Finances in Your Twenties: Don’t Waste the In-Between Years

Finances in Your Twenties--Don't waste these years, even if you're single!

Did you ignore finances in your twenties? Or did you meticulously budget?

If you chose the latter, you’re in a very small group, because most twenty-somethings don’t worry much about finances–especially if they’re still single. I remember speaking once at a women’s event, and a representative of a Christian financial company had sent a guy to come give a quick talk and a draw for a prize. He was only 22, but he was married, with a kid, and he had his finances in order. I was super-impressed.

So I wrote this column about him, and I thought I’d rerun it here today.

Let me give you the stories of two men. One we’ll call Jim. He married straight out of high school—rather an anomaly today. He didn’t go to college, but immediately took a job at a financial planning firm in Windsor. He became certified in investments, and worked his little butt off building his own client base. He looks about 12, but he always dresses impeccably in suits.

Jim’s first child was born two years ago, when he was about 20 or 21. Today his family is still doing quite well, despite the economic downturn. They’re saving up for a downpayment on a house, building their little nest egg at a time when most men his age are still living in their parents’ basement. At one point Jim would have been quite typical; today he sounds like a dinosaur.

Now let’s talk about Bob. When Bob was Jim’s age, marriage was the furthest thing from his mind. He concentrated on working as little as possible so that he could play as hard as possible. He took extended vacations to the Caribbean so he could scuba dive, renting apartments with other twenty-somethings. He lived a carefree life until well into his late thirties, working odd jobs, minimizing his income and maximizing his fun.

At 38, though, he met the woman of his dreams and settled down. They’ve since had three kids, and while both he and his wife are working, money is tight. They’re starting almost twenty years after Jim did, and neither of them used those in-between years to shore up any sort of nest egg.

Many people just don’t worry about saving when they’re single.

But in the long run they do themselves a disservice, because when they do marry (if they do), they’ve lost about a decade or so of good earning years and saving years.

Now 44, Bob is juggling saving for a house, putting money aside for his kids’ education, and contributing to a retirement savings plan. He’s in a really difficult bind, because time is no longer on his side. He has to put money into a retirement savings plan if he’s going to have anything at retirement, but he also has incredible family expenses right now, too.

One thing Jim teaches his financial clients is that if they save $2000 a year in a retirement account from ages 19-26, as he is planning to do, they can then afford to stop for a bit and save up for a house. If you wait like Bob did, though, and don’t start contributing until you’re in your late thirties, putting in $2000 a year until you’re 65, guess who has more money in the end? Jim does, even though he actually contributed far less. That money has more time to accumulate and grow! It’s starting early that makes all the difference.

If you’re in your twenties right now, even if you don’t have a family of your own, chances are one day you will.

And if you want the rest of your life to be much less stressful, squirrel away money for a house and retirement now, before you need it, to avoid feeling the crunch later.

I know cash is short when you’re in your twenties, but you don’t need a big-screen TV. You don’t need to eat out every night.

You don’t need all the latest gadgets. It may seem like responsibility is a long way off, but think instead of these years as the breather years. You don’t have any major expenses, so now is the time when saving is actually the easiest. Don’t just coast through life until responsibility hits. Act responsibly now, and you’ll be so much more comfortable in the end.

A Two Month Plan to Get Your Finances in Order

It’s the Ultimate Bundle Sale week at To Love, Honor and Vacuum! And today I want to talk about developing a two-month plan to get your financial house in order.

I know not all of you are interested in the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle, and that’s okay. You can still get a lot out of this post, because the principles are universal: take stock, make goals, and then make small changes incrementally that add up.

But if you’re wondering why I keep talking about it, it’s because I honestly do believe it’s a great deal. As an author in it, I got access to all of the books and bonuses about three weeks ago, and I’ve had such FUN going through all of them and making plans of how I’m going to tackle them (seriously, it’s a TON of FUN to have this many new things on your computer!). I really do believe that you will love it.

This Bundle is TOTALLY NEW. If you’ve bought bundles in the past, rest assured that you’re getting an entirely new collection here. I think only 3-4 books have ever been in ANY bundle before.

And this may interest you: the money that I’m making for the sale is going to become seed money for a new business venture I’m starting to employ university students as virtual assistants. I’m setting up the business this summer, and the money will pay for the legal and accounting fees. With my daughter in university, I have a special heart for helping kids graduate without debt, so I’m looking at starting a business that can help them do that!

Oh, and one more thing: don’t forget that when you buy the bundle from me, if you email me your receipt I’ll send you the link to enter yourself in a contest where you can win a bunch of prizes, including more ebook grab bags and a $100 Amazon gift card! More details here.

Financial House in OrderWithout further adieu, here’s my two-month plan to get your finances in order!

My husband and I have never fought about money. We’ve hurt each other about sex, we’ve had disagreements about housework, we haven’t always seen eye to eye on parenting. And yet money has always been a breeze for us.

It’s not because we’ve always had money; we haven’t. We spent the first seven years of marriage living in tiny apartments, even with babies. But I think it comes down to the fact that we have very similar values about money. We both are determined to live within our means; neither of us has expensive tastes; and we both are truly committed to giving money away.

I respect my husband so much in this, because he’s one of the few physicians I know who has never in his life owned a new car–or even a really nice car. He doesn’t have the most expensive clothes or the most expensive shoes. He just lives out his values, and I can’t think of a better man to be married to because of that.

Yet I know that money is one of the biggest sources of tension in so many marriages. Well, I have some awesome tools that can help you sort out money–and start living with a feeling of abundance rather than poverty. In the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle which is for sale just until Monday, you’ll find a TON of books that can help you figure out your finances. Here’s the step-by-step plan that I would use, over two months, to turn your attitude and your wallet around!

Budget BreakthroughWeek 1: Get a Big Picture View of Your Budget

Budgets. We may not like them, but there really aren’t shortcuts. You need to know how much money you have, and you need to know how much money you need to meet your current obligations.

Kimberlee Stokes, in her book 5 Days to Budget Breakthrough!, writes this book not as someone who has had it all figured out, but rather as someone who has lived in the trenches–and seen how her poor money decisions have really affected her family. She writes:

For me, the wake up call came when I had to return to full-time employment for the third time (even though I felt very strongly that we should home school our children) and I saw the consequences in my children’s lives. I finally realized that money wasn’t the problem…

(Cue dramatic music.) I was.

I realized that I was making excuses rather than taking responsibility for my choices. I had to break through my denial, acknowledge that we had a limited amount of money and stop spending everything I had. In other words, I had to grow up, and since I am pretty sure that being over 30 qualified me as an adult, it was about time I started acting like one.

She has worksheets you can use, great suggestions on how to track your spending, help for changing your mindset, and really practical tips for actually saving instead of going into debt.

The best part of the book, though, comes in what she says about our attitudes, which I think is the key to making financial change. She writes:

Do any of these statements sound familiar?

“We can’t afford that.”
“There is never enough. We need more money.” “We have to go without.”
“We can’t make it.”

Impoverished thinking makes people discontent, always striving and never arriving. No matter how much money they make, they can never be at peace. A poverty mindset is based in fear and makes you feel out of control and helpless.

