Monday, September 29, 2008

Fear Itself

Noah and I were driving in the car the other day when he said to me, “Mommy, you know the bad dreams that I have sometimes? Well, I know what those bad dreams are.” “What are they honey?” I asked, totally intrigued by what he would answer. “Mommy, those bad dreams are just fear. It is just fear trying to get me, it’s not the real thing.”

So profound and so straightforward. How many times do we let fear convince us that it is a genuine threat? How often do we give over our peace, our finances, our future to that fear? Franklin D. Roosevelt said this in his inaugural address as president in 1933, “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance..” He said this when America was in the depths of the Great Depression. Poverty was everywhere and yet FDR challenged the nation in saying that the biggest enemy that they faced was fear… not poverty, not economic turmoil, not even war. Fear is a horrible foe and it is the true foe that we are fighting today.

How much is a dollar worth? How much is a euro worth? An ounce of gold? The only real value of anything is perceived value, and when you mix fear into that equation, perceived value can either skyrocket or plummet. We may act in haste because of our fear, or be paralyzed from moving at all. And yet as my little 6 year old boy said, there is nothing real that is harming us. Fear is the true enemy.

I went back and read the entirety of FDR’s address and it is spectacularly appropriate for America today. I wish all of you would go and read it here. It is like he was writing it for this moment in history and not for a moment 75 years ago. Paragraphs like this are eerily accurate to what is happening in the financial community today:
“Faced by failure of credit they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish.”

I know we have all heard the saying that “history repeats itself” and that is a comfort, a warning, and a prophecy all at the same time. But to me it is so comforting to know that God has walked through financial turmoil, wars, corruption, and just the worst of humanity over and over again and yet He still loves us, has a plan for our lives, and is optimistic about the future :) God doesn’t fear what tomorrow will bring because no matter what comes, He has a wonderful plan and a destiny for you in tomorrow. Actually, God doesn’t fear at all. No fear, ever. He’s never worried, or anxious. Amazing thought, isn’t it? And yet that is God’s heart for us as well.

Each one of us with our limited vision and dire “prophecies” of how bad the government, economy, corruption is, would have wiped out humanity a long time ago if we were God. Yet, He has seen it all before and what really matters to Him concerning you and your life is that you walk this day with His Spirit, that you get to experience His wonderful love for you and plan for your life, and that you would be a light to those around you, especially in very dark places. And it is in the darkest of night that the light shines the brightest. Even if things should grow very dark in your circumstances, there is still nothing to fear. You just get to shine a brighter light.

I asked Noah after his wonderful insight, “Noah, so how do you get rid of fear?” “I don’t know Mommy,” he replied. “I only figured out that it’s fear.” What a wonderful opportunity to teach my little son about fear. I started telling him about how the Bible says that “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.” (I John 4:18) and that the reason that we have no fear is that we know how much God loves us. In His love we are safe. We are home and we rest in His perfect love. I went on to describe how God’s love is like being wrapped in bubble wrap, only the strongest bubbles in the whole world. Nothing can get through those bubbles. It was a great illustration for a 6 year old (actually he might have preferred it being a force-field ~ maybe next time) because it gave him a mental picture of the love of God totally surrounding him with nothing being able to get to him. “If nothing can get to you, do you have anything to fear?” I asked. “No.” he answered. “Not anymore. Not if I’m safe in the bubble.”

God’s love is not just an anecdote for children, it is the most powerful weapon that we have in the battle that we fight against fear. If you really know how good your heavenly Father is and how much that he loves you, it is difficult to fear. You will actually have to work at it :) (or just watch extended segments of the news because that will get you back there quickly). So if you are battling with fear today, fill your heart and mind with who God is and what He says about you. Remember His faithfulness. Remember that all of this is not new to Him. He knows the end from the beginning and God has a purpose for your life. That wonderful thought truly erases the fear and gives you the motivation to keep going forward today, no matter what happens in the economy or government.

So I would like to leave you with this verse today from the Amplified Bible, and I pray that this same confidence and boldness will enter your heart and spirit as you read it. I pray that perfect love would cast out all your fear and that you would stand as FDR did in that incredibly momentous speech and say “Thank God my concerns are only material things.” God’s perfect love does cast out all fear, and I pray that you would be more aware of His love for you today than any perceived threat.

“For God Himself has said, ‘I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. I will not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let you down (relax My hold on you)!’ Assuredly not! So we take comfort and are encouraged and confidently and boldly say, The Lord is my Helper; I will not be seized with alarm [I will not fear or dread or be terrified]. What can man do to me?”

Hebrews 13:5,6 (the Amplified Bible)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paying for the Party

“Arrrgh,” shouted 14 young pirates as they chased me down the side of my home. We were on a treasure hunt. The cake had been eaten. The sword fights had been won. And now the real adventure had begun. Through Alligator Alley, past the Tunnel of Stinkiness and the Forgotten Grasslands, and through the Forbiden Gate… and over a dozen pirates were all of a sudden charging from my back yard and down to our mailbox (the Tiny Cave of Hope) in search of the prize. Then back through the house they stormed in a mad chaotic quest. There was treasure to be had, and when they finally discovered the chest buried in the Hidden Forest, the squeals of joy and triumph were amazing. I laughed and cheered and exulted in my pirate son’s joy.

Was it worth all the effort? Oh, yeah baby (as Noah likes to say). It was so worth it and such a fun evening. Our friend’s little boy told his Mom and Dad on the way home that it was the best birthday party ever! I felt like he had just presented me with flowers and a medal. I love it when the kids have fun, and I love the memories that we made as a family last night. But honestly, I also love when it is over :) Parties are a lot of work, and they are also a lot of money. Is it worth it? Yes, but that doesn’t mean you have to break the bank to throw a party.

Today, fresh from the land of pirates, I want to give you some ideas of how to successfully budget for an event, and also some ideas for what to do if you exceed your budget. And I have a confession to make. Unfortunately, I did not come in on budget for Noah’s party… yep, you can gasp. I did when the lady at the grocery store told me my total for the food. How in the world did it cost that much? I am honestly still puzzled. Now I do have a lot of leftovers sitting in my freezer, so maybe I can subtract that from the party cost. However, I think I really have to attribute a large part to the rising prices of food here. It really “sucker-punched” me for this party. But hopefully we can all learn from it, so that it won’t be you next time ;)

Generally, I have found that the best way to stay on budget for an event is to first of all, save towards that event as part of your monthly budget. This way, the money is ready for you when you get there and you can enjoy the event rather than resenting the cost. We did this for Matt’s conference he attended last weekend. We saved for about a year for that conference and included everything that he would need: hotel, airfare, conference fees, food and spending money. So when he got ready to leave for the conference there were no surprise hits to our budget. We had planned it, we had the money, and it was a joy for him to get to go.

