When dreams clash with reality 

When do our childhood dreams become disconnected from our adult reality?

Alan and I spent this weekend celebrating my fabulous cousin and her sweet new husband at a beautiful ceremony around St. Augustine, Florida. 

On the way home, we stopped at Arby’s for lunch. Our cashier had a far off distant look in her eyes. She seemed distracted and discouraged. And it hurt my heart. 

But, I can’t blame her for her discouragement. What little girl dreams of working a fast food counter when she grows up? I bet you didn’t. 

As we left the gas station, a rugged- looking man was slumped at the bottom of a stop sign finishing up his sack lunch. 

I couldn’t help but wonder, when do we let go of our childhood dreams and settle for a subpar reality? 

Is it a lack of education, support or personal drive? I’m sure this plays a part, but more significantly I think it’s a lack of hope; of not seeing our value in being created by a loving Father; of not knowing exactly where to go or how to get there.

Truth is, our great country is full of opportunity: for better or for worse.

Yes, it is hard to improve ourselves, our relationships or our finances. It takes a significant amount of intentionality, bravery and a denying of self that feels very unnatural. It is counter-culture and sometimes means making progress by taking two steps forward and one step back. But, at the end of the day, you have still moved ahead. 

What did you dream of when you were little? 

I wanted a happy marriage, a few kids and plenty of money to serve others and have some- okay, a lot!- of fun. Oh! And I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher…um, it’s not for me. Two out of four ain’t bad…we’re working on that money thing! 

How does your reality compare to your dreams…and what are you going to do about it? 

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8 Ways to Save on Groceries

Last week, I saw this post on Facebook from One Beautiful Home:

sample grocery budget

It stirred up a lot of controversy! At one point in time, I would have also thought that $440 a month for a family of 4 was completely asinine. Our family was easily spending over $800 a month on food!  But, since we’ve started our debt free journey, we slowly evolved to be pretty on point with $440.

Before I continue, I want to emphasize the point of this post is not to make anyone feel inadequate because their grocery budget is “too high.” Grocery budgeting is not a competition. Rather, I’d like to get you thinking about ways you can reduce your current grocery budget – whatever it may be – and have more money left over for other things.

Our monthly grocery budget – which includes food, paper towels, toilet paper and laundry detergent for 2 adults, 1 school-aged child and 1 toddler–  includes:

  • $110 for warehouse club
  • $90 for the first week of the month
  • $75 per week for all remaining weeks (For a 4-week month, this is $240; For a 5-week month, it is $320)

Here’s How We Make It Work!

  1. Make a Monthly Food Budget in CASH– This is KEY. If you have a monthly food budget in CASH – and bonus points if you divide it into a weekly food budget- you will only be able to spend what you have. No more panic in the checkout line and wondering, “How in the world did I spend $500?!”
  1. Buy Only What You Need to Last ONE Week/Month – Because you are now on a monthly food budget, it is not helpful to buy a huge box of granola bars that will last until next Christmas. That money could be used for things needed right now. Yes, it’s sounds tempting and may make mathematical sense long term…but it is going to cause you to go over budget short term. We buy enough meat and coffee to last a month. All other items, buy only enough to last a week.
  1. Make a List – For the love, do not ever go to the store without a plan. It will not work. You will overspend. First, look at your pantry and see what you have. Then, make your meal plan for the week. The most cost effective dinners do not have a lot of weird ingredients you don’t normally have on hand. Also, simple meals are more likely to get prepared at the end of a long day.
  1. Turn Off Autopilot – Only buy what you need to fill in the gaps for your weekly meals. For example, if you are out of ketchup, but your weekly meal plan does not call for ketchup you are not going to buy it. There is no reason to buy something you don’t need.
  1. Buy (some things) In Bulk: Here’s the thing about shopping at warehouse clubs: When your cart is full of your $110 of bulk groceries, get your things and GO! It’s time to shut down this shopping trip, lest you walk away with enough toilet paper for a class of potty-training toddlers and a big screen TV. At Costco, we purchase meat for the month. Oh – and coffee! We can’t forget coffee! We typically purchase:
  • Pork Loin
  • Ground Beef
  • Salmon
  • Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
  • Coffee
  • Bacon (if we have enough money left over after the above items are spoken for)

Once we get home, the meat is divided into enough freezer bags for 15+ meals. The remaining meals we need for the month come from leftovers, breakfast nights, pizza nights, or quesadillas and homemade fries.