So how do you overcome a poverty mindset? What if we change those statements to:

“We choose not to buy that because we have other priorities right now.” “We have exactly what we need.”
“We choose to make do with what we have.”
“We can make this work.”

Empower yourself by recognizing your freedom of choice.

5 Days to a Budget Breakthrough is part of the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle Sale!

coverflat250x300Week 2: Consider Minimalist/Simple Living

Not all of us are minimalists. I have 14 plastic rubbermaid containers full of yarn in my storage room–yikes! I even have a storage room. Minimalists don’t have storage rooms.

But I’ll tell you, Rachel Jonat makes sense. She’s arguing that most of the stuff we spend money on we don’t even need. And the more stuff you have, the harder it is to find the stuff you need, so we end up buying doubles. Or triples. And it never ends!

At least, it doesn’t end until we say, Enough is enough, and really start trying to live with only what we need. It’s totally freeing!

Rachel wrote this book for moms of babies, but I don’t have babies right now, and I STILL loved this book. It made me think so much.

So what I’d suggest, after doing the hard work in Week 1 of actually making budgets, is that you take a week to read through this book. Write down the things that really speak to you, and then start putting small things into practice. Even if you don’t become a full-blown minimalist, it will likely change your outlook enough that doing the rest of the work to get your financial house in order is actually fun!

The Minimalist Mom’s Guide to Baby’s First Year is part of the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle Sale!

TNH Meal Planning Made Easy COVERWeek 3: Plan Your Meals

We’ve done the big attitude changes. Now let’s do the practical changes that will make it so much easier to save money.

How often do you order pizza because you don’t know what to eat? Run for fast food at lunch because there’s nothing in the house? Or buy a ton of vegetables in a “let’s get healthy!” frenzy, only to see 1/2 of them turn into a slimy green mess in the fridge before you can eat them?

Planning your meals is one little change you can make that will also bring a real financial boost!

The Nourishing Home provides all you need to plan your meals–including worksheets, grocery lists, and even meal plans of their own you can use.

Take week 3 and make out a month’s worth of meal plans that you can then cycle through–and help you save money at the grocery store!

Meal Planning Made Easy is part of the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle Sale!

Healthy lunch BoxWeek 4: Save Money on Lunches–and Earn Everyone’s Envy, Too!

Now that you’re meal planning, let’s take it one step further and help you get creative with kids’ lunches–and with lunches to take to work for you and your hubby, too!

This is such a FUN book. You won’t even feel like it’s work! And many of her ideas end up being cheaper than the traditional bread-with-expensive-lunch-meats that we often use. You can eat healthier, use up leftovers (including those veggies that threaten to go bad), and earn rave reviews from other parents!

The funniest part of the book is the story of how author Katie Kimball started writing it. She says,

I have known for a while now that we eat differently than most of the rest of the world. I knew most kids probably don’t use reusable sandwich bags and stainless steel containers at lunch. But I didn’t realize that our lunches were really that different from the norm until my son went to summer camp, where he ate a packed lunch among 350 other kids for five days.

Then I found out that camp counselors were sharing pictures of his lunch on Facebook.

You’ll love it.

The Healthy Lunch Box is part of the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle Sale!

front coverWeek 5: Make Your Own Cleaners

Food is one of the biggest expenses we have at the grocery store, but it’s not the only one. There’s also cleaners.

And what if you could make cleaners with regular household products you already have? Even things you would throw away–like lemon peels?

I started making my own cleaners last year, and it is FUN! First, I feel so frugal (and almost righteous :) ) making things that are so cheap. But second, they smell so wonderful!

It’s also a great activity to do with children. The cleaners are safe, non-toxic, and easy to make, so kids can participate. And if the cleaner is non-toxic, it’s no problem giving your child a spray bottle and a cloth and having a 3-year-old wash the bottom of the kitchen cabinets.

DIY Natural Household Cleaners is part of the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle Sale!

Week 6: Let’s Get Couponing!

Now we’ll get into some serious money saving.

Cover_Its-Me-Or-The-Coupons-Beth-CranfordBeth Cranford explains, step by step, how she uses coupons to drastically bring down her grocery bill. She tells you how to use the concept of “stock pile” (as opposed to hoarding, which is a definite no no!), how to organize your coupons, how to get double deals on your coupons, and even how to find coupons!

If you’ve thought the idea of couponing sounds too much like WORK, I understand. But she lays it all out here, and it looks like once you’re organized it won’t take that much time.

But think about it this way: how much could you make at a job? $20 an hour? $15 an hour? Even $30 an hour (depending on your education?) If you spend 2 hours a week (and it shouldn’t take that long) organizing coupons, you’ll save more than that. And so it’s like you ARE working.

It’s Me or the Coupons is part of the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle Sale!

Week 7: Earn Some Money from Home

Sometimes saving money isn’t enough. Sometimes we actually have to generate income!

Rather than highlight just one book from the Working/Blogging at Home section of the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle Sale, I want to point you to all the great ones that are here. First, if you’re a blogger, the two different blog planners are absolutely amazing. They’ll tell you what to do to actually market your blog, get you organized, help you track your expenses and your income, and help you plan. And if you do all of these steps, you’ll find that you’re starting to actually make money–through reviews, or giveaways, or affiliate sales, or anything!

I love the way the blog planners are laid out. If you already blog, but you’re not really earning an income, these kits will help you go in the right direction.

But what if you’re just not sure how to blog? Or if you should speak? Or write? Alyssa Avant, whom I’ve known online for years, shares about taking a “FaithLeap” and figuring out how God has called you to share your message.

These are all great books (and I’m already printing out the blog planners!)

Week 8: Have Fun with Your Kids

76 free thingsYou’ve spent 7 weeks trying on new money habits. You have a new attitude, new organization practices, and new planning tools.

But remember the difference between a poverty mindset and an abundance mindset that we talked about in Week 1? I want to end this two week financial exercise with that feeling of abundance. There is so much you have–and so much you can do!

This book is chalk full of 76 ideas of what to do when your kids say, “I’m bored.” The things don’t involve having to pay money to do anything. They’re all fun things you can do at home, with items you already have, or out of the house, taking advantage of some of the great things around your community.

76 Free Things to do with Kids is part of the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle Sale!

We can live a life where we do tons of things, enjoy each other, and are able to give to others when we start having this attitude of abundance rather than an attitude of poverty.

Take this 8 week challenge, and you’ll find so much of your stress has evaporated. And your relationships will be blessed, too!

In the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle Sale there are 77 ebooks, plus printables and an audio download (from me!), that will help you get different parts of your life in order. I’ve shared just some ideas about money today, but I could have written a similar post on how to get real with God, how to plan a better schedule, how to teach your kids to read, and more! This bundle has so much in it.

And the freebies are awesome, too–over $200 worth of great products, including eye shadow, laundry detergent, herbal teas, and more.

Get your Ultimate Homemaking Bundle now! It’s available in .pdf form, or specially formatted for Kindle.

