Monday, November 28, 2011

Easy Instant Pancakes



Pinterest has struck again! I know that it's easy to get sucked into browsing and repinning -- only to realize an hour has gone by.

However, tonight I redeemed some of that time.

I actually put one of the pins into practice.

Tonight was a rough dinner night. My plans to roast a lovely pork tenderloin in the oven fell apart when I realized that my intention to clean the oven earlier in the day was never fulfilled. I had an oven full of sprayed on oven cleaner and no amount of scrubbing and wiping down could make it stop smelling like chemical.

Opting not to subject my family to chemi-loin, I went to my clutch dinner option -- pancakes!

While I was whipping up a batch of from scratch pancake batter (courtesy of my friend, Deborah), I realized -- "hey, since I'm taking the time to make this stuff from scratch, I should utilize the time and make a DOUBLE batch for breakfast this week."

And I knew I could not only do that, but store it in a convenient and easy way due to a pin I had seen a few weeks back on Pinterest. I can't seem to find it now, so I am shamelessly going to repin it (sorry to the person who originally pinned the idea in the relish bottle!)

Simply make your pancake batter (and this homemade recipe is wonderful!) and store the excess in a cleaned out ketchup, relish, syrup bottle that has a squeeze top.

Like so...


And yes, I see the comedy of using a used syrup bottle, but I think it brings it around full circle. So, tomorrow (or the next day), I'll pull this handy guy out and easily squeeze out perfect portions of yummy batter for quick and easy pancakes. Really...I don't even think Eggo Waffles could be faster or easier.

And that's appealing.

Now for the fabulous recipe:

Deborah's Buttermilk Pancakes

- 2 eggs
- 2 cups buttermilk*
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1 3/4 cup flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt

- Combine all dry ingredients well. In another bowl, mix wet ingredients. Add dry to wet ingredients and wisk until smooth. Makes about 16 pancakes.

*If you don't have buttermilk, you can use this substitution method. This is per 1 cup (for this recipe, you'll have to double it). In a large glass measuring container, add 1 tbsp of vinegar. Fill with milk until you hit the 1 cup mark. Stir and set aside for at least 10-15 minutes.

And now...enjoy! Your family will thank you!

Money Monday: The Power of Cash



This week was another tough one for us as we continue to adjust to the zero based budget idea and how close that takes us to the wire every month --and this is not necessarily bad since funds are allocated to savings, etc, but can still cause the "more month than money" phenomenon if you are not on top of things.

Our house was plagued with the stomach flu last week (causing us to miss out on Thanksgiving...boo, sniffle) and we let things slide. I've come to realize that in order to keep our budget from breaking, I have to be vigilant about checking our bank balance and envelope balance on Inzolo.

Well, due to the above circumstances (and a little bit of laziness), I didn't check things enough. We didn't get into much trouble (and it was easily corrected), but still...I was bummed out that I let it get out of hand (which goes to show you just how quickly that it can happen). I'm glad that it wasn't a "painful lesson" like it was a few months back when our overdraft ran out and we racked up bank fees at an alarming rate.

Last week was also eventful because we had another amazing thing happen! As I mentioned, things are tight at the end of the month. While it's not so bad that we can't buy milk and the basics, there isn't anything for "wants" or "super great deals we can't pass up." And of course, that's a terrible place for me to be (bargain shopper that I am) around Thanksgiving with all of the deals of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Thankfully, a refund check from my husband's union dues arrived on Friday and it was a little like Christmas. That check saved the day and not only made our household budget breathe a little easier, it allowed us to grab some of those great deals and pay off two unexpected bills that also arrived last week.

This is just more evidence of how God provides for us and the perfection of His timing. I wouldn't trade this journey/lesson for anything. I know that my parents (who read this blog) sometimes worry that we are "doing without" and they want to make our way easier. I totally get that and I appreciate it. They have bailed us out of some tough financial times in the past and even recently. I'm not sure where we would be without them.

However, I really do feel like this season of "lack" as it may seem is so good for me. I'm relearning what's essential. And more than that, I feel like it's been an amazing opportunity to remember what it feels like to be utterly dependent on God. Yes, it can be scary. But, it's such an awesome thing to know that you don't have the resources to do something, and then see God make it happen.

That's more precious than winning the lottery in my book!
....................................

So, this week's recap is actually from a few week's ago when our class did a "double-header" in order to allow us to skip a lesson for the class session after Thanksgiving. So, while That's Not Good Enough: How to Buy Only Big, Big Bargains is this is week eight's lesson, I'll discuss it here for this week.

Apparently Dave Ramsey is a big bargain hunter. He shared stories of trips to retailers with wads of cash that have netted him some pretty amazing deals. In this credit-crazed world, retailers are often happy to take a percentage off the total to not have to lose money on credit card merchant fees.

Ramsey encourages us to make getting a bargain a way of life. He shared a book recommendation to learn more about this -- "Getting to Yes," by Roger Fisher (a professional negotiator).

He also shared Three Keys to Opening the Door to Huge Bargains:

1. Learn to negotiate everything


2. Practice patience


3. Know where to find deals

Ramsey shared a lot more about how to negotiate and how to make your cash "talk" for you (and this is one of those times where it's so worth it to actually be in the class and not get info secondhand). I'll readily admit to not realizing the power cash has or ever utilizing that technique. I'm definitely of the "Plastic Generation."

