Saturday, January 22, 2011

Intention VS Mindless VS Losing my Mind

It's time for another thrilling update on how not to spend money mindlessly and get your life in order at the same time.

First, I must confess. I did a McDonald's drive through for dinner Friday night enroute from work to church. It wouldn't have been so bad, but, what I chose came to $6.81 when I could have easily filled my stomache on half that. Que sera. They say confession is good for the soul. Shouldn't I feel better?

I got on the freeway Monday morning and there was someone looking for a hand-out. Ah! An opportunity to give more. Sadly, I didn't have time to dig out any money so I missed the opportunity. Later, I made a point of pulling out a few dollars and placed them in an easily accessible place in my car. Next time, I'd be ready. Friday morning, there's another guy. I picked up a three $1 bills and held them up...he quickly moved toward my car, I handed them to him, said, "God bless you" and went on my way. When I exited, just past LAX, there was a young woman at the off ramp as I waited at the signal. I started to pull out more and then noted that she was sitting on the ground, talking on her cell phone, laughing rather gaily. I opted not to spend any money here. Seriously! The happiness didn't bother me, but the cell phone put me over the edge. What's wrong with this picture? Remember, I vowed not to spend mindlessly. Maybe I'm wrong, but to have given her money would've felt mindless indeed.

Later that same day, I went to Home Goods, ostensibly to buy some items for work. Predictably, the moment I entered the door, I found beautiful print 120" table cloths. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find table cloths long enough for my dining room table? Very difficult indeed. I had it in my cart and I was justifying it like mad. But, at the last minute, I came to my senses and put it back where I'd found it. I reminded myself that I have an adequate supply at home and although it was beautiful, it was not a necessity. The good news? When I got home and re-measured my table, I realized that my table is 138' long with all the leaves. It wouldn't even have fit! That was a close one, and it would have been all for naught!

Today I did what I've been threatening to do forever. I went online and reviewed all my deleted email for the last couple of weeks. You, know-the ones you get all too frequently and usually delete without even opening them? Everyday, I tell myself, "UNSUBSCRIBE, you dope!" Well, today, the dope, did. I will not miss all the updates from Loehman's, Bev Mo, Career Builder, Ethan Allen, World Market or any of their friends. I eliminated more than twenty source of temptation and irritation. Yes! As I aim to spend less and spend intentionally when I do choose to spend, I don't need all these establishments whispering in my ear about what they have to offer and at what rock bottom prices. Simplify. Simplify.

I am working this, but, I have to confess; this is sooo not easy. It's changing the way I think. I am realizing how much I bought into the L'Oreal mantra, "You deserve it." Whether a mani-pedi (haven't had one since before Christmas, thank you) a grande, non-fat cappacino (I used to think the non-fat part made it a sacrifice) or not renewing the pile of magazine subscriptions that morphed into more things on my "To Do" list; they all have taken time and money that have kept me from doing what I really value. That, and taking up time and energy and space, making this already disorganized soul feel completely overwhelmed. STUFF! Ugh!

I'm pressing on. It should be no surprise, but somehow it still is, that when God starts whispering in my ear about something He wants me to listen to, I hear it everywhere. At church, on the radio, in my morning devotional time, and from others. Just yesterday, a new friend (who, by the way, knows nothing of this journey I'm on) said, I have a book for you...I think you'll like it. The name of the book? Simple Abundance. Really?

I'm still listening and the whispers are getting louder every minute.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Rocky Road

Tonight, my friend Tracy has inspired me to do a little blogging on the fly. She had a little post on facebook that read, "I wish I could eat as much ice cream as I want." That's all it took to inspire me to sit down and blog about one of my favorite subjects: Ice Cream. Rocky Road to be precise.

You see, I cannot speak of ice cream without thinking of my Dad. The man loved his ice cream. I often laughingly told him that he had ruined all of us kids for ice cream outside our home. When we were young, he would offer us ice cream and then would serve us up cereal sized bowls, brimming with multiple scoops for a little after dinner snack. We're talking super-sized before it was fashionable. We didn't realize it at the time, but we were probably taking in a day's worth of calories in a single sitting.

I remember on more than one occasion, as a kid, being offered ice cream at someone else's house and being sorely disappointed at the portion size. The offering would usually be a meager little single scoop. As the child of Ray Matthis, I would look at it in silent amazement, always polite and appreciative but the voices in my head were screaming, "ARE YOU KIDDING, ME? ONE SCOOP? SERIOUSLY???" And then, finally, I'd think, "why bother???"

