The Year Of “The No” For Our Family

BLOG chalkboard--Year of No

While on an “extra” vacation a month or so ago, Jonathan and I decided that we needed to create some serious new money habits in 2015 (similar to the “serious” new habits we said we would do last year, except that we would actually do them).  Habits might be too permanent of a word–we will see how this year goes.  This new mindset needed a name, something to make it feel big and real.  “The Year Of The No” was born and given a title, and will possibly be put up for adoption in a couple of months depending on our fortitude.

In general, we do try to live financially wisely.  We carefully consider our spending, and every dollar that leaves our wallets matters.  I work very hard as a mom to compare grocery store prices, shop the clothing sales, and even try to be conscious about accelerating slowly in my SUV to save on gas.   I have been coloring my own hair for years and since he will never realize what he is missing with the ears and the tail and the bows, I groom my own dog.  If there is something I can do myself, why pay? (This mentality causes me to have to steer visitors eyes away from the paint on the ceiling and explain my orangey looking locks on occasion).

However, as our kids get older the expenses seem to climb higher.  And, while I am great at saving in many areas, I will throw the budget out the window for a great date night dinner out or an opportunity to travel.  And, while we are thankful to have enough money for our monthly budget, there are often unforeseen costs that sneak into our life (an several hundred dollar ACT prep course for our junior, two cars breaking down in a matter of a week, a medical insurance deductible that needs to be met, oh and quite a few vet bills lately), making our expenses outweigh our paycheck more often than we like.  Anyone relate?

We have realized we just don’t have a comfortable “margin” in our finances.  And the only way to increase those borders is to create some tough but good new spending patterns.

Jonathan and I went through our budget with a fine tooth comb–if you want a great sheet for budgeting, click here (and scroll down to budget worksheet).

This is the list that we created for our family:

BLOG chalkboard--Year of No

1.  NO EXTRA VACATIONS  Our family has one traditional vacation that is the memory making, family strengthening, familiar like a pair of worn but extremely comfortable shoes vacation to our family cabin in northern Minnesota each summer.  We save for this trip all year so this is remaining on the table.  All the other traveling we do during the year, however, is going to come under careful scrutiny.  One trip that is very difficult for us to give up is an annual trip that Jonathan and I take to Mexico together.  It is incredible for our marriage and our own memories.  That is not going to happen this year, and instead we are going to be intentional about date nights and finding quality time together.

We had also planned a family trip somewhere warm this winter which we have told the kids would not happen.  Instead we are putting $200/month in savings for a big trip next year when our oldest is a senior.

Because our family can fly for free, it makes it so easy for us to say “YES!!” to travel opportunities.  So we will carefully evaluate the importance of our vacations–spending time with extended family? Important. A last-minute get away with another couple?  Probably not this year.

This category is a tough one for me personally, since I value traveling and spending time together so highly.  I am trusting God for other opportunities for our family that accomplish the same goal without the expense.

2. NEEDS NOT WANTS 

For every purchase, from socks to a new ski jacket for our kids, we are asking,

“Is this an absolute need this year?”

“Can we wait a year to buy it?”  (socks might be a challenge, but what if took the time to hunt down all the missing socks in drawer corners, under beds, etc?)

I remind myself, we already have more than enough.

3. CASH BUDGET

I have attempted this a few times over the past 20 years, but I fizzle out after a few months in–the envelopes, getting to the bank for cash, keeping track of which categories I had to “borrow” from–it’s all a pain.  But, we know that when our credit cards are tucked away in a drawer there is a much smaller chance of going over budget.

4. CREATIVELY EAT

This category represents all food–in the pantry and going out.  I am working hard at using all the food we have in the house to make creative meals.  All I have to say is this will be interesting.

Our out to eat budget is fairly small, so we will need to hit the happy hour specials!

5. ZERO DEBT GOAL

This is important, not only as a good steward of the money God has provided us, but to be content living within our means.  Often unexpected things come up, however, and that circles back to why we are creating more margin in the first place.

6. RECYCLED CLOTHING

I’m not talking about hand-me-downs (although those are great), but shopping only at consignment stores for the year.  There are some great finds to be found! I have already begun to prepare my kids for this as spring/summer approaches.  We will try diligently to find what we need at these stores first, and as a last resort try retail.  I want us all to learn to simplify, reduce and reuse through this concept.