He also shared some places to find great deals.

1. Individuals
2. Estate sales
3. Public Auctions
4. Couponing (yes!)
5. Garage sales
6. Repo lot
7. Flea markets
8.  Refunding
9.  Foreclosures
10. Pawn Shops
11. Online Auctions
12. Classified Ads
13. Consignment sales
14. Conventions

Really...it goes back to the idea of being fiscally responsible with our money. Just because we can "afford" to pay full price for an item, should we? If we could spend a little bit of time researching options or clipping a coupon that would save us 10%, 20%, 50% or more, shouldn't we make that investment?

If I've learned anything, it's not really so much about "saving money on a deal," although I admit to loving the knowledge that I rarely pay full price for anything. Rather it's about understand what you can do with that savings. The potential for savings and investment is vast when you are willing to be patient and let it work for you over time.

I wish I could see what that would look like over a year...to take all of the savings of what I've couponed and then put it in a savings account and see what that would net me in my later years. Using one of Ramsey's own charts, if I save $200 per month (and I know I do and more), I could invest it at 12% and in 25 years when I'm 63, I could have $187,885!!  All for the cost of a little bit of my time.

I think that's a bargain!

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To read more about our journey to financial peace, read related posts here:
http://www.mosaicmomma.net/p/finding-financial-peace.html

For more info on Financial Peace, visit:
http://www.daveramsey.com/fpu/preview/


For info on Inzolo -- an online and mobile "envelope system," tool, visit:
www.inzolo.com

For more info on The Blessed Life, visit:
http://theblessedlife.com/

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Money Monday: Prepare to Win


Happy Monday All!

I trust you're having a great week.

This week has been interesting, with some highs and some lows. First the highs...

Last week, I shared about being given a Kohl's $10 off card in addition to $20 another person gave me to use with that card.

This week, I went shopping with my mom to use her 20% off savings pass to see if I could find a sweater (like the person who gave me the $ suggested) and to see if I could perhaps find some new jeans -- my favorite pair were on their last leg...literally.

I'm pleased to say that between a great sale, a clearance rack, the 20% off coupon, the $10 off card and a credit that my mom had on a gift card from the store, I was able to get a pair of jeans and a very cute sweater for $16!!!! I paid with the $20 I was given and then gave the rest to my mom to go towards the credit she "donated" to the cause.

Now...I'm a bargain shopper, but even that kind of a deal boggles my mind.

Couple that with more Starbucks amazingness this week (I swear that I am not able to spend money at Starbucks lately!), I have had a great lesson in continuing to trust God for needs AND wants!

My Starbucks story continues from last week's post where I mentioned that I did not fund my usual $15 on my registered card because, honestly, we just didn't have the money. After finding that $5 gift card last week and applying it, I was given a belated birthday gift on Tuesday -- a $15 Starbucks card!

And if that wasn't amazing enough, when I actually went to use it when I met a friend for coffee last week, she wouldn't allow me to pay! And when I went up an hour later to get a refill on the regular brewed coffee for the both of us, my gold card brought the $1 charge down to $0!!!!  Again...I paid nothing! The following day, I was back to take advantage of  the Buy One, Get One free event they had so I could buy one and then take my dad a free coffee, I was given a receipt for a FREE coffee after completing a brief survey.

So, technically, after I redeem that free drink offer, I won't have spent ANY money on Starbucks out of my own pocket this month, yet I continue to be able to enjoy a treat every now and then.

Pretty amazing.

I shared some of this last night at our Financial Peace University class -- about how I feel like after I repented of my bad spending habits, I've seen God make a way like I haven't in years -- all because we're solely relying upon Him for everything.

And now for the bad...I have to confess not being ready to cut up our credit cards. It's tough when you can use them for some sort of reward (fuel, cash, etc, discounts/savings) and I have to admit to falling off the wagon again this week --- more out of a panic than actual need to use them. The amount the register rang up to was more than I had calculated and I have to admit not checking my Inzolo account for the envelope balance, so I did what I have always done when that happens.

I'm not proud of it. I paid it off when I got home, but I see how easy it is to fall into that trap again (and yes, I forgot about that emergency fund again!), so I think we are actually going to have to make that leap to cutting up the cards -- honestly, it is a bit difficult. Who would have thought? My goal is to have cut them up by the end of the class and I'd better get on that, because we only have 4 more left!

Speaking of...last night's class was called, "From Fruition to Tuition: Planning for Retirement and College."

It was really interesting, albeit hard to hear in some senses because it's a few years removed for us while we work hard to pay down debt. This lesson deals with Baby Step 4 (Investing 15% of your household income into Roth IRAs and pre-tax retirement plans) and Baby Step 5 (Save for your children's college using tax-favored plans).

In the first baby step, after you have paid off all your debt -- save your mortgage -- and you have 3-6 months living expenses in the bank, then you need to focus your attention on preparing for your future. Ramsey talks about all the usual suspects of "qualified plans" (401(k), 403(b), etc) and how they work. However, the bottom line is that you need to do at least 15% to live comfortably in your retirement years. What is neat is that he walks you through exactly how that looks and the formula by which you can figure out exactly what amount you need to put away and how.



Although it seems daunting (and it can be), it is actually pretty freeing to see it all there in black and white. Knowing what the game plan should be to achieve the lifestyle you want in your later years is just good sense. And we all know how well hiding with our head stuck in the sand works out.

