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Give Yourself The Gift Of Financial Freedom

A lot of people working toward financial freedom – however they define the phrase – run into trouble once they hit the end of November. All of a sudden, the money they’ve been working so hard to save disappears into the black hole that I affectionately (okay, not really) refer to as Christmas Consumerism.

No condemnation or judging if that’s you. Most of us Westerners have been brought up to believe that during the month of December, we are obligated to throw our hard-earned money away on people that don’t need it and events that will not matter to us in a year.

But if you’re serious about continuing to work on your financial freedom goals even as Christmas approaches, you need to wash your brain in the other direction. You need to come to the realization that spending money and celebrating do not arbitrarily go hand in hand.

You can have a lot of fun while spending a lot less money than you’ve been in the habit of doing.

You know the old saying, “The best things in life are free.” I would modify it to say, “The best gifts in life are free.” And one of the most important gifts you could give to yourself is financial freedom.

In order to give yourself that gift, you need to save money at Christmas. You need to take some time to reflect on what aspects of the celebration have, over the years, given you the joy and pleasures that the season is supposed to offer, and eliminate – or at least reduce – the other aspects as much as possible.

For example, as a child the biggest part of Christmas for me was the anticipation involved. Everybody thinks that has to do with getting presents. But does it really? Or does the anticipation simply have to do with knowing that the day is going to bring fun surprises that you normally don’t experience?

Hold on to that question while you read on for three ideas on how to save money at Christmas, so you can get closer to getting that precious gift of financial freedom.

#1: Give the gift of special experiences

If you’re married with children, why not take everyone to a fun place on Christmas Eve (or earlier, if it’s not open that day) and reduce or even eliminate gift-giving altogether? A family of four going to watch a movie, including purchasing snacks, will cost between $40 and $50 (middle-American prices, understand), which is well under the cost that most parents spend on gifts for just the children.

If you take them to a science museum or aquarium, you’ll pay more. But the experience – especially if they’ve never been before – is likely to be remembered and treasured much longer than most gifts of toys, which kids tend to get bored with after only a week or two of play.

Some fun and memorable experiences can be free. For example, touring a neighborhood that gets all decked out with lights and decorations for the holidays. Back when we lived in the suburbs, a lot of people in our neighborhood put up outdoor decorations, and our son delighted in taking a twenty minute walk to absorb all the light, colors, and – at some houses – sounds.

You might throw a potluck Christmas party, which can be geared to whatever age bracket you want. Tell all the guests to bring a Christmas treat to share, and plan to watch a Christmas movie or three (some are available for free on YouTube). You could also plan a few games that require few to no materials.

And what about free Christmas concerts? Get your head out of the “it has to cost something” box, and get creative!

#2: Talk to relatives about the adults not exchanging gifts.

You will get one of two responses. Some will resent the idea, but if they’re mature and really care about you, they will understand after you explain that you want Christmas to be about sharing in each other’s company, not giving things to each other that nobody needs or will probably care about.

Think twice about telling them that you’re trying to save money at Christmas in order to reach financial freedom. They may accuse you (mentally, if not verbally) of being selfish. Because of course it’s selfish to want a life with less stress and greater freedom, and not selfish at all to demand things that you don’t need for the sake of upholding tradition.  (She said sarcastically.)

The other response you will get is relief. Your relatives may even admit that they’ve been wanting the adults to quit exchanging gifts for years, but didn’t want to rock the boat over the issue.

#3: Cut back on travel.

If you are married and have tried to please each set of parents and other relatives every Christmas by traveling to everybody’s place during December, that right there might be the major obstacle of the holiday that keeps you from rolling you toward financial freedom.

Visiting is a two-way street, so to speak. And then there is this modern mode of communication you may have heard of this thing called Skype.

Again, you may end up having to handle resentment and/or protests when you announce that you’re going to dial back from what has been your usual holiday travel plans. That decision may cause more hurt feelings or stress than you’re willing to deal with, so handle the situation with kid gloves.

Just remember – ultimately, if you want to achieve any goal in life, you’ll never achieve it by trying to please everyone.

Financial freedom, here I come!

There are other ways to save money at Christmas, of course.Those three are the biggies. You might brainstorm with a friend or spouse about other things you can do in order to focus on the best parts of the holiday celebration and reduce expenditures in the process.

“But, Emily, it’s too late for me to make changes this year!”

Probably so. So make plans to save money at Christmas next year. In the meantime, there are New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and probably several birthdays (at the very least). How can dialing back on those celebrations bring you closer to financial freedom?

