Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Art of Worship

Last night I had the opportunity to attend a worship concert. My husband, Matt, was playing the bass for it and so I reserved one of my favorite babysitters (Thank You Mima) and got to go and be a participant worship. It is actually a rare moment for me right now because I usually have kids hanging on to me in worship.

Interestingly, the worship concert was hosted by a Hispanic church. I knew no one, and very few of them had any idea what the words were to the songs. Nevertheless, as I stood there surrounded by a precious group of people, I felt my spirit soar. The Holy Spirit was speaking to me, and I was singing, laughing, and dancing. For a moment, I was 20 years old again, in university, and finding myself in an amazing move of God. Thirteen years ago when we sang songs like "Let the River Flow," we weren't just praying it would happen. We were experiencing it and celebrating the presence of God.

And in the midst of this wonderful personal time of worship last night, I felt myself missing what had been. How much the church has lost in the art of worship. We have wonderful songs today, and wonderful concerts. But we have no idea how to actually worship. We are a generation of spectators rather than participants, and that is why we desperately need to be pastored in worship.

There is something that is in the heart of every man that longs to worship, but that doesn't mean it comes naturally for everyone. Just as a baby must learn to walk, to talk, and how to respond, we have to learn how to worship. It takes practice to be able to set your pride, your ego, your worries, your fears aside and to press in and encounter the presence of God. He is always waiting, but many of us just don't know how to get over ourselves to get there.

This is where the role of a worship pastor is so critical. In encouraging those baby steps and being able to recognize the Holy Spirit's gentle guidance, the pastor is then able to help the believers to recognize what the Holy Spirit is doing. It is so different from just singing songs. As we tune our ears through the practice of worship, we come alive to the Spirit. It is really a "training camp" for our lives. In worship, we fix our eyes on Jesus. We still our hearts to listen for Him. We celebrate Him and chains begin to fall from us. There is a release of the prophetic as our eyes are opened to more than just our circumstances or needs. We sing the songs of our heart and love is rekindled. We sing songs declaring what He has said and our faith is restored. We sing the songs of His nature and we are awakened to who He truly is.

A few years ago there was a song that was popular with the refrain, "I'm coming back to the heart of worship, it's all about you Jesus". But as I sit in congregation after congregation where nobody sings, very few even lift their hands, and most just come late to miss worship all together (including the pastor). I think we have forgotten how very much we need to practice the art of worship. Our hearts may be after God, but we need to practice His presence in our lives. We need an amazing restoration of not just why we worship, but how to do it.

My heart longs for this. It longs to once again be surrounded by a people who are not only passionate about our wonderful God, but who have learned how to treasure His presence. The power of unity is staggering and incredible things happen when we come into agreement. And that is what is so incredible about whoship. As we sing the melodies of heaven are hearts come together in one place and in that unity miracles happen. I have had friends who have gotten saved just standing in a worship service and being so impacted by the presence of God that they gave their hearts to Him right there. This is an element of church life that is vital. And it is under a violent attack to dismiss it as insignificant and as just an introduction to the preaching.

The Psalmist David knew how vital worship was. It was wound through His entire life. But he was more than just a song writer, or worshiper. He was a worship pastor and he has been pastoring the nations for thousands of years now. The Psalms are full of exhortations to clap your hand, shout to the Lord, sing a new song, be still and know that He is God, celebrate, dance before the Lord. And when no one else was around, David pastored all of creation in worship, "Let the rocks cry out, let the mountains and the trees break forth, let the oceans roar." I think we just need a little bit more of David's abandon to the Lord and we need a lot more help in learning how to do it.

I know that this has nothing in the world to do with budgeting. It is just a desperate cry from my heart to the Lord to restore what I know that He longs to see restored to His church. Many of us are just babies and have never learned how to worship in the first place. Like walking, talking, reading, and writing, it doesn't just happen. The heart and the potential and the desire are there from our creation, but the expression of worship, and the sensitivity to nurture His presence and follow His dance... this has to be learned.

It is my prayer that God would raise up more and more worship pastors who aren't seduced by power, fame, arrogance or anything else which can so easily entangle musicians... but rather who have a heart for God's people and a heart to teach them how to usher in the presence of God.

I'll be back on topic tomorrow, but thanks for letting me share the passion of my heart for this brief glimmer. I pray that each of you may encounter His presence again and again and that when you "come into His presence with singing" that you will learn to go in quickly.

God bless.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

When Enough Is Never Enough

Is there a difference between a shopping addiction and a shopping passion? Shopping is a difficult issue because it is not as obviously damaging as drug or alcohol addiction. It fits into a much more stealthy category. By clinical definition there are actually two types of addiction: substance addictions (like alcoholism, drug abuse, and smoking); and process addictions (gambling, spending, shopping, eating, and sexual activity). We all spend money, and most of us really like to spend money. So, at what point does spending become an addiction?

I was watching an organizational show on TV the other day. The organizational experts had come in to help a woman with a devastating addiction to shopping. Her husband was threatening to leave her. Her children were so embarrassed and wounded. Her house was literally crammed full in every corner with piles and piles of stuff. And as a result of her spending, they were in an enormous amount of debt. Yet even faced with the horrific reality of addiction, the woman continued to want to shop.

It is so easy to look at that example and think, “Well, I am glad that is not me.” But the nasty thing about addiction is that it will always cloak itself in denial. Your home may not be crammed with stuff, but if you are continually spending money without regard to the consequences it is having on your finances or family, and if you feel that, although you would love to get control of your finances, you are continually sabotaged by your shopping… you may have a shopping addiction.

Addiction is anything that you turn to for comfort, for security, to fill your need, or to get a rush that becomes a compulsion and ends up controlling you. The truth is that you have gone to addiction as a friend, as comfort. There is something going on in your heart that is broken and addiction has stepped in as a way to feel better. It has been a way to feel good for those moments. But it has only pretended to be your friend. As its vise starts closing around your life, your relationships, even your finances, you realize that there is no comfort, no answers… just the deep dark hole of more addiction.

