Wednesday, January 16, 2008

What's up, you Cheapo?

I'm sure it's evident that my last couple of posts have been about frugality. Perhaps I should explain.

There have been times through the course of my life that a frugal lifestyle was the only option besides absolute destitution. Well, death -- I guess that could have been a third option.

Since destitution and death aren't the best of options, I have learned over time how to save a buck or to legally stretch it into six or seven bucks. Many of those days were in my youth while living with a single mom on a worker's compensation stipend and paying bills with money earned at my after-school job. We saved up to go to the dollar movie, and that's all that needs to be said about that.

When I got married, I thought those days were behind me, but they were not. At first they were, but then we had kids (two in diapers) and I left my job. Things were slightly more snug financially, but still fine -- until 9/11. James was in radio selling advertising when the world went nuts. If you remember, businesses began failing, the economy went a little crazy, and people weren't buying radio spots as they once were. Because of my past, I was able to stretch our budget to such a degree that we continued to (mostly) live in the manner to which we had become accustomed. During that time, a couple of resources (in addition to the Internet) became invaluable to me:

The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn: I have the three book set, but there's a "complete" version that's just as good, and cheaper. Mrs. Dacyczyn is like the terrorist bomber of frugality. There are some extreme ideas in here, but it's chock full of money-saving tips like you cannot even imagine.

Miserly Moms and Frugal Families by Jonni McCoy: McCoy shares her own venture into frugality and some excellent tips. What I liked best about these books is that they're full of resources to other people's work. She'll explain a matter, and then connect you to five or six other resources. Good stuff.

(Both of these resources can be purchased inexpensively online at eBay or Amazon. I think the library also offers Jonni McCoy's books if you wanted to check them out before buying them for yourself.)

As the economy and our finances improved, continuing with a frugal lifestyle became more of a game. Just how many things/groceries/whatever could I get with this set dollar amount? We moved to the Metroplex, and it just intensified, what with the coupon sale at Albertsons and all. (I did The Grocery Game for a time, but when I went shopping to find everything always sold out to other players, I went on my own way once again.)

Over the last year or so, though, I have become incredibly lax. James has been a physician recruiter now for nearly three years, and in that time, our income has grown tremendously. But instead of being responsible and generous with the surplus (as suggested in Luke 12:48), I developed this sense of entitlement. Blowing through money was payback for all the work I had done to make every $50 seem like $150. My frugal ways went to the wayside: I would shop with coupons only from time to time, I would reuse and repurpose things only occasionally, I began to eat out way more than I ever have before. To be totally honest, 2007 was the year of wasted money, and a good bit (maybe like 88%) of that was my fault.

"Bring on the excuses," you say?

Well, there was that whole dead-baby grief thing, and that hardly being able to get out of bed and breathe in and out for a good long while thing. There was the whole "I eat for comfort" thing, and it's much easier to eat for comfort when it's not you cooking it -- thank you, Taco Bell. In addition to that, I was a full-time student with a very full course load. In addition to that, James began travelling a lot, and I decided it was cheaper (i.e., accommodating to my laziness) to split a restaurant meal with the kids. All of that, and I am embarrassed -- nay, ashamed -- to admit how much we spent in 2007 on food costs alone. It's disgusting.

Already we've discussed it and resolved to improve for the New Year. I've been cooking at home as often as I once did, and now that it's becoming habit again, I'm really enjoying it. But things could continue to improve, and should. Here's why:

This morning, after the kids were on the bus bound for school, I got back into bed to watch Beth Moore on Life Today. After her time, an advertisement began about an outreach that James and Betty Robison coordinate through their ministry, Life Outreach International.

It's called Mission: Water for Life, and is a ministry where fresh water wells are placed throughout Africa to provide clean drinking water for up to 1000 people. I don't remember what the specific stats were, but I remember being stunned by the number of babies and children they said died every year from water-borne illnesses. It was heartbreaking to watch a couple of little kids no older than my two drinking water too dirty for my kids to even stomp around in. Additionally, I know how devastating losing my own babies has been over these last many months, but the circumstances were totally beyond my control -- a fact that brings comfort from time to time. I cannot imagine losing Bub or Gracie because all I can give them to drink is more like mud than water.

I watched the advertisement and jumped out of bed to tell James I wanted to contribute. "To what?" he asked, as he did his part and packed leftovers for his lunch. I rattled off all the details and waited for him to get as pumped up as I was. And he did, kindof, but then he made me responsible for making more giving work with the budget for 2008.

Honestly, I was a little irritated that he didn't just throw caution to the wind and commit every last cent of our disposable income to this cause. But he didn't, and that's fine. The thing is, he's ok with me generating the money (through garage sales or something), or finding it (by cutting back elsewhere), or whatever. The more I considered that through the progressing day, I couldn't have agreed with his approach more.

$144 dollars will help provide fresh, clean drinking water for 30 people for a lifetime, which is nearly what I saved by using coupons this week. I should say that I don't buy so many groceries every week, so I won't have that kind of savings every week. And what I save may not have been money that I would have actually spent in a week. (For example, I got six total containers of free peanut butter this week, and though I saved $6 by using coupons, I wouldn't have necessarily spent that this week at all. Particularly not on peanut butter, as we already had a jar or two in the pantry.)

Regardless, My personal 2008 giving goal is this: through coupon savings and general practices of frugality, I would like to generate $100 per month* to contribute to this cause. That's $1200, and 1/4 of a well. That's like 250 people who can kick back in the sweltering African heat with a cool glass of agua -- who can drink up, and you know, not die.

"From everyone who has been given much,
much will be demanded;
and from the one who has been entrusted with much,
much more will be asked."
Luke 12:48

(* That may not sound like a lot, but bear in mind, I'm an at-home mom and full-time student. I don't generate an income. I merely manipulate an income.)


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