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Time To Practice What I’ve Been Preaching

I’ve wanted to do two things with my life since I was a teenager: encourage people to “be all they can be” (i.e., live fulfilling lives), and write stories. I thought becoming an elementary teacher would be a good way to bring the first part of my life vision into fruition.

It’s wasn’t. Isn’t.

But that’s a post for another day, and beside the point. The point here is twofold. First, this is the third blog I’ve started with an end to teach people the principles of living their dreams and living an abundant life.

The. Third. Blog.

Why?

And not too long ago, I wrote a post (which I’ve since deleted) stating that I was going to abandon this blog and just write humor over at my other, newer blog.

Why?

Second, I’ve wanted to give up on writing novels five times in as many years. I have actually announced on blog posts that I was not longer going to write novels, but stick to short stories instead.

Why?

In other words, I’ve broken a cardinal rule of both how to live your dreams and how to live an abundant life:

DON’T GIVE UP.

Why did I break that rule? Part discouragement, part seeing greener grass in other pastures.

The novel thing

I recently spent a good deal of time in prayer, asking and listening about God’s call on my life. Because no matter how many times I’ve become frustrated with writing novels, the story ideas keep on coming. And the inner tug to keep writing novels perseveres – in fact, feels pretty strong at times.

Well, guess what? God has actually called me to be a novelist. He wants me to use stories to encourage people to seek healing in their broken places so that they can move forward on their journeys.

But. BUT. He hasn’t told me to try to be a bestselling author. He hasn’t told I need to follow the at-least-three-books-per-year rule of Indie-published fiction authors. He hasn’t laid down any rules for me, other than I’m supposed to write novels.

After some thought, I’ve realized that if I stick to writing just two medium-sized novels per year, I won’t get burned out on writing novels and be tempted to quit again.

There ya go!

The blog thing

During this time of seeking God, He revealed that blogging is not part of His call on my life.

However…I’m also not going against His will if I do blog, as long as my novel-writing takes priority. And I can’t shake the desire to teach people what I’ve learned about living an abundant life. In addition, now that I’ve realized that God never called J and I to the homesteading lifestyle, I suddenly have more free time on my hands than I ever have before.

And my brain can only cough out so much fiction every day, to the tune of about 1500 words. I generally get done with my fiction writing quota by lunch, leaving me the rest of the day to do whatever I want (instead of being envious, read my book Hatching The Nest Egg and start taking the steps you need in order to live a life o greater freedom).

Thus, I choose blogging.

On this blog.

What about my humor?

I enjoy writing humor, and I may one day write a humorous novel series. But I don’t feel like writing humor every day, and I’m naturally a serious person. That said, besides occasionally writing humor I also love getting in front of an audience and hamming it up. Singing. Or just talking.

And I’m not going to write a post for this blog every single day. That leaves me time to write scripts and silly songs for my new YouTube channel. (I’m not linking to it right now because there’s no content there yet.)

Time to practice what I preach

In the past – as well as in books I’ve written – I’ve taught about the importance of persistence and focus when it comes to being able to live your dreams. This morning, I was thinking about the mental tug-of-war I’ve been having between this blog and my other blog, which I may someday turn into a simple author website.

And that’s when it hit me: my life mission includes helping people learn to live an abundant life, and my calling is to write uplifting novels. I need to stop going after shiny objects (or greener grass or whatever) and stick to what God has placed on my heart.

Because if I don’t, I won’t feel fulfilled, thus my life won’t feel very abundant.

Allow me to wax immature for a moment:

DUH! 😉

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Question on Quora:

What are some things that every 17-year-old should be doing daily?

My answer:

What a great question! I need to say right off that I generally don’t like to “should” on people. We each have our own journey to travel, our own trials to go through and our own victories to celebrate. But I’m going to answer this question first, because you’ve asked, and second, because I’ve always thought it would be great if my current self could go back in time and give my twenty-year-old self a heads-up on things I could do to make life a little less stressful and scary.

The question is not as clear as I’d like it to be, so I’m going to assume the full question would be, “What are some of the things that a seventeen-year-old should be doing every day if they want to live a fulfilling life and prepare for adulthood?”, and answer it as such.

Some of those things are things that anyone of any age, starting with the late teens, should be doing if they want to live a healthy, happy, and fulfilling life. I’m going to start with those. Why? Because if you don’t get into the following habits when you’re young, it will be much harder to get into them when you’re older.

When it comes to healthy lifestyle habits, sometimes waiting until you’re older turns out to be too late. For example, avoiding disease and terminal illness is 85% lifestyle and only 15% genes.

