I Really Don’t Like Winter

winter-smallI really don’t like winter anymore.  I love living in Ohio, I really do.  I’ve lived my entire 42 years here in northeast Ohio and I really wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.  However, I hate winter, I dislike everything about it.  I don’t like the cold, can’t stand the snow and being stuck inside (without fresh air coming through the windows) makes these 3-4 months unbearable at times.

Oh, there is plenty of beauty…God is like that, creating beauty in something that you want to dislike making it hard to hate it so much.  I do love the look of a heavy snowstorm, as long as I don’t have to go anywhere.  I do love the glistening of ice on trees, until limbs come down and knock the power out.  I even love that clean crisp breath of air when you first walk out on a cold, cold morning, but one breath is enough.  And I do love curling up with my family, watching a movie, reading a book, playing a game or just being together on cold winter evening.

Winter often comes with times of trials and deep reflection.  Illness often creeps up on us and the older I get, the harder it is to shake.  The grey dreary days bring on depression and just a general blah feeling that can often last for weeks.  Work and hobbies often suffer as it’s harder to get interested or stay focused.  And my stress levels often rise as I’m forced to travel in bad weather and go out when I don’t want…plus now that I have children who drive, the added level of stress there just compounds that which I already put on myself.

But as typical, God often works that which is not ideal, not good, or I don’t really like to my good.  He puts these trials in front of me to strengthen me and to draw me closer to him.  I often do find myself reflecting on my life and as many of us do, I might put some New Years resolutions to better myself physically, mentally and spiritually.  This year I’m going to put it out there for the world (or the one or two people that might read this) a few things that I’m looking to change this year.

  1. I’m going to eat and drink healthier.  Probably one of my biggest bad habits is soda.  I do drink too much.  I’m going to cut it back and hopefully out.  I’ll replace it with more water and fruit juices (and I do love chocolate milk, so there may be some of that in there).
  2. I’m relatively inactive.  Oh I get out with the kids, I coach football  and baseball, so I’m out there then, but really my job puts me at a desk for 8 hours a day so I need to make a better effort of getting some exercise.
  3. I plan on reading more this year.  This includes fiction, non-fiction and of course getting into the Word more (along with books that help me learn more about God and his Word)

I don’t expect to make a complete turn-around.  I suspect that I’ll falter.  I hope to make continuous improvement by working on these things in baby steps.  Practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanent.  Thus if I practice in these 3 areas each and every day, I hope to make them permanent good habits.

Perhaps next year when I reflect back on 2013, I’ll be looking at the winter and this post and say, I don’t hate winter so much anymore.  God gave us the winter to help us slow down, reset our lives and appreciate all that he has given us…..and how wonderful the warm weather will be when it gets here.

Experiencing God

This post was originally posted on another blog that I wrote back in 2008 that I no longer maintain.  It was posted Christmas morning of 2008 and while it talks about the birth of Christ, the message in the post applies year round.  I stumbled across this once again and thought I would share.

Experience God this Christmas

I’ve been reading through Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby the last few weeks and one of the things that you learn is the seven realities of experiencing God.  Number 3 on that list is, "God invites you to become involved with Him in His work."  Looking back over the Christmas story, we find that God was at work in a small manager in Bethlehem 2000 years ago to give us the greatest Christmas gift of all.  We see that the wise men were invited by God to become involved in that work.  The shepherds were invited to become involved in His work.  In fact, Mary and Joseph were invited to become involved in His work.  This Christmas season, as I search for places in my own life that God is working, I realize that God has invited us all to become involved in His work started 2000 years ago under that star.  The work he started 2000 years ago continues on to this day and we all can take part in this work.  This Christmas season we have the opportunity to take part in perhaps God’s greatest work since creation, the salvation that he provides us through Jesus Christ.  The angels spread the news 2000 years ago that a savior was born. 

Today I can share that news with anyone who reads this and can continue working with God in the great work he invited everyone of us to join in on.  God bless you all this fine Christmas day!

