“Leftovers again!?!” “Why can’t we just go out to eat, Mom?” Ah, these are sounds that most moms recognize and we cringe when we hear them. With three little boys, ages 9, 6 and 4, I grew just plain old tired of these complaints. My personal pet peeve is wasting food, so when I serve a meal I take full advantage of leftovers. My boys do NOT appreciate leftovers.
With the economy struggling and my boys appetites increasing, I have become extremely aware of our grocery and food budget. In the pursuit of decreasing this portion of our monthly budget we decided to cut back drastically on our eating out. Once we started eating at home more often we were amazed at the amount of money we had been spending on eating away from home. It took a few weeks but mom and dad quickly began to appreciate a home cooked meal over fast food or the chaos of a restaurant with three little boys. My fellas really missed eating out though. Somehow they had to eat many more vegetables at home…funny how that happens.
Excited by the savings I also began to plan meals that were economical and made enough for a meal of leftovers. This really resulted in saved money and saved time as well! However, once again my boys were not in favor of this change. I become determined to find a way to bring them on board.
As a mother I really strive to help my family gain perspective of the bigger picture. Yes, we want to stay in our budget and we definitely want to pay the bills and make healthy choices. The bigger picture though is that as we strive to be wise stewards of the resources we are given, we establish goals. Our larger goal as a family is to not only meet our budget but have money to save as well. Then we can decide what we want to do with those savings.
So we instituted the Giving Jar. We made a deal with our boys. Every time we ate leftovers for dinner and did not eat out during the week, we put $5 in our Giving Jar. We researched and discussed as a family what we might want to do with our savings. We discovered a wonderful organization called The Smile Train. It is an international charity that provides cleft lip and cleft palate surgery to children in need, as well as providing cleft-related training to doctors. For as little as $250 and 45 minutes, a child’s life can be changed by this surgery.
We decided that our first goal would be to save $250 to give to The Smile Train. Putting this goal in front of my children seemed to be exactly what they needed. Instead of complaining, they became excited to eat leftovers. If I was tempted to run through a fast food place when we had a busy evening with baseball and homework, they would remind me of our goal. Suddenly, they didn’t mind as much eating out of the cooler at the ball game or eating what we found in the cabinet. They loved seeing that five dollar bill slipped into our Giving Jar. We didn’t stop eating out entirely, but it became a planned event that was a special treat instead of where we turned during a dinnertime crisis.
It took what seemed like a long, long time but the day we reached our goal was a time of celebration. We sent off our donation and a few weeks later we received a letter from The Smile Train. Inside we found a picture of the child that our donation helped. There was a picture of this little boy before his surgery and a picture of him after his surgery. My boys were amazed at the difference. We talked about the obstacles a child would face if he did not have the oportunity to have this surgery. That little boy’s picture hangs on our refrigerator as a reminder of how good little sacrifices can feel.
We started saving again and dreaming of what we would do with our savings this year. We were not quite to our goal yet for this year, but recently we had the opportunity to give to a family that suddenly experienced the death of a child. We were so thankful for the opportunity to do something during such a painful time.
The Giving Jar has turned into the Blessing Jar as well. We are the ones that have been blessed. We have found great joy as a family in learning the power and benefit of putting aside our own desires in the anticipation of meeting someone else’s needs. It has created great opportunities for discussions about: needs versus wants, how financially blessed we are as a nation and as a family, the importance of giving to those in need, living unselfishly, staying aware of the needs around us, and working as a team toward an important goal.
We still use the Giving Jar. We need to decide on our next goal. There are lots of ideas on the table…for $100 we could microfinance a loan for a woman in a third world country through the organization, Kiva, for $200 we could purchase a donkey and bring help and relief to a child-headed household through World Vision, or for $300 we could help build a well to provide clean, fresh water for a school in Africa through the Water Project. We are so blessed…and the possibilities are endless!