When my dad was in the hospital, at the end of his life, we spent long days with him. The last week or so, we'd leave the hospital, usually after midnight to go home and get a few hours of sleep before heading back up to be with him. As we'd drive home on empty streets, often, as if magnetized, our car would end up at Millie's Coffee Shop. Before we knew what was happening, a waitress would be placing hot fudge sundaes in front of us. One each. We NEVER share ice cream. We would tell ourselves, with wry little smiles, "Dad would want us to do this." It was true.

When he was gone, when his memorial service was over and when the last guest had left the church, a small group of family members headed back to the house. I picked up pizza and 2 gallons of Rocky Road Ice Cream on the way home, to fortify the troops. There was little interest in the pizza, but before the night was over, every scoop of ice cream was consumed. I shared with those who didn't know, how integral ice cream was to our formative years and how Dad loved it and made us love it, too. When a bowl was empty, it was time for a refill-as if we were all bellyed up to the bar and we kept ordering another round. We did it for Dad, in honor of the wonderful gift of ice cream and in memory of the many times in our lives that we had enjoyed it with him.

Now I'm sharing the love with Ruby. His first great-grandchild, she was born shortly after Dad died. At two years of age, she already has a great appreciation for ice cream. Generally a McDonald's soft serve cone, and generally not massive quantities, but, I take great joy in telling her, "Poppa Ray loved ice cream, too!"
From here to eternity, I will think of Dad when I eat ice cream, celebrating him and the love of it we shared.

There's no doubt in my mind what our first meal with him in heaven will be. Massive quanities of ice cream! Hopefully, our heavenly bodies will be fat free, but, the ice cream will be the real thing!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Let me count the ways...

Has it really only been eleven days since my last post? How many times have I been tempted to spend mindlessly? The morning following my post, the first visitor to my office was a co-worker knocking on my door to deliver Starbucks Cinnamon Via Coffee. Yes, I had asked her to buy them for me. Yes, it had been a week earlier. Egad! Sheepishly I shelled out $14, lamenting that in less than 24 hours, I was, already breaking my spend "fast". Nevertheless, I promptly extended myself a large dose of grace and resolved to stay focused and aim for my goal. In the ensuing days, here's some of what I've discovered:

1. I had no idea how often I mindlessly spend money on food and beverages ingested on a whim. Coffee, ice cream, frozen yogurt, a donut. My car is pulled like a magnet to a refrigerator. Last Sunday I was early for a meeting at church so I instinctively pulled into a nearby Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. I parked in front and was ready to open the door when I remembered my vow to spend intentionally vs mindlessly. Step away from the barista and no one will get hurt! Relax. I stayed in the car and drove it around the corner next to an enormous trash receptacle. Instead of sipping a nice hot Wintergarden Tea Latte, I spent the next hour purging my car of trash, organizing an overabundance of "stuff" and still got to my meeting on time, without opening my unusually fat wallet.

2. Costco is a dangerous place. I went there intending to get a refund on window treatments ordered back in December. (didn't want you to think I'd gone completely over the edge) After getting our AMEX card credited, I decided to take advantage of the great prices and pick up a few groceries- the one purchase I am allowed with minimal restriction. I soon realized how great the temptation walking past that human with a clicker would be. Jeans! ( I have three pair at home!) Olay Regenerist! (oh yeah- I said I was going to use what I already have before buying more) Books! ( oh, that's right--I'm going to read the books I already own before I add to my collection) Yes. I won this little battle. I resisted the books, all the clothing and lotions and left with ground turkey, multigrain Cheerios, eggs and bread-cheapest Costco visit ever!

3. Giving feels better than buying. I wrote a check for a young woman friend going on a missions trip this summer. I had ample money to do so because I'd made a few small changes in my spending. She was appreciative and I am blessed, knowing my small check will reap eternal rewards. I spent most of my day off last week with another young woman Mike and I love dearly and are trying to help. Giving is more than money, it's also time and attention and patience. Make no mistake,we are the real recipients of the blessing.

