Total Money Makeover Update: June 2012

Life has been a tad chaotic since I last posted about our Total Money Makeover progress.

After our fire, we lived in a Comfort Inn for 6 weeks. We ate out every night–which is not in our normal budget–and were begrudgingly given an advance of $500 (after we’d spent about $1000) by an insurance lady who said they didn’t usually give advances for food. (Which begs the question, What must one need in order to get an advance?)

Then, we moved to a condo and were given a rather random and unhelpful assortment of our stuff to live with. Salad spinner – yes. Bed sheets – no. We also were blessed with the companionship of a family of adorable, but filthy and disgusting brown mice who were much too smart to crawl into our humane mousetrap, even when it was full of cheese and peanut butter. About a week before we moved out, our property manager finally returned our call about taking care of the mice, but we decided to live with the mice and let maintenance deal with mouse-killing after we were gone.

About a week and a half after we moved back into our newly remodeled home, I took one of my students to the hospital and spent most of my evenings for the next three weeks with her. When she was discharged, she moved in with us and became our unofficial foster daughter for a few weeks. Then, she decided to get married.

During all of this, Dexter spent about two months out of work, though God blessed him with a few fantastic freelance jobs. He now has a nice, predictable job at a bank and I get to see him dressed up, tie and all, every morning. We also took an amazing class called Perspectives which added plenty of homework to our schedule. Dexter, always creative and always entrepreneurial, started a handmade product business which I’ll tell you more about soon.

How has all of this life affected our financial situation?

For the last eight months, we haven’t budgeted well at all. We started using a credit card and paying it off every month, but then using it again because paying it off used up our cash flow. After depleting our emergency fund, our car stopped working, so we opened a new, interest-free credit card for that bill.

For me, this summer is about getting back on track financially. We’re paying off the credit cards, getting back on the cash envelope system, and trying to live simply.

I remembered getting to the 75% mark in our debt repayment process, but I didn’t remember how close we came to 70% last time I calculated our debt. I was happily surprised that after months of paying only minimums, we had still made visible progress. Over the past seven months, we paid off 2.8% of our debt and have 67.9% to go.

We haven’t received the check for what we lost from the insurance company. This is mostly our fault, because we haven’t finished our paperwork. I like to blame this on the people who cleaned our house, because we keep unpacking damaged items mixed in with undamaged items, and having to record them in our paperwork. We have a few pieces of furniture to get repair estimates for, and then we should be done. Once the check comes in, things will look a lot more cheery in the financial department. With the check, we’ll do things like:

  • Save money
  • Replace our bed (We are currently floor-camping, and have been since February 6. It’s surprisingly comfortable, but we’re thankful for the new carpet underneath the sleeping bag.)
  • Replace our couch, window treatments, and set money aside for things we discover we need in the future
  • Fix our air conditioner
  • Look into refinancing our house
  • Finish paying off Debt #3

In my imagination, we’ll take the rest of our thousands of dollars and go on a vacation and buy a new car, but it’s unlikely we’ll be able to do all the things on the list above. A girl can dream.


Top Ten Things I Haven’t Bought (But Really Wanted To)

When my old boss was saving to buy a new house, she decided to keep a running list of all the things she wanted to buy but didn’t. Each day, she totalled how much she had “saved” as a morale booster. These are the things I’ve been jonesing for, but have not bought for the sake of our Total Money Makeover.

  1. Trip to New York over Spring Break – $1,500
  2. Adorable dresser from IKEA – $300
  3. Bed and headboard from IKEA – $800
  4. Window treatments for my living room, basement, kitchen, and bedroom – approx. $320
  5. Dyson vacuum – $550
  6. iPad – $500
  7. MacBookPro – $1200
  8. Vizio TV with apps – $2,200
  9. Honda Civic Hybrid – $24,000
  10. A mustang for Dexter – $23,000

In our culture, lots of people would have gone out and charged most of these things. I’m thankful to have had parents who made sure I knew how dangerous credit cards can be. So, for my morale booster today, I’ve saved $54,370 (+ tax and interest)!

Maybe it’s silly to think I would have bought all of these things. However, with the exception of the cars, I’ve thought to myself on more than one occasion, “It would be so useful. I should just get it before I think better of it.”

