you sow your seed bountifully, you will reap bountifully. If you sow your seed sparingly, you will reap sparingly. (2Cor. 9:6)

Now, here is the really amazing news for you. Not only does God multiply your seed and bring a harvest… He actually supplies the seed for you to sow in the first place!
2 Corinthians 9:10-11 says,
“Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness, while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God.”

Did you know that if you don’t have the seed to sow, you can ask God to give you seed? In fact, if you have been looking at your budget over the past two days and thinking, “Tracy, if you only knew what I am looking at! How in the world am I going to be able to give when I can barely pay my bills?” I want to just challenge you to right now, ask God for seed to sow. Tell Him where you are and then ask Him for seed. And then get ready for amazing days, because He has promised to give you the seed for sowing and He will.

But, the important part is to then not “eat” your seed. When you ask Him for seed, He will give it to you and you need to recognize it as seed and get that seed into some good soil. Trust me, you don’t want to eat your seed. You want to eat out of the harvest. I could tell you story after story from my family of seeing this in action. I also want to say that your seed might not come in the form of money. I have asked God for seed before and been given a whole lot of clothes. I knew that those clothes were seed to sow. There are amazing stories from my parents where they didn’t even have a dollar to their name. They just asked God and said, “Lord would you provide some seed for us to sow because we really need a big harvest. We need a miracle in our finances.” On one occasion they had been asking the Lord for seed and a lady came up to my Mom and handed her some money. Well, when my Mom looked it was a $100 bill. Now $100 is a huge amount when you don’t even have any money for feeding your children, never mind bills. But she knew that it was seed, so she and my Dad sowed that money and within days they were given two checks for $1000 each! God supplies and then multiplies the seed so that you can be an even more generous giver.

Isn’t this great news? It’s not all up to you. In fact, sometimes you just have to get out of the way and let God do it through you. So ask Him for seed to day. “Lord, will you give me something that I can give, or even open my eyes to something I already have that is actually seed in my hand.” And then get that seed in the ground and get ready to see God move in amazing ways. This truly is the liberating part of budgeting. It is wonderful to have a plan. It is wonderful to be wise with you money, but it is even more wonderful to know that God is working in your finances. This has become such a way of life to me (because of my parents doing it my whole life) that Matt and I immediately ask, no matter what we have been given whether it is seed for sowing or bread for eating. And let me tell you, Jesus really was right when He said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” And in that joyous cycle, you will be “enriched in everything for all liberality.” You will have plenty for you and plenty more to give. So get into the cycle, get over any perceived lack in your budget, and ask God to supply the seed for you to give today.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Giving Can Be Fun?

My husband and I were members of a church a few years ago when they began their building program (Can I hear a collective groan? Truly there is nothing worse than a church with a building program. New facilities are nice, but it just seems to suck all the joy and life out or the people… and then what is the point?) We hung in there at the church for as long as we could, but each week they got progressively more and more abusive in their attitude towards giving to the building program. They brought in every hard line finance speaker you could think of, but instead of being motivated, the people just got burnt out. People started leaving the church in large numbers, and all the while the pastor just got more and more legalistic and desperate. It was a tragic situation, but one that is all too common in churches across the world. Basically I think the bottom line is nothing kills joy and freedom like compulsion.

I ended yesterday’s blog with the verses from 2 Corinthians 9:6-8, but I want to repeat verse 7 for you. It says,
“So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.”
Interestingly, the word “necessity” in this verse can also be translated from the Greek as “compulsion.” If you have been giving out of compulsion, then I have good news for you… God does not expect or require that of you. In fact, as Paul says, you are to give as you purpose in your heart and at the leading of the Holy Spirit. Now this isn’t a popular position on giving (especially if you are in a building program :) ), however, I really believe it’s God’s position. Like I said yesterday, God is after your heart, and giving out of compulsion or obligation does nothing for your heart.

As you all probably know, the Olympics are getting ready to begin next week. In each sport they have a list of requirements that the athlete’s are required to perform in order to qualify. In gymnastics these are actually called the compulsories. In other words, if they do not perform those mandatory elements then they will not score well, or will not qualify. And I think that this is exactly how many of us have viewed our giving. We feel guilty and scared of disqualification if we don’t give and so we give out of a sense of compulsion and not because it is really in our hearts. Or we don’t give and we live in fear because of it. The amazing thing is to watch those athletes when they are finished with the compulsories. Many times they will have like a "free style" at the end of the competition. They come alive. They have fun. All the pressure is off. Their passion for their sport totally comes out and it is so much fun to watch.

So what if (I know this might sound crazy to you) instead of giving what you feel is expected of you, you start giving what is in your heart to give? What a crazy thought. What if you felt the Holy Spirit prompting you to give all of the money you have set aside to give, to a neighbor who is in need? What an amazing concept. Now I totally believe that it is scriptural to give where you are being spiritually fed. Galatians 6:6 says, “Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches.” It is absolutely in God’s heart that you give to those who are ministering to you, but my point is… it is not compulsory. If it’s not in your heart, ask God about it, but don’t do it. Wait for Him to lead you. There have been months where our giving money has sat in savings for a month or two because we just didn’t feel like we were supposed to give it right then and so we waited. And then all of a sudden the Lord would show us a need and we would know exactly why we had to wait. Sometimes it has been sowing into a missionary, or blessing the socks off of a friend in need, or sowing our giving back into where we are being fed. But friends, WE are the church. The church is bigger than a building, and giving is so much more than just an obligation. Matt and I have so much fun with our giving. We get to BE the church when we give, and I can’t even tell you how much joy that brings.

So let go of the compulsion and obligation that has bound your giving. As Paul says (paraphrased from verse 7) give what is in your heart to give, don’t do it because you have to, and have fun doing it, because God loves that! God really does love a cheerful giver, but the good news is you don’t have to make yourself be cheerful about giving. When you stop doing it as a “compulsory”, it turns out that giving actually is a lot of fun, and it's easy to be cheerful when you are doing something fun.

So give what is in your heart to give and have fun with your giving. And if you don’t feel like you have anything to give at the end of your budget, then come back tomorrow. I have good news for you too!

See you tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Thank You Dad!

I just have to stop before I write any more on giving and thank my Dad. I was really struggling with the direction to start from and so he sat down with me last night... and WOW. I seriously wish all of you had my Dad at your disposal! He just gave me so much wisdom and insight into the topic of giving. So, as much of what I am going to be sharing is just fruit from that conversation, I just wanted to say Thank you Dad!! And also, to everyone else, please check out my parents ministry website for further resources on the subject of giving, finances and many other subjects that will absolutely set you free. Click here to go to there site.
Thank you again Dad and I love you.

Finding the Joy in Giving

Why do we give? Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” but do we really believe that or is our faith more in our fear that we will be cursed if we don’t give? If giving is nothing more than a category in your budget, if it has become just a check mark on your financial TO DO list, and if you have just been giving out of a sense of obligation and compulsion, then you have been missing out on a huge part of God’s heart for you in your finance. I know there is a huge risk in locking you into that sense of obligation further when I talk about giving in a book on budgeting. But the truth is, wise management of your resources will only bring you so far. You have to tap into the joy of giving if you are ever going to see the rest of the picture. There is a purpose for your money that is bigger than just managing your money well so that you can have more money. It is time to get a revelation of giving as the seed that God has put into your hands so that you can be a blessing to all of the family’s of the earth.

That may sound like an impossible mission when you are looking at the bottom line of your budget. However, if you only work to provide for your own needs, then you will never know the joy and abundance that God is longing to add to your efforts. It is so easy to become self-absorbed when we only focus on our own needs. I read an article in a magazine a few years ago that left such an impression on me. It was the results of a research study that actually followed people with depression who began to volunteer and give to people who were in need. The effect was powerful on the depression. Many of them came completely out of it, and most of them experience a renewed purpose for life. If all you can see is your own need, then it is easy to become miserly and hoard your resources. And somehow the more you hoard, the more you will fear losing what you have and soon you are bound to your lack. God wants so much more for you than this, and that is why He loves it when you give. Giving is so much more than just a category in your budget. It is actually a lifestyle.

