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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Jake's Take: Hoosiers - Just Start Shooting

Deriving financial insights from today's blockbusters and yesteryear's classics.

Jake's Take: Hoosiers
My wife will be the first to tell you that her husband is very weird. There’s two things about me that are fairly odd that, frankly, not even I understand.

  1. I hate professional sports, which is strange because I grew up in a family of people who were always rooting for someone—Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics. Even my sister likes sports more than me.

  2. But I love sports movies. I find them to be some of the most feel-good and inspiring movies around—A League of Their Own, The Rookie, Major League.

So, yeah. Hate sports. Love sports movies. Weird. I know.

It’s kind of a paradox then that I would derive any kind of insight about anything from a movie like Hoosiers, but, let’s face it, Hoosiers is one of the best sports movies ever made, and it contains a great life lesson. It's an oldie, but it's worth seeing if you've never seen it.

In the film, Coach Norman Dale, played by Gene Hackman, coaches a small Indiana high school basketball team all the way to the state championships against all odds. At the finals he walks his team into the gymnasium where they’re going to play the final game. The new gym is huge. A basketball palace, far bigger and more impressive than any gym the tiny high school team has ever seen. It’s not what they’re used to. It’s intimidating.

Coach Dale pulls out a tape measure and has the boys measure the height of the basket and the distance to the foul line, and points out that it is precisely the same as back home. Don’t worry about the size of the gym, he says, just play your game.

Dani and I led a Financial Peace University class at our church this winter, and it has opened our eyes to the wide range of financial backgrounds that people come from. Some people have debt that they can easily pay off within six months or a year; others are facing decades of work. But it pays to remember that no matter how big and scary your situation is, the financial steps to get out of debt are the same no matter what:

  • build your emergency fund
  • use the debt snowball
  • gazelle intensity!

And these steps never fail to help when you use them. When you employ the right practices, it won’t matter if the stadium is a basketball palace or a small Indiana high school. You’ve got the tools. Now start shooting!

Keep pinchin’ :-)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Giving Bucket List

The Giving Bucket List
I think God made me a giver. Ironically he also made me a spender—or maybe that was the devil's doing. Either way, I find that giving is a hard thing to accomplish when I don't have any money left to give.

And getting married hasn't made things any easier. Dani and I both have the same vision when it comes to giving, but there are many financial burdens that come with joining our lives together, buying a house, and planning for children. We give regularly to our church and to others as we are able, but there's a lot we need to accomplish with our finances before we can, as Dave Ramsey says, "give like no one else."

I dream of being able to give more though. Like on my 40th birthday, instead of getting presents, I want to go out and do 40 random acts of kindness—pay for someone's lunch, someone's gas, wash someone's car, help a little old lady out of the store with her bags. Some of this will require some money, unfortunately.

Other things I'd get a kick out of doing someday include:

  • Finding a need within our church and taking care of it anonymously—e.g. paying a widow's bills, help a single mother make a payment, give that missionary what they need.

  • After eating out at a restaurant I want to leave the waiter or waitress a massive tip.

  • Treat my local fire department or police station to a BBQ complete with burgers, hotdogs, French fries, chips, soda, salads (for something healthy), and cookies (to negate the salads).

  • Buy a bunch of gift cards to a local coffee shop and hand them out to random strangers as they enter.

  • Help a friend or family member out with a need—anonymously if possible.

I feel really guilty sometimes about not being able to give more right now, but I keep reminding myself that the wife and I will get there some day though. Some day we can be the givers I want us to be. Some day money won't be so tight and we can spend our days amusing ourselves by giving and giving and giving.

I'd be curious to know if anyone out there has done any kind of radical giving. Don't be shy. You don't have to brag, but share with us how the Lord has led you to bless others and what kind of experience it was.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Monday, April 14, 2014

To Everything There Is Season

To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born,
And a time to die;
A time to plant,
And a time to pluck what is planted.
Ecclesiastes 3:1, 2

This verse came to mind today as I was thinking about how I'm tiring of this whole Penny Pinching life. Don't get me wrong, I'm not throwing in the towel yet, but there are days when the end seems oh so far away, and I just want to go to Six Flags.... Have you seen the new ride at Six Flags Great Adventure? If not you have to check it out!

Today was one of those days. It's amazing how far we have come since we began this journey about 18 months ago, as we have paid off about $25,000. However, to completely pay off our home we have a long way to go, not to mention that when we get some sort of health care that will cut into the amount we send to the mortgage company. Thankfully I've recently been asked on several occasions to babysit, which definitely helps, but that can get tiring, too, as I already work 40 hours a week and I work weird hours which throws my body off.

