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Living On A Meager Budget 
Tuesday, 05 February 2008

One of the most interesting phenomena I have found in living on a meager budget is that when I am generous, I can still pay off my bills just fine.  Somehow I always have enough whether it is through another person being generous to me or whether it is that I somehow spent less this particular month than other months.  There are a couple things I want to mention regarding generosity. 

First of all, one of the most important keys to living successfully on a meager budget is attitude.  When we think more highly or lowlier of ourselves than we ought to, that is a sign that something deeper is going on.  People who think more highly of themselves than they ought tend to look down upon others and that is noticeable. 

These people either think they do not have to give to those beneath them or they take pity on the poor souls and give out of that pity.  This is not a generous attitude; it is a selfish attitude that will not get the person very far in life or in friendships.

On the other hand, there is the person who thinks lowlier of him than he ought.  This person either will not give because he thinks it does not matter or he will give because the other person deserves it more than him.  Maybe he thinks it will help people like him if he gives.  This, also, is not a generous attitude.  It is an attitude either of fear or self-pity, and it also will not get this person very far in life.

A generous person is one who really likes him and really likes the people he is around.  He gives because he wants to give and he knows that it is more blessed to give than to receive.  This is a person people like, and this is a person who will find blessings coming back his way even though he did not give for that reason.  This is where the phenomenon happens.  The truly generous person is taken care of.

For those who really do not have money to give, there are other ways of being generous.  Giving quality time to another person is often even more helpful than money.  Having a hospitable heart that allows people in need to come in for a shower and meal shows great generosity.

As another idea, find a homeless program and give of your time.  Volunteers are always needed and welcomed at many places.  I have worked with the homeless on a couple occasions and always find myself blessed in return.  Being generous really does help in tight situations.

Posted by: Rich Lanning AT 04:02 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, 05 February 2008

Believe it or not, keeping some sort of budget really does help.  When we do not think about all the bills we have to pay, it becomes easier and easier to blow a paycheck in one shopping spree and have nothing left over for bills.  A strict budget is not always necessary, but being mindful of what you have and what you are paying for is important.

First of all, lay out all your bills and figure out how much money you will have left over after those bills are paid.  Do not forget things like water and electric.  If you support a function, figure that money in.  I am paying back school loans so I have to figure those into my budget.  Also remember when those quarterly or yearly bills are due.  I have to remember months in advance when my car insurance bill is due so there is some left over in my bank account for that non-regular bill.  If at all possible, set aside some money for a rainy day.  Then figure out what you have left.

With what is left, how much will you need for food, gas, and other essentials?  What can you cut out from your ?wish list' to put to other essentials? 

Then keep track of your spending throughout the month.  It is easy to spend hundreds more than usual without even realizing it when we don't keep track of our spending.  It is even easier to get in more trouble when we are given money.  I so quickly spend an extra $10 on three $10 items always forgetting that I had already spent the money.  It is the same reason lottery winners almost always go into greater debt than they were before. 

One thing to keep in mind when dealing with a budget is that it is not helpful to get stressed out and worried.  Stress and worry does not change the situation we are in, they only keep us from thinking clearly and they put undue pressure on our physical bodies.  Fear is a natural response to a probable or real problem, but it is only helpful in so far as it tells us something is wrong. 

For example, when I look at my credit card bill and realize I do not have enough to pay it off, my first response is anxiety.  But the problem is that when I let that anxiety stay around, I start focusing on the problem instead of the solution.  Fear has told me something is wrong but then I must remove fear from me and start thinking of a solution for my problem.  Is there extra work I can do for someone?  Should I start a part time job?  Can I hold a yard sale?

I would suggest not getting a loan to pay off the bill.  Find some way to pay it off that will not cause a problem in the future. 

Keeping a budget is really helpful in keeping on top of finances.  In fact, ditching the credit card is really helpful in keeping inside your budget.  You cannot buy an item if you cannot pay for it.  Knowing you are not going into deeper debt every month is a good thing.