If you recognize yourself in this description and spending has already closed its vise on your life, I have wonderful news for you. There is never a hole too deep that the loving arms of your heavenly Father can’t reach you. His grace is more than sufficient for every wound, every need, and every addiction. One of the first steps to dealing with addiction is to realize that there is a problem. And until you can admit your weakness, you will never be able to take hold of God’s amazing strength.

I will be honest with you, the road to freedom is a climb. Just like the road out of debt is a climb (see my blog on debt climbing here). It starts with getting honest with yourself and with your loved ones. You may think that you are in this alone, but there are always so many others who are affected by your life. Mostly, they just love you and want you to be free, and you are going to need help.

But always remember, addiction is a behavior. It is not a definition of who you are! You are a child of God. You are no longer in bondage to sin. That is how God sees you. Many times the most powerful thing you can do is to get into agreement with how God sees you and that this addiction is not His plan for you. You have to surrender the love and friendship that you have felt for your addiction, for real love.

Doug Weiss, an expert counselor on addiction, advises that, as you are getting free from the power of addiction, write a letter to your addiction. It is a farewell letter admitting the role that it has played in your life and also recognizing the devastation that it has brought, and then saying goodbye forever. Compulsive spending is not your friend. Addiction is not your friend. It is the enemy of your soul, or at least it is the enemy’s work in your life.

If you are addicted to shopping or any other addiction, I would highly advise you to go and seek counseling. Go to a pastor because you will need support and prayer, but I would advise finding an expert who deals with addiction. This is not an overnight fix, although it has happened that way for some. However, for most people there is a retraining of habits. They have to begin to learn the triggers (like stress, fatigue, sickness, hunger, loneliness) that are driving their addiction. And at the deepest level, you have to look at what is going on in your heart and what the brokenness is that has made you susceptible to addiction in the first place.

It is God’s deepest longing to lead you to a place of healing and freedom. He sent His precious Son, Jesus, so that we would never again have to be bound by sin and by the destructive purposes of the enemy. I know that there is so much to this topic and I have just barely skimmed the surface. However, it is my prayer that this may just be an awakening call to your heart today. If the rush of shopping and spending money has become a compulsion, it is time to take an honest look at addiction. Even if your issue is not yet debilitating, don’t be content to live with a little bit of bondage.

You have dreams for your life, and desires for your finances (or you wouldn’t be reading this blog). Take this weekend to ask the Lord and search your own heart with the question, “Is there anything that is controlling me in my impulses when it comes to spending? Is there any kind of addiction that is governing my spending habits?” A life free from addiction is so much more than just a happy thought or a dream of freedom. It is absolutely possible, and the good news is that because of what Jesus has already done for you, it is your inheritance. You were not created for slavery. You were created for God’s presence, for relationship, and you were created for freedom.

Friday, August 29, 2008

So Very Hot

Yesterday was a very long and hot day. There is something to be learned from yesterday, however. For me that something is: Always check the weather before deciding to take your children to the zoo! The day before was so beautiful and I just assumed that yesterday would be to, but although it started out pretty, the temperature had climbed to over 100 degrees by the time we left the zoo. Ava and Luke's faces were bright red, and I was completely soaked with sweat. I had in mind a casual outing and ended up climbing "Mt. Everest" instead :) But we did get to ride the Carousel so I guess all was not lost... at least to my children.

The good news is that both of my boys are better. Noah was able to go back to school and Luke is doing so well. It is always so wonderful to be free from being home bound after your children have been sick. Anyway, since this is rambly and not at all spending focused, you have probably guessed that an exhausted Mommy has taken the evening off.

I still have so much to add to my "Why do we spend?" series, so make sure to check in again tomorrow. In the meantime, the next time you are embarking on an adventure, definitely check the weather first. I think today we will go to the aquarium. It is much cooler in there.

And by the way, if it sounds frivilous to go to the zoo and the aquarium in one week, I have season's passes so that we can go as much as we want. The aquarium is five minutes from our house and has been the biggest blessing in winter and summer for my kids to get to run and play. It actually is a great budgeting tip to check into season's passes to museums, and zoo's because many times they are a terrific deal and can provide endless entertainment that you have already paid for. Our aquarium, for example, gives a half-off membership if you live in town, so it is only $35 for the year for my whole family!

So random tips and thoughts from my home for today. I pray that your home is healthy, blessed, and if you happen to live in a hot climate... air conditioned! Have a wonderful day, and I'll be back tomorrow.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Obligated to Spend

Have you ever had to buy a birthday present for someone when you knew that there was no money in the bank or in the budget for it? For those of you who don’t have kids yet, let me tell you, other children’s birthday’s can wreak havoc on you budget! I try to keep track of them so that I can disperse my gift budget adequately for the month. However, no matter how I try to keep track, my kids just keep getting invited to new birthday parties. In August alone we have six significant birthdays that we have to buy presents for! So what do you do when you have no birthday fund and need to buy a gift?

I call this type of spending “obligation spending”. It sounds innocent and maybe even necessary, but it can actually be a major factor in sabotaging your budget and landing you in debt. It actually is not innocent at all. Many times the gift is actually just for the sake of your pride, not because the Holy Spirit is leading you to give, and not because you have joy in giving.

When I was growing up there was a couple in our church that were some of the most amazing givers I have ever know. All through town they were known for their generosity. She would give extravagant parties with the most amazing gifts. You definitely did not want to miss a party at their house. However, a few years after I graduated college they went through an extremely difficult time and finally revealed to my parents that they were actually $90,000.00 in credit card debt!!! All of those wonderful presents and parties had been on the credit card! She had done it all for other people, but had actually lost herself, her marriage, and even her home in the process.

This is an extreme example, but it is my contention that you CANNOT give what you do not have. If you are giving what you don’t have then something is wrong in your heart in the gift. Many times, that kind of gift is actually all about you and not about the person you are giving to. You are afraid of what other people will think, embarrassed that you don’t have the money, you want to keep up the fa├žade, you feel like you have no option, you are afraid that you will offend people… it is a vicious game of obligation and it is totally NOT from God.

In fact, when Jesus had given all He had to give, He withdrew from people with His disciples. There were still sick people. There were still needs, but Jesus said that He only did what He saw His Father in Heaven doing. He didn’t worry about offending people, and he never gave out of obligation. He gave from compassion and love, and that is powerful.