I want to share this verse with you today found in Acts 20:33-35,
“I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. Yes you yourselves know that my own hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me. I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

This is the apostle Paul talking to the leaders of the church in Ephesus, but what a fascinating verse this is! Have you ever thought about the fact that Paul says he worked for a living, and he worked so hard that he supported everyone who was with him and gave to those in need. In fact, the essence of what Paul emphasizes when it comes to giving is that we are blessed to be a blessing to those in need, and a large part of why we work is to be a blessing to those in need. And then Paul says that he demonstrated this principle so that all of us might give to those in need as well.

Have you ever thought of your job as a vehicle to provide for giving to those in need? Most of us think of our work as provision for our own need, but obviously there is a much bigger picture in place when it comes to giving. In Ephesians 4 he says, “Let him who stole, steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.” Paul is saying that giving should be more than just a nice thing to do as part of your budget. Instead, Paul says that giving should be the motivator for your entire livelihood. What a concept!

Do you realize that every New Testament reference to giving talks about giving to those in need? It doesn’t talk about “giving to God.” In fact, when you think about it, why would God need your money? He owns everything. He has all He needs. I don’t think He has ever been after our money. He has always been after our hearts and He is also looking for avenues to bless us and to bless many others through us and that is why His heart is for us to be givers. There is something so powerful about being a giver and meeting the needs of the people around you. What a joy it is to get to be a blessing. If you have lost your joy in giving it is probably because you have lost the purpose of giving and are missing the amazing element of the supernatural when it comes to giving.

So why do we give? We give because we were made in the image of our Heavenly Father and He is an amazing giver. It is actually part of our “DNA” to be a giver. And when we give we give we tap into God’s heart for the people around us and into our purpose for having abundance. Not that we give out of our abundance. We give no matter how much or how little we have, but the good news is God supplies even the seed for sowing… but that is a whole other blog. So don’t miss this week because this just might be the good news that you have been waiting for in your finances. Don’t get locked up by fear of how are you going to fit “giving” into your budget. This isn’t a rule; it’s a way of life. And I guarantee you that if you tap into this, it will be life changing.

“But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.” ~2 Corinthians 9:6-8

Monday, July 28, 2008

Not Quite Ready...

Well, as you might have noticed, I didn’t blog all weekend. And I didn’t even blog to tell you I wasn’t blogging. Even this morning, I have written a blog, but to tell you the truth, I am just not ready to post it. So I am writing to tell you why I am not writing. I have been really grappling for the last week and particularly this weekend with the subject of giving. It is so in my heart to write about, but there is so much to say and I am really struggling with where to start. So many of us have been so beaten up with the subject of giving, so I am really excited to talk about it. Giving isn’t a requirement, it’s actually a life giving, joyful, budget transforming freedom that we are blessed with. There is so much life in the subject and I have really been wresting with the best way to present it.

So, that is where my energy is going right now. I feel a little like I am “giving birth” in the wrestling and process of this, but I also know that this subject is so critical that it is totally worth the effort. Pray for me if you think of me, and know that blogs are coming… not as quickly as I would like, but hopefully worth the wait.

Have a wonderful Monday and God bless

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Bug of Desire

What do you do when the bug of desire bites you? You are going along well. You have your budget in place. You are saving money and living within your means. You have a plan for your credit card debt. And then they have to go and release the new iPhone! Desire hits, budgeting all of a sudden feels mean and restrictive, and who cares about debt… there is a credit card with your name on it! The iPhone could be yours!

No, do not go out and buy an iPhone and tell your wife I told you to do it! I am just identifying something that happens to all of us when the bug of desire bites. For me, it was decorating my living room. All of a sudden today, I looked around my living room and just had an overwhelming desire to change everything. Do I go out and buy all new stuff even though it’s not in the budget. No, but I sure wanted to today. So what do you do with those feelings.

No matter where you are in life, no matter how spiritual, how wise, how wealthy, you will always have more desires than you have money for. If you had all the money in the world you might still wish that you had more so that you could personally end world hunger. Wouldn’t that be amazing! The point is, it is not the stuff that satisfies the desire, it is what you do with your desire.

When my brother and I were little, we were in K-mart one day and my brother really wanted a toy. He brought it to my Mom asking if he could have it. My Mom had been teaching us to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit so she told my brother to go and ask Jesus if he could have that toy. My brother went walking off with the toy and returned after a little bit with tears in his eyes. “I can’t hear Him, Mommy,” Brad said. So my Mom so wisely said to him, “Bradley, I want you to give me your toy in my hand.” And Brad did. “Now, I want you to give me your desire for that toy in my other hand.” So Brad took his hand and just “play-play” gave her his desire in her other hand. “Now, go and ask Jesus again if He wants you to have that toy.” In a little bit my brother returned. The tears were gone and he had a huge smile on his face. “Jesus says I’m not supposed to have the toy.” There were no fits. There was no more crying. He was just so excited that God had spoken to him (and so was my Mom :) ). He learned such a huge lesson that day, but I think it is a lesson for all of us.

Do you know that sometimes God actually wants you to have the desires in your heart? Many of us are afraid to ask because we think that He only says no. So we set about trying to get things in our own strength and wisdom without asking Him, which never fills that desire. But sometimes, the “bug of desire” isn’t from God and isn’t part of His amazing plan for us. It isn’t that He’s mean or stingy. He just knows better than we do what we actually need. And sometimes it is just a matter of timing. His answer might not actually be "No", it might be "Not right now".

So as I asked the Lord today about my living room today, I felt in my heart that just like my brother and his toy, I needed to give Him my desire. So I just told God all about my desire for my living room and then I gave Him my desire. And then I asked Him what the answer was to my desire. And what I felt Him say to my heart was that I needed to walk around my home and just thank Him for all of the different things that I love about my home. And do you know what? It turns out, nothing kills the bug like gratitude. :)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Squeezing the Last Drop

Squeezing the last drops out of your budget… that’s how it feels sometimes when you are trying to fit something else into a budget that feels overloaded already. I mentioned the other day that I would love to get to have someone to clean my house once a month. My friend Amy does this and it has been a huge success for her. She cleans her house every week, but once a month it gets a good deep clean. I think the good “deep clean” has been missing from my life recently. My little kiddos just keep me running and somehow between the three of them, my darling husband, working part time from home, blogging, and writing a book… cleaning the baseboards and fans is just at the bottom of the list.

Anyway, having a house cleaner come once a month is going to cost me about $50 a month. It is not a huge amount, but it still feels like a mountain. So, how do you squeeze something else into your budget? The temptation is always to take it from the money that is going to savings. However, if you allow yourself to go down that road, your money for savings will be gone in no time. You have to value your future and yourself enough to leave that money for savings alone… and yes, it is tempting for me too. However, if you have a surplus of income beyond what you need for your budget and where you are comfortably saving more than 10%… well, praise the Lord. You can probably stop reading right here :)… OK just kidding, keep reading. It will be good for you anyway.

So, if its not coming from savings, where does it come from? The answer is, all over. The way I squeeze in another project is to first talk to my husband. We sit and talk about what is important to us and what we might be willing to give up. We will also talk about areas that we might could do with a little less in. And then I work with our budget and I might take $20 out of my grocery budget, and $10 out of baby money, and $10 out of our gas money (a little iffy because of gas prices), and then maybe I will commit $10 from the money that I earn on the side each month. It may seem silly, but it is this negotiating process of fine tuning your budget that really can work miracles in allowing you to accomplish something that you really want.

What I am challenging you to do is not to just look at your budget and think that it is impossible to squeeze any more out of it. If there is something that is really important to you then look at your budget in terms of your priorities and try to take little amounts from all over so you don’t feel it as much. For that matter, your priorities will change from time to time. You may not always be doing as much driving and can reduce that amount, or you may decide that having a house cleaner is more important to you than coffee dates. In other words, you don’t stay the same from month to month or year to year. Your budget is a reflection of you and your dreams and priorities and it should change with you. There is always a way through if it is really important to you. You may not get to do everything, but there is usually a way to do what you really want. You might just have to decide what that is.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A Refuge in the Storm

So no blog today, just a word from my "quiet" time (quiet is relative in my home :) ).

