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Monday, March 31, 2014

Dinner in Reverse!

Time for another free date night idea! If you aren't familiar with these you can check it out here. This past Saturday night I decided it was time to do a date night of sorts again, as it had been a while since the last one. The suggestion we had for the month of March was to have dinner in reverse, because who doesn't want to eat desert before dinner at least once in their life?

To start it off I made a yummy Chocolate Pudding Cake, and when I say yummy I mean absolutely, melt-in-your mouth, make-you-weak-in-the-knees delicious!

Chocolate Pudding Cake

First layer:
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons cocoa
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 salt
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Second Layer:
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
4 tablespoons cocoa

Third Layer:
1 & 1/2 cups hot water


Preheat oven to 350°.

First layer stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Stir in milk, butter, and vanilla, mixing until smooth. Pour into an un-greased 8-inch square glass baking pan.

In a small bowl, mix second layer ingredients sugar, brown sugar, and 4 tablespoons cocoa. Sprinkle evenly over batter. Third layer pour hot water over the top. DO NOT STIR.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until center is almost set. Let stand for 15 minutes, then serve. Use the chocolate sauce in the bottom of the pan to spoon over servings. Garnish, if desired, with ice cream or whipped cream.

For the second course we had Mama's Healthy BBQ Chicken, which was one of my freezer meals that can be found here. Doing a main course that needs to be baked or can sit in the crock pot will enable you to transition from each course with little to no prep but at the same time keep the food hot.

Finally for an appetizer we had chips and salsa.

I will admit it was sort of weird to eat desert first, but also fun to shake things up a bit. If you have the money in your budget you could choose to do this at a restaurant! Pay first. Pray last. Shake things up and have a blast!

Keep pinchin' :-)

Friday, March 28, 2014

Jake's Tale: Big - The Value of Remembering the Why

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

You’re not rich… not yet anyway. And even if you were it’s worth it to remember what it’s like to be poor. The best wealthy people I know are those who you can’t even tell are wealthy. They don’t flaunt it. They’re humble. They’re down to earth people. They’re generous and they’re real.

My fear is that as Dani and I build wealth we’ll forget what it’s like to not have a lot of money. There’s danger in that, I think, because when we are out of debt and we do have wealth (Lord willing) I don’t want to lose sight of those people who are still struggling to get ahead. I want Dani and I to be humble. I want us to remember where we’ve come from.

There’s a great lesson from the movie Big, a touching comedy classic starring Tom Hanks at his most endearing. When 13-year-old Josh Baskin gets tired of the limitations of his age, he makes a wish to be “big” and the next morning finds himself trapped in the body of a gangly, 30-year-old adult, (Hanks). The new, older Josh moves to New York City where he finds a job working for a toy company staffed mostly with stuffed-shirt executives who are more interested in spread sheets and marketing reports than they are in their target customers: kids.

Now here comes Josh Baskin who actually IS their target audience. He’s a 13-year-old boy in the body of a grown man, and he begins thriving at the toy company because he knows what kids do and don’t find appealing about toys. He IS a kid. And he LOVES toys! When the company starts listening to his ideas they start making tons of money.

It is in this scenario that Big points out a problem that a lot of adults acquire as they get older: they forget where they’ve come from. When Josh joins the toy company he meets toy makers who seem to have everything on their minds except making toys. Forgetting where you've come from is a surefire way to ruin any endeavor.

When it comes to your finances, you and your spouse need to be intentional about reminding each other of your goals and your values. Encourage each other as you seek to get out of debt and build wealth, but once you're beyond that point remind each other that your purpose now is to give and be generous. By all means, enjoy your success, splurge, dine, vacation, but never forget where you’ve come from. Nobody likes a stuffed-shirt whose out-of-touch with the world they live in.

Keep pinching’ :-)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Get Educated About Money and Change Your Life

One of the reasons Dani and I are such proponents for Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University is the Depression-era lows of evangelical giving.

Let's face it, our government has really messed things up, and they're not getting any better. Very few people in political office today know how to properly manage money. The only language they speak is debt. Unfortunately this has many Americans feeling very tight-fisted with their money. The recession, rising fuel and food costs, and a political system that appears to be falling apart one seam at a time, has many Christians hesitant to give to their churches.

News reports over the last few years about the percentage of Christians tithing have been scary.

"Giving has declined for four consecutive years," according Empty Tomb, a Christian research group.
"The only other period of prolonged decline in giving per member was from 1928 through 1934, almost entirely during the Great Depression."(Click here to read the report.)

The percentage of evangelicals tithing to their local churches is 2.3%.


I believe there are two reasons for this.

  1. Fear. As mentioned above, many Americans are losing faith in Uncle Sam's ability to take care of them, so they're clinging to their money more than ever before. I don't blame them.

