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Friday, January 31, 2014

How My Tasmanian Devil Coffee Mug Tested My Discipline

Before Dani and I took Financial Peace University, I was never very good at budgeting. However, one habit I got into that helped me a lot—a habit I would eventually learn is actually recommended by Dave Ramsey—is using cash.

I had three coffee cups set up on a book shelf in my room—one of them was a super-groovy Tasmanian Devil mug that was so impossible to drink out of that it simply became a "piggy bank" of sorts—and every week after I cashed my paycheck I would "deposit" the necessary cash into one of those three cups—one for bills, one for spending money, and one for anything I was saving money for, e.g. photography equipment, larger expenses. At the end of the month I'd take the cash to my bank, make the deposit, and send out the checks for my bills the next day.

Despite the obvious flaws in my system—I would never recommend leaving that much cash just sitting around in your room—it kept me from over-spending each month. Well, almost. I wasn't as disciplined as I am now and I would occasionally find myself dipping into one cup or the other to make ends meet.

The cash system is great, but with it must come a fair degree of discipline. If, like me, you need help in that area, it might be worth it to seek out a financial accountability partner, someone who knows your financial situation and can encourage you in your efforts to get out of debt and build wealth. Also, breaking down your "cups" into more specific categories can help you know exactly how much you have to spend on different things.

Today, I've traded in my three cups for a specific savings sheet, which breaks down all the areas in which we are saving—house repairs, water bill, business, kids etc. I've disciplined myself not to spend beyond what we've saved in those categories. It wasn't easy. It took time. Discipline is like a muscle, and the more you flex it the stronger it becomes.

Don't feel like you need to dive into this budgeting thing with both feet... however, don't just dip a toe in to test the waters either. Start with some coffee cups, but keep going. It WILL get easier.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Confronting the Biggest Obstacle Toward Financial Peace: Yourself

Sometimes the biggest obstacle is you
We have successfully completed leading the first session of Financial Peace University, a nine-session money management program by financial guru Dave Ramsey. I'm pleased to report that both Dani and I came out alive.

It was so exciting to walk through the doors and see all the FPU kits set up—about 30 of them—each one containing a bundle of potential, so much hope. It felt great to be leading a class designed to help people break free from their financial burdens.

It was tough, though, knowing that there would be some people who would squander that potential. Dani and I know from experience that this is hard work. For most people, going through FPU means making significant changes to how you live and how you view money.

It's so easy to get wrapped up in our own personal financial problems that we forget that everything we have is actually God's. When that happens we lose sight of what's important. How differently would we live if we could remember that God owns it all, that we are simply stewards? How differently would we handle money? I think that managing your finances properly can be a big part of your Christian walk. Maybe you'll never be rich, but you can follow biblical principles of handling money that will create an awesome testimony for Christ.

In his book the Complete Guide to Money, Dave Ramsey talks about the "pain of change." Even when it comes to that first baby step—getting $1,000 in the bank—for some people it feels like such an impossibility that they quit before they even begin. They're too afraid to look in the mirror and ask themselves: "Am I done living the way I've been living?" "Am I willing to sacrifice to win?"

And then Dave drops this bomb: "When I tell people the first thing they need to do is put $1,000 in the bank and not touch it, it can be a deal-breaker. It requires you to look in the mirror and say, 'You're the problem.'"

And that's hard to do. I know, because I did it once. Both Dani and I had to do it. We both had to realize that there were ways in which we handled money that simply were not working. It's only when we got honest with ourselves that real change begins to happen.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Letting Go of Impressing People

As much as I hate to admit it, I have occasionally fallen prey to that inner desire to impress people. It's almost an innate human impulse, isn't it? We want to wear the right clothes, or get the right hair cut, or have the latest gadget.

After I asked Dani to marry me we decided that she would be in charge of the wedding and I would be in charge of the honeymoon. Not that I wouldn't have any input in the ceremony, or that she wouldn't get a say in where we spent our first week as a married couple, but when it came to the honeymoon I was pretty much in charge of all the details.

The 2013 Ford Mustang I rented for my wedding
And, I got to admit, I had a lot of fun planning it! She knew where we were going, but there were a lot of details and surprises that I got to plan along the way—the hotels we stayed at, some of the activities we did. One of the biggest surprises I had planned was the 2013 Ford Mustang convertible that I rented to be our main source of transportation during our 10 day road trip to Kelly's Island, Ohio. Now, as any man reading this will understand, there are many wonderful slices of Heaven that can be experienced on one's honeymoon, but driving that Mustang was near Nirvana all in itself.

I remember when my Best Man and I picked it up at the airport and drove it around town the day before the wedding—the shiny paint, the top down, the purr of the engine, the sheer power under the hood. We could outpace any car on any road in about three seconds. But one of the things that made driving that car such a blast was all the heads it turned. When we stopped at a gas station, people were checking it out. When we passed people on the interstate, other drivers took notice.

And it felt good. We've all had that feeling of people watching us, knowing in the back of our minds that some are looking on in total envy, right? That feeling puffs us up a little, doesn't it? It makes us feel good. It's all stupid, when you think about it. I mean, we spend thousands upon thousands of dollars to buy fancy clothes, beautiful cars, and electronic gadgets that we don't really need to impress complete strangers! It's all lunacy.

It's all pride.

Making the decision to live on a tight budget means letting go of a lot of things. It means letting go of that inner desire to have people admire you for your house or your shoes or your cable TV package. It means letting go of that need to buy the next iPad the moment it hits the market. It means letting go of some pride. And if you can't let go of trying to impress people then you're going to hamper your ability to build wealth.

Sure, I feel a little silly sometimes pulling out my $40 Walmart phone in a room full of iPads and smart phones, but you know what I realized: the great majority of those people with the expensive suits and the pricey gadgets are in debt up to their eyeballs! They're struggling every week to make ends meet. Their blood pressure is up. Their hours of REM sleep are down.