Find more Top Ten Tuesday at Oh Amanda!

Money Monday: How I Track My Budget

It took me a long time to find a method of keeping track of our budget that was simple and efficient. Everybody has a different system. One of my aunts doesn’t have Quicken (or a system like it), online banking, or a debit card. She loves the simplicity. Alicia uses a handwritten ledger, and explains her system here. I used Microsoft Money before they stopped updating it and no longer offered online support. I tried for a while, but it wouldn’t upload all my accounts, or I’d have to change my password and it wouldn’t let me login, and it wouldn’t let me split transactions (if I bought both gifts and groceries at the same store) the way I wanted to. We splurged for Quicken, and I finally have a thorough but easy-to-use system.

At the beginning of each month, I figure out how much money we have leftover from the previous month, predict our salaries and expenses for the month, and record them on an excel spreadsheet* (shown above, download here).  Once the income and the necessary expenses are filled in, I allot money for birthdays or weddings we’ll be shopping for that month, date nights and spending money, and most importantly, I use up the rest of our money in an extra loan payment as part of our total money makeover.

Then, I take out cash for several of our spending categories. Ideally, I’d walk into the bank and get the exact bills I need in one trip. Unfortunately, we often fail to get to the bank when it’s open, so we hit the ATM several times over the course of the first week to fill our envelopes. When I withdraw the cash, I categorize the transaction in Quicken with the exact amounts of cash that went to each category. Here’s what typically goes into our envelopes each month:

  • General Groceries: $200
  • Stock-Up Groceries: $50
  • Church Groceries: $20
  • Clothes: $50-100
  • Toiletries, Cleaning & Other Household: $50-100
  • Date Night: $50-100
  • “Blow Money”: $20 for each of us
  • Love Budget“: $10 for each of us

We try not to use our bank cards of any of these things. If we do, whether because we left cash at home or we bought something online, we deposit that cash back into the bank and note in Quicken what category that money should go to.

Ideally, several times throughout the month, I download my transactions from my bank’s website, assign each one a spending category, and compare Quicken to my spreadsheet. This process shows me how much room we have in the budget for non-cash categories and lets me make sure none of our envelopes “owe money to the bank.” In real life, this happens once in the middle of the month before I write our extra loan payment check and before our mortgage and other larger bills go through, and then at the end of the month.

To quickly compare my spending recorded in Quicken to my budget spreadsheet, I use the exact same category and subcategory names in Quicken that I do on my spreadsheet. Quicken will create a report for me of my spending in each category for a period of time (shown above), so I pull that up alongside my spreadsheet whenever I want to check how closely we’re following our budget. Unlike Dave Ramsey’s worksheets that put things in order of priority, e.g.: tithing first, then housing, etc., my spreadsheet alphabetizes the categories and subcategories so I can quickly glance from Quicken to the spreadsheet to compare.

At the end of the month, I enter our actual income and expenses. The surplus shown in our spreadsheet should exactly match the balance in Quicken on the last day of the month. (That works for us because we’re only tracking these categories in one account. It would be harder if you had multiple checking accounts or credit cards involved in the process. Which is exactly why I don’t have those!) If the numbers don’t match, I double-check Quicken and my spreadsheet to find the problem. Then, I start over again and prepare our budget for the following month.

What budgeting tips do you have? What money management system works for you or your family?

*I didn’t create this entirely myself. I found one from a friend of a friend of a friend online and adapted it, but I can’t find the source now. If it was you, thanks!

Top Ten Tuesday & My First Blog Giveaway

Top Ten {Tuesday}

Ten months ago, Dexter and I started on our Total Money Makeover journey. Since then, we’ve built a $1,000 emergency fund and paid off almost 20% of our debt. Last month, Dexter and I gave a presentation at our house church about the basics of Dave Ramsey’s baby steps and biblical money principles.  Dave doesn’t pay us to be excited about his financial plan or to tell people about his methods, but beginning to follow Dave’s baby steps has changed our financial future so much that I can’t help but be excited about the hope it can bring people.

Don’t buy it yet? Here are our top ten reasons to do a Total Money Makeover with Dave.