  2. Many Christians—not all, but many—just don't know how to handle money. Our American culture breeds a mind-set that is all about buying more, having more, getting the next best newest shiniest thing on the market, and doing so with credit cards, not hard-earned cash. Americans have become financially stupid. We just don't know how to handle money.

Fortunately it's not all bleak and grim. A 2013 report by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) reveals that charitable giving to more than 1,600 of its accredited organizations has actually increased in the last year—by 6.4 percent, in fact. It's not much, but, hey, it's something.

All of this should bring into sharp focus the need for us to become better stewards of our money. If we get better, and raise children who are better, the next generation of parents, teachers, and political officials will be better. But it has to start now. It has to start with us. You can't wait for a stimulus handout from Uncle Sam. You can't expect to win the lottery. Changing your finances is about changing your behavior, and that starts with getting the right education, be it through Dave Ramsey's course or Crown Financial or any of the other programs that are out there.

The choice starts with you.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

How to Give Like No One Else

Tuesday night was our final session of Financial Peace University. Dani and I began facilitating the class back in January with almost 60 attendees. During that time it's been very exciting to watch people go through some of the same realizations about money that we had, have new realizations, and commit to life changes that, prior to the class, they never would have considered.

The final lesson was Dave Ramsey's most potent one yet. It was all about giving, a concept that doesn't really make sense some times when your main goal is to save. It feels like you need to hang on to your money even tighter if you want to keep it, but Dave says just the opposite.

"You can do everything we teach you and you will prosper, but if you don't understand this lesson you will never have financial peace," he says.

The "great misunderstanding," Dave calls it, is the mistaken belief that the way to have more is to hold on tightly. But he says you need to learn to manage money with an open hand. This is the method that God demonstrates in his word, a selfless, servant-minded nature of giving that puts others before yourself. The Bible talks about money more often than it talks about love and grace. That alone should make it pretty obvious to us that the way we handle our money is extremely important to God.

So how do we give? These are some guidelines that Dave suggests, that I've found extremely helpful.

  • A tithe is a tenth of your increase. People will argue over whether or not it's from your net increase or your gross increase, to which I say, "Does it really matter?" I mean, think about it: less than 4% of church-going Christians give to their church. According to recent statistics, evangelical giving is the lowest it's been since the Great Depression. So who cares if it's the net or the gross? Just give! But if you're curious about what the Bible has to say on the topic, Proverbs 3:9 says to give from your "first fruits." Not after the government has taken its share. Not after you've paid your debts. The very first earnings you get, give a tenth to God.

  • Offerings are different than tithing. Offerings are giving above and beyond that initial 10%, and should be given from any surplus income you have.

  • Give cheerfully, not expecting anything in return. Give 10%. Give 20% Whatever. But don't expect God to give you a bigger pat on the back because you gave more than the other guy. Understand that giving is a form of worship. It's not a break between the singing and the sermon at your church. It's not intermission. Giving should be done as a way of praising and thanking our Lord and Savior for his many blessings.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Trusting Him Without Borders: Part Two

Yesterday I talked about my need to choose whether I'm really serious about my relationship with Christ and will I choose to stand firm no matter what I might face, or will I run at the first sign of hardship. Today I wanted to share a few specific things that I have been thinking about in relation to this.

  • Finances. Honestly the road to becoming debt free hasn't been that hard yet. Sure we have given up more than we probably would have wanted, and definitely more than we thought we would, but compared to most of the world we are still living very well. The part that I struggle with the most concerning our finances is whether we will be able to get out of debt soon enough so I can stay home and raise the imaginary kiddos. This has been the desire of my heart since I was just a child myself, and sometimes it looks like it will never happen. Even if we get out of debt can we survive on one salary? I have to choose to believe the truth though, and that is that God wants to give us the desires of our hearts. He has never failed me and He's not going to start now. He has good things planned for my life. Notice I said "good" and not "easy" :-)

  • Adoption. When the hubby and I first started dating, one of the first life goals we found we had in common was a desire to adopt. Since being married, we've talked about this desire a lot, and each night when we pray together I pray that we will be able to adopt little babies from other countries someday. As we get closer to making that a reality I find that it's easy to get overwhelmed by the costs involved with adoption, the challenges it will bring to our lives, and the logistics of it all. Part of me thinks it will never happen, but that's not what I want, and I believe our Father put this in both of our hearts for a reason. I have to trust that He will provide, that He will make a way for it to happen. He is very clear in scripture that we are to take care of orphans, and I believe that He will honor our desires in this area.

