September 26, 2012

In Search of Contentment - Part 3

3.  Quit tying contentment to what people think of you. 

"If I am popular, I will be happy and content."

"If people like me and I have a lot of friends, then I will be happy and content." 

"If people want what I have, then I will be happy and content."
In this series, I have listed and will list several beliefs that I have observed on searching for contentment.  Some are more on a smaller scale than others.   Today I am focusing on quit tying contentment to what people think of you.  I believe that this is one of the biggest struggles that people can face.  We want to be revered, looked up to, and perceived as successful.  However, being driven by what people think of you can be detrimental to your life and your finances.  If you put your faith in what people think of you, you may never be happy doing what you are now doing.  You will not be content.  

Think about it.  Does what people think of you hold you back or push you forward?  I know that this is a problem that a lot of people have, as there are a lot of designer clothes, new cars and brand new homes being sold even in this economy.  Statements are being made.  Perception is valued above reality.  If I am perceived as being successful, then this will be my new reality.  I will be successful and happy.

The problem with this way of thinking is that if you are going the way of what others think, then you will end up making bad decisions.  It does make you feel as if you have a higher value than others, but it is false and doesn’t last.

Since this blog is about living a frugal life, here is an example of how that kind of thinking can be detrimental.  If I buy this great new expensive car, that I can’t “afford” unless I extend the loan to 72 months, then people will think I am successful.  The same goes with if I build a beautiful large new house, one that I can’t afford, then people will think that I am successful and happy.

Having a nice vehicle or new home is not a bad thing, but if you can’t afford it and if you are only doing it because you want to give a certain impression to people, then it won’t be long before the thrill wears off – especially if you are extended financially and really can’t afford it.  You will not be content in the end.   In fact you will be miserable as there will always be something else you will want in order to give the correct appearance. 

I’ve often wondered how many people are afraid to move forward with their lives because they worry what people will think.  Would more people be able to retire early or more comfortably if they weren’t worried what other people thought?   In other words if you drove an old car and lived in a small two bedroom house, even though you could afford a “McMansion,” would you be able to meet your dream of retiring early or living on one income?  Better yet, would you finally be able to work part time and spend more time with your family?   Contentment can only come when you are doing what truly makes you happy and it does not come from what other people think of you. 

Live your life without worrying about what others think.  It is hard to do at times, but the older I get I realize that doing what you want to do, going your own way does bring true contentment and happiness. 

People thought I was crazy to stay home full time after a successful career as a legal assistant.  I had offers from two attorneys from two nearby cities when we closed the law practice and I know that I would have made a nice sum of money but it just wasn’t what I wanted to do.  This was totally against what people thought I should do.  Some people could not believe that I would “waste my talents” by staying home full time.

I’m not perfect and I still struggle sometimes with the “what will people think” equation, but I am happy.  Here I am 3 years after losing my job working Saturday afternoons at the Public Library and watching an 8 year old neighbor boy after school 4 afternoons a week.  I am doing what I want to do and not because I have to.  I am for the most part, content. 

September 24, 2012

A Tale of Leftovers - Sloppy Joes

I recently made a rather large batch of Sloppy Joes for a group for lunch.  I knew I would have "planned: leftovers.  I have come to think of Sloppy Joe mixture as one of those versatile meals.  Here is my recipe for Sloppy Joes that I posted a while back.  This recipe makes a nice batch of Sloppy Joes that end up thickening as they simmer and are seasoned nicely.  When I make these, someone usually asks for the recipe.

After I have served these on the traditional buns, I freeze the leftovers for later use.  When I make homemade pizza, I dollop leftover Sloppy Joe mixture on top of the pizza sauce and then I top with colby jack cheese or a combination of mozzarella and cheddar.  For something a little more gourmet I add some diced onion on top and when the pizza comes out of the oven, top it with some sweet pickle slices.

Another leftover idea is to spread the meat mixture in a small pan and top with biscuit dough or another one of my favorites is to make meat tarts.  When I bake a pie crust I take the leftover crust dough and put it in a ziploc bag in the freezer.  I take some of the leftover pie crust and roll it out into small circles, put some of the Sloppy Joe mixture on one side of the pie crust circle and flip over the other half of the crust.  Brush a little water around the edges of the crust and seal with a fork.  Prick the top with a fork and then bake until the crust is brown and the meat mixture bubbles through the top.

