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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Debt-Free Living part 1 - Our story - "The Early Years"

I've decided to start a blogging series on living debt free.  So many people believe that surviving without debt is a fairy tale.  Well, I've lived it for many years and, I will assure you that like most fairy tales, there is a happy ending.

I promise you, my reader, a couple of things as I begin.  I'll not lie to you.  It has been tough.  It has not all been fun.  It has at times been a chore.  But, it has been rewarding.  I have learned much of God's grace and provision.  I have a LOT of stories to tell.  I'll be including tips and techniques that will, hopefully, help you on your journey. 

Let's start with some numbers:

29:  The number of years that Larry and I have been married - since 1988.  
24:  The number of years we lived UNDER the national median household income
20:  The number of years we have survived and thrived on 1 income
19:  The number of years we have been completely debt free INCLUDING our home
  4:  The number of sons we have taken along with us on our journey.

 In June of 1988, at the age of 23, I was a blushing bride.  I worked in Christian radio and Larry worked as a security guard.  We were young, in love, and flat broke.  We had no budget, no goals, and spent every cent of our wedding bounty in the first 3 months of our marriage.  We weren't going crazy.  We weren't out buying boats and BMWs.  We were just living like everyone else.  We went out to eat a couple of times a week, took a weekend trip or two, and bought cool new stuff for our apartment.  We didn't track out expenses.  We just assumed it would all work out.  But, by September, when I looked at our bank balance, I realized that it was NOT working out! 

Then God sent an amazing man into our lives.  I want to thank Larry Burkett and shake his hand when I get heaven.  About four months after we got married, the local Christian radio station I worked for began airing Money Matters, a program all about financial freedom. On this program Larry Burkett extolled the virtues of saving, spending, planning, and handling money God's way.  I came home and excitedly told my husband, “We’re going to live on a budget and pay cash for our next car.” He thought I was crazy! We both made $5 an hour!

 I got myself a cheap pad of paper and a pen and went to work.  I figured out how much money we made each week and where the money was going.  The first thing I told Larry was that we needed to move.  He stared at me incredulously, "What?  Where are we gong to find a place cheaper than this?"

I replied, "Well, I don't know.  All I know is that our lease us up in 2 months and we can no longer afford to live here."

I then asked him what he wanted in our next apartment.  He explained that what he really wanted was a HOME, not an apartment.  He no longer wanted to share some of his walls (and floor) with other folks.  So I set to praying for a small home for less rent than we were currently paying.  A few weeks later, while on a walk we spotted the cutest little (and I mean 550 total square feet little) white house situated on a triple wide lot just two blocks from our apartment.



A white haired, spry gentleman walked by the house and saw us staring.  "You kids interested in renting the house?" he inquired.

"Well, that depends, how much do the owners want?"

"Two hundred dollars a month!" he declared.

Now the man was past 70 and a little hard of hearing.  So we assumed he was also a little addled.  They could not possibly want $90 LESS than our current rent!  We called the number listed on the tiny slip of paper on the home's front door.  It turns out that he wasn't quite as confused as we had thought.  They DID want only $200 a month!

It turns out that the home had been in the family since the 1920's.  The matron of the family very much wanted to keep the home and instructed her children that she would pay to have it completely renovated.  New paneling, new ceilings, new bathroom fixtures, new kitchen cabinets, new flooring, stripped woodwork, new vinyl siding, new roof.  After they got done, they could not find a renter.  I kid you not!  They tried $300 a month.  No takers.  They dropped it to $200 a month.  No takers. The owners were flabbergasted.  What was wrong with their house? 

 Nothing.  It was waiting for us. God sent us on a walk down that road on that night to find a little old man named Roy who encouraged us by saying, "You kids take the house.  You'll like it."  For those of you who wonder about these sorts of things (I always do),  No, Roy was not an angel.  He was a real person and his dear wife, Buella, and he became our good friends.

We lived in the little white house for the next four years and made many happy memories.  The owners never raised the rent.

So, what do we learn from this story?

1)  First, God always has a plan!  Never, never, never doubt that God is on your team and if you seek Him, you will find solutions.  We submitted our desires to Him and God came through in an amazing way! 

2)  Second, live on a written budget every single month.  That's how you figure out where your "black holes" are - those vortexes that suck in your money and you never see it come out again.  Eating out was a black hole for us.  We cut it in 1/4th and to this day we rarely go out to eat.  No more weekend trips either for a while.  Instead, we took long walks, held hands, and picnicked regularly.

