About Being Cheap…. Uh…. Frugal….

Just Thinking.

You might find this hard to believe, but I have a terrible time trying to spend money. I spend time trying to avoid spending money. One time I went shopping with my sister at Target. I had a gift card that was soon to expire and walked all over the store trying to find something that grabbed me. Poor sis was dragging behind me….. disbelieving that I really couldn’t find something to use the gift card on! I finally bought 3 mega packs of toilet paper. Yes. Toilet paper. Someone had given me a wonderful gift card and all I could come home with was toilet paper.

No one likes to shop with me, and I can’t blame them. Even a routine trip to the grocery for milk ends up with me looking at the gallon, the half gallon, the pint…. the half pint. Should I get the skim? 1/2 percent? Would that be too blue? Should I go for the 1 percent? 2 percent? The real thing? White or chocolate? Or would it be more healthful to go for rice milk or Silk? And those decisions have nothing to do with frugality!

My frugality seems to impede me from making many money decisions. Yet there are some conundrums here. I grew up in a family that rich in everything except money. The wolf always seemed to be at the door. I doubt that I even knew half of the struggle my folks had making ends meet. Yet they persevered and made it. How? They were frugal. I remember that I only had one bottle of soda a year. There just wasn’t money for luxuries like that. And when I went off on my own to college, I decided that I would buy all the soda I wanted. After almost making myself sick, I realized how much money I was wasting on something with no tangible results except an expanding waistline. My want became my won’t.

I made a lot of money mistakes, and still make some. One mistake was in not starting to seriously save earlier. Another was making some foolish purchases of things with no lasting or increasing value. Another was buying things, thinking that it equaled happiness. I spend money for immediate pleasure, and not future results. I failed to research some money moves, and that was costly.

But I did some things right, too. I finished my graduate degree and then had all school loans paid back in 5 years. I bought a car when I graduated from college and paid it off early. We bought a little starter home that was built the same year that I was! After making some improvements, we sold it for double what we paid for it. We handbuilt a home with the profits of that first home, and lived there over 30 years, making improvements every year. We sold it for about 3 times what we put into it. And that gave us a great basis for retirement. How did we do this? By being frugal….. which I learned from my parents.

The Hubs convinced me of two things concerning our money: save at least 10% and tithe 10%. So a good education (which led to a good job), and a good Hubby (which led to good fiscal habits), and a good religious background (which led me to understand the fleeting allure of materialism) and good parents (who despite their own money problems instilled a sense of frugality in me) all worked together to form my frugal self.

I have determined to not live in debt. I have experienced debt and it shakes me. I can break out in a cold sweat when I contemplate debt. I had college debt and promptly dispatched it. I have owed money on cars, and despised that debt, even when it was for 0% interest. We had debt on both the starter house and the house we built, but we paid it off in 5 years also. I don’t do credit card debt. I don’t borrow from anyone; I don’t want my relationships hindered with that expectation of money between us. I’ve lived without debt now for about 25 years, and it is such a freeing experience. I am free to give to others, free to save and invest and spend as I wish, because the money does not belong to anyone else!! Even when in debt, I always made my payments on time, even if it meant not buying food. I cannot imagine the debt destituteness (is that a word?) of someone who gets the constant calls from lenders and bill collectors because they cannot manage to make a payment. That would indeed be debt that shakes one’s lilfe!

We chose to start getting serious about saving and went beyond the 10%. By the time I retired we were actually saving well over 50% of our income. Please realize that we were teachers and lived on a teacher’s salary. But it was enough; God has always provided just what we needed. And funny thing…. God took a hold of our minds and hearts and we began to realize that we really didn’t need a lot. We became content with simpler items and a simpler lifestyle. Also please realize that by that time we had no children left at home to support. Makes a big difference!

This super-saving experience made it difficult for me to think of retiring. I enjoyed my job and I loved watching the $$$ grow. I had just enough financial shakiness left from my childhood that made it hard to visualize not adding more to account. It also makes it difficult to spend money today. I keep thinking that perhaps we should save it, or spend it on something that is more needed, or on someone who needs it more.

Last fall, we moved out of state and into an older home that was really quite nice, but needed some care, repair and updates. I kept thinking that I would just learn to live with the flaws, but the Hubs finally convinced me to loosen the pursestrings and remodel the kitchen. Now as I cook in my new kitchen, I am so glad that I listened to him. We now have an energy efficient fridge, a dishwasher that really washes, and a stove that has consistent temps. We invested in some new furniture after all these years. We put up a new shed in the backyard. We put in a new furnace. It’s been nice, but I just keep asking myself: Do I deserve this? Is it foolish spending?

