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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

How Being Ambassadors for FPU Just Sorta Kinda Fell Into Our Laps

Jake and Dani speaking at a church
Dani and I visited a church this winter to talk about Financial Peace University. We presented our testimony, talked about the upcoming FPU class at our church and why we believed so strongly in the program. After the service a man came up to me and said, "That's quite a ministry the Lord has given to you!"

I was sort of taken aback because until that moment it had never occurred to me that what we were doing was a ministry. Dani and I are just a Mr. and Mrs. Schmo who took a class and liked it enough to tell others about it. We're not professionals. We don't have all the answers. We sort of just fell into this.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. It's been great. We have a lot of fun when we visit a church and talk about FPU. We usually show our video, "The Penny Pinching Rap," to garner some laughs after we've talked about how Dave Ramsey's biblical-based money management program helped our marriage.

What's interesting to me is to look back over the last couple years of our marriage and see that being the ambassadors of FPU that we've become is actually an answer to prayer.

When we first got married, we decided to spend the first year of our marriage staying clear of any ministry opportunities or extra work that would occupy large quantities of our time. It's actually suggested in Scripture that couples do this.

If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war
or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free
to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married.
—Deuteronomy 24:5

I knew marriage was going to be hard, especially for two people like us who come from fiercely independent lifestyles. So I thought it was wise for us to step back from any extra-curricular activities we were involved in and just focus on our new life together.

And then our first year together came to a close and we began looking at how we could serve our church. I enjoy helping out at church meals, and setting up/taking down after events. I'm skilled with video equipment so helping with our church's video ministry was something I wanted to be a part of. As for Dani, she really enjoys being with children, teaching Sunday School and helping out in the nursery. There was lots of stuff we were drawn to do as individuals, but nothing that we could really do as a couple.

We prayed about it a few times, asking God to reveal to us what we could do together, and, amazingly, he dropped Financial Peace University in our laps. Doing it together has given us something else to talk about with each other, and it gives us shared experiences that we can enjoy. We have yet to see how God is going to fully use us in this area, but it's amazing to look back and see how he has answered our prayer and given us a ministry that we can both be a part of.

Something I try to remember when we visit churches and talk about FPU is that this isn't about us. It's not about me. It's not about Dani. It's about God. I mean, yes, we're there to tell our story and give some details about the class, but it's more important that we give God the glory for all that FPU has accomplished in our lives. I try to always remember to say that Dave Ramsey's program works because it is based on God's Word, that God is the reason why it works, and that the only reason it has helped us so much is because we have prayerfully turned our finances over to the Lord.

Making this plan work for you isn't about budgeting and saving money and following steps—although those are a part of it. What it's really about is recognizing that everything we have comes from God. The more that we, as Christians, recognize that and act on that, the more God blesses.

It's been a fun ride thus far, and it's exciting to think about where God is going to take us next.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Jake's Take: A League of Their Own - It's The Hard That Makes It Great

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

A League of Their Own
Economically, times are tough right now. Most people are sailing into financial headwinds with no idea of what they’re going to do to get survive. In tough tough times, the mettle of individuals is tested and their resolve to hold fast to their financial goals is put through the ringer. But you know what?

“It’s the hard that makes it great.”

There’s a wonderful baseball comedy from 1992 about the short-lived all-female baseball league during World War II. Geena Davis plays Dottie Hinson, a level-headed gal waiting for her husband to return home from the war when she decides to take up baseball. To everyone’s surprise, she’s not just good at it, she’s amazing.

By the end of the film, however, Dottie is facing a whole host of issues: she and her sister have become rival opponents, her husband returns from the war, wounded, and her team is about to enter the playoffs. Dottie decides to quit the team and return home, which is when the team’s manager, played beautifully by Tom Hanks, confronts her, demanding to know why.

“It just got too hard,” Dottie says.

“It’s supposed to be hard,” Dugan retorts. “If it weren’t hard, everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great.”

Now, granted, saving money and paying off debt is hardly the level of great as the all-American sport of baseball, but Dugan’s point remains: if it were easy, everybody would do it. If it were easy, no one would be in debt. If saving money were easy, we wouldn’t be in the economical straight-jacket we’re in. It’s hard. But it’s the hard that makes it worth it.

