By Karen Mahoney
Special to Parenting
Jennifer Piehl loves saving money. She also loves to shop, especially Wednesdays on double coupon days at her local grocery store. When friends from the Milwaukee-based Mothers and More Organization begged her to reveal her thrifty shopping secrets, she brought several binders filled with tips and shared them with fellow members at a recent meeting.
“I have spent years writing down the best deals, ways to save money, and other information that has saved our family thousands of dollars,” she said. “These are ideas that work for us and hopefully will give others some help during these tough economic times.”
With the country’s current economic downturn, perhaps our parents or grandparents had it right. Survivors of the Great Depression, many were frugal spenders who thought long and hard before making major purchases and saved enough to put their children through college. Most, still put their churches first and gave from their first fruits, rather than from what was left over.
Credit card debt, excessive spending, employment cutbacks, high fuel costs and home foreclosures have taken a toll on charitable giving and stewardship. As the cost of food goes up and the values of homes fall, frugal impulses have already kicked in. Consumers are shaving extras in their family budgets – like skipping teeth-whitening treatments and scaling back cable TV packages.
Being green is being frugal
Such budget trimming happens when consumers are unsure of the future, but according to Piehl, solid preparation will cushion the family budget from disaster.
“There are so many ideas but always buying on sale, reusing items, borrowing items, and swapping no longer needed items with others is a great way to save money and save on the environment,” she said. “Being green is being frugal.”
Preparing for the inevitable job loss or layoff by paying off bills, building up savings and canceling nonessentials are ways to buffer against personal financial disaster, members learned at the meeting.
“You have to think about what you can do without in order to prepare for the future,” said Piehl. “Start using coupons, have an energy audit to see where your losses are in your home, unplug your appliances – everything with a light and a clock will suck energy out of your budget. Keep your closets and spare rooms closed off with the vents closed to save energy dollars, and insulate your attics. These are simple things you can do to save money.”
Children’s birthday parties don’t need to be lavish or expensive, Piehl insists. Having the party at home, homemade gifts and party favors, homemade decorations and purchasing gifts on sale are ways to save cash.
“If you are having a party with adults, consider “byo,” such as bring your own beverage, or bring your own meat to the party,” she said. “This way you can still have fun, but it won’t break your budget.”
Stewardship: Responsible use of resources
The subject of stewardship is often enough to make churchgoers squirm in their pews, and place a death grip on their pocketbooks. Parishioners should consider that stewardship is not just letting go of hard-earned dollars, but it is a way of helping people examine how they use their time, talents and treasure – and how they can do a better job of it.
Stewardship means committing money and time to a cause to better the lives of others. Though it shouldn’t be surprising, people who give money or time to help others usually find they also feel better about themselves. Stewardship also includes promoting a responsible use of the earth’s resources, and being responsible yourself. Stewardship is ultimately a way of life that recognizes your connectedness both to God and to His creation.
Mothers and More member and publicity chairperson, Mary Pat Rick, believes frugal living is the perfect companion to stewardship. Although at times financial stewardship may decrease due to difficult economic times, personal stewardship can increase exponentially.
“In general, so many times, for me personally it is fiscally responsible for me to send my kids to a private school,” said Rick, a member of St. Matthias Parish, Milwaukee. “And when money is tight, there are lots of things I can do with my kids to give back to others.”
Whether it is delivering holy Communion or meals to the homebound, or volunteering at a nursing home, Rick looks for creative and non-monetary ways for her family to reach out to others.
“We visit a nursing home twice a month to visit and do crafts with the elderly,” she said. “It is a nice way to do something with the kids and involve them in a senior living organization.”
Tight times bring out generosity
Mothers and More is not religiously affiliated, and chapter leader Nancy Donohue believes stewardship is not limited to Roman Catholics or people of faith, but rather is a global responsibility affected in part by the economy.
“When times are tight financially, most moms tend to give time in addition to their donations to their church,” she said. “This can be assisting in Christian formation classes, vacation Bible school, helping to repair or maintain the church and its grounds.”
As a group, Mothers and More frequently helps with Habitat for Humanity, charitable drives, purchase SCRIP for school fund-raisers and work to find creative methods to give back to the community.
