Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Year in Review

This probably seems like a very odd time to have a post entitled "The Year in Review," but for our family, it's completely appropriate. You see, one year ago today, our lives changed dramatically. This was the day when David's office in Knoxville, Tennessee, was closed - without warning.

I was 5 months pregnant with Megan, watching an episode of A Baby Story when David showed up in the middle of the day, suddenly out of work. (Ironically, a VERY similar situation unfolded when I was about 3 months pregnant with Nathan.) During the last 365 days, we have moved twice, we have sold our house (thank You, Lord!), David has worked for two different companies, and we have learned many lessons.

1. God always provides.
We should have never made it financially. When we moved to Huntsville last August, we began paying rent on an apartment in addition to our home mortgage. (We thought that we were moving back to Knoxville within a few months - but that's another story altogether.) This was already a huge stretch for our finances, but already God was providing. Because of a contract David had signed with his employer in Knoxville, he was paid for an additional 3 months after the office closed. That allowed us time to find another job and to accumulate some savings after the next job started.

Then, David's new boss decided he was going to cut David's pay by 1/3. This put us into huge financial strain. The Lord again was faithful and provided another job that started within a month. However, this job still paid roughly $1000 a month less than what we had when we first moved to Huntsville. Between this decrease in salary and increase in expenses (apartment rent, new baby, rising gas prices), we were hemorrhaging money.

By all logic, we should have run out of money within a couple of months. But God continued to provide. We were still struggling to pay the bills, but none were going unpaid. The mortgage and rent were still being paid, there were still groceries in the pantry, and somehow we were surviving. Finally, when we literally had $78 left in savings, God provided a buyer for our house. We owed money at the closing, but God provided that, too, in the form of our tax refund which arrived right when we needed it.

2. We really can live on less.
We learned to cut back in all sorts of ways. One of the biggest (which I suppose should have been the most obvious) is by buying generic brands. My mother clipped coupons for me, but rarely did I find a coupon that resulted in a product costing less than its store-brand competitor. In most cases, the store brand was just the same. In some cases, it was even better. (Kroger Raisin Bran has MORE raisins than Kellogg's Raisin Bran.) In other cases, the name brand proved to be the better buy. I can't say that we ate very healthily during that time, and since our finances have improved, I have started spending a bit more to get more healthy items, but we still don't spend nearly as much on groceries as we used to.

Other examples include items that I have found on craigslist (most recently two chairs for our kitchen table - $10 each), not having a home phone, and consignment sales for the kids' clothes.

3. We'd rather have financial security than _____ (a big house, boat, 3rd car, etc.).
I would love to have a big, beautiful house again. I really enjoyed our house in Knoxville, and I still wouldn't call it an unwise purchase. In an otherwise stagnant market, it sold in 4 months. And because it was a foreclosure when we bought it, we didn't owe a huge amount of money at closing.

Nevertheless, I now look at houses differently. I know from living in this apartment that we don't have to have something huge (although please, Lord, let it be bigger than this!). I would rather spend a little less and have more money to spend on decorating (and I'm learning more ways to do that inexpensively as well). At one time or another, each of the houses we have owned have felt like a burden, and I would like to avoid that feeling if possible.

Right now, we're looking at several rental possibilities in and around Fort Smith. A couple of them are lease-to-own houses. Whatever we decide, it will be nice to be there for a little while, catch our breaths, save up some money, and then make a more informed decision. I really want two things right now (well, maybe three): a yard for Nathan and Megan to play in, room to put our stuff (it's already been pared down, but I could certainly do better), and the freedom to personalize the space. And I'd like these things to be in a location that will allow us to make friendships and be involved in our church.

So it's been an eventful year. It certainly hasn't been the most enjoyable year. With the bright exception of Megan's birth, it's been fairly miserable and at times quite frightening. But we are different people now. Better people, I hope. We're more aware of God's abilities and hopefully prepared to make wiser choices with a new perspective.

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