Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Confessions of a (former) Shopaholic

When my dear husband and I married, I was the spender. He was the saver. So when he brought out the dreaded budget spreadsheet, I cringed on the inside. I wasn't in tremendous debt (save a hundred bucks on a credit card), but I definitely wasn't saving, or even strategically getting through a month without squeaking by at the end. I also didn't have a healthy relationship with finances, and I needed to. So I grudgingly accepted the budget (after making my husband turn it into a pink excel sheet :) and began to understand how money REALLY works. And the effects it carries with it. Now that we are newly married, thinking about a family in the future, and paying off my student loans, it means buckling down to really hammer out the details of our budget. I've learned a few things in the last six months, and I'm slowly (dare I say it), becoming a...saver. So how did I do it? How'd my husband change me from "Becky Bloomwood", shop-a-holic with a closet full of unworn clothes, to a girl who actually enjoys saving money? You can do it too.

1) Step one: collect all your receipts and save them for a month. This will show you where you are blowing through your money and where you may be spending less than you think. I was spending way too much on coffee, and spending less than I thought on gas.

2) Set realistic goals: The truth is, some things happen, and it's best to allow room. And you have to budget every single category. We have categories for coffee, movies, clothes, and household. The first month we tried this, we set our food budget at a modest 250.00. Needless to say, we absolutely obliterated about 450.00 the first month. So we compromised. Our food budget is about 300-350 monthly now, and if I really use coupons, I can usually knock it under 300. 450 was overly generous, 250 wasn’t realistic. Find a middle ground. A lot of people don’t agree with buying coffee out. They want you to get an espresso machine and save a ton of money by “making it yourself”. Here’s the deal: Husband and I work M-F, leaving around 8 or 9 and coming home at 5 or 6. And when I wake up or come home, I don’t want to make my own coffee. I love Starbucks. It’s not realistic to cut it out of our budget so we make a reasonable amount and stick to it. When it’s gone, it’s gone.

3) When you fail, try again. Some months, we have utterly failed at our food our household budget. We eat out too much, or things crowd our schedule, making it hard to cook and bring lunches to work. It happens. Work with it. Get back on track and work harder.

4) Wait for deals. Use coupons. We wanted to book a flight for an upcoming vacation, but flights were absurd. We held out and today, we got TWO round trip tickets for the price of ONE! I also watch for special sales that I can combine coupons with. If you read the fine print, and it doesn’t say you can’t combine, then you can grab some amazing deals. Here’s some of the deals I’ve used recently:

-KFC: Meal deal was 14.99, I found a 10 dollar off coupon online, printed it off, and got an 8 piece meal for 4.99.

-Victoria’s Secret: I had a gift card for 25.00, used 2 VS rewards cards for 10 each and got sweatpants, two tops, and a tanktop for 5.00.

-Kohls: Kohl’s CASH is awesome. I saved up a bunch and found some 50.00 wedges for half off, which made them 25.00. With 20.00 of cash the cost was 5.00!

-Found a 40 percent Nike coupon online. Used it at Lady Foot Locker and was able to combine it with some clearance Nike wear and snagged a 50 dollar ensemble for 10.00!

-Walgreens and Target: I use manufacturer’s coupons to get some great deals on sale items like men’s razors for husband, pasta, tampons, lightbulbs, and toothpaste. I used an 8.00 off coupon for a men’s razor that was 9.99. It went on sale for 8.00 and it was FREE.

5) Change your standards: Learn that you can live somewhere that maybe isn't your "dream house", because it's financially responsible. We live in a teensy-weensy apartment that is dirt-cheap in costs. We save a TON, money thats being funneled to student loans, savings, and vacation. I love our home. I've made it really cute, cozy, and a place we love to come home to. Is it our "dream house"? No. It's clean, safe, and it's where we are at for now. We are moving to a larger place in November, but for now, its perfect. You may envision your mansion, or it may be a pride issue, but when you get down to it, a "dream house" when you're just starting out means you are racking up debt or spending more than you're saving. Let go of the dream, make your home a happy and healthy place to be, and enjoy the savings and the financial freedom. Also, don't play the martyr. If you are around your friends and family and all you can talk about is how "poor" you are, or how you can't go here or there because of finances, your likeability will plummet as fast as your bank balance. Make a budget, and learn to live happily within your means without depressing everyone around you.

6) Give generously: The best part of having a budget and sticking to it is that you can give generously, without being stressed and without getting yourself in trouble/debt. I’m able to take a short trip next week and pay for gas/gifts for my friend who is getting married. Make giving to other a priority and you will find yourself in better financial shape than ever.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Don't Miss This Moment

I sincerely thought my niece just turned 7.

