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.

Read the Instructions

This past Christmas morning I joined many fathers around the world as I struggled to remove my son’s toys from it’s wrappings, I glanced at the instructions thought “I can do this”, and then struggled to put it all together, finally resorting to reading the instructions more thoroughly to follow the steps to assemble the toy.

The manufacturer had a plan for putting the toy together, I thought I knew better.  I’m handy enough that usually I can manage to get it put together (sometimes without using all the pieces), but when I falter and struggle, I know I can fall back on the instructions.

I’ve always wished life came with an instruction book.  I wish children came out of the womb with an instruction manual attached.  I wish my body came with a how to guide for when I feel sick.  I wish my career came with a step by step plan I could follow when tough decisions came up.

How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
   By living according to your word.
I seek you with all my heart;
   do not let me stray from your commands.
I have hidden your word in my heart
   that I might not sin against you.
Praise be to you, LORD;
   teach me your decrees.
With my lips I recount
   all the laws that come from your mouth.
I rejoice in following your statutes
   as one rejoices in great riches.
I meditate on your precepts
   and consider your ways.
I delight in your decrees;
   I will not neglect your word. 
— Psalm 119:9-16

The Bible is God’s manual to live by that He has provided for us.  Many times I take the same approach to reading the Bible as I did in reading the assembly instructions for my child’s toy.  I only looked at it when I didn’t know what to do next.  At that point in the construction of the toy I’ve already screwed up the assembly that reading the instructions just gets us by instead of giving us the full function and usage of the toy or item.  Had I read the instructions ahead of time, I would have done it correctly the first time.

Reading the Bible teaches us about God, who He is, what He thinks and how He acts.  Knowing the ways of God helps us to make wise decisions.  The only way to know these principles is to ready and study God’s word. 

This is an area I need to improve upon myself.  I know that if I study more, then decisions will come easier and I’ll have the wisdom and tools to live through any situation.

Thoughts are Powerful

Previous posts in series:

  1. We Are What We Think
  2. The Power of Positive Thoughts

 

Thoughts are powerful.  Reflect and you will realize how much your mind and what you’re thinking will affect your entire life.  When thoughts are dark and gloomy, you tend to feel bad.  When your thoughts are happy and go lucky, you will feel full of life and energy.  If a person thinks to themselves, I will never get a job, they are not likely to get one.  If you convince yourself that you are a failure, then you tend to make more mistakes than others.

This is the third in a series of posts on what I’ve learned in reading Joyce Meyer’s : Power Thoughts (ISBN: 9780446580366).  The topic for this post is simple, Thoughts are powerful.

Joyce gives us Romans 14:14 to focus her discussion around.

I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.

The keyword in this passage is “thinks”.  In the Greek, this word is given as logizomai, which means to reckon, decide, to conclude.  This was more than a passing thought, this was a conclusion.  If the person that Paul was talking about in Romans, thought something was unclean, then they concluded without a doubt that it was unclean to them.  That doesn’t mean that there was anything inherently wrong with the item, but the person concluded that it was to them.

Joyce uses this to illustrate to us the power of thoughts.  The people in Paul’s day thought that certain foods were unclean and to them it was a spiritual stumbling block.  There was nothing physically wrong with the “unclean” foods, but the conclusion that they were unclean was enough.

How does this apply to our lives today?  Let me quote Joyce on this as I think it states clearly our problem today.

We can never move beyond what we think and believe.  Many people today don’t even bother to think rationally about what the believe and sometimes end up building their entire lives on beliefs that simply are not true.  For them, whatever “they” say becomes truth – and “they” may be the news media, a celebrity, a group of friends, or others who enjoy sharing opinions, but may or may not really have any idea what is true.  When we believe lies, our minds can actually limit us and even keep us from doing what God created us to do.  But, if we will contend for the truth, embrace the truth, and build our lives upon the truth, we will succeed in every endeavor.

How true that is.  How many times do we a celebrity talking on the news on a subject they have little qualification to be an expert on, yet we consider them an expert simply because of their star power.  What Joyce is saying here is we hold responsibility to find the truth and embrace it.  We will be bombarded from all sides with competing truths, the enemy of truth is clearly identified as a liar (John 8:44).

We need to take responsibility for our thoughts.  We have the power to resist the enemy by choosing to think on things that are good and positive.  We can be assured of a better life by thinking good thoughts.  Don’t let negative thoughts be your conclusion. 

Becoming a habitual positive thinker takes practice and time, but if you let God work on you in this area, the dividends that you will reap are tremendous. 