Personally, I don't want to lose my REM sleep. I LOVE sleep too much. I can do without the other stuff.

Has letting go of this kind of pride been difficult for you?

Keep pinchin' :-)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Winter Date Night

As promised here is an idea for a free winter date night.

Last Saturday Jake and I finally had a day that we didn't have to be anywhere, so it meant it was the perfect day for a date. First we went to the Rocks Estate to walk on their trails—or get lost—and enjoy a beautiful sunny winter day.

A wintery walk at the Rocks Estate

When we got home we had some hot cocoa to warm up and then took naps. Ahhh :-) Then it was time for a "Living Room Campout." (In case you're just tuning in, this was part of my birthday present to Jake back in October. I gave him a year of "free dates." Click here to read all about it.)

I prepared potatoes, kielbasa, and butter with some Tony's seasoning in tinfoil baked in the oven on 350 for about an hour. Normally you'd bury the foil-wrapped dinners in your campfire, but when it's minus 10 degrees outside the oven works just as well.

Foil-wrapped kielbasa

Then I created our  campsite. We don't have a tent so I made one out of a sheet and hung it up over Christmas lights I had strung up. I had Jake bring in a couple of camping chairs and grabbed a side table to eat dinner on. We ate our tinfoil dinners next to our wood stove (campfire) and then played cards in our tent.

Living room campout

To finish it off we made S'mores in our woodstove, and they were delicious!

Wood stove s'mores

During it all we just sort of laughed at ourselves and wondered what someone would think if they showed up at our house and saw the camp site. "No," we would tell them, "children do not live here. Just us. Yes, we're adults. Thank you." Even though some people might think it's juvenile we had a ton of fun!

Have you been on any free, fun date nights lately? Leave us a comment to let us know what you've done!

Keep pinchin' :-)

Monday, January 27, 2014

Valentine's Day Heart Garland

Last week I watched my friend's little 4 1/2 year old daughter. She is adorable, and she loves projects and keeping busy. So I figured it would be the perfect day to make a "heart garland" for the living room mantle. I'll do my best to explain the process below, but for some really good, clear directions check out this post at

First we gathered some red and white paper. My mistake here was that I did not have white cardstock, only red, and flimsy copy paper does not hold a shape when hanging, so definitely use card stock. Then we cut out all the strips of paper. Having a paper trimmer would have saved a ton of time—mine was missing the blade—but using scissors was great cutting practice for the little one. She cut two sheets of paper into a bunch of 1-inch strips.

Valentine's Day Heart Garland

Then I started stapling the strips together to create hearts. I decided to vary the size of the hearts on my garland, which just meant cutting some of the strips in half.

Valentine's Day Heart Garland

Our finished project. She was so excited about our garlands, and couldn't wait to take hers home to hang up!

Valentine's Day Heart Garland

Do you have any fun, cheap Valentine's Day crafts that you've done recently or want to do? Add a link in the comments below!

Keep Pinchin' :-)

Friday, January 24, 2014

Ten Ways to Save

People are always asking me what are some ways that we save, so I thought I would share a few things that have come to mind.

1. We turn down the heat, especially when we are going to be gone or at night. They say you can save 3% on your heating bill for every degree you go down.

2. We hang all of our laundry up to dry. In the summer we use a line outside, and my husband set one up in our upstairs porch if it's raining. In the winter we hang the clothes on a drying rack next to our wood stove, which dries pretty fast. Then we toss it in the dryer for about 10 minutes to help remove lint and soften the fabric.

3. We wash and reuse plastic Ziploc bags—well, until they get a hole in them or become so greasy that we can't get them clean.

4. We try to use rags over paper towels whenever possible. Someday I would like to make these awesome reusable cloth towels, but until then I just have rags.

5. I make my own laundry detergent—which I plan to write a "how to" blog the next time I make it, with pictures of course!

6. I don't buy many pre-made meals or food, but instead basic groceries that I know I can make many different things from. I would love to be really organized someday and have a meal plan or do freezer meals, but until then this has worked for us.

7. I try to do all of my trips to town at once. I don't like making a bunch of 20 mile round trips, so when I am out I do it all. Sometimes, when it's convenient, we carpool with friends.

8. Both Jake and I have trouble sleeping without some kind of white noise in the background, like a fan, but we traded running our fan all night for a sound machine that makes various white noises. We noticed a significant difference on our electric bill when we did this.

9. I try to buy decorations after the holidays when they are on sale. This week I scored some Christmas wreath mesh and a candle for 90% off, taking the cost from $44 to $4!

10. Instead of going out on expensive date nights we do free at-home or local dates, part of my year of dates for my husband that I gave him for his birthday. Stay tuned for some pictures of some of the ones we have done these past couple months.

So, there you go! Ten ways we have saved during our journey to debt free living.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Extreme Couponing: To Be Or Not To Be...

Extreme Couponing
Recently in the wee hours of the morning I saw the TLC show Extreme Couponing. At first I was amazed by what these women, even a 15 year old, were able to do. They would go into a grocery store and buy $600-800 worth of groceries and walk out with often times paying less than $20! The penny pincher inside of me liked the sounds of that.

However, as I was talking about it with a friend, and then doing some research, I found a few problems with this craziness.

1. These women were often buying products in such mass amounts they couldn't possibly use it all before it expires—300 bottles of BBQ sauce anyone?

2. It has become such a quest to these women to bring in a big haul that they will buy products they have no need for just to save a lot. Take the woman who bought 150 dog collars for example—she doesn't even own a dog! She could always donate them to an animal shelter or something, but instead they sit unused in her stock pile.

