Tag Archive for materialism

Twelve Tips for Saving Money

I am a saver. I like to save money. I like a bargain.

When I was grow­ing up, my dad required my three sib­lings and I to keep three jars: one labeled Sav­ing, one labeled Spend­ing, and the third labeled God. When we received money of any kind, Three Money Jarswhether it be our mea­ger allowance ($1.00-$3.00) or birth­day or Christ­mas money, we were required to divide the money evenly between the three jars. He wanted us to know how impor­tant it was to save, only spend what was avail­able, and give away a large por­tion of our money as well (33%).

Two of my jars were always full. Can you guess which ones? If you guessed Sav­ing and Spend­ing, you would be cor­rect. I even saved my spend­ing money.

I guess my dad dis­cov­ered I was a saver early on because by the time I was eight, he put me in charge of bal­anc­ing the fam­ily check­book (some of you young peo­ple don’t even know what that means!). This was a big respon­si­bil­ity and I took it seri­ously. My hus­band thinks it is hilar­i­ous that I bal­anced the check­book because of how poor my math skills are. Bal­anc­ing the check­book taught me some things about money. I learned the true value of a buck. I learned how impor­tant it is to only spend what you have. I learned the impor­tance of organization.

As I’ve grown up, I’ve become even more of a saver. I espe­cially like it when I can save money in one place (elec­tric­ity, gas, hous­ing, gro­ceries, etc.) so I can either save it or spend it on some­thing I really like spend­ing my money on, such as trav­el­ing with my hus­band or kids.

For today’s 12 Series, I give you twelve tips for sav­ing money.

1. Cook (and eat) at home. Buy­ing food, cook­ing it, and eat­ing it–at home–is much cheaper than eat­ing out, espe­cially when you have more than two peo­ple to feed. Eat­ing out drains the bud­get and you will save money if you eat at home. The more peo­ple you have to feed, the more expen­sive it gets to eat out.

Eat­ing at home may not save a sin­gle per­son much money (I can’t speak to this any­more). But I do know that it can be quite cheap (even for one). If you’re scared by cook­ing, just try it. Begin with a recipe that takes 15 min­utes. You’ll be amazed how quick you pick it up. After ten years, I now like to cook and feel con­fi­dent in my skills. Plus, the food I make at home is much health­ier than the food in restau­rants around here. There are many rea­sons to eat at home.

Peo­ple often say it’s more expen­sive to cook healthy food. I don’t really agree with this assump­tion, espe­cially when you com­pare how full you get when you eat healthy food ver­sus how much more you eat when you eat junk food. But, even if you think healthy food is more expen­sive (which I don’t), I think it’s one area worth spend­ing the extra money on. Good food equals good health, and pay­ing extra for things that are good for my body and my spirit and my fam­ily is fine with me.

2. Don’t be enticed by mar­ket­ing ploys that promise “the best sale ever.” Seri­ously, don’t. Resist the temp­ta­tion to sign up for emails from Pot­tery Barn, Ann Tay­lor Loft, Pier One, Children’s Place, Old Navy, and all those other stores that offer big sales and discounts.

The goal of these emails is not to save you money, con­trary to the sub­ject line in the email. Their goal is to get you in their store so you will spend money.

If you hadn’t got­ten that email say­ing, “Every­thing at the store is 40% off!!”, you wouldn’t have gone to the store any­way! Unsub­scribe from these email alerts. Even when places offer coupons through email (like Bealls or Tar­get), you can often find them on their web­sites, or, when you are at the counter check­ing out, just ask if they have any coupons you can use and they will most likely give it to you or just apply the dis­count to your purchase.

Emails aren’t the only place retail­ers get you, though. TV com­mer­cials are another way they do it, espe­cially with our chil­dren. If you have DVR, skip through the com­mer­cials. If you don’t, tell your chil­dren to get up and go do some­thing dur­ing the com­mer­cials so they aren’t manip­u­lated into want­ing more “stuff” that just clut­ters your house and your life.

Do not be enticed. Resist temp­ta­tion. Flee from it…quickly. When we give in, we always end up spend­ing more money than we would have had we not known about these “sales” in the first place. Less is more.

