The ‘B’ Word

In my last post, I described a few money mentalities that I think are pretty common yet can be very damaging to our overall happiness with life.  Because, like I hesitantly wrote then, how we handle our finances has a direct impact on how happy we are.  Does that mean the more cash in my pockets the bigger the smile on my face?  Definitely not.  But I do think that means we cannot ignore this area of our lives as we continue on our journey to greater joy.

            So what does a healthy relationship with money look like?  If I had to sum it up into one neat, little phrase, it would be this: money management.  The three categories from my previous post were all examples of not really managing your money.  Ignoring how much money you have is not at all managing it – it’s avoiding it.  Hoarding and materialism, on the other hand, are like two sides to the same coin.  In both, inanimate objects are controlling people instead of the other way around.  There is also a tendency for people in these camps to look to money for gratification in ways money alone cannot give, such as control, peace, or contentment.

            What do you think of when you hear the word management?  To me, it makes me think of people who are ‘large and in charge,’ so to speak.  When you are managing your money, you know how much you already have, how much is coming in when, and where all that green is going.  How can someone realistically stay on top of all that information?  While there may be a variety of methods people use, I think one of the most essential ways is to budget.

            I LOVE budgeting.  Don’t get me wrong – it has been frustrating at times, especially when my husband and I were first starting with it.  But knowing how much money we have in the bank (we share both a checking and savings account), how much we should earn in a given month, and exactly where all that money went once it has been spent is extremely empowering.  With student loans or other debt, bills (being an adult means SO many bills!), essentials to buy, and – hopefully – some fun to be had, I think it can be all too easy to feel overwhelmed by finances.  But budgeting is a way to know you are in control, even in those trying times when it may not feel like it.

            We used two very helpful resources to begin budgeting back when we were first married. The first was Dave Ramsey.  We had one of his books, and while I think that is a great investment to make, he also provides a lot of information and resources on his website.  Some people are crazy hard-core into his program, and I can understand that, especially because a lot of these people seem to have had out-of control spending habits and/or a growing amount of debt (especially with credit cards).  Neither of these issues applied to us personally, so we take the money wisdom he offers and apply the parts that work for us. One of his main concepts that we strive to stick to is the ‘zero-based budget.’ This is basically his way of stating the (often forgotten) obvious: don’t spend more than you make.  

            The second irreplaceable resource we use is Mint.com.  I’m sure there are other free, online budgeting options, but this is the one we really liked and chose to implement.  It’s very easy to use, can be linked to debit cards so purchases can be automatically categorized within your budget, and has many helpful tools for managing money.

            I’m coming to the end of this post, but if there are any questions you have regarding the details of budgeting and/or money management, please comment and let me know!! I have a feeling that this topic may be just beginning : )

A Monday Misadventure

On Monday when I arrived home from work, I decided that I wanted to make something good for dinner.  We had been eating delicious leftovers all weekend (plus a picnic lunch of PB&Js on Saturday when the weather was so beautiful it would have been a crime not to enjoy it), and I wanted to take advantage of the extra time I had on the day my husband would be getting home a little later. It’s important to note that my expectations for ‘a good cooked dinner’ are pretty low.  This particular day, these were the desires that were the foundation for my cooking: no frozen meals, no pasta or salad (what we had been eating all weekend), and no meat (per my hubby’s Lenten fast).

            So, of course, here’s what I found – a frozen spinach mushroom pizza, a bag of frozen veggies, fresh lettuce, various pasta noodles, chicken-potato soup, tuna, a box of couscous, a can of tangerines, and two containers of chicken stock (one of which that had gone bad).  Hmm…I could only work with the last three ingredients, and I wasn’t even sure chicken stock was okay during a meat fast.  I pulled out the couscous and tangerines and set them on the counter.  It was about this time I began to realize that my desires for dinner were not going to ‘pan’ out (and, yes, I did use that cooking pun on purpose!).

            Now, there’s a chance that some of you reading this have the perfect recipe for tangerine couscous, possibly cooked in chicken stock.  I’m not that creative or skilled when it comes to preparing food.  While I’m trying to be open to ‘winging it’ more, what I really like is a simple recipe with realistic ingredients.  Since the dinner prep was looking bleak, I instead channeled my productive energy into washing the dishes.  It was about then that my hubby called, and I must confess that I was a bit snippy.  I was annoyed at the lack of food to work with and the budget which, at times, keeps our kitchen feeling so empty.

            Not knowing my underlying guidelines that originally propelled me into this misadventure, he offered what was the obvious solution – the frozen pizza.  My frustration grew as I tried to explain to this clueless guy I live with why it’s crazy to not have anything to eat in our home!  The only fresh vegetable was lettuce – just lettuce!  We might as well have been consuming overly processed and packaged cookies and pop for the ridiculous unhealthiness in which we were living!!

            As you may have already guessed, we had the pizza for dinner.  It was delicious.  I apologized for speaking unkindly to my sweet, understanding best friend who sometimes gets the brunt of my negative moments.  And I realized that maybe my feelings were rooted in something deeper than the food, in something inside of me that makes me feel inadequate in my cooking abilities, something that maybe connects to my longing to be better than I am in this area.

            Did I mention how tasty that frozen pizza was?