Year of Change

When I reflect back on 2011 (read my review from last year to see where I was at then), one thing that really jumps out at me is how much change we went through.  Life is always changing, for the better and worse as we grow older and wiser.  Change is inevitable, we as humans cannot escape change. Quickly, let me review some areas of my life and reflect on the change that 2011 has brought. 

  • Family – Yes as last year, I still have four awesome children that grow and change everyday.  I know have another driver in the family and that adds a whole other level of stress, but joy at the same time.  My daughter has blossomed into a young woman and becomes more beautiful each day.  My two younger boys are growing quickly, but they still are fun-loving, energetic and best of friends.  I thank God everyday for those kids!

    I thank God each day for my wife of almost 20 years.  We’ve been together longer than we’ve been apart in our 40 years and I wouldn’t want it any other way.  Sure we can argue and I’m sure I irritate my wife on a perhaps daily schedule but she stands by me through thick and thin.  One thing I’ve learned over the years (and my oldest son is learning the hard way unfortunately) is that in any relationship, there will be struggles.  There will be times when you want to run away, times when you just don’t like the other person much (I never feel that way towards my wife, but I’m sure there are times when she feels that towards me Smile)  However, as in any commitment, when the going gets tough, you just hunker down and work hard to solving the problem.

    One big change that occurred this year and it wasn’t pleasant at all, is the loss of my father-in-law.  My wife’s step-dad was a great father to my wife and great grand-dad to my kids.  He and I butted heads at times, mostly in politics and religion, but we were friends and he’d do anything for you.  He went in for surgery in August, seemed to be doing well but then developed an infection that is body just couldn’t fight off.  After many weeks in the hospital, he passed away.  The hardest thing I had to do this year, was comfort my 16 year old who broke down at his grandfather’s funeral.  We love you and miss you Roger!

  • Job – Well this is another area where change happened quickly and I didn’t see it coming.  If you read last years posts, you’ll see that business was slow and we were struggling to keep everything afloat, but I was energized and excited to make my business grow.  I had great plans and nothing was going to get in my way.  Well, just a few short weeks after I wrote that post, a job offer fell into my lap that I couldn’t refuse.  Needless to say, by the start of February, I had started down a new path in my career.  One that was not what I expected, but far more than I anticipated.  I’m now the Directory of Technology Services at Three30 Group.  I’m excited to see where this company is going and while there has been change there as well (some not the way it was planned I’m sorry to say) I’m looking forward to 2012 as a great year for us.
  • Finances – Well as you may remember from last year, times were tough and financially it was a struggle.  Well with the help of the above mentioned new position, we’ve got our finances back on track.  Things are still tight as we recover from the depths we were at, but things are on the positive upswing and we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I can’t wait until we are at a position to start paying it forward.  When we have cash left over at the end of the month that we can donate to the local food cupboard, or pay for a random person’s tank of gas, or help to fix a vehicle for someone who needs it, but can’t afford to fix it.  This is our goal to be financially free, so we can use the gifts we have been given to help others.

I could go on, but these areas of change some good and some bad are a consistent pattern throughout life.  As soon as you think everything is settled, something comes along to change that.  Things must change it seems and I’m beginning to embrace that, enjoy it and in some cases look forward to it. 

However, we can be assured that one thing never changes.  There is something that we can always count on to be consistent.  That is God and his undying love for us.

The LORD is the eternal God, Creator of the earth. He never gets weary or tired; His wisdom cannot be measured. – Isaiah 40:28

Jesus Christ never changes! He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. – Hebrews 13:8

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?  – Numbers 23:19

There is just a few, but the entire Bible is filled with examples of how God is faithful and unchanging.  With that confidence we know that though our lives change by the hour and at times very unexpectedly, we always have an anchor that will keep us steady in the storms of life.  So in 2012, I look back and thank God that throughout all the changes we encountered, he has been there for us throughout.  And I now look forward to 2012 and though there may be a lot of change, some unpleasant, I know that He will be there watching over me always.

Hoping everyone has  a wonderful New Year and may God bless you!

Practice Makes Permanent

For many of you that know me, you know that starting late 2001 I’ve been self-employed.  January of 2011, I took a job with a consulting / marketing firm in northeast Ohio as the Director of Technology Services.  Why you may ask?  Many, many reasons.