3. Many stores won't even allow this kind of couponing. In order for these women to get some of the deals featured on the show they have to do upwards of 15 transactions because many stores only let you double so many coupons per transaction.

4. A lot times the products these women are able to buy at super-reduced prices, or even free, aren't the healthiest things in the world—like the 99 Raman Noodles that one woman said would last her family for four months.

For me this whole extreme couponing is impractical, especially due to where I live. We have one grocery store and a Walmart. That's about it. If I lived closer to a city that had three or four grocery stores I would have a much better chance of getting more with my coupons. Another factor I find unpalatable is the time involved. One former extreme couponer admitted that if she worked a part time job she would work the same amount of hours she spends couponing but would make more than she saved.

To be clear I'm not condemning couponing, but I think it's wise to take what's featured on the show with a very large grain of salt. I think coupons are great. I use them often, but I'm not going to use them just for the sake of getting something for free or really cheap. I want to shop smartly, but I also want to make meals that are healthy for my family.

Have you seen he show Extreme Couponing? What did you think? Do you use coupons, and how do you do so effectively? Leave a comment below to let us know!

Keep pinchin' :-)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

What to Do When Collectors Go Too Far, by Dave Ramsey

Dave Ramsey posted a fantastic blog this week about how to handle debt collectors when they go too far. The first thing to know is that these people DO NOT have the right to abuse and harass you, so here's some tips on how to deal with them before you get too emotional and do or say something you'll regret. If you'd like to read the blog on Dave's page, click here and give it a "like."

Everyone who has ever dealt with a bully knows that there is a point where they push you too far.
When that happens, it’s time to push back.

If a bill collector is harassing or intimidating you, here are some ways to fight back:

Hang up
If a collector is yelling, cursing or even threatening you, you don’t have to stay on the phone. In fact, it’s best if you don’t. If you keep listening when they berate you, you might get too emotional and do something unwise like give them free access to your checking account. You won’t get in further trouble by disconnecting the call.

Record the call
Collectors break the rules set by the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act of 1977 all the time. If you are able to record the call (and tell them you are doing so), one of two things will happen. Either they will continue the abuse and you’ll have it on record, or they’ll hang up and you don’t have to listen to them.

Know their tricks
Collectors try to pick the busiest (meal time), the most inconvenient (heading out the door to work), and the most embarrassing times (holiday or family gatherings) to bother you—it increases the odds of them making you overly emotional. If you know the tricks of their trade, you won’t be caught off guard if they try to pull one over on you.

Know your rights
You as a consumer are protected from bullying tactics under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. That includes a collector not being allowed to call you at work and only being allowed to phone you during certain hours at home. If a rude collector is waking you up at five in the morning, he or she is violating federal law and you can use that to defend yourself. Collectors prey on you not knowing your rights in order to manipulate your emotions.

The best part about fighting back is the sense of empowerment that it gives you, both over the situation and your money. It breeds confidence and makes you feel like you can win financially.

If you are being bullied by a collector, you don’t have to take it lying down. Visit Collection Bully now.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Financial Peace University - What If I'm Doing It Wrong?

Dani and I are getting ready to lead the next Financial Peace University class at our church starting January 28. As I have been reviewing the leadership material, I'm wonder two things:

1. Do the people who have signed up for this have any idea what they’re getting into? I sure didn’t. On the first night that I went to FPU I was terrified of all the stuff I was sure I wouldn’t understand—words like “budgeting” and “allocated spending.” Along with my weird phobia toward numbers and math, I was certain I was going to hate every second of this class. But Dave Ramsey was surprisingly entertaining and he made the whole concept of money management easy to understand. And, thankfully, there wasn’t a lot of math involved, just common sense.

2. Have I created any false hope in those attending? Everywhere that Dani and I have spoken about FPU over the last month or so—newspapers, radio, area churches—I’ve been careful to say, “When you COMMIT yourself to the plan, and are DEDICATED to following the baby steps, this program works.” Commitment. Dedication. This is what it takes. This plan doesn’t work because it’s some magic formula, or because it’s “Dave Ramsey’s plan,” it works because it’s common sense, Biblical-based stuff that has obvious and measurable success when you APPLY yourself to it. I hope I’ve done a good job at making that clear so that people who don’t apply themselves, who aren’t dedicated, don’t become discouraged or upset with me when the plan doesn’t work for them.

We had about 40 people take the class last year. Unfortunately at our one year reunion only about 10 people showed up. I’m sure that in some cases there were scheduling difficulties, and in other cases there was simply a lack of interest, but I fear the biggest reason not many people came to the reunion is shame. I think too many people failed to put any effort into the plan and thus didn’t see much success. Therefor the idea of getting back together with their class to talk about it was probably embarrassing. 

We have almost 60 people signed up this time around, not including anyone who might choose to retake the class, which is very exciting! I’m hopeful that everyone who attends will work to make it just as successful in their lives as it has been for Dani and me. And I hope that at our next reunion in 2015 there’s a bigger turnout with many more success stories.

Keep pinching’ :-)

Monday, January 20, 2014

New Year's Resolutions - Three Weeks In

We are about three weeks into the New Year. Do you even remember what you're resolutions were? Usually by this time most people forget they ever made a resolution, have given up on it, or haven't even started it yet. Maybe 2015??

While the word "Faithfulness" isn't constantly on my mind, overall it appears to be ingrained in me already, or at least so far. So here is my three weeks update.

Faithfulness in our finances. I've continued to use cash for my groceries based on a monthly allowance. This has been very helpful because I know exactly what I have to spend, and if I go over my budget for one week I just have to cut down the following week. Last week we took another look at our overall budget to see if we could squeeze out any more pennies to put toward our mortgage, and we came up with over $100! We were able to do this because after more than a year of following this budget we now have a better idea of what some of our expenditures actually are.

