Do I dare say it?

After reading Sam’s most recent blog on Recession Proof Living(<—–click here to see it), I have a feeling we've unknowingly broken our own rule. One of the pitfalls many people who are trying to live on a budget fall into is depending on bonus money as guaranteed income.

Over the past 6 years or so, we’ve been fortunate enough for Sam to earn a sizable bonus every year, however we have never counted on that money in order to live, nor have we ever worked it into our annual budget. When we received it, it was treated as a genuine bonus – a windfall if you will. Completely unexpected, completely unaccounted for, and completely wonderful. After paying our taxes and tithing it, we often saved at least half and then spent the other half on a nice vacation, new furniture, car repairs, siding for our house, a riding lawnmower, or something equally frivolous.

This year, we’ve been planning to finish our basement. And instead of using our home equity line of credit (which we absolutely refuse to touch) we’d planned on using whatever bonus money Sam received this year. Unfortunately, Sam was informed yesterday that this year’s comp plan did not include an 80% tier for bonus. WHAT??? When did that happen???? He’s always had an 80% tier as the bottom, however it seems this year it was set up as an “all or nothing” plan.

Now, while we never figured any bonus money into our regular monthly budget for our usual expenses, we had already spent that money in our minds. Shame on us! Talk about hypocrites. I guess it just shows how human we really are – and that even the people who wrote IOU NO MORE can fall off the wagon sometimes! Thankfully we haven’t committed to the basement project on paper yet, which means we’ve just got to push it back 6 months or so until we’ve got all the CASH saved up. Talk about bringin’ ya back down to Earth though…that was a rocket ship plunge. Guess it just proves how easy it is to slip back into old habits – even when those habits have been works in progress for nearly a decade.


Testimony time

November is Stewardship month at our church. I know, I know. Some of you think every month is Stewardship month in churches, and maybe for some of them it is. But our church doesn’t just focus on money during this four week emphasis. We focus on stewardship as a whole – gifts, talents, abilities, time, as well as money. Stewardship is merely the willing and effective management of the blessings that God has given us – and most blessings are not financial blessings.

Sam and I have been asked to give our stewardship testimony this coming Sunday, as it relates to IOU NO MORE and our road to becoming debt free. We’re always happy to share how God has taught us the true meaning of stewardship as we’ve allowed him to be the Lord of our checkbook as well as the Lord of our lives.

Our journey of stewardship began eight years ago when Sam was abusively confronted by a debt collector. Thankfully it was a phone call and not a personal visit! The collector was cold and he was cruel. He told Sam that “he needed to pawn my wedding ring because there was no way he could call himself a good husband when he couldn’t even pay his bills.” Little did the guy know that pawning that ring would only have been able to buy us dinner at McDonald’s as it was just a simple gold band we’d picked up at Service Merchandise for about $39. Ah, the romance never dies!

That night, Sam and I had one of the most intense “family meetings” of our entire marriage. It wasn’t ugly but at the end of it our emotions were raw and our heads were reeling. Sam had laid it all on the line that night – including a huge stack of bills, credit card statements and past due/shut off notices.

When we’d married three years prior, we decided that as the main bread winner he was going to be responsible for the checkbook. But I want to point out that he was not solely responsible for our poor financial state at that point. I had brought debt into our marriage, he’d brought a horrible credit rating, and neither of us could manage our way out of wet paper sack much less the barrage of bills that just kept piling up. We both knew how to spend freely, and neither of us thought to tell the other one “no” once in a while. In three years time, we’d managed to wrack up thousands of dollars in credit card debt, in addition to the credit card, car and student loan debt I’d had to start with. We were literally standing on the precipice of bankruptcy.

That night we prayed together and did something neither of us had ever done before – we asked the Lord to help us change our behavior. And He did!

It took us five years to pay off our mountain of debt (except for our mortgage) – nearly $100,000 to be exact. We had setbacks and wins; but in the end we had escaped the shackles of our own making, and we were finally free to actually enjoy life! And I will tell you that nothing feels better than an exotic vacation paid for entirely with cash, or Christmas presents that don’t have 8 months of payments attached to them. Emergencies stop being ’emergencies’ and just become ‘inconveniences’ when there’s cash sitting in the savings account. And giving is actually fun when it’s done in cash. The days of worrying whether or not we’ll be able to pay our light bill or keep groceries on the table if we pledge money to the church, or the Red Cross, or the Firemen’s Guild are long gone when you’re spending cash that’s in your hand. Living debt free is really that…LIVING!

