Have you ever thought, “We should eat out less often — for the sake of our wallets and our waistlines!” Maybe you tried tracking your purchases, keeping almonds in our purses, and beating yourself up. But nothing ever seems to work. What if I told you I could eat out and save money?
A restaurant tax
I decided to do something drastic. I instituted a surcharge for each meal I didn’t make at home. It was a bold move, but I can do anything for a month, right?
I told myself I could eat out or order in as often as I wanted, guilt-free. However, as long as each time I did, I tucked away an equivalent amount of money in a special envelope.
- A $10 trip to the Burger House now cost me $20.
- Thai food for the family meant spending $90 instead of $45.
- And a frou-frou coffee drink was $8, not $4.
To keep myself honest, I imposed a non-negotiable rule: my “tax” was due at the time service was rendered. If I didn’t have the cash to put into my envelope immediately, I couldn’t place my order. It’s difficult enough scrounging through the nooks and crannies of my purse and minivan to find money for a burger on the run. But now I had to find twice as much.
I assumed this experiment would drastically reduce how frequently I ate out, because eating out is expensive, and I had just doubled the cost.
A surprising result
At the end of the month, I removed the bulging envelope from my desk drawer and held the stack of small bills in my hand, curious to see how much I had collected. My heart beat faster as I counted: $185, $190 — I was holding over $200! A mix of emotions swirled to the surface.
Embarrassment — Do we really eat out this much?
Shame — How did this not “cure” me of eating out?
Concern — Had I forgotten to pay a bill?
But those emotions were eclipsed by excitement: We spent $200 eating out last month AND we had an additional $200 saved!!
That means, at least for last month, I could have spent $400 in some other way, if I had chosen not to eat out at all. At the very least, I had $200 in my hand that I could still choose to spend intentionally. The options were endless — all because my experiment failed!
Or had it?
Spending money intentionally
How much money do you spend eating out each month? Is there something you could spend that money on that would give you more satisfaction? Maybe. Or maybe not. How will you know if you’re not intentional?
One Small Win: Try imposing your own restaurant tax. You may eat out less frequently. You may eat out just as often. At least you’ll be making an informed decision. Either way, you’ll gather far more money than you’ll ever find by foraging through your car.
Kendra Burrows has a passion for tending her earthly and spiritual gardens. Some days they overflow with blooms, other days the weeds seem to prevail. In either case, Kendra strives to mindfully recognize God’s grace in her life every day, and to encourage others to tend and nurture their own beautiful gardens.
Kendra is joyfully married with three great kids and son-in-law, and two other lovable nuisances (pets). She lives in Eugene, OR, and teaches psychology at the local college.
Connect with Kendra at www.kendraburrows.com.
I love the idea of dinner—the coming together for conversation, connection, and a shared table. I like the idea of food and conversation happening around the kitchen table, filling both our stomachs and our hearts. The idea of roasted chicken, fresh from the oven, mashed potatoes, and fresh green beans displayed on an impeccable table with candles glowing makes my heart sing.
That’s just not what dinner looks like at my house.
What my dinner table really looks like
Allow me to set the stage. It is 6:00 pm. It is the “losing it hour.” It is the end of the day and everyone is tired and hungry. The rotisserie chicken from the grocery store is trying to stay warm in the oven without drying out while I warm up the leftover rice and defrost some green beans that have just a touch of freezer burn. The table is littered with crumbs, scraps of paper, and eraser bits. I sit the food on top of it all so we can just eat already. My husband arrives home from a long day and, well, we’ve all had a long day.
We pray and begin to eat. And so it begins. Someone is chewing too loudly. There’s too much lemon pepper seasoning on the green beans. “She looked at me funny” is a constant refrain. Our questions about school end up with answers like, “We did math” and “I liked recess.”
At your house maybe the baby is throwing food and refusing to eat or maybe you are still waiting for the tardy teen to arrive. It is always something. Dinner is burned, attitudes are keeping things lively, or the disagreement from the morning has decided to return for the “losing it hour.” And on a really great night you get all three!
