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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Breaking Free Part 4: The Things We Didn't Give Up

It's been two years since Danielle and I started down this road toward debt-free living. It's been a challenge, a fun ride, a ministry, and a blessing, all rolled into one adventure. This week we'd like to look back on our journey, share some of the intricacies of how and why we do it, and hopefully encourage you to gain some ground in your financial battle.

The Things We Didn't Give Up
Too often Danielle and I harp on all the sacrifices we've made. No movies. No restaurants. No this. No that.

Woe is we!

Although it's the sacrifices that are the hardest, there's lots of other stuff that we DON'T sacrifice. Like Superman holding back that train, or a fly bouncing against the glass, we're determined not to surrender these things, stubbornly holding onto them in dogged determination to retain some sanity in the midst of all the sacrifices.

This is kind of an essential part to this whole journey, actually. Because you can go too far with all the penny pinching, the budgeting, and the Dave Ramsey fanfare. To really be successful—and to not go crazy—you've got to be stubborn in some areas. So here are some of the things that Dani and I have refused to give up.

(Also note that these things are different for everyone. What you chose to keep might be totally different.)


I'm a natural giver. I love blessing others, but I always wish I could give more. In the past I wouldn't hesitate buying a birthday present for someone that cost more money than I could afford. "I'll get my paycheck next week," I'd tell myself. "I'll just pay for it then." But that's not a good habit to get into. Like Dave Ramsey is fond of saying, "Live now like no one else so that tomorrow you can live and give like no one else."

So, someday, Danielle and I will have the money to "give like no one else," but for the time being we need to be a bit more conservative. Still, we like to give, to others and each other. So we have a fund for birthday presents, Christmas gifts, baby showers, weddings, and anything else that may come up. It's not a lot, but it's what we can manage for now.


Apart from giving to others, Danielle and I believe that, first and foremost, we need to give to God. Tithing honors Him, it reminds us that everything we have comes out of His hands, and it increases our faith. We have never not tithed since the day we got married, and we intend to keep it that way. The missed blessings of not tithing aren't worth the risk.

For a more detailed look at tithing in the midst of paying off debt, see our post: Is It Ok To Stop Tithing To Pay Off Debt?

Investing in My Photography

As much personal enjoyment as I get out of my craft, photography can be a big money earner too. I can make more money shooting one wedding than I do in a week at my day job. In our rural area of the country, however, it's hard to keep photography work steadily coming in.

Still, in order to make money, we need to spend money, which is why 50% of all money earned through my photography goes into a fund to maintain equipment, buy new lenses and filters, and market my services.

Healthy Living

When we first got married Danielle thought we could survive on a $40 grocery budget.

When you're done laughing I'll continue.



The problem was she didn't know how much a 30-year-old man with a daily calorie intake of 2,000 would need to eat. And when that number goes to 2,750 during workout periods that can amount to a whole heckofalot of food. Since Danielle started getting into all this health and fitness stuff through she found that she needed more food to fuel her body as well, not to mention the fact that healthy food simply costs more money.

So over the last two years we've upped the grocery budget twice. We've decided that even though we can eat more cheaply, the types of food we'd be eating aren't worth it. Our physical livelihood and general health are more important than a few extra dollars. So we're making the investment in healthier living, and so far it's been worth it.

Pocket Money

I need my pocket money.

No. You don't understand. I neeeeeeeeeeed my pocket money.

I would lose my mind if I didn't have some dollars, unencumbered by some budgetary requirement, to spend at my leisure. So both Danielle and I get a little money every week to spend however we want. It's not much, but it helps make the rest of the budget feel doable.

For all the other spenders out there, I can't stress enough how much easier budgeting is when there's a little money set aside just for you. It does wonders for your mental health, and it actually helps keep the whole budget on track because without that little bit of "fun cash" one might be tempted to dip into other areas of the budget.

No matter where you are in this process, it's helpful to remember that this is only for a season. Danielle and I know that even though we're dramatically scaling back in many areas, it's not going to last forever. Our spending habits and the sacrifices we make are going to look dramatically different when we're debt free!

So what things have you been stubbornly refusing to give up? Or is your budget too tight? If so, what things do you think you could introduce—like tithing or pocket money—that might give you a little bit of your sanity back?

Other posts in this series:
Part 1: My Personal Wake-Up Call
Part 2: How To See Some Hope
Part 3: Overcoming the Comparison Trap

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Breaking Free Part 3: Overcoming The Comparison Trap

It's been two years since Danielle and I started down this road toward debt-free living. It's been a challenge, a fun ride, a ministry, and a blessing, all rolled into one adventure. This week we'd like to look back on our journey, share some of the intricacies of how and why we do it, and hopefully encourage you to gain some ground in your financial battle.

Overcoming the comparison trap
It's so easy to fall prey to comparison.

"Bob and Mary have a nice house. They're the same age as us. We should have the standard of living they do!"

"My wife and I have a bunch of kids to feed, but neither of us can get a job. We must not be as good as John and Jane who are both doing quite well."

"My two best friends have both gotten new cars in the last three years. I must be a loser if I don't get a new car soon."

"Mary is so beautiful. If I looked like her I wouldn't feel so insecure."

The examples above may seem ridiculous at face value, but they're actually not that far off from the kind of thinking we all experience from time to time.

Jacey, over at The Balanced Wife, has a wonderful article on comparison. Regarding her financial situation, she writes: "It wasn’t jealousy or bitterness I was feeling, but something more like shame. I felt behind, like a new bar had been set for what people my age were supposed to have, and I didn’t measure up."

Money management wizard Dave Ramsey talks about this feeling in Financial Peace University. He says, as adults, we try to recreate the standard of living we had as a child, or, for those less fortunate, we try to create what we always thought was the ideal.

My wife admitted once that this was the case for her. After we got married, she wanted a house. A big house. A house to raise a family in. She wanted to cook dinner like her mom always did and expected me to keep up the property like her father. Imagine her disappointment when, over time, she realized that married life wasn't going to be all that she saw growing up. She doesn't have the time to cook meals all week. I'm not the Mr. Fix-It that her father was.

We both had expectations that were dashed pretty early on in our marriage.

Breaking Free from Comparison

Theodore Roosevelt said, "Comparison is the thief of joy."

Comparing ourselves to other people is one of the first major obstacles we have to overcome to find financial peace. And I do mean "peace." Because you can find financial freedom without overcoming comparison, but the road there will be longer, more stressful, and more irritating, because as you continually compare yourself to others you'll be unhappy and you're likely to make those around you miserable. Financial peace is a much more rewarding road.

The comparison trap is a dangerous one, because comparison, by nature, is always negative, unfairly putting the worst of ourselves up against the perceived best of others. Comparison usually ignores facts, and often accepts too many broad assumptions. Comparison is inaccurate. It wastes time. It fails to realize that everyone is unique and that nothing in life is a "one size fits all."