  1. Buy Food Everyone Will Eat – If you have littles, it is easy to get suckered into buying “kid food”. We always have applesauce on hand – not the pouches because they think very highly of themselves. But, that’s about the only food we have all members of our family will not eat. We don’t do apple juice or juice boxes. We don’t buy lunchables, chicken nuggets, easy mac or Goldfish. I can’t afford to spend money on food that is not for the entire crew. Sounds crazy, but the kiddos always have something to eat.
  1. You Might Have to Cheat on Your Fav Store – Publix is my all-time favorite grocery store: it’s clean, the staff are friendly and helpful and it doesn’t smell like stale food. But, BOGO deals aside, it can be expensive. About 2-3 years ago, and Aldi opened across the street from Publix. I started shopping there because I knew I could get what I needed within budget. Now, I’m hooked. I can save so much money with no coupons! It’s amazing. No Aldi? No problem. You can still save on your weekly groceries. Try out a different store, or check out www.southernsavers.com. This is a great site where you can see what is on sale at your favorite grocery store, if it’s a good price and what coupons are out there for that item.
  1. Take It Slow – If you are currently spending $800 a month on groceries, it isn’t realistic to think you can cut that in half next month. Instead, try shaving $50 off next month’s grocery bill and adjust from there. You want to set yourself up for success, not frustration and failure. In a few months, you’ll get there!

There you have it! This routine works well for our family and I hope you can find some helpful tips that will work for your too! Is there a money saving tip you would like to share? Post in the comments below!

Happy shopping!

What Dreams May Come

“I am teaching you a difficult lesson, learned only by hardship.”

– Sarah Young, Jesus Calling 

Free stock photo of sunny, summer, dream, catcher

The other night I had a dream that  I died. I was 10 minutes late picking up a friend’s kid from school; the school closed and sent the kid to DHR. Somewhere in the process of fighting to get the kid back, I was killed. (Wow. That escalated quickly!)

If you’re into dream interpretation…which I find fascinating…death dreams usually represent a rebirth or transformation you are going through in your waking life

So, it seems fitting I’ve been reflecting on the above quote for 12 days. It’s been in the back of my mind, and in the front of my mind. And it represents how I feel about our journey to become debt-free.

Alan and I have been married for nearly a decade (10 years in May 💕). For most of that time, we knew what to do with our money…we just didn’t do it. We took advantage of many payment plans, credit card points and 0% financing deals to buy what we “needed.” And constantly struggled to figure out why we didn’t have more to show for our money.

We make good money. Why don’t we have any disposable income? 

Turns out, we weren’t taking advantage of payment plans, credit card points and 0% financing deals. They were taking advantage of us.

Some days I wish we’d receive word of some long lost relative that left us an unexpected inheritance in the exact amount of our debt. We don’t need much…only $80K!  We could pay off the remainder of our debt, sans the house, and move on to the next chapter of our lives; we are starting to get restless in this chapter.

But, like it or not, we know we have to continue to work our way to debt- freedom on our own merits…and on God’s too. He is using our struggles to transform us into who He wants us to be.

At 32 years old, this is the first time I’ve confidently moved in a direction despite the approval, opinions and judgement of others. It’s always been important for me to have the support and buy-in of those closest to me. I don’t want anyone thinking I’m crazy!?!

But, you know what? I don’t care much about that anymore. If God, Alan and I are on the same page then we can move forward with confidence that we are doing what is right and good. And, as much as I would like to be able to do our Dave Ramsey debt free scream tomorrow…I’m not ready for our transformation to be complete.

Oh…also in my death dream, I came back to haunt the people who stood in my way and prevented me from getting the kid back. So, think about that. #WomanOnAMisson

How has your financial changed you?

Our Cash Envelopes

Yesterday was payday, which means at some point today Alan and I will make our way to the bank to get cash for our envelope system.

Paying cash for most of our purchases is paramount to meeting our financial goals because it forces us to stay in budget. For example, if my total at the grocery store is $101…but I only have $100, I am forced to put something back. Irritating? Sure. But, so, so helpful.

Over the past year, I’ve used this system and the traditional Dave Ramsey envelope system that comes with his Financial Peace University kit. Truth be told, I like our better! Its just a cute See Jane Work coupon organizer I found on clearance for $4.99 at Office Depot.

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With the amount of cash we take out it seems to be less bulky and awkward than the FPU envelope system. Plus, I like that it can close all the way…and that I had space to add a cute little bag to hold my change. (It’s from a Similac pre-natal care pack! Ha!)

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After a few months of finagling, we settled on 12 envelope categories: Grocery, Toiletries, Clothes, Gifts, Haircuts, Kid’s School, Special (e.g. money Em will earn from chores or money to spend when traveling to see family), Tithe, Kim’s Fun Money, Em and Livi. The girl’s categories are where I keep any birthday money they may get, etc. Don’t worry – Alan has fun money too, but he keeps it in his wallet.