Invite joy to the table – a new way to do dinner
I am on a mission to rescue dinner from unrealistic expectations. My goal is smiles and the rest is just details. To begin this mission I bought three tins of jokes. I wanted to introduce a different expectation—one of connection through fun—and, at the very least, keep the grumpy at bay. For the most part it has worked. The eraser bits are still on the table, the chicken is dry, but we have smiles! About a week after starting this new way of dining my son checked out a book of jokes from the school library for us to enjoy at dinner. I call that winning!
Rescuing dinner from expectations has led to dinners full of fun. Grumpy still joins us for dinner every now and then of course, but we’ve stopped setting a place for him and instead have invited joy to the table.
Here’s a few more ideas, some I have tried and some I will implement soon to give grumpy the boot and invite joy to a place at our table.
– On Sunday nights we watch America’s Funniest Videos while we eat an easy dinner. There is always belly laughter and I LOVE IT.
– Grab some trivia cards from a board game and just ask the questions – no pieces or game board needed.
– Serve dinner that is only finger food – easy for the one prepping and fun for all.
– Buy or make some fun placemats.
– Speak with accents.
– Eat dinner with chopsticks. (Make chopsticks easy for kids to try with this tutorial! http://www.instructables.com/id/Chopstick-trainer-with-only-a-rubber-band-and-ch/)
– Turn on some music and allow it to set the tone for your meal. Are you having Mexican? Turn on some Latin tunes. Having grilled cheese for dinner? Jazz genre, of course. Have throwback night and introduce your kids to the music you listened to growing up.
– Eat a picnic on the living room floor.
One small win: Make dinner fun again by releasing your expectations. Introduce fun at dinner tonight in a way that your family will enjoy. Invite joy to the table.
You can read more from Bethany Howard at bethanyhoward.com. She writes about finding fuel for joy and growth in the details of the daily. Her greatest leadership exercise has been her roles as wife and mom to three. She is a graduate of Leverage: The Speaker Conference.
Taming the paper piles
Paper, paper everywhere! Do you have more paper piles in the form of mail, bills, and notes than you know what to do with? Amy has a simple system to help you tame the paper monster.
Today Amy shows you her notebook system she’s used for several years to help tame the paper piles. It was especially helpful when her kids were small, but even now she uses it to organize papers and keep everything she needs at her fingertips.
One Small Win: Make a family notebook to corral your papers.
Amy Carroll is a speaker, writer, and International Initiatives Coordinator with Proverbs 31 Ministries. She’s the author of Breaking Up with Perfect as well as the director and coach of Next Step Speaker Services. Amy and her husband live in lovely Holly Springs, NC with a bossy miniature dachshund. You can find her on any given day texting her two sons at college, typing at her computer, reading a book, or trying to figure out one more alternative to cooking dinner.
Share life with Amy at www.amycarroll.org
I can just hear you now: “Clutter-free” and “parenting” in the same sentence? For real?
Well, not so fast. Clutter-free parenting is not a one-and-done proposition. When my children were little, I took delight in the nice, neat shelves in my basement, holding up totes clearly marked with clothing sizes. I was also Y2K ready (dating myself here), and had organized shelving stocked fully with massive quantities of food for pending disaster, enough to feed a small country. Yes, some of you are judging me right now while others are in awe.
Okay, so I have my skeletons in the closet of overdoing things when it comes to organization. I readily admit that maybe, just maybe, my focus on being clutter-free and organized bordered on being a little neurotic. Notice the past tense in that last sentence.
Clutter-free parenting as your kids grow older
Making five little people do their chores was stressful, but it does not compare with four college kids who all have jobs and school and a creative twelve-year-old who reenacts Curious George episodes again and again. Somehow the college “adult” status has a built-in entitlement that they just simply cannot do chores nor participate in the clutter-free schooling environment of days gone by.
