The Heart of the Matter

The stress of working in retail the last 15 years has given me somewhat of a Bah Humbug attitude during the holiday season.  In fact my holiday motto has been “We Work Because You Don’t Have To.”  Retail employees live and die by the Vacation Blackout Schedule; the schedule that has kept me working during the holidays these last 15 years and even dictated the date of my marriage.  But holiday stress doesn’t just fall on those of us in the Retail profession; it touches everyone. Take a moment and reflect on the true reason for the season.  Jesus.  We celebrate the GIFT of life.  The baby who would grow up and GIVE his life for us.  Strange that the topic of giving should create so much stress this time of year.

When we think of Christmas giving we automatically think of shopping, spending money, wrapping presents and giving sweaters, jewelry and knick-knacks.  But that is not the only way to give, nor is it the best decision for everyone.  If you’re shopping on credit cards to give gifts to everyone in the entire office or every member of your extended family you may want to rethink your giving technique.

And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box.  Many rich people put in large sums.  And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny.  And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.  For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”  Mark 12:41 – 44 (English Standard Version)

No, this verse is not telling you to spend your last penny on gifts when you need to pay rent!  It’s asking you to give with the heart of the widowed woman.  Giving is more than dealing with material possessions; it’s the heart of the matter.  Are you giving to suck up to the boss or because you truly want to bless him?

Baking cupcakes & cookies for the office, donating your hair, writing a poem, doing volunteer work or watching a friend’s child for an afternoon are all ways of giving and showing love to those we care about without breaking the bank.  Set budgets and guidelines for giving with your office pals, family & spouse then stick to them.  Money is tight for most people these days and with the rising costs of gas, milk and Starbucks discussing limits shouldn’t be considered taboo.

Stoplight Prayer:  Father in Heaven thank you for placing the desire to give in my heart.  Help me to understand how to bless people with gifts that show your love and mine without putting me / my family under financial strain.

Still Hungry?  Deuteronomy 15 instructs us to give cheerfully as does 2 Corinthians 9, which also reminds us that we reap what we sow (time, money, acts of kindness…).

Go Green on a Budget!

Go Green on a Budget!  I love when I can kill two birds with one stone.  There is something in me that takes great satisfaction when I can get two things accomplished with one activity.  There are so many ways to “go green” but there are a few simple tricks I try to focus on to be more eco-friendly and save money at the same time.

  • Avoid Package Products.

I am all about saving time and buying pre-packaged items can make things more convenient. However, there are so many “packaged” products that we can avoid just by taking a little extra time. Instead of buying fruit or salad in bags or containers, it only takes a few minutes at the beginning of the week to cut up your fresh fruit and have it ready to grab in the frig. It is also less expensive.

  • Cook just enough

How much food are you throwing out each day? Make a list before going to the grocery store and stick with it. If it seems like you are eating less than you buy, reevaluate your grocery needs.  Split your raw portions and freeze them before you cook once you have established the needs of your family at each meal.

  • Cut Back on Meat

It takes a lot of processing to make sure you get the quality of meat you expect. Meat needs high amounts of water, land and grain.  If you like eating meat, cut down on your portion sizes or divide your meat in freezer bags right when you get home.  It is a bargain.  It will help save the earth, your budget and your calories.

  • Eat from the colors of the season. 

Have your plate filled with many different colors of fresh fruits and vegetables and limit the number of packaged items that need to be opened.  Look at what is on sale and in season at your local markets to cut down on cost of fruits and veggies.

Don’t get overwhelmed; pick one or two things that you can do consistently

Keep on...

With the wedding right around the corner I can admit that I've been putting other things off to ensure all the details of the wedding are complete. Since me and Kristian are working on a budget there are lots of hands going into this wedding. Not only are our parents helping, but our aunts, cousins, friends, pretty much anyone who offers help, we say yes to. Recently I had a newly engaged friend ask me how I limited the number of people my parents invited. My response was simple, I didn't have to because I didn't feel obligated to. This is mostly because we are paying for the bulk of the expenses but also because Kristian and I agreed that we knew the family friends that needed to be invited. Our parents were incredibly understanding in this aspect. After my friend mentioned it though, I realized how easy this wedding has been. Sure we're on a budget and have to be mindful of that and of course there have been stressful moments. For example right now, while I'm watching Say Yes to the Dress, textbooks buried under the computer, staring my messy living room in the eye and completely ignoring it. My brain is tired and doesn't feel like thinking about one more thing... even school. The enormity of the wedding task has been a little exhausting, but all in all, painless. Watching wedding shows I realize more and more how fortunate I've been to have supportive friends and inquizative family members. People are interested in how the wedding planning is coming, what we need, how they can help, and it's amazing. Since the last blog I've finalized the rehearsal dinner menu, gotten my dress altered, put guest bags together, started on making wedding programs, and have created a tentative schedule for the bridal party. Not to mention exams, homework, work, etc.. WHEW! But all this to say, whatever you're in the middle of, keep on keeping on. Even after the wedding, life will be busy and my brain will get overloaded and I'll have days where the dishes won't get done and homework will be pushed aside. But the craziness of this wedding has brought me closer to my family, my future in-laws, and has even helped me to develop new friendships. After the wedding madness I can look forward to all of the people who have stuck around and I can give myself a little pat on the back for keepin' on.

