Why I Hate to Waste

Can I just preach to somebody for a minute?

Eight years ago, when we got married, we lived in a teeny tiny 500 sq ft house that we rented from my aunt and uncle. It had 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom, and a kitchen with carpeting. Even at half the rate we would pay to live anywhere else nearby, we struggled to make the payment along with the utilities. We scrapped and scraped. We ate frozen pizza, spaghetti, and protein bars an awful lot. We didn’t eat much that was fresh. We called both sets of parents and hinted until they invited us over for dinner. I’m sure there were times we just flat-out asked if we could mooch off of them.

There have been times when we didn’t have health insurance. There have been times when our heat was turned off. There have been times we owed so many people money that I felt ashamed, hopeless, and buried from the weight of it. I turned down offers to go out with friends because we “weren’t spending money on that right now”. I began to feel like a broken record. We had no credit and couldn’t get credit cards – the one we did get, we maxed out almost immediately, for a whopping $300.

It must have been difficult for our parents to watch us go through that.

Today, I spent $240 on a dress I will wear one time. Like it was no big deal. Like it didn’t matter. Eight years ago that was half our rent. We would’ve had to save for MONTHS to be able to afford a $240 dress. We wouldn’t have spent $240 on a dress. That was unspeakable. $240!! There was a time when I felt excruciatingly guilty for spending $5 on something like mascara. The difference does not escape me.

But money is cheap.

I’m reading a book and at one point while telling a story, the author says, “Cheap, cheap money.”

Money is cheap.

I’m not going to lie: we didn’t get to where we were by trying to keep up with the Jones’. We put our blinders on and stretched our dollars, every last penny of them. My incredibly money-smart husband threw money at our debt until it disappeared. It hurt. It ached. All that hard earned money tossed away, with no physical thing to show for it. It felt like we worked and worked – for awhile, only my husband worked and worked and worked, worked himself to exhaustion – and then wrapped our money in a pretty package and tossed it in the garbage. It was hoping, and hoping, and being excited about bringing in more money than normal, only to have it be gone, handed over to someone who had a claim on it before we even earned it. They owned us.

Lord I hate debt.

Sure, I wanted our own home, one I could paint and decorate and fix up with new furniture and appliances. But we didn’t have the money. We lived off our meager incomes and sometimes the generosity and pity of our parents. Still we dreamed of things. We’d walk through furniture stores and point out the things we liked and say, “someday.”

I remember the first time we bought new furniture. I can literally count on one hand the things we’ve bought FOR OURSELVES, NEW. The first thing was our bed set. Somehow we had saved up extra money and put it in savings. We needed a new bed. But I was looking at our savings account thinking, I want to hold onto this as tight as I can! I don’t want to spend all this right now on a BED. I wanted to go up to that finance desk and tell them, YES! “Sign us up. We can afford to make a monthly payment on this bedroom set. Look how we paid off the debt we used to have. Just look! Look how we’ve brought up our non-existent credit scores. And now you hand over the bed and the dresser, and we’ll sign a piece of paper, and we’ll pay you slowly but surely.” What could it hurt? There was no interest for the first year at least anyway. But my hubby, that man is smarter than that. God gave him a gift with finances. We paid cash for that bedroom set. Here I was, worried that we had spent the last of our reserves. Worried we wouldn’t have enough. Worried we would be in the red again before we stepped foot out the store. Not trusting, not understanding that YOU CAN ALWAYS MAKE MORE MONEY.

Why spend it before you have it?

Even sillier yet, why owe someone for something when you can just pay them right there?

You know what’s funny? People say you will never be ready for kids – and they’re right! You can read all the books, take all the classes, take your vitamins, and store up money for years and years – and society will still convince you you don’t “have enough” to support a child. (Because society always tells us we need the newest, best, fanciest gadgets and equipment and furniture and gear.) But having a child forced us to support ourselves better. I don’t mean in a cold, obligated, grudging sort of way: “I have to provide for this child so I have to get a better job.” Maybe for the man it’s like that. Maybe that’s part of the process, though I think it’s more a feeling of duty and honor. But to me – our situation started changing when we had a child because along with a child come all these other things… namely, bigger dreams.