A little background might help here. I home-educated all of my children all the way through. Yep. I am one of those. I delighted in purchasing books – LOTS of them – and organizing it all. Until … Until our lives were interrupted by a tragedy that transformed our very existence.
Suddenly the pet peeves about clutter really did not matter anymore. Just making my kids happy, just surviving, just trying to maintain some level of cleanliness, that’s where my focus shifted.
Balancing compassion and expectations
The problem with that state of living is that if we aren’t careful, it becomes our new norm. Kids are smart and realize this. The compassionate heart of mommas can, um, enable their disobedient behavior with excuses. I confess I have done this many times. I rationalized in my brain that it was cruel to stress them out with the burden of having to actually chip in around the house. They had a past pain that somehow overruled maintaining a clutter-free zone.
Now I have four kids, all with jobs and in college. “I’m an adult now,” several of my children have informed me. I mused over what those words meant as college textbooks were scattered all over my dining room table, kitchen table, coffee table, well, actually EVERYWHERE! “Mom, I have to work.” “I don’t have time to rinse the plate off.” “Gotta go.” The enabling side of me felt compassionately that it was just too hard for them to be expected to do 5-10 minutes of chores. They were stressed. But then, so was I. I work too.
The climb back to a clutter-free zone with children is not completely victorious. We fail and sometimes give ourselves space and grace when times get really hectic. But we don’t stay there.
When I am tempted to feel guilty and mean about expecting children who live in our home to pitch in, I am reminded that allowing clutter to reign in our lives and in the lives of our children is actually not kind.
One Small Win: Holding kids accountable to a standard that fosters peace can set the foundation for their lives to be clutter-free in their mind and homes.
So to our children who are now young adults, my husband says, “You’re right – you’re an adult now . . . act like it!”
“A servant pampered from childhood will become a rebel.” Proverbs 29:21
Denise Pass is an author, CCM artist, worship leader and speaker from Fredericksburg, VA, where she lives with her amazing husband and five children. Denise is passionate about writing devotions and music that foster unshakable hope and healing in the face of seemingly insurmountable circumstances. Her ministry, Seeing Deep in a Shallow World seeks to be a compass grounded in Scripture and a place where real problems meet real, transparent faith and needed answers in Scripture.
You can read more about Denise’s ministry, Seeing Deep, over at www.denisepass.com or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.
Once upon a time I thought if I could make enough spreadsheets, post enough lists, or structure my planner enough, then I could build the scaffolding for smooth, meaningful days. I imagined days where love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control could just spill right out of my heart.
Turns out “fruit” doesn’t grow on spreadsheets. Nothing against lists, mind you. But through God’s gentle teaching over the past several years, I’ve embraced the natural rhythm of days and grace in the midst of busyness.
It’s a beautifully confounding idea that the miraculous is often present in the mundane. A moment setting aside a scrambling schedule in order to kneel down, look a little one in the eye, and just listen to what is on their heart, is worth all the crossed-off lists in the world.
In short, I’m learning that the “small” can be momentous. That the moments make the days. And that it’s the humblest things that make life the richest.
How a jar can unify your family
Take for example the idea of a simple jar and a few pebbles. What if these everyday things could help unify your family throughout the day? What if it weaved hearts together? Here’s what I propose:
1) Find a jar, bowl or vase.
2) Obtain a group of pebbles, glass gems (as you might use in a fish tank or for the game Mancala), or other memento—one style or color for each person in the family. Even just a slip of paper with each person’s name written on it would do the trick.
3) Each morning every person takes a pebble of another person’s chosen color. Slip it into a pocket, lunch box, brief case, purse, pencil box or backpack. Gather before parting ways for the day to talk about prayer requests for the day.
4) Throughout the day, whenever that person comes across the pebble, it’s a prompt to say a quick prayer for the person it represents, and whatever they might be facing in their day.
5) At the end of the day, take a moment to go around and debrief about the day. Each person asks the person whose pebble they drew how their day was. Then let them know how or when they were prayed for.
