Friday, July 30, 2010
This site has a plethora of resources!!! Not only will it set up a custom-made exercise regimen (incorporating both cardio and strength training), it also allows me to set up a nutrition plan as well. Then there are message boards, blogging and journaling options, a planner (that even sends birthday and anniversary reminders to your e-mail), inspirational and information articles related to almost any question you have in your wellness journey, etc., etc. and etc. It's pretty impressive. And the crazy part is...it's free! Absolutely FREE!
I feel as if I have my own personal trainer now. And I'm finding myself more committed to working out and improving our health since joining this site. Ciaran's even noticed how much more I'm trying to weave vegetables and fruits into my meal planning. Oh, that reminds me, I forgot to share my favorite part of this site. Every time you record something that helps improve your health and wellness, such as eating a serving of fruits and vegetables, logging in exercise time, reading health-related articles, drinking at least 8 cups of water a day, etc., you can earn SparkPoints that accumulate so you can eventually win virtual trophies. It's the craziest thing, but those points really get the little competitor in me motivated. Take yesterday morning, for instance. Ciaran and I were supposed to leave to head to my in-laws yesterday night and so when I woke up, I had a million items on my "to do" list to get done before we left town for five days. Normally, I would have decided to just skip my workout and get up extra early this morning to go for an extra long walk around their neighborhood to make up for it. Nope. Not for this newly born SPARKler! I knew when I woke up yesterday morning, that even though I had a lot to get done, I was only 45 points away from my next trophy, so I changed into my workout clothes as soon as my feet hit the bedroom floor, took a swig of water, scarfed down a handful of frosted mini wheats, and I was out the door!
The same thing has been true with my water intake. I'm supposed to drink an inordinate amount of water to help prevent my kidney stones from forming so often. Even though I know how painful and miserable it is having kidney stones (I've had kidney stones five different times since I was eighteen), I'm still not good about keeping up with my water intake. Now, because I earn points on SparkPeople for drinking my water...I'm guzzling away like a crazy camel!
Having said all this, I need to pause and clarify something. Have I seen a total change in my health and wellness in the past week? Nope, I'm still the girl who gobbles down Whoppers and Big Macs and delights in my Culver's Turtle Sundaes. But what I have seen are those small mental and physical changes that often translate to a commitment to lifelong wellness. And I feel that is definitely worth getting excited about!
I'll try and remember to post a follow-up on this topic to see how long this streak goes, but for now I'm very impressed with this free site. It's definitely a frugal girl's dream come true! Check it out at http://www.sparkpeople.com/.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
On June 19th, Ciaran and I were curled up on the couch watching a movie. I couldn't get interested in the movie, so I absent-mindedly turned my laptop on and without thinking, found myself typing in my student loan website (one of the perils of this journey to freedom from debt...the payment page on your debts become something you can navigate in your sleep). As I logged in and my payment page popped up, I couldn't believe my eyes.
Loan Balance: PAID IN FULL
I just sat there.
That's right, I just sat there. I couldn't believe my eyes. Once I got over the initial shock, I turned to Ciaran and calmly stated, "The last payment on my student loan just posted." Looking into Ciaran's eyes at that moment, it registered. It was over. We were debt free. No more watching all of that hard-earned money slip through our fingers. No more staggering interest rates. It was over! I laughed and was giddy as only I can be. We hugged and laughed some more. It was OVER!!!!! Our slavery to our debtors was OVER!!!!
And now, the future. Only the Lord knows what our future holds. But He has been so faithful and amazing in leading us in this journey. We fully give Him the glory because we know we couldn't have done this on our own! As we've prayed about the future and discussed and discussed and prayed some more, we know our financial journey is far from over. We do not want to go back in debt (other than a house mortgage) and so our next steps are to take care of a few matters so we, Lord willing, don't have to be enslaved to debt again.