7. PLEASE THE BANK ACCOUNT FIRST

Of all the money habits shared, this may be the toughest for me.  Along with eating out and vacations, my biggest budget buster is wanting to please others!  I don’t ever want to spoil anyone’s hope for fun that includes us by saying no.

I also want to please my children, which is why shopping with my two girls does me in.  Not that I cave to everything they want, but I tend to feel the need to check into a mental institution after a big Kohl’s trip.  My psyche goes through an incredible tug-0f-war of wanting to say yes to the 5 pairs of jeans, 6 shirts, 3 sweaters and some new underwear, yet having to say no to half of everything (feel like a mean mom), then being convinced of yes to 3 more, oh and we forgot shoes, and then repeat about eight times, mix in strong attorney-like negotiation from my twelve year old, a worn and increasingly crabby mom, and a sudden desire to drive to New Mexico by myself.   I am not exaggerating.

This is all due to the fact that I am a pleaser.  So, I am going to continue to please…just the bank account instead of everyone else in my life.  I can rest in the fact that our bank account totally loves me.

8. LIBRARY MENTALITY

This final new habit is new for me.  I like new things–that new card table at Costco that would be so handy, new kitchen utensils that I only use once year, even new tools for our yard.  Why?  Because I don’t like borrowing.  This is related to my people-pleasing.  I don’t want to bother anyone, and it’s inconvenient to borrow and return.

Yet, if I had more of a library mentality, that we can all share and re-use items that we have, it would be so much better for our pocketbook and the environment.  I never mind if someone wants to borrow something from me, and instead of caving to my child wanting new ski jacket this year, what if I asked around if a friend had one waiting to go to Good Will?

 

So, there is the list.  Hopefully if you run into me at Target buying new socks you won’t secretly judge me for not crawling under my 14 year-old’s bed that morning to find more socks (ewww), but know I am sincerely trying to incorporate these habits as much as possible into our family’s life.  Here goes!

Have a great week and if this was helpful please share on Facebook or through email! Thank you.

~Amy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lunch With A Homeless Man

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We sat in the parking lot of a gas station on the phone with National Car Rental.  My husband and I were hoping to return our rental car to San Francisco airport instead of Los Angeles where we had picked it up at the start of our 3 day get-away to Yosemite National Park.  Jonathan, spoke with the customer representative and had a disappointed look on his face.  “It’s going to cost us more money than we want to spend to drop it off in San Fran.”  We had left a few hours earlier in hopes that this plan would work out, but since we did not have reception to make phone calls the whole time were on vacation, we had waited until we were down out of the mountains to make the call–and ultimately much closer to San Fran than Los Angeles.

“We should probably drive to LA.”  “Yes,” I replied, agreeing.  We would get home much later than expected, but it was worth saving hundreds of dollars.

We drove for another hour or so and planned out a stop at our favorite California fast food place, In and Out Burger.   There were two in the town of Fresno, and we decided to push to the south end of town before stopping.

We pulled in, grabbed our phones and IPad to work on new flight reservations going out of LA (we fly standby so this is normal faire for us).  As we approached the entrance, a man in his 40’s (maybe 50’s? We couldn’t tell), shyly approached us.  He was clearly homeless and haltingly asked us for help.   Holding out two one dollar bills, he offered this, all he had, and a veterans flashlight if we would be able to buy him the basic meal at In and Out. He struggled to ask this, seemingly embarrassed. Before he could finish his request we immediately said, “Yes, of course, come on in with us.”

In the bustling restaurant, we stood in line. My husband ordered the man a meal, along with ours, and we asked if he would want to sit with us while we ate.  Jon held out his hand, “I’m Jonathan.”  “I’m David,” David replied.  “And I’m Amy.” We shook hands, and I could feel his rough, weary worn skin.  He stood back from us,  uncomfortable. “This is so embarrassing for me,” he quietly said, not making eye contact.  “I will visit with you until the food is ready, but if it’s ok, I will go outside and eat by myself to spare you the sight of me wolfing down my meal.” (Ugh, that’s quite the statement–how hungry he must have been!) I noticed then how skinny he was.  He wore a tan army-looking jacket and old pants, and his fingertips were dark with dirt.  We filled our drinks and sat down.

