New Year No Spend: How Did It Go?

January is over, which in itself is always something to celebrate. But this year, the beginning of February brought an end to our New Year No Spend month. So how was it?

Mostly a failure. Or maybe not. I don’t know. Read about our halfway point here, if you haven’t already. We had so many things at the beginning of the month that we knew we’d have to pay for: birthday gifts, baby shower stuff, medical bills; and then things that popped up within the month: dinners with friends, births of babies, laundry; I think we finished the month spending about as much as we would have if we weren’t doing a no spend month. But it was good, and here’s 3 things I learned about myself and my family through this month.

1. I will always choose my community over my wallet (within our budget). When my brother invited us over for brunch and asked us to bring something specific we obviously went to the store and bought OJ and bacon. When a friend had a birthday I bought her a gift. When the ladies in my church group all met for coffee early one morning I went and bought coffee (and a gluten-free donut!). Now, I realize the point of the month was to compromise and either make something I already have, or do withou, and I did that a lot with other things. But I never wanted to turn down a chance to connect with people I love because of the principle of not spending.

2. I self-medicate with comfort food. Yikes. This was not so much fun to realize. There were a few days in January where my depression felt like a weighted jacket and my first thought was always ice cream. Or chocolate. Or baked goods. I thought if I could just curl up under a blanket on the couch and eat what I craved I would be fine. This month forced me to realize that eating those “comforting” foods didn’t so much solve anything as they did distract me. I also realized how often I turn to food instead of healthier pursuits when I’m feeling down.

3. I actually rock at this whole budget thing. Last year I set up some pretty elaborate Excel spreadsheets to track our budget. I know where every penny is going every month and can see exactly what we’re buying. Tim and I talked about doing the envelope system of budgeting, but since we both hate using cash, and enjoy the cashback benefits of using Discover, we decided this was better for our family. Instead of envelopes we have Excel columns, and the bottom line lets us know when we’re out of cash for that area. All this has made our spending intentional, and the no spend month helped us be even more intentional about where our money was going. We avoided all impulse buys in January, which was great, and I think we can keep that going since we track it so closely.

Will we do another no spend month? Probably. But with a different goal. I like the idea better of picking one or two things to not spend on. Like no eating out, or no Target trips, or no coffee dates. It’s good to discipline ourselves in that way, and we can learn a lot by being intentional about what we spend or don’t spend.

Have you ever done a no spend month? Will you ever? Do you struggle with emotional spending?

Happy February!

New Year No Spend: Halfway There

Yesterday was the halfway mark for our New Year No Spend month. You may be wondering how it’s going. Or, more realistically, you’ve forgotten I’ve even been doing this until just this moment. Either way, here’s an update. 12395181_1499274417045599_627505169_n

I’m bad at this. I will give a full report at the end of the month, but I’m finding out that I’m bad at this. Here’s why. When things have popped up throughout the month (birthdays, brunches, dinners with friends, baby showers, etc) I have not hesitated to spend money.

When I give a full update after the month is over, I’ll explain why I’m okay with that, and why our budget is okay with that.

The biggest thing to tackle this month was not eating out. We enjoy trying restaurants around our great city, so taking a break from that is a bit challenging. I have every meal planned, down to breakfast and lunch, so there is no excuse. I even have a huge bag of pancake mix so that on the days when I’ve felt terrible (pregnancy is no joke) I have an easy, quick meal for the kids and husband. Pair instant pancakes with fruit/veggies and yogurt and you’ve got a complete meal.

I will confess, I went through the Chick Fil A drive thru. Once. I had a day where I couldn’t shake the headache that’s been on and off for a month, I was tired and miserable, and I loaded up the boys and headed to CFA.

I wrestled with that decision. I didn’t want to spend, but I also didn’t want to make lunch and it was already after 1:00 and the boys were hungry. I realized that I had an opportunity to show grace to myself and to my kids, so I did.