The great thing about birthday parties that you are in charge of giving is that you typically know about the party in advance. As a result, it is easy to plan ahead and have the money in advance for the party. For me, the best option from there is to draw the money that you have budgeted in cash before you begin to purchase things for the party. Party expenses can just go on and on and if you don’t have a firm boundary like running out of cash, you will easily spend and extra $50 or even $100 and not even know where it went to. Using cash makes you think in advance about how much money you have to work with and how to make your money go as far as possible.

So start with what is really important to you. Do you want food to be the focal point of the party? Then allot more of your budget to the food. If food is not it, then choose a cheaper food and put your money into where you want the focus of your party to be. I love decorating for parties, but I have also learned that some $0.99 streamers and a package of balloons can go a long way. For most of the theme of the party I just try to be as resourceful as I can with what I already have on hand. Now this would be different if I were throwing an adult party. But still, I want to throw a great party, not throw my money away. And if decorations are your priority, it is so critical that you determine your budget because decorations can easily get out of hand in expense.

So what do you do if your expenses do get out of hand, like mine did this week? I think in my head I was budgeting for pizza and never adequately compensated when I decided to serve real food instead. Regardless, I spent more than I had planned. I am not sorry for it because I fed my sweet family and friends a yummy meal and have great leftovers, but I am sorry for the consequences… which is, I have to take money out of savings.

Now some of you may be thinking, “So what?” Well, for me, taking money out of savings is like punishment. I am fiercely protective of our savings. I love to spend the money if we have set a certain amount aside for a project or trip. That is a joy to me because that is what the money is there for. However, when I have to take from our savings for something unplanned (and not an emergency) I just despise it. And I don’t recommend doing it either. If you use your savings lightly… you won’t have any. We have a goal with our general savings account, and I feel like these types of unplanned expenses are fighting against that money’s purpose. I will actually try to pull money from everywhere else before I will resort to drawing money from savings. However, I am also so thankful that we are saving aggressively so that unexpected costs don’t go on a credit card and dig us into debt. I am thankful that we have that money there if we need it. Most of the time, I try to figure out a way to pay the money back into our saving’s account (just like taking a loan from yourself). But sometimes, you just have to use it, and then praise God that you are using your own money rather than the credit card company’s money.

The point is that it is critical to have a saving’s account. I have written about it here in a blog about why you should start now and begin to save even if you are in debt. As you can see from my birthday party illustration, without a savings account we would have been in trouble this week. If you are in debt and don’t have a savings account, you are just going to end up in more debt should any surprise cost come along. And that is a very precarious place to live, because life is full of surprises.

But for now the party is over. I have reconciled my financial world and paid for the party and even modified my plan for Ava’s birthday (which is in 2 weeks) so that this doesn’t happen again. But even if it does happen again on some piratey or princess adventure down the road, I have a plan for after the party which includes taking responsibility for what I have spent. Although I’ll be honest with you, I can’t help wishing a little that the chest had been filled with real treasure that would pay for the whole party instead of “goody bags” filled with chocolate coins. But then again, if I think of it as filled with my money from savings, it actually was a chest of treasure… I just gave it to my children and all of my children’s friends. Come to think of it, that’s actually a pretty wonderful place to invest some treasure :)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Birthday Party

Today is Noah’s birthday party, and tonight 13 pirates and their 17 parents and our family members will be joining us for a pirate party. What was supposed to be a small party in our home has all of a sudden become a festival. We decided for the first time this year to just let Noah invite who he wanted to the party. So really, just a few friends…. And their siblings…. And their parents…. and Noah’s cousins…. and his grandparents. How did this happen?

A very small drop in what is happening in the global ocean today, but to me today it feels like the whole world. When I was a child, my birthdays were magical. My Mom would make the most fantastic cakes, and treats. She threw the best birthday parties and I have always wanted my children to have that amazing gift as well. I still love my birthday, and I think it is all from my wonderful childhood.

But did you know that some of those birthdays were thrown in the middle of the war torn nation of Zimbabwe where my parents pastored a church at one time? Did you know that some of those birthdays were thrown when we left Zimbabwe with almost nothing due to the government’s strict prohibition on taking anything out of the nation? We lived with my grandparents for over a year while we waited for God to open the doors to where we felt like He was leading us, and I still remember my birthday party at my grandparents house J Some of those birthdays happened in America as we struggled to find our feet in the “land of opportunity”. My parents came here with a call from God, two small children, 4 suitcases, $2000 to start an entire life, and no idea where we would even stay. Yet I can still remember what I got for my 8th birthday, and the ice storm that happened on my 9th birthday. We struggled financially in the early years in America, but I only know that now. Back then, I only knew it was my birthday and I was loved, I was celebrated, and I got a surprise.

No matter what is going on in your life today, be it birthdays or moving or job transition or just living a normal day, the really precious moments of this day will be the ones you spend with your friends and family. As I said yesterday, there will always be storms, but don’t miss out on the precious moments (like 6th birthday parties) because of the storm. No matter how difficult and uncertain things may seem right now, your life will go on.

So even while you struggle with decisions, remember that there is a bigger picture for your life than what you are walking through right now. God made you for a purpose. From the day you were born (and even before that), God had a plan for your life for good and not for evil. It really puts things in perspective when you think that you may be going through the hardest time in your lives, like my parents were for my 8th birthday, and yet your children will look back and just remember that they were loved and celebrated. There is a bigger picture, and for me, this day is all about celebrating that bigger picture in my son’s life :)

Have a wonderful day, and I will be back soon in a blog called “Paying for the Party”… yup, the budgeting fun never stops :) but thankfully, birthday expenses do… especially if you have a place for them in your budget.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

In the Midst of the Storm

Everything I have read or seen in the media the past week has just been fear, fear, fear.. It is easy to get shaken. It is easy to see fear as the big picture. But it is not. Fear is just a reaction to perception. Not a single newsman, or reporter can predict the future. They don't know what is coming and the more unstable the events of the day, the more they fear tomorrow. The sad thing is that they have nothing else to give but fear. In an unbiased report (which seems impossible to find), they would simply give you the events instead of their constant opinions of what everything means. But regardless of where the news media fears that the economy or the war or the elections are going... the good news is that we have a hope that they just do not understand. Your life is not controlled by their fear... unless you allow it to be.

Now, I am not saying that we should walk in ignorance. The economy may continue to turn ugly. There is a lot of instability on Wall Street, and a lot is uncertainty as to where America’s financial future is heading. However, even as we take in the facts of what is happening around us, it is so important that we do not allow the world to dictate our response to those events. What happens when a storm comes? We don’t ignore the storm or pretend it isn’t happening. The storm is real, but that doesn’t mean you have to fear it.

Every time I have read anything about what is happening in the financial world, I just keep getting a picture in my heart, and I want to share it with you today. It’s the picture of another storm that happened a very long time ago. Matthew 8:23-27 tells the story of Jesus in a boat with His disciples. Having told them that they were going to the other side of the lake, Jesus then lays down in the boat and goes to sleep. A huge storm came up and the disciples were so afraid that the boat would capsize, so they woke up Jesus. And this is what Jesus says to them, “ ‘Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?’ [Then] he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, ‘Peace, be still.’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm."

