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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Dream or a Nightmare?

For Christmas my in-laws gave me a book. Not just any book, but a book that I had been drooling over at their house this past year. It's called "The Backyard Homestead." And I titled this post "A Dream or a Nightmare?" because whether you're me or my husband a book like this could be just that.

I read this book, which is about growing our own fruits, veggies, herbs, and animals, and I think of all the possibilities we have on our four acre property. My husband looks at it and sees lots of work, and declares he doesn't want to be a farmer. While I don't want to go all "small farm" here in Bethlehem, the possibilities of a small-scale backyard homestead have been imprinted in my head, and I fear there is no going back now! Sorry honey :-/

This idea is very close to my heart, and it's not because I want to know where everything we consume was grown and how it was processed, or to make sure that we are eating the healthiest food we can, although those are all good reasons.

I want to do this because I feel like it will give me more purpose when I hopefuly in my dreams stay home someday to raise our children. It will also help keep me busy, and I believe that if done right it could also help us save a lot of money on our grocery bill when we have to feed all of the imaginary kiddos.

So I guess that is my main reason. Once I stay home our income will take a severe slashing, and one way I can help compensate for that and help provide for our family is by growing fresh fruits and veggies, and maybe a few birds, on our little homestead.

My hope is to start really small this summer, by expanding on what I did last year (which was have a HUGE garden) and learn how to better take care of the raspberry bushes, grape vines, and apple trees we have on our property. Also, I would like to start growing a few more fruit trees/bushes as I know it will be several years before most of them will begin producing. Just small stuff you see. Now to just get the hubby on board :-)

Keep Pinchin' :-)

Monday, December 30, 2013

My Word For Next Year....

After much careful thought and consideration about this past year, I have come up with my 2014 word for the year. Dun, dun, da dun! ... FAITHFULNESS.

I felt like this word perfectly encompassed what I want to work toward this next year. As I thought about 2013 and what I wanted to see different for 2014 I thought of things like:

  • Faithfulness in our finances. I want us to continue slaying our debt like we have this past year by spending wisely and having the wisdom to know how to best use the resources God has blessed us with.

  • Faithfulness in living a healthy lifestyle. In previous years I have been good about running in the summer, of consistently walking or participating in some other type of exercise, but 2013 proved to be challenging in this area. In 2014 I want to not only see myself be more faithful in exercising, but also in eating healthy.

  • Faithfulness in being good stewards of the homestead God has blessed us with. I think we can do this by learning how to better care for the plants and trees we have in our yard, and also continuing to work on projects in and around our house.

  • Faithfulness in continuing to work on being the wife my husband needs me to be. I want to get better at supporting him. I want to study him so as to learn more about him so that one day I'll have my Ph.D. in Jake :-) I think right now I may still be in elementary school!

But more importantly than all of the other areas I want to be more faithful in my personal quiet time, prayer life, and spiritual growth. Without that I might as well forget about the rest.

I think my verse to go with Faithfulness for the year will be Luke 16:10-12:

"Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?"

What are some of the areas you want to change in 2014?

Keep Pinchin' :-)

Friday, December 27, 2013

Food for Thought: Envy After Christmas

The day after Christmas is fun as I get to scroll through my Facebook posts and see pictures and watch videos of my beloved friends and family members enjoying their Christmas mornings. (One of my closest friends posted a video of his one-year-old son discovering the joys of a new Whoopee Cushion. The hilarity that followed was enough to make anyone lol!)

As I scroll through the posts I see other friends and acquaintances tearing open gifts and sharing love and laughter. Some people have Christmas trees surrounded by mountains of presents.

For the penny pincher it can be hard not to get envious. Don't get me wrong, Dani and I had a wonderful Christmas. We shared many great gifts with each other and our family, and we never forgot the real reason for the season, which I think is a key point in preventing us from feeling jealous of those who have a lot more.

It's important to remember, too, that some of those people with mountains of presents under the tree had to acquire mountains of debt to get those gifts. They may be happy for a few moments on Christmas morning, but come January when the bills start to arrive they might not feel so festive. On the other hand, I'm sure there are many families who buy lots of presents and can afford them just fine, while others may have carefully saved throughout the year and landed lots of good deals... but that's neither here nor there.

If you find yourself feeling underwhelmed by Christmas, and perhaps a tad envious of those who have a lot more than you, I'd like to challenge you to consider just how much your heart is truly fixed on the real meaning of Christmas. It's so easy to get caught up in the shopping and the wrapping and the gifts and the craziness, and when that becomes your focus than the things of this world have taken precedence over what should be a glorious celebration of the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Is It A Lack Of Faith or A Lack of Prayer? ... A Followup

On Friday, I wrote about how our finances ebb and flow in Is It A Lack of Faith or A Lack of Prayer? I had noticed that Jake and I had kind of grown lazy in asking the Lord to provide extra work and extra money for us. Whether our tight finances this month are a consequence of that or not, who can say?—but a really funny thing happened.