Attitudes are Contagious

I’ve got four kids that range in age from 5 to 15.  You can guarantee this time of year, that when one brings home a cold or flu bug, that most if not all of us will share in the joy. 

Have you ever watched someone laugh and even if you don’t know why, you can’t help but laugh along?

How about if you watch someone yawn, you’re almost guaranteed to join in.  In fact, I bet over half of you reading this now just yawned, I did.

So many things are contagious and your attitude is no different. 

I saw some friends last night that I hadn’t talked to in a month or so.  We’re both struggling with some of the same issues in our personal lives in varying degrees of severity and duration.   But nonetheless, we’ve found a kindred spirit with each other and can relate.  But the thing I want to talk about with him, is that no matter the situation, no matter the difficulty, he seems to always see things on the bright side.  Perhaps inside he is stressing more than he shows, but his outward attitude is one of filled with positive thoughts and hope for the future.  This attitude is contagious. 

We talked for an hour or so last night and it was amazing the change in my own attitude after he had left.  Before he got to my place, I was pretty stressed and just in a terrible mood.  After he left, my spirit was uplifted and hopeful.  Not perfectly, but better than before. 

I strive to always carry with me a positive attitude despite what I may be feeling inside.  I find that I can usually talk myself into a good mood if I try hard enough, but there is nothing better than a good friend to help you along. 

I try to stay positive in all situations for my family’s sake as there is no gain in being negative.  If you’re negative you tend to live in the past and focus on the problems, while if you have a positive mindset, you will focus on the future and the solutions to your problems.  Focusing on the solutions, help you to achieve your goals and often solve your problems.  Much better way to live I think.

None of us are perfect.  And none of us will live a trouble-free life. 

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. –John 16:33

But we have hope that God will provide for our needs (not necessarily our wants) in all situations.

When you say ”it’s impossible”, God says “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” –Luke 18:27

When you say, “I can’t go on”, God says “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9

When you say “ I can’t do it”, God says “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” -Philippians 4:13

When you say “I’m not able”, God says “And God will generously provide all you need.” – 2 Corinthians 9:8

When you say “I’m always worried and frustrated”, God says “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” – 1 Peter 5:7

When you say “I feel all alone”, God says “…Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” – Hebrews 13:5

Keep a positive attitude as it will take you farther towards living an exceptional life and it will be the contagion that spreads to all those around you.

BTW:  To my friend I talked about above, you know who you are (you told me you read all my posts, perhaps the only person!)  I say, “thank you” and the future is bright.

Testing your assumptions

Assumptions, we all have them.  We assume we know what someone else is thinking, we assume that we know all the facts about something, we assume.  We make assumptions about something just about every time we speak or think.  The definition of assumption (as taken from here)

In logic an assumption is a proposition that is taken for granted, as if it were true based upon presupposition without preponderance of the facts.

Basically all that means is that all assumptions we make, every time we assume something about anything, we are taking for granted something that we don’t have facts to prove or disprove.

What are some of the assumptions we make every day.

  • “It only takes me 10 minutes to drive to work so I’ll leave exactly 10 minutes before I have to be there.” 
  • “She knows I love and appreciate her, so I don’t have to keep telling her.”
  • “My toddler knows better than to touch the hot stove.”
  • “She won’t talk to me, she’s too pretty to be attracted to me.”
  • “I’ll never find a job, so why bother.”
  • “It will be too hard to start my own business while I have a full time job.”
  • “I’m too out of shape, I’ll never be able to run a marathon.”

So many assumptions, I could go on and on, in fact I’ve made an assumption right now that you would rather not read any more assumptions (I’m probably right!)

If you look at that list above many of them are negative.  “I can’t…”, “…too hard”, “I don’t…”  Assumptions can keep us from getting the most out of our lives.  Assumptions can hurt feelings and damage relationships.  Assumptions can make our lives difficult if they prove false, but if they prove true then we’ve made a correct choice.  But how can we determine if they are true or not if we never test those assumptions.

Test those assumptions

Once I test my assumptions, I often find that I’m surprised at what I may have been missing if I had just stuck with my initial assumption.