A Time to Plant
As I was thinking about how I'm going to keep on doing this the verse above came to mind. To everything there is a season. Right now we are in the planting season, so that hopefully one day we can reap what we have worked so hard to sow. It's kind of like my garden last year, I worked really hard to prepare the ground, plant the seeds, weed and water and then finally I was able to reap the harvest and enjoy all the fresh veggies.

So, I will keep pressing on and make the most of this time in my life, knowing that one day I will get to pluck that which I have planted.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Horrendous Healthcare Hunt Begins!

The Horrendous Healthcare Hunt Begins
Ok. Healthcare. Whether or not we want it, it is being forced upon us, in one form or another. I suppose if our imaginary kiddos are ever going to become real we're going to need insurance, or some kind of alternative, because life without it just isn't feasible, or wise.

Where to begin? Now that we're done shaking our fist at the government, it's time to stop fooling around and figure something out, which requires a lot of research, time, and effort. Moreover, we finally have our budget where we want it, and adding healthcare to the mix means rebuilding it practically from the ground up. And who wants to go there? Definitely not the Free Spirit—AKA the hubby.

Initially, we thought the best option would be getting healthcare through our employer, but that's expensive and, because of ObamaCare, funds things we don't agree with—like abortion and the morning after pill.

So what are our alternatives? There's Medi-Share, which we hear about on the Christian radio station all the time. It seems to be a good program, but in some ways it acts as an insurance in that there is an Annual Household Portion that you have to pay prior to making any claims. They also have provider fees that you have to pay for each visit. Is this good? Bad? Hard to say at this point.

Then there's Samaritan's Ministries, which also appears to be a good program. They do not have an Annual Household Portion because they point out that you are responsible for your healthcare costs, not a portion, but all of it. They're not insurance. They're a sharing ministry, which can be hard to wrap your head around if you're new to the concept, but it's worked since 1994. However, the downside to this alternative is that there is a minimum of $300 in order to make a claim. Who knows how many visits we'll make to the doctor that are under $300—probably not many in today's healthcare world—but you never know.

What else is there? We could pay Obama's hefty fine, but we hate the thought of giving people money who don't deserve it. Then there's always the possibility of having my husband deliver our children here at our home, but he tells me that's not going to happen. Hey, it's an alternative. I didn't say it was a good one.

If we've learned anything about health insurance from Dave Ramsey it's that living without health insurance is like gambling with your financial future. All it would take is one accident to ruin everything we've fought so hard to achieve, and that's not a gamble we're willing to make.

So what is your experience with healthcare alternatives? Have you any advice on Medi-Share or Samaritan's Ministries or even another option? Let us know in the comments below.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Jake's Take: Die Hard - If It Works On Terrorists...

Deriving financial insights from today's blockbusters and yesteryear's classics.

Die Hard - Penny Pinching Prose
It was Bruce Willis’ claim to fame and it’s one of my all-time favorite movies: Die Hard. Sure it’s loaded with blood splatterings, gunfire, explosions, and profanity, but Die Hard is a classic example of the action flick at its best.

And Die Hard has some great lessons to teach us about the mind set that we need to have when we approach budgeting. Trust me it does. It has to. I’m writing a blog about money management and I love Die Hard, so I’ll squeeze a metaphor out of it if it kills me.

The hero of the story is John McClane, an under-appreciated, down on his luck, New York City cop who flies out to California to reconnect with his wife and hopefully save his marriage. While attending a Christmas party at her office building, McClane and all the company employs get trapped on the 40th floor when a group of terrorists seize control of the building with hopes of acquiring the $640 million stored in the company vault. Slipping away from the baddies, McClane becomes everyone's best hope for survival. But he’s a fish out of water. He’s got no phone, no technological know-how, and no shoes.

McClane’s biggest asset is his method to approaching to conflict—simplify. He’s not good with computers (in fact he’s utterly baffled by a touch screen monitor). He doesn’t understand electronics, and he’s not motivated by greed or ambition or money. He's good at being simple because John McClane is a simple guy, and throughout the movie he’s continually breaking down his challenges to the simplest fundamentals.

Too many bad guys in the ways? Use bullets.

Bad guys shooting up police officers? Drop a bomb on their heads.

Roof about to explode? Jump off…. but first tie yourself to a fire hose.

Granted, his ideas aren’t always the greatest, but it is his ability to simplify that saves his life again, and again, and again.