You want to experience life through their eyes. The first time they swing at the park. The first trip to the pumpkin patch. The first Christmas. The first obligatory mall picture, on the Easter Bunny’s lap. There is so much of life to experience, and you want them to experience it ALL.

But experiences cost money.

I remember when we were trying to qualify for a house, explaining to Aubrey when she asked for a treat at whatever fast food joint we happened to be passing, that we were saving our money for our house. After awhile I could just ask, “Do you remember why we’re not spending money on that right now?” and she could answer accurately. And then she stopped asking altogether.

The thing is, God knows us.

He knows our weaknesses. He knows my natural inclination would be to try to keep up with everybody else; He knows I hate to feel left out, and if left to my own devices, I would do things I couldn’t afford just to fit in with everyone else, just to feel included. He knows I don’t like to settle for anything less than the best. Not because I’m haughty – because I’m unsatisfied with living life at any rate less than the fullest.

I thank God often that for YEARS, we couldn’t qualify for a credit card. Thank GOD He slammed that door shut TIGHT! Where would we be if we had just racked up debt on credit cards and paid the minimum balance? Oh, we might’ve looked pretty on the outside, but on the inside we would be writhing, uncomfortable, despairing, trapped, owned.

Romans 13:8 says it plainly: “Owe no man anything, except to love one another…”
That hung on our wall in our first apartment for 2 years. (And not in a pretty Pinterest frame either – hand-written on a piece of white printer paper, held up with scotch tape.)

Freedom is in owing no many anything except for love. Why? Because if you owe people money, that will be your first priority. Debt overtakes you and chases you down. It keeps knocking until it gets its fill. Debt is ruthless. Debt owns you.
You work for your creditors instead of working for yourself.

When we have no debt left, what we’re left with is the freedom and ability to fully pursue God’s calling on our life.

I thank God we were taught delayed gratification. Thank GOD! The time for us to have those things we wanted would come eventually, but it wasn’t then. It wasn’t when we were scraping and struggling to pay the bills as it was.

I thank God He blessed me with a husband with a gift for finances. With a no-nonsense attitude when it came to getting out of debt. I thank God He gave me a hard-working man who is willing to do whatever it takes to provide for his family. I thank God He gave me a husband with dreams and ambition, who is not satisfied with just ‘okay’. And I thank God for a husband who loves and delights in his family; who is not tight-fisted with his earnings.

I thank God we learned this: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11) PEACE. I thank God for peace.

The peace that I can purchase a $240 dress without feeling guilty for a month, wondering how we were going to make up that money we spent on something we couldn’t afford.

The peace that I can spend money on clothes each month and it’s not a big deal. It’s not a big deal!! You know what? For years I wore clothes that were not ‘in style’, that were old, or frumpy, or plain, or didn’t fit right, or had baby vomit stains on them, which most of the time I didn’t pick out for myself, but which were always practical. They were hand-me-downs, or gifts, or clothes I had greedily salvaged from storage in my parent’s basement, or from my old closet. And let me be clear: I was thankful to wear them.

Now I am thankful – and PEACEFUL – wearing clothes that fit properly, that are new, that are even a little bit trendy!!!!

For example. Ankle boots that are ‘wine’ colored. They have a heel. They are impractical. I am absolutely, 100% peaceful about that purchase. I got a GREAT deal on them, and I didn’t spend money we didn’t have. I don’t care that they don’t match everything. I LIKE THEM. So I bought them.

Let me say it one more time though: it does not escape me that for the first 7 years of our marriage, I did not buy things just because I liked them. I bought things only if the one I currently had was broken, ripped, or falling apart, and only if I absolutely needed that item. And then I likely bought off the clearance rack, and/or waited until a holiday or special occasion when someone gave me a gift card so I could afford it.

I don’t regret it.

I am really thankful we had those years, because now I can really appreciate when I spend money. I have these moments like today, where I just hand over my debit card for a large purchase, and I almost brush right by it.

Almost.

