Coping with Grief – One Exercise – 5 Things

Recently I taught a CEU class for social workers. I decided to explore the topic of Grief for several reasons. First of all, I have had my share of grief, as most of us have. Second, I am working as a hospice social worker, so I deal with grief every day. And grief is something that we all want to learn how to cope with better. We want to know what to say to those who are grieving to make them feel better.

It is in our nature to want to make people feel better when they grieve. The more I study about grief, the more I realize that 1) there is no “cure”, 2) it cannot be “fixed”, 3) every grief is different and every griever is different, 4) there is no fixed time period for healing from grief, 5) it is helpful to know the stages of grief so we can understand it better, but we don’t go through those stages in order and we repeat the stages off and on throughout our lives, and 6) there is no magic bullet for helping people who are grieving.

But the most important thing to know about grieving, is that it is a NORMAL response to a loss. The goal is not to stop grieving, that’s impossible. The goal is to learn to cope and to adjust to a new way of life. Joy will come again, but not because the grief will be gone, rather joy will come because we will continue to live life, and life is a combination of joy and suffering.

As a person in the healing profession, I want to help people to stop hurting. While this isn’t always possible, there are some steps we can take to help us to help ourselves or to help others.

My sister died 9 years ago. It’s hard to believe it has been that long. Her diagnosis of breast cancer seemed to go by in a blur. She had surgery to remove the tumor, it was malignant. We knew she was getting chemotherapy. But she was living her life, going to work, and since I didn’t see her every day, I didn’t see what was really going on with her. Tracy was a very private person, so I didn’t get a chance to learn how she really felt. I tried spending extra time with her. Knowing that she was missing some work, I started taking her grocery shopping once per week to help out financially. Tracy loved that. She would pick out the most expensive things. She didn’t know how to buy meat because she didn’t cook, so her boyfriend Rodney told her what to buy next time. We stood in the long lines at Wal Mart and spent what I hope was quality time together.

Tracy, ruling the roost, her last Christmas with us

We thought things were ok for awhile, until it wasn’t. Tracy went in and out of the hospital for a few days at a time. I’d stop in to see her on my lunch hour. One day she was sitting on the sofa in her hospital room and she said “I am not moving until they let me go home.” She was “on strike.” They did let her go home. A few weeks later, she was back in the hospital again. We expected the same routine. This time, the doctors called a family meeting. Tracy is not getting better, they said. We need to switch to hospice care. The last words she said to me that made any sense were “I’m so scared.” Then she screamed for 3 days. Finally, the medication they gave her helped to calm her down. One night I said “You were a great sister, Tracy.” The next day she died.

Who has time to grieve after someone dies? There are other relatives who are grieving who need to be comforted, arrangements need to be made, a succession has to be set up and executed. Busy busy busy. Time goes by. Last night I felt so sad for Tracy. 9 years later. I wonder if she felt fear as she faithfully showed up for her chemo treatments. I wonder if she knew we were worried about her and cared about her. I wonder if she knew she was loved. (Tracy did have amazing support from her partner, Rodney).

One of the symptoms of grief can sometimes be guilt. Guilt takes on many forms. Tracy was the baby of the family, why did she have to go first? I was the big sister, why am I still here? I teased my sister mercilessly. I saw that as my job as a big sister. Did she know I loved her? I feel as though I didn’t really say goodbye, because we all lived with the hope that she was going to get better.

Grief waxes and wanes, it comes and it goes, and even several years later it can return. This is not something to be feared. Grieving means we are living. Life consists of suffering. If we have no one to grieve, then we are not living enough. Loving people leads to grief, whether we lose them to death, breakups, divorce, disagreements, betrayals or for whatever reason.

It occurred to me that it there is one way for a physician to heal thyself. As I was experiencing these feelings of grief about Tracy, I remembered an exercise that I came across while I was researching materials for the class. It was to write a letter to the person that you miss. In that letter, say these 5 things (from the book Grieving Mindfully by Sameet M. Kumar):

  • I’m sorry. Tracy, I wish I had been there more for you. I am sorry for teasing you all of the time. I’m mostly sorry that we didn’t talk about your cancer and how you felt about it.
  • I forgive you. For those times when we didn’t feel particularly close or when you wanted to create some distance for whatever reason.
  • I love you. You were the one who wanted all holidays to be special and we had to follow the rules that you set. You set the menus for every meal and mom even made a separate batch of cornbread dressing just for you! You always made us laugh a lot (either intentionally or unintentionally).
  • Thank you. For always watching my cats when I traveled. For being so dependable. For being the one who showed up with the broom and mop when I had my surgery to help around the house.
  • Goodbye. Until we meet again.