3. Buy from Ama­zon. I have a lot of friends who refuse to buy from Ama­zon (or Wal-Mart) for moral rea­sons or for fear these big com­pa­nies will destroy small, local busi­nesses. I respect those posi­tions. I have thought them at one time or another.

But, ever since mov­ing to a small coun­try town, I have become Amazon-obsessed. Here’s why. Their stuff is com­pet­i­tively priced. I can get new and used stuff for low prices, prob­a­bly the cheap­est on the planet. I also live in a small town that doesn’t always have what I need, which means that I would have to drive 45 min­utes to one hour to get what I need. Gas is expen­sive and dri­ving that far takes up a lot of my time. So, I use Ama­zon. They deliver right to my door.

I also have a Prime mem­ber­ship, which one of my col­lege room­mates con­vinced me to get, and I’m so glad I lis­tened to her advice. Prime offers free two-day ship­ping on almost every­thing (even big, expen­sive things like play­ground equip­ment and fur­ni­ture), free returns, and free stream­ing on thou­sands of movies and TV shows (saves rental fees). I encour­age you to check it out.

I also shop at Ama­zon because of “Ama­zon Mom” (they also have Ama­zon stu­dent for col­lege stu­dents) and “Sub­scribe and Save.” I use Sub­scribe and Save to buy dia­pers, wipes, oat­meal, paper tow­els, and many other house­hold items. With the Ama­zon Mom dis­count added to the Sub­scribe and Save dis­count, you end up sav­ing a lot of money.

One last rea­son I use Ama­zon is because they are tax-free in Texas. I feel a bit guilty admit­ting this as a rea­son because I think we all have a respon­si­bil­ity to pay taxes to live here, but I also want to save money, so I still buy from them. This will all be chang­ing soon, though, because start­ing July 1, Ama­zon will no longer be tax-free in Texas. We can thank the Lone Star State for that! (Note the sar­casm.) They sued Ama­zon over back-taxes and reached a set­tle­ment, so now we all have to pay taxes. I guess I’ll be buy­ing a lot of items at our state’s annual tax-free week­end.

4. Buy in bulk. I try to avoid eat­ing a lot of non-perishable food items (see #2 above), and I eat food that is fresh, refrig­er­ated, or frozen as much as pos­si­ble (food located in the U-shape of the gro­cery store). How­ever, there are some items located in the cen­ter aisles that I do buy, and I try to buy in bulk when­ever pos­si­ble. I buy big­ger bags of cere­als, canned goods, snack foods, pasta, beans, and house­hold items like tooth­paste, sham­poo, and paper tow­els. We don’t have a Costco nearby, but there is a Sam’s Club in Waco where I buy most of my bulk items. I also buy a lot of these bulk goods at Ama­zon through Sub­scribe and Save.

5. Con­serve in your home. Turn out the lights in rooms you are not using (bet­ter yet, use nat­ural light). Adjust the ther­mo­stat accord­ing to your com­ings and goings (and don’t for­get to do it!). Buy a pro­gram­ma­ble ther­mo­stat that won’t let you for­get. Weath­er­proof your home. Don’t use as much water. Wash dishes by hand. Use more cold water.

6. Set a bud­get. Set­ting a bud­get and stick­ing to it has helped our fam­ily immensely. It also keeps me sane and lets me know where our money is going.

7. Don’t pur­chase books (printed or dig­i­tal) unless absolutely nec­es­sary and, if nec­es­sary, buy used. I’m sure this advice seems odd, given I’m an Eng­lish pro­fes­sor, but I believe spend­ing less on books is an impor­tant way to save, and it’s an easy expense to drop when you want to save money. Instead, check out books from the library. Most libraries now offer dig­i­tal lend­ing ser­vices where you can down­load books to your Kin­dle. And all of this is free. LibraryIf you have an Ama­zon Prime account (and a Kin­dle), you can check out Amazon’s Lend­ing Library where you can check out a vari­ety of books. They also have a vari­ety of free Kin­dle books for purchases–new ones are added all the time.

You can also ask your local library if they have an Inter­li­brary Loan (ILL) department.

