Today marks the end of our six months of intentional, financial simplicity. We began on January 12, jumping in to a commitment of six months of very little spending, meaning we were basically not going to spend any money outside of what was really necessary for our family. That included selling Pete’s Jeep and becoming a one car family. I was pretty nervous about this journey before we began. I just didn’t know what to expect. We were opening our hands and asking God to show us what changes we needed to make as a family. I knew I had some habits that needed changing, some material stuff that had sort of wrapped itself around my heart. As a family, we wanted to make space for God to speak to us about how we were spending our money and whether or not it was bringing him glory. Reflecting back on these last six months, I am realizing my heart has truly been changed in some really good ways.
Leading up to January 12, Pete and I spent a good amount of time combing through our budget to see what we could cut out or seriously cut back. We canceled a few subscriptions, evaluated our food budget, and greatly reduced the amount we allowed for clothing, coffee, gifts, and other line items that were not necessities. We spent the first three or four months of this six-month journey very strictly sticking to the guidelines we set. At that time, after we felt we had broken the spending habits we knew weren’t healthy or what God wanted for us, we started to explore the areas we did feel were okay for spending. That doesn’t mean we started freely spending in those areas, but we did allow for some leeway. After watching for six months, I can pretty happily say that these are actually areas that line up with what we’ve listed for years as values for our family: relationship with each other and with friends, education, health and fitness, and adventure.
1. Relationship with each other. I’ve mentioned a bunch of times that Pete and I have a weekly date night. We adore our dates and look forward to them all week. Before starting our six months of financial simplicity, we decided that we would definitely keep our babysitter budget so we could still go out regularly. We did, however, cut the spending for our nights out. That’s one thing that changed about three months in. We started seeing movies on $5 movie nights and going for inexpensive dinners. We know that our marriage is so much stronger because of the time we devote to each other one-on-one each week, and it’s so, so great to find fun things to do together. Pete has done the same thing with Ella on their weekly dates. They find lots of free things to do together but they’ve also started rock climbing at an indoor wall nearby and having other sweet adventures.
2. Relationship with friends. So many people mean a whole lot to us. We’ve realized even more since January that it’s super important to us to be able to love on our friends and family by giving them our time and by sharing meaningful gifts with them.
3. Education. We love books. Love love love. I am a reading teacher, after all. Way back in December, I felt like God was going to be opening a time for me to enjoy them more then I have in the past, which was actually the same time I discovered audio books. I listen to books while cleaning, folding clothes, driving, doing stuff on the computer. I get most of them online through the library, but I have found my newer reads on Audible. Pete also likes buying books, especially medical texts. And now Ella is diving into reading, though most of her books come from the library. I’ve also begun attending online classes and webinars as a way to keep up my learning after the kids are in bed. Some classes are free, but most cost a little something.
4. Health & fitness. We realized pretty early on that our food budget was so small we weren’t able to buy all the fresh food we feel is best for our family. It won’t be the case in Kenya, but for now, we have to pay more for the healthy stuff. So we ended up expanding our food budget about a month in. As for fitness, we want to be okay with attending a class or buying a workout program if it’s something we’re really going to use. Good health will allow us to keep going for a long time, so it’s worth the room in the budget.
5. Adventure. We would be so bored without adventure! It’s such a part of who we are as a family. This also kind of goes with our relationships with each other, since we usually have our adventures as a family. This is what gets our hearts pumping and minds racing. Definitely an place we feel okay spending money.
Like I said, I’m pretty happy with those categories that came to the surface as being important for our family’s spending. But what about all the other places I was spending money before starting this journey? Honestly, most of them have almost completely melted away. I was making a list a couple days ago of things I want to buy tomorrow, and I honestly could only think of a few items. I would like a set of wine glasses and a couple new shirts for Sam. We are also in great need of new bar stools as ours are falling a part. (Seriously, if you visit, I will warn you before you sit down. Pieces are for real falling off.) There really isn’t much more than that. I just don’t feel the need to buy little things for my home or extra things for the kids. My heart has changed. I would much rather spend our money on the categories I listed above and not fill space around me. Experiences fill me with such happiness, far beyond what I could feel from a new shirt or a cute little ice cream bowl. (Though I certainly still like looking at these things! Just a few days ago, I oohed over an adorable set of cone-shaped ceramic bowls that would make ice cream treats such fun! But did I feel a need to have my own set? Not at all. Just noticing their cuteness was enough. That’s a good change for me.)
These six months weren’t all about depriving ourselves of material things or experiences, which is really what I thought it would be. I was sure I was going to miss shopping and that I’d probably really struggle through the months. But I didn’t! Instead, I discovered God was showing us who we are as a family and how our finances and habits fit into that picture. This morning at church I was not at all surprised to learn the message was on finances. How fitting! It allowed me to think through the changes my heart has made and to ask if they really do line up with what the Bible says. I was reminded of a few verses I’ve heard a hundred times. “Do not store up treasures on earth! Moths and rust can destroy them, and thieves can break in and steal them. Instead, store up your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy them, and thieves cannot break in and steal them. Your heart will always be where your treasure is.” (Matthew 6:19-21, italics mine) I love that last verse, and I truly want my heart to be focused right where God wants it. In order to keep it focused right there, I know I need to continue this journey.
So, where do we go from here? We plan to basically stick to the habits that have been created in the last six months. We’ll keep our overall spending to a minimum, and we’ll always talk to each other about purchases before making them. By doing so, we’ll able to continue our momentum toward paying off Pete’s medical school loans by Christmas!! We are confident that we would not be anywhere close to having them paid without our changes in the last six months. In many ways, we’re incredible thankful that God made it so clear to us last December that we should take this plunge. The freedom we’re feeling is pretty wonderful!
Thank you for being a part of this journey with us!