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Saturday, November 30, 2013

With Time and Discipline

Saving money is not natural. At least not for someone like me who has a deeply engrained love of stuff. I don't consider myself materialistic, but I do enjoy buying stuff. It doesn't help that I have an innate inability to understand math. Long story short: money flows through my fingers like water over rocks.
Financial Peace University

So when it comes to saving money I think I had more of an uphill battle than my wife did. I had to not just learn the spending habits taught through Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University, but I had to unlearn the spending habits I had taught myself through years of irresponsibility. And believe me, I didn't want to. At the mere mention of making a budget I would feel ill. But I knew that through time and discipline it would work. How did I know that?

Because of video games.

Video gaming is something I actually gave up about five years ago, and believe me, THAT wasn't easy either! I loved video games. I had an X-Box, a Playstation, and tons of games. I was that gamer who had to play every game to 100 percent completion. I would stay up late playing because I couldn't stop, and consequently I'd oversleep and be late for work. Video games were destroying my productivity.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not condemning video games, nor am I condemning video gamers, because I know plenty of people who game for an hour and stop and go to bed. For them it's that simple. But it wasn't for me.

So I gave it up—got rid of my game systems and all my games—which was one of the hardest decisions I ever made. For about a year I regretted it. But something interesting began to happen. I started finding new hobbies. I started being more productive. I started meeting new people. I met a girlfriend—astounding!—and we eventually got married. And today I don't miss video gaming. In fact someone gave us an X-Box this past summer and I've barely touched it. I don't have time for it, but more importantly I've found that my personal likes have shifted. Video games just aren't my thing anymore. Through time and discipline I was able to change my feelings about something that was detrimental to my life.

When it comes to finances, the same strategy applies. You need time and you need discipline. Changing my spending habits drove me nuts at first because when all the new blu-ray movies came out on Tuesday I couldn't go buy them all! But here's what happened instead. I started seeing results in our budget. I started seeing that debt go down and our savings go up. And, I got to tell you, that feeling was better than going into Walmart to buy the latest Batman movie. Through time and discipline I was able to see the big picture. Through time and discipline I was able to change, not only my spending habits, but how I feel about money.

So if this mathematically-challenged, free-spirited geek can learn to manage money better than any monkey with a proper budget can too! So now that you've got no excuse, what are you waiting for?

Keep pinchin' :-)

Friday, November 29, 2013

It's the Holiday Season

As far as I'm concerned it's the "most wonderful time of the year," however my husband doesn't always agree, particularly when I turn on the Christmas music in October. As the time draws nearer, with the sparkly lights and blankets of snow, it's just splendid!

As much as I love Christmas time though I can't deny that it can be a very stressful time of year. Since getting married, Jake and I have endured the trials and triumphs of juggling family visits and traveling on snow-covered roads. The stress can get out of hand if I'm not careful.

Probably the most stressful aspect of the season is the shopping - shopping, shopping, shopping - but with long lines, pushy people, and a limited window of opportunity what should be a girl's dream come true can easily turn into a nightmare. Here are some tips to making this holiday season more enjoyable for the penny pinching pro:

1. Create a budget for you holiday spending. Hopefully you have been doing this throughout the year by putting aside some money for gifts, but if not decide now what you can and cannot afford and commit to going plastic free this Christmas.

2. Limit the amount of trips to the stores. Plan ahead, make your list, and then go shopping. The less time you spend in the stores with the masses the less stressful you may find yourself, and the less you'll spend on gifts you don't really need to buy.

3. Consider how you have been gift giving and how you might want to change it. Growing up my parents had a set budget they would spend on each of us kids, which would usually amount to about 10 presents for each of us. Now just imagine with six kids in our house, that was 60 presents! Not including the gifts we got for our parents, and those that we got for each other. Now as a kid, I loved it! In fact I would have probably thrown a fit been sad if they tried to change it, but now that I'm an adult - or at least pretend to be - and am contemplating how I want to handle gift-giving with my own kids I've decided that I want to keep it simple. My husband and I have decided that maybe three gifts, each representing one of the three gifts given to Jesus from the wise men, would be a good way of not only limiting our holiday spending, but also drawing some attention to the real meaning of the season. If you don't have kids already, or they are really little, now would be the best time to change what you do for gift giving.

4. Don't be afraid to go homemade! Whether it be spending time baking together as a family or with friends, or making some of the gifts you give to others, consider how you can make the holidays a special time without breaking the bank. And at all costs, do NOT start dipping into that "emergency fund" for Christmas. Christmas is not an emergency!