“As part of Mothers and More, we are connected with a wonderful e-mail list of resources to save money on everything from baby supplies, babysitting, and clothing to home improvement,” said Rick. “All of these methods indirectly allow us to save money and that leaves us with more money to donate to church or other charities.”
Co-leader Shannon Foley agrees, and adds that in addition to giving more time, and saving money through living frugally, her family takes advantage of the archdiocesan withdrawal program to support their parish, St. Mary, Waukesha.
“That has really helped us not to think about having money to donate each week,” she said. “It is not part of our regular financial decisions because it is automatically deducted from our checking account. This, and doing things individually to help others, is how our family practices stewardship.”
Stewardship can be practiced at home
While stewardship is often visualized as giving time, talent and treasure to the church or other charitable organizations, stewardship can also be practiced at home. Spending time with family, playing games, baking or crafting together will always be more important and memorable than lavishing the latest video game on children. Rick utilizes her time, teaching important lessons to her children, while involving them in service to others.
“We use a religious perspective in making gifts and cards for people,” she said. “For Father’s Day and Mother’s Day I will often download prayers and insert them into cards. For example, on Mother’s Day I will print out St. Gerard prayers for the mothers I know. Sometimes, when people we know are having a tough time, I will download a prayer for patience, print them out on pretty paper and we mail those out. I do this with the kids because they love to make cards and add glitter and stickers to them. We do this for all occasions and it only costs a stamp instead of going out and spending $4 for a card.”
Frugal tips from Mothers and More
Beware of ‘budget busters’
1. Credit Cards. These little pieces of plastic can often cause a great deal of temptation and trouble. It is not uncommon for a person to make an unwise purchase, which they would not otherwise make, because they had a credit card handy. The solution to this problem for many people is to get rid of their credit cards and begin paying by cash or check. Some prefer to keep one card for emergency situations but it is best to keep this out of reach, and not in their wallet or purse.
2. Impatience. Problems often arise when people set financial goals but do not have the patience to complete a savings program. For example, let’s say that an individual begins setting money aside for a new car. However, after a couple of months they happen to find a car that they love, and instead of waiting, they go ahead and make the purchase. This could potentially create some serious financially strains. It takes real discipline to prevent impatience from breaking your budget.
3. Lack of adjustments. A budget is created using a set of expenses and income figures that are current at that time. As these figures change it is important that the budget is adjusted to reflect these changes. A failure to do so could lead to some major deficits.
4. Holidays. Unfortunately, many people do not consider holidays at the point that they are creating their budgets. As a result, a proper amount of money has not been set aside for presents, food, etc. These items should be factored in and saved for throughout the entire year.
5. Vacations. Many people accurately factor in the transportation and accommodations, but underestimate the amount of money needed for food and entertainment. Keep in mind that at any kind of “touristy” or resort destination, the prices can easily be two to three times what you would normally pay at home
• Set up a monthly budget.
• Make a monthly diary of everything you spend in one month.
• Have financial goals, such as new car, vacation, home improvement, retirement fund.
• Eliminate credit card debt.
• Set up emergency fund to survive for at least six months.
• Save change and deposit to savings account.
• Use your company 401k plan, company matching, flex spending plans.
• Use envelope system for budgeting, using separate envelopes of cash for food, electricity, etc.
• Utilize store rebates.
• Plan for grocery shopping with a list, coupons and avoid impulse purchases.
• Plan meals for the week.
• Stock up on sale items that you use.
• Use coupons and participate in trading with others.
• Buy seasonally.
• Stop purchasing junk food.
Mothers and More welcomes new membersMothers and More is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of mothers through support, education and advocacy celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2007. The nationwide network has grown to 170+ chapters and more than 7,500 members worldwide. The Milwaukee West Chapter, which celebrated its 15th anniversary last year, consists of more than 160 mothers from mainly the Milwaukee and Waukesha counties. Chapter meetings are held at 7 p.m. on the first and third Tuesday of each month at St. John Vianney Church in Brookfield.
Guests are welcome to attend two Moms Only events (such as a meeting, night out, or anything that is just for moms) before they join.
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