Reader Question: My Husband Won’t Stick to a Budget

Reader Question of the Week

It’s time for our Reader Question of the Week feature! I post a question that a reader has sent in and give some broad ideas of how I’d tackle it. Since we’re at the beginning of the New Year, and so many of you are trying to get new starts in all kinds of different areas, I thought I’d tackle a budgeting question: what do you do when your husband spends too much money? We had a great guest post last week on how to make Money Resolutions you can keep, and so I thought this question fit right in:

My husband is a natural spender and I am a natural saver. We both work and we make enough to pay for the basics that our household needs. We have no savings, and we have a lot of medical debt, student loans, and some past bill debts from when we weren’t making enough to live off of. He brings home about double what I do. His spending habits have improved since we got married. When he wants something I hate telling him no because I know how hard he works, but often times the things he feels are needs really aren’t needs and as a result he buys things for himself throughout the year. He also has a video game addiction that he puts of his extra money into.

I put things I really need on the back burner and I am starting to feel resentful toward him and I want to change that. I feel resentment when the soles of my work shoes are coming undone yet he just bought a new game. I feel resentful when my child’s school uniforms look horrible and I have to take the money from our $60 a week grocery budget to go to the thrift store to find him a pair of pants. I beat myself up right now because I am pregnant and extremely high risk and the medication I need costs $140. I cry every time thinking about what debt I could have paid off or what need I could meet with our house when I buy the medication or travel to the 2 hours one way to the doctor. Then when his cell phone (which he does need for work) goes out on him, instead of finding an affordable replacement he is insisting on spending 150 for a nicer one. While the cost of the nicer one is actually a good deal, He took the extra money from what we had budgeted out of the money set aside for us to use while we were at the hospital delivering our second child.

How do I open up our financial lines of communication and find a middle ground for us? How can I meet his need to spend with my need to feel like we aren’t drowning in debt and meet all of our household needs as well. How do I get him to understand the importance of a having a savings, and why we should pay off these medical bills, and past debts?

That’s a really big problem, and one that I know many readers have. So I thought today I’d give some broad thoughts on how to get on the same page financially.

When your husband spends too much money: How to Stick to a Budget Together

There’s several negative dynamics going on here, and so I’d like to give some general guidelines and some ideas for going forward.

Don’t Focus on the Small Things

When we start having disagreements like this, we tend to focus on the most recent infraction. This rarely works.

The issue is not that he bought a game and she didn’t have money for children’s clothes; the issue is that they don’t have a budget that works.

Arguing about the game is completely fruitless. You will end up frustrated and he will end up frustrated. Yet when someone doesn’t stick to a budget and makes a purchase that we think is frivolous and irresponsible, that tends to be what we do. “How could you have spent $75 on a game when we’re in debt?” He ends up defending the game, you fight the game, and you’re missing the bigger picture.

Often there’s a “straw that breaks the camel’s back”, something that he buys that sends you over the edge. Resist the impulse to blow up at that one thing. Take a step back and discuss the REAL issue, which is the budget.

Get the Big Financial Picture in Mind–Together

The real issue is that they do not have a shared plan for getting out of debt or a shared understanding and vision of where their family is going. She is trying to rein everything in while he feels no need to at all. And because of that they’re going to be constantly at loggerheads. She will feel like he’s undermining her, and he will feel like she is a spoilsport and is disrespecting him.

So you have to have a conversation where you focus on the big picture, not on the little things. If you know WHY you have a budget–ie. you sit down and say, “we need to have $x saved up for our retirement by this particular year in the future, and that means that we need to be working towards clearing debts and saving $X a year”, then it’s easier to stick to it.

When you’re not upset, sit down with a calculator, a pen and paper, and a list of your bills and assets, and ask if you can talk through things.

1. Ask him, where would you like to be in 10 years? In 15 years? Would you like to own a house? Would you like to be able to take vacations? Make a list of what you would like.

2. Now talk about where you are right now. What is your net worth? Add up what you own, and then add up what you owe, and subtract what you owe from what you own.

3. Now plot where you will be if you do nothing differently for the next five years. If you keep going like this, what will happen? Will your credit cards max out? Will you be unable to pay for anything? Compare that to your goals in #1.


4. Talk together about how to move forward differently. A great resource is Dave Ramsey’s program Financial Peace, which so many of my Facebook fans recommended. If you make a plan to read through that together over the next few weeks, he’ll help you, step by step, figure out a budget and a savings plan and a debt repayment plan.

One other step that a few Facebook commenters suggested is to show the difference between paying things off and not paying things off. How much money are you spending in interest every month? Every year? Now, how many video games would that money buy? What kind of vacations would that buy? If you can be diligent for a few years, then you won’t be throwing that money away anymore and you can have more room for fun purchases.

Beware of the Over-Compensating Downward Spiral–Your husband spends too much money, so you become a miser

Overcompensating when your husband spends too much money--stop the downward spiral!A few other tips. Quite often when we’re approaching a problem differently we tend to overcompensate. We do this in parenting, too; if he’s a strict disciplinarian, and you like to hug and kiss and build relationship, then you’re going to think he’s an ogre. And whenever he comes down hard on the kids, you’ll let them have things easy for a while. When he sees you letting them off the hook, he’ll become even firmer. In the end, you both don’t even resemble what you want to be. You’re far too lax for your own liking, and he’s far too strict, but that’s what you’ve become as you’ve compensated for one another.

The same thing happens with money. When your husband spends too much, you feel like you can’t spend anything. So you stop spending entirely. You become a miser. When he sees you not spending anything, he feels like you both need more fun in your life, so he spends even more. You become even more a saver than you naturally are, and he becomes even more a spender.

I see that happening here. She’s afraid to even spend money on medicine which she needs for her child. When you feel yourself over-compensating, talk about it. Don’t let this spiral start.

Give Yourselves Disposable Income

For a budget to work, you have to have disposable income. The goal is not to spend $0. The goal is to slowly but surely get out of debt and build your net worth. Make sure, then, that when you do budget, you budget in some money for him to spend on himself, and some for you to spend on yourself. And then do spend it! It’s not a good example to your children if you deprive yourself of absolutely everything and lose yourself because you want to give them a better life. You need balance.

How do you stick to only spending what you’ve budgeted? If impulse spending is a problem, then the best way is to set up a cash system. At the beginning of the week, give each of you your disposable income, in cash. Leave the credit cards at home. Tell your husband he can spend that money on anything, but if he wants something big, he’ll have to save it up over the course of several weeks. If you make a habit of only spending cash, those rash purchases don’t tend to happen.

Consider Setting Up Separate Finances

Finally, I don’t recommend this very often, but there are times when it’s best to separate finances. I’m a huge believer in couples having one bank account, and having it be “our” money, not “his” and “hers”. My husband and I have always shared finances, and we never label any money as belonging to him or belonging to me. What’s ours is ours, no matter who earned it. That, I think, should be the model for marriage.

However, if your husband is consistently driving you into debt, and is endangering the family’s financial health, then talking to a third party about it and asking to sit down and talk about altogether is likely warranted. And then setting up a separate bank account is probably a good idea. When the pay is deposited, you take out the money that you need for the family and you put it in a separate account so that you can pay off debt and buy groceries. With the help of a counselor or pastor, cancel credit cards if you need to. Let him keep some disposable income, but don’t give him access to the grocery money.

