The Best Gifts

Coming home from grocery shopping last night, I noticed a package on our porch.  I’m sure it had been there at least a couple of days – at one point I thought I heard a car door and then someone on our porch, but when I peeked out the window I didn’t see anything or anyone.  Turns out the UPS guy put the white package right under the window and didn’t let us know, and with all the snow against our white house, it blended right in!

We opened it up to find three presents from our good friends in North Carolina – one for each of us.  Our friend had made beautifully quilled pictures for my husband and me – mine a beautiful saying about mothers with a blue floral design, and my husband a brown and white saying (we still haven’t figured out what it is, but I’m convinced it’s Hebrew!)  Knowing this friend, she put a lot of time into not just making these pictures, but in researching quotes and likely a little Hebrew so that the gifts would be perfect.

Gabe got a brand new coloring book with really nice toddler-sized crayons with one flat side to prevent rolling.  He was ecstatic!  New crayons!  New coloring book!  He spent the rest of the time before bed taking his crayons in and out of the box.

Our friends have even less free money than us.  Between massive medical bills and high insurance premiums because of their medical history, they don’t have much to spare.  Things are getting better for them, but they’re still really tight.   But when it comes to giving the perfect gifts, they always do.

Why?  Because they are creative.  I don’t mean that they do crafts, although the wife does.  I mean they are thoughtful and open-minded about gift giving.  They don’t try to buy the most expensive present, thinking it’s the best because it’s the most expensive.  They take the time to figure out what is important to their friends and build on that.  And even though the last time they saw our son he was just over a year old, they realized that now he’s almost two.  It’s easy to forget when you don’t see people for a while!  For a one-year-old, these gifts wouldn’t have been very appropriate.  But for a two-year-old, life’s simple pleasures include a brand new coloring book and crayons!  And it probably cost our friends $3.

The last few Christmases I have tried to be like my friend.  The year I was pregnant with my son, we had no money for gifts.  I collected all the fabric I was saving (why?) and made five patchwork quilt tops – two queen-sized and three full-sized.  Yes, I had a lot of fabric! I stuck batting or even old blankets in between a sheet backing and tied the quilt with yarn from my stash.

They turned out beautifully and we gave them to each set of parents, each of our siblings, and we had one left over. I surprised my husband with the last one (he thought I only had enough material for four quilts.)   It was an especially special gift to my mom because I used fabric scraps from things she made for me as a child – like a dress she sewed for a play I acted in during sixth grade.  This was the only gift we could give our families that year, but they are used and loved.  My in-laws and my husband both use the quilts on their beds, and my parents keep theirs downstairs in the family room for wrapping up in while watching TV.

Gifts don’t have to be expensive to be wonderful.  In fact, some of the most expensive gifts I’ve gotten ended up not getting used at all – because they didn’t fit us, our home, or our style.  I’m sure many of you agree – the perfect gift is one that fits your personality and one that you’ll use!

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One last business post

Okay, I’ve talked the debt over with my husband. He and I both feel like getting this mess down on paper changes the way we feel about the debt – instead of being afraid to know and avoiding the issue, we are much more confident in our ability to pay down the debts. “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel” is how Brian described it.

So now it’s time to get a plan on paper. I’m writing it out for my own benefit, but also in the hope that it will help some of my readers (few as they are at the moment, I know that in the future others will look back at this post.)

First we need to look at our bills. Most of these are unchangeable, though we are considering switching from broadband internet to high speed, which would save about $25 a month. However, with as much work as I do on the internet, it would probably end up costing more in productivity, so we need to assess that before we actually do anything. We can’t get rid of our cell phones, since we’ve already gotten rid of our land line. And finally, if we give up our $9/month basic cable, we won’t get one single station without buying an antenna for our roof.