If you are feeling the loss of the loved one, if you feel that there is any unfinished business, maybe this exercise will help you too. Even if you don’t write every step, think them through in your mind. I did this (in more detail than what I wrote here) and it really helped.

Recognizing Dreams When We See Them

I haven’t written lately on paper (or screens), but I’ve been thinking a lot. Often I write blogs in my head while I’m driving, and I’ve been driving more lately as part of my job. Sometimes when I am sleeping, I dream about things to write in my blogs. I’ve even dreamt plots for novels — novels that seemed brilliant in my sleep, but I didn’t remember the finer points or what was so great about them when I woke up.

Last night I had a dream that was kind of interesting. I was at a Christian concert and was sitting separate from my friends because of assigned seating. A young man kept talking to me, and I wondered why. But instead of listening to the music, I stopped and listened to him. I don’t remember the conversation, but I then asked him what he did for a living. He said I am a pastor. I asked about his church, and he said his church meets in his home and there is nothing electronic in his church or his ministries. He preaches and they read the bible. He said he has never been on Facebook or any social media and doesn’t want to be. While he was telling me this, something was providing me with food for thought, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what it was. I woke up still feeling kind of warm, like I “got it” but don’t remember what “it” is I was supposed to have gotten. I do sleep with a pad and pen, but somehow that doesn’t work. (Yes I’ve wondered if the message was to stop using social media!).

This evening I was watching Celtic Thunder on TV while I was doing chores. I love Celtic music. They sang the song Streets of London, which I hadn’t heard since I used to go to O’Flaherty’s Irish Pub with my travel companion I often went to London with. Boy did that song bring back memories. I was feeling pretty warm and fuzzy about remembrances of listening to live Irish music and traveling to a city that I love so much. Then another song came on, and POOF, feelings gone.

These two things that happened today reminded me of how fleeting life is. We are given pearls of wisdom, beautiful moments, memories, ideas, dreams, and all kinds of gifts, but we either don’t recognize them, we don’t appreciate them, we don’t see the significance, we forget them, we write them off as unimportant, or we move on to the next thing before we have finished the last thing.

My bestie and I were talking about this. We don’t take the time to enjoy our moments, we don’t take the time to dream, and if we do dream, we don’t take the steps to make them come true. Perhaps we see those dreams as stupid. Perhaps we see them as impossible or unreachable. Perhaps we don’t recognize them when they are presented to us. Perhaps they enter our mind and then we forget them.

What are your dreams, truly? Do you want a fulfilling career? Do you want to see the world? Do you want to meet the love of your life? Dreams can be big, or they can be small. LIstening to the song Streets of London and thinking of my trips to England made me happy. Watching a beautiful sunset makes me happy. Enjoying a breeze makes me happy (especially in July). Seeing my flowers bloom makes me happy. Whatever your dreams are, big or small, recognize them. Make them come true. Enjoy the moments. LIfe is fleeting, we have to turn off all of the noise and stop jumping off to the next thing. We need to slow down and be in the moment.

How do we learn to enjoy the moment? We have to become aware that these moments exist. We won’t recognize them unless we train our minds to notice things in the present time. One way to do this is to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is simple. At the very least, every morning before I leave the house, I tell Alexa to set the timer for however many minutes I can spare – sometimes it’s 2, sometimes it’s 10. I focus on my breathing and the here and now. Slowing down our minds does work. When I said that ideas come to me when I am asleep or when I am driving, this tells me something. This is a time when my mind is quiet and I’m not multitasking. In those times I become creative. We can all be creative if we learn to slow down, turn off the noise and allow our minds to be free.

One final thought about dreams. Don’t wait for the time to be perfect to start working on them. There will never be a perfect time. If you have a dream, start working on it now. The perfect time is now.

The Words of Jesus: Matthew 3:15

It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.”

Have you ever noticed that God doesn’t follow the same pecking order that we have in mind? In this passage, John the Baptist is alerting the world to the coming of the Savior. Then the Savior arrives and asks John to baptize Him. John responds, “shouldn’t it be the other way around?” And Jesus says no, this is what God wants.

We see other places in scripture where Jesus acts as a servant to His people. He washes the disciples’ feet in John 13. Peter again says, in so many words, shouldn’t it be the other way around? Jesus often emphasizes that we should have a humble spirit. So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last. (Matthew 20:16). This is one thing that Jesus could be showing us.