Again, I don’t think this step should be taken unless you first talk to a third party, and unless things are really desperate. I don’t think this is a healthy model for marriage. But there are times when a guy is gambling money away, or when he’s spending so frivolously that you’re in danger of losing your house, and in that case you have little choice.


I don’t think you can fix a money issue like this without talking about the big picture, and without agreeing on a plan going forward. And I have found that the best way to agree on a plan is to read some of the financial planning books that are available. Dave Ramsey is really easy to read and really easily accessible, and he lays out a step-by-step system for developing a plan. Here are a few of his resources:

The Financial Peace Planner: A Step-by-Step Guide to Restoring your Family’s Financial Health ($11.90)
The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness ($16.48)
Total Money Makeover Workbook ($15.99)
Deluxe Executive Envelope System ($16.47) To help you move to a cash system!

That’s my advice for today! Have you ever had to get out of debt? How did you and your husband get on the same page? Let me know in the comments!

Money Resolutions You Can Actually Keep

Today guest poster Leanne Seel encourages us to make and keep our financial resolutions.

Financial Resolutions You Can Actually Keep--tips to get you organized with your moneyHow long do your resolutions last?  Or have you given up on the idea of resolutions all together?  Change is hard – even when we want it with all our hearts.  I used to make resolutions each year.  Some lasted longer than others.   I’ve noticed over the years that the ones that have stuck follow two basic principles.

So here are the two basic principles to help you keep financial resolutions:

1)      Positive goals

I resolve to work towards something rather than trying to move away from or stop doing something else.   For example, I succeed a lot more often when I resolve to buy only what is on my list when I’m in the grocery store instead of resolving to stop buying chocolate-covered almonds.  As soon as I think about chocolate-covered almonds, I want some.

2)      Small, manageable steps

Instead of trying to jump all the way to where I want to be all at once, I break it down into manageable chunks.   When I quit drinking Diet Coke about 12 years ago, I first had to switch to the caffeine-free version.  Once I broke the caffeine addiction, then I focused on the habit.  It worked.  I went from carrying a case of pop in my trunk to drinking only water.

When it comes to money, the same principles can apply.  We can resolve to take small, manageable steps toward the positive goals that we have set out.  I would like to challenge you to take positive action in each area of your finances in 2014.

Exception:  If you are in dire straits and you are about to lose your house or have your power shut off, you don’t have the luxury of making small changes over a period of time.  You need help now, so please find a financial counsellor who can work with you on an individual basis.

Assuming you’re not in need of drastic help, here are four areas of financial management, starting with the most important area:

Area 1 – Giving

As Christians, giving should be at the top of our financial priorities.  Our culture flips the priority order around and puts giving at the bottom.  This is completely wrong.  God should come first.  In practical terms in our family, we tithe at least 10% of our gross income to our local church.  Our donations to other organizations and almsgiving are over and above this amount.  Some think this is excessive.  Opponents to tithing often say that Malachi 3:8-11 is Old Testament law and therefore we are not obligated to follow it.  That may or may not be true.  Personally, I would rather err on the side of giving God too much (as if that’s even possible!).  Everything that we have belongs to Him (Psalm 24:1), so really 10% is a bargain.

Where are you at right now?  If you know that God would have you give more, start stepping out in faith and obedience to Him.  Take your usual monthly amount and add a bit to it, or even double it if you’re starting low.  Keep increasing until you reach the level God wants you to be at.

You may look at your numbers right now and think it’s impossible, but there’s a strange phenomenon that I’ve noticed with tithing.  The math doesn’t usually look like it will work, but then somehow it does.  When I was a university student, the savings I had built up in high school were running really low by my third year of a four year program.  I projected what I needed and what I anticipated making at my part-time job and it wasn’t enough.  In faith, I still tithed on any money that came in, and I stayed the course being responsible with my spending.  Then, not so coincidentally, I got extra hours at my job.  I found a cheaper place to park my car.  The things I needed at the grocery store were on sale.  God provided.  The same pattern has repeated itself in different ways many times since.

Area 2 – Debt repayment

The next priority is getting out of debt.  If you have consumer debt (debt for something other than a house, car, or education), then you need to get rid of it.  It’s not easy, but it’s necessary.  I wrote a 4-part series called Take this debt and SACK it on my blog last fall.  The four steps to this process are taking Stock of where you are (S), Allocating your repayments strategically (A), Cutting your expenses (C), and Keeping track (K) of what you’re doing.   If you have consumer debt, I would encourage you to read these 4 posts over the next 4 weeks (one post per week) and take the related actions.  Find the freedom that comes from being debt free!

Area 3 – Saving

Retirement, emergencies, future education… the list for saving goes on.  Are you putting away enough for all these things?  Try adding just a little to what you’re currently saving.  Once you adjust your spending downwards to what you have left over, save a bit more.  Keep going until you’ve reached your monthly savings goal.

Area 4 – Spending

In this area, we need to spend better.  When we go into a store, I tell my kids that the store’s goal is to get us to spend as much as possible.  Our goal is to get what we need while spending the least amount we can.  It doesn’t mean that we have to be complete penny pinchers with everything, but it does mean that we have to sacrifice in some areas in order to be able to spend more in others.

When I’m looking for areas to reduce our family budget, I start with recurring items because the savings will repeat month after month.  I spend the energy once to figure out the least expensive option, and I keep saving money over and over again (think insurance, phone, cable, internet, etc).  By reducing what we spend on an on-going basis, we’re able to meet our savings goal and then use the rest for fun stuff like a family vacation fund.

In 2014, I challenge you to examine an area of your budget where you can spend better.  Once you see the increase in your bank account, it will be worth the effort!  You may even decide to tackle more than one this year.

What are your financial resolutions for 2014?  What strategies have you found to be the most helpful in actually keeping the resolutions that you make?

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Leanne Seel is a CPA, CA who lives in Ontario, Canada.  After spending many years as a partner in a CA firm, she now writes educational material while homeschooling her two children.  She is the author of The Emerging Entrepreneur:  Launching your part-time business in Canada and French Sing & Learn.  Her favorite place is the beach.  You can find more of Leanne’s money and tax tips at www.sensiblemoneysolutions.com.

 

 

Reader Question: We Work Opposite Shifts!

Reader Question: We work opposite shifts!Every Monday I like to post a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it. Last week I was talking about how to feel like a unit when you both have seemingly separate lives–you both have jobs or responsibilities that lead you in opposite directions through the day, and how do you keep feeling like you’re on the same page?

A number of people left comments and sent emails after that with a slightly different–and more difficult–problem. They didn’t just do different things during the day. They never saw each other because they worked different shifts!

Here’s an example:

My husband and I have three kids under 5, and we’re barely making ends meet. He works as a security guard in the evenings (like usually 3-midnight), and I work varying shifts in retail. We try to make it so that we don’t work at the same time so that someone is home with the kids, because we can’t afford daycare and I don’t have any family I’d trust to look after my kids (our families aren’t the greatest). I just feel like we don’t even know each other anymore. Life just feels like it’s nothing but work. What do we do?

