Frugal Living

MY FABULOUS NEW HAIRCUT

It all started in 10th grade.  I had just broken up with my first serious boyfriend and was looking for a change.  My first thought-hair.  That’s when I took the plunge into the highlights and styled hair realm.  Fast forward 11 years.  I still love a good trip to the salon for a good cut and color, but being in seminary on an incredibly tight budget, who’s got the money?  It’s gotten to the point where I only get my hair cut once or twice a year and never, under any circumstances do I splurge the $65 minimum for my beloved highlights.  That all changed today.  Today, I got adventerous.  Armed with my Posh Spice picture and a little trepidation, I walked in the door of the Ogle School for cosmetology.  I’d heard before about the great deals one can get on haircuts at such places, but I had never myself mustered up the courage to venture out that far.  Besides, I was a salon snob, content to let the real professionals do it.  I’ve since had to face reality.  In my quest for inexpensive beautification over the last two years, I’ve had at least two botched jobs, courtesy of a “professional”. 

I walked in at 11:15 this morning with boring, shoulder-length (and, apparently amazingly healthy) dirty blond hair and walked out five hours later with a fun, rockstar chic new do, with blond highlights, naturally.  Can I just say that, despite the ridiculously long time it took to work on my freakishly thick hair, it was the best salon experience and haircut I’ve ever had-hands down!  My favorite salon would have scalped me (no pun intended) for $80 for a cut and full foil highlights.  At the Ogle School, I walked out beyond happy for $44, plus I’ll get $2 off my next visit ($1 off per $20 spent).  Granted, it’s still $30 more than I would typically spend because I don’t usually get color, but from now on, I think I’ll be sitting back a few bucks from my jewelry business to get a cut and color every six months.  Needless to say, now that I’ve seen the finished product, I’m officially an Ogle junkie.  I’m hoping to save up my pennies over the next few weeks to go back for an $18 spa facial.

 

VACATIONS ON A BUDGET

Packing a suitcase for a week-long trip is no easy task, especially when you’re doing it for three people and only using one bag.  We’re getting ready to spend some time in Chicago, and I must admit that, though I’m excited to visit my favorite city, I’m nervous about our budget.  I’ve saved the money I’ve earned from my last few jewelry shows (my side business) to make sure we’ve got as much money as possible to have a modest, but fun, trip.  I certainly wouldn’t consider myself an expert on the subject since we haven’t taken as many family vacations as we’d have liked, but here are some tips for keeping costs down for your next family trip.

Have a Budget 

Okay, I know it sounds redundant, but this is first, and foremost, the one thing you must do.  Sit down with your spouse and discuss the trip.  What attractions would you like to see?  Are you planning to go to museums, amusement parks, or on any tours?  Are you going to rent a car?  Will you fly or take a car?  If you’re driving, about how many times are you going to have to fill up?  Get a clear picture of what your trip will look like.  Gather information ahead of time, such as restaurants you’d like to go to, stops you might like to make along the way, if you’re driving, and, as I said before, attractions you will want to visit during your stay.  Staying closer to such hot spots will be convenient, but the price to do so may eat away at your bottom line.  Mapping this out well in advance will enable you to set realistic saving goals and keep you from busting your budget.

Limit Yourself to One Bag

For some, this may be a daunting challenge, perhaps, even, insurmountable, but learning how to pack a bag properly will save you time and money in the long run, especially if you’re flying.  Did you know that there is actually a way to pack suits, dresses, and starched shirts in a suitcase without wrinkling them (I’ll tell you how some time, though there are instructional resources available online).  Pack things that can pull double duty, like a tank top undershirt that you can also wear as a pajama top, or can, at the very least be hand washed and quickly dried.  Rather than stacking clothing in your bag, try rolling articles (except for dress clothing) neatly so that they take up less space and won’t get wrinkled.  A rolled shirt or pair of underwear can easily be shoved into the spaces of a bag that might otherwise be wasted.  Taking more than one pair of shoes?  Stuff rolled up socks inside to maximize space.  Opt for travel sized items or at least buy mini plastic bottles and fill them with personal hygiene products, and skip the hair dryer.  Most hotels now have them installed in the rooms.  Call ahead to confirm that this is true of your hotel.  The few bags you have, the easier, more stress free your travel experience will be.  Currently, airlines are charging $25 for the first checked bag and $35 for the second.  Bring only carry ons when possible, but, if you must check a bag, pack smart and check one.

Research Your Dining and Entertainment

Doing a little detective work can really make your money go farther while you’re on vacation.  Once you’ve determined the attractions and restaurants you’d like to visit, search the internet for coupons and discounts.  Check the vendor websites and join their mailing lists so that you’re up to speed on specials and coupons they may be offering.  For example, we love Lou Malnatti’s pizza, so I went to their website and joined the mailing list.  I now have a coupon in my inbox for $5 off a $20 purchase.   

