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We didn’t have a lot, but what we had was enough.

My dad was a pastor, my mom was a teacher. Here we are, circa 1988.

As a girl, we were good friends with another family, and THEY had a swimming pool. Often, after we swam our little hearts out- the ends of our noses were burnt, our fingers turned into prunes, and we had stubbed toes from running around on the pool-side concrete, my friend’s mom would bring out frozen treats from the freezer. I mean, store-bought, individually-wrapped ice cream treats. My little girl heart knew we were living LARGE.

What all of this translated to my child brain was that our friends were RICH. We… well, we were not rich. When I was home eating Spaghetti-O’s with hot dogs in them and “swimming” in our kiddie pool in the back yard, I didn’t notice it so much. But after being treated like a little princess at our friend’s big house, I was faced with a contrast.

I wonder if my mom worried about us not having everything she would have liked to have given us. I wonder about that now, and sometimes I still have green-eyed moments of noticing what some of our friends have here in Hamilton County. In a low moment, I notice that we eat what’s coming out of the garden, even when it’s zucchini (AGAIN). I dream about buying that box of perfectly spiced Private Selection frozen beef patties. In bulk. To toss on the grill every time my boys ask for cheeseburgers. But usually instead I’m inclined to cook some meat I squirreled away in the freezer from when it was on deep discount.

Our sons have to work, hard, to pay for half of their football fees. They split all of our family’s firewood to heat our house all winter. They sell the extra firewood. Yesterday they sweated it out baling hay with a friend who graciously paid them for their work. Would I like to write a big fat check to cover the whole stinkin’ fee? Sure, I would. We reuse school uniforms, and I let out the hems like a champ as the boys grow (thanks, Mom, for teaching me how to sew!). It would certainly be easier to just reorder new ones every time we need to!

Yesterday I was chatting with some friends of ours who grew up in Nigeria. Standing in my back yard with the waning sunlight filtering through the trees, we talked while our kids played in the sandbox, no, I mean the pile of sand that my 7-year-old bought with his own money. My friend looked around our 3 acres and, through his eyes, I realized the truth. WE are the ones who are rich. Life right here, in the land of the free and the home of the brave. A freezer full of food, and our bellies filled to overflowing every day. A bed where I sleep without fear. Vegetables, fruits, flowers growing right here on our property, and a community that’s enthusiastic to buy my homegrown flowers when my supply overwhelms my kitchen table. But even MORE than the things money can buy, we have a faith that will hold us through any recession, a God who loves even me, even in the midst of my dissatisfied, me-focused heart.

So I’ve been doing some thinkin’. About the rich and the poor. And about how it’s time for me to grow up and realize that 99.99% of us don’t fall in either of those buckets. We’re just people, trying to find our way. With our finances, with our family relationships, in our hearts. Money is just money.

So….. getting practical…. Seeing as how I, along with many people, am looking for ways to cut costs, I wanted to share some of my favorite strategies for making the same amount of income stretch to cover more, yes, including the cost of filling my tank with gas (!!)

Here are the easy ones, and they’re BIG. Don’t miss ‘em!!

1. Call your insurance agent to see if you have the best deal on homeowners’ insurance and auto insurance. We saved $71 a MONTH by making this one phone call. And we don’t have to eat any zucchini to make it happen!

2. Check into cheaper internet (or consider cutting your cable). I cut my internet bill by $39 a MONTH by checking into discounts.

3. Consider whether your health insurance is cost effective. Since we don’t have health insurance through an employer, we were forced to think outside the box. I’m ever so glad we did. We pay $438 a month to protect the health of our family of 5 through Christian Healthcare Ministries. After 7 years and multiple health events covered, we still love it. If you want more info, I’d be glad to talk with you about our experience with CHM. Here’s our referral link if you want to find out more: http://www.chministries.org/default.aspx?mem=195007

Here are the changes I made JUST THIS SUMMER to help cut costs.

1. Use solar and wind energy. For drying my clothes. :-) Yes, this is my challenge of the summer, to dry all our clothes on the line. So far I’ve only use the dryer for two loads, woot woot! I estimate this will save us $28 a MONTH. Because we dirty a LOT. OF. CLOTHES. I also instituted a I-don’t-wash-clothes-that-aren’t-dirty policy. And a use-your-towel-more-than-once rule. Rocket science, I tell you.

2. Two days a week where my minivan stays put. This is hard for me because we like to go-go-go. But I choose two days that were convenient to stay home, and I plan our errands strategically on the other days. We live 8.5 miles from town, and 14 miles from my parents, our two favorite places to go. I estimate we’re saving one trip to each place per week, which adds up to around $47 a MONTH with the current gas prices.

3. Use gift cards/coupons in my wallet. I dug through my purse and I found coupons and gift cards we haven’t used! I had a $25 Olive Garden gift card, a $50 Chipotle gift card, 6 coupons for free mini-golf, 3 coupons for free lanes at the bowling alley. I found a $10 B-dub’s gift card. I found several half-used McD’s gift cards. I also found many expired coupons which I threw away and now my purse is lighter! But seriously, look in your stash and see what you can find!

4. Utilize free entertainment. Our library is a favorite. We swim at my parents’ pond. We say an enthusiastic YES to friends who invite us to swim in their neighborhood pools. We go to our realtors’ appreciation events (hello, free mini-golf! And if we’re lucky we’ll win a door prize! Thanks, Justin & Whitney Strange!)

5. Set aside time to cook. I feel silly typing this. But, I try to USE the frugal ideas I already know about instead of letting them just sit idly in my head all day, then scrambling at the last moment to find something for dinner. I block off time to prepare frugal foods ahead so they’re convenient for us to use often. These are things like: make homemade yogurt (if you ask nicely I’ll tell you how I do it- I make it a half gallon at a time. We use it in smoothies with our own fruit and eat it with our homemade jam), cook beans and freeze them, pick and freeze ALL the strawberries from our garden (we picked over 10 GALLONS of strawberries in the last month!), freeze the tidbits of leftovers instead of throwing them out (think tomato paste, spaghetti sauce, chopped onions, diced green chilies), make my own chicken stock and freeze. Add your own frugal cooking ideas in the comments, please!!

6. I started making my own dishwasher detergent. It’s so simple that I feel dumb I never knew about it. It’s equal parts Borax and Washing Soda. Just mix the powders together, then use 1 tablespoon per load in the little cup you used to put that tab in. It’s about a 67% decrease in cost! And it works!

7. Use our air conditioner less. We tough it out when it’s just one uncomfortable afternoon followed by a cooler night. We do still turn it on when it’s as hot as it was last week! Experiment with turning the thermostat up just one degree. Every little bit counts.

8. Keep giving. I know, this is counter-intuitive, but we started tithing to our church when we were spring chickens. We haven’t stopped, and Justin and I both feel strongly that you can’t outgive God. Every time we’ve had a need, God has provided for it. So we never cut our budget line item for tithe. We’re hosting our church small group at our house once a week this summer, including dinner for 11 adults and 10 kids, for which I usually prepare the main course. I determined the first week to prepare food as cost-effective as I could, and leave the rest to the Lord. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills! And I’m His daughter! So let’s keep giving like that’s the case!

I hope I wasn’t condescending in sharing these ideas. I certainly did not mean to be- you’re probably already doing a lot of these things! I would love to hear your ideas of how you’re saving money- please share! We’re all in this together. May God provide for your family the way he is providing for ours.

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