First, Ciaran and I have to pay for graduate school. To keep our teaching certificates (so we can continue earning an income), we have to each complete 18 credits of graduate school. Ciaran has just under two years to do this in and I have three years. Since we have to work full-time jobs while we do this, there isn't a lot of funding available for us...which means we're going to have to pay for 36 graduate credits out of pocket in the space of three years...on our meager teachers' salaries. Scary beyond all reason? Yes. But God is faithful and we know He'll provide. Thankfully, we now know how to live frugally so we're going to just keep living the way we have for the last 17 months...if not even more frugally.
Next, since we're continuing to follow Dave Ramsey's Babysteps, we're going to work on Babystep 3, our fully funded emergency fund of 6 months worth of expenses. We started that this month, but progress will be really slow on this as we try to cash-flow grad school. The logic behind this huge emergency fund of untouched money, sitting in a savings account, is that when a true emergency comes up, we won't have to pull out the old credit card and accrue debt. I know the challenging part for me is going to be not dipping into that fund when I have a "want" that comes up. But it is imperative that we are disciplined with this step if we are really serious about not going back into debt again.
Finally, once we cash-flow grad. school and complete saving 6 months worth of expenses, we will finally have the opportunity to start saving for a house!!!! Now this is the part we've been praying about for almost the entirety of our marriage so far. What I'm going to share may seem a bit crazy, but just know it's been bathed in a lot of prayer and we really feel that this is how God wants us to proceed as a couple, as faithful stewards over the funds He has entrusted to us. OK, so here goes: Our goal is to save for a minimum of a 20% downpayment and...here's the tough part....we only want the monthly house payment to be 25% of Ciaran's take-home pay. This probably means we'll end up making more than a 20% down payment. To make this even more interesting...we only want a 15-year, fixed-rate mortgage. So yes, we're probably going to be renting for quite some time.
But we're ok with that. Our goal when we started this financial journey was to glorify God with our finances, keep the lines of communication open between us, and to "live like no one else today so one day we can give like no one else!" God has been faithful and we will continue to submit our finances to Him, as He leads us by His grace. It's been an exciting journey so far and my faith in the Lord has grown so much through this journey. It's my prayer that Ciaran and I will continue to grow in our relationship with Him and with each other as He teaches us how to be faithful stewards of what He has entrusted to us.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Up until December 2009, we had been diligently working for almost nine months, without really seeing noticeable progress. Sure, we were watching the balance on Ciaran's car go down, but we still were feeling the incredibly overwhelming burden of debt. I think the biggest struggle was that even though Ciaran and I have very modest incomes as high school teachers, we'd still never seen this much money go through our hands before and to see it all going out the door as soon as it came in was so disheartening. Ciaran and I longed to have a house of our own with a nice woodshop for Ciaran out back and it just seemed to be a dream that would never come true for us at the current rate we were going. Then after school let out for break in December 2009, we watched that final payment post and received the letter declaring the car was paid in full. We danced around our little apartment, giddy beyond reason. This moment gave us the hope we so desperately needed! This plan was actually working! Ciaran announced at our family holiday gatherings that "Frank," as Ciaran lovingly named his car, was ours! We were so excited!!!!
When we got home in January and sat down to do our monthly budget, the momentum officially began to build. We now had one less payment and all of the funds we had been throwing at Ciaran's car, now could go toward my car. With one less payment, we paid off the remaining balance on my car by May.
I have to interject, before going on, to share our one major setback during this amazing, momentum-building time. In February, Ciaran and I had to suspend our debt snowball as both of us were potentially facing lay-offs. Every penny we had been applying to our debt snowball was funneled into a savings account in case we both lost our jobs. We were so disappointed. To experience the success of paying off Frank Sonata (hehe) and then to have to temporarily suspend paying off my car was really hard for me. We continued to pay minimum payments on my car and student loan all winter long. And what a long winter it was for me! Then spring came and once we found out at the very beginning of May that Ciaran's job was safe, we drained our savings back to just about $3500 and paid off my car in one single payment. [The logic here was that we needed our $1,000 baby emergency fund and $2,500 extra as one full month of actual living expenses, in case I lost my job.] It felt amazing! Looking back, the wait was worth it. Every single, agonzing extra day I had to wait was worth it when I saw the balance online say "Paid in Full."