And one thing to note is that summer will be much less expensive than winter – right now we are paying more for electric heat, oil heat and firewood (yes, our house is very complicated. 🙂 ) and we have to pay someone to plow our long driveway, especially since we live in the snow belt of the snow belt. In summer, we’ll open windows for our air conditioning, the clothes are hung up outside, fresh veggies and fruits will be growing so we don’t have to buy them, and the driveway will remain clear – all for free!

What we have to pay monthly (some of these are semi-annual bills, so I’ve cost-averaged them for each month):

Mortgage: $750
Electricity: $120-$200 (these are winter costs. Summer bills are about half this, if not less.)
Cell Phones: $65
Internet/Basic Cable: $55
Firewood: $90 or so for 1/3 cord (this is based on our last experience with poorly seasoned wood. The next $90 batch may burn much longer and hotter, so we don’t have to use as much as fast.)
Trash pickup: $25
North Carolina trash and water services: $10
North Carolina Electricity: $10-$20 (the house is vacant.)
Plowing: $100/month from December to April.

Total (based on the highest amounts): $1215 a month.

Our guaranteed monthly income is $2068, plus any additional income I make from my side jobs or selling things online, and income from the business we own, which usually generates no less than $200. So I can probably guesstimate a monthly income of about $2400, to be on the safe side.

So we have $2400-$1215= $1185 a month to pay for seven categories of budgeted money: food, gas, home repair/improvement, savings, tithe/giving, allowances, and debt. We also generally give ourselves a monthly allowance of $40 a person, although it will be going down to $20 each for a while. It’s not much, but it’s enough for us to each have some cash to use for whatever we want (usually the coffee shop in town!) without having to justify it to anyone else. It really is a measure taken for our sanity!

Based on yesterday’s debt calculations, we will have to come up with $615 a month just to pay the minimums on our cards – at least right this instant. As we pay off or pay down cards, this number will change. This leaves us with ($1185-$615) = $570 for food, home repair/improvement, savings and tithe/giving. Here’s how I’ve sorted it out:

Tithe: $200 (approximately 10%)
Food: $100 (we’ll have to get creative, but this is good for right now since we have a well-stocked pantry.)
Gas: $100 (thank goodness we don’t drive very far or much!)
Allowances: $40
Home repair fund: $50 (this is to cover necessary repairs and improvements, like new blinds for our son’s room.)
Savings: $0 (this will go up in the future, and when we have extra money, part of it will go in here, but there’s no room in the budget for it right now.)
Total: $490
Left over: $80 – this will be put toward paying credit cards as well.

So that’s it – our rudimentary, but suitable, budget. I’m glad we threw away our credit cards when we did, because our budget would have become tighter and tighter. I’m already disappointed that we only have approximately $80 to put towards our debt above and beyond the minimum payments.

So what do we do now?
Obviously if we could eliminate some debt, we’ll have more flexibility with our budget in case of an emergency. Plus there’s always the added benefit of having less debt quickly! 🙂

We need to sell off some of the items we have laying around that we don’t use and planned to sell but never got around to it (we have an antique electric stove in our basement and a sailboat in our garage from the previous owners of our house, among other things.) We’ll put that money toward a credit card to pay it down quickly.

We will snowball our debts, which I will talk about in a future post. We also plan on snowflaking any small amounts of money we get into the debt, which is something I want to explore further in another near-future post. Until then, you can read the article I linked to – the woman who writes that blog is very much in the same situation as us.

We will also continue to try to save money through thrift, stewardship, and thoughtful living. This is why we tithe. It is hard to explain to someone who doesn’t tithe, but we do believe in supporting God’s workers in the world, so we won’t give up our dear child we’re sponsoring or giving money to our church, who uses it to support missionaries who build wells and schools. Time and time again we find we always have enough when we’re dedicated to giving 10% of our income to those who are less fortunate. You may not agree with me, and that’s fine. My point is that what we consider priorities when it comes to our money may be different from the people around us.

There’s so much I have to say! I’m having a hard time not typing it all out here! You’ll just have to keep reading. 🙂