If you live near a uni­ver­sity, see if you can get a library card there. You’ll have an even greater selec­tion to choose from and most of them have won­der­ful ILL Depart­ments where you can order any book you want from other libraries (and it’s free!). You can also bor­row books from friends or buy used books.

I am some­what hyp­o­crit­i­cal when it comes to children’s books and schol­arly books for my work. Although I use the library exten­sively in both of these cases, there are some books that I must own.

8. Shop con­sign­ment stores. I buy my chil­dren clothes from con­sign­ment stores (The only new clothes they get is given to them by their grand­par­ents.). I’m not at all ashamed of this because not only does it save money but it is also good for the envi­ron­ment. I also shop in the off-season when every­thing is on clear­ance. It’s get­ting a bit harder to find used clothes for Eliz­a­beth. She’s in a size 7/Medium and most clothes in her size are worn out because of how long chil­dren stay in one size. I can still find dresses and jeans, but t-shirts and shorts are much more difficult.

There are places that sell cheap kids’ clothes (i.e., Tar­get, Wal-Mart, Kohls, Ross, Mar­shalls), but I am some­what hes­i­tant to buy from these places because if it is THAT cheap to con­sumers, then most likely the per­son who made it was not paid a fair wage and that both­ers me (but that’s for a dif­fer­ent post).

9. Spend less. Spend­ing less doesn’t seem like it should be an entry on ways to save money because it’s so obvi­ous, but I think it’s an impor­tant one. If you spend less, you will save money. We live in a mate­ri­al­is­tic, com­pet­i­tive cul­ture that tells us to find our iden­tity in mate­r­ial things and stuff, but this doesn’t bring true ful­fill­ment or hap­pi­ness. Spend less. Just do it.

10. Gar­den. Our gar­den is begin­ning to pro­duce veg­eta­bles, and we are so excited. We’ve already eaten cucum­bers, zuc­chini, squash, and pep­pers from the gar­den and toma­toes, onions, and water­melon are almost ready. Last year, our gar­den pro­duced so many toma­toes that I was able to make mari­nara and pasta sauce for the entire year. We just ran out in March. That saved us a lot of money.

11. Pay bills online. I was a late­comer to online bill pay, but I’ve been doing it for over 3 years now, and I find it fast, con­ve­nient, cheap, and easy. No stamps. No envelopes. And it’s free (if you’re pay­ing for it, find a dif­fer­ent bank).

12. Spend only what you have. Here at Casa de Alexan­der, we use the Cash Sys­tem to help us spend only what we have. We take cash out each month (it’s all elec­tronic, so we don’t have all that cash lying around in our house, but it’s the the­ory). We have been able to get out of almost all of our debt by spend­ing only what we have in the bank.

These are just a few of my tips. I know there are hun­dreds of other ways to save money. I’d love to hear ideas of how you save money or spend less.


Motherhood as Materialism: The Myth They’re Selling

I am a mom to three viva­cious, spunky, inde­pen­dent kids. I like being a mom. It’s dif­fi­cult to define and artic­u­late what moth­er­hood means to me and how much of my iden­tity is wrapped up in my role as a mom. So much of it is a feel­ing, an emo­tion, and words are often not enough to explain my feel­ings about motherhood.

That being said, as I men­tioned in my last post, I don’t like Mother’s Day. I’m extremely uncom­fort­able with this hol­i­day. So many women (and men) expe­ri­ence pain on Mother’s Day.

  • Some­one is think­ing about their own mom (per­haps she has died, she gave him/her up for adop­tion, she was not the mother they had hoped for, or some­thing else that brings them pain).
  • Some­one is think­ing about the loss of a child–through a mis­car­riage, an abor­tion, an adop­tion, a death, a kid­nap­ping, the loss of a young child who has grown up.
  • Some­one is think­ing about not being able to con­ceive or still being sin­gle and not hav­ing a child.
  • Some­one is think­ing about how they do not mea­sure up to the “ideal mother” (see my recent post about guilt for some com­ments on this issue).
  • Some­one who is griev­ing the choices their chil­dren have made.

Mother’s Day is not a happy day for every­one, con­trary to the pre­dom­i­nant nar­ra­tive greet­ing card com­pa­nies, retail stores, busi­nesses, and cor­po­ra­tions are sell­ing us. Many peo­ple have great big holes in their hearts.