The disciples looked at the facts and feared for their boat and their lives, and I think many of us would have done the same thing. In fact, I feel like this is exactly what so many people are doing right now with the economy. They are looking at this financial storm with banks failing, the stock market shifting powers, uncertainty and even devastation in the mortgage industry, and they are afraid for their boat. People are fearing for their security, and their way of life.

But here is the truth in no uncertain terms: a decision made in fear, is a decision made in stupidity. All wisdom comes from God and if you are walking in fear then you are not walking in God’s wisdom. And if you are making decisions out of that fear, then you are making decisions apart from true wisdom. When you make decisions, especially financial decisions, based on fear, you will make stupid decisions.

For instance, most people, rather than chance their financial boat capsizing in the face of a storm, will just go ahead and jump out of the boat… really smart, huh. But when you are overwhelmed by fear you will make those kinds of decisions. A friend of mine lost nearly his entire retirement savings when he panicked after 911. He pulled it all out when the stock market plummeted because he was consumed by fear. If he had just stayed in and rode the wave, he would have seen the market rebound within a year, but fear made his decision for him and cost him a small fortune.

There will always be financial storms. This is not the first economic storm and it won’t be the last, and we very well may be in for a big storm. However, whatever happens in the storm, you can be at peace. When Jesus told His disciples, “Let’s go over to the other side of the lake,” that was actually all they needed to sit peacefully in midst of the storm. When you know that you are doing what God has told you to be doing, you can sit peacefully in your boat as well. Your boat is not your security. God telling you to go to the other side is your security, because it means that He intends for you to get there. That means that no matter what storm arises, or even what happens to your boat, you will get to the other side. This is why Jesus accused his disciples of having no faith. He had said, “Let’s go across,” which meant that no storm could stop them. If they had just realized who Jesus was then they would have know why He was able to sleep through the storm. Because even if the boat had been destroyed, they were with the One who could walk on water.

Isn’t that an amazing thought? No matter what comes, if you are doing what you are supposed to be doing, you can be at peace and you don’t have to be afraid. You can even sleep in the midst of the storm and just rest that you are in the right boat. And I am not talking about being in denial either. Jesus was not in denial of the storm, he recognized the storm when he spoke peace to it. However, he did not let fear of the storm dictate his decisions. That is why the disciples found him asleep in the boat in the middle of the storm.

So, as you look at the financial world around you today and read and hear the stories, I just wanted to remind you of this story. Because as a believer in Jesus, your decisions and your reaction is not based on what happens to the boat, or the storm around you. It is actually all about who is in the boat with you, and what He has told you to do. And for me, there is so much rest in that. No matter what happens with the storm on Wall Street, I know who's in my boat :)

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Family Again

Somewhere in the back of my mind I imagined that my husband going out of town would mean that I would have a vacation. "I'm not going to cook all weekend," I thought with joy. I also dreamed that I would just write all weekend, joking to Matt that it would be a writer's weekend for both of us... yeah. Somewhere in my head I was getting the weekend off, overlooking one tiny fact: I still have three kids at home with me. The house doesn't magically stay clean when Matt is gone because (shocker) Matt isn't the one making the mess. In fact, he's the one who usually rounds up the troops to tidy the living room, unloads the dishwasher and a thousand other helpful things. Somewhere on about Saturday morning (about the time that we were arriving late for Noah's flag football game), it dawned on me that I was very, very tired... already, and I still had to make it until Sunday night.

So I have been missing in action in blog land. My dreams of writing at night were completely undone by sheer exhaustion. I still feel like I am recovering from the weekend this morning. Matt returned last night, and he was the most beautiful sight to this Mommy's tired eyes. At the airport, all three kids just wanted to be held by their Daddy, and I just let him carry them all. It just felt like giant hug for me just having no one hanging on to me or in my arms. But I did get my hug as well :)

It was a wonderful weekend for Matt, and I know that he was absolutely supposed to be at that conference. So on that account, I know that the weekend was very worth it. However, for me, I'm still going to need a few days to recover :) So, I may write again soon, but I also may not. My little Noah is turning 6 this Saturday and there is a party to plan. But somewhere in the mix I will re-enter budget world and I will blog again. Probably about the same time as I sit down with all of Matt's receipts from the weekend. I think that will definitely bring some sort of inspiration :)

On Saturday night as Noah was getting ready for bed he looked at me and said, "Mommy, I really miss my Daddy. Our family just doesn't feel like a family without Daddy." Of course my eyes just filled with tears. "I know baby," I said. "It doesn't feel like a family to me either. I miss him too." So, today the tears are gone, our family is a family again, and maybe one day soon, my blog will actually be about finances once again :) Well, maybe... afterall, finances aren't life, they just enable your life. Budgeting is all about getting your finances well organized so that you can enjoy your life, and not constantly be consumed by anxiety, fear, debt, and financial burden. So I will talk about finances again, but there will always be a good mix of life in there, because for me that is really what it is all about.

God bless.

Friday, September 19, 2008

At The End of The Envelope

OK, so I really had my preach on at the beginning of the week, and today I am giving you a break :) Actually, I am taking a break. Matt is out of town for the weekend at a writer's conference (how fun is that!), and I am holding down the fort. I have to tell you, not only do I preach about how much kids need their Daddy, we live it. We miss Daddy, and he has only been gone for one day!

Anyway, I have a great blog for tomorrow which should be today's but I just can't seem to finish it. So instead I am taking my kids to the zoo (again :) and we are going to have a happy day.

I hope your week has gone well and your Friday is good. It is always lovely to get to the weekend, and it is especially lovely since fall has come early to Tulsa. So today I will be outside with my children, missing Matt, and trying to not spend money. Yes, even passionate "budgeter's" have days when they just need to not go near a store. The envelope for entertainment is empty and it is time to just go outside and do something free to entertain your children :)

Anyway, God bless you all, and hopefully I will get to finish writing and I will post again tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Under the Influence

Never underestimate the influence of a woman. For good or for evil, her influence lingers like perfume over her husband. It is amazing the softening power that a gentle woman can have on a man. It is also amazing how an embittered woman can poison and corrupt the heart of her husband. But it is a very beautiful thing to witness a marriage where a wife’s influence on her husband has the fragrance of love and support and deep honor and respect. That man will walk with confidence, and will garner respect wherever he goes, because somehow that scent will linger on him.

And when it comes to a man who is driven, many times the fragrance on that man is pure fear. I wrote yesterday about the high cost of sacrificing your family for your work, but many times women are actually the influence behind this drive to earn more and to succeed. And the deep motivator for those women is actually fear… fear of not having enough, fear of being deprived, fear of their husband losing their job. However, it is actually a crippling force on a man to be driven by a wife’s fear. They will lose their vision, they will sacrifice too much, and they will eventually burn out.