When we give because it is what is expected, instead of because the Holy Spirit is leading us, it truly robs all the joy from the gift. And if we are spending what we don’t have on that gift, it isn’t even us who is giving the gift… it’s actually the credit card company. God doesn’t lead you into debt. He leads you into life. However, obligation will very quickly lead you into debt.

So what do you do when you feel like you need to give, but don’t have the finances to give. I have to tell you that the very best gifts are not the expensive gifts… they are the gifts that come with thought and love. I have a dear friend that gives the best presents, but I don’t think that she has ever spent more than $5 on me or my kids. She has never had the money to give, and instead of pretending that she does, she gives from her heart. For example, for one birthday she gave me a beautiful little flowerpot that she hand painted and planted herbs in. Each gift is creative and comes with such beautiful and thoughtful notes. I am always challenged by the amazing way that she uses her extremely limited resources to bless others. I have also seen her arrive with nothing but a card and every fiber of my being was proud to call her my friend because she gave according to what she had.

In the Luke 21:1-4, Jesus looks and sees a poor widow putting in two mites to the treasury and comments that she had actually given more than all of the rich people that had given. She gave what she had and it was beautiful.

It is time to stop pretending with our giving. It is time to just be honest, and give what you have, and if you don’t have it then get creative. And if you do have the money, then give generously and with joy. It is so fun to be a blessing, but don’t give it out of obligation. Give it with liberality and freedom.

I just want to add this note. If you have money, then be a generous giver. It’s a funny thing, but many times the wealthiest people give the worst gifts. Sometimes I think it is because they feel like everyone is expecting something from them and so they don’t ever want to give. This is just as yucky as giving what you don’t have. Once again, you are being controlled by other people’s opinions and expectation of you instead of doing what is in your heart and spirit to do. Don’t worry about the next person expecting you to do the same as you did for the last person. That kind of thinking will steal all of your joy in giving. Just purpose in your heart to give what the Holy Spirit leads you to give. And don’t just give a big gift because you have money. It really is the thought and the love that goes into a gift that matters, and that’s true no matter how rich or poor you are.

I know that there are so many other kinds of “obligation spending” that I haven’t even touched on, but I think the truth as it applies to gift giving is true in all kinds of obligation spending. Be honest with yourself and with others. Walk truly and according to what the Holy Spirit is leading you to do, and you will never find yourself in debt as a result.

I recently watched an episode of Winnie the Pooh with my kids that gave a wonderful example of obligation. In it, Rabbit has a huge surplus of watermelons and decides to give them all to Piglet. He keeps bringing over watermelons and Piglet feels obligated to take them because he doesn’t want to hurt Rabbit’s feelings. Eventually his yard is full, his house is full, and his tummy and all of his other friend’s tummies are full, and Rabbit is still bringing watermelons. Piglet finally sees the consequences for his not saying no to Rabbit. So he says, “Rabbit, thank you very much for the watermelons, but I do not want any more watermelons.” Rabbit looks shocked and hurt, and says, “You don’t want any more watermelons?” “No, I don’t,” says Piglet. And then Rabbit shakes his head and says, “I know. I don’t know what to do with them either.” And in that moment of honesty, their friendship is restored and everyone laughs and breathes a sigh of relief.

If you really love your friends and family and want to bless them, then deal with obligation in honesty. Don’t apologize for you gift. Be gracious and loving and give what you have and give it with joy. I think you will be surprised at what a liberating thing it will be for you and for your friendships when you stop spending out of obligation and begin to give according to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is so wonderfully creative and knows exactly what your friend or family need, and most of the time it is the note that comes with the gift more than the gift itself.

So what do you do when you have no birthday fund and need to buy a gift? Well, first of all you need to have a place in your budget for birthdays and gifts. If you don’t, you are just setting yourself up for failure. It is a blessing to give to your family and friends and it is even more of a blessing when you have the money set aside already and can give with joy. Don’t cry poverty if you have spent all of your surplus money on yourself and then need to buy a present. That is not honesty and your friends and family will know it. Make a plan for giving, but give what you have. If it’s coming from your heart, I promise you, it will always be enough.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Stress Spending

I recently read something interesting on a blog that I follow entitled "Get Rich Slowly". The author revealed that his mother has been having some severe health problems and lately he has found himself what he calls “stress spending.” I started thinking about that because all of us have something that we turn to when we are stressed.

Many of us go automatically to food. You have a hard day and feel overwhelmed, and all of a sudden you don't care about your diet, you are going to have chocolate! But alas, there is no chocolate in the house, so you eat your kids lunch snacks… or find a reason to make cookies just so you can eat huge spoonfuls of dough. Unfortunately, you have already eaten all of the chocolate chips when you were stressed last week, so you have to settle for sugar cookies. You decide that sugar cookies just aren’t doing the job, you really need chocolate so after combing the house one more time to make sure that there is definitely nothing sweet hiding in your pantry, you head for the store at 8:00 in the evening to fix your craving. In all of this sugar madness, it is very easy to forget what started it in the first place… and this is actually what we are counting on.

Stress eating and stress spending are just temporary fixes to forget about the stress and try to help ourselves to “feel” better. Unfortunately they don’t ever deal with the actual problem. For many people, their stress relief comes from spending money. There is a certain endorphin rush that comes with shopping. You feel good. You haven't been thinking about what has been stressing you. In that shopping moment you are happy and distracted, and when you bring it home you get to try it on, or program it, or whatever and that lasts for a little bit. The problem is that many times we spend money that we don’t have to try to find relief from a situation that can’t be solved with money or things.

The real issue in stress spending is not that you should be doing something else, it is that many times you don’t even know why you are spending, and you definitely don’t know how you are going to pay for it. Any thing that you turn to for relief from stress that is hurtful to you is not a legitimate way to meet that need. My Dad actually defines sin as meeting a legitimate need in an illegitimate way. No, I am not calling you a sinner :) , but our need in the middle of a stressful situation is legitimate.