Psalm 46 says,
"God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and the though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with its swelling.
There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; God shall help her, just at the break of dawn."

Can you imagine standing unafraid in such turmoil. It sounds like a discription of earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis... definitely horrible. And yet to the psalmist, the reality that God was with Him was enough to stand in the face of the end of the world without fear. We let much smaller things than this bring fear into our hearts, like the economy, or finances, or even job transitions.
I just love the end of this section, "God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved." No matter what comes against us, or what we are facing, when you have God in the midst of you, you will not be moved. You will not be pushed around by the waves of turmoil. Your heart is anchored and you have a refuge from the storm. This just ministered to my heart today because it is a great comfort to my heart and it is also my prayer for all the people in the Gulf of Mexico who are facing Hurricane Dolly.

God bless and have a day filled with God's peace, no matter what you are facing.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Wonderful Gift

I was given the most wonderful gift today. My darling Mom payed for me to have a house cleaning lady come and clean my home. So first thing this morning Matt and I loaded up the kids, the cleaners arrived and I left my home to be cleaned… by someone else!! But better than leaving was coming home. We arrived home before they were finished so we spent a little bit playing out in the front yard. At one point one of the ladies (there were three) came out to empty the trashes and this wonderful fragrance of clean filled the garage. My three year old, Ava, turned to me and said, “What is that wonderful smell, Mommy?” I just laughed out loud at how sad a commentary it was on how often I have mopped my floors lately! At the end we walked into a beautifully clean home, and I just felt like weeping. I can’t imagine a better gift… or truthfully, a better use of that money.

I have never had someone clean my house (well, once 5 years ago right after I gave birth to Noah and couldn’t walk), but I have never had someone come and do what I am perfectly capable of doing. It always seems so frivolous and such a waste. And yet, as I stood in my beautiful, shining, fresh smelling house, I realized what a gift it is to not have to do everything yourself and to not have to take an entire day to do it. I just felt overwhelming gratitude, and peace, and just kept thinking, why don’t I do this for myself? Why does it have to be a gift from someone else? And then I remembered my blog from yesterday about frugality. I thought about the fact that if my heart isn’t in a place of rest and trust that even what seems “wise” can be stealing from me. So many times I am striving to do it all, and I think I sometimes miss what God has for me.

Amazingly, my Mom actually gave me this gift about four months ago and I am only just using it. So, standing in my living room I turned my heart toward the Lord and just repented. “Lord, I am sorry for not receiving the gift that you have given me sooner. Thank you for loving me so much that you pursue me with Your Goodness. Thank you for this gift, because every good thing comes from You. Help me not to get so caught up in my own wisdom that I miss Your Wisdom for my life.”

When Matt came home from work to this beautiful home and his beaming wife, he just looked at me and said, “we have to find a place in the budget for us to do this next month.” And I looked back at him and instead of my stubborn frugality kicking in I just smiled and said, “You’re right honey.”

Every good gift comes from our Father in heaven, sometimes we just have to let our guard down, and get over ourselves enough to let the good in.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Frugality or Fear

I read a fascinating article today on MSN.com about how there is a huge shift in the spending patterns of Americans due to the weakness of the economy. More and more Americans are budgeting (yea!), they are clipping coupons, watching their spending and buying more economical cars. Experts are saying this is the biggest shift in buying trends since the 1970’s and the Depression after WWI.

I found the whole article fascinating because I just started clipping coupons and bargain hunting for my groceries. I have been doing it for about six months now and I have cut my monthly grocery budget by about 25%. It requires some time, but I have actually been doing it with some friends and we have had a lot of fun doing it together.

The MSN article made me laugh because it sounds like about 60% of Americans are doing the same thing. I love that people are being smarter with their money and spending it more purposefully. People just aren’t buying unless they are getting a deal, and that is affecting the entire face of the marketplace. There is so much that is wise about being purposeful in your spending. However, one of the things that is bothering me the most in the trend that I see around me is the reason that people are being frugal. There is a huge difference between purpose and fear.

What motivates you to save money, to spend money? What motivates your decisions? What I find concerning is that so many people are making their financial decisions based solely on fear. The horrible thing about fear is that no amount of savings can satisfy fear. No amount of safety nets, or budgeting, or investments can satisfy fear. Fear consumes, it eats away, and it constantly steals your joy. Fear is also a horrible guide for your financial decisions. It will cause you to hoard when you should give, to spend what you should save, and sometime even to save when you should spend. Did you know that many times decisions based on fear and what is actually God’s heart for you are complete opposites? That is because fear is the opposite of love, and it never comes from God.

I John 4:18 says that “Perfect love casts out all fear.” We have made that into a trite saying that we tell our kids when they are scared of the dark, but what that verse really means is that if you know God’s heart for you, if you know who He is and the depth of His perfect love for you there will be no place in your heart for fear. You won’t fear the future, because He has you. You won’t fear the economy, because He is your provision. And you won’t fear your finances, because if you know God you will trust Him that He will supply your needs and give you the grace to face your finances.

So, yes be wise with your money. Save, budget, pay off debt, coupon, but do it because there is life and purpose in it and not because of fear. Just remember, sometimes the best question to ask yourself isn’t what to do with your money, but why are you doing it?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Taking the Weekend Off

Yes, it's true, I am writing this weekend! My goal is to refine chapter one and start working on chapter two! Big goals when we are having a family time weekend :) I hope your weekend is filled with all of the things that you love. I'll be back on Monday with a fresh new blog. I am going to be doing a series of blogs on giving soon. I don't know if it will be Monday, but it's coming up. Anyway, God bless and have a wonderful weekend.

Friday, July 18, 2008

A Seatbelt for Your Wallet

Have you ever been stolen from? I had my purse stolen about two years ago and it was just a nightmare to get all of my information changed, and dealing with that whole situation. Honestly, the best thing about it is that I knew exactly what was in my wallet. I had all of my information organized so that I could find it. When we went to the bank to cancel our bank account and inform them of the robbery (which was immediately), I knew every check that I had written, every account that automatically debited from my account, and what debits I was still waiting on to go through in my account. If I hadn’t had that information, I would have bounced a lot of checks and debits.

Now my bank would not have charged me because they knew what was going on, but many of those company’s would have charged me. In fact, there was one debit that ended up being very delayed, and when it finally did go through my bank rejected it (totally their error) but it resulted in all kinds of fees with the company. I finally got it all sorted out, but I wouldn’t wish this process on my worst enemy! But I can’t imagine how much worse it would have been without my budget with it’s list of monthly bills and their due dates. Also my filing system was a huge help (see my blog on finance binders).

I read a tip in a travel book when we were preparing for an adventure trip and it actually is just great advice. The book advised travelers to photocopy everything that you carry in your wallet (your credit cards, your driver’s license, passport, etc) so that if you ever had your wallet stolen you would have that information. For travel it suggested carrying the photocopies in a hidden place in your luggage and even an additional copy safe at home where a trusted friend could get to them if they need to. We did that for our trip and though we didn’t need them (thank you Lord!), it was a fantastic tip. I just want to suggest that you might consider doing this for your wallet at home. Just photocopy or even scan your credit cards, library card, driver’s license, or whatever so that you will know exactly what was in there if your wallet goes missing.