Find Discounts on Hotel Rooms, Plane Tickets, and Rental Cars

This one may be second nature for a lot of people these days, but there are deals to be had and dollars to be saved by simply shopping around.  Many times, at least with hotel rooms, the longer you wait, the deeper your discount will be (the opposite is true for airfare.  Buy early!).  While visiting Indianapolis last year, my husband and I were able to stay at a four star hotel for about $70 by using a comparison shopping website the night we were going to check in (it was one of the most beautiful hotels I’ve ever stayed in, by the way!).

When Possible, Cook Your Own Food

I know, I know.  Eating out is all part of the fun of being on vacation, but you don’t have to eat out every meal, do you?  To avoid the extra expense during restroom breaks and stops to fill up, pack plenty of snacks for the trip, and when you arrive, put your couponing skills to work in a new town (research the grocery stores and deals available on sites like www.couponmom.com).  A lot of people don’t stay in hotels with a kitchenette, so real cooking isn’t possible, but stock your mini-fridge with sandwich supplies, pizza toppings (bagel pizzas), fruit, drinks, even frozen dinners, and resolve to relax with a low-key family lunch in the hotel room or lounge.  Also, skip the restaurants in the mornings and take full advantage of the continental breakfast that most hotels offer as an amenity for their guests.  If you’re going to spend any length of time at an amusement park, avoid the urge to overpay for snacks and drinks. Pack a cooler and enjoy a picnic together as a family when lunch time rolls around.  Disposable coolers are quite inexpensive, and most parks have shaded facilities for picnicking.

With a little planning, you and your family can make the most of your next vacation for the least amount of money. Memorable family outings don’t have to break the bank.  Remember that its not the souvenirs you brought home or the food you ate that is important.  What makes vacations special are the memories you share spending time as a family, and you certainly can’t put a price on that.

 

BECOMING FINANCIALLY LITERATE: THE BUDGET

You know the scenario:  the alarm goes off early, as you intended for it to, but as your weary head struggles to rise off of the pillow and one eyelid strains with all it’s might to pry open, you reason your way through the fact that you’re going to hit that snooze button and go back to sleep.  How do I know this?  Because I do it every Sunday morning.  Considering how difficult it is to will my body to do anything early in the morning, when it comes to figuring out a way to get myself back to sleep, my mind is as sharper and quicker in that moment than at any other time of day.  Then, and only then, does my mind calculate with speed and accuarcy that would rival even the most advanced NASA computers-1o minutes to shower, five to blow dry the hair, five to straighten, two minutes to dress, 10 minutes to feed the baby, 15 minutes to find his clothes, change his diaper, and get him dressed, five minutes to load the car, 20 minutes to drive to church, “Oh, yeah.  I can sleep for at least 15 more minutes!”- and back to sleep I go.

What about this- have you ever used less of an ingredient than the recipe called for so that you could stretch it out for one more use just so you wouldn’t have to, for example,  make that extra trip to the store for one measly onion?

Why is it that, when it comes to doing something we want to do (getting more sleep or saving ourselves an extra trip to the grocery store), all the sudden planning in advance to use only a certain amount for a given thing, or BUDGETING, sounds like a great idea, yet, when it comes to our finances, it’s treated like a four letter word?  Budget? You mean that sadistic little taskmaster that says I can’t spend money and fun is not allowed?  Oh yeah, I’ve heard of him. We convince ourselves that a budget is what’s best for us when it comes to things that give us instant gratification or convenience, but then we sabotage ourselves when we say things like “budgets don’t work for us” or “we’re doing just fine without a budget.”  Are you really?  Or are you just doing enough to get by, trusting in the credit card to get you through until the next pay check.  I can vividly remember the early days of our marriage, which I refer to as BD, Before Dave (Ramsey).  My husband was pursuing a Masters and working six part-time jobs.  I was in my senior year of college and working two part-time jobs, and yet there I was, at the WalMart check out with a cart full of groceries and a heart full of fear as I looked in horror at the total.  I knew we didn’t have that much money, but with a sigh of relief, I swiped the Visa and went on my merry way.  I told myself that we’d pay it back with the next check.  That’s what I said every time, only, with every check there was a new and unexpected expense, and the grocery bill that I hadn’t budgeted for continued to draw interest as we were perpetually only able to pay the growing minimum payment.

In the words of Richard Simmons, “Stop the insanity!”  Dave Ramsey says that a budget is nothing more than “telling your money what to do each month before the month begins-on paper, on purpose.”  Handling money without a budget is like walking a wild dog.  You don’t walk it, it walks you!  Money doesn’t have a brain.  Your bank account isn’t going to call you up one day and say, “Hey, goober, stop spending money you don’t have!” Just like the dog, you have to bring it under control because it’s not going to do it for you. 

