Category Archives: Journey Toward Financial Peace

My Two Cents’ Worth

Sunday and Monday, I was pounding the pavement, rocking my almost-three miles each day, getting the heart pumping happily.  Both days as I walked, I found two pennies on the street.  Finding these on Sunday was remarkable, but I shrugged it off:  I’ve been walking those streets 3-4 days a week since October and had never found money before.  Finding these coins two days in a row, though, seemed to be a sign that needed attention.

As I walked Monday, those two pennies clinking softly in the pocket of my running pants, I thought about two cents.  What good, of what value, is a mere two cents?  It depends on your frame of mind, I guess.

To a millionaire, a couple of cents would be dispensable.  What’s two cents out of hundreds of millions?  To most of us, we can take them or leave them.  Maybe we wouldn’t want to touch dirty pennies.  Or, if you’re like me, you toss them in a jar until you have enough to roll – or save them to use as math manipulatives.

English: Large amount of pennies

English: Large amount of pennies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For one woman in the Bible, though, two cents was absolutely everything she had.  Mark relates the story of Jesus and his disciples standing in the narthex of the Temple, watching people placing their tithes and offerings in the offering box.  Most placed their ten percent, the Pharisees making a production of such.  One poor woman put in a whopping two mites – two small coins, probably worth a cent each.  What are those worth compared to the tithe of a rich person?  Jesus commended her offering to his disciples, for she had put in far more than anyone else; she had put in everything she had.

Those two cents made me remember, we need to give everything we have.  Some have the sheer faith literally to turn over everything they have to the Lord and trust God for all their provisions.  Others (I fall into this camp) recognize their blessedness in all they have, however much it is, and strive to honor God in how they use and treat it.  In doing this, I have come to see the blessings even in the clutter (God did give me those children who make it), but I have also taken it as a discipline to put the stuff in its proper perspective.

Our church has been doing a study the past few weeks on living generously, and we spent an easy two weeks talking about how we can live more generously if we don’t think we always need more.  I pretty much mentally checked out of the study at that point, because I don’t want more, I don’t need more, and I don’t think I need more.  In fact, we are steadily getting rid of stuff, putting perfectly good furniture we were storing at the curb for others to take and selling and donating clothes (with monies going towards the girls’ soccer this season).

We also need to dedicate our work and play to the Lord.  We need to play in a way that points people to the Lord, and how we go about our work needs to be a witness to God.  This means working with integrity and not trying to get by with less-than-responsible behavior.  It means not trying to get by with stuff.  My older daughter and I discussed how I could do something and no one would ever know.  I could get by with it, technically it wouldn’t harm anyone, but it still wouldn’t be right.  Integrity – doing the right thing even when no one is watching.

In our play, we also need to give all we have to God.  This manifests itself in good sportsmanlike conduct in team sports, discipline in practice, and, for those of us crazy fortunate enough to coach, modeling the right behaviors.  Coaching soccer is like ministry to me, and I am constantly aware of how I can show the love of God to my players, both on and off the field.  Giving our play to God also shows up in how we treat others, even in our casual pick-up games.

As you go through your days, give you all to God.  Our offering is more than just 10% of our paychecks; it’s time, talents, and gifts – all which come from God and all which we can use to glorify him and lift others up.  As for those four pennies…?  They’re going in the offering plate.  I’m trying not to denigrate them as “just four cents.”  I’m going to trust God will multiply them as the Lord has done before, and those four pennies will end up being far, far more valuable than four cents.

God, Give Me Faith!

God, give me more faith!” I prayed in the shower this morning.  Yet, even as I prayed that, I thanked God for God’s provisions and affirmation the previous night.

As I did my rehab and exercises this morning, I reflected on that prayer.  Uh oh, I thought.  What if praying for more faith is like praying for more patience, where you don’t actually get it, but you get opportunities to practice and cultivate it?

We’re a two-entrepreneur family now, and I told my husband last night in the midst of frustration and discouragement, “I know you’re doing everything you can.  No question.  And I still believe this is what God has led us to.”  There were no buts, no “if onlys,” just a simple assurance that we’re still on the right track.  Within half an hour, I received an order from a customer from whom I wasn’t expecting another order.  Yeah, I see it as a God thing.