Many people would say that you just need to take your stress to the Lord and quit worrying, and although that is good advice, it also doesn’t recognize that we are human and we have needs. God didn’t design you to be completely impervious to the world around you. He designed you to need human touch, to need sunshine, and food, and water, and when you are feeling pressure and stress you have a legitimate need to relieve that stress. However, an illegitimate response to stress is anything that is going to harm you or your future. When you eat without regard for your health, and your body, you are trying to meet a legitimate need in an illegitimate way. And when you spend without regard for the financial consequences, there is probably some need in your heart that you are trying to fill with shopping.

So the first step to stopping the devastating effects of stress spending is to recognize that what you are feeling is stress. Many times it is only after the reckless shopping spree that you realize that you might have been stressed and trying to get relief. If you can begin to identify triggers for yourself in what sets you off on a buying spree, then you can begin to try to manage your stress in a different way. For instance, if a loved one is dealing with a health crisis, you are under a brutal deadline at work, or you are in a financial crunch, and you find yourself wondering around the mall or Walmart just looking for things to buy, you are probably experiencing stress. If you have found yourself gaining weight, or buying on credit with no plan for how to pay for it, you may want to ask yourself if you are experiencing stress.

If the answer is yes then it is time to learn to manage your stress in a legitimate way that is not going to sabotage your finances, or your health. When I realize that I am stressed the first thing I do is go to the Lord and ask Him what is going on. Many times I get into stress mode because I have taken up the burden for things that aren’t mine to carry. I also get stressed when I doing more than what God has told me to do.

So much of my stress gets resolved when I determine what is causing it and repent and ask the Lord for His grace to remember that He has me and is holding me. Sometimes I only figure out that I am feeling stress as I talk out what is going on in my heart with my husband or a friend. But there are times when even after I have taken my stress to the Lord, and worked out a plan for dealing with the situation, I still have residual stress that I need to just let go of. So that is where, if you are a stress spender, having a budget for stress relief can help. Go ahead and laugh, but if you love to shop and it relaxes you, then it is better to figure out a way to do it constructively, then do it in rebellion and stress and cause havoc in your finances. You have to look at the heart issues first, but if shopping is your passion or your favorite hobby, then you had better get a plan for shopping and have it as part of your budget.

One solution for curbing the devastation of stress spending is to never allow yourself to impulse buy on credit card. Limit yourself to what you have in your wallet. This way the damage will be very minimal. If you make large purchases while stressed and put them on the credit card, then you will be paying for the price of that stress for a long time.

The writer of the blog “Get Rich Slowly” only had $12 dollars in his wallet when he felt the urge to stress spend and so he determined to spend only what was in his wallet. He was stressed about his mom’s health and so he went out and bought a comic book. Now, in his blog he was beating himself up for wasting that $12 but I thought it was brilliant. Spend the $12 instead of the $1200, and just relax. Have a moment with yourself and with the Lord. Enjoy your cup of coffee, or new book, or new earrings and just keep taking the burdens of your heart to the Lord. Especially, if this has been a long standing pattern for you, you may need a “weaning” from spending period. But the key is: don’t spend money that you don’t have. And if you don’t have any money left in your budget, then you may need to find a new way to relieve stress :) Try running, or going for a walk, or cleaning out a closet, or giving something away, or check out a new book from the library, or play a video game. Do something fun for you, but try to think of something free.

In closing I just want to remind you of a verse. 1 Peter 5:8 says to “cast all of your care upon the Lord, for He cares for you.” It doesn’t say that you won’t have cares, it just tells you what to do with them when you do. Many times stress just means that you are carrying all of your cares yourself. And the truth is, no amount of shopping will lighten that load. Only your heavenly Father can.

So, just in case you are a stress spender and you don’t know it yet, I have prepared a sort of stress spender’s checklist for you. There is no condemnation if this is you, but you might want to re-assess your stress levels if it is.

1) You might be a stress spender if you have ever uttered the phrase, “I would like to order the “miracle blade” knife set.”
2)You might be a stress spender if you have over 1,000 transactions on ebay and they’ve all been purchases for you.
3)You might be a stress spender if you own more than five colors of the exact same shirt, and you’ve only worn one.
4)You might be a stress spender if you find excuses to buy things for other people just so that you can spend money… your aunt does not need more antique tea cups!
5)You might be a stress spender if your decisions to make really large purchases always begin with, “Oh well…” and end with “We’ll figure it out later.”

If this is you, there is help… but the first step is just admitting that you have a problem. More tomorrow and in the meantime, roll your cares onto the Lord, put your credit card away, and have a lovely day.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Why Do We Spend?

I recently received the following email and I wanted to share a part of it with you today because it has really stuck with me. He wrote:

“For me the practical side of making a budget has been eye opening. It has freed me to the point that I am no longer scared to look at my bank account any more. But on a slightly more heavier note… the “habit” of spending/overspending/indulgence spending is not something that, I personally, have been able to just overcome instantaneously because I have a good budget down on paper. Years and years of living from one salary to the next is so programmed into me… the adrenalin rush I get at the idea of having money again at the beginning of each month… is all something that needs to be addressed and looked at. My feeling is that there is often, not always, a “root” to the debt problem. What is the real reason that a person landed in that situation? For me personally, having the budget is super simple and easy… following it and sticking to it is taking every bit of strength in my body.”

My friend has been working so diligently for the last few months to get his financial life in order, and yet he is still struggling with the same issues that got him into debt in the first place. So this week I am going to be looking at the heart issue of spending money.

Why do we spend money? There is an easy checklist of reasons that I am sure that you can rattle off: out of necessity, for bills, to live, to take care of our families, for our health, for happiness, because we want something. These are the obvious answers, but there are so many reasons that aren’t as obvious like: we spend because we are stressed, because the high from shopping is addictive, we spend as a distraction from problems in our lives, out of a sense of obligation, out of impulse, or even to impress others. If all you do in your financial life is implement a budget to try to get you out of the mess you have made, but you never examine why you got into that mess in the first place… you will very quickly end up right back where you started.