When the Apostle Paul wrote "godliness with contentment is great gain," he wasn't just speaking philosophically. He had learned the secret to contentment in every circumstance in life. While that secret eludes most people, it need not elude any true believer.

Here are six practical steps to overcoming comparison.

  • Learn to give thanks

Not just for good things, but for all things. Thankfulness is a matter of simple obedience to God, but it is also evidence of a Spirit-filled believer. Not feeling thankful? That's ok. You don't always have to FEEL thankful. Just give thanks anyway. God won't ignore your obedience. (1 Thess. 5:18; Eph. 5:18-20).

  • Learn to rest in God's providence

God is always unfolding His purpose in our lives, a purpose that is for His glory and our gain. So when bad things come our way, who are we to shake our fist at the sky or grumble and complain when, in the long run, God is only doing what is best for us. (Rom. 8:28; 1 Pet. 4:12-13).

  • Learn to be satisfied with little

Paul learned to make this choice. And that's exactly what it is: a choice. You can choose to be content just like you can choose to smile at the clerk at the checkout line, or choose to have a good attitude toward those you don't necessarily enjoy being around. (1 Tim. 6:6)

  • Learn to live above your circumstances

Life happens. And if I am to be truly honest, life can really suck sometimes. No one knows this better than the apostle Paul—abused, imprisoned, tortured. He didn't take pleasure in the pain itself, but in the power of Christ manifested in him. Clinging to Christ when life gets hard is so crucial to truly being content. (2 Cor. 12:9-10)

  • Learn to rely on God's provision

Danielle and I took a major step of faith when we decided to sign up for Christian Healthcare Ministries as an alternative to Obamacare. It means our trust isn't in an insurance company, but in the hands of God, who, through thousands of other believers, will help us cover the cost of our medical expenses. I have faith in this, because Jesus promised that he will never leave us and that he will supply all our needs. (Heb. 13:5, Matt. 6:26)

  • Learn to care for others

Really practice this one, because as we focus on meeting the needs of others, an amazing thing happens: comparison takes a back seat. Focusing on others means learning about them, and as we learn about them we can find empathy and understanding. Loving others rubs out the assumption-based aspects of comparison and replaces it with facts. (Phil. 2:3-4)

Associations are powerful, and the company we keep can influence our decisions in many ways, even without us realizing it. When people around us start buying houses and going on vacations, we feel like we deserve the same. But once you choose not to be swayed by this kind of thinking, there is immediate freedom from comparison.

While Danielle and I feel strongly about debt, we don't shove our beliefs on others, nor do we look down on friends and family who spend more money than we do or take out loans. Their choices don't threaten ours, and when you don't feel threatened you're in a much better position to love people where they are without judging them.

(Adapted from What Is The Secret to Contentment?, by John MacArthur.)

Other posts in this series

Part 1: My Personal Wake-Up Call
Part 2: How To See Some Hope
Part 4: The Things We Didn't Give Up

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Breaking Free Part 2: How To See Some Hope

It's been two years since Danielle and I started down this road toward debt-free living. It's been a challenge, a fun ride, a ministry, and a blessing, all rolled into one adventure. This week we'd like to look back on our journey, share some of the intricacies of how and why we do it, and hopefully encourage you to gain some ground in your financial battle.

Finding hope in the war
Danielle made a comment recently that I'm pretty sure would've proven true had our lives taken different paths two years ago. She said, "If it weren't for our financial plan we probably wouldn't be together."

And I think she's right. Just a few months after getting married we found ourselves locked in a purgatory of money disagreements (we don't like the word "fights") and bad financial habits. She's a saver. I'm a spender. And neither of us had really considered the impact our individual approaches to money would have on our relationship.

In the fall of 2012, just four months after we got married, we took Financial Peace University by financial guru Dave Ramsey. I know there's a lot of Dave Ramsey detractors out there, but a lot of it is simple misunderstanding. I've noticed two groups of Dave-haters. First, there's people of the world who think debt is normal, who think our country's national debt is no big deal, and therefore don't understand why Dave Ramsey is on a crusade against it. Many of them—the biggest haters—also know he's a Christian, and that, in and of itself, paints a big shiny target on his bald dome.

Then there's other Dave Ramsey hate that comes from people—mainly Christians—who simply misunderstand his message. Sure, he can be a little too dogmatic about some things, but if you listen to his story you'll understand why. Dave doesn't claim to have all the answers, but he's built a massive empire around his business that's loaded with people who work their butts off every day to find the answers.

Dave's money management program stems from his own personal experience of having wealth, going bankrupt, finding a renewed faith in God, and having wealth again—lots of wealth! He's currently worth millions. His home in Tennessee—which he paid for with cash—is worth $4.9 million. Some Christians have a problem with this. They think Dave is unbiblical for living in such a way. But I fail to recall any Scripture that says having money is evil, or that when God blesses you in one particular area because of your obedient faithfulness that you need to turn the blessing away.

Their feelings on the matter leave me vexed. Terribly vexed.

Anyway, Dave's plan for achieving financial peace has one major design flaw: it doesn't work if you don't do it!

Ok, ok. That was a little too emphatic. Sorry.

Danielle and I aren't the Dave Ramsey worshippers that many others are, but we do appreciate his method because it has worked amazingly well for us. We also understand that everyone is different and that different plans work for different people. We encourage people who are in serious financial straightjackets to consider Crown Financial Ministries or another biblical-based money management program.

The Time When We Saw Hope

Danielle and I faithfully worked through the small-group version of Financial Peace University in the fall of 2012. I didn't want to do it. I didn't think it would work. But both Danielle and I needed to change the way we felt about money, and, more importantly, we needed to find mutual ground upon which we could start building a budget to get us out of debt.

Dave Ramsey's Baby Step #1 wasn't that hard for us—get $1,000 emergency savings in the bank. During our time leading FPU we met some people who struggled with this, so, trust me, we know how hard it can be, but we were just married and we didn't have any children, so finding $1,000 to put in an account was no biggie.

But then came Baby Step #2—pay off all non-mortgage debt using the debt snowball. This took some time, but we doggedly tracked down every spare dollar we could and eventually paid off the credit card. Then we took the money from the credit card payment and added it to a vehicle payment and we paid off that vehicle a year early.

And then our eyes opened.

Then we took the combined payments of the credit card and the vehicle and added it to another vehicle, and that one was paid off six months early.

And our eyes opened a little wider.

The plan was working, and, most importantly, it was changing the way we felt about money. Seeing progress was making the change happen within us. We began to see the value of cutting back on how much we spent on eating out. So we cut back some more. As our debt went down and our savings went up we saw the value of canceling nonessential monthly bills, like our Netflix account. We even decided not to budget for vacations for a while.

As time went on our vision for our financial future came together. Gone was the fear and desperation that my wife had felt before. Gone was my frustration at her for being so tight-fisted with money. We had learned each other's "money language," and there was newfound respect and empathy.

Our friend, Jacey, over at The Balanced Wife, puts it well: "Taking the first step takes so much more energy than staying in motion."

