Wednesday, April 29
Monday, April 27
Saturday, April 18
Keeping the Jones’ at Bay
Elated to have just been united in holy matrimony, Mr. and Mrs. John Doe delicately feed each other their elaborate chocolate, mocha, and lemon wedding cake. Covered in fondant icing and stacked four layers high, the couple indulges in its decadence. Guests are wined and dined with four course meals, while live music plays. When the celebration finally winds down, guests leave dreamily, with candy, coasters or candles in hand. The appearances of this celebration mask the truth that soon faces our couple, basking in wedded bliss.
Upon returning from tanning on the beaches of the Caribbean, touring across Europe, or cruising through the Greek Isles, said couple will return home to feel the pressure of the Jones. Why live in a one-bedroom apartment when you get a mortgage for a three-bedroom house? Of course every newlywed couple needs the latest coffee maker and a flat screen high definition T.V. How will we stay entertained without a Wii and memberships to the local gym? Sometimes it feels as if the Jones’ are shouting expectations through a loud speaker. If our couple heeds the luring call of consumerism, they may soon find themselves reviewing their latest bank statement wondering why they have more “month” than money.
After a long day of teaching English to tired, Taiwanese children, my knight in shining armor arrived at my school to whisk me off to our castle. Nic and I hopped on our grey scooter and headed to our one bedroom studio on the 23rd floor of our apartment building. It was payday and we had had our prized New Taiwanese dollars stacked neatly in red envelopes; in the Chinese culture red is considered to be associated with luck and wealth. That night I would cook dinner in our over sized toaster oven in our make shift kitchen. Then, it was date night.
The recent world economic situation can only make matters worse for the average American newlyweds. Everyone is aware of the joys and stresses that newlyweds face. Not only are two lives merged, usually two financial situations are combined. In a country where 20% of divorces occur in the first five years of marriage, and the number one topic that sparks a fight between couples is debt, it seems that the Mr. and Mrs. Doe are fighting an uphill battle.[i] Paying for a wedding can set the average couple back $21,000 - $24, 000. [ii] When you consider this expense combined with the $37,600, which is the average debt for graduate students, we realize the possibly hazardous situation that newlyweds can find themselves in. [iii]
Upon returning from our own tour of Europe and paying off student loan debt, Nic and I decided we would not chase after the Jones’; we determined not to become a statistic and to make a change. A McMansion with a two-car garage is an impossibility for us right now, but we are satisfied. A TV isn’t a fixture in our home, but from our perspective via the Internet, it looks like that Jones’ have recently found themselves in a precarious situation.
When newlywed couples lock themselves into a 30-year mortgage in a three-bedroom house, they are often stuck with monthly payments that strip their bank accounts bare. The average principal amount owed on a mortgage is $69,227. [iv] Most personal finance books discourage the purchase of a brand new car. Cars devalue the minute you drive them out of the lot. The average automobile loan in the United States is for five years. Today’s average car owner owes $4,221 more than the vehicle is worth at the time it is sold. [v]
I hurriedly pulled our most recent account balances off the computer and jotted them down in our little green notebook. There were still a few things left for me to do before “date night” began. Running over to our wooden closet, I opened Nic’s underwear drawer and dug through our stacks of red envelopes that sit neatly in an old soap box. I pulled out envelopes labeled “vacation”, “Roth IRA” and “Masters”. I counted the New Taiwanese Dollars in each envelope and scribbled those totals in the notebook, while Nic grabbed his iBook and shoved it into his backpack. We drove off on our scooter to the closest Starbucks. I was the first one to notice the line. It extended across the first floor of the building and back towards the stairs. The frustrated, exhausted visages of impatient customers, juxtaposed against the stressed and frantic looking faces of the baristas, greeted us at the door. Nic and I gave each other that look; the look that asks whether this date night was a good idea, the look that suggests that we should have stayed home instead. After a brief discussion, we decided that our purpose for being there was most important and we would wait out the line.
Nic worked his way past the crowd of Taiwanese men and women and upstairs to wait for a seat at a table. Thirty minutes passed as I stood, waiting, shifting my weight from one foot to another. I finally placed our order, and at about the same time Nic was able to secure us a table. Another thirty minutes later I walked up the stairs, caramel macchiato and decaf skim mocha in hand, to my husband who had his ibook out and ready to go. I pulled out my green notebook and we got straight to the task at hand; setting our financial goals, reviewing our budget and planning our expenses and savings for the next six months.
According to a recent study, 70% of couples talk about finances on a weekly basis. [vi] This may lead the reader to wonder why all the problems centered on money? Research suggests that it’s how couples are talking that is the problem. Conversations based around money can too quickly become emotional, reactive and therefore quickly heated.
Some might find it ironic that we chose Starbucks as the venue for our financial date night. After all, isn’t the infamous “latte factor” an expense that we would avoid like the plague? Restaurants and coffee shops are, for us, special occasions. In our opinion, the cost of a coffee is well worth a stable financial future. To our elation and surprise, after thirty minutes of waiting in a long line of Mandarin speakers, we were let in on the secret of the masses, it was buy one get one free night.