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These categories work really well for our family, but there are no right or wrong categories to have. Yours may be broader, like if you purchase toiletries at the same place you buy groceries, then you may just lump all of that together. Or, you may even need to be more specific. Either is fine.

The other thing about cash that is helpful, albeit inconvenient at times, it that using it causes you to plan ahead. I only carry the cash I need…not usually the entire envelope at one time. So, yes, it does stink when I remember that I need to pick up milk on the way home, but I don’t have the cash on hand. However, I am rarely able to make impulse purchases because it has become increasingly difficult to do so. And, if you are trying to reign in bad money habits, having this protective barrier in place is a good thing!

I hope this little bit of info is helpful for you and inspires you to create your own envelope system! I’m happy to answer any questions you may have about switching over to cash and would love to hear your tips as well!

What made the cut…

black-scissors

I spent MLK weekend on Dauphin Island with my best girl friends. Its a small island near my hometown of Mobile, Ala., that has miraculously – and thankfully – managed to escape the commercialized tourist attractions many beautiful coastal beaches have become.

With not much to do, we spent the weekend talking about life’s gifts, challenges and opportunities. A few of us have worked, or are currently working, Dave Ramsey’s plan.

My girls read the blog, so we began talking about my journey and how Alan and I paid off $52,000 in 2016.

I shared that a major player was that we cut so much from our budget…and I was asked, “What did y’all cut?”

Truth be told, I don’t even remember what all we cut. But that just goes to show that we clearly do not miss those things.

To satisfy my curiosity, and to help you see where you can trim your budget, I looked back at our spending before we started our debt snowball. Here’s what we though we couldn’t live without…

Sirius XM  RadioSavings: $12/ month and $144/ year. – Instead we listen to Pandora, podcasts or the old fashioned radio.

DirectTV  – Savings: $75/ month and $900/ year.  – We have an HD antenna and a Apple TV (which was gifted to us), so we are pretty set.

Gym MembershipSavings: $29/ month and $348/ year. Alan kept his. But, I had to be honest and admit that I am not going to go to the gym…no mater how much or how little my membership is! We do upgrade to a family membership for June – August ONLY so we can go to the pool on the weekends.

FoodSavings: $360/ month and $4,320/ year. Over the past year, we have gradually cut our food and toiletries budget from $850 to $490 per month. Honestly, I didn’t even realize how low it was until I did the math for this post! The key to this is choosing a grocery store that is known for having great prices, shopping very intentionally and only buying things you absolutely need for the upcoming week. I’ll save the rest of my grocery wisdom for another post.

ClothingSavings: $250/ month and $3,000/ year. This is another one of those things that involves a lot of intention. We only buy what we need when we need it. And we plan for it a month ahead. We shop around, use coupons and purchase an item that will get the job done for the best possible price.

Cell PhoneSavings: $78/ month and $936/ year. Are you financing your phone? Many of today’s contracts have you paying for your phone as you go…and you may not even realize it! We paid off our phones early and it lowered our bill significantly.

MiscellaneousSavings: $100/ month and $1,200 per year. For a while we had this catchall fund for things that came up we forgot to budget for. Well, it ended up just getting squandered on who-knows-what throughout the month. Now, if something comes up that is a need we must pay for – and its not a big tickets emergency – we will make a conscious and intentional decision to pull from another envelope.

For us, our budget is a work in progress. Just yesterday, we were discussing switching internet providers to see about getting a better price. It becomes a fun little game to see where you can save and look for opportunities not to spend money. I challenge you to look at your budget, see where you can cut and what you can save on. Are there “wants” you are calling “needs?” Yes, this process is challenging…but you can do it.  Romans 8: 28. 

Gettin’ Old

old

It’s gettin’ old, y’all.

Saying no to an impromptu dinner invitation because there is no cash envelope for last minute plans.

Waiting until next month to purchase new work pants, and hoping you can find a reasonable fit on sale.

Removing items from your grocery cart that you don’t really need so you can stay in budget for the week.

Worrying about what will come up that you can’t afford because you chose not to budget for it. I often have to remind myself chose is the operative word.

And, frankly, I’m tired of it.

So, I rebelled a little. I’m so bad at rebelling that I didn’t even know I was doing it until I sat down to write this post…

Yesterday, I took my girls to the grocery store, and tired of saying “No,”  I said YES! 