The other Baby Step (#5) talks about saving for your children's college using tax-favored plans. (This is AFTER you have taken care of funding your own retirement needs.)

I know that this is a topic of discussion with my friend group. Those who didn't get any help from their parents tend to be of the mindset that their kids will need to go it alone. Those of us who did receive help are more of the mindset to want to help our children -- at least in some way -- to able to graduate debt-free or fairly close.

My personal opinion is that higher education is getting more and more outrageously expensive. However, the benefits still remain. College graduates generally make more money.

Ramsey walked us through the different options and his suggested plan -- the Education Savings Account (ESA). He also shared with us three "nevers" of college saving.

1. Never save for college using insurance
2. Never save for college using savings bonds (they only earn 5-6%)
3. Never save for college using pre-paid college tuition (only earns 7% inflation rate).

There is also a handy spreadsheet in our workbook that shows us how to calculate how much we should save.


As with everyone in life that's worth working towards (health, weight-loss, spiritual maturity, etc), it takes stamina and will-power to stay the course -- especially when that course gets rocky.

I'll close this week with this awesome quote by Bobby Knight:

                   "Most people have the will to win, few have the will to prepare to win."

Are you willing to prepare to win?

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To read more about our journey to financial peace, read related posts here:
http://www.mosaicmomma.net/p/finding-financial-peace.html

For more info on Financial Peace, visit:
http://www.daveramsey.com/fpu/preview/


For info on Inzolo -- an online and mobile "envelope system," tool, visit:
www.inzolo.com

For more info on The Blessed Life, visit:
http://theblessedlife.com/

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Run Your Race




A few days ago, I ran in what was my sixth official race...and the fourth time that I have done this particular local event here in my hometown.

This year, however, was the first time that I did not run the half-marathon event. Instead, I ran the two-person relay with my friend, Gina. This was due to a variety of reasons including an injury (mine), not loving the current course, gearing up for another half mara in a few weeks in Vegas, etc. But, none of these reasons could keep us from participating in the race in some way and the relay was the best of both worlds.

Yet...somehow it felt a bit like cheating -- knowing we have done the the full 13.1 before, but chose this time to halve that distance. However, as relay participants, we got all the swag associated with the event, got to share the road with thousands of other runners -- some competitive, some walkers, and even some friends and family. It was too good to pass up.

So, once again, a group of us were out there excited, cold and nervous at the meet-up point  -- snapping pics, stretching and running off to the porta-potties every few minutes. For some, it was the first time (and that's always exciting -- to be that person and to watch that person soak it all in), and for others it was a bit more "old hat."

However, for me, even though I don't exactly get the same sort of butterflies that come from "the unknown" of the race, I still get that thrill shot of adrenaline as I find my corral and cue up my play list and work through my final stretching routine.

The cry of joy that goes up from the mass of people when the gun goes off is indescribable. I've been in such large groups of runners before that we've literally walked for several minutes until there was enough space to break into a jog -- usually before you actually hit the start line and your shoe chip starts to mark your time.

That Sunday, I was solo at the start line -- being in a different corral than my walker friends and my faster runner friends. That was okay. I have learned over my "career" as a runner, that being on my own is alright...and actually many times, it's preferable when it's a performance situation.

Because for me, once that gun goes off and the adrenaline courses through a runner's body, it's natural to shoot out of that start gate and burn the first two miles at a faster than normal clip. But when you have 13.1 to run, the subsequent 11.1 miles after those speedy first two can be pretty tough. And when you run with other people, you can often find yourself running their pace and find yourself in the same situation -- out of breath and hurting.

So, I've learned to reign in that adrenaline and pace myself. And if that means that I have to pull back and run my pace alone, that's what I do. It's what experience has taught me.

I run my own race.

When I'm out there on the course, it's me...well, against me. And most often, I'm my toughest competitor, my very own loud-mouth angry coach, and my worst critic.

You see, we runners are quick to make allowance for other runners...to be supportive...to encourage prudence when dealing with injuries, and to remind others that's more about the process than the official finish time.

But when it comes to ourselves, we rarely allow for the same amount of grace.

Last year, I'll just be completely honest and say I went a little crazy. Our church had formed an official team to train and run in last year's version of this race. It was going to be My Year. I was neither pregnant (like the first season), nor post-partum (like the second), and I was actually down to a pretty decent fighting weight. I found that I was faster and stronger than ever before and getting more so every week.

You see, we runners are always concerned about our time. It's how we judge our performance and our progress. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with having a method of measuring your achievement. However, for me (and for a few others), the desire to be better, faster, stronger led to a downward spiral of injury, mental and emotional drama and trauma and in the end -- running in a race that was both painful to the body and to the spirit.

When I crossed that finish line last year -- limping and almost ready to cry at the pain in my shin (I would find out later that I had a stress fracture in my tibia) -- I felt defeated and not really victorious. I counted the cost of what I didn't achieve -- what had been so promising and shimmering in front of me only weeks before had turned into a distant fantasy.

And yes, that lasted for awhile (and lingers some still), but when you meet up with your other teammates and swap stories and clink finisher's medals and snap photos, you kinda get it.

It's about finishing what you started.

You may not finish the way you had hoped. You may not finish "well," but we finish.

