Sometimes I go get the mail and sigh sadly at the heavy burden of bills and bill collectors vying for my or my husband's attention. And every now and then I sit and daydream of a world where I send my sons to far-off places to learn and live lives matching exactly their goals and dreams, or of a brand new car that will travel the roads with confidence bringing me to see all of those I love everywhere they live, gas stations lighting up the empty roads while I pull out credit cards that are magically overflowing with credit.
But mostly, almost always, I'm just happy. I love my life and have hardly any problem living within our means. We cut costs just like most families, and we hustle for money, just like most families. This is life, and I've decided to love it!
In truth, it's all about an attitude shift. I don't view cost cutting measures as things we have to do because we're poor, but rather choices we're making for the environment, society, family, and community. Even though...you know... we're also pretty broke and do get a laugh about that now and then!! I'll give you a few examples of my cost saving measures:
1) I don't grocery shop on an empty stomach, because when I'm hungry I tend to choose convenience foods which are slightly more expensive and ridiculously low on nutrition. So instead I take my time, sip a coffee, and buy foods that are high in nutrients. In this way we can eat less (because we are being nourished by smaller amounts of food) and our groceries will last the week. However, I do make sure to get at least one junk-food type treat that we can enjoy when needing to feel affluent and decadent!
2) I spend a lot of quality time with my boys--I have four teenage sons. We watch movies and talk about story lines, we dance in the living-room, we write songs, we go hiking and make each other laugh. Always we include my husband (who is a mechanic and is forever working!) by phoning him, talking about him, and celebrating him. And now that my two oldest sons have moved away we phone them, text pictures, mail packages... again, including them. These things are (mostly) free, but make us feel like we're really living it up. And they encourage a connection and feeling of support that is all too rare, and can't be bought!
3) We do almost all of our non-grocery shopping at thrift stores, which is really fun! Every item has a story--having lived in other homes or kept other bodies warm--and we get a kick out of imagining what that story could be. Also, we focus more on the recycling aspect of thrift stores rather than the cost saving. There's nothing wrong with being happy about saving money, but if we put too much emphasis on being broke then we are more likely to feel broke--which can be desperate and scary. Instead we get a kick out of our earth friendly thrift store purchases and the unlimited story imagining potential!
These are just a few of my cost saving habits, but you get the idea! Living within our means and loving it is a choice, and I mostly choose it.
Have there been trade-offs to living a life with less money? Well, of course.
The biggest trade-off I've made is allowing my oldest sons to move away from home when they were young (only fifteen), in order to follow their California dreams. My husband's job is in small town Texas, and so I chose to stay in small town Texas while my sons moved to California in order to live with my mom to go to an arts school, work with my sister (who is a producer of still-photo shoots) as models and production assistants, and go after their dreams of becoming film editors and actors. I would like to live in California, close to family, but there is no way we could ever afford it. And, in truth, I'm not sure my husband could ever be happy anywhere beside small town Texas. He's very comfortable here and it suits him.
Are these trade-offs worth it? Absolutely!
My two youngest sons, who are still home with us, are doing very well in small town Texas. And my two oldest sons are happy and growing up beautifully. Most importantly, everyone has learned that you can go after what you want, regardless of income and other so-called hurdles. Our family has a feeling of support and togetherness that remains strong even while we're apart in miles, and we've broken free of the imagined shackles of poverty. When you make intentional choices about your life, and do it with support and passion, suddenly you see the limited value of money.
I am not an advocate for poverty, but I do believe strongly in highlighting and seeking value in your life that doesn't rely entirely on money. There is much to be gained by living happily in your means, but there are also gifts being offered when living a life of feeling free financially. Free to give your time and donations to causes and people you feel passionate about. But the real gift offering isn't the money, it's the feeling of giving and discovering passions and people.
Regardless of your finances, there are always gifts!
This may seem strange but our small income has taught me how to accept financial help, or offers of food and clothes, graciously. I have always had a strange discomfort when getting money--even when I'm being paid for work! But over the years I've had to learn to see the synergy in accepting help. When I was uncomfortable with it, I had a much harder time learning what I could do in return, because I was busy trying to hide away from people who I assumed were seeing me as pathetic. However, now that I can accept food, clothes, and other offered items from friends and even strangers comfortably, I'm willing to stay a while to find out what I can do for them. Suddenly, I see value is so much more than only things and money! I've learned to realize and act on the many things I can do for others that are equally valuable, and I've in turn been able to teach all of this to my fabulous children! Also, because my husband and I are comfortable living on a small budget I've gotten to spend so much time with my family, help out friends in need, and be there for my husband when my company is what he craves most. Always, I am available and more than willing. This has proved to be a much more concrete gift than I ever would have imagined!
And I feel successful! I walk through life proud of my accomplishments and excited to continue growing my what-I've-done-with-my-life list!
I really believe that the best intentional decision I made regarding feeling successful is attitude. In our family we tend to celebrate accomplishments, ideas, song lyrics, dance moves, the beauty of a night sky, the passion in our projects and the potential they have to inform, entertain, or enlighten. When these are the things you celebrate and talk about, these become the things you go after to feel successful. It's not as though we never wish we could buy an iPod or a car with less quirks, it's just that these are less often on our minds and so we less often feel broke. Because of this the other choices we make to stretch our money--accepting assistance graciously, organizing outings with the gas tank in the forefront of our plans, borrowing movies from the library rather than the Redbox--feel more like ingenuity and less like poverty.
And how you feel is where you most often live.
This is life, and I've decided to love it!
Hugs, smiles, and love!!
Author's note: I'd like to thank Kenrya Naasel for asking me the questions that led me to articulate these answers. And for complimenting my work which encouraged me to keep believing in it!