The reality of life is, sometimes your wallet gets eaten by a hungry couch only to re-emerge two years later, and sometimes it might be stolen. But wherever it may disappear to, the hassle of dealing with your finances won’t be nearly as bad if you just do a little bit of preparation in advance. Not in fear of the worst happening, but just in a “wearing your seatbelt because its good for you”, wisdom kind of way. People do stupid things, including me, and sometimes that results in things going missing or even getting stolen. The truth is, my purse wouldn’t have been stolen if I hadn’t left it in the shopping cart in front of a busy story! Yeah, I don’t tell that part very often :) I had my three kids and my Mom was with me and we were talking and loading purchases into my car and blah, blah, blah… It was not my smartest moment. Anyway, so make a list of what is in your wallet and just be prepared. You may only be preparing for your own stupidity, but you won’t have to kick yourself nearly as hard later if you just take a little time to put a “seatbelt” on your financial world.

I’ll see you tomorrow.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Scared of the Cat

I wanted to share with you something my lovely friend Scarlet shared the other night at the Bible study group I attended. It is such a powerful picture, and it has just continued to resonate in my heart ever since. It’s not budgeting, but it’s good :)

When her daughter was little, she reached that stage between walking and crawling, but just refused to walk. She knew how to walk, but just preferred to crawl because she could get there faster. One day Scarlet was watching her daughter crawl in the grass down the side of their house. Well, coming from the other direction was the neighbor’s cat. The cat and her daughter just kept moving toward each other until her little girl was face to face with the cat. At this point her daughter began to cry because she was intimidated by the cat. And as Scarlet watched this whole scene, she felt the Lord speaking to her heart that this was a picture of “spiritual warfare”. All her daughter had to do was stand up, and the cat would have run from her and she would have realized that she was bigger than the cat all along.

So many of us get into situations where we are battling something, and it is so difficult and we feel so small, but the Lord is just watching going, “Yeah, your enemy looks big when you are laying down on the ground looking at him, but all you have to do is stand up and you will realize that you have nothing to be afraid of.” Sometimes winning the battle is as simple as recognizing that you are in one, and then standing up in who God has made you through Jesus.

Many of us think that spiritual warfare is us doing battle with the enemy. However, Jesus has already defeated our enemy. The enemy’s only power is deception. He sends every voice he can into our lives to tell us that we are small and powerless. It is not the truth. It is not who God has made you. If you have found yourself in an extended battle with the enemy of your soul, the chances are that you don’t know who you are. Jesus gave us authority over the enemy because we are in Him. Like Scarlet’s daughter, our enemy only seems so big when we are fighting him from our bellies. So stand up today. Stand up in the rights that Jesus has given you. This isn’t a battle, it’s a question of authority. And the good news is, you already have it.

So this isn’t about budgeting, but it actually is a powerful message for your finances as well. Many times when the enemy wants to steal our joy and get us feeling despondent and helpless, he will attack our finances. Have you ever noticed how everything seems to break down at once? No, I don’t think that everything is the enemy. Sometimes things just break down or run their course, but I do think that the enemy uses the timing of those things to make you think that he is more powerful than he is. He loves to get glory, he loves for you to think of him as huge, and he loves to steal from you in any way that he can.

When Matt and I start feeling “under attack” in our finances, it is just a reminder that we need to stand up and walk the way that God has called us to walk. We remind ourselves about what God has said about us, about our home, and about our finances. We take the covenant meal together and remember what Jesus did in defeating the enemy, and then we rejoice that we aren’t in a battle. When you stand up in all your glorious armor, it’s not really so that you can fight. It’s so that you will remember who you are in Christ, and what Jesus did in defeating your enemy. Taking up the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-17) isn’t so that you can go into battle. The battle is already won. But it's also not a mistake that you can't sit down when you are clothed in armor. Because when you are standing in what Jesus has clothed you in, you will not be intimidated. You will not be afraid, because you will finally realize that you are bigger than the cat.

"You are of God, little children, and have overcome because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world." ~1 John 4:4

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

'Til Tomorrow

Last night I had the opportunity to go to a women's biblestudy which means two things: my spirit feels so refreshed today, and I didn't blog last night. My dear friend Scarlet leads the Bible study and it has just been such a source of life. Anyway, no blog for today, but try to have a wonderful day anyway :) I'll see you tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Getting Started

I spent the evening last night helping a friend with their budget. It was definitely an evening well spent, but I didn't get to do my "30 minute plan" for blogging. So this morning I thought I would give you an update on the progress on my book. I believe I have finished my first chapter! I still need to do a little more editing, but I feel like I have climbed a huge personal mountain. It was a little harder than I thought, but a large part of that was deciding how to begin the book. It is amazing how perfectionism can keep you from beginning. We all do this in so many areas of our lives. If everything isn't "just right" for starting, you never start. I just had to keep reminding myself of this and go for it. The truth is you can always come back and refine what you have started, but if you never start... you don't have anything to work with. So if you have a dream, or something that God has put on your heart to do, start today. Don't wait for the perfect time, the perfect weather, the perfect financing, the perfect first line... perfectionism will kill your dreams. If you wait for everthing to be perfect, you will probably die with that dream still in your heart. Anyway, just my little sermon that I constantly have to give myself, but I thought it might help you start your dreams too.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Spreading Your Money Too Thin

There is a line from JRR Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" which I keep thinking of in reference to today's blog. Little old Bilbo Baggins has just had his "eleventy-first" (111th)birthday and he turns to his friend Gandalf and says, "I'm old, Gandalf. I know I don't look it, but I begin to feel it. I feel stretched and thin, like butter scraped over too much bread." Tolkien was such a master with story and words, and I think we all relate to that "stretched and thin" feeling, especially when we relate it to our finances.

As you know by now, I am a huge proponent of saving money and having a plan for your money. However, there are times when you are just trying to do too much. For instance, I was talking to someone the other day who wants to start a savings plan for Christmas, travel at Christmas, a vacation, Dentist bills, a new computer, a new car, new furniture in their house, and they are paying off debt. All this and their ideas didn’t even include an emergency savings fund. Now, I believe in stretching your money, but sometimes if you stretch your money too thin, it will take you forever and you will lose hope in the waiting. It is better to let go of some of your “projects” and so you have more to fund the ones that you want or have to do THIS year.

Sometimes, when your income is limited, you have to choose what dream you are going to focus your money toward. Now some savings are not “optional” in my opinion and really should be part of your budget like an emergency savings account, the Dentist, and even Christmas. Let’s face it, you are going to spend the money for Christmas whether you have the money or not… although you can change how much you spend on Christmas. You need to be realistic about your travel plans as well. Are you going to make that trip to see your family whether you have the money or not? If the answer is “yes” and you don’t plan for it and have money set aside, then you are just going to incur more debt.

What Matt and I do is we look at the whole year and determine what the focus of our savings is going to be. We always put money in our savings account no matter what, but for our other dreams and projects, we pick what is really important to us in that year. So we wouldn’t have a year purchasing furniture and trying to buy a new computer. For last year our focus was paying down the loan that we owe on our car. That is still important to us and we are still putting extra to our car this year, but we shifted the focus of our savings this year to really getting our savings where we wanted them to be so that we could do some business investments.

I am not saying don’t begin saving for those other projects. I already have a savings account for our 10year anniversary next year. Although there is not much in it right now, it reminds me that it is coming up, it is important to us, and we need to be purposefully saving. However, I realize that that is not where our focus is for our extra money and our savings right now. So all I am saying is, save for your dreams, but choose some to accomplish this year, and realize that you probably can’t accomplish them all this year. I know it’s not fun to not get to do every thing you want to, but the reality is if you spread your extra money too thin, you are most likely going to burn out in the waiting and you won’t end up accomplishing any of your savings dreams.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Hard Labor (or Hard Labour for my SA friends)

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the concept of hard labor. I have always been a hard worker. I love the feeling of accomplishment from completing a project and I don’t shirk hard work. I think the hardest work I have ever done is being a Mom. My feet seem to ache at the end of everyday, because the only time I sit down is when I am driving somewhere. And yes, I wish so badly that this picture was a picture of my feet. My Mom actually bought me special shoes with support because she was so concerned about my feet :) ~ thanks Mom! But the truth is, I just go all day with the kids. So labor is not a problem to me.