There are other messages we can explore here. Sometimes we think our lives should be a straight line. We set goals and then we take steps to reach those goals. But sometimes those steps may fail; sometimes we may be forced to detour. Sometimes the goals we have set for ourselves are not the goals God has in mind for us. In the example being set here, Jesus is being obedient to God, even though it doesn’t exactly make sense. And because of this, things did work out in the long run, but not before there was a lot of pain and sorrow in between. This is a reminder that God’s ways are His own, and if we are obedient, things will work out in the long run, either on this earth or in heaven. When we question these ways that don’t make sense to us, are we thinking that we know better than God how things should be done?

Jesus obviously knew God’s voice in this passage. How do we know when we are hearing God’s voice or someone else’s voice? Sometimes it’s hard to know, because we want the voice we hear to match our desires. Sometimes it doesn’t. When I’ve seen this happen in my life and had my heart broken many times, when I look back, I’ve always seen that God’s plan was better.

One thing I have learned, is that just because it’s easy, it doesn’t mean it’s God’s will. As we see from the life that Jesus lived, nothing was easy. There were moments of success, peace and joy, but there was a lot of pain. I have had some jobs that have been very easy. I received good money (well, enough, anyway!) and benefits. But it just didn’t feel right. People said I was nuts to leave those jobs, but I don’t think God called any of us to be comfortable. I think that I stayed in some jobs too long because I was too comfortable and may have missed out on some other things I could have done. Our roads will be easy sometimes, but sometimes they are rocky, filled with potholes and messy. That doesn’t mean we failed or took a wrong turn, it means we are growing.

This passage also reminds me to be flexible. Instead of following our vision of how things should go, we should be open to doing things in new and unexpected ways. The road may seem twisted, but it may be more interesting. Sometimes God takes us on the scenic route instead of the superhighway. We explore more, learn more and live more. Sometimes it isn’t even the goal that is important, it is the journey itself.

After Jesus was baptized, the voice of God came for all to hear. “And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17). It pleases God when we listen to Him and obey Him, even when it may not make sense. Can you think of things that you thought that God told you that didn’t seem to make sense at the time? How did it work out? Where are you on your journey?

The Words of Jesus – Jesus’ First Words: Luke 2:49


4“But why did you need to search?” he asked. “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

Luke 2:49

We don’t know too much about what Jesus’ early life was like. Most of us are familiar with the story of His birth. We know He was born in a manger and that people followed a shining star to see and pay homage to the new king. We know that King Herod felt threatened by the birth of Jesus, and that Mary and Joseph took Jesus and fled to Egypt. Then we don’t hear anything until Jesus reaches the age of 12. Jesus and his family have gone to Jerusalem to celebrate the festival of Passover. While there, Jesus goes into the temple and begins to listen to the religious teachers and to ask them questions. They are all surprised at the amount of wisdom Jesus has.

Jesus knew what His calling was from his birth. He knew exactly what God wanted Him to do. Very few of us have a strong knowledge of what we are supposed to do with our lives. Some of us go to college right after high school and become doctors, lawyers or other professionals. Some join family businesses. Some take time off to discover themselves. I would think that many of us stumble into jobs and stay, either growing in our careers or showing up every day for a paycheck so we can pay the bills. Some of us are fine with that, because their lives have other purposes. There is a difference between a calling and a purpose. People can be perfectly happy working at jobs that pay the bills, while discovering their true purpose in their family lives or by volunteering. Others find their calling and will climb every mountain and conquer every obstacle to make their careers happen. We are all different.

I worked at a job that paid the bills for decades. I had good moments and worked with good people, but I never felt like I was doing what I was called to do. I felt like I wanted to work with people in social justice or social services, but it took me a long time to have the courage to quit my job and go back to school to get my social work degree. If you feel as though you have missed your calling, it is never too late to chase your dreams. Believe me, I know. I’m still chasing mine.

But even if you do not have a calling, you do have a purpose! We all do. Your purpose depends on what gifts you have. You may have the gift of encouragement, so you may be the one your friends call when they are down in the dumps or need advice. Your purpose may be in your family life, raising children or caring for aging parents. Your purpose may be in helping with ministries at your church, or in leading them. You could have a different purpose every day, depending upon what people or situations cross your path. Every moment of life can be meaningful.

Jesus knew exactly what He was here for. Fulfilling His calling was difficult and painful, but it changed mankind. It changed the world. It changed us. It changed our way of thinking. And it gave us all a purpose, because living a life according to His teachings is a rich life indeed.