What I have seen too many times is that women are actually glad that their husbands are working so hard. They wish that they were home more, but they are proud of what their husbands are doing for the family. They love their new home, and new car, and to get to shop whenever. So some part of them feels like it is worth the sacrifice. And here is the real deception: women feel like they can parent better then men. Truth be told, they feel like they can handle it all. They have the children from the moment they wake up until they go to bed and then their husbands come home. It is a feeling of self-sufficiency that drives this. Women like their husbands around. It is nice for a break, but when it comes to parenting they are doing just fine.

This dynamic seems like it starts from infancy. I remember with Noah, I didn’t want to let Matt do anything. I had this perfect little baby, and I just felt such overwhelming love and nurturing instincts, and Matt just seemed to do it all wrong. So I just did it all. But a few weeks into our parenting adventure, Matt finally sat me down and we had a very serious talk. “WE are the parents of Noah,” he said. “You don’t have to take care of Noah and then take care of me. WE are in this together. Let me be a part of the parenting.” I am so glad that I had a husband that fought for his place, because so many husbands don’t. They just withdraw, and then their wife resents them for not engaging with their child. However, she hasn’t made any place for her husband. From that talk on, Matt took over bath time and I just had to learn to let go.

However, for many women they have held on to that role as the only one who can parent correctly. So when a husband is driven at work, they don’t see it in terms of cost to their family. But here is a scary statistic for you. I read the other day that the percentages of kids that get into drugs and alcohol are actually significantly higher in families where the Dad is at home, but disengaged from his children’s lives, than in single parent families! I think that is because single mothers will fight to provide a male role model for their kids, or overcompensate to make up for the void. In two parent families, where Dad is there but Mom is doing all of the parenting, that void is never filled. They aren’t as purposeful in making sure that that void is being filled because their husbands are in the house but aren’t engaged as a parent.

So here is the honest truth for women: your children need their Daddy. You cannot be Daddy to them. They will suffer without the influence of your husband, and you need to stop enabling this vicious cycle by thinking that you can do it all by yourself. Until you get serious about your children’s need for consistent and quality time with their Daddy, you will continue to accept and even encourage his absence. But it is such a serious thing, and until you get to the point where you will give up your brand new car because your kids need their Dad, you are just as responsible in the breakdown of family life in your home.

This is where you have to stop looking to your husband’s job as your financial security blanket. It is Not! It is just an avenue for God’s provision for you. Your heavenly Father is the one who is taking care of you. And if your husband fights for better hours at work so that he can have more time with his children, it is going to take your support. It is going to take you letting go of your fear and trusting God that some things are worth fighting for. The chances are that he is not going to get fired, but that he may make less money… and this is where your influence is so important. I have said to Matt so many times, “I don’t care if we had to live in a tiny apartment, our children’s time with you is more important than money…”

I believe a man needs to be valued. He needs to feel that he is providing for his family, and as a wife, your encouragement, your faith, and your belief in him and in the vital role he plays in your children’s lives, will sustain him to be able to set appropriate boundaries in his work environment. Let the fragrance that you add to your husband be a fragrance of faith and not fear. Let your heart be steadfast in being willing to sacrifice whatever, but not your husband’s time with your children. I have heard many times that a woman sets the tone of her home, but you also have the ability to set the tone of your husband’s work life by what you allow to be perpetuated in your home.

I know that it is not ever God’s heart for a husband or wife to control each other and I am not at all advocating manipulation and control. Rather I am saying, be an influence for your family in the life of your husband and not an influence of fear. Include him, embrace him, and support his role in the lives of your children. Whatever the initial financial cost, I promise you that this investment of time and energy, and even extra income will be the best financial decision that you will ever make. Don’t forget, God loves families. He designed them and I think you will be amazed at the blessing that will come from valuing your family life more than money.

Monday, September 15, 2008

When Is Enough, Enough?

I have been struggling with this issue in quite a few areas in the past few months, but the one that has really lodged in my heart today is the issue that seems to be attacking the family life of people all over the world. It is the issue of “how much are you willing to sacrifice for your job?” At what point do you finally reach a point that enough is enough? This question has so many different applications, but it is definitely a question that many families need to be asking themselves.

Right now in the lives of so many families around me I am seeing a growing trend where husbands go to work before 7am in the morning and only return home after 8pm. Husbands and fathers are stretched so thin that they barely have time for themselves, their wives, never mind cultivating a family life. There are so many justifications for this epidemic. Most of them revolve around a weak economy and needing the job security that their work provides. Others are driving themselves to get out of debt, or to push for a promotion so that they will be a better financial place. This is such a huge pull on the soul of a man, but a devastating blow to family life.

Matt and I often feel like islands on this issue because we are so fiercely protective when it comes to our family time. I grew up in a family where we had dinner as a family every single night. My Mom and Dad were fiercely protective of our family time, and I grew up valuing it as well. It is at the dinner table that we talked about our day, and prayed as a family, and we actually discovered what was going on in each other’s lives. We have started this with our children as well. Every night at dinner we play “high/low” where we take turns telling the high points of our days and the low points. Luke doesn’t quite get it, but he laughs and claps when it his turn and everyone turns to him. Ava’s high/lows make me laugh, and give us such neat insight into what she values. Noah’s high/lows bless my socks off, and more days than not, he says that there were no low points in his day. I love it. I wouldn’t miss it for the world… and neither would their Daddy.

Family life is a fight. It doesn’t just happen, and there is no replacement for it. You have to prioritize it, contend for it, and if you are too exhausted from work to engage your children, then you are being stolen from. The thing is, your job will always take everything that you are willing to give. The better you are at your job, the more they will want you to take on. If you succeed, they will expect higher levels of success. You are a resource and they will mine you until there is nothing left. The only person who actually determines how much of you is left at the end of the day… is you. You are the only one who can set appropriate work boundaries for your time and for your family. Your boss won’t do it. Your co-workers won’t do it. It is time to stop and ask yourself what you are working for and when is enough, enough? At what point do you get to enjoy your life and your children? When do you get to breathe and live?

A dear friend of Matt’s and mine was recently offered an amazing promotion. However, as he looked at the promotion, he realized the time that he would have to sacrifice with his children. So even though it was more money, more influence, more prestige… he said no. Enough is enough, and he wasn’t going to keep pushing until he had lost what was actually valuable. I can’t tell you how proud I am of him.

However, I think for many people the decision isn’t that clear cut. It is more like a frog slowly boiling in a pot. Why doesn’t the frog jump out? Because it slowly accepts the gradual increase in heat all the way until its death. I think this is what happens in a work environment as well. If you were looking at the job from the outside, there is no way that you would choose it. You wouldn’t choose to sacrifice your family, your health, your life. However, I think you get to a place where you have sacrificed so much already it is just easier to keep going. You don’t even realize how damaging your job has become. You just keep accepting the lie that you don’t have a choice, when you are actually the only one who can choose for you.