I have had lots of people shrug their shoulders and quip, “that’s so nice for you guys, but we’ll never be able to live without a credit card, or student loans, or car payments, or (you fill in the blank).” And I will strongly disagree every time. You see, when you decide to become a good steward of your money, you discover that Prime Sports Package on your cable that’s costing you $189 a year just doesn’t look so good anymore. And that boat that’s costing you $325 a month just isn’t as shiny as it was on the showroom floor in March. And that trendy outfit in the store window just doesn’t seem worth its $600 price tag. Your priorities radically change once you’re actually parting with a few Uncle Ben’s and his brothers Grant and Jackson.

So what about y’all? If you’re married or living as a couple, who handles the checkbook in your family? Do you live on a budget, or just spend it as fast as it comes in? Are you a saver who plans for little emergencies, or are you one of the people who will “think about that tomorrow”? Come on, I’m here and I’m listening….

Friday freedom

I’ve talked about my loathing for grocery shopping on this blog before. I love shopping, just not grocery shopping. I hate the fact that we spend thousands of dollars each year just to survive. And with food costs ever rising it makes me even more hopeful that Sam will be able to fill our freezer with venison and pig, and a few rabbits and squirrels thrown in just for good measure.

Our usual day to go grocery shopping is Fridays, which is obviously today. But we’ve decided we’re going on strike for the next few weeks! We have so much food in this house that any additional grocery shopping will just be adding to the load that’s already in our pantry, refrigerator, and freezer.

So, last week, we decided to try a little experiment. We picked up an extra supply of our weekly dairy needs – milk, coffee creamer, yogurt, eggs, cheese, etc; and we’re going to see how long we can go before we have to head back to the grocery store to restock. I think we can make it at least three weeks, if not four…we have a whole lot of food around here. By the end, our meals may consist of very interesting combinations of foods, but I’m sure it’ll all taste just fine.

So today is the first day of ‘Friday freedom’ for me. Not only am I not going to have to subject myself to the lines and crowds at Wal-Mart, but I’m also not going to have to spend any money. Thank you Lord; and I don’t say that lightly – I really mean it.

If you can’t tell, Sam and I are focused! We want to get our land and get out of town as quickly as we possibly can. We want to stop being enslaved by the weekly grocery list, and we want to begin to live off the land as God intended for us to. No, we’re not going to become Amish (despite my heritage), but we want to be good stewards of what the Lord has entrusted to us and learn to more fully rely on His provision for our needs and not on the Walton’s ability to provide for our every want, wish, and desire!

“Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need, even before you ask him!” Matthew 6:8

Suckin’ it in and synching it up

We have a dream. And a goal. And a plan. And all three of them will ferry us into our retirement years with ease and pleasure.

The dream
To buy a huge piece of property – one big enough for our whole family to live on, if they so desire – in either Georgia, Kentucky, Alabama, or Tennessee. I’m talking hundreds of acres. Sam has always dreamt of owning a hobby farm, and we’ve had a name picked out for our future farm for years. He’d like to raise a few miniatures – beef cattle, goats, and donkeys, plus he wants some chickens, a few wild hogs, wild turkeys and other game birds, a few adopted race horses, a pet menagerie, and of course, we’d still have to have a garden so we could have our own produce. My part of the dream includes a family compound – both of our children, my parents, and us all living on the same 160 acres (40 acres each so we’re not right on top of each other).

In these times of economic crisis we want to become as self-sufficient as possible. Now, we’re not talking about going all hippie or anything of that sort, simply because I like electricity and indoor plumbing way too much, but we want to be as independent as we can be and as free from government assistance and interference as possible. I know we’re not alone in this dream – my beautiful cousin, Brandi and her husband John share the same dream we do, and I know there are many others out there who feel the same way.

The goal
3 years (5 at the most); that’s our goal. Within our 3 year window, we’d like to have IOU NO MORE! off the ground and fully operational as a self-sustaining business and we’d also like to have all, or most of the money saved for the afore mentioned piece of property so we can pay cash for it (we don’t do debt). It’s a pretty ambitious goal we know, considering the price of land is still fairly expensive, but we believe that we’re gonna be able to find just the right property to meet our needs, and we’ll have just the right amount of money saved up for it when the time comes.

