2.16.2021

My Simplified Why: Follow the Money

FROM THE ARCHIVES ➤➤➤ I originally wrote this post in January 2020 - before the whole world came to a screeching halt, and life as we knew it, stopped. However, as I've been attempting to blog a little more consistently this year, I decided to pull up some of the posts I had started and saved as drafts, and this is one of them. While similar to the post I shared last week, as I read through it, I was reminded of where we were a year ago, and I realized that I had, in fact, made some good financial changes over the past 12 months. For example, this year our savings accounts are much healthier than they were a year ago, and that's a good thing! But I also realized that some of my points made in this post were still valid, and good reminders of other ways I could cut corners and save, so I decided to post it anyway. Maybe you, like me, will find a little nugget to take away and dwell on and then do something with this year. May we all continue to grow and improve in 2021! 

In 2012, we paid off our house. In actual fact, we paid off the remaining 54% of our mortgage in just 7 months of 2012. It came down to focusing in on a big goal, saying "no" to a lot of other things, and a whole bunch of self discipline. And it felt great when we were all done.

Which is why when, earlier this month, I found myself stressing over looming bills and shrinking bank accounts, I was pulled up short when I realized I was right back to where I was in 2011. How did that happen? Well, I'll tell you: old habits and new kids.

Old habits like, "I don't really feel like cooking tonight," (which, even as I was typing that, reminded me that I needed to start the Crock-Pot for dinner) crept back in. Only this time there were seven of us, so Japanese takeout now costs $70, rather than $20. 🙅 The occasional stop for ice cream after a school event takes $30 when you're dishing up six bowls instead of two, and now that some of them are getting older, a stop at Starbucks is often a $15 splurge, rather than a $5 treat. It all adds up.

Although most of the time I'm pretty good about telling myself I don't need the new pair of pants or that cute sweater, it's harder when I'm out and see clothes on sale that would fit my kids. I mean, I'm saving money, right? They're so hard on clothes, and it's nice not to have to pay full-price for something when I have a stash downstairs that I got on clearance. But you know what's NOT a bargain? Hitting up so many sales that I forget what I have and when I finally dig it out...they've outgrown it. True story, I'm embarrassed to admit.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

In 2018, I was becoming totally overwhelmed by the amount of stuff in our house. When it was just the two of us, I kept it fairly tidy, though we still had way too much, but once the kids came, I felt like I was swimming against the tide. Despite keeping Christmas to a minimum and refusing to throw extravagant birthday parties where all of their friends were invited and we were flooded with gifts, it was like a never ending stuff parade coming through the doors of our house. Even though I instigated regular purge sessions, piles continued to creep up on my desks, kitchen counters, and even on top of bedroom dressers.

Feeling thus overwhelmed, I signed up to take part in the Uncluttered course (nope, that's not an affiliate link) that minimalist Joshua Becker hosts several times a year. All participants receive a lifetime membership to participate in the course, and also maintain access to the private Facebook group. I can't say that the course itself was particularly life changing for me...but the private group has been a great source of ongoing encouragement. Seeing what others are doing, purging, changing, has been a reminder that I shouldn't give up

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that people were beginning to share their "why" for continuing the clean out. One woman said that her why was becoming debt free, and as soon as I read it, I knew that I needed to get back on the bandwagon. While we're not in debt - outside of a mortgage (yes, we paid it off but, long story short, we once again have a small mortgage on our home) - we're also not exactly rolling in savings. Another woman shared that whenever she thought about buying something, she transferred that same amount into her savings account, which triggered a memory of a time when I was doing the same thing (see: paid off house in 2012). It's just one of many good habits that need to be pulled from the mothballs.

This year, my WHY for minimalizing and simplifying really comes down to the money. It's not just about making multiple trips to donate excess goods, but about stemming the tide coming in as well - not just because it's stuff, but because it represents resources that could be much better spent elsewhere. As I look ahead at current and upcoming expenses, I realize that the not-so-little $40 and $70 expenditures, even if it's "saving" me money, have really added up. It's time to remember that every time I'm saying "yes" to something with my money, I'm saying "no" to something else...something that's probably way more important.

My why for #minimalismsimplified in 2020 is about financial freedom. Or, as Becker put in on a post he shared last week, "Just because it's on sale, doesn't mean I need it." 😏  

2.12.2021

News from The (Kid's) Stack

Hello fellow bookworms and casual readers! The news this week is slim, in that I'm still working my way through several of the books from my stack (and e-reader), but I did manage to finish one of the books I've been reading with the kids, so that will be the focus of today's post. If you don't know who Tony Evans is, keep reading. If you work with kids in any way (parent, teacher, grandparent, church leader, etc.), keep reading. If you've been looking for a way to explain why Ephesians 6 is important, keep reading. If you don't fit into any of those categories, but you'd like to understand more about the armor of God, keep reading! 