Posted by: Rich Lanning AT 04:01 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, 05 February 2008

One of the hardest times of the year for people to keep their checkbooks in order is Christmas time.  There are so many presents to buy for so many people.  We often face a mindset that says we have to buy presents and it is ok to procrastinate until the last couple weeks before Christmas to do so.  Here are some ideas that could help.


The first one I have heard of is to buy Christmas presents for the following year right after Christmas while they are all on sale.  Though this could be risky because there is a whole year to find new stuff or hope that the person does not buy whatever you got on their own, it is one way to find inexpensive gifts.


A second idea is to generate a list of who to buy for right after Christmas and then set aside one person per month or per couple months to buy something for so that you are not hit with one big bill all at once. 


A third idea is to get creative.  I like to wood burn clocks and other various projects.  A piece of wood you could buy at Hobby Lobby for three dollars could become a piece worth twenty or fifty dollars or more depending on how much time and effort you put into the project.  Many people appreciate homemade gifts more than store bought ones because of the time and thought behind what was given.


A fourth idea is to give time coupons.  In the past I have given my mom coupons for a night off of doing the dishes or a good back rub.  I think she has forgotten to cash in on them in every case, but she really loved the gesture.  Maybe she is just storing them up for when she is older and has a harder time getting around. 


A fifth idea is to draw names in the family so that you only buy one present for one person.  Many people will put a dollar cap on this type of giving so that one person does not get a hundred dollar gift while another one only gets a ten-dollar gift.


A sixth idea I have heard about is to give money to some charity that the family likes.  As a family you can decide on the charity and on the dollar amount and let that be your Christmas present.


One last idea is to go to a homeless shelter on Christmas and help out there.  Those at the homeless shelter probably have no family to celebrate with, and those who choose to spend their time with the lonely are greater blessings than they could know.  More suicides happen around the holidays than any other time.  One of the greatest Christmas presents you could give is the gift of hope and love to one who otherwise would not receive any.

Posted by: Rich Lanning AT 03:57 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, 05 February 2008

There are many areas in which food come into play when dealing with a small budget.  One of the biggest areas is the amount of food we eat.  Most people in rich countries eat way more than they need to.  Cutting down our dinner is healthier on the body as well as healthier on the pocket book. 

Keep in mind that we teach our bodies what they want.  Unfortunately many have lost the art of hearing our bodies respond with what they need.  I have noticed that when I eat lots of sugary foods, then my taste buds start to crave sugary foods whereas my body tells me that it needs vitamins and minerals and proteins, etc by getting sluggish. 

On the other hand, when I feed my body lots of vegetables and fruit, I start to crave the healthier foods.  My mind becomes more alert and my body has more energy.  I am telling my body what to hunger after and my body responds with a ?yay, you are taking care of me' or an ?I feel like crap'. 

So what does this have to do with living on a meager budget?  Believe it or not, when I eat healthier, I also tend to eat less meaning I spend less money on food.  An alert mind and a body that feels good helps me make good decisions all around.

Speaking of cravings, I have heard it said that when people get a craving, they should fill it right away or else it will grow and grow until they end up eating way more than they would have originally.  Believe it or not, this is a lie.  We train our minds how to think.  If I have a craving for chocolate, my natural tendency would be to try not to think about chocolate which would make me think about chocolate even more until I just could not contain myself anymore and I had to buy that 2 pound box of chocolates and eat half of it in one evening.

I have learned, however, that I can change my craving by changing my speech.  If I tell myself that chocolate tastes good and would make me feel good but I cannot have any, then I am telling a part of myself that it is being denied a good thing.  Instead, if I tell myself that eating chocolate would make me feel sluggish and that I would prefer to spend that money on, say, a new set of pens for my new journal, then the craving quickly passes.

We must train ourselves to think differently regarding what we eat and the amount we eat.  When living on a meager budget, it is so helpful in keeping costs low as well as keeping healthy.  A healthy body helps morale stay higher, which helps sustain through the narrow place.

