Seasons of Life

“If you’ve identified yourself as too busy, step off that jet-propelled treadmill. Take some time to catch your breath and confront the condition of your soul.” –Jean Fleming, Finding Focus in a Whirlwind World

 by Deborah Taylor-Hough

Many times we don’t experience the joys of life as fully as we can because we’re too wrapped up in the busy-ness and daily-ness of life. With so many conflicting complications tearing at the framework of our lives, is it any wonder we sometimes long to escape to a desert island and experience a little bit of that refreshing, slower-paced “island” time? 

Life throws so much at us, we often feel like we have no choice but to knuckle down under it all. I’ve frequently heard people say busy-ness is just a fact of modern life, and we’d just better learn to handle it, or discover how to thrive in the midst of chaos. Family responsibilities, careers, daycare, household chores, meal planning, bills, errands, health issues, car pools, school functions, sports, phone calls, traffic jams, community demands, church committees, political races, taxes, debt. These are just a few of the numerous — and often difficult — demands bombarding us daily. 

When my first child was born, I was involved with a wide variety of activities. I was working part-time at a local hospital. I volunteered at an agency that offered peer counseling and support groups for women in crisis. I answered a hot-line in my home. I facilitated study groups. I was the Nursery Director and Preschool Sunday School teacher at our church. And I did all the normal wife/mother/homemaker things, too. 

Busy, busy, busy, busy. 

One day, before I’d finally stepped out of my over-commitments, I saw in my mind a picture of my life. I was sitting in the center and all around me were whirling the assorted activities that made up my busy days. I suddenly noticed that not only my activities but also my closely held personal priorities were circling around me. It dawned on me that maybe the priorities (family, spirituality, service to others) needed to be set firmly in the center hub of the wheel and I needed to make sure that the activities circling my life were actually revolving around my priorities, rather than just around me and my personal schedule. 

I discovered that in order to be true to my personal priorities at that time of my life, I needed to focus on being a wife. And a mother. And to focus on the spiritual aspects of life. And to be available. My life had been busy with service to others, but I found even after I shifted my focus to my home, opportunities for service continued to enter my life. Service to others became a natural outgrowth of my life, rather than a title on a name tag or a job description at church or one more “to-do” item on a list in my day planner. 

In the book Finding Focus in a Whirlwind World by Jean Fleming, the author says that she sits down about three or four times each year and re-evaluates her various activities in light of her priorities. She said some seasons of life are full of busy-ness and we just can’t help it (sometimes that’s just the way life is — hectic and full), but other times we need to be sensitive to possibly needing to sit quietly and focus on quieter pursuits for a time. 

In her book, Fleming compared her life to a tree. The trunk of the tree was her number one priority (which in her case was a strong commitment to God). Out of the trunk grew the main limbs which were the main activities of her life (parenthood, career, etc.). And then from the main limbs would grow all those little branches that had a tendency to grow and multiply quickly. The little branches were the general activities that would crowd in and fill up her day. Just like a tree grows healthier and more fruitful by regular pruning, Fleming saw her times of re-evaluating her activities as that time of pruning her life to make it more fruitful. She found it more productive to do a few things well, rather than being involved with a myriad of conflicting activities, but not being fully fruitful with any of them. 

I learned a valuable object lesson about pruning and fruitfulness in my own front yard. One year, I pruned back a Clematis plant that was overgrowing the front of the house. I cut it back almost to the stump. My husband and neighbors all thought I’d killed the poor plant. And to be honest, sometimes I wondered if maybe I’d been a little over-zealous in my pruning. 

But the following Spring when the Clematis bloomed, it was absolutely breath-taking. Every vine had almost an over-abundance of blossoms. It was simply a mass of flowers — unlike anything I’d ever seen. Even people walking by on the sidewalk would stop to comment on how full and beautiful my plant was that year. But I know that if I hadn’t pruned the Clematis back to the bare essentials, it would’ve continued to grow long and gangly, never achieving the level of beauty and fullness that came from focusing all its energy and growth into it’s stem and main branches. 

While we can’t ever free ourselves fully from all of life’s demands, we can have hope to discover a sense of balance in our lives. Or we can identify ways to shift between the two extremes — finding a time and place in our lives and hearts for contemplation, and then alternating that with other times of busy-ness and distraction. In the book Gift from the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh describes this balancing act as “the process of finding a rhythm of life with more creative pauses.” 

It can be difficult to find balance in the midst of life’s activities, but finding focus is necessary in order to function properly and reap full satisfaction and enjoyment from our busy lives full of activities, relationships and commitments. 

–Excerpted and adapted with permission from A Simple Choice: A Practical Guide for Saving Your Time, Money and Sanity by Deborah Taylor-Hough (SourceBooks, 1999).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Deborah Taylor-Hough (free-lance writer and mother of three now-grown-up kiddos) is the author of Frugal Living For Dummies® (Wiley), A Simple Choice: A Practical Guide to Saving Your Time, Money and Sanity and the bestselling Frozen Assets cookbook series (SourceBooks).

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10 Simple Steps to Conquer Problem Debt

by Deborah Taylor-Hough

IOU piggyIf you’ve identified a problem in the area of personal debt, you’ll need to set about remedying the situation. Here are easy steps to regaining financial control: 

1) Seek help. If you’re not sure how to proceed, or you’re feeling too overwhelmed to act for yourself, call a non-profit credit counseling program for advice and assistance in working with your creditors to set up a repayment plan. Consumer Credit Counseling Service has offices throughout the
US. Call 1-800-355-CCCS, for an office near you. You can also find information about debt problems from your local church, library or bank. Look for information on-line as well.