5. Create traditions or keep some of your childhood traditions alive. Consider giving each other new PJ's on Christmas Eve so you look half decent great for pictures on Christmas morning or have a family Christmas movie marathon. (Both of which are things that we do. *smiles proudly*) Traditions can be so much fun, and they can give you something to look forward to continuing each year.

Hopefully these five things will help to make your holidays less stressful and more enjoyable. And don't forget what this season is all about: celebrating our Savior's birth! Make that your focus and it will be a wonderful time of year.

Let us know what you do to keep your stress level low on Christmas. Got any favorite family traditions? How do you give gifts in your family? Leave a comment below.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Making vs. Saving Money: Both Are Important!

When it comes to getting out of debt you have to adopt a "whatever it takes" mindset, because if you're half-hearted about it or if you don't follow through you'll either keep repeating the same money mistakes or you won't ever be able to correct the ones you've made.

So get creative with your thinking. How can you earn more money to pay off that debt? Remember, whatever it takes! ... Well, apart from selling yourself on a street corner, that is. Begin by evaluating any talents you may have that you can use to either make money or save money. This will play a big part in paying off your debt early and then staying out of debt for good.

Now you may read this and think that you have nothing that could save or make you money, but everyone has something. You just have to do some self-searching, and maybe wander a little outside your comfort zone, but if you're resourceful and creative with implementing this it can help take you further into debt-free living!

Lucky for me I married this amazingly creative, artistic genius—go ahead, be jealous—and this has helped tremendously. Jake has a photography business and specializes in wedding photography and also does lots of family and individual portrait sessions. Thankfully, his day job allows for some flexible hours so he can often work his two jobs around each other. Jake also acts as a freelance writer for several newspapers in the area and also does some photography for them also. His graphic arts talents get him hired for various odd jobs like illustrating books and designing covers. Check out his website at

I’ve also been able to find a few ways that I can contribute in this area, and though mine might not be as profitable every penny helps. I have been able to sell crocheted hats around Christmas time—anything from Hello Kitty to Monsters, Inc., and I enjoy using this as a creative outlet. I hope to crochet enough over the next year to build a small army's worth of hats and mittens that I can take to a craft fair, or sell to the Marine Corps. Whatever comes first. I'm guessing craft fair. I've also done some babysitting, which is great because I love kids and I've found it to be a good way for me to meet new people in my area.

Watercolor Painting of Buttons
With the holidays upon us, Jake and I have been thinking about what gifts we could make for family and friends. Not every single gift we give is homemade, but each one we do saves money, and is more special to the recipient. My husband made this beautiful watercolor painting for my grandparents of their beloved dog Buttons, which they both loved.

Giving gifts is certainly an area of struggle for many people living on a tight budget. I know many people decide to simply not give gifts when they're in a season of slaying debt, but Jake and I like giving gifts too much for us to cut it out completely.

So maybe you aren’t artistic. Maybe you can hardly draw a stick figure. But if you look hard enough you can find something you can do that can either save you or make you money.

Let me know if you come up with any!

Keep pinchin' :-)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

From Date Night to the Katie Couric Show

Katie Couric Show Money Myth BustersWhat started as a simple date night ballooned into a rather elaborate two-week production that culminated with an appearance on Katie Couric's daytime talk show, which was followed by newspaper interviews, radio spots, and... wait. I'm getting ahead of myself.

As a birthday gift to my husband, I decided to give him a year of free dates. Every month he opens an envelope in which is one or two ideas for relatively low-cost date nights. The suggestion for November was to "be famous" by producing a funny YouTube video or fake commercial as a way of spending some fun time together.

Now it had been about a year since my husband and I had completed a money-management course called Financial Peace University, by nationally known speaker and financial management guru Dave Ramsey. Our class was having a one year reunion for anyone who was interested to come and talk about how they've been implementing Dave's steps into their spending habits. My husband and I decided to do a Financial Peace University rap video for our class reunion. (You can click here to check it out!)

My husband Jake loves to write and has three published novels under his belt. Though he's the first to tell you he knows nothing about music, he enjoys writing song lyrics, including rap. He says he enjoys the challenge of rhyme. So I figured this was an assignment he would enjoy.

Two weeks later, with Jake having written some lyrics, and composed some music, we had recorded our music video, and posted it online—including on the Facebook page of Dave Ramsey. The following day I received a Facebook message from Marianne at Katie Couric’s show stating she saw our video, that Dave Ramsey was coming to tape a show with Katie the following Thursday, and that they would love to have us on with him! Within two days all our travel plans were locked and we were headed to New York City to be on national TV. Gulp.

