The Shocking Truth About Debt

Remember writing these in English class?

Peanut Butter:Jelly::You:Me

If you were reading aloud, you would say, peanut butter is to jelly as you are to me. The idea is those two things go together. (Try that on your Valentine!) How about this one:

Fat:Body::Debt:Finances

It reads like this: fat is to your body as debt is to your finances.

As you know one of my passions is helping people do physically healthy things. I also want to help people do financially healthy things. You can’t do healthy things with your finances if you are in debt.

Imagine your money as a physical body. You know those people who carry extra weight around their mid-sections? The “spare tire?” The “beer belly?” The “love handles?”

Now imagine the fat around your mid-section is debt. Debt slows you down. Debt hinders you from running. Debt prohibits you from starting that college fund for your child. Debt is harmful to your family because you may be paying off Mastercard before you pay the light bill.

The shocking truth about debt is that debt impedes your progress toward healthy financial goals.

Debt should not be a part of your financial body, just as that extra 20, 30, 40, or 50 pounds should not be a part of your physical body. Give yourself some love this month and pay off that credit card. Gift your future self with an extra $250 by paying off your car now. Let your kids have the gift of a college fund by getting out from under that burden of your own student loans now.

Your financial health is just as important as your mental or physical health. By losing all that financial weight, you can be free to make healthy progress toward your financial goals. Blessings to you on you journey to healthy finances!

What do you owe on?  Take this poll and see what others are saying.  

Want to know more?  Go to Dave Ramsey’s website to get all of his tools to help you get out of debt.

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Restaurant Resolution

We don’t get to eat out much any more, since we are still working to get out of debt, but when we do, it is such a treat!  I am always tempted to treat myself to a Coke to drink, an appetizer that promises to fill my tummy while I wait for my entree, and, of course, a tantalizing dessert.

But see, the problem with each of those things is the desire behind them.  The Coke – because I “deserve” it.  The appetizer – because it looks good.  The dessert – probably a combination of “it looks good” and “I deserve it.”  None of those reasons include “it’s necessary for my body to function at its best.”

Since fried foods are a thing of the past, as are Cokes, processed foods, frozen dinners, white breads, pastas, red meats, and poultry, I’ve already made some significant changes to my diet.  What’s one more?  My 2014 restaurant resolution: to order water to drink and salad to eat every time I eat out.

This resolution helps to make progress toward two of my goals this year: to be a better manager of my money, and to eat the foods that will make my body function at its best (AKA: eat right!).

So join me!  When you go out to eat, order water to drink (save money) and a big, gorgeous salad to eat (do what’s right for your body!).  Let me know how it goes!  Good luck as you make progress toward your healthy goals today.

6 Weeks of Beans

I love the month of December because it means the holidays are here. Holidays mean time with family and that always means good food! I love baking cookies with my mom and enjoying almond tea punch with my mother-in-law.

The only thing I don’t like about the month of December is the fact our paycheck comes the week before Christmas. That’s not such a bad thing, in and of itself…it’s just that it stretches the pay period into nearly 6 weeks! In fact, there are 6 weekends in this pay period – from December 19 until January 27. Yikes!

Since I’m taking a break from eMeals for a bit, my job as SAHM is to determine how to eat comfortably for six weeks on our seemingly shoe-string food budget. The easiest solution? Beans!

Rice and beans have been endorsed by Dave Ramsey for a long time as the go-to food of choice while you are working to beat debt, and there’s a good reason: cost. They are both the cheapest thing per ounce in the entire grocery store!

I thought I’d present a few recipes we’ll be eating during this pay period. The first one is a recipe from some folks we knew in Minnesota about 15 years ago. It’s called “hot dish” up there; you may know it as a “casserole.” I think my family has shortened the recipe title to “Bean Hot Dish.”

Bean Hot Dish Recipe
1/2 lb bacon, cooked and chopped
1 lb hamburger, cooked
1 onion, chopped
1/2 Cup ketchup
1/2 Cup brown sugar
2 Tablespoons mustard
2 Tablespoons vinegar
1 15-oz. can each kidney beans, butter beans, pork and beans, and chili hot beans

Directions:
Cook the meats; combine all ingredients in a 9×13 pan. Simmer for 2 hours or more (on low in the oven).  Yield: A LOT!  Enjoy for a week (ok, I might be exaggerating a little).

My spin on this recipe:
I made it in the crockpot on high for 2 hours and it turned out great! Since I don’t like raw onions, I sautéed mine in a little bit of EVOO before I added them to the crockpot; I eliminated the hamburger meat altogether; and I also used apple cider vinegar for a sweeter flavor. Hubby liked the end result!