Faithfulness in living a healthy lifestyle. I continue to try to work out four or five days a week, and although it's not always for as long as I would like, it is a start. This past week I had a hard time finding some motivation, but after reaching out to a friend we motivated each other to go for a walk that lasted about 45 minutes. Jake and I have been eating a lot more fruits and veggies—salads probably four days a week, at least, which is a huge improvement for us. I also made some yummy banana muffins, substituting the butter for applesauce and eggs for flaxseed. Even though they're technically "healthy muffins," I tried them out on some of the kids I babysit, as well as the husband, and I'm pleased to announce the muffins are "kid tested and husband approved!" :-)

Faithfulness in my spiritual life. I have continued to do my personal quiet time daily, and although it's not at the same time (sometimes 10am sometimes 11pm) it's happening! I continue to read Beth Moore's "Believing Day by Day," and I find that encouraging! This week I plan to listen to my home church's Sunday sermon, which I missed because I was working in the nursery.

Faithfulness in being good stewards of the homestead God has blessed us with. Once again not a whole lot happening in this realm, probably due to the time of year. I did make a Valentine's Day garland, which I plan to share later this week, and I made my Thankful Jar. Last week I ordered two Apple trees, two Blueberry Bushes, and 100 Strawberry plants, which I'm super excited about! We already have Raspberries, Grapes and one Apple tree on the property, which I plan to work on taking care of this Spring.

Faithfulness in being the wife my husband needs me to be. Over the past couple of weeks I've been able to continue to keep our home picked up, make homemade meals, and keep up with the laundry. I am thankful for this because I know I can think better in a clean and organized house, but I also know my husband appreciates it. Our Sunday School class has been going through Love & Respect by Emerson Eggerichs. It's hard to remember to put the principles he talks about into practice outside of the class, but today when my husband tried to help me make lunch in a manner completely wrong from my point of view, I was able to remind myself, "Not wrong, just different." Years from now when we have kids, I'll probably beg him for the help and not care what route he takes to get there.

So, where are you at with any resolutions you made? Do you remember your word for the year? If you find that you have already "failed" don't give up and think, "Maybe 2015 is the year," but instead jump back in and recommit to your goals!

Keep pinchin' :-)

Friday, January 17, 2014

Some Practical Steps We Took Toward Budgeting: Part 2

One of the things Dani and I have found helpful is to differentiate our Monthly Expenses from our periodic expenses, or what we call "Rollover Expenses." Understanding the difference has helped us budget more wisely for some of those bills that come up as regularly as every four or six months, or even every couple of years.

For example: Our town is weird when it comes to sending out its water bill. In fact, we're still not sure what the schedule is, but we know roughly how much it will be, so we've been preparing for that all year by setting aside a little money every month. By the time the bill comes we would have set aside enough money to cover it.

Here's an itemized breakdown of most of the things we budget for:

Health/Personal products
ID theft
Pocket money
Home needs/Repairs
Heating oil/Firewood
Car repairs/tires
Auto insurance
Car replacement

Dani and I have decided to cut out things like entertainment and restaurants for the time being, but back when we were budgeting for those things we put them under Monthly Expenses. If, at the end of the month, all the money in the entertainment budget hadn't been used we added it to whatever bill we were attacking the hardest that month. This helped us substantially with our "debt snowball."

Here's a great video from to help beginning budgeters prioritize their spending.

No matter how you chose to go about budgeting: just do it! It's like the old saying goes, "Idle hands are the devil's playground." The same could be said for money—idle money that hasn't been dedicated to a line item on your budget is money just waiting to be spent on some frivolous thing. So give your money a plan. You'll find that the more you tell your money what to do the more of it you'll end up with.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Some Practical Steps We Took Toward Budgeting: Part 1

Before Dani and I took Financial Peace University, I knew next to nothing about budgeting. Even what I thought I knew about budgeting was actually nothing because, let's face it, I was still broke.

If you're looking at starting a budget for the first time, or maybe refining the one you've got, here are some of the steps we went through to form the budget that we use today. Keep in mind that forming our budget took about six months of strategic planning, and trial and error. Point being: there's no "one size fits all" budget, so you need to take the following as little more than a guideline and then mold it to suit your financial needs.

  1. We started by figuring out our monthly, after-tax income. Then we made the decision that, no matter what, we wouldn't spend more than we make. No matter what, we wouldn't dip into next month's income. This is actually a pretty essential decision to make. America is a "buy on credit" culture, but if you're ever going to be free of creditors and debt you've got to commit to spending only what you have.

  2. Next we looked at our bills—electricity, mortgage, phone, etc. We totaled these up and subtracted it from our monthly income.

  3. The next thing we looked at were the not-so-regular bills—or what we call "Rollover Expenses." Things like car registration, license renewal, and insurance, bills that don't necessarily come around every month, but they WILL come around. We figured up the total annual expense of each of these things and divided it by 12 so we knew exactly how much to set aside each month. The money for these expenses builds up, or "rolls," into an account dedicated to paying off these expenses.

  4. Once our essential expenses were covered we looked at what income we had left and decided how much we wanted to allocate for things like entertainment, restaurants, and gifts. Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries—these are expenses that come up year after year, so we should be planning for them just as if they were a car payment. If, like us, you want to buy a Valentine's Day gift for your spouse this year, decide as a couple how much money you want to spend on gifts and then be intentional about setting aside a little bit every month to cover it.

But, above all, no matter how you form your budget, keep it simple. Dani and I try to keep our budget to one sheet of paper that we can go through in about 10 or 15 minutes once a week. Any longer than that and our patience begins to run thin—with the budget and each other!

