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What Debt Free Looks Like So Far

What Debt Free Looks Like So Far by Jamie Griffin. He runs the site MrJamieGriffin.com to help families struggling with student loan debt achieve financial freedom so that they can overcome any financial challenge, and create a new family legacy for themselves and future generations.

 

 

On May 27, my wife and I finally paid off our student loans! After about 4 years of crazy hard work, extra jobs, limited spending, we are free of student loan debt! It’s actually kind of a weird feeling. In a couple days we will finalize our monthly budget, and we don’t have a specific place for the extra money to go (at least not yet). Before, it was always about our student loans, so at the end of the month we made an extra lump sum payment to knock down our debt. But now, the world is our oyster! We can do anything we want with this extra money! That’s why we have to be careful, especially right now, not to be tempted to spend money irresponsibly.

 

Here is How We Are Handling Debt Freedom So Far

 

Step one of debt freedom was to scream and dance around our kitchen. In case you’re wondering, our happy dance was in full force and on point. Our dog even got pretty excited and started running around the house and jumped up on us. Next we went to Caribou for a celebratory coffee (with a BOGO 50% of course) and bought a nice bottle of red wine. That’s it so far, oh, and we have been grinning ear to ear pretty much nonstop. It’s really small and simple, but that’s how we’re used to celebrating. Our plan is to have a bigger celebration with friends in a few weeks, but like any big expense, we need time to figure out how it fits into the budget and how much we actually want to spend.

 

The Temptation is Real

 

In the first couple days of debt freedom, we are already feeling the temptation to spend money impulsively and more extravagantly than we normally do. We can buy more food, (I know exciting right), update our falling apart shoes, get new summer clothes, try a few new restaurants, and treat ourselves. We joke around saying, “Sure, we can buy that! We’re debt free!” While this is absolutely true, it is a dangerous trap to fall into. If we buy whatever we want and give into every impulse, it could severely mess up the disciplined spending habits we created over the last four years. It’s a slippery slope and a dangerous path into more debt.

 

Making a Plan to Beat Temptation

 

To avoid giving into all sorts of temptations, we decided to make a plan with our extra money. Priority number one: We are absolutely going to treat ourselves for paying off our debt! Once we have that taken care of, we need to re-allocate our budget so that every dollar is accounted for and has a home. We have a bunch of options, like savings, investing more, paying off our house, and having more fun money. As of right now though, we have no real idea of what we are going to do, but it’s on our to do list and I’ll share more once we figure it out.

 

Wrapping it Up

 

Our student loans are gone, and now we have to start pursuing our new financial goals. Wish us luck!

 

Let Me Know in the Comments

 

What are your biggest money temptations?

 

 

Nothing Bad Ever Happens to a Writer…

Nothing bad ever happens to a writer  . . . By Sharon Sheppard

Writers have a whole different (quirky) way of looking at the world:  “No matter how bad life gets,” we say, “it’s all material.”

But grist for the writer’s mill notwithstanding, I’ve had a nasty week.  What I thought was flu turned out to be an infected gallbladder, so I had emergency surgery to remove the offending organ.  Not fun.

Afterwards, the surgeon presented to my anxious son and daughter color photographs of the whole mess.  No, I’m not going to show and tell.  What I do want to say is this:  A precious Bible verse that I memorized years ago once again became incredibly meaningful:

“And we know that all that happens to us is working for our good, if we love God and are fitting into His plans.”  (Romans 8:28, Living Bible)

Sometimes I’m tempted to question God, and ask Why??? But I’ve come to discover that He has a purpose for everything in my life.  As with many other things, I may never know why God allowed this. (Maybe because I ate too many sweets and greasy foods.)

But here are a few good things that have come of it:

*God gave me peace before and after surgery so I knew that whatever happened would be okay.

*This event has slowed me down and given me a welcome time of respite.

*Unstructured time has allowed me room to think.

*I’m savoring some reading that I may never have gotten around to.

*Though I am relatively new to this area of the country, I’ve discovered that I have more friends here than I would have guessed.

*Through my son and daughter’s loving care for me, I have a whole new appreciation for family.