I've seen runners cross the line and then fall over like a ton of bricks and get hauled off to the medical tent -- or worse to the hospital. I've seen runners cross the line with all sorts of tape, braces, sleeves and more just to get them to a banner that says, "The Finish Line."

I've also seen runners passed out on the sidelines or limping and weeping as they push their body to do what their mind is determining.

It's completely crazy.

But, it's also completely amazing and inspiring.

Crazy injury stuff aside, I've never been more astounded at the human spirit and yes, my own sheer will when it comes to overcoming pain and discomfort.

There are so many things in this life we cannot (and can never) control. Half the time I cannot even seem to control my hand cramming junk food in my mouth. So, it pleases me to no end that I can compel my 38-year-old body to bounce up and down in a forward motion for miles and miles and miles until I tell it to stop.

And I think this is the crux of it...why we find it so hard to stop, quit, not cross that final line.

We find that we crave being able to command movement, excellence, grit, determination, endurance, one more mile....

I know all of that...I have felt all of that...I feel all of that....

Yet...

...that Sunday as the gun went off and the cry went up from the crowd (which I joined in), it became so much more. I felt...alive! Unstoppable. Blessed. Inspired. Determined.

Every shape, size, nationality, age and ability was out in force and it was a sea of beauty. I wanted to laugh out loud for the wonder of it all.

And when I turned a corner as U2's, Beautiful Day started to play and I started down the gentle slope down Friant Ave towards the yellowed foothills and marveled at cottony white clouds on a bruised sky that would later bring more rain, I felt it.

Pure joy.

And as the first competitive runner came racing back on the opposite side of the street (me at mile 3, him probably mile 10), I let all of that competition stuff go. I had myriad thoughts assailing me in that moment,

"I am alive!
I'm healthy.
I'm out here.
I'm a part of something bigger.
I am running.

I am a runner."

It's these moments that you hold on to when a few miles later, you hit that wall of exhaustion and your GU or Shot Bloks don't seem to be kicking in and you want to just lay down and sleep for days.

Running and training for these various race events has made me stronger in every way possible.

My body is stronger for it -- my quads have steel rods in them...no really!
My mind is stronger -- knowing I can force my body to do what it rebels against
My spirit is stronger -- I've had some "Come to Jesus" moments out there on the road you wouldn't believe

But it's so much more than all of that.

It's training for my very soul.

Because now I know...it's not about getting that medal (although nice) or getting that "money shot" finisher's photo, or even necessarily crossing that line.

It's lacing up those shoes day in and day out and especially when I don't want to. It's running that extra bit when my lungs tell me they can't go another step. It's soldiering on when the pain comes, and yes, it's taking a much-needed break when a time of rest is needed.

But all runners know that when they cannot run, they dream of running. They see people running on the street and they get envious. They cannot wait to get out there and run again.

Why?

Because we have a purpose.
We have a goal.
We have a prize in mind.

And the majority of the time, the prize is the process.

That's why I love these verses written by the Apostle Paul from Philippians 3:

Pressing toward the Goal
12I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. 13No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

Through running I feel like I know a bit more about how to do this...to forget last season and start fresh with this one. To "press on" when everything in me but that tiny voice in my soul screams for me to stop.

Because it's like this...




So, yes, when my feet protest every step, when my iPod runs out of battery in the midst of my power song during that last mile, after I've run out of water and most of my sanity....

...I keep going.

And I run my own race.



Monday, November 14, 2011

Money Monday: Changing Your Perspective


So, yes, it's Monday once again (funny how they keep coming around every seven days) and I have another opportunity to share what's been happening on the financial front.

As per usual, we are daily living in a state of grace and dependence upon God to meet our needs and help us deal with not getting some of the "wants."

Last week, I mentioned about how tough it was for me to buy that $29.99 Target sweater/shrug -- even with a coupon. However, this last week when I wore it to our weekly morning Bible study, I got a ton of compliments and someone brought up how I had blogged about it and so I shared the story.

Later on in in the morning, one of the ladies there gave me a $10 off Kohl's card to use towards the purchase of $10 or more. She said she wanted me to use it to buy something I needed. I was so touched by her gift because really, it was like handing me $10! I put it on the table next to my stuff and didn't think about it until after the lesson was over I went to pick it up and I found $20 stuck to the bottom that another lady sitting next to me had put there. She smiled and told me that she wanted me to use it in conjunction with the $10 off card to buy myself another sweater.

Can you believe that?

I walk into Bible study with my new sweater and walk at with $30 for another one! How's that for miraculous?

Add in an unexpected free drink card at Starbucks as well as a $5 gift card I found literally the day after I realized that we really didn't have the usual $15 to fund my registered Starbucks card for the month (and once it's gone, it's gone)...and that's a pretty awesome week!

I couldn't even make this stuff up!

(Sidenote: My husband and I are officially leading a FPU class at our church starting in January. To sign up, or sign up for a class in your area, check out the list of classes offered here. (Remember...you can sit in on any class for free.)

So for me, this week has been about letting God provide...and also about changing the way I see my perceived lack.

On a Facebook group in which I belong, the discussion came up about the monthly grocery budget and how much the "average" person spends on food items (not toilet paper, etc.) per month per person. We all want to to do the best we can with the money we have, but so many of us feel like we fall short. One of my friends who is a part of the group expressed a weariness for being so tight with the budget for so long and not having any extra for...well, extras. She also said that her husband has expressed feeling like he is not being a "good provider" because they have to do without in many ways.

