Saving & Spending

Following Tuesday’s post about Jen Hatmaker’s book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, I said I was going to write a series of posts examining areas in which changes need to be made to realign my habits and choices with my purpose and beliefs. This week I’m rethinking my financial habits.

I know I’ve written about taking Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University course, which transformed my views about money. I began budgeting and have been faithfully using my Excel budgets every month since, keeping up with balancing my checkbook, and trying to control where my money goes.

It’s been a bit of a difficult balancing act, though, to be honest. I tend to get too strict with myself, allowing no wiggle room within budget categories, counting costs down to the last dollar, restricting personal expenses as much as possible, constantly looking for ways to save a dollar here or there to funnel toward debt and savings.

Such intense preoccupation with my budget and money-saving measures allowed me to pay off my debt faster than I had imagined. Doing so afforded me a bit of a more relaxed approach to my budget, since I had fewer bills to pay, but I was still carefully calculating how much money I should set aside for every type of expense so I could save as much money as possible. I wanted to quickly build up my full emergency fund (enough for six months’ expenses, in case anything unexpected should happen), and then save for traveling.

Reading Jen’s book reinforced my opinions about trying to live simply, but with a slightly different aim. I began to see just how selfish my saving habits were. I wanted to see how much I could save, to feel like I was doing everything in my power to provide a secure financial future for myself, saving enough to cover my current monthly expenses, building up a fund for any emergencies I might encounter, providing for my own travel, hoarding away every last dollar for my own use and security. It was just one more way I could provide for my own needs, removing any need to rely on God for provision.

I know it was no coincidence that I came upon Jen’s book, as well as others that talk about consumer Christianity, American culture, greed, and worldwide poverty. I have caught a glimpse of the great need in the world. I have been blessed so greatly with a job that affords me the ability to not only pay off my debt (from college and buying my own car, two huge privileges), but to set aside money for the future, and give a portion of my income to others who aren’t as fortunate and don’t have enough, as I have more than what I need. I have a roof over my head, food for my table (and refrigerator, pantry, and deep freezer), clothes on my back (and in my drawers and closet), shoes on my feet (and more in the closet), and so much more. I have been blessed, but I shouldn’t take that for granted and keep it all for myself. After all, I can’t take any of it with me in the end. I might as well spread the wealth. Literally.

I still see the value in saving and using my money responsibly, not throwing it recklessly at frivolous things, finding small satisfaction in passing up things I would have previously bought but have since realized I really don’t need or even want to invest my money in. I have had my eyes opened to much greater needs that I can have a part (although a small one) in helping with by financial contributions. There are so many great organizations serving the marginalized and needy, making every dollar go so much further than a new pair of jeans or fancy dinner, and I want to invest more of my money supporting those causes, doing my part to help others and share God’s love with the needy people of this world.

I’m still saving for my emergency fund, travel, and retirement, but I’m also prioritizing some giving. I have begun giving more towards causes I’m passionate about instead of saving every penny for myself, but I know I have a long way to go before I can consider myself a generous person. I’ve always struggled in this area, and I need to work out the balance in regard to the amounts going in each of these directions, but as I continue to pray to be a better steward of all the resources I have been given, I feel much more at peace regarding my finances knowing I am growing in my generosity, one little step at a time.

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Clothing Cleanout

Following Tuesday’s post about Jen Hatmaker’s book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, I said I was going to write a series of posts examining areas in which changes need to be made to realign my habits and choices with my purpose and beliefs. This week I’m taking a critical look at the contents of my closet.

I love clothes. I like to look and feel good in what I’m wearing. And unfortunately that has driven me to buy more and more pieces when I get bored with what I already have, a frequent problem when buying things only because they’re on sale.

I’ve always been a frugal spender, shopping clearance racks and thrift stores, looking for good deals on clothing and accessories. But in the past I’ve let that fact justify excessive shopping habits. I would think, ‘Oh, what’s the big deal? This only costs $5; I can afford that.’ But I failed to account for how quickly those purchases added up, and how quickly the pieces became overlooked. Because I found such affordable items, I bought more of them than I needed, which left me with an abundance of pieces that I only sort of liked. My closet and dresser were quickly filling up, and yet I still felt like I didn’t have much that I really liked to wear.

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My closet before I began this clothing cleanout

Looking into a closet full of things I felt indifferent about made my stomach churn. Why did I spend so much money on things I wasn’t going to get enough use out of? Why did I convince myself that it was worth it to buy something just because it was on sale? I wasn’t going on $500 shopping sprees every weekend, but when I was still trying to pay off debt, spending even $40 on unneeded or unused items seems wasteful.

My chopping shopping challenge has prevented me from buying new things since March, but I know that I still have a challenge ahead of me: clearing out the unnecessary items that are already in my possession. It’s great to not add any more unneeded things, but the process really needs to begin with what I already have.