  1. Freedom from financial bondage. Proverb 22:7 says, “The rich rules over the poor, but the borrower is slave to the lender.” There are things we can’t do or don’t feel like we can do because of our debt. Once it’s gone, no one will be making claims on our income.
  2. Building character through discipline. Many people believe God doesn’t care about their money. In one sense, they’re right. God doesn’t love rich people any better than he loves poor people. However, our money habits often shed light on the condition of our heart, and God cares about our hearts. Persevering through a journey toward debt freedom can build character as well as financial security. James 1:4 says, “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
  3. When we honor the Lord with our finances, we reap his blessing. I’m certainly not saying that God will reward you financially or immediately for the responsible choices or generous giving you do. However, Proverbs 3:9-10 says, “Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will be bursting with wine.” God sees the bigger picture and may choose to bless you eternally rather than materially on Earth.
  4. Ability to give generously. It is thought that Theophilus, who was mentioned at the beginning of the book of Luke, allowed Luke to dedicate time to writing important accounts of the life of Christ and the early church by providing financial support. Being able to support children through Compassion or missionaries through Gospel for Asiais a great way to participate in the spreading of the gospel worldwide. Right now, Dexter and I do tithe at our local church and give to certain charitable organizations, but once we are free from debt, we’ll be able to give more and accomplish more with our money.
  5. Know how to provide for loved ones through debt-freedom, insurance, savings. We’ve learned about the benefits of debt freedom (and how to get there), important kinds of insurance to purchase, and what good savings goals are. Hopefully, we’ll be able to keep our future children’s childhoods free from stressful financial chaos, teach them biblical and practical truths about finances, and help our family and friends on their journey to financial security.
  6. Everything is simplified. After we canceled our credit cards, I was amazed at how streamlined balancing the checkbook and tracking our budget became. Instead of tracking purchases from 3 or 4 cards, forgetting to pay bills for cards we didn’t use often, and accidentally recording transactions for the wrong card, I now only have to look at our checking account. Since we use cash for groceries, household items, and discretionary spending, the number of transactions I have to track has significantly reduced. This has been a huge timesaver.
  7. Preparation for emergencies. Things that used to be stressful emergencies can be planned for, or at least taken care of with the emergency fund or sufficient insurance.
  8. Actions and patterns of thinking to set us apart from the world. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing, and perfect will.” Dave Ramsey often says, “If normal is broke, I don’t want to be normal.” Having the priority of financial responsibility and generosity will set us apart in a consuming culture.
  9. Fulfilling dreams. Some of our dreams include traveling, working from home, and adopting children. All of these will require saving money and building financial security. What dreams could you fulfill if you weren’t worried about finances?
  10. Learning how to change your financial future just got easier! Because Dave Ramsey’s plan has blessed us so much, we wanted to pass on some of our newfound knowledge to you. Below, see information on the books I’m giving away and how to enter the giveaway.

The first book I’ll be giving away is Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness. I’ve read this book a number of times and have consulted it to refresh my memory on some of Dave’s core concepts. It contains lots of inspiring stories about people who worked hard and succeeded at paying off their debt.

I’ll also be giving away a copy of Financial Peace Revisited, the companion book to Dave’s Financial Peace University class. In it, you’ll find information about Dave’s own journey from wealth to financial trouble and back again. It also contains snippets written by his wife Sharon.

Finally, I’ll be giving a way a copy of More than Enough: The 10 Keys to Changing Your Financial Destiny. In it, Dave addresses unity in marriage, building financial vision, and practical information about how to implement a financial plan.

If you’ve never learned about Dave’s plan, these books are a great introduction. If you are well-versed in the seven baby steps, these books make a great gift to someone you know who is looking for financial guidance.

Enter the giveaway up to four times by following the steps below.

  1. Leave a comment below telling me what you do if you were financially free. If I don’t know you in real life, include your email address or your name on Twitter so I know how to reach you if you win.
  2. Post about this giveaway (with a link) on Twitter. Leave a comment here telling me that you did.
  3. Post about this giveaway (with a link) on Facebook. Leave a comment here telling me that you did.
  4. Write about this giveaway (with a link) on your blog. Leave another comment telling me that you did.

The giveaway will end on Sunday, December 12, at 11:59 pm CST. Winners will be announced on Monday, December 13.

This post is linked to Top Ten Tuesday at Oh Amanda and Giveaways Galore at Money Saving Mom.

