Dear Sisters,
I have received so many letters since I wrote about my parent's finances a few weeks ago. I have been praying for years that my brothers and sisters in Christ would get out of debt. Debt is slavery. It forces us to live in a way that is not good for us. The Bible is full of admonition about not getting into debt and about getting out of it.

"Give everyone what you owe him: if you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue." Romans 13:7

"Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law." Romans 13:7

All the letters that I received wanted to pay back their debt. I am so glad. How the LORD will honor this obedience to His Word. It will not be easy, but so profitable later on. I am going to share with you the "nuts and bolts" of how I helped my parents pay back their debt and put money into their savings, as so many of you have asked me to. It is my heart's desire to help you the way the LORD has directed us over the years. This letter is for those of you who wrote that you were terribly in debt and wanted so much to get out of it. I am pouring my heartfelt advice out to you.

"Poverty and shame will come to him who neglects discipline, but he who regards reproof will be honored." Proverbs 13:18

"He who neglects discipline despises himself, but he who listens to reproof acquires understanding." Proverbs 15:32

First and foremost, we must repent. Yes, there must be a turning point in our lives. We must repent of the way we've handled God's money. I can't tell you how many times I must repent and turn from something that is destructive to my family, rather than edifying. Spending too much money than what we've earned is destructive to our family. We must turn from this kind of living and repent.

"Better is a dry morsel and quietness with it than a house full of feasting with strife." Proverbs 17:1

The next is to put God first in our finances. It is often called a tithe or a gift. I love what the LORD calls it in Deuteronomy 26:13. He calls it "the sacred portion." I like to call it the "cream." I remember when we began to give to the LORD from the firstfruits of our income. Guess what? We couldn't afford to do this! It was very scary each month. I have never had to lean more on Him than when we began to tithe and give. Ah, a good place to be! Now I know that we cannot afford not to tithe and give. It has become a great joy for us. As His Word so truthfully says:

"Honor the LORD from your wealth, and from the first of all your produce; so that your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine." Proverbs 3:9-10

When we separated "the cream" from our income, what was left was the milk. Just what we really needed to live on. For I was quick to learn that God loves to multiply small amounts for His glory. He can do so much with so little. And what is wonderful is that our family is richer for it in the creativity and thankfulness department. I am convinced that my family is more grateful and more creative from living on less than if we had lived on more. We have had the privilege of seeing God work miracles in our finances and in our family life that I had never dreamed possible.

"The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage, but everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty." Proverbs 21:5

Tighter finances have moved us to do many things creatively with our income. This is also what I shared with my parents in helping them to change their spending and saving habits. Every little bit counts. Every little, little bit. It's all those "little bits" that add up and cost so much. So if we can save in those areas, we can pay off our debt little by little while learning along the way to do so much more than we ever thought possible with what is left. Here are some of those "little bits" and how we save on each of them:

1) We do not eat out very often. When we do, it is a big deal. My children always thank us for taking them out. They are so pleased to eat out when we do go. It is always a pleasurable family outing.

2) We do not take our van to the car wash. Our children wash the van. Everyone has a part in keeping the van clean.

3) We do not take our clothes to the dry cleaners. I have not been to a dry cleaner in over fifteen years. We hand wash all delicates at home. (My husband does not wear a suit, so I am able save in this area.)

4) We do not go somewhere in our car every day. We cannot afford it. Not the wear and tear on the car, nor the gas. So we stay home quite a bit. My children have a lot of fun together and can keep themselves occupied with some wonderful, creative ideas and games.

5) We do not give birthday parties with lots of guests. I quickly learned that I could not afford to do this for four children four times a year. So I just have my parents over (they live next door ~Smile~) to have cake and ice cream with a few gifts. It is so peaceful. This year was my son's 16th birthday. I asked him if he would like a party with his friends. He said that he didn't want one, just our usual family party would be perfect. I am so glad he likes my homemade cakes and our fun, simple family birthdays. It's the way my grandmother did it, and my mom said she has such special memories of her family birthdays.

