I sent her my first thoughts on how my husband and I changed in an effort to survive when we had been living within our means, and our means got cut in half. I thought I'd share those thoughts here, too, in case some readers find themselves in desperate times. There may be some small idea that provides encouragement. Most of these things are really helpful, healthy, and bring freedom. However, we live in a culture of wealth, with its pressures and expectations. It is hard to shift, to live simple and lean. At least, at the beginning of the journey. I like the changes we've made, but it was not easy for us, and it is still not easy. But it is rewarding.
Here are 20 practical things we did:
- First, I had to acknowledge it is tough and painful to get by when your obligations are greater than your income. The tendency is to act like things are fine. Not good to hide there. I had to give myself permission to grieve. Life no longer looked like I thought it would or should. A book and DVD called Drops Like Stars by Rob Bell really helped me. The book One Thousand Gifts really gave me strength to thrive, too.
- We paid some things a bit late...but not late enough to get in big trouble. We had to do so, as cash flow was not flowing.
- As our credit rating took a hit, I had to acknowledge that "man looks on the [credit rating], but God looks on the heart." Humbling. Comforting.
- We eat at home much more often, which is so much cheaper, unless you eat junk fast food a lot which has other complications.
- We quit going to movies and rented DVDs instead.
- We cut out any spending on things we could live without.
- We used the library, shared and borrowed books, and stopped subscribing to magazines. I was surprised Amazon.com did not go out of business with losing our business.
- We did not buy clothes or shoes until we absolutely had to do so.
- We cut way down on paying for haircuts.
- We avoided social events that involve gift-giving: weddings, showers, birthday parties...or we made gifts like burn a CD with songs specially for someone, etc.
- We stay home more: TV, computer time, games, reading, etc. -- using things we already have at home to enjoy an evening. We save so much when we do not go out.
- We dropped the gardener and the housekeeper. Perhaps a luxury, but when you both work fulltime and household help really buys you time together, that is a good thing.
- We rented out our upstairs rooms.
- We dropped our gym membership. We have a good neighborhood for walking. We have bikes.
- I started packing my lunch for days out doing work visits, instead of eating out.
- We started eating a little less, like we've started sharing a chicken breast, since they are often big enough for two healthy servings, instead of one. So chicken goes farther.
- My husband turned in his "smart" phone and got a regular cell phone that does not get e-mail. That saved us money.
- We had a yard sale. We've also donated much of our stuff which means less to store and care for, though it is not an income source. Less stuff is more freedom, and more energy. Financial challenges drain your energy, so finding more energy is a good thing.
- We are happy with our old cars -- paid for and in need of occassional maintenance, but better than a car payment!
- We value conversation with friends gathered around a good home-cooked meal. A great source of joy that is simple and central to keeping the joy in our social life.
But what about the stress? That quiet river that runs deep within your soul. That dark cloud that reminds you subtly that you are on the brink of ruin. What are some things I did to stay content, calm, and emotionally steady?
Here are 10 things that helped find contentment in the chaos:
- Walking in the outdoors really calms me.
- Reading the Bible gets my mind curious about things beyond my circumstances.
- I figured out cheap activities that are fun to do with Glen to keep our marriage fun in simple ways.
- We talked about not letting this come between us, since statistics say it can blast apart a marriage. So we intentionally work to remember we are not mad at each other, but that we are frustrated and scared with our circumstances.
- I pray more and differently...more conversation with God, less "shopping list" or "Dear Santa"- type prayers.
- We try to be more generous with what we do have -- time, talent, food. It is amazing how ironic that is! Yet there is something so powerful in believing you will have enough, enough to share.
- Another big thing for me was to take time to be creative -- to write, or make things, or collect ideas, or view beautiful things. That brings such peace and joy to stressful times for me. To get into a hobby or interest again, especially if it is something I already have the stuff for, but have neglected. I carve out the time to create. It is life giving.
- I also schedule time in my schedule to be quiet. Very helpful for me to stay centered on what really counts.
- It helped me to go to church, too, and sing the songs. The lyrics also pull my mind and heart to higher ground and outside my own stress.
- I pause to remember that financial challenges for us, anyway, are awful, but it is not a tragedy, like the loss of health or a loved one.
Our life looks different than when we both worked full time, but those changes have been good for the most part. We've become more realistic about what we need and have learned a lot about wants and delayed gratification. We enjoy simple things more. We take less for granted. We have better priorities. We have learned to trust God differently. He has provided. We are grateful.