Coffee Shops

Photo Credit: Gareth Weeks

I love coffee shops. Especially cool, local ones like this or this or this or this that know what they’re doing when it comes to coffee.

When Dexter and I were dating (at the stage where we didn’t call it dating…we were just hanging out as friends), we spent a lot of time at a particular coffee shop. I remember the first time he asked me out for coffee. We were talking on AOL Instant Messenger like we did every night (can you tell this relationship started in highschool in the early 2000s?) when he asked me if I wanted to “go out for some coffee or tea or something.” I shot away from the computer and ran up the stairs to ask my parents for permission. I practically rolled back down the stairs and typed in a “yes,” thankful that my breathlessness wasn’t audible to Dexter.

The next day, he picked me up in his really gross, homeless-man’s-home truck, and we spent about three hours sitting in uncomfortable chairs at little Sticks tables, in perfect happiness. As we drove back to my house, Dexter’s truck could barely shift gears. After a suspenseful but short ride, Dexter had to wait around my house for his mom and step dad to come help him with the truck. I don’t think that’s the way he had envisioned it going.

We got past that adventure and had many more coffee dates in the future. After one, he asked me to be his girlfriend. I said no. We got past that, too. A few months later, he asked me the same question at the coffee shop, and I said yes.

Now that we’re married and enslaved by debt, we’ve decided to cut back (but not eliminate) trips to the coffee shop.

Pros to the coffee shop:

  • No dogs, which for us means barking, no whimpering about needing a trip outside, and no 65 lb furry creature wanting to sit on your lap and lick your face while you’re trying to have a conversation.
  • No mess to clean up–someone else makes the coffee and the pastries, so my counters and dishes stay clean.
  • No junk on the table. I don’t know about you, but our kitchen table is a junk magnet.
  • Variety of choices. Say the word and you can have coffee, tea, cider, chocolate, sweet, plain, hot, or cold in a matter of five minutes. At home, that kind of variety requires a trip to the grocery store, which is not the ideal start to a relaxing coffee date.
  • No work required. Sometimes, I think making coffee and pastries is therapeutic and relaxing. Sometimes, I am so tired that the prep work makes it hard to enjoy sitting down with my husband and a cup of coffee.
  • Fresh roasted coffee…maybe. Depending on where you go, you might get old coffee shipped from out-of-state, OR you might get some small-batch roasted quality joe. And if you buy it here, it might be roasted by an extremely handsome man.

Cons to the coffee shop:

  • Ethical ingredients. Not all coffee shops have fair trade coffee and tea. I can’t think of a single one that uses cruelty-free dairy products. And, unfortunately, the chocolate your coffee shop uses is probably tainted.
  • Money. There are some inexpensive options at coffee shops. Like coffee. And tea. But unless you’re careful, your bill can add up quickly.
  • Comfort. Many coffee shops are crowded, so seating choices are limited. At home, your seating choices are only limited by the furniture you own. Also, at home, you won’t have loud obnoxious groups making noise that interrupts your conversation–unless you invite them over.
  • Privacy. Want to have a conversation about your marriage while having a cup of coffee? It’s a little awkward when you have a law student to your left and a bored-looking teenager to your right.
  • Too much variety. Sometimes, only having a few things to choose from is nice. You might need a training session with your local barista just to figure out what everything on the menu is.
  • Ingredient control. Avoiding high fructose corn syrup and trans fats? Some coffee shops offer pastries without these additives, however, it’s often difficult to find out what’s really in those baked goods.

In the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some tips I’ve learned that can make your at-home coffee shop experience a little more authentic. Hopefully, it’ll help you save money, eat and drink ethically, and enjoy delicious, coffee-shop quality treats.

By George, I think she’s got it!

I’ve been using the envelope system since February, and every month is a new fight. Generally, by the end of the month, I have decided to “remember” that the purchase I made at Target used cash from the clothing and household envelopes, but also contained items that fall under the pet care, grocery, and gift categories. I’ve lost the receipt so I can’t remind myself of what I bought, can’t read the abbreviations on the receipt, have forgotten how much I took out of which envelopes, and/or have tried to re-organize the envelopes, but did it wrong because I was distracted and can’t figure out how to get back to square one.