In my mind, I took this before the Lord. I knew Jake and I hadn't been praying very consistently for God's provision, but then within 24 hours of writing that post I received two babysitting job offers through a website where I advertise my service. I have only ever gotten one job offer from there in the past. When I told the hubs about this, he told me that he had been contacted about two photography jobs, a book illustrating job, and a graphic design job—not to mention the very generous and unexpected Christmas bonus he received from his employers.

At that time Jake had yet to read the blog post. So he read it. Then he told me to stop praying because too much extra work was coming in. :-)

How awesome is our God?! I could have whined and complained about the lack of extra income. I could have doubted that God is for us in our debt-slaying adventure, but instead I tried my best to have faith and hold on to things I know to be truth, and He completely exceeded what I would have asked for.

I don't know if this is always how God chooses to work for us, but I will choose to continue to trust in Him, no matter what happens. I will choose to have faith that He has good plans for me. I will choose to believe the truth that He is for us and not against us! Once again it's all about choices!

Keep pinchin' :-)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Are Credit Cards REALLY That Bad?

I'm just going to go ahead and let the cat out of the bag: Dani and I have a credit card.

"But Jake, doesn't that violate Dave Ramsey's Commandments about financial freedom?!"

Probably, but, then again—and here's the second cat out of the bag—I don't necessarily agree with absolutely everything Dave Ramsey says.


Ok, ok. Just put the torch and pitchfork down for a minute while I explain.

Dave Ramsey is absolutely right when he rants about how easily credit card usage can land people in debt. Let's say you take a vacation and you decide it's easier just to put everything on the credit card. You've got money to cover the expenses in your bank account, so it's no problem to pay everything off as soon as you get home, but what if tragedy strikes? What if you need a new car or have a medical emergency and suddenly you can't afford to meet the monthly credit card payments? One missed payment and you're in the hole 30% or more! Besides, if you've got the money in your bank account to pay for everything, why the heck are you using a credit card in the first place?!

The practice of using credit cards is just plain dangerous, and that danger is multiplied exponentially if you don't have money in your bank account to cover the expenses, which is just plain stupid, as Dave would say.

"Responsible use of a credit card does not exist," Dave says in this article The Truth About Credit Card Debt. "There is no positive side to credit card use. You will spend more if you use credit cards. Even by paying the bills on time, you are not beating the system!"

Though I wholeheartedly agree with his sentiment, I think Dave can be a little too apocalyptic when talking about credit card usage.

Last Christmas, our Discover card ran a three month cash-back program where any time we used the credit card for gas or online shopping we got some cash back. In three months we earned $80 in cash back bonuses. We always paid the credit card off within a couple days of making a purchase, we never spent a cent on interest, and that $80 went a long way to helping with our Christmas shopping that year. So is there really no responsible way to use a credit card? I think maybe there is, but it takes a great deal of discipline to do so.

According to the American Bankers' Association, the average family today carries $8,000 in credit card debt. That is just shocking, and it is not where God wants us to be financially. A study of credit card use at McDonald's found that people spent 47% more when using credit cards instead of cash—forty-seven percent more! Why? Because the great majority of people don't comprehend that when they flip a tiny little plastic card onto the check-out counter they are, ultimately, spending their own hard-earned money, and probably more of it. It just doesn't compute with them. This is why Dave advocates for the "cash only system." Because when you're spending your cash, out of your wallet, it's easier for your brain to comprehend that "Hey, this is my money, and it's leaving me. Oh my!"

Dani and I have used our Discover card maybe three times in the last twelve months, but each time it is to take advantage of a special offer. It's never in huge amounts, and we always pay it off within a couple days.

Personal finance is 80% behavior. If you find that your credit card is getting you in trouble, get rid of it! Use common sense. Don't spend money you don't have.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Trusting Friends to Help You on Your Journey

One thing that Dani and I have found helpful on our journey toward financial freedom is having the support of family and friends. I'm sure there are a few people in our inner circles who think we're totally nuts, and that's totally fine, but if you're going to undertake the dramatic steps necessary to become debt free you can't do it in secret.

Dani and I have two friends who just happen to live not far from us. After we took Financial Peace University, they became big encouragers of our endeavor. They understand where we are at in life. They believe in what we are doing. And they've helped us out in more ways than one—be it treating us to dinner, or loaning us certain items, or a cup of sugar, or just inviting us over for a relaxing night of games and laughter. And they never expect anything in return.

At first, accepting their support was difficult for me. I was 31 years old and was comfortably used to taking care of all my own needs. If I needed something I bought it. I was independent and I liked it.

But then I married a woman who approaches finances from an angle directly opposed to mine. She opened my eyes to a whole new way of living that involved a heck-of-a-lot more saving than I was used to. When we took Financial Peace University I realized that it was necessary for us to make some changes in the way we managed money, which meant making a lot of sacrifices. At first there were some really hard decisions to make, but they were worth it.

