Monday, March 8, 2010

Faith and Gratitude

Today, my husband and I will meet with our accountant to do our small business and personal taxes. In preparation, I filled out that little booklet the accountant sends out. It was sobering.

This year, my husband and I, combined, earned significantly less than my salary alone at my last newspaper job. I quit that job years ago when our family business was doing well and freelance work was plentiful.

Then the recession hit and decimated both print journalism and our business.

Three years ago, we had enough money to pay cash for a plot of land. This year, the payroll company at our family-owned business didn’t withhold any federal income taxes from my check because I didn’t make enough to warrant it.

I’m not sorry. If I hadn’t quit, I would surely have been laid off by now. And, honestly, I hadn’t realized the extent of the decline of our fortunes. If anything, I have gained a deeper sense of gratitude over the past two years, thanks to the program.

Sure, we had to cut back. We got rid of all non-essential services. We didn’t go out to any swanky restaurants or take vacations. For the past two years, I haven’t bought any new clothes. I used to be a frequent flier at Amazon. The only new books I bought in the last two years came courtesy of a gift certificate I got for Christmas. I can’t tell you how excited it made me.

But I hardly felt impoverished. We entertained at home more. Got acquainted with the 10 cent books at the public library’s Book Barn. I may not have found the latest best sellers, but I discovered books and authors I might never have tried otherwise.

If we needed anything, we eventually found it at the senior center thrift store. And if I may say so, I love my new leather boots all the more because they cost me $2.

The boom years meant we fared better than many people. We are frugal at heart, and don’t like debt. So we didn’t have much debt beyond our mortgage. And the national credit crisis, which hit just as we began building, meant we had to pay for construction of the new house only as we could save the money, so we didn't take on more.

It meant doing much of the work ourselves, and being flexible enough with our vision to take advantage of materials when we found them at fire-sale prices. But we found great satisfaction in doing that.

There was one awkward moment when we ran into a group of people we knew. They said we should all get together for dinner. Yes, we should, we chimed in, then wondered how on earth we would manage that.

Instead of waiting for a dinner invitation, we took the initiative and invited everyone over for a fancy brunch. I made Dutch babies, basically giant, lemon sugar-dusted popovers; baked eggs with spinach and ham; fresh grapefruit and bacon.

But the brunch cost us next to nothing. Flour and eggs are relatively inexpensive, and the only thing we had to buy was the spinach. We had everything else in the pantry or freezer. The grapefruit came fresh-picked from our neighbor’s tree. We handed out bags of lemons from our own. It was a wonderful morning and we both agreed we enjoyed it more than a fancy dinner we couldn’t afford.

We still manage breakfast a couple of times a month at our favorite local restaurant. We split the chicken fried steak. My husband eats the chicken fried, and I eat the eggs and pancake that come with. With milk and coffee the check comes to $12, with a tip.

And if we really want to splurge, there’s a nice little BYOB where we can split an excellent pizza, a couple of salads and the best apple pie in the state. Our check never runs more than $25.

Sometimes the business felt tenuous. Once, we’ve had to collect outstanding debt to make payroll. But we’ve always found the money when we needed it. We’ve sold some things, but we didn’t need them anyway. They were easy to let go.

Our lives still feel rich. We still have our home. And we have each other. Every day, I thank God for what we have. It’s my take on a gratitude list. Every day that list grows longer. And every day I refuse to live in fear because today I have faith, and a program. I may not always follow it exactly, but I have it.


  1. Amen! Thank you for sharing this today. I am appreciative of your gratefulness. It refreshes me.

  2. This is a great gratitude post.. I feel the same way. God has amazingly brought my business through the recession. I am busy right now. God is good. :)


  3. Good for you. I admire you even more if that is possible. Like you, a few times in my life I had plenty and appreciated it when I had it. These days I also appreciate not having much. Funny how that works. It is fun to find things you both like to do and realize you don't have to be on the high end in life. Just being real is enough.

  4. I'm a frugal freak and learned it the hard way. I am glad that I have passed on my frugal ways to my kids although they still cringe at times when I insist of going into strange GW Boutiques when we travel!!

    We sleep better and know that we have all we need and most of what we want, and trust the Universe for tomorrow.


  5. Great post. God will protect His children through crises. Blessings Kathy.

  6. It's in times like these that we really figure out what's important to us. Thanks for the reminder!

  7. I read The Complete Tightwad Gazette book twice by Amy D. (can't spell her last name) from the library. The other year I got one free with an Amazon free 25.00 certificate. I should read it again. Have not read in about 10 years.

    Being Frugal she wrote is not about deprivation. I love the Brunch you made.. totally Cool..!!.. and fun.. :)

  8. Taxes! I knew there was something I was forgetting. New puppy brain.

    Anyway, I so agree with you - happiness has little to do with money. I've been poor and I've been... well not rich, but financially comfortable, and I don't think there was any difference in how happy either felt. It all has to do with who's coming to dinner and how many smiles there are for breakfast.

  9. Reminds me of the saying "money can't buy happiness"...
    Great post and a reminder of what's important. Your brunch sounded splendid!
    Also reminds me of when we'd have hard times financially my mother would say to me, "look at all the birds out there, God does not let them go hungry..."
    God bless :)

  10. Wow, that's an awesome attitude Kathy, about making lemonade when life gives you lemons, so to speak. Good for you. I call these blessings 'little pockets of air that make it easy to breathe.' I stole that from a song however, but I like it nevertheless.
    I'm in one of those places now that I am hoping to look back on (pretty soon?) and say, well, that was the turning point. If I didn't have faith now, I would have to consider desperate means regarding money. It's scary being on your own with two kids and no family in this country, and an soon to be ex-husband in denial about his drinking. Not much help there...
    However, as you pointed out, sometimes you just appreciate things more when you are acutely aware of how precious they are, like the brunch you put on instead of a dinner out.
    Inspiring as usual, girl : )

  11. I share your understanding of frugality. Food is cheaper here in my corner of Africa, but I get books from the library. No television, but we eat out once a month. And the kitchen garden flourishes.

  12. wow, that's wonderful that you feel so good and have been so thrifty. that you have faith and gratitude instead of fear. a very inspiring post! :)

  13. Thank you. I can learn from your attitude. Sounds like you have arrived at serenity. A very profound and insightful post. You remind me of what is important.

  14. Kathy, there are so many people in this country in your situation. I hope it all turns around soon. I hope newspapers come roaring back and businesses begin to flourish. It's worse out there than most of us think. True happiness is not about owning stuff. Your post is a beautiful reminder of that.