Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Debt-Free Living - Part 5 - Cash is King! - Buying House #2

Today in Debt Free Living we ascend to the summit of our series.  We purchase a new house with cash!  

In case you missed the first four parts of my Living Debt Free series, you'll find:

Part 1 - The Early Years - here
Part 2 - Mistakes We Made - here.  
Part 3 - Paying Off Our First Home in FIVE Years - here
Part 4 - Gazelle Intensity: Saving for Home #2 - here.

In January of 2009, we began our grand journey to save $30,000 in 24 months in order to pay cash for our next home.  This mammoth task had to be accomplished while raising 4 boys on $40,000 a year.  We would need to live on 52% of our income, while tithing 10% and saving 38%!  Our nest egg grew as we bid adieu to every single superfluous item in our budget.  We trimmed, and then trimmed again.  Every single month I produced a spread sheet showing our rate of savings.

We went to open houses every Sunday afternoon.  Some of you might find this a foolhardy idea.  Why torment yourself with homes that you have no way of purchasing right now?  However, we viewed these open houses as a way to keep our "eyes on the prize".  They fueled our fire for continuing to save.  We used them to establish a realistic idea of what we could expect to find in our price range.  We parked and walked around various neighborhoods that we found interesting.  You can find out a lot about a neighborhood just by walking around and talking to the folks you meet.  We used our experiences to create a list of 24 items that we wanted in a new home.  We prayed over our list and thanked God for preparing the perfect house for us at the perfect time.

At the end of 2009, we found that we had exceeded our goal, banking nearly $17,000 in one year!  We had saved over 40% of our yearly income!  We decided that we could buy as early as August of 2010 if the perfect house came across our path.  Larry's father had died in 2007, leaving us a small inheritance.  We put most of that money into several small money market accounts, earning between 4% and 5% interest.  As the time grew near for us to purchase a home, we renewed the accounts every 6 months, sacrificing some interest, but  knowing that we may need to use a some of that money if we bought a home before the end of the year. 

We found a realtor in May of 2010.  We told him that we intended to purchase a home with cash.  He listened intently, but he also asked questions about our income and saw us toting around all those boys.  I was fairly certain that he thought we were "pulling his leg" with our proclamations of paying cash.  As a city employee, Larry is restricted to living no more than 25 miles from the city hall. We grabbed a map and used a compass to make a circle around the city.  All towns within the circle met our criteria.    I wanted a 3 bedroom house, in a small town, on a acre lot, no more than ten miles from Peoria.  The realtor showed us exactly what we asked him to show us.  No homes above our price range and only in areas in which we were interested.  It was a little discouraging.  It seems that everyone wants an acre lot less than 10 miles from the city, and owners charge some hefty prices for these amenities.

In July, Larry was praying about our new home and he felt the Lord impress on him that we would buy a home in north Peoria.  When he shared this with me I replied, "But I don't want to live in the city!"  It seems that God had other ideas.  One Sunday, just as we were seriously contemplating putting our house hunting on hold, Larry saw a listing for an open house in north Peoria.  Although the price had been reduced, it was still significantly above our price range.  Reluctantly, I gave into Larry's pleas and agreed to go look at it.  

As we walked through the house, we mentally reviewed our checklist.  It met nearly all of our criteria.   It was a three bedroom, two bath, all brick ranch with hardwood floors, and a walk-out basement.  The neighborhood was lovely and was just a 10 minute walk from a biking/hiking trail which traversed the city for miles and miles.  We decided to make an offer.  We raised our ceiling to include using a small portion of Larry's father's money toward the purchase price  However, we told the realtor that it was a "1 bid deal".  We weren't going to entertain any counter offers.  It was "take it or leave it."  Our offer was 30% below the original asking price for the house.  I was pretty certain that the owner wouldn't agree to our terms. 

Just 24 hours later our realtor called to say that our offer had been accepted.  After picking my jaw up off of the floor I blurted out, "You're kidding!!!"  The realtor assured me that he was not joking.
As we neared the closing date, our realtor called to ask, "The closing for the new house will take place next Friday.  The sale of your old home will not be completed by then.  So, will you be taking out a bridge loan?"  "No," I calmly replied.  "We will just take the entire amount out of savings."  There was dead silence on the other end of the line.  He then hesitantly replied, "Okay, I'll tell them that you'll be ready for the closing next week."