What has sparked my thoughts lately is the concept of not just working harder, but working more efficiently so you don’t have to work as hard or as long. I took a business management course in university and one of the random side comments that the teacher made that stuck with me was, “Only touch a piece of paper once.” In other words, if you pick something up, immediately address whatever is on that paper so you can throw it away or file it. For me, it is a great concept that is very difficult to do. I think that so much of my time is spent in the misuse of my time so that I am constantly working and accomplishing very little. Now, with three kids under the age of 6 all running around behind you undoing everything you have just done, this is to be expected, but never the less… if I planned what I was doing and was more efficient, I would work less. (ex. If I put a cartoon on and gave the children snacks before I clean my house, I wouldn’t constantly be interrupted while I am cleaning my house :) ).

It’s a simple concept, but when you take it and apply it to your work situation, it might just change your work experience. I think the goal of our employment should be working efficiently (with excellence), so that we don’t have to work as long. Now in America, there is next to no reward for this in a corporate setting. People who work long hours, and even weekends are heralded for their hard work and loyalty to the company. It doesn’t matter that they could have done the same quality of work in half the time if they were being efficient, it is all about appearances. However, it is those same people who sacrifice so much for appearances that they lose their families to their work, and burn out so quickly. And the sad truth is that many people that do work efficiently in the work place are just given more work.

If this is your situation, you have to begin to think beyond your current employment. This job situation holds nothing in its future but burnout, and more sacrifice. You have to get it out of your head that the only way to make money is to work hard. It is not about just working hard. It is working efficiently so you don’t have to work as long. Unless you are being paid overtime for every hour you spend, there is no prize for taking longer, except that you have less time to give to your family, and less time for you. Your job should not be your master. It is just the vehicle for the provision that God brings. Don’t sacrifice everything, only to be left with nothing.

There is a wonderful verse in the Proverbs (ch10, vs 22) that I want to share with you today: “The blessing of the Lord makes rich, and He adds no [sorrow] with it.” In the original Hebrew the word [sorrow] should actually be translated “toil”, or “hard labor”. So the verse should actually read, “The blessing of the Lord makes rich, and He adds no hard labor with it.” (Thanks Dad for the Hebrew!) What an amazing thought that the Lord wants to bring blessing that isn’t hard, and doesn’t require difficult labor. This goes against many of our traditions and ways of thinking. But I think it goes back to investment principles a little bit… you look for the avenue with the greatest return over a period of time, and then you are purposeful with your resources and invest there. You don’t have to spend long hard hours working in order to “get rich”. You just need to use your time as efficiently as possible into the best investment of your time that you can. And just trust that promise from the Proverbs. When the blessing of the Lord is on you, wealth doesn’t have to be as a result of hard labor, it doesn’t have to be a sacrifice, and it doesn’t have to cost you your whole life.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Generating Additional Income

My husband Matt has held the same job for the past nine years, and yet he has never only done that job. Every year of our marriage we have earned above our salary in what I call “side” income. But through that time I have come to believe that everyone should have some type of “side” income, business, or entrepreneurial adventure in addition to their regular job. Whenever I hear people complaining about not having enough for their budgets (and sometimes there really isn’t enough), I always question… what else has God put into your hand to do that you aren’t doing?

The wealthiest people that I know all have multiple businesses. They don’t just put all their eggs in one basket. I know we have all heard about diversification when it comes to our investments, but I believe it is important to have diversification when it comes to your income as well. Your job may pay your bills, but then it may be your other income that fuels your retirement, or begins to set you up for financial independence.

I love the story of Troy Aikman, quarterback for Dallas Cowboys Football Team –now retired. In his last years at the Cowboys, he was given a multi-million dollar contract to continue playing. And what he did was take a huge chunk of that and invest it into car dealerships. This not only gave him investment return for the future, but it also gave him a career after his career, and continued passive income that was no longer dependent on his athletic ablility. Most of us only plan for our retirement, if we even do that, but I think there is such brilliance in not just having a career where we are dependent on one source, but begin to diversify where your income is coming from. The ultimate goal is having enough passive income (income that you don’t have to go to work every day for, that you just manage) so that your work can be optional and you just do what you love.

I read this great quote from a guest blogger on a blog that I follow found at www.getrichslowly.org He said, “By working as an employee, only the very slow route [to wealth and financial independence] will work, because there is really no other way most people can accumulate wealth with average incomes. I believe that anyone who is interested in achieving their own wealth needs to supplement their job income with external business income that they create for themselves.”
Chris Guillebeau at The Art of Non-Conformity.

So my thought for you today is, how can YOU diversify your income? Even if you make a large salary you will never be wealthy as long as your income and financial future are solely dependent on you working. What happens if you get laid off, or decide you would like to change companies or careers? Will you lose everything that you have worked for, or is your “job” only a part of your financial income? That is the beautiful thing about passive income from sources such as real estate, or investments, or entrepreneurial endeavors, or business income, or royalties. They continue to generate income for you even if you are unable to work for some reason. Now you may not have this vision yet, but you can start where you are.

Let’s say you are a Stay-At-Home-Mom and your husband works a job… how can you generate additional income that you can then take and put into investments that will then generated passive income. This should be money that you are not dependent to live on… but it is going to be used to advance your future. If you are single and working at a steady job, start looking for additional forms of income that may potentially grow into a stream of passive income. Yes, it may take a little effort at the start up, but in the long term, it really is the answer to not being dependent on an employer and their whims for the rest of your life. In working for an employer, your raises may keep you ahead of inflation in the economy, but they will very rarely bring you to the point where you want to be financially.

So whether you are struggling financially, or in a lucrative job situation, don’t just think about right now and getting out of your mess, or spending your money. If Aikman had done that he may have ended up like many, many other successful athletes, movie stars, and business men, in bankruptcy with horrific debt simply because they failed to diversify their income and just lived for today. Don’t just work a job… generate wealth. Look for additional opportunities to generate wealth, and it will secure a whole different future for you and your family.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Showing Up for the Race

So I wrote a fun new section for my first chapter that I thought I would share. It's not life changing in itself, but it made me laugh while I was writing it, so I hope it will make you laugh too. For those of you that have been following all along, it is going to the beginning, but maybe it will remind you how far you have come...

I ran track in high school, and it still can cause me to break out in a cold sweat when I think of the moments right before a race. I was never really in that good of shape. In fact, most of my memories are of me standing out on the track in my ridiculously short shorts with winter white legs in front of all of my peers and everyone I knew and dreading the race. I ran the 400meters, which is a brutal all out sprint around the track. All I could think about was how I was going to hit a “wall” at the third turn. To everyone in the stands, I imagine it would look like someone had grabbed me by the neck and was pulling me backwards, while my legs continued to move forwards. And as ugly as it must have looked to the onlookers, I assure you, it felt worse. I can’t even tell you the courage it took just for me to get into the starting blocks.

I have seen the same look of dread that I felt when facing the 400m race on the faces of people when they are looking at their finances. All they can think about is how hard budgeting will be, and what they are going to have to do, and they definitely feel the urge to run… but not in the race. However, as I look back now at my experiences in high school track, I realize that it wasn’t the race that was horrible… it was that I had no idea what I was doing. My Mom always said that I was made to run the 400m, I just never figured out how to do it. Really it was my fear of the race that kept me from ever learning to run it better. I didn’t want to run it better, I just wanted it to be over.

So first of all I want to congratulate you because by picking up this book (or reading this blog... since its not a book yet :) ), you are at least willing to figure out where the starting line is for you. You may be scared of knowing, you may be scared of your finances, and you may feel deep urges to run and hide right now. But at the end of this book you are going to have something so much better than fear and denial… you are going to have hope, and you are going to have a plan for your money that will enable you to realize your dreams. You are also going to see that your “race” is not nearly as difficult as you have made it in your head. There is always a way through any financial situation. Even when your debt feels like a mountain that you are staring at from the bottom of a pit of despair, it is my belief that when you start to take practical baby steps, and welcome the presence of God into your situation, you will be amazed at the outcome, and you can even enjoy the journey.