  • Money – Business had been slow the last couple years and cash flow wasn’t there.  It came down to a decision to keep doing what I was doing, but be broke, or get a steady paycheck.  I opted for that steady paycheck.
  • Opportunity – This was actually a big deciding factor.  I could stay on my own, trying to build a business with limited resources.  Or, I could join forces with this new company and have direct the technology side of the business with a team already in place (and added to over the last year).  I opted for the opportunity.
  • Camaraderie – When I was on my own, I had partners that I worked closely with, but I wasn’t with them every day.  We were all independent consultants and as such I believe we had separate goals with our business.  Some of us wanted to build something larger than ourselves, others were content with just making a wage.  This was probably the hardest reason for me to move on.  I miss working with those people as much as I do.  I still see a few, and I value that time with them, but it’s not as often as before.  I’m now at a company where I see my co-workers most every day, we all have the same goals in mind and are moving forward in the same direction.
  • Free time – This really is the main point of this post.  When I worked for myself, I felt like I never left work.  Weekends, evenings, holidays, it was all non-billable time that I wasn’t making any money.  I felt like I should always be working.  Now, I have paid vacation, paid holidays.  One of the biggest attractors for me taking this new position was so that I could now be free to relax off hours.  Well, that’s a bigger struggle than I realized.  Let me explain.

Letting go of work

Here I sit, using up the last bit of my vacation that I had left over this year.  Yes I’m able to sleep in. I’m able to spend time with my wife and children.  We are able to prepare and enjoy the time leading up to Christmas.  And all the while, I’m earning a paycheck.

So, why can’t I relax?  Why do I feel like I need to be working and that I’m not earning any money.  I see this vacation time as lost income, since that is what it was when I would take time off before.  I stress over spending money, since I feel we will have less of it now since I didn’t work this week.  I feel a bit guilty to my co-workers and my company that I’m not spending time working over the week.  In essence I’m driving myself and my wife nuts.

Practice makes permanent

Here’s where I think I went wrong.  For almost a decade I trained myself that if I wasn’t working, I wasn’t earning.  If I wasn’t earning, I wasn’t billing.  If I wasn’t billing, I wasn’t receiving any money.  If I didn’t receive any money, I was broke.  For all that time, any time off was missed opportunity for income. 

I’ve learned over the years that the old adage, “Practice makes perfect” is actually incorrect.  How it really goes is, “Practice makes permanent.”  That’s nothing new so I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but it really hits home at this time of year especially when there is more time off and less work being done (and usually more bills to pay).  I practiced for 10 years to always be on the job.  Now that I don’t have to be, I’m finding that all that practice worked, it made that mentality permanent.

Retraining

Well what to do to fix my misguided programming:

  • First, realize what the problem is.  This is usually the first step to everything it seems…admit there is a problem, well there I’ve done it.
  • Next, determine the path I want to follow.  How do I want to be retrained?  What does the retrained me look like?  Well in this instance, I want to look forward to vacation and time off as a positive, as a reward for hard work.  Now I know how I want to react in the future.
  • Finally, the hard part.  Practice.  Practice at relaxing, practicing at letting work go for the holiday and enjoy the time off.  This won’t be easy.  This is exactly what the problem is now, but I must practice.  The good people at Lifehack (Lifehack in general is a very good resource) have a nice post on some steps to make new habits stick.  18 Habits to make new habits stick.  You can find tons more out there, just do a search on something like “30 days to a new habit” and you’ll find what you’re looking for.

“Occupy Charity” at Christmas (and all year)

One of my favorite modern Christmas stories occurred a few years back.  I attend a fairly large church that can average 3-5 thousand over 4 services on a weekend in a relatively affluent community.  Well as expected, Christmas eve was crowded.  At the end of the service our pastor told us a story and made a call to action. 