Like John McClane, we need to take a more simplistic approach to money management. It’s not all facts and figures and calculators and spreadsheets and computers. Sometimes it’s just good old fashioned discipline and common sense. Maybe you don’t need a budget with 40 categories. Maybe 20 will do just fine. Maybe if your spouse can’t understand the colorful spread sheets you’ve set up in the computer, maybe it’s time to just write it down on paper. Whatever the case may be. Simpler is better. If it works on terrorists it'll work on your bank account.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Series of Unfortunate Events At The Grant Homestead

As I stated yesterday, we appear to be on a ride through unfortunate financial events. Since I blogged about Trusting God Without Borders two weeks ago the following has happened:

  • My car needed to be inspected, and due to a corroded catalytic converter wouldn't pass said inspection until blah, blah, blah... $620.

  • Our mortgage company was way off on their estimate for our escrow account and are now either asking us for $2,200 by June or an increase of $400 a month on our mortgage to cover this shortage and also meet the amount needed for next year.

  • We received a $620 oil bill, which is unusual for this time of year because our provider had delivered oil just the month before. Thanks March for breaking record lows!

  • My debit card number was stolen and multiple purchases were made on it, including a $720 purchase from Walmart, some glassware in Massachusetts, and an escort service. (To hear about all that awesomeness, check out my post from yesterday: Swiper, no Swiping.)

  • Finally on Sunday morning I discovered we had no hot water, which led us to discover that our basement was flooded and our furnace was about 6 inches deep in water :-/ Turns out the sump pump had tipped over and couldn't kick on, but, thankfully, after setting it back up it drained the basement in about six hours. The hubby's father, Mike—a whiz when it comes to mechanical and home repair issues—came over and got the furnace running again. No major damage, but it should probably be cleaned and services.

What do all of the above have in common, besides being financial burdens? To me they are trials. I am a saver through and through. It kills me to spend money at all, but especially on unexpected expenses, so when each of these situations occurred I wanted to just stomp my feet and cry! Somewhere in the back of my mind, though, the words to "Ocean" by Hillsong United kept rolling in my mind.

I will call upon Your Name
Keep my eyes above the waves
My soul will rest in Your embrace
I am Yours and You are mine

I knew that each of these circumstances presented me with the opportunity to trust that God is good, that He has good plans for me, and that He already knew about each of these circumstances before they even happened. Was I going to cry "uncle" or was I going to rest in His embrace? Though I haven't enjoyed this little ride of financial delights, I think I'm learning, and I guess in the end that is all that matters. When I invited Him to take me deeper than I would ever choose to go I didn't know that this might be the direction He would take, but I will continue to follow along wherever He chooses to lead.

Keep pinchin'

Monday, April 7, 2014

Swiper, no swiping!

Saturday morning at 8:26a.m. my cell rings. I don't answer it because I'm still in bed half asleep. It's Saturday. Come on! I don't even check to see who is calling me. I start to think it's probably a politician and figure that when I'm awake enough I will add them to my blocked list, or go online and figure out how to stop their calls.

Anyway, back to sleep.

At 8:45 I finally decide to listen to the voicemail. It's someone from the fraud center at my bank wanting me to contact them to confirm some strange transactions that had been made on my debit card, which they believe maybe stolen. Until I call them my card is being shut off to protect me.

At 8:52 I dial the number... and get it wrong. Frustrated, I try again... and get it wrong again. Sigh. Finally I get it right. If ever you have to call customer service do it at 8:52a.m. on a Saturday. I only had to wait a few minutes to get through to someone.

They stated I needed to confirm or deny several purchases that had been made with my card that morning.

"Did you place a purchase with an escort service?"

"Um.. NO!"

"Did you place a purchase for glassware in Massachusetts?"


"Did you place a purchase for $720 on"


The lady on the other line said my card was going to be shut off. She would contact my bank to issue me a new card and then send me paperwork so I wouldn't be liable for the above mentioned purchases. Thankfully I have identity theft protection through my bank, so this should all be cleared up at no cost to me.

However the timing couldn't be more strange. I have barely used my debit card recently, using mainly cash and a new American Express credit card that we got for the reward points. We also seem to be in the middle of a series of unfortunate events when it comes to our finances, which you will have to wait until tomorrow to hear all about.

I can't help but think this all stems back to my post on Trusting Him Without Borders because at least six financial surprises have happened since then, as though God is trying to test my trust in Him by getting me to put my money where my mouth is—no pun intended. Although money woes are not fun, I'm trying to choose to trust the Lord in the midst of it.

Have you or someone you know ever been the victim of credit or debit card fraud? How was your experience and what did you learn from it? Share your thoughts below!

Keep pinchin' :-)