Imagine sacrificing the comforts of the Western way of life, your home country, family and jobs as a doctor and a teacher to live and serve the Lord in Thailand... and not just anywhere in Thailand, but in one of the slums of Bangkok - Khlong Toey. That's exactly what Jon and Elise Fletcher with their sons, Elliot and Samuel, did 3.5 years ago. They are amazing examples of being the salt of the earth and light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16), and our women's Bible study had the privilege of their company yesterday morning, where they shared how the Lord is working through them to show His love to the "unlovable" and downcast.
Jon and Elise work with a Christian Missionary Order called UNOH (Urban Neighbours of Hope) serving those around them in the slum. Elise spends much of her time helping to manage the UNOH-supported fair trade jewelry project called RoyRak, which means "bead love". The Khlong Toey women and one man team create BEAUTIFUL jewelry that is sold world wide, which in turn, provides an income twice that of the minimum wage for Thailand, paid holiday, a comfortable work space and the flexibility to work around childcare.
You know I strive to save and to spend money wisely and this is definitely a time when I feel that "my" (it's God's, actually) money is going beyond just purchasing something to wear; the thought that by purchasing some of the bright, colourful, handmade jewelry, I am indirectly helping to support the lives of real people, showing them love and support from afar, delights my heart to no end! I have purchased a few necklaces for a few friends both here in Shropshire and in Ohio who would appreciate this jewelry and perhaps even spread the word of RoyRak when they wear it proudly.
Brenna modelling her new necklace
Oh, and by the way, each piece of jewelry is named after people who live in Khlong Toey - how neat is that?!
I sure hope you'll click on this link to the RoyRak website to check out the products yourself. Not that I want you to wait to support this amazing cause, but if you wish to make a purchase - perhaps for Christmas presents - in September or October, you can receive 20% off your order by entering "ONLINE20" in the discount box.
Every day I have the opportunity to exercise my money-saving mindset muscle and today, for the second Friday in a row, was no exception when I said "no, thanks" to ordering a dessert for lunch from The Little Dessert Shop with my colleagues. Yes, they do look very tempting, but for £5-£6 a dessert, it's just not worth it to me. Does this mean that I never enjoy dessert? Nope. Does this mean that I never spend money on food from restaurants? Nope, in fact, I had dinner with my family at TGI Fridays this week.
But, due to the fact that I know that these desserts are made for pennies, I can make them myself at home for pennies and there's very little left in our "Eating Out" fund for the month due to eating out earlier in the week, I just replied "no, thanks" when I was asked if I wanted to order something with my colleagues. Besides, it was lunchtime, and I know that I would be hungry about an hour later with all that sugar, so I ate the beetroot burger and salad I brought from home instead.
What I couldn't help overhear were the comments made by a couple of my colleagues. One commented with a long face, "I really can't afford this this week, but oh well..." followed by another colleague saying, "That's why I use cash, so my husband doesn't know what I buy." What?!?! I wanted to get on my soapbox and start shouting, "What are you doing buying dessert that you can't afford and that you have to hide from your husband?!?!", but I resisted.
It's not about the dessert. My colleagues think my reason for not participating in buying a lunch-time dessert was about my trying to resist temptation. That was only a small part of it. It's about asking myself whether what I'm about to buy is really worth it. Can I honestly afford what I'm about to buy? Does it fit in my budget? For me, I answered "no" to these questions. I have learned over the years to ask myself these questions automatically pretty much every single time I make a purchase. Am I depriving myself of something? Maybe for a short time, but as Dave Ramsey will say, "It's short-term sacrifice for long-term gain". By asking myself these questions, I'm using my money-saving mindset to save for what I really want.
I sat looking over my budget for May yesterday evening. Quite frankly, it has been an expensive month. I've made choices that perhaps in previous months I wouldn't have made that have simply added up: weekend in London, extra groceries, a one-week trial of Gousto to name a few. I'm pretty comfortable with these extra expenses, though, because all expenses have been accounted for on my budget spreadsheet and most have been completely worth it. However, I reflected on whether these extras line up with our goals - to buy a minivan/7-seater, decorate the house, take the family to Disney World next year and, ultimately, to pay off our mortgage early. You may be thinking, "Man, oh, man, Lauren! How in the world are you possibly going to do those things?" Answer: one penny at a time.