#1. Connect with your Creator. I know, it’s not P.C. for me to write that. Too bad. I’m not P.C.

Moving along…every day, spend some time praying to the One Who loves you more than anyone else ever will, and the One Who can help you more than anyone else ever will be able to. Express gratitude for all the good things in your life, ask for help with your struggles, but most of all, pray for wisdom. This is a quality lacking too much among even the older adults of today’s world.

#2. Treat others the way you want to be treated. HINT: There are a lot of behaviors that are considered acceptable in our culture today that are based on manipulation and using people. Do you want to be manipulated and used? Think hard about that question in the light of any action you’re about to take.

Generally, think before you say or do anything. Would you like someone else to say or do the same thing to you?

#3. Take one to three baby steps toward a goal that you have set for yourself. Get into this habit at age seventeen, and you will be far ahead of your peers ten years from now.

#4. Eat way more fruits and vegetables and way fewer processed sweets and fatty junk foods.

#5. Get your body moving for at least thirty minutes every day.

#6. Get enough sleep.

#7. Avoid using any drug that changes your state of cognition. That means it’s messing with your brain cells, and will cause you problems down the line.

#8. If you’re a female and you have any P.M.S. symptoms whatsoever, or if you’re either gender and suffer from depression, anxiety, or anger problems, get on a chelated magnesium supplement immediately. Two capsules in the morning, two capsules before bed.

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Now, for some advice specific to a conscientious individual in their late teens.

#1. Chill about grades. I made myself miserable in high school, thinking that I had to be a straight A student to get into my college of choice. Unless you’re going for an Ivy League school, this isn’t true. And when you get out into the work force, you will find that your employer couldn’t care less about your grades in high school.

They might not even care about your grades in college.

Do your best and strive for excellence, but don’t half-kill yourself over grades. Which are, ultimately, a meaningless measure of what you know and don’t know in a very narrow body of knowledge, most of which you will forget by the time you’re thirty years old.

Which leads me to the next thing…

#2. Think really hard and long as to whether or not you need to go to college/university. You won’t necessarily need to do this every day, but probably most days you’re going to feel the “you must go to college” pressure either from your parents or your school.

Consider these facts.

First, most college/university graduates end up in a career or job that has nothing to do with the degree they acquired.

Second, the cost of higher education has risen to the level that I consider it to be a marketing scam. And costs are projected to continue to skyrocket, much faster than the rate of inflation.

There is no decent, ethical rationale for a 600-page textbook to cost $150, for example.

There are many people in their twenties, thirties, and forties – a few even older – still struggling to pay off student loans. Debt is a burden which can, at worst, shorten your life for all the stress it causes and, at best, cause you to stay with a job or career you don’t really like because you need to make the money to pay off the debt. And it looks like that the cost of attending university is soon going to be out of reach of all but either the wealthy, or those willing to take on student loans.

In other words, it will be beyond the average student’s reach to be able to work their way through college, as was possible when I attended.

Third, today’s world is much different than it was fifty years ago. For most jobs, a college/university degree isn’t necessary. Certain careers, such as many in medicine (but not all), law, and engineering truly require four years (at least) of intense education. Other careers currently require a four-year degree, and they should not. I can tell you from experience that one of those careers is teaching.

If you wanted to start your own business, a few community college classes and some mentoring from other business owners would suffice.

For parents (or Quora members) who want to disagree with me on this point, please read the book The End Of School by Zachary Slayback. Or visit the author’s website, zakslayback.com.

#3. Work at a job. This won’t be something you’ll be doing every day, I imagine, since employers who hire high school-age people recognize that they have grades to keep up and extra-curricular activities to do. So they put high schoolers on the schedule three to four days a week. But I include it because I believe it’s important because you learn different skills that you might otherwise not have gained. If you plan to eventually work for someone else, you also learn what employers expect from their employees. And one day, you might end up as an employer, and you will have past experience to guide you as to what makes for a good boss and what makes for a bad one.

Having a job is a good segue into the next point…

#4. Practice being a good steward over your finances. Read different books on personal finance. I recommend that you read Your Money Or Your Life by Robin and Dominguez and The Permanent Portfolio by Craig Rowland, and marry the best of both books.

Give to charities. Save. Don’t spend more than you make. And for goodness’ sake, don’t touch a credit card application with a ten-foot pole!