The great thing about Financial Peace University is that it allows you to see hope in a short amount of time. Usually within 1-to-3 months you'll see that $1,000 emergency fund in the bank. After 3-to-6 months you'll see that debt snowball working wonders. You'll start to feel more in control of your money, instead of feeling like you're money is controlling you.

You might even start to see that maybe Dave Ramsey is really onto something after all.

Other posts in this series:
Part 1: My Personal Wake-Up Call
Part 3: Overcoming The Comparison Trap
Part 4: The Things We Didn't Give Up

Monday, July 28, 2014

Breaking Free Part 1: My Personal Wake-Up Call

It's been two years since Danielle and I started down this road toward debt-free living. It's been a challenge, a fun ride, a ministry, and a blessing, all rolled into one adventure. This week we'd like to look back on our journey, share some of the intricacies of how and why we do it, and hopefully encourage you to gain some ground in your financial battle.

My Personal Wake-Up Call
I can't name a date and time when it happened, but it was shortly after Danielle and I were married, and when it happened it was like a train pulling into the station, towing with it freight car after freight car of realizations and harsh realities.

I realized I couldn't eat out whenever I wanted.

I realized I couldn't spend every weekend at the movies.

I realized my collection of Batman action figures wasn't going to be growing anytime soon.

I realized that I suddenly had a mortgage and a bunch of other financial responsibilities that took priority.

Most importantly, I realized that I had a wife who had this innate need within her to feel cared for, and my going around spending our money all willy-nilly style was going to make her feel insecure. I realized that I needed to step up to the plate of manhood and aim for the bleachers.

I'm glad this all dawned on me when it did, but I just wish it had happened sooner. I tell you guys, you men, if you're not developing good money habits right now the struggle to keep your head above the financial waters is going to multiply when you get married, buy a house, and start a family. If you've got boys you're raising you need to start preparing them for this because the early years of married life are nothing but a time bomb waiting to happen for someone who is completely unprepared to handle the larger financial responsibilities of life.

Thankfully, the Lord put it on my heart to take Financial Peace University about three months after Danielle and I were married, after we had been through three tumultuous months of arguing over money matters, wondering if our differences in this area were going to drive us apart.

Dave said two things that really made sense to me.

Saving money is about emotion

Dave says, "Personal finance is 80% behavior and only 20% head knowledge." If you want to improve your financial situation, you need to change the way you FEEL about money. If you want your sons and daughters to grow up with a responsible approach to handling finances, you need to make sure they develop healthy feelings about it.

There are different ways of doing this, but it begins with getting out of the "credit card" mindset that permeates today's culture. When you pay cash for something, you FEEL the money leaving you. This is not true with credit cards. Paying with plastic develops a disconnect between people and money.

Saving money is about contentment

"Saving money is about emotion and contentment," says Dave. "When you aren't overspending to impress others, you can win."

Comparison is a dangerous trap. It kills contentment, and if you can't model contentment in your life then your kids will never learn it either.

Dave says, "Being content is the spiritual state of not needing something else to feel whole. When you're content, you're not motivated to buy stuff... Don't get sucked into the illusion that you'll be happy when you have that new car, that new home, or $1 million in the bank. Stuff does not equal happiness."

We'll talk more about contentment on Wednesday in "Overcoming the Comparison Trap."

But, for now I'll just say that learning about how Danielle felt about money, understanding how I felt about money, how to be content and less concerned with keeping up with the Joneses was a real eye-opener for me.

What it really boiled down to was choice. Choosing to be content is immediately freeing. You can choose in any given moment to be content or not. Choosing to not concern yourself with what others think about you or your spending habits is a huge leap toward finding true financial peace.

Other posts in this series:
Part 2: How To See Some Hope
Part 3: Overcoming The Comparison Trap
Part 4: The Things We Didn't Give Up

Friday, July 25, 2014

How To Afford Vacation When You Can't Afford A Vacation

Want to vacation but don't have the money? Here are some ideas of how to afford it!
Since getting serious about paying off debt the hubby and I decided to stop putting money toward vacations for a while. I know, I know. Crazy, right? We just figured that since we're young and don't have any kids we could live without expensive vacations.

Besides, we had squirreled away some money into a vacation fund which we decided to keep on hand in case either one of us was ever in danger of internally combusting without some kind of a vacation. Fortunately that hasn't happened.

In fact, fortunately, we have been blessed with many astoundingly affordable vacation opportunities in the last year or so, which can only attribute to God's grace. We got to go to Boston for a night; enjoyed a weekend at Old Orchard Beach, ME; and, of course, our infamous trip to NYC to be on the Katie Couric show (which you can read about here if you're awesome). And all of these vacations cost us little to nothing.

Now, granted, life isn't always so cooperative. Some people really struggle to find vacation time. In fact, we have some friends who went through our Financial Peace University class this spring who live for vacations. Cruise ships. Beach resorts. They look forward to it every year. It was a huge sacrifice for them when they cut back on some of their vacation expenses.

Jake and I know how hard it can be to make such sacrifices. When it comes to vacations though, there are lots of affordable alternatives that can do the trick until you've paid off enough debt to be able to afford that luxury cruise.

For this summer, my original idea was to camp out in our back yard, make the house off limits—except to use the bathroom—and cook all our meals over an open fire. Romantic nights under the stars. Just me and the hubby in a tent in the backyard. Close to nature. Deer. Bears. Ticks. Oddly enough, he wasn't thrilled about this idea, but I have no idea why ;-)

We considered staying at home for a week, making a plan to do some kind of activity every day—hiking, biking, kayaking, or some other free activity in the area. This idea was more palatable, because, honestly, sometimes after a vacation you come home and are just as tired from all the traveling and busy activities as you were when you left. So the idea of staying home and just relaxing was rather appealing.

The other idea was to do something with my family. In the past they have rented a cabin on a lake in Vermont, and so we talked with them about possibly renting something together.

All of us talked about a bunch of ideas, but nothing seemed to solidify.

And summer was upon us!

I needed a vacation. I didn't need to go anywhere or do anything special, but I needed some time off. Jake, ever the odd one—I love you, honey!—doesn't ever seem to need a vacation. I think before we were married it had been two years since he last took one.

Anyway, time was running short.

My dad—ever my hero!—happened to do some work on a camp at a lake in Groton, VT, and in exchange negotiated a week of vacation there. Ironically, the camp was right next to the one that he spent time at as a boy. Small world.

Our camp fire at Old Orchard Beach, ME
My parents are awesome, and whenever they get the opportunity to do something like this they never hesitate to get the rest of the family involved. Aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents... even my oldest sister from Florida, along with her husband and brand new baby girl—who is sure to be the hit of the week—are coming up from Florida.

And I. Can't. Wait!