And then, when I’m driving away, or scrubbing dishes, or folding laundry, I’ll think… “I just spent $XXX on such-and-such item… without batting an eye.” And I can’t think that without remembering what it used to be like.

Man, God has blessed us.

God is not closed-fisted with His blessings.
Malachai 3:10: Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.

When God blesses us, and He begins to open the windows of heaven, do you know what it looks like? I’ve only seen a glimpse, and here it is: THERE WILL BE MORE, AND MORE, AND THERE WILL BE MORE BEFORE YOU RUN OUT.

I don’t like to waste things because I know the value of them. I know money is cheap cheap cheap, but still people live without running water. They have houses – if you can call them that – with dirt floors, and no soft mattresses for beds. Maybe some straw and a blanket if they’re lucky.

We’re so RICH. I make coffee in the morning, and pour it out to make fresh coffee in the afternoon. I pour. it. out. Down the drain. It pains me to do it. I know what it’s worth. I know there are people in the world who, even if they had money to buy coffee, wouldn’t. They’d buy something more practical, like seeds to plant a garden, so they could have food at harvest time. What use is coffee if you’re starving?

The worst I have to do to get hot water is wait a few minutes for a machine in my basement to heat it up.

I don’t have to walk miles and miles with a huge bucket or basin.
I don’t waste half my day walking to retrieve it.
I was not kept from studying in school because I had to help my mother carry water back and forth every day…
Carrying what weighs half my body weight back to my home, to ration and boil before it can be used.
I don’t have to worry about catching disease from the water I drink, which runs freely from a faucet in my home any time I turn it on.
Or which I can afford to buy bottled nicely in plastic packaging.

I no longer hate to waste because I’m afraid where the next portion will come from; I hate to waste because I know that everything we have has value.

Delayed Gratification + God’s grace = Abundance

Delayed Gratification + Abundance = Appreciation

My God is faithful. He may work in mysterious ways, but sometimes He gives us little glimpses of why He does what He does; we can look back on our past and see His hand in everything.

I am so thankful for the blessings we’ve been given – relationally, spiritually, financially, physically, emotionally. We truly have so much that we do not “have room enough to receive it.”

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Making your Grocery List

I wanted to share a post on how I plan my grocery trip every week. I’ve shared how I shop when I am on a stricter budget than normal, but I also wanted to share how I usually do things, in case it helps anyone to try it this way. It may seem like a lot of information, but the general point is this: Putting a lot of thought and planning into your list earns you flexibility and time when it comes to meals.
At the end I’ve listed everything in numerical checklist-type-fashion for ease of use. 😉

Firstly: I keep one of those magnetized lists on my fridge. Throughout the week I will add to this – it’s where I jot down what we have run out of, or are low on, and will need to purchase right away. You could call these things immediate NEEDS. They are generally things we use every week like bananas, milk, butter, eggs; and other items we might not need to purchase every week, but will nevertheless NEED, like toilet paper, cleaning supplies, or a necessary pantry item I ran out of (spices, flour, ketchup, etc.).

Then, a day or two before my planned shopping, I check the weekly ad for sales. With my fridge checklist nearby, I start a new list based on the ad – what’s on sale that I should stock up on? A few things about this list:
* Are there crossover items (items on my NEEDS checklist that are also on sale)? I check for coupons and then add all these items to the new list – whether on sale or not.
* I write things in order of department. I shop from BACK of the store to the FRONT, because most of the cold things are at the front of the store.
* If a sale item is limited to a particular size or brand, I always write that to help me identify it in the aisles.
* I write small and leave room next to each item to write down if I have a coupon, and if so where to find it. This way I don’t forget to cut and/or pack the paper coupons, or forget to scan them at the register. I use Meijer mPerks and the Coupon Lookup site for these.
* I also leave room in the right margin to write the cost, if I need to stick to a particular budget.
* I can then add up the amounts in the margin and get an approximate and preliminary total for my trip.

After I have or while I am perusing the ad, I turn over my list and make a meal plan for the week. I don’t do this until AFTER I look at the ad, because I usually build my meals around protein, and I base my proteins on what’s on sale that week. As I meal plan, I figure out if I need to add anything to my list that are necessary ingredients for those meals, and add them to my list.

