Friday, August 5, 2011

When It Shows

Our clothing budget is three bucks a month.  That's for myself and two growing little boys.  I know, impossible, right?  But it's not as bad as it sounds.  For one thing, we get hand-me-downs now and then, and since I can sew, I am usually able to make them work.  For another, I am able to supplement the clothing budget now and then with "bonus money," for example, birthday gifts.  And I can stretch those scant clothing dollars in amazing ways, because I am the queen of thrift store shopping: whatever we need, I can usually find used and in good condition for under five bucks.  So generally speaking, we are neatly and suitably clothed.

But there are times when my favorite thrift stores let me down.  Some things are just not easy to find: for example, dress shoes for little boys.  Since we homeschool, the kids can run around barefoot most of the time; and their worn old sandals are fine for excursions to the park or grocery store.  But for church, they need proper shoes. 

My six year old's last pair of church shoes was a steal at ninety cents (yes, you read that right, ninety cents), or so I thought.  But I soon realized that they weren't going to hold up, at all.  The fake leather couldn't handle the scuffs and scrapes inflicted by my very active little boy.  The top layer started to peel away, and when I tried to color in the peeled spots with a Sharpie, the ink wouldn't hold. 
So I was soon on the hunt for another pair of dress shoes.  Given our limited clothing budget, I knew I couldn't afford to spend any more than my usual shoe allotment of five bucks.  At first I thought it wouldn't take me long to find what I needed.  But for some reason, I couldn't find anything that would work.  I hunted high and low to no avail. 

As the weeks went by and my routine stops in the thrift stores continued to turn up nothing, I began to feel frustrated.  I imagined to myself that the other moms at church were looking critically at his feet; so, feeling defensive, I volunteered the fact that I was having a hard time finding shoes for him on my limited budget.  They were happy to offer helpful tips like "You know, the clearance sales at Stride Rite are great.  You can get forty dollar shoes for twenty-five bucks, and they hold up really well."  I just smiled and nodded, knowing that I wouldn't be setting foot in a Stride Rite store any time soon.  I was sorry I had said anything about his shoes.  "You just don't get it," I thought to myself.

After a couple of weeks of feeling resentful, however, I began to relax and get a sense of perspective.  The reality is: we are poor, and sometimes it's going to show.  And you know what?  It doesn't really matter.  We still have a lot to be thankful for.  Sure, my son's shoes were worn out and ratty-looking, but he had shoes on his feet, and they fit him.  That's more than a lot of kids in the world can say.  Besides, the people who were seeing him in his worn out shoes are all friends and family who will love him no matter what he wears--at least, I sure hope so!

Of course, I still kept looking for that elusive pair of dress shoes, and finally, I found it.  A good quality name brand, with real leather uppers, for $3.99.  And they fit him perfectly!  I couldn't believe it.

Look how much better they are than his old ones.  It's so nice to see my son wearing good shoes to church.

Lesson learned: Patience, grasshopper!  Good things come to those who wait.  Or, as the Bible says...
...why take ye thought for raiment?  Consider the lilies of the field: they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed like one of these.  Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?  Therefore, take no thought, saying...Wherewithal shall we be clothed? ...for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.  But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.  Matthew 6:28-33

Monday, May 9, 2011

Purchasing Cars With Cash: Planning Ahead

I try to spend as little money on transportation as possible.  (I have better things to do with the little money that I have!)  Since public transportation isn’t available in my area, I have to keep and maintain a car. My practice is to buy used, pay cash if at all possible, and drive the car as long as I possibly can.

My current vehicle has been a good one; it hasn’t needed any repairs beyond routine maintenance. But it won’t last forever. In fact, it’s over fifteen years old and has almost 150,000 miles on it. If I am going to purchase my next car with cash, I really need to start planning and saving today. In fact, yesterday would have been better, but better late than never, right?

So, a few days ago, I took three simple steps to figure out how much to save for my next car.

First, I figured out how long my current car will last me. It’s a reliable model, so I'm hoping to get 200,000 miles out of it before it dies.  I might get more--my family has driven a few vehicles beyond the 250,000 mile point. But to play it safe, I’m going to plan on having to replace it once it hits 200k miles.

If the car’s going to last until 200,000 miles, that means I have 52,000 miles to go. I took out my latest oil-change receipts (with the mileage on them) and a calculator, and figured that I drive about 1350 miles a month. At that rate, I'll have driven 52,000 miles in about 39 months.  So assuming the car lasts to 200k miles, I have 39 months to save for my next car.

Secondly, I figured out what my next car will cost me. I looked through a couple of car-selling websites like and to get a feel for current prices.  Given that I'm cash-poor, I can't be too picky about what I drive, but the following are my minimum requirements:
1. A reliable make/model, like a Honda or Toyota
2. Gas efficient, preferably over 30mpg
3. Under 125k miles 

After some research, I decided that I would probably have to pay at least $3500 to find a workable car. Add in taxes and registration fees, and I’ll be spending close to $4000 for my next car.

Finally, I took the amount that I’ll need for my next car, and divided it by the time I have to save.  So I was dividing $4000 by 39 months. The result: I should be saving $103 a month towards the purchase of my next car.

Of course, there will also be expenses associated with my current car over the next 39 months--car insurance, annual inspection and registration fees, and repairs.  I did a few more calculations to figure out what those will cost me on a monthly basis, and decided that the total amount I should be putting into my "car fund"--savings for my next car, plus anticipated expenses for my current car--is $162.

Now, it’s not easy to squeeze $162 a month out of a budget like mine, but given that I will certainly have to purchase another car at some point in the next few years, I don't have a choice but to save for it, do I?  So I took a look at my budget and shuffled some numbers around.  Thankfully, I was able to make it work, though putting $162 into the car fund meant cutting a few other categories back to practically nothing.  For instance, our clothing budget has now been slashed to $3 a month--impossible, right?  But I'm sure it will be easier to improvise clothing for the three of us than it would be to improvise transportation, so we'll manage.  I take comfort in this verse: "Why take ye thought for raiment? ...for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things."  Matthew 6:28, 32.

Of course, there are a lot of uncertainties that could impact my calculations above.  For instance, used cars could go up in price, or my current car could need more expensive repairs than I've budgeted for. But on the other hand, my current car might last well beyond 200,000 miles--and I'm certainly hoping that my income will increase eventually!

Ultimately, though, the future is not in my hands: it’s in God’s hands. I can’t control all the uncertainties; all I can do is take what I have and come up with the best car savings plan that I can. And I do feel more peace of mind for having worked through these calculations.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Matthew Henry on Ecclesiastes 4:6

This blog's name comes from the book of Ecclesiastes, chapter 4 verse 6:
Better is a handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit.
17th-century English minster Matthew Henry had this to say about the verse:
Let us by honest industry lay hold on the handful, that we may not want necessaries, but not grasp at both the hands full, which will but create us vexation of spirit...A man may have but a handful of the world, and yet may enjoy it and himself with a great deal of quietness, with content of mind, peace of conscience, and the love and good-will of his neighbors, while many that have both their hands full, have more than heart could wish, have a great deal of travail and vexation with it.