I know getting a free week at a lake isn't an option for everyone, but my point here—as it has been in previous blog posts—is that there is almost always some alternative available if you take the time to look. I have a friend who recently camped-out in the backyard of a friend who lived a few miles from Hampton Beach. Not only did she get to catch up with some friends, but they also got a free vacation!

Maybe there is something you could do for someone else in exchange for a discount on a campsite, cabin, or other vacation spot. Maybe you have friends who would be willing to join you in sharing the expense of a vacation.

This may not be ideal, but, again, it's not forever. These are alternatives to help get you through these penny pinching years. The bottom line is that even if you have little to no money in the budget it doesn't mean you can't have a fun and memorable vacation. What it all comes down to is: how creative can you be?

Let us know some of the great things you have done on a staycation or awesome free vacation spots you have been blessed with.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Beachbody: Curse Those T-Shirt Nazis!

Apparently when you complete a Beachbody workout you get a free t-shirt. Or... wait. Let me rephrase that.

Apparently when you complete a Beachbody workout you CAN get a free t-shirt. Apparently in order to do so you need to submit before and after pictures showing your physical transformation. Apparently these pictures need to be accompanied by weekly weight measurements and include inches lost around legs, waist, and arms. Apparently if you neglect to do this—like I have—Beachbody won't give you a free t-shirt. That's right. You get nothing. Nadda. Zip. They're like t-shirt nazis.

"No t-shirts for you!"

That's a Seinfeld reference, by the way.

Well I've completed my nine weeks of Sean T.'s Insanity. It kicked my butt more often than not, but I deserve a free t-shirt! So I'm going to do what any formerly rational adult male who has been made mentally insane from Sean T.'s ridiculous workout routine—I'm going to do it again. Nine more weeks of nut-so workouts. This time I'll follow the t-shirt nazi's strict regiment—step to the left, speak clearly, no extraneous comments—and submit the required information because, dagnabbit, I want my t-shirt!

Thanks to my wife so willingly signing up to be a Beachbody coach, we now get a discount on workout programs. We've recently gotten our hands on a whole bunch—PiYo, T25, P90X3, 21 Day Fix—and they all come with free t-shirts providing you properly document your progress.

I don't know what's come over me, but I'm determined to get my sweaty paws on those t-shirts, so I'm going to pound my body through every workout and document what is sure to be a Shrek-to-Hulk transformation to appease the nazis at Beachbody. Some may call me a glutton for punishment, but in actuality I just have a high tolerance for pain—I suppose that's why I've been able to live in the northeast for as long as I have. Anyway...
Beachbody: Curse those t-shirt nazis and their strict t-shirt rules.

Beachbody: Curse those t-shirt nazis and their strict t-shirt rules.

Beachbody: Curse those t-shirt nazis and their strict t-shirt rules.

Dani was recently telling me a story she heard about a fellow Beachbody coach who was walking through the airport one day wearing one of her Beachbody P90X shirts when many people started a conversation around how hard P90X is. First it was the cab driver, then the TSA agent, then the lady at the terminal, then another and another. By the time she boarded her plane she had contact information for eight potential clients.

So getting these t-shirt isn't just proof of accomplishment, but it can also draw in business.

But clients or no clients, I'm getting my free t-shirts!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Table Talk - Conversation Around The Dinner Table

The importance of family meals and good conversation around the dinner table.
The hubby and I don't have kiddos yet, but we are always talking about them, the future we hope they have, and what kind of parents we hope to become. We talk often about how we want to raise our children, things we've seen other parents do that we want to mirror, or things about our own upbringing that we want to do differently.

It's obvious that kids are going to introduce a rather radical life change when they finally arrive, so we've decided that there are some things we can do now in preparation for having kids that, hopefully, can become a habit before our lives are upended by little Jakes and Danis.

One thing that Jake and I have always agreed is hugely important is family meal times. We both think it's important to have a time where the whole family sets aside their electronics and gathers around the dinner table to pray, eat, and talk about what's on their minds.

Jake and I try to do this as often as we can. Sometimes we both have a lot to talk about. Sometimes there isn't much going on and dinner is quiet.

A good friend of mine has used dinner conversation cards to help get everyone at the table involved in some discussion over the years. So when I had the chance to get my hands on some conversation cards called Words Fitly Spoken, Uplifting Conversation Starters For All Ages, I jumped at the chance!

The cards come in two sets. The Original Edition, which contains 200 conversation starters; and the Thankfulness Edition, which contains 100. Each edition comes as a PDF file and is formatted for 3 1/2" x 5" cards, which makes them easy to print.

A few nights ago, the hubby and I took some conversation starters from the Original Edition to see how they were. It was fun! Some of the questions covered ground that Jake and I had already discussed, but others gave us some fresh insights into each other—which is always fun when you can learn something new about your spouse.

Words Fitly Spoken - Uplifting Conversation Starters
The cards include questions like:

—What family tradition would you most like to pass on to your children?

—How did you get your name?

—Describe one of your favorite pictures of your family.

Then we checked out the Thankfulness Edition and found these gems:

—Do you believe thankfulness is a feeling we experience or a skill we need to cultivate?  Why do you believe that?

—How do you feel when someone says "Thank you" to you?

Even Jake agrees that these cards are helpful conversation starters, especially for men who don't always like talking about their day. He said sometimes guys find it burdensome to recount the details of the day they've had, but if you can engage them in other topics it's easier to drum up some conversation, especially if they see that it's important to their wives.

We will definitely keep these cards handy for future use, especially for when the kiddos come around.

If you are interested in checking out these card sets you can find them at Good Old Days Farms. This link contains an affiliate link, which just means we will get a small commission from any purchase you may choose to make at no further cost to you.

One of the reasons I want to support these conversation starters—besides the fact that they are awesome—is because of this statement I found on the Good Old Days Farm website:

"The Good Old Days Farm is a community farm located in Blue Ridge, Texas, dedicated to helping people live simpler, healthier lives. Proceeds from all our website sales are reinvested into our small family farm. Through our website sales we are able to offer health education to our community and keep the cost of our organic fruits and vegetables low. At the heart of our community are people just like you!"

These people have a dream that I can appreciate :-)

We hope you check these out, and if you think it's a good fit for you family that you choose to purchase through them. We are sure that you and your family will get many laughs, gain knowledge about one another, and spark many more conversations though them.

Keep pinchin' ;-)

Monday, July 21, 2014

A New Adventure - Beachbody Coach

A New Adventure - Beachbody Coach
I don't know about you, but I'm feeling 22...

Oh, wait, that's not what I meant to say. What I meant to say was that I don't know about you, but I find that when I start disciplining myself in one area of my life it eventually spills over into other areas. For instance, it's been almost two years since the hubby and I first started working faithfully on our financial situation, and our discipline has paid off in more ways than one.

A couple months ago, as we began the search for an alternative healthcare solution, we both decided to work on taking better care of our bodies. For Jake that meant doing Sean T.'s Insanity, a 9-week workout program. For me it meant doing whatever I could to stay in shape—I ran for a couple weeks, then I started doing this walking program, then a 30 Day Ab Challenge... but the problem was I had no plan. I had no one supporting me or working with me.