Today's review from the (kid's) stack covers A Kid's Guide to the Armor of God by Dr. Tony Evans. I first heard Dr. Evans when I was a freshman at college, up in prim and proper New England. I usually sat in the balcony for chapel, and I will never forget his voice carrying up to the rafters as he passionately spoke about how the "skinny white boy you see painted in pictures, was not the same Jesus who overturned the money tables in the temple and called people a 'brood of vipers'..." And we all jumped when he slammed his hand down on the podium and shouted, "NO! That's not MY Jesus! MY Jesus calmed the storm with a word! MY Jesus kicked the money changers out of His Father's house! MY Jesus isn't someone who's afraid of His own shadow!" Let me just say that it was a memorable chapel, and I loved every minute of it! 

I can't remember exactly when I picked up his Armor of God book for kids, but I believe it might have been on special during an Amazon Prime day, a few summers back. I recognized his name, and even though I knew the kids weren't ready for all of those concepts yet, I thought I might as well pick it up and put it on the shelf for the day that they were. This past fall, one of our girls was asking me about the armor of God and what that meant, and I immediately thought about Tony's book, still stuffed in a drawer in our library, waiting for the right time to emerge. I sensed that the time was coming, but then Christmas was upon us and all of our Christmas tales took the place of the usual nightly reading, so it would have to wait. But when January rolled around and things got back to normal, I added Dr. Evans book to our reading rotation, and the timing couldn't have been more perfect as our pastor announced that we would be working through the book of Ephesians this year. Well there you go!

A Kid's Guide to the Armor of God is a basic overview of the armor, as described in Ephesians 6:10-18, but simplified. Honestly, if you're an adult who isn't sure how it all works together, or what it even means, or if you know a new Christian who needs a basic overview, this is a good book to get you going, written on a level that makes it palatable, even to those who don't have a full understanding of all the "Christianese" that is often thrown around in other books. Our kids (ages 8-12) particularly liked the questions that are asked throughout the book, because it made them think through what we had just read, and they were often a catalyst for further, deeper, theological discussions. Two thumbs up from this parent!  

Also in this series (although I haven't read them yet, but plan to):

A Kid's Guide to the Power of Words

A Kid's Guide to the Names of God

A Kid's Guide to the Names of Jesus

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YOUR TURN! 

What have YOU been reading this week?

2.10.2021

$27.40

Strange title for a blog post, right? It comes from a graphic that Joshua Becker shared on Facebook last year, and again not that long ago. That's the daily spend amount that it takes to waste (or save) $10,000 in a year. Let that sink in for a minute.

Photo by Michael Longmire on Unsplash

Now, I'm sure some of you would argue that you don't have $27.40 to throw away on miscellaneous spending every day, and I get that. I don't typically spend that in a day either, but also keep in mind that number is an average. So let's take a look at a few of the ways that this can add up, and I'll use our family as an example.
  • If we take our family of seven for take-out Japanese it costs us around $75. Let's say I do that once a month—that's $900 a year
  • If you've got kids in sports, like we do, the monthly fees can quickly add up. Let's say you spend $400 a month on lessons and gear for two or more kids—that's $4,800 a year.
  • You know I like my Starbucks stops. They're like a mini-vacation in a cup on stressful days. But at an average of $5 a pop, estimating a conservative four times a month, buying for only one person—that's $240 a year.
  • The kids have done really well at school, so that calls for a celebration and a stop by our local pay-by-the-ounce ice cream shop. Cha-ching! Since we don't usually take the Hubs as he's at work, and I limit the kids to three toppings each, we can typically get out of there for around $25-30. But if we go 5-6 times a year—that's $180 a year.
You can probably see where I'm going with this. Before you know it, you're well over half-way to that $10k point, and that's not counting the stops to pick up something you "need" at TJ Maxx, or the sale you hit on clothes for the kids at Old Navy, or Christmas or any of the birthday gifts required by all those classroom invitations (a definitely bonus of homeschooling - no more class parties!). You and I might not spend $27.40 a day, but I bet if we stopped and begin counting up all the big and little expenditures, we'd be surprised at how quickly they add up, just like my examples above.

Compared to many, I would consider myself a frugal person. For over two decades, I've packed lunch for the Hubs, we've cut each others hair (and now our kids), made coffee at home (most days), shopped sales and used coupons, saved and repurposed. We don't pay for cable or Netflix, we almost never go to movies - even before COVID, and we don't take vacations. If you asked some of the kids, they'd say we're downright Scroogy! 