The church sponsored an orphanage in the Ukraine.  If I recall the details properly, the orphanage is housed in a fairly large building and was important to the many homeless children in the community.  Over the years we as a church had helped with many of their needs and had even traveled to assist them with different things.  Well this Christmas time, they had a special need.  It seems, that during that particular year they had been going through an unusually cold winter, many days already in December already with below 0 temperatures and with the heart of winter still to come. This home provided the necessary shelter and food for many of the young children in the area that without a home like this, would likely starve or freeze during these cold months.  This home literally made the difference between life and death for many.

Well as so happened the boiler went out in this building, leaving it with no heat.  This would be disastrous for the very people that depended on this life saving home.  The operators of the home contacted their partners at our church and humbly asked for assistance to get heat restored.  The repairs that would be needed would require about $10,000, money they just did not have.  Without them, they would be forced to close their doors.  They asked if there was anything we could do to help them with even a portion of the money required to do repairs.

Jump back to northeast Ohio, on that Christmas eve, where we all had cozy, warm homes to return too, looking forward to Christmas morning.  Our pastor asked that we take up a special offering, of which 100% of the funds would be delivered to this home for the necessary repairs.  We made our offering and went back to our warm homes. 

A few weeks later during our normal weekend services, our pastor made a special announcement and wanted to let us know the outcome of this special offering.  As a church family, we had raised over $50,000 for this home, which would not only cover the needed repairs, but would allow for necessary upgrades and enhancements and operating expenses that would improve the ability of the home to provide for those in need.  What an unexpected blessing this was and how truly this changed the lives of many.

Changing Lives one day at a time

Our small offering, while not a great individually great sacrifice, combined to make the difference between life and death for many.  It allowed those children in the Ukraine another day of life and provisions that they would not have had otherwise. 

Another great story I love to tell, is how more local and affects many of my neighbors and friends.  Every year at the end of the football season, we play our rivals for the Blue Cup.  Unfortunately, for too long, our team has not brought the Blue Cup home.  The last two years during the weeks leading up the game, we also are preparing for another competition, the prize of which is the Blue Ladle.  What is this?  Well both schools booster organizations hold a food drive at the schools.  Students are encouraged to bring in a few canned or boxed goods.  This year for the second year in a row, we’ve won the Blue Ladle with over five truckloads of food going to our local food cupboard!

While we love to win the Blue Ladle, the most important part of the story comes next.  To help unload the food, we enlisted a handful of football players to help (five truckloads of food is a lot for us old men!).  After we unloaded we had the operators talk with these young men about their operation and how lives are changed because of what they just did.  If you watched these young men as they listened, you could see that they got it, they realized that football is just a game, played on the field, but it really means nothing in the grand scheme of things.  What they won by playing for the Blue Ladle, was not just a large blue ladle (yes their really is one), but the knowledge that they changed someone’s life.  They helped someone have some food that may have been difficult to come by.  This is what it is all about.  Changing lives, one day at a time, making an eternal difference in their own and the recipients of their charity.

That is what charity is about, it is not about taking from one (the well-off) and giving to another (the not-so-well off), it is about giving of yourself, giving a piece of your own heart and soul and sharing that with someone else that has need.  What is beautiful about that is that is not a zero-sum game.  When you take from the one to give to another, you simply move wealth around, but when you give of yourself, out of charity to those in need, you not only help those in need by providing them something they can’t provide for themselves, but you also enrich yourself.  I’m not suggesting that by giving a dollar you’ll be returned two, but giving of yourself enriches you in so many ways that once you’ve experienced the gift of giving, you’ll want to keep on giving!  Try it, you’ll see.

Missing the Point

Unfortunately, what I see today, in our fast-paced, self-centered culture is a lack of true charity.  Oh we can say that by paying our taxes and asking the well to do to pay “their fair share” (whatever that means) we can provide a kind of charity, all that really does is move wealth from one to another.  We can “Occupy Whatever” and say that capitalism is the root of all evil and is the problem that plagues our society.  But what most forget is that they have all they need to provide charity to those that lack.  How so you may ask? 

Do you see someone who doesn’t have enough to eat?  Give them food.
Do you see someone without a home?  Offer them your couch.
Do you see someone freezing in the winter?  Give them a coat.
Do you see someone without a job and willing to work?  Give them work.
Do you see someone sad and depressed this holiday season?  Give them a kind word and help them smile.