Money is wonderful. It can equip your life, but it is not life. If at the end of it all, you don’t have a life to celebrate outside of your job, then you have lost the vision. And that is what it all boils down to…. Vision. Why are you doing what you are doing? When will enough be enough? It is time to set some boundaries before your job takes everything. There is a reason why divorce rates increase the older you get. There is a reason why the teenage years are the hardest years with children. And a lot of those issues have their roots in children without an engaged father or mother, and marriages that have been left in neglect. And it really is not just Dad’s. These days, women are just as driven, and the point is that you always have to weigh the cost. I really believe that you can’t have it all because there is only so much of you to give. If you give it all at work, your children will get nothing. You get to choose what you value, and when you have set your values, you make your decisions by your values instead of letting opportunity make your decisions for you.

So, a serious word today, but from the bottom of my heart. There may be seasons of “sacrifice” in family life, but remember, your children didn’t make the financial decisions that have brought you to this point. You may sacrifice, but they shouldn’t have to. They may not have all the toys they want, but the truth is that they don’t really want the things… they just want you. And honestly, nothing can replace that.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

So Very Good!

This week Matt and I experienced a miracle. Last Thursday, after a lot of prayer and an unshakable knowing that the Lord was in it, we made the decision to go part-time at Liberated Living Ministries. It was one of those scary decisions where you feel you are stepping off a cliff, but we felt such peace in our hearts that we following God’s heart for us. However, what that meant in practicality was that we needed God to do a miracle.

We had $200 in our business account and we needed the Lord to either bring in the work or the finances before this weekend. I honestly had no idea how it was going to happen, but we both had this tenacious faith rise up in our hearts, that God was going to take care of us. So Matt and I prayed together. We took the Covenant Meal together, and we asked God for exactly what we needed. And this began our amazing journey.

On Friday morning, a client unexpectedly made a payment. We were so grateful, but we were still less than half way there. On Saturday, a little more trickled in as another client paid for a project. On Monday, Matt had a bass gig and shared that he was starting a graphic design business and the owner of the studio handed him an envelope with $200 towards our new business! Remember, this was in the middle of both us being sick and with fever. Matt and I both just cried when we opened that envelope.

And then almost every day this past week, Matt has received calls for new projects and leads for new business. On Wednesday, the senior acquisitions editor for a major publishing house contacted Matt about adding his name as one of their designers!! Also on Wednesday, Matt and I both signed with an agent who has agreed to represent our books!!! I can’t even tell you how huge this is, and how overwhelmed we both are at the goodness of God.
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Well, last night, Matt and I were sitting working on a project together, when I got an email notifying us that a client had just made a payment through paypal and it was for exactly what we were short to make up our entire salary!! I just burst out laughing. In fact, when I did our books last night we were $.80 above what we needed!!! Yes, I am exclamation point happy, but I honestly feel like we have had one of those banner weeks that deserves exclamation points all over it!

I know everything in life isn’t this dramatic, but when God comes through in a miraculous way, you need to write about it, to shout it, and remember it. This week for us will always be a testimony to our God’s amazing faithfulness to catch us when we step out at His word. I know this sounds a little “faith talkish”, but we have lived it this week, and my heart is so full I just can’t help myself.

So thank you all for your prayers for us. Thank you to our friends for standing with us. But more than anything, thank you God for once again showing Your amazing faithfulness. You are good, and there is no shadow of turning with you. It is just so amazing to know that we are right in the middle of what You have for us.

Thanks for reading friends and I hope this is an encouragement to your hearts as well to go for what God has put in your heart to do. He is faithful, and even when the journey seems scary, it is actually just the greatest opportunity to see the miraculous.

See you Monday :)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Putting Out the Fire

Have you ever had that nagging feeling that you are forgetting something? Something is not right, or you have forgotten something, or misplaced something… what is it? Well, if you ever get that feeling about a bill, it is probably the Holy Spirit reminding you. We talk ourselves around that feeling and ignore it. But if you have ever been late on a bill “by accident” or missed a payment… I am willing to bet that 10 to 1 you had that little reminder voice in your head telling you that you had missed something.

I had that voice a few months ago and kept feeling that I needed to go check the account balance on a credit card that we never use. I kept rationalizing it away, and ignoring it. Finally, I gave in and went and checked the balance. It turned out we had a charge go through that only bills once a year. We had never switched over the account and the charge was now two months overdue!!! Of course I freaked out. I never miss a payment. I am “on top of things”. Naturally, I had to try to blame my husband. But the truth was, the Holy Spirit had been prompting me for over a month and I had been ignoring it. I did call the credit card company and they agreed to wave the late fees and penalties and I paid my bill. However, it was just a great reminder to never ignore that still small voice.

When you get that feeling, the best thing to do is just to sit down with your budget and go through all of your bills. Check your paper statements. Log onto your credit cards on line and make sure that there are no payments that you are forgetting. Chances are you probably even know which account or bill the little red flag in your head is there about. So quit ignoring your inner alarm clock. If there is an alarm going on, you need to stop and check for fire… before your financial house burns down :)

But if you do find a fire, don’t be afraid to call the company and ask for them to waive the fees. They always have the power to waive or remove the fees and penalties. Many times, they just don’t because you never ask. In dealing with bills from businesses, call and explain your situation. Offer to pay over the phone or transfer the money immediately. Most people and businesses just want to get their money, and if they know that you are serious about paying your bill they will be much more likely to work with you. If you don’t have the money right now for a bill, don’t just ignore it or procrastinate dealing with it. Call the company and ask them for a payment plan. Ask if you can send in what you do have and if they will waive any fees until you can send the remainder of your payment. The key is to be honest and walk with integrity. You will be amazed at the favor you will have if you will just be quick to communicate.

So today, check your inner financial fire alarm… all is quiet in my home. If it’s not quiet in yours, its time to put out the fire. Quit procrastinating. Check your bills, and then communicate with the company. Don’t let what could be resolved in a simple phone call, become a financial inferno. :)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

In Sickness and In Health

In the last three days, everywhere I have gone I have encountered sick people. Either the whole world is struggling with allergies, sinus infections, and colds, or I have just been a magnet for the people who are. At the register we have united with our jugs of orange juice and cold medicine and horror stories. One cashier even burst out laughing when I suggested she try gummy bears as a remedy for her cold. “I hope it works for you,” she called after me as I stumbled off in my semi-fevered fog. “Me too,” I whispered to myself. After all, gummy bears do have magical powers… well, at least they make me happy.