  • When I was single and first met the woman who is now my wife, I assumed that she wouldn’t want to be with  me.  I assumed that she wouldn’t be interested as I figured most woman would be.  I tested that assumption by talking to her anyway and here we are 22 years later, happily married with 4 kids.
  • I left a job to work for a small startup about ten years ago.  Six months later, the startup faltered and I was quickly unemployed.  I assumed that I wouldn’t be able to make it on my own.  However, I was forced to test that assumption as the economy was bad and there were no more jobs to have.  I was forced to make it on my own.  Ten years later, I’m still working on my own and while the last 6 months have been a struggle, I’ve been successful otherwise.
  • I assumed that no one would read a blog that I may write, regardless of topic.  I’ve started and stopped a number of blogs over the years, but never stuck to them.  When I started this blog, I assumed the same.  Well I realize that it’s only been a month and a handful of posts, but this is the most writing I’ve done in my life (and I’m loving it and want to do more).  Still not a ton of readers, but I have an action plan to fix that.
  • I saw all those people around the web who talked about the great savings they had at stores using coupons.  I’m talking saving 75% or higher.  I assumed it was too hard and I wouldn’t achieve those results.  Well I’m happy that my wife and I tested that assumption and our recent trip to the store netted us almost $50 worth of product (that we will use), for just $6.

Unless you test your assumption, you’ll never know what you are missing out on in life.  Go up and talk to that girl, start that home business, start exercising and make that commitment to get back in shape, start trusting in God and see how that changes your life. 

How to test your assumptions

Don’t let your assumptions rule your life.  Test them and determine if they are true or not.  Only then can you make a truly informed decision.  

  1. Take a goal that you are working towards.
  2. List out the assumption or barrier that is keeping you from reaching that goal.
  3. List out tactics to test that assumption to see if it proves true.

Example:

Goal:  Find an idea that makes an extra $1000/month on the side.
Barrier:  I don’t have an idea. (Assumption is: “I’ll never come up with a good enough idea.”)
Tactic:  Write down 10 or 20 things you are good at or like to do.  Then sort them by the amount of money you think you can make from them in 10-15 hours per week.  Example:  Photography –> not much money potential perhaps because of tons of photographers in your area.  Piano lessons –> could translate into $25 or more an hour. 

There ya go, you’ve now got some ideas so that assumption is busted.  Next step is taking action on the idea, which will have it’s own set of assumptions, barriers and tactics.  Repeat this process and test your assumptions.  This will guide you on the process to reaching your goals.

Your turn.

Try it out, list a goal no matter how big or small and then try and recognize the assumptions or barriers that are the roadblocks, then get a plan to test those assumptions and take action.

I’d love to read comments on what your goals and assumptions are and how you plan to take action.

The Simple Life

One of the ideas that I wanted to talk about on this site that I’ve not explored much (only one article really) is living a simple, frugal life.  What do I mean by that.  Well quite simply, to be a better steward of my money, to be smart about where my resources go, and to live a comfortable life.  Another aspect I want to share with you on this blog is tips on how to do just that.  I’d like to share tips on how to stretch your money by shopping smarter (my wife is getting quite good at this) and how to enjoy life and live comfortably on less.

Stretch your money

Whether you’re on a fixed income or not, stretching your money to its fullest just makes sense.  If you’re wealthy, then being smart about your spending habits will make more money available for other uses.  If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, then you’re spending habits may be the difference between eating this week or not.  Either way, here are some quick tips on stretching your money.

  1. Use coupons especially when matched up with sale prices.  There are tons of sites out there to help you with this.  One of my wife’s favorites is www.hip2save.com.  You can spend as little or as much time on this as you want. 

    For example, just the other day there was a coupon from Swiss Miss for $2 off any Hot Cocoa product (expired now, but here is the post we found).  We were able to print off two of those coupons, which when combined with a sale price at our local grocery, we picked up 60 packets of hot chocolate for under $1.00.  Something that normally would have cost at least $5 or more.  Doesn’t seem like much, but add those up over time and it can mean a lot to your grocery bill.  There are plenty of other sites and I’d like to link to these as I come across them or to good deals as I find them.  No this won’t turn into a coupon site, but you’ll see some good deals from time to time.

  2. Take advantage of store customer appreciation type of cards and programs.  Most stores now have some sort of customer advantage card or cash back coupons that print on the back of your receipt.  For many years we ignored these completely.  But again, when combined with coupons and sales, you can often go buy a lot of product and spend very little out of pocket.  Again, we are just beginning, but can see the benefit of it already.  Friends of ours who’ve figured this out, have come home with hundreds of dollars of product for virtually nothing (think about getting $150 worth of items for under $10!)  This doesn’t mean buying product you wouldn’t use, but by just being smart and stocking up on items when you can get it cheaply. 

    A few months back, I had multiple coupons for the brand of deodorant I use.  These were for $3.00 off of two sticks.  We combined that with a buy one get one free sale (normally $3.50 or so) and managed to get two sticks for 50 cents which normally would have cost me $7.00.  Needless to say, I got as many of those coupons as I could and stocked up with enough deodorant to last me months.

These are the types of things I’d like to share with my readers.  I’ll find good deals and share them with you or just share with you a good purchase that may inspire you to try it yourself.