So that’s it. Happy eating! Let all we do be done for God, who has blessed us exceedingly abundantly more than we could have asked or imagined. ~Eph. 3:20-21

My Recipe Notebook

We’ve been doing eMeals for about 15 months now, and have loved it for many reasons.  (I think I wrote a whole blog post about it.)  There’s only one problem: there are so many good recipes and not a lot of repeats.

We WANT to repeat some of these great recipes!

So I had this idea to create our Most Loved Recipes.  See, when eMeals sent me each week’s menu, I printed it, punched holes in it, and put it in my food binder, which went to the store with me and I checked off the items on the shopping list as we shopped.  At home, I took the menu/instruction page out and put it on the fridge so I could read it as I cooked.  Finally, when we sunk our teeth into the recipe, hubby and I would rate the meal.  On the menu/instruction page, I would star or highlight the recipes we absolutely LOVED, the ones that were good, and the ones that we did not care to repeat.

I am also to the point where I cannot make a grocery shopping trip by myself when I have Baby Girl with me.  She is into everything and is bored by her toys before we get to the baking aisle (which is only the 2nd aisle in our ALDI)!

So to simplify my shopping trips, and to utilize the best of eMeals, I compiled our Most Loved Recipes in my recipe notebook.  I went back through the printed menus and flagged the pages with favorite recipes on them, then typed them all up.  I slapped together a Table of Contents page, and – voila! – my recipe notebook is complete with 16 main dishes, 5 desserts, 3 breakfasts, and 2 snacks.  (The main dishes all have side serving suggestions…don’t worry, we’re not skipping fruits and veggies!)  Hubby and I had fun picking out meals for this week because we knew that EVERY SINGLE MEAL would be a home run!

If you don’t have some sort of organizational method for your menu planning and meal fixing yet, I hope you’ll consider putting together your own Most Loved Recipe list.  If that’s not for you, then just stay organized!  Keep an itemized list of what you have in the freezer and fridge on a dry erase board in plain sight of the kitchen so you don’t feel overwhelmed when it’s time to fix dinner, and so that you don’t waste good food by letting it go bad.

God has given us everything we need for life…I take that to mean our food.  Be blessed.  ~Eph. 3:20-21

Sick of Rice and Beans

We are approaching the end of year 3 on rice and beans. If you don’t know what this means, it’s part of Dave Ramsey’s debt-free plan. Step 2 in this plan is to pay off all outstanding debts, minus the house, by cutting back on living expenses. One of the biggest areas to reduce spending in is food/groceries. Dave recommends eating “beans and rice, rice and beans” during this phase of your life because those are the two cheapest food items at the grocery store.

So after 3 years, we are SICK of eating cheap food, we are TIRED of not having blow money and entertainment money, and we are SICK AND TIRED of being in debt.  We have had some major bumps along the way, including eliminating one of our two incomes and welcoming our first child into the world.

We are ready to DUMP DEBT!!  One of the things we’re doing to gain more traction is increasing our income.  Guitardude is working 2 jobs to help cash-flow graduate school.  I am maintaining our eBay business (JMS_Music on eBay) from home.

I often get discouraged when we sit down for our budget meetings and lay out the plan for the month.  I see how much more we have to go, and I often want to just give up.  After all this time, it still seems like our goal is sooooo far away.  I’m sure a lot of you in Baby Step 2 have felt this same way.

But one thing that has helped me this week: read Proverbs 6: 1-11 EVERY DAY.  What does it say?  Here it is:

Proverbs 6

New International Version (NIV)

Warnings Against Folly

1 My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor,
if you have shaken hands in pledge for a stranger,
2 you have been trapped by what you said,
ensnared by the words of your mouth.
3 So do this, my son, to free yourself,
since you have fallen into your neighbor’s hands:
Go—to the point of exhaustion—
and give your neighbor no rest!
4 Allow no sleep to your eyes,
no slumber to your eyelids.
5 Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter,
like a bird from the snare of the fowler.

6 Go to the ant, you sluggard;
consider its ways and be wise!
7 It has no commander,
no overseer or ruler,
8 yet it stores its provisions in summer
and gathers its food at harvest.

9 How long will you lie there, you sluggard?
When will you get up from your sleep?
10 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest—
11 and poverty will come on you like a thief
and scarcity like an armed man.