And thanks to our encouraging friends, it got easier. I had to let go of a lot of pride though. I had to come to terms with the fact that if Dani and I were going to meet our financial goals we both had to be willing to accept help sometimes.

A word of caution: don't accept help from people who are just going to gloat over you. Some people, even friends and family, just want to lend you support so you can owe them something later on, or they just want to hang it over you and shame you with it. If you can help it, don't accept support from these people because the emotional stress they'll cause you isn't worth it.

Fortunately for Dani and I, many of our friends and family have been more than generous with their support, and we're looking forward to the day when we can "pay it forward" by blessing someone else the way these people have blessed us.

Getting out of debt can't be done solo. You need accountability. You need encouragement. You need to let go of whatever pride might be holding you back and accept the help of understanding friends.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Friday, December 20, 2013

Is It A Lack of Faith or A Lack of Prayer?

Back in September, Jake and I spent a lot of time in prayer, asking God to guide us with our finances, to provide extra income, and bless us in our efforts to get out of debt. And He certainly did!

October and November were a whirlwind of blessings: we got lots of extra income from odd jobs that sprang up, and our Penny Pinching rap video caught the attention of Katie Couric and earned us an all-expenses paid trip to New York City and a stint on her national TV show! (You can read about all that awesomeness here!) We spent these months in stunned amazement at, not only how quickly God had provided, but how much.

In December, however, our extra income dropped to next to nothing. What should have been some extra money from a photography job actually cost us money when the client's check bounced, not to mention the added expenses of below-freezing winter temperatures and Christmas time.

I began to wonder, what happened to all of the blessings? Things had been going so well for us. We were sending in lots of extra money toward our mortgage, and then it seemed like the faucet was turned off. We had been so busy praising God for His goodness, but I can't recall many prayers for continued blessings in our finances.

Now, I don't think we earned less this month because we forgot to keep praying for God's blessing on our finances. Prayer certainly doesn't hurt, but God is faithful, and nothing I can do or fail to do will change that. But as I look back over this past year I can see how I've failed to make my personal quiet time with the Lord a regular occurrence. I can blame the chaotic changes in my work schedule, the lack of Christian accountability in my life, or all the extra jobs I work, but at the end of the day the truth is that I just don't make God a priority like I should. I want to do more than just ask for his blessings. I want to do more than rejoice in His goodness. Why? Because I want more of Him—more of His goodness, more of His blessings, more of His joys and gifts! And I believe the key to doing that is not just making petitions in prayer, but seeking Him, because when He's not priority in my life everything else suffers.

As 2013 comes to a close and I look ahead at another year, I am thinking about what I want to be focused on. I like the idea of coming up with a theme word for the year, and maybe a verse that goes with that word, and then trying to focus on it throughout the year. I'll let you know what I come up with.

Bottom line: I want my faith in my Savior to be stronger. I want to thank Him every day for his blessings. I don't want to fear or worry when things aren't going as easily as they once were. I want to seek Him more and more so that even when things aren't as easy, or aren't going as "planned," I won't waver in my trusting in His provision, but know that He desires to do exceedingly above all I could ask or think.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Cheap Way to Move Snow

It's time to shovel snow again! (And that exclamation mark is not intended to convey enthusiasm.)

Shoveling our driveway is one of the ways that Dani and I have decided to save money. Sure we could hire a plow truck like the majority of other people on our street, but with the rising cost of fuel plow trucks are expensive to hire. Other means of moving snow are pricey too—the last John Deere snowblower attachment I looked at was almost a thousand dollars. So, no thank you. I'll stick to the push shovel. Besides, it's a good workout!

To some people this sounds ridiculous. They can't imagine shoveling for an hour and a half just to clear the driveway. But just because we've decided that moving snow by hand is an acceptable sacrifice to make on our journey to debt-free living, doesn't mean it's right for you. Everyone has to find those things that work for them. The important thing is that they find them.

Some of the other choices we've made, include:

  • Instead of buying firewood that's already been cut and split, we bought what's called "log length" wood. We had to chainsaw it all up and split it ourselves, but the price for a cord of log-length is about half of what it costs for a cord of pre-cut.

  • We've eliminated restaurants from our budget completely. This is a big sacrifice for me because I love eating out, but, A) we're saving about $500 a year, B) eating out isn't all that healthy anyway, and C) it's not forever. (Thank God!)

  • We unplug electronics if we're not using them because TVs, DVD players, stereo systems, computers, and other electronics draw a lot of power even if they're off. Believe it or not we have noticed a difference in the electric bill.

  • We pretty much live in just the downstairs of our house. The upstairs is all closed off for the winter with the upstairs thermostat turned down to about 55.

Some of the things we do are minor annoyances that just take some getting used to—it took a month for me to start remembering to shut off the power strip to the TV whenever I was done watching a movie, but now I do without even thinking about it. Other things take some serious dedication—you think I want to be outside shoveling snow first thing in the morning?!