While looking over our budget yesterday evening, I asked myself what I actions I need to take right then and there to keep us in line and on track. I knew we had very little wiggle room in the budget for anything extra on the last day of the month, so despite wanting to take the girls to the garden centre before visiting our friends for the afternoon, I decided that we would go to the garden centre but not spend a single penny. I told the girls this morning before we headed out the door, that we wouldn't play on the soft play area but told them that the £4 that would have been spent on soft play, I would add to our savings for Disney World - Ellen (6) understood and agreed immediately, but Brenna (4) needed a bit of persuasion, but once she understood, she agreed as well. We would enjoy our (almost) free hot drinks but wouldn't buy any cake. A quick explanation about the almost free drinks: I pay a £10 annual membership for the Dobbies Club which gives its members 2 free hot drinks per month and discounts throughout the year.
Once at Dobbies, I highly considered going against my promise of buying nothing and buying a pot of flowers for the front of the house. Admittedly, the front of our house is calling out for a bit of colour, but since our two pots were stolen from our front step last summer, I didn't want to go against my promise only to risk another pot being stolen and wasting money - today, at least.
The girls did really well - they didn't ask to play in the soft play area and when they asked if they could get a piece of cake (they always look delicious!), I just said, "Not this time. We'll have cookies (that I made) after lunch (at our friend's house)". We did look around the garden centre after we had our cappuccino and hot chocolate, and again, they asked if they could get various toys, but I just said, "Not today".
"Not today" doesn't mean "Never". It simply means that I'm making a small choice that's moving me in the direction of our goals. Not only are we saving money, but I'm teaching the girls that there are trade offs to make - if we bought the pot of flowers (£14), a slice of cake (£3.50), soft play (£4) and a toy each (£10), I could have easily spent £30! I'm also trying to teach them that it will take a whole family effort to afford to go to Disney World next year and that it won't just "magically" happen.
Are your actions in line with our goals? If you want to pay off your debts or have another financial goal, do you follow a budget and save money each and every month to move you towards that goal? If you want to be more active, are you deliberately carving out time in your day to so? If you want to get more sleep, are you going to bed earlier (one of my goals and one of my struggles)? If you want to start a job search, is your CV up to date? Whatever your goal, are you making the right choices to get you there?
No kidding it's not always fun. No kidding that it takes sacrifice - "Short-term sacrifice for long-term gain" - one of my favourite quotes from the Dave Ramsey show.
I added that £4 to our Disney World fund - small steps in the direction of my goal will eventually get us there!
We sure are enjoying the Bank Holiday weekend and I hope you are, too! Kids around the UK are off from school this week and while some friends are off to sandy destinations this week, we're having a "stay-cation" at home... and that's okay! The I do have to work this week, but only two days - Wednesday and Friday. We're going to make use of our National Trust membership tomorrow, perhaps swimming and McDs on Tuesday and a visit with our friends on Thursday.
Our Bank Holiday weekend started kind of cool and overcast, but I wasn't going to let that get in the way of my excitement of finally having friends over for a BBQ yesterday afternoon. I say "finally" because years ago we bought an expanding garden table and Weber charcoal grill with the expectation of having friends over most warm-weather, sunny weekends. That has only happened once a few years ago and didn't go as expected. So, yesterday, I headed to the shop just before 7am to make the most of fewer shoppers and to make the most of my early-morning higher productivity window. This was followed by attending my Weight Watchers meeting, coming home, having a cup of coffee and making a three-layer strawberry pie and preparing for friends' arrival at 3pm.
Since yesterday, I've been reflecting on the lessons I learned from having our friends over for a BBQ and want to share them with you:
Lesson #1: I cannot change the weather - I can only influence my attitude. Rain or shine, we were having friends over and enjoying some good food together.