The Benjamins

Be Very Afraid With Halloween right around the corner, I thought I would dedicate this blog to my most terrifying wedding subject: the budget. With many close friends getting married before me it was not uncommon to hear that their families provided the wedding budget. However, with my stepdad recovering from unemployment my family isn't in a position to throw thousands of dollars into a wedding. (To be honest, my parents probably never even planned on my being married so this whole ordeal must just be a whirlwind for them!)  Kristian and I acknowledged that our families probably wouldn't be able to cover the bulk of the expenses so we volunteered to pay for the wedding. It is a task we knew would be difficult, but as soon as planning started, it began to feel closer to impossible. The list of things we needed-- catering, photography, invitations, venue-- it all felt endless. Not only endless but exorbitant! Ten thousand dollars for food, two thousand dollars for pictures, well I could stop right there, I know my budget does! After the initial shock though I pulled myself together and found my inner coupon clipper. I found that there are so many ways to save on wedding costs it almost feels like cheating.

Conquer the Fear

After our engagement so many people volunteered their time, money, and resources to help us with wedding tasks. At first I smiled and nodded and politely listened to their ideas. Then I would explain how I didn't really know what I wanted and how I'm more of a hands on type anyway. This lasted for a couple of months. Then the whirlwind known as life begin to swirl and I felt all of my lists begging to be looked at and my ideas acted upon. That's when I learned how to say yes. Yes Aunt Ray, I would love for you to be the photographer. Yes Lisa, please be the brains behind my invitations. Yes Jamie, I do need you to e-mail the bridesmaids. Yes, yes, yes! At first "yes" felt a little unnatural. Then I reminded myself of all those dollar signs and the unnatural soon became familiar. It's amazing how much money can be saved just by taking people up on their offers. It is equally as amazing how genuinely excited those people are to help. So, rule number one of adhering to the budget, say yes to the people who want to help you! After conquering my fear of losing control, and letting other people into the wedding planning process, it became a little easier to think of other out-of-the-box ways to save money. I canceled my caterer and decided to ask my family to cater instead. Rather then spending four thousand dollars on food my budget allows, I can choose food I actually like, and can pronounce! Why didn't I think of this in the first place? I suppose one fear conquering act leads to another, which leads to a little more money in my bank account.

Although the budget can be a little terrifying at first, getting a handle on it is a must. Whether your budget is one thousand dollars or one hundred thousand dollars, there is a limit, and rules always apply. Breaking the bank isn't necessary and as we acknowledge our budget we can expand our savings. I have yet to reach the end of my budget cutting tips so stay tuned! Who knows what corners I will learn how to cut during our time away.

Miss Manners.

Soon after Kristian and I got engaged, one of my aunts graciously offered to throw us an engagement party. Between full time work and school I left the guest list mostly to my mom. I made my own short list of about ten family members and friends and e-mailed them over to her to double check and finalize. A few weeks later one of Kristian’s sisters commented about how offended she was not to have received an invitation to the party. I was so humiliated. I could not believe that in the chaos of life I forgot to invite people who are so close to us! I called my aunt immediately and gave her the addresses of his two sisters but that wasn’t my only mistake. My grandmother never received her invitation either! The stress of compiling a guest list for the engagement party and the mistakes that followed mortified me. While the party went on with my grandmother in attendance and Kristian's sisters unable to make it the remorse I felt for my absent minded mistakes did not relent. Learning the Hard Way Although my forgetfulness was embarrassing I learned a valuable lesson: use the etiquette book. Lately I have developed a bit of an obsession with etiquette. Don’t get me wrong etiquette is nothing new to me. I was raised to act like a lady and always say please and thank you, but the definition of good manners seems to be changing. With text messaging and social networks popping up everywhere "proper" etiquette seems to be taking a backseat. Maybe its just me but I don't think its too much to ask for a timely RSVP or a handwritten thank you note. In fact, I rather appreciate those things. Though in spite of my usual cognizance about etiquette, I still mess up and continue to learn just how Emily Post kept it all together. When it comes to weddings, etiquette is a much more serious matter. An innocent mistake, like forgetting to include someone on the guest list, could result in hurt feelings, or worse, a severed relationship. Since the engagement party debacle, I frequently look over the wedding guest list. I have even added people…surprise, surprise.  Forgetting to invite people may seem like the most obvious etiquette mishap. However, there are more subtle mistakes, for example, when choosing the wedding party take into consideration their finances and availability. Choosing your best friend since sixth grade may be what you want to do, but if she’s recently been laid off and is having a hard time making ends meet, buying a bridesmaids dress would probably only add to her stress. Trust me, I have been that laid off bridesmaid and while it is flattering that a close friend wanted me to have such a special part in her big day, the guilt of not making it was almost more than I could bear. The solution? Well, if you know your girls are on a budget, try bargain shopping. Regular price or clearance dresses from a retail store can work just as well for bridesmaids. They also tend to be not as bridal and can be worn on other occasions. I found my bridesmaid dresses at Nordstrom for a killer price, so it is possible! Another little bump in the road for Kristian and I is that we plan on having a relatively small wedding. We have many acquaintances who we can not invite simply because of our limited budget. At first I felt pretty badly about telling people who I consider friends that they could not attend my wedding. However, there are alternatives besides just saying no. We plan on having a celebration in Florida, where we currently live, with the people who we cannot invite from church and work. A similar idea would work in Dallas where many of our friends still live. While it isn’t exactly the same as attending the wedding, a smaller celebration still makes people feel included in the festivities. I think the etiquette book will approve! Now these are just a few of the issues I’ve run into so far. With seven months until the wedding I’m sure I’ll hit a few more bumps. Maybe I’ll even share them here so you all can laugh with me along the way. Hopefully future mistakes won’t include insulting family members or any other major offenses. I will follow the etiquette book to the tee and I can only hope my guests do the same when it comes to minding their manners.