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Friday, August 15, 2014

How Will You Choose To Be Generous Today?

How will you choose to be generous today?
In the wake of the death of superstar comedian Robin Williams has come a wave of stories regarding an aspect of his life that few knew anything about—how "crazily generous" he was. Williams had a deep appreciation for our armed forces, his colleagues, and for people in general, which he demonstrated through immense giving of material things and his time.

After actor Christopher Reeve was paralyzed in a fall from a horse on May 27, 1995, Williams arrived at his hospital room dressed as a doctor and announced that he was there to do a proctological exam.

"For the first time since the accident, I laughed," Reeve later wrote in his autobiography, Still Me.

Williams supported scholarships at The Juilliard School in New York City, actively raised money for St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, and also supported the San Francisco Zoo, which named a monkey after him in June—which was, appropriately, a howler monkey. In California, where he lived, Williams was a friend of the Challenged Athletes Foundation and would cheer competitors on at the finish line of the San Diego Triathlon Challenge. He was expected this weekend at a race in Northern California.

"What I think a lot of people don't know, and you're starting to hear all these stories come out now, is how crazily generous he was," said late-night talk show host and comedian Conan O'Brien on his show earlier this week. "He was so generous."

"And not just in a material way, but with his time," added O'Brien's co-host Andy Richter. "He spent so much time entertaining the troops, which I didn't really know about which means he didn't really talk about it. He didn't do it for publicity."

Williams hung himself on Monday, August 11, at the age of 63 after a decades long battle with depression and substance abuse. His plethora of movies made millions laugh. His charitable work brought hope to countless others. Despite the horrific tragedy of his death, the legacy of generosity he left behind should touch us no less.

Robin Williams is probably the first actor to die who I was really familiar with. I mean, in just the last few years we've lost wonderful actors like Heath Ledger, James Gandolfini, Paul Walker, and Michael Clarke Duncan, but their stars had risen to fame fairly recently; I knew who they were, but they hadn't made the impact on my life that Williams did. Robin Williams has been a staple performer ever since I was a little kid. He—along with Bill Cosby—was probably the first comedian to ever make me laugh. His voice work in Aladdin and FernGully, his on-screen charism in Hook, Patch Adams, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Jumanji, all played a small part, I think, in the development of my own sense of humor and family values.

His passing makes me sad.

In looking at all the ways Robin Williams helped others, I find myself contemplating one question: how am I going to be generous? Generosity is not just about helping others. For Christians, especially, it's a necessity of obedience.

"In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" —Acts 20:35

How am I going to be obedient to the will of my Lord by helping others and caring for widows and orphans?

Though Dani and I do what we can with our time and resources, it's the dream of both of us to one day give much more once we're out of debt. We have a passion for adoption, and we deeply love our church, which are two things we'd love to give more to. Some day we want to have a home that can be the epicenter of the lives of our friends and family, a place for pastors and missionaries to come and rest and have fun, and a place to host friends who need some R&R.

What about you? In what ways do you dream of being generous once you're debt free?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Delicious Zucchini Pizza Recipe

Zucchini Pizza Dough

8 cups of shredded zucchini
1 cup of shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2/3 cup flour
1 tsp garlic powder (can sub garlic cloves)
1 tsp basil
1 tsp thyme
2 eggs
1/2 tsp salt


Zucchini Pizza Crust

Preheat oven to 550F (or the highest temperature your oven will go) with a pizza stone pre-heating in it.

Zucchini Pizza Dough Recipe In a large bowl, mix the shredded zucchini with 1 teaspoon salt and set aside for at least 15 minutes. Squeeze the excess moisture out of the squash by wrapping it up in a clean dish towel and wringing it out, discarding the water.

After all of the excess moisture has been wrung out (and discarded), place the shredded zucchini back into the bowl and add the sharp cheddar cheese, flour, garlic, basil, thyme, eggs, and salt.
Zucchini Pizza Dough Recipe

With your hands, blend all of the ingredients together well.

Place the zucchini mixture onto a piece of parchment paper at least 15” in diameter.

Using your fingers, spread the zucchini crust mixture to form a circle about 14” in diameter, 1/2" thick. Pinch the edges up so that it forms a nice crust, just like regular pizza.
Zucchini Pizza Dough Recipe

Once the pizza crust has been shaped, transfer the crust on the parchment paper onto the heated pizza stone, which can be done by sliding it off the counter onto the stone. Bake for 8-12 minutes or until the crust starts to brown.

When the zucchini crust is browned on the bottom, pull the stone out of the oven.

Zucchini Pizza Dough RecipeTop the pizza with sauce and any additional toppings that you'd like. (We used mozzarella cheese, pepperoni and tomatoes.)