These are some of the things that work for us. I'd be curious to hear what works for you. You might have some great ideas!

Now, you'll have to excuse me, last time I looked it was snowing outside.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

How to Handle a Christmas Conversation About Dave

Fortunately, Dani and I have lots of understanding friends and family, but we know there are a lot of naysayers out there who can kill one's momentum when it comes to being thrifty, money-smart, and a Dave Ramsey fan.

Dave offers some tips on how to diffuse any digs that people may take at you without getting all bent out of shape.

"The key is to talk about why you believe in having a budget and paying cash and to not make a big deal out of it," says Dave. "Say things factually. If you’ve been saving money each month of the year for Christmas and someone tells you that you can’t pay for gifts with cash, just say, 'Actually, I am—I’ve been saving all year. It really wasn’t that bad.' By being matter-of-fact, you quietly defuse their claim that it can’t be done without having an attitude. It’s no longer 'your opinion versus mine.' It’s fact—you have the proof right there in the figgy pudding. When you don’t give them ammo, they quickly run out of it."

Click here to read the entire article, How to Handle a Christmas Conversation About Dave, at his official website,

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Falling Off The Bandwagon

Over the last couple of weeks I've realized how easy it is to start over-spending and fall off the budget bandwagon.

It started out with just spending a few extra dollars on groceries. I would think to myself, "This is ok, as long as I spend less next week. I'll still come in on budget at the end of the month. No problem!" But when you do this a second time, and then a third time, that's not good! So after over-spending three weeks in a row, I checked our monthly allocated spending plan and realized that if I was careful it would be possible to still come in on budget. But, still, I had boxed myself into a corner.

I know why this happened, too.

When Jake and I first created our budget I was taking advantage of Dave Ramsey's "cash only" system for certain things, like groceries. And I can see now why Dave recommends doing this: when you go into a grocery store with a debit card it's easy to overspend, but when you go in there with a set amount of cash there is no wiggle room whatsoever. It's one very affective way of controlling spending.

After several months of doing this—and doing it well—I decided to try doing it with the debit card. At first I did ok. Occasionally I would spend an extra dollar or two, but that was easily remedied the following week.

Then Christmas came. The month of December is always full of extra expenses—heating oil, tire changes, increased electricity, presents, extra groceries to make sweet treats... you get the idea. I've found that the more times you swipe that little plastic card the easier it is to do it again and again... and again. I even overdrew my checking account for the first time in over two years! Thankfully I have overdraft protection, so the fee was minimal.

At the end of this week we start a new monthly budget, and I plan to go back to using cash. Using cash keeps me more accountable and aware of what I have to spend. Thankfully, even though I feel like I've way overspent this month, we should be ok, but it was a close call. I am going to have to spend a lot less on groceries this coming week, or just eat up those Raman noodles sitting the cupboard, whether my husband likes it or not.

If you find yourself blowing out your budget, don't get discouraged. Try using cash, for a little while at least, until you get back on track.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Night I Was Kind of Sad

As I write this, I'm kind of sad.

In three days I've had three friends antagonize me about three different things. It doesn't matter what or why, just pointless arguments started because they wanted to push their opinions on me. I drafted lengthy replies that clearly stated my case—and, in my own mind, proved that I was right—but I discarded all of them. I've got bigger things in my life going on than the petty mumbo-jumbo that these people are trying to argue with me.

And, from my point of view, I can see the unhappiness in their lives and know that the only reason they're attacking me is because of their own insecurity. And the longer I wrote and edited, and wrote and edited my eloquent replies, the more irritated I got. And before I knew it I had wasted two hours of my life and had accomplished nothing.

I'm not an optimist by any means, but I'm also usually smart enough to know that when someone is bringing me down I need to just put them out of my life, at least for a while. A Bible verse that keeps coming to my mind is when Jesus warned his followers to "not cast  their pearls before swine." (Matthew 7:6) Essentially he was saying that some people are so stubborn that they won't listen to your reason no matter how well-worded or convincing your logic is. Don't waste your time with these people! There is ripe fruit elsewhere that can be picked.

I think this verse comes to mind so much because in recent years people have become so fiercely opinionated. Very few people are willing to listen anymore, and fewer are willing to consider the question, "What if I'm wrong?"

Now I'm not implying that I never argue or that I don't try to talk sense into people, because at times I do, but more often than not I come to the conclusion that this person isn't interested in listening to me, and so I move on. It's hard to do, and it makes me sad, but that's why I'm sitting here right now.

Right now my wife is in bed, sleeping off a long three days of work. She's so smart, and fun, and creative. She just got a new haircut, and it's a dramatic difference, but she's so beautiful. And she is the reason I'm doing this whole "penny pinching" craziness. I long to make her happy, and having her light up my life the way she does motivates me to strive all the harder toward financial peace. Thinking about her lightens my burdens. In fact, I'm smiling already.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Friday, December 13, 2013

There's No Wrong Way To Pinch A Penny

When I was growing up a popular saying was, "There's no wrong way to eat a Reese's."