#5. Relax. You should have at least thirty minutes a day to yourself, to do whatever you want to do. I could have put this in the first list, but I remember how stressed I was at seventeen, how anxious I was to get out of the “nest,” yet how intimidating the big, wide world seemed at times. So it’s especially important for a seventeen-year-old to take “chill” time every day.

On the same note…

#6. Have (healthy) fun. Watch a five-minute comedy video. Put on some music and dance around your bedroom for a while. Have a movie night with friends.

#7. Appreciate your parents. Sorry, as a parent I had to put this in. 😉  And I’m saying that for a seventeen-year-old who doesn’t have abusive or neglectful parents. You won’t agree with everything they believe, and that’s fine. But every day, think about all the sacrifices they’ve made to allow you to have the good life you’ve had. It will help improve your relationship with your parents. And if you can remember to tell your mother “I love you” every day, so much the better! 😉

#8. Keep in mind that trials help you grow, and that they will pass.

*****************

I think you get my point. Develop and practice habits that respect your body, your future, and other people. And take learning into your own hands.

Most of these tips will help you to have a happier, more fulfilling life, regardless of your age.

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How To Handle Grief And Loss During The Holidays

The topic of how to handle grief and loss during the holidays might not seem to be a good fit on a blog dedicated to encouraging people to live a more abundant life and go after their dreams. However, if you have experienced the loss of a loved one between November and January, you know that the pain can be a setback for more than one area of life.

While living an abundant life does not mean that you won’t face pain – sometimes even excruciating pain – if you want to continue on the journey, you can’t be mired in the past.

At some point, you need to heal.

My story

Fourteen years ago, on December 18, my father passed on. While it was overall a relief to his family because he had Alzheimer’s and no longer could feed himself, let alone recognize his own wife and children, it was still hard.

At the time, I lived in Texas whereas the rest of my family lived (still live) in Minnesota, so my mom told me she’d hold off on the funeral for a couple of days so I wouldn’t have to change the flight ticket I’d purchased for my annual trip home for Christmas.

It was a hard trip home.

Harder still was what happened a week later, on Christmas day. The nursing home where my grandmother was living called my mom to tell her that my grandmother was “not responding.”

In other words, she could not be awakened from her sleep of the night before.

My mom encouraged my sister and I to go visit our grandmother, believing it would be our last chance to see her alive.

My mom was right. A couple of hours after we returned from the poignant visit, the nursing home called to inform my mother that her mother had died.

Exactly a week after her husband, my father, had died. Just a few days after his funeral.

It was my first glimpse into how many people need to learn to handle grief and loss during the holidays.

How I coped

It was a bittersweet holiday, because the very day my father died, I fell in love with the man I knew I would marry one day. In fact, I told my Grandma as much at that last visit with her. She’d always asked me, during my visits to Minnesota, if I had found anyone special yet, so I had to tell her.

I know she heard me.

Despite the two painful deaths that holiday season, I had fallen in love. And when I returned to Texas, the new “high” of being in love trumped the grief.

Or so I used to think. The fact is, I stuffed the grief for fourteen years.

Fourteen.

Years.

Going through the motions

My romance with the Christmas season had started to fall away the year that my family had our last Christmas together before my dad was put into a special home for people with dementia. It was the worst Christmas day ever.

Suffice to say, neither my youngest sister nor I handled grief and loss during the holidays very well that year.

Then my grandparents (my grandpa was still alive at the time) ended up in a nursing home. A huge part of our family Christmas tradition had been to visit with my grandparents at their house on Christmas Eve.

When they sold their house and went into the nursing home, those days were forever lost.

Obviously, I would still go home to celebrate Christmas with my family, but it meant less and less with each passing year. My middle sister no longer participated, wouldn’t make the three-hour drive. (Long story, issues I’m still not certain of. Let’s just say her absence was both a blessing and a loss.)

 By the Christmas following my dad and grandma’s deaths, I was married. Those first two years J and I flew to Minnesota to celebrate with my family. But it started to feel more like drudgery than a celebration.

My reasoning then was that, thanks to my youngest sister, we couldn’t talk about Jesus. It frustrated me to no end. The year our son was to turn two, I told J that I couldn’t celebrate Christmas if I couldn’t celebrate the birth of Christ. So I called my mom and told her we wouldn’t be coming to Minnesota for Christmas that year.

She said, “Oh, I understand. You have your own family now and want to start your own Christmas traditions.”

 I didn’t bother to correct her.

The year B turned five, I had a bunionectomy right before his birthday in late November. Long story short, I felt like a cripple in those early weeks following the surgery, and could do nothing – nothing – to help decorate the Christmas tree that year.