The Words of Jesus (and What They Tell Us)

Introduction:

There are a lot of thoughts and beliefs about the bible. My belief is that, if we read the bible, God will speak to us in His own unique way in a way that works for us. God created us and knows just what He wants to say specifically to us. The bible helps me in many ways. For one thing, it seems like every time I pick up the bible to read something, I get the urge to write. I get ideas. So, the bible helps me to conquer writer’s block. The bible has also comforted me. In times of grief, and especially during times of heartbreak, I have found the words of God comforting and uplifting.

We can feel God’s presence in His beauty and in His words…

There are some complications about the bible. For one thing, everyone can agree that many people interpret the bible differently. This is because God speaks to each of us individually. Many people interpret the bible in their own way and insist that others should believe the things that God has told them.

In the past, when I have attended faith-based movies in the theater, I have listened to conversations around me, and I have heard comments such as “this movie wasn’t 100% biblical.” In my humble opinion, LIFE is not 100% biblical. We are imperfect human beings. We can try to be moral, upstanding, pure, reverent, obedient, and everything else. But we will fail, because we are human.

For me, it boils down to this. The church is filled with sinners, and I am definitely in that number. That’s why I need Jesus. If you are not a sinner, you do not need Jesus. Jesus died for sinners.

I often hear that we are supposed to live like Jesus did, but what does that even mean? To some, it’s to live the way they are living, because that has worked for them and that’s their interpretation of biblical living. But everyone’s walk is different. God speaks to all of us and tells us how to live according to the plan that HE has for OUR lives. And this is between God and each of His children. God doesn’t want people living cookie cutter lives, He loves us each in our own unique way, and He wants us to live the way He created us to be.

Of course we want to be as much like Jesus as we can. And the only way we can know how to be like Him, is to know Him. The way to know Jesus is to invite Him into our hearts and to listen to His words.

This book contains nothing but the quotes of Jesus and the applicable verses. It is available for .99 on kindle.

How can we truly listen to Jesus speak to us? The other day I was thinking about how complicated the bible is. Not all of us are scholars. There are a lot of learned scholars who interpret the bible differently. When we questioned scripture at the seminary, the professors always had an answer about “context,” and about differentiating between the culture at the time and modern culture. Women covering their heads in church would be cultural, but what about women not speaking in church? Denominations differ on interpretations of that – some allow women to be pastors and to preach and some don’t. Some allow women to do a little bit of ministry with limitations, and some allow full ordination. It’s all based upon individual interpretation. There are parts of the bible where women are told not to speak in church, and there are other passages in the bible that clearly show women in ministry and leadership roles.

I have written all of this as a framework to begin my exploration to rediscover what it means to be like Jesus. I have decided to journey through the bible studying only the words of Jesus. I started on this a long time ago, but I abandoned it. Since then I have come across a book by David Tait, who is making this much easier for me. He wrote a book that contains the words of Jesus with the verse references in chronological order. I am going to use this book as a guide to explore the words of Jesus. I’m using the New Living Translation of the bible. You are welcome to join me on this journey. You may or may not agree with my interpretation, but as I wrote above, this is what I am getting from God, if He speaks to you, He may be saying something different, and that is OK!

Jesus knew what His calling was from his birth. He knew exactly what God wanted Him to do. Very few of us have a strong knowledge of what we are supposed to do with our lives. Some of us go to college right after high school and become doctors, lawyers or other professionals. Some join family businesses. Some take time off to discover themselves. I would think that many of us stumble into jobs and stay, either growing in our careers or showing up every day for a paycheck so we can pay the bills. Some of us are fine with that, because their lives have other purposes. There is a difference between a calling and a purpose. People can be perfectly happy working at jobs that pay the bills, while discovering their true purpose in their family lives or by volunteering. Others find their calling and will climb every mountain and conquer every obstacle to make their careers happen. We are all different.

An Unsung Hero – Lee Vinson

Lee preparing meals to deliver
Lee preparing meals to deliver

“The most important two things that you need are a big bowl and a pair of scissors,” said Lee Vinson, a Legal Secretary.  That and a refrigerator full of leftover lunches.  Every Friday evening at around 4:30, an email goes out to the employees where Lee works, saying “fridge cleanout in 15 minutes.”  Whatever is left over in the refrigerator after that email goes out disappears.  No one really noticed for a long time what Lee was doing with the food; they just thought it was her self-appointed task to clean out the refrigerator every week.   But while working late one evening, I finally found out.  I went into the kitchen to find her meticulously making dinner plates containing a variety of foods that even the most creative chef could not have dreamed up.  She said it was for the homeless who congregate every evening outside of the New Orleans Mission.