That’s what our year is about, Grace. That doesn’t mean going to Chick Fil A everytime I don’t feel like making lunch. It does mean giving myself room to receive help when it’s needed.

I don’t really have anything else to report for my halfway mark. I’m sticking to my shopping list when I go to the store once a week for fresh produce, that was one of my biggest goals.

Check in with my other blogging buddies if you want to see how their month is going:

Adriane over at Balance With Me has a secret weapon (spoiler: it’s grace. I like her.)
Rebekah over at My MSPI Baby
Chrissy over at Anchor My Soul
Brittany over at Little Mountain Momma

And our new friend Fiona over at FiFi and Florence, who has been tackling this thing with humor and grace. She’s great.

How is your January going? Did you remember to give yourself grace when planning your new year? I hope so. None of us are going to do anything perfect, and it’s tempting to throw in the towel when we mess up. That’s when grace steps in and says, it’s okay, let’s start again. 

Today is a new day. Tomorrow is a new day. God’s mercies are new every morning. Live in that.

 

Hibernation is Not an Option

This is me in the summer: wp-1452547324242.jpeg

Looking at that picture, my heart feels light. I’m warm. The grass is green. The sun is shining. I love everything about it. Here’s another:
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Summertime is my jam.

I lived in Southern California when I was a kid until 4th grade. Winter was not really a thing there. We had a season called winter, it basically meant we didn’t go swimming as often. I’m probably romanticizing that quite a bit in my head, but let me have my memories.

Then we moved to the Midwest. Winter was so cold. So bleak. So long.

For as long as I can remember, my moods and emotions and mental health have been closely tied up in the seasons. I wish very much that it wasn’t this way. Call it Seasonal Affective Disorder or whatever, but the fact is I have to work much harder to feel alive in the winter months.

Until this last year I didn’t realize that my thyroid has a lot to do with this. I’m cold all. the. time. At my in-law’s house for Christmas I was wrapped up in a blanket from the time we got there until we left (those Minnesotans, they love the cold so much they let it in their houses). Am I a wimp? Yes, I am. But I also have a tiny little gland in my throat that sits in a layer of ice from October to April (that might not be medically accurate, but the idea is).

When I wake up in the winter time, many days I start my day at a -3, whereas my husband is always at a 7 (I’m not sure what this scale is, but work with me here). If it’s cloudy outside, I might even be down to -5. The point I’m trying to make here is that before I’ve even gotten out of bed, I’m already feeling defeated. It’s a struggle to even get dressed, eat, brush teeth.

On top of this, I’m pregnant and it’s made me sick since the middle of November. So sick. Barely able to function a lot of days.

I know I’m not the only one. I’ve talked with some of you who have told me the same things. Living everyday life with depression is hard.

I was talking to Tim recently (my husband is so wise, you guys) and telling him I was tired of the struggle. “I’m so depressed in the winter, why is it this way?”

“Okay, so what?” He replied.

“Excuse me?” What does he mean, so what? I think the answer is pretty obvious. At some point we call it quits and move to Phoenix or Fiji where we’ll never have problems again.

“I mean, if your life is telling a story, you’re depressed, but… What are you going to do with it? Where does your story go from here?”

I stared at him, and realized that he was right.

Obviously I can’t just stop living in winter. I can’t only be emotionally present in my people’s lives for only half the year. I’m here on earth for the long haul, I have to do something with this.

Every spring I play a game with myself and the boys to try to find the first signs of growth. Green sprigs coming through the previously-frozen earth, first stems of fresh grass, tree buds. These signs to me cause hope to stir within my soul. The warmth will be back.
wp-1452548104109.jpegI think I still have a lot to learn from winter. In fact, without winter, would I appreciate summer as much? Would I feel the kind of longing hope that leads me to worship?
wp-1452547936668.jpegI think God has put inside all of us a desire for summer. It looks different for each of us. An end to the cold, an end to illness, a desire for peace. Hope for better circumstances.