Then a friend told me about PiYo, the newest Beachbody program that blends Pilates and Yoga, but PiYo takes those things to the next level, cranking them up to give you a full-throttle cardio, strength, and flexibility workout. Unlike that crazy Insanity program my husband does, PiYo is low-impact and involves more deep stretching and muscle work and not as much jumping around.

I had learned a lesson during my 30 Day Ab Challenge: you can workout all you want, but if you don't change your eating habits you won't get the best results. Even though I was able to do 125 situps, 200 crunches, 65 leg raises and a two-minute plank, my abs were still hiding under this soft cushion of... FAT. I decided that I wasn't going to continue sculpting these amazing abs unless I also got to see them.

So when I began PiYo I decided to follow the get lean eating plan, and that was a good decision if I do say so myself. In the three weeks I've been doing PiYo I have lost 6 lbs, and 3 inches! It feels good!

Of course when you do any Beachbody program you hear a lot about Shakeology. All of their programs promote it—Insanity, PiYo, P90X. Shakeology is a literal meal replacement, loaded with nutrients and healthy stuff. Unfortunately, Shakeology costs quite a bit of money, and while most people have ways they can cut back to cover the cost—less coffee, less eating out—us Penny Pinchers have already cut out everything we can. Jake and I don't buy coffee. We don't drink soda. We hardly ever eat out. For us, affording Shakeology is a big deal.

Jake was sold on it long before I was, but once I heard of its health benefits, how that it's clinically proven for weight loss and lowering cholesterol and blood sugar, we agreed to try it out.

But, then again, there was this whole issue of money. *shakes fist* Why must everything cost so much?!

So I decided to make the move from just being a Beachbody customer to being a Beachbody coach! Doing so gives me a discount on Shakeology, but, even more than that, I found so much inspiration and motivation through my Beachbody coach and her Challenge Group that I wanted to offer the same hope and encouragement to other people. Hopefully, this way, I will also be able to continue this accountability for myself.

On August 4th I am starting an August Challenge Group, for those who choose to order the PiYo Challenge Pack or any of the Challenge Packs through me. This group will offer encouragement, tasks to complete, accountability, and a place to discuss any questions that come up. I will do my best to help you be successful in working towards you fitness goals, be it to lose weight, tone up, or maintain your fitness level.

I would love to have you join my group! If you purchase any of the products through me I will automatically be assigned as your personal coach, which would be totally awesome. You can look at the workout programs here: Or if you have any specific questions, leave us a comment or click the "Contact" link at the top of this page.

Jake and I have worked hard to get our finances in order, and we're still striving to make wise money choices. At this point I think we are ready to take on a new challenge: being good stewards of the bodies God gave us. It should be an interesting journey!

Keep pinchin' :-)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Creation vs... Creation? Christians Need To Get Their Priorities Straight

The creation account in the book of Genesis generates too much dissension in churches. Christians need to get their priorities straight.
Oh, age. You're such a pest. With every passing year my declining body can endure less and less, and yet with every passing year life heaps upon me more and more. More responsibility. More things to do. More relationships to maintain. More problems to fix.

Bah, humbug!

Sorry. I DO have a point to make, and I DO plan on being optimistic about it, but optimism isn't natural for me. I'm not a glass-is-half-full kind of guy. I'm a glass-is-half-empty-with-a-crack-in-the-bottom-slowly-getting-emptier kind of guy. But that doesn't mean I don't have faith, or hope, or that I don't believe that with God all things are possible—even turning me into an optimist.

But life does have its frustrations, doesn't it? The older I get the more aware I become of the cultural issues and political differences around me.

Even in churches I'm becoming more aware of the vastly different beliefs people hold within Christianity.

Our church has gone through a few upheavals recently, which has drawn out some dramatically different beliefs among members of our congregation. Namely, the issue of Creation. Our church has held to a "young earth" point of view for some time, but some leaders in our church have recently revealed that they don't believe in a literal six day creation, and some members of the congregation share this point of view as well.

For anyone unfamiliar with this topic, the controversy, when boiled down, is very simple, though there are varying degrees of complexity which I won't get into. The basis of it is this:

Young Earth Creationists are people who believe that God created the earth in six 24-hours days. Based on the genealogies in Scripture from Adam to Jesus Christ, they conclude that the earth is somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 years old. It's the simplest interpretation of the first chapter of the book of Genesis. These people believe that we should take God at His word, that extracting any other kind of interpretation of this text involves over-thinking this very simple aspect of the Bible.

But there are those who don't believe that the word "day" in Genesis Chapter 1 refers to a literal 24-hour day, but rather a week, or in some cases thousands of years. They often point to Hebrews 4:4-11 which seems to indicate that God is still within his seventh day of rest. From this, they conclude that if the seventh day of creation is thousands of years long, then couldn't the other six days be just as long? That could imply, then, that the creation account took thousands and thousands of years!

Scripture is actually quite vague on the matter, and scholars have, are, and will continue to debate the merits of each point of view for ages.

The thing that surprises me is how vehemently some Christians will defend their positions, to the point of attacking each other and even leaving churches, when, in reality, this is largely a secondary issue. Does it really matter whether Creation was a literal six day creation or one that lasted thousands of years? Isn't the idea that the world came into existence through an all-knowing, loving Creator as opposed to being the result of billions of years of mutating goo far more important?

Christians need to get their priorities straight. There are billions of people in this world being deceived into thinking that they are nothing but primordial soup, when the Bible says that they are so much more. Billions of people are leaning on the plethora of crutches offered by the world—anti-depressants, alcohol, sex, money, status—when there is a God who loves them more than they can imagine because He created them. He made them. He formed them into exactly who they needed to be for a glorious purpose. Whether it took Him six days or seventy thousand years is hardly relevant when people's souls are in jeopardy.

It's fun—for me anyway—to debate the intricacies of Scripture, such as the creation account. There is nothing wrong with debating Scripture. In fact, it's good exercise for the mind and a good way of challenging us to really examine what we believe, but it can not—MUST not—overshadow the fact that we, as Christians, need to stand united against the lies of this world, fully ready to come alongside each other and defend the faith when needed.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Best Homemade Strawberry Jam

This is the best homemade strawberry jam recipe you'll find
Growing up I remember picking strawberries with my mom and sisters on hot summer mornings. Returning home with my fingers stained red—and probably my lips too because I had to taste-test every few feet :-)—we would enjoy those strawberries whole, crushed with sugar for strawberry shortcake, and, of course, mom would make strawberry jam.

I swear homemade strawberry jam cannot be compared to store bought in any way, shape or form. It is beyond delicious, and that is probably why I have found myself making it for the past couple of years. While I planted 100 strawberry plants this spring, they won't really produce until next summer, so for this year I headed out with a dear friend and picked about 10 pounds of strawberries.