The statement can be true of living a Penny Pinching lifestyle. No two family plans look quite the same. You may be content adding an extra $100 to the car payment each month. Another family might want to add $200. It depends on how much debt you have, the size of your family, your age, income level, and many other factors.

For Jake and I, our financial plan meant giving up most entertainment, including going out to eat, and living within a budget that we had worked together to create. Then, in addition to our regular incomes, we try to pick up extra work each month to earn income that we pour directly into our debt. If we got hung up on making sure we were following a plan that had worked for someone else, I don't think we would be very successful.

The key is figuring out what works for you, and this will take a few months. It's important to stay flexible, too, in case you need to re-focus the budget in order to achieve your financial goals.

I've heard stories about couples paying off a hundred thousand dollars in just a couple of years, but I've also heard other stories about people who spent just as much time paying off a few thousand.

But I can't get hung up on either of these stories. Instead, I need to say, "There's no wrong way to Penny Pinch." As long as we are doing our best with what we have, we are doing it right.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Confessions of a Penny Pincher

We don't always Penny Pinch—I know, shocking!

Early on in our debt-slaying adventure we realized that if we held too tightly onto a strict budget and left no wiggle room, we would most likely throw in the towel if we didn't go insane first. So we—me more than Jake—have had to learn that splurging on entertainment every now and then is an almost necessary step in this journey, but at the same time we—Jake more than me—are learning to be more considerate about how we spend money on ourselves. As the old adage says: all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Today, we don't really budget for entertainment, although we did at first. Now we've decided that our financial goal to become debt free is worth sacrificing a few years of movies and mini-golf. However, we occasionally treat ourselves to the latest, greatest new movie, and we don't feel guilty at all.

I've said before that I want to look back on this journey to debt-free living and have fond memories, not regrets. If we never went out and did anything fun or special I would probably go crazy, and Jake would have to deal with it :-)

Just recently we were invited by friends to go see Frozen—have you seen it? See it! It's great!—and we decided it was worth it to splurge a little bit. I'm glad we did, because we had a great time with our friends, enjoyed some good laughs, and made a great memory. The movie was funny, romantic, heart-warming, magical; a wonderful movie for the whole family.

We also try to find ways to entertain ourselves that don't involve spending money, which takes some creative thinking, but is lots of fun to execute. Jake opened his December envelope a couple weeks ago to reveal the next two date night suggestions: 1) a day trip out to see all the pretty Christmas lights with hot cocoa from home, and 2) a cookie-baking/Christmas movie-watching marathon, because Jake's two favorite things are cookies and movies so he was totally game for this! (And if you have no idea what I'm talking about, check out this previous blog post: Free Dates For A Year.)

So if you are just starting the Penny Pinching lifestyle, or if you're contemplating getting started, remember that there is no perfect way to do it. Sometimes you might have to bend the rules a little and treat yourself to something special, but if it helps you stay committed over the long haul then it's worth it!

Keep pinchin :-)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Crafty Christmas Creation With Thrifty Décor Chick

A Christmas craft idea from Thrifty Decor Chick
For that creative penny pincher, here's an awesome craft idea that comes from Sarah, the voice behind the popular DIY and decorating blog Thrifty Décor Chick. Sara was a guest blogger on Dave Ramsey's blog this month to share this unique craft idea just in time for Christmas.

"Silhouettes have been big in design again for years now," Sarah writes. "I think it goes back to the nostalgia of them. They became popular in the mid-18th century as a less expensive version of the portrait. I love them because they are graphically interesting and can capture your family in a different way than photos."

Her step-by-step instructions will teach you how to take an everyday photograph and turn it into a work of art that would class-up nearly any room, and for very little cost!

"Silhouettes are inexpensive and relatively easy to make," Sarah writes. "Dogs and cats look especially sophisticated in a silhouette."

To read her post on Dave Ramsey's website, click here.

Or if you're looking for other thrifty gift or decorating ideas, Sarah's your girl! Visit

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Importance of Doing It Together: Part 2

Dani is a saver. I'm a spender. And we're both at the extreme end of those polar opposites. I can't hold onto money to save my life; it flows through my fingers like water over rocks, whereas money stops with Dani like a skydiver with no parachute.

So when we started budgeting we found that our dramatically opposing financial skill sets did not like each other. It was tempting for me to just let her do the budgeting—she's better at math. She enjoys the organization—but Dave Ramsey stresses repeatedly that there is value in managing your money as one.

No matter how you choose to do your budgeting process, if you and your partner don't talk about the spending plan, there's no telling how many miscommunication issues you'll experience.

Such as:

  • Your husband is happy because the money for "home expenses" has accumulated enough to replace the broken window, but you thought you were going to use that money to finish the kitchen countertop.

  • Your wife takes the kids to the water park thinking there's plenty of money in the entertainment budget to cover the trip, not knowing that you wanted to go out with the guys on Friday.

