>I’ve thought about posting this, or something like it, for a few months now.

A lot of people are struggling this year. It’s astounding to think about. At Thanksgiving, people who had jobs said their job was the thing for which they were thankful. I was reading comments from the winner of the Pioneer Woman’s Kitchen Aid mixer give away. The question was, “What do you want for Christmas?” and one of the winners said, “A job for my husband.” I pray that family gets what they need for Christmas.

We have been working through Dave Ramsey’s “Financial Peace University” CD’s. It’s not easy and given that we’ve had to pay for major car repairs and a new motor for our furnace recently, building our emergency fund is a task we’re still working towards.

I also quit my part-time retail job. The reasons are many, but basically, by the time I drove to work and paid parking, those few hours weren’t worth it. We really weren’t making money. Plus, I wanted to be able to enjoy my family this Christmas season. I didn’t get to do that last year because of the crazy hours. Add to all that, I’m hoping to either work from home doing customer service OR start a program to get my Master’s in Education (for free, no lie) and start teaching.

So, suffice it to say, we’ve been tightening our belts. And really paying attention to what we spend and what we spend our money on. (Ack, I ended a sentence with a preposition… sorry about that.)

So, finally, these are a few things the recession is teaching me.

* Use leftovers. I know, it’s sounds crazy. But for a really long time, we didn’t really eat leftovers. We wasted them. When you think about it, how stupid is that? Wasting food = wasting money.

* My kids only need so many clothes. And toys. Really, I can go overboard buying clothes for my girls. Working in a kids’ retail store made me “fall off the wagon” because before I went to work there, I did a LOT of consignment shopping. When I was working, I quit doing that as much. But I’m back on the wagon. I’d LOVE to go back to Columbus to these really awesome consignment stores my aunt took me to a few years ago. She (and those stores) got me into consignment shopping in the first place. It was the first time my daughter ever had clothes from Gymboree and Gap.

* The beauty of cheaper stores. Take Aldi, for example. I had shopped there intermittently, but never regularly. I can consistently get bananas there for $0.39 a pound. At my regular grocery store, they are usually $0.59 a pound, $0.49 on sale. Considering how often I bananas, that’s a great deal!

* Wants vs. Needs. If I stop and think about it, I don’t NEED most things on store shelves. There is a REAL difference when you consider Wants vs. Needs. I could never thank Dave Ramsey enough for that lesson.

* It’s ok to ask for things you need as gifts. I feel like a bit of an idiot to admit that I just got this. Yes, for Abbie’s 1st birthday, my parents got her a pair of shoes. Shoes for Abbie are, indeed, a big deal, what with her needing wide sizes and a different size for each foot. But you know what else she and her sister need? A new table & chairs. The one I bought them a few years ago has essentially bitten the dust. Both chairs are broken and a hazard. They need/I want shelves for their toys. And I just realized that it’s ok to tell grandparents, aunts and uncles that. It’s ok if they don’t get 10 baby dolls this year. They are bombarded with “stuff” year after year but no one has thought where all that stuff will go, except Hubby and me because WE are the ones who have to deal with all the stuff everyday.

When did we start to believe that everything we give or get as gifts has to be fun?

Granted, it IS more fun that way, but you know what’s not fun? Having 10 dolls and nowhere to put them.

I remember watching “Little House on the Prairie” when the girls each got a silver cup, a peppermint stick, a pair of red handmade mittens and a sugar cookie. These treasures made Laura exclaim that it was the best Christmas ever.

When did Christmas get so… big and focus on… more?

We’ve lost focus of the REAL reason we celebrate Christmas. If there is a silver lining to people not having as much money, it’s that it forces us to stop focusing on material things and focus on what matters most: our family and friends. It makes us be creative. It makes us take stock of what we have and gives us pause when we think of what we really need compared to what we want.