So if you don’t have any idea what your salary is, or where your money is going, or what your debt is… I am so excited because this is the beginning of a better life for you. I am going to take it step by step with you. Finances don’t have to be a fearful, complex, horrible monster. They might just be as simple as showing up for the race.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

But With God...

I know I said I was going to focus on writing, but I AM writing and I just had to share this with you today. It’s funny because I wrote that blog yesterday, and I have had like a hundred ideas for blogs today! It’s funny how when you get out from obligation, creativity is released. It also feels like when you get your heart in a place of obedience, God just smiles all over you and its like standing under a fountain of life. Anyway, I have turned my focus toward my book, but this thought has been blessing me so much today that I just couldn’t keep it to myself. J

In the natural, in a world without God, 2+2 always equals four. I have to be honest with you, the bare facts of budgeting without knowing God can be so rigid and hopeless that all you will want to do is escape your budget. But with God, sometimes 2+2=5… it defies logic, it defies the numbers in your budget… but it inspires hope, it ignites faith, and when your eyes are set on the possibilities that are in Him, your budget is just the foundation… it’s not the ceiling.

I was working with a friend the other day with their budget, and there was just not any wiggle room at all. She was sitting there telling me all of the things that they would like to do with their money, and I was sitting there looking at the numbers and just feeling this cloud of frustration because in the natural I just don’t see a way. 2+2=4… it is what it is and without a raise… I just don’t see it.

I came home and I was praying for my friend and asking God for grace for their finances, and that is when the Lord just reminded me that He isn’t contained by their budget. When God breathes on your life and your finances, it brings that element of the miraculous, the unexplainable… and sometimes 2+2=5. You may not know where the money is coming from exactly, but when you know you are where you are supposed to be, doing what God has put in your heart to do, it doesn’t always matter if the numbers don’t back up your vision…. I know, I know, it flies in the face of strict budgeting, yet it is the element that breathes life into your finances and fills you with hope. You don’t know everything! You don’t see everything. You can write down what you DO know into your budget, but Hallelujah, somehow, God always has more for you than what you know. I have watched money “stretch” in absolutely miraculous ways in my family’s life. If we had been bound just to the numbers, we would have been despondent… but God, in His wonderful provision, abundance, and mercy is never bound by our numbers.

So yes, budget. Yes, have a plan, but always know that He has a bigger one. Your situation is never hopeless. And you never only have what you can see with your eyes… in fact, that is the essence of faith…
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
Hebrews 11:1

Unfortunately, there isn’t a category in our budgets for the “unseen.” Believe me, I so wish I could know everything and be able to plan accordingly. But though my faith is in God, and my hope rests in Him, I still plan according to what is in my hand. Alot of people have gotten into presumption and a lot of trouble when they have tried to spend what they don’t have and call it “faith”. Presumption is not faith. What I am talking about is that element in our financial lives where we see God make a way in an impassable situation. We can’t see a way through according to the numbers, but it is our hope in the “unseen” that is the life that infuses our limited budget with unlimited possibility. But with God “all things are possible.” So make your budget, make a plan, but at the end of the day don’t set your heart on your plan… set your heart on God. Because He has more for you than you can see right now, and He is not just the God of enough.. He is the God of MORE than enough. So I just feel so strongly to remind you today, your budget may be tight, your circumstances may seem difficult, BUT WITH GOD…

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Carrying Too Much

Three years ago, I started dreaming about writing a practical, "how to" book about budgeting. I have always loved finances and I really love helping other people with their finances, I love problem solving, and bringing God into the mix of everything. I feel like God has just given me this little niche where all these different elements of my interests converge and it just flows. I remember going to coffee with my Dad and telling him all about what God was stirring in my heart concerning writing a book. It felt like a huge dream, ridiculous with a one year old running around, but I just knew that God was in it. Well, then came a very hard pregnancy with Ava, a difficult first year with her with food allergies and sleepless nights, and weight gain problems. Follow that up with a bout of pneumonia, another hard pregnancy, and just the fatigue of the first year of baby… and here I am. Three years later and still with the same dream in my heart.

Three months ago, my darling Matt said to me, “Baby, you have to get that book out. (I think he was tired of being the only “beneficiary” of my budgeting ideas :) ) Why don’t you start a blog and just use it to get your book written?” Well, something just sparked in my heart and the next day I started “Budgeting For a Better Life”. For once, I didn’t obsess about the title, or the details, I just went for it because just starting was a mountain. I knew if I got hung up at the beginning it would just derail my dream once again. So I have written almost every day for the last three months, sometimes until 2 in the morning and I really have just poured out my ideas, my heart, and even things that God has laid on my heart… and I have written my book. Or at least I have written the skeleton of my book.

This morning I was running, and the Lord gave me an idea for another book, and at the same time I felt Him just stirring my heart to get this book done. However, I am at a point right now where I only have a limited amount of resources in terms of the time that I have to give. I really feel like it is time for me to begin to focus on pulling my book together and I don’t feel like I can do that and continue to blog the way that I have been blogging. Soooooo…. I am not quitting blogging because I really do enjoy it, but it is going to have to look a little different from here on. I am probably going to post a little less frequently, and they will be shorter because I am going to give myself a time limit. However, I will also post entries if I write additional sections for my book. I know that there are some topics that I didn’t adequately cover in this blog that I may revisit and post as I do. I also feel like I still have so much to say and a blog is such a great outlet for it. Yet, I know that I need to shift my focus right now. I just can't carry everything in the time that I have.

Anyway, I covet your prayers and I thank all of you for all of the comments, emails, and encouragement that you have given me these last three months. I feel like I have made new friends, and been blessed to help some people. You all have helped me write my book. Hopefully, I will be able to reach many more people through this book and help them to discover the freedom that budgeting brings. So, I will be around, maybe not everyday, but I will still be writing everyday… but you might just have to wait for the book in order to read it.
God bless and I will see you soon,
Tracy

Monday, July 7, 2008

Yea for Vacation... But How Do I Pay For It?

There is nothing that will kill your joy and memories that you made on your vacation like coming home and having to sit and figure out what your vacation actually cost. It’s so fun while you are there, eating out, buying souvenirs, enjoying yourself, but coming home and seeing the collateral damage is no fun at all. It tends to suck the joy right out of your trip, and can even keep you from wanting to go again, or at least it makes vacation seem really difficult and unattainable. I don’t have all the answers to this little dilemma, but I do know that budgeting can go a long way to relieving the financial stress that a vacation can bring. When the whole point is rest and a break from the ordinary, worrying and stressing about finances can sabotage your entire experience.

So the first step to having a financially happy vacation is to have a plan in advance for how you are going to pay for it. Let me just say, a vacation does not have to cost a lot of money. You don’t have to go to the Bahamas or Disney World in order to have a vacation, but even if your vacation is just going camping with your family… you will spend money. It is amazing how even little trips require extra gas money, money for weird food situations (you will probably eat out, or not have the convenience of a kitchen and so will spend more), and just strange fees like parking fees, or developing your pictures afterwards. It always surprises me how it adds up. And yet, really it is worth every penny.

A plan for vacations means that you need to think in advance with your budget. Matt and I put money aside every month as part of our monthly budget towards our vacations. However, I have to be honest, most of our vacation money comes from either side work as part of our percentage plan (see my blog Power of Percentages), and some from our tax return. There have been many years where we have done “stay at home” vacations, especially after babies are born. Last year some very kind people loaned us the use of their lake house and we were so blessed to be able to vacation very inexpensively. There are a lot of ways to vacation cheaply, but you might just need a little creativity and a lot of flexible. When we were paying off our credit card from Noah’s birth (I tell the story here), we didn’t take a big vacation. We took time off, but the resources just weren’t there to take a vacation, so we just made the most out of what we had. That might need to be your plan for vacation this year as well, but including the cost for vacations in your budget will help to make a way for your vacation dreams in the future.