After paying off my car, with all of the funds that had been going toward our cars, and the $2,500 left over in the bank from our winter of saving (once we knew my job was safe, of course), we were able to knock out our last debt, my student loan, in just under two months. June 19th was the day our last debt payment posted.
During this "momentum building" portion of our financial journey, I have left out something. As the momentum built in the debt snowball, something funny happened. We found ourselves becoming more and more intense, more frugal, more determined to cut expenses than we ever had before. Every little extra penny we could scrounge up, we immediately applied to debt. Before this journey, if a surprise rebate came in the mail we would have treated ourselves to dinner out, or to some fun shopping. But because of what we were learning in this journey, we wanted nothing more than to use surprise money and really, an money that wasn't being spent on necessities, to go directly toward our debt. This is where God really taught us a lot about being content with what we have, with Him and with each other.
Make sure to come back tomorrow as I wrap up this five-part series on our financial journey (thus far).
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
This week's challenge pulled directly from her blog is as follows:
It's week #7 in our Summer Completing Him Challenge! Here's this week's challenge: Support his vision. Discuss his vision for your family. Where does he see your family in 1 year, 5 years, and 10 years. Share with us how you let your husband lead.
First of all, this is an area that I know I'm going to have to work on for the rest of my life. For those of you who know me really well, you know that I have a pretty strong personality and that I have absolutely no problem taking the reigns and leading...in almost any and all situations. From age fourteen on, I lived in a single-parent household and I got to exercise a lot of leadership in our day-to-day home life. My mom was always grateful for any help my 12-year-old brother and I could offer as she adjusted to working full-time outside of the home. During my teenage years and on, I loved my "to do" lists and I loved goal setting and big picture stuff...along with detailed daily work.
So when I got married over 22 months ago, I knew I would really need to be prayerful about how I conducted myself within my marriage and that I had a lot to learn if I was to take God at His Word with regards to submitting to my beloved husband's leadership. That's why I got so excited when I saw this week's challenge.
So this past weekend, I asked Ciaran these questions. We had a great discussion and I learned so much about Ciaran's vision for us as a family. We are always talking about these things, but sitting down without the TV on, without having a bunch of other stuff to discuss really made this a memorable evening.
I married a visionary man. I've known this about him since I met him. I deeply admire his vision and leadership abilities within the teaching field, within the coaching arena (to watch this man of mine coach teenage young men on the soccer field still takes my breath away...just as it did in June of 2001 when I first met him), and now within our marriage. But Ciaran can also be a reserved man in the home and throughout the course of our discussion this weekend, I realized how much he envisions for our family. It's so easy for me to interpret his reserve as passivity and this challenge taught me that nothing could be further from the truth. As a result of this challenge, I now see Ciaran as a strong and visionary leader in the home...it's just that he has a pretty strong-willed wife that can easily eclipse him.....hmmmm...something I need to be more prayerful about!
The best part about learning Ciaran's one year, five year, and ten year vision for us is his vision is completely something I can come alongside him as his helper and support. Now, I can't wait to see where God takes us as God continues to teach me how to support and be a suitable helper for this wonderful man of mine!
Saturday, July 24, 2010
Friday, July 23, 2010
So last fall, I started researching ways to organize coupons and stumbled upon this revolutionary idea. The Coupon Binder. Once I found this, I started looking for ways I could create this for myself. More research ensued.
This blog post was all I needed. I followed her steps and created my very own coupon binder and 10 months later, I'm still loving it and using it every time I go grocery shopping. The only downside to this resource is that it draws questions...about once a month someone stops me in the grocery store and asks about it. Also, if you shop during hours when the store is super busy, you might frustrate some people. I haven't experienced that yet, but it might happen. I generally shop when it's quiet because I'm working on a price book (which I'll post about it another Frugal Friday post).