The following Friday was August 26, 2010.  We arrived at the meeting with a cashier's check for the entire amount.  There is no way that I can adequately describe to you the feeling of absolute triumph that I felt in handing over that check!  Our realtor's eyes met mine.  He grinned warmly and quipped, "Cash is king!"

Yes, we had a couple of tremendous breaks of good fortune.  Larry's inheritance offered us the opportunity to avoid taking out a bridge loan to cover the 30 day gap between the closing on our new house and the sale of our old home.  Additionally, we had been able to add just a little bit more to our offer by using some of Larry's Dad's money.  However,  after the sale of our first home replenished our savings account, Dad's money accounted for less than ten percent of the purchase price of our new home. God had truly blessed our efforts.  Without His guidance and help, there is absolutely no way that we could have done this.

I want to thank you, my reader, for coming along on this journey down memory lane with me.  It has been a real joy to recount for you the amazing blessings that God has bestowed on our family.   I want to leave you with encouragement to reflect upon your own life's journey.  Remember, write, and relate your own stories of God's amazing grace. 

1 Samuel 7:12 says, "Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the Lord has helped us.” Samuel set up a series of stones to remember God's goodness and faithfulness.  They remind us of the importance of telling these stories and passing down them down to future generations.  When you do so, you are not only building the faith of your children, but also that of your grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  These tremendous stories of God's provision will become the cornerstones upon which the faith of future generations of your family will be built!

Remember, do all to the glory of God,


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Debt Free Living - Part 4 - Gazelle Intensity: Saving for Home #2!

Welcome to Part 4 of my series on Debt Free living.  In case you missed them, you'll find the first three parts of the series here, here , and here.

In this week's edition I'll give you some specific tips on how we saved money for our great big, nearly impossible goal.

When we left our story last week, our money-savvy ways had become a lifestyle.  Our home was paid for.  Our brood of children was growing.  I might add, we were getting very creative at figuring out how to continue stacking them in one bedroom.  We sort of reached maximum capacity when our 4th son would simply not fit into that 11 X 11 foot bedroom.  We broke the bedroom impasse by installing our oldest son into the basement, effectively making our family room into a bedroom. 

The fact that children don't stay little for very long had a lot to do with our next decision.  Larry was starting to frequently repeat the phrase, "Every time I turn around in this house, I bump into somebody."  This was actually pretty literal, given the fact that the main floor of the house was just over 850 square feet.  The basement did add some living space, but we were cramming six people into a very modest sized home.

It was also, unfortunately, a very nice home in a quickly deteriorating neighborhood.  Rental property was becoming common.  Foreclosure was equally ubiquitous.  Drug-infested homes now dotted the neighborhood like a slowly growing blight.  In the past year, four homes within a block of our home were broken into - twice by armed robbery.  The fact that my husband worked in the evidence room at the police department compounded his angst.  He was well aware of how close the violence was getting to us.  The lynch-pin in the situation was when drug sellers ran through our front yard at 3:30 in the afternoon.  My children had just come inside from playing in the yard.  We were done!  Nothing gets a parent's attention like their children being in danger!   Talk about a catalyst for saving and moving! 

It was right about that time that I stumbled onto the idea of paying cash for our next home, almost by accident.  Honestly, it had not even occurred to me until I read my first Dave Ramsey book.  I had devoured dozens of books on finances, living on a budget, and saving money.  I had heard of Dave Ramsey and thought, "Well, I can't imagine that he'll say anything that I haven't read before."  But, it was one of the few books in the finance section at the library that I hadn't already checked out.  So, I sat down to read The Total Money Makeover.

In the book Dave talks about tackling goals with gazelle intensity.  He derives his concept from Proverbs 6: 4-5, "Deliver yourself like a gazelle from the hands of the hunter."  Apparently gazelles are experts at dodging in order to avoid capture by predators.  Dave asks the reader to adopt this strategy for getting out of debt.  Do whatever you have to do to get away from debt.  When you are tempted to spend money you don't have, channel your inner gazelle and run like crazy in the other direction.  The really creative, visual side of me enjoyed his word picture. 

I thought, "I'll bet I could adopt this strategy for saving for a  new house."  It was January of 2008.  I finally stopped viewing our savings as "one, big, green pile of cash."  I gave each dollar a job to do.  We found out the worth of our current home and then assumed that we could sell it for at least 90% of that price.  But, even after adding in a percentage of our savings to the total amount available for a new home, I realized that I would need to employ some black belt savings strategies to be able to purchase a home in a better neighborhood by our goal date, which was just 24 months away. 