That’s really a tough one. Here are a few thoughts I have, along with some great advice that people on Facebook left when I asked this question last week!

My Husband and I Work Opposite ShiftsKeep in Communication Throughout the Day

Text each other on breaks. Tell each other when things happen, even if they’re little things. Let each other know what kind of day you’re having–happy, sad, tired. One of the problems with not seeing each other very much is that you decide that when you DO see each other, you want it to be low stress and fun. And you don’t want to add more guilt to someone’s day.

Thus, we don’t always share the bad stuff.

When we’re feeling blue, we don’t tell him, because we want to stay upbeat.

That’s very kind in a way, but it’s also counterproductive. Part of being married is that you’re supposed to be able to support each other. If you feel like your husband doesn’t actually know what’s going on in your life, then you’ll feel like you’re even further apart. It will drive more of a wedge between you.

You can find ways to share about your mood or your day without adding guilt, or without saying, “It’s your fault”. Something like this:

Just really tired today and the kids seem awfully whiny. Trying to count my blessings, and you’re top of the list.

See? He knows you’re tired, but it’s also apparent that you’re not blaming him.

Use a System to Fill Each Other in On Key Things

Several Facebook readers recommended a notebook where you could fill each other in on important details about your life. If someone went to the dentist and has cavities; if you went to the parent-teacher meeting and heard something wonderful about your daughter; if you stopped by a store and picked up something for his mom’s birthday; write these things all down in the notebook.

Then, when he’s off shift he reads it, and he knows what you did. And he can leave details of what he did, too!

And leave little love notes as well. Tell him that you miss him and that you love him.

Having one notebook kept in the same place that you can always check lets each of you feel like you know what’s going on. And then you’re not duplicating each other’s efforts, either!

You Can’t Work Opposite Shifts Forever

Here’s a hard one to say, and I don’t mean this to sound harsh to those of you who are living through this. But even if you take these steps, it’s very hard to maintain a healthy family life like this forever. You need to spend time together.

There was a couple very close to me who always worked opposite shifts. He worked during the day, and she waitressed at night. She’d leave for work as soon as he got home, and usually arrived home around 10:30 or 11. She tended to work on weekends. She just never saw him. He was a really involved dad, but the marriage eventually fell apart because she opened herself up to an inappropriate relationship at work.

I’m not saying you’re all going to have affairs; I’m just saying this kind of life takes a big toll on a family. It’s not healthy for your marriage, but it’s not healthy for the kids, either, because they never get to do very much as  a family, and they don’t see the two of you together.

I know sometimes this is unavoidable. I have a friend who works shift work at a factory, on six-week schedules. So for six weeks he’ll be on days, which is amazing. Then for six weeks he’ll be on overnights, which isn’t wonderful, but which isn’t too bad because he sleeps during the day and then he’s with the family in the evenings. But the six weeks of evenings are awful because they never have dinner together. However, because this is only 1/3 of the time it’s doable. A lot of nurses live with the same type of schedule–the shifts are always changing.

If it’s ALWAYS that you’re working opposite shifts, though, usually because you plan it that way for child care, it really isn’t sustainable. Here are a few thoughts:

  • Downsize if you can. It’s better to live in a small apartment but be together most of the time than live in a larger home or larger apartment and barely see each other.
  • Take a year that will be absolutely horrible and try to upgrade your skills. Take a course from a college, or get an internship, so that you may be able to get a different job that pays more and frees you both up to not have to work full-time. Having one person working full-time, and another working part-time isn’t nearly as difficult as both of you working full-time opposite shifts.
  • Find out if there’s anyone in your church who is really good at job placement/resumes/finding work. My mom’s a career counsellor, for instance, and she’ll often help people brainstorm about what they want to do and come up with jobs they never even thought of that they’d be qualified for or that they’d enjoy. And then she helps people write resumes and prepare for interviews. If the whole idea of job search scares you silly, ask around and find out if there’s someone in your circle who can help you with it, even if it may cost you a few hundred dollars.
  • Consider moving. Here’s a big one that people often overlook. If you’re both working full-time making relatively little money, chances are you’re working at jobs which would be available in almost any size city. All places have needs for security guards, retail help, cleaning staff, waitresses, truckers, etc. These aren’t jobs that require you living in a big city. We used to live in Toronto, but 14 years ago we moved to my husband’s home town. Housing here is about 1/3 the cost. If you can reduce your costs, chances are you can also reduce the hours you need to work. And you’d like in a better place, too!

So talk about these things and try to get a plan so that you can see that this is only temporary. If you’re just doing it until you pay off debt, or until you have money for a downpayment, for instance, know how long that will be, so you’re working towards an end point. Have a plan of when you will be making a change. And in the middle of it, keep communicating.

What do you think? How can you make this work? Or how could you get out of this trap? Let me know in the comments!

The Now Generation

The Now Generation

Every Friday my column appears in a bunch of papers in Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week’s column dealt with things I said in my post on Tuesday, and so I thought I’d rerun one that I really like from back in 2005, about how expectations for quality of life have changed so much in the last decade. I thought it fit in well with this week’s themes about healthy and intentional living with the Ultimate Bundle Sale–86 ebooks, just $29.97! Don’t miss it (it’s only until tomorrow!).

I recently came across an old 1950s knitting pattern book telling women how to copy the latest fashions. In those days, many women just didn’t have the money to buy ready-made clothes, so when they saw something they liked, they knit it or they sewed it. Today, we think all that work means we’re failures. So instead we charge it.

This was brought home to me when I came across an article bemoaning the fact that a new professional graduate, making $35,000 a year, can’t survive, what with $1,500 for rent, $800 for food, and all the other expenses. When I read that chart it seemed to me that the problem was not with the salary; it was with the expenditures. Thrift used to be a virtue, but now we expect to have everything at once. If a single person is spending $800 on food a month, then they’re eating out far too much. It may not be easy, but most of us can live within our means.

It’s not our means that are the problem. Too often it’s the expectations we have for what our lives should be like.

I’m not sure where these expectations came from. We can blame the media and advertising, but they had the media and advertising back in the 1950s, too, and it seems like people were far more willing to live with garage sale items and hand-me-downs a few decades ago than we are now. Perhaps it’s the explosion in credit which makes things possible today that weren’t possible before. Or perhaps it’s always been like this and I’m just a fuddy-duddy. Increasingly I think the latter is probably true on most issues, but let me explore this one a little bit more anyway.

I have lived with a lot, and I have lived with very little, and there are pros and cons to both.

When we lived in a small rental apartment when the kids were young I had no pressure to make things coordinate. I didn’t need matching furniture, or pretty drapes, or dishes to entertain. As long as it was functional and could withstand two toddlers, I was happy.

I think that’s a great period every person should go through. It’s a lot less stress on a marriage when you don’t actually own very much, and you can concentrate on just yourselves. Besides, when you’re not aiming to do things big, little things can make you happy. Remember the joy you once felt at finding some old milk crates at the flea market? Hey, they’re amazing things! They can hold cleaning products under a sink, or they can be used as dressers, or they can hold up some boards and be an improptu bookshelf! And that amazing garage sale kitchen table and chairs we found for $25 served us well for seven years.