You can sprinkle some cheese on the Sloppy Joe mixture before you encase it in the crust or sprinkle a little bit of cheddar cheese on the top crust before you put it in the oven.

Think of leftovers as an opportunity to be creative.

September 23, 2012

In Search of Contentment - Part 2

2.  Quit tying contentment to money.

This post is the hardest regarding contentment as let’s put this up front right away, money can make our lives easier and thus we are more content.  For some people they are living in poverty through no fault of their own.  It’s one thing to want more money because your basic needs aren’t being met.  But, it seems to me that most of us are constantly chasing after money for the wrong reasons.  We are setting aside contentment for the day we earn “x” amount of dollars as income for our families or we are waiting to be happy until we are debt free.

It’s not about earning more money, it’s about the money you have and what you do with it.  Perhaps it’s not your income, it’s your debt.  Perhaps it’s not your income but your unrealistic expectations of what you believe you need to have in order to be happy and content.

I speak from experience here.  Years and years ago money was so tight that we could hardly pay our bills.  It was worse than paycheck to paycheck.  The bills weren’t just for utilities and food, the bills were also credit card payments of stuff that we really didn’t need or poor planning on our part for not setting aside money for car repairs and such.  We were young and stupid. 

I would have given anything not to have those debt payments each month as the money spent on credit card payments would have given us plenty of extra money in our budget.  So, in that essence if we wouldn’t have made those poor decisions and been content with what we had as income, we wouldn’t have gone out and bought stuff on credit.  However, I want to go one step further and say that I was miserable because of our debt and I remained miserable.  Yes, we were in debt, but if I only would have stepped back from the situation, recognized what we had done, sat down and made a debt reduction plan, I would have felt better about the situation.  Even in the middle of more expenses than income, I could have found contentment from the peace of mind of having a debt reduction plan and working the plan. 

For many people getting out of debt can take years.  If you wait until everything is paid off and perfect you will have wasted several years of your life being stuck in the mindset of being discontent.   Draw strength from your debt reduction plan and be content in the knowledge that you are taking action.

I know people that seem to be holding their breath until they make a certain amount of income.  They are unhappy until they make “x” amount of money and then they will allow themselves to be content.

Don’t fall into this mindset.  I know we have come through some really hard times over the past few years and many of my followers have experienced unemployment.  But never fall into the mindset that you will only be happy when you earn a set amount of money.  Learn to live on the income you earn now and make changes so you can continue to live on what you earn.   

In 2007 I started to wear down from working the long hours that I had been working.  We had a lot of debt coming from paying college tuition for our oldest son and from his wedding in the summer of 2007.  We buckled down to get the debt paid off.  I applied myself to my job and did the very best that I could and we concentrated on paying off our debt.  In the fall of 2008, actually 4 years ago right now, I started to totally burn out and I began thinking about quitting my job and staying home full time.  My happiness was not tied to earning more money, but gaining more time and peace in my life. 

Some of the happiest and contented people I know are those who are living within their incomes.  They are thankful for what they have and do not think that the way they are living is beneath their means or undignified. 

I am still learning this concept of not tying money to contentedness.  Old habits, or should I say thoughts, are hard to shake.  However as time passes, I find that I find contentment and money not as closely related as I used to.  

Next Post:  3.  Quit tying contentment to what people think of you.


It has been one of those months, busy and packed with activities.  However it is winding down and I am excited as I face this week with a calendar that isn't overbooked at all.  I may actually be able to spend more time at home than I have in the past few weeks.

I've missed not having time to sit down and write a post.  This week I'm back at a normal schedule and let's hope it stays that way.

September 16, 2012

In Search of Contentment - Part 1

In this series, I am reflecting on the subject of finding contentment.  What does contentment do with “The Path to Frugality?”  Plenty.  One example is that if you aren’t content, you are more apt to spend money in order to bring yourself a feeling of contentment or happiness. 

I struggle with being content and I know that if I could just feel contentment with my life, I would be at peace with many things in my life and be happier.   It is interesting that the majority of people are not content and struggle or search for contentment.  Why is this?  Is it because we are constantly shown in the media that we need to have “this or that” to be happy?

Over the next several days I want to focus on contentment.  I am working my way through a period in my life when I realize my life would be happier and easier if I would learn to be content.  Yes I believe that contentment is learned and in order to feel contentment we need to make a conscious effort to change our thoughts and quit sabotaging how we feel about ourselves and our lives. 