So for the rest of this week, I am going to be writing about the reasons that we spend money. How do we get free from dangerous, self-destructive spending habits? How do we make space in our budgets to wean ourselves from these patterns instead of trying to quit cold turkey. Some habits are extremely hard to break and may even require healing. For example, some people spend because they have no idea who they are and so they are trying to be someone else. Money makes a horrible god, and yet it is always fighting to tell us who we are or aren’t, and what we should want. It is after our hearts.

When spending money has taken over your life and is in fact destroying your future, there is a heart issue that needs to be uncovered. Why do you spend money? I am talking about unbudgeted, unplanned money. What are the triggers in your life? It is interesting because if you know what sets you up for failure, it is a lot easier to set yourself up for success. It’s a good week to get free, friends. Ephesians 3:17 says that “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” So I am praying that the Holy Spirit will mess with all of our hearts this week and breathe His freedom into our spending habits. Spending money is a part of life, but discovering why you spend and what triggers you to spend might just liberate you from ever being controlled by your spending habits again.

Monday, August 25, 2008

My Grocery List

Hello again and happy Monday! I hope you had a wonderful week and weekend because I really enjoyed my week off last week. I actually went to bed before 10:30 several nights this past week! But then this weekend both of my boys got sick. Noah and Luke were both up all during the night last night. It is just such a good thing when you are obedient to what the Holy Spirit is prompting you to do. You never regret it and you usually realize that there were at least 20 other reasons why He led you to make that decision. Last week was really the perfect week to take off for so many reasons. I am just glad that I am refreshed and strong so that I have the energy to take care of my sweet boys.

So, on my last real post I promised a link to my grocery shopping list which I forgot to post. Instead of just adding the link I have decided to tell you a little more about how I use it and then add it to today's blog.

I do not buy every item on the list every week. In fact, I only buy about 10% of what is on the list. What I did to make the list was I wrote out every item that I could think of that I do buy. I then printed a copy of the list and put it in a plastic sheet protector. Every week I take a dry-erase marker and highlight the items that I need on the list. As I grocery shop I erase the items as I put them in my cart. At the end of the trip my grocery list is clear and I know that I have everything that I need. Making my list takes so little time and I also rarely forget items because it is all listed for me.

And yes, even when I shop with all three kids, I take my list. In fact, I have found that I actually need a list more when I have the kids because I am so incredibly distracted. Obviously, this is not the best grocery shopping plan, especially at the check-out line! Why do they have to put all of the candy in those aisles? I know it is all marketing strategy, but what a nightmare. It really is like the gauntlet for Mommy's. Only a true champion can survive the guantlet without opened candy bars, children in tears, and a trail of baby wipes behind her. I have to admit, I usually just buy the candy and consider it a consequence of bringing my children shopping. Not the healthy answer, but definitely the happier version of grocery shopping with toddlers. Of course, the cheapest answer is to leave them at home :)

OK, so here is the list. Again, please feel free to add to it and change it. It is a very individualized list for my family, but it should give you a very good starting place for making your own list. Or you may just be curious as to what I buy... which is just a little creepy ;) It makes me want to throw in a few items that I never buy just to throw you off. I am just kidding. I love to see what other people are buying as well. I always wonder as I look at other people's grocery shopping carts what they can make for dinner from the ingredients in their cart.

Anway, happy grocery shopping. I actually got stopped in the grocery store today by a lady asking me about my grocery list and my coupon binder. She ended up saying that I should be teaching a class in how to grocery shop. I laughed and said that I don't have time to teach a class, but I am really thankful for what I have learned because it has saved my family a lot of money. I think I will just blog about it instead :)

God bless and I'll see you tomorrow.

Monday, August 18, 2008

A Week Off

So, after the weekend off and getting a little perspective from my husband, I have decided to take the rest of the week off of blogging. I am really going to be focusing on my book this week. I am also starting homeschooling my little Ava Joy. Noah is having his first full week at school, and there is a lot of transition. I just feel like I need to choose what I am focusing on because I have felt very scattered. Hopefully, I will make brilliant progress this week and will be back soon to tell you about it. But in the meantime, keep using your budget, spending purposefully, and have a wonderful week.

Also, if you have any question, or topics that you would love to see me address, please either leave me a comment on this blog or email me at budgetingforabetterlife@gmail.com I am not always prompt in responding to email, so please forgive me if it takes a little bit, but I will eventually get there :)

May you walk in God's richest blessings and favor this week. It's going to be a wonderful week!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Your Grocery Budget

A friend of mine commented to me yesterday about the rising prices of food and how difficult it has been to stay within her food budget. She is an incredible budgeter and has been doing it for a number of years, so I knew that if she is feeling it, everyone is feeling it. I have definitely noticed it as well in the price of food. Every price in the supermarket has gone up significantly just in the last three months and I think everyone is feeling the effects of it. There are two ways to deal with the rising price in groceries: 1) increase your budget for groceries 2) Lower your grocery bill. If you have the money to increase your budget then this may be exactly what you need to do. However, it is always a great idea to save money.

So, today I am going to be giving you my top 5 tips for saving money at the grocery store. I have cut my grocery budget by $200 a month using these methods, and I think it really has helped to insulate my family against the rising food prices. Hopefully, it will help you and your family as well.

1) Don’t go grocery shopping without a grocery list. I can’t even tell you how much more money I spend when I go shopping unprepared. I forget items and have to go back to the store, which usually means I spend even more. I also buy miscellaneous items that I don’t really need. A little preparation in advance in writing a detailed list will save you so much money and time shopping. I have a printed list that I just highlight what I need each week. You can see a copy of it here. You could even take my list and add to it and use it as a starter list (obviously you have your own products, food tastes, etc that you like). It is just a lot easier to have a list already made than to handwrite a list each week. Then after I have made my list, I don’t buy anything that isn’t on the list. Those impulse buys can actually add up to hundreds of dollars each year.

2) Buy the newspaper and cut coupons (or print the internet printable coupons). I know that it seems like work and why bother for $.40… but I regularly cut $20-25 off of my food shopping each week through coupons and price matching. Price matching is only available at Walmart, but they will match any competitor’s price as long as you have a flyer (advertisement) to show the price. Instead of shopping multiple stores, I just write the store name and price on my grocery list and then show the cashier the flyer to get the price. Literally, I save about $100 a month doing this. When you are saving $1 or more on every item it really adds up. Couponing can be tedious, but I actually consider it a little side job to earn money for my family and that helps me to be joyful in doing it. Basically for 3 or so hours a week, I am earning a few hundred dollars.