  • The Future. It's scary to think where our country is heading. It feels like it won't be long until the freedoms that I have grown to take for granted may be stripped away from me. There are times I think I was born in the wrong era, and I wish I could raise my imaginary kiddos in the past where life seemed simpler. I've contemplated building an underground home to hide in, or finding an island to purchase, but I have to trust that God chose to put me here on Earth at this time for a reason, just as He did Esther. I have a purpose today, and my job is to fulfill that purpose. I have to trust that He will take care of us, give us wisdom as we raise children in a world we couldn't have imagined as children, and guide and direct us on this journey.

The greatest thing I've realized this past week is that I have to trust Him in the good and bad. I have to expect trials, temptations, tribulation and hardship, and know that I'm not spared from these things just because I'm His child. If God chose to protect His children from everything then the New Testament would have looked very different. I need to be prepared to follow Him out on the waters, into the scary places, farther than I would have ever imagined. I need to rest in His embrace even when that's the only thing I have left.

I want to sing:

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

Keep pinchin' :-)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Trusting Him Without Borders: Part One

Hey! Dani here. Lately the idea of going through trials or testings has been on my mind a lot. Between a sermon at our church, and then having some dear family go through a rather difficult ordeal, it's been hard not to think about the difficulties of life.

In my selfish, finite mind I don't want any part of suffering, trials, tribulation or testings. It probably doesn't help that I've been born and raised in the USA where we have freedoms and riches in abundance, where trials that are a normal part of every day life for the rest of the world just don't exist. So does that mean I should expect not to suffer? I would like to say yes, but unfortunately I can't say that anymore.

Scripture makes it clear that testing and trials are part of our faith. At times God allows Satan to test, try and tempt us in order for us to grow stronger, for our true self to be revealed. Like Job.

In the book of James it goes so far to say that we should count it a joy when we face trials because it produces patience, and we are to let patience have it's perfect work in us that we may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

If you look at the lives of the men in the New Testament that were followers of Jesus they had some of the most horrific things happen to them—they were thrown in jail, stoned, run out of towns, and many of them were ultimately martyred for their faith in Christ. But they never wavered in that faith, no matter what they faced.

I feel like right now I'm at a crossroad where I have to decide if I'm really serious about my relationship with Christ. Will I choose to stand firm no matter what I might face, or will I run at the first sign of hardship?

The song Oceans by Hillsong United has been on my heart and mind for over a week now. Check it out below.

This is what I want to be true of me, to allow Christ to lead me wherever He wants, knowing it will be further than I would ever choose to go on my own, but also knowing it will make my faith stronger and make my trust in Him to have no borders. When trials and testings come I want my first response to be to rest in His embrace, not to run for the hills and build an underground bunker.

Come back tomorrow to learn about some of the specific ways I want to allow Christ to lead me beyond where I would choose to go.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Friday, March 21, 2014

Jake's Take: Rocky - The Way Winning Is Done

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

Jake's Take - Rocky
There is hardly any other film series that has been as good, or inspired more generations with its tear-jerking rags-to-riches tale of love and determination than the boxing epic Rocky. One can extrapolate countless life lessons from the ground-breaking original 1976 film, and the five sequels that followed—lessons for business, morality, integrity, relationships—but when it comes to money management, one lesson holds the title.

It is a well-known Hollywood tale that when Sylvester Stallone wrote the original script for Rocky, numerous studios wanted to buy it as a starring vehicle for big name actors like Burt Reynolds, James Caan, and Ryan O’Neal. But Stallone, even though he was penniless and out-of-work, refused to sell the script without a guarantee that he’d also star in the film. Much like his character Rocky, he was determined to go the distance no matter what. Eventually he got someone to bite, and the film went on to win dozens of awards including the 1977 Oscar for Best Picture.

Rocky is the ultimate story of determination, of a man whose drive to win pushes him beyond his limits. In the film, Rocky takes a beating against boxing's champion Apollo Creed, and just when the crowd and the judges, and even Apollo himself, think Rocky is going to go down and stay down, he rises again.

It’s what Dave Ramsey calls it “gazelle intensity.”

Paying off debt is rarely a one, two punch. It’s 15 rounds with Apollo Creed. Along the way there are going to be setbacks, black eyes, broken noses, pain, and tears, but, as Rocky says: “It ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.”

Keep pinching’ :-)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Man Speech: Giving Your Wife the Royal Spa Treatment

Treating your woman like the princess she is doesn't have to cost a lot of money, so give her an at-home pedicure to help make her feel special and appreciated. Think of it like staining and sealing a hardwood floor.


  1. Some women really don't like having their feet touched, so this could be a major turn-off for your woman. If that's the case, a word of caution: don't go there. Her floor doesn't need to be waxed. 

  2. Don't think you can't do it. Really, you've got hands, you know how to rub your muscles when they get sore, you know where your feet hurt when you've been standing on them all day. Giving your wife a pedicure is no different. And when it comes to painting her toenails, honestly, if you've ever held a paint brush you can hold nail polish. Just think of her toes as very tiny boards.