Posted by: Rich Lanning AT 03:56 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, 05 February 2008

One of the most important parts of living on a meager budget is deciding what your priorities are.  Once those are determined you can plan your activities accordingly.  For most people, one of the main priorities of life is to have meaningful relationships with those you care about.  Contrary to popular habit of going out to eat and then going to the movies, there are many other activities that can be fun and free, or at least very inexpensive.

My first idea is to get out into nature.  Go to a park or playground.  There are many around that are free to get into.  Not only is it good exercise to hike or play, it also cultivates good relationships.  Instead of watching a movie where there is little conversation among friends, spend your time really getting to know the person.  How do they respond in certain circumstances?  What do they like?  What do they dislike?  What makes them laugh?  What makes them cry?  We are meant to be social creatures so go be social!

Another idea is to pull out a good game.  Many fun conversations happen over a game of cards or a board game.  Get one with lots of interpersonal questions and learn about your opponents.  Make up a game and just be silly.  I have heard it said that those who cannot laugh at themselves are very close to insanity.

Maybe you like football or Frisbee.  Get a group together and get a game going.  Kick a soccer ball around or shoot some hoops.  These are all great exercise and can be great fun without costing a lot of money.

If it is summer and you are hot, play in a sprinkler instead of going to a public pool.  Even adults can have fun playing around in a sprinkler on a hot day, and they do not have to worry about the lifeguard looking at them funny.

If you want to get really goofy and bring a smile to someone's day, get creative.  One time a friend sat in a shopping cart while someone else pushed her through the drive-thru at a fast food restaurant.  She ordered water and received a laugh from the attendant who gave her the water.

If it is a nice evening out, go stargazing.  Find someone with a really good pair of binoculars and see how many planets and gaseous clouds you can find that you thought were stars.  Find the band of the Milky Way. 

There are so many activities you can do to relax or be relational or have fun that do not cost a dime.  It just takes a bit of shifting in our thinking to prefer those free activities.

Posted by: Rich Lanning AT 03:54 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, 05 February 2008

When I was in college, I was told that the Dollar General was the college student's best friend.  That was no lie.  When living on a meager budget, it is amazing the difference it makes when you know where to shop.

The first thing I want to mention is the importance of getting over your fear of what others will think if you do not wear the latest fashion or eat the choicest foods.  Life is more than food or clothing and a meager budget is too small for the choicest of either.  Get over it.  Here are some ideas for good places to shop.

Dollar General is often a good place to shop, though they will sometimes slip some items in that are more than what you would pay at another store.  Price comparison will keep you savvy - so never let down your guard, even at bargain basement stores.

Second hand stores can be great to go to.  I have a friend who is always finding treasures at a local Goodwill.  There are a few in my area, and one of them is right across the street from some very rich neighborhoods.  They will sometimes have barely worn clothing that someone got tired of and donated.  Some of my favorite dresses came from second hand stores.

I was once introduced to a ?clothing swap'.  This is where people bring in their clothing that they have grown bored with or grown out of.  It is all gathered together and then everyone is turned loose to see what clothing they would like to go home with instead of the clothing they donated.  Whatever is not claimed is then taken to Goodwill.

Yard sales are also places to find great bargains.  A friend of mine bought a T.V. and VCR for very cheap and they work just fine.

Another great store is the kind that gets overstocked items and out of date items.  We have a store in an old warehouse that carries dented and outdated items for very cheap.  I can save a lot of money by going there.  The only problem with places like that is that you have to know what is ok and what is not ok to eat if it is past the expiration date.  I have heard of people dying from eating pancakes from an old mix.  Apparently the mix grows some kind of toxic mold after so long.

Aside from those options, cut and use coupons.  Every little bit adds up to a lot when the day is done.  Every dime helps when you are counting nickels to pay off the last of your bills.

Do research and know where to shop.  If you only need a couple things, then maybe it is wiser to walk to a local store than drive to a more distant one.  I may pay an extra thirty cents for milk at the local story, but if I were to drive to Wal-Mart, then I just paid two dollars in gas to save thirty cents in the store.  Know the options that will save the most money.

