Could You Go a Year Without Spending?

A few years back, Eric and Donna Reed shopped for groceries and household products only once for an entire year. How on earth? I know. That was my reaction, too.

The Reeds got the idea after reading a column in USA Today, wherein the writer confessed to his weakness when it came to buying clothes. So driven to buy new sweaters, slacks or shoes every time he stepped inside a clothing store, publicly he announced he was giving up buying anything for one full year.

happy-couple-counting-money

Eric and Donna wondered if they could do the same. Their minds went to the grocery and discount stores, the mall and Amazon.com. And what about restaurants and home improvement stores, they pondered. How would they handle gifts and seasonal items every household needs through the course of a year?

The Reeds, like most of us, don’t simply stop into the store to pick up milk. Or eggs. No, they buy the milk—along with a basket of other stuff, too. It’s expensive to be a frequent-buying consumer. But could they plan ahead well enough to make it through a whole year without spending? They decided to see if they were up to it by trying it for one month. One month with no exceptions. Not even gifts. Could they do it? They bought supplies for the month and then gritted their teeth.

Do You Hear the Bells?

The year was 1859 and Charles Dickens starts his classic A Tale of Two Cities with,

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair ….

As I read this passage it makes me wonder: Was Dickens referring to life in 1859 or looking into the future to December 2017?

 

With this year’s devastating hurricanes, epic fires, horrific shootings and—just this past week—tragic train wreck so fresh in our memories, many are wondering about Christmas. Where, among all this, is our peace on earth and goodwill toward man? This feels like Dickens’ season of darkness, our winter of despair.

Recently, I heard the story of one of America’s most beloved poets, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. In 1861, his wife Fanny was fatally burned in an accident, but only after Longfellow attempted to save her and was severely burned himself. Too ill from his burns and grief, Henry did not attend her funeral.

The first Christmas after Fanny’s death, Longfellow wrote in his journal, “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.” A year later in 1862, he wrote, “I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace.” His journal entry that year reads: “‘A merry Christmas’ say the children, but that is no more for me.”

Almost a year later, Longfellow received word that his oldest son Charles, a lieutenant in the Army of the Potomac, had been severely wounded. The Christmas of 1863 was blank in Longfellow’s journal.

But then on Christmas Day in 1864 Longfellow wrote the poem that would become the lyrics to I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.

“I heard the bells on Christmas Day

Their old familiar carols play,

And wild and sweet

The words repeat

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

In the third stanza, Longfellow expresses with such honesty the pain in his heart:

“And in despair, I bowed my head;

‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said;

For hate is strong,

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

But joy returns in the fourth stanza as Longfellow’s hope in the future and faith in God are renewed:

“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!

The wrong shall fail,

The right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

 

 

Suddenly it’s Christmas. It’s here! The day for which we wait with breathless excitement, for the joy it stirs in our hearts.

Over the centuries bells have become a metaphor for hope, redemption, and peace on earth. I hear them now, and with their ringing, I feel the stress melt away. The noise quiets, fears vanish. All is calm.

Christmas … God’s annual reminder … luring us, pulling us, encouraging us that despite everything that may appear to the contrary, because of the Gift of a Savior, it is the best of times. For those with eyes to see, it is the age of wisdom, the season of Light—the spring of hope.

And bells. Those Christmas bells!


All of us at Everyday Cheapskate—my husband and I together with our family and the entire EC team—want to wish you and yours a wonderful day today filled with love and joy!

Here in Colorado, it’s a beautiful white Christmas with forecasts of it becoming increasingly so throughout the day.

Merry Christmas!

Thank You Notes: Never Out of Style

In these high-tech times when text-messaging and email are the preferred method of written communication, it might not have even crossed your mind to ask this important question: Do I have to send a thank you note when someone gives me a gift?

In a word, yes. It’s right, it’s proper and it’s good for you. We may be frugal, but we’ve got class.

Thank You Notes

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It is not difficult, nor should it be time-consuming, to write a simple, heartfelt note of thanks in response to a gift or other act of kindness. Here are the elements of a well-written thank you note:

1 Greeting. Keep it simple. “Dear Aunt Mary…” works well. Or use another salutation that would roll easily off your tongue, like “Hi,” or “Greetings.”

A Lavish Gift Exchange

When our boys were only toddlers, we and our best friends, who have three children just about the same ages as our boys, decided that we would have a Family Christmas Party early in December. We called it that even though the two families were not technically related. We invited two sets of grandparents and one other older couple as well.

large family handing gifts to each other during a christmas dinner

Our common bond? Five adorable kids and all the grown-ups who love them. Everyone dressed up and the children performed their current talent. We had such a great time that we decided to make this Family Christmas Party an annual event.