At-home pedicure: let the feet soak for 10 minutes
Begin by soaking her feet in some warm water. Use some bubble bath soap, something with a relaxing scent like vanilla or lavender. Let her feet soak for about 10 minutes.

Next dry her feet and apply some lotion. This is like wax for your finished cabinets. You really want to spend some time working the wax into the wood, the rough spots, the dry spots. You want the wood to feel silky smooth to the touch. So take this time to do some massaging of your wife's feet.

Next clip her toenails. Women's toenails are not slabs of granite like those of most men. They are delicate, so you don't need a big honkin' pair of clippers. Those little dainty clippers that she probably has in her makeup kit will work just fine. It's likely that you won't have to use nail clippers at all. You could probably get away with using a nail file.

A nail file is not sandpaper. And your wife's toes are not pine. Don't rub away at them with a nail file like your doing finishing work on a new baseboard. Use the nail file in single-stroke, left-to-right motions. No back and fourth sanding because that does damage to the nail.

Next take a cotton ball with some nail polish remover and clean the surface of the toenails. This isn't just to remove any old nail polish, but also any oils, dirt, and lotion that may be on the nail.

Next, paint the little piggies a color of your wife's choice. It will probably take two coats, so do one set of toes and let them dry as you paint the others. Usually about 10 or 15 minutes between coats is good. When painting, be quick about it. Nail polish is a pain in the asphalt. It dries and clumps quickly. It should take you no more than 10 seconds to cover each toenail.
At-home pedicure: painting the little piggies

Finally, you can cover each toenail with a nail hardener. This is like polyurethane finish for your wife's feet and will protect the nail polish and make it last longer.

And lastly, try to enjoy yourself. Giving your wife a pedicure isn't the manliest of manly things to do, but if you do it right it will be something she'll love. Put on some music, help her relax, give her some hot tea or cocoa, conversation, and laughter.

Keep pinchin' :-)
At-home pedicure

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Yearning for the Good Old Days of "Old Fashioned" Living

Old Fashioned Living
The hubby and I often talk about our imaginary kiddos and how we want to raise them amidst this crazy world we live in. We look around and see that most kids aren't living like we did growing up and we think it's detrimental to their development. It's not uncommon to see children—and I'm talking, like, 10 and under—pulling out iPhones or iPods when they're out of the house and glued to the TV when they're in the house. That's not what we want for our kids. We want a bit more simplicity, fewer electronics, more games of tag and Kick the Can, all of which, by today's standards, is pretty old fashioned.

Not only do I want this for the kiddos we will one day have, but it's what I want for us too. It's so easy to get home from work and for each of us to hop onto our laptops in separate rooms and spend most of the evening catching up on Facebook, Pinterest, or checking out the latest movie trailers. I'm not saying there is necessarily anything wrong with this, but sometimes it makes me wish for the past, before my life revolved around the internet.

I have to be intentional though, as the internet has become such a part of my daily life. It's where I catch up with friends and family, check out crafts and recipes, look at the weather, and get the news. But I know that if I don't start being intentional about cutting back now, then how can I expect to be able to teach my kids to slow down and enjoy life, to spend more quality time with the people in their lives.

I guess it's like that in a lot of areas of my life, areas that I hope will be different when we have kids. Without even realizing it I've convinced myself that I'm going to be this whole different person with lots of patience, wisdom, kindness, gentleness, self-control... You know, the fruits of the spirit thing?

Who am I kidding though? If anything all of those things will be even harder to cultivate in my life when those little bundles of joy arrive. I must begin now. Things must change. I have to decide what I want and move in that direction.

Recently I've begun reading a lot, and while I have a kindle, I really enjoy going to the library and picking up a real book, something I fear future generations will only read about in history. As a child I loved reading, but as an adult I've allowed the busyness of life to take that love away from me.

But, you know, there is something really special about curling up by a fire and diving into a good story that can take you to another world. I don't want to miss out on that anymore. I am hopeful that this is just one small step in moving back to my roots, to life before the internet. I'm not saying I won't use the internet at all anymore, but I want it to become something that I don't have to do, something that, on some days, I'm just too busy enjoying life to pay any attention to.

I want to begin the journey to old fashioned living, so that someday I can take my kids on a journey there with me, and share in the joy of being together, slowing down, and having the time of our lives!

Keep pinchin' :-)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Jake's Take: Star Trek V - God and the Tough Truths

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

When trying to teach their children about the value of truth, many parents use books like The Emperor’s New Clothes, or The Boy Who Cried Wolf. I’m sure I’ll get around to using those stories with my kids some day, too, but I’m also going to use Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

Oh, sure, laugh if you will, but there’s a powerful message of truth in that movie.