Mother’s Day became a fed­eral hol­i­day in 1914 when Pres­i­dent Woodrow Wil­son insti­tuted it. I do not know the his­tory of this hol­i­day, but what I do know is that, at some point, Mother’s Day became syn­ony­mous with mate­ri­al­ism, with giv­ing and receiv­ing gifts (just like Christ­mas). This hol­i­day equates love to gift-giving.

It pro­motes moth­er­hood as materialism.

Stores tell us we should buy gifts for our moth­ers. Our moth­ers deserve as much. If we love them, we would buy them something.

I saw this image today while I stopped in to drop off some clothes at my favorite con­sign­ment store.

Selling Mother's Day

Make Mom’s Day! Buy Her an iPad (the new one!)!

This image screams consumerism.

Mate­ri­al­ism.

But it belit­tles moth­ers.

This image, and most other mar­ket­ing that sur­rounds Mother’s Day, equates lov­ing your mom to giv­ing her expen­sive gifts, or, at worse, not giv­ing her expen­sive gifts and thus not lov­ing her.

The con­sumerism of Mother’s Day defines how we are sup­posed to expe­ri­ence Mother’s Day–as one who gives or receives gifts. It’s not about love; it’s about buy­ing and giv­ing and get­ting more stuff. Even if show­ing love through gifts isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, the mar­ket­ing of this hol­i­day takes the focus off hon­or­ing your own mother or (being hon­ored your­self as a mother) to focus­ing on the buy­ing and sell­ing of prod­ucts. It equates love with giv­ing expen­sive gifts.

Cor­po­ra­tions have decided that they can manip­u­late dads and chil­dren and spouses and moth­ers into mak­ing this event–motherhood–all about mate­ri­al­ism. They send the mes­sage that the only thing moth­ers really want is “stuff.”

They dimin­ish moth­er­hood when they equate it to materialism.

If they knew moth­ers at all–sitting from where they are mak­ing a profit off of us, off of OUR role, as moth­ers (or sons or daugh­ters or fathers or husbands)–then they would under­stand that we do not want this. No, moth­er­hood is more than mate­ri­al­ism. Much more. And if these cor­po­rate pow­ers tried to under­stand moth­ers at all, they would real­ize this truth. Instead, they belit­tle and degrade us and treat us like chil­dren in a candy store.

No, moms do not want more “stuff.” We are more com­plex than that. We are deeper than that. We have other val­ues besides gifts. Our hearts are with our chil­dren, not with what they do or not give us.

If cor­po­ra­tions really wanted to show us honor, they wouldn’t mar­ket to our chil­dren on this day. There would be no signs and images and ads and com­mer­cials about “the per­fect gift for mother’s day”.

There would be no profit, no cap­i­tal­iz­ing on mothers.

Honor us by refus­ing to coerce and manip­u­late our hus­bands and sons and daugh­ters and moth­ers and grand­chil­dren. Honor us by leav­ing our fam­i­lies alone, by leav­ing us alone.

Moth­er­hood is much more than their min­i­mal­iza­tion of it.

Dear read­ers: I hope these posts about moth­er­hood and Mother’s Day have not offended you, but I do hope you see my per­spec­tive as hon­est and real, and a lit­tle mad, too.


Running around Like a Crazy Woman: Why Less Is More

Simplicity Parenting book coverI am cur­rently read­ing Sim­plic­ity Par­ent­ing: Using the Extra­or­di­nary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Hap­pier and More Secure Kids. This book, by Kim John Payne, a school coun­selor and an edu­ca­tional con­sul­tant, has chal­lenged me to re-think the way I par­ent my chil­dren. He has encour­aged me to con­sider the ways my good inten­tions as a par­ent may have neg­a­tive con­se­quences on my child. This book is chal­leng­ing, provoca­tive, and inspiring.

Right now, Eliz­a­beth is 6 years old. She is play­ing t-ball. Begin­ning next week, we will have prac­tice or games 3 nights a week.