Keep pinchin' :-)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

My Thankful Jar

All over Pinerest this past year I've been seeing "Thankful Jars." The idea is that you place notes in the jar throughout the year about things you are thankful for, and then on New Year's Eve you read them to be reminded of all the blessings you received. I really love this idea because so many times I forget the things that I have been thankful for, or the miraculous ways God is at work in our lives.

I vowed to make one for 2014. I was about a week late to actually getting around to creating it, but that's ok. Below you will find directions to the easy Thankful Jar that I made.

First gather all your materials. For my jar I used a large glass vase, twine, colored paper, cookie cutters, scissors, clothes pins, and a pen.

I decided to go with a theme for each month. I'm starting with hearts for Valentine's Day, and plan to use clovers, eggs, flags, apples, pumpkins etc. throughout the months to add some visual interest to the various entries. Using the cookie cutters I traced the heart shapes and cut them out.

I also made a large heart with "Our Thankful Jar 2014" written on it, and then pasted it to white paper. I tied the twine around the jar twice and attached the hearts and sign with one of the clothes pins. This will make it easier when I want to change the theme next month.

Did you do a "Thankful Jar" this year? It's not too late to start!

"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." —1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Keep Pinchin' :-)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

How to Get Married Without Going Broke

Wedding Photo, Bethlehem, NH, Ivy Chapel

A year and a half ago I said "I do," at what I consider a most magical wedding! But I'm sure I'm a little partial, considering it was mine. I wanted to share a few ways I was able to stay within the budget given to me by my parents.

Have the wedding and the reception at the same venue. This will not only save you the cost of having to rent two spaces, but it will save travel time, the effort of having to decorate two locations, and simplify travel and parking plans for your guests. Jake and I were married at the beautiful Opera House in Littleton, NH. (We stole away for some pictures at a couple different spots, but everything else happened at the Opera House.) My younger sister got married last May and chose to do it all at our church, which only has a minimal fee for use, so maybe check into your local church if you belong to one and find out what the fee would be.
DIY Flowers

DIY as much as you are able. The more you can do yourself the more you will save. As our wedding day approached I found myself sucked into the world of Pinterest where I found so many awesome ideas that I never would have considered. (Check out my wedding board!) I bought wholesale flowers so my bridesmaids and I could make our own arrangements, and I made the centerpieces with the flowers that were left over. With the help of a couple of good friends I was able to make pinwheels and ribbon sticks for the send off. My husband and his guys made a balloon valance to hang over the stage. Jake also designed our Save the Dates, invitations, program, and our Thumbprint Tree... You get the idea. So enlist your friends and family to help you with as much or as little as they are willing to do. There aren't many times in your life where you will have so many people willing and excited to help you, but your wedding day is one of them, so take advantage of it!
DIY Food

Be creative with your food.  I knew with my budget I couldn't afford to cater a meal for 215 people, but I wanted more than just cake. So I enlisted the help from my family and some awesome women in our church to make several different kinds of salads, breads and desserts for our buffet. My Gram made some of her famous Christmas bread. Nana brought her Crisp Ginger and Dad's Cookies. The meal was simple, but there was a lot of variety, and to this day I still get people asking who catered our delicious wedding buffet.

Wedding Party, Begonia, Orange, Ivy Chapel, Bethlehem, NH
Be considerate of others financial circumstances when choosing dresses and suits. I knew my wedding day was "my special day," and I wanted it to be perfect, but I didn't want anyone to go into debt because of it, or feel like being a part of the wedding was a burden. So after choosing my colors, I let my bridesmaids pick out their own dress styles. That way they had the option of buying a $70, $100, or $150 dress, or even look for a used one if they wanted, just so long as it matched my color—which was begonia, by the way. :-) The guys had it even easier. All they had to buy was a tangerine dress shirt and silver tie, which I don't think cost more than $30 or $40 each. My flower girl and ring bearers were all from he same family, so for the sake of their parents I kept it simple and reasonably priced.

The wedding day is very important to a girl, but it shouldn't come at the expense of others. I want the memories of my wedding to be happy ones for everybody, not just me.

Ask around before purchasing or renting. I really wanted a Chocolate Fountain for my dessert buffet, and lo and behold my boss had one that she said I was free to borrow. I also got all of my old canning jars for the centerpieces from friends. My mom—after having married off four daughters—had a whole collection of wedding decorations, and I'm sure she's not the only one. Everyone has friends and family members who can help supply you with what you need. So ask around. And if you do end up having to purchase something, make sure to hang onto it so someday you can pay it forward when a friend or relative gets married.

Marry into an amazing family!  Without our families helping us so much with our big day I don't know how we ever would have pulled it off. My grandparents let us use their horse trailer to lug tables, chairs and other decorations to the Opera House; our families helped decorate and make yummy food; friends stayed after the ceremony to clean up. In the end, it was our friends and family who made the day happen. Without their help I probably would have gone slightly mad, or dug myself into a financial hole.

Getting married on a budget doesn't mean your wedding day has to suffer, you just have to be humble and willing to ask for help and daring enough to get a little creative!

Keep Pinchin' :-)

Monday, January 13, 2014

I LOVE Sales!

I Love Sales
I love getting things on sale, and once I've gotten them for a great price it's hard to ever pay close to whole price again.

For example, a few years ago I snagged a pair of Banana Republic jeans for around $5. Since then the lowest price I have ever seen them is $20-30, and even though to some that might be a great deal, for me it's hard to pay that price again. Recently I found out that one of the Aeropostale stores in my state was going out of business, so I made my way over and came out out of the store with two pairs of jeans, two pairs of sweatpants, one sweater, and four pairs of socks—a $250 retail value—for about $50! Yeah, I think I scored pretty well that day.

When I go shopping I always have to keep a few things in mind though:

Do I need it? Am I just purchasing this because I think it's a great deal and it's something I want, or is it really something I need? If it's just a want I try to only purchase it with my personal spending money or money I've been gifted. If I always purchase items because they are a great deal, they can easily become a lousy deal because I spent money on things I didn't need.