So, today I am feeling better and it’s time to take stock of the damage that a cold infested house has wreaked upon our finances. Sickness is just a black hole when it comes to your finances. Whatever cold remedy, cough drop, magic vitamin pill you can buy… you will. All you want in life is for your nose to stop running, your head to quit hurting, and just to sleep until it is over. And that is the true reason why a box of phlegm expectorant that everyone in the check out line told you to buy costs $11.00. No one in their right mind would spend $11 on phlegm, but you aren’t in your right mind. You are in your fuzzy, sinus pressure, unable to reason mind, and at this point $11 sounds like a bargain.

Anyway, so my blog today is budgeting for sickness. I know that no one wants to plan for sickness when they are healthy. We all believe for health, and I am absolutely resolute that God is my healer. I joke about sickness, but I know that it is just stealing life from me and isn’t God’s plan for me at all. But I also believe that every good thing comes from the Lord. And sometimes that good thing comes in the form of doctors and medicine. He is the one who gives all wisdom to men. I think He authored medicine. I think the key is to know what God is saying about your sickness. No sickness comes from God. Jesus took all sickness to the cross. Why would he inflict something on you that He died to free you from? Sickness is never from God.

But if in your sickness, God leads you to see a doctor, then absolutely go because it is His path to healing for you. God will use whatever means He needs to, to help you and to bring healing to you. I have to admit though, it is really hard to hear the Lord when you are sick. You just want to be better, and this is where you really need a network of friends and family who will pray for you and stand and believe with you for healing. Sometimes for me it has been my husband saying, “I really think that you need to see a doctor.” And every time, I have been so glad that I listened to him.

Doctors are not my first response, and I am so glad of that. In my family, the first response has always been to go to our heavenly Father. He is so wise and ultimately all healing (whether instantaneous or gradual) comes from Him. Sometimes He will lead you to doctors, or even other treatments, and sometimes you will just have a peace to wait and see His dramatic healing in your body. I have experienced both, and there really is no formula for it, except to just know that whichever path He leads you down, His heart for you is always total wholeness in your body.

And on the financial side, I am always amazed at how merciful God is with that as well. The enemy’s plan is always to steal, kill, and destroy. And sickness is one horrible tool that He uses to steal from us. However, having an emergency savings plan is such a God breathed idea in these moments. It still irks me to spend money on illness, but in the same breath I am so thankful for God’s provision so that we don’t go into debt over sickness. We save in times of plenty, so that no matter what comes, there is more than enough.

However, sometimes, the times of sickness can outlast what you have set aside. And I can only think that this is what relationship in the body of Christ is all about. The problem is how isolated and proud we are. We need each other. We need the body of Christ, and just as you pamper a finger when you cut it… when you are hurt, God has put you in a family to respond to that need. Now, I am not talking socialism, but I am talking the heart of Jesus in responding to the needs that we see around us.

I experienced that heart this week in precious friends and family bringing us food in the middle of our sickness. I am so thankful that we are not in isolation. I am so thankful for the people that God has placed around me. You may feel alone, and nothing is so miserably lonely as sickness, but you are never alone. God did not bring sickness, but He does have good things for you in the midst of it and on the way out of it.

So having a budget for sickness? I wish there were never a need for it, and one day there won’t be. But in the meantime, have an emergency fund. Most financial experts recommend 3-6 months of salary. I think it is a great idea. And also, when you are sick, let the church be the church… call a friend for help, or for prayer. God has good things for you, in sickness and in health. But my prayer for you, and God’s heart for you is always health. As John the apostle wrote in 3 John vs. 2
“Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in HEALTH, just as your soul prospers.”

So today, may you walk in health. May you prosper in all things, and may The Healer lead you and bring healing to your quickly to your home and to mine.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Jumping In

Well, we are half well at the Jones's house. Fortunately, I am the one feeling better. Everything just runs better when Mommy is well. My little Noah woke up this morning to come and find out if Mommy had a voice and if Daddy still had a fever. He told us that after we had tucked him in last night for bed that he prayed that Jesus would heal Mommy's voice and heal Daddy. Of course, we just had to feel better after hearing that!! And I actually do feel like I am on the road to recovery. I had almost no voice yesterday, and it does feel stronger today.

Unfortunately, Matt is in bed with fever again this afternoon. So thank you all for your continued prayers for him. It's has been such a funny week so far because although we have felt so sick, we have seen God do so much on our behalf this week. Matt has received all kinds of leads in his graphic design business and we have really just seen amazing things! God is so incredibly faithful to take care of His kids, and I think He just loves trust. Like a little kid surrendering to his Daddy's arms when he jumps from the side of the pool, God loves when we trust Him. All of our fear on the side of the pool, wandering if He is going to catch us, is just such a waste of time and energy. God is only good and can only do good. He always has us when He calls for us to jump.

This week has just been a testimony again to His amazing ability to catch us. It is funny, but the way God "catches us" is always a suprise. It is hard to see it coming. In fact, I think God loves to do it that way, because instead of trusting in His arms that we can see, we are forced to trust in His heart. Will He catch us? Well, if you know the kind of Father He is, then the answer is always, "Yes!" But you have to know Him to really know that, and I think that is the point. The Bible says that "perfect love casts out all fear". The only way to know perfect love is to know God. And when we get to know His heart, we won't fear the jump, or falling, or failure.

So Matt and I are jumping, and we have just seen Him catch us again. I know that there will be many more jumps on this journey of starting our own business. However, just like our kids jumping from the side of the pool, with each jump our confidence will grow. Not confidence in our ability or our "flotation device", but confidence in His perfect love for us, and confidence that even when we don't see it, His arms will always be there to catch us.

Even in the midst of our physical weakness this week, our hearts are singing... because God is good! And He just keeps revealing His goodness to us in all kinds of suprising ways.

Anyway, I will probably get to blog tonight, so I will be back tomorrow with a fresh new blog on finances. Thank you again for your prayers, and for the meals from my dear friend Deana and my sweet Mom!! We have truly been blessed this week, which is just so crazy to say in the face of fever, and red noses, and sore throats, and laryngitis... but isn't that a testimony in itself?

Romans 8:28 says, "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." Maybe His calling isn't some huge voice-out--of-the-sky-once-in-a-lifetime moment. Maybe that calling is just the voice from the pool, saying, "Jump... I'll catch you"... and somehow in that jumping process, you get to experience God's goodness in amazing ways.

Just something to think about :) See you tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Grace For Today

In over 9 years of marriage, I can count on one hand the number of times that Matt and I have been sick together. Unfortunately, this week we have added another finger :( We both thought it was just severe allergies over the weekend, but it is definitely something more now. We both ran a fever yesterday, and woke up this morning feeling like we had been hit by a bus. Anyway, we would so appreciate your prayers. Fortunately, our kids are all well. It is just Mom and Dad.

