Amazing Little Blessings

It’s funny how life works, and how God works when you have a little faith.

Yesterday was kind of a down day for me. I’ve been working my tail off and starting to feel like my superwoman abilities to balance everything and encourage everybody and follow through on promises in a timely manner are slipping. Not that big a deal really, but I had been enjoying feeling very on top of things for awhile.

So anyway just when I’m sulking and wishing I could vent online about something that I can’t, I got a crazy unexpected email that I won an iPod Nano and a $25 iTunes gift card. If you know me well you know how much an iTunes gift card of any size means to me. Music is my sanity, my inspiration, my saving grace (besides of course THE saving grace of Jesus…but who do you think gives me music?) I was just sitting there wanting to buy some more music and feeling the pinch of a summer budget with crazy expensive camps and soaring electric bills from the AC running hard 24/7. This gift was something I didn’t even ask for, an unexpected blessing.

Later that night Mike and I had a budget meeting that really didn’t go very well. As part of Financial Peace U. we learned that these meetings should take place at the beginning of each month, should be short and sweet and should result in a zero dollar, completely balanced budget for the month. For various reasons this month’s review didn’t take place till halfway through the month and now things have already been spent that could have been skipped. Plus Mike’s budget was showing a fat deficit, suggesting we dip into savings this month to cover the big extra costs like summer childcare. That’s not how it’s supposed to be, common sense tells you not to plan to be in the red at the end of the month…only the federal government consistently runs like that and we all know how well that works.

The long and short of it is that expenses needed to be trimmed. I had an online shopping cart at Gymboree full of awesome deals like $3.00 shirts that I decided to just ignore. Sadly. I had also put a book I’ve been wanting into a cart at Amazon. It was the Jesus Storybook Bible, a book I have heard lots of friends rave about for sharing the wonderful story of the gospel with kids. I really wanted it, but decided it could wait too.

Then yesterday I happened to be checking Twitter at the right time and noticed the weekly WiseBread webchat had just started. My friend Kelly is the community manager for WiseBread, a great practical personal finance site, and she runs these weekly webchats about ways to save money. This week’s chat was on couponing, something I have recently started doing more of and am excited about. So I joined it, because these chats are just fun.

To my complete surprise, I won a giftcard to Amazon in the webchat! It was just enough to cover the Jesus Storybook Bible that was still sitting in my Amazon shopping cart. Completely unexpected. I got the giftcard code immediately and finished placing the order, totally grateful and knowing exactly where that blessing came from too.

Now I’m no follower of the prosperity gospel, but I know where my blessings come from. Blessings don’t always come in the form of money or good things, but sometimes they do. Believing and living like everything you have is God’s anyway and being faithful with a little sometimes gets rewarded in tangible ways with a little more.

Why You Should Create and Stick To a Family Budget

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Everyone Needs a Cash Flow Plan

PlanningUp until this past September, I have never created or tried to live within a budget. Sure my husband and I were financially responsible and secure and I tossed around the word budget, but for twelve years of marriage we never actually created one on paper. Early in our marriage we used Quicken to track our income and spending, but it was all pretty much a big pot o’ money and a guessing game each month to try to stay in the black. We always were in the black, if you count the fact that we consistently put a big chunk of money in our retirement plans, but our liquid savings fluctuated…a lot. And while I thought it was great that we had any savings at all, in this economy of no job security Mike felt we needed a bigger cushion. Our spending habits were becoming somewhat wasteful and our shrinking savings was starting to stress him out, which is why we signed up for Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.

One of the first things the class insisted upon was creating a monthly zero-sum budget. I very much disliked the word “budget” because it felt stifling, like a prison. But I’m a numbers girl and decided to try it, and FPU sometimes called it a “cash flow plan” which I greatly prefer. Dave’s book outlines several points about having a written plan.

  • a written plan removes the “crisis management” mode of handling money
  • it helps your money go farther
  • if you agree to it and live by it, a plan will help you avoid lots of money fights in marriage
  • a plan removes the guilt and fear that you may feel when buying necessities
  • a written plan prevents overdrafts and thereby removes a lot of stress
  • a plan will show if you are overspending in a given area
These are all great arguments in my mind for creating and sticking to a budget. It has certainly shown us where we were wasteful and has helped our money go much further.

Every Dollar Has a Name

A zero-sum budget assigns a purpose to every single dollar you spend. For us the biggest change was collecting our receipts and tracking cash purchases, like coffee or fast food. Every thing else was easily categorized through the use of the software program Quicken. It downloads the info from our various accounts and credit cards, and we were able to set monthly budget amounts in the program as well.

Mike is the “nerd” in our marriage and I am more of a “free spirit”, so he did the first round of setting up the budget and then called a budget committee meeting. FPU recommends having these meetings at the start of every month, and limiting them to 17 minutes. No kidding. The nerd shows the free spirit the numbers, the free spirit is allowed to suggest a few changes, and then they make an agreement to live by it. It has been a really great exercise for us to have these budget committee meetings, and the first money when I really tried to stick to it we saved way more money than expected. Almost a whole mortgage payment’s worth, which went straight towards our emergency fund. Budgeting has been not just good for our bottom line, it has been great for our marriage as well. 

There’s so much more I could tell you about this, but I’ll save it for another day. If you’ve stuck with me to this point, good for you! I wouldn’t write about this stuff if I didn’t believe it could help people so much and take away so much stress and anxiety from their lives…which is the mission of this blog. I wrote about why I love Turbo Tax and a few cool tax deductions that are often overlooked yesterday, so be sure and check that out too. 
Your turn…do you budget like this? Are you the nerd or the free spirit in your relationship? Does money cause you a lot of stress or do you feel in control of your financial house?