Star Trek V was the first Star Trek film to approach the question of God and his existence in the universe. In the film, the Enterprise and its crew are hijacked by a man who believes he has found God and Heaven and he uses the Enterprise to take him there. When the crew arrives at a desolate planet, they find a divine being that calls itself "God," and he has an unusual request: he wants to use the Enterprise to explore the galaxy.

Which is when Captain Kirk poses this question: “What does God need with a starship?”

The rest of the crew is stunned that Kirk had the audacity to ask such a question to such a powerful being, and “God” is clearly annoyed. When Kirk asks again he gets shot in the chest with a bolt of energy. The rest of the crew begins to doubt that this is truly the benevolent God of the universe, and they boldly take up Kirk's challenge: What does God need with a starship? After they continue to pressure the divine being, “God” finally reveals that he is actually an alien prisoner long held on the planet and he needs the starship to escape.

Ah, the revealing power of truth.

There is a wonderful lesson here: bringing truth into a dangerous situation is never without its risks, but the bigger risk is not having the audacity to seek truth, to ask the tough questions... which could lead to an alien prisoner being released on the galaxy and creating all kinds of havoc!

Seriously though, how many husbands find their marriages slowly slipping into disaster because they don't confront their wives about poor spending habits? How many wives are so afraid to upset their husbands that they don’t ask them about inconsistencies or errors they see in the budget? How many money mistakes do we make when we fail to communicate with each other?

We not only have to be willing to ask those questions, even if we risk exposing a tough truth, but we also need to be ready to receive those questions with a loving heart, and not knock our loved ones down with a bolt—a sharp rebuke, discipline, or worse. We should want our spouse to tell us that there are problems in the budget. We should feel free to approach them if we want to make changes or improvements.

So take a lesson from Captain Kirk and ask the tough questions.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Birthday Week Celebrations!

Before we were married the hubby and I decided to make it a tradition for our family to celebrate a "birthday week." Neither of us had grown up with this concept, but some friends of mine celebrated birthdays this way and I always liked it. Birthdays are so special, and they're hard to celebrate in just one day. I mean, it's a celebration of a whole year of life, a year past, and a future one to come. Birthday weeks are far more interesting.

Here are some ways we celebrate birthday weeks on a budget.

  • Cards/Notes. Throughout the week place little notes or cards in different places for the birthday boy/girl to find. Maybe in their lunch box one day, on their nightstand the next, or in a purse or bag. This year the hubby went so far as to line up dear friends and family to send me notes on each day of my birthday week—some came on Facebook, through the mail, and some via text message.
  • Time: This birthday my husband took over ALL the chores, as in cooking, cleaning, laundry, EVERYTHING! Which enabled me to have more free time to read, play online, and relax.
  • Favorites: Purchase or make little favorites throughout the week, such as a favorite candy bar, favorite meal, play a favorite game etc.
  • Gifts: Instead of opening up all the gifts on one day consider spreading them out so they can be enjoyed throughout the week.
  • Servitude: Maybe your spouse or child likes to have their nails done or receive a massages. That is something you could easily do for them during their birthday week. My hubby gave me a wonderful pedicure which included a foot soak, scrub, massage and finished off with painting the little piggies pink with white polka dots.

If you consider making this a tradition in your family be sure to plan ahead to make it a lot easier on yourself. It'll give you more time to implement your ideas, come up with alternatives if something doesn't work out, and involve friends and family if that's what you decide to do. Enjoy your birthday week!

Keep pinchin' :-)

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Dani's Birthday Week: Birthday Celebrating on a Budget

Before we were even married Dani and I had discussed the idea of making the "birthday week" idea a tradition in our family. A birthday week can be many things, but essentially it is designed to honor the birthday girl or boy all week long.

Guys, I know, it can be tough enough trying to remember to honor your wife on just ONE day a year, not to mention seven in a row! But it's worth it, trust me, and she'll deeply appreciate your efforts.

If your wife doesn't really enjoy her birthday, or if your family has decided not to make a big deal of them, a birthday week celebration might not go over well. Some women are extremely sensitive about their age, and if they can't stand to have their birthdays celebrated even for one day, a whole week is going to be a nightmare.

Celebrating your wife on her birthday doesn't have to be an expensive or time-consuming task, especially if you're on the road a lot or are trying to stay within a tight budget. Here are some suggestions for making your wife's birthday week a celebration of her.

  1. Create a top 10 list of things you love about her and text them to her throughout the day. (If you're really ambitious, you could make a top 10 list to send to her every day!) This is a good idea if you travel a lot or can't be with your wife on certain days of the week.

  2. Cards never fail to express at least some heartfelt sentiment, especially for guys who aren't good with words, but who know how they feel once they actually have the words. Stick a card in your wife's purse. Mail her one at work. Hide one in her favorite book, or some place that she'll find it at some point during the day.