I decided to use the bulk of them for strawberry jam because, to my delight, I'm not the only one who can't get enough of homemade jam—the hubby loves it too! I wish I had thought to take pictures of the process, but, alas, my tired mind was only focused on the job at hand.

Here is the recipe and instructions to the yummiest strawberry jam that you can make too!


6 2/3 Cups Crushed Strawberries (hull, wash, then crush one layer at a time using potato masher)
1 2/3 Cups Water (or unsweetened fruit juice, thawed fruit juice concentrate)
1/3 Cup and 2 Tablespoons Ball RealFruit Low or No-Sugar Needed Pectin
2 1/2 Cups Granulated Sugar


I began with filling my big canning pot with water, enough so that when I put my jars in they would be covered by 2 inches of water. Place this on a burner set to high.

I then hulled, washed, and sliced 6 & 2/3 cups of strawberries, crushing them with a potato masher. It is best to crush one layer of strawberries at a time in order to get them really crushed. After they were all crushed I placed them in a big pot along with 1 & 2/3 cups of water. You can also use unsweetened fruit juice, but water works fine for me.

After I was finished crushing the strawberries I prepared my jars by making sure they were clean and then setting them in a sink full of very hot water, where they will remain until I fill them with jam.

I set the strawberries and water mixture on the stove to bring to a boil. While waiting for it to boil I slowly added in 1/3 cup & 2 tablespoons of RealFruit Low or No-Sugar Needed Pectin. I then brought it to a rolling boil, meaning I couldn't stir the bubbling away.Then I added 2 & 1/2 cups of sugar and mixed it in well. When it came to a rolling boil again I set a timer for 1 minute and stirred constantly. After the minute I removed it from the heat.

I took my jelly/canning jars and began to fill them with the strawberry mixture until they were about 1/4 inch from the top. I wiped off any jam that was on the rim or around the band area of the jar and then I placed a clean brand new lid on the top and screwed the band on loosely. With this recipe I was able to make just over 10 cups of prepared jam. I had a small amount left over so I placed it in a small container to be used right away and didn't bother to give it a water bath but instead placed it in the fridge a couple hours later.

I placed all of the jars gently into the canning pot, which at this point was gently boiling, and boiled them for 10 minutes. Upon taking them out of the pot I set them on a towel on the counter to sit for 24 hours, and listened for the beautiful popping sound that ensured they were properly sealed. After 24 hours you should press your thumb into the middle of each jar lid to ensure the lid is properly sealed, if it is not it will pop in an out. If you find that any of your jars didn't seal properly place them in the fridge and use them first.

We enjoy using our jam for PB&J's, toast, on crackers and ice cream and in some recipes that call
for jam.
The Best Low Sugar Strawberry Jam Recipe

Here are some of the products I used to make my jam. These links contain affiliate links, which just means that if you choose to purchase them I get a small commission at no additional cost to you, which helps compensate us for the time we put into bringing you Penny Pinching Prose.

The start up cost to make your own jam may seem like it's not worth it, but once you have the jars and canning pot the only thing you will need to purchase in the future is the pectin and lids. I made my 10 cups of jam for less than $20, and not only is it yummy, I know exactly where it came from and what's in it!

Keep pinchin' :-)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

How Long Are You Considered A Newlywed?

How long are you considered a newlywed? Here's my theory!
So I've been married for two years now. Yeeesh. In some ways it seems like it's been a lot longer, but in other ways it seems like just yesterday that Danielle and I were kicking back on the beaches of Kelly's Island on our honeymoon.

So are we still considered newlyweds?

I found myself pondering this question as I looked back over our second year of marriage and considered how different it was from the first. Initially, Danielle and I were two fiercely independent people waging war over our independent ways as we struggled to compromise amidst a tumultuous frenzy of stubborn independence. Thankfully, year two was a little more mellow.

But back to the question at hand. Are we still considered newlyweds?

To answer my question I did what any highly-intelligent adult would do and consulted the most wise and insightful person I know: my Mother.

"Forever!" she said.

Oh, mom. You're such an optimist.

I then consulted the second most wise and insightful being I know: Google.

Google had a variety of answers stemming mostly from the personal perspectives of its chasm of users around the world. Many Googlers seemed to think that you were a newlywed for one year, but older generations suggested three.

So which is it—one or three?

Well, that depends on many factors, but, don't worry cause I've got it all figured out. You can call off Google. You can stop asking your mother. I'm here to give you the definitive answer... though, admittedly, I am a bit biased because this is my theory and my blog. (Best to take this with a massive grain of salt.)

Essentially this status applies to people who have either been down the marriage street before or are already so familiar with their significant other that a newlywed status of longer than one year seems redundant.

If you've been married once before, divorced or widowed, and you marry again, your newlywed status doesn't stick as long as your first one. Sorry. It's just a fact. You've been around this block before, so there isn't much "new" about it.

If you've been with the same person for more than three years already, especially if you've been living together, married life isn't going to have many surprises for you that you're not already aware of. So you had a ceremony and now you've got a ring on your finger. Big deal. That changes what, exactly? After one year you're just no longer a newlywed. Get over yourself.

Maybe you were high school sweethearts. Maybe you met in the military. Whatever the circumstances, your marriage was put off for a period of time for reasons beyond your control. And chances are you haven't been able to see your partner because of scheduling conflicts or distance. As a result there's a lot of pent-up eagerness to finally be married. You can't wait to be together and hold hands and look into each other's eyes and make all the rest of us sick with your very public displays of mushy affection. This fervor for each other will be what carries your newlywed gusto into a second year, but that's all you get.

You started dating. You fell in love. You got engaged. All within a year. Your passion contained one part forward momentum, two parts abstinence and tradition, and your wedding day was a celebration for the ages. Chances are this was also the only serious relationship you have ever had—or, at least, one of the few. You've got all the fervor and gusto from the Two-Year Newlywed Status, but it's pumped into one of those cardboard Pillsbury Cinnamon Roll tubes, packed tight and ready to burst at the seams. You'll be considered newlyweds for a long time. Your third year of newlywed status will be significantly dimmer than the first two, but it will still apply.

Now, as for my mother's "Forever Newlywed Status," I think there's some truth to that too. I think there is a way that you can forever remain a student of your spouse—learning about them, pursuing them—that will always keep some sort of youthful spark in your marriage, preserving that newlyweded feeling for a long time.

Danielle and I are reading a book right now called "Sacred Marriage," by Gary Thomas. In it he presents an interesting concept called "falling forward." The term comes from the author's experience hiking Mount Rainier. While attempting to jump across a fast-moving creek a friend told him that when he jumped, "just make sure you fall forward."

"Wise advice, because even if I didn't land on my feet, my forward momentum would at least keep me from being swept downstream. That advice applies in profound ways to Christian marriage. In this key relationship we must also learn to fall forward. When anger flares and problems surface or boredom takes over, we're tempted in our immaturity to pull back, become distant, or even seek out someone more interesting and less frustrating. But we mature as we choose to move forward through the pain and past apathy. We will fall, but we can choose the direction in which we fall, either toward or away from our spouse."

