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Smart Spending Strategies

By Holly Capeda
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #74, 2007.

Here are some ideas on how to stop overspending on purchases you regret, so you can have more cash for your homeschool necessities.
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It happens all the time. You and other homeschool families are constantly inundated with catalogs, e-mails, and direct mail advertising, aimed at you with one thing in mind. To get your money!

Every year, we are bombarded with an enticing array of colorful photographs of curriculum, art supplies, videos, manipulatives, supplemental activity books, DVD's, literature, supplies for science experiments, biographies, CD's, and other school supplies. Just thinking about it can be overwhelming! And, of course, it's all money well spent because it's For Your Children's Education. You could not ask for a more noble reason to spend money than that!

How is a mother to respond?

I'm sure that you, like me, have too many things to buy with not enough money. You're already trying to stretch a one-wage-earner income to include your basic curriculum. You know you would do well to buy some of the extras, but which ones? There's no way you could buy all of them. So, how do you decide where to spend your money? What really is the most important?

We have all been guilty of overspending. I myself am quite experienced at it. Therefore, I want to share with you the three "Smart Spending Strategies" that my husband, Sam, and I have developed for our family.

First, avoid temptation whenever possible. Second, find ways to avoid spending money. And the third strategy is simply to wait.

How to Avoid Temptation

The first Smart Spending Strategy is: Avoid temptation. I love to spend money. So does Sam. But that's difficult to do when there's nothing to spend. Sam is a musician who is into computers. The advertisers know this, so he gets these catalogs in the mail advertising musical instruments and computers. He doesn't even look through them; he throws them right into the garbage. You might think that's a little extreme. I did, too, at first. But I soon began to see the sense in it. When you start to thumb through a catalog, you begin to see all these wonderful products that the advertisers are sure you need. It's an exercise in discontent and covetousness. You become discontented with what you have, and you begin to covet what you don't have. That's why I started tossing out some of my own catalogs as well.

My mother and I used to spend a whole day shopping at garage sales, and our favorite phrase was, "Let's stop at this one to see if there's anything here that we can't live without." The joke, of course, is that if we've been living without it all this time, surely we can hang on for a little while longer without it. So, refuse to find out what you "can't live without." Don't let the advertisers entrap you in their web. Toss out that catalog. Avoid visiting that store. Don't log on to that web site. If you feel that you need to browse the catalog/store/web site because there is actually something you've been searching for, stop first and pray for God's guidance. Ask Him to help blind your eyes to those things which you don't need, and ask Him to lead You to wise purchases. Then trust Him to do just that.

Buy Just What You Need

The second Smart Spending Strategy is: Find ways to avoid spending money. As I said before, I love to spend money. I actually used to be guilty of just pushing my cart through Wal-Mart, thinking to myself, "What else should I buy while I'm here?"

One day, it just occurred to me: "I am going about this all wrong. I need to find ways to not spend money, instead of ways to spend it."

So now, as I push my cart through Wal-Mart (or push my virtual cart through the latest homeschool curriculum website), I ask myself some questions. Do I really need this? Will I use it? Will I even have time to use it? Do I already have something at home that will work or that can be adapted to this purpose? Can I borrow one of these from a friend, relative, or the library? Or even from the local public school system?

When I do spend money, I need to spend Smart Money. If Widget A has ten bells and whistles and costs $50, and Widget B has only five bells and whistles, and costs $45, then Widget A is still the better buy. Unless I don't even need those extra five bells and whistles. In that case, save the extra $5 and stick with Widget B. Which purchase would be Smart Money - spent on what I actually need?

Actively Waiting

The third Smart Spending Strategy is, of course, to wait.

Someone has said that if any purchase has to be made immediately for any reason, then it probably isn't a good idea. We all know the dismay we feel when we buy something, only to find it on sale two days later. Avoid this frustration by actively waiting to make the purchase. Plan your lesson plans far enough in advance, so that you have time to wait to make the necessary purchases. But don't wait passively. Wait actively, taking positive steps towards meeting this need.

One way to wait actively is to seek your husband's guidance. He may have some good ideas that haven't yet occurred to you. If at first he seems disinterested, point out that your primary motive in asking his help is to stop spending so much money. Also, while you wait, seek alternatives. You may find that better price or even a better product elsewhere.

Be sure to check all your options. Can you find it used? Have you tried the local Christian bookstore? The office supply store? Discount chains such as Wal-Mart or K-Mart? Have you checked your file of homeschool catalogs and/or the Internet? Even thrift shops?

A third way to wait actively is to pray. Seek God's guidance about what you need, when you need it, and how He is going to provide for it. He has promised to provide all our needs, and He can be trusted to do so.

I'm going to close this article with a story that shows just how He did provide for our homeschool needs this past year. We were about to study the metric system, and I did not have a meter stick. I would have thought it would be an easy thing to find. However, I checked homeschool catalogs, office supply stores, home improvement stores, and discount stores, and couldn't find one. I looked everywhere I could think of. The only place I could find one was on the Internet, but with the price of shipping and handling, it was far too expensive to even be considered. I did not know what to do, so I did the thing I should have done in the first place. I prayed. I told God, "Look, I need this meter stick for school. I just cannot teach metric concepts to Debbie without some visual aid. I have looked everywhere, and I don't know what to do. Please, somehow, provide me with a meter stick."

A week or so after I prayed that prayer, Sam and I were in the basement of our recently-purchased home, going through some of the belongings that had been left there by the previous owners, who were now deceased. The man who had owned the house before had been a teacher, and I had long since gleaned whatever I needed from his school supplies that he had stored down there - I thought. You can guess where this is going now, I'm sure. There was a pile of boxes filled with file folders, books, and lesson plans. I had previously rifled through some of the boxes, but I had never moved them. That day, I moved one of those boxes and there, behind that row of boxes, lying along the wall, was a meter stick in perfect condition. Even when I was praying my "somehow" prayer, that meter stick was right in the house with me!

I said before that I love to spend money. I'm sure you do, too. But we can keep from spending too much with these three Smart Spending Strategies: (1) avoiding temptation, (2) finding ways to not spend money, and (3) waiting. Sometimes, that longed-for purchase will be one of those things we regret ever buying, so we can try not to be trapped by advertising by not even giving it our attention in the first place. Sometimes there is a better way to fulfill the purpose of the gizmo that we were going to spend money on, so we can try think outside the box to find that other way. Lastly, sometimes, we just need to wait. Maybe God wants us to save money by finding it at a better price. Maybe He wants our husbands to temper our desires with their wisdom as high priests of the household. And maybe He just wants to show us a little bit of His glory and provision for us!

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