After the toppings are on, place the stone back into the oven and bake for an additional 4 minutes.

I was a little worried about what my pizza-loving husband would think about a zucchini crust pizza, but when he went back for seconds I knew I had found a healthy alternative to regular pizza!

Zucchini Pizza Dough Recipe

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

One Of My Greatest Money Saving Tips

I try not to go shopping unless I have a plan. Some days I can go into a store and not purchase anything, just enjoy the "window shopping" experience, but there are other times, times when I go in without a plan, that I end up purchasing things I either don't need or don't have in the budget.

Here's what I mean by "shopping plan":

Stay on budget when you shopping with a plan!

Whenever I go on a shopping trip and stick to this plan I'm usually quite successful and don't leave the store with that guilty feeling of going over budget. I not only enjoy the trip a lot more, but I enjoy the items I purchased even more. Going shopping with a budget plan is also motivation to hunt down good deals and maybe even have a little money left over to purchase a few "wants" :-)

Do you have a plan when you go shopping? Is there something you do that isn't on my list? Please share!

Keep pinchin' ;-)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Taking The Zap Out Of The Electric Bill

Taking the "zap" out of our electric bill by switching providers
This past winter our electric bill seemed to sky rocket! It was CRAZY, and for this penny pinching girl, unacceptable!

For a year and a half it had been holding steady at $50-60 a month. Mind you we don't use the dryer—preferring to hang our clothes to dry when possible—we unplug things we aren't using, and turn off lights in rooms we aren't in, all in an effort to cut down electric costs. We were doing well for a time.

Then, all of a sudden, we got a bill in excess of $80! Not once, not twice, but many times. Our bills were $85 or more. This was NOT ok!

After taking the time to do some investigating I was able to pinpoint what I thought was the problem. A year before I had changed over our electric supplier because they were significantly cheaper than the only distributor we had available to us. I made a fatal mistake with this decision though, because the price I locked in at was only good for six months. After that I needed to lock in a different price. I forgot about this, and consequently put us into the variable price plan that changes from month to month.

Realizing this so late in the game didn't help matters, because locking in at the current price of almost DOUBLE what we were paying before wasn't cool.

So I decided to see what else was out there.

Thankfully I was able to do all my investigating online because I HATE calling people. (I'm not kidding. I usually make Jake do all the phone calls, and I handle online stuff.) Anyway, as I was investigating I found that there was a new electric supplier for our state, and, lucky for me, they had the best going rate. We're in the same situation though where I have to lock-in the rate in six months, but hopefully by then we will have moved so it won't matter. Plus, I think I learned my lesson.

Happy ending to my story: the last two months our bill has been back down to right around $50! When you have a zero-based budget—meaning, all of our money is accounted for and allocated—an increase of $30-to-$40 a month for electric ruins the whole thing!

Moral of my story: don't hesitate to shop around for the best rates. Electric, gas, oil, groceries, repairmen... Don't think you don't have options. And, if you get yourself into a short term fixed rate, make sure you follow up with it and re-enroll!

Keep pinchin' ;-)

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Dog Days Of Working... I Mean Summer!

How taking on extra work can help you meet your financial goals quicker.
We have a busy month upon us here at the Grant household. Jake has five weddings to photograph in the next four weeks, which means that in between each wedding he will have lots of photos to develop. I have my first Fitness Challenge Group to manage, plus learning the ins and outs of my new business venture, and preparing for next month's Challenge Group. On top of that we have several family functions to attend, a half marathon to train for, and our regular jobs.

Whew! Just writing all that makes me want to take a nap!

But when life gets busy I just have to stop and remember what my goals are, and remind myself that it is just for a season.

We desire to live debt free, and if that means taking on extra work to get there than we are willing to do it.

We desire for me to be a stay-at-home mom—once we are blessed with kiddos, that is—and if that means trying to start up a new business than we are willing to do it!

We desire to bless others financially, whether giving through our local church or supporting a missionary, and if that means taking on extra work than we are willing to do it!

You get the idea.

We have prayed and sought after what God wants for us at this point in our lives, and we have come to a place where we are willing to accept whatever He sends our way. So while this month may be super busy for us, we are thankful for His abundant blessings. Plus, I'm planning a fun date night for this Friday because we are in need of some "couple time."

What are you willing to do to be out of debt? Cut the cable? Take on part-time work? Stop eating out? Commit today to doing something about your finances, and let us know what it is in the comments below!

Keep pinchin' ;-)

Monday, August 4, 2014

Workouts To Go: Another Benefit Of Doing Beachbbody

Had you been able to peek in on my vacation last week you might've seen some water-tubing, kayaking, swimming, or some other water related activity.