The plan
Save, save, save, save, save. Saving money is the name of our game. We have lived successfully on a budget for the past 7 years, but recently, Sam and I have been going over it with a fine tooth comb, looking for places where we can make adjustments and create additional savings, and so far we’ve come up with $5,443 a year in addition to what we’re already stashing away.

We’re fortunate that it’s just the two of us, so our expenses are mostly fixed – mortgage, insurance, and utilities. Since we don’t do debt (other than our mortgage), we don’t have to worry about being slowed down by monthly credit card payments or loan payments. And thankfully we don’t have any food allergies and we’re not picky eaters, so we can eat very cheaply.

We’re making adjustments where we can – I’m giving up my cell phone, we’ve agreed that we can turn off the A/C and open the windows, this winter we’re going to keep our heater turned down low – we have a fireplace and wood/artificial logs are much cheaper than natural gas, we’ve cut our vacation budget in half (we still have to see the grandchildren), we’ve decreased our grocery budget by a third, we’ve suspended our clothing and entertainment budgets, and we’ve agreed that any money we get back on our taxes (that’d be a miracle in itself) or in the form of bonuses will go straight into the ‘farm fun-d’ (after paying our tithe, of course). We’re committed to this 100%. As Dave Ramsey would say, we’ve got ‘gazelle intensity’, and he’s right.

Grocery night…ugh…..

Have I mentioned on here how much I detest going to the grocery store? If not, then please accept this as my official word that I really don’t like the grocery store.

It wasn’t always that way for me though, I’ll admit it. We used to be the couple that went to the grocery store every couple of days. We’d shop for what sounded good for supper that night, or what was on special at the deli. It was impulse shopping to the max. And when it was all said and done, we’d usually end up spending twice what we normally spend on groceries because we didn’t plan. Essentially, for just a few dollars more each night, we could have gone out to eat.

So now, for me grocery shopping is just a necessary evil that we must encounter each week in order to survive. I love looking at all the stuff, but I really hate spending the money for something that’s not going to stay with me longer than 8 hours. I believe the only enjoyment I get out of it is the time spent with my beloved husband. And as soon as I figure out a way around our HOA rules, I’m gonna grow chickens and steaks in my garden so I don’t ever have to go to a grocery store again!

Sam and I grocery shop once a week, tops. We go together. It’s one of the activities we always do as a couple. Partially because if we go alone we’re more likely to come home with tons of stuff we don’t need and nothing we do need, and because we both like to cook we enjoy perusing the aisles for interesting ingredients. And, it’s an hour out of our week where we are together, away from home, where we’re rarely bothered by emails and phone calls, and barking dogs who think no one is allowed to walk on the trail behind our house.

When we go, we almost always go with a list and many times I’ve already written down a partial menu so I know for sure what ingredients I need. I know there are millions of men and women who can go to the grocery store without a list and buy what’s on sale that week, and come up with delicious and nutritious meals for their families. If you’re one of those people, I commend you. Sam and I are not those people. If we shopped like that we’d end up with a cart full of junk food. We’re attracted to the snack aisles as it is, and if we’re shopping by what’s on sale, then the 2 bags of Ruffles for $5 and the French Onion dip that’s $1 off would look pretty appetizing to us.

Making a menu allows me to go through my pantry, freezer and refrigerator and see what I have already on hand, and it helps me to formulate a cooking strategy. That way I don’t come home with 4 cans of tomato sauce (because they were on sale), when all I really needed was one can of tomato paste. And making a menu ensures that I don’t end up with a cupboard full of beanie-wienies and spinach that are just going to find their way into the food pantry box at church.

The other thing a menu allows me to do is to try new recipes. I get bored with repetition in cooking. Sure, I have some old standbys, but in a month (unless we’re dieting) we rarely eat the same thing twice. I love to read cooking websites and cookbooks, and when I look over a recipe I say two things to myself – 1. “hey, that sounds really good,” and 2. “I have all those ingredients except ________. I’ll add that to my grocery list for next week and we’ll try this.”

Also, we’ve found that making a menu and a shopping list keeps us honest. We are less likely to pick up the ready-made convenience foods that cost an arm and a leg and have no real nutritional value if I know what’s for dinner every night of the week. It also keeps us away from the junk food aisles because we know we have our weekly budget planned out and spent right down to the last penny. When we shop from our list we are less likely to spend all of our grocery budget money each week, giving me a little extra for the weeks when the store has really good sales – like the tomato sauce or steaks.