Posted by: Rich Lanning AT 03:51 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, 05 February 2008

One of the greatest struggles we have in a materialistic culture is learning to be content.  Advertisements bombard us with reasons why we should not be content with what we have and who we are.  To be sexually attractive, we must drink this drink.  (Actually, most people see confidence as one of the most attractive qualities about a person.)  To be content, you have to drive this particular vehicle.  (Actually, contentment is a choice not dependent upon material possessions.)  Companies want our money so many of them lie to us to get us to buy their products.  They have to convince us that our lives are not complete without their product.

But those of us who live on a meager budget would go into substantial debt if we listened to what the media has to say.  Instead we can take control of our lives and learn to enjoy them without the ?must haves' of the advertisements.

I used to be told all the time to take time to smell the roses.  Taking the time to do so means relaxing enough to do something that does not create money or advance our careers.  It is a foolish thing in the eyes of consumerism, but a must for those wanting to be content.  We must take time to be ourselves and relax and enjoy living.  This distresses us and re-centers us to what is really important.

Taking time to smell the roses reminds us to use all of our senses and see the beauty in everything around us.  It is easy to get so absorbed in jobs and problems that we miss the sights and sounds and smells that add such beauty to our world. 

Really smelling the roses demands full attention as well.  We live in a world that teaches us to be fragmented.  People can watch T.V., talk on the phone, do homework, and play with the dog all at the same time.  This is really unhealthy because it causes internal stress.  We were created to be whole people who could give our full attention to those around us and to the things we are working on.  Taking time to smell the roses is essentially reminding us to take time to be whole people.

Learning to be content, whole people teaches us what we need and what we do not need.  We do not need another outfit to like ourselves.  We already do like ourselves.  We do not need that candy bar to still our boredom.  The people, animals, and plants we see around us already fascinate us.  What a difference it makes in our checkbooks when we stop buying things because we are discontent with our lives.  Learn to be content.  It is likely that you already have everything you need.  It is just a matter of re-evaluating your needs.

Posted by: Rich Lanning AT 03:49 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, 05 February 2008

Living on a meager budget is hard on anyone, but especially those who struggle with materialism.  Sometimes it is hard to separate what we really need from what would feel good at this particular moment.  A meal out here, a new outfit there, it all adds up and causes the budget to be tighter.  Why are we so driven to make sure our ?feel good' needs are met before our long term needs?

At the root of this problem, I have found that we are all looking for wholeness and completeness.  We want peace and good feelings.  When there is brokenness and/or pain, we look for ways to either cover up the pain or make the pain go away.  Drug addicts temporarily cover up their pain by altering the state of their minds.  Compulsive shoppers try to cover up their pain by finding a new outfit or new gadget.  Some watch TV or movies all the time in an attempt to distract themselves from their pain.

The problem with this is that we have trained ourselves to respond to pain in unhealthy ways.  We want to ignore the pain instead of getting to the root of it.  We teach ourselves that we can keep ignoring it until it goes away, but that does not happen fully until the pain/source of pain is healed completely.

Therefore, short of finding healing for the inner unrest, those who live on a meager budget must teach themselves to sort out what they need and what they are using to try to cover up the pain.

One example is food.  Americans have a tendency to eat way too much and spend more than they need on that food.  Those who have not eaten for a number of days will say the hardest part was getting over the boredom of not eating because food is as much entertainment as it is nourishment.  Therefore if we get tired of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, it is easy to crave some big meal at a restaurant.  Our emotions tell us that we will die if we do not fill this craving.  Then, despite the limited dollars in our pockets, we go out to our favorite restaurant and spend on one meal what we may have spent on five or ten meals otherwise.

Another problem is boredom.  Some bored people think that a new gadget or outfit will ?heal' their boredom.  We may have way more than we will ever need at home, but in our search for meaning and purpose, we get bored of life the way it is and want to change it the only way we know how: shop.  After all, is that not what commercials do?  They tell us that our lives will be infinitely improved if we buy their product.  It is a lie.

What we really need to be happy is to know who we are and why we are here.  Keep this in mind before you head to the store to spend more money.