“God, give me more faith!”  The story of the man with the demon-possessed boy in Mark 9 came to me.  The father wants to believe.  In fact, I believe he truly does.  Yet, the doubts creep in; after all, his son had been possessed by this evil spirit for years, and it’d tried to kill the boy numerous times.  So the father cries out, anguished, “I believe!  Help me to believe more!”  Some translations have that as, “I have faith!  Help me have more faith!”  That’s me this morning.

It’s a pure, selfless request, the request of the striving, growing believer.  Those moments when our faith slips can lead in two directions:  One, we can say that God obviously doesn’t care and turn away completely; or two, we can pray for more faith.  Pray for it.  Ask for it.  We can’t do anything more than this to get it.  We can’t put our good works into some vending machine to get what we want back out.  All we can do is humbly, sincerely ask.  It is in humbling ourselves that we are most receptive to receiving greater faith.

In the Mark 9 account of this demon-possessed boy, there’s a request, there’s a faith lesson, then there’s healing, followed by God granting exactly what the father needed.  Both father and son needed something on this day.  This morning, I prayed a request, the Spirit led my meditations, there was a revelation (not so much a healing for us), then God gave me what I needed.  While I was doing my rehab, I’d heard my husband come back in after having left for work before leaving again.  I texted to ask if everything was OK.  He’d gotten two voicemail messages, both for estimates, one for a subcontract job with growth potential.  God gave us an opportunity to increase our income (always vital in the new stages of entrepreneurship), and God had affirmed that we were still on the right path.

God gave me more faith!

My Daughters are Weird

Weird is the opposite of normal, and for the sake of this piece, “normal” is like what everyone else does.  Given that, my daughters are weird.

In some circles around here, being home educated makes them weird.  They enjoy school and learning.  They have tons of free time.  They get weeks off at a time.  When they’re not having structured lessons, they learn life lessons; this week, it’s a review of preserving apples, tomatoes, and herbs.

They save their money.  My younger daughter, aged 6, has a fat wad of money saved from birthdays and Christmases that we keep in a safe place for her.  She could get it if she wanted, and she only has to ask if she wants us to get it down for her.  But every other bit of money she gets, from earning it to finding coins on the sidewalk, goes into her boat fund.  When it comes to shopping, she just waits until she has gift cards.

They earn their money.  My older daughter, aged 12, mows lawns and does chores to earn money, and this money goes to mission trips, clothes, and anything else she wants.  We supply her needs, but having to work and earn money has made her a lot more deliberate in how she determines her wants.  The girls across the street from us – teenagers both – find her completely fascinating.  They ask her where she gets her clothes, what she learns, and so forth.  Mary gets clothes for her birthday and Christmas, and she uses her own money for whatever else she wants.  She likes to shop consignment stores for that stuff; she doesn’t see the point in paying full price when she’ll only be able to wear a garment for a year at the most.  The older of the girls told Mary, “I buy whatever I want.”  Mary cocked her head,

We prefer being weird

We prefer being weird

looked at her, and asked, “How will you learn how to manage your money?”  The girl just repeated that she buys whatever she wants.  OK.  That’s great until you’re an adult and real life steps in.

 

Because the girls earn and save their own money, they have learned how to wait for things they want to have.  It started out with waiting for a sale or some special deal.  Once they experienced the rewards of waiting to buy something, they discovered that it’s nothing to wait for other things.  When I promise something fun, they are cool with waiting, and they do well when something affects our plans, making us have to wait even longer.

I don’t mind being weird, and I like having weird children.  It’s my belief that weird children grow up to be weird adults, and weird adults tend to make iNcReDiBlE things happen.

Discipline is Hard!

Discipline isn’t easy, because discipline done correctly leads to teaching subordinates of some sort (i.e., children) how to do things correctly or better.  I don’t care for the definition that aligns discipline with training using punishment as a consequence of misbehavior.  To me, discipline requires patient teaching with the end goal of the recipient of the discipline growing and learning something new.  There are consequences of not following the teaching, but it’s important to be clear about these from the beginning.  That way, they are the consequences of choices, not knee-jerk punishments.