We were approximately $30,000 short of the amount we needed in order to pay cash for a home in the price range we wanted.  My husband made $40,000 a year and we had four sons.  In order to make this happen we would need to save 35% of his income each year for the next two years!  That was double our rate of savings of the previous year! 

I was a woman on a mission.  I grabbed that great big, audacious goal with my teeth and wouldn't let go - like a dog hanging onto a bone!  I was on fire!  "Nickels and Dimes" became our daily mantra.  Although our monthly savings rate was already fairly high, each category was pretty tight.    There wasn't a lot of "fluff" to cut.  We didn't have cable, satellite TV, a dishwasher, or a cell phone (and still don't!) Our only option was to closely examine every single line item in order to carve out small amounts of additional savings.  For the next two years, if we couldn't eat it or wear it, we didn't buy it!  If we didn't already own it, we didn't need it! 

Our strategy included a multi-pronged approach.  We started by cutting all unnecessary contracts.  The newspaper and internet were the first casualties.  The library had internet.  Books and movies were borrowed.   We read day old newspapers that Larry brought home from work.  We slashed our gas budget nearly in half.  We made lists of destinations, combined trips, and filled the gas tank of each of our two vehicles just once every thirty days.  Larry rode his bicycle three miles to and from work several days a week. Signs beckoning us to garage sales, went unheeded.  I used cloth diapers and line dried all laundry outside until the temperatures dropped so low that my fingers hurt.   I remember vividly bringing in laundry, dried into shapes resembling stiff boards.   I sliced the food budget to the bone, went to the grocery store just twice a month, planned meals, bulk cooked, and baked all of our bread from scratch.   

I would be remiss if I did not mention one more, really important thing that we did.  We spoke only words that were positive and "life-giving".  When tempted to spend money we smiled at each other and said, "Nickels and dimes!"  We invented a chant for counting down the months until "new house time".  We prayed regularly together as a family and thanked God for meeting our needs.  We prayed for the current owners of the home that God was preparing for us.  We prayed for the new owner-to-be of our current home.  My husband walked around our home and our block praying for a hedge of angelic protection.   Well, you get the idea.  Prayer was, and is, a huge part of our lives.

Next week we'll talk about the grand achievement of our goal.  But, here are today's "takeaways":

Although the goal of paying cash for a house wasn't unreachable, it was very difficult to achieve.  We started with a firm understanding of our financial condition.  We set a reasonable price range for the new home.  Then we constructed a very specific game plan.  We had benchmarks and a timeline in place for tracking our progress.  We were willing to hard work and embrace delayed gratification.  

Until next week,

Remember, do all to the Glory of God,


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Debt Free Living - Part 3 - Paying Off Our First Home in FIVE Years

Welcome to week 3 of my Debt Free Living series.  If you haven't read part 1 or part 2, you'll find: Part 1 The early years:  here 
Part 2 Mistakes we Made:   here

Larry and I had been married for 3 years.  It was that magical time when most couples purchase their first home.  Being the facts, figures, and finance guru that I am, I decided that we needed to look at three basic pieces of information and then align them - sort of like a venn diagram.  

1)  Experts tell you that no more than 35 percent of your monthly income should be allocated for household expenses.  In addition to your mortgage payment, household expenses include: property taxes, utilities, home maintenance, and house insurance.  My eyes nearly popped out of my head when I realized how very, very little we really had to be able to make a mortgage payment and still remain fiscally solvent!  

2)  Remember that big, green pile of cash that I kept eyeing longingly?  We had to decide how much of that stash we were able to use as a down payment.  We looked at our hard-earned bounty, which by this point in the game was seeming smaller by the minute.  We still hadn't quite made the leap to giving every single dollar a job, but, we decided  using 75% of our cash was reasonable - leaving us with 3 months of expenses as an emergency fund. 

3)  We found out how much the bank would loan us.  Wow!  Now that was a lot  of money!  Apparently having a steady job and no debt made the bank think that we were made of ... well... money!  No matter what figure the bank gives you, be prepared to cut it.  Seriously!  There is no way you should ever borrow that much money! 