Lee providing conversation and a meal
Lee providing conversation and a meal

No one in our office knew what Lee was doing, and she was fine with that.  She didn’t tell anyone unless they asked.  But one week someone became upset that Lee had disposed of her food before the expiration date.  When she was informed about where her leftover food had gone, the word began to spread.  People began to intentionally leaving food in the refrigerator, even bringing extra food from home.  Now, at the end of each week, Lee has enough food for a feast.  She may have loaves of bread, lunch meat, fresh fruit, leftover gourmet food, sauces, or restaurant food – an endless variety – to combine for a unique meal every week.  The dinners became healthier, because people began to purchase more fresh vegetables for their own lunch, knowing that the uneaten vegetables would not be thrown out, but would instead be used for a good cause.

Made with loving hands

As I watched Lee one Friday evening, after everyone else had gone home for the weekend, she was working with leftover Chinese noodles, taco salad, some kind of rice dish, a beautifully prepared steak that had come from someone’s barbeque pit, some kind of stuffed seafood, and a litany of other miscellaneous foodstuffs.  She combined all of these items, added some condiments that she collects (this week it was sweet & sour sauce), a dash of salt and pepper, and a nutritious hot entrée was created.  She also found leftover lettuce, taco salad, carrots, a cucumber and some broccoli, which, when combined with one of the many bottles of leftover dressing, became a healthy salad.  She had leftover bananas and some tangelos from someone’s garden, which she cut into pieces and added to the plates.  She topped off each plate with slices of leftover olive bread someone had left behind, and voila, 40 delicious and interesting meals were ready to be served.

Lee ready to deliver meals to homeless men and women
Lee ready to deliver meals to homeless men and women

Lee learned how to be efficient and to make these great meals from trial and error.  I watched her as she placed foil on top of the paper plates and stacked them into boxes, loaded them onto a cart, tied it with rope, and began the ½ mile walk from our office to the New Orleans Mission.  As we walked, she related stories about her first few trips, when she didn’t bundle things correctly and they fell off of the cart and spilled all over the pavement, and once when she dripped salad dressing and left a trail all the way to the Mission.  Now, she has a process that works, but she’s still open to change if she finds a better way of doing things.

When Lee finally began her approach to the Mission, her regulars were waiting.  They came to greet her as an old friend.  As she began serving, it was clear that the meals had been eagerly anticipated and they were being enjoyed.  One man told me he is always excited about Lee’s meals because they usually have carrots in them.

Sharing a laugh and a drink

After Lee finished passing out the meals, forks and napkins, she took out a jug of water, passed out cups and served everyone with a drink.  Then, after all was done, she waved a cheerful goodbye. As we walked away, she told me how these Fridays are so uplifting for her.  They always get her weekends off to a great start.  At work she experiences the usual stresses, but by serving others, she feels them all wash away.  The end of her week has turned into a positive experience.

Lee is one example of a person who found a unique and quiet way to serve.  It costs her little or no money.  She uses food that people donate or leave in the refrigerator.  She recycles the plastic forks and spoons that our office would usually throw away.  The only money she spends is for paper plates and foil, and people usually donate those things as well.  The most precious thing that Lee spends is her time, and the payback for that expenditure is enormous – to the people she serves and to her.

As Lee has continued to serve, her dreams have grown.  Sometimes other law firms empty their refrigerators and they join together to make more interesting meals.  She would love to see all of the offices in the downtown New Orleans area doing the same thing.  She wants to collect hygiene items to pass out as well.  Lee has found out what a lot of lucky people learn, the more you serve, the more you want to do – because serving produces a feeling inside of us that matches no other.   Every Friday, she goes home feeling loved and appreciated for a job well done.

How Can We Fight Injustice?

I don’t know about you, but injustice makes me MAD. In fact, right now I am sitting here writing this article with steam coming out of my ears, and I’ll explain why shortly.