So I hope this will help you take heart as much as it does me.  You have planned your work; now work your plan.  It’s a slow-cooker, not a microwave.  It’s a marathon, not a sprint.  Just keep doing what you know is right.  I know God is pleased with us handling HIS money correctly and I know He will keep blessing us as we try to become better managers of HIS money.  ~Eph. 3:20-21

World Food Day

Did you know that the average American family throws away a third of the food they brought home from the store, uneaten?

I saw this in the October issue of Real Simple magazine that arrived yesterday. That includes 2.7 million apples and 22,000 pounds of tomatoes in 40 minutes. Yikes, America! I wonder how much money that translates into being thrown away.

So the lesson? Only get what you know you will use in a certain time frame. I know we will eat a bunch of bananas (not a lot, but a “bunch”) within 5 days time. It doesn’t look like much but I would rather go back to the store more frequently than let something sit and rot on my countertop, essentially throwing money into the garbage.

Then, donate your extras to a local food pantry, such as what your church may have set up. October 16 is World Food Day. You know how you throw away half your food at a restaurant (because the portion size was for a family of four, not a single person), and you say something funny, like, “There are starving kids in Africa and here I am throwing all this food away!”? Well, you may not be able to feed starving children in Africa, but http://www.family-to-family.org teaches you how to feed starving American children.

I hope this helped you think about your food purchasing and consuming choices. Blessings to you today. ~Eph. 3:20-21

Baby Steps

My 9-month-old daughter started walking this week. Eek! I still can’t believe it.

But as I watch her take her first baby steps, I was struck with the following ideas:

1.) Baby steps are not without forethought. She sees something she wants (usually something she’s not supposed to get into!), stands up, and begins putting one foot in front of the other in its direction. You can see the wheels turning, practically!

2.) Baby steps falter at first, and sometimes fail. It’s a start-and-stop process. She usually gets one or two steps forward, then loses her balance and falls down. But if it’s something she REALLY wants, she’ll get up and do it over and over again!

3.) Baby steps require utter and total concentration. When she has figured out what she wants and gets her feet underneath her, she usually drops the toy she was holding but always keeps her eyes up and on the desired object.

So, naturally, I compared this to the Baby Steps in our journey to get out of debt through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. These baby steps can be applied to your financial life, too.

1.) Baby steps require forethought. What do you wish you could afford? It often sounds like, “When we get out of debt, I want to buy a ____________.” You fill in the blank with what you want. Mine sounds like, “When we get out of debt, I am going to have fresh fruits and vegetables delivered to my front door once a week.” Start dreaming! That’s what will sustain you as you climb your way out of debt.

2.) Baby steps falter at first, and sometimes fail. It’s a start-and-stop process.  When we found out we were expecting, we began saving extra money into a “Baby Fund,” as Dave recommends. When Baby Girl finally arrived and we all came home healthy, we paid off all of our hospital bills, doctor bills, anesthetist bills, lab bills…OR SO WE THOUGHT! 9 months later, we were slammed with an $800 hospital bill and another $100 doctor bill. We were so mad because we used the remainder of our “Baby Fund” to pay down student loans. Just when we thought we were making good progress, these bills came out of the blue and set us back.

3.) Baby steps require utter and total concentration. If I’m not careful, I find myself saying, “Oh, I deserve this ice cream,” or, “We can just move some money around out of the snowball money,” or, “Oooh, extra money at the end of the month?! I can go shopping!” We are totally bombarded with commercials, ads, billboards, and every kind of sensory attraction to make us think we need to purchase things we didn’t know we needed. STAY GAZELLE INTENSE! Keep your eyes on the prize – getting out of debt and being a better steward of the money God gave you to manage.

Good luck on your debt journey. May God bless you more than you could ever ask or imagine. ~Ephesians 3:20-21

Ways to Save, Part IV

This is the fourth and final part of a series of posts about saving money for Christmas.

Part IV: Cleaning

1.) Stop buying commercial cleaners. The ads on tv have convinced us we need a specific cleaner for each specific room/item/floor/surface of our house. NOT TRUE! Vinegar, baking soda, and Borax – these are pretty much all the things you need. I clean toilets, sinks, mirrors, floors, upholstery, and lots more surfaces with those items. Here’s a list of things you can clean with vinegar: http://www.diynatural.com/white-vinegar-cleaning-laundry-more/. It’s also healthier for you – no toxic fumes or worries about mixing harmful ingredients!

2.) Make your own baby/cleaning wipes. We do this on a regular basis (maybe twice a month). I love that I know what’s touching my baby’s sensitive areas. (PS – You can switch out the baby shampoo with a mix of vinegar water to make cleaning wipes for countertops, etc.) Here’s the recipe: http://www.homemademamas.net/2010/07/homemade-baby-wipes.html.