This seems much too complicated for a system that works by putting money in envelopes, spending it, and stopping when it’s gone.

But, this month, I have a new plan. Here’s how I plan to combat Envelope Stupidity System.

I will:

  • Keep the envelopes with me at all times–no “I’ll just remember I put this on the card” for me. This will  be much easier now that I have a wallet with envelopes cut to size and labeled with cute stickers.

  • Plan ahead. This means meal planning and making grocery lists. This means planning meals that I will have time to make and eat on the nights I plan to eat them. This means planning dates that are free or cheap (which takes more planning than, “Let’s go to Olive Garden.”)
  • Divide my cash into very specific categories. This month, instead of one envelope for groceries, I have three. One is labeled “Stock Up” for things I want to buy in bulk when they’re on sale. The second is labeled “Church” for when I need to take food to church. The third is labeled “Groceries” which I will use for food items I need that week. I plan to take out 1/4 of my monthly grocery allowance every Saturday and make my weekly purchases with that money.
  • Ask cashiers to ring up my items separately. Often, when I’m shopping with Dexter, I’ll give him one envelope and send him to another checkout line with a few items so my envelopes stay pure. However, sometimes I’ll be by myself or have more than two categories I’m buying in. I’ve asked several cashiers to do this for me this weekend, and they’ve all been really nice about it. I always feel like a jerk for creating more work, but I think it will be worth it when I can easily figure out how much money we have left at the end of the month.
  • Say no. Last year, my students were constantly asking me if I had change for the vending machines. The poor little creatures were hungry, so I dug through my envelopes pulling out ones helter skelter, making one of my very helpful “mental notes” about which envelopes that $5 bill needed to be split into. This year, I’ll be Mrs. Mean-Teacher. If I don’t have all the ones in one envelope, no change for the kiddos. It also helps that they’re turning off the vending machines until after school this year.
  • Update Quicken at least every three days. This way, whenever I take out cash, I’ll be assigning it a category in Quicken soon enough that I won’t forget which envelope I put the money in. It’ll also keep me up-to-date on assigning categories in Quicken for items we don’t use cash for–like gas, dog food, and bills.

I don’t know that things will run perfectly in the envelope department this month, but it can’t hurt to identify specific problems and work out solutions. One thing I still need to work out is how to give Dexter some grocery money for any, “Can you pick this up on the way home from work?” trips to the store. He carries a minimalistic wallet like this which makes it hard for him to divide his money–and if does get divided, there’s very little chance he’ll remember where he put what money.

How do you keep your budget straight? Do you use cash and envelopes? A debit card and Quicken? Are you a religious receipt keeper? I’d love to hear any tips you have to help us keep on track!

The Love Budget

Sometimes, you just need a little romance in your life. I believe that marriages that have budgets can also have romance. I don’t know how to make this work well yet, but I am determined to learn.

Last month, Dexter and I bought Wild at Heart by John Eldredge as an audiobook on iTunes. We listened to it on one of our many trips to visit family. It gave us a lot of insight about Dexter and a lot to consider as we make life decisions. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it. There is also a “women’s version” of Wild at Heart called Captivating (co-authored by John and Stasi Eldredge) which Dexter ordered for me on paperback swap. Fitz chewed it up, but it survived and I’ve read most of it. Being the well-rounded, nice, Christian girl that I am, I didn’t expect to learn much from the book.

I was wrong. Although I did skim over a lot of parts that seemed more descriptive than helpful or that seemed to repeat what I had just read in Wild at Heart, whenever it was Stasi Eldredge writing, I felt like she was telling me about myself. I learned that a lot of women feel lonely, even when they have good husbands. Wow, am I glad that’s normal. The book also talks about how women are often made to feel guilty because they are “too much and not enough,” meaning that they require too much (attention, romance, consideration) but that they don’t have it in them to do what they need to do (raise kids, keep the house spotless, exercise and eat right, exhibit general perfection). Captivating argues that women’s desires to be loved and romanced aren’t too much, but that they are a reflection of the way God wants us to love him. Reading Captivating helped me to realize I can be (and need to be) honest with Dexter about missing the “good ol’ days” of flowers, little gifts, surprise dates, and gazing into each others’ eyes over mochas (or, since our metabolism has slowed down since high school, tea or coffee with skim milk).

