When I started this blog, it was not because I was some slick money guru or finance major who wanted to pass on my certified wisdom to the world. Far from it, actually. I started this blog because my spending was out of control. I was unhappy and bored, and my husband and I were on the brink of both divorce and financial ruin. I started this blog to save my marriage, my family, and myself.
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My goal was simply to figure out how to stretch my budget so that I could buy all the things I wanted. It was pretty simple math, actually: the less I spent on food , the more I could spend on shoes (and everything else.) There was so much I wanted, so many pretty things out there just waiting for me to take them home. And while I became quite good at getting discounts on groceries, clothing, & other household goods, I was still spending, not saving.
Eventually, though, all this stuff started to feel oppressive. Despite the deep discounts, the great “deals,” I felt like I was drowning in things I didn’t need or want, and yet I wasn’t quite sure how to stop wanting it either. I began to crave–and seek–true financial peace.
The changes started small. I started the year with the goal of purging my life of unnecessary extras in order to focus on the essentials. In June we began homeschooling. In July we took away all my kids’ toys and was completely humbled by the results. In August, my husband and I signed up for the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University class that was being offered by our small group at church. We also decided together that we would commit to 31 Days of Living Well & Spending Zero.
I’m not sure exactly when it happened or exactly which event was the proverbial straw, but at some point, as Chuck and I stopped spending and instead started reflecting and talking about our finances, I realized that I had changed. My goals had changed. My desires had changed. The way I viewed money and spending had changed.
And while I am still learning, still growing, still changing, and still terribly in need of Grace, when it comes to finding Financial Peace, this is what I’ve learned so far:
I will admit that my prayers have often been a tad on the selfish side. In fact, if I am being completely honest, they probably still are to some extent. Help me, bless me, be with me are still common themes. But my prayer this year has been been for God to change my heart, to lead me where HE would have me go, and to take away my desire for the things of this world, the things that don’t matter.
This is a scary prayer to pray because if you pray for this, God will answer. Your heart will change. You will be led to do things you otherwise wouldn’t have, and to redefine your life and all your goals.
And no, I don’t mean money. Give of yourself, your time, your talents. In the words of Ruth Stafford Peale, “find a need and fill it.” The best and easiest way to stop focusing on what you are missing is to start focusing on what you can do for others. Stop being so stingy with your time!
Believe me, I understand feeling like you just don’t have time to do any more. But this is where prayer again comes into play. When I started praying for God to change my heart, he began pressing on me to volunteer with the kids program at my church. It was something I had always resisted. It would take too much time, was too much work, too exhausting, too much commitment. And besides, what if I missed out on some great sermons?
But when I finally gave in, finally started volunteering, it became abundantly clear that this was exactly where I was supposed to be. And although sometimes it is hard and exhausting and a lot of work, it has also changed my perspective about what is important. It is impossible to feel sorry for yourself when you are actively working to serve others.
So volunteer at your kids’ school or at your church. Spend a few hours visiting with residents of a local rest home or assisted living center. Serve food at a local food bank or become a mentor to at-risk youth. Call a single mom and offer to watch her kids for a few hours so she can have a break. Help an elderly neighbor with some yard work. I guarantee you are needed somewhere.
Less is More
Our consumer-driven culture is SO engrained in this idea of more, more, more. Bigger houses, better cars, wider televisions with more channels, the very latest gadgets and electronics. As Dave Ramsey in his amazing, life-changing book, The Total Money Makeover, puts it, “we spend money we don’t have to buy things we don’t need to impress people we don’t like.” Our thoughts are so consumed by wanting that next big thing that we rarely take the time to even enjoy what we already have.
A few weeks ago I wrote about the changes I observed within my two daughters when I took all their toys away. The difference it made for them was immediate: they were happier, less bored, more creative, more empathetic, less whiney, more helpful. In a word: content.
Over the past year, as I’ve tried to eliminate the excess stuff in our home and now especially during this month of no spending, I have been pleasantly surprised time and again at just how content I feel with less. The more I get rid of, the less I want. That constant pressure to buy the next thing has been relieved, and the stress of figuring out what to do with all this stuff is (almost) gone.
Spending is not Saving
This is often my biggest challenge. Being Dutch, the thrill of bargain hunting is literally in my blood! I convince myself over and over and over again that because something is a hot deal, I am saving money. But spending is not saving!
Last month Husband and I had a fight when he discovered in the backseat a bag of clothes I had recently purchased at Anthropologie. If you’ve ever shopped there, you know the clothes aren’t cheap. But, being the “thrifty” shopper that I am, I of course headed straight to the sale room and found several darling items (that I couldn’t live without) for 75% off! 75% off at Anthropologie! In my mind, it was a no brainer. Of COURSE I had to buy them….what an amazing deal! A bargain! I was literally saving hundreds of dollars. Right?
In reality I wasn’t saving anything. I was spending $150 to fill a closet that was already full. Ouch.
And it’s not that there is anything wrong with wanting to wear cute clothes or have a nice house. Stuff in and of itself isn’t bad. But don’t fool yourself–like I did for a very long time–into thinking because you paid less you were saving money. The only way you are SAVING is when it stays in your bank account!
Take Money Advice from the Right People
There are an endless number of people or companies offering up their “expert” opinion on where or how you should spend your money, and the scary truth is that the vast majority of them don’t have your best interests at heart.
Likewise, the societal pressure to keep up appearances can be fierce and it is easy to buy into the notion that in order to maintain a certain standard of living, you must spend money on certain things. We see the people around us with better cars, bigger TVs, newer kitchens, the latest iPhone, nicer clothes and think “if they can afford it then I can too.” We get so caught up in the image that we fail to realize that, many times, the people we are emulating can’t afford it either!
Dave puts it a little more bluntly: Stop taking advice from broke people!
Don’t listen to the people who tell you to spend more, or who make you feel like what you have isn’t quite good enough. Actively search out friends, either locally or online who are willing to support and encourage your journey towards financial peace and then do the same for them.
Finding financial peace is hard work. It requires real sacrifice and real change, and can even feel a little painful sometimes. Even so, the rewards are ultimately worth every ounce of effort you put in.