Will I really wear it? In the past I have been guilty of purchasing items that I needed, but maybe they weren't exactly what I wanted. Like the time I bought a pair of jeans that were really cheap, but I didn't like how they fit, and in the end I didn't wear them much. Now I try to make sure that not only is it a good deal but it's something I feel comfortable in so that I'll get my money's worth out of it.

I Love Sales
Is it really trendy? Sometimes I am guilty of wanting new clothes just because I want the latest styles. I'm not usually big on following the latest fashion, but sometimes I get sucked in. Like leggings. At first I swore I'd never wear them, probably because I usually saw them worn inappropriately. Then I bought this cute sweater dress, that ended up being too short for me to feel comfortable in tights, so I thought I would try leggings, and I LOVED them! I love to wear them around the house with baggy sweatshirts, as they are so comfortable.

For Christmas my awesome husband gave me a pair of purple fleece-lined leggings, and after wearing them for a day—and LOVING them—I saw an ad online for six pairs for $29. Leggings might not be "trendy" for long, but I don't care, I'll keep wearing them until I've worn them all out!

With these three thoughts in mind I am able to better use our clothing budget, buy items that we need and will wear, and consider whether or not the investment is worth it.

Do you have any secrets to great deals, or things you keep in mind when purchasing clothing? Leave us a comment to let us know!

Keep Pinchin' :-)

Friday, January 10, 2014

How We Went From Eating Out A Lot to Not

When Dani and I first got married, I remember telling her that I wanted a weekly food allowance. I was so used to eating out—and really enjoyed eating out—that I couldn't imagine a week going by without having some Subway or Pizza Hut at some point during the week.

Naturally, she didn't like this.

After we took Financial Peace University I realized there was going to be some areas that we'd have to cut back on, and eating out was one of them. Sigh. I wasn't happy about it, but I figured I'd at least see how it goes. At first we budgeted about $50 a month for restaurants. Depending on whether we got a $12 pizza or a $25 dinner at 99's, we could eat out about two or three times a month. Then one of our bills went up and we had to scrape together an extra $10 a month, so the restaurant budget went down to $40. It continued to drop as the months ticked by.

After about a year of this, I had become more accustomed to not eating out. I still had my personal money which I could splurge on pizza if I wanted to, and my boss would occasionally buy lunch for the office, so I was still getting my "restaurant fix," though I had weened myself from it significantly.

Then came the day where Dani and I were looking at our monthly allocated spending plan and we realized just how much money we could put toward our mortgage if we cut out restaurants entirely. And so our budget for eating out went back onto the chopping block, except this time it didn't come back. R.I.P restaurant budget. We'll resurrect you some day :-(

Dani and I have become determined to get out of debt as soon as possible. We've found the "Gazelle intensity" that Dave Ramsey so often talks about, and we're putting it to good use.

I tell this story because I think it's valuable for people to understand that we didn't become the "penny pinching rappers" overnight. It took months and months of discipline and compromise. The things we're doing today to cut back on our spending were unthinkable a year ago!

If you're considering doing this penny pinching thing too, ease into it. If you bite off more than you can chew you run the risk of getting frustrated and discouraged before you even get off the ground. Yes, sometimes you need to make drastic life changes to get out of debt. Yes, you need to be willing to discipline yourself and compromise on many of life's luxuries. But take your time. Slow and steady wins the race.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Different Sort of Mindset from the "Gimme Culture"

Dani has chosen the word "Faithfulness" for 2014, and has chosen a few different ways in which she wants to be more faithful this year.

If Faithfulness is our word for 2014, I'd have to say our word for 2013 was "Submission." I don't know, it was just the word that kept popping up into my mind all year. It was our first year together as husband and wife and so there was a lot of learning how to submit to one another in marriage. There was a lot of submitting to God as we brought our marriage before Him, as well as any issues that arose with the house we bought or the property we owned.

But I think the biggest reason the word Submission kept coming to mind is how we learned to submit our finances to God. After taking Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University, I really began to understand how nothing I own is really mine. It all belongs to God. My paycheck. My savings. My home. It's all His. Dani and I are merely stewards of what He has given us. And the more we have recognized His authority over our finances, and the more we have practiced submitting to that authority, the more the Lord has blessed us financially.

This is completely counter-intuitive for many people. Our culture today is very selfish and people have little financial accountability—moreover they don't want any. We're a "Gimme!" society that wants more, gives less, and fiercely guards the meager portion that we have. But God calls us to let go. We need to be willing to take what we have and lay it at His feet. Luke 16:10 says, "Whoever can be trusted with little, can be trusted with much."

And then you've got to be willing to ask Him for more. Dani and I spent many nights praying together, asking the Lord to bless us with extra work and extra income to help us pay off our mortgage, and He has faithfully provided month after month, but I can't help but think that the whole submission aspect is a big part of that.

The more we submit our finances to God, and the more we acknowledge that everything we have comes from Him, and the more we seek His will for all that we have, the more He blesses.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Exercising While Penny Pinching

Many of you, like me, may have put exercise on your list of things to work on for the year. For some of you that means getting a gym membership—which you may or may not actually get your money's worth out of. A gym membership isn't an option for me though, as we don't have that in our budget and I'm not willing to use the little bit of personal spending money I get for something like that. So, what's a girl to do?

YouTube. YouTube is a virtually limitless source for workout routines. I have found several that are really good quality, that target the specific areas I want to work on, and can be done with or without equipment. What I love about using workout routines on YouTube is it gives me the ability to try something new, and easily switch-up my workout if I get bored or just want a change.