This last week, we inked a contract putting in new flooring in the whole house, and remodeling the bathroom. The cabinetry is falling apart in there, the stool reluctantly flushes, and the tub is chipped and flaking. But the same old financial resistance wells up in me: Shouldn’t I be saving this money? Doesn’t someone deserve it more than me? A former student set me straight: She told me that she knew we would be shariing our home with many friends and family, and that this was not just something selfishly for me, but also would be something that others would enjoy and find comfortable, as well. I appreciated her viewpoint, and had not thought of it that way. We were not going into debt for any of this. We still would be able to meet all of our obligations.

This last week, I bought a pair of jeans…. the first I have purchased in about 40 years. There were many reasons why I had not purchased new jeans, but one was certainly financial. Should I spend this money on myself for clothes? Especially when I have perfectly good clothes hanging in the closet? The spectre of frugality stares at me at every turn. The jeans were as big a deal as the carpets and bathroom….

God has always been faithful. He has been Jehovah Jirah, my Provider. He has never let me down, never let me starve, never sent me begging. He has woven all my experiences together into a wonderful tapestry of grace. I had no idea all those years ago that my education would take me this far, that my husband would be this wonderful, that the jobs I had would be so satisfying….. Even my failures were times of learning. But somehow I am a slow and reluctant learner. The God who saw that I had a home couldn’t provide milk? I had to worry about milkl? Christ came to give me life, and to give it more abundantly. My fears over money did not lead to freedom in that life, but to chains.

No, I don’t believe that being a Christian means that I will be rich and have lots of stuff; don’t misunderstand me. That is not the promise at all. I had to learn and am still learning that life doesn’t equal money. And I had to learn that God really will provide all that I need, not all that I want.

OK. So I know this. I believe this. I have experienced this. And I’ll be transparent with you: I still struggle with spending money and worrying.

Father, strengthen me to believe You passionately and fully. Help me understand that You know my needs before I even dream of them, and that You already have a plan to care for me and provide for me. Help me be a good steward of what You give me, to be wise and use discretion. Help me seek Your will in all I do, and to do all for Your glory. Please, Father, curb my worry.

To God be the glory….

Published in: on September 19, 2010 at 3:03 am  Comments (1)  

On the Eve of 9-11: a Photographic Negative

Just Thinking….

It’s a cool, rainy, dark fall day here in Iowa: the sort of day where I want to don my favorite soft old sweatshirt and put on fuzzy socks and cozy up with a throw in front of the fireplace. I’d like a hot cup of tea and just sit and listen to the flames crackle. Nine years ago, I listened to something completely different.

Nine years ago, I lived in a naive world of trust. It wasn’t cool and rainy; I distinctly remember that it was warm and clear on that day. My little Tracker was in the shop, and the shop had loaned me a behemoth, a white Moby-Dick of a SUV. I hated it, and couldn’t wait to turn it in and get my little red car back. I was to return it on Sept. 11, but I had to wait until after school to do so. And I had to return it with the tank filled.

As with many defining moments in my life, I was in school when I heard the news. Hearken back to 1963: JFK was assassinated. I was a freshman at Albia Community High School, in Spanish Class. I sat in the third row back, second seat from the window. A girl had gone to the cafeteria to get a carton of milk for her ulcer. She came back (after hearing about JFK on the cafeteria radio), telling us that the President had been shot. I didn’t think that was very funny. She insisted it was true. Then the intercom came on: the President had been shot. He was dead. We were 14, maybe 15 years old. Things like this didn’t happen in our world. I didn’t cry; I was too stunned. But my teacher was crying. And later, my father, who also never cried, was crying.

A few years later, hearken back to the Challenger explosion. I was again in school, this time as a teacher. My room was bright yellow; the Channel I TV hung from the center of the front wall. We were again informed en masse of a national disaster, only this time we watched the white vapor trail on TV over and over and over…. I cried in front of my students and remembered my little Spanish teacher from those long ago years.

Then came the bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma City, OK. Where was I? In school…. This time I was in the cafeteria, and the radio there was announcing the news. We were all sure that a terrorist had done this dastardly deed. Indeed, it was a terrorist, but sadly, one of our own. We have met the enemy and he is us.