So, tonight I want to bring up the number 1 obstacle I have with finding contentment.

1.  Quit tying contentment to future events.

I will be content when the kids go to elementary school, when the kids graduate from school, when we make more money, when we have a newer house, when Christmas is over, when we are debt free, when we get a new car, when we pay the car off, when we remodel the kitchen, when I lose 10 lbs., when, when, when. . .  The list can go on and on until you are in your retirement years and look back and see a lot of years of waiting for time to pass.  Ugh.

Why do I do this?  Why do I always have a carrot of “mirages of contentment” dangling in front of me all the time?  I have always had “goals” of things that I want to accomplish but I have grown accustomed to delaying happiness or contentment until that goal is met or an event happens.  I know that I am not alone in this. 

I remember specifically when we purchased the home that we are living in now and how I could hardly wait for May 27, 1997 when we would close on the house and we would be homeowners.  I would finally have my house and no one could dictate to me whether I have a dog or cat, or what color I could paint the walls or anything else that a landlord might dictate.  I felt content for awhile but then the reality of owning an old house sets in along with the expenses and the expectations for remodeling an old house.  

It never used to be this way.  I can vividly remember 26 years ago when our oldest son was 1 and I was able to quit my job and be home with him.  In order to do this I babysat 1 other child for money for our food budget.  I remember how simple our lives were back then and how happy I was.  We faced many financial challenges during those years, but I never lost sight of one thing and that I was living my dream of being a stay at home mom, at least for a few years.  

Three years ago I again achieved a dream of being a stay at home wife.  It was and continues to be fulfilling but along the way I have lost much of the contentment I felt that first morning I woke up to my new stay at home life.  What has happened?  How did my thinking change about contentment?   

There is not one “aha” moment that I can trace back to, but somewhere I made an unconscious decision that in order to be content, my life needed to be perfect.  Everyone has their own idea of what perfectionism means to them.  My idea of perfection is different from everyone else’s but somewhere in the past 15 years I have become a believer in I can only be happy and content when “______” (fill in the blank).

It was this summer that I realized that I was very unhappy with myself and my life.  I couldn’t immediately come up with a reason for feeling unhappy.  I spent a couple of days spending some time relaxing and taking a break from my normal responsibilities to reflect.  While I was sitting on my back porch I was reviewing my calendar and penciled off some dates of activities and family events.   And then it happened.  I started thinking “I will be so happy when March comes.”  We have a special event to plan and I am looking forward to it.  Then I looked to October and saw that I had an activity at church to plan and although I liked the activity, I hated the planning part.  Boy I will be glad when that is over.  But I went one step further.  If I can just get through to the end of October, I will be so much happier. 

This is what I said to myself and it was that statement that made me realize that I had a problem:  wrong thinking.  I had been living my life not enjoying every day of it, but putting my enjoyment or contentment on hold until something specific happened in the future.  I was plodding along looking forward to an event that would be fun or looking forward to something being over.  

I made a vow at that point that I had to change the way I thought about my life.  I had to stop what I was thinking and make changes so I could enjoy every day of my life. Change does not come easy for me and I knew this was going to be hard.  Like a bad habit, wrong thinking that has gone on for years will take time to change.   Changing perspective and modifying the way I think would be the only way that I could start (yes, it is a beginning) to bring contentment into my life.  It takes 21 days to change a bad habit.  I figured that I am a slow learner so it would take at least 30 days for me, but if it brought happiness, peace and contentment I was more than willing to put in the effort.

Every time I start to think “I’ll be content when”, I say to myself – “that is a lie.  You can be content now.  It is your choice.”  I know it sounds silly, almost like something from the old Oprah Shows, but if I am alone I actually say this out loud.  I say it a couple of times if I need to. 

It is taking more than 30 days but it is working.  Every time I say that phrase, I am acknowledging that contentment is available to me now if I want it and I don’t have to wait.  I can be content with my life if I really want to be contented.  The choice is mine.

If you struggle with this, you have to make a conscious choice to change the way you think.  Delaying contentment or putting it off until something happens means that it will never happen.  You will never, never be satisfied with your life and it will only make you sad and disappointed.  It is no way to live your life. 

Repeat after me “I can be content now.  It is my choice.”  Repeat.  “I can be content now.  It is my choice.” 