3)  When you have believed God for provision, be prepared to believe Him some more!  When we found our dream rental house, our praying was not over.  The house did not come with a stove and refrigerator.  So, we set to prayin'.  We had exactly $150 for appliances.  Once again, God sent Larry to a garage sale for a 1960's stove and a 1950's refrigerator.  We left the stove with the house and the fridge was eventually given to some church folks.  That fridge was built like a tank and is probably still purring away in their garage!

4)  Practice contentment.  Nothing is perfect.  That house met our provisions.  The appliances worked.  The second hand drapes covered the windows.  On the other hand, I battled bugs in the summer.  In the winter you could see the lined curtains move when the wind blew.   The water line to the kitchen perpetually froze solid in the winter.  Larry crawled under house on a regular basis and thawed it with a blow dryer!  My point is:  I could have fussed and fumed about what I didn't like in my house, my furnishings, my possessions.  However, choosing to be grateful fills your heart with joy! 

Oh!  And for those who are wondering about how we did on paying cash for vehicles, we took a $1000 loan on the next car, paid it off in 6 months, and we have paid cash for every car since then.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series on Debt-free living.  If you have questions, I'd love answer them.

Remember, do all to the glory of God,

Hope



Monday, March 20, 2017

Hey! There's an App for That!


 

I am a bibliophile.  There!  I admitted it publicly. I am passionate about reading books for facts, information, and fun. However, throughout 15 years of homeschooling I have found that sometimes a game or interactive device can be used to help kids understand subjects.  It was hard for me to admit.  But, once I decided that I did not need to be the “fountain of all wisdom” for my children, I actually became sort of excited about exploring the possibilities and wisdom of using computers.  I set out to  find the best apps on the internet. 
So, today I’d like to introduce you to my very favorite internet site for educational games, apps, and research in nearly every subject area: www.mrnussbaum.com.  Mr. Nussbaum is a genius at making educational concepts fun for students from Pre-k through middle school. But, this site is SO much more than just a “games portal”.  Mr. Nussbaum has worksheets, art projects, printables, research, and much more! It is subdivided in an easy-to-navigate and intuitive fashion.  The website is divided by both subject matter (math, language arts, social studies, geography, and science) as well as grade level. 
You’ll find links to 167 educational games. I am very particular about the content of games.  I don’t like “twaddle” or time-wasters.  Mr. Nussbaum’s games are both fun AND educational.  Not only that, you can use the games in what I call a “ladder” fashion.  For instance, your kindergartner can learn the foundation of the alphabet, then add some phonics, then blending sounds, some reading of simple words and finally, stories.  You can do it all with games on Mr. Nussbaum’s website.  It’s so easy (and inspiring) to envision adding these games to your curriculum to insure that your students are sequentially grasping important concepts. 

Here is the description on games from the website.  “MrNussbaum.com features 167 original, challenging, and exciting educational games for kids ages 4 – 14 that allow students to learn and practice topics through role-play, problem solving, critical thinking, calculation, and trial and error.” 

Tablets are ubiquitous in today’s society.  Most 4 year olds understand them better than I do.  So, if you have a tablet, the website has a special link that lists all 110 FREE games for your tablet.  “110 html5 FREE, Original Educational Games that can be Played Directly from Your iPad or Android Tablet Browser. No Need to Download! Each Game Comes with an Instructional Video.”  Here’s a link in case you want to go directly to the list: www.mrnussbaum.com/html5.  If you want an ad-free games with no in-app purchases for your students, then Mr. Nussbaum makes it easy for you to download his 44 game super app at the Apple store or Google Play: www.mrnussbaum.com/mr-nussbaums-super-app.  The super app is a super buy at just  $3.99! 

I have just one caution with the website.  It’s heavy on ads.  There IS a subscription rate for an ad free experience, but they are not taking any further subscriptions until 2018, when they are rolling out new, updated, and expanded options for Mr. Nussbaum’s no ads option.  As a result of the ads, which look an awful lot like buttons for more games, I truly would not recommend allowing younger students to use the site without supervision.  I always show my kids how to work the game and say, “Don’t click on any other buttons!”  However, I still feel very comfortable giving Mr. Nussbaum a hearty and well-deserved “two thumbs up!” 



Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Graduating Keyboard Geeks


Why You Should Use Computers in Homeschooling:
How This Computer Illiterate Mom Graduated Keyboard Geeks

1.     Teach your children to view technology as a tool, not a toy.   When my boys were younger, we had a “no game” policy.  Instead, we bought two older model Apple computers, set up two small desks in the basement, and allowed them to use their free time to learn to use computer programs.  Subsequently, they became proficient in the use of programs like, Word, Photoshop, and Power Point by middle school. 