3.) Try cloth diapers. On paper, the savings were tremendous. Unfortunately, practicality just wasn’t on our side. We can’t afford to purchase a whole lot of the “new-fangled” diapers at once. I did try the old-fashioned safety pin and rubber pants method…for all of one week. I don’t know about babies in the 1950s, but mine is a SQUIRMER! She always tries to flip onto her tummy on the changing table, leaving me with horrible nightmares of eyes getting poked out by the safety pin. No thanks!

4.) Stop buying disposable Swiffer-type pads. You’re just filling up landfills with more trash! Just use a damp rag (or I’ve even seen a burp rag or receiving blanket you don’t use anymore cut to fit). You may even look into buying a robot vacuum to keep things clean when you don’t have time.

May the God of all grace bless you immeasurably more than you could have asked or imagine! ~Eph. 3:20-21

Ways to Save, Part III

This is part III of a series on how to save money for Christmas.

Part III: In the Kitchen

1.) Stop eating out so often. It’s healthier to eat at home, it’s cheaper to eat at home, and it’s more fulfilling to make it/bake it/cook it yourself.

2.) Get started on eMeals right away! Emeals is a program Dave Ramsey endorses that sends you a weekly shopping list and menu based on what’s on sale at the grocery stores this week. You can choose where you shop – Wal-Mart or Kroger, for instance – and other options, like Clean Eating or Low-Carb, etc. It tries to get your grocery budget (for 7 dinner-type meals) for that week at or around $60. Go to www.emeals.com to sign up now! They have a free trial offer.

3.) Make as much as you can from scratch. I have the time (what a valuable resource, I’m discovering!) to make things like breads and home-cooked meals, so that is one way I can decrease our living expenses. Stay away from convenient, pre-packaged foods, which are often full of sodium and saturated fats. Also, there are lots of accessible homemade seasonings recipes on the Internet these days. I make my own dry Ranch dressing mix, taco seasoning, and Italian seasoning. (Plus, it’s a lot healthier for you since you can control the amount of salt you put in.)

4.) Buy in bulk as you can. I bought a box of 5 dozen eggs at the beginning of this month, which was like paying under $1.00 per dozen. If you buy each dozen separately, you spend as much as $3 per carton! Sam’s Club is a good resource for us.

5.) Use your freezer. Instead of throwing away leftovers, freeze what is freezable for later in the month. Here’s a list of freezable foods: http://www.simpleorganizedliving.com/2011/02/10/freezable-foods/.

6.) Do the couponing thing, if that’s what you love to do. I don’t love the goose-chase of it all, and plus, I don’t buy a lot of brand name stuff because the store brand is often cheaper.

7.) Make your own dishwasher detergent. Yep – it’s super easy and only uses 4 ingredients. Recipe here: http://www.diynatural.com/homemade-dishwasher-detergent-soap/.

8.) Stop buying cokes, candy, ice cream, and other things that eat up your food money and aren’t good for you anyway. Just because Dr. Pepper is 3 for $10 at Albertsons doesn’t mean it’s any better for your body. Water is free!

9.) Do your oven cooking in the coolest parts of the day so your A/C doesn’t have to work as hard to keep your house cool.

10.) Keep a log of all the food you throw away. This will give you an idea of what you need to cut back on next trip to the store. One news special kept a hidden camera on the trash can to see the amount of food one family threw away. I think in a month’s time, approximately $1500 of food was wasted.

11.) Designate a day or a week for “Eating Whatever Is In The Pantry/Freezer/Fridge.” It may not look like much, but once you start pulling it out and putting ingredients next to each other, you may actually come up with a masterpiece! I love the option from Kraft Foods where you input the ingredients on hand and it finds recipes for you with those ingredients. I remember one time, when my cousin and family were moving from one house to another, she posted on her facebook wall that she was pulling everything out of the freezer, throwing it into a pot, and calling it “soup.” (She also included her apologies to her family.) So what’s in your freezer right now? Could you live off of that for a week? A couple of days? How about the pantry? College kids, Ramen noodles can be done lots of different ways! Just get creative!

12.) Use just your “tried and true” recipes, the ones that are easy to make and use few ingredients. Sure, I love this Chocolate Harvest Fruit-Topped Cake, but look at that ingredients list! It’s time consuming to make, it’s expensive to make, and, I know from experience, that it doesn’t last very long before spoiling.

13.) Skip those hard-to-find (read: expensive) ingredients, substituting them with something else. One time, I even substituted almond extract for vanilla in my husband’s favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. I thought I was going to be in trouble…but he loved it!