That first year there were a few gifts—mostly small things for the children. But somehow over the years, the gifts grew in both quantity and quality. By the time this event passed the thirty-five-year mark, four of the five babies were married with babies of their own. Lots of kids!  Two grandparents had died causing the family dynamic to change tremendously. But still the Family Christmas Party went on. And every year the problem would arise: What to do about gifts?

I give you this background so you can fully appreciate what happened that one year.

Stay Calm and Make Your Own Mixes

Checking one of my email inboxes this morning (I have several) made my heart race and my head spin. Hundreds of messages all related to BLACK FRIDAY.

Then I checked my news feed and the blaring headlines and accompanying photo made me slightly nauseous: Full-grown, visually mature adults fighting over TVs at Walmart.

Black Friday Shoppers

Look, I’m all for saving money, which should come as no surprise. But there has to be a better way.

I don’t know if it’s my self-inflicted aversion to crowded malls and stores (a story for another time) or my inner rebellious self, but this is a day that kinda’ makes me want to pull the covers up over my head with instructions to wake me when it’s over.

Better yet, I believe I’ll turn on some lovely holiday music and enjoy the day by getting the house all dressed up for Christmas!

Which brings me to the subject of today’s post, which admittedly has nothing to do with Black Friday (thank goodness!) or even Christmas unless this sparks for you, a very practical homemade gift idea: how to make your own mixes.

Mistakes Teach Us What Doesn’t Work

NEWS FLASH! Tomorrow marks the start of our 40-Day Christmas Challenge! For 40 of the days between now and Christmas, I will be posting a challenge on our Facebook Page. Each challenge will suggest something to do that day to get ready for Christmas. We’ll do this together using the comments feature to discuss, encourage and share ideas. Together, we’ll reduce our stress, increase our joy, stay out of debt—and have fun, too! Are you up to the challenge? Go there now and “Like” our page to get on board and you won’t miss anything!

Have you made any mistakes lately? Want to talk about it? Most people don’t. Can’t say that I blame them. It’s embarrassing.

And when it’s a really dumb mistake, well that’s something you hope to never have to think about again. And that’s a mistake.

Mistakes are useful because they teach us what doesn’t work. But making the same mistake over and over again while expecting different results—well, that’s the definition of insanity!

I’ve accumulated a list of mistakes over many years. It’s like a trophy now—a specific compilation of things that I do not have to do again because I’ve proven they do not work.

It doesn’t work to be in a supermarket without a plan.

Walking into the grocery store without a plan (written list, coupons and cash) is a terrible mistake. I know me. Without my “crutches” I am a $200 mistake just waiting to happen. And if I’m hungry? Make that $300.

Spooky Tales of Extreme Debt

Scary stories and fiendish tales are all part of Halloween fun. But the last thing you expect is for those spooky stories and tricks to be played out in real life.

Debt has become the American way. So has denial. Super-high debt levels paired with serious denial can be downright terrifying. While not all debt situations reach critical levels, when they do, the response must be equally severe.

Kevin, 24, has $19,000 credit-card debt, drives a heavily-financed $45,000 fancy high-performance car ($580 monthly payments) and still lives at home because he cannot afford to move out. He can barely afford to eat because, in addition to his debt, he pays $2,400 a year for car insurance and $3,000 on gasoline—all on less than $32,000 annual income. Extreme debt.

A $25,000-Per-Person Dinner That’s Hard to Swallow

I don’t consider myself a complete stranger to high-priced gourmet fare. After all, I did enjoy a lovely $100-per-person meal once.

But even that experience in my semi-impressive culinary repertoire did not prepare me to handle gracefully the idea of a 10-course dinner with a price tag of $25,000 per person. And it wasn’t a political fundraiser. Just a fancy meal in an exotic location—Bangkok, Thailand.

Sure, this gastronomic extravaganza included the very best in Cristal champagne, foie gras, truffles, Kobe beef, Beluga caviar and Belon oysters, but come on! Twenty-five grand per person—a price that does not include tax or gratuity or airfare?

I don’t think I could do that even if I were so rich $25,000 would be mere pennies when compared to my vast net worth. There are some things I simply would not be able to get out of my mind like …

I could keep going with this, pointing out that $25,000 would cover the full cost to finish the basement at our house. Or paint the entire interior at least five times, but I’ll refrain.

And I’ll try not to get all worked up that the tax and tip alone for a party of two at the extravagant event in Bangkok would boost the tab by at least another $15,000.

Instead, I’m going to be grateful that I live in a country where we are free to do with our money as we please even if that means dropping a load on something as fleeting as a 10-course meal.

If you had $25,000 spare what would you do with it?

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