  • If your husband moves money from the grocery budget to cover an unexpectedly high bill and you don't know about it, when you swipe your debit card at the market you'll see that embarrassing DECLINED light up.

  • Your wife isn't keeping track of how much money you've budgeted for restaurants, and after eating out three times already this month she makes dinner plans with her mom at Olive Garden. Uh-oh! DECLINED.

It cannot be stressed enough: for a budget to be successful you and your spouse must have a shared vision for your finances. And, trust me, this may take time. It took about eight months before Dani and I really felt like we were on the same page with our financial priorities. And once we were, our budget became even more focused, we became more determined, and our debt started going down faster while we started saving more money.

I said it once, but I'll say it again: if you want to create a successful financial plan that will work for you, you and your spouse have got to work together.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Importance of Doing It Together: Part 1

There's a "security gland," explains Dave Ramsey, that all women have. It's located behind their ears and when they don't feel financially secure that gland starts to spasm.

Obviously he's exaggerating, but his point is this: it's important to most women to feel financially secure, to feel like they are taken cared for, and, believe it or not, it doesn't always have to do with how much money they have. Guys, you can work 50, 60, 70 hours a week and still have a wife who doesn't feel financially secure.

For my wife, a large part of feeling that security was knowing that we were on the same page. She needed reassurance from me that I supported our financial goals, that I would follow our plan, and that she could trust me to properly manage our income. She needed to know that I was with her.

But budgeting shouldn't just be about making your wife feel better. And, trust me, it's not.

For me, I realized that I needed my wife's input. It was helpful for me to go over our budget with her because she caught my mistakes, helped me understand certain processes, and generally alleviated the stress I feel when working with numbers. (I still refuse to have anything to do with taxes. We either take them to H&R Block or she does them. I find the process too frustrating to bother with.)

I have a friend whose wife is like me in this area. She finds the budgeting process too stressful, and so he makes up the budget every month. He is faithful, however, to keep his wife routinely apprised of their financial circumstances.

Going over your budget with your spouse is such an essential part of a successful money management plan. There's basically two ways you can do it:
  1. You and your spouse go over the budget once a week, or once a month. Together, the two of you keep track of your expenses, making sure neither one of you is going over budget in any of your areas of allocated spending. If neither one of you excels with math or particularly enjoys budgeting, this is the best option.

  2. If you or your spouse is more suited to handling math and numbers, and is agreeable to handling the budget on his/her own, it's fine if the lion's share of the work load falls upon them. But the two of you must confer with each other on a regular basis as to where your budget stands. Moreover, you need to have conversations about where you want your money to go. It's ok if only one of you gets to be the numbers crunched, but you both have to be involved in budgeting.
If you're going to make your money work for you, you and your spouse need to work together. If you don't, there is a nearly endless list of possible miscommunications than can arise.

To be continued...

Friday, December 6, 2013

Giving While Penny Pinching

One of the things my hubby and I have made a point to be faithful in is giving to our local church. Budgeting for this is really important, because it is too easy to use this money on unexpected expenses or to help balance your budget when you go a little over.

But when you budget for tithing, you're creating a plan for that money as though it were for your mortgage or your heating bill. You've set it aside for a purpose, which means there's less of a chance it will slip into thin air.

God loves a cheerful giver, and I think the proof of this is in how he gives more when he sees that you're joyfully giving what you can. Here's what I mean: It took about a year for us to realize that we weren't tithing out of the extra money that we made each month—Jake's photography jobs, my babysitting and crocheting. Once we realized that we should be giving back to God from the excess he provides, we thought and prayed about how we could do that, and, like usual, God suggested a creative way of giving that has turned out to be a lot of fun.

We've created an account in which our tithing from any excess income builds up. This money is available to us whenever we feel led to give in a way outside of our regular weekly church giving. Recently we decided to use some of the money from this account to bless a little girl through Angel Tree, an outreach through Prison Fellowship. On Tuesday I went to Toys"R"Us to find a dolly for this precious little girl, and knowing I had money in our "extra giving" account meant I didn't even have to concern myself too much with price tags. It was so much fun!

I walked up and down the aisle where all the dolly's lived, touching them, checking to see what ages they were appropriate for, until I found one that was perfect for the 18 month old girl we had selected. I bought her a couple of outfits and a bag with two bottles, a bowl, a spoon, and a fork. I admit, I splurged. And I know I'll never get to meet this little girl, but I do wish that I could be a fly on the wall of her house on Christmas morning to see her open this gift, knowing it came from her daddy who couldn't be with her this Christmas, but loved her enough to send her a gift through me. It's things like this that bring joy to my heart and keep me motivated to penny pinch so that someday we will be able to give so much more!

Keep pinchin' :-)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Choices, Choices, Choices...

It's all about choices! Every one of us makes choices every day—whether or not we realize it—as to what is important to us, how we want to live, and where our money will go. Jake and I make very careful choices based on the type of future we want to have. Sure we could live it up like most Americans today, but in 30 years those people are going to be just as broke as they are now while Jake and I, hopefully, will be living peacefully in financial security.