But the fact of the matter is, when my 1099 arrived last year from my largest client, I was shocked to see the amount and spent some time wondering where it all went last year. Yes, we were paying for private school at the time, so that took a large chunk, and yes, we paid cash for a vehicle that then needed a lot of TLC (read: parts) to get it up to speed. But despite these, and other big expenditures that happened, as I thought back over the year, I knew that my $27.40 days were definitely involved

So in the midst of this "no spend" month, I'm calling myself out for it. It's time to tighten the belt, not just this month, but every month. And when splurges do happenand they willthat $27.40 needs to be in cash. Not only is this more painful for me, but it's a good visual for the kids, who often have a difficult time grasping the concept that when a card comes out, so does money. The habit of splurging has definitely shown itself already, as I've had kids light up and say, "Oh, can we get 5 Guys for dinn..." and then remember, "oh, no. It's February." Maybe if they saw me whipping out four $20 bills each time we stopped for a "quick bite" it might impact them more than a square of plastic. It's something I'm considering...for March. 😉

What about YOU? Cash or card?
What makes up your $5, $15, or $27.40 splurges?

2.08.2021

Creature Comforts

I love winter. I suspect I may be one of the few people out there who truly feel this way, and it's not because I'm a huge outdoor enthusiast who lives for a week of skiing in the mountains. In fact, I've never been skiing, and have no desire to go. But I am an enthusiast of cozy. Snuggle-friendly blankets, hot mugs of tea, coffee, or cider, comfortable sweaters, early evenings, the glow of candles and the warmth of a fireplace (when you can find one), and - the obvious - a good book. These are my happy place, these are what make me sigh contentedly and think, in the words of Louis Armstrong, What a wonderful world...  

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

However, I've been through periods of my life when no amount of blankets or cups of tea would have brought a smile to my face. The world - my world - felt too dark. But in that darkness, I found the only Comfort that truly matters, and that was the love of my Savior, and His promise to never leave me or forsake me. And when I began to come out of the haze, I remember one of the first things I found enjoyment in again was warming up my tea pot and pouring myself a cup of tea. And I was grateful. Grateful for God's promises and His work in my life, even in the darkest of days. 

I've said it before, joining my voice to a chorus of others, that 2020 was a difficult year that seems to have rolled right over into 2021. But as in any bad situation, there's always something to be thankful for (consider Betsie Ten Boom giving thanks for fleas!), and in the last 12 months, I have learned to be thankful for a slower pace of life, and the little things that bring a smile to my face - such as the Advent calendar of tea that I purchased for the Hubs and I to enjoy during the holidays, or the fuzzy blanket that kept us warm while we battled off a bug. 

So in no particular order, here are a few of the "creature comforts" that have kept me smiling over the last year, and might be of interest to you as we head into the next year of unknown. 
  • Scented candles - I always have one burning in our room, or at my desk where I'm working on school stuff for the kids. A recent favorite was the French Baguette candle from Bath & Body Works that smelled exactly like freshly baked bread. Sadly, it is no longer available, but I'd be tempted to give this one a shot if given the chance. 
  • Meals in the InstaPot, CrockPot, and rice cooker - With so much time at home, I quickly moved through our repertoire of recipes that most of the family could agree on, so I turned to Google to help me out. Two of our new go-to meals came about as a result of those searches: Easy Slow Cooker Creamy Chicken Chili (we leave out the corn), and Hearty Sausage 'n' Beans (with a couple of ingredient tweaks, and I toss it all in the rice cooker, making it even easier).
  • Mood lighting - This past Christmas, I found myself with a short strand of small, clear, LED lights without a purpose. I was about to toss them back in the box when I realized I could wrap them around our headboard. When the holidays were over, I decided the cozy factor was too good to give up, and since they were white, they worked as a year-round addition.

  • The Goodreads app - which reminded me that even though it felt like I was spinning my wheels, I was still making progress on one of my 2020 goals.
  • Faux fur throw - While browsing around our local TJ Maxx, I pick up one that was similar to the one seen here. Although not typically my style, I love the way it feels and the fact that it's just a bit heavier than a normal blanket. 
  • YouTube jazz - whether I'm trying to focus on editing work, or chilling out after all the kids are in their rooms for the night, I love the seasonal jazz channels on YouTube. Check out the Cafe Music BGM Channel for a variety of options, including Rainy Day jazz (one of my favorites).
  • Le Creuset Stoneware Tea Mug - this was on my Christmas wish list and my sweet Hubs went for it. I didn't expect for this mug to take the place of my previous favorite (from the Unemployed Philosopher's Guild), but I love the heft of it, the way my hands fit perfectly around it, and its ability to hold heat. 
These are just a few of the creature comforts that have made the last year (and specifically this winter) a little more cozy and fun. It doesn't include the variety of teas that I've picked up and enjoyed from TJ Maxx, Fresh Market, and even Kroger. It also leaves out the baked good that my mother had been dropping off for the last year, or the bag of international snacks that I keep in our room, for those late night catch-up sessions with the Hubs. It doesn't mention the spring days spent laying in our outdoor hammock with a good book, or the sound of the kids playing in the cheap above-ground pool held together with Gorilla Glue tape, but those things also make me smile and whisper, "Thank You, God." It truly is a wonderful world...   


