Sunday, December 21, 2008

What Wants Do You Wish?

(If you came to read Planet Perspectives because of the recent Washington Post article, you might want to go check out these highlighted blog posts of interest.)

It has been good to share our story of our "experiment" in not spending money for two weeks. The portrayal in the Post article is accurate, though of course it's not the whole picture of who we are. We think the author wrote an excellent story. Yet, it's still been quite hard to read all of the comments on the Post website, where people jump to certain conclusions about us; some are accurate and some aren't. I don't blame them. Some people are out there truly struggling for survival, and we're fortunate that's not our case. My aunt in Alabama is working with a group of men who are homeless, struggling for basic needs, while she can't always afford to pay the church's bills, such as heating. When she started her non-profit Jack's Place, I was financially stable enough to be able to send off a small check right away to help her out a little bit. (Her blog is listed on the bottom right, Homeless in America)

I know the people who were very bothered by the Post article are very unlikely to come to my blog, thinking they know enough about me after reading the article in the Post. But in case they do read this, here are some replies to their comments.

  1. We don't live in a McMansion. Our house is about 1300 square feet.
  2. We don't drive SUVs. Our cars (1999 and 2000), and are paid for in-full.
  3. When we bought our first house, we were offered a far larger mortgage than we knew we could afford. We bought a house at a reasonable price with a 30-year mortgage and monthly payments that fit in our budget.
  4. I'm not a government contractor in the typical sense of the word. I work in Africa about 6 weeks per year, training African peace-keeping soldiers and I work for a private company. When I'm in the USA, I don't work outside of the home; in other words, I am a stay-at-home mom most of the year.
  5. We do give savings to the poor. See comments above and below.
  6. Yes, we know we can do better with our finances, and hope to do so.
  7. We have struggles, like everyone, and we're not going to share them all on a blog!
In Senegal, where my husband and I lived for 2 years, we became close friends with two Senegalese women, and their families are often struggling to survive. One of them recently called asking if I could send money via Western Union to pay off a debt of several months to a local vendor of rice, a staple which is probably 80% of what they eat on a typical day. I feel a certain sense of relief that she knows she can turn to me for help, and I am also relieved that I am in a position financially to be able to help. You can read a blog post about that...

Even though we estimated what we "saved" but not spending, it's hard to say for sure what we would have spent. You don't really know for sure, if you don't actual spend it! And you don't really know what you spend, unless you track where every penny is going. If you use cash, and don't save receipts, or jot it down in a check register, you won't know for sure.

I think the blog will be taking a new path until my next trip to Africa in January or February. I'd like to address all these issues raised by various people and get our finances completely in order. But it's not an overnight fix. It will take some time to evaluate our priorities, and to thoughtfully determine what is a want, and what is a need.


Dr. Mom said...

I liked the article. I think it is great that you tried your experiment! Don't listen to those who tear you down just because you try something new and hopefully better. It is a great example for others to follow, regardless of their income level. Some people are just disgruntled with their lot and want you to be just as miserable.

Anonymous said...

Good post!! There is always more to a story, than what might be printed!!Thanks for the link to your aunt's blog - you have alot of great links that I hope to visit and pass on to others!!

Finn Kristiansen said...

In reading the WAPO article, I too was snickering a bit, thinking, "Wow, these people are really comfortable and why do they get a write up in a national paper for dabbling in cutting back."

But that will often be the reaction by people who don't know you, your life, and your situation.

So I thought I would just take a moment to encourage your efforts, because self examination is something we can all do, whether comfortable or struggling.

The fact that you did not have to make such a choice, or do such an experiment, makes it even more worthy. And as with all experiments, the knowledge gained will benefit your family, and the wider world.

Keep up your efforts and don't let people get you down. There will always be critics and cynics (like me). But deep down we know it's a good hearted effort and we could all learn from the example.

Anonymous said...

A courageous experiment. Reading about it certainly made me think. Thanks for allowing the article and for blogging about it.