2) Contact your creditors. As soon as you’re aware you won’t be able to make a payment, contact your creditors. Creditors are more likely to work with you if they’re contacted before the payment is actually overdue. Debt collectors are trained to solve payment problems, so don’t be afraid to be honest with them about your financial situation. Stay calm. If you commit to paying the bill by a certain date, be sure you follow through on that commitment. The creditor won’t be likely to work with you again if you don’t keep your payment promises. If you can’t make your minimum monthly payments, write to each creditor individually and see if you can work out smaller regular monthly bills. Be sure to explain to them why you fell behind in your bills, your current income, your other financial obligations and the exact amount you can pay them each month. 

3) Cut up all credit cards and send them back to the issuing companies immediately. Officially close all credit accounts. The temptation when you start seeing lower balances on your accounts could lead you to charge the credit limits right back up again if the accounts remain open. Don’t take out anymore loans or open any new credit accounts until back bills are paid in full. 

4) Set a frugal budget and live within it. It’s usually easier to decrease spending than increase income. Don’t make any purchases above and beyond the absolute basics until you’ve made some headway in catching up on your back bills. Consider selling assets to find more money for your debt repayment. Even just holding a large garage sale can sometimes generate enough money to help pay an immediate bill or two. 

5) Prioritize debts. Mortgages, child support and any debt that has gone to a collection agency is a priority. After you’ve identified the first priority debts, look for the credit companies that are charging you the most interest. 

6) Pay each creditor something. No matter how small the amount you’re able to pay, it will show good faith on your part as you try to negotiate payment arrangements. 

7) Track personal spending. It’s important to identify any holes where your money is draining out. Keep a detailed record for one month of every expenditure, no matter how insignificant. Little expenses on a regular basis add up quickly. Carry a small notebook with you and write down every single purchase. Now you’ll know where your money’s going. 

8.) Plug up any holes discovered from the spending record. 

9) Plan ahead for annual expenses (i.e.: insurance, car licenses, medical deductibles, etc.). 

10) Set long term financial goals. After setting concrete, definite goals for future financial health, make all current financial decisions with your future well-being in mind. Keep the end result in mind — debt-free living! 

–Portions of this article were excerpted and adapted from A Simple Choice: A Practical Guide to Saving Your Time, Money and Sanity, by Deborah Taylor-Hough (SourceBooks). Used with permission

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Top Ten Tips to Build a Better Burger

by Deborah Taylor-Hough
Excerpted and adapted with permission from The Original Simple Mom’s Ideas Book (Simple Pleasures Press, 2015).

f5729759bb3611be0976db6ae68236f6Summer’s here and if you’re anything like me, you’ve already made that annual trip to the store to refill the propane tank on your backyard grill.

One thing I often hear from guests is that my barbequed burgers actually taste good rather than just being hard and dry as hockey pucks like so many of those traditional family reunion barbequed hamburgers we’ve all endured from time to time. Continue reading

12 Simple Ideas for Frugal Family Fun

by Deborah Taylor-Hough
Excerpted and adapted with permission from The Original Simple Mom’s Ideas Book (Simple Pleasures Press, 2015).

486ce01ccac1f555e5d4142c892a4d3bBeing frugal doesn’t mean you can’t ever have any fun with your family.  Sometimes it just takes a little creativity to find simple and inexpensive activities for all to enjoy.

  • Be patient and wait to see new movies on video. Some communities even offer free video rentals at local libraries and will order new movies if library patrons request a certain title.
  • Check to see if there are any discount movie theaters in your area. Most of these places show movies just before they’re released to video. A family of four can go out for an evening at the movies and only spend around $10 for a fun family outing. Keep a list of movies you want to see, and then check the discount theater listings each week. These theaters often keep the movies for just one or two weeks, so stay alert to what’s playing.
  • Go to the first show of the day at first-run theaters for the best prices (and shortest lines!).
  • Check your area for free days at museums, zoos, etc.
  • Rather than buying separate admissions to different educational or fun family destinations, buy one yearly family pass to either the zoo, the aquarium, or a theme park. Go repeatedly to that one place each time you want a family outing. You will easily save the cost of the family admission, plus you’ll have the benefit of not feeling pressured to see everything in one day. You can always see what you missed the next time you come. Next year, buy a pass somewhere else.
  • Check for free concerts, plays, and other live family entertainment in local parks.
  • Call and find out if your local college stage production group, ballet or orchestra will let you watch them rehearse for free.
  • If you want to eat at an expensive restaurant, go for lunch rather than dinner. The menu is usually the same, but the prices are often half.
  • When dining out, drink water only. Ask for a lemon or lime wedge if you want to make your drink seem special. This trick can easily cut $10 off your family’s total dining bill, which could mean the difference between going out for a fun meal or staying home eating frozen egg rolls again.
  • Go fly a kite. Literally!
  • Make the most of any available student discounts. Show your child’s school ID at museums, zoos, galleries, theaters, etc.
  • Instead of an expensive day of professional sports, go to a high school or community college game.

41rIlTMZdiLThis article was excerpted and adapted with permission from The Original Simple Mom’s Ideas Book (2015).

For more details about the book and ordering information, visit the book’s page at Simple Pleasures Press.

12 Tips to Keep Your Summertime Organized

by Deborah Taylor-Hough
Excerpted and adapted with permission from The Original Simple Mom’s Ideas Book (Simple Pleasures Press, 2015).

7d317b55917e0dfaa9f33a4325f0d16dJust because life is a bit more relaxed during the lazy days of summer doesn’t change the fact that we still need to know where things are and keep them handy.

Here are some simple tips to keep your summertime activities and supplies running smoothly: Continue reading