Christmas is drawing near and there’s still that hard-to-buy-for person on your list. They certainly don’t need more stuff, yet you want to gift them with something special, something that shows how much you appreciate them. Don’t give up. You don’t need to buy that fruit cake or “tower of chocolates.” Invest in a memory instead!
Death and destruction never take a holiday. Intense persecution in the Middle East. Famine and war. Tsunamis, tornados and hurricanes. And now a disastrous earthquake in Nepal—there are always horrific circumstances that break our hearts and motivate us to help. So we should. God blesses us so that we can bless others.
Within hours of the first news reports out of Kathmandu, my inbox was flooded with pleas for donations. Relief ministries, friends, and friends of friends all told stories of suffering and begged for aid.
Here we are, the day after Thanksgiving. Did you eat too much? Are you still feeling full? I, like many others, often throw out restraint on our national feast day, but the day after is another story. As I munch on leftover stuffing and sweet potatoes, my conscience is beginning to intrude on my carb-induced lethargy. It’s time to climb back onto the healthy food wagon before my cravings take over my life.
At the same time, Pete and I recently restructured our budget. I’m excited that we can finally plan our spending—he hasn’t missed a paycheck for an entire year now! Still, we’re not exactly flush (I’m looking for flexible employment), and our food budget is one area where we can conserve. The average person in the U.S. spends $7 per day on food. That works out to $420 per month to feed two people. We set our budget at only $300. (This is what we already spend, so we know we can do it.)
“Well, that’s the last paycheck for now!”
My husband handed me the deposit paperwork and smiled at me. “I’m excited. I wonder what God is going to do this time!”
Yup, and actually, I am too. If I’ve learned anything over the last many years, it’s that God is faithful.
Being in full-time ministry, we have a very concrete understanding of the term, “non-profit.” If people ask, we usually say we’re “home-based missionaries on support.” Actually, our ministry pays Pete a salary… but only if there’s money in the account. Right now, the account is empty. Again.
We sure complain about the high costs of health care, but did you know that the average American spends about the same amount (5.6% of their income) on fun? Yet no one complains about skyrocketing entertainment prices!
That’s right. According to Visual Economics, the average American earns just over $50,000 per year. Of that, around $2,800 goes to amuse ourselves. It’s nearly the same as we spend on healthcare (5.9%, almost $3,000) and much more than we give away to charity (3.4%, $1,700).
“Our credit cards are maxed out, and I don’t know what to do!”
“I can’t sleep at night—I just lie there and worry about our finances.”
I’ve been hearing a lot of comments like these lately. Many of our close friends are at the end of their financial ropes, and the cords are fraying. While my husband and I are doing all right—we’re paying all our bills, at least—we too are feeling the effects of a challenging economy and several years of missing income.
I knew when Pete made the switch from commercial consulting to full-time ministry that our financial situation would change. We were used to being somewhat frugal—at least we thought of ourselves that way—but this would be on a whole new level. Sensing God telling me we needed to simplify our finances and learn to live with less, I sought counsel from older (and hopefully more mature) members of our church. And I was astonished that no one had any advice for me. All I heard was, “You’re doing fine!” Really?
I confidently predict that every one of you will have a birthday some time during the next year. Let me be the first to wish you a very happy day.
A large number of businesses offer you free stuff on your birthday, ranging from ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery (or most other ice cream chains) to free movie rentals at Hollywood Video. Some of my favorites include Red Robin, Noodles & Co., and Souper Salad, in addition to the aforementioned Cold Stone. (Did you know some Cold Stone stores have no-sugar-added Cake Batter now? This flavor will also be present in heaven, I’m sure.) I was particularly impressed that Benihana will send you a coupon worth $30 for a free birthday dinner—I just wish our closest Benihana was less than an hour away.
There are two piles of apples in the produce section of my market. The first, at $2 per pound, are grown conventionally. The other pile, at twice the price, have been grown organically. Which apples should I buy?
Every time I go to the market, I have to make the decision whether or not to buy organic. If my food budget was unlimited, it would be easy. Organic farming is better for the planet. It’s better for the field workers. And it’s better for the consumer. But organic food is also more expensive. Given that our family is on a strict food allowance, I need some sort of criteria to help me decide when to spend extra and when to buy the cheapest available.
Happily, a bit of searching came up with a list of commonly purchased food items, and their average pesticide load when grown by conventional farmers. You can find it at the Environmental Working Group’s website.
Seeing that apples score among the highest produce items for pesticide load, I’ll definitely spring for the organic ones. Onions and peas, however, are traditionally grown without a lot of spraying, so I’ll stick to the cheapest ones I can find.
I think I’ll print out this list and stick it in my wallet for my next trip to the market.