In one of our conversations about ramping up the romance factor in our lives, Dexter mentioned that it was hard for him to plan things because he was never sure what money to use or how much was left at that point in the month. He has a valid claim. I keep all of our cash envelopes in my wallet, and I keep up on our spending on Quicken throughout the month. I don’t usually bother to give him updates because he is so rarely the one to spend the money.

In our date envelope each month, we get $50. We hope to be able to squeeze two meals out (or ordered in) out of this. That doesn’t leave a lot of change in the envelope for romantic gestures. We also each get $20 a month of “blow money” as Dave Ramsey calls it. Sometimes, this lasts a long time (when I don’t have time to shop!), but sometimes, on day two of the fiscal month I spend $13 on a wallet that fits my envelope system and have enough left for about two lattes.

So, I’m looking for your advice. My advice to Dexter was, “I don’t care. Get a credit card. I just want you to do something!” but we both knew how mad I’d be if that happened.

How do you budget for romance? Do you add onto your “blow money” fund? Spend what you want and hope it works out? Have a “gift” envelope? I’ll try anything!

The Balance of Blessing and Budgeting

Dave Ramsey’s motto is, “Live like no one else, so later you can live like no one else.” Essentially: live within your means (unlike most Americans) so you can become wealthy, meet all your family’s needs, and give generously (unlike most Americans). This makes sense. And it works. But there is a problem.

There are needs that need to be met NOW.

Dexter and I started sponsoring a child through Compassion when we were in high school. We both worked and had money to burn. However, the needs of our Compassion kid didn’t change when our Total Money Makeover began. When we went over our budget before starting our debt snowball, we had to pray about what was going to make the cut. We decided that being faithful to our sponsorship commitment was a way to honor God with our finances and are trusting him that our $38 a month won’t put us behind the schedule of his will.

Shortly after we began our debt snowball, a friend was called to ministry with Campus Crusade for Christ. She needed to raise support so she could devote herself full-time to the students she was working with. At first, I was bitter about the idea of giving money to someone to do ministry in the city where they already lived. Weren’t all Christians supposed to be loving the people around them and making disciples for Christ? I didn’t expect anyone to give me money to do what I was supposed to do. One day, I began thinking about my life and my schedule. My job was so time-consuming that I could barely feed myself and clean up afterward. I wasn’t eating healthily, I wasn’t exercising, I wasn’t immersed in Scripture the way I wanted to be, and I wasn’t being active in making disciples. I wanted to be obedient, but I was torn. I knew God wanted me to do quality work at my job, but I also know that my life isn’t about my work but about His work. Dexter and I talked and decided that since our cash flow allowed for it, we wanted to financially support someone who could devote herself to making disciples. We realized that God was calling us to participate in making disciples financially and trust him to provide money to pay off debt. Although we set our goal for being done with debt before making our commitment to Campus Crusade, we’re on and maybe even ahead of schedule for paying off our debt.

So, is the answer always to spend and bless? Probably not. Consider our next conundrum.

Dexter and I live about a mile from the college football stadium in our city. The team is good and the games are sold out. We thought that getting cable and opening our home as a place to watch the game on TV would be a good way to bless people in our town. Sure, a loaf of zucchini bread would be accepted, but what people in our town really want is access to the game. As we began to make plans, we realized we had a problem. We have a 24″ tube TV. This isn’t exactly crowd-friendly and won’t make our home the hub of game-time action. We began praying about buying a big, flat-screen TV. We knew there wouldn’t be room in the budget this month, especially because we have car and life insurance premiums due. I decided I was willing to part with the money we have set aside to redo our main-floor half-bath. I plan to do some superficial, cosmetic fixes instead of starting from scratch, and I hope to squeeze the paint and other supplies out of other areas in the budget. We decided on a 32″ Sony on sale at Best Buy. It was a great deal–even cheaper than the no-name brands they carry. My brother offered us his old 32″ tube TV when we went home to visit for his birthday, but we were so enamored by our Best Buy deal that we decided to get our fancy TV anyway.