4. Sometimes unplanned spending is the right thing to do. Friday night I scooped up my one and only grandgirl, after leaving work and only an hour before church. There simply was NOT time to go home, prepare dinner, cajole a 2.5 year old to eat and still get her to the church on time. So- we eschewed McDonalds and went to Denny's where Ruby inhaled chocolate chip pancakes and milk while I enjoyed a Grand Slam breakfast, compete with fruit, grits and eggs. We were served promptly, ate and paid our $11 bill gladly,leaving a kind waiter a near 50% tip. My pleasure. (by the way, leftovers provided the next mornings breakfast as well)

5.If I'm not going to buy, there's no need to shop. My daughter Amanda, invited me to go with her to our favorite antique flea market on Sunday. My first response was, "Yes!" When I waffled a bit later, I reminded Amanda that I was trying to avoid spending so I had to think it over. She quickly brought me to my senses, asking "what is the point?" She was 100% correct. Why would I go if I had no intention of buying? The point for me was that I welcome any opportunity to spend time with her, but, in retrospect, I don't have enough self-control to avoid that temptation right now. Hopefully, I'll get there. For now I won't be going. Instead, I'll get to see my astute daughter tomorrow afternoon when she and Danny drop off and later pick up sweet Ruby. They're going to dinner alone and we'll enjoy Ru. Win-Win- and not a dime spent.

It's been more of a challenge than I expected, but I'm holding firm. It's all good, and I'm pressing on.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Spend less, Give more.

Life is complicated. And, for me, it's messy. Too messy.

It's a new year and as I do every new year, I resolve to get organized. Mind you it's a life long struggle of monumental proportions. I, who am married to a creature of habit and the mother of a girl who has all her ducks,all in a row, all the time. It's daunting! Look at this closet belonging to my granddaughter, Ruby- it's perfectly ordered by her mother, my Amanda. This girl, who rightly described herself as one who has "a place for everything and everything in it's place" went on to describe me as "someone who also has a place for everything: when she puts something down, that's it's new place".

It is no lie, that after my father's death, when I opened his dresser drawer and saw multiples perfectly white, perfectly folded and perfectly stacked undershirts next to similar stacks of underwear and socks, that I nearly fell to my knees and I actually said out loud, Oh, Poppa, why could I not have inherited that "neat and orderly gene" from you? Why? I who need it so much?

A few years ago, I read a newspaper article about a small group of friends who committed to not spending unnecessarily in the year ahead. There was a general recognition among them that maybe they were doing a lot of unnecessary buying and they challenged themselves to stop. They were amazingly successful, even committing to making gifts instead of buying them. I read it and thought, it would be a double win for me...I'd spend less, AND I'd have less to manage.

I started out with good intentions, but, I only lasted a few weeks. I lost focus and I didn't have the strength to do it. But, I'm thinking it's time to try it again. I look around at my piles and I know I just own too much STUFF. My closet is packed. How many white blouses does one girl need? And, dare I say, how many pairs shoes is one too many? I need to try something radical, so, why not start here? I am not sure the full scope of what I will do or how long I will last, but, here is what I'm going to aim for.

Buy only what is genuinely needed Use what I have before replacing it (thinking make-up, hair products, lotions, etc)When I do need to buy something, try a less expensive option and see if it works wellTake lunch to work instead of resorting to fast foods or expensive lunches outUse the greeting cards and stationary I've already purchased Read the books already on my shelvesBless those who need a blessing instead of indulging my every desireListen to music we already own vs adding to an already huge libraryStop renewing subscriptions of magazines I don't have time to readUse the clothing already hanging in my closets and in my drawersGive away clothing I haven't actually worn in the last yearContribute more to missions and other causes I believe inBuy more fresh and less processed foodBrew my own coffee in my own kitchenStart a giveaway box for the Salvation Army and donate monthly Give money more often to the guys on the freeway on ramp
Take dinner next door to our recently widowed neighbor and eat with him Spend more time in my backyard this summer, nurturing tomatoes that we love

The writer Ethel Barret, said once, that we spend money on things we don't need, with money we don't have to impress people we don't even like. I don't know if that's all true of me, but, I think it's time to think more about where it's all going and what I'm carrying into my home. I want to be intentional about how I'm spending the money I work for and what I'm giving up my time to maintain.

Okay. It's a start. No guarantees, but, I'll let you know how I do. I just want to get this stuff under control before it consumes anymore of my time and attention. I have so much to be thankful for. So many blessings. I want to spend more of my time on the people I love and less time taking care of things I don't really need. Game on.