No matter what you’re facing right now, don’t give up. Maybe it’s a lost job, maybe it’s medical bills, or school. Accept the fact that these challenges are going to slow you down, maybe even set you back, but they will pass. Keep moving forward. Getting out of debt and building wealth is going to get hard, but the biggest reward is going to come to those who persevere in the hard times.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Monday, April 28, 2014

Why Dave Ramsey Should Hire Us

Sometimes I feel like we pretty much work for Dave Ramsey, minus the fact that he doesn't pay us, of course!

Why do I feel like this? Maybe because since the start of this year Jake and I have spoken in four different churches, sharing with them about our experience with Financial Peace University and encouraging everyone to take this course. On top of that we just completed leading the nine week course at our home church!

I can't recall in my lifetime ever advocating for something specific like this in such an extreme way. I mean, how many people travel to other churches to encourage people to take a class when the compensation for their time will be $0 and it's someone else's class? I don't know if this poll has ever been taken, but I have a pretty good feeling that statistically not many.

It could be easy to become bitter, tired or frustrated that our "ministry" is to basically sell a class to people when financially we gain nothing. Ok, hold on, I said "it could be."

And it's not. We don't expect compensation. We don't share about this class in hopes of gaining something or because we think Dave will hire us. We do it because we believe in it, and have first-hand experienced that Dave's plan works. Not because it's Dave's plan, but because it's really God's plan. Dave just breaks it down for people in an easy to follow seven step process.

We desire for Christians especially to get their finances straightened out. We have come to realize that as long as believers have debt they have something hindering them from being easily used by God. When you don't have debt, and you have a bit of wealth, you can not only offer to pray for others with financial needs but you can help those needs too. That family that is trying to adopt, you can give toward the cost. The single mom whose electricity is about to be shut off, you can pay the bill. And if God calls you to the mission field, you don't have to wait to get your debt paid off before you can go.

Financial freedom isn't just about building wealth and living your dream life, it's about being a good steward in every aspect of your life so that God can use His resources the way He intends them to be used THROUGH YOU!

So, even though being "Dave Ramsey Spokespeople" isn't a paid position, we will continue to share in the hopes of helping others become better stewards of what they have on loan from God.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Ultimate Homemaking Bundle - Feather Your Nest This Spring

So, the hubby and I are fairly new to this whole blogging adventure. Originally we set out just to tell our story, keep a journal of our progress, and share what works and doesn't work as we journey to debt-free living.

While we enjoy this whole blogging thing it does take time, and so we ventured into the process of trying to earn a little money from our blog, hence the ads you may see, and the occasional "plug a product" post, in which we'll include a link to a product that we may earn some money on if it gets enough clicks. Honestly we haven't really made any money off of it so far, but since an income is secondary to our original goal we keep pressing on.

Just this week I was given the opportunity to plug an awesome bundle of e-books, which will be on sale until Monday. While this opportunity does offer me a pretty decent commission, I don't share it just because of that. After looking into all you can get from this deal I wanted everyone I know to hear about this amazing opportunity.

Here is a little video which will give you some info about why you need the Ultimate Bundle.

I purchased mine the other night and am so excited about all it has to offer. There are 78 e-books in this package covering topics like faith, kids, financial stewardship, food, heath and wellness, holidays and special events, homemaking, homeschooling, marriage, motherhood, pregnancy and babies, self-care, working from home, and blogging.

Not only are these fantastic books, but the authors seem like great people. By purchasing this bundle you are actually supporting missionaries, stay-at-home moms, and many working moms too! Here is a picture of some of the books included:

Feather My Nest This Spring
Epic, right?

And there's also about $200 in bonuses!

These books sold individually would come to a grand total of $698.

So, why am I sharing this with you? Because if you want to get your hands on all of these great resources and not pay $698, then all you need to do is purchase it between now and Monday night at midnight and you can get all of this and more for only $29.97 for the PDF files and $39.97 for Kindle versions. If this is something you think you would like to give to a friend they also have a special offer of buy two get the third free!

All you have to do is click on the picture below! 

