When I was growing up, I remember my mom cutting coupons every Sunday. My Grandpa always saved the Sunday paper just for her, and it was a ritual for her to clip coupons while everyone else watched Law & Order. Meanwhile I would pour over the leftover coupons that she didn’t want and pretend to “clip” them with my little plastic scissors, convinced that my mom had obviously forgotten to clip that Jello Snack Pack coupon and I needed to remedy the situation right away. I didn’t really go grocery shopping with her very often, as her trips were usually taken during my school hours. All I could remember was that she clipped them every week, then the pile would disappear and a new pile would appear every Sunday.
I also grew up in a house that was definitely below the poverty line. We weren’t “poor,” as we did own our own house (though I discovered later we were in constant threat of losing) and my dad always had a job of some sort (I even remember him roofing all day with the 7-Eleven shirt in the back seat of the car, which he would change into after a shower and then go work the night shift). My folks were very good at making us feel like we were the richest people in the world, with my mom making all of our very own clothes and handmaking a lot of our toys. Trips to Goodwill were like days at Disneyland, all sorts of new toys and items to play with and the occasional bag of “new” clothes for us kids. In other words, we definitely were not wealthy by any means, but my parents never made us feel insecure about our financial situation. Ever.
When I got married at age 20, I married a man who I knew would pretty much always have a steady job and make quite a bit of money at it. Within one year he landed a really good job (more than double what my parents raised our whole family on, seemed like a fortune to me!) and within 3 years they had raised his salary another 50%. We bought our house when I was 21 and had started our family by the time I was 22. I didn’t ever really worry about money, as the numbers seemed vastly higher than I had been raised on. After all, if we felt like princesses on my parents’ income, I figured we would feel like kings and queens on our budget. We went out to eat all the time, shopped for new clothes and household items whenever we wanted, and pretty much just enjoyed life. I never worried about trying to save anything, much less save money on the purchases I wanted. We never made a plan to go to the grocery store, we just went when we were hungry and got whatever “sounded good.” As we began to look at our finances though, we realized they were starting to spiral out of control. Fortunately, we caught it before we joined the millions of Americans consumed in credit card debt. But, we still had to come to a gripping halt on our spending if we were going to be able to pay the mortgage on time or for the diapers we seemed to always be buying. Over the first 6 years of our marriage we had many ups and downs financially, spending like crazy, then halting until we couldn’t function any more on canned chili beans and Kraft macaroni and cheese.
When I considered the “art” of couponing, I honestly had the assumption that it was only for “poor people.” In other words, people who couldn’t afford to buy their food so they depended on other means to pay for it. Why would I need to do that? We weren’t poor. It wasn’t until I looked at our budget and saw that we were spending $600-$700 a month on groceries for our little family of 4 that I realized that my own ideas and assumptions were terribly, terribly wrong.
I felt this past fall like God started pulling me in the direction of exhibiting more stewardship in our lives, especially our finances. Normally “stewardship” of money to me meant that we just needed to make sure and pay our tithes on time, and the rest was ours to deem what we wanted to do with it. I realized, though, that it also meant making sure the money we had left over went to good uses, starting with our grocery budget. I started with my friend Monica teaching me about her couponing. Seriously, this lady has had to have the manager come and approve her purchases because she saves SO MUCH money on her grocery bill. She walked me through the simple plan of clipping the coupons I thought I would use on Sundays, then looking at the ads on Wednesdays and try to match products. My mom also showed me how to make a meal plan for each week based on meats that were on sale. I looked at shopping at multiple stores instead of just one and began to get in the habit of developing a weekly routine of clipping, planning, and shopping. Our grocery bill was CUT IN HALF and our going out to eat budget has gone down significantly. Now, as long as I keep up with our routine, I KNOW what we are having for dinner every night this week. I KNOW what is in our pantry. I can provide healthier foods for my kids by shopping at stores like Sprouts that have produce at great prices. And I have a much higher peace of mind about our finances in the grocery store.
More than anything, I realized that good stewardship isn’t just for “poor” people. It’s for anyone who wants to make their finances go farther. It’s for anyone who wants to go to bed with the peace of mind that they did what they could to make it, and God will take care of the rest for them. I am slowly shedding my presumptuous attitude that money makes everything okay. I want to make my children feel like princesses and princes, no matter what our budget is. I want to teach them that even though God gives us our money, it’s still His to decide how we use it. And I want to show them that a little effort can go a long, long way in making your life better.