If you’re trying to manage your cash and you don’t shop with a list or a menu, I encourage you to give it a try for a month, and see if it doesn’t save you at least $10 a week. Take a few minutes and look through your cupboards and see what you’ve already got on hand that needs to be used up and cook from that. Stop paying deli prices for chicken that you can roast in the oven yourself and start putting money back into your wallet.

Dave Ramsey

That name alone often strike fear into the hearts of “spenders” everywhere! Credit card and lending companies across the country despise him and his message. He has one of the hottest syndicated radio talk shows, which boasts “debt is dumb and cash is king.” And millions of people have added him to their Christmas card list – now that they can afford to buy Christmas cards that is. And, even if you’re not a Dave Ramsey groupie you probably at least have an idea who the guy is, and what his message is all about.

**Aside** For those ten readers who are still scratchin‘ their heads and thinking to themselves, “I don’t know who Dave Ramsey is? What’s she talkin‘ about?” First, don’t feel bad about that, and second, he’s a raving lunatic with a radio show, and he helps people get out of debt.

**Now back to your regularly scheduled programming** Our church started a Financial Peace University class last weekend, and even though we’ve been debt free for nearly two years (with the exception of our mortgage), Sam signed up to check it out – spying is really a better term for it, I think.

Sam’s been working on marketing IOU NO MORE! for a few months now and he wanted to see what Ramsey’s product line looked like. Honestly, we’ve never pictured ourselves as competition to Ramsey and his FPU, and we’ve always boasted that we’re the “quick start” niche for people who want to get a handle on how much debt they have, and then work toward getting out of debt. But I have to tell ya, that after looking through the FPU kit we have, I’m currently dealing with an unhealthy dose of merchandise envy!

First, let me preface the kit description by telling you that it costs $100 to enroll in the FPU class, and so this kit should be spiffy for that kind of coin. Second, there are some things that are a bit of overkill, but again, when you’re paying $100 for it, I guess you really do want a little bit of overkill, right? For example, the thing that I thought was really overdone was the workbook. When I think of a workbook, I think of a spiral bound book that I’m going to really want to use. In the FPU kit, it’s a hardback book with really large print, making it feel more like a text book than a training tool. His kit also includes a copy of Financial Peace Revisited, a nice pleather CD organizer that’s filled with about 10-12 CDs of the session material, his envelope system (again in pleather), and an intro CD that also includes his forms library.

Also in an ironic twist of fate, unbeknownst to Sam, he was placed in charge of one of the small groups. There was such an overwhelming and unplanned response to the program that the organizers realized that they didn’t have enough help, so they announced from the floor that Sam was going to be one of the group leaders. They figured that since he’s the author of the wildly successful book IOU NO MORE! that he would be a perfect session leader and a wealth of information on the subject (no pun intended).

For those of you who are struggling with money, I encourage you to dig out all your bills; even the ones you’ve hidden from your spouse in the fake shoe box in the closet; sit down with a cup of coffee, a notepad, and a pencil and take a good, long look at what your financial picture really does look like. There are only three places you can be right now; 1. standing on the shore, 2. treading water, or 3. drowning.

If you’re in position number two or three, I encourage you to get a handle on your finances. Your life doesn’t have to be controlled by your money (or lack of it). Start making some good decisions when it comes to your finances, and stop over spending. Being financially secure doesn’t mean you have to be filthy, stinking rich, but it does mean you have to live on less than you earn, whatever that number is. If you want all the toys, then you need to make more money, not acquire more debt in order to have them. Take control of your life by mastering your money!

Is it August already?!!

Do you ever have “big” months during the year? I’m talking about months where everything seems to happen – birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, vacations, Back to School, the car tags need to be renewed, property tax is due, you have to make an emergency trip out of town, and you’ve agreed to provide 600 cookies for the fall kick-off at church?

August is that kind of month for us.

We have five birthdays in August – two granddaughters, a son, and two grandmothers. My dad is having back surgery this month, so I’m going down to Florida for a couple of weeks to help him out as he recovers. I’m leading our weekly ladies Bible study group up until I leave. I am hosting a ladies luncheon at the end of the month, and it’s time to renew our home owner’s and car insurance.