Then I’ll go back one more time to make sure I have not forgotten anything. If I’m over my budget, I’ll see if there’s anything I can postpone purchasing.

Here are some categories I check off in deciding what to buy each week:
* Checklist needs, as explained above
* Enough proteins, veggies, and starches for dinners for the week
* Lunch staples – bread, PB&J, etc. Tortillas are also a staple in our house as they are so good for repurposing leftovers.
* Breakfast foods – In our house we rotate cereal, waffles, toast, eggs, and sometimes pancakes and crepes. Other times baked goods like apple cinnamon muffins and banana cookies!
* Pantry replenishment – anything on my needs list, but also includes my preferred OHI; for example, spinach, tomatoes, avocado(!) that I like to have around.
* Easy to grab snacks – this used to mean granola bars and fruit snacks for the kids; now I’ve tried to switch more to fresh fruit and veggies. The ones that are the most mommy-friendly are ones they can eat without any prep (except the original wash of course): grapes, apples, bananas, strawberries. Also good are yogurt and cheese. Sometimes I’ll buy cucumber, wash and cut it, and store it in a bag in the snack drawer in the fridge for the kids to grab easily. These snacks are great for mid-day when I might be prepping for dinner or finally eating my own lunch, and can’t or don’t want to be interrupted! 😉
* Household Items – cleaning, seasonal, essentials (like light bulbs!), home or garden (lawn bags, etc.)
* Special occasion – Cards or gifts for birthdays, showers, weddings; celebratory and also sympathy occasions

Does that seem like a really long drawn out process? It doesn’t actually take me so long anymore, because I can breeze through all these steps really quickly now that I’ve been doing it for so long. I also don’t always do a perfectly detailed Meal Plan every week – that’s the benefit of learning to cook using your OHI. All you have to do is choose proteins and veggies, then replenish your starches, spices, and pantry items. As long as you have a basic idea of the meal plan for each day, you can easily adjust based on what you have on hand. You can adjust this process to fit your needs and lifestyle. If you aren’t as concerned about cost, you save yourself time on coupons and can focus more on trying new recipes. If cost is more of an issue, you have the opportunity to flex your creativity muscle by using cheaper ingredients in new and interesting ways.

Click HERE for a step-by-step checklist to make your own organized, thoughtful shopping list!

Quick Tip: “Multiple Meal” opportunities

One of the things I’ve learned to do to save myself time and money is to re-purpose a grocery item for more than one meal. I almost always buy family packs of meat and break it into 2-3 dinners. Most times I’ll even take leftovers from those dinners and make an entirely different meal. I suppose if I had a motto in the kitchen, it would be, “Use what you have”. And along with that, “Save everything!” (until it goes bad of course) You never know what could come in handy!

So when I am meal planning and grocery shopping for the week, I always ask myself if I can re-purpose either the leftovers, or the other half of the protein that I don’t use. Actually, more often than not I do plan my meals with leftovers in mind. That’s what I call a “First Meal”: one in which you purposefully make more than enough, with a plan to use the leftovers for another meal – whether that be breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a side.

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Weekly Meal Planning – On a Budget!

So. This week my grocery budget is a little less than 1/2 of what it is normally… Ever been in a similar situation? For whatever reason, you’re a little tight that week? What’s a momma to do?! At this stage in our life, we do ONE TRIP PER WEEK. Here’s how to maximize your budget and your OHI.

Step (1): Take stock of your OHI. What do you have that you can make meals of already? This particular week I have plenty of lunch meat, some frozen ground beef, enough quick meals for my 3 working night dinners, some fresh produce, and a few other things that I was already planning on using in dinners.

Step (2): What ESSENTIALS do you need to replace? Mentally go through all the categories: paper products, cleaning products, laundry supplies, baby supplies, then all the grocery items (Dairy, frozen, produce, dry goods, you know the drill). This list should be limited to only what you know you cannot get through the week without. Things you will MOST CERTAINLY run out of if you don’t purchase it in the next day or two. For me this week, the only things I knew I’d need for SURE were eggs, milk, butter, frozen veggies, jelly, bread, bananas, and tomatoes. *Remember to consider every meal and snack time too.