3) Cook in bulk. You actually can save time and energy by making more than just one meal at a time. Freeze the extra and you will be so glad that you have ready made meals waiting for you. It can also save you money by you not eating out when you don’t feel like cooking.

4) Try to establish a list of favorites that you routinely cook for you family. Cooking with recipes is fun, but all of the additional ingredients can get costly. I have about 20 meals that I rotate in and out. They all are simple meals that I just keep the ingredients on hand for. I know about what it costs to make the meal so I try to balance them each week. For instance, if we have grilled steak one night (which is a pricier meal), I will probably have curry and rice that week with is a very inexpensive meal (under 5$) that always has leftovers. I usually only cook a new recipe once, maybe twice a week (if I have lots of energy), so that I am not continually buying new ingredients.

5) Learn to buy when the prices are low. Did you know that grocery stores (even Walmart) change all of their prices from week to week. If you begin to track prices you will find that there is typically a low price one week of every month. If you routinely buy rice (for instance) at the low price and buy it for the month and then use your coupons when the price is low, you will save a lot over the course of the month instead of buying it weekly at whatever price. For instance, a large box of goldfish (for my kids) costs about $5.97 at the low price at Walmart. I have seen it go as high as $7.97 during the course of the month! Imagine saving $2 on every item that you buy just by buying at the low price. Don’t just think you are getting the lowest price because you always buy the same thing. All grocery stores fluctuate their prices, so pay attention and buy when it is low.

I so hope that this has been a little helpful today. If you don’t do the shopping, it may not interest you at all, but everyone has to eat. Not being smart with your grocery shopping is just like throwing money away. Yes, it takes a little time, but you gave a lot of your time to earn that money. Wouldn’t you rather put it towards something you really want, rather than just handing it over blindly to the grocery store?

And on a personal note, I just wanted to say thank you to all of you who prayed for me yesterday and thought of my little Noah. He had the best first day in Kindergarten. He is so excited to go back and told me that his teacher is “soooo nice.” God is so faithful to a Mommy’s heart. Ironically, we felt lead to place Noah in private school this year and we actually can afford to send him because of what I have been saving on groceries. Talk about a better use for our money. Like I have said before, having a vision for why you are budgeting is the best motivator to keep on going. And for me, seeing Noah’s joyful face at the end of today is all the vision that I need :)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Starting Kindergarten

My darling Noah starts Kindergarten today. He is so incredibly excited and happy. His Mommy is a little more emotional, although also very excited for him. I feel as if it is one of those monumental moments for our family. From now on we will have children in school. Matt has reminded me that he has been in pre-school already, but it just isn't the same.

We enrolled Noah in our local public pre-school last year, and it just was not a positive experience. I will spare you the details, but Noah eventually begged that he not have to go back to school. Now this is my fun loving, loves to be with other kids, loves learning child. We had already been considering withdrawing him because of the dynamics in the class and his teacher, however, his request was the final straw. So, for the last seven months I have had Noah at home with me. I home-schooled him for four months and then have taken the summer off. But I have loved having him at home with me.

However, Matt and I both know that Noah thrives around other children. We feel like God has absolutely led us to this new school. I have to tell you, knowing that the Lord is in this has helped give me so much peace and joy in sending him to school today. However, for some irrational, motherly, and mystical reason, I also want to cry. I'm just going to miss him.

So, a blog about me. No thought of finances on this day, but lots of nostalgia and awareness that I am living in a "Remember you first day of Kindergarten?" memory that we will have for the rest of our lives. And trust me, Noah will remember it because he remembers everything. But I know it will be such a happy memory for him, and so Mommy is going to smile and take pictures, and hold onto her tears... until I'm on the way home :)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Is anyone else completely addicted to the Olympics? I sit breathless every night… way past my bed time. Unfortunately for my blog and my book, the Olympics has very little to do with budgeting. Although, if I stretched I could talk about China overspending their budget by 33 Billion Dollars for the Olympics! Can you imagine going 33 Billion Dollars over budget. Maybe I should translate my blog into Chinese :) Although, there is no way it would get past all the sensors.

OK, seriously I don’t have a blog today and I blame it on the Olympics. I joked with Matt that I should just put up a sign that says, “I’ll be back after the Olympics”. I’m not going to do that, but I am taking the night off to watch the women’s gymnastics and swimming. So enjoy the Olympics and just rejoice today that you aren’t having to figure out how to pay for them.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Falling Off The Wagon

I am going to take a little break from the topic of giving today to talk about falling off the wagon. All of us have great intentions when we are starting a new diet, or exercise program, a goal for the new year, and especially in budgeting. We start out strong, but at some point we all face frustration, fatigue, we have a bad day, want to quit, and just fall off the wagon. In budgeting, falling off the wagon often means that you start the next month in the hole financially and trying to dig out from your impulse buys. One giant cause for falling off the wagon is vacation. Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to stop spending when you get home?

Other causes for falling off the wagon are sickness (because no one feels like cooking so you blow your grocery budget), Christmas (unless you have a plan), visitors coming from out of town (especially family! They just kill your budget even though you love them… hopefully), and even just budgeting fatigue. We all get tired of doing what we know is good for us. We all have days when we don’t feel like excercising and eating good, and we just want to go out and spend money. The question is, “What do you do on the day after?” What do you do when you have gone on a little spending spree and bought your kids a whole new wardrobe for fall with no idea how to pay for it? Do you just keep spending, or think, “Oh, well, I have blown it for the month, I’ll try again next month”?