The Best Victoria Secret Ab Workout (16:33)
Victoria's Secret Model Workout: 10-Minute Fat-Blasting Circuit (10:31)

Outdoors. My husband and I live in the beautiful White Mountains of New Hampshire, but we don't take advantage of what we have available in the outdoors nearly enough. I would love to see us sled, skate, snowshoe, walk, hike, play tennis, bike etc. way more than we do, and hopefully this year we can do just that. What sorts of activities are available in your area—walking trails, tennis courts, hiking, biking? If it's free, take advantage of it!
Cross-country skiing

Activities. If you do a little research you may find great deals on activities that usually cost money. For example, in New Hampshire there is a learn to ski free week that includes rentals, lesson, and lift ticket to new skiers and snowboarders. Unfortunately I have had lessons in both, but they were also offering cross-country skiing, which I have never done, so a friend and I signed up for the free deal. I'm really looking forward to it. In the past I was able to get a free pool pass at a local gym by volunteering to help with their swim lessons. So, look around, make connections and find out what you can do for free!

Getting in shape this new year doesn't have to cost money, just perseverance, creativity, and maybe a friend or spouse to enjoy it with!

Keep pinchin' :-)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

New Year's Resolutions - One Week In

So, it's been a week since the new year began. Have you followed up on your resolutions? Don't answer that.

My word for 2014 is "faithfulness," and I've begun working on the different areas that I know I need to be more faithful in. I know I'm not going to reach perfection overnight, but as long as I am striving to work toward these goals I'm ok with that.

Faithfulness in our finances. Since going back to using only cash a few weeks ago I've found that it's much easier to keep within our budget, especially when it comes to our grocery budget. I also decided to take out my whole monthly grocery budget at the beginning of the month, which enables me to spend a little extra some weeks when I see some good deals, but still be aware of how much I have left to spend for the rest of the month.

Faithfulness in living a healthy lifestyle. I committed to trying to exercise on a more regular basis, especially during my overnight shifts because it helps me stay awake—not to mention that it's just plain good for me. I also bought lots of fruits and veggies this past week and have found that if I am purposeful in using them in my cooking we eat a lot more of them every day.

Faithfulness in my spiritual life. I've been making it a point to spend time in the Bible each day. I was also able to download Beth Moore's "Believing Day by Day" to read, and I've been making a point to listen to Christian radio and/or sermons when I'm doing housework.
A delicious dinner for my hubster

Faithfulness in being good stewards of the homestead God has blessed us with. Not a whole lot has been done on that front, but we did spend Saturday putting away Christmas decorations, cleaning the house, shoveling the driveway, and draining the never-ending pool of water in our basement.

Faithfulness in being the wife my husband needs me to be. This week I tried to put some extra effort into picking up the house, doing the laundry, and making good meals. It's hard when I'm gone for three days straight each week, and I want my husband to eat healthy, so making sure he's cared for in that way is important to me (see amazing dinner at right). I think he appreciated my extra efforts on the home front, and that even though I kept pretty busy we still got to enjoy some quality time together ;-)

Overall it's been a good start to the new year, and hopefully by keeping my goals in the front of my mind and letting you all know how I am doing I will continue to be faithful in all I want to accomplish this year.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Monday, January 6, 2014

It's The Jake 'n' Dani G. Show On WLTN

Dani and I had the unique privilege of being on an hour-long radio show this past Friday to talk about our "Penny Pinching" rap video, getting out of debt, Dave Ramsey, and our faith... oh yeah, and Batman.

During the interview I butchered my explanation of Dave Ramsey's term "Gazelle Intensity," but the point remained the same even if some of my facts were wrong. Dave coined the term "Gazelle Intensity" after reading Proverbs 6:4-5, which says, "Give no sleep to your eyes, nor slumber to your eyelids. Deliver yourself like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter..."

A Cheetah can run about 75 miles per hour, and it can hit that speed in less time than most sports cars. It is the fastest animal on earth. In a straight-line run, a Gazelle doesn't stand a chance, which is why the Gazelle has learned to bob and weave and run in circles until the Cheetah gets too tired to continue the pursuit.

FACT: The gazelle is only caught by the cheetah 1 in 19 times. (This fact is correct. Dave Ramsey says so.)

And Dave's point is this: when you're struggling to break free from the suffocating noose of credit card companies, student loans, and bills, you need Gazelle Intensity. You've got to dig down deep and find that inner determination to fight like your life depends on it. Think of all you could do if you were free from your financial burdens—save, invest, build for your children's future.

It took a while for Dani and I to find that intensity, but once we did it became a game: "How much can we save this month?" "Do you think we can come in even further under budget?" Battling debt with "Gazelle Intensity" has became fun, but it is not always easy. At times, it's still something we have to fight for.

Here are a few snippets from our radio interview on WLTN 96.7:

Batman Shirt Friday (2:19)
The Importance of Budgeting (2:30)
Going to the Extreme to Save (3:24)

And if you haven't seen our rap video, here's why we're almost close to being in the vicinity of nearly famous: Penny Pinching Rap.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Friday, January 3, 2014

Why It's Important to Have A Budget

Having a budget is more than just good practice. It's smart. It helps protect you and your family. It creates a plan for your money that would, otherwise, just evaporate over time.

Moreover, did you know that budgeting is recommended in Scripture? Odd as it may seem to some, the Bible is rife with good advice—advice that most people accept as common sense today.

  • You've heard it said that misery loves company, that positive people are more uplifting to be around? Well Proverbs 17:22 says, "A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones."

  • Most people are familiar with the story of Ebenezer Scrooge. His dour outlook is exactly what Proverbs 28:27 says will happen to those who close their eyes to the poor.

  • Physical fitness is a big deal in our world today, but we know that over-emphasis on physical attributes tends to lead to shallow character. 1 Timothy 4:7-8 says physical fitness is all well and good, but it doesn't hold a candle to the eternal value of grooming good character.