Given that discipline requires patience, consistency, and love, then it follows that disciplining someone is a fairly challenging task.  As parents in particular, we risk dealing with push-back from children, the pouting, the drama, the pain on both parts.  Well, we generally know that the pain of discipline usually rests solely on the shoulders of the parents (“This will hurt me more than it will you.”), but children will convince us that they’re mortally wounded because we want them to play outside instead of playing video games, or we’d rather they read than watch TV.

Some other ways we discipline our children is by setting appropriate boundaries on their behavior.  This has to be immediate; otherwise, they’re just not going to get it.  “That doesn’t go in your mouth!”  <whispered> “No, you’re not ready for Communion, yet.”  “You need to hang your wet towel up, because if you don’t, the cat will pee on it.”  We know that these are simple boundaries that will have lasting consequences; they lessen the risk of putting bad stuff in their mouths, they’ll wait and go through the spiritual growth necessary before taking Communion, and they’ll learn to hang their stuff up (we hope).

But, heavens, doesn’t it seem to go on forever?!?!  “Don’t leave your colored pencils strewn across the living room floor.”  And didn’t I just tell her that 37 minutes ago for the eleventh time today, and it’s not even lunchtime, yet?  Wouldn’t you think she’d learn after doing it so many times that it’d be habit?  But, no.  Consistency, but then comes consequences.  “Daddy, you broke my pencil when you stepped on it!”  “Well, sweetie, would Daddy have been able to step on it had you picked it up and put it away when you were done?”  Damn Mommy logic!

Discipline means risking the anger and tears.  I have a friend who suffers a lot of unnecessary headache because he doesn’t want to deal with the anger from disciplining his daughter.  He just doesn’t “want to get into it with her.”  She is learning she can get by with a lot that doesn’t seem to bother her but that only irritates her dad.  My eldest can dish her own anger and attempts at manipulation.  Just today, she was reading something and asked, “What does ‘venerable’ mean?”  I replied, “Find the dictionary and look it up.”  “But it’s the first day back to school!  It’d be nicer if you’d just tell me what it means.”  Sure, I could’ve done that, avoided the drama, and she’d remember the definition until…  Oh, right around lunchtime.  If I’m lucky.  I grinned and said, “No, I’m not spoon feeding that to you.”  She huffed and dramatically flung herself out of the chair and strutted into the office, slamming the door behind her.  Ahhh…  Tween drama.

What is so hard about teaching children how to behave correctly and guiding them as they learn what it will take to grow into responsible, productive, happy adults?  Oh yeah.  It’s work.  Hard work.  Seemingly never ending work.  Work with no time clock, no paycheck, and certainly no vacation or sick leave.  But the results are invaluable.  Just the other night, my eldest told me all the way home and through dinner and after dinner about the opportunities she has this summer to break out of her comfort zone and do something different and independent and for others.  Two of these somethings cost money, but she didn’t even think to come to us to ask for the money.  (OK, so she’s having to ask for the deposits.)  She immediately started coming up with a SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timeable) plan for earning the money.  She’s driven and excited, and these events will mean even more to her, because she’s working for them.  Our work is far from done, but we can and will enjoy the small reward.

 

How the Baby Steps WORK

Wipe our Debt

Wipe our Debt (Photo credit: Images_of_Money)

I’m taking a brief break from the FPU recap to share with you about something I realized this past week that sort of excited me.  You know what that “a-ha!” moment is like, when you finally get something you’ve been struggling to understand.  Well, this one reminded me of how I felt when I finally, after six weeks of working and struggling, grasped how to do geometric proofs in ninth grade.

Back story…  My husband and I were talking about the rest of our refund, still sitting and meditating in the bank.  We had this huge chunk of change and we were debating about what to do with it.  I wanted to set some aside for vacation, then dump the rest into our debt snowball.  He felt that the debt would be forgiven and that we should continue to make minimum payments on our debt and dump that lump sum towards the principle on our mortgage.  (Debt snowball is BS2; paying down the mortgage is BS6.  That’s a LOT of steps to skip!)  I said, “We’re going to stick with Dave’s plan.”