A marriage should be a never-ending work in progress. If work ever stops, you're going to lose your forward momentum. So long as you're always putting work into your marriage, whenever problems arise, that forward momentum should see you through.

As Danielle and I enter our third year of being newlyweds, my aim is to continue to pursue her, almost to the point of imagining that we're not married and that I'm still trying to win her heart. If we keep this forward momentum maybe we'll find that newlywed status can indeed last forever.

Cause seriously, when is my mother ever wrong?

Keep pinchin' :-)

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Shopping Spree With My Hubby

A shopping spree with my hubby showed us just how well our financial plan is working.
Going clothes shopping on a budget can be hard, but if you do it right you can replace the "hard" with pure "fun!"

Before we were married, both Jake and I had very different approaches to clothes shopping.

Jake would shop for clothes whenever he needed, buying many things he didn't need, whether he really had the money or not, and almost always he would be totally unaware of just how much money he was spending.

And I, ever the saver, would save and save and horde and horde my money until I could go on a huge shopping spree and splurge all I wanted. But at least I always knew to the dollar how much I had spent, she says proudly :-P

There are pros and cons to both methods, but, in the long run, neither are very responsible because neither one is really in control of the money. Back then, the money that we were spending wasn't allocated for clothes, wasn't accounted for on a budget, and wasn't part of a larger plan. Money that isn't part of a plan is money that just goes away.

Well, not anymore!

Last week Jake and I got to experience clothes shopping the way it should be. We had been saving money in our clothing budget for a while now in anticipation of needing to get a few new things. Our shopping trip required some planning because in our area you've got to drive at least an hour to get to any real good shopping places.

We began by going out to eat with some gift certificates that we had been saving, which not only covered the cost of our meal but also the tip. A free meal for two? You betchya!

Now onto the more interesting stuff. Shopping!

My strategy was to look for those clothing items that we really needed first, and then, if there was any money left over, we could purchase things we wanted.

When I enter a store I usually head to the back of the store first, or to wherever I know that they hide their best deals. I know marketing experts think they're being clever by pushing new merchandise "sales" near the entrance, but they don't fool me. I start at the back and work my way forward.

Few ladies have the luxury of being married to a man who likes shopping, or at least tolerates it well, but my hubby rather seems to enjoy it—so long as he gets to buy something. He's even learned some of my shopping strategies and is getting better and better at hunting down good deals—between two different stores he found three pairs of jeans all for about the price of one. He also hunted down a good deal on workout clothes.

I scored some great deals on some sun dresses and workout clothes—and splurged on a new pair of hot pink and black flip-slops.

When we returned home and I tallied everything up I was surprised to find that we had only spent about two-thirds of what we had budgeted. That was a great feeling for two reasons:

  1. It's always fun to have a successful shopping trip where you found some great deals and saved a lot of money

  2. But more importantly, Jake and I are finally learning to do this whole shopping thing the right way. Our money is working for us instead of slipping through our fingers. Every month there's a little bit more in savings, and the money in our budget for things like clothing grows a little bit more, which means there's more available when we need it.

It's times like these that make me realize how well our financial plan is working. Except it's not our plan. I shouldn't even call it Dave Ramsey's plan. It's simply a biblical way of handling money. It's how God has been telling people to manage their money since mankind had money. And when you think about it you realize that it's the best, most common sense way of handling money. It's less stressful. It's not challenging. It just takes time, discipline, and a little bit of practice.

Ok, a LOT of practice. In fact, Jake and I are still practicing, but more and more we're seeing the plan work! And I'm so thankful that we have a God who has it all laid out for us! We need only follow the plan.

So how do you score great deals on clothing? Do you go often to look at deals or plan a big trip? Tell us all about it in the comments below.

Keep pinchin' ;-)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Make Your Goals Specific And Measurable... Like Batman

Make Your Goals Specific And Measurable... Like Batman
Batman is the quintessential problem solver. Since his inception in 1939 he has always been, first and foremost, a detective. A costumed Sherlock Holmes. More than his martial arts skills, his money, or his gadgets Batman's intellect has always proven to be his most valued asset.

Though the movies have often failed to demonstrate this aspect of the Caped Crusader, there's a great scene in "The Dark Knight Rises" that shows Batman's intellect and how victory can be achieved when you first break down your problems and tackle them one step at a time.

First, you've got to understand, that in "The Dark Knight Rises" Batman had spent the majority of the movie getting beaten to a pulp. He had grown too cocky, over-confident, and had lost his edge. As a result, when he finally comes face-to-face with the physically superior villain Bane, Batman gets pulverized and tossed into a third world dungeon with a broken back.

As his body heals, Batman considers what he did wrong, and when he finally returns to Gotham City he approaches Bane like a surgeon, dissecting the threat before they come to blows. First he recruits some allies. Then he gathers his equipment. Then he spreads hope to the citizens of Gotham and fear to the followers of Bane by announcing his return in dramatic fashion. Finally, after months of planning, Batman springs his trap and defeats the bad guy.

With a little planning, determination, and some allies, nothing is impossible to overcome.

  • Don't try to tackle your problems all at the same time. No matter how much craziness you've got going on in your life, it's wise to break the issues down and take them on one by one. This is what makes Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University so effective—it breaks down the budgeting process into easily achievable goals, goals that you can't help but reach as long as you keep moving forward.

  • As Batman so clearly demonstrates in "The Dark Knight Rises," your goals must be specific and measurable. When he returned to Gotham City to face Bane again, he had a detailed plan that included the use of specific allies and certain equipment. It's an example of the obvious—if your goals are too vague they are just dreams.

  • Long-term thinkers are the ones who win. Batman knew that defeating Bane was essential to the survival of Gotham City. His plan took months to form, but it was for a far-reaching purpose. Today's culture doesn't think like this. We're all about immediacy and convenience, and rarely do we think beyond our needs for the day, week, or maybe even the month. But when we keep our eyes on the future instead of our immediate circumstances, the possibility of reaching our goals becomes more and more inevitable.

This is a simple formula that can be applied to any tricky life situation:
  1. break your problem down into smaller goals
  2. make your goals specific and measurable
  3. plan around those goals with a far-reaching future in mind

You may find yourself beaten at times. You may find that there are some Banes out there who are going to catch you off guard, knock you down, and thwart all of your efforts, but you can't let your circumstances overwhelm you.

Are there any specific and measurable goals that you're currently chipping away at? Or have you been thwarted?

Keep pinchin' :-)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Being Responsible Means Learning To Say The "N" Word... A Lot

Being Responsible Means Learning To Say The "N" Word... A Lot
Yesterday I witnessed a man having his car repossessed. I wasn't really trying to eavesdrop, but it was hard not to with the man yelling at what I assumed was the dealership. He asked what he needed to do to keep his car, listened, then said that he could pay them tomorrow.