Don’t miss the point of charity.  Not to enrich others at the expense of some, but to enrich all through the gift of giving.  This Christmas season, give to those in need, of yourself and watch the wealth and good will spread far faster than any other means. 

What to talk about at the Thanksgiving table.

I ran across a recent tweet that linked to an article on the Planned Parenthood site of New York City entitled, “Talking Turkey:  8 Easy Steps for Discussing Reproductive Health and Justice at the Holiday Table” (I’m not going to link to it and give them any link juice, you can Google the title and find the article quickly enough).  Basically the article gives the pro-abortion crowd a playlist and answers to common questions to help in their debate with their pro-life relatives.  I at first wanted to post an article debunking their arguments (not that difficult really), but after some reflection, I thought I’d rather post some suggestions on other things to talk about at the Thanksgiving table.

Meaningful topics for discussion.

  1. Give thanks.  Now here’s a novel idea, how about we give thanks!  God has provided us with so much.  We have our family, good food to eat, and the freedom in this country to worship as we wish.  Despite any hardship we may be facing at the time, let’s remember all that we do have.  We live in a country where even the poorest among us would be usually considered wealthy in other parts of the world.
  2. Remember.   Remember those that have gone on before us.  Remember those family members no longer with us and celebrate their lives and be thankful for the time we had with them.  Remember those that gave the ultimate sacrifice in defense of this country which gave us the ability to celebrate this holiday.  Remember and thank our parents for loving us enough to give us life.  If you have children, remember the choice you made to have them and look into their precious face and give thanks for that child that God has gave us.  And most importantly, remember the ultimate love that God displayed by sending his son to die for us.
  3. Enjoy.  Enjoy one another’s company. Despite any political or religious disagreements you may have, let’s not use this time to debate and argue, but let’s use this time to agree, that we are family and love one another.  Let’s laugh and have fun.  Enjoy the time we have been given.

There will always be debate on politics and religion.  There will always be a time for debate.  But unlike Planned Parenthood, I hope you look at Thanksgiving as a time to reflect, a time to give thanks, and a time to enjoy those you share the holiday with.

God bless and Happy Thanksgiving!

The days of old

I saw this article this morning about a major grocer chain that was removing all of their self-checkout lanes.  My first thought was, why would they do that.  I personally don’t use them, but I understand the convenience of them when you have just a handful of items.  But then I read this quote from the article;

We just want the opportunity to talk to customers more.  That’s the driving motivation.

That hit it on the head for me.  What business wouldn’t want to talk to their customers, to engage them more.  I believe that one of the biggest social issues in this country these days is the fact that everyone is in a hurry, no one talks to their neighbors anymore, and there is no sense of community.  Everyone is in a “me, me. me” and “hurry, hurry, hurry” type of attitude.

Today we get the gestures and dirty looks when we pass someone by. People don’t hold the door for each other anymore. Neighbors aren’t neighborly anymore. Fast food restaurants on every corner where I feel like I’m putting the workers out by ordering. Yes I’m generalizing, but everyone’s seen it.

What happened to the days when people said hello to each other as they passed?  What about the days when you you’re neighbors would look out for each other instead of trying to hide away?  How about the times when a town would shut down for a Friday night football game regardless of the record?  Why can’t we go into a restaurant and be greeted by name and asked if we want our usual?

This world would be just a bit nicer, the days just a bit brighter if everyone would make an effort to get back to those days.  My goal for today:

  • Say hello to a random stranger.
  • Hold the door for someone (other than those that are with me)
  • Talk to a clerk or waiter today and ask them how they are doing…..and actually listen!

What better time than now to start fixing the social ills that plague this nation with one kind act or word at a time!

Where Have I been?

Well, I’ve always heard from the blogging wizards that if you don’t post on your blog for an extended period, that when you come back, don’t bother posting the “Why I Haven’t Posted” post, because no one except maybe you’re mother really cares (Mom if you’re reading this, I know you care!).  This, despite the title, is not one of those posts.

