Hope for the Financially Frustrated: A Review of More Than Just Making It

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Photo Credit: MrJamesBaker Flickr via Compfight cc

 

From the time we were first married, my husband and I always had a budget. In fact,we had to make a list of all our bills to prove we could pay them each month before my parents would agree to let us get married. We were very young and I had never really known a life of financial struggle. For the majority of our marriage we were just making it. Most of the time, it didn’t worry me much. We had each other and if something terrible happened (which fortunately rarely did) we had family nearby. Certainly we were a bit naive but we also had faith that if we honored God with our lives and our money that he would be faithful, and we always had what we needed, if not a bit extra. I remember what it’s like not to have any financial margin, and many ways, I’m still there.

 

 

Tomorrow morning, More Than Just Making It by Erin Odom will be officially released by Zondervan publishers. I had the opportunity to preview the book and share my thoughts. I wasn’t positive what I was expecting from this book. I was expecting some budget tips, though I know that wasn’t the primary purpose. But the best feature of this book is Erin’s incredibly encouraging story. Yes, she has found success after years of struggle but this is not a how-to book. It’s not a step by step guide on how to get out of debt and build a financially healthy life. But it is filled with encouragement on how to slowly crawl out of a financial hole, no matter how you got there.

 

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I really appreciated the chapter on creating more income, though not for the reasons I expected. Some of her suggestions were good ones. But I was especially drawn to her wisdom not to select a side business that doesn’t mesh well with your personality. There are many times I’ve been tempted to take on a side gig that I knew wouldn’t work well for my personality of lifestyle but I felt desperate. There are times to be desperate. But truly, we weren’t there. Our kids were eating. We were surviving. We just had mountains of student loan debt that seemed insurmountable. We couldn’t seem to build our savings without it being drained every other month by the next crisis.

 

However, Erin did inspire me to take a hard look at the financial state of our household. I redid my budget and managed to scrape a couple dollars from each category to make sure we have SOMETHING going into savings each month instead of spending virtually every dollar as it comes in, toward the goal of rebuilding our savings account after a lot of moving expenses at the beginning of the year. We even tried a No Spend Month. While that didn’t net us the large amount of excess I was hoping, it did help to fill a few holes in my budget and helped answer some questions about how much we really can do without.

 

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Most significantly, I feel inspired to try and expand my blog further. I’ve always been nervous about doing this. Because sometimes the words just don’t come. It seems easier to stay in the holding pattern of low readership and a trickle of income. I don’t necessarily plan to build a full time income or anything. But I need to start taking some major growth steps, some of which will eat into the tiny income that we are currently making and mostly need.

 

I’m also trying to get back on track with my book. I’ve been working for several (we won’t say how many) years on my Lenten devotional. My Advent devotional, As We Wait, came so easily that I thought a devotional for Lent felt like a natural extension. Except it hasn’t been easy, it’s been like pulling teeth and most days it’s easier to just tap out another blog post or get caught up in the general chaos of my life homeschooling with three small children and helping to run multiple church ministries.

 

 

This book also helped me recultivate gratitude on my heart. Too often I focus on what we are lacking or the size of our financial difficulties than on all of the good things. Earlier this year, we were finally able to move into a home that is better suited to our growing family. Even just three years ago that seemed impossible. I am able to continue to stay at home and homeschool my children, yes it takes great financial sacrifice to do this, but it is nice to have the option at all. I know not all families do.

 

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It has also renewed my commitment to generosity regardless of our circumstances. Many times over the years we have benefited from the generosity of others, whether it be personally or anonymously. Sometimes it was random money, other times it was an item at a time we needed it most. When things rare tight for a season it can be tempted to be less giving because it feels so difficult. But I think maybe those are the kind of times I need to hold much more loosely to what I am and realize that it all comes from God.

 

No matter where you are in your financial journey, you will find encouragement in Erin’s book. If you have a spending problem or an income problem, have survived hard times or are only just now coming into difficulty; there is hope for you. If money is so tight that you can’t even think about purchasing this book, then try going to your local library and requesting that they purchase a copy. If you have the means, consider purchasing a copy for a friend that doesn’t and ask that she pass it on to another friend in need when she is done.

 

There is hope for a better future, not because of any magic formula or special method but through trust in Jesus and a little bit honesty and logic as we assess our financial lives. Someday, we will be more than just making it.

Read the first chapter here!

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I received this book for free in exchange for my review but my opinions are my own. This post may also contain affiliate links. Thanks for your support.

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The No Spend Month: The Results

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Photo Credit: sniggie Flickr via Compfight cc

 

Last month I shared that our family would be embarking on a first time ever no spend month. I was excited to see how much we could save by not spending money on anything unnecessary this month. I decided it would be helpful to keep a record of all the things I didn’t buy that I normally might have.

 

Things I’ve said no to this month

30% off at LLBean (this was so painful they NEVER offer 30% off, though I realized later that it’s good until September, but I’m still going to think about it carefully).

$.99 for a Beatrix Potter audible deal

A new coffee maker (I smashed my carafe the day after declaring no spending month, I’ll buy a new one once I’ve replenished our savings account and set aside money specifically for it).

Impulse Items at Target

A summer sale at Elegantees including a top I’ve been wanting and waiting to go on sale.

30% off a dining bench from Target online that I’ve been wanting for the kitchen to increase our seating.

Prime Day! There were so many things on sale on Prime day. I did in fact manage to live without every single one.

Coldstone Creamery BOGO coupon

Honestly I stopped tracking about halfway through the month. Mostly because I got used to saying no. Now that we are back to relatively normal spending habits, I am trying to keep a lot of what I learned in mind. Now before I make a purchase, I try to ask myself some key questions.