I have been telling everyone glowing stories about my amazing "seven year old" niece. Turns out...she turned eight in March. How did that even happen? She is learning violin now. And reading. And she got her ears pierced and she is gorgeous just like her mama. I look at her and can't believe she is already so grown-up. She lives about 5 hours away, so I don't get to see her as often as I'd like, but I love spending time with her. Today, we are going on a "date". She wants to go to the mall and use a coupon for Claire's (which is every newly-ear-pierced 8 year old's dream), and I took a half day at work to spend the day with her. I look at her and my precious nephew Benjamin, who is battling a severe form of epilepsy every day, and my 2 year old chubby-cheeked nephew Beckham and I just want to freeze time. Beckham went around giving us all goodnight kisses the other night, and I wanted to just stop time. I don't want to miss these moments. Beck got around to everyone except his new Uncle Drew and looked at his mama and said "And Dwew?" and then went around to give him a goodnight kiss too. I melted. These are precious moments.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

"bloom where you're planted"

all of our nursing graduating class has pretty much hit the panic button. when the hospitals announced they were taking very few of us new grads, i think everyone panicked. we figured jobs would be a shoe-in...the easy part. we were wrong. i think we're all scared that we just went to school for nothing, racked up tons of debt, and now will be fighting to get out of it for the next ten years. it scares me too. i am going to be about 30k in student loans (an amount, which amazingly, is pennies compared to some of my classmates, who are in 75-150k!), which is not awful for a program that costs approximately 20k a year. it's not a fun feeling. my husband is very calm and has formulated a brilliant plan that involves us getting OUT of debt in about three years. (i might add, my plan was really good too. except it involved new dresses and going to the carribean, so he won. but it still sounded pretty fun.) i've had to step back and stop worrying. it's not as if God was watching and suddenly went, "OHHH dear, i had no clue THAT was going to happen!" He knows. i'll get a job. it's just a phase. a weird, uncomfortable phase, but one that is teaching me more and more trust.

this whole year has been a phase. adjusting to marriage, finishing school, plenty of crazy life changes that have pushed me and grown me. i'm really thankful. i look back over my "single" college years, when i was free to go out and spend my money on eating out and margaritas with the girls, and staying up too late. it was a phase too. and yesterday when i was out with the girls (sans margaritas!), around 5pm, i just wanted to go home. i miss my husband when i'm not with him. this is a new phase, and i wouldn't trade my "single life" for a moment of it. this is a new phase, a beautiful, crazy, wonderful phase of life. It involves laundry and grocery shopping and budgets and date nights. I've heard girls say they didn't know how to adjust to marriage because they missed their free time. They lost their "identity". I say, either they didn't have a very good start to begin with, or they had a husband who didn't really care. It's sad when women don't know how to thrive in marriage, and sad when husbands don't know how to help them grow within in. it's not stifling. it's freeing. I've been really blessed with a husband who inspires me to do well in my company, my schoolwork, my hobbies. I've traded glamour magazines and margaritas in for dishes and 9pm bedtime and 5 day workweeks. and God is so good. Marriage is great. Life is peaceful and messy. God is still good, still sovereign over all of it!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Lady Gaga and All Her Little Monsters

Let it be known that I don't condone Lady Gaga. I've danced to her music and I listen to her first album while at the gym, but I definitely don't think her recent inappropriate outfits and very sexualized music are appropriate for anyone to listen to. I would never let my children listen to any song other than "Just Dance", and I change the channel when her barely-there outfits are plastered all over our television set.

But I watched a recent interview with her on Good Morning America, and I was sort of blown away. Not by her music, because it's highly sexual overtones were definitely over the line for family viewing, but by her interview. I think it was her eyes. I have never seen such sad eyes on someone. For being someone who supports people's opinions that they were "born this way", she sure doesn't seem very happy in her own skin. Recent allegations of a facial restructuring also make me think she is really not that happy with the girl under all the crazy outfits. She is a very pretty lady, from what I could see at the beginning of her career, and it's a little sad that she is trying to push the boundaries so much. The second thing that hit me was the crowd. GMA said it was the "largest crowd" their summer concert series (which has seen the likes of Brad Paisley and Keith Urban) they have ever seen. In history. And a crowd it was...stretching all the way to Times Square allegedly, and sweeping all the way through the streets. And I watched the cameras pan all through the crowd, full of teens and adults and even children dressed in gay pride tee shirts and pro-homosexual gear...people cheering and clinging to what she was offering them. They looked at her like she was a god. Broken, hurting people reaching out for something. Anything.

And I felt suddenly, sickeningly, guilty.

Millions of hurting people are clinging to Lady Gaga because she is filling a void. She, as twisted and volatile as her theology may be, has connected with these hurting teens and adults and people who don't fit in anywhere. People I don't hang out with. People who rarely even cross my mind.

Jesus would have hung out with these people.

He would have offered them, not a flimsy, sexual replacement for Hope, but the real thing.

I don't believe in Lady Gaga, but the fact is, millions of people believe in her message of hope, because the church, myself included, haven't offered them the actual thing. It's convicting and painful and true.

I hope Lady Gaga finds a truth she can truly cling to, one that will fill the void in her eyes and the bigger one in her heart. I truly hope she can find the person she wants to be and make a difference in the lives of the people who follow her. But moreover, I hope I can be part of the change that fills that void in the lives of people around me...with Jesus. WIth real Hope, a true future. Starting with our neighbor. Bob (not his real name), a broken and sad man who lives across the street from us...who is looking for something he hasn't found yet at a church where he says "east meets west in the teaching of Buddha and Jesus", but is genuinely being cared for by the people at that church. I haven't stepped up to care for him. I need to. I need to bring him dinner and my husband and I need to continue to show kindness to him for no reason.

So Lady Gaga, this post is for you. You may not understand what you're looking for, but I hope you find Him soon.