Feather My Nest

I hope you enjoy this bundle as much as I am. Now I'm off to figure out how to make some "ice cream with nourishing ingredients" and then maybe read the Frugal Secrets of Real Foodies. If you have any questions about the bundle feel free to leave a comment and I will get back to you as soon as I can.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Jake's Take: Stranger Than Fiction - Have A Cookie!

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

Stranger Than Fiction
When it comes to the movies, the character of Harold Crick is perhaps the best example of what Dave Ramsey calls a “Nerd”—a person who manages money with facts and figures and spreadsheets and has a difficult time letting go of all the numbers. Played by Will Ferrell in the quirky comedy Stranger Than Fiction, Harold is an IRS agent and he just doesn’t know how to have fun.

Then he meets Ana, a baker he is auditing. She is the complete opposite of Harold, an anarchist, an artist—the essence of what Dave Ramsey calls the “Free Spirit,” a person who doesn’t know how to manage money and is too busy having so much fun that they don’t even know the kind of financial straightjacket they’re in. That’s Ana.

There is a wonderful moment in the film when Ana offers Harold a fresh-baked cookie.

“I don’t like cookies,” Harold says.

“You don’t like cookies? What’s wrong with you?” Ana says.

“I don’t know.”

“Everybody likes cookies.”

Not Harold. He was raised in a family where the only cookies they ever ate were store bought. His mother never baked. So Ana gives him a nice, warm chocolate chip cookie and instructs him to sit down, dip it into some milk, and eat it. Which he does. And it is one of the most thrilling, eye-opening moments of Harold’s life, a moment that begins a sequence of events throughout the film that open up Harold’s world beyond the numbers and spreadsheets that he’s obsessed with.

Now, admittedly, I advocate for the Free Spirits because I am one, which is why I like this movie so much. I know, I know, us Free Spirits can get you nerds into a whole heap of financial trouble, I’m not saying we don’t have our own problems to reign in, but a Nerd that doesn’t know how to let go of a little bit of control is a real downer.

For us Free Spirits life is about having fun—going out to eat, seeing a movie, riding a roller coaster, taking a trip, eating a fresh-baked chocolate chip cookie. We don’t care what it costs, we just need to live a little. I know that's dangerous. I'm not saying that we don't have our quirks, but when we’re confronted with someone who is always trying to reign us in we feel suffocated.

So if you’re like Harold, lighten up. And if you’re like Ana, be sure you offer your Nerd a cookie. Preferably freshly baked.

Keep pinching’ :-)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Developing An Attitude Of Gratitude In Your Kids

"Why is it that a two-year-old is often happier playing in the box a toy came in rather than playing with the actual toy? Why is it that children living in poverty in third-world countries seem happier and more content than kids in wealthy nations? Because neither is caught in the trap of comparisons. They don’t know what they are missing out on. They are simply grateful."

That's the idea behind Smart Money, Smart Kids, a brand-new book out by Dave Ramsey and Rachel Cruze. Literally, it just came out today. I think.

I remember one Christmas when I was a kid, probably eight years old, I was tearing open presents like a madman... er, boy. My stack of presents was pretty big, and was piling up so fast that I couldn't unwrap them fast enough. I was oblivious to everyone else in our small crowded living room—my cousins Nick and Danny, my aunts and uncles, my sister Tess, my parents. I couldn't think of anything else but me. Me and all those glorious presents that just kept on coming!

I don't remember being aware of Philip until my dad tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to come into the bedroom. He closed the door behind me and told me that Philip was a foster kid, just a little older than me, who had been sent to live with my aunt and uncle the day before Christmas. No one knew he was coming, so no one had gotten him any presents. I remember feeling a little embarrassed at that point by all the presents I had so greedily been diving into.

Dad made me put on my coat and boots and we drove into town looking for a store, any store, that was actually open on Christmas. When we found a little hardware/convenient store, dad took me inside and asked me to pick out a couple presents I thought Philip might like. I found a radio-controlled car and an action figure. We took the toys back to our apartment, wrapped them, and gave them to Philip.

I don't know if Philip expected to get anything for Christmas or not, but being a boy of around 10 or 11, I'm sure he was hoping for something. The look on his face when I handed him the presents was one of surprise and happiness. He had that radio-controlled car racing around the kitchen in just a few minutes.