So perhaps I should have been hardened and ready for something like 9-11. But I wasn’t. I lived in an America of friends, neighborhoods, good people. I liked everyone else; surely they all liked me. Naive…. Once again, I was in school. This time it was journalism class: yearbook. Phil, a student, was in the library watching news headlines and getting ready to jot them down for the news section of yearbook. He came running back to the computer room saying that a plane had crashed into the Twin Towers. I visualized a little two seater private plane, and felt sorry for the damage that it must have done. And I told Phil to return to his job. He ran back again, saying that a second plane had hit the towers. That caught my attention. We all went into the library, gawking at the TV, caught in a sci-fi moment of wonder and disbelief. Students and teachers alike were crying; one girl was hysterical as her uncle was supposed to be on that plane. The intercom crackled and announced the horror: we were under attack. But school was going to go on. What!?! I just wanted to rush home and hug my husband and call my son and say I love you. But the principal explained that we would not give in to the terrorists; we would continue our school day. And we would also have parent teacher meetings that night. I think I walked about in a stupor the rest of the day. When the bell rang, I left school to return the SUV. When I reached the gas station, it was chaos. The line stretched out for blocks. Not only were vehicles lined up to get gas, but people were also standing in line, holding gas cans. When I finally inched the SUV to the pumps, I was shocked to see that gas was suddenly $5 a gallon! But I had no choice…….. I returned the SUV, grabbed a sandwich for supper, and returned to school for parent teacher meetings. I was probably incoherent by that time, wanting nothing more than to be home. And when I reached home much later that night, I fell into my husband’s arms, crying.

The scenario was a jolt, true. But it was so much more. It was an end of my innocence, an end to a way of trusting life. An end to carefree travel. I began to distrust anyone who looked like they could be profiled as mid-east terrorist. I began to feel emotionally crippled. The world had changed in a moment.

I remember the discussions at school. Did America ask for this tragedy? Did we somehow bring it upon ourselves? Was God punishing us for something? I don’t know the answers. I do know that in a way, we brought it upon ourselves as we simply did not prepare as a nation for events like this. We were much too nice…. much too trusting…. much too innocent. There were warnings, to be sure, but as a nation, we overlooked them; it wasn’t our way of life.

Nine years later….. I’m sitting in my comfortable home, listening to the rain, savoring the moment. But I continue to remember these defining moments of my life. The sudden shock of each is like a photographic negative: a burning of a scene upon my memory. Ask people my age where they were when JFK was killed. They can tell you exactly where they were. Ask people now where they were on 9-11. Most can tell you exactly where they were, or who told them the news. It is seared into our minds. And it has changed us.

Father, we have experienced tragedies for centuries. People then, like people now, don’t understand why. Your Word gives testimony to Your faithfulness, Your protection of Your people. I don’t understand why all this had to happen. And I can’t foretell the future. I can only ask for Your mercy, Your grace, Your protection to follow me, all the days of my life. Be my Shepherd. Carry me to the end. Amen

To God be the Glory….

Published in: on September 10, 2010 at 10:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

Lost Day… Blah Day….

Just Thinking....

It’s been one of those days. Woke up sneezing, nose running, chest congestion. So I just went back to sleep. Retirement is good for that.

I teach a couple of classes, just two mornings a week. Today was not one of them. So thankfully, I had the luxury of just piddling when I finally got up. The extra sleep made no difference in my allergies; I was still snuffling around. I looked for allergy pills but couldn’t find any of the non-drowsy kind. And I had to run to the store anyway for milk. So off I went.

Driving is a bit of a challenge when I am sneezing so much. Remember that old adage about dying a little bit everytime you sneeze? Believe me, I was dead…. I had to coach myself to stop on red, go on green, look both ways….. Even so, it’s hard to see everything when sneezing. It’s like living a strobe-light existence.

I sneezed my way into Walmart, grabbed more kleenexes, and found the non-drowsy meds. Found the milk and then found the check out. As soon as I was at the car, I pried open the med box and coaxed out the little white pill. Then I realized I had no water. Ah…… PEANUTS!! I swallowed the pill, and then opened a little sack of peanuts that was in the car, and ate those. While it wasn’t exactly water, the peanuts did convince the pill to go down!

The effect was not immediate. In fact, 2 hours later, I was still sneezing and blowing as much as ever. I really just wanted to go back to bed again. Another 2 hours went by, and the misery was still there. So I took another pill. Now understand: these are supposed to be 24 hour pills. I should be good-to-go for the next 2 days! But right now, I’m still sneezing, still blowing….

