My Plan or God’s Plan?

Psalm 127:1

Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain…

These words last weekend while attending a local retreat about world missions. In a darkened auditorium I listened to a seasoned missionary share stories of caring for the people of a jungle village on a Pacific island. After thirty years of living with some of the poorest of the world with spotty electricity, no paved roads, little communication from the outside world, and most other things that I take for granted, this missionary was winsome and joyful. He gave up a life of relative comfort in the United States to submit to whatever and wherever God wanted him to go, and he found a life of adventure, fulfillment and deep joy. He is proof that those who give their lives away will gain it back in the end.

“I have to apologize to the younger generation in the room,” he said, tucking his gray floppy hair behind his ears. “My generation has not modeled how to sacrifice. We have tried to protect you and give you everything you need and want, and now you don’t know what it means to sacrifice.”

Ripples of anxious butterflies started fluttering inside me. I knew what he meant. God has often convicted me of my idol of my own comfort. I don’t like to sacrifice. I avoid pain at all cost. I have ignored Jesus’ words to count the cost and to take up my cross daily. In the quite darkness of the room, I confessed this to God again.

Then God reminded me of Psalm 127:1. “Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain…” He whispered to my heart. “You haven’t asked me what I think about buying a home. Are you willing to sacrifice your plans?” My heart quickened. The whisper boomed inside my head.

Give up my plans? I cringed. I have wanted a house for so long. Andy and I have started to save for it. I have blogged about it. I have talked about it. But I know that God is right. I have not asked Him about His plans for a house or all of the money that will go towards it.

James 4:13-16 says:

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lords’ will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil.”

The music from the band on the stage interrupted my thoughts. The speaker left the stage. I knelt on the ground and repented of my boastful, self-centered plans. I asked God to show me what His plans are and to help me to learn to sacrifice. He is the best teacher. After all, He sacrificed His beloved Son for my sinful pride.

At this point, I think that God is still leading us to purchase a house, but I want to hold this goal with an open hand. I want to be willing to sacrifice my plans and dreams for God’s plans and dreams.

Ten Ways to Spend Less and Get Closer to Your Savings Goal

Saving up for our down payment does not only require increasing our income, it requires spending less. The less money we can spend, the more we can save.

Two experiences during our marriage taught Andy and me to live on less: his years in graduate school and a season of prolonged unemployment. Here are ten ways that we learned to spend less money through these periods:

  1. Own one car: This saves money on insurance, gas and maintenance. As much as possible, we have lived within an easy bus ride, bike ride or walk to Andy’s place of employment. That allowed me to access to the car to grocery shop, run errands and drive our kids around. We recently bought a second car, but fifteen years of owning one car has saved us thousands of dollars.
  2. Own one cell phone: If you can believe it, we did not own any cell phone until 2010, and we didn’t own a smart phone until 2016! Andy is at work most of the day during the week and can be reached on his office phone. I carry the cell phone most of the time, but if Andy is going away for an overnight, he takes the cell phone. We have a landline also, which is a lot cheaper than owning another cell phone.
  3. Keep the house/apartment warmer in the summer and cooler in the winter: Texas is hot in the summer, and I do not like to be in a warm home. I get angry when I’m hot. But I have learned to live with our thermostat set on 78 in the summer. We have ceiling fans in all of the bedrooms, which helps at night. The winters in Ohio were cold, but we set our thermostat to 63 in the winter. We wore lots of layers, and we used our gas burning fireplace in the living room to boost the air temperature when needed.
  4. Eat out less: This is hard some nights when I just don’t have the energy to cook. Creating a meal plan each week helps me avoid impulse fast food meals. With a meal plan, I’m not scrambling at five o’clock each evening to put a meal together. If I know that I’m going to have a busy afternoon or evening, I plan a crockpot meal.
  5. Use Walmart’s  grocery pick-up service: This helps me to stick to my shopping list and not make impulse purchases. I can even see the total bill in the sidebar while I am shopping. If I get close to going over budget, I can take things out of my cart. Walmart does not charge a pick-up fee or mark up the price of the items like most other grocery shopping services do.
  6. Eat less meat: We are carnivores, but meat is one of the most expensive items on our grocery bills. We cut back on our meat consumption when I stopped working, and now we eat meat about three times a week for dinner. There are lots of delicious, satisfying vegetarian recipes on the web.
  7. Camp on family vacations: We own a four-person tent that we use for most of our trips. During times of the year when weather is less predictable, we reserve primitive cabins that include beds and electricity but no bathrooms. The campsites and cabins cost much less than hotel rooms, and we bring food to eat most of our meals.
    Here’s our little camp site on a vacation in Northern California. I love those big trees!

    To be honest, I don’t like to tent camp more than about four nights in a row, so sometimes we break up the nights by staying a night in a hotel.

  8. Buy a membership to a local attraction: Over the years we have purchased memberships to zoos, children’s museums, the YMCA and local amusement parks. While we did have to pay a large lump sum up front, we saved money over the year by using our passes frequently. Usually these passes pay for themselves after two uses, and now we have a go-to place when we are looking for something to do on a Sunday afternoon. Sometimes, we have requested passes as Christmas gifts.
  9. Swap babysitting services with friends: This has been a difficult one for me. I would rather pay a sitter to watch my kids for an evening without the obligation of returning the favor to a friend. However, paying for a babysitter does get expensive, and when we are able to swap with friends whose kids are similar in age to our kids, it usually does not require a lot of extra work.
  10. Buy some hair clippers and watch some YouTube videos to learn how to cut hair: We bought some clippers twelve years ago so that I could cut Andy’s hair. It was not difficult to learn how to give him a basic cut, and twelve years later, we have saved hundreds of dollars in trips to the barber shop. I do not let Andy cut my hair, though he has offered. 🙂 I just try to stick to hair styles that do not require regular maintenance.

Some of these money saving methods may seem too drastic for you to implement, but implementing just one of these methods could save you hundreds of dollars in the next year. That is hundreds of dollars that you can put to your money saving goal!

Please let us know what steps you are currently taking or have taken to save more money each month by leaving a comment below. We would love to hear them!