I’m a firm believer that to get ahead in life, you have to keep your eyes focused forward on the prize.  Do a search on the words “focused on the prize” and see the results that Google returns.  Here’s a quote from my favorite book;

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.  -Philippians 3:14

The last couple months, I’ve been focused more and more on where I’m going.  Not always did I like the direction I was headed, but now that I’m beginning to come out of the forest, I see that the path that was winding through the darkest forest, is now leading me into the light and into a bit of easier travel.  Oh sure, there will be some forest to travel through yet, I’m sure there will be tree’s blocking the path, dangers on either side and some scary times when I’ll feel alone, but because I can see what I’ve come through and have been made stronger because of it, the path ahead will be made easier because of those obstacles I’ve already passed.  I don’t need to look behind me, because those experiences carry with me and I use what I’ve learned to tackle anything that arises before me.

I can see the prize ahead of me, I trust the path that has been laid before me and I keep joyfully trudging along knowing what awaits me at the finish line.

So the real question is not, “Where have I been?”, but “Where am I going?” 

Practice Smart Shopping

Yesterday my wife and I went grocery shopping. Our new hobby has been seeing how much money we can save purchasing products we can and will use, usually product we would have purchased full price anyway, using coupons and shopping smartly. We got a late start yesterday, but we managed to hit three stores yesterday saving a combined total of around $90 on purchases of around $170. In this post, I just want to show how we prepare for the shopping trip and show examples of some of deals we were able to score in this latest trip.

One of the biggest criticisms of shopping smart is that it takes too much time.  In this world today, when people are so busy, they just don’t think that they have the time it takes to clip coupons and plan your shopping trips.  Well I say, it doesn’t take as long as you may think and you will surely find time if you just look.

Where do we get our coupons?  We buy a Sunday paper each week which typically comes with a handful of coupons inserts.  You can view contents of the upcoming inserts at http://www.sundaycouponpreview.com/.  I know of some people that will buy multiple papers just to get multiple sets of coupons.  We don’t typically, but will sometimes ask other family members for their inserts that are just going to get thrown away anyway.

Another huge source for coupons is on the internet.  The three main sites; www.coupons.com, http://www.redplum.com/ and  http://www.smartsource.com/, provide access to many coupons that you can print (often multiple copies).

You can also check out company sites as they often offer coupons for their products as well, sometimes requiring signing up for a newsletter or something, but it is often worth the hassle.   Also don’t forget the store websites themselves.  Most stores offer store coupons or special coupons / deals for card members.  Also most stores will allow you to stack store coupons with manufacture coupons, thus getting double savings on a single product.

Prepping the coupons.  Much of the time, and the resistance by others to couponing is the cutting and sorting of the coupons.  We found that while relaxing in the evening, we were simply watching TV and doing absolutely nothing else.  We now take this time to clip and organize.  I will often clip, do a very loose sorting into very general piles (food, non-food, …) and then my wife will sort how she likes them and put them into a binder.  At the same time we check for expired coupons and remove them.  This is pretty mindless work, so perfect for sitting in front of the TV when you are doing nothing else.

Our binder is a typical three-ring binder you can purchase just about anywhere for a dollar or two.  In the binder we use inserts designed for baseball cards.  We had some laying around, but you can find these just about anywhere you can find baseball or Pokémon cards and are not too expensive.  My wife will categorize as she see fit and then places similar coupons into the individual sleeves.  This binder fits nicely into my wife’s purse, she carries a fairly large and roomy purse, and is easily accessible in the stores.  Check out this post as this is how we modeled our binder after.

How do we determine which products to buy?  This is pretty simple.  We buy what we need.  We rarely buy just for the sake of getting a deal (we will sometimes if we can get the product free or close to free).  Someone once said the best deal they ever got, was the one the did NOT buy. 

If it’s a product you use and you get a good deal, feel free to stock up.  Sure you have to be careful on perishable products, but if you can get a great price on toilet paper for example, then by all means buy as much as you can.