The key to falling off the wagon is to let yourself enjoy your day being relaxed and then don’t turn it into a week and then a month. Every day that you let yourself freefall in your spending counts in a huge way. You will be horrified at what you can spend in a week of eating out in comparison to just a day or two. It adds up so quickly. So if you fall off the wagon, the best thing to do is to get your budget out again. Sit down with your receipts and enter them into your check book and assess the damage. Nothing curbs spending like a little reality check. It is a little hard to face sometimes, but the sooner you do it the less it will hurt. Add up what your trip, clothing, eating out has cost you and then make a plan for paying it off. If you have put it on credit card, try to map out a plan for paying it off before you incur finance charges. Honestly, I would recommend even borrowing from your savings plan to avoid finance charges, but absolutely consider it a loan! Make a plan for paying your savings back just like you would have had to pay on your credit card. You may even need to put it into your budget if it is a significant amount.

But the bottom line is, don’t wait for next month, or even the beginning of the week to go back to budgeting. It’s OK to fall off the wagon. Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t let fear in. Sometimes “falling off the wagon” can be wonderfully refreshing even if you have to sacrifice a little to pay for it. Just step up and face where you are, ask the Lord for his grace and keep on budgeting. Falling off the wagon isn’t the end of the world, it’s just a break in the journey. But don’t wait until the weekend is over, or until the end of the month to get back on. If you do you may just find that you now have a horrible hike on a dusty trail to even find the wagon again :)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Give What You Have

One of the most inspiring verses on the topic of giving is found in 2 Corinthians 8:1-2. In it Paul is talking about the churches of Macedonia and he says, “Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality.” In other words, Paul is commending the church at Macedonia because even in affliction and poverty they gave with liberality. They did not wait to become rich to give. They gave in their poverty and had an abundance of joy in doing it.

I so often hear people make comments like, “When I get out of debt I am going to give,” or “I am believing God for great wealth so that I can give a lot,” or “If I had more to give I would give it.” I always think to myself, “No, you wouldn’t and you won’t.” It is funny but no matter how much money you have, there will always be something else fighting for that money. People buy bigger houses and better cars and life just seems to demand more money and before you know it you have only the same amount to give as when your income was less. I firmly believe, if you won’t give right now where you are, you never will. You will still be making the same excuses no matter how much money you have.

The church in Macedonia didn’t wait for their “ship to come in”. The Bible said that they gave right in the middle of their poverty and affliction and they gave with joy and liberality. Don’t let your current circumstances keep you from being a giver. When you see a need and you feel the Holy Spirit prompting your heart to give, don’t look at your circumstances and think that if you only had more you would give. First of all, there is no faith in that. Secondly, you are lying to yourself to make yourself feel better about disobedience. If you won’t give right now when the Holy Spirit is prompting you, you won’t give later. So instead of making excuses, ask the Lord how He wants you to give and how much. As I have talked about in my blog “Seed for the Sower”, God will even provide the seed for you to sow if you have a willing heart to respond to His prompting.

Part of experiencing the joy of life as a giver is just trusting your heavenly Father and listening for His leading. It is so fun when He leads you because your gift is always more than just what it seems on surface. Sometimes your check in the mail to a friend in need is the Lord speaking to them that He has them and everything is going to be OK. Sometimes you bringing diapers to a single Mom is the their answer to desperate prayers. You never know the incredible impact you might have when you follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

Now I do want to caution you that I am not telling you to give what you don’t have. 2 Corinthians 8:12 says that “If the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.” We do not give what we don’t have and that is not what God is asking you. In fact, many people are tempted to give what they do not have by putting on their credit cards. Churches even offer the opportunity to give by credit card. This can be a great convenience but it can also be a horrible trap. If you don’t have the cash to pay off that card immediately, do not give on credit card. This is absolutely NOT God’s heart for you and it is not Him telling you to do it. Don’t be manipulated into “giving” on credit.

Also, do not give on speculation. This is such a dangerous trend. People promise to give when “this business deal comes in”, or “only cash this check when I call you.” I just want to tell you that giving like this is a blessing to no one. Your “gift” will become a noose around your neck which you will always feel the pressure from, and it will also become source of frustration and disappointment for the person you are trying to bless. They can’t pay their bills with a promise, and it can even stop their active faith because they think that God has already answered their need through you. You may have wonderful intentions, but it profits them nothing to know about it now.

Rather wait until you have the money in hand and then give them the gift with no waiting, and no strings attached. Speculative giving can mess up relationships in a horrible way, so don’t do it. If the Lord prompts you to give and it is on money that is still coming in, then keep your mouth shut and wait in patience until the Lord brings that money in. In fact Matthew 6 says it is better to do the whole thing in secret and not even let them know that it was you giving. I think it is our pride that makes us want to prematurely “announce” that we will be giving. Just give when you have it. You don’t have to announce everything the Lord tells you to do, just keep it in your heart, write it down if you need to, and then give according to “what you have, not according to what you don’t have.”

That simplifies it a lot doesn’t it? It really boils down to a relationship with God that includes talking to Him about finances. He really loves the topic of finances. Did you know that there are over 2,350 verses in the Bible that deal with money?! I think that is because finances have such a huge influence over our lives. I believe one of the best ways to determine the nature of that influence is through giving. Giving keeps you from hoarding and from setting your heart on money. It is powerful in your life. So give with joy today and with liberality. Give what you have. But most importantly, give what the Holy Spirit prompts you to give, and give it in His timing. It is truly amazing how big a plant can grow from a tiny seed planted with purpose and in the perfect season.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Giving and Taxes

In America, we have been given an amazing incentive to be givers by the government. For every charitable donation that you give to a recognized charity or non-profit organization you receive a tax deduction. It is such a fantastic plan because for many it actually is in their best interest (tax-wise) to be givers. In fact, as I recently discovered at my garage sale, I can actually make more money on my old clothes by donating them to charity than I can selling them because of the tax break. Many charities will give you a $5 credit for a donated shirt that you could only sell for $1 at a garage sale. So the next time you are going to sell something, consider the tax benefits of donating it because it might actually pay you more to give it.