6) My children do get invited to birthday parties. I am so glad. They have done a lot of fun things at their friend's birthday parties. I do have a $3 limit on their gift, as I wrote to you before. So often they will bake something special to bring along with their little gift. I find that the baked good is still fondly remembered years later. The little gift is, of course, forgotten. As they get older they buy their own gifts with their own money. But they often like to bring a baked good as well.

7) We do not buy new clothes very often. Most of our clothing is second hand or hand-me-downs (except for undergarments). When we do buy new clothes, it is a big deal. My children thank us and are very grateful. I always ask them if they thanked the LORD, whether it is new or second hand.

8) I think all of our furniture is second hand. I cannot think of one item that we ever bought new. Fixing up used furniture and making it special is one of those creative blessings the LORD gives us to do. It is so neat to see the LORD supply a needed item, then the creativity to make it "just right" for our home.

9) We hardly ever go to the movies. If so, it is a big, big deal. We do not have cable for our television, so no payments there. Well, we don't even have any reception at all. But we really don't miss the television. We haven't had reception for over 7 years now. We have never gone ice skating, roller skating, to water parks, or any of those things as a family. We really could never afford it. But we have gardened and raised chickens, goats, and turkeys. This has been more profitable than I can say. And I'm not talking about money. ~Smile~

10) I have a phone budget of $30 a month. I call my grandmother every month and talk to my mother-in-law at least two to three times on this budget. My husband also talks to a couple of people. We call at the cheapest time and keep an eye on the clock. The rest of the time we write letters.

11) We say "no" to ourselves time and time again. There are many things we would like to buy, but we just can't afford it. They are often not really needed because we find that we forget about them after awhile. Yes, many people around us are getting these things. But we've learned to be honest with friends and neighbors and say, "We're on a budget." Our children are learning to follow suit. Yes, they see what others are getting and want the same. But we keep them firmly in our budget and find they are the happier for it.

12) Speaking of budgets, that is one thing we find to be very helpful. At a glance from a 3x5 card in my purse, I can tell where I am at in my budget for the month. I keep a monthly budget in my wallet, and a yearly budget as well. It takes minutes to check where I'm at. Here is what my monthly 3X5 card looks like:

Tithe & Gifts
Mortgage (ideally should be 1/4-1/3 of your take home income)
Savings
Allowances (only my husband and I)
Electricity
Water
Food
Gas
Piano & Guitar Lessons
Telephone
Animal Food
Trash Pick Up

My monthly 3x5 card looks like this:

April: House taxes
May: Car insurance
July: Dental
August: Homeschooling Expenses
November: DMV
December: House insurance

I will save a little each month for these expenses.

13) Food is a place that I can save a lot of money. The more that I learn, the more that I can save. So I keep learning and saving. I love to cost things out and see if it is cheaper to make it from scratch versus buying it. That is how I started making my own bread. I could make it much cheaper than buying it. My first bread was terrible! But I kept trying until I got it down. Other learning started from this foundation. I am still learning and check out books from the library that I might get better and better in my kitchen. I use coupons, if profitable. (My mom and my aunt save me the coupons that they don't use.) I use refunds, if profitable. I shop at many stores, when I am in the area, for their specials. I buy in bulk, if profitable. The more that I learn to do in my kitchen, the more simple and basic my food shopping becomes. I can do so much now with really basic items. The wonderful thing is that tight finances have caused us to eat healthier than we would have otherwise. I love to learn from other women. I find that I can rarely be in another woman's presence and not learn something new from her. It is such a blessing to me and to my family, especially in our kitchen.

14) We cut our own hair. Since we have six people in our family, this is a big savings each year. I learned from a library book. I love to learn from library books! Most of the books that I check out of the library are "How To" books. The more that I learn "how to," the more I can save in our household.

15) My husband and I do not go out on "dates" very often. It is a big deal when we do. So we have never paid a baby sitter to take care of our children. We simply could not afford it. If my folks could watch our children, then we would go for a walk and a snack somewhere together. But this has not happened very often in our marriage. My husband says that most couples have "dates," but we have our early morning coffee chat. It has been this way for years, and I have never felt that I needed anything more.