But this type of living does not mean that we are poor. Some people may think that, but we're certainly not. We could very well go out to eat several times a week and spend money on ridiculous cable TV packages and brand name clothes, but we choose not to.

This type of lifestyle—which we jokingly call "penny pinching"—is a choice that we feel God is calling us to make. We believe it's the right choice, not just for the hear and now, but for our future family. It's a lifestyle that's not for everyone—although it probably should be ;-)—because it takes a lot of hard work and discipline. To make it succeed, you really need to know what you want out of life and you need to be willing to do whatever it takes to get there.

Do we stray sometimes? Sure. Is it hard to keep on track? Yup! But here are some ways we stay motivated:

  1. It's my dream to be a stay-at-home mom. I believe I told this to my hubby very early on, before we were even officially "dating." I needed him to know how important it is for me to be at home with our kids, and that I don't want to have other people raising them, such as babysitters, daycares, schools, etc. Much to my delight, this is one of the first things we agreed on as we pursued a relationship with the end goal of marriage in mind.

  2. We want to adopt. This was another thing we agreed on early in our relationship. We both have a heart for adoption and believe God has called us to care for orphans.

  3. We want to be "hilarious givers"—as our pastor would say—able to spontaneously, without reluctance, give to those in need. We want to give back the blessing of abundance that God is giving to us.

None of these three goals would ever be realistically possible as long as we have debt. In order for me to stay home with our children I'll need to substantially cut back my hours at work and probably quit my job, which means losing half our income, and that's a pretty big deal. Adoption costs are astronomical, especially if you want to do so internationally, which is our hope. And, finally, we can't be generous, spontaneous givers if we don't have any extra to give.

So, for now, does that mean we don't go out to eat very often or see every movie we want in the theater? Yes, but we are having a blast doing this, and anytime we start to get down or think this isn't going to work God does exceedingly, abundantly, above all that we could ask or think, which encourages our hearts to keep on our crazy path to financial freedom.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

How Faith Comes Into Play

There's this moment that happened to me after about six weeks of following our financial plan. After going through Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University, developing our budget, and making some serious cutbacks, I remember sitting back on my couch and wondering: "How in the world are we going to do this?"

Between me and Dani, I was the one who liked spending money. I was the one who was used to buying stuff. I was also used to not having a wife to care for or a family to plan on. I felt like a mason was quickly laying a wall of bricks on my head, and each brick had a name on it: Electricity bill. Mortgage payment. Car replacement. Baby planning. Grocery budget. Clothing fund. And the bricks just kept piling up.

I'm pretty sure Dani felt some of this, too. There were many times that our budget meetings ended with her in tears and me frustrated. We began praying about our finances more and more while we diligently worked at being responsible with what little we had. As we began to turn our finances over to God, careful to recognize that He owns everything we possess, that we are simply stewards, we began experiencing "money miracles."

  • I remember the day we got a letter from our mortgage company regarding our taxes. Apparently they had taken out too much for our escrow—about $1,500 too much! It just so happened that Dani and I had been struck with over a thousand dollars in car repairs that month, and before we could figure out how to pay for it God had provided the way.
  • I remember Dani and I praying for a new lawn mower. We were praying very conversationally one night when we jokingly asked God to "just give us one." A couple weeks later I got a call from Lowe's asking where to deliver our John Deere D-140 riding lawn mower. We assume God prompted someone to bless us with such an amazing gift, but to this day we don't know who it was.
  • I remember little things like friends treating us to movies when we didn't have it in our budget. I remember God providing us gift cards to our favorite restaurants. I remember photography work flooding in at a time when we really needed the extra cash. 
  • I remember making a crazy rap music video with my wife, which caught the attention of Katie Couric who invited us to be on her daytime talk show, on which we played a game and won $... actually, I'm not supposed to say how much money we won until the show actually debuts, but the amazing thing is I didn't have any extra work that month and Dani's babysitting jobs were minimal. We really needed extra money and God provided by putting us on national television!

Turning our finances over to God has been key in making this whole plan work. Dave Ramsey's steps to "financial peace" are a great, common sense approach to managing money, but that's only because of the biblical principles they're based on. God owns it all anyway! And the more we humbly recognize that and submit to his authority, the more his blessings will flow.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Christmas Tree Dilemma

On our quest to be debt free we have found ourselves tip-toeing closer and closer to that question that every sane person secretly ponders on Christmas: "Can we really justify spending *insert insane amount of money here* on a tree that's just going to sit in our living room for a few weeks only to be tossed out?"

Last year we went with friends to Bethlehem's Rocks Estate tree farm and bought a beautiful tree for a rather pretty penny, even with a local resident discount. This year I couldn't justify the expense, but at the same time I couldn't go without having a tree.