And, you know, that sorta stuck with me.

I've never had a car repossessed, and I don't even know anyone who has, so I'm no expert on what's involved, but I think it happens when you have fallen too far behind on making your vehicle payments. If that's true, I can't help but wonder why the man didn't at least make a partial payment at times, something that might indicate that he was at least making an effort. I mean, if he could really pay the dealership "tomorrow," like I heard him yelling, why didn't he pay a little something sooner?

I'm speculating, I know, and I hope it doesn't sound like I'm passing judgement because I'm the first to admit I'm not perfect with this budgeting stuff either, but with all that Jake and I have learned through Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University it's sometimes difficult to understand the dire financial straights some people could avoid by just being a little more responsible.

Jake and I would prefer to owe no man anything financially, but in cases where that isn't possible—AKA our mortgage—we at least try to be responsible about it. When the bank said we could afford an (astronomical dollar amount) house, we instead opted to buy one that cost a fraction of that (astronomical dollar amount) because we felt we could manage the payments better. Whenever we take on a new bill we make sure it's something we can fit into the budget. We try to be smart about where we put our money.

Does this mean that we probably do without things that many people think are essentials? YES! Does this mean we resist buying new cars and drive older ones because we own them? YES! Does this mean we may choose not to eat out unless we have a gift card or save our personal spending money? YES! Does this mean we only update our wardrobes when necessary, and not when fashion trends try to lure us into buying for the sake of buying? Unfortunately YES!

These are by no means easy decisions. Well, I mean, they are. And they aren't. Jake and I know what we earn per month. We know what our bills are per month. We know we can't spend more per month than what we earn or we'll be in trouble. We know what kind of future we want, and the kinds of things we want our children to have. But in spite of all we know about our circumstances, it doesn't always mean that being fiscally responsible is easy. In fact sometimes it's downright hard.

Would we love to splurge more than we currently do? YES! Would we love to buy that Mustang Jake has always wanted? YES! Would we like to eat out whenever it is convenient for us? YES!
But instead of saying, "YES!" to everything, we use the dreaded "No" word. No.

I don't want to live like that man, screaming on the telephone while a tow truck loaded his vehicle to be returned to the dealership. I want to learn to be content with what I have and be a good steward of what has been given to me.

Are there things you are saying "No!" to right now that you really wish you could say "YES!" to instead? Tell us about it in the comments below so we can commiserate and encourage each other on this journey to be responsible adults.

Keep pinchin' ;-)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Affordable Fun With My Crazy Sister

Affordable Fun with My Crazy Sister
My sister Miranda recently visited from Florida for a few weeks, bringing with her all the lovable, crazy fun that she is. Miranda is like a life-sized Loony Tunes character with no verbal filter. She's a hilarious companion to have on any journey, and while she was here we took a few.

A Hike Up Mt. WashingtonFor one excursion we decided to go hiking, but, being the former Belyea girls that we are, no simple hike would suffice. The Belyeas go big or we don't go at all. So we decided to conquer Mt. Washington, the highest peak in the Northeastern United States, a whopping 6,288 feet. I had made the trek with a group of girls last summer, and it took us about 5-to-6 hours to get up and another 4 or so to get down, so I was expecting the same.

Miranda and I started our trip early, arriving at the bottom of the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail at about 6:15am. We arrived at the top of Mt. Washington at about 9:45am. If you add that up it comes to 3.5 hours, which was a lot faster than I thought we could do—and pretty good if you consider that neither of us have done any hiking this year. Ahh, to be young :P

A Hike Up Mt. WashingtonAlong the way we stopped for pictures in front of waterfalls and the Lakes of the Clouds. It is a beautiful hike, and the day we chose could not have been better. From the top of Mt. Washington we could see mountain peaks as far as the eye could see!

For the trip down the mountain we chose to go the Jewell trail, but I have no idea why; it's the longest trail on the mountain and it is war on the knees!

Overall, the trip cost us only the gas money to get there and the $3 parking fee. It would've cost $36 for the two of us to drive up, or $136 to ride the train. I had ridden in our family van up the mountain before, and have even taken the train, but that's when I had free tickets from working at Clark's Trading Post. I recommend seeing Mt. Washington all three ways, if it's financially possible, but for this penny pinching hiker, the quality time spent with my sister, who I don't get to see very often, and the amazing views from the top made this excursion totally worth it!

Keep pinchin' :-)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Free Family Fun: Photo Challenge

A little photo challenge to make any family's Fourth of July outings a little more fun!
Dani and I decided to make our Fourth of July a little more fun this year by incorporating a "photo challenge." I made up a list of 15 things for the wife to photograph; the wife made up a list of 15 things for me to photograph, and we kept score based on the number of things we were able to capture with more points awarded if either of us captured combinations.

For example: someone smiling was one point. A clown was one point, but a smiling clown? Three points!

This was one of the free dates Danielle came up with as part of a birthday gift she gave me last October. (To read all about it, click here.)

So who won this photo challenge you may ask?

Here's the lowdown.


1. A slushy
2. Oxen
3. A heart
4. Fireworks
5. NH flag
6. A drum
7. A corvette
8. #24
9. Sheep
10. Twizzler
11. Animal poop
12. Matching kids
13. Horse cart
14. Lama
15. Cotton candy

1. A painted face
2. A bug
3. Someone's pet
4. Green shoes
5. A child eating
6. A musical instrument
7. Erica's tongue
8. A police officer
9. A smile
10. An American Flag
11. Candy flying through the air
12. A clown
13. A yellow car
14. A horse
15. A jump rope

Here are some of the highlights.

Free Family Fun: Photo Challenge
Fireworks = 1 point

Free Family Fun: Photo Challenge
#24 = 1 point

Free Family Fun: Photo Challenge
Someone throwing candy =
1 point

Free Family Fun: Photo Challenge
A musical instrument = 1 point

Free Family Fun: Photo Challenge
Someone's pet = 1 point
Free Family Fun: Photo Challenge
A police officer = 1 point

Free Family Fun: Photo Challenge
An American Flag = 1 point

Free Family Fun: Photo Challenge
A drum + NH Flag  = 3 points

Free Family Fun: Photo Challenge
Matching kids = 1 point

Free Family Fun: Photo Challenge
A child eating = 1 point
Free Family Fun: Photo Challenge
A clown + Someone smiling
+ An American Flag =
4 points

Free Family Fun: Photo Challenge
Erica's tongue = 1 point

Free Family Fun: Photo Challenge
A slushy = 1 point

Free Family Fun: Photo Challenge
A heart = 1 point

Free Family Fun: Photo Challenge
The NH Flag = 1 point


Jake: 10 points
Danielle: 11 points

I suppose that's logical. She is the better half after all!

For your own family fun photo challenge, consider creating age appropriate lists for each member of the family so all can join in. You can make this for an event like a parade or a festival, or when touring a fort or on vacation. Have fun, make your own rules, and get snapping some photos!