To the Reader
What’s the Rub?
A Cheerful Heart: The Right Attitude
Live Within Your Means
It Pays to Be Savvy
Roll Up Your Sleeves
Use Things Up!
Discover Your Creative Genius
Presentation Is Everything…or Is It?
To God Be the Glory
Appendix 1: Budget in a Nutshell
Appendix 2: Savvy Strategies and Tips When Purchasing Food
Appendix 3: Conservation Tips
Not enough money. That’s the rub, isn’t it? We Americans are having trouble with the bottom line. For many of us, our “income” is nowhere near as incoming as we’d like. A little more money would be nice—twice as much would be just the ticket out of our crisis and onto Easy Street. Yet for several reasons— not the least that no one but you can provide that elusive financial cushion—a lot of us confront our two-income needs clutching a single paycheck.
For some of us, the decision to manage on one income was made voluntarily. It sounded simple over a double-tall latté in the coffee shop…
“I’m committed to you staying home with the children, Honey. I’ll bring home the bacon.”
“Go ahead and get your degree! My job will support us both!”
“Hey! No problem if your second cousin twice removed— and his family from Poland—come to live with us. My pay is enough to cover it all.”
“Go right ahead and follow your dreams, Love-O-My-Life. You should become the next Van Gogh (or Debussey or Streisand or Michener).”
“I fully support your tireless volunteer work with the disenfranchised among us.”
“I am woman! I can pay for my mortgage, utilities, medical expenses, taxes, insurance, and living expenses on my own.”
“I am he-man! I can pay for my mortgage, utilities, medical expenses, taxes, insurance, and living expenses on my own.”
For others, the hard knocks of life landed on our doorstep before we could reach out and pull away our welcome mat…
“Please don’t take your layoff so hard. It will be okay. We can manage on my salary.” (With inflation out of the picture, and with no power to raise prices, companies see layoffs as one of the few ways to eke out profits. In the first three quarters of 2002, American companies cut 3600 jobs per day!)
“Don’t worry about the medical bills. Your job is to get better. Let me do the worrying.”
“We can manage on your retirement. We’ll just send the grandkids a pack of LifeSavers and a coloring book for Christmas.”
“Daddy is living someplace else now. But Mommy is here, and everything will be okay.”
“Mommy loves you from heaven now. But Daddy is here, and everything will be okay.”
Single wage earners abound. Frankly, many of us are living on one paycheck and don’t even know it! In some cases, the cost of a second parent going to work far outweighs the benefits. A bewildering number of us are faced with the daunting challenge of living on one income. And we’d like to live well.
Living on one income in a two-income world can be like walking around with one shoe. The bare foot is uncomfortable, and stubbing your toe hurts. Many of us feel the bump of anger, depression, frustration, guilt—and if we’re being brutally honest, envy—as our checkbook balance plummets while need and desire soar sky-high.
At other times, we feel as if we’re trying to hitch a ride in the middle of the on-ramp of the Indy 500, bills and unmet needs whizzing by like a solid wall of 100 MPH traffic.
Slow down. Back up. Even though this book offers no free ride on Easy Street, it can lead you out of the traffic jam you are in. It will at least point you in the right direction. How will it do that? By showing you a new attitude, by teaching you a fabulous new creed, and by arming you with new skills.
The creed is a simple declaration of my belief that money and financial decisions are actually part of two economies: the visible worldly economy in which we live and the hidden but no less imminent spiritual economy of God’s kingdom, both of which are manifested through His people.
Over time and through determination I have developed a life of “one-income living with flair.” It is a happy life packed with activity and surprise, a life honored with chatter and crowded tables. It is a life somewhat ordered yet delightfully spontaneous. It is also a life of interior peace because I no longer flinch when the phone rings or panic when the mail comes. Bills are paid and most emergencies are covered. What is more, I try to be sensitive to the needs of others and am often able to help out.
If this is how you want to live—in spite of your income— I offer you my hand in partnership. Let me share my system, a bit of friendly advice to help you to discover the inevitable satisfaction that comes from smart living.
Easier said than done? Not when frugal habits become second nature! In this book I will show you how to develop skills, attitudes, and goals that will bring you success. But first a few words of clarification:
Many people associate “frugal” with rock-bottom, threadbare, sacrificial living. I do not share those sentiments. Frugal means smart, not bare-bones fanaticism. (If you are down to bare bones already, I will show you how to find life and joy, even in your circumstance.)