I needed to spend $70….and I spent $96 instead. And I’m not even sorry. Still in cash, just from a different category. From tithing, actually. So, maybe I do feel a little sorry. #CatholicGuilt. 

I said yes to $26 worth of items  we didn’t need. Yes, to organic vanilla yogurt and pink sugar wafers. Yes to cucumbers and tomatoes. Yes to hot dogs and hot dog buns. Yes to macaroni and cheese. Yes to a few more items that made their way into my cart.

Come to think of it, I should have also said yes to rocky road ice cream…

Have you read the book Wild? I felt like Cheryl Strayed when she reached a general store after days of hiking with pennies in her pocket, received a fresh $20 and had her way with a plethora of chips, burgers and Snapple Lemonade.

I haven’t quit the debt-payoff plan or given up on the cash system. I’m not lost forever and I haven’t abandoned ship. I just don’t want to do this anymore.

Thankfully, the end goal is that I won’t have to.

 

Time Changes Things

clock

In 2016, Alan and I paid off $52,000 of debt. Balances on credit cards, car notes, cell phones, and school loans gone over the course of 12 long months.

When we tell our close family and friends about our progress, they seem shocked we would be able to pay off this much in one year. And, quite frankly, I think we are too. But, we are not surprised.

Before last year, there were many times when Alan and I said, “If only we could just live off one person’s salary and use the other to pay off debt…”

But, that was never possible on paper or in practice.

In 2016, we didn’t plan to live off one income. But we did. Actually, we lived off less than one income, paying off more debt each month than what I bring home.

How did we do this?

We were extraordinarily intentional.

We have amazing parents, family and friends who encourage our goals. They pray for us, love on us and cheer with us. Heck, they even buy clothes for our kids or send us hand-me-downs, treat us to coffee, and insist we don’t buy gifts for each other at Christmas. And if they all think we are crazy, they haven’t let on yet. Except for that one time I brought a generic Coke to the office…

We cut up all our credit cards and closed them out about a year ago, and have never had one single moment where we missed or needed them…or their cash back…or their points. What about your credit score?! Well, it went up.

We said “no” to a lot of wants or unnecessary purchases by practicing a lot of self-control. I say “practiced” because it’s not perfected. Wants and needs get entwined. It’s never fun differentiate the two or easy to push your own desires aside for the good of the end goal.

But, at the end of the day, we had the grace and strength to come this far because God gave it to us. When I think of how far we have come, loaves and fishes repeatedly comes to mind.

Over the course of the year we cut our grocery expenses by several hundred dollars, spending less than $500 per month on food and toiletries for a family of four. Yes, including diapers and wipes. Yet, we always had plenty to eat.

We stopped going out to dinner…for the most part, we still occasionally celebrate at Steak and Shake where the kids are free and our crew can eat for $30! Whoop whoop! Yet, we always found something fun to do together.

We stayed home more. Yet, we took more bike rides, played outdoors and grew ever closer to our sweet neighbors who have become some of our best friends.

We continued dreaming, but I stopped coveting…a bigger home, a designer bag, expensive clothes, fancy beauty products, lavish vacations. While we are working toward being able to truly afford this type of lifestyle, the lust for it has been taken away.

Yes, the adjustments have been hard. To be honest, sometimes they completely suck. But, Alan and I hold strong in that just because something is hard doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.

Once we are done paying off our debt, our spending habits will change. We will keep our cash envelopes, but hopefully they will become a little fatter.

 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:22-24

Emergency Fund 101

…because #%$@ happens. It always happens. You may think it won’t. But it will…it most certainly will. 

Take our washing machine, for example. 

On Sunday afternoon, Alan and I spent a few minutes finalizing our November budget. We paid more than $3,000 on our debt, removed a few links from our chain and moved on our merry way.

Then it happened.

In mid- cycle, our washing machine display started blinking F-25.

Ugh. Right back at ya, washing machine. 

After searching multiple appliance blogs, moving our dryer into our kitchen, and opening up the washer, Alan found the problem.

The belt, which makes the machine spin…I think, was broken. The water reservoir was also broken and not draining properly.

We spent about $80 of unbudgeted money for replacement parts- including overnight shipping. Without our starter $1,000 emergency fund,  this expense would have thrown our entire November budget off kilter before the month even really began. 

Side note- While getting debt free, you’ll need a $1,000 emergency fund so you won’t have to rely on a credit card or other kind of loan when something goes array. After you pay off your debt, you’ll need 3-6 months of basic expenses.

Before we began our debt-free journey, a broken machine would have likely resulted in a new washer. And, what the heck, we need the matching dryer. And we’ve been wanting to redo the laundry room for some time now…so let’s 90-days same as cash this bad boy. 