This longing, this discontentment can either cause us to become bitter and lifeless, or bring us to our knees in desperation.

I can’t live in summer forever. The idea is appealing, but no.
wp-1452548350051.jpegI need winter. I hate to admit that. The cold and misery take me to a place of utter dependence.

Life is hard. But as Tim and I tell our boys, we do hard things.

So as I explore God’s grace this winter, and figure out where my story goes from here, I will acknowledge my own weakness and dependence. And wait again for the joy of summer, and even greater than that, the hope of completeness in Jesus. One day.

Will you do the same?

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2016: The Year of Grace

2015 was the Year of Healing for me. Like a lot of you, I choose a word for my year to pursue and meditate on. My year of healing ironically led to quite a bit of medical issues. I got diagnosed with a thyroid disease, ended up in the E.R. two days in a row with stomach pain, and my normal cycles stopped completely.

That wasn’t how my year was supposed to go.

The more I dug into my health, the more my diet and lifestyle changed. Good changes, of course, but hard to do when the rest of my family has a love affair with carbohydrates.

When I finally started to feel like my normal self (I haven’t felt great in about 7 years), I saw a gynecologist who in response to my issues of the last couple years told me I was probably done having kids without medical intervention.

So that was fun.

I left her office in tears and never went back, determined to prove her wrong.

Our word for this year is Grace. God freely giving us what we don’t deserve. My health. My children. My patient husband. Jesus.

Grace.

We will explore God’s grace in 2016. What will your word or theme be?

There is a happy ending to 2015, as hard as the year was. In the late fall, my doctor (who I love, and who listens to me, and who values nutritional medicine) suggested we do some bloodwork to find out what my body was lacking hormonally. I had 3 periods in 2015. That’s not normal. And she knew our desire to have another baby.

5 weeks of bloodwork.

The day of my appointment to talk over the bloodwork, I took a pregnancy test on a whim.

You guys. Positive.

I fell on my knees, crying and thanking God.

What a gift!

What grace!

Over a year of trying to conceive. Thank you, God.

As 2016 starts, I watch and feel the evidence of God’s grace growing in my body. July will bring a baby to this family that has been waiting and praying for so long. I am overwhelmed by this gift.

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Some of us are more shocked than others.

Happy New Year!

New Year No Spend

Happy New Year, friends!

I don’t know about you, but when January comes and the craziness of Christmas finally ceases (I’m not a huge fan) I breathe a sigh of relief. Time to relax. Also time to start over. New year, new habits, new growth. What are you doing for yourself or your family in the new year?

I try to pick a few things to work on in the new year for myself or our family, and start small. This avoids the resolution meltdown in February after pledging to go to the gym every morning at 6 or never eat proccessed sugar again, or other unrealistic goals.

One challenge I am taking on for our family is a New Year No Spend Challenge. 12395181_1499274417045599_627505169_n

I’m teaming up with several other bloggers who are taking the month off from spending. This is a great opportunity to save money (especially after Christmas) and practice simplicity. I would like you to consider joining me. Emily, you may be thinking, this is crazy, the new year starts tomorrow, this is impossible to pull together by then.

I would agree with you. I have been feeling under the weather for the last month (more on that later) which is why I’m just now getting this up here. And since my husband is a school teacher, we always do things by the school calendar, which is why my no spend month doesn’t actually start until Monday, the 4th, when he goes back to school.

So, there actually is time to pull this together. Would you consider joining me?

Here are the guidelines:

  • Know your necessities. Obviously I’m going to put gas in our vehicles, pay medical expenses, and regular bills. I checked with Comcast, and they weren’t as excited as I was about just skipping my bill for January. So, pay your bills.
  • No impulse spending. This is avoided by simply avoiding shopping. I’ll explain more below about our grocery situation.
  • Absolutely no eating out, unless you have a gift card.
  • Be creative. If you run out of something, can you make it? Can you wait until the month’s over?
  • And finally, give yourself grace. If a birthday party pops up in the middle of the month, by all means, buy a gift and go! Community is more important than this challenge. Community matters.

