Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Contentment Challenge

A couple years ago, I stumbled upon the Contentment Challenge on Nancy Ray's blog. She is an incredibly talented photographer, and I had begun following her after she shot my friend Gretchen's wedding. She also is a part of the Influence Network and just has a passion for seeing the beauty in all things and pointing others to Jesus through her art. She wrote about how the Lord had led her to give up shopping for three months in order to pursue contentment. Not gonna lie, sounded a little insane to me at the time, y'all, and I was just not about it. But within my goals this year, I stated that I wanted to:

Cultivate a life of joy, gratitude, and peace, not of fear, negativity, and comparison.

Pursue a life of simplicity by chasing contentment.

Become a better steward with our finances and give generously.

I've gone back to her blog post about contentment several times since first stumbling upon it, and I've mulled it over and chewed on it, etc. And y'all, I am ready. When Rory and I took Financial Peace University, we learned that when it comes to money, he is the "nerd" and I am the "free spirit," meaning that spreadsheets excite him, while they make my skin crawl. He wants to save and once put away a big ole chunk of change to go towards paying for grad school, while I used to live paycheck to paycheck and wanted to embrace the YOLO attitude, believing that "It'll all work out." Well, yes. And no. God is our Provider, and He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. Nothing is impossible for Him. But He also doesn't want us to flounder away our funds irresponsibly. On the flip side, He also does not want us to be such penny pinchers that we hoard away our money and don't give to others in need. There's always a happy medium, folks.

Before we got married, Rory and I discussed our beliefs on money pretty extensively, more than most couples maybe. We talked about our value system and how we learned about money growing up. Praise God, we both came from families who tithed, so that was never an issue for us. But there are some things where we just don't always agree. I want to travel (preferably by flight) and see ALL THE THINGS, and Rory would love to stay home (or drive, I shudder). I want new clothes and he wants a new phone. In this first year, we have learned a lot about having those hard conversations and being able to give in to the other's side at some points or meet in the middle.

When we first got married, I was like, "OMG TWO INCOMES WE ARE RICH AND I DON'T HAVE TO FEEL BAD ABOUT GOING ON A SHOPPING SPREE TO TARGET EVERY OTHER WEEK!!!!" False. Oh so false. Haha. That got nipped in the bud real fast. We have had a lot of changes in the first year of marriage; both of us are working different jobs, so our monthly income has changed three times! Even so, we have learned about how to communicate effectively regarding money, and that has made a big difference.

{Lara Casey}

In our first year of marriage, we have made some significant financial gains:

We bought a house. (WHAT THE HECK)
We paid off Rory's car. (Just a family loan)
We paid off my car - one year early!!!
We have an emergency fund and are working towards our three-six months living expenses nest egg.
We cut up two credit cards and only have one through the credit union where our savings is that we use very very sparingly. (Ok, and the Gap one that lets me get rewards that we always pay off immediately...)

There are still big goals we have ahead of us, though. We may be out of most debt, but there are still student loans and significant costs up ahead, because LIVING LIFE IS EXPENSIVE. Anyways, we want to be smart and be good stewards of the money with which God has entrusted us. In our premarital counseling, we were advised to live off of one income so that we would be prepared for any kind of financial hardship and not live above our means. Well, friends, we aren't doing that yet, but it is our goal to get there by the end of the year!

The Contentment Challenge Guidelines (from Nancy Ray's blog)

For two weeks leading up to the start, prepare your heart, organize your closet, and make any necessary purchases that you might need during these months. (This is not a last minute shopping spree! This is one final trip to the store for items you will need.) Done and done. See Target cart below. (I do have to say that I used the Cartwheel app along with my Red Card and my family discount (thanks Pops) and saved a butt ton of $$$ on my little stock-up trip, though).

Choose 1-3 inspiring books to read during this time. I'll be reading Uninvited, Unashamed, and Interrupted

Be Gracious
Gifts are okay! If someone gives you a new dress or a piece of decor during that time, receive it graciously! If you need to buy someone else a gift, by all means, do so. The point is not to be rude, but to learn more of ourselves and the Lord.

Use Common Sense
Necessities are okay! If you drop and break your phone, please go get a new one! If you lose your glasses, buy a new pair. Just don't start justifying new purchases for items that you already have. ("I really NEED this bathing suit, even though there are 8 in my closet already.") I know for a fact that I am probably getting a new phone and new glasses (oh the irony) soon because my glasses are so yuck-o I can barely see through them. I am switching over from Verizon to AT&T to save us moolah as well because Ror has a great family plan that is dirt cheap. 

Try Something New
You must actively pursue something-anything-that replaces your tendency to buy stuff. Begin thinking about something you love or a hobby you've always wanted to do, and make preparations to actually do it. I want to read more and do more self-care. I also want to exercise consistently and invest more time in my friends and family. 

The official hashtag is #contentmentchallenge! So be sure to share your struggles and victories along the way on social media. 

2 separate transactions: groceries and Contentment stock-up. Gotta track that spending, folks. #adulting

In order to prepare for this challenge, I did another little sweep through my closet and sold/gave away some more items that I no longer wear. I went to Target and stocked up on a lot of items that I know I will need in the next three months- mostly toiletry items, but also a prayer journal and some thank you notes. I was very tempted to buy a pumpkin candle but resisted. It was tough, y'all. I've decided that in these next three months, I will not shop for clothing or house "stuff." I will also not be buying myself little snacks/treats to "treat myself" when I have food that I can/should eat from home.

Y'all, I have been putting this off for a lonnnnngggg time. I like stuff way too much. In Mexico, I lived off of support and made like 1/4 of what my income is now. Without Rory's income. I had a Nokia brick phone, a tiny little house, no car, and not a lot of new clothes. And you know what? I was super happy with my simple life. I mean I definitely could see how more money would have made things a tad easier, but it really wasn't all that bad. People were very kind and generous to me in that time, and I never starved or was in super shabby clothing. When I returned back to the States, I had some serious culture shock and was saddened by the materialism that seemed to be around me everywhere. But now, y'all? I drank the Kool-Aid. I wouldn't call myself a big spender by any means, but I LOVE STUFF. I want more things. I want my house to look like Pinterest or Fixer Upper. I want my wardrobe to be perf. And I really like to eat. Plus it is not lost on me that I am choosing to do this from September-November, which is the BEST SEASON FOR CLOTHES and ALL THINGS PUMPKIN. Le sigh again. God is able, peeps.

As hard as it may be to not go cray in Michael's/Target/Amazon, God wants me to give generously and stop all this dang consumption. I don't need more clothes. I have a closet full, and I wear my same favorite things all the time, anyways. So I'm embarking on a journey- stop the spending and chase contentment! We will see where it takes me! Anyone else with me?!

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.- Philippians 4:11-13

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