I call days like this “Lost Days.” It means I have no energy to accomplish my agenda. I’m goal driven, and have my calendar filled. Yet at the moment, I’ve accomplished only one thing on today’s to-do list: get milk. It’s been a lost day.

Father, this is the day that the Lord has made. I should rejoice and be glad in it. Help me rejoice and find deep down joy, despite my daily circumstances. Help me be glad that meds are out there, that I am still alive, that I at least got a little bit done. And help me understand that sometimes I just have to be slow and still. Amen.

To God be the Glory,

Published in: on September 7, 2010 at 9:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

I’m Married to an Old Man…

Just Thinking….

I’m married to an old man. The Hubs applied today for Social Security. Not sure I can look at him the same way anymore. heheheh…. Right now he is snoozing in his LazyBoy, just like an old man. He can’t take his teeth out yet, and he can’t put his ears on yet, but he can sure take the naps. See? He’s an old man. I’m gardening and blogging and doing laundry, and paying bills and getting ready to make brownies, and putting groceries away…. Yep, I’m a young’n all right. And I’m married to an old man.

We met in college at Kirksville. Had a date and I decided that we should just be friends. But there was something about this guy that just wouldn’t let go of my memory. When I thought of funny, he came to mind. When I thought of caring, his face was before me. When I thought of intellectual, his name was on my tongue. When I thought of integrity, it was this man. We graduated and went our separate ways. I was in the St. Louis area and he went to Florida. Florida? For crying out loud…. Florida is where old men retire……..

Our paths crossed again later. All those words that described him in college were still true, perhaps even more so. He was definitely a good catch. Only one eensy problem: I was a Christian and he was not. And although we were growing closer and closer, I knew that I couldn’t marry him. And I told him that.

He began a spiritual journey, a spiritual search. And it led him to Christianity. We became engaged, and married. He said at that time, that he had 3 criteria for his future wife: that she be younger, shorter and less intellectual. Then he smiled and said that two out of three wasn’t bad!! So…….. I married an older man.

Yep. He’s all of six months older. My turn for Social Security comes next year. But it was rather a shock to realize that the Hubs, this man that I pledged to love forever and ever, was an old man. The gray that frames his face doesn’t make him look extinguished; it makes him look distinguished. The lines on his face were well earned. And he works hard. I guess he deserves that nap!

It’s been a good life together. It was a little bumpy at first. I was used to big hoopla birthday parties, but not much in the way of gifts. He was used to lots of gifts and nothing in the way of parties. He likes to stay up late; I’m zonked by 8 pm. I have allergies and he doesn’t. I’m a woman and he’s a man; that about says it all.

We began married life in a little post WW2 house that was built the same year that I was. It was painted baby-mess-yellow and we quickly changed that to federal blue/gray. That was just the first of many house projects for us, which included designing and building our own solar home, and taming 4+ acres of woods. Now we live in a nice ranch in another state, and we’re still working on fixing it up. But being an old man now, he hires some of it done.

We’ve dealt with our baby, our boy, our teen, our young adult, and now with grandkids. He’s worked many jobs, and many years he held down two jobs: teaching in the day, then teaching at night, and then summer jobs. Sometimes he took extra jobs just so he could give the money away to those in needl. What a guy! He does so much volunteer work to help family, friends, neighbors. An elderly fellow lives next to us now. He fell down outside and the Hubs helped him up. And he takes care of the fellow’s trash can and recycling bin. He cares for my parents, and he cared for his own parents while they were alive. He continues to do projects with our son. He just reaches out to everyone; and I admire that in him.

He’s a creative guy. He paints, does sculpture, candle making, is a writer, a wood worker and carver. I’m constantly challenged by his expertise. And he’s pretty good for an old guy!

Most of all, he loves the Lord. And this just spills out of him in the many things he does, in all that he says, in his thoughtfulness and his actions. He spends much time studying Scripture, and we have long discussions on Scripture. He was the one who convinced me that we should be tithing, and he was right. He is my friend, my lover, my role model. He’s just right for me. But he is now an old man. Believe it or not, I am finally married to an old man….

Father, thank You for the awesome opportunity to be married to the Hubs. What a journey You have set us on! Help me be everything for him that I should be. Bless us, I ask You. Amen.

To God be the glory….

Published in: on September 2, 2010 at 9:58 pm  Comments (2)