As we discussed that (and it's definitely a very real feeling and I think very prevalant nowadays), I started to realize how much this "lack" is perception based. When we look at other friends and peers and see them with all their children in multiple sports, taking Disneyland vacations and renting RVs for road trips, we can start to look at our own lives and financial picture and start to feel "less than."

After awhile, we can start to feel a bit sorry for ourselves that we have to shop at Walmart, or Goodwill or maybe not even shop at all. Maybe Freecycle is your best source of clothing for your children (btw, I think that's awesome!).

I've totally been here (and I think I'd say we are very much "there" right now) and I get what that feels like. However, not only do we not know how those "other people" are paying for their vacations and extracurricular activies (who knows...they could be racking up debt to keep up with their "others!"), we often don't know just how good we have it in America.

I get it...I do. I know that it feels bad not to be able to give your children "the world," or even some little things that we feel like they should be able to enjoy. But, I have seen poverty so fierce that it made me weep to even witness it, let alone have to compare it with my life and what all of a sudden seems like untold riches.

It's all about perspective.

Perspective is defined as...
  1. a way of regarding situations, facts, etc. and judging their relative importance.
  2. the proper or accurate point of view or the ability to see it; objectivity
For example, when you look at the piggy bank in the water on the photo above, do you see a piggy bank drowning or a piggy bank going for a swim?

It's all about....perspective.

We learned about this last night in our week 8 lesson, Of Mice and Mutual Funds: Understanding Investments.

When you realize that yes, hunkering down and dumping debt can be difficult to do when there is so much out there you would like to buy or participate in, BUT, having a debt-free household brings its own (and even greater) rewards, it can make the short-term sacrifice worth it.

Take a look at this chart I uploaded from my FPU workbook.


This totally rocked my world last night. As I've mentioned in previous posts, by temporarily stopping our investments, pulling our son out of preschool, etc, we have been able to free up about $500 per month to help pay down our debt rapidly and then use that extra money to once again invest and save...and live.

If you look at the chart, that $500 that will be tied up over the next two or so years (hopefully less, by the grace of God), you can see that if we didn't have the debt and invested it in a mutual fund that pays 12% annually, we could potentially make $49.835 in five years, $249,790 in 15 years and $939,423 in 25 years (almost a million dollars!!)

While that's a bit of a bummer to realize now (when we don't have it to invest), it's a great incentive to get things paid off and put that money to work for us. When I look at this chart, all the "I wants" seem to fade when I see the reality of how our future can look.

Am I saying that we'll never make it back to Disneyland?

No...but what I'm saying is that having a different perspective changes the way I think about spending our money. I definitely want to take our family to Disneyland. But we'll do it when we're debt-free and can pay for the trip in cash. And we'll do it while we're investing at the same time.

Win-win-win.

A couple of other things we learned last night:

  1. The KISS rule - Keep It Simple Stupid - never invest in something you don't understand
  2. Diversification - never put all your investment eggs in one basket; this lowers risk
  3. Mutual Funds are great long-term investments and give the best rate of return for most investors (how you invest in the funds (aggressive or growth funds) depends on your goals and age.
  4. Rental real estate is the least liquid investment; have a lot of cash before using this as an investment.
  5. Savings is for 5 years or less; Investing is for more than 5 years.
And lastly, build wealth slowly; be the tortoise and not the hare -- because the tortoise always wins the race! However, this does not mean you have to be ultra-conservative. With all investments, as the risk goes up, so does the potential return. As a quote in our book says,

"Behold the turtle only makes progress when he sticks his neck out." -- Anonymous

The bottom line is to be in investing for the long haul and make sure you also know what you are investing in and how much return you are getting. If you don't know, find out. If you don't understand, ask. If you feel dumb asking your investment manager, find a new one.

After all, this is your money, invest it wisely.

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To read more about our journey to financial peace, read related posts here:
http://www.mosaicmomma.net/p/finding-financial-peace.html

For more info on Financial Peace, visit:
http://www.daveramsey.com/fpu/preview/


For info on Inzolo -- an online and mobile "envelope system," tool, visit:
www.inzolo.com

For more info on The Blessed Life, visit:
http://theblessedlife.com/

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Monday, November 7, 2011

Money Monday: Working the Program



It was a little like Christmas last Monday.

It was payday and unfortunately, (or fortunately) we had followed FPU's philosophy of allocating our budget down to zero. Although we did what we were supposed to do, taking your checking account down to zero is not really a good idea (or easy on the ol' ticker either).

Because we haven't had enough time to create any "sinking funds" yet for various envelope items -- thereby creating "savings" of sorts in our checking account for various envelopes -- we had the classic, "more month than money."

To be completely honest here (and I feel like we should be), we cheated a bit last month. We did a Ramsey no-no and used a credit card to float us one day until payday. We were out of milk and some other essentials. We are supposed to eventually cut up our card(s) -- and we will. This has shown us how easy it is to fall back into bad habits. In hindsight, we should have at least used our emergency fund (although it wasn't completely funded then) to tide us over. It's funny how now that we have one for the first time ever, I feel reluctant to tap into it.

So, there you go. Full disclosure.

Anyhow...back to Christmas.

After feeling like we were in a financial desert for the last 10 days or so (although we have been able to utilize a lot of what we already had which was great), it was fabulous to have plenty of money once again -- if only for another couple of weeks.