So, how do you avoid shopping for a month? Meal plan. It’s not as hard as it sounds to plan an entire month of meals. I give each day a theme: Meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, etc. So I just need to plan 4 meatless recipes, 4 mexican recipes, etc. Then make a huge shopping trip before the month starts. There are lots of great meal planning resources online. Start there if you need help.

Fresh produce is a large part of our diet, so I will be going to the grocery store every Wednesday to stock up. The trick here is to take a list and ONLY buy what’s on the list. Nothing more.

My no spend month is a pretty modified version. Not only will I be shopping for produce every week, but I’m co-hosting a baby shower in January and obviously need to spend money on that (which is a joy to do!). My girl Brittany, over at Little Mountain Momma  will be doing a stricter version, and she’s done it before and rocked it. Check out her post on how she does it.

We’ll be tracking our month on social media using the hashtag #newyearnospend if you want to join in on the fun. Let me know, would you, if you want in on this? Doing a challenge with friends makes it easier. Or do your own version of a no spend month. Maybe for you, that means avoiding the coffee shop on your way to work, or eating at home instead of eating out. The point is to take a break from what we regularly do and focus on living simply. I’m excited about it.

Check out these other bloggers too, who are teaming up with me:
Adriane over at Balance With Me
Rebekah over at My MSPI Baby
Chrissy over at Anchor My Soul
Brittany over at Little Mountain Momma

Let me know what you think, and I will let you know how the month goes.

Happy New Year!

Do Not Fear. Breathe. Repeat

You guys. These last two weeks.

We went from the War on Xmas to watching a literal war unfold across the entire globe.

Twelve years ago. I went to college in Florida with a sweet blond girl who loved Jesus in a way I had rarely seen in my 18 years. Last week. Her sister was attacked and shot in her home. A short coma later. She is no longer with us.

I met with a dear friend this morning for coffee. She talked about police knocking on her door last night in the late evening. Asking her if she’d seen anything unusual. She was alone with her kids. There was an armed man on the loose in the neighborhood. There were gunshot victims.

The media keeps telling us that terrorists are walking across our borders disguised as desperate refugees. So much hate. And racism. And fear as a result.

It’s easy to be fearful.

It’s tempting to lock my doors. To turn off all the sources of information. To pretend we’re safe. I want to wrap my babies in figurative bubble wrap. Never join the real world with all its killing. ugliness. hate. It’s okay, babies. Nothing’s wrong. Stay here.

But what good would that do?

I have a secret for you. Come closer. I’ll whisper it. I’m not going to make it out of here alive. Neither are you. So far the mortality rate of humans is 100%. Those aren’t good odds.

In 2008 and 2009 I was in college. We had begun to see the economy collapse around us. Futures were uncertain. We were students with degrees like Women’s Ministry or Biblical Studies. These would suddenly be no longer marketable. We didn’t realize it at the time. I remember a professor who saw where we were headed. He told us things were going to be worse for us, for our nation, in the coming years.

But, he saw this as good. He said that our faith carried the only answers to disaster. To hardship. To a violent world. When the world is searching for an answer, we have it.

Do not fear.

Jesus reminds us over and over. Do not be afraid. I have already conquered evil. Death is not the end. I’ve defeated it. There is more than this.

I wish this meant that I knew everything will look better in a minute. But we know this isn’t true. Look at the world! Sweet, innocent children fleeing war are looking for a home. They are met with hatred instead. We watch as child after child is killed with a gun. Senseless acts. We pretend our threat comes from “outside.” Yet we’re killing our own. Our “safety” is not a thing. It’s an illusion.

No. I don’t offer easy answers. I can’t say, “Come over to my side, we’ll cling to our faith and ignore reality. But at least we’ll be happy.”