This is going to be a big month for us financially. Fortunately, Sam plans ahead for these kinds of things with our budget. Yep, that’s correct, I said BUDGET. In our house, that’s not a dirty word. In fact, it’s a word we are quite comfortable with, although it hasn’t always been that way. For the first three or four years of our marriage, the word budget was banned from our house. We didn’t talk about money, but we sure fought about it. We both walked around with smoldering pants constantly (and I’m not talking about newlywed passion here). And it wasn’t until our house of debt came crashing in around us that we began to change the way we thought about money.

“I like money. I have a little bit of it. I keep it in a jar on top of my refrigerator. I’d like to make more. That’s where you come in.” (Name that movie!)

Seriously, I don’t keep it on top of the refrigerator – I don’t want it to get greasy. Money has always been our friend. Sam and I are both born spenders. We didn’t need any special training to learn how to spend freely; and once the two of us got together, a train wreck was in our future. Some people are born savers – I don’t like them much, although I’ve learned to appreciate their willpower.

Because of our natural tendency to overspend, around the first of the year we sit down together and discuss our annual spending plan. We talk about birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, vacations, our emergency fund, investments, and big ticket items we need to save for, like new cars, insurance, and home improvements. And once we come to agreement on where our money is going to go, we write out our spending plan accordingly.

Every month we’re saving money and spending money according to our annual spending plan. So, by the time August rolls around and we’ve got five birthdays to spend for, we have the money saved up. When November rolls around and I’m wanting to start Christmas shopping, Sam hands me an envelope filled with cash and we head to town. When one of our vehicles finally craps out and we need to get a new one, we’ll have the cash for it because we’ve been saving up for a while. When our daughter delivers her fifth child, we’ll have the money saved up to make the trip to Nebraska to see the little tyke. When someone in our family has a financial crisis and needs help, we’ll be able to help them out because we’ve planned in advance for it.

Spending plans (or budgets, whichever you prefer to call them) help us stay out of financial crisis mode, and they help us stay a happily married couple. We don’t fight about money anymore. We don’t hide the mail from each other, and we don’t have separate checking accounts. We talk about where we want the money to go – we compromise on our wants and needs, and we work out a plan that’s comfortable for both of us. We always have cash on hand for little impulses, and we’re always prepared for Murphy, should he poke his smelly little head in and try to ruin our month.

Believe me, I’ve been where you are, and I know how it feels to pick up the phone and hear an unfamiliar and intimidating voice on the other end, demanding payments that were promised but never made. I’ve been in the middle of horrific fights with my beloved over our lack of cash when a birthday came around, or the car broke down, or it was time to pay the electric bill and we didn’t have the money. I’ve avoided landlords, stopped answering my phone, and “forgot” to check the mailbox. I’ve consolidated credit cards until I couldn’t manage the monthly payments any longer. I’ve bought items I couldn’t afford and refused to return them because I didn’t want anyone to know I was broke. I have borrowed money from friends and family until they got tired of not being repaid as agreed. If I could qualify for the card, I could put it to good use. I have lived in a world of paycheck-to-paycheck, and yet I found a way to spend like I owned an everlasting money tree.

Are you in a position where you could fork over the cash to fix the muffler on your car should it fall off? Are you able to take your kids shopping for their Back to School needs without worrying about how you’re going to pay the electric bill this month? Can you stand in the checkout line at the grocery store without trying to figure out which credit card you’re going to charge your cart full of grub on? Wouldn’t it be nice to not have to worry about all these things? Wouldn’t you love to come home to a mailbox full of air instead of a stack of credit card statements and past due notices? I encourage you to take a look at your financial situation. Are you where you want to be – where you thought you’d be at this point in your life? If you are, good for you! However, I’d be willing to bet most of us are not quite there yet.

(Shameless advertisement coming!) Because Sam and I worked so hard to get ourselves out of debt, (it took us almost seven years, by the way) we sure as heck don’t want to get ourselves back into it. Debt is an evil master. Sam and I have committed our energies to helping people find ways to get out of the debt pit they’ve dug themselves into. Sam has written a book called IOU NO MORE! which details the plan we designed and implemented so we could get free of our debt bondage. You can pick up your copy at or It’s a simple and manageable plan that can help you break the cycle of debt today. Check out the website ( for useful tips on how to spend more wisely, and you can even request a free copy of our basic spending plan to help you get started on the right track.

Debt freedom is closer than you think!