  3. One word: chocolate. Few women don't love chocolate. Buy a whole box of chocolates and leave them around the house. Set them on top of little notes that express your hopes and wishes for her in the coming year.

  4. Make her dinner. If you're fortunate enough to be home when she isn't, surprise her with some grilled chicken, mashed potatoes, and veggies. (Seriously dudes, that is a meal that I have never ONCE screwed up, which must mean it's super easy to make!) Here's a terrific Red Wine Vineager Marinade for chicken. Let the chicken soak in this for four hours or so and you can't go wrong! (NOTE: I didn't include the dry mustard because I hate mustard, and we didn't have any lemon juice, but it still tasted fantastic!)

  5. Write her a love letter that lets her know how glad you are to have her in your life. I know, I know, you told her "I love you" on your wedding day, but, generally speaking, women need emotional reassurance. She knows that you loved her on your wedding day, but inside she's wanting to know if you STILL love her. Make it a point to tell her every day on her birthday week.

The point is, a birthday shouldn't be a recognition of age, but a celebration of her life. Use the time to express to her how grateful you are for her, that she married you, that she's a wonderful wife and mother, and pretty much the coolest chick of all time.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Jake's Take - Money Morals from the Movies: Babe

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

Jake's Take - Babe
If you’re going to slay debt with “gazelle intensity” and build wealth like no one else, you’ve got to not be afraid to be different. In fact, you sort of have to embrace it, because, honestly, there's going to be some people who think you're pretty weird.

That’s the wonderful lesson we get from the touching 1995 comedy Babe. Based on a 1983 book by Dick King-Smith, Babe tells the story of an orphan pig who is chosen for a “guess the weight” contest at a county fair. The winning farmer, Arthur Hoggett, brings him to his farm where the poor little pig is told by just about all the other animals that he is worthless, that pigs have no purpose in life other than to be eaten by humans.

Determined to prove that pigs are not worthless, Babe sets out to learn from Farmer Hoggett’s border collies the practice of wrangling sheep. The sheep dogs laugh at his silly idea. The other animals laugh as well. When Babe goes to the sheep dog trials, an entire stadium of people laugh at him, too.

But you know what’s cool about that movie? Never once does Babe the pig question himself. He’s naive, for sure, but he knows he’s different. He knows that what he’s doing isn’t typical or expected of him, but he does it anyway. And in the end, he wins.

We can all learn a lesson from Babe, or “Pig,” as Farmer Hoggett calls him—if you’re going to be different, be it proud. Sure people may think you’re strange, but hold your head up high in the midst of the naysayers, because, guess what, you know something they don’t: today you’re living like no one else so that tomorrow you can live like no one else.

Keep pinching’ :-)

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Debt Snowball: Why It Works, How It Works

It's been 16 months since Dani and I first went through Financial Peace University, and in that time we've completed the first three baby steps. We're just now getting around to thinking about things like insurance and retirement planning, so I'm sure we'll have more to say on those topics in the months ahead.

For now, we're experts on the "debt snowball." What is a debt snowball? How is it supposed to work? Essentially the debt snowball is a behavior modification plan. It's purpose is to get you to start thinking differently about money. It's also designed to motivate you by getting you to pay off some smaller debts more quickly.

When you were a kid, making snowballs usually started with a small pinch of snow, then you added to it and added to it until you could roll it into a nice little aerial projectile of devastation. Rolling was key to making big snowballs because they got bigger quicker when you rolled them. That's exactly how Dave Ramsey's debt snowball plan works.

Start by listing your debts smallest to largest, and ignore the interest rates. It doesn't matter if it has a 2% interest rate or a 22% interest rate. Forget about it. This is behavior modification and motivation, not math.

Pay minimum payments on all the debts except the smallest one and then attack that one with a vengeance. Once it's gone, take the money you were putting toward that debt and add it to the minimal payment on the next smallest debt. Once that's done, take that combined payment and go to the next one. Knock them out one by one.

The reason you start with the smallest debt first is because if you start with the largest one you won't see it leave for quite some time. You'll see numbers going down on a page, but that's it. Eventually you'll lose steam and motivation and you'll probably end up quitting. But when you attack the small debts first you see progress. When you see the plan working, you'll be more inclined to stick to it.

The only time you might make an exception is if one of the debts is to the IRS. You don't want them hovering over you, so pay off that debt first, then proceed down the list of other debts, smallest to largest, using the debt snowball method.

Dani and I had about 19 months of payments on a car, a motorcycle, and a credit card when we started to employ the debt snowball method. In about six months our debt was GONE! This. Plan. Works!

If you want more details about the debt snowball including an example, Dave Ramsey explains it best here: How The Debt Snowball Method Works.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Friday, March 7, 2014

Insurance. Oi vay!