I've spent the last few days since then shopping up a storm stocking our pantry, fridge and outside freezer. I also went on a monster shopping spree at Target and bought household items, some groceries, and some apparel and cosmetic items that were fully budgeted for. And that's a great feeling -- to be able to enjoy the shopping process knowing that you are fully and totally spending within your allotted envelope/budget.

And actually, it's even better to be able to save more (and sometimes purchase more) by using coupons. I'm not sure if I've mentioned that I am a couponer yet, but I am! Spending a few hours a month by printing, clipping and organizing coupons and matching them up with local deals has saved our family a lot of money. With food prices on the rise, it's made it possible for us to buy the groceries we need and some of what we want.

On that huge shopping trip, I scored some major deals on my purchases. I was able to get all our apparel items either on sale or was able to use a coupon. But as I turned into the women's clothing department to look for a sweater for myself (completely in the budgeted envelope mind you), the most amazing sweater caught my eye.

It was gorgeous. I loved the colors, the cut, how soft it was...everything! I tried it on and looked in the mirror and was instantly in sweater love. Then I looked at the price tag. Although Target clothing is extremely affordable, this Mossimo sweater shrug was not on sale. It was a hearty $29.99, which may not be a lot to you, but to a bargain shopper, it's almost outrageous. I looked at my $4 off coupon and applied the discount an got stuck on the price. So, I put it back.

But I continued to stand there.

And then I thought about the last time I had ever bought something in a store that wasn't on clearance or on some sort of sale or promotion. I couldn't remember that far back. I started reasoning with myself. The coupon would be good for another couple of weeks. Potentially I could wait, hope the sweater would go on sale, and that they would have my size.

But, what if they didn't?

Could I take that chance with the object of my affection?

I thought about it and how much I had in my clothing envelope and decided to buy it. After all, what's the point of saving and putting money aside if you can't buy something you love at full price every once in awhile. (And the funny thing is that it wasn't technically full price because of the $4 coupon -- I'm just so trained to use the coupon on a sale item, that it feels like full price when I'm not!)

Enjoying my super soft new sweater

It just goes to show that you can splurge when you're working the program. You just have to make sure you have the funds allocated in your envelope.

Another fun thing last week was that my new, shiny Libman mop arrived just as the rep from their company promised. I just love free stuff!


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Now onto last night's lesson, "Clause and Effect: The Role of Insurance in Your Financial Plan."

I'm just going to admit that I didn't go into this lesson completely excited. It's really hard to work up some enthusiasm to listen to facts and information on life insurance, health insurance, disability insurance...you get the idea.

However, I know it's really important to be in "the know" on this subject and to also have what we need to survive a catastrophic event. I also know of friends and family who have lost a spouse or had an elderly parent's stay in a nursing home eat up all of their savings. But, it's much like many other things in our lives...we don't really think it will happen to us. So, we gamble so to speak.

However, Ramsey makes the point that it's dangerous (and irresponsible) to gamble with your life...and it's worse to gamble with those whom you would leave behind to pay off that debt.

So, he recommends these basic insurances:

1. Homeowner's or Renter's Insurance - annually assess if you have enough (and not more) than you need
2. Auto Insurance - carry adequate liability and consider dropping collision on older cars
3. Health Insurance - he recommends using a HSA (Health Savings Acct) if you can and it makes sense
4. Disability Insurance - he highly recommends this to replace income lost due to injury or illness
5. Long-term care insurance - for the nursing home stay, hospice or in-home care
6. Identity Theft Protection - without this, you can spend an estimated 600 hrs trying to prove you're you
7. Life Insurance - buy term, not a cash value plan -- "self-insure" with your savings after the term expires

There is so much more to this then what I've listed above, but I don't have the space, and I don't think you have the inclination to read it all anyway. I would highly recommend this class (and the entire course) as a way  to educate yourself to what's really essential.

At the very least, Ramsey urged us to dig out that life insurance policy (that hopefully we all have) and really look at it to see if it's enough. He recommends buying a policy that is 10 times your current salary. That way once it is paid out and if invested at 10-12%, the annual interest would replace your lost income.

And being a stay-at-home mom, I liked this, "a stay-at-home mom brings enormous economic value to a home. If something were to happen to her, dad would need the money to replace part of what mom does."

Boo-ya!

So, make sure that you cover us moms enough to hire a cleaning lady, or as Ramsey said, "Mary Poppins!"

The other recommendation to have done yesterday is to get that disability insurance and he recommends a site called Zander to browse your insurance needs.

So...that's that. None of us want to think about dying and leaving behind a family. But none of us want to think about leaving behind a family that will struggle and suffer with the knowledge that we didn't properly plan for them either.

Bite the bullet and dive in to the somewhat dull waters of insurance.

You (and your family) will be glad you did.