I love shopping now and I've watched my savings double over all and the first few weeks, it tripled my savings. And I'm still learning, so I'm hoping to see our savings grow even more. Happy Couponing!
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
First, there was absolutely no exact science to this part of the process. There was just a whole lot of prayer and discussion and research each and every month as we worked the budget and tried to find more money to throw at the debt snowball. Areas we cut back in were groceries/restaurants, cell phone plans (we already didn't have a land line), clothing, TV, entertainment, recreation, etc. Ciaran found a way to get free golf in the summer by volunteering as a coach at a local golf course; we took the plunge and cut our satellite (yes, we actually have survived with only 4 local TV stations); I rediscovered the joys of rereading books and utilizing our local library weekly; we limited going out with friends to times when we could do cost-free or minimal expense activities; I spent endless hours couponing and researching sales and frugal recipes; we packed our lunches every day for work; I would spend weekends prepping meals for the week to limit eating out; and I explored ways to bring in additional income through survey-taking and other online income generators, on top of my typical 70 hour/week teaching job. Ciaran, of course, was busy coaching on top of his teaching load and he also was on the lookout for ways to generate additional income (such as working toward certification to be a driver's ed teacher). We spent most Friday and Saturday nights at home (typically because we were so exhuasted from our work weeks) and just kept a diligent work ethic. We knew that this was only for a season so we kept our noses to the grindstone, for the most part.
Now, the part that I can't emphasize enough, is how much God poured out his grace upon us as we waded through this process. It's so easy, when writing or reading this, to get overly caught up in the actual steps and not acknowledge that all of the strength, wisdom, mercy and purpose came from the Lord. We wouldn't have been led to want to get out of debt if it hadn't been Him showing us in His Word how he feels about our finances. We wouldn't have learned the vital lessons about finding contentment in Him and how no amount of stuff brings joy and contentment. We wouldn't have discovered deeper joys in our relationship with the Lord and with each other if He hadn't been the one leading and equipping us as we traveled through the sixteen months it took to get out of debt. Ultimately, it is God who is the "strength of our heart and our portion forever." And we praised Him all the way through this sticky portion of our jouney as we cut expenses and tried to generate additional income.
Check back later this week as I share further about our particulars of momentum building in the debt snowball!
Monday, July 19, 2010
In March of 2009 Ciaran and I were still budgeting with YNAB and having a minimum of one financial meeting a month (at the end of each month/the first day of the next month) to reflect on our past budget, how it worked and what we needed to do differently for the upcoming month. We would take our earnings and spend every dollar on paper before the month began, until our balance said $0. We would discuss any foreseeable bigger than normal spending coming up and plan for that, to a degree. I continued to read on YNAB's website and go through the instructional manuals there hoping to glean any information that would help us know how to better manage the money God was entrusting to us.
Now enter Dave Ramsey. It was either on YNAB's website or on the radio or on the TV, but somehow I heard the name Dave Ramsey. Then I went to my local library one day after teaching and started to peruse the finance section and explore what books were out there to give us guidance. I saw Dave Ramsey's The Total Money Makeover and grabbed that book immediately. I went home and read it in one sitting. I knew I needed to get Ciaran to read this and get his opinion on what he thought of what was espoused in those pages. We were heading back to visit family in our hometowns that weekend so I picked up the audiobook at our library the next day after school and Ciaran and I listened to the book on CD in the 5 hours we spent in the car that weekend. We had to keep pausing the CD to discuss it so when we got home we finished the audio book and went to his website and after a couple days of prayer and further discussion we decided to try this "Total Money Makeover."
The first step was to drain our savings down to what Ramsey calls a $1,000 Baby Emergency Fund (this can be altered if you have a very small income or a larger income), but our combined salaries put us in the middle so we went with the $1,000. We had a little bit of leftover wedding money that hadn't been used when we set up our apartment, so we drained the savings down to that $1,000 and applied the rest directly to what was left of my medical debt which was our lowest balance on all of our debt. The awesome part was that it wiped out what was left of the medical debt and we experienced our first victory in Ramsey's Babystep 2 which is called "The Debt Snowball."