Now that we have a house I have become much more conscious about what it looks like because I own it. I have to buy matching furniture, I have to paint, and I have to decorate in ways I didn’t before. In many ways this is satisfying, but in others it adds more pressure. There’s always more I could be doing. Besides, now, when stuff breaks, it’s my problem. I can’t just call the superintendent. I still like owning my own home, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t happy before I had all of these outside trappings in my life.

We make a mistake when we believe we need stuff to make us happy.

Stuff breaks. Stuff can be stolen. Stuff needs to be cleaned. And stuff costs money, especially if you have to buy it on credit. Then, if anything bad happens, you could lose all that stuff you came to treasure.

Besides, on surveys of happiness, stuff plays a very small role. Satisfaction with one’s relationships, one’s jobs, even oneself is much more important. So living within one’s means when everyone else is charging it may not seem fair and it may not seem fun, but ultimately our lives will be a lot easier. Besides, we’re not saying no forever. We’re just saying not now. And there’s nothing at all wrong with that.

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Why Women Are Control Freaks

Why women are control freaksIf you’re a guy, and you’ve always thought, “my wife is a control freak!”, read on. And if you’re a woman, maybe share this with your guy!

I’m writing this not to excuse women, but to help men understand why women are control freaks. I write lots of posts for women on how to improve their marriage. Here’s just a little insight into the female brain for the men:

As I’m writing this, my family is preparing to depart for two weeks on vacation. I am desperately tending to my email, ridding the fridge of any stray produce, washing all the laundry, heading to the bank, and somewhere in there I’m packing. And I’m managing to pull it all off while still barking orders at my kids. I am the very model of a modern wifely drill sergeant.

Few can issue orders as effectively as women when we are in control freak mode.

We want the house cleaned because company is coming, and even though we’ve ignored the mess for two weeks it is now absolutely imperative that everybody drop what they’re doing and polish something. We want to get to work early, so everyone must hurry up and grab breakfast and by the way has anyone seen my purse? We have our agenda, and everybody had better get into line.

What men may not realize, though, is that when women get into control freak mode, it’s not because we particularly want to control people.

Let me get psychological for just a moment.

A woman’s biggest fear is that she’s going to lose those things that she loves most.

She wants to feel like her family is close-knit, her kids are safe, and everyone is secure. When something threatens that—because the kids are pulling away, or everyone’s too busy, or you’re distant—we feel out of control, and start issuing orders to compensate. Or, even worse, if we feel that we’re not doing a stellar job at caring for the family, then we really lose it, because we’re afraid that if the family falls apart, it will be our fault. We may imply again and again that it’s yours, but it’s only to deflect the blame we feel. We’re afraid we’re not good enough.

We’re not control freaks; we’re just scaredy cats! Perhaps that doesn’t sound like a big improvement, but it is, because once you understand that, you can help us bridge that sanity gap and end up in relational bliss once more. For you men in a relationship, here’s the key to helping your beloved relax and calm down: realize that when she gets stressed, it’s not because her primary goal in life is to stifle you.

It’s because she’s scared things are falling apart.

And the more scared she feels, the more she tries to clamp down.

That creates this strange situation in many homes where the wife starts running everything—the kids’ schedules, the doctors’ appointments, the educational plans, the finances, the housework—while the husband pulls away because she so obviously doesn’t need or want him involved. Don’t look at the situation logically, though. Look at it lovingly. Sure she’s doing everything. Sure she’s got a to-do list for you a mile long. But this doesn’t mean she wants to run everything; more than likely it means that she wants you to start taking more of the reins.

Don’t react to what we do; react to what’s going on inside.

And then step up and be a man. Start talking to us about decisions. Get involved in the family. Listen to our concerns. And then develop your own opinions about what you think is best. Show us you care. Show us you’ve thought about it, too. Relieve us of the burden of messing stuff up, all on our own. That’s what we really want you to do, regardless of what it may look like.

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10 Ways to Save Money

10 Best Ways to Save MoneySo many of the emails I get asking for help have to do with finances in marriage. You’re in debt, you’re not on the same page, and you don’t know what to do. So today I thought I’d write a post on the 10 best ways to save money! I asked you all for your best money-saving tip on my Facebook Page last week, and here they are, all consolidated.

When we hear the question “what’s your best money-saving tip”, though, we usually think about the regular purchases–groceries, clothing, entertainment. But the biggest parts of our budget are often our recurring expenses–our mortgage, car loan, credit card payments, utilities, etc. So the chance for the biggest savings is often in those big ticket items! I’m going to start with how to save money on those, and then move on to great tips on how to save money on our regular purchases.

Recurring Expenses–Bigger Ticket Items

1. Get Rid of Cable

Do you really need cable? My mother recently got rid of cable because it was costing her almost $70 a month for a basic plan, and all she really watched was the news. She can stream the news on the internet. Instead, she hooked up to Netflix and can now watch the British dramas she likes for less than $10 a month.

We haven’t had cable in 15 years, and we really don’t miss anything. It’s all on the internet anyway.

2. Shop Around for Loans, Insurance

If you need a new car, or you’re looking to renew your insurance, don’t just go with the bank because it’s easiest. Shop around for best deals on auto credit or on insurance. I often balk at doing this because I don’t have the time, but with a little internet research you can often get quotes quite quickly. Have a teen in your house? Pay them $20 to spend an hour getting you a ton of quotes. It’s worth it!

And if you don’t have great credit, auto credit express will help you out anyway. And many local mortgage dealers will as well. So if you need the car or the mortgage, look into it. But above all, start using the other tips so that your credit will improve!

3. Term Life Insurance is Good–every other life insurance policy? Probably not.

If you’re under 50, term life insurance is really pretty cheap, especially if you don’t smoke. Try to insure the main breadwinner in your family for at least $500,000, if you can, so that if the person were to suddenly die, you’d have a comfortable cushion.

But banks and other loan providers often try to “sneak” insurance in to other things, too. Mortgages often come with life insurance–if you die, your mortgage is paid off! It sounds great, but let’s say you owe $150,000 on the mortgage. I can pretty much guarantee you that if you went to an insurance company and took out an additional $150,000 in term life insurance it would be cheaper than the life insurance that goes with the mortgage. So opt out of that.

Opt out of credit card insurance schemes, too. Pay your credit card off in full, and you won’t need balance protection insurance in case of unemployment. And simply get enough term life insurance that these debts would be covered anyway without needing 5 or 6 different policies for each different loan you have.

The one type of insurance people don’t get enough of is disability insurance. If someone dies, it’s tragic, but it’s not nearly as expensive as if someone is in a horrific car accident or something and becomes disabled. And the latter is actually more likely than the former. When you’re disabled, you may have to remodel your house and bathroom and kitchen, you may need nursing care, and you may need other equipment. Don’t skimp here!

One of my regular readers, Leanne, has a great blog called Sensible Money Solutions! And she has some tips for saving money on house insurance, too.