Posted by: Rich Lanning AT 03:38 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, 05 February 2008

One of the best ways I have found to keep myself from spending too much is to develop a vision for my life.  Where am I going and what am I doing?  It is said that people without a vision perish.  I know how depressed I can become when I feel like my life is going nowhere.  Stirring up a vision brings hope and a challenge to overcome.


How does that help when living on a meager budget?  People without vision spend their lives looking all different directions and spending money in areas of all those different directions.  Vision oriented people do not waste time or money on things that do not help them achieve their goal.


By waste, I do not mean spending money on things that matter.  Buying food or maybe the occasional flowers for your girlfriend are things that matter.  Buying tons of video games or novels when your dream is to become an architect or accountant is frivolous and unproductive.  It is important to buy things that help you achieve your goal instead of things that become a distraction.


Once you have a vision for your life, another thing you can do is find people around you who share the same vision.  Not only will they help you keep focused, but they may also have resources you can borrow so that you do not have to spend money on them.  My mentor is often loaning me books to read that help educate me in the area I want to move into.


For those who have a hard time creating a vision, here are some helpful suggestions.  First of all, pay attention to those things that make you cry.  Is it the homeless children?  Is it the lack of stewardship we have shown the earth?  Is it the beauty of the night sky?  Whatever makes you cry is something that stirs deep within you for a reason.  Check into different jobs that are a part of that passion and see what it takes to get one of those jobs.


Second, pay attention to those things that give you a great sense of ccomplishment apart from what anyone else is thinking.  I feel really good when I write something I think is great.  It does not matter what anyone else thinks about it.  For that reason, I am looking at different writing options.


Third, what are you really good at?  Often times those things we are really good at play some part in whatever job would really make you happy.  People tell me I am good at counseling.  That does not mean I am to become a professional counselor, but it could mean that counseling will play some role in my life.


Then, once your vision is created, you can get to work on weeding out those things from your shopping list that do not really matter in helping you accomplish your goal.

Posted by: Rich Lanning AT 11:28 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, 05 February 2008

One of the most challenging parts of living on a meager budget is learning not to waste so much.  There are some simple ways not to waste and there are some ways that take more effort.  Every little bit helps, though.


For starters, it is so easy to waste food.  I try to keep my fridge pretty empty so that I use everything that is there before it goes bad.  If I do not use something on time, I know to either not buy it again or not buy so much of it.  It can be easy to get bored with the food choices, but changing the way we think and speak can change that.  I can think, ?I am getting so tired of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches' and let that become my reality, or I can think ?I am so thankful that I have food to eat and a fridge to put stuff in.' This keeps things in better perspective.


If you need help remembering how good you have it on a meager budget, visit some homeless people or help out with a homeless ministry.  I am always a lot more thankful for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches after that.


Another tip for ?waste not' is to keep organized so you know what you have and what you need to accomplish your tasks.  It is annoying when I pass by the cooking oil section and think, "Oh, I think I need some of that."  Then I come home and find two unopened bottles.  Keeping organized and remembering what you have helps out a lot.


If you want to go farther, keep your house at a lower temperature in winter and just wear more clothing.  I am someone who gets cold easily, but I have found that I can keep the house cooler just by changing a few activities.  First of all, I like candles and candles produce heat.  Lighting enough of them helps warm the house.  I have also found that if I lift weights or exercise a bit, that warms me right up.  I also like curling up in blankets.  The less heat I can pump into my house, the lower my electric bill is.


Then there is the rule of ?half'.  Sometimes instructions tell us to use much more than we really need to use.  I have found this to be true when I do laundry.  I will usually put one fourth of a cup or less of laundry detergent in my washing machine and my clothes still come out clean enough for my satisfaction.  The same can often be said of dish detergent and shampoo.


I also suggest walking instead of driving to places close by.  Or get a bike for longer distances.  The way gas prices are increasing; it is not a bad idea.


On the more extreme side, I have heard of people who will fill buckets with shower water while waiting for the shower to get hot.  That water can then be used for other purposes like watering a garden.  There are many ways we can learn not to waste which cuts down on bills.

Posted by: Rich Lanning AT 10:48 am   |  Permalink   |  Email

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