Discussing the details of our envelope-budget, we matter-of-factly discussed any possible areas where we might be able to slash our spending. Money is not an explosive issue in our relationship. We discuss our finances often, whether on dates or on an afternoon run. Student loans are no longer an option for us; we are committed to saving $10,000 to pay for my Masters’ classes as I take them. Months ago we carefully crafted a rigid budget that allows us to pay this expense. Before we receive our red envelopes each month we know exactly where that money will go. When the envelopes are empty, our spending for the month is done. Everything that is left is poured into the envelope labeled “Masters.” Working in Taiwan, teaching English to the masses allows us to work part time and still save enough to pay this seemingly colossal expense.
Examining the day to day finances of the average American household really opens ones eyes to the reality that the Jones aren’t as happy as they appear to be. About 43% of Americans spend more than they earn each year. [vii] Specifically, the average American spends $1.22 for every dollar that they earn. [viii] Credit cards have encouraged spending beyond our means with the mantra of “buy now, pay later.” The psychological effect of using plastic, rather than seeing the cash move out of your hands, affects spending habits. Even for the disciplined user that pays off the balance every month, the average credit card purchase is usually 112% more than if cash were used. [ix] If Mr. and Mrs. Jones have at least one credit card, they are likely to have $10,700 in credit card debt. [x] On top of that, they also pay $1,200 in credit card interest annually. [xi]
Dreams of exploring Beijing, isolating ourselves from the crowds of tourists and scaling the Great Wall, have lingered in our minds for months. Consistently stashing some cash away each month has made this trip do-able for us. Hashing out the financial details of this trip, airfare, hotel, visa costs and daily spending, concluded our date night. Three hours after parking our scooter and battling the lines of locals, we had broken down our budget, planned for an adventure vacation, shared our dreams for the future, and set up a plan for the next six months.
The Jones’ continue to shout their expectations, however, we turn a debt-free ear. We may not have the same surface level luxuries of the Jones,’ but in our opinion, our lives are rich. Has it been worth it, all the budgeting, scrimping and planning, you might ask? How about you ask the Jones.
[i] Lawler, Mary K. “Transitioning Through Divorce: The Six Types of Divorce,” Oklahoma State University. 14 Apr. 2009.
[ii] “They’ll Never Know: Eight Hidden Ways to Cut Wedding Costs,” Smart Money June 11, 2008. 14 Apr. 2009
[iii] Wines, Leslie. “Should Schools Warn Students About Debt,” Boston. October 24, 2007. 14 April. 2009
[iv] Khan, Kim. The Basics: How Does Your Debt Compare? 14 Apr. 2009
[v] Bensinger, Ken. “New Cars That Are Fully Loaded – With Debt – Americans are Rolling Over Loans, Often Ending Up Owing More For the Vehicle Than It’s Worth,” L.A. Times. December 30, 2007. 14 Apr. 2009
[vi] Todorova, Aleksandra. “The Six Financial Mistakes Couples Make,” Smart Money. June 11, 2008. 14 Apr. 2009
[vii] Khan, Kim. “The Basics”
[viii] Khan, Kim. “The Basics”
[ix] Bannister, Paul. “25 Fascinating Facts About Personal Debt,” Bankrate. September 20, 2004. 14 Apr. 2009
[x] Money 101: Lesson 9: Controlling Debt.
[xi] Bannister, Paul.
(This is a piece that I recently wrote for Master's writing class... it's an experiment with the Creative Non-Fiction Genre. Enjoy :)
In Taiwan, Karaoke is huge. Buildings, such as this one, called "KTVs" are the homes of Karaoke.
This afternoon there was some sort of event in the park next to our apartment building. I don't even know what was going on, but could here a Karaoke version a song from Momma Mia.
Tuesday, April 14
Sunday, April 12
Thursday, April 9
Tuesday, April 7
It's yellow and it's a watermelon (there is pineapple closest to the camera - but behind that is watermelon). Have you ever seen anything like this before?
Saturday, April 4
Friday, April 3
Tuesday, March 31
Thursday, March 26
Tuesday, March 24
Monday, March 23
Saturday, March 21
Friday, March 20
Sometimes I think of her and cry. Other times I think of her and smile. Those times are more frequent - and for that I am thankful. I read the following at her funeral. It was a letter that I wrote to her before Christmas when she was struggling with congestive heart failure and had been hospitalized. I'm glad I was able to share my thoughts with her then.
How Do I Say Thank You?
I want to let you know that I am praying for you as you go through this difficult time. Last night when I heard what had happened and didn’t really know what condition you were in I cried and cried. I am so glad to hear that you are breathing easier now and that you are resting. I want to let you know that last night Nic and I prayed for you. I prayed for your healing – that God, our great physician, would heal you. I prayed that He would be your comforter and rest. I prayed that He would be your peace. I prayed that He would give wisdom to the doctors and that they would give you the best care. I prayed that God would keep you safe and take good care of you. I know that He will and I trust Him with that! I wish I could come and visit you, but since I can’t, I thought I would write you a letter to tell you how much I love and appreciate you. Some people think great thoughts about others and value them so highly, and only after that person is gone do they express their gratefulness for that person and the role they played in their life. Well, I don’t want to wait until that time Grandma. I want to let you know now how much you mean to me, how much I have learned from you and how much I love you. So here is a list of things that you have taught me; either directly through time spent with you or watching you, or through my mom – who, obviously, learned directly through you!