2.     Employers are looking for students who can skillfully use computer programs.   Every job application that my boys have filled out has asked questions about their knowledge and use of computer programs.  Excel, PowerPoint, and Word were most frequently listed.  My son, John, has spent countless hours researching apps, programs, and tech products.  This passion spawned his desire to become an IT Specialist. 

3.    Computer programs can encourage your children to think outside-of-the-box.  My boys figured out how to combine their interest in photography and action figures to create stop-action “movies” using iMovie by 6th grade.  

4.     You can use their interest in computers to create high school level classes.  During his junior year my son, James, created a graphic novel of Pilgrim’s Progress with action figures and small-scale props.  He edited the final product on his Apple computer and added speech bubbles.  We had the book comb bound and gave him credit for graphic arts. 

5.     Computers are the perfect fit for tactile learners!  The interaction between the keyboard and monitor can create the perfect combination to keep the interest of your “active” child, give them a feeling of satisfaction, and increase their understanding and comprehension. 

6.    Science and History can come alive through interactive websites!   I personally recommend: kids.nationalgeographic.com and www.history.com. Google can be your friend when your student needs help understanding anything from long division to rocket science!  An adult should do the searching unless you have an internet filter installed. 


7.     Computer literacy should be an integral part of your homeschool planning.  Computers are used DAILY in college.  Instructors communicate with students solely through digital means.  Assignments are given and submitted though the college website.  Research and writing are conducted using the internet.   Every student should also have a good understanding of how to effectively use search engines and databases. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Love Your Life, Not Theirs

Last week my nearly 20 year old son stood dejectedly in the kitchen.  “Mom, there is something wrong with my car!”  

I told him I was sorry for his trouble and then reminded him.  “Remember, you have an emergency fund.  It has enough money in it to allow you pay for the car repairs.” 
We talked about the repairs, the importance of living on a budget and saving for the future, and how great it was to pay cash for what you need.

But, my son's money habits are an exception to the rule.  My heart is burdened for the debt I see his peers taking on in the form of student loans.  They don’t realize that it will take them DECADES to pay off those loans and a job is not guaranteed when they finish their education.  I fear for young couples getting married and having no plan to manage their money.   I see those closer to my age and nearing retirement, who are wondering if they will ever be able to afford to quit work. 

That’s why I am SO grateful for Rachel Cruze’s newest book, “Love Your Life, Not Theirs.” https://www.rachelcruze.com/book?ectid=10.10.6877   She teaches financial common sense in a way that makes sense – especially to those who are age 16-46.  But, believe me, this book isn’t limited to that demographic!  Rachel is brutally honest about her own mistakes and flaws and she’s funny, to boot!  When she pointed out that we are in a constant state of comparing our life with others, I completely understood.  Even in your 50’s,you find yourself comparing your drab living room furniture to your friend’s whole house makeover or your 20-year-old car with their shiny, new red convertible.  None of us is exempt from the game of comparisons! 


 In her book, Rachel gives you seven practical steps for enjoying life, living within your means, and planning for a fantastic future.  She encourages you to STOP comparing, have a plan for your money, learn to enjoy life on your own terms., and ignore the barrage of advertising that comes to your in-box daily!   I’ve read dozens of budgeting books and Rachel breathes new life into the subject.  She makes you actually excited to have a plan for your money. I give Love Your Life, Not Theirs “two thumbs up”. https://www.rachelcruze.com/book?ectid=10.10.6877 It would make an invaluable Christmas, graduation, or wedding gift.   

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Real Food on a Lean Budget


I was on a Facebook page today where a week’s worth of vegan dinners was posted.  The article encouraged that ingredients for the entire week of entrees would cost just $30. I began to read through the extensive list of comments on the proposed menu and came across a post by a woman named Rebecca.  She lamented that the menu was just way too expensive for her budget.  She had several hungry children and teens to feed.  She feared that if she used all her money each week for the listed ingredients, then the only thing her children would get for breakfast would be a banana.  Going to the store every other day was not feasible.  She was discouraged. 

I immediately identified with her plight.  She’s right!  At a cost of $30 per week for entrees – my budget would need to be a whopping $720 per month – and that, apparently does not include the cost of breakfast and lunch.  Should eating “well” really cost our family upwards of $900 per month?!  My monthly food budget is exactly half of that amount. 

I immediately responded to Rebecca with some encouragement.  If you are in a similar situation, or just want to feed your family more whole, real food, let me share you the same, real, achievable, and time-saving ideas that I gave Rebecca.