David told us that he was a war veteran, had been in the army for 16 years and 6 tours of duty.  He had been medically discharged and had fallen on hard times.  Somehow, he had slipped through the cracks, and now injured and homeless he was in a difficult situation.  I asked what he did all day.  He said he was trying to meet with an attorney to help him get some more help from the military, but it was so difficult to get to his appointments because he didn’t have a car.  He had been at the In and Out location hoping to use some of his skills to help a lady start her car, maybe make a few dollars.  But she never showed up.  “It’s ok, though, because I got to meet the two of you,” David said with a smile.  He was well spoken, and then proceeded to share,” I don’t know what faith background you come from, but I am a believer in Jesus and I don’t have much at all, but I am so thankful for what he has given me.   I have my health and I am alive, and I know I will get through this.  I carry in my pocket the verse:

“I can do all things who strengthen me” and I believe in my heart it is true and I will be ok”.

It was difficult for me to believe that this man, who seemingly had nothing–no home, no car, no food, no friends, would have such a faith and a hope.

Yet, here he was in the flesh, at a table in In and Out Burger, sharing his story with us.

Our food arrived, and Jonathan prayed for the food, and for David, that he would find more help in the next few weeks, and that God would watch over him.  I rested my hand on his back as we prayed, sure many eyes in the busy restaurant were on us, yet not caring one bit.

It was a surreal moment for me, one of those that puts absolutely everything in perspective in an instant.  We had so much, and this man had nothing.  All social boundaries would say we shouldn’t be sitting here with him.  While Jonathan and I slept warm and safe the night before in a 4 (maybe 5?) star lodge in the mountains of Yosemite, and woke up to a hot breakfast that we paid for without pause, David slept outside, probably under some old cardboard boxes, on the streets of Fresno.  Who knows when he had eaten last, and what.  We had IPads and IPhones out, planning our trip to Los Angeles to board a plane home to our family, David–well, he wasn’t sure what the next hour would bring, survival was the only goal.  Yet here we were, three humans brought together with elbows rested on an In And Out Burger table.

David took his Double Double, fries and a drink and nodded his head speaking thank you (always SO much gratitude with the homeless–a whole other blog post), and walked outside to eat alone.  This man had no expectation, was truly ashamed to be desperate enough for help, had served our country for sixteen years (acquiring a bullet to the stomach and hand during his service), and was a good communicator.  It didn’t seem fair or right.

Jonathan and I sat there, deep in thought for a few minutes while we chewed.  What else can we do for him?  Surely a meal is not enough.  While my dear navigator and travel plan organizer husband worked out our rental car details and flight status, I ate, processing our time with this dear man.  I went back to the counter to order shakes for David and myself, and then as he walked back in to refill his soda offered one to him.  “Oh, no thank you,” he said, “you already have done so much.” “Well, I got this just for you if you want it,” I replied. “In that case, I would be grateful,” David replied as he reached out his hand for the cup.

He left then again, and I watched him out the window as he crossed the parking lot.  I didn’t want to lose sight of him–we wanted to give him more, but it was all in our car, so I wanted to find him again as soon as we were finished with our travel logistic planning.

Finally, we headed to the parking lot.  David was no where in sight, but I knew where I had seen him heading.  We dove around for about five minutes hoping to see him.  We didn’t know what we were going to offer him, we only knew that we wanted to see him again, see what he needed–a ride somewhere? More food for later?  Some cash for a hotel for the night?  Sadly, we couldn’t find him–we even drove by some places where we thought he might be resting– under some bushes,  corners of some buildings, but nothing.  We headed out towards the Interstate.

Then we came back.  Jonathan and I could spare a few more minutes to try and find David.  We drove in wider circles but it was like he had just disappeared into thin air.

Disappointed and quiet, we left Fresno.  Our encounter with this man, and how we could possibly find him again once we got home were the topics of our conversation–off and on for the next three hours in the car.

I still think about this unexpected meeting.  All the pieces that fit for us to walk into this restaurant at the right time–changing airports, choosing to stop at the second, not first In And Out, and a myriad of other unseen circumstances.  I am so thankful that the timing was right. I hope David is doing better, or at least the same, not worse.  I hope that he has met some other people who could possibly give him a ride to a meeting or a doctor’s appointment.  Maybe the attorney he mentioned is helping him.

He left his mark on me.  And all the daily annoyances and stresses of my life seem much less important than they did before.  A dollar bill seems to have more value now.  I am more grateful, and incredibly humbled.  My faith, well, it is solid as long as I am comfortable, fed, and have loving people all around me–it hasn’t been tested anywhere close to David’s.  If he can have it in his circumstances, then I can certainly have it in mine.

I pray that God will watch over David, and if you think of it, please pray for him too.

