finance blogs

Normally, the only two finance blogs I read are The Simple Dollar and Get Rich Slowly. But today I stumbled upon another one that I think is worth sharing. Here it is: http://www.wisebread.com/philip-brewer.

The article which has me hooked is titled “Living Cheaply for the Long Haul.” The list of strategies for doing this include buying stuff that lasts, buying stuff that reduces future expenses, stocking up when things are cheap, and taking care of your stuff. These seem obvious, but I have been frustrated by the lack of attention among frugality sites given to these kinds of choices. Buy an okay-looking $35 lamp that lasts a year, or buy a great-looking $50 lamp that lasts ten years… the choice is obvious, right? (Or better yet, buy it off Craigslist, but really I’ve never been able to find a decent lamp on Craigslist, so our preferred method is actually to wait until the $50 lamp goes on sale for $20.)

Somehow I just find it really satisfying to find a blog that thinks beyond a monthly budget to take the bigger picture into consideration.

Published in: on December 18, 2009 at 12:35 am  Leave a Comment  

free Christmas music, etc.

We’re still doing a lot of personal reflection on the whole “preparing to be out of work” thing, so I haven’t had the heart to write about preparing to move and preparing to have another baby. In lieu of those posts, then, here are a few freebies and one great contest.

Amazon has a new free Christmas song available each day this month (and you can download the already-revealed ones as well). They also have a free five-song classical Christmas sampler and a free seven-song Sampler Claus selection available, along with various individual free Christmas songs if you look around the site a bit. Additionally, Amazon has a good deal of free non-Christmas MP3s available all the time.

iTunes has a free twenty-song holiday sampler available. (I recommend deleting #14 – it’s an advertisement song and I found it rather annoying.)

Christianaudio.com has a different free audio book each month. This month it is The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Also, make sure you stop by www.daveramsey.com. Dave Ramsey is giving away different prizes every day this month. Today it’s $1000 cash!

Published in: on December 11, 2009 at 12:28 pm  Comments (1)  

preparing to be out of work

The major financial thing on my mind right now is that Keith will be out of work after the middle of the month.

In a lot of ways, it’s a good timing for a break. I have the two weeks after that all scheduled out for us: making goodies for Christmas, throwing a birthday party for Rilla, having the ultrasound to determine our baby’s gender, celebrating Rilla’s birthday, enjoying Christmas at home with the three of us, having Christmas celebrations with family, and then moving before the end of the year.

But after all of that… then what? I haven’t been concerned about it, mainly because a) God provided a place for us to move to that is nearer to Keith’s work, and I don’t think He would do that right now if there would not be work to follow it up; b) we have that little bit in savings; c) we can get a good tax return soon; and d) unemployment checks are a beautiful thing. But the most important part is that e) God always provides.

So really, how do you prepare to be out of work? 

For us, it has meant making sure all bills are up to date and the credit card we use for monthly expenses is at a $0 balance. It has meant making sure that the groceries I buy will go the distance if we can’t afford to buy more for a month or two. It has meant not spending anything extra, whether on needed clothes for Rilla or gifts for others or whatever else.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ve been doing the best job of it this time around. Normally we wouldn’t take a trip to Utah right as money gets tighter. It may be that I should have spent less on Christmas presents. And buying a few pieces of (used, of course) furniture for our new place was probably not the greatest idea, although I will be selling a few pieces as well to make up the cost. I have been stocking up goodies for our daughter’s first birthday party, and that in itself is probably not necessary; we could just not have treats there, and people would probably understand.

But in these matters, and in other ones, I think this is where it all comes back to grace in finances. I’m not a perfect steward of our finances any more than I am a perfect steward of the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and so on in my life that is also a gift from God. I’m not a perfect wife or a perfect mother or a perfect friend. I need daily grace in order to honor the Lord in what I do, and this applies to finances as well. Sometimes I mess up by accident, like spending $4.50 on aluminum-free baking powder at the health food store when I could have got it at Fred Meyer for $2.50. Sometimes I mess up on purpose, like buying organic bananas at 79 cents a pound when I know that the normal bananas at 49 cents a pound really don’t have enough pesticides on them to warrant me buying the organic variety. And yet the point of trying to be frugal and spend appropriately is not perfection. The point is to honor the God who has enabled me to live and move and have my being. When I mess up, He forgives me. It doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t try to do better, but it does mean that His love and grace toward me is not tied onto my ability to do better.

Now I don’t know how this fits into all of that, but here’s a little secret about my real mindset toward money: sooner or later, it goes away. Sometimes you can make it stretch longer. Sometimes I don’t think it’s worth worrying about, so I just buy what we need and throw in a few wants until it is all gone. Worrying about it doesn’t seem to make it last longer; instead, it only makes the spending of it less enjoyable. So when it looks like we are going to run out of money, here is the honest truth: I don’t usually try all that hard to be extra frugal. Partially that is because I think I am frugal enough as it is, but also because I just think… well, what  can you do? We’ve got to pay the bills, and we’ve got to buy food, so I’ll just do what I normally do and see how long it lasts. God will provide once it’s gone, so whether that happens in two months or two months and one week doesn’t seem to matter all that much.

Does anyone else have that kind of mindset, or am I the only one?

Published in: on December 6, 2009 at 2:09 pm  Comments (2)  

on buying presents

As our nation sinks deeper into this recession, I hear more and more talk about people not spending much money on Christmas presents. Frankly, I think that is a good thing. I might even go out on a limb here and say that the recession in general is a good thing. It is beautiful to see people take more responsibility for their financial actions and for our society to begin to esteem frugality again.