If I can take steps to change, you can take steps to change. 

Next post:  2.  Quit tying contentment to money.

September 11, 2012

Upcoming Series - In Search of Contentment


The above picture of our puppy Molly, taken when she was just a few weeks old, symbolizes contentment to me. She is sleeping after having a nice meal and having been played with. Now she has settled on our back porch for a nap and she looks very contented and happy. 

What makes you happy? Are you constantly riding the highs of happiness to be brought down by disappointment? How does happiness affect your finances? 

I am working on a series of posts in which I will share with you my struggle to find contentment. Yes, I struggle with this but I am sure I am not alone. You know, the" if only I could have this in my life" or "if only this would happen and I would be content" type of attitude.

I am one of those type of people who struggle with not being able to live in the moment, but to hold off living or being truly happy until certain good things happen. 

It is my goal that you will be able to learn from my experience and how I am turning myself around to a different way of thinking about being content with life. I hope you will enjoy the upcoming posts and I look forward to your comments.

September 10, 2012

Overspending on Food

It's time to up the budget.

Over the summer my husband and I made a decision that we needed to eat more whole foods or healthier foods.  What does this mean?  More fresh fruits and vegetables at a time when the prices are going sky high. 

I just got home from the grocery store on my every other day trip.  Now keep in mind that we have 5 people that I am feeding at this time.   Here is what I purchased:

1 gallon of 1% milk @ $3.09
Watermelon @ .69 a lb. - total $5.20
1 Whole Fresh Pineapple - $2.99
Bartlett Pears @ .98 a lb. – total $4.47
Kiwi Fruit – 5 for $2.00
Plums @ $1.79 lb. – total $3.10
1 Mango - .67
Gala Apples @ $1.29 lb. - $6.04
Bananas @.59 - $1.70

Last year per my records I spent the following on the same items, except the mango which is something new that we are now buying.

1 gallon of 1% milk @ $2.69
Watermelon @ .33 lb.
Fresh Pineapple - $1.99
Bartlett Pears @ .49 lb.
Kiwi Fruit - .33 each
Plums @ .99 lb.
Gala Apples - .69 lb.
Bananas - .33 lb.

The apples and pears were a good deal so I purchased several pounds.  On Saturday I purchased a lot of vegetables such as leaf lettuce, romaine lettuce, fresh mushrooms, red and green peppers and carrots.

My husband and I along with the two college girls that live with us are eating more and more fresh fruits and vegetables.  A lot of this is due to the fact that my husband is an athlete, the girls are college athletes and I am doing my best to make a lifestyle change and increase my physical activity.  Yesterday I biked a total of 11 miles on our local bike trail.  As a side note, there is not a bike seat out there that is very comfortable for a long ride.

As to our son, well he isn’t much of a healthy eater and since he is 19 years old, I don’t push him.  It has to be his choice and I can’t make him eat fresh fruits or vegetables. 

So how are we fitting this into our budget?  I don’t like to overspend.  Back in June I made a conscientious decision to increase our income.  It was then that I took a job at the public library working Saturday afternoons. It is only 5 hours a week right now and that is fine as it doesn’t interfere with what I want to do at home.  Also last month I had a neighbor approach me about watching her son 4 days after school.  He is a delightful boy and so I said yes.  It is the income from the library and daycare that I am using to offset the rise in grocery prices.  Originally this extra income was going to go towards home improvement projects but now it is going towards "body improvement."

Sometimes you just have to be creative and bite the bullet and go out and find a way to earn some extra income.  I have been fortunate in that working Saturday afternoons and watching a 7 year old little boy after school 4 days a week doesn’t change my lifestyle much.  In fact I think both of these “jobs” enhance my life.  I am meeting new people through the library and the little boy is my “grandma in training” job for that someday when I will be a grandma.  

September 02, 2012

Been on a Blogging Vacation.

I found that I needed to take a break from blogging for a couple of weeks during a busy time for me.  It also gave me time to just think about everything I have going on in my life.  No, I’m not having a mid-life crisis.  You see, September is that time when kids are going back to school and for me it is the best time to evaluate what I am doing and if I need to make any changes.

During July I began my training at the public library which took about two weeks.  Then I worked my regular part time hours plus I filled in for some full time employees who were on vacation.  Toss into that the normal August chaos of my husband coaching cross country and it got a little hectic.  My schedule has settled down and I am now working my normal 5 hours each Saturday at the library.