I was mindlessly getting through my shower one day this week, just letting my mind go where it wanted, when it really HIT me!  And when this epiphany struck, then I realized (1) why the baby steps are ordered as they are, and (2) how our income really IS our biggest wealth building tool.

It’s rather embarrassing using our numbers, because they’re low, but myeh…  I have ’em and know ’em, so I may as well use ’em.

We were putting $20 aside every week to rebuild our emergency fund ($80 per month).  A month ago, we were paying Creditor 1 $30/month, Creditor 2 $50/month and Creditor 3 $50/month.

  • Savings             $80
  • Creditor 1        $30
  • Creditor 2        $50
  • Creditor 3        $50
  •        Total         $210.00

We have our emergency fund in place, in addition to our storm cloud fund, so we no longer have to save towards those things, so strike $80 from that list.  We paid off Creditors 1 and 2 completely, so strike another $80/month from that.  So now we’re left with $50 towards Creditor 3, but we have this $160 freed up in the budget.  That means we could start putting that $160 towards Creditor 3, taking that to $210/month and paying off that debt sooner.

Then, between huge lumps and monthly payments, we’d soon knock out that third debt.  That means we could then divert that $210.00 per month and huge lump amounts towards our fully funded emergency fund (BS3).  After that account is built up, then we could funnel that money into a retirement account (BS4) and go on from there.  Whew!  Exciting, isn’t it?  And all that because we have savings and get out of debt.  

So, that was the epiphany.  After more thought and discussion, we decided to continue to build savings.  So we’re going to put that $80/month into a vacation fund for a weekend trip we’d like to take in the fall and a trip we’re planning for next Spring.  We could also use this in case we absolutely must have a little extra money for Christmas or whatever.  The rest will roll into the debt snowball.  The light at the end of the tunnel will be making that debt-free yell!

Financial Peace – 1 Year Later (part 2)

You can read Part 1 of this series here.

Credit Card

Credit Card (Photo credit: 401(K) 2013)

February rolls along, and I’ll admit.  I was a little embarrassed, because I think we were the only couple in our group who didn’t have that sacred $1000.00 emergency fund (EF).  Other couples had cut up their credit cards, but the only credit card we had was a twice-used (several years prior) Best Buy card with a long-standing zero balance on it.  I cut it up, anyway.  After all, why keep it if I never even used it?  Couples had cut out or cut back their cable.  We’re bare-bones on cable, anyway.  It’s like we’d trimmed all we could, but we still didn’t have much, if any, to put towards our EF.

Around mid-February, I sat down with stacks of papers and forms and my trusty laptop and filed our income taxes.  And OMGosh!!!  I was about to hyperventilate when I saw our refund amount.  My husband looked at me hopefully and asked, “Is it enough to go to Universal?”  I smiled and said, “We could go on a very NICE trip to Universal.  And we will – after we clear our debts and save up for it.”  (Yeah, I’m a little evil like that.)

We had found out by this point in the class that there are two types of people in this world.  There are Nerds, and there are Free Spirits.  Layered onto that, there are Spenders and there are Savers.  The strongest relationships will have one of each.  In our household, I’m the Nerd Saver (you can just as easily have a Nerd Spender).  Give me the money, give me the savings, give me the special accounts and I’ll let that money sit and grow and do great things for us.  When I have a goal in mind, I’ll sacrifice some fun to meet that goal.  My husband, on the other hand, is the Free Spirit Spender.  Don’t feel like cooking?  “Hello?  Domino’s.”

So, when Peter found out what our refund was going to be, he was seeing himself at Hogsworth down in Orlando.  I was seeing us having the long-awaited EF and paying down some debts.  We had some small medical debts, a slightly larger ($1300) medical debt, credit card debts totaling around $3500 and a personal debt of $7500.  So, just over $12,000.  Yet, we’d heard stories of debts ranging in the tens of thousands, and we personally know of someone who was working down $300,000 in debt, so that amount, big as it was, seemed entirely doable as long as we had a plan.