So I handled grief and loss during the holidays as badly as I ever had – by wallowing in depression.

 I thought the depression stemmed from two sources: first, my inability to be active; and second, the fact that my worst Christmas nightmare had come true: for B, the holiday had become all about getting presents. Despite our best efforts to prevent that mindset, despite our limiting the gifts he received.

Not that those situations didn’t have a real impact on me,but it never occurred to me that I had never fully grieved the loss of my dad and grandma seven years earlier. Which was the real reason that, for the past several years, Christmas had gradually lost its joy for me.

I didn’t recognize it anymore. And I didn’t like what it looked like.

Not only had I not reconciled with having lost two loved ones right around the holiday, but I was also grieving for the loss of Christmas Past. For almost a decade, I’d just been going through the motions of celebrating, ignoring the pain in my heart.

Fast forward to two years ago, almost to the day I’m writing this post

We had picked out a little pine tree on our property to bring inside and decorate. We decorated it.

And all the while, I had this feeling of dread inside. Like we were doing the wrong thing. I prayed, and felt strongly that the Lord was speaking to me that we were not to celebrate Christmas. I found a video about the “evils” of celebrating a “pagan” holiday, had J and B watch it, and we promptly removed the decorations from the tree and tossed the poor little thing into the ditch.

And my heart broke into a thousand pieces. Even though B didn’t seem too upset about it, I felt horrible for him. How dare I take those precious family traditions and memories away?

I also screamed inside, “Why, God, why?”

I didn’t realize He had work to do.

A few days ago, it began

A few days ago, snow was predicted. Then “wintry mix.” Then snow again. Snow in early December is not typical where we live, and I got excited. Why?

I despise cold weather unless there is snow.

So I usually tell myself. But, since I’m spilling it all here, let me go all the way: I like snow in December, because I want a white Christmas.

Even if I’m not celebrating it.

But as the day when winter weather was predicted drew nearer, the chance of it diminished. Then turned into plain-old boring rain. Then went back to a higher chance of wintry mix.

God used this ever-changing weather forecast, I know, because it made me start to think about Christmas. Did God really have us to quit celebrating it because He considers it sinful? Because Jesus never commanded us to celebrate His birth? If so, why, for the past two Christmases, have I longed so desperately to bring it back into our lives? Because I’m a rebellious child?

An internal nudging began persuading me that I had misinterpreted the Lord’s intention for us hitting “pause” on the holiday.

I got mad at the meteorologists for pulling my chain. I got mad at God for telling us to stop celebrating Christmas. But why should I care if I’m never going to see snow again?

Three days ago, the real reason for my angst emerged.

I had – finally – started to grieve, really grieve, the loss of my father and grandmother. Especially Grandma. I began to miss them both. My heart yearned with a deep ache for “the good old days.” For the way Christmas used to be.

Grief and loss during the holidays became a reality for me.

I began to wonder if my mom still feels this way, fourteen years later. 

And, I cried. I cried off and on for two days. I told J all of what had been going through my head. I told him that I think that God hadn’t had us quit celebrating Christmas because it’s evil, or because it’s not really about Jesus. As I type these words, I’m confident in saying that God had us quit celebrating because in my heart, I was desperate to somehow turn the Christmas celebration with my son and husband into what it was when I was a kid.

How I healed, and how you can, too

I’ve missed celebrating Christmas the past two years. Felt depressed each December. Felt like God was punishing me somehow.

No. He needed to bring me to the breaking point where I would release the grief I’ve stuffed for so long. And where I would realize that it’s okay for Christmas Past to look completely different than Christmas Present.

If you have lost a loved one during the holiday season, and years later are still struggling with it, may I suggest that you haven’t fully grieved. You haven’t fully grieved the loss of the individual. Or what the individual brought to your life during Christmas. You may have been harboring anger toward God, and not let it out.

Let it all out. Preferably in the arms of someone who understands. Let yourself grieve the loss. Scream and cuss at God. He can take it.

That’s the first step toward healing. The next step is the one I’m taking now: to realize that Christmas can be celebrated in a myriad of ways. That as our seasons of life change, so do the ways we celebrate.

Embrace the changes. Seek the good in them. Understand that the past is in the past, and that’s a good thing, because you’re a wiser, stronger, more courageous person than you were back then.

I pray these many words help you to handle your own grief and loss during the holidays, and that, like me, this time of year will once again become a time of joy and sharing.

P.S. – As for whether my mom still grieves? I’m going to find out soon…when I call to ask if she’d like me to come home for Christmas this year.

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