Enjoy life and live comfortably on less.

One thing we’ve done to simplify our lives is to learn on how to live on less.  For us this means we’re starting to grow our own food and put it up for the winter.  We’ve learned how to can or freeze our vegetables.  We’ve begun to buy food in bulk as we’ve learned how to store it properly to last for longer periods.  We’ve begun to make our own breads and other baked goods instead of buying mixes or premade baked goods at the store.  We haven’t completely moved over to that type of lifestyle, but we’re making progress.  One good resource we’ve found is, Back Woods Homes magazine.  This is one of the best resources online or in print on self-reliant living.  Check it out and it is the only magazine that I still subscribe to.

One thing I’ve enjoyed about our lifestyle changes, is that we seem to be happier with less.  We still have a ways to go and still need to make some serious changes, but our goal of becoming debt-free while it is a long way off, is within our grasp.  By shopping smarter, we have more money to not only pay towards our debt, but to give and bless others.  By blessing others, even by buying a cup of coffee for a stranger, can go a long way to helping you enjoy life.  Start with the small things and then like the proverbial snowball rolling downhill, those small things can grow into the large things.  Either way, I’ve found that by making an effort to bless others, I feel better each day and much to my surprise, I’ve been blessed in return.

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.  -Malachi 3:10

God promises that by giving a small part of what He has entrusted with you to further his kingdom, He will bless us in return tremendously.  I’ll have more on this later in my series on Power Thoughts, but when you give freely to others to bless them (even that cup of coffee for someone else), God will use that small action, that small gift to, bless yourself and others in ways you cannot even fathom.

What does this all have to do with living simple and shopping smarter?  Well when you shop smarter and live simply, you’ll have more left over at the end of each paycheck to bless others.  This, at least for me, allows me to enjoy life in a way I never imagined.

Future direction

The purpose of this post is really to share with you some ideas for new posts you’ll see here.  This fits in with my theme of helping Christians live exceptional lives in a world that often fights against us.  By being frugal and living simply we can allow ourselves to live exceptionally.

I would love to hear from you if you’ve taken steps in your own lives to live simply.  Please comment, I’d love to hear from you.

Dependencies

What are we dependent on these days?  Maybe the bigger question is, what are we dependent on that is truly not necessary? 

I work in the IT field and as such, I’m very dependent on a connection to the internet to do my job to the best of my ability.  Today our office’s internet was out.  It was amazing how little I thought I could really accomplish without it.  Couldn’t check my email, read my blogs, listen to my music streams, catch up on the latest news during lunch.  So many things that I think I’m dependent on, that when it’s not there, I feel lost.

What are we as a society dependent on?  Electricity!  We’ve all had times when the power has been out for a few minutes, no big deal (other than having to reset some clocks and things like that).  What about for a few hours?  We start to get a little antsy.  How about a day?  Well, now we’ve moved into a mode where we start wondering what to do with ourselves.  A few days or more?  No we’ve kicked into survival mode.  We worry about food spoiling, we worry about fresh water, we worry about heat and the list goes on.  Most people in America, would struggle to survive for a week or more without electricity (in my scenario, we can’t just hop in a car and travel a few miles to where power is and camp out in a hotel or at a relatives house). 

What if there was no supermarkets?  Could we grow or hunt our own food?  I suspect many couldn’t.  What if fresh water was difficult to come by?  Could we survive?   What if we had to live like our ancestors did not so many generations ago?  Could we build our own shelter?  Could we grow our own food and store up enough to last the winter?  That’s a question that I think many of us would fear the true answer to.

I don’t suspect that we’ll have to live through any of these scenarios anytime soon.  I sure hope not for all of our sakes.  But would it hurt to prepare just a little?  Maybe stock up on some canned and other non-perishable foods.  Keep some fresh water available for drinking.  Have the ability to have alternative heat (keep some wood chopped and handy in case you need to build a fire for heat and cooking).  Learn some survival basics.

Also try to remember that all we have, all those material things we are so “dependent” on can be gone in a moment.  It’s good practice to sit down and realize that most of those things we so depend on our just conveniences that we are able to enjoy.  Do we need them?  No, but they are nice. 

I’m gonna strive to be less dependent on these conveniences.  Will I ever go off the grid?  No.  I’m not giving up my internet anytime soon, I still plan on shopping at the local supermarket, and I’ll enjoy my heat and air conditioning.  But I will try to take small steps so that if those things every disappeared, I could survive and in the mean time I can live more independently and probably a lot cheaper.  I think this exercise will help me see the priorities that are important;  God and family.  Those are things I can and need to depend on!

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