On the serious side of the Circus, lets talk dollars.
“You could save money if you stopped eating all that organic food.”
“You really need to buy a bigger house.”
“You need to go out more.”
“You need to stop sending those kids to private school. Public is good enough! You don’t have the money for that!”
“Your wife needs to get a job!”
“Oh, but you’ve got to buy those school pictures.”
“What do you mean you can’t afford presents for (insert name)’s birthday. “
“How can you say you don’t have money for (item x), you just bought a (item y)?”
Sure does seem like there’s a lot of financial “advice” out there, doesn’t it? Almost as much “advice” as there are things to buy and bills to pay. One only has to meander through their local grocery store, armed with a carefully planned list of needed items and sale items paired up with coupons, just to realize the will power necessary to make it out of there with as few “extra” items as possible. (Why does the chocolate have to be in the same aisle as the cereal? And the craft beer and the wine is right next to the cheese! If only I could avoid certain areas of the store all together, I might be better off.) And then there are the retail stores, with their impulse items, and specially colored sale tags that show a price that isn’t really a sale at all. Billboards, commercials, and internet advertisements…we’re bombarded with advertising, marketing promotions, schemes and trickery, all designed to get us to spend more, and in many cases make us believe we NEED to spend more. And then there is the aforementioned “advice.” Well meaning though it may be, it is wide and varied and if we’re completely honest, judgmental. As such is not much more helpful than the advertisers and people sitting behind the desks in the marketing departments (sorry Amanda!).
So what’s a Ringmaster on a tight budget to do? Well, we’re couponers and deal hunters, do it yourselfers, fix not buy-ers, and thrift store frequenters. If you’ve read many previous posts, you know that. We budget and plan, though I’m sure you know what I mean when I say it seems like something extra is always coming up (ie: major car repairs, the refrigerator dies, child needs tubes in his ears, etc). You bet it’d be a lot easier if I wasn’t making a tuition payment the size of a mortgage every month. You bet it’d be easier if I fed my family preservative, dye laced boxed stuff masquerading as food (my kids’ crayons say “non-toxic” but I’m not about to steam those up and serve them, either). You can bet we’d have a lot more to work with if we hadn’t gone with that 10 year mortgage and instead opted for the smaller monthly payments of a 30 year plan.
But we didn’t and we don’t.
When we prioritize our spending, this is what we use:
Hearts, Minds, and Bellies– There’s nothing more important than what we put our children’s Hearts, Minds and Bellies. (I tell you this, not to justify my spending to you and not to try to convince you to change your budgeting strategies, but to illustrate how varying priorities can be, and the effect they have on directing our spending despite all the budget “traps” out there.
Hearts and Minds: That means education, character as much as academic, in a loving environment of caring teachers who are happy to be there every day. For us, that means a truly Christian education, where the teachers and administrators MODEL the kind of behavior and caring attitude by actually living those principals themselves, everyday. After all, how effective is it for a teacher to tell a child they must be kind to their friends and then turn around and gossip about fellow teachers? How effective is it for an administrator to admonish a child for lying, and then turn around and manipulate his employees, backing them into a corner with no choice but to jump ship? Not to digress, but I’ve seen those behaviors first hand in a supposedly “Christian school.” The students know what’s going on. The character education in those places might as well not exist as it is completely undone by the adults who are supposed to be educating. And I won’t even get into what I have seen and heard of public school. I realize these are pretty strong generalizations, but we’ve found that kind of care and quality in education in our children’s current school. Right now, I can’t entrust their Hearts and Minds during the school day to anyone else.
Then there are the Bellies; that’s where the not eating Crayola for lunch comes in (or pesticides, or MSG, or artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, or preservatives). Just stop and think for a minute about some of the products on the market. Do you remember that fake fat, olestra? The one used in fat free chips that gave thousands of people severe diarrhea, bloody stools, and other gastrointestinal issues. How about aspartame? It’s only been shown to cause cancer in lab rats. What, it’s only been in large amounts? Wait, how much diet coke are you drinking again, and how long have you been doing that? Do you really want to ingest ANY amount of something shown to have the capabilities to cause mutations in your cells that can KILL you? How about the pesticides that are causing traces of lead in your fruits and vegetables? How about the artificial dye in the meat you buy (that’s not even on the label), how about the MSG in that can of soup you’re warming up? Maybe its not enough to hurt us, even long term. But, I’m not taking any chances. What I put in their bellies now can impact the quality of life they will have for the entire time they are on this earth. It just ain’t worth the risk.
Hearts, minds and bellies….good food, good education, good church.
But “cool” clothing and shoes, haircuts, the latest toys, a big house, trips to the local amusement park, they just aren’t part of that. Thrift store and consignment clothing do the job. I can cut hair (not exactly even, and about the only thing you’ll be able to say for it is that its shorter, but it’ll work). We can wait for toys to go on sale, buy them used, or make them ourselves. We can make do with our house (I know and have known plenty of people who do a lot more with a lot less).
There’s nothing more important than what we put in their hearts, minds and bellies. And so, as my five year-old says, that’s where “the dollars” go, regardless of the “advice,” marketing ploys or lit up billboards.