Next, since we weren't really sure the current balances on all of the rest of our debts, we had to spend some time calling a bunch of phone numbers and checking online accounts. Once we knew the rest of our remaining debts and their balances, we listed them from smallest balance to highest balance. The funny part at this stage was when we sat down to share each of the balances, we realized that each of the three remaining debts stood just above $11,000 each. So more research ensued as we discovered that if each of the balances are around the same, you can then begin to pay off the one with the highest interest rate first. Ciaran's car won. So we wrote down the minimum payments for my car and my student loan and then every spare penny we had above those two minimums we started sending to Ciaran's car. Month by month, it was so exciting to watch the numbers fall downward on that balance. "Frank," as we lovingly refer to Ciaran's car, was slowly coming closer and closer to becoming fully ours.
Months and months went by as we pinched pennies and worked so hard to pay off Ciaran's car. Then in December, just before we left to go visit family for Christmas break, we watched the balance on Ciaran's car go to $0. We were ecstatic!!! DR's plan was working!!!
Saturday, July 17, 2010
So having said that, I thought it would be fun to share in a 5 part series, the components of our financial journey so far. We're far from perfect in this area and we're continuing to learn as we go, but we'd love to share what we've learned so far. This series is going to be broken down as follows:
- The Budget
- Emergency Fund Savings and the Debt Snowball
- Cutting Expenses
- Building Momentum
- Freedom from Debt and The Future
So first, I was very fortunate because a dear friend of mine (Jen) recommended a budget software to me a few years earlier called YNAB. Since I'd been using that for a few years, I just shared it with Ciaran at this wonderful meeting at the end of September, showed him the website and what I had learned from using the software and he said he was game to try it. So we merged our finances and off we went. That's right, no separate accounts, no hidden money, just every single penny we had between the two of us was laid before us in this budget.
The next challenge we faced was how to steward these funds within our budget. What percentage of our income should go to what?! So we started first with our tithe and then proceeded to monthly expenses: rent, utilities, food, debt payments, etc. and went from there, plugging in each number into our budget. We still had no clue how much we actually needed for the two of us for food or how much our electricity bill would be each month, so we just made a guestimate and plugged that into the budget. We did this until every penny was spent. [Please note that by "spent," I mean it was given a name/job so some money was put in a category knowing we wouldn't spend it that month, but it would be available in that category for future months or was money sitting in a savings account.] After praying together, we then closed our first budget meeting. That was it. It was that simple. We had no idea what we were doing, but we knew that many marriages end over financial issues, so we just purposed to get on the same page within those first weeks of marriage and off we went with it, prayerfully determined to figure this out.
The next component of our budget, other than spending every dollar on paper before the month (October) started, was a determination to track every penny we spent and record it in YNAB. This was the area that Ciaran and I were most reluctant. I had had great success with this during my single years, but I didn't have nearly as many expenses as I now was going to have. But we purposed to do it anyway. Note, we didn't purpose to "try," we purposed to "do," for a trial period of 3 months. If, after 3 months, it wasn't working for us, then we would try something else.
That was one of the greatest gifts for this financial component of our marriage. It was eye-opening to me as we would sit down and plug in our spending each night or week (if we did it every night before bed it would take about a minute or two and if we did it weekly, it would take about 15 minutes or so). [Now, almost 22 months later, we do this daily, for the most part.] This simple step opened the lines of communication between us with regard to finances and then as a by-product, we found ourselves calling each other if we were in the store and about to make a bigger than normal purchase, checking to see if it was "in the budget" if we forgot, or if we could reallocate any funds for any surprise expense we were facing. We also learned more about each other's interests, strengths and weaknesses through this process.