So lets say that every month you have been putting aside $100 into a savings account towards a big vacation. You might add some more if you get a bonus at work, so lets say that you have $1500 to go on vacation. The first thing to do is to make a list of all the expenses that you might incur in reaching your destination and staying there. Your list might look something like this:
Gas $ = mileage to/from your destination (divided by) mileage you get per tank (multiplied by) your average cost to fill a tank = cost for gas
Airfare = Isn’t flying fun? I used to love it as a child, but they have definitely done everything in their power to make sure that no one enjoys it anymore… but it does get you there quicker…well, sometimes.
Hotels = average cost x the number of nights you are staying
Food = allowance for food per day (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and don’t forget snacks and drinks because they are super expensive if you don’t plan ahead – I am always extra thirsty when I am traveling!)
Entertainment = cost of whatever you are going to be doing (Zoo costs - like the cost of Ava getting to feed the birds (see pic at the top), movies, horse back riding, ski equipment, whatever else… you get the idea : )
Shopping money = lets face it, you will go shopping and might even feel the urge to buy some strange souvenir that will probably end up in your garage sale.
Weird expenses = this is the category that is so hard to predict and so often sabotages your budget… so beat it and add at least $100 to what you are think your vacation is going to cost in order to cover weird fees or purchases (maybe not so much if you are going camping because there is nothing to buy, and maybe a lot more if you are going to Disney World)

You now have a guestimate of what your vacation is going to cost you. Now, you can either choose to put your vacation on your credit card and pay for it when you get back, or you can just put your hotels and pre-purchased items (like tickets) on your credit card or bank card and then take cash or traveller’s checks for the rest. Matt and I have used our credit for vacation and we have done the cash system. I think they both have pros and cons. I love the cash system because you know when your cash is gone and you don’t have to come home and figure out what you spent on your vacation, you already know. However, this might mean you are carrying a lot of cash with you which is also not that great of an idea. If you are nervous about carrying cash, you might consider using traveller’s checks. That way, only you can use your money and they are insured if they are stolen. However, they can also be a huge hassle (to me anyway).

I love the credit card plan because it is very convenient. It also allows you to disconnect from your finances and just enjoy your vacation (which can also be dangerous to your budget). It is much easier to swipe your card at the gas pump, and there is no danger of getting your cash stolen. However, with credit card, you have to come back from vacation and enter all your receipts in, or wait until they all “hit” on your account to see what you spent on your vacation. It is this process that to me steals so much of the joy from what you just experienced. It is the “reconciling” of your vacation.

Either way (using cash or credit card), you are going to enjoy your vacation so much more and be able to relax so much more knowing that you do have the money set aside for your vacation. You are not going into debt for it, you are enjoying the fruits of your labor from the year and investing in your family, and in your own health and sanity. I honestly am not sure of the “best” way to pay for a vacation. I think it comes down to what is the most relaxing for you, but just have a plan in place and realize that you can’t escape money, even on vacation. So you might as well make your vacation budget as well managed as possible so that your vacation doesn’t become a headache and a burden after the fun is done.

I hope this blog has helped a little bit in trying to plan for vacation and taking the financial burden off of what is supposed to be a time of rest for you and your family. I think I will do one more blog tomorrow on some practical tips for getting away inexpensively. If any of you have any tips that you have found useful, please feel free to comment and I will add them to my blog tomorrow. God bless, and may your vacations be everything that you dream of, with no financial hangover.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Practicing What I'm Preaching

Well, I hope you are all having a very wonderful holiday weekend. We have been having a lovely time with our family. Anyway, I am going to practice what I am preaching and take the day off. Have a lovely Sunday and I promise I will be back on Monday with practical tips for budgeting for your vacation. God bless,
Tracy

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Togetherness, Togetherness, and More Togetherness

My Dad left this comment on Thursday’s blog (Designed For Rest) and I wanted to share it with you because it is so good:
“Tracy, I am so glad that you are dealing with this subject. Everywhere we go to minister, we find people exhausted, on the point of burnout and, most importantly, weariness and with it physical and emotional weakness that brings vulnerability to the temptations of the enemy. Many problems with lust, impatience, irritability, anxiety and a host of other weaknesses can be directly linked to not having adequate rest. Keep plowing this ground because the 'work ethic' of many people and their failure to take vacations is not based in faith but fear! Great blog. Love, Dad”

Thank you so much for the great insight Dad! I think many of us are afraid to let ourselves rest. We are afraid everything will fall apart without us, or afraid that we won’t have enough money if we stop, or we are afraid of what people will think. Some of us are even afraid of what we might have to face if we stop our frantic pace, like a family in disarray, or a job going nowhere, or how disconnected we have become from ourselves and from the people we love.

Matt and I have some friends who when they were first married hardly ever saw each other. She worked evenings and nights and he worked days. Most days they would see each other for only 30 minutes to an hour and then they would get one day on the weekend. They used to say to us that this schedule was actually good for them because on the day they had together they would usually fight. They said that they thought they were a couple that worked best with lots of individual space. Matt and I would always just shake our heads because we couldn’t imagine living that way.

Well, after about a year of this pace, she finally took a different job and they started keeping the same schedule. At first they fought a lot and had a lot of conflict simply because they weren’t used to each other and actually didn’t know each other any more. But after a few months of spending lots of time together they then told us that they couldn’t imagine NOT being together all the time. They had fallen in love all over again, hardly ever fought, and loved being together. They had no idea how they had ever done it the other way.

I bring this example up because this is how many of us feel about our kids and our families. We go on a vacation and come home feeling like we need a vacation from our spouse, our children, and all of our family. However, the truth is, you didn’t actually have too much time with your family, you are actually spending too little time with your family. I think this dynamic is especially prevalent with Dad’s who only get to see their kids for such a short time each day because of work. Weekends with the kids completely wear them out, and many are actually relieved to get to go back to work on Monday. However, what they really need is MORE time with their children to get to know them, to understand what is going on in their little minds, and to become a part of their kid’s routine, rather than just an outside observer.

This also happens with many working Mom’s. I have had many Mom’s say to me, “I just can’t imagine staying home with my children all day. I would go crazy. I just need a break from them. I need to work.” I always smile at this because most of these Mom’s have never not worked. If you are always looking for an escape, then you will never be able to relax and enjoy where you are. I think if they would actually spend the time getting into a routine with their children and spending more time with them, they would discover that they actually enjoy their children, and wouldn’t be so desperate for a break from them. I am not saying that they shouldn’t work, but I do have a problem in working as an escape from your children. Work because it is what God has for you and your family, not because you are afraid to be home with your kids.

It is amazing how family relationships grow on vacation and with quality time together. For that matter, it is amazing how your children grow on vacation. My kids seem to get taller, smarter, and just bloom on vacation. I think it is the level of personal attention that they get from us. It just connects us all. That quality time also tends to also expose areas of weakness that need to be worked on. When we are so busy in our daily lives we can miss the rebellion simmering in our teenager, or the disconnect that is happening in our marriage, or the disobedience that we have been tolerating from our three year old. We can even miss what has been happening in our own heart. Vacation can bring all this to light and you can come home and want to go back into escape mode, or you can realize that what you actually need is MORE time together and not less. You need more time getting in your children’s world. You and your spouse need more time just talking and remembering what you love about each other. Relationship is one of the very most important things in your life, and sometimes the best investment into your relationships is a vacation.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Purposeful Rest

In the Old Testament when God was giving out the law to Moses, one of the things that He mandated was that every seventh year, the land was to be given a full year to rest. (Exodus 23:10-11) There is a definite theme of rest going through the Bible. God rested, Jesus rested and took time away, and throughout scripture there are encouragements to take regular rest. But what really gives me pause about this passage is, “What did the farmers do for that whole year?” They would have planned for the seventh year since it was mandated and they would have “budgeted” to have enough to sustain themselves, but what did they do with their time? (by the way, this is how Luke rested on vacation^)

Have you ever thought about what you would do with a whole year or rest? What if you and your spouse (if you are married) had a full year of paid vacation? What would you do with it? It is amazing how in those times of rest and refreshing your dreams come to life and the possibilities just open up in your heart. The truth is if you had a year of paid vacation you would probably spend it doing what you really want to be doing right now. You may even realize how much you actually love your job right now and have just forgotten through burnout. It takes rest to see what we truly value and many times it is only in the place of rest that we actually hear what God is speaking to our hearts. I have a plaque on my wall that reads, “Make time for the quiet moment, for God whispers and the world is loud.” I read that plaque often and laugh because inevitably one of my children is yelling when I read it. The world is so very loud (especially with children), but really it is loud for all of us. Yet it is in the place of rest that our hearts get still and we finally realize what that whisper in our hearts has been all along.