No.

But I can say this: Friend. Don’t fear. Jesus defeated death. We know this is not the end. He died in place of me. In place of the ugliness inside my heart. My worst enemy. I don’t have to stay there. I can live in that freedom. I can give grace and refuge to those who need it.

Don’t fight terror with fear. Fight it with boldness. With love. To those around you. To those across the world.

Friend, don’t fear. Breathe. Find peace within the hope of Jesus. It’s only going to get worse. That doesn’t change the fact that he. is. in. control.

Turn off the news. Look for ways to help. Practice peace and love. Breathe. And repeat.

The Story Behind the Insta’

Two weeks ago, I put this picture up on Instagram:

With this caption:

“I love this! This is on the wall in the weight room at my gym. I’m thinking about all the areas in my life that this is applicable to: exercise, art, parenting, prayer. Is this encouraging to you as well?
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Also, I dreamed that I did squats until my legs turned to jelly, and then my alarm went off and I had to get up, go to the gym and start all over. Why don’t dream squats count, for real?
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We go to the gym first thing every Monday morning. It’s hard to get there some weeks, but so worth it. It starts the week on a positive tone, makes for a happier momma, and a more productive homeschool week.
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What do you do to start your week?”

When I read it again later in the week, it made me cringe. Do you ever do that? You throw something on to Instagram or Facebook with the best intentions, but then later you realize it was little more than a humblebrag?

We all know how easy it is to put up the easy pictures, the beautiful pictures, the not-completely-truthful pictures. Pictures taken in the one uncluttered, well-lit corner of our home. Pictures that just tell part of our whole day, skipping the messiness, tears, stretch marks, and dirty laundry.

I wanted a do-over with this picture.

I honestly do like the sentiment. A lot. It made me think about several areas in my life where I need to loosen up and enjoy the process. So I don’t think I should just scrap the photo and the info.

But what if I just told the whole truth, instead? Here goes.

We do go to the gym bright and early every Monday morning. And honestly, it’s hard to get there almost every week. Sometimes I drop the kids off at the childcare and go sit in the locker room and try not to cry, while boosting my courage enough to go to the weight room.

And you know what the biggest motivation for me to get out of bed and get there is? If I cancel my reservation for free childcare, made a week in advance, they will charge me. I don’t want to pay $10 to not work out.

Do you know why I work out? It’s to save my life. I am keeping one step ahead of the weight of depression that is constantly threatening to settle on my heart. For me, the best long-term treatment I’ve found is regular exercise and nutrition. I know that if I don’t make it to the gym, I will have to fight even harder the next morning to wake up and face the day without dread. And with the dread comes negative thoughts. Then self-loathing. Then numbness. Then nothing. And the nothingness is scarier than anything.

So when I write about doing squats, I’m barely lifting anything. I’m just doing it. Doing the little I can to remain emotionally present in my life.

And you know what? I rock at Monday mornings, even when it’s a struggle to get there. My kids are dressed and fed, and I drop them off in a new environment with new toys and books to explore for two hours. Yeah, Monday mornings are my jam.

But you know what’s not my jam? Pretttty much everythig else. After the gym, we come home to a 9 year old puppy that always wants attention, clean laundry that hasn’t been folded in two weeks, a sink that’s usually full of dirty dishes, a floor that probably needs to be mopped, a to-do list that I can’t even find. And I can’t even get started on those things because then our homeschooling day starts.

So that’s the truth. I rock Mondays. The rest of the week? Meh. I’m working on it.

So I’lll ask the question again. What do you do as part of your weekly schedule to bring life to yourself? Do you hit up the gym? Lots of coffee? Employ a maid service? Yoga? Prayer time? How about if we celebrate the life-giving things, while all knowing that we struggle in other areas? We know we’re not all perfect, so let’s stop pretending. There’s freedom and grace there.

#letsgetrealmoms