I tell this story because I think, more often than not, we see kids on Christmas throwing temper tantrums because they didn't get what they wanted, or they didn't get enough. I tell ya, it was an eye-opening thing for me to witness a kid like Philip endure a Christmas fast while I was enjoying a Christmas feast.

In their book, Smart Money, Smart Kids, Dave and Rachel talk about raising children who are sincerely grateful for what they have. How do you teach a child to develop an attitude of gratitude? How do you show them what it is to appreciate what they've got?

I think for my kids it's going to involve taking them to a soup kitchen or homeless shelter on Christmas Eve where they can help serve the less fortunate at a time when they're getting plenty. I want to give them a visual picture to keep in mind whenever they think they don't have enough, or complain because of what they have. Because I'll tell you this, after I gave those presents to Philip and went back to my stack of gifts—which had grown considerably in the time it took my dad and I to go on our brief shopping trip—I didn't have the same greedy, gimmie-gimmie attitude. I was sort of blown away by what my dad had done, and embarrassed that I didn't see the need that he saw in Philip.

"We all have things to count as blessings, but we also have a tendency to lose our sense of awe and our sense of gratitude. Make sure your heart is full of gratitude for the blessings in your own life. Let your children witness this in you, and they will want to respond with gratitude for the blessings in their own lives." —Smart Money, Smart Kids.

What has it been like for you teaching your kids to be grateful?

Keep pinchin' :-)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Don't Be A Toadie

I don't want to be a toadie
It amazes me sometimes just how deep, and how often, people get into debt. I'm not pointing fingers. I'm guilty of this. Just ask my wife. People like me who enjoy spending money are always in danger of spending too much. The discipline of reeling ourselves in takes time and practice.

I'm sick of being in debt. It's one of the main reasons I've decided to strive for debt-free living with "gazelle intensity," as Dave Ramsey says.

But there's another reason I want to be out of debt: I don't want to be a toadie.

Humans are like toads sometimes. You put them in a frying pan and turn up the heat, and the little toadie will cook to death because he doesn't sense the gradually rising heat (or so I've heard. I don't think MythBusters has done an episode on this yet. PETA probably won't let them). Just like that poor little toadie, those of us who attract debt just sit there as the mounting threat of debt builds around us. We start to sweat under the pressure as the heat rises. It takes a lot sometimes to realize that that sizzling sound isn't a barbecue. It's our butts!

You can always tell who the toadies are too. They're the ones living in a run down trailer with a six different satellites attached and a brand new 4X4 parked out front. They're the ones with high blood pressure. They're the ones who can barely afford to pay the rent, but go to the movies every week, buy gourmet coffee every morning, and eat at restaurants like they're going out of style. defines "toadie" as someone who is a side-kick, a tag-along, someone who does the dirty work. Like people with too much debt—they're not walking around with a credit card in their pocket; it's the credit card that's walking around with a toadie attached, tagging along, spending and spending and spending. The dirty work.

I don't want to be a toadie. I don't even want to look like a toadie. When people look at my house I want them to see evidence of a good steward. I don't want to be embarrassed by my purchase history. I'm done living in the frying pan of debt collectors.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Monday, April 21, 2014

Recipes and New Traditions On Resurrection Day

Holidays. Something I took for granted as a child. We had fairly regular annual routines in my family growing up. The hubby did too. As we grew up, though, and siblings got married and moved away, both Jake and I have found our childhood traditions changing rapidly. While it's sad to say goodbye to old traditions I've decided rather to embrace the fact that we get to create new ones.

This Easter was a perfect example. With our families both scattered around this year, we decided to get together with some friends for a big lunch. It was great! Lots of yummy food, great conversation, and a beautiful day.

I don't know what future holidays will hold for us or what new traditions we'll form, but I know everything will be fun and exciting as long as I have the hubby to do it with... oh, and these two VERY important menu items. (And if ever these two dishes of pure yumminess aren't present, all chaos may ensue. In case you haven't guessed, this is a key issue for me.)

Sweet Potato Casserole
1 - 40oz can of sweet potatoes (drained)
1/2 c. milk
2 eggs
1 stick butter or margarine softened
1/2 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Mix altogether with mixer (mash potatoes first). Spread into buttered 9x13 pan.