Ciaran and I had been good friends for seven years prior to marriage, yet I learned more about this beloved husband of mine in those three short months, than I ever had before. The oneness that we have in our marriage was deepened through this process of getting our finances together and the necessary communication that ensued. It has been so awesome and I cannot recommend enough the value of getting on a budget. I've heard many friends say that far from being a restricting tool, it has felt like they were given a raise when they sat down and starting making their money work for them instead of working for their money. A zero-based budget was the first step in our financial journey and if you're interested, I have a few links below to show options for creating a zero based budget. You can always just do one on paper, but I find it to be a bit cumbersome, so that's why I'm linking below some of the electronic versions.
By far my favorite and what we use! Clear interface, easy to use, free webinars for support, online tutorials, etc. Love it, love it, love it!
-Gazelle Budget Lite
Seems a good option if you are just getting started and want a very simple budget.
-My Total Money Makeover
With this paid subscription there is a budget tool within the site you can use. I like this budget because it shows what percentage of your income is going to each category right on the main interface of the budget.
I've never used it, but have friends who testify that it works really well for them.
A lot of people defect from this to YNAB. It seems pretty good though...just not as good as YNAB in my humble opinion.
-And then of course there is the wonderful Excel spreadsheet. I used this before Jen got me hooked on YNAB.
All right, that rounds out part one of our financial journey so far. Be sure to check back on Monday, when I get to share with you the next component that comprised our journey to becoming debt free! Also be sure to post any comments related to what has worked for you if you use budgeting software. Ciaran and I love to learn and any wisdom you have to offer, we would gladly welcome!
Friday, July 16, 2010
What I want to share with you today is a website that has been hugely instrumental in this quest. The author of this blog is Crystal Paine and she used to have a blog that I read all of the time called Biblical Womahood. Since she no longer has that blog, I transferred over to the one that I'm going to share with you today.
It's called Money Saving Mom. She has tons of leads on good deals at the grocery store, how to cut your food budget, freezer cooking tips, etc. I have learned so much since I started reading this blog on a weekly basis. Once a week when I sit down to plan the week's menus and make my grocery list, I pull this website up before I peruse my week's sale flyers and coupons. It's been a big help and a much-needed source of inspiration as I learn and grow in this area of homemaking.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
It’s 4:45pm and I just looked around my apartment. There are dishes piled in the sink; there’s clutter all over our dining room table and coffee table; the bed is unmade; my bathing suit is drip-drying haphazardly over a clothes rack which is completely taking over our guest bathroom; and the laundry is sitting in the machine, waiting to be turned over. And where am I? I’ve been sitting on our couch for the past hour reading blogs.
Summer vacation is such a wonderfully glorious time. The beauty of Michigan summers are a particular love of mine, the time away from my classroom is always welcome by June, and a million projects are always waiting for me to get started on. Yet, summer vacation also has its perils as the above scene more than amply portrays.
Summer vacation was much needed for me this year. As Ciaran and I discussed what I would be doing with my time this summer, he lovingly pointed out that my 70 hour work weeks were taking a toll on me and that he would support my resting this summer and gearing up for another grueling school year. And so that’s the reason I’m not working another job this summer.
But that doesn’t mean that I have a license to be slothful. Yet, as summer progresses, I find myself spending more and more time on the computer; taking ridiculous amounts of time to do seemingly simple tasks; etc. This simply will not do.
For the month of July, I've been reading a chapter in Proverbs each day as part of my morning time with Lord. Here was the verse that the Lord just brought to my mind as I wrote this post, a verse I read only just this morning. It's a reminder for me to rise and work diligently serving the Lord with this time He has blessed me with and not get caught up with planning and "saying" I'm going to get to work...and then sitting idly looking at blogs all afternoon:
"In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty." -Proverbs 14:23
So with that reminder, I'm going to rise and get to work joyfully serving the Lord and my husband.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
In other news, we officially became debt-free on June 19th!!!!! It was the coolest feeling when I hopped onto my student loan payment website and saw PAID IN FULL in the balance. I'll be posting our debt free story in another couple days probably. God has taught us so much in the past 16 months during this financial journey and I can't wait to share some of the fun details.