During yesterdays shopping trip, one good deal we snagged was a buy on a feminine product my wife uses.  Rite-Aid had a buy one get one free special (B1G1) on this product.  We also had a manufacture coupon for B1G1.  We also had two more coupons for $3/1 (three dollars off of one item) for this particular product and another for $1/1.  Here is how we did this deal.  Purchased a quantity of 4.  Rite-Aid’s deal gave us two of them free.  Because however we had four items, we were still able to use four coupons. With our B1G1 coupon, we got the 3rd free.  Then with the other 3 coupons we had $7 knocked off the fourth item (the only one were were really paying for).  These are regular priced at $7.98.  So we snagged four products, totaling about $32 at regular cost for a total of 98 cents, through the usage of store sale and coupons.  According to my wife, this will last here almost a year.  I would say that was worth the couple minutes it took us to plan.

Another fun deal we got yesterday was on pickles.  We love dill pickles and with spring coming up (we’re being optimistic here) it’s getting time to start grilling (hopefully sooner than later).  And what goes better on hamburgers than a few good dill pickles.  Well Giant Eagle had Vlasic pickles on sale 2/$4.  Giant Eagle has a program called eOffers that allows you to load coupons on your store card that automatically come up at the register. The had an eOffer coupon for $1/2.  This knocked the price down to 2/$3.  Already a good deal.  We then had two manufacture coupons for $.55/1 off of Vlasic pickles.  Since you can stack manufacture coupons with eOffers we were able to use those two coupons as well.  Giant Eagle also doubles coupons under $1.  So those coupon values jumped to $1.10/1 once doubled.  For those two jars of pickles the final price came to 2/$.80 for two large jars of  pickles.  Good deal for sure.

Planning our trip.  We plan pretty much what we will buy and from where based on our needs and store sales.  We will write out a list of items, their prices and any coupons we plan on using, with one list for each store we plan on going to.  Between the two of us this really doesn’t take much time at all.

Then we plan our route.  We try to plan our trip to travel the shortest distance possible.  Another common complaint of couponing is that you spend as much on gas as you save with coupons and sales that you really aren’t saving anything.  While that may be true if you were only buying one or two items, if you plan well you will come way out ahead. 

Our last trip, I drove maybe an extra 10 miles to get to the different stores (living out in the country we are used to driving distances to get to stores so not a big deal).  We might have spent an extra dollar or two in gas, but when we saved $90 dollars, I think we came out way ahead.

Yes going to multiple stores takes time.  Yes we take a few hours to purchase stuff from multiple stores, but when my wife and I go together, I say what better way to spend time with my best friend.  With four young kids, we don’t get a lot of alone time as it is, so we take it where we can get it. 

Why do this?  Well as I’ve stated many times before (here and here for example) we are trying to become more frugal with our money because of the current world economic state. It just makes sense to save money as best as you can.  The stores give you these means to save money, but so many do not take advantage for one reason or another. 

But we also found that God wants us to use our money and resources wisely. 

The wise have wealth and luxury, but fools spend whatever they get.  -Proverbs 21:20

 

The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender. – Proverbs 22:7

and we should never forget this:

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,   “Never will I leave you;   never will I forsake you.”  — Hebrews 13:5

God Tears a Man Down, Just to Lift Him Up

I recently had to make some difficult decisions, some pretty big, life-changing decisions. But first a little background.

Ten years ago, I was unhappy at my current job. I was a software developer working for a smallish company. There was nothing really wrong with the company itself and the work I was doing was satisfying and challenging. I think my biggest problem was I got bored. Along came a friend who was doing computer consulting and he offered me a job in July 2001. It was more money, more flexibility (I could do a lot of work from my home office) and since I wasn’t working on a "product", I was doing something different almost every day. It was anything but monotonous.  Then came along 9/11.  That fateful day that changed so much in our country and indeed it touched each and everyone of us in some manner. The economy started to fail and work was getting scarce. Shortly after Christmas, I was layed off because he just couldn’t afford me anymore.