Pey­ton is 4 years old. He is play­ing t-ball. Eliz­a­beth and Pey­ton are not on the same team. Shane (my hus­band) is the assis­tant coach of Elizabeth’s team and the head coach of Peyton’s team.

For the next 8 weeks, we are going to be eat­ing, breath­ing, sleep­ing, and think­ing t-ball. T-ball every night of the week, except Wednes­day when we have church. T-ball on many Sat­ur­days. Sev­eral nights, both kids have a game, so we’ll be at the t-ball fields for close to 4 hours.

But we love t-ball. We like that our chil­dren are engag­ing in activ­i­ties (we think) they (will) like. I enjoy chat­ting with other par­ents and get­ting to know adults and chil­dren in our small com­mu­nity. We like that our chil­dren feel good about them­selves by play­ing and accom­plish­ing some­thing. We like to be Jesus to the com­mu­nity by serv­ing them. We like being involved. We like our kids start­ing and fin­ish­ing something.

But that’s not all. In the Win­ter, Eliz­a­beth played bas­ket­ball. In the Fall, Eliz­a­beth and Pey­ton both played soc­cer. And through it all, we had a new­born baby who is now 8 months old to cart around.

I pause now to ask myself, “What are we doing to our chil­dren by enrolling them in all these extracur­ric­u­lar activities?”

In the United States, par­ents are told the fol­low­ing dom­i­nant nar­ra­tive: “You must enroll your chil­dren in as many activ­i­ties as pos­si­ble at very a young age. The more the bet­ter. Bal­let. Dance. Swim­ming. Soc­cer. Sum­mer camps. Team sports. Indi­vid­ual sports. And on and on.”

Just look at some of the exam­ples of prodigy kids. Tiger Woods began golf at 2 years old. Andre Agassi started play­ing ten­nis around age 4. Cild actors like Drew Bar­ry­more and the Olsen twins began act­ing when they were young. I’m sure there are numer­ous other sto­ries (if you know of some, leave them in the comments).

In short, if you want your child to be good at some­thing, start them early on the activity/task. Mal­colm Glad­well even points out in Out­liers that to become good at some­thing, per­fect at it, you must put in over 10,000 hours of practice.

So what have we done to make our chil­dren suc­cess­ful? We begin early. We want them to reach that 10,000 hour mark well before their teenagers and it is deemed too late. Just con­sider the book The Bat­tle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua (which I will write about soon). If you haven’t read it, you’ve prob­a­bly heard about the book (it was quite con­tro­ver­sial) and her “Chi­nese way of par­ent­ing.” The author–a law pro­fes­sor at Yale–spent count­less hours every sin­gle day mak­ing sure her chil­dren had mas­tered the piano and vio­lin. They prac­ticed all the time–literally. Even on vaca­tion. Every­where. Every. Sin­gle. Day.

But Sim­plic­ity Par­ent­ing asks a sim­ple ques­tion really, “Why?” 

Why do we do this to our chil­dren? What do they really gain through these activ­i­ties? And what is the cost of this atti­tude of more, more, and more? What are the results of our over-scheduled, over-stimulated, busy lives? Espe­cially on our children?

Through­out the book, he answers these ques­tions, and in quite provoca­tive terms. Put sim­ply, he says that “less is more.” Seems sim­ple, but when you unpack this idea in terms of sched­ules, tele­vi­sion, screen time, clut­ter, toys, your day hav­ing a rhythm, order, and flow, stress, antic­i­pa­tion, sleep, food and eat­ing, an ordi­nary day, and fil­ter­ing out the adult world from your chil­dren, you can see how this idea becomes even more convicting.

Less is more.

We have for­got­ten the gift of boredom.

Less is more.

Our chil­dren need unstruc­tured play time.

Less is more.

We need to clear away the clutter.

Less is more.

The true power of less is that it cre­ates smarter and more imag­i­na­tive, ener­getic, inde­pen­dent, cre­ative, self-confident kids. Kids that know how to solve prob­lems, get along well with oth­ers, fig­ure things out, and build a deep rela­tion­ship with their par­ents and others.

Sim­plic­ity par­ent­ing is worth the try.

For those of you inter­ested in learn­ing more about the book, you might like to watch this infor­ma­tive four-minute video by the author.