Monday, April 6, 2015

F is for Frugality

Here are three exercises that will help you see frugality and miracles in a new light.

I helped my friend, Celine, move. After thirty years of being an at home mom, she was suddenly single and alone. Her settlement in the divorce had been generous, but she’d invested poorly. Sadly, her money, her husband and even her children had left. Her only choice seemed to be to trade her spacious home for a room in her grown son’s house. As I helped fill the boxes that represented Celine’s life, I felt only a smidgeon of Celine’s frustration. She had all this stuff and yet, it seemed, she had nothing. No job training or marketable skills, no visible means of self support.

It reminded me of the account in the Gospel of Mark of Jesus feeding the five thousand. 

34 And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things.

35 And when the day was now far spent, his disciples came unto him, and said, This is a desert place, and now the time is far passed:

36 Send them away, that they may go into the country round about, and into the villages, and buy themselves bread: for they have nothing to eat.

37 He answered and said unto them, Give ye them to eat. And they say unto him, Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth of bread, and give them to eat?

38 He saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? go and see. And when they knew, they say, Five, and two fishes.

39 And he commanded them to make all sit down by companies upon the green grass.

41 And when he had taken the five loaves and the two fishes, he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and brake the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before them; and the two fishes divided he among them all.

42 And they did all eat, and were filled.

Jesus told his disciples to go and see and I think the advice is as brilliant today as it was back then. GO AND SEE. 

Celine and I sat down, offered a prayer and made a list of all her assets and resources. We included all her family and friends. As she saw all that she’d been given, all the tremendous love and support available, her world seemed a little less bleak As she considered what to keep and what to let go, letting go of what she no longer needed was just a tad easier.

Still hard, but easier. 

Loss is always difficlut, but it’s easier to swallow when weighed against all that we have and all that we have to offer.

Go and See--Exercise Number One.
Make a list of all your resources. Divide them into three categories.
1. Your own talents, skills and personality traits.
2. Your assets and available finances.
3. Family, friends and organizations that can help.

Think big, be creative, and write down every little thing that comes to mind. That’s the stuff that makes miracles.

Dion has busy mornings. She has a husband and a host of children that need to shepherded out the door at an early hour. Homework in backpacks, books in bags, lunches in hand, goodbyes and kisses given. Sometimes tears are shed, shoes are lost and gym clothes aren’t washed. After the frantic morning rush and the last of the children are deposited at their schools, Dion needs her breakfast of a doughnut and a latte. She deserves the reward. Her stop at the coffee shop is as much of her morning routine as brushing her teeth.

But, what if Dion’s doctor told her that her crippling headaches could be solved as easily as giving up caffeine? Assuming that Dion spent $2 on her morning coffee shop ritual and that she could replace her latte and doughnut with a .10 cent bowl of oatmeal and a .25 cent piece of fruit, she’d save not only $$$ but also thousands of calories a year. (Remember, I’m a math toadie—do your own math.)

Dion might insist her coffee and doughnut are worth the cost and calories—until she adds on the 4% the money could have been earning had it been wisely invested, and times it by a lifetime and then tack on the expense of her medical and dental bills. And who can put a number on the cost of head-achy days?

I’m all about rewards, but I think it’s important to look and see what is blessing your life and what is not. (Please do not think that because I’m spooning out this advice that I righteously follow it and religiously eat oatmeal. I’m aware that there’s often a large dark, rocky chasm between what we know to be prudent and what we actually do. All I’m trying to do is offer a ladder out of what can be a scary place.)

Exercise two: For one week, without altering your spending habits whatsoever, save every receipt for every purchase made. Do not be judgmental or unkind to yourself. At the end of the week, sit down and add the tally. Learn to distinguish the difference between wants and needs. Recognize those things that you want today that you might be able to sacrifice for something that you want even more tomorrow.

“Complications can be serendipitous.”

“Is that a word?” Mercy took Trent’s proffered arm and slid a glance at his face as she fell into step beside him.

“Absolutely, it was first coined in 1754. It's defined as "the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for." Horace Walpole, parliament member and writer, used it in a letter that he wrote to an English friend who was spending time in Italy. Walpole came up with the word after a fairy tale he once read, called The Three Princes of Serendip. As their Highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and good fortune, things for which they weren’t searching.”

“What does that have to do with anything?” She blinked at him and looked as if she expected him to grow wings and fly away.

“The three princes hail from Serendip, the Persian word for the island nation off the southern tip of India.”

“That’s serendipity, not serendipitous.”

He shrugged and smiled. “If serendipitous is not a word then it should be.”

From my novel Stealing Mercy.

Good things happen and bad things happen. We try to mitigate the bad things by having an emergency fund in the budget. The good things aren’t in the budget. They are, as my hero Trent Michaels said, serendipitous. And they do happen, but if they happened frequently or as a matter of course, we’d stop finding them serendipitous and a smidge of the joy of the unexpected in life would be less bright, less miraculous. It’s so much better to make a plan, work the plan, take satisfaction in the accomplishment and then wonder in grateful awe when the serendipitous happens--or mourn when the catastrophe comes and wipes out our plan and we have to start over, make a new plan, work a new plan. Either way, serendipity or catastrophe, plans and work are necessary ingredients.

The amazing thing about budgets, or plans, is the same exact principle works for time management (calendars) or healthy lifestyle changes (diets). The best thing about budgets, calendars and diets is that they alleviate guilt. Really. Because when you do what needs to be done, you can spend, eat or do whatever you’d like and enjoy it—without guilt, without pressure, without fear—because you know where you’re going, you have a plan and you’ve already done what needed to be done to work your plan. 

And without a plan, without the work, we see the catastrophes, but it’s easy to completely overlook the serendipities—and they happen all the time. 

Here’s a sample monthly budget for a young family of four living in Las Vegas. I know that this budget won’t be applicable to everyone, everywhere, but it’s a very real budget of a very real family, which I tweaked by increasing the clothes budget—because I really like clothes. You might want to tweak it by budgeting in your music habit, or your yoga expenses, or whatever makes your life interesting and worth living. You can find a myriad of sample budgets on the internet. 

In the upcoming weeks, I’ll be posting on each of the following expenses. 

Income 4,000

charity 400
savings 300
debt 200
taxes 330
mortgage 900
food 400
transportation 300
clothes 100
vacation 100
allowance 200
date nights 100
insurances 315
utilities 320

Total Costs 3,965

Income-Expenses +35

Using last exercise (you know the one where you kept track of all your weekly expenses—you did do that, didn’t you?) Make a budget. Be generous and realistic. And watch for life to work it's miracles.

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