This is not a book about investing or getting out of debt. A book on how to manage, save, and invest money should already be on your bed stand, under-lined and dog-eared. This book is a crash course in what may be a brand-new perspective for many of you: smart thinking. My principles will help you cruise toward debt-free living if that is your goal. Once these principles become habits, you will naturally…
save bundles on groceries
dazzle guests with the simplest and most economical meals on earth
live peacefully with your former enemy—time
put pizzazz in your palace and pocket some change
give gifts from your heart that don’t empty your wallet
outsmart catalogs and Internet promotions
find the best buys in any store (yes, even auto parts)
quit worrying, live more, give more, splurge a little, and save a lot
That Stupid Couch
It was an outright epiphany. The discovery came to me midconversation with my husband, Joseph. “Hold that thought!” I yelled, as I jumped from my chair in one decisive maneuver, grabbed our big, ugly throw pillows, and flung them downstairs. That was it! The problem with the couch—and therefore the living room, and therefore the entire house, and therefore my life—was the ugly throw pillows! That stupid couch had bugged me for three years. I was excited; once I tackled the cushion problem, everything would be perfect!
Our couch is well-crafted and strong, a brownish beige tweedy behemoth in the center of our living room. It may look okay, pillows aside, but it is all wrong. Specifically, its seats are too deep for anyone but a professional basketball player. When I sit on our couch with my spine quite properly against its backrest, my feet stick up as they did when I was a kid and got swallowed in the yawning maw of Mrs. Galka’s sofa with my patent leathers pointing north.
Our backrest is divided into two poochy sections that look nice when punched into submission but deflate into a groove the minute someone sits against them, pushing the seat cushions forward. That is why the couch came with four big, raspberry-ripple pillows—so normal feet could reach the floor. And there’s more.
Namely, the feet on which this couch stands are covered with the same brownish beige tweedy fabric, which means when someone leans against it, it slides over our wood floor. This design fault was tragically learned one Christmas Eve when someone in our overflow crowd leaned against the couch, sending it and its occupants clear into New Jersey.
This couch had been a real problem—and then my epiphany: Why hadn’t I seen it before? Those cushions not only clashed with the rich colors and style of our rustic “Old World” decor, they clashed with the couch!
Once I replaced the cushions with something classier, something softer, something smaller, the living room would look quaintly country-French, people would revel in their comfortable surroundings, and life would be A-OK.
Couches “R” Us
What does all this fuss about our couch have to do with smart living? Plenty. By taking an honest and humorous look at my angst over four ugly cushions, we see a reflection of our souls. And what we see is clear: We are never satisfied. That is why some of us are unsettled, why many of us face discontentment, and why many of us spend. If I can get that one more thing…replace those four cushions…then life would be A-OK. Until the next epiphany.
Why are we like this? Why do we need that one more thing? Why aren’t we satisfied with what we have? And why, in spite of my own philosophy toward life, do even I find myself restless and in need of a spending fix from time to time? It’s called programming—and we’ve been programmed since infancy.
Cartoons have become half-hour commercials for toys and cereal as the lure and promise of true happiness reaches out to younger and younger children. Adults watch clever infomercials with rapt attention. Men in chef hats tell us to buy pots and pans, glamorous women tell us to buy makeup, famous golfers tell us to buy motor oil. And we obey. We have become a nation of obedient consumers, sipping designer coffee, our designer to-go mugs clutched in one hand, our cell phones in the other.
This is partly because the folks who work in advertising agencies know something that many of us don’t: We Americans find identity, satisfaction, and worth in what we buy. Who we are has become wrapped up in product identification. We wear labels like scapulars, shopping with religious fervor; we wear labels like badges, the right shoe or tennis racket giving us a positive edge; we wear labels like medals, flaunting our prominence among others.
First on radio, then on TV, and now on the Internet, we are blasted with a constant message: You thought you had nice cushions before, Cynthia. Wait till you see them new and improved! Think how they will enhance your life!
Day in and day out each and every one of us is tempted to fill our lives with the distractions of this world at the expense of our relationships with God and neighbor. We have been masterfully manipulated to nurture our neurotic compulsion to buy.
Wait long enough to visit and enjoy a cup of coffee with a companion? Wait long enough to park before we make a phone call? Wait long enough to sit on a couch with ugly cushions to listen to music or engage in conversation? Why should we wait? Our need to be new and improved has translated into not having to wait. We need our gratification fix, we need it now, and we have the means to get it. (Paying for it is another story.)