I guess I’ve always been like this. When I see things that are unfair, I speak up.  Sometimes it isn’t pretty, although I try, I really try, to keep using my indoor voice.  Sometimes I get laughed at, but oh well.  Years ago when I lost my Social Security card, I remember ordering a replacement online.  But a couple of years ago when I tried, it was no longer possible. The website specifically said “your state doesn’t allow this.” So while I was in the Social Security office, I called my Congressman’s office to ask why.  People sitting around me basically said “shut up and wait in line like everyone else.”  But I wanted to know WHY. Come to find out, it had something to do with the change in our State ID process.  But I recently came across an article that said that Louisiana residents can now again order Social Security card replacements online.  Did I put a bug in anyone’s ear? I don’t know. But it changed.

The fact is, things DO change, but only when we ask.  Often we just pay the fees or do what we have to do without asking if there is a better alternative. Never forget that our government serves US, not the other way around.

Today’s battle involved a utility company.  Because I entered my checking account number wrong for my first auto pay after changing my checking account, I got kicked out. Now, to pay my bill, which is NOT late, I must go to one of there “convenient” locations that charge processing fees, or pay from home with an added processing fee.  I’m sorry, but since when do we have to pay fees to pay our bills?  I can afford this, and the mistake was basically my bad, but I’m thinking of people who I know or who I work with who live from pay check to pay check and will never be able to get ahead or save money because they have to pay so many fees.  And since this is a utility company, there is no choice. Either you pay it or you don’t have electricity. There is no competition.  I was told flat out by 2 people that this is the policy and there is nothing I can do. That’s the wrong thing to say to me.  There is always something.  So, while I’m waiting for supervisors to call me back, I have written to the public service commission, my council person and the local news station.  Will the policy change? I don’t know, but if it doesn’t change it won’t be because someone didn’t see the injustice and try.  UPDATE:  The utility company agreed to waive the fees.  I fought and won for myself, but I am going to pursue this because no one should have to go through this.

And what if it does change?  Then it will mean that battles can be fought and won sometimes.

I know this seems time consuming to fight these battles, but it really isn’t.  I made a couple of calls and wrote and email and then copied and pasted it.  And it’s worth it to spend time fight for justice, even if you may lose.  Sometimes we may not see immediate results, but over time, things will change.

Also, this particular injustice won’t kill me.  But it hurts other people.  So I want it fixed and I’m going to try to step up to fix it.

If you feel powerless right now, start small.  If you see an injustice, point it out. Don’t be silent.  You may be capable of changing more than you will ever know.  Keep up the good fight!

Frugal U – What Makes Us Rich?

Do you know what makes us wealthy?  Sure, things like hard work and a good job come to mind.  But did you know that many people who make a lot of money are not wealthy?  And many people who don’t make a lot of money are wealthy.  Making a lot of money does not create wealth – knowing what to do – or not do – with your money is what creates wealth.  Wealth is built by one simple action: spend less than you earn.  Knowing that this is easier said than done, here are some tips about how to start building wealth.  Yes, these are small steps, but these small steps create good habits that add up to big savings.