The great thing about going through Financial Peace University the second time is paying closer attention to all those parts you were too overwhelmed to think about the first time.

Before when Dani and I took the class, the first three of the seven "Baby Steps" dominated our to-do list—1. Get a $1,000 emergency fund in the bank, 2. Pay off all debt except the house, and 3. Put 3–6 months of expenses away in savings. Well, we've done all that. Now we're ready to start thinking about other aspects of the plan, things that, until now, have simply been lurking in the back of our minds.

Like insurance.

Oi vay! Insurance. Nobody really likes spending money on insurance. It's basically something you pay for over and over and over again and hope to never actually need. However, when that major, unexpected something happens, we all suddenly love insurance—as long as we have the right kind.

Dave says there are seven key areas of insurance that people need to understand and get—like, immediately—if they don't already have them. They are:

  1. Homeowner's or renter's
  2. Auto
  3. Health
  4. Disability
  5. Long-term care (if you're over 60)
  6. Identity Theft
  7. Life

In the next couple months, Dani and I are going to be exploring these insurance types and trying to figure out how in the world we're going to pay for them on a budget that's already stretched pretty thin.

Last week's Financial Peace University lesson was about the role of insurance and it concluded with a heart-breaking story of a man named Steve Maness who died of brain cancer, leaving behind a wife and baby boy. Fortunately for Steve's family he had heeded Dave's advice and got the right insurance policies in place before he died. It was truly a wake-up call for us to get serious about the role of insurance in our lives. It's not fun to figure out, and it's financially painful to put in place, but it's all part of practicing good diligence.

Keep pinchin' :-)

PS Go here to find out what we chose!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

New Years Resolutions 2 Months In!

Two months of the year 2014 are already in the books. Craziness! I swear that every year time goes by faster. Gone are the days where summer vacation felt longer than the school year :-) This past month has thrown my schedule for another whirlwind, as I've finally been transferred to my program here in Bethlehem, but have been working 8-4 Monday-Friday. It's hard being 'faithful' when I'm still in limbo with getting to my end goal of being the awake overnight staff.

Faithfulness in our finances. February proved to be another solid month in working on getting to be debt free. We base our budget on a four week plan, and so in a year's time we come up with an extra month of payments, which helped our mortgage greatly. In the past year and a half we have almost paid off $20,000 on our mortgage which can only be summed up as a God thing. Financial Peace University is also going well, and it has been fun to get excited over other's success in this area. 

Faithfulness in living a healthy lifestyle. Since transitioning to Bethlehem I have been trying to walk to work any day it isn't sub zero temperatures, which unfortunately has not been as often as I would like. Hopefully in the next couple weeks it will warm up so I can walk and also change to being overnights so I can get my exercise in during the night.

Faithfulness in my spiritual life. I went ahead and got the year subscription to the Word of Life Quiet Time Diary. I like devotionals because it is strictly Scripture with some commentary and thought-provoking questions. It doesn't take long to do it though so my hope is once I start overnights I can beef it up with other things or even just committing to spending part of my night in prayer and Scripture memorization. 

Faithfulness in being good stewards of the homestead God has blessed us with. This month we have begun hosting a small group bible study called FAITH Group, in our home every other week. This was our heart's desire when we were looking at purchasing a home. We wanted a space big enough to have other believers in and it's nice to finally see that happening on a more regular basis.

Faithfulness in being the wife my husband needs me to be. I completed my 14 days of Love for Jake, with writing something I love about him every day. It was good for me to think about things I sometimes take for granted and put words to things I should say on a more regular basis. I have been home in the evenings so I've been able to enjoy making dinner for the two of us, which is a nice change from the 3-4 nights I would get to be with him in the past.

Any progress on your resolutions or word for the year? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Jake's Take - Money Morals from the Movies: Batman Begins

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

As much as I enjoy sci-fi, fantasy, and comic book movies, I need the movie to have some basis in reality in order to enjoy it. Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, though fantastical and gothic as it was, had enough reality in it to make it believable. By the time George Clooney's embarrassingly awful Batman & Robin hit screens in 1997 it became clear that the franchise had completely lost touch with reality. Granted the Batman movies have always been a bit over the top, but at least back in the early days there was some effort put into presenting a world that was recognizable.

In all fairness, part of the reason the Batman franchise began to decline was because producers were responding to what people wanted—more special effects, more gadgets, more over-the-top villains. And that’s what they delivered… a little too heavily, as was evidenced by the fact that the fourth Batman flick essentially put a proverbial gun to the head of the franchise and pulled the trigger, leaving it dead for a good 10 years.