Truthfully, making and sticking to a budget every month is one of the most difficult things I have ever done, but it is also one of the most rewarding.  After 2 1/2 years of diligence, struggle, and perserverence, my family is nearly debt free, and I am so ready for the finish line.  If you haven’t already, resolve to give your finances an overhaul.  While it seems backwards, there is great bondage in habitually spending carefree and without a plan.  Freedom comes when you have control over your money and pull yourself out from under the oppression of debt.  Only then can you, as Dave says, “live like no one else.”

*Go to www.daveramsey.com for budgeting tools and forms.

GIVING BEYOND YOUR MEANS

One of the greatest joys I’ve ever experienced was being able to give my car away.  This was not just any car.  This was my prized possession, the car that my dad surprised me with my senior year of high school after my beloved 1985 Honda Prelude bit the dust.  I have many fond memories of speeding down lonely country roads after dark, talking and laughing with my friends.  That’s the car that I packed down and cried in as I moved from Oklahoma to Texas when I went away to college.  It’s also the car that my brother used to refer to as the sorry “car they used to give away on Hollywood Squares,” but I digress.  A few years ago my husband and I found ourselves living in a small town in rural Florida, he, a youth minister, and I, a teacher.  We became friends with a guy who was trying to turn his life around after years of drug and alcohol abuse.  He lived 30 miles from his job and his only means of transportation was a 1960’s Dodge pick up truck that was on it’s last leg, to say the least.  My husband Shannon and I talked about it and saw no reason why we couldn’t be a one car family.  Shannon walked to work every day, which was, conveniently enough, across the street, and my school was only two blocks away, so we knew that the transition would be a fairly easy one.  

I was so proud as I washed and detailed that car for the last time, and the moment when I handed our friend the keys and said, “It’s yours” was priceless.  That was the first time I had ever been privileged to be a part of meeting someone’s personal need, and I must say that the experience was a contagion for our small family.  Even now, living below the poverty line as I stay at home with our sweet baby boy and my husband works to finish a PhD, we look for ways to bless others, not because we want any sort of recognition (we try to give as discretely as possible, if not anonymously), but because it is an indescribable blessing to be able to bless others. 

So what about you? What keeps you from surrendering of yourself to be a blessing to someone else?  Is a sense of security  in having possessions causing you to think that you have nothing to give?  We don’t need 99% of the things we own, yet we sometimes have a tendency to give more value to objects than they’re worth.  Maybe you’re afraid that if you give something substantial away, you won’t be able to replace it in the event that you find a need for it again.  Perhaps you think that you have nothing to spare because times are tough and the economy is bad and money is tight.  May I just respond to that by saying that God is faithful.  He was faithful when Shannon and I moved away and took a job that we shouldn’t have.  He was faithful when we left that job, tucked tail, and humbly came back home after only a few months of service.  He was faithful when we moved half way across the country to a place that was in no way desirable to us.  He was faithful a year later when we were blindsided with the news that Shannon was losing his job, and we had to pick up and leave a town and a church that we dearly loved.  He was faithful through our humility of moving in with my parents and, despite all our diligent effort, taking the only job either of us could find, delivering pizzas.  He was faithful when we came back to Texas so that Shannon could pursue a PhD but, again, couldn’t find a job.  He was faithful to us as we bounced from two weeks with Shannon’s parents, to a few days with my brother’s friend, to three weeks in a motel.  He was faithful when we, out of money and with no place to go, parked at Shannon’s school and laid the seats back to spend the night sleeping in our car.  God came through an hour later when we got a call from a stranger offering us a place to stay.  He came through with jobs in times where there were no prospects.  He carried us through a year in which I lost three uncles, an aunt, and my childhood dog.  He brought us through two layoffs, a pregnancy, and becoming a one income family living on a budget that I liken to a diet of water and air, but in every way, God has taken care of us.  There have been days that were so terrible, so discouraging and so seemingly hopeless that I’d almost like to just erase them from my memory.  I’m glad, though, that I can’t, because then I remember God, our Provider, our Comforter, our Father, who has never ever forsaken us.  Though our world, at times, has seemed to be crumbling beneath our feet, I can’t help but remember God, and I can’t help but trust in Him and know that, despite our circumstances, He holds His children in His hand.  When others dismiss us and our memory leaves their minds and hearts, He never forgets us.  I trust in Him because, with all we have been through, it is all that I can do. 

Look around.  We have been blessed with immeasureable blessings from the God who created us and loves us beyond comprehension.  You may not have one dime to spare, but how can you use your abundance to bless someone who may need it more?  You never know.  Your gift may be the catalyst God uses to turn someone’s heart from an attitude of doubt and accusation to one of trust in Him and His faithfulness.

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