It was at that point that I though I had hit my lowest point. Here I was, I had just given up a good paying job six months prior to join a small and exciting company doing what I loved to do and now I was out of a job. What a way to start 2002. I had a choice to make then, do I go looking for a job? Or do I try to make it on my own? Well there were no jobs out there at that time. I had no choice to try it on my own. I jumped into the consulting world. My former employer, the one that just laid me off, passed me some work as he could (not too much at first as he was struggling to survive as well), I picked up a few small clients on my own and I began to grow the business. It was very slow at first. I went from making 70k+ in 2001 and before, to barely scrapping together 20k in 2002. I supplemented my income by selling books on eBay. That kept food on the table and a roof over my head, but just barely. My wife and I and our three children, just keep plugging away.

A little over two years of this and I began to realize what God was telling us. When I graduated from college and got my first job, I moved up the income ladder very quickly. In just seven short years I had increased my income over 50k. What I realized I hadn’t done, was increased my giving and generosity. When we were making the good money, we spent more than what we had and as I got raises, I just kept spending more. By the time I had lost my job in 2002 and lost almost 50k in income in just one year, it shocked us into making life decisions that made us stronger as a family, stronger in our faith and stronger in our financial health. During this time period when we seemed to be at our lowest, a good friend said something to me that has stuck with me ever since.

He said to me,

Jason, the good Lord tears a man down, just to lift him up.

What did this do to me? It made me realize that God had a plan for me and that through the trials by fire, I was becoming a stronger person for God.

Well, fast forward a bit and my business has picked up. I gained a few clients, including one that kept me billable 32 hours a week guaranteed. To any of you that are self-employed you realize how important this was. Good billable hours and steady pay check. In only two years, I had increased my income again 60k+. At about this time, my wife became pregnant with our youngest and we determined that the time was right to buy a house. Our old place would be much too small for four children and now we had steady income so we jumped into the housing market and found our dream house only a mile from where we lived at the time. It was perfect. Plenty of room, a few acres of land, kids didn’t have to change schools….it couldn’t have been more perfect.

During the next four years life was great, the business kept growing as the economy grew stronger and stronger from 2005 to 2008. I was soon making more money than I had ever before and life was good. But we had forgotten some of our lessons from before. While we didn’t spend frivolously like we did before, with the new house, we had more expenses than ever before. Our children were getting older and thus more expensive as they became involved in different activities. We had plenty of money, but we just never seemed to have any left over at the end of the day.

Let’s move forward once more to 2009 and 2010. Finally the failing economy which started in 2008 caught up with me. We had purchased our home when real estate was booming, now our house was worth less than what we owed on it. Business started to decline. Some of the steady work became less steady. Paychecks became less frequent and farther between. Come 2010, we were in trouble. Once again God was putting us through the fire. While it was tough at times, I tried to remember the quote from my friend that I stated before. I truly believed that God had a plan, that God would give us no more than what we could handle, that when we came through this fire, we would come out stronger and more able to do God’s work.

Well now here we sit at the beginning of 2011. Just a few months ago, I truly felt we were on our way to the poor house. I just couldn’t see a way out. There weren’t many jobs, my business was doing anything BUT booming. I was struggling just to put food on the table and gas in the car let alone anything else. I kept asking God in my daily prayers to open that door to where he wanted us to go. And if he opened that door and I didn’t see it, then I wanted Him to smack me on the head, pick me up and throw me through.

Well the door has opened. A few weeks ago, sort of out of the blue, a job offer was made to me. Another small consulting firm, but more established than the one I started off with ten years ago and with financial backing. The job is pretty much doing what I’m doing now, so my day to day doesn’t change much. I do have a team though now. Instead of working mostly for and with myself, I now have the resources to expand the business even further. Yes I give up ownership and some control, but what I’ve gained is so much more. I’ll have to go into details in a future post, but God really did open the door and seem to shove me through. My wife and I have made a promise to God and to ourselves, that we will not fall into the trap again of living beyond our means. We’ve already made moves over the last six months to change our lifestyle to be smarter and more efficient with our money. We’ve gotten into the habit of it in fact. God used that time period of struggle to make us stronger. God has lifted us up after bringing us down and we are ready for the next season in our lives.

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