 

 

Almost There! A New Beginning…

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Happy New Year’s Eve!  We are on the cusp of something great–a new beginning.  A new year, a fresh start, a time to take one glance back and then turn our heads forward, peering into the blank canvas of a new year.

This past year may have been harder than others, with unexpected disappointments that still sting.  Or maybe for you it was the climbing out of the valley, a mountain-top year full of ease and peace.

Either way, hopefully we have grown a little, learned from our mistakes and difficulties, found wells of gratitude to dip from, found rest in the joyful, and can now walk through 2015 with whatever it brings, stronger, wiser, and more confident in God’s purpose for our days.

When we walk through life with God, open to his calling of our time and our talents, we can live to our fullest, our happiest.  We can weather the trials because we know God has much to teach us through them.  They are a pruning for a flourishing that would never exist without the cutting back.

Where will we flourish this year?

How will we use our time and talents for God?

Lisa Terkeurst expresses beautifully a framework to enter this year:

“In God’s plan you have a part to play. If you know it and believe it, you’ll live it.  You’ll live your life making decisions with the Best Yes as your best filter.  You’ll be a grand display of God’s Word lived out.  Your undistracted love will make your faith ring true.  Your wisdom will help you make decisions that will still be good tomorrow.  And you’ll be alive and present for all of it.” (The Best Yes, p. 6)

To be present in our life–what a great gift for ourselves and those around us–letting go of the past, not fearing the future.  Just living for today, in the moment with all God has for us!  Today we say goodbye to 2014, and hello to a new year~let us rejoice and be glad in it.

 

 

 

3 Ways to Be Intentional About Christmas With Your Family This Year

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I truly desire to be intentional about teaching our children the true meaning of Christmas, and revisiting it every year in familiar and new ways.  As a believer in Jesus Christ, this time of year is incredibly significant to my faith, and the faith of our family.  The history, the amazing gift of God in his Son delivered to us in the tiniest of human form cannot be missed.   Yet, each year the task of bringing this holy remembrance into our home becomes more difficult.  The messages of materialism speak so loudly and come from every angle, while the busy-ness of the season distracts the five of us from being still and truly contemplating the gift of the baby in the manger.  I can always look forward to a still, holy moment on Christmas Eve at our church’s service, but even that gets challenged while I sit in my seat, recovering from the blurred day of finding tights without holes, realizing dress shoes from last year don’t fit our growing kids, last minute gifts, and goals of a delicious steaming dinner ready for our family when we get home.

With the cookies, parties, shopping, decorating, thoughtful gifts, and all the other “expectations” of Christmas, we can often run out of time for what’s most important–remembering and celebrating the incredible gift and significance of the birth of Jesus.  In an attempt to fight back at this blurred month that gets us off track of the true meaning of Christmas, I have found a few ways to be intentional with our family the last several years:

1. Start the season in the right frame of mind.

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Each year we take the first weekend in December (this weekend!) to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas.  For many years our family would go to the mountains with other families and stay in a remote cabin, unplugged from the world.  We would read the story of Christmas in the bible and an adult would give a short talk to the children about the story of Christmas.  We would cook together, and do crafts when our children were young.  The adults would share a glass of wine together over meals,  we would all play games, go for a hike, or just sit and talk.   We all took a deep breath and walked into the busiest, most commercial time of year on the right foot.

If a weekend away is not a reality, a day or an evening together to talk about Christ-mas together can be plenty. Unplug from everything, share thoughts and teach your children about giving over receiving, and about Jesus’s incredible gift to us.

2. Weave in Christian tradition throughout the season.

My mother in law made us a “Jessie Tree” JESSE TREE LINK.  Each December we would spend time walking through the biblical stories and generations leading up to the birth of Christ.

Side note:  Don’t picture this time with three wide-eyed fully engaged kids smiling dreamily as their mom teaches them about Abraham! I actually had to create quizzes one year (my poor kids with their teacher-mom) to encourage engagement!

We also read The Advent Book together.  Written by Jack and Kathy Stockman, this is the Story of Christmas, as told in the bible, with captivating illustrations and fun doors to open throughout the pages, and little Christmas animals to find. This is a favorite tradition for our family–even with our teenagers.

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3. Serve.

Serving over the holidays is one of the best ways to keep ourselves and our children grounded.  One year we delivered Christmas gifts to a needy local family, another year we worked at the Operation Christmas Child distribution center.  Every year we buy gifts for the Operation Christmas Child shoebox collection.  Here are the women from our bible study and their families having a pizza and shoebox wrapping party at our house a few weeks ago:

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Another idea would be to go on the World Vision website with your children and pick out some Christmas gifts to send to an impoverished family–like a cow for a village, or some chickens for a mother.