  1. Shop with a friend.  Many stores have buy-one-get-one-free deals.  Recently I went shopping with a friend, and we filled our cart entirely with buy-one-get-one-free items.  Then we each took an item and split the bill in half.  The result?  We each had 3 bags full of groceries, including a rump roast, and we only paid $16 each.  If you go to a big box store, you can purchase items together and split them in half.
  2. Know how much things should cost.  Not all items purchased in bulk at big box stores are cheaper than items that can be bought elsewhere in smaller amounts.  But some of them are.  You have to know the difference.  Look at grocery store sales circulars to get a grasp of how much things cost.  Stores tend to have a pattern; one may put their chicken breast on sale on a rotation of every 3 weeks, another may always have cheap bread or ice cream.  Once you get a handle on how often things are on sale and the prices that different stores charge, you will know where the bargains are.  This doesn’t mean you will be going to several different grocery stores in one week.  You can buy the things on sale in one store one week, and other items on sale in another store the next.
  3. Measure prices by weight.  Often one product comes in different sizes.  A 16 oz size might cost $1.00, and an 8 oz size might cost .60, so you save money if you buy the larger size. But that is not always the case, sometimes smaller can be cheaper.  Also, consider that if you will not use the entire contents of a large box, even if the small box costs a few pennies more, it may be worth it if you are going to end up throwing out half of the large box because it expired before you used it all.
  4. Beware – not all “on sale” signs are bargains.  Cat food that was regularly priced at .45 per can in one store was advertised in that same store on sale for “10 for $6.”  Another store offers a weekly special – if you buy two items, you get 5 items free.  But the 2 items you buy are always overpriced (It’s usually 2 pizzas for $7 each and you can usually get the pizzas for $5 or less).  And carefully consider whether you will even use the 5 free items that come with the deal.  Always do the math.  Your smart phone has a calculator, use it.
  5. Limit the amount of times you shop.  The more you go to the grocery store, the more times you will be tempted to purchase impulse items.  Instead, study store circulars before you shop and know in advance what you will buy.  Stock up on your meat and nonperishable items once a month, and then once a week shop only for fresh vegetables, bread and milk — go to the vegetable and dairy departments only, don’t venture into the other aisles.  If going into the store for your fresh food in the middle of the month offers too much temptation to spend money on other things, then why not go to your local bakeries or farmers’ markets for your perishables instead?  You’ll be buying fresher and healthier food while supporting local businesses and farmers at the same time. Click here for a link providing a list of some of the farmers markets in the Greater New Orleans area.  
  6. Use your store’s loyalty cards to the max.  There are many benefits.  One is that the store tracks your purchases, so they will usually provide you with an in-store coupon for items you actually buy.  Many will reward you with a coupon every time you have spent over a certain amount. Some stores partner with other businesses and offer discounts on gasoline or other products. However, again, do the math. 5 cents per gallon savings sounds great, but for me that’s a total of 50 cents per fill-up.  Is the item linked with this deal usually more than 50 cents cheaper?  Sometimes it is.
  7. Use Cash.  I have a credit card that earns cash back.  I pay my credit card off every month, so I got into the mindset of charging everything so I could earn cash back.  The only problem was, at the end of the month when I received my credit card bill, I was shocked that I spent so much money.  When we use our credit cards, we aren’t aware of how much we are spending.  Now, I allow myself an allowance of a certain amount of cash per week.  When I am tempted to purchase something, I ask myself “is this where you want your limited amount of cash to go?”  Usually the answer is no.  Another benefit of using cash is that at the end of the day I put all of my coins in a piggy bank.  When it is filled, I deposit the coins into a savings account. It adds up!
  8. Get out of Debt.  You may think this is easier said than done, but it is doable. Stop charging and starting paying off your bills – one bill at a time.  After the first bill is paid off, you will feel so good!  Then you can use the money you were paying on that bill to pay down the next bill.  It’s called snowballing.  Being free from debt provides you with so much freedom — the freedom to retire early, the freedom to take a lesser-paying job that you would enjoy more, the freedom to be generous and give to good causes, the freedom to travel…and you will have much less stress in your life.
  9. Remember, every penny saved is a penny that can be used to increase your wealth.

These are just a few small ideas we can apply to our everyday lives.  Can you think of more money-savers?

Frugal U – Some Basics About Money

Dishonest money dwindles away, but whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow.  Proverbs 13:11, NIV

What is finance?  Finance is how PEOPLE handle their financial situation.  To break it down into simple terms, money is a piece of paper.  A piece of paper has no value.  But we place value on these pieces of paper every day.  Most of us work at jobs to earn some of that paper, in what we hope is a fair exchange.

In turn, we provide some of that paper we earn to others for expenses, goods or services.  In most cases, we pay what we think something is worth.  For instance, if you see a candy bar for $1, you may buy it. If you see that same candy bar for $5, you may think “that’s ridiculous, I’m not paying $5 for a $1 candy bar!”  But someone else, who is having a serious craving and is in a hurry, may pay $5 for that candy bar.  What we value is personal to each of us and our particular situations.

We do not build wealth by earning a lot of money. We build wealth by watching what we spend.  You may have heard stories about school teachers with low income leaving $1 million to charity.  They did not earn a lot of money, but they spent less than they took in.  That is the key to wealth. Spending less than you earn.  It’s really that simple. And it’s very very possible for most of us to live within our means.

What we spend money on shows what our values are.

The less debt we have, the more financial freedom we have.  Period.  Some debts may be necessary (student loans and mortgages), but all debt should be paid down as soon as possible.  If you need advice on how to do that, email us.  If you want personal wealth, stop making banks wealthier by paying fees and interest to them.  Keep your money.

Every dollar does count. People who have the mentality of “it’s only a dollar, or its only $5,” are more broke than people who know the value of every dollar.  Sure a cup of coffee is only $2.  $2 every day is $14/week. That’s $56/month.  Keep doing the math to see how that adds up.  Always be mindful of spending, no matter how small the amount.