4. Consolidate Your Loans

We often hear that statement, but do we know what it means? Basically, when you owe money in many different places, it’s hard to get a handle on how much you owe and on what you should pay off first. If you have multiple credit cards, and a car loan, and a personal loan, and a line of credit, that’s a lot of loans. Do you know which one has the highest interest rate? Do you know which one you should pay off first?

Often you can get a loan from a bank right now for about 6% interest depending on your credit rating, but many credit cards are charging three times that. Go to a bank and ask if they will help you pay off all of your loans by giving you a bigger loan at a lower interest rate.

One word of warning: often people prefer to have this consolidation loan in a line of credit, because then they have flexibility in paying it back. I don’t think that’s a good idea if you have a history of wracking up debt. It’s easy to not pay it back at all, or to only pay the interest. It’s better to get a fixed term loan–say five or ten years–so that you are making regular payments and shrinking that loan. It means you’ll have money coming out every month, but it also means that the loan will eventually get paid.

And one more tip: If you owe money on credit cards, don’t have money sitting in a savings account. Sure, it’s nice to feel like you have a buffer, but if you’re paying 15% interest on a credit card, it’s not wise to put money you do have in a savings account where it’s earning .25% interest. Put it against the card, even if you’re going to need that money in a month. It will end up saving you interest!

Save Money on Everyday Purchases

5. Pay with Cash

The biggest cause of debt is people spending without a real knowledge of how much money they have in their account. Now that my daughter is paying her own way in university she’s taking the cash approach. She has figured out how much money she has each week for food, entertainment, and general spending, and she’s taking that out in cash at the beginning of each week. When the money’s gone, it’s gone. And she won’t use her debit card.

I received an email recently from a woman who is a stay at home mom, and who does the finances in her family. Her husband works full-time, but he also spends beyond their budget.  She writes:

I ask my husband before he makes a big purchase to please talk to me so that we can see if it is doable or if there are other options. There have been several times where he just spends 200 to 300 dollars without saying anything. And I’m left thinking our account has been hacked or something. He gets mad at me when I ask him to communicate with me because he says it’s his money and I don’t work.

That’s a tough one, but I firmly believe that going to a cash system can help people figure this out! The root of most money problems in marriage is communication. There’s no magic way to get him to stick to a budget; you just have to sit down and talk about it. But if you do sit down, don’t say, “I think you’re overspending.” Say instead, “What do you think is the maximum that we can spend each week each?” And once you’ve both figured out that number, then suggest that from now on, you leave the debit and credit cards at home and you simply take out that cash at the beginning of each week.

I know this is a huge problem in many marriages, but you’ve got to talk about it! And switching to cash is often the best way to stop these impulse purchases. It also gets out of the “you need to check in with me” dynamic that many people don’t like.

6. Use What You Have

“Shop your cupboards first!”

The average family has an extra $300 of food in their cupboards at any one time. And that’s ALL households. If you were to look at only the households with kids, where we grocery shop a lot, I bet it would be more than that.

And here’s another scary thing: the average family throws out 40% of their food. Almost half of fruits and vegetables don’t even make it to your stomach, because they go bad before you eat them.

So eat up what’s in your cupboards, and then shop with a menu plan from now on so that you only buy what you need. It actually leads to a lot less waste, even if you do feel like your cupboards are bare!

Here’s a much longer article I’ve written on how to use what you have.

7. Don’t Buy Stuff You Would Throw Away

Don’t buy disposable stuff. Use tupperware instead of saran wrap or baggies. Use rags instead of paper towel. Use cloth diapers instead of disposable. (And if you’re not too grossed out by it, you can even make your own cloth sanitary pads, which are way cuter and more comfortable).

8. Stop Eating Out!

One of the biggest items on many families’ expense sheets is eating out. This adds up so much faster than you may think. A lunch costs $10, which may not seem like much. But do that twice a week and you’re at $80 a month, or $1000 a year. And dinners out when you have kids get expensive, too!

To stop the lure of eating out, cut down on activities that will leave you rushed at the dinner hour. Buy a few frozen meals (I normally don’t recommend this, but in this case it’s a good idea) that you will use only on nights when you’re too tired/sick/busy to cook, so that it keeps you from ordering pizza.

And what about those snacks that we buy when we’re out? Keep bottles of water with ice in them to take when you go out. Buy granola bars or other treats that you can keep in your car to munch on if everyone wants something sweet. It’s cheaper than ice creams all round, and easier on your pocketbook!

9. Menu Plan–and Then Shop Wisely

I’m not going to say much about this one because I have a whole post on how to save money at the grocery store. But in general, when we’ve planned what we’re going to eat, and we buy only that, we’ll find our expenditures shrinking.

10. Stop the “Buy Now” Messages from Coming Through!

Here’s a counterintuitive one: stay away from malls and stores. Seriously. Only go shopping when you actually need something. Don’t go to a mall just to hang out with a friend. Don’t go window shopping. Only go out with a list, when you need something.

And cancel the catalogs and try to stay away from TV commercials. Don’t fill your head with all the things you could be buying–fill it with more fun with your family instead!

Bonus: 11. Plan Your Big Purchases

Menu planning and making a list for your everyday purchases saves a ton. But so does planning your big purchases!

When most of us buy something big, like a car, a computer, or furniture, we pay for it AFTER we buy it. It’s forced savings, really. We purchase it, and then we pay the credit card or loan payment every month.

You save a ton if you do that savings BEFORE you purchase it.

So if you need a car every five years, then right after you get a car, start saving for the next one. We buy a new computer every three years, so we’re putting money aside every month for that before we need to. And we have a bank account just for that purpose.

And don’t buy a new car, either! Did you know that most new cars are purchased by the middle class, not the upper class? People with a high net worth buy used cars, because it makes no sense to buy a new car. If you do, you’re just paying for the depreciation. We try to buy cars with about 20,000 miles on them. They’re virtually new, and they look great, but they’re vastly cheaper, because cars lose a ton of value as soon as you drive them off of the lot.

We’ve made friends with a car dealer in our small town who sells and services used cars. Now, whenever we know we’re going to need a car soon, we’ll call him a few months ahead of time and tell him what we’re looking for, and he’ll keep his eyes out. It works out great!

So save first, and know when you’ll need to buy big things. That way you won’t have to take out large loans.

Okay, so that was 11 tips, not 10, but I thought of the last one after I named the post!

Now it’s your turn: what are your big tips for saving money? What one tip are you going to implement today? Let me know in the comments!

Wifey Wednesday: Waking Up

Christian Marriage AdviceIt’s Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and then you follow up either by commenting or by writing your own post and then linking up in the comments!  Today, guest author Holly Smith shares about some major groundwork God laid in her marriage.  It all began with a prayer.

I had been praying about it for a couple of months, and God answered in the most unusual, but faithful way. This is what I prayed, “Lord, please wake my Chris up—make him fully engaged in life again–for he is sleep-walking. Wake him up, Father.”

So God did. He sent a friend first of all. The friend offered a challenge and invitation for my Chris to participate in a mission trip to India—to design something, life-giving and life-saving for these people. That spoke Chris’ language. I saw the tears and I saw the awakening gradually begin.