  • We all know the value of a good reputation, yes? Well the Bible established that fact in Proverbs 22:1 where it says a good name is worth way more than great riches.

There are literally hundreds of other examples of modern, practical advice that we could glean from Scripture. This advice has been passed down from the Bible for centuries because it works.

So when the Bible starts telling us about the value of budgeting, that it's important to know the state of our wealth (Proverbs 27:23), our ears should tune in.

"Don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first getting estimates and then checking to see if he has enough money to pay the bills? Otherwise he might complete only the foundation before running out of funds. And then how everyone would laugh! 'See that fellow there?’ they would mock. ‘He started that building and ran out of money before it was finished!’" —Luke 14:28-30 (Living Bible)

In other words, don't go buy a car unless you know you can afford it! Do the math! Check the numbers! Being diligent about our finances is what God wants us to do.

And there's a dire warning in 1 Timothy 5:8 to those who don't take good care of their affairs:

"If anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever."

Whoa. "Worse than an unbeliever." That's heavy. There should be no doubt in our minds that God thinks it's pretty important for us to not only know the state of our wealth, but form a plan for our finances. One reason for this might be because God knows that life has its ups and downs. Scripture advises us to "store up grain" so that "we may not perish during the famine," (Genesis 41:35-36).

Budgeting is something God suggests we do to help keep ourselves and our families safe. And, according to Proverbs 21:5, blessings abound for those who are diligent with what they have. So...

Keep pinchin' :-)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Diligence: Excellence Over Time

If I could pick two words to describe the American culture of 60 years ago it would be "hard-working" and "diligence"—two things I think we need a lot more of in today's world. Because if I could pick two words to describe the American culture of today it would be "laziness" and "convenience."

Our culture today has become one of immediacy, self-gratification, and ease. Our advertising campaigns are rife with slogans that make us think we need it bigger, better, faster, sooner, with more convenience, more easiness, more simplicity...
  • Have it your way —Burger King
  • Because I'm worth it —L'Oreal
  • That was easy —Staples
GEICO's slogan from a few years ago, "It's so easy a caveman can do it," implies that if you don't get this insurance than you're dumb, you're behind the times, you're obsolete, you need to get with the modern program. And there are countless other slogans that suggest the same attitude.

Credit card companies suck is into believing that without a credit card we can't do anything...
  • There are some things money can't buy —MasterCard
  • It's all about you —All Hilal Bank
  • Do more —American Express
  • Take the waiting out of wanting —Access
  • What matters most —Chase
    (What's really interesting about this one is if you read it this way: Chase: what matters most.)
Many people who don't have a lot of money are tricked into believing that if they can't walk into Walmart and buy a $1,500 flatscreen TV then they are not as cool as their friends. So they get a Visa card because, according to the commercial, "Life takes Visa."

As with almost anything in this world, this belief that we need to borrow money to live is contrary to Scripture. The Bible is clear that those who are faithful with their money will abound with blessings, but those who hasten to be rich will fall (Proverbs 28:20).

Millionaire Donald Trump once said, "Most people who try to get rich quick end up going broke instead." Granted, this is the same man who once also said, "It really doesn't matter what they say about you as long as you've got a young and beautiful piece of a**," but, regardless, he's absolutely right about the first quote.

"No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." —Hebrews 12:11

Thomas Jefferson, one of our most quotable presidents, once said, "If you want something you've never had, you must be willing to do something you've never done."

And that's the way it is with good money management—you've got to be willing to go against the grain of what's popular, step out on a limb, trust in God, and do something you maybe have never done before. And, guess what, it means you're not going to get everything you want right now, today, and with no effort, but that's ok because the best things in life are worth the diligence they require.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Why It's Important To Live Debt Free

If you were to ask me why my wife and I are penny pinching, why we believe in a good budget, or why it's important to us, I could quickly rattle off a few reasons.

  • I like stuff, and by saving money now I'll be able to buy more stuff later

  • I want a Mustang someday and getting out of debt will help me get that

  • I like making my wife happy. Happy wife, happy life, right?

  • I like not being independent and not obligated to credit card companies

Notice that each one of those points starts with "I." They're all very selfish, I admit it. It's like Dave Ramsey says in his Financial Peace University, "Live now like nobody else so that tomorrow you can live like nobody else." Don't get me wrong, I'm not condoning selfishness, and the list above is meant to be taken in jest, but my point is: there are many good personal reasons for penny pinching.

But there's a deeper reason, and a far more important one. God doesn't like debt. Romans 13:8 advises believers to owe nothing to anyone except love. At the same time, however, the Bible does not explicitly command against all forms of debt, nor does it expressly forbid or condone the borrowing of money. Essentially, the Bible offers a strong warning when it comes to borrowing money, saying that debt makes the borrower a slave to the lender (Proverbs 22:7).

Slavery. That's not something God likes either. He sent Jesus Christ, His only Son, to earth to die in order to get us out of slavery to sin. The problem with slavery is that it holds us back. It pins us down. A bird that's tethered to a cage can't fly. For this reason there's a lot of Christian ministries and organizations that won't hire other Christians to work for them if they have a lot of debt. When you're tethered to a bank loan or a credit lending agency, you're held back from serving God to the fullest. I'm not saying you can't serve Him at all or do mighty works for His Kingdom, but just imagine the heights you could soar if you weren't tied down to a monthly house payment or student loans.

The Bible says that the plans of those who are diligent with their money lead to wealth (Proverbs 21:5), and that those who are faithful with what they earn will abound with blessings (Proverbs 28:20).

Paying off debt is about more than just financial freedom. It's about spiritual freedom. And I believe we should make it our priority as Christians to get out of debt as soon as possible so we can experience all that God has for us.

Keep pinchin' :-)