1 c. brown sugar
1/3 c. flour
1/3 c. margarine, softened
1 c. pecans or walnuts chopped

Mix topping together and crumble over potato mixture. Bake at 350 for 35 minutes. You can actually make this in advance if you want and just store it in the fridge until you're ready to cook it.

Strawberry Jello Salad
2 small or 1 large strawberry jello mix
1 container frozen sliced strawberries (about 16 oz., I think)
1 small can crushed pineapple drained
Sour cream

Thaw strawberries (sometimes I don't fully thaw). Stir jello with 2 cups boiling water. Stir in strawberries and pineapple. (Don't drain strawberries) Pour half of mixture into a glass container (9x13 or 7x9 for a thicker salad). Let set in refrigerator (about 30 minutes) When set, spread layer of sour cream. Pour rest of jello mixture and chill.

What are some traditions you have for the holidays? Special recipes, favorite places to eat out or family you always go to? Tell us all about it in the comments.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Great Shopping Trip

I think I was in high school when my older sister and I had the bright idea to do our family of eight's grocery shopping for the week. We figured this way we could get all the food that we really like that Mom never seemed to buy. We were both naive enough to think that since we had both grocery-shopped with mom for years that we had this thing down!

First, we knew that mom always built our meal plan around sale prices, so we spent some time scouring the weekly fliers to find out what was on sale. Mom gave us the same budget she would have and told us we had to have 7 days worth of food, and sent us on our way.

I honestly don't remember how long it took us to do the grocery shopping, but I'm sure it took us hours. Neither of us had ever really paid that much attention to where things were located in a grocery store, so, naturally, this part took us quite a while.

Finally we arrived home, exhausted, broke, and pretty darn frustrated because we had spent so much time trying to buy everything that mom told us we needed for meals that week that we hadn't had any money to buy the things we really wanted. In fact, I think we found that we could barely even purchase all the meal items. Talk about an eye-opening experience!

Needless to say, that was the first and last time we ever took on that responsibility!

I share this because even though my sister and I  may not have entirely succeeded on our mission, we obviously learned some things by observing and participating in the process of grocery shopping. I think it's important for parents to have their kids take part in activities like this because someday they will have to do it for themselves, and learning to do it properly takes time and practice.

As your kids get into their teenage years you might even want to challenge them to take on the job of grocery shopping so that they can have real life practice in a skill that will help them be good stewards of their money later on in life.

Although I don't shop for groceries exactly the same way my mom does, the basic core is with me—look at sale flyers, know prices from different stores, and stick to the budget!

Do you have any memories of trying to do the family grocery shopping when you were young? Or an experience with your own kids? Leave us a comment to tell us all about it.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Few Of My Favorite Things

Recently as I was out enjoying the beautiful weather I started to wander down the road of "I wish I could do this... Oh, but why does this have to cost money? ... Can't we be like everyone else and just..."

This is a dangerous path to start down, and oftentimes is not one that we can quickly backtrack from. I decided to instead think of some of my favorite things. Of course this line of thinking was triggered by just a few lines from that infamous Rodgers and Hammerstein song:

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles with warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things

Cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudels
Doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings
These are a few of my favorite things

Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes
Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes
Silver white winters that melt into springs
These are a few of my favorite things

When the dog bites, when the bee stings
When I'm feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don't feel so bad

While that was Maria's list, I will create my own:

Laughter. It really is one of the best medicines. Laughter can take my saddest self and make it merry again. My favorite laughter is definitely a good belly laugh from a baby or the laughter of little girls.

TelestrationsGames. One thing that both the hubby and my family have in common is playing games. We enjoy getting together with family and friends and playing all sorts of games. Have you ever heard of Telestrations? If not check it out! It has quickly become one of our favorite go-to games.

Sunshine. I LOVE the sun! I hate wasting a beautiful sunny day indoors. In fact, I have been known—if I've worked a third shift and am desperately tired but it's gorgeous out—to drag a mattress out on the back deck so I can sleep and still enjoy the day.

Talking. I love to talk. I have proudly worn nicknames including Chattabox! If I am home all day by myself I am bursting at the seems when the hubby walks through the door. Thankfully he knows this and is very gracious to listen.

Walking. Whenever I go out for a walk it energizes me, and if it's with a good friend it gives me opportunity to actually get in my million words for the day.