Lesson #2: It doesn't have to be perfect, nor was it anywhere near perfect. But what was perfect, was the laughter that we had together, the pure enjoyment we had watching our children run around the garden barefoot... oh... and the fact that the sun came out spot on 3pm!
Lesson #3: A half an hour nap just before your guest arrive is the perfect way to prepare oneself for a party... alright, admittedly, I felt like my grandma having to have a nap, but you know what? It was totally worth it and I felt happy and able to enjoy our friends when they arrived.
Lesson #4: Take time to take more pictures! The pictures I did take either included our friends' kids which I can't post or wasn't the greatest photo. I do love to take photos of food and guess what I didn't do... take photos of the food, especially my pretty 3-layer strawberry pie. It was so pretty and I forgot to take a picture before it was devoured - and devoured it was! It was delicious. Here's the link to the recipe.
Lesson #5: Buy better quality beer. I'm embarrassed to say that I bought four cans of the shop's brand lager. Honestly, the BWS department at the shop is completely out of my comfort zone. Not being much of a "drinker" until somewhat recently, every time I'm surrounded by a wall of bottles I get somewhat nervous. I grabbed some lager keep the ever-increasing cost of the BBQ in mind. Big mistake. The lager wasn't great and it's totally worth spending a little extra on nice drinks. Which brings me to another lesson...
Lesson #6: Don't let the added cost of having friends over stop you from having friends over. Having friends over can add to the food budget. I am not at all complaining, because it was completely worth having our friends over, but the cost of extra food is something to consider and budget for.
Lesson #7: I prepared the food I was comfortable with and didn't worry about making things fancy or complicated. Steak sounded good, but it's not something I felt comfortable making for guests. I chose to buy pre-made burgers rather than making my own. I could have but chose to focus my effort on the strawberry pie. We had hot dogs and BBQ chicken. Just simple, no-fuss food.
We're were blessed by our friends' company yesterday afternoon. We hope our hospitality was a blessing to them, too.
Friends, I have something so exciting to share with you! Have you heard of the Marriage Allowance? Maybe? I first heard of it while watching Martin Lewis on the Money Saving Expert show a few months ago. At the time Jeff and I did wonder whether we already had that tax allowance or not, but did we check it? Nope.
"Lauren, what is the Marriage Allowance?" you may be wondering. It's simply a tax break if you're married or in a civil partnership. Moneysavingexpert.com says, "The marriage tax allowance is a way for couples to transfer a proportion of their personal allowance (the amount you can earn tax-free each tax year) between them."
Last night, I was having a "fun" evening checking the current tax code on my last wage slip when I spotted a link to the Marriage Allowance on the right hand side of the screen. Because I was completely bored trying to understand the meanings of the different tax codes by then, my curiosity forced me to click on the link. I'll give you the link to get you to the money you may be owed quicker - click here.
A couple's tax can be reduced by up to £238 every tax year - 6th April to 5th April of the following year. You - the lesser earner and applicant - need to earn less than your spouse and have an income of £11,850 or less (this tax year) - you aren't a tax payer. Your spouse's income must be between £11,851 and £46,350 (£43,430 in Scotland) for you to be eligible. Yep, this is also on the gov.uk website - here's the link again. The article on Moneysavingexpert.com explains the math behind this and gives an example.
"Lauren, I don't have time right now to do this." Ten minutes! That's all it took me to apply. All you need is your and your spouse's National Insurance numbers and one of the forms of ID on the gov.uk webpage. The non-taxpayer (the one earning less than £11, 850 per year) must be the one applying for the allowance transfer.
So, click on the link at the bottom of the page and get started claiming back some money. Oh, did I mention you can claim back money on the past three tax years? The thresholds are slightly lower each year, but the link walks you through the process and in the end you may (or may not) get some money back and/or have the correct tax code applied to your spouse's wage slip - reducing the tax you, as a couple, pay by up to £238 per year. You may just get a big fat cheque in the post any day now for the previous years.
Quick result: Jeff received an email early this morning telling him that his tax code has been changed to reflect the Marriage Allowance. We may or may not get a bit back from last year... we shall see soon!
Don't wait like Jeff and I sillily did. Do it right now.