Step (3a): Go through your local grocery ad. What’s on sale? This week what stood out to me was Meijer Steamable frozen veggies, country pork ribs, Peter Pan PB (my fave!), Meijer Naturals Chicken Stock, Sargento Cheese, Spaghetti O’s, Creamette Pasta, my favorite yogurt Fage, and On the Vine Tomatoes.
(3b): Check for coupons for your essentials and the sale items. We shop at Meijer because right now, in our area, they offer the best coupon “double dip” opportunities (a double dip is where you might get something on sale with a coupon, or be able to use multiple coupons on one item, or use coupons in a quantity or sum qualifying sale [i.e. ‘buy 6, save $5’]). I search two different places for coupons: Coupon Tom and mPerks. Coupon Tom is a cross-referencing site where you can type in the product and it will pull up corresponding coupons for that item. This uses Jill Cataldo’s coupon organization method. (You can visit her free blog here for the best deals at grocery stores in the Chicago Suburbs and to learn more about smart couponing.) To check mPerks, you sign in using your phone number (Don’t worry – no spam texts or calls!) on the website and at the register using your PIN. Signing up allows you to choose from hundreds of coupons for their store brand products as well as name brand items. They have great coupons on here and lots of opportunities to save. (Last month I saved about $200 – average $50 a week – by combining sales and multiple coupons.) Bonus, they have lots of produce coupons – hooray!!
I found coupons for these items: butter, Sargento shredded cheese, Spaghetti O’s, bread, organic Portobello mushroom caps.

Step (4): First total. Using prices from the ad and your best estimate from your smart shopping in the past, add up to get the total of all your items on your list. If you’re not sure, always round up. Then make a meal plan for every day that week (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks) and make sure you don’t have any gaps. (If you do, can you fill them with something you already have? Or do you have to add to your list?)

Step (5): Adjust. Are you above your budget? Below? Can you add some more healthy items? Do you need to adjust quantities of something? Is there something you can do without? At this point I went through the ad again to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. ***TIP: Any time a manufacturer puts out a new product, they almost ALWAYS put out corresponding coupons to get you to try it.*** I ALMOST looked past the Marie Callendar’s Easy Sides. ALMOST. But – They were 4 for $5 (not fantastic by any means). But if you bought 4, you got $1 off instantly = 4 for $4. I checked Coupon Tom. Yes! There was a $.75 off 1 coupon. Score. I get 2 papers, so I can use two of those coupons. But wait, mPerks also has a coupon: $1/3. So if I buy 4, it’s actually cheaper to use the $1/3 plus one $.75/1 coupon. ARE YOU WITH  ME?!? Instead of paying $5 for 4, I’ll be paying $2.25. Yes, for that price, I will try this new product. Even on a tight budget week.
And then – Wait – WAIT. Mahi Mahi was featured at $6.99/lb. Hmmm…. I really didn’t need the yogurt as I still had a few left. I really don’t need the pasta either. Spaghetti O’s?? I really only put them on my list for nostalgia’s sake anyway. I nixed a few items to free up the $7 for some Mahi Mahi – which for some reason sparked another idea… mango salsa… I googled ‘Mahi Mahi mango salsa‘ and pulled up a recipe. Well, I may not have all the items on that list, or the budget to buy them, but I CAN make some substitutions and buy a few of the cheaper things – especially since I know I can get multiple uses out of something like a lime or a red onion.

Step (6): Double -Check and prepare. Make sure you have everything you need and you’re a couple bucks under budget to account for miscalculation and tax. Usually when I’m estimating I only count my PRE-coupon total (unless its a big baby sale and I’ll be saving $10 or something). Make sure all your coupons are loaded to your mPerks, or shopping card, or printed, and that all the paper coupons are cut and ready with your list.

Now, you thrifty little shopper you, go out and conquer that grocery store!!!

Here’s an example of a working meal plan for the week. Excuse my scribbles 🙂
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