Heat. Ask anyone who knows me where they will find me all winter, the answer will be about three feet from the woods stove. I love the warmth so much I had the hubby help me completely rearrange what is supposed to be our dining room to make it a nice sitting area in order to be close to the wood stove.

Hugs. I love me a good bear hug. When the world seems upside down, and I really want to go live in that cave outback, a hug usually does wonders in making me feel better.

So, there you have it, a few of my favorite things. What are some things that are free that you love? Let me know so I can add them to my list!

Keep pinchin' ;-)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Jake's Take: Hoosiers - Just Start Shooting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep pinchin’ :-)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Giving Bucket List

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep pinchin' :-)

Monday, April 14, 2014

To Everything There Is Season

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

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

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

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

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

Keep pinchin' :-)

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Horrendous Healthcare Hunt Begins!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep pinchin' :-)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Too many bad guys in the ways? Use bullets.

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

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

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

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

Keep pinchin' :-)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Series of Unfortunate Events At The Grant Homestead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep pinchin'

Monday, April 7, 2014

Swiper, no swiping!

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

Anyway, back to sleep.

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

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

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

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

"Um.. NO!"

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


"Did you place a purchase for $720 on"


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

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

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

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

Keep pinchin' :-)

Friday, April 4, 2014

Six Things I Wish Would Go Away

My wife may say differently, but I like to think that I'm a fairly easy-going person. Minus the charming smile and 2% body fat, I sort of see myself as the Ryan Reynolds type—laid back, carefree, rolling with the punches. I have my diva moments, but at least I'm no Julia Roberts who earned the nickname "Tinkerhell" on the set of Steven Speilberg's Hook because of her notoriously difficult personality.

I don't know yet what kind of a dad I'm going to be, but this is the picture I get when I imagine myself with kids.

ME: All right, who pooped in the shower?
KID: Daddy, I had to go real bad.
ME: Well, at least it was near a drain. High five.

Because, you know, life is just too short to sweat the small stuff.

Like most people, however, there are a few things that just irritate me to no end, like steel wool rubbed vigorously across that sensitive piece of skin under your eye. It's my opinion that these six things need to be erased from all existence.

That annoying song from Frozen
1. That Song from Frozen
"Let It Go" is like crystal meth for every wannabe singer in the world. It has gone from a well-executed Disney hit to a particularly frightening obsession among young girls because it's witty, catchy, and the music is totally predictable, which makes it easy to sing—seriously, you can sense every musical number building from a mile away. The movie is now five months old, but people are still churning out "Let It Go" parodies on YouTube. In fact the trend has become so tired that "I Hate Let It Go" parodies of "Let It Go" are starting to become a thing and... I'm tired of talking about this.

Celebrity name abbreviations
2. Celebrity Name Abbr.
Thanks to the 140 character limit that Twitter introduced and the growing annoyance of texting shorthand, many celebrity name abbreviations have made it so far into the cultural lexicon that people are actually speaking them as though they're too lazy to say the person's whole name. Jennifer Lopez has become J-Lo. Scarlet Johansson is ScarJo. And Kristen Stewart is now K-Stew, which sounds like a cheap brand of beef soup.

Then there's the celebrity couple names—which almost deserves its own category on this list. Names like Bennifer (Ben Affleck/Jennifer Lopez), Brangelina (Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie), TomKat (Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes.) These absurd "uni-names" are used to describe a celebrity power couple, but instead these words just make the people who use them sound like fad-crazed teenage girls at a slumber party after a Lady Gaga concert.

3. Instagram
In all fairness, Instagram is a great invention. It's got cool filters and tools that make improving photos a breeze, but the crafty use of this application has been lost into the void of the one resource our country will never run out of: stupid people. Thanks to morons everywhere a tool that once thrived off creativity and imagination is now used to post unimaginative pictures of things like people's dinner which are promptly uploaded to Facebook where everyone gets to not care about them over and over and over... and over... again.

Woody on Instagram

What's worse, thanks to Instagram's photo improvement filters, millions of teenage girls are tricked into thinking they can be models, which leads me to number four...