Always remember that there are some people who don’t earn enough or who encounter financial difficulty through no fault of their own. Whether they lose jobs unexpectedly, become ill, are forced to spend a large portion of their incomes on life-saving prescriptions, lose their home and possessions in a natural disaster, or are supporting elderly parents or other family members, people sometimes need our help.  So, giving to nonprofits, charities, or to people in need is a great way to spend our money.  A good rule of thumb – save 10-20% of your income and give 10-20% to people in need or charities if you can.  Who knows, you might be a person in need someday. And if you are not, then you can definitely spare a few pennies for those who have fallen on hard times.  If you don’t trust charities, find a single parent and help the family with school supplies.  There are creative ways to give.  In my personal experience, money donated to causes I believe in has not been missed.

Frugal U – Lack of Planning on Your Part Does not Cause and Emergency on My Part

If you have ever worked in an office, you may have seen this sign before.  It’s pretty funny, unless you’re the person with the emergency.  In another blog I wrote about spending a dollar on a candy bar, which is reasonable.  And if you saw that candy bar for $5 somewhere else, you would think that’s ridiculous, I’m not paying $5 for a candy bar.  But a person who is really hungry and doesn’t have time for anything else may not have a choice but to pay the $5 to meet that immediate hunger need. That is poor planning. Because this person didn’t anticipate that he/she may be hungry while traveling, running errands or what have you, s/he had to pay top dollar for something that is usually pretty cheap.

Of course we all have unanticipated real emergencies that call for us to take drastic action.  I got caught and I’m still kicking myself. I moved to a new condo and neglected to have the air conditioner checked out.  So it broke on a 90+ degree day, and on a Saturday, so I had to pay a huge surcharge if I didn’t want to broil until Monday.  It happens to all of us. We can all find ways to become better planners.

Here are some ideas on how to be a better planner, which will help lower unexpected and unnecessary expenses.

Food Emergencies

I always have nuts available.  Nuts are easy, you can keep them in your purse, your briefcase, at your desk or in your car.  Breakfast bars are another option.  I keep cans of soup at my desk, along with a bowl and spoon, so if I forget my lunch I’ll have that to fall back on.  The key is to try to eat fresh, but always have nonperishable options available for emergencies.  

Maintenance and Unexpected Expenses

Dave Ramsey says to always have a $1,000 emergency fund. If that sounds hard for you, start slowly, your savings will grow.  Save what you can.  I put change in a piggy bank at the end of the day, and it’s always a pleasant surprise to find that that small bank holds over $80 when I take it to the bank. I deposit that money into savings to use for emergencies.  This will stop me from robbing Peter to pay Paul – if my car or air conditioner breaks, I can still pay my electricity bill and other necessary bills.

Preventive maintenance is usually cheaper than major repairs (as I learned when I paid the weekend fee to have my air conditioner fixed).  This is true on cars, homes, and other items that are needed and expensive to keep up or maintain.  

Fees

Watch out for them and don’t pay them!  We avoid most fees by paying our bills on time, watching our bank balances so we don’t overdraw, only withdrawing cash from ATMs approved by our banks, not having to take out unexpected loans, and being careful where we bank.  I was with the same bank for 20 years, and they suddenly decided to charge a monthly fee on my checking account.  Because I am careful with money, I had options.  I closed my accounts immediately. They “hated to see me go,” but I asked why I would pay a monthly fee when I have access to a bank with no fees.  Shop around to avoid fees of all kinds. 

Interest

When we pay interest, we are paying more for something than it’s value.  If you buy a $25,000 car at 3% interest for 60 months, you are actually paying over $27,000 for the car.  If you use a credit card to buy something and you don’t pay it off every month, you are paying hundreds more for whatever you bought – whether it’s groceries or car repairs.  Try not to pay interest. Pay off debt. This can be done with proper planning. The goal for all of us should be to have NO debt.  You need your money more than banks do, so keep you money. Buy only what you can pay cash for.  Once you are debt free and you are saving more money, you will find that it is possible to pay cash for cars and even houses.   And if you have cash, you can probably get that $25,000 car for $23,000 or less. 

Vacations and Entertainment

These things are perfectly fine if you are prepared for them.  If vacations and eating out are interfering with your ability to save money for the future, then it may be time to cut back. If you do want to have fun, plan for it financially. Budget for vacations and for eating out. You will enjoy it more knowing that it’s not eating away at your savings or preventing you from doing necessary home or car maintenance.

As I’ve written before, making money doesn’t make us wealthier. I had a boss who earned over $100,000/year and she lived from pay check to pay check.  I worked with someone else who earned around $40,000/year and retired at 50.  The difference is, he planned what to do with his money. It’s all about the planning.

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