What would you add to this list? 
What makes you smile, brings a sense of warmth to your life (or toes), and helps keep the doldrums away? Leave a note in the comments, because I'd love to hear about it!

2.05.2021

Notes from The Stack (A "What's On My Night Stand" #WOMNS Post)

This week in the update from The Stack, we feature one book from the actual stack, and one from my virtual shelves, as I work my way through Kindle downloads as well. I resisted ebooks for years, and even after purchasing an actual Kindle several years ago, I never used it for reading books, just for watching BritBox through Amazon Prime. But when the kids came along, I suddenly found myself sitting in car lines, medical offices, and on soccer sidelines, with plenty of time on my hands and no book at the ready. And that's when the Kindle app on my phone became my go to option for all those minutes of unanticipated reading time. 

Photo by Mel Poole on Unsplash

These days, I still rely on the phone app for reading ebooks, and my Kindle is still primarily used for music and shows, but I've come to recognize there are benefits to the ebook, specifically price, especially when it's a book I'm not sure I'll want to ever read again, and Amazon loves to throw "$2 digital credits" my way when I opt for a slower shipping time on regular purchases. Many of the books I've got waiting in my Kindle lineup I got for free or pennies on the dollar, which is definitely a price I can get behind! The one downside I've found is that I cannot loan books when I find one I like, and before you tell me that you can, yes, I know. Technically there is a way to do it, but Amazon has definitely NOT made it user friendly! And it will never be the same as pulling a paperback off my shelf and handing it to a friend or family member, after telling them all about how I loved it and they would too. 

Whatever your preference, paperback or ebook, I've got you covered with both today! And my recent Kindle read happens to currently (as of the time of this writing, the first week of February 2021) be available for FREE with Amazon Prime (although it's only getting two stars from me, so do with that what you will). 

Book number one today, the aforementioned freebie on Kindle, is The Little Book of Lykke by Meik Wiking (who, you may recall, also wrote The Little Book of Hygge). Now, considering my take on his first book (read the review if you don't remember), you might be surprised to see him in my Stack again, ebook or not. The key to this one is the FREE aspect, mentioned above. If it's free, I'll occasionally give it a shot, which is what happened in this case. 

Reviewed in a sentence: it's a profanity-laced love letter to Denmark and socialism. 

A slightly longer review of it would include the following positives: I appreciated his take on looking for ways to show kindness to strangers (something that I can get behind as a Christian), and I've even been pondering the idea of planting a neighborhood garden in our side yard this spring, as a way to develop and build community. I also loved that little ol' Knoxville, Tennessee (up in my neck of the woods, as we'd say around here) hit the top of the list in U.S. cities where citizens would go out of their way to help someone they didn't know. But outside of that, I couldn't get over his use of profanity and his deeply held views that socialism is the key to Utopia. Two stars...but if you want to read it and decide for yourself...it's free right now if you have Amazon Prime, so that's right up there in the Utopian world for bookworms. 

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Now the second book of the week came directly off The Stack from my nightstand, and was just one of those "easy read" books that I was looking forward to diving into, and it didn't disappoint. To the Land of Long Lost Friends took me right back to the sunny skies of Botswana, and recalled memories of places I haven't thought of since we lived there (briefly), some 16 years ago. You can't go wrong (most of the time) with the adventures of the Number 1 ladies and their assistant detective in training, Charlie. Poor Charlie, who is always so picked on and never seems to catch a break...got the happy ending in this book, and I couldn't have been happier about that. 

Photo by C.G. Koens, Botswana, Africa

And that's what I've been reading since last week, in addition to continuing to work through Dear Mrs. Bird (which I'm a bit stuck on, as I don't like the direction it's heading), Poirot and Me (currently $3.99 on Kindle, if you're interested in giving it a try), and I just started The Girls of Atomic City, which has been fascinating so far, and I look forward to digging into that more in the coming weeks. On my Kindle, I'm taking a break from Wiking (though I still have one book from him left on my virtual shelf) and diving into Souvenir, which has been on my wish list for a while as a paperback, but I finally purchased the ebook version for free, thanks to all those lovely Amazon credits I mentioned earlier. And so on we go...traveling the world through books. No mask required. 

What's on YOUR nightstand?
And what would YOU add to my "must read" list?  

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