Why a bare branch budget is a good thing.
I love January for the quiet reflective time it provides. For a few weeks, I can look back at what we have accomplished and look forward and make new plans without the pressure of a big to do list. While I was walking outside in the garden today trying to find the beauty in our dormant garden I connected our winter spending challenge to the winter garden.
Steven loves the winter garden for the same reason I like January. It is a great time to plan. He can evaluate what worked, and make plans for what he wants to do in the spring. He can see the structure of everything. With all the leaves down he can clearly see the branching structures, next year's buds, and any damage that we may have missed (i.e. the fact that voles girdled more than half of the trees in our orchard!). In a few weeks he will begin pruning for the upcoming season. Grapevines and the remaining fruit trees all have to be pruned at the right time, the right way. We have made lots of mistakes; FYI-cherry trees need a strong central leader and do not grow well in an open vase plan and we can't control voles for anything!
We will take out the damaged and diseased trees to make room for a new plan. We have a really exciting new idea underway to share later! I realized that our spending challenge is like winter in the garden. It exposes the structure and potential new growth as well as reveals any damage that has been done. So what have we learned this week?
Boredom set in and I'm so excited!
Sticking to a budget is hard! Two weeks into our 100-day challenge I cleaned out the fridge. It is as empty as it has ever been before. On the upside it is also very clean. Now I'm sitting here making a shopping list for groceries so I can get everything I need before the snow comes and it occurs to me just how small my $56 dollar budget is for eight people. Before they left for school the kids rattled off a list of "must haves" when I go shopping. My children are all good sports, and they know this is essentially a challenge, a game, and we really could spend more if we wanted to. The things they want are all very basic good requests, and yet I know I won't be able to buy them all this week, but I'll get as many things on the list as I can squeeze into the budget.
As hard as it is, this is the very problem for which we planned this challenge. When I was little, there were no cell phones or internet. There were video games, but my mom was a teacher, and she didn't think our brains needed screen time. She still doesn't. We got a lot of outdoor time. We got free time too (well, I got free time, but Steven had pigs and endless chores). Steven grew up on farm that even today does not get good internet connection. Steven learned to work really hard and to make things happen. When he was in 8th grade he wanted to go to Washington D.C. for a class trip. His parents did not have the resources, but said he could go as long as he earned his way. He took it as a challenge and did earn, much to his parents surprise, all of the money needed. My kids love to go to both of their grandparents homes, and they don't complain about any lack of access or fun things to do. They love it!
Some people are scared of being bored. They think you have to come up with activities and places to go to stimulate the minds and muscles of today's youth. Technology and activities can be great! But without a plan and goals that puts their abilities to work they will put their brains on idle and not accomplish anything. There are lots of fun things out there, but I think endless entertainment ends up doing the reverse of what you expect. Constantly entertained, we don't need to think, we don't invent, create or imagine, someone else has already done all that work. Henry David Thoreau said, "It is not enough to be busy, so are the ants, the question is: what are we busy about?" Deprived of easy resources, our first reaction is to be bored and wait for some new entertainment or activity to arrive.
Being bored is a dangerous at our house as it was at our parents. We always have a list of "great opportunities" (work) that can be done if someone looks like they might not have any good ideas on their own. This goal is more about turning on creativity, and creativity comes so much faster when I have have a goal to invent, make do, substitute and improvise. Creativity under these circumstances means learning how to plan and think ahead. I'll have to make a menu for this week, so I know exactly what to buy and what not to buy. I bought lettuce seeds this week so I can start my own salad greens so I can save a little more of my limited budget. Creativity takes a little more work, resourcefulness, patience, and planning, but it is really fun. Steven and I learned this when I was younger, and it stuck. I am very rarely bored, but when I am, you can be sure that a great idea is just moments from being born.
Less, but better
There are different ways to save money and different priorities. Above is the picture of what I bought this week. Three stores and $56 dollars later you can see that fresh fruits and vegetables make up most of the pile. When I was in college, I had about $25 dollars a week just for me. I liked eating, but really liked going to do fun things like movies and dancing with friends even more, so I managed to save most of that $25 by buying the ten cent Ramen noodle packages and cheap Lipton noodles dinners. You could say that health was not my top priority. Six kids and 24 years later I am in charge of the diet of 8 people, most of them hungry teenagers. One, they eat a lot! Two, they and I like a healthier diet than my college experience so we don't have a lot of Ramen noodle fans. We want to save money, but we also want to prove to ourselves and our kids that healthy food is inexpensive and delicious, and that having fun doesn't take a lot of money.
If we are going to live on Dave Ramsey's "rice and beans" budget, then the splash of color and flavor from the fresh stuff we buy and the garden produce we preserved changes the rice and beans diet from sad subsistence fare, to a gourmet peasant food vibe. Healthy, hearty, inexpensive, and better than you could buy in a restaurant delicious. That is the target I am aiming at for in week 3!