It is amazing how little you feel like budgeting when you are sick. Especially when you are both sick and there is no one left to cook. I always wish in these moments that I had a freezer stocked with pre-cooked meals for my family. Now that would be a great budgeting idea :)

Anyway, so I am going to be out of budgeting world until I feel a little better. I feel the need to apologize for yesterday's blog as well. It is definitely not my best writing. I almost took it down, but I think I'll just say I'm sorry instead. I don't think I have the energy to fix it. Now I just sound pathetic! OK, I really am not dying, and I will definitely survive. Colds and allergies will leave and all will be sunny once again. And maybe, I'll even take my own advice and stockpile meals in the freezer.

In the mean time, may the Lord bless you richly today. May you walk in His health and joy, and may you tap into the grace that He has for you today to face whatever you are facing. Thank you Lord for new mercies every morning, and strength and grace for today!!

See you soon,
Tracy

Monday, September 8, 2008

Christmas Cheer... A Few Months Early

“‘Tis the season to be jolly”… and then you sing… “fa la la la la, la la la la”. Seriously, it is so early to even think of Christmas, but that is exactly what my husband and I have been discussing this weekend. Oddly enough, I have spoken to two of my couple friends who are talking about the same thing this weekend. I think we are all looking at the fall, and looking at our financial picture and just trying to take inventory.

For Matt and I, this time of year is like a roller coaster that just keeps picking up speed until it ends with a bang at Christmas. This month is Noah’s birthday, followed by Ava’s birthday two weeks later. And then we have oodles of friends and family with birthdays in the next few months. In November is Thanksgiving and my brother’s birthday and then the roller coaster really gets cooking until Christmas. In years past we have typically had a reprieve from the party madness until my birthday in February, but now we have Luke’s birthday in January to plan for as well. Not to mention Aunt Jess and my little niece Emma in January.

As the endless, party planning and presents stretches out in front of us, Matt and I have just been having a serious financial reality check. It’s not that we don’t want to be generous or to be givers, we just want to be purposeful with our money and we don’t want to be wasteful. So, four months in advance we are discussing our Christmas budget.

This is one of those interesting topics because I am such a firm advocator of having a Christmas budget that you draw from your income every month. It is so important that you have a plan for any expense that you know is coming. If you don’t plan for Christmas, you will have to plan for how to pay off the debt from Christmas afterwards. This can be so destructive to your financial picture for the new year. It is definitely better to have a plan in advance. I have also found that it is better to have that Christmas money in cash because it gives you a very definite boundary for when you are out of Christmas money.

However, for the past three years, although we have had a Christmas budget, we have not had to budget in Christmas into our monthly budget. This is because for our family, our plan for Christmas has been to use a portion of Matt’s money from his side business to pay for Christmas. This has worked wonderfully for us for the last few years. However, in the past few months, Matt has actually launched his own graphic design business and is going part time at Liberated Living Ministries. This may not mean much to you, but what it means to us is… no more side money. Our side money that we have had for 9+ years, is becoming our income.

It has really been a season of change and transition for us, and I know that I will have many interesting blogs from this as we adjust and learn. However, for this weekend, that adjustment is taking the form of a radically reduced Christmas budget. But I really don’t feel deprived in it. We could take the money out of saving, but neither of us feel like that would be wisdom. We just feel such a desire to give what we have, and try to be as wise and resourceful with what we have as possible.

So, I have made my Christmas list of names, and figured out what we are going to spend on presents. The benefit of doing that this early is that I have lots of bargains and sales to catch before the Holiday madness. In fact, I would love to have my shopping done by Thanksgiving… or maybe the day after, because they do have some fantastic sales on “black Friday” (as it is known here in America because this is the day that many retailers get into the black in their books and start making money). And in this process of laying out a plan for the Holidays, I feel excited and hopeful. I feel like it is such a worthwhile challenge for me to be wise with what God has given me.

Every year I get sucked into the excess of Christmas. It is my absolute favorite time of the year. I start the Christmas carols on the day after Thanksgiving and usually our tree goes up that weekend. I just love the whole season, but it can be so destructive to finances. Consequently, we have always had a budget for Christmas so that we don’t get carried away with the season and right into debt. But this year I really want to take back the simple joy of giving, and teaching my kids to be givers, instead of just piling them with gifts. I love the thought of them having a mountain of presents to open under the tree, but the reality is they usually have two or three favorites and the rest are just extra. I am really going to be praying this year for the wisdom to know how to take back the season.

So I am making my list, and checking it twice… and probably three or four more times as I try to stick to the budget that Matt and I have agreed on. And I am asking the Lord for creative ideas in how to make my money go further and for creative presents that will actually be a blessing to my family and friends. It is really early to think about Christmas, however I think that I have a much better chance at actually succeeding by planning this early. So many stores are having amazing clearance sales at the moment, but more than that, it gives me a long time to involve the Holy Spirit in my shopping. It is fun to see it all as a challenge, and it is so fun to give, but it is really fun to get to January and not have any financial regrets from the Holidays. Plan early, shop wisely, give purposefully, and have no debt in January… now that sounds like a very Merry Christmas to me :)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Another Day

Well, I took yesterday off of blogging, but I think I'm taking another day off :) Life is good at the Jones' household, but just a lot going on. Anyway, I'll be back soon.
God bless,
Tracy

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Big Spending

I am fairly certain that no big purchase ever costs just the sticker price. It is actually incredibly deceptive in a way, and very frustrating to your carefully budgeted plan. Somehow, spending a large chunk of money becomes some sort of sinkhole for your finances. You start out spending what you had planned and then end up spending way more because of all of the additional costs and the tendency to freefall afterwards.

A very large example of this is the purchase of a new home. When Matt and I were buying our home, we had such a wonderful budgeting plan in place. We saved for our down payment. We were so careful with our money leading up to the purchase of our house. We knew we could afford the payment and asked around to get an accurate assessment of what our other bills would be. We thought we had covered everything. However, what we didn’t count on was all the other expenses that come with moving. It wasn’t just buying the home, it was the cost of the moving truck, the start up deposit for the utilities (many companies require an initial deposit or installation fee), we needed a lawn mower, lightbulbs (sounds small, but they really add up), extension cords, and a million other little projects that you discover when you move into a house.

By the end of it, we sat in a barely furnished home, just thankful to have survived the move. And this is where many people go right down the sink hole. It is so difficult when you have moved into a new home to not want to furnish it immediately. They justify their purchases because they have figured out a 0% payment plan, or something like that, and the debt just piles on. Those 0% plans are so incredibly tricky because many times the interest is just accruing until the specified time has past. Also if you are late on a payment, all of your interest becomes due. The only way to do it is to budget a plan to pay it off before a year so that you never pay interest. All in all however, it is extremely dangerous.

But the point is, once you have spent a large amount of money, it is just easier to keep spending because nothing else seems as large. Another example is buying a new washing machine/dryer. Our dryer broke about a year ago. We had the money set aside and knew how much we wanted to spend. We shopped carefully, we chose wisely, and bought the dryer. However, we then figured out we needed new connectors for this particular dryer, and it was also very tempting to want to buy the matching washer as well. And then we didn’t know what to do with our old dryer. We also didn’t have access to a truck and needed to get them home, so we ended up paying a delivery/removal charge. And after all of the extra little charges, we ended up paying way more than we had originally thought.