We flew to New York on Wednesday night, enjoyed an evening taking in the sights at Times Square, and the following morning we were headed to ABC studios. Everyone on Katie's crew was super friendly and accommodating—from the time we spent hanging out backstage in the "green room," to our professional hair and makeup session, which definitely made this girl feel like a movie star!

Finally we got to meet Dave Ramsey, who came in with his entourage including his wife, his publicist, his son-in-law, and his daughter Rachel Cruze, who has always been a large part of speaking Dave's message to the younger generation. Jake and I were kind of in awe when we first saw them.

"Should we introduce ourselves?" Jake asked. "I don't want to interrupt them."

"If we were real fans we'd be over there already," I said.

"Then lets go!" Jake replied.

Dave, Rachel, and everyone who was with them were great, down-to-earth people. We took our picture with them, had Dave sign our book, and then chatted with him about our experience with FPU. He shared his heart and vision for his new program, Legacy Journey, and then it was time for him and Rachel to film their first segment. Jake and I were called into the studio shortly after. A quick hair/makeup-check-and-mic-adjustment later and were in the studio audience in seats they had vacated just for us. The whole thing happened very quickly and felt so surreal.

Katie introduced us and showed a portion of our "Penny Pinching" rap video, which was a huge hit with the audience, and then she asked some questions about what we did to get rid of debt and build wealth.

Katie Couric Show Money Myth BustersWe kept hearing from people—the audience and the backstage crew—that we were exactly the kind of people they love having on the show. It's nice having the big celebrities on because they draw in viewership, but the stuff Katie and her crew enjoy the most are the real life problems and the real life success stories.

Katie Couric Show Money Myth BustersAfter a commercial break Jake and I were brought onto the stage to play a game called Money Myth Busters with Dave and Rachel. For each question we got right we were given 10 seconds in a wind machine filled with $5,000 for a chance to grab as much cash as we could. Now there's a situation I never imagined I'd be in—trapped in a hurricane inside a telephone booth stuffing fist-fulls of money down my shirt on national television.

I'm not allowed to report how much we won until the episode airs, but lets just say it's unnerving to go through airport security at JFK with a big wad of cash in your purse.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Free Dates for a Year

When you decide to jump into paying off debt with both feet you may find yourself in the predicament that my husband and I did: tight budget and no entertainment or restaurant included. One of two things will probably happen when you do, either you will go insane and be miserable for the duration of the trip and quite possibly throw in the towel, or you can make the best of it, be creative, and look back on this period of life with lots of great memories.

I prefer the latter.

So to help accomplish this I went on a mission to create a year of "date nights" that were practically free. (I got the initial idea from Shannon Brown at Find Joy in the Journey. The idea here is that you would purchase tickets, gift cards, etc., for a year of pre-paid dates. The problem with that plan for me was that there was no money to purchase those date nights.)

So I got to scouring the web and searching for free, at-home ideas. The Dating Divas helped out a lot with their list of at home date ideas here. Between looking through their ideas and Googling for others, I was able to come up with about 24 date night ideas, which would give us roughly two date nights per month.

With my free date nights in hand I set out to give my hubby a birthday present that would keep on giving. I created 12 envelopes, one for each month of the year, and put a couple date nights in each envelope. At the beginning of each month he opens up an envelope to find out what's in store for him, and together we work out a time to do it.

Here are some ideas to get you started. Bear in mind that you can be as creative and wild as you want to be, or adjust the suggestions to suit your resources, location, personal tastes, and what-have-you.

Theme Night

My husband and I chose a 50’s theme. I made cheeseburgers, French fries, and milk shakes on our red checkered table cloth while we listened to some great 50’s rock'n roll. My husband rigged up a DVD projector outside for us to watch "An Affair to Remember," drive-in style!

Wanna Be Famous?

Create a YouTube video, fake commercial, or whacky video and then post it on the web for all your friends to see. My hubby and I chose to write a rap song about our experience of going through Financial Peace University and we had a blast. A week after we posted it we ended up on the Katie Couric Show! Click here to view our "Penny Pinching" Financial Peace University Rap video here!

Top Chef

Work together to make a dinner using a secret ingredient in each entrée. Go outside your comfort zone and try something new!

Out of Character

Choose a character for each other to dress and act like throughout dinner. Maybe it’s their favorite character of all time or maybe it’s just something you want to see them dress up as. Try to stay in character throughout dinner, or go the extra mile and do it all day!


If you live in a place where you can see the stars, spread out some blankets in the yard and spend time snuggling and seeing what constellations you can pick out. There are phone apps that can help you with this.

There are plenty more ideas out there to be had! Let me know if you find any.

Keep pinchin' :-)