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Related Posts About Our Financial Peace Journey (in order):
http://www.mosaicmomma.net/2011/10/financial-peace.html
http://www.mosaicmomma.net/2011/10/my-god-wink.html
http://www.mosaicmomma.net/2011/10/peace-like-river.html
http://www.mosaicmomma.net/2011/10/introducingmoney-monday.html
http://www.mosaicmomma.net/2011/10/introducingmoney-monday-part-two.html
http://www.mosaicmomma.net/2011/10/money-monday-making-tough-decisions.html
http://www.mosaicmomma.net/2011/10/money-monday-utilizing-what-youve-got.html

For more info on Financial Peace, visit:
http://www.daveramsey.com/fpu/preview/


For info on Inzolo -- an online and mobile "envelope system," tool, visit:
www.inzolo.com

For more info on The Blessed Life, visit:
http://theblessedlife.com/

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Friday, November 4, 2011

He calls us "Wanted"



I'm a firm believer that a person's name is important. We put a lot of thought into our four children's names. We went through baby books and picked out top choices and then tried them out loud, wrote them on paper and made sure their three initials didn't form an embarrassing word or anything like that. We test drove every possible nickname to make sure they wouldn't one day reach a certain age and demand to know what on earth had possessed to name them what we did.

Their names are fairly unique. And mostly, I'd say that's a good thing.

However, we have spent a fair amount of time spelling our children's names or correcting pronunciations. Undoubtedly, we have had to do this the most for our third child (and oldest son), Declan.

I adore his name!

I first heard it when I lived in Belgium for a year after college. One of the t.v. programs they showed over there called Heartbreak High, was imported from Australia -- their version of  90210. Crazy high school drama aside, one of the main characters was named Declan, (whose family was from Ireland) and I fell in love with how the name sounded.

A few months later, on a trip to Ireland, I realized just how prevalent the name was in that country. It was as common as Patrick or Michael. A beloved Irish saint, one of Declan's meanings is "man of prayer." Plus, you can't really grasp its full amazingness unless you hear it pronounced with an Irish brogue.(Click here to listen...although this is more of an English accent, but you get the idea.)

So, we named our sweet boy Declan and we have gotten used to him being the only one so-named within our friend and church group and pretty much, our community at large. (Sidenote: I forgot that there is another Declan in our girls' school. That's been nice to serve as a name pronunciation ice breaker for our little guy. Once he gets into kindergarten next year, no one will need a tutorial.)

You get the picture. His name is pretty unique and rare.

So you can imagine our surprise a few days ago when we were at some friends' pumpkin carving party and I called out to Declan to come and get his food. The little boy standing in line behind me looked really confused and I could feel him staring at me and nudging his mother. After I called out to Declan again, I heard the little boy whisper, "Mom! Someone else is named Declan!!" 

As my Declan ran up, I introduced him to the other little boy and they had a fun time smiling at each other talking about their names. The other Declan's mother and I talked about how rare it was for us to hear of another child with same name and equally rare it is to find one at the same social event.

The only thing that would have made it better was if I had Declan wear his new custom t-shirt made by friends who personalize kids' clothing. They had given Declan a shirt a few days before that caused a huge amount of excitement and jumping up and down....as you can imagine there aren't many personalized items for him in stores in the U.S. (Thanks Taboo Tots!)


I know...he's adorable!


I don't have the same problem. Stores abound with "Heather" items. And, while I adore my parents and I actually like my name (it means flower), Heather is not the most unique name for a girl born in the 70s. I have frequently been in a community setting with multiple Heather's -- thereby earning the moniker of "Heather 1" or "Heather 2," etc. That's not so fun. After awhile, you start to wish for something a little less...common.

I say all of this because when I read a particular news story last week, I was struck silent (a difficult feat...believe me!)

If I thought having a fairly common name didn't make me feel too special from time to time, can you imagine having a name that means something terrible?

How about having a name that literally means, "Unwanted."

Yep...you read that right. As in "I didn't want you," or "you weren't wanted," or "we wanted a boy, not you!"

Well, this is not an uncommon occurrence in India, apparently, and according to Yahoo News I hope you can take the time to read the article in its entirety, but here's the main thrust:

According to the news story, "more than 200 Indian girls whose names mean "unwanted" in Hindi chose new names for a fresh start in life" at a recent "renaming ceremony" with the intent of giving "the girls new dignity and help fight widespread gender discrimination that gives India a skewed gender ratio, with far more boys than girls."
"In shedding names like "Nakusa" or "Nakushi," which mean "unwanted" in Hindi, some girls chose to name themselves after Bollywood stars like "Aishwarya" or Hindu goddesses like "Savitri." Some just wanted traditional names with happier meanings, such as "Vaishali" or "prosperous, beautiful and good."
"Now in school, my classmates and friends will be calling me this new name, and that makes me very happy," said a 15-year-old girl who had been named Nakusa by a grandfather disappointed by her birth. She chose the new name "Ashmita," which means "very tough" or "rock hard" in Hindi.
"Nakusa is a very negative name as far as female discrimination is concerned," said Satara district health officer Dr. Bhagwan Pawar, who came up with the idea for the renaming ceremony.
Activists say the name "unwanted," which is widely given to girls across India, gives them the feeling they are worthless and a burden.
"When the child thinks about it, you know, 'My mom, my dad, and all my relatives and society call me unwanted,' she will feel very bad and depressed," said Sudha Kankaria of the organization Save the Girl Child. But giving these girls new names is only the beginning, she said."

If you are like me, you cannot help but to be moved by such a sad (but inspiring) story. I cannot imagine having the life-long indignity of basically telling people that I was unwanted every time they asked for my name.

I love the fact that someone took it upon themselves to stand up and do something to change these girls' very identities (and maybe even their destinies). Ultimately that person knew that these beautiful, valuable little girls were so much more than a name...a mere label that was carelessly and cruelly applied.