Put God First
You have been an example to me of putting God first in your life. I can see this by your priority of spending time reading the Bible and praying in the morning. You also show by your example your commitment to God through your church attendance. I know that you hold firm to his word and that you live what you read. Your reading through the Bible yearly has also been a challenge to me.
I will never forget how, as a young child, I would spend the night at your house, and you would kneel and pray by the side of your bed, for what seemed to me to be the longest time. As I have grown and matured in my faith I know that your prayers have reached the heart of God. I know that God has worked through and in our family due to your prayers. I also have a great peace knowing that you pray for me. Not only do you tell me you pray, but I know that you do pray, you pray often – and that blesses me beyond words.
Not only have you shown great hospitality to our family, as your home has been the meeting place for many family meals, but also to strangers, believers who are new to our church and need an “adopted” family. You have shown me how, even in the simple ways, we can reach out and welcome others and show them love.
Make Home a Haven
Grandma, your home is a resting place and a place of great refreshment. Not only is it always smelling clean and fresh, and is organized, and everything is in its place, but also, there is always something available, food, tea or cake to nourish anyone who may stop by. I know that I, along with the rest of our family, I have been so blessed by the way that you have made your home a haven for those you love. You have taught me the importance of keeping my home clean and organized so that life is more enjoyable. You have taught me the benefit of blessing others with a meal to eat. You have taught me the importance of being faithful in the seemingly small areas, such as keeping my home, so that in that faithfulness I may also be faithful in other areas.
Service and Giving
You are always willing to lend a hand, to bring a meal, to help someone in need and you have taught me the value of serving in secret. I also know that you have taught me not to hold tightly to material possessions but that there is joy in giving. In a world that says happiness comes from how much we have, you have shown me that there is joy in blessing others. I have been the recipient so many times of your benevolence and I can’t put into words my thankfulness for not only what you have given me, but the truth that “it’s more blessed to give that to receive” which you have taught me through your actions.
The Value of Work Hard
Through your life you have taught me the value of work. You have taught me to work, as unto God, to be faithful in what I need to do and to do the best that I can. Your example at the Friendly Store and Lindo's as you pressed on as long as you were able was an example of commitment and perseverance. The work that you do at home produces such great fruit in that it provides the haven I wrote about earlier. You have taught me to not be idle but that there is value and reward in work.
Contentment In All Circumstances
In all that you have gone through throughout the years I never hear your complain. You always put your trust in God, you know that He provides, sustains and is our comfort. You never blame him but you trust him to meet your needs and be your comfort. It’s so easy for me to complain about a silly bruise or a sore muscle, but in all you’ve been through you quietly endure and that speaks volumes of your character.
Trust God and Don’t Worry
Throughout high school and college I always knew that I could come to relax at your house. Often, sitting around the table, I would share about what was going on – sometimes feeling stressed or worried about the future and what it would hold or how I would accomplish the tasks in front of me. You were a caring listener but also taught me not to worry; to do what was necessary and trust God with the rest. I also want to thank you for the time you helped me put my wedding invitations together. I remember how overwhelming that task seemed, and you sat there and struggled with me as I sought to tie bows. Thank you!
Loyalty and Love for Family
We all know that you have been the glue that has made our family so close. You taught us that being there for our family is so important and that we should bless each other and love each other always. You taught us the value of time spent together and of enriching each other’s lives. You taught me to value and appreciate my family for who they are and for what they do for me.
Grandma, these are things that I have learned from you. I hope that I will always remember these values and that they will be evident in my life. I pray my life will shine as brightly as yours has; that my family, children and grandchildren will be as motivated and inspired by me as I am by you. I pray that my life will shine, and that as the years pass I, too, will be found as faithful.
I love you so much, Grandma and will continue to pray for your health, for your body and for your comfort and rest. I wish I could be there to show you I love you or do something to bless you, but I hope that these words can express how much you mean to me.
I love you so much!
Now we're back in Taiwan. We're also really busy. I am nine weeks into my first semester of my Master's Degree in Curriculum and Instruction - with a focus in literacy. On top of the five classes that I am taking, which keep me really busy, we both teach about 22 hours a week, are trying to build and maintain relationships with our brothers and sisters in Taiwan and then of course build other friendships and continue to learn and explore this amazing culture.
Teaching, studying, working on assignments and the daily tasks of everyday life have kept me pretty busy. Oh, and upon return to Taiwan a flu attacked my immune system and knocked whatever energy I had left out of my body. Thanks to prayers from family and friends, my energy is back, I was sick for less than a week, and I've decided to begin writing again. I want this to be a venue to share our hearts with family and friends, and also a way for me to document this journey that is "Taiwan."
Last night Nic and I read My Upmost for His Highest and were encouraged that in living this life of faith sometimes we don't know where we are going, but we love the One who leads us!