That night at church, our house church leader mentioned he and his wife’s journey toward debt freedom during his teaching. I don’t even know how it was related to what we were studying–we definitely weren’t talking about money. Usually, I’m the one who’s gung ho about debt freedom, but hearing even a mention from someone else sparked a desire in me to pay things off faster. If we bought the TV this month, we would have only had about $25 extra to pay toward loans on top of our minimums–and that didn’t seem very fast to me. After church, I turned to Dexter and asked him what he thought about using our bathroom/TV savings to pay off loans and ask my brother if he would sell us his old TV. He agreed with my plan, and I texted my brother about the TV. My (wonderful, generous, super-cool) little brother responded saying that we could just have the TV and that he’d send it up with our parents this weekend.

I don’t have any clear-and-dry answers about when to and not to spend money, especially while you’re still in debt. I think about this balance a lot, however, and have a few tips for your decision-making process.

  1. Pray. I often pray that God will stop me from doing something stupid and impulsive, even though I have good motives. Once I make a decision, I pray that God will stop me if my decision isn’t in line with his will.
  2. Calculate the cost. Say I had an extra $500 to spend on a TV, but that I had an average of 6% interest on my loans. If that $500 was the last of the loans I paid off, I’d accrue interest on the unpaid money between now and my payoff date. If we pay off our loans in March 2014 as we originally hoped, we’d pay over $100 extra on our TV in loan interest that wouldn’t have been there if we’d just paid the money to the bank.
  3. Examine your motives. My motive for wanting a big TV, I thought, was to bless people. I realized, after we changed our minds, that I didn’t just want people to enjoy the game at my house, I wanted them to think I was a good hostess and that we had a nice home. I also realized that my motives for wanting to do an expensive overhaul of our bathroom were the same.
  4. Think about how you’ll feel after making the purchase. Proverbs 10:22 says, “It is the blessing of the Lord that makes rich, and he adds no sorrow to it.” I realized that I was going to be rather sorry about seeing the money for the TV go, especially in light of how little progress on repaying our debt we’d be making.
  5. Search scripture. James 1:27 says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after widows and orphans in their distress and to keep ones self from being polluted by the world.” TVs aren’t necessarily pollution (especially since our favorite channel is the Food Network), but I can much more easily find scripture that backs up spending money to support a fatherless child in Guatemala than I can find it to support buying a TV. Maybe the Bible has something specific to say about the purchase you have in mind. If not, what principles can you apply?
  6. Remember, it’s just money. I’ll be the first to admit that I can be a little…overzealous…about managing our money. My budgeting system involves envelopes, Quicken, and spreadsheets. Matthew 6:24 says, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” It’s important to remember that God wants you to be a good steward of your money, but he doesn’t want you to be obsessed with it. If it consumes you a little too much, consider trading duties with your spouse or involving him in the budget process a little more.

Spaghetti Squash Pizza on a New Blog!

Dexter and I are starting a new experiment. Or maybe it’s a challenge. It started when I was SO tempted to increase our budget for eating out so we could eat out once a week and go out for coffee and Bible-reading dates on weekend mornings.

I have a great, new after-school job tutoring at my school through a fantastic program. Working three afternoons a week at my “teacher’s hourly pay” will provide a great source of debt-reducing income, but it also means that I don’t get done tutoring till 5:00 and I might have to stay and plan for the following day. Some days I won’t get home till close to 6:00, and on those days, eating out or ordering in sounds tempting. And I feel like I deserve it.

My friend Leah said something on her blog several months ago. She decided to “give herself the gift of 10 fewer pounds” for her birthday. That made me look at dieting from a whole new perspective. It’s not depriving yourself of food–it’s being responsible and making sacrifices so you can treat yourself to good health and self-confidence. I have taken this line of thinking into other areas of my life as well. I can choose to think about paying off our debt as depriving myself of things I want right now, or I can think of it as giving myself the gift of freedom from debt.

This new resolve to really channel all our funds toward paying off our debt led to the decision to budget enough for eating out twice a month. We’ll have coffee where we can get it for free, use our personal spending money, or make coffee and yummy pastries at home on our weekend mornings. Since we won’t be eating out two or three weeks out of a month, we needed something to do on date nights for free or very cheap. Cooking together is something we’ve wanted to do for a while, but never got around to, so we decided to commit to trying it out.