In other words, this could have been a small fortune worth of stupid. 

Thankfully, we can’t afford that. And the washing machine should be back up and running tonight. Fingers crossed! 


Big, Frizzy Hot Mess

When your budget looks like my hair…a big, frizzy hot mess… you’re going to need some encouragement.

A dear friend of mine recently asked me for just that. She’s working harder than ever, but cannot make ends meet between household expenses and medical bills. This post is for you, friend! And for any of you who may feel you take one step forward and two steps back.

Alan and I began our debt free journey in January 2016. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, and our intuition has been proven right over and over again. We have had very few perfect months where everything went 100 percent financially perfect as planned. I tell you this so you know you are not the only one struggling to make your plan on paper fit with reality.

We’ve come in under budget a few times. But, we’ve also had to pull from our emergency fund a few times for medical expenses that were hundreds of dollars more than we planned. We celebrated the former by treating ourselves and the girls to a cheap dinner out (Steak N Shake or SnoCones) and found refuge in our tiny savings account for the latter.

When you work as hard as we do, are as disciplined and intentional with budgeting and lifestyle choices as we are…and still fall short…you begin to feel like a hamster caught in a wheel.

Side note hamster story: A few weekends ago, at a family wedding, I turned to Alan and said, “There are a lot of hipsters here.”  Alan turned to me and said, “Hamsters? Where are the hamsters?”  Just to be clear, you begin to feel like a hamster…not a hipster,caught in a wheel. Although, the second visual is way funnier. 

Anyway, we knew this journey was going to be tough. But, didn’t realize how much grit it required.

Thankfully, paying off debt is not a forever journey. It’s only for a period of time and will come to an end.

For now, let’s first remember to give ourselves grace. We are not called to be perfect and need to let go of this idea of things going perfect and being perfect. Instead, grasp onto the idea that doing is better than perfection. This mindset does not come naturally for me, but has been freeing when I remember to embrace it. Your plan may go haywire, but at least you are still working toward it.

Second, remember we chose this lifestyle. Sure, I could buy this and go on that vacation. But, I’m not because my family is choosing to pay off debt and avoid credit cards. Similarly, you can aggressively work to earn extra income…or have loads of free time. But, not both in the same season. They are mutually exclusive. And that’s okay.

Third, repeat Romans 8:28 over and over. I have this verse taped on the wall by my computer at work. I reflect on it often and enjoy discovering the ways our Father shares his love with me in the midst of our trials. I’m intentionally not telling you this verse so you have to get your Bible and look it up!

At the end of the day, I believe we are doing the best we can with the time and resources we have. Some days, we can admittedly do better. Other days, we just can’t even fathom doing one more thing, cutting one more expense, or taking on one more job.

My prayer for you, and for myself, is that we can be forgiving enough with ourselves to have grace, wisdom and grit to stay true to this new lifestyle choice, and faith that God is working behind the scenes to make this difficult effort worthwhile.

Blessings and Love,

Kim

Kids and Money


In our house we have this antiquated idea that money comes from work.

With that in mind, E does not get an allowance in the true sense of the word. Instead, she earns money for doing chores.

Now, she is only six. So, her chores are not terribly demanding and her commission is fairly low since she does not have many expenses.

Each evening, she chooses one chore from the chore board to complete.


Do not think this color-coded goodness is not often met with complaints. It is. But, she does like mopping. So, I’ll count my blessings there.

I don’t care which chore she completes on which day, with the exception of taking out the trash…that must be done the night before garbage pick up. And wiping the table must be done on all weeknights.

Each chore card has a dollar paper clipped to the back of it. As soon as she completes a chore, she gets the dollar (instant gratification!) and the card is flipped showing it has been completed for the week.

By Friday evening, she has earned $5.00. She has to give $1.00 either directly to church or use it to purchase food for the ongoing Catholic Charities food drive.

She also has to save $1.00. The remaining $3.00 is hers to spend as she chooses, with our guidance…because, again, she’s only six.

Right now, she’s putting most of her money in savings each week with the hopes of having enough for one of those fancy Disney Princess Build-A-Bears. And an American Girl Doll. And pierced ears.

She also decided to spend some of her money at her school’s book fair. I’m not buying books right now when we have a shelf full of them and a library where we can borrow them for free.

Our system doesn’t play out perfectly each week. But, I do feel we are laying a good foundation for her relationship with work, money, giving, saving and spending. You can see the wheels turning when you say, “Well, you could buy this. But, do you want it more than you want your Build-A-Bear?”

How does your family handle chores or allowance?

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