I can now breathe some.  Tonight I am spending some time looking at the calendar and planning out September.  This summer I was unable to work on scraping and painting the outside of our house.  It just wasn’t going to happen in 105 degree Fahrenheit weather.  Now I don’t have as much time to get the job done so I am having to compromise.  My plan is to paint the main color on the lower half of the house plus the two overhangs over the large windows in the living room and the dining room.  It is what I am going to refer to as the minimum requirement of painting on the house for this year.  If I have more time and the weather holds, I will do more. 

Next up is to clean the inside of our house from top to bottom in order to get ready for the winter months ahead and that means digging through closets and getting rid of “stuff.”  I also need to spend some time washing windows inside and outside, something that I have been putting off. 

I got behind on a lot of my housework and household projects this year.  I'm digging my way out.  

In order to get back on track on some of these projects I need to take an hour or so each week to review my calendar and review my plans.  I really need to stay on task in order to stay on top of all of the housework and the projects we have to get done in our house.  This is hard as I get sidetracked very easily. 

It’s odd but once I take out my calendar and get some planning done, I feel inspired to get to work and get things done.  It kind of takes me back to my days at the law firm when I loved to look at the work calendar and plug projects into place and then I worked the plan in order to get everything done.  I apply the same principle to my home.  Take the task, break it down into manageable pieces and calendar when you will get the pieces done.  It doesn’t take a special computer program to do this, a simple calendar and a spiral notebook will work just fine.

Now on to food . . . well, I’m sure all of you have noticed that the prices on many items have gone up.  It was a given with the drought.  I never thought I would be paying $1.89 a lb. for apples.  We live near some apple orchards and the drought has really affected their crops.  Again, it was expected to happen.  So, I have found that I have to bite the bullet and pay the price for fresh produce as we go through a lot of apples and bananas.  Today I was able to buy whole cantaloupe for only 99 cents each, so I bought three.  Also I have had several people give me some cucumbers, peppers and zucchini from their garden, which I gladly accepted.  Last month a neighbor was going to be out of town for 5 days and he asked me to pick up his mail, water his tomatoes and flowers and keep an eye on his house.  In return instead of getting paid (something I refused to do) he told me I could have as many tomatoes as I wanted from his tomato patch.  What a deal.  We ate our fill of grape tomatoes, Roma tomatoes and beef steak tomatoes. 

The best way I know to save on produce is:   1.  Don’t overbuy.  In other words, don’t buy so much produce (or anything else) that it spoils before you can use it.  I would rather go to the grocery store every two days to pick up fresh produce than to have the stuff go wilty and mushy in the produce drawer in my fridge.  2.  If the prices are too high on some produce such as berries or peaches (as an example), then don’t buy them.  Go with cheaper produce such as apples, pears or bananas or buy the berries in their frozen form if cheaper.  3.  If you have a local Farmer’s Market see if their prices are cheaper or if you have a neighbor that has a garden with surplus produce, consider approaching them and ask if you can purchase some of their produce.  Or better yet, make a trade.  For example, I would bake a few loaves of my whole wheat sour dough bread in return for fresh produce from someone’s garden.  4.  It’s too late this year, but next year consider planting a small garden. In my case I want to plant some tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers only if we don’t have another drought year. 

If you are struggling with your budget due to high prices on many commodities, you may have to make some serious decisions.  Cut in one area of your budget to find the money to spend on food if you need to or find a way to increase your income.  I can tell you that there are a lot of people who use our local library instead of paying for cablevision in their homes.  Many people come in to borrow dvd’s, books, c.d.’s and more for their entertainment versus paying for cablevision.  Many others have cancelled their internet service and use the library’s computer lab or the library’s wi-fi. 

As to increasing income, I had an opportunity recently that fell in my lap. My neighbor needed someone to watch her 8 year old son 4 days after school.  I decided to do it.  I get paid $5 (each day) to watch him for a little over an hour.  This little guy is the nicest little boy and he is very polite.  I fix him a snack and talk to him, help him with his homework and I let him watch some public television.  He is old enough to go the grocery store with me and I actually look forward to seeing him after school. 

So if you’re struggling and getting discouraged, take heart.  You can make it, but you may have to make some decisions and let go of some conveniences in order to meet your budget.