You would also have seen me working on my PiYo moves. On the lawn. On the dock. Indoors if it was raining. And that's one of the great things about Beachbody's programs—they can be done anywhere! They don't require any weights or gym equipment, just you, some time, and a little motivation.

By taking PiYo up to the lake with me I was able to keep up on my fitness goals, but I also wasn't wasting money on a gym membership that I couldn't use for a week because of my vacation. In fact, thanks to the marvelous world of Facebook, I was able to stay in touch with my workout buddies.

Another great thing about working out up at the lake is after a long, sweaty bout of PiYo I was able to go for a nice, refreshing dip :-)

I am super pumped to be starting my first fitness challenge group today, and I have an awesome group of men and women who have decided to join me! I am already thinking about the next group I will host, so if you missed out on this one don't worry. You can join me soon!

I am loving this whole Beachbody coaching thing so much that I've decided to start a separate blog focusing more on healthy living and fitness.

I'll let you know as soon as it goes live, so be sure to follow me if you that's your thing.


Friday, August 1, 2014

Breaking Free Part 5: The Art Of Sustainable Sacrifice

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.

Sustainable Sacrifice
Saying that I don't complicate things is like saying a full moon doesn't throw a monkey wrench into the Wolf Man's daily grind.

I have a tendency to immediately over-think and over-complicate things, but when Danielle and I first started budgeting I forced myself to be intentional about keeping it simple. In fact that's one of Dave Ramsey's key points in Financial Peace University. He calls it KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

So, first, we followed the plan. Simple.

Then we wrote our entire budget out on paper to make it easier to work with. I even used a pencil instead of a pen. Simple.

When we compiled our budgetary needs we put them into a small number of categories. For example: instead of having budget lines for cleaning supplies, tools, and home repair, we have one line item called Home Needs. See? Simple.

We found that a successful budget needs three main things in those first few months:

  1. Discipline. You've got to keep at it. You've got to do the work. You've got to set it up and make your money work for you.

  2. Realistic expectations. Unplanned expenses are going to happen, and the money to cover them has to come from somewhere.

  3. Flexibility. A budget is rarely going to work properly from the get-go. It will need adjustment.

After about six months we had the budgeting thing down to a science.

Spend Less, Earn More

When it comes to paying off debt, Dave Ramsey points out that the two things that contribute the most to attacking debt are spending less and earning more. I'll give Danielle the most credit when it comes to earning more. That girl can work like a dog when she's got a goal. She took a lot of extra jobs on top of her full time job to earn extra money.

And when it came to spending less we both made a lot of sacrifices. We didn't cut out restaurants and movies at first, but over time we cut back at these things more and more with the understanding that we couldn't give them up forever.

That's what sustainable sacrifice is all about—sacrificing unnecessary expenses to accelerate progress for a period of time. The idea is to stay motivated as you see your sacrifice enabling you to get ahead in other areas financially. If you can get debt free in one year by sacrificing deeply, go for it! Otherwise, take a good look at your budget and determine what expenditures you can cut back and for how long.

In our case, we knew we'd have to sacrifice for about five years at least, and we made decisions based on what we thought we could handle for that amount of time. Had we gone into it without a determined timeframe we—mostly I—would've gotten too discouraged and probably given up.

I Gotta Have My Cookies

Sustainable sacrifice isn't about depriving yourself of everything you enjoy. It means being intentional about telling your money where to go. If you want to spend some of it at Dunkin Donuts, that's fine, just make sure you plan for it. Otherwise you get fat.

Oh, wait. Wrong topic. Well, it still sort of applies. See, now that my wifey is into being a Beachbody coach, and now that I've seen the tremendous success she's had with eating right, I've decided to work on adding a better dietary plan to my workout routines. But, like my personal spending money, if I don't have some junk food to look forward to I'm going to get real discouraged real fast.

So I prepared an entire batch of chocolate chip cookies and divided them up into little freezer bags of three. Every Saturday I know I have that beautiful, chocolaty sweetness to look forward to. If i didn't have that, I wouldn't keep track of what I was eating. A candy bar here. A brownie there. I wouldn't know from one week to the next how much junk food I was eating.

Knowing I've got cookies coming on Saturday makes the sacrifice during the week sustainable.

Sustainable sacrifice.

Now, just as a quick side note, the types of sacrifices that move the debt needle the fastest are monthly sacrifices like cable TV, subscriptions services, and the like. Maybe for this summer you decide not to purchase a golf membership. (I know, heresy!) Or if cutting out television entirely isn't an option, maybe a cheaper package with fewer channels is the way to go for the next year.

Making sustainable sacrifices will help you make progress, which will help keep you motivated to make more sacrifices to keep on keeping on.