Now came the tricky part, pulling all three pieces into perfect alignment.  We weighed our options carefully.  Paying 20% down would allow us to skip the mandatory PMI (Private Mortgage Insurance) that was inherent in loans involving more than 80% of the value of the home.  So, that magical 20% down payment became our goal.  In order to "right size" our mortgage to match our down payment, we needed to cut the total amount the bank was willing to loan us by 35%.  By looking at homes only in this price range, we could opt for a 15 year, instead of a 30 year mortgage.  Sighing, I wrote down a solitary figure on a scrap of paper - $37,000 - our perfect purchase price.  I cried.  Seriously, I did cry!  We did the only thing we knew to do:  We began to pray.  This seemed like oddly familiar ground.  Remember, we "prayed in" the little white house just a few months into our marriage. 

While our decidedly tight financial circumstances could have been drastically depressing, we took an optimistic outlook and  began looking at homes.  One dismal home after another met our weary eyes.  Our price range meant either tiny, cramped, poorly built spaces or older homes in bad neighborhoods in need of a serious overhaul.  Reviewing our list of "wants", we mentally crossed off items.  Three bedrooms became two.  Two bathrooms became one.  Central air became window fans.  We were being forced to separate our "wants" from our "needs".  Meanwhile, we continued praying for God to prepare a home for us, at the right price, in a nice neighborhood. 

 In September of 1992, we found ourselves in a 3-way bidding war for a home.  All three couples had put in a bid for the same house, for the same amount, and on the exact same day.  We won the war.  That 20% down payment made the difference.  They gave us the house because our financing looked more secure.  The other bidders had offered 10% and 5% down respectively.  Never in my life did I think that magic 20% number would have proven to be so critical to us getting the home that we wanted.  

It was a 2 bedroom, 1 bath bungalow with a walk-up attic, built in 1930. Over 60 years earlier a local contractor had built it for his daughter and son-in-law.  We were the second owners.  The house had "good bones", beautiful woodwork, hardwood floors under the aging carpet,  and lathe and plaster walls.  The price:  $38,000.  It was just $1000 away from my "perfect purchase price"!  

The first year we lived there, we put on a new roof and updated the electrical systems.  Then for the next four consecutive years, we saved every extra penny we could, making the equivalent of double payments.  Every few months we wrote a second payment check and labelled it "Apply to principle only".  I double-checked each time, to be certain that the bank had, indeed, applied it to the principle and not the interest.  I quit my job at the end of November in 1996, as we welcomed our first child into our family.  Our income was cut by 40 percent!  Larry made the final house payment in February of 1997, just over five years after we took possession. 

Next week we'll talk more about "living lean".  Over the next thirteen years we welcomed three more sons into our family, while saving the equivalent of our mortgage payment every single month.  Our brand new, great big, nearly impossible goal became to purchase our next home with cash!  

Here's what we learn from today's story:   

We learn that, once again, God had a plan.  Our season of house-hunting was difficult for us on many different levels.  We were not only praying for a home, we were also praying for a child.  We went through years of infertility.  I desperately wanted to be a mother and I wanted to stay at home with that baby.  Looking back, I realize that God's timing was perfect.  Had we bought a more expensive home, I would have been forced to choose between being at home with our children and going back to work to help finish paying for the house.  I never had to make that choice.   A year after our son's birth, we paid off the house. 

Looking for your first home is a LOT of fun!  You get to go to open houses on Sunday afternoons, look at how others have utilized their space, explore different decorating techniques, and try to envision your family in each home.  Unfortunately, when you are house hunting while living beneath the median US household income, your dreams come into conflict with your reality in very short order!  It's vitally important to place distance in your mind between what you want and what you can afford when searching through the current MLS listings.  In your price range, finding the right house may be a time-consuming process.  So, be prepared to take your time! 

I remember going to family potlucks as a child and eating until I felt that I would explode. Those last few bites of chocolate cake sat on my plate uneaten.  I was so full that I just could not bring myself to touch it.  Food tastes SO good at a summer picnic.  However, too much of a good thing quickly becomes a really bad, uncomfortable, painful situation when you take on more than you can chew.  I vividly remember overhearing the adults declare to one another, "Her eyes were too big for her stomach." 