The personal issue I have with not spending money on Christmas presents, though, is that gifts are my love language. I absolutely love to give gifts to the people I care about! I have toned down the spending in recent years, but we still feel it is worthwhile to give gifts to those we love. Thus, gift-giving is a small but important part of our monthly budget.

Our budget for family birthdays and Christmas presents is $10 per person. Looking at both my birthday gift list and my just-finished Christmas list from this year, that means we’ve spent about $150 on birthday gifts and $120 on Christmas gifts (not including the amounts I spent on Keith and Rilla). Some people might think that is a lot; personally, I don’t think it is all that much for a lasting expression of endearment, and I think the cost is totally worth it. Maybe it would not be worth it for something lame that a person would toss aside and never use, but I think I usually manage to find gifts that are suited to the person, will last a while, and will be worth more to them than what I spent on it.

I view finding the right present for the right price like a never-ending treasure hunt. My grandma taught me to look for birthday and Christmas presents all year long at retail store sales and yard sales, and I have learned to do that especially with online sales. It is so satisfying to find gifts ahead of time this way! One treasure that I enjoyed finding and giving this year was a neat old picture frame purchased at a garage sale for $2. I outfitted it with pictures of my dad, myself, and my baby for less than fifty cents and presented it to my father for his birthday. Having the whole thing planned out months in advance just made the anticipation that much sweeter. When we only buy one or two birthday gifts a month, it is fun to think about them ahead of time. And there is something especially satisfying about getting a great deal on a fantastic gift.

Because I do most of my shopping online, let me just share these sites that tend to have the best deals. There are others which I have referenced now and then, but these are my favorites and have proven to be the most useful to me over time. In particular, I check Cool Mom Picks and Slick Deals almost every day. I may go a month between finding relevant deals, but the ones I do find are so worth the thirty-second daily time investment.

For finding gift ideas…

For finding a good deal…

Do you have any other favorites?

Published in: on December 5, 2009 at 1:45 pm  Comments (6)  

on going to weddings

Our family of three took a trip to Utah over Thanksgiving weekend. It was our first time returning there since we moved away more than two years ago, and so it was largely a visit to see old friends. The big impetus for us to go, though, was the wedding of a dear lady who is very much due for a beautiful new season in her life. We had the privilege of seeing her glow as only a bride can. We had the honor of witnessing the joining of two hearts and two families. It is not something we will soon forget.

Weddings are one of those unnecessary expenses and time-consuming activities that Keith and I believe are worth it. On our first full day of marriage, we were driving to Oregon for our honeymoon and talking about our own wedding when we decided that as a married couple, we would go to the weddings of our friends whenever we possibly could. We were so blessed by those who had traveled, set aside studying for finals week, and so on to be with us as we pledged our lives to one another that we just felt it was one of the most important decisions we could make to be there for others in the same way. Looking back on the 25+ weddings we have attended since that time, there were definitely seasons when it has been inconvenient or literally took all of our money to get there and back. But we have never regretted going to the weddings of our friends.

So why does it matter so much? We go to weddings not just for the free food – although that is always nice – but because we believe that marriage is an institution created by God and worthy to be honored. It is a privilege to be invited to witness two people enter into a lifelong covenant relationship. Marriage is greatly undervalued in our culture, and we feel that it is a beautiful thing to be able to support our friends not only on their wedding day, but also in the years ahead to be able to pray for them and encourage them to live by their wedding vows.

This blog is about finances, of course, but there are so many things in life that are more important than finances. It is easy for me to fall into the trap of thinking money is the important thing, but it’s not. It’s what we do with it that matters. It is given to us as a tool and a blessing. Going to weddings when it is not the most convenient timing continues to be an encouragement to me, both about what really matters in life and as a reminder of all the other times God has provided for the details in situations. Many times we have taken off work and spent money that we couldn’t afford so that we could go to the weddings of our friends, and look! Nothing disastrous happened. Maybe we’d have a little more debt paid off if we hadn’t gone, but who cares, what good is having provision if we don’t use it to build relationships?

Published in: on December 4, 2009 at 9:12 am  Comments (1)  

this and that

Since one of my four loyal readers pointed out that I haven’t written on here in a while, I’m taking a few moments while Rilla is napping to catch up a little bit. I don’t want to be disappointing 25% of my readership, you know!

Actually, one of my friend’s comments really got me to thinking about the way I view debt. She is mired in it too, yet she said that it is her responsibility and she wants to pay it all back. You know what? I don’t think like that. My thoughts are more along the lines of it being unfair that I ever had to go into debt to begin with, and thus the world owes me something and my debt should just magically disappear. Really, when I stop to admit it, I actually think like that.

And that is why I think that rather than God granting us some huge windfall that makes it all go away, Keith and I are going to have to continue to plod through payment after payment until it is all gone. I have felt like that ever since we graduated from college. We know plenty of people who have supernaturally had their loans forgiven or instantly paid for in one way for another. But I feel like God wants to teach me something in the slow and steady plodding that comes from the long-term commitment to pay off debt. There is definitely a discipline and a patience being cultivated through all of this.

Lately we have had several things come up which seem to have slowed us down a bit in the debt-paying-off process, specifically Christmas presents, a trip to visit friends in Utah, the realization that Keith will likely be out of work in two weeks, preparing to move again, and beginning to prepare for Rilla’s sibling who is due in May.

Each of these expenses (and the choices we have made that led to creating each expense) carry with them all kinds of implications, so maybe I’ll just delve into a few via a short little blog series. Look for it over the next few days…

Published in: on December 3, 2009 at 12:12 pm  Comments (3)