6) Finally, deposit each of those traveling gems into your chosen jar. Over time, the intermingled pebbles (or other items) serve as a visual reminder of how cherished each person has been in thought and prayer.
A message in a bottle
In my research for the newly-released Message in a Bottle Romance Collection, I’ve come across some incredible stories of objects and messages in simple vessels. This is just one way to make a living message of your own and create a beautiful tradition.
For a chance to win one of five copies of that book, tell us in the comments: What is one simple but important message you would love your family to carry in their hearts each day?
Amanda Dykes is a drinker of tea, dweller of Truth, and spinner of hope-filled tales. She spends most days chasing wonder and words with her family, who love a good blanket fort and a stack of read-alouds. Give her a rainy day, a candle to read by, an obscure corner of history to dig in, and she’ll be happy for hours. She is the author of the critically acclaimed Bespoke: a Tiny Christmas Tale, a contributing author to the newly-released Message in a Bottle Romance Collection, and enjoys connecting with her readers on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Maybe it is the new year, but I’ve plugged along with decluttering my cupboards. Then one day, while at a friend’s house, she asked me to grab something from under her kitchen sink. Upon opening the two doors I found literally five items (if that) inside a bare white cupboard. It was beautiful. My jaw dropped.
I immediately envisioned opening the doors underneath my own kitchen sink. Cue the shower scene music from the movie Psycho. Eek, eek, eek… I have a billion items under there. I own every cleaner under the sun and then some. My heart was deflated. I left her house feeling completely terrible about my own organizing capabilities. Wondering, what is wrong with me?
The next morning I was ramping up to work on a design project but my organizing ability was spilling over into my work and making me feel insecure. I read my daily devotional. It talked about how God uses us best when we are operating in our “sweet spot.” In fact, the devotional quoted my go-to verse.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13 (NKJV)
This verse always reminds me Christ gives me the strength I need, especially whenever I approach a challenge and in spite of all my weaknesses.
But this time when I read it, in light of the words in the devotional, it occurred to me: Christ accomplishes much when we need his strength, He can accomplish so much more when we are leaning into our strengths and operating out of our sweet spot. The place where we are supposed to operate as opposed to operating out of this place that isn’t unique to us, it isn’t where we are gifted.
I sat down to start the design project I felt to inadequate to accomplish. I ended up painting a picture inspired by flowers found on my morning walk. I must admit, I have not painted a true watercolor in years, and I was scared. What if it didn’t turn out as I envisioned? I am guilty of not even doing something if I don’t think the end result will turn out perfectly.
But this time, recognizing only Jesus is perfect, I mustered up my courage and his strength. I sat down to actually do the work I was called to do. God sparked in me my passion, my very own “sweet spot.” When I witnessed his creation through me I knew without a doubt I was doing what he called me to do.
I cried, tears of joy that resonated in my heart. “I am an artist.” I had been so defeated about not being organized and I hadn’t embraced my true calling in a really long time. I am an artist. I work great in organized chaos. I may not have a completely bare cabinet, but I am truly gifted in art. Now that I found my sweet spot, I will be brave with my God-given talents and no longer wish I was someone I am not. Someone I was never created to be.
One Small Win: Christ accomplishes much when we need his strength, He can accomplish so much more when we are leaning into our strengths and operating out of our sweet spot.
Julie Landreth has a passion for healthy and thriving relationships – especially in marriage and friendship. She is a speaker and a “wife coach” who loves sharing with women her passion for prayer and ways to actively cultivate a thriving marriage. She leads a growing number of women in San Jose, CA, through her curriculum: Consistency and Persistency: The Art of Praying for your Husband.
Having been married 12 years, she and her husband have cultivated a marriage filled with intentional love, effective communication, sustainable fun, and a date night every Friday night for the last nine years. She also finds deliberate ways to spend quality time with her nine-year-old son who shares many of her artistic talents. Follow her on Instagram: @julielandreth.