In the economy of God’s kingdom, we must ask ourselves what impulse is driving this need. We must reclaim a serious engagement with this impulse if we are to adequately under-stand—and satisfy—that impulse.
Madison Avenue has strategically fostered ego gratification through its products: I just know that if I have a famous-name measuring cup I will not only cook better, I will be just like the woman with the famous name. I just know if I wear a certain brand of sneakers I will jump sky-high or win the match and be just like the athletes who hawk those shoes. I just know if I have the same tool as the man on PBS I will build great things, and I will wear a flannel shirt when I use that tool to boot, just to be like him.
Never mind the famous woman, never mind those athletes, and never mind that tool guy. Better you should emulate Gram and Gramps.
To Grandmother’s House We Go
Some of us remember the predictability of a visit to grandma’s house. We would sleep on the same sheets on the same bed and drink from the same glass and eat from the same plate and play the same card game. Visit after visit, year after year. There was sameness, normalness, and, might I add, contentment—for us as well as for Gram and Gramps. Our grandparents were satisfied to have the same homemade macaroni and cheese on Monday night, to wear the same dress clothes on Sunday morning, and to drive the same old sedan into town. In other words, our grandparents made do with what they had. And for the most part, when something new came to the house, it was bought and paid for. Thus the excitement (sometimes for the whole neighborhood) when a new Maytag or color TV was carted home.
We would be foolish to extol many aspects of our grandparents’ lives. Technology, the computer age, medical advances, and other changes in our lives are undeniably progressive and mighty helpful. We should never be afraid to break new soil and face the beyond of any untried road.
What we should extol are the virtues that drove our grandparents. Virtues that seem to have been left under the doormat when progress came knocking at the door.
Easy Credit Knockin’ on Your Front Door
If easy credit came knocking at Gram and Gramp’s door, would they have gotten up to answer?
It was right about the time Gramps was settling down to snooze his way through retirement that progress came calling with easy credit in tow. Credit that was initially designed to jump-start our sluggish economy became an industry unto itself. “Buy now, pay later” became the mantra of excited consumers who could have just about anything their hearts desired without sacrifice or second thought. Madison Avenue was smacking its lips. And why not? Instant gratification fit nicely with grand plans for personal fulfillment. “Drinking glass?! You should have one in every color! Why worry about the pileup in your sink? We’ll sell you a dishwasher! And then we’ll invent improved dishwashing soap! And stuff that makes your glasses sparkle! See how much you need us?!”
And so, while Gramps snoozed, we went on a roll.
Credit now drives our economy. Espresso, a night at the movies, pizza, cab fares, tax bills, college tuition, measuring cups, and yes, new couch cushions, are just a swipe away as we whip out our tiny piece of plastic and make everything A-OK. At least until we come to our senses and recognize that credit-card accounts are designed to keep us in debt forever. That’s how they make their money and stay in business.
Don’t Charge, Take Charge!
Some of us are in a predicament, a precarious position where survival is wholly dependent upon one paycheck. Some of us have managed our money fairly well, but we can’t seem to get a leg up on savings. Also, for as many reasons as there are drops of water in the ocean, some of us are struggling to stay afloat.
And our boats are floating on very troubled waters right now. America faces threats that affect our wallet every single day: stock market destabilization, recession, inflation, trade agreements with less developed countries, corporate down-sizing, unemployment, and soaring energy costs (which will affect everything but breathing, and that only if you are not on oxygen). All contribute to real concern about our financial future. (Not to mention our financial present.)
Are we culpable in any of this? Do we bear any responsibility for our dilemma? Some of us do. Programmed or not, no one held a cash register to our heads and forced us to buy anything or to mismanage our funds. Most certainly, some people are having financial difficulties as a result of another person’s actions or because of unfortunate turns in life. Not everyone who has ended up on the short end of a paycheck has brought misery upon himself or herself. If some of us “fess up,” however, we will admit that gluttony, pride, covetousness, insecurity, jealousy, addiction, and selfishness have contributed to any predicament we are in as individuals or as a country. The truth is that God deplores all selfishness and expects us all—rich, poor, middle income—to live unselfishly within reasonable means so that no one lacks such basic needs as food, shelter, clothing, and medical care.
So What Do We Do?
Here’s the good news: Learn and appropriate ten principles of smart living and you can have your double-tall hazelnut latté and drink it too! (Just maybe not as often as you’d like.)
Let me make something clear: The purpose of this book is not to avoid consumerism but rather to promote a new approach to consumerism.