A friend of mine in the process of purchasing a new washer and dryer, just added a new refrigerator to the tab because they were already spending a lot, why not spend a little more? I am telling you, the time following a major purchase is such a dangerous time in your financial life. Freefall spending happens far too often. Only, because you have just spent a lot of money, many times the fall is even harder.

I do not have a great solution for this dilemma, but I think one very important key is to recognize the danger. Whenever you are making a major purchase, be very aware of the temptation to freefall spend on the other side of that purchase. It is fun to have something big and new, but it is not fun to go into debt because of it. Some friends of mine did this when they purchased a new television for their house. They had just come out of debt and made the decision to put the TV on a 0% financing plan thinking they would pay it off quickly. Somehow after they bought the television it just unleashed this flood of spending which landed them right back in debt. This just happens so often that I think large purchases should come with a warning label – “Caution, purchase of this item may lead to a freefall in your spending habits.” Of course, no store would put a label on like that because they love it when you freefall.

So here is your warning label… Buyer be warned!! Enjoy your wonderful new “whatever”, but make sure to budget for the accessories as well. And at the end of the day, remember this warning label, put your checkbook away, and avoid the spending sinkhole. It is extremely difficult to do, but trust me… your budget will thank you for it :)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Spending Freefall

I mentioned a few weeks ago that my son Noah had started school. It has been such a good experience for Noah so far, but I have to admit, I have been a little in awe of the cost of sending your child to school. Between fundraisers, clothing, new shoes (since summer crocs and sandals aren’t an option), school supplies, backpack, a pillow for nap time (I did not know he needed one), lunch supplies for packing his lunches, it has just felt like the random surprise costs never end.

In a practical way, I have felt it the most on my grocery budget because I feel this “Mommy” concern that he won’t get enough to eat. I think that the feeling is universal because I remember always having left over food when my Mom packed my school lunch. I think it is just a Mom’s way of doing everything she can to make sure her precious child is taken care of. It is heart wrenching to think of Noah going hungry because I didn’t pack enough lunch. However, although my head knows it’s uneccessary, my heart keeps buying special treats for his lunchbox and making sure he has enough. I am innocent in my motives, but my actions are killing my grocery budget.

So here I am at the beginning of the month trying to reconcile my budget and my checking account and it is another reality to check as to how much I have actually spent. It is spending that mostly could not be helped, but it could very easily freefall from here. And in figuring out a plan to pay for it all, I am once again so thankful for our commitment to never carry credit card debt. It forces me to be accountable for what I spend. The slide in to debt is just too slippery otherwise.

It is on this slippery slide of debt that so many people lose their battle with spending. I was recently talking to a friend who has a significant amount of debt. I have been helping her to establish a plan for her debt, but as we were sitting talking about it she said, “I look at all of this debt, and honestly it just makes me feel like, ‘Oh well, what is another $20. I’ll just charge this shirt to the credit card.’ I find myself charging coffee or even groceries, or eating out because the mountain of debt is so huge, it just doesn’t feel like a big deal to add a little more.”

I think many of us can relate to this idea of “Oh well, I’ve already blown it. Why not spend some more?” However, this is truly a vicious trap when it comes to your finances. Every cent that you add to your debt sabotages you from ever coming out of that debt. It is not until you stop the spending freefall that you can begin to honestly assess the damage. If you are still recklessly spending, you will never conquer your debt.

For Matt and I, we don’t any have debt, but the temptation to get into that “Oh well” mentality is still there. When we have had a lot of unexpected expenses in a row, it is very tempting to just feel like, “well, we are already having to figure out how to pay for all of this other stuff so let’s go out to eat (for example).” Somehow, an unplanned expense on our credit card just invites more unplanned expenses. It is only through the practice of always having a plan for how to pay for things that we have escaped this slippery slide.

The best way to stop freefall spending is to sit down with your financial records (whether a check ledger, credit card ledger, or accounting software on your computer) and figure out how to pay for your unexpected expenses and attempt to bring yourself to a level place again. When I say level place, I mean a financial place where there are no expenses that you do not know how to pay for or where the money is coming from. Sometimes there is no other option than for the unexpected expenses to come from savings. For instance, like when you need an emergency repairman, or your grandmother dies and you have to travel to the funeral.

And other times, it is important to pay for your expense from another part of the budget.
For instance, I recently found a fantastic deal on a camera. My friend called me and I had to make a quick decision on whether or not I wanted it, and I did. However, on the other side of this unexpected expense I needed to figure out how to pay for it. So, because I bought it for it to be a gift, I took part of the cost from gift giving money, and the other part I took from my grocery budget for the following week because I am going to get a refund for the camera by the end of the week. Lots of details, but basically by immediately coming up with a plan for how to pay for it there was no opportunity for this expense to start a spending freefall.

It is amazing but miscellaneous expenses can quickly add up to hundreds and then thousands of dollars and it can all be made up of little charges like $5 at Starbucks for coffee, and $10 for lunch, and $15 for that present you needed, and $35 to eat out, and $25 in groceries and pretty soon you have an extra $100 that you need to come up with out of your budget.

Another way to stop the spending freefall is to never buy anything that would start with “Oh well, “ in your justification for buying it. Every purchase matters because unless you are getting it for free, you have to figure out how to actually pay for it.

So, if you have been on a spending freefall because either you don’t want to face the reality of your debt, or because unexpected expenses have sabotaged your budget, it is time to find your feet again. If you need to start at the beginning, then do it. Organize your bills and paperwork. Figure out what your current debt is and then make a plan for getting out of debt and for staying out. Every purchase where you continue to freefall takes you further and further away from what God has for you and your finances. However, it is never to late to repent (which simply means to turn from what you are doing), and to take God’s hand, and then ask Him for a plan for the unexpected.

Nothing surprises God, and He always has more than enough for whatever need you have. Don’t grow despondent just because you didn’t know the expense was coming. Your heavenly Father did, and just like a Mommy’s heart worries that her child will have enough lunch, God is always looking out for you and wanting you to be taken care of. So quit looking to your own strength and look instead to God’s amazing resources and what He has already given you. The incredible truth is that when you are focused on your heavenly Father, it is really difficult to freefall in ANY area of your life.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Labor Day

Good Monday morning! Here in America today is Labor day and everyone gets the day off, and I am going to take the day off from blogging as well. But it is September the 1st, payday for many of you, and it is a wonderful day to start a fresh. Get out your budget. Figure out how to pay for last month. Get your plan in place for this coming week and month, and then ask the Lord for grace to walk in His wisdom and plan every day. I love new beginnings and today is a wonderful day to have one in your finances.

I’ll see you tomorrow with the next installment of “Why do we spend.”

Have a wonderful day.