16) Our children must pay for their own way to camp. It has been very good for them to work for all their outings. We pay for any missionary work that they take part in. The rest of the functions they must pay for themselves. Our children learn to work from a very young age. We do not give our children allowances. Again, we cannot afford it. They work for different people as they grow older and have learned to tithe and save their money.

17) My husband does his own maintenance on our car. I took a college class, before I was married, in auto mechanics. Before I married my husband I use to tune my car, change my oil, flush my radiator, and change my tires. It was valuable learning. It is very important to me that my children learn these basic skills to be of help to their families. I don't practice these skills anymore, but I always encourage my husband to take our kids with him while he works on the car. He does and our boys are learning bit by bit.

18) We do not have pictures taken of our family or our children. I took a photography class years ago which has paid for itself time and time again. I take our family photos and have them blown up for our living room wall at a fraction of the cost of professional pictures. It is also so much fun.

19) Many, many times we cannot afford to go on special functions or retreats or outings. I have never felt left out or sorry for myself. The LORD gives us so much. So much. We are never lacking for anything we need. Self denial is an important tool in getting out of debt and staying out of debt. My husband and I have practiced self denial a lot in our marriage. We are definitely richer for it, especially in seeing our children learn the same practice.

20) My husband and I receive an allowance each week. I love this part of our budgeting, because our allowance is our own personal money. I can save all my allowance for a month, for example, to buy my husband's birthday present. We have been getting a weekly allowance for well over 15 years now in our marriage. Sometimes my husband must spend his allowance on the car or another need. Sometimes I must spend my allowance on school supplies or another need. But there are other times when my husband can save up his allowance and buy that weight for his weight set that he's been wanting. And there are times that I can take my friend out for breakfast for her birthday. It is a special treat to have our own allowance each week.

21) We do not participate in organized sports any longer. After three years of soccer and swimming with our sons, we quickly learned that there were many hidden costs in sports. It was taking a lot of our time and our finances. We couldn't afford to lose either. So we decided to put our children into music lessons. We thought that they could always use music in their lives and might be able to teach an instrument to supplement their family's income one day. It is so wonderful for me to listen to my son play ragtime on our piano or my other son play his guitar. I feel so rich listening to them! We couldn't afford to put my daughter in full time on the piano, so she is taking two lessons a month. I marvel at how far she's come on those two lessons a month. My children still love to play any kind of sport, but it is much more relaxed here at home.

22) We have Juno e-mail because it is free. My whole computer was put together by a friend from discarded parts. My mouse freezes occasionally, my keyboard does thisss allll theee timeee, my back space works some of the time, and my computer shuts down for no apparent reason. But I have been using this computer since June of 1996 and it is still going! We like to use things until they really need to be replaced. This has also saved us quite a bit of money over the years. A friend of mine also recently gave us a printer! So now I am able to print out my writings. What a bleeesssing, I mean blessing!

23) If possible, I do buy ahead on needed items. Especially when the price is right. Remember when I wrote recently how I found an iron in great condition for only $2.50 and a vacuum in likewise condition for only $7.50. I love to pull out a back up when something really needs to be replaced. It is wonderful to tell my husband, "Oh, don't worry, I have another one."

24) Air conditioning is a option, not a necessity, where we live. So we have not had air conditioning in our house because we cannot afford the high electricity bills that go along with it. The air conditioning in our van has been broken for years. But, again, it is an option. Since we have other needs that always come before the cool air in our van, it goes unfixed. We are always thankful to enter any place with air conditioning because it is a privilege to us.

25) We use our church library and our public library often. We always come away with so many books. I love to use the interlibrary loan system. My son will look up books for me on the computer so that I can order them from other libraries in my area. It is so much fun to receive the message in the mail that my book has arrived at our library. I feel like a queen...all for free.

26) We do have a credit card with no monthly charges. When we use it, it is paid off that month. We have never paid any finance charge to use our card and only charge what we can pay off immediately. We don't like to use our card and save it for special items.