1.     We get oatmeal and cream of wheat in 25 or 50 pound bags. Store it away from moisture in an airtight container.  It is shelf-stable for up to a year.  Add a few nuts, raisins, and a little frozen fruit to the oatmeal and you have something that will "hold them" a while.
2.     We always eat air-popped popcorn for a mid-morning snack.
3.     I never purchase any of the vegan "meats" or pre-made items. They are too expensive and processed. But, tofu is rather inexpensive - I get 20 oz. from our Chinese store for about $1.70 each.
4.     We do a baked potato bar once a week. Make a couple of fillings, like vegan creamed peas or taco lentils, add some salsa, homemade guacamole, a few chopped nuts, homemade hummus, or homemade vegan "cheese" sauce, and you have a feast!  Cheap AND filling.
5.     Buy seasonally. Apples and oranges are in season right now and we are eating a TON of them!
6.     GLEAN - my friends know that I will gladly take their extra garden produce at the end of the year and freeze it for later use.
7.     Plan a menu every single week - based on what you have in the house and what is on sale. Plan meals around the sales flyers.
8.     BULK COOK! I can't say this strongly enough. Beans and brown rice can be made ahead and frozen. Know what you have on-hand so you don't purchase what you don't need


I hope this is helpful to you.  I would be happy to field any of your questions on serving real food on a lean budget. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Retiring Inspired



Anyone who knows me at all knows that I am a budgeting queen!  I can show you my original budget from our first year of marriage – 1988.  In fact, I could show you budgets for every year since then.  I have flowcharts, itemized expenses, lists of goals, and more!  It’s a really thick file folder.  I love to crunch those numbers, break life into short, medium, and long-term goals, and shoot high for saving and giving.   But somehow the long-term goal of retirement remained a mystery to me.  Sure, we saved money.  We even had a financial planner.  However, I had no concrete idea of a timetable for retirement. How much money we could really expect to have at that time and much of the terminology was like Greek to me.  I know, given my love of figures with a dollar sign behind them, this admission will surprise many of you.

Thankfully, I was recently given the opportunity to be a part of the launch team for Chris Hogan’s new book “Retire Inspired”.  Released just 4 weeks ago, it’s already a number 1 best seller, and for good reasons! Chris stresses that “retirement is not an old people thing, it’s a smart people thing!”  He makes this whole “investment strategy” thing understandable to us “Non-CPA” folks.  Not only that, he will add fuel to your fire of living within your means, saving for the future, and having a dream for retirement that is attainable.  He assures us that one thing is certain, “If you are going to have a real dream, you need a real plan.”

People often approach retirement in the same manner they approach budgeting… they ignore it and hope that somehow it will just “work out.”  Really!  Only about one third of Americans live on a written budget and less than 40 percent have saved even $25,000 toward their own retirement.  Chris Hogan’s “Retire Inspired” takes the mystery out of saving for retirement and puts you on a whole new path to freedom.  Chris Hogan breaks down saving for retirement into understandable, bite-sized pieces that make sense.  

To me, the most exciting part of the book was Chapter 8, entitled, “Use the Time You’ve Got: Retirement by the Decade”.  Chris compares each decade of life to innings in a baseball game.  He then gives you a plethora of ideas for investing.  Are you in your 20s?  Great!  You are in the first or second inning.  You’ve got time on your side.  Get started, live within your means, invest regularly and you’ll be a millionaire before you know it!  In your 40’s?  You’ve still got time to “get in the game” and score some financial runs.  Even in your 50’s, Chris assures that it is not too late to make strides toward retiring with resources. 

The whole concept of approaching retirement not as an age, but as a number is a unique part of this new book.  Chris gives you an on-line tool for matching your dreams for retirement to your age, the amount you already have saved, and the number of years you have until retirement.  The magic of compound interest (and saving regularly) then reveal how much money you should have in your retirement nest egg by the date you wish to retire.

Chris Hogan’s book helped me to see retirement as an extension of the goals and plans that I had already made!   The principals of good money management are transferrable to the retirement stage of life.  Invest early.  Invest regularly.  Invest in what you understand.  Invest for the long haul.  Have a plan.  Keep your eye on the prize.  Don’t get weary in well-doing. 

Get the book!  Read it!  Use it!  Live well and live with a dream. 



Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Journey to Debt Free College


Our oldest is a senior and plans to attend college with no debt.  Here is what we have learned, thus far, in our journey to higher education.  As we get closer, I’ll have to report on our progress. 

1)  Be VERY clear with your student at an early age as to what, if any, help he/she can expect from you and your spouse.  Whether you plan to give them $2000 (or $200) upon graduation from high school, let them know well ahead of time.  If you expect them to foot the entire cost of a higher education, this is fine, as long as they know it well in advance.  It saves on unmet expectations or hurt feelings if you are very open from the beginning.  