That is the word picture I want you to remember when considering your next house.  When you are living lean, each and every calculation you use on your journey becomes all that more critical.  
 Right-size your home and your mortgage payment and you will not be living under duress.  But, when you overspend, the result is often uncomfortable and painful.  You just don't want to spend years of your life worrying about whether there will be enough money to make your payments. 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Debt-Free Living Part 2 - Mistakes We Made

Welcome to Part 2 of my series on Debt-free Living.

If you missed Part 1 be sure to read this post, which describes the early years of our marriage.  This week I'll give you the inside scoop on our money mistakes.  Yep!  We made a few.  Knowing what we did wrong may help you avoid the same errors.  

By early 1989 we were happily ensconced in our 550 square foot, 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom, 1 closet house.  We were living within our means, writing down expenses, and saving money.  But every single month, we were making two major money mistakes which would hamper us for many, many years.

Even though we didn't start married life in a hole of debt, we did begin by basically clawing our way through one month, trying to survive to the next! Eating out quickly became a distant memory.  We drove by Starbucks just to smell the coffee and then went home and made our own.  Every paid subscription went the way of the dodo bird.  Attending plays, the symphony, or pretty much anything else that cost cash became a foreign concept.  We took lots of walks and discovered that when we saved all the coins we found on the street in a special jar, we could amass enough to buy ice cream as a special treat about twice a summer. Believe me when I tell you that I went to unbelievable lengths to save a buck. 

The error of our ways didn't have so much to do with how we spent money, but with how we viewed what was left over at the end of each month.  We had no written short, medium, and long-term goals.  We didn't give each dollar a job to do.  As we lived lean, nickels and dimes did begin to add up to dollars.  But, without any "labels" on that mound of cash it was all too easy to overspend when replacing a car or taking a vacation.  It appeared that the money was there to do these things.  In short, we were not being intentional with our money.  So, we spent part of that big pile of  money that should have been earmarked as a house down payment. 

You see, after we had lived in our little white house for about three years, I got the "house-buying bug."  I went to my first open house up the street from where we lived.  I was bitten and smitten.  It was old.  It was spacious.  It had character.  It had potential!  From that point on, I ate, slept, and dreamed of having our own home.  This was when I discovered that viewing our leftover money as "one, big pot of gold" was a problem!  That money was not separated into jars labelled: "car replacement", "emergency fund", "or "vacation"  In my mind our savings was now one, big, glorious, green pile of H.O.U.S.E!

Much later, I figured out that we had to divide the "pie" of our savings into an awful lot of slices.  Panic immediately threatened to ensue.  But, it's like climbing a mountain.  You do it one step at a time.  Approach your "short, medium, long term goal list" like you would attack debt.  Dave Ramsey describes a debt snowball.  His formula is also effective when saving for future goals.  If you have a couple that are small and fairly easy to meet, save for them first.  Throw all the extra money that you can find each month at those goals.  When you meet the goals, it will give you momentum to reach toward the next ones on your list.  Then, combine the money that you were throwing at the two smaller goals, and throw it at the next goal.  Pretty soon, in a systematic way, you will have saved for a number of future goals.  Retirement is a "low and slow" strategy.  Compound interest is your ally in this goal.  If you are fairly young, even a little money, over a long period of time, will allow you to retire with dignity.  Read my review on Retire Inspired , a fantastic resource on planning for retirement, no matter what your current age.

Here's what we learn from today's post:  

Whether you are gloriously upper-class, comfortably middle-class, or challengingly lower-class, each dollar you make needs to be given a job to do.  Pretend you cash your weekly paycheck and get a stack of $100 bills.  You could take out $200 and label it "food" or $100 and label it "gasoline".  That's giving each dollar a job to do!  My very, very favorite FREE money managing tool is Every Dollar, from Dave Ramsey.  There is a paid "plus" feature, which links directly to your bank accounts.  I use the free version and simply manually type in my expenses.  I can create a monthly budget, track each of our future goals, and see instantly how close we are to reaching them.  I can tell my husband in about 30 seconds exactly how much money we have saved toward a new car or new living room furniture.  I love it!   Every Dollar gives every single dollar a "job".  So, I will never again be in the position that I was in after 3 years of marriage, with a stash of cash, not knowing how much of it I could use as a down payment on a home.

Next week I'll tell you how we managed the house hunting and paying for our first home.  We  paid off our 15 year mortgage in 5 years!! 

Until then, if you have any questions or comments, I'd be happy to field them.

Remember, do all to the glory of God,


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,


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:  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.  “ 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:  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:  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: and 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.