That evening came another type of news from our mortgage company. We were behind in payments and if we did not get things in order, we would be on the road to foreclosure. Now let me say it plainly. Chris did not intentionally let us fall behind. He was not fully aware. But he also was not fully awake. And when we stop watching, guarding and being on the alert, we miss important choices. To fail to choose is to not choose.

He was fully awake that October day! We got back-to-back in the fight. I believe this is key in any marriage issue. We choose to be on the same team. We choose to fight against all forces together. We choose to forgive. We choose to love.

The overflow is that God took this awakening opportunity to raise up not only miraculous help that was beyond our ability, but also He awakened the giant in my husband—the one who fights for family, who is fully alert and who wants other families to not miss one opportunity.

It was a gift in disguise.

Today we are on the last month of paying the missed payments back. By month’s end, we will be fully out of debt, except for a very small mortgage payment. We will also be on the road to saving – for the first time in our marriage of 22 years! We have seen God’s provision and we are making Him known in the way we share our story—the good, the bad and the ugly.

Waking UpChris is now leading a men’s Bible study in our home. He’s sharing our testimony. He has been invited to serve as a deacon at our church. He is leading our family with eyes wide open. No more is he sleeping. He is in God’s Word, prayerful and watchful—our family’s point man. Every step he takes is purposeful and under the Holy Spirit’s leading. He is also watching over our finances in a way unlike he has ever watched before—he has learned and grown so much!

I, too, am fully awake. I have found freedom in forgiveness, in choosing to not say—it’s your fault. But what shall we do together now? For I know this is OUR problem and we shall face it together. “Two are better than one for if one falls down the other can help them up,” the Bible says in Ecclesiastes 4:9.

Most of us live like we have fallen asleep. We try to satiate the aching holes in our soul by feeding on mindless things. I am guilty of this for sure. To relax, I want to watch something that will not make me think–maybe laugh–but thinking is something that I try to turn off. I want to accomplish the things I have to, while doing something I like that somehow entertains me. As a nation, we rely on empty entertainment. Silence is a lost art.

Silence can be a springboard for waking up. For we use noise and entertainment to numb the pains of life. I know. For I have done it myself.

Recently my Chris traveled out of the country for the week with work. During that time, I made myself be silent rather than turning on the TV, radio or calling somebody. In the silences, I found a refuge of strength and healing in my spirit. I would be on the cusp of tears, as I missed my Chris so much. But also, I realized that some of our usual daily habits (staying up too late, falling into a mindless routine) were not happening. Perhaps as a couple–as a family even–we need to mix it up a little. We need to wake up!

For the groundwork we are laying in our families—it is of utmost importance. It may seem trivial now. But one day, we will find it was the means by which God did the most effective and active works we have ever seen. Those works will count throughout the generations—they will be told and re-told. And it all began with a prayer, obedience, watchfulness and silence. It all began with God, who invited us from the start.

About Holly Smith

Holly SmithHolly loves her job as wife to Chris and mom to Noah, Kylie, Tabor and Sydney. God has gifted Holly with a love of all things creative ~ from painting and wall papering to scrap-booking and design work. In addition to co-founding and managing A Martha Heart, she designs web pages (www.crownlaiddowndesigns.com) and marketing pieces. She also participates with a wonderful team of moms in writing at The M.O.M. Initiative. Holly and her family make their home within site of year ’round snow-capped mountains in Colorado. She can be reached by emailing Holly@amarthaheart.com or connect with her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HollyGorinSmith.  Read more from Holly’s heart at:  www.amarthaheart.com

Now, what about you?  Your spouse?  Is it time for doing some waking up in your home, too? Write your own Wifey Wednesday post that links back to here, and then leave the link of THAT POST in the comments. Thanks!

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5 Daily Reminders To Help You Keep on Budget

5WaystoStayonBudget

While I’m taking a bit of a hiatus this summer to write a book proposal and an ebook, I’ve invited a few people to guest post. Here’s Cassy from Credit Donkey sharing some tips for staying on budget.

If you’re anything like me, you need a little help sometimes staying on budget. Right now, I’m hanging out with a cup of coffee from good ole “Fivebucks,” which I really didn’t need to buy. In fact, that one small purchase pushed me a bit over budget in one area.

Why did I make the purchase, then? Well, I sort of forgot where I was at in the “dining out” portion of my budget. So now I have to scale back on something else in order to afford this cup of Joe I’m already enjoying.

It’s not that big a deal, but little things like this can add up over time. Maybe I need to use a few of these reminders to help me stay on budget:

1. Check your bank account balance

If you’re living on a tight budget and don’t have much of a pad in your checking account, you’re not alone. Lots of us in this tough economy are living paycheck to paycheck, which means there’s not much in-between to work with. In fact, the national average checking account balance is just under $3,000.

Checking in on your checking account balance daily is easy if your bank offers online and mobile account balance information. And keeping tabs on how much cash you have on hand can deter unnecessary spending – especially if that balance begins to dip below a comfortable level.

2. Track your credit card swipes

It’s easy when using a credit card to forget how much you’re spending, but you don’t want to fall into this financial trap. Whether you are using a credit card at the gas pump, or using a card to save money on grocery shopping trips, you still want to stick to budget to avoid paying hefty interest fees down the road.

So keep a notebook handy, and track your credit card spending each time you make a purchase. It doesn’t take long, and you can enter that information in your budget spreadsheet once you get home.

3. Use budgeting apps

There are literally hundreds of budgeting apps available today, and you may want to check out one of these money management apps to help you stick to your budget. Some of the more advanced apps actually download transactions automatically, so you don’t have to even write them down. Others simply help you keep track of where your money is going.

Budgeting apps on your phone can be particularly helpful for controlling day-to-day spending, since they allow you to check your balances and budgets on a minute-by-minute basis, if necessary.

4. Post a picture of your goals

One thing that keeps me going on my budget – and generally steering clear of expensive coffee shops – is keeping my goals in mind. I’m currently saving to buy a home. What’s your big financial goal to work towards?

Whether it’s being debt-free, going on vacation, or even something as simple as having an emergency fund, keeping the end goal in mind can help boost your will to stay on budget. Post a picture or a saying about your goal on your fridge, by your computer, or on your desk at work to keep these goals constantly in mind.

5. Set a reasonable budget

This tip actually begins at the beginning: when you’re setting your budget. If you find yourself constantly going over budget in certain budget categories, the problem may actually just be your budget.

Sometimes in our zeal to save more and spend less, we set unreasonable budget restrictions we just can’t meet. Now, if you’re constantly overspending on shoes you don’t need or on frothy, expensive coffee drinks, the problem probably lies in your self-discipline.

But if you’re spending more than you budgeted on your grocery bill, gas, utilities, or other necessary expenses, you may just need to re-examine your budget. Allocating more money to these problem areas can give you a more reasonable goal to meet, while still helping you save money.

Before I swipe my card at the Starbucks drive through, I’ll now have to contend with a mental picture of my dream house – and I’ll check that possibly low checking account balance. Which of these five tips will you use to stay on budget this week?

Cassy blogs about personal finance and how to be more financially savvy at CreditDonkey. For more information, please check out their website at http://www.creditdonkey.com/ or their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/CreditDonkey