 2)  Our community college will be a GREAT help in cutting costs for the first two years.  He has easily saved enough to fund this through a part-time summer job.  Additionally, he'll save money during the first two years of his college experience by living at home and continuing to work that part-time job.   Every penny counts toward the ultimate goal of transferring to a 4 year university.  

3)  Fill out FAFSA in January.  Even if you need to estimate your income, fill out your initial papers on-line as close to January 1st as you can.  This “holds” your place in line and puts your “file date” as the date you initiated the file for that year.  So, if you begin the paperwork on January 1st, and you amend your income amount on March 1st, your “file date” is still January 1st.  Since some funds are given out on a “first come, first served basis”, you have obtained and maintained your “early file” place in line.  (NOTE - You can now fill out FAFSA as early at October 1st.  It will use your taxes of the previous year for calculation.  If your financial status has changed greatly, finish filling out FAFSA and then call the financial aid office at the colleges which your student is interested in attending.) 

 4)  Research EARLY!  Go to college fairs with your student as early at their freshman or sophomore year.  Reps love to see eager faces.  Find out EXACTLY what those colleges want to see on your student's transcript.  Most 2 year colleges sponsor a bi-annual “college fair” night.  If your child is interested in a Christian college, check http://myblueprintstory.com/ to find a free Christian college fair near you. 

 5)  Ask questions!!  Answers are free!  We discovered that a 4 year college, which is about 30 minutes from our home, has a GREAT working relationship with our community 2 year college.  There is a rep. dedicated to helping community college students transition to their university.  Additionally, most colleges spell out very specifically what financial incentives they will give transfer students with high GPAs. 

6)  Watch those ACT/SAT scores.  If your child is truly interested in attending a 4 year university as a freshman, it is TRUE that they will be offered a LOT more financial aid as at incoming freshman, than they will be as a transfer student.  So, talk to reps early and often.  Ask specific questions about their scholarship levels.  Sometimes the monetary difference between an ACT score of 25 and 27 can amount to several thousand dollars in honors scholarship money at that particular university.  If your student needs an ACT increase of 1-2 points, then have them take the test again.  They can take the ACT up to 12 times, although statistically scores don’t increase significantly after the third try.

7)  Visit universities.  We are just beginning this part.  This is the fun part.  They like you.  They want you.  They serve you a free lunch.  Seriously, don’t go over the summer.  Go when class is in session.  This way you can visit with students and ask about their experience.  You can see if traffic is crazy or if the class sizes seem abnormally large.  If your student is seriously interested, plan to visit more than once.  Any college should be open to hosting your student overnight and letting them audit classes the next day, which are associated with their chosen field of study.   Finally, bear in mind that this more money than buying a house folks!  Don’t be afraid to ask all of your questions, and have them answered adequately, before you make a commitment.  Be sure you understand ALL the costs before you "sign on the dotted line."  People who have never had to live on a limited income forget to add those "$50" parking passes, and "$100 one-time enrollment fees".  But, if you count nickels and dimes (like we do) then you want to know ALL the costs.  

8)  Apply for scholarships EARLY!  There are a lot of scholarship opportunities available for younger students.  Most involve writing essays.  So, be certain your student gets a GOOD background in what constitutes "good writing."  Even if your student does not win, an honorable mention in a nationwide contest looks REALLY good on their transcript. http://www.fastweb.com/ is the best place we have found to scout out REAL scholarships.  Yep, there are a lot of places on-line which will charge you money for research that you can do yourself.  You need to sign up for an account.  But, really, we have not received a lot of nuisance e-mails or phone calls from signing up with Fastweb’s free service.  Tu guard against this possibility, we DID set up a separate e-mail account dedicated to all college research. So, all the colleges have that one, special e-mail address.  You don't clutter up your own in-box then.  

9)  We put our son in charge of our family finances for six months when he was 15.  This was a HUGE help in him understanding money - how to save, spend, and manage it. 

What about you?  Are you on this journey?  Any additional tips you can share?  I’d love to hear from you.

(Update: June 2017.  So far, so good.  Our oldest took as many classes as he could at our local two-year college, paying just a couple of thousand dollars out of pocket after scholarships.  He was offered a full-tuition scholarship at a 4 year Christian college to finish his undergraduate degree.  He is working full-time for 1 semester to earn money for room and board before transferring.  Our 2nd son graduated from high school and was offered a full-time job with benefits.  He took the job and will go to a 2 year college part-time, paying cash as he goes.)  




Remember, do all to the glory of God,

Hope