Having said that, my Dad told me something the other day that absolutely shocked me. America is one of the only nations in the world that gives tax benefits for giving to a non-profit, charity, or church. In South Africa, the only tax benefits that you might get are in giving to a school or educational facility. (Now I don’t know SA law so there might be more avenues of tax deductions but I believe my premise is correct) I was absolutely floored by this because I think I have had it as a little weed in the back of my mind that the only “legitimate” giving comes with a tax receipt for a deduction. In fact, last year Matt and I gave over half of our giving to people or organizations with no tax benefit. At the beginning of this year, I remember saying to Matt that we needed to give more to tax-deductible organizations like missions and non-profits etc so that we could get the tax benefit. The thought that this ONLY happens in America stopped me right in my tracks.

How much of our giving in America has become dictated by our tax benefit? I think many of us have given for the tax-break instead of giving by the Holy Spirit. Why do we think that if we aren’t giving to the church it isn’t really giving? I think a lot of that mentality has come because if it’s not to a church or non-profit or charity then the government doesn’t consider it giving. But here is the truth, if the Holy Spirit leads you to give to an individual and you hesitate because there isn’t a tax break for it, something is very wrong.

I just had to check my heart and ask for the Lord’s forgiveness. If He leads us to give everything without a tax break then I am going to follow His Spirit. Now if the Lord leads us to give to a missionary (for example) and there is a tax benefit for giving to them then I am going to take advantage of it. The tax break is just a gift of your own money back to you to encourage further generosity. However, your return on your seed comes from the Lord, not the government. Wherever He tells you to plant your seed and give, you can do it with joy and excitement because it is going to bring a harvest. So don’t bind your giving by your taxes! If there is a tax benefit in giving to where the Holy Spirit leads you to give, then make sure and take advantage of that. Really it is just being a wise steward of what you have been given. However, if the Holy Spirit tells you to give somewhere else… give with joy. Give with freedom, because your harvest doesn’t come at tax time. Your harvest is coming from the Lord, and He really knows how to give.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Out Again

As you can probably tell from the lack of blogging, painting has taken over my life! It took all weekend to paint the house and yesterday to put the house back together. I still am going to finish my series on giving, but it is actually going to have to wait a little longer. My husband and I are celebrating our anniversary this week and are going on a little mini trip together. So, I will be back blogging on Friday (hopefully). I hope you have a wonderful week, and I just want to encourage you again to ask God for seed this week. I have been asking Him for seed and He showed me a couple of things that I already had that were seed that I got to sow. Matt and I also got to sow money this week, and it is just exciting to see what God is going to do with that seed.
So have fun giving and living life as a giver. It is amazing what will happen when you walk out your door with "Who can I be a blessing to today?" attitude. God bless,
Tracy

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Painting

I am painting my living room! It is actually a magical process of erasing little dirty handprints, and footmarks, and the "beautiful" colors of toys being hit against the walls. It feels like we are getting new house! However, it leaves no time to blog with coordinating the effort of painting and taking care of the kids.

But I would love to hear any testimonies that you may have had from giving this week. I have been so stirred a fresh as I have written to give generously. I have been asking the Lord all week for seed to sow and opportunities to give. It has been a fun week. I still have a few more blogs coming on giving, but probably not until Monday because we still have to reassemble our house after we finish painting.

God bless and I look forward to hearing from you.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Curse of the Chain Letter

Do you remember chain letters? Did you ever participate in one? When I was a little girl there was a popular trend that went around where everyone was mailing chain letters. The letter usually began something like, “Dear Tracy, please send (stickers, candy, whatever) to the top person on the list, add your name to the bottom and send this letter to seven friends. In 4 weeks you will receive candy from 49 people. If you do not send this letter, you will have broken the chain and (insert list of curses like, you will have no friends, you will not be able to sleep, weird random “consequences” for not forwarding on the chain letter.) My parents never allowed me to participate in the chain letters because they didn’t want me participating in anything with “curses” involved. However, I always felt a little bit worried because of fear of the consequences. Chain letters were horrible things really.

Ironically, I think giving to many people is actually a lot like chain letters were to me. We are excited about getting more candy, but mostly we are just afraid of the consequences. Many people have completely lost sight of why they give and what it really means to be a giver. Unfortunately, a lot of preachers have just reinforced the “chain letter curse” when it comes to giving. They have preached such a message of fear and curses that people are terrified not to give, and are actually missing out on most of the benefits because there is no joy in their giving. Instead they give out of fear and obligation. Is something really a gift if it is a requirement?

Well, I have some shocking and wonderful news for you today. Giving isn’t a requirement of faith and God will not curse you if you don’t give. He sacrificed too much in Jesus to redeem you from the curse of the law. He doesn’t want to put you back under curses. His heart is NOT for you to live in poverty under a curse.
2 Corinthians 8:9 says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” The Bible is very clear that God’s heart for you is not poverty. Jesus took our poverty to the cross and God is looking to put abundance into your hands so that “you always having all sufficiency in all things, may have and abundance for every good work.” (2 Cor. 9:8)

God uses giving as a doorway to bring his abundant goodness and provision into our lives. Something is released when we give like a handle on a door. Our hearts are opened to God, and we stand in a posture of openness and He can just do so much more in our lives and through our lives. So if you don’t give, it’s not that judgement and curses are coming, it’s more like you are just keeping the door closed. Yes, you may miss out on a harvest, or opportunities, but it is not God doing it to you. It is actually your choice to not tap into His abundance. He still loves you. He still wants relationship with you. You just won’t live in the fullness of what He has for you if you don’t open the door.

Galatians 3:13-14 says, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us… that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” The entire position of a New Covenant believer is one of receiving and giving what you have received. Curses and laws are all part of the Old Covenant. Under the new covenant it is just receiving by faith and not what you can earn and do and perform. Remember, people tried to earn righteousness that way for many years before Jesus and failed miserably. It’s why we needed a Savior. Under the New Covenant you receive righteousness through what Jesus did on the cross. In fact Romans 5:17 calls it the “Gift of righteousness”. A “Gift” can’t be earned or it isn’t a gift. It’s a reward.

So don’t let your self be manipulated into giving out of performance or fear of the curse. Give because when you give it will open the doors of heaven. As Jesus said in Matt 10:8… Freely you have received, now freely give… and receive and give, and receive, and “give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over…” Now that sounds good to me. It’s like a whole truck load of candy backing up to your house (not just 49 pieces!) and the best part is there are no curses to go along with it.