Remember Gram in her kitchen washing those same old dishes and Gramps in his lounge chair sawing logs? They had something we don’t. They had thrifty skills and knew how to use them. This is the primary issue. Our grandparents practiced skills that we do not. Though older mores are not popular in today’s climate, we must recover and appropriate them for today. (We must, however, also bear in mind that Gram and Gramps had a different occupational reality. Most of their contemporaries spent their lifetimes with a single employer, and very few needed advanced education.)
Many of us have simply never learned how to be frugal (excuse me…how to be smart), and many of us feel we don’t have time. Can old-fashioned grit and determination be applied to our insanely busy lifestyles—lifestyles that include little patience for anything that isn’t speedy and convenient? You betcha!
I’ve lived by these principles for years and consider my life “frugal with flair.” Do I have designer coffee beans in my freezer? Yep. (Learning how and where to store those beans is an important skill.) I also have good, organic olive oil, give awesome gifts, host fabulous parties, take an occasional trip, pay all of my bills, and have the wherewithal to replace those ugly cushions. And by the way, I do it all on my husband’s (average) income. Let me tell you how.
Frugal Means Smart
If you learn anything from this book, learn this: Frugal means smart. Years ago, many pleaded the case for thrift, but I squirmed at the thought of being a tightwad, skinflint, miser, cheapskate. I didn’t want to be as tight as the rubber band on broccoli. Those books gave good and necessary advice, but it was under an umbrella of guilt if we didn’t make our own soap or change the oil in our own cars. (Not that those aren’t good skills.) Time to do these things became our mortal enemy. Inclination to do these things was fleeting. Some of us tried and failed, spending more, I might add, buying all the tools and equipment to fulfill the tightwad mania that was sweeping the country. We soon became disillusioned, gave up, and resorted to old spending habits.
Well, here comes a news flash: None of us is perfect. Isn’t it about time we acknowledged that? This book does not present a picture-perfect scenario: Do all of this or that and life will be carefree. That would be irresponsible and simply impossible. Can’t be done. Too many bumps and too much human nature in our way. What this book does do is plead with you to adapt certain strategies that will give you small victories within your limited income. Over time, each victory will bring you closer to transformation and greater satisfaction—satisfaction guaranteed.
When I stay on the track of my specific guidelines, I am satisfied. Satisfaction comes from my sense of accomplishment, my power over Madison Avenue, and the fun of tackling my latest challenge, whether it is hosting a Mexican fiesta for six, outwitting the energy ogre, or figuring out what to do about the couch.
Frugal does not mean…
Frugal does mean…
Ten Ways to Outwit the Couch
What probably set my mind in motion about the couch were the gorgeous throw pillows I saw at a warehouse store. Very old-world, the pillows were soft without losing shape and smaller than the big, stiff purple blotches we had and they would add a stunning accent to the room—at $14.99 each. What to do?
I could adjust my attitude and be patient until I come up with a good idea or stumble onto something besides the warehouse store pillows. Or I could be satisfied with the pillows that came with the couch. Bleagh.
If I bought two warehouse pillows, I could easily stay within our monthly budget for household improvement, and therefore live within my means. But first I had to apply a few thrifty habits. What if I organized my house and looked for possibilities for cushions from other rooms? How savvy would I be if I made new pillows? In other words, what if I rolled up my sleeves and borrowed my mother’s sewing machine? By the time I bought fabric, even if I am savvy, the savings might not be worth the effort. Hmmm…Do I have any fabric on hand? I could use things up and put my leftover olive green fabric to work as a backing for each pillow, and if all I needed was a front piece of fabric and some stuffing… I should be able to find something on sale or even use an old print blouse, or how about a pillowcase or sheet? Nah, we have only two sets of sheets for our bed, and both are white.
Not wanting to waste my creative genius, I might be able to recover those purple eyesores, especially if I could stuff them into a colorful pillowcase. But I’d still have the “big” even though I’d gotten rid of the ugly.
Presentation matters to me, so whatever I do must be carefully thought through. So out goes impulse. In the meantime, I will be thankful that I even have a couch and therefore honor God for His blessings.
And there you have my guidelines, your new principles for smart living:
This book is filled with whimsy, a bit of serious self-reflection, and so many practical facts and helpful ideas they’re fairly falling off the pages.
What you are about to read is my philosophy (replete with successes and failure), along with nonstop encouragement for you to live well on any income, to live to God’s glory, to live with gusto, and to enjoy more on less.