My birthday is in late February, and all I wanted for my birthday was to pay off my credit card debt, and I believed it was going to happen.  My credit card company had been calling and calling, but I couldn’t pay them a dime, because we were still struggling to pay for our “four walls.”  So, they would call asking why I hadn’t paid them, and I’d very calmly say, “I’m sorry, but you fell below the line.”  The credit agent would be giving me an incredulous, “I’m WHAT???” while Peter and our older daughter would be piled in the office doorway busting their butts laughing.  (In FPU, we learned that paying for the “four walls” must come before paying down debts, and when you run out of your allocated money, then you don’t spend anymore on whatever falls below that line.)

The morning of my birthday, I checked our accounts, and there it was.  A very large deposit had shown up that morning.  I immediately texted my husband, transferred $1000.00 into savings (woohoo!!!  Emergency fund at last!), then called my credit card company.  Oh, what fun!!!  I’d set up a payment arrangement for March, just to get them off my back.  The conversation went something like this:

Thank you for calling *****.  Can I please have the last 4 digits of the account holder’s social?”

I gave her that, verified my name and address, answered the security questions and then…

“Thank you.  How may I assist you today?”

“I’d set up a payment for 10 March for $165, and I need to cancel that.  I won’t be able to pay it.”

“OK.  Do you mind if I ask what’s preventing you from making that payment?”

“Because I’m going to pay off the entire balance today.”

[Pregnant pause.]  “Oh.  I see.  Well, I guess that’s good for you.”  I swear, she sounded like she was going to cry.  I guess if my company was looking at a loss of money, I’d probably feel a little down, too.

I paid it off, paid off some of those medical debts and a few other things.  I burned through over $4000.00 just like that.  Finally Peter said, “Stop!  I want to see some of this money before you spend it all!”

In under two weeks, our emergency fund was 70% gone.  Ticked.  Me.  Off.

Stay tuned…

Financial Peace – One Year Later (Part 1)

Red beans and rice, prepared with smoked spani...

Red beans and rice, prepared with smoked spanish paprika. Sometimes ours looked this good. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It started a little over a year ago.  If you’re a regular reader to this blog or if you’ve gone through the posts filed under “Journey Toward Financial Peace,” then you know what our last year has been like.

Early last January, my family was $900.00 in the hole.  That looks like -$900.00 or ($900.00) or $900.00.  However that appears on a ledger sheet, the bottom line is, there was a whoppin’ $900.00 missing from our usual income.  We knew where it was, but that didn’t help matters much.  It didn’t help us enjoy better food, nor did it help us pay all the bills.  It also didn’t help me sleep better at night, because I was so worried and so anxious about our financial situation.  Our home life was tense.  Talking to my husband didn’t help, because he felt defensive, like he wasn’t doing enough (absolutely NOT the case), so I was left feeling alone in my anxiety.  We needed to bring some peace into our home life.

We’d both received money for Christmas, and I was thinking that a nice pair of clogs would make a great gift for myself.  They were going on clearance, I’d shopped around online at my favorite online shoe store (since we don’t have one of their brick-and-mortar stores near where we live), and I was going to be able to score an $80.00 pair of shoes for $49.95.  Woot!  Then I saw in the hand-out for last year’s Life U classes at church that there was going to be a course called Financial Peace University.  Registration required.

We didn’t register; we just showed up.  The course materials were normally $100.00, but our church fronts half of that, making the course…  Yep.  $50.00.  I thought about it for all of 30 seconds (I REALLY love shoes!) and decided that I could give up a pair of new shoes for some financial peace.  (Can I get an Amen?)

I’d never heard of Dave Ramsey.  I’d never heard of Financial Peace University.  We were willing to try it, though.  And after spending $50.00 on the course, we were willing to commit to sticking with it.  The first thing we had to do was create a basic budget, just to see what we spent on our “four walls” (mortgage, utilities, groceries and transportation).  That was easy enough.  And then Dave started talking about the baby steps.

Baby Step 1 is to set aside a basic emergency fund of $1000.00.  *Gasp!*  What???  How much!?!?!  We were eating lots of beans and rice.  And when we got tired of beans and rice, we’d change it up to rice and beans.  We didn’t have an extra $20.00, let alone $1000.00!  Damnit, though!  We still weren’t going to give up!  Some way, some how, we were going to get that $1000.00!