So begins my challenge to clean out my unwanted and unused items. This will likely be quite the undertaking as I have to think honestly about pieces I’ve been holding onto for a while, but it’s a good task to tackle as I prepare to pack up for our upcoming move. I In the middle of my cleanout, this was my "do I really want to keep this?" pile.expect the rest of this project will entail the following:

  1. Making sure all of the items are in good condition (no stains, holes, etc.).
  2. Trying most of my clothes on, with the exception of thepieces I have worn recently, to ensure everything still fits properly.
  3. Getting rid of clothes that no longer fit anymore (and can’t reasonably be tailored to fit, or aren’t liked enough to make the effort worth it).
  4. Identifying the pieces I haven’t worn in the last six months.
  5. Asking why I haven’t worn unused pieces, as the reasoning is important. Some things are for special occasions that I haven’t encountered, some other pieces may need a little work done to repair them, while others get passed over repeatedly because I just don’t like them all that much.
  6. Inviting my friends over for a girls’ night in, including an invitation for them to bring their unwanted clothes, accessories, and books over to trade. I came across this idea recently as a solution to shopping out of boredom with what we already have– borrowing or trading ensures fewer purchases and better use of everyone’s items.

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    My pile of clothes to be tailored.

  7. Bringing leftover items from our swap to a nonprofit that provides for the needs of people in our community.
  8. Researching nonprofit companies that sell clothing and accessories that are responsibly made and sold so my future purchases can support a good cause instead of just funding large corporations.
  9. Making sure that I only buy things I really like and will get a good use out of, instead of falling prey to advertising and sales.
  10. Revisiting my closet regularly to keep checking whether I’m living up to my goals, as maintaining my clothing situation is a continuous process.

Slow it Down

The older I get, the faster it seems the world is spinning around me. It’s so easy to get caught up in the current of work, bills, responsibilities, penciled-in coffee dates, short nights’ sleep, and pressure to continually be working harder, like I can never have enough or do enough to keep up.

Why do we work so hard for things that matter so little? We work long days to make money to pay for larger homes, better cars, more luxurious vacations, and more toys to show off to other people who, frankly, are more concerned about their own homes, cars, vacations, and toys than they are about ours.

If we take a step back to see that we already have far more than we need, and far more than many other people in the world, we ought to be satisfied knowing we don’t have to work ourselves to the bone to attain any more. Assuming that most of us have shelter, food, clothing, and clean water, our basest needs are met. Beyond that, many of us have employment, strong relationships, education, health, freedom, clean air, some form of transportation, and an array of leisurely activities to engage in. We are very fortunate indeed.

So why don’t we pursue things that matter more? Why don’t we choose to center our lives around the things and people that have captured our hearts? Why aren’t we willing to sacrifice the accumulation of accolades and possessions for the greater prize of relationships?

When I look back on my life, I would much rather see strong, vibrant relationships than a long list of worldly accomplishments and corporate ladder-climbing resulting from endless hours spent behind a desk, all the while neglecting my loved ones.

Doing so requires first acknowledging the pull of the world around us toward endlessly striving for more, never being satisfied with what we already have. We live in a consumer-driven culture that thrives on telling people they need the newest gadgets to make their lives easier, promising them happiness, success, beauty, and love as a result of purchasing an As-Seen-on-TV product. Deep down we know these things will never satisfy us. They will only leave us wanting more as we discover a feeling of emptiness that comes with not attaining the happiness or success we thought would result from getting the newest thing. It’s a vicious, endless cycle. But we can stop it.

We can choose to say that we already have enough of the things our society peddles. Instead, we can focus on slowing down, truly enjoying our lives, investing in experiences over things, and pouring our energy into relationships instead of checking tasks off our never-ending to-do lists. We can eschew the dreams our world says we should have in favor of our own simpler goals of focusing on the things that are truly important.

This journey will look different for everyone, but I found inspiration for slowing down from the Slow Your Home blog and breaking free from the chains of our consumeristic culture at Becoming Minimalist. For me, slowing down looks like leaving laundry undone, dishes unwashed, carpets un-vacuumed (no matter how badly they may need to be cleaned), and putting off my latest solo project or hobby when a friend wants to get coffee or go for a walk. It means not upgrading every chance I get just because I can, but realizing the things I have work perfectly fine for now, and I don’t really need the newest versions to make me happy. It includes taking time to relax and enjoy the world around me, appreciating sunsets, butterflies, lake views, wooded paths, and lazy Sunday afternoons, instead of overlooking them in my hurried pace. It likely will mean saying no to some activities so I can say yes to others that mean more to me, and choosing to not feel guilty about it. It means making sure I give my friends quality portions of my time and attention, requiring that I close my computer and put my phone away when we’re having a conversation. It means putting off getting a new computer so I can save more for traveling with friends. It means regularly reminding myself that people matter more.

What does slowing down look like for you?