A dear friend called me today after reading my blog and shared how it was only on vacation that she and her husband finally had the time to figure out what was really in their hearts and also to see that they had been making their decisions based on fear rather than on what God was saying. For them, taking a vacation changed the course of their lives, not because of where they went or what they did, but because they took time for rest. She also said how difficult it was to let down and relax on vacation and it actually took her the first 4-5 days to finally give herself permission to relax. She just felt so guilty not working. I know I have felt this exact same thing when on vacation and it usually takes me at least 4 days to start to relax. How about you?

The sad thing is many of us only go on vacation for five days or so and we never reach that place where we just relax and actually rest. We are so driven in work, by our culture, by performance, by control, and by fear that we push ourselves to the point where we either get physically sick, or completely burn out. Even if God has called you to do something and you love it, you can actually lose your joy in what God has given you to do if you do not take the time to rest. Resentment, frustration, fatigue and even getting into sin, can all be signs that you are not resting properly and are not taking the time that you need to let your spirit, and body be refreshed. Your job will begin to steal life from you rather than provide for your life. Before you know it you will be slacking on your job, justifying it because you “really need a vacation.” You will avoid responsibility and say it’s rest, but under the cloud of guilt you still will not rest. You have to have planned time to rest because that is how you were designed.

I feel the Lord so challenging me in this area of my life right now because as a Mom it feels like there is never enough time in the day. Many Moms are guilty of sacrificing themselves for their children and their families. We go and go until we get sick and then we call that our vacation. But really for all of us, there will always be something demanding our time and attention and keeping us from rest. Just like finances, if you aren’t purposeful with your resources they will disappear and you will never feel like you are able to do what you really want to do.

So now I have talked you into a vacation. You are ready to go. Sign you up. But how in the world do you pay for it? I’m so glad you asked that because (I hate to use the cliché but…) where there is a will there is a way. You had to get the “will” first and that is why I have spent so much time talking about why you need rest. The “will” is actually the difficult part because we are so full of excuses. However, once the “will” is in place, there is always a way. And so tomorrow I am going to be talking about the way to pay for vacation. However, “rest” is so much bigger and needs to be so much more a part of our lives than just vacation once a year. If God designed even the ground to need rest, how much more do our bodies, souls, and spirits need rest as well. So don’t wait for vacation to rest. In fact, (in America) today is the 4th of July and is a holiday, so take today and enjoy your family, read a book, do something you love, and take time to rest.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Designed for Rest

I’m back! Yea for sleeping in my own bed without three children in the room! Yea for getting back to writing! But Yea for a wonderful family vacation! We really had such a wonderful time with our kids and as a family. It takes a lot of energy to vacation with three kids, but it really was so worth the effort. I also came home with lots of blog ideas about vacation that I am going to be sharing with you for the next few days. It might help you get some ideas for your vacation, or inspire you to take one, and hopefully it will also help in the financial aftermath that a vacation leaves.

In America, vacation is often viewed as a luxury or an extravagance. I have to admit, it is a little difficult for me to relax and just let myself be on vacation. Especially when it comes to money. However, as I struggled with it, I realized that for the most part I have viewed vacations as frivolous. I don’t think I have ever really sat and thought about what a vacation is worth and the real value behind it. Why do we need a vacation? Is it just a frivolous waste of money?

I found myself thinking about my South African heritage. In South Africa, vacation isn’t a luxury, it is a way of life. School lets out for a month over Christmas and everyone goes on vacation for the month. Yes, a whole month! I remember as a child vacationing beside the ocean for extended periods. I can’t even tell you how rosy and summery those memories are for me! Remember South Africa is in the southern hemisphere so it is summertime at Christmas! My Mom’s two sisters had permanent vacation campground spots reserved for a month each year and they would vacation together with their families for a whole month, camping beside the ocean.

The thought of that in American culture just blows us away. Here we are blessed if we get two weeks of vacation a year. In fact, many Americans who are paid an hourly wage don’t have any paid vacation time at all. And even if our work allows us vacation time, many of us don’t even use it for vacation. We use “vacation” time to paint the house, or do projects, or visit relatives (which I don’t think counts as vacation at all J ) In other words, we make vacation into work or obligation. We just can’t let ourselves have a true break.

So why is vacation valuable? Well, I think it really comes down to the issue of “rest”. Rest is something that is so important that even God “rests”. What a concept! In Genesis it says that after God had created the heavens and the earth and every living thing including mankind, on the seventh day God rested. Why? Why would God rest? Just think about that for a second. God has immeasurable resources, energy. He can do anything. Why would He take time to rest? I know I don’t have the full answer on this one… probably only God does, but I do know that we were made in the image of God. I think part of what was in God’s heart on that seventh day of rest is in ours as well. We need time to sit and enjoy what we have been doing. We need that space to just say, “It is good” and then just appreciate what is going on in our lives, and our hearts. I think the seventh day is also a place where creativity is restored. God put forth so much in creating, and forming, and He took that seventh day just to rest and be refreshed in resting. It is really amazing how creativity is refreshed when we get the rest that we need.

God is spirit, so I think we make the assumption that God doesn’t need to rest… but rest is actually spiritual. Our spirits need to rest. God was demonstrating that even as an unlimited spirit, that the principle of rest is necessary for our spirits. Many people presume that they can go indefinitely and just push and push, but God from the very beginning of time put such an emphasis on the importance of rest that He built it into the very fabric of the structure of time. Every seventh day is for rest… and that doesn’t mean church, it means rest. We have made the “Sabbath day of rest” into a day of extreme fatigue and sacrifice for the church. If your “Sabbath” is spent in labor for church then you have to have a day of true rest. For many of us, we have considered the “Day of Rest” as resting if we were involved in religious activities, but that isn’t rest at all. It is just a different type of labor. You cannot give and give, even to the church (especially to the church!), without rest because you will burn out.

We have seen rest as weakness, or only as a necessity because we have to rest. Yet God placed such a high value on rest that He poured a seventh of His creative energy into a day of rest. He sowed into the fields, He sowed into relationship, and He sowed into rest. We have to get the idea out of our hearts that vacation and rest is only for when we are burned out or desperate for a break. It is actually an essential element of our vitality, our creativity, and our wealth. It is not weakness to rest; it is actually wisdom. If the God of the universe rests, then be assured, we need to too. And if you think about it proportionately, if we spend 6/7ths of our year in work and productivity, then a seventh of our year should be spent in rest. That’s almost eight weeks of vacation a year!! Can you imagine how much more energized you would be to work? How much more connected you would be to your family? The time you might even have for creative outlets? It may seem like a wishful thought to you, but can I just plant a seed in your heart today that vacation is more than just a frivolous use of time and money, it is actually vital to who you are created to be. You may not have eight weeks, but whatever you do have, or have to “budget” to take, vacation and a time of rest are more than just extravagance, more than just the “highlights of childhood”, it is essential to your spirit, your health, and your life. The need for rest is not the result of weakness, it is actually inherent to your very design.

So more on rest tomorrow. As you can tell, I have had a serious change of heart and of mindset as I have contemplated the value of rest in my life. So as you think about this today, ask God for the wisdom to know how to rest and how to make a place for rest and vacation in your life. It may even be time for a new category in your budget. And the truth is, you can afford it because we will always find a way to pay for what we really value. The key is for us to learn to place the same value on rest that our heavenly Father does.