Selfies have got to go
4. Selfies
The internet calls them selfies, but I call them by their medical term: narcissistic personality disorder, named after a mythical Greek boy who fell in love with his own reflection. For those who don't know, a selfie is the act of turning your phone or camera toward yourself and snapping a photo, which you then promptly plaster all over the Internet. A Facebook page filled with selfies says one thing to the world: my life is all about me! And that's not a good thing. If you're a teenager, selfies are excusable, but if you're over 20... no, scratch that. Selfies are just wrong.

And speaking of selfies...

The duckface - an internet fad that has to stop
5. The Duckface
The duckface is when a person poses for a photo and presses their lips together in such a way that they look like they have a small duckbill. The phrase was coined to mock people who were trying to look like Angelina Jolie—one of the few people who actually looks good doing a duckface—but the duckface caught on and is now a trend. The duckface is a weird entity because some people do it right—like Ang-Jo—but most everyone else who does it just looks stupid. Either way, when you see someone making the duckface, the question arises: Why are you trying to look like a duck? Ducks are not sexy. If you look like a duck you look like a rapist. Plain and simple. Not sexy. Go away.

6. Miley Cyrus
It's not just Miss Cyrus who has become an insufferable irritation, but the entire craze surrounding her. Even her innumerable detractors have become annoying. (I'm annoying myself right now just writing about her, so I'll keep it brief). The twerking. The foam finger. The syphilis tongue. Stop. Just... stop.

Miley Cyrus and her famous syphilis tongue

What about you? What sorts of cultural oddities do you hope to see die—hopefully in a painful way—this year?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Jake's Take: Jurassic Park - The Power of Purchasing Decisions

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

Jake's Take: Jurassic Park
If you read my post yesterday about that classic children's book "The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies," then today's little side-trek down movie lane will make perfect sense.

When it comes to making purchases, especially ones we’re really excited about—e.g. a new car, that power tool we’ve always wanted, that new dress—we can get a little blinded by our “want.” When your brain is running strictly on “purchasing mode” it can be hard to be objective.

A great movie that illustrates this point is the epic dinosaur disaster film Jurassic Park. The movie poses a lot of interesting questions about ethical behavior, thought before action, careful consideration and consequences, but none are presented more potently than early on the film when it’s being explained how the dinosaurs were created.

First, the parks’ visitors are taken on a spectacular tour of the laboratories where they’re told just how the genetic material to produce cloned dinosaurs was found and harvested. After a lot of scientific mumbo-jumbo, one of the visitors, a mathematician named Ian Malcolm, played by Jeff Goldblum, explains the faulty notions of the entire effort. He says the park’s scientists had become so preoccupied with whether or not they COULD create dinosaurs that they never once stopped to think if they SHOULD create dinosaurs. Malcolm ultimately predicts the destruction of everything they’ve created at the hands of their creations and, sure enough, the dinosaurs get lose and start eating people.

Think how differently your world would be if you spent half as much time thinking about whether or not you SHOULD do something, as opposed to just whether or not you CAN do something. Just because we CAN buy a brand new car, doesn’t mean it’s the best decision for us at the time. Just because we CAN buy that new dress doesn’t mean we can’t buy it cheaper elsewhere. Think of how different our world would look if we applied this thinking to every area of our lives—just because we CAN eat that whole package of cookie dough, doesn't mean we SHOULD; just because our president CAN legalize certain drugs, doesn't mean it's a good idea. Oh, the way things would change.

It pays to step back and think through our purchasing decisions. So the next time you feel that little swell of purchasing power rising within you, go home and sleep on it. Dream about dinosaurs eating people, and maybe you’ll reconsider.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The One Lesson I Couldn't Learn from The Berenstain Bears

The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies
When I was a kid my favorite book series was The Berenstain Bears. (Can I get a high five from my '80's brothers?!) The Berenstain Bears taught us everything, didn't they—how to have good manners, how to deal with peer-pressure, how to tell time.

One of my favorites was “The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies.” In that one, Brother Bear and Sister Bear developed quite the anger-management issues whenever Mama Bear and Popa Bear said they couldn’t have something. The book dealt with the topics of respect, consumerism, and greed. However, as many times as my mother read that book to me, I still grew up with undeniable love of… well, stuff. I’m not proud of it, but it’s true. Sign me up for the support group right now.