There are two things I remember from this time.  One, for the first time in ages, I had hope that things were going to get better, because I felt like we were in charge of our money.  Once we took charge of our money, we could control where it went (instead of wondering where it’d gone).  Two, I felt grateful.  You may be wondering, “How could you feel grateful when you were beyond broke and eating beans and rice?”  I felt grateful, because there was food on our table and my family was around it.  We had food on our table in the dinette in our home, and we ate it together as a family.  When so many people have lost homes and families and are starving, we were practically living like royalty by comparison.

There’s much more to this story to share, but I’m breaking it into parts to make for easier reading.  Stay tuned!  You may also want to follow this blog and/or subscribe to the RSS feed to receive emails as soon as new posts go up.

Social Insecurity

Social Security Card

Social Security Card – And what a social INsecurity payment looks like (Photo credit: 401(K) 2013)

It’s all over the news how the government is “borrowing” against the Social Security fund in an attempt to avoid falling over the fiscal cliff.  What boggles my mind is how many people think they’ll be able to live on social security in their golden years.  What truly puzzles me is, they actually rely on a government that can’t even balance a budget to manage their “retirement savings” responsibly.

My husband has already gotten his W-2 for last year, and I took a look at all his withholdings.  Social Security made up just 4% of his total pay.  That’s equal to the rate of inflation.  A person with any kind of common sense would not choose to invest just 4% of their savings in retirement, and if they did, they darn sure would place it somewhere with a high rate of return and where the government couldn’t “borrow” it interest-free.

I have to laugh with a kind of sadness at the way the government overspends, then steals money from those who have worked for it, earned it and will need it the most.  What?  Oh, that’s right.  They say they’re going to “borrow” that money.  And I’m sure the government will pay that money back with 9% interest, or maybe even 21%, like most credit card companies charge.  (If you believe that, I have a nice plot of land in Florida I’ll sell you for cheap.)

This whole overspending-borrowing fiasco reminds me of this guy I knew one time.  He was fond of buying junk food, collectibles and DVDs on his lean retail salary, but then when it came time to pay his bills, he was short funds and had to take money out of his retirement account to do so.  Ouch!  He didn’t have a problem with saving money; he had a problem with overspending it (which made it impossible for him to save any).  I think I’d rather live without potato chips now so I won’t have to live on Alpo when I’m 70.

Your income is your biggest wealth-building tool.  There’s nothing magical about it.  Don’t rely on the government to protect your hard-earned money.  I don’t expect ever to see a dime of the 4-digit amount that Peter paid into Social InSecurity last year.  I do expect, though, to see the million-plus that we’re going to save and invest wisely between now and then.

A Different Christmas Eve

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas (Photo credit: josh.webb)

It’s almost 7 p.m. Christmas Eve.  I’ll admit, I still have presents to wrap, and I’m disappointed that one gift I wanted to give didn’t show up.  I also have a coconut cake to make, and not making it means I’d get disowned.  No pressure.

We’re here, and we did it.  We controlled our spending – except within our household.  Even then, we “behaved.”  Santa’s only bringing one gift for each child this year, while we’re giving them a few other things.  We’re just making sure the gifts really count.  Every gift our family is giving is handmade by somebody, mostly us, and my husband commented this morning that he thinks we did it all for $60.00.  I think that number is closer to $100.00, but still…  That’s something like awesome.  We’re giving with love, not our wallets.

My heart is full tonight, but my stress level isn’t.  We recently got home from a Christmas Eve Lovefeast service, and it’s not unusual for me to only half-attend to the service, because my mind is racing with all that I have yet to do.  Not this year.  In fact, I nearly cried during the service because I do feel so free, and this financial freedom has enabled me to be free to focus on what’s really important.  Singing carols in church.  Watching my youngest (age 3) sing “We Three Kings” during the service.  Feeling in communion with friends who were attending or had attended services in different churches in different towns.  Seeing the children create the Nativity scene.  It was…  Beautiful.

I have a cake to bake and presents to wrap.  I wish all my readers a very Merry Christmas, and I thank you sincerely for following my blog this year.  My hope, wish and prayer is that my words may bless, encourage and uplift you.