27) We have never paid a monthly charge on our checking account. This has saved us lots of money over the years. Imagine if we had been paying $8 a month for the past five years on a checking account. We would have paid the bank $480 over those five years to have a checking account. I found a bank where we could have an account free of charge. Oftentimes I will do this: I will multiply a seemingly small amount over the course of a year or more to realize our full savings.

28) We have researched our area to get the lowest possible price on our car and house insurance. This has saved us quite a bit every year in comparison to other companies.

29) We have remortgaged our home to take advantage of the low interest rates. It takes time and research to see these things happen, but the savings are great in the long run. We also reduced our loan from 30 years to 15 years, while we continue to pay a little each month on the principal to see it paid off even earlier than that.

30) We paid off our van loan in one year by making it a top priority. Rather than buy something or go somewhere, we voted, "Keep paying off the van!" Overtime and birthday money went to the van pay off. No vacation that year. We realized our goal 12 months later. It was our Christmas present to each other. It is good to make a goal, stick with it, and see it accomplished. It is amazing how many of those little, little amounts that we would have spent wound up into one big pay off on our van.

31) My husband does not have vacation nor sick pay, but he does have medical insurance. I have often reminded him that we can tack this savings onto his salary as it helps us so much. Since we do not have dental insurance, I save a little each month for six visits (one for each of us) a year to have our teeth cleaned and checked. I ask the dentist to give us x-rays only if he thinks there is a problem.

32) Since we do not have vacation pay, we have to save for the vacation and my husband's time off as well. We have had some wonderful family vacations that we saved for. Two times we went to Scotland, once just the two of us for a second honeymoon, and the next time with the whole family. Our first trip took me five years to save for. I will never forget my husband's face when I asked him if he'd like to visit our friends in Scotland. He was so pleased that I had saved this money for our special trip. But you know what, we had even more fun with our kids the second time we went! We all still talk about what fun we had in that special part of the world that we love so much.

This year we couldn't afford a family vacation because we had to rebuild the motor on our van. But God had other plans. ~Smile~ We went on a "working vacation" with a small group from our church to a Christian camp in the mountains. We all worked pretty hard all week, but it was one of the best family vacations ever. Our only cost was the gas up to the camp. God is so good.

33) Christmas is such a special time of the year for us. I love to buy gifts for my family and friends. It is so nice to remember them at this blessed time. As I wrote before, I try to buy each gift for $3 or under well ahead of the season. Sometimes I make my gifts. Sometimes I make special baskets. For our children we buy one gift for each child. Something that they would really like. I remember last year when my oldest son wanted "The Little Britches" series by Ralph Moody. He told me that he wanted to read them to his children and his grandchildren. It was such a blessing for me to hunt for those books and buy them for him. He treasures them so much.

34) We don't smoke or drink. This saves us a lot of money. My husband does buy ice. ~Smile~ I remember when I was complaining to my mother because Art always bought ice when I could make it for free. She told me, "Laine, he doesn't smoke or drink. Let him buy ice." That was the end of it. I never said a word about his "ice buying" again. He also often likes to buy "fun foods" on pay day. Also known as junk foods: chips, dip, and soda. I use to struggle with this so much, especially when our finances were tighter than they are now. But I remembered what my mom had told me and kept quiet. Also known as swallowing one's words. We never went into debt on his ice or fun food buying. I just readjusted my food budget where necessary. I surely now enjoy a nice glass of gingerale with sparkling clear ice bought especially for me by my husband on pay day. ~Big Smile~

35) We rarely rent videos. It is one of those little expenses that can quickly add up. My uncle tapes old shows for us. When we're done watching them, we send the video back and he retapes something for us. I have to admit, I am partial to "Leave it to Beaver." I just love June!

These are some of the little ways that we save in our family. For I have learned that it is not usually the amount that comes in that is the problem, but rather, the amount that goes out. May God help us to be wise stewards of our time and our money that He might be honored above all. I'm always learning. I'm always learning.

Love,
Laine

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