These are some of the ways to bring the true spirit of Christmas into your home.  I am sure you could fill up pages of replies with the meaningful, special activities you do with your family–I would love it if you would share below!

The reality for me is that as our kids grow older it is becoming more difficult to herd the cats for quality time and activities.  With jobs, cars, sports, homework, and busy social lives, we don’t have the nightly routines with all of us home like we used to. I am having to let go. I am trusting that the seeds we planted over the many years when they were younger will grow into a spirit of continued wonder and joy in the gift Jesus gave us through his birth.  So don’t be discouraged if your children, whatever their age, aren’t as excited about about this effort as you are!  Know that any and all attempts for balance and focus this season are worth it and will make a difference in their hearts.

I wish you a December filled with the things that you love about Christmas, and with a true focus on the reason for the season!

 

Faith is Not Just For Heroes

When we think of great biblical heroes such as Moses (leading a nation out of slavery) or Daniel (prayer warrior, lion’s den survivor!), or even Mary at the moment understanding that she was carrying the Savior of the world, we think, “if I just had their faith!” As if they had been given a superhero pill or wand that gave them great feats of wisdom and internal strength.These people were not super or heroes. They were normal as they come…., snoring, insecurities, worries about their future. Yet they chose to place their trust in something bigger than themselves.Yet, how often do we put these types of extra-faithful people then and now on a pedestal? As if by being faithful they had a red carpet rolled out in front of them to make the path trip-free and full of glory.  But that is not their story. It was precisely their faithfulness that got them into trouble. It is their faithfulness that caused suffering, total loss of control over their lives, nail biting, sweat producing anxiety in moments of fear and unknown.

These heroes, then and now, they make it look so easy. We forget that the floor routine that scored a perfect 10 took years in the making, with a lot of failure and bowing out of the back tuck at the last second.

Why pursue faith?  Because it is where we meet God face to face, and his best is revealed in our lives. When we take the step of faith, trusting that God’s will is better than our own, putting aside our own agendas and emotional pulls toward what we think is good, we find great great joy.  We experience the best in the situation (best relationship, best growth opportunity, best work situation, best healing, best new path). 
Maybe God is asking you to remember a time you were faithful and He came through in all his glory and “best-ness”?We all can do this, this journey of faithfulness. It just takes putting one foot in front of the other, each day, each moment sometimes. And as we step, praying, “God, keep me strong even when I can’t see the future, guide me, let me hear your voice. I know you are there, help me focus on you and not the distractions and worries of the world. Remind me that you love me and have my best interest in mind. I trust you.”Being faithful isn’t easy. It wasn’t then, and it isn’t now. It takes practice, and the joy of seeing God show up, which gives us confidence to have faith again, and again, and again.

Photo: When we think of great biblical heros such as Moses (leading a nation out of slavery) or Daniel (prayer warrior, lion's den survivor!), or even Mary at the moment understanding that she was carrying the Savior of the world, we think, "if I just had their faith!"  As if they had been given a superhero pill or wand that gave them great feats of wisdom and internal strength.</p><br />
<p>The were not super or heros. They were normal as they come...., snoring, insecurities, worries about their future.  Yet they chose to place their trust in something bigger than themselves. </p><br />
<p>We put these types of extra-faithful people then and now on a pedestal.  As if by being faithful they had a red carpet rolled out in front of them to make the path trip free and full of glory.  Yet that is not their story. It was their faithfulness that got them into trouble.  It is their faithfulness that caused suffering, total loss of control over their lives, nail biting, sweat producing anxiety in moments of fear and unknown. </p><br />
<p>These heros, then and now, they make it look so easy.  We forget that the floor routine that scored a perfect 10 took years in the making, with a lot of failure and bowing out of the back tuck at the last second. </p><br />
<p>We all can do this, this journey of faithfulness.  It just takes putting one foot in front of the other, each day, each moment sometimes.  And as we step, praying, "God, keep me strong even when I can't see the future, guide me, let me hear your voice.  I know you are there, help me focus on you and not the distractions and worries of the world. Remind me that you love me and have my best interest in mind.  I trust you." </p><br />
<p>Being faithful isn't easy.  It wasn't then, and it isn't now.  It takes practice, and the joy of seeing God show up, which gives us conficence to have faith again, and again, and again.

 

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