We thought it would be fun to get a cookbook to cook from that would have lots of great recipes. We found one vegetarian cookbook with a “cooking for two” theme, but it was out of print. We looked at aphrodisiac cookbooks for some romantic ideas, but some are a little risqué, and we didn’t want to have to hide our cookbooks whenever we had guests over. We looked at some seasonal cookbooks, but realized that we don’t want a cookbook that has too many meat recipes because we eat so little meat.

That’s where the idea of How to Love an Omnivore was born. This blog is a joint project in which Dexter and I will cook together, hopefully on a weekly basis, take pictures, post about our culinary adventures, and share tips about cooking, marriage, and life in general. You can read more about us and about the project here.

This week, we made our first recipe together, Spaghetti Squash Pizza. It was a rough start, but challenges are much more interesting to read about than huge, easy successes, right?

By the way, I don’t plan on replacing Mrs. Dexter with HTLAO, although one might think that by the infrequency of my posts. I actually set a goal (during a goal-setting assignment for my students) that I would post at least once a week on this blog. Hopefully I can set a good example and make good on my goal!

Delicious Labor

I had cause to make dessert this weekend–three times. That in itself should be enough to let you know that yes, I did have a good Labor Day weekend. Thanks for asking.

There were many good things about all the desserts I made and ate. First, and most importantly, they tasted great. They were also simple, seasonal, and impressive enough for company. Here are the recipes, reviews, and tips.

Recipe #1: Blackberry Brown Sugar Gratin
from Smitten Kitchen

This recipe wins because it has only three ingredients, and although I didn’t have any of them, it didn’t require a trip to the store. Instead of sour cream, I used plain yogurt. Instead of fresh raspberries, I used frozen blackberries, and instead of dark brown sugar, I used light. A quick broil, and we were in business. (Thanks to my friend Caitlin who recommended substituting blackberries and thawing them beforehand to prevent a soupy dessert. She doesn’t have a blog but really should.)

Deb recommends sifting the brown sugar over the fruit and yogurt so it’s nice and even. My sifter was too fine (as you can see), so I used a colander. It was a little messy for the counter top, but it spread out the sugar perfectly.

Dexter and I took this to our friends’ house for a game night. I was afraid it wouldn’t be sweet enough or that the sweetness from the berries and brown sugar wouldn’t mix into the yogurt and that there would be bitter pockets. But every bite was sweet, and every once in a while there was a piece of crispy sugar in your spoonful. There might have been more of these sugar crisps if I hadn’t over-broiled a little bit. And caught my oven mit on fire taking my pie pan (which shouldn’t have been used under the broiler) out of the oven.

Although this wasn’t too pretty in a bowl or in the pan the morning after, it was definitely worth making. I may or may not have snuck to the refrigerator a time or two and popped a spoonful in my mouth while Dexter wasn’t looking.

Recipe #2: Peach Compote
from Make It Fast, Cook It Slow by Stephanie O’Dea

Another easy recipe. The hardest part was cutting the peaches, which wasn’t hard. I popped all five ingredients in the crockpot (I used apple juice instead of brandy and was plum out of vanilla), turned it on, and went to the store to buy ice cream. I had some gluten-free gingersnaps in the freezer, so I threw them in the food processor and sprinkled the crumbs on top of my peaches and ice cream. I had two bowls. And then I felt sick. But I still found room for another bowl later in the day.

Recipe #3: Peach Blueberry Cornmeal Cobbler
again, from Smitten Kitchen

I mixed my fruit, sugar, flour, cinnamon and salt in the baking dish. I didn’t have any lemon juice, so I left that out. What I really didn’t have was money in my grocery envelope, but I did have lots of organic peaches in my counter, blueberries in my freezer, and most things needed for baking. I also have a little obsession with cornbread. Deb (the cook inside Smitten Kitchen) recommended doubling the cornbread portion of the recipe, so I did. Instead of using my hands or a pastry blender to cut in the butter, I threw the dry ingredients in my food processor–still dirty from gingersnaps–and cut in the butter that way. It worked fine.

Although I usually can’t get enough topping when it comes to fruit-based desserts, this time, a double recipe of cornbread was a little much. It sucked the juice up from the fruit, so the cornbread was a little mushy (and I might have underbaked it) and it seemed like there was barely any fruit. It was still delicious, and I will definitely make it again, but with a single recipe of cornbread.