 

Do I Need This?

I truly hate asking this question because the answer is almost always no. Unless we’re talking about basic foods or necessary repairs (like a broken hot water heater or furnace). This forced me to realize how much I DON’T need that I’ve grown used to having. Essentially wants that have disguised themselves as needs.

 

Why Do I Want This?

Sometimes the answer helps me realize that I’m feeding an unhealthy habit or planning too far ahead. (I’ve discovered that planning too far in advance can be a form of control, lack of trust as well as a scarcity mentality that I try to avoid). Something pretty and new for myself may lift my mood for a moment or two but eventually I’ll be sorry. But if an item is going to add long term value to my life and make my life easier or more streamline in a specific way, then it might be worth considering.

For example: our kids have more water bottles than they probably need. However, I have a system where one is in use and one is being washed. That way I’m not quickly scrubbing a dirty cup before running out the door in the morning. I bought myself an extra laundry basket recently. Could I have done without it? Yes. But having an additional laundry basket means my daughter can have her own and not share with her brother (with whom she shares a room). Since we are working on her being responsible for her own laundry, this will help facilitate that process.

 

Is There Something Else I Can Use Instead?

When my 2 year old wanted a smoothie and I realized we no longer had any intact straw sippy cups, I was tempted to just jump on Amazon and order a new one. But instead I decided to try sticking a stainless steel reusable straw like my big kids use, into the open hole in the top of the straw cup. In this case, it actually worked. I still have to watch to make sure he doesn’t throw it, but there is less spilling than with a completely open cup. Sometimes, when we decide we aren’t going to buy something, it forces us to be more creative and resourceful with what we do have.

 

Is There a Less Expensive Option?

When an item must be purchased, I’m teaching myself to ask if there is a less expensive option. Sometimes, paying more for quality is worth it. (I’m also a big proponent of ethically produced goods so, at times, I am willing to pay more to know that the people who make my stuff are being appropriately treated and compensated for their work). Sometimes, the urgency of needing an item means you have to pay whatever it costs now. Other times I can afford to wait for a better price or consider a different option. Maybe I can purchase second hand or even borrow from a friend. Maybe there is a simply a less expensive option available. (A manual can opener vs. an electric one for example).

 

Did I enjoy my no spend month? Not really. It was hard. I didn’t like it. But I did learn a lot about how I purchase things and why. We didn’t save as much money as I was hoping. But we also stayed on budget and took some internal inventory of what we already own, and what can potentially be sold to fund other things we want (like a new kitchen light fixture that actually gives light). I’d like to do it again and some of the ways I determined if a purchase was a need will become a regular part of my decision making.

 

Have you ever tried a no spend month? What did you learn?

 

My No Spend Month was inspired by More Than Just Making It, the new book by Erin Odom scheduled to be released on September 5. I’ll be talking about it more in the future and you’ll see quite a bit about it on social media, but until then, check out the fantastic preorder bonuses on her site.

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The No Spend Month

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Photo Credit: Cat Sidh Flickr via Compfight cc

I’ve been previewing a new book by Erin Odom (check out the preorder deals here), and it has inspired me to take a big step, one I’ve been wanting to take for a while. Last week officially began our family’s first ever No Spend Month. We defined what those terms will mean for us. Predominantly it means unless we have to, we don’t buy stuff. This is forcing us to ask what is really essential and decide if some of our various expenses are worth it.

We aren’t canceling any subscriptions but I am delaying purchasing a few things that aren’t entirely essential right now. If any emergencies come up, obviously we will deal with them. (For example: we had to pay to have a plumber come out and fix a leaky faucet that my husband had already spent two weeks on and off trying to fix. ) But we won’t be doing any outings that cost money and we are trying to keep our grocery shopping to the essentials only and attempting to get creative with what is in our freezer and pantry. (Hopefully I’ll be talking later this month about how the Pantry Challenge is going.) I will still be taking my kids to all of their necessary appointments and no one will be going without food or medical care.

Why Am I Doing This?

Because our financial situation is better than it has been in a long time, however, we are still carrying student loan debt that we’d like to be free of. After years of living very frugally we’ve given ourselves a bit more freedom with our spending. But I want to reevaluate whether our current buying patterns are really how we want to spend our money.

I’m also likening it to a fast. When we fast, it is to teach ourselves that we don’t have to have what we want whenever we want it. A little bit of voluntary self-denial can be healthy. I’m hoping that that satisfaction of paying down debt and building our savings account is more fulfilling.

I’ve been keeping a list of things I’m deliberately saying no to, so at the end of the month I can review it and see if I feel like I missed out on anything, and how much spending I didn’t do.

Last Monday, as I dropped my big kids off at VBS, a couple friends invited me to go to Panera and then Target with our remaining toddlers. I was going to say no. But one friend offered to treat me to a coffee, so I decided to go just to hang out. I’m glad I went, but I’m also glad I was on spending freeze.

I was able to enjoy the social aspect of walking through Target with friends without having to debate over impulse purchases. Since I knew the answer was no, it actually gave me the freedom to admire something and remind myself that my life was just as happy before I knew it existed.

I’m also lucky enough to have friends who support me in my attempts to prayerful reconsider my spending. It is so important when you are trying to make positive changes in your life that you surround yourself with positive supporters. They don’t necessarily have to be sharing in your choices, but good friends should be able to support you and at least not sabotage you!

I’m hoping that at the end of the month I can report back with some positive news, or at least a healthier bank account, even if I don’t always enjoy the process. Self-denial is rarely fun but it is very revealing of where our values are.