Thursday, November 5, 2009

Choosing to be Content: Part 1

In order to fully explore how my husband and I are choosing to be content, I think you need a background story.  First, I am a math teacher and my husband builds houses for a living.  The classes that you take to become a math teacher do an amazing job at refining your logic and analyzing skills, but they lack in one area: how to present your amazing analyses to an audience, such as your husband, in a way that is convincing and not overbearing.  My husband loves to have fun and play and create new things for our house, but is slightly less interested in financial matters (or at least not as interested as I am in figuring out how many months it will take us to save x amount of dollars).  He is wonderful in the fact that he deals with me and all of my crazy ideas.

Due to our different interests (mine in numbers and my dh in building), we have a tendency to look at our future of buying/ building a house in completely different ways.  I love to crunch the numbers and look at how long it would take for us to save to pay for our house without taking out a loan, while my husband is constantly imagining new floor plans, the feasibility of a wood shop behind the house, where lots are available, whether he would enjoy building his own house or whether it would be a mistake and we should buy a house rather than build one.

Our conversations often go something like this:
Husband: "I was thinking about the house today."
Me: "Oh really!  So was I!  What were you thinking about?"
Husband: "Well, I decided that the floorplan I last drew up just wouldn't work out right, because of how we want the closets and bathrooms to be laid out.  What do you think about laying it out this way?"
Me: "Oh that looks nice (looking at floor plan, but not really understanding it).  You know when I was thinking about it today, I put the pen to the paper and realized that we could pay out of pocket for a cheaper home in about 24 months if we continue saving like we have, since I started teaching."
Husband:  "Oh that's nice." (still crossing out and adding things to the print)
Me: continuing on.."If we eat out a couple times less per month and cut back in some places, we could have it the same amount saved in 17 months!  What do you think?"
Husband:  "Save more?  Why?  We are doing fine."
And so on...

This leads to our main source of discontentment.  Renting and cutting back.  We have never found anything to be as difficult as knowing that you have enough saved up to buy a house if you were going to buy it the traditional way with a large mortgage, but that instead you are choosing to wait to pay for most of it (if not all) in cash.  It is also difficult to forgo the little splurges that other young couples make, such as fancy cell phones, new vehicles, expensive dinners, beautiful decorations, new furniture, when you know that you can afford them, but that you must save the money instead.  It was much easier to be frugal when you had to be than when you have to choose to be.

The first and one of the most effective strategies that we have found will be discussed in this Part 1 post.

Strategy #1: Identify and then remove (if possible) those things which bring discontentment.

We both analyzed over a few days times when we felt discontent.  After a while we were able to sense a pattern.  I know that any decorating show puts me over the edge.  Any time that I watch one I just want to go out and buy some new furniture and decorations and do a *cheap* $500 makeover of one of my rooms just like they did on the show.  Although I love those shows, I now avoid them.  There will come a day where I will be ready to watch those shows to come up with ideas for decorating rooms, but at this point, we don't need to redecorate the house we are renting.  Our hand-me-down furniture works fine and everything is clean and that is all that really matters.

My husband has found that he often feels discontent when driving by car lots with trucks.  Someday, he would love to get a new truck.  We both know that for now, his old truck may not look the best, but it gets him to and from work everyday and does a great job at holding all of his tools.

So as you go through November, make a mental note of when you feel discontentment or envy creeping in.  I am sure that you will find that it comes around certain triggers.  If those triggers can be removed, such as avoiding advertisements, certain tv shows, certain stores, cut them off as difficult as it may be.

Corollary to Strategy #1:  The things that can cause discontentment could be people.  If at all possible avoid the people that cause you to be discontent, and surround yourself with people who help you be content. 

This may sound drastic and cold, but it works.  At the school that I work at a small group of young female teachers invited to me to eat with them.  They are all very wonderful people, and they were very welcoming.  However, I noticed that much of what they talked about over lunch was about fashion, expensive hair and body treatments, and many things which I was avoiding so that I could save that money towards the house.  They are not close friends, really only acquaintances.  I have found that I feel much more content when I spend my lunch relaxing in my classroom and using my time to read a Bible passage or two.  I still meet with them, just less often.  I have thought about sharing about my way of life, but I just have been too nervous.  It is not that I have chopped any well-off people out of my life, I just have focused on developing relationships with other frugal minded people.

This leads me into other part of that advice: surround yourself with other content frugal people.  I have found much encouragement from my own family, old friends, and from blogs of many women and families who are choosing to save.  When I read those blogs, I actually feel ashamed for how extravagant we are.  There are just so many amazing people out there who are choosing to live well below their means, just so that they can give more!  I strive to get to that point.

As you finish off your week and head into the weekend, just start inspecting your life to find the triggers for contentment and discontentment.

Have you found any discontentment/contentment triggers in your life?  How have you tried to remove or add them to your life?  Tell us about it in the comments section.

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