Sunday, September 25, 2016

A Good Deal

My grandmothers taught me to be a thrifty shopper. This skill was invaluable when I got married, though I don't claim to be the best. I often miss good deals or spend too much money and realize it later. I rarely clip coupons, though I do grab what I can at the grocery store and stock up on sales of items that we use frequently. Early in our marriage Mitch and I made mistakes and within a few years found ourselves under a burden of debt that we didn't have the means to escape. We took Dave Ramsey's course, Mitch changed jobs to increase our income, but we were still unable to fix the mess ourselves. I tell people, "We flunked Financial Peace University."

It's true. Some lessons are hard-learned. We learned slowly, but we learned. We have lived under a budget for years now, carefully managing and spending our income. It isn't always easy. We are not an example for others to follow. Even though we follow a budget, and we have hard evidence of God's goodness and providence, I still fight anxiety each month. Questions like this plague me: "We don't have enough money in our emergency fund, what if _____?"

I sometimes imagine how life would be easier if we had more income. One day while driving between grocery stores, I started a mental calculation of just what amount would help me feel secure. I began to name all the things that could go wrong, and how much they would cost to fix or replace. It didn't take long for me to realize that the number was much higher than I imagined. It was much higher than Dave Ramsey suggested. Later I came across Psalm 49:5-9 in my Bible and wrote in the margin, "No amount of money in my savings account is enough!" So I fight anxiety with truth.

"Why should I fear in times of trouble, 
when the iniquity of those who cheat me surrounds me,
those who trust in their wealth 
and boast of the abundance of their riches?
Truly no man can ransom another
or give to God the price of his life,
for the ransom of their life is costly 
and can never suffice,
that he should live on forever
and never see the pit."

If I had enough money to ransom my own life, it wouldn't be enough. Eternity looms. I must put my trust in the sufficiency of Christ! I must not fear times of trouble in this world. Wealth blinds me to the true condition of my soul. Trouble reminds me exactly who I am and what I need.

I buy used whenever I can, and I rarely pay full price if a discount can be had, even if it means waiting longer to make the purchase. The cars we drive are 15 years old and older. Of course, owning older or used items means that sometimes they break more quickly than newer items. The fiasco with our van coming back from Canada is one example. These events (or anticipation of them) cause anxiety! Remembering God's provision and protection can help me fight anxiety and trust in His future grace. This morning I'm reflecting on the most recent event, which took place in the tightest month yet this year.

Sometime last year our microwave quit working. A few days without a microwave taught us how much we take it for granted. It sure is convenient! I scanned Craig's List and found a used one for $50. Mitch and I picked it up, and he installed it. The "new" one didn't have all the features of our old one, but for the price, we were happy. I learned that the microwave was manufactured the year I graduated from high school. Ha! Sometime after that we were shopping at one of our favorite thrift stores (Habitat for Humanity's ReStore) and noticed that they have microwaves there for even cheaper. I was bummed about missing a better deal, but let go of that. Flash forward to this past week...our microwave suddenly lost power, never to rise again. We headed to ReStore as soon as we could, of course. We chose the only black microwave, which cost a whopping $15. A preference for black certainly drove our decision, but that wasn't all. It has all the bells and whistles. (Not to mention it works). I noted that it was made in 2012. It is newer than our other kitchen appliances (which still feel pretty darn new).  This morning I noticed that it's even the same brand. Wow!

Is it "just" a microwave? Is it a small thing? Yes. We could have lived without a microwave (and some people would say that we would be healthier for it).

But no. God's goodness is never a small thing. It isn't just a microwave that God has done for me. Later in Psalm 49:15, the sons of Korah proclaim,

"But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol,
for he will receive me."

It is amazing how good God is to us! I can't believe I give in to my flesh and worry, when He has proven to be faithful time and time again. Whatever I thought I needed in my emergency fund, we had enough to fix our van in July. We had enough to get a microwave in this month when grocery money is short. Enough!! No--when we started this month, I funded all the budget categories I could. My grocery budget was short $250. I carefully divided up the money we did have, and tightened up where we had to. Then this. We had some surprise inflows of cash here and there and it has been exactly what we needed. I can't believe that I let my anxieties and worries scare me and affect my relationships with my husband and my children. I can't believe I let it affect my generosity. When I have been given so much, I am still selfish. I can't believe how quickly I forget that my life now is but a moment. I forget what is most important about life and my eyes focus on the flesh instead of on eternity. Remembering God's goodness is another way to put to death the deeds of the flesh.

P.S. I highly recommend "Financial Peace University." Our church, Calvary Community Church in St. Cloud, is beginning a class Sunday mornings this fall. I also recommend You Need a Budget. We use YNAB 4, the "classic" version. But perhaps before you deal with symptoms, you should do a heart check. I recommend Randy Alcorn's book Managing God's Money. You can read my review here.

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