The Berenstain Bears taught me all about plenty of other things, but that one lesson on “stuff” just didn’t stick.

I never realized how much of a problem this would be until I got married. My wife, Danielle, God bless her little frugal heart, didn’t quite know what to do with such an over-spender. Three months into our marriage and our diametrically opposing views on money management was the one thing that was driving us apart.

We took Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University in the fall of 2012 and it helped pull us out of our tailspin. It gave us a unified vision for our finances as well as a common language for communicating about money in a way we both could understand. But even after taking FPU, Dani and I still struggled, and a lot of that had to do with my love of buying things.

Impulse spending should be considered it’s own addiction, shouldn’t it? They should make a public service announcement featuring a man standing at a checkout line waiting to cash out.

NARRATOR: This is your brain.

The man spots a pair of night vision goggles on clearance just an arm’s-length away. His eyes go wide as saucers. The urge to splurge is building within him. He can't help himself. He shoves past an old lady to grab the goggles and whips out the credit card.

NARRATOR: This is your brain on “the gimmies.”

It's not such a problem when you're a single person, unless you're a single person who plans on getting married some day. Then it becomes a whole new ball game. Then you've got to remind yourself that there's another person who is going to be impacted by your purchasing decisions. That person may have a deep need to feel financially secure, and when you splurge all your money away it shakes them up emotionally. At some point you have to ask yourself how much you care about the way you make them feel.

For me, getting free of wanting more began by recognizing three things:

  1. Recognize that I don't need everything right now. Even the things I really love—in my case, movies. A little patience never hurt anybody (another lesson I learned from those lovable anthropomorphic bears). Nowadays I more carefully consider what movies I want to buy, and this has led me to being more careful in general of the purchases I make.

  2. Recognize that saving works. When we first started FPU I was skeptical. It took about three months of following Dave's plan, of budgeting with his principles in mind, for me to see that where this plan was taking us was actually working. After about six months we had paid off my car six months early. We had paid off my motorcycle a whole year early. All that's left now is our mortgage, and we've been attacking that like a couple of crazy people.

  3. Recognize that my spouse is more important to me than stuff. Now, she'll probably tell you, and I'll freely admit, that I still have my moments. The 2013 Ford Mustang convertible that we rented for our honeymoon road trip was a beauty that I was embarrassingly reluctant to let go of. To this day there is hardly a Mustang I see that doesn't cause that little impulse spender in my brain to get excited. But as fun as it is to dream about owning things like that, I occasionally have to remind myself of the bigger picture here and the financial plan that my wife and I have set before us.

Truth be told, I still want more stuff, but it's becoming a different kind of stuff that I want. I want more for my wife, our children (which are merely intentions at the moment), more of a future that doesn't involve paying off debt until I'm 90. I want more freedom, more joy, more peace from consumerism.

And maybe some day I'll be able to look back on "The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies" and say, "Ah-ha! I finally learned that lesson, too!"

Keep pinchin' :-)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Never Ending Winter

Winter has been sentenced to death
One thing that can break your budget fast is a never ending winter. If you live in a part of the country that requires you to heat your home to keep it from sub-zero temperatures for a few months of the year, this year may have you scrambling.

The month of month of March had record temperatures, and unfortunately for us it wasn't on the high side. With most of the month reaching well below 0 during the night, our heating budget, like most, has taken a substantial hit. I've talked to family and friends who heat their homes primarily with wood who have said that they've used 3 or 4 more cords of wood this winter compared to their average, and we still have about two feet of snow outside!

Unless you were actually planning to heat your home until July, it's not really much of an option—even though our local TV news station took our "Penny Pinching Rap" a bit too literally and told the community that we don't heat our home at all! (But that's a whole other story.)

Alas, sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and deal with it. I can either sit around and feel sorry for my budget, being bitter and whining about the fact that I'm still getting HUGE bills from the oil company, or I can choose to follow my own advice from the Trusting Him Without Borders post I wrote last week:

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

There are always going to be things that come up, that you either didn't expect or didn't budget for, but that doesn't mean you should throw in the towel. Even though it might not work out perfectly each month, persevere, because you know in the long run you will reap the rewards!

Keep pinchin' :-)