Then came the era of Hollywood’s gritty reboots, and the film Batman Begins was one of the flicks that paved the way. Begins presented a Batman that was very believable—all of the gadgetry was based on technology the military was actually using at the time; and the new Bruce Wayne, played masterfully by Christian Bale, actually looked like a dude that could beat the snot out of you if you found yourself on the wrong side of the law. Batman Begins was just the breath of fresh air the franchise needed. It took Batman back to his roots, kept him grounded in reality, and left all that unrealistic George Clooney stuff in the past.

There’s an interesting parallel here for money management and budgeting. I think we all start off well, with plenty of good intentions, but then one of two things happens:

  1. We stagnate. We lose track of our budgeting practices. We lose our motivation. We start falling short. We give up.

  2. We become too extravagant. Our spending habits start spiraling out of control like a maniacal Batman villain.

In both scenarios we lose touch with reality.

When you're on the road to paying off debt, you have to hold course. If your spending starts getting too out of control or your motivation to keep up with your budget starts to deflate, you’re never going to reach your financial goals. Be realistic. Get down and dirty like a gritty reboot. If your spending habits start to feel like George Clooney’s Batman—fake, rubbery, and with sculpted nipples—it’s time to start thinking like Christian Bale—lean, efficient, and effective.

Keep pinching’ :-)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Creating A Budget Is Like A Bad Horror Comedy Movie

Dani and I decided to go through Financial Peace University just a few months after being married when we both realized that the different ways in which we handled money was going to get us into trouble. Dani is a saver. I'm a spender. Neither of us knew how to properly handle money and we were driving each other nuts.

I foresaw a major conflict in our future, and we both knew that we needed to get on the same page when it came to our budget. I heard about Financial Peace University through our church and strongly suggested that we take the class. Dani was glad to do it.

But the class alone was not our saving grace. Our first few months of budgeting were like a bad horror comedy. We'd argue. We'd cry. We'd get angry and frustrated at the piece of paper in front of us that told us how much money we didn't have. It was a turbulent time.

After about sixteen months of following the principles in FPU, we've finally got a system down. Budget meetings are quick and neither of waste any time crying or arguing because we know where our money is going, we can see the plan working, and we know it will continue to work as long as we keep employing it.

Now that we're leading an FPU class, we've realized that we're not the only ones who have a hard time jump-starting a budget. Setting aside money for upcoming payments is a hard task to do when you've got a payment due in one week. But both Dani and I can say from experience that it gets easier. Those first few months of budgeting are tough. We stumbled. We made mistakes. We had to erase and start over. But once our money started building up in our accounts, once we had three or four months of practice, things started to come together.

As put off as I was at first by the idea of budgeting, it was worth going through those few months of agony to develop a unified vision for our finances. The tension lifted. The crying stopped. Sure we have our moments every now and then, but things have gotten a lot better.

If you're not working on a budget with your spouse, start. Don't give up after a few months of turmoil. Keep at it. It WILL get easier. And you'll be happier for it.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Monday, March 3, 2014

How Your Local Library Can Help You Fight Debt

When I was a little girl I loved going to the library. The one in the town I grew up in had a limit of three books that you could take out at one time, and was only open Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I have fond memories of going to the library and being so excited to get my three books that I would begin reading them before I even got home—as I rode my bike. Thankfully I don't remember ever crashing :-) And I would hurry back the next day they were open to get three more.

As I got older, however, I didn't find myself in the library as much. Maybe it was because I had so much more reading to do for school, or maybe it was because the internet came around. I'm not really sure. Since moving to Bethlehem almost four years ago I've visited the library a couple dozen times, but until last week I hadn't been for several months. During that time the library moved into a new building, and when I finally went to check it out I was reminded of why I love libraries.

  1. You can borrow books for free. Usually if the library is located in your town there is no fee to use it as long as you return the books in a timely manner.

  2. They have more than books! Many libraries now have shelves filled with DVDs, and I was quite impressed with how our library's collection seems to be growing now that they have a bigger space. These are also FREE to borrow, so forget Redbox and Netflix!

  3. They carry lots of educational non-fiction books. So if you don't have the money to invest in a large library of do-it-yourself guides you can find a lot at your library. Right now I'm utilizing their gardening books to make my game plan for this coming growing season. They also have lots of books on crafting, cookbooks and so much more for me to discover.

  4. Magazines. Even though some magazine might be filled with trash, there are some fun decorating and exercise magazines that I like to look through. And if I can read them without having to pay an exorbitant amount of money for a subscription, I'll take it!

  5. Educational events. Many libraries have book clubs, and other programs that are designed to expand learning beyond just what you can read in a book. Recently our library had five telescopes donated, and the New Hampshire Astronomical Society put on a program pointing out star constellations and planets. They also have movies and craft times for kids, and often host local authors who do various presentations.

Libraries can be a great resource, so before you go out and buy a book or rent a movie, check out your local library and see what they have to offer!

Keep pinchin' :-)