So I came up with the brilliant plan to walk around our four tiny acres and find a tree absolutely free. A romantic walk through the snowy woods with my husband sounded like fun. And a free Christmas tree? Even better!

Four minutes into our walk we were assaulted by the incessant barking of our neighbor's dog. It came bounding toward us through the woods, stopped about twenty feet away and barked. And barked. And barked. And barked. It followed us, and barked some more. Sigh. After a few minutes of "See any good trees?" "Bark!" "What?" "Bark!" "I said..." "Bark!" "...any..." "Bark!" "...trees?" we realized we weren't going to find any nicely shaped, full-looking Christmas trees that weren't 50-feet tall. So we... "Bark!" "Bark!" ...home.

Happily, the previous owners of our property had begun to plant about four or five Christmas trees along the fence. Unfortunately no one had given the trees any lovin' over the past few years; they were surrounded by brambly bushes and were quite sparse and misshapen. They were better than the infamous Charlie Brown Christmas tree, but not by much.

Jake took out the saw and cut one down.

As we set up our tree in the living room and started decorating it, I expected the full majesty of the tree to come into being. I figured we'd just fill in the gaps with ornaments, shape the branches with clippers, and pile enough garland and lights on to make it look outstanding. After about ten minutes I realized this was not going to happen. I wanted to say, "Forget it! Let's just go buy one. What are our friends going to think when they see this tree?"

But the more I thought about it, the more I fought the urge to give up and give in. It wasn't just because I didn't want to spend the money, but because I didn't want to be part of the rat race we call the "American Dream," always concerned with what the Jones' think of our house, or with what the Smith's have and we don't. I want to be more concerned with enjoying life with my fabulous husband, making memories that we will fondly look back on as we pave the way for a fun future with kiddos (who are currently just imaginary).

It took a couple of days, but now I look at our crazy cylinder-shaped Christmas tree with its sparse boughs and uneven branches, and I love it! I love it because Jake and I hunted it down together, and we had fun laughing at ourselves as we put it up. I love it because we did what we thought was best for us at this time in our lives. I have every intention of purchasing a beautiful tree again some day, but for this year I'm not going to concern myself with what anyone else thinks of me. I'm just going to love what I have and I'm going to love our crazy tree!

Keep pinchin' :-)
The romantic walk through snowy woods

Looking for our Christmas tree

Jake cuts down our Christmas tree

Dragging home our Christmas tree

Our glorious Christmas tree

Monday, December 2, 2013

We Men Don't Want Budgets... but Whatever

It was easy for me to make the comparison between discussing budgeting with my wife and the idea of letting my face sear in the bottom of a cast iron fry pan... on a burner set on high... in the middle of a desert... surrounded by scorpions. So when Dave Ramsey first brought up budgeting during his nine week money-management course, Financial Peace University, it was no wonder that I felt like cutting class.

Budgeting never sat well with me, and I don't think it sits well with a lot of men my age. We're from that lesser-known generation of people born just between the grungy, pop-idol-wannabes of Generation X, to the post-modern hippies of Generation Y. A generation of people whose monicker is, "*shrug* I dunno." Budgeting is too strict for us. Too rigid. And we're too undisciplined to have anything to do with it. Our generation is too laid back and indifferent, and we've got too much to do to be bothered with making a budget. More's the pity.

But there are benefits to budgeting that I have slowly discovered.

Bear with me guys. You need to read this. For the sake of your wives, your families, and your own personal retirement future, you need to read this. So if you fear the word "budget" like I did, I'm going to help you out. For the duration of this article I'll be replacing the word "budget" with the word "bungie-jumping."

Honestly, the first three or four months of bungie-jumping was a nightmare. Every bungie-jumping meeting I had with my wife was a letdown. I didn't understand the bungie-jumping. She hated that I hated the bungie-jumping. But an odd thing began to happen. The more bungie-jumping we did the more I began to see it working because we had finally taken dominion over our money. It's a simple fact: if you don't tell your money where to go it will go away from you.

I can't stress this enough: you need to bungie-jump. I promise that if you commit yourself to bungie-jumping for at least six months you'll begin to see the benefits. Do it for a year and you'll wonder how you ever lived without bungie-jumping. You're debt will start to go down. You're savings will start going up. And bungie-jumping will become second nature. You have to tell your money where to go!

Seriously guys, in this day and age I think men need to start stepping up and doing more to take care of their wives and their families financially. Men have backslidden too far. We've become too careless, and not just with our money. You want to show your wife you love her? You want to show your kids that you're going to take care of them? Die to yourself. Put their needs ahead of your own. Start setting aside money for school supplies, birthday presents, romantic getaways, and start spending less money on your sports, your "guys' nights," and your hobbies. I'm not saying you'll never again get to enjoy the things you like to do, because as your bungie-jumping begins to take root you'll eventually be able to set aside money for those very things that you enjoy—be it golf or photography or hunting or sports. But your family has to come first.

What have you given up, or what are you going to give up, that will help your family's future?

Keep pinchin' :-)