Whether you love your name or hate it. Whether your parents agonized for months about if you would be Jennifer or Jessica. Even if your parents didn't chose a name for you and it was chosen for you by child welfare worker.

God wanted you....and He wants you still.

He knew your name before you were ever conceived.

And that name is different than the one you sign on legal documents and answer the phone to. It goes beyond that to a deep place in your soul. I truly believe that when we see Him in heaven one day, He will call us by that name, and it will be as familiar to us as our own spirit.

So for now, use your given name (and really...if you absolutely don't like it, you can pay a small fee and have it changed legally!), but know that one day....someday...you will embrace a Father who gasped in delight the second you were born, who has planned each one of your days and madly, desperately, deeply loves you.

You are wanted.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

'Tis the Season...to be Grateful!



I have to admit to being a little cranky the last couple of days. Some of it has to do with days getting shorter and darker earlier (I love the long days of summer!), some has to do with the never-ending cleaning and organizational projects I seem to have on my plate (my clean house on Saturday no longer looks that way), but the biggest thing that is yanking my chain is the advent of Christmas.

I'm a scrooge.

Bah Humbug!

Why, you ask?

I really despise/loathe/dislike all the Christmas paraphernalia, decoration, merchandise, music, and yes, even Starbucks holiday drinks (c'mon...has the pumpkin latte even been on the menu for that long?).

I mean, I don't in theory. I really do love all of those things....come the day after Thanksgiving! But it really irritates me to no end to see stores (yes, even my beloved Target) putting this stuff out earlier and earlier every year. (I think I spied Christmas stuff at Target at the start of October after they clearanced out "Back to School.")

Not only does it make me feel like the stores are shoving Christmas in my face and down my throat (yes, I know retailers are trying to make money and stay in business), and not only do I feel like they are cheapening and over-commercializing a really wonderful holiday, but I feel like ultimately, they are minimizing and almost completely leaping over an equally wonderful and important holiday.....Thanksgiving.

I'm not sure when Thanksgiving became an adjunct holiday to Halloween or merely a stepping stone into the frenzy of Black Friday and Christmas shopping (don't even get me started on the terribleness of retailers starting to open their stores on Thanksgiving Day -- I refuse to encourage them by spending my money there!), but somehow it's happened.

Maybe it's because there is a not a lot of money to be made by retailers on the theme of Thanksgiving (unless you are a turkey farmer or a grocery store). I guess there is not a huge market for over the top decorations, turkey-themed tableware, etc and so retailers have written this day of thankfulness as a sentimental day of nothing-much.

I object to that notion.

When I reflect back to my childhood, I can feel the fullness of Fall and all the fun and promise there was as the newness of going back to school faded and nights turned cooler and we looked forward to dressing up and amassing candy on 10/31. After we gorged ourselves on treats, then we looked forward to a few weeks down the line when we would we have some days off from school and spend Thanksgiving with family (often traveling to be there). Then after all the brown and orange was officially put away, then the red and green would come out and we would set about preparing for Christmas and getting caught up in the pageantry and wonder.

Now it seems all crammed together and a race to push through to the "ultimate prize" of Christmas Day -- all of which seems to produce a sense of loss and a feeling of a holiday hangover by New Year's Day.

Do we even enjoy "the holidays" anymore?

Or are we too busy rushing from each one (buying/making costumes, buying and making treats (or tricks), scrambling for a turkey and "all the trimmings" and shoving down the pumpkin pie so we can arrive at the "real holiday of Christmas."

Like I said, I do love Christmas. I love the music (after Thanksgiving though!), the food, the decor, the giving of gifts, peace and goodwill to man, thinking about the birth of Christ -- it's all wonderful!

I guess what I don't enjoy is also what rankles me in every day life. I don't like to feel rushed or pushed through my days and through my life to the point where I feel like I am on some obstacle course and no longer enjoying the actual journey.

And if we follow the retailers plan for their economic stimulus, then we end up feeling used, abused and yes...even grumpy.

So, I am standing up and saying, "enough is enough!"

Christmas will not come to my house (and my heart) until my family takes care of some pretty important business beforehand....

...the business of being thankful.

How on earth can we give gifts, goodwill, and holiday cheer unless we know why we do that?

Out of a heart of gratitude.

See the month of November is a time for me to reflect on all that I have been given (even and especially out of my perceived lack), to count and remember all of the people that I have been blessed to know and love, to be thankful for this body, this breath and this very life.

This is so very important.

Without gratitude and a thankful heart, we cannot cultivate the proper attitude to give...or receive.

And, so I've drawn my own personal line in the sand. Christmas is not welcome here...not yet. Instead, I'm going to think of something each and every day that I'm grateful for and I'm going to ask my children to do the same. Before they gorge themselves in wrapped gifts and stocking stuffed with...stuff....I want them to count up their many blessings.

And....be....grateful.

And to that end, after I post this, I'm going to grab those jack-o-laterns that were spookily glowing just two nights ago, and hull them out, cut them up, roast them to yummy perfection and then make them into pumpkin puree....and then eventually pumpkin pie, or pumpkin muffins, or pumpkin bread.

And then later around the dinner table, I'm going to embrace each and every one one of my four children and tell them how grateful I am that they were born and what they bring and mean to our family.

Long Live Thanks...Giving!



Post Script: My children came home from school today and guess which movie they wanted to watch....Polar Express. How's that for irony?