My nephew said that as soon as he heard of my condition, he and his wife stood right there in the parking lot of Caesar’s Pizza, joined hands, and approached the Throne of Grace on my behalf.

After days of gracious care from my busy daughter, who stayed nights with me, took care of food, medications, and a host of other details, I said to her, “You’ve been so wonderful!  I could never repay you for all you’ve done.”

She replied, “And I could never repay you…”

And when I say to God:  “I can never repay you for redeeming me, for taking care of me in good times and bad,” He says, “You’re welcome.  It’s my gift.”

Picnics, Celebrations, Fireworks!

Picnics, Celebrations, and Fireworks! This month definitely begs for an excuse to overindulge. For years I, Mary Zigan, lived for these opportunities. I am learning…

When wrapped up in ourselves, we are wholly consumed with our own needs, wants, and desires. Interestingly, though, instead of being filled, we find that our problems are intensified and just become more complicated. Our addiction is an act of self-absorption.

We now have the option to stop playing God with our lives and be open to His peace, serenity, and the joy of living one-day-at-a-time with our hand in His. The paradox is that by getting outside of ourselves and connecting with those around us, we are free to love and experience others at a whole new level. Previously, our addiction served as a barrier to true relationship, but now we are free to let go and let God!

 

Thoughts on Growth

Hi, it’s Mary’s grandson Brad back with thoughts from Alaska.

The other morning, my phone showed me a photo, reminding me that it had happened exactly five years ago on that day.  The picture was of my friend Aaron on the 4th of July.  We had both been living in South Korea for about six months, and for the holiday we had decided to hike to an observation deck on a mountain to see the fireworks being shot off on one of the US Army bases nearby.  The photo isn’t anything spectacular, but I realized when I saw it the other day that it marked the beginning of my exploration into photography.  I remember specifically researching techniques that I wanted to try, and they had ended up working.  I was very proud.

There are many people who know me from my pre-Korea days when I had no particular artistic inclination. What I never actually realized is that most “talents” people have, artistic or otherwise, are really skills that have been developed over time. The person who made me see this, and in turn is due credit for what is now a large part of who I am, is my friend Aaron. He recognized the tiniest spark of interest buried inside of me, an interest I myself would’ve squashed because of doubt, and he encouraged me. His encouragement was almost like permission for me to be interested in something that wasn’t a “talent” and sent me on the path I’m on today. Aaron and photography taught me that we aren’t confined by what we are today. We can continue to adapt, change, and become better and more whole people by deciding to take baby steps each and every day. Think about this the next time you put yourself or anybody else into a box because of what you perceive them to be, and good golly, encourage them. You never know how important it will be in their life.

Just for fun, here’s a more recent 4th of July photo, taken in Juneau, Alaska.

Chicken Grape Salad Recipe

Summertime…and the livin is easy! Mary Zigan has just the easy recipe! I dare say, we all want the easy, effortless, salad to toss in the summer. This recipe is especially quick when you have grilled chicken left over for last night’s supper, and this recipe is also tasty and will be “the go to one” time and time again. Enjoy

 

Chicken Grape Salad

 

2 cups cut-up cooked chicken                        1 ¼ cups mayonnaise

1 cup chopped celery                                     1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 cup seedless green or red grapes                ½ teaspoon salt

½ cup toasted slivered almonds*                  pepper to taste

 

In medium bowl, combine all ingredients; mix well. Will make 6-8 servings

 

TIP: *To toast almonds, spread on a cookie sheet. Bake at 350 ◦ F. about 10 minutes,          stirring occasionally.

 

 

The Year of 11 Weddings

The Year of 11 Weddings: Budgeting for Wedding Season by Jamie Griffin owner of the personal finance blog mrjamiegriffin.com

 

Summer is almost here! As a teacher, summer doesn’t officially start until the students all go home and I can forget all about lesson planning and grading papers for a couple months. During most of my 20s, summer time was also full blown wedding season! I absolutely love weddings, and during my mid-late 20s a bunch of my friends got married and I was lucky enough to be invited to their big day. I even got to be in a good amount of them. Now that most of my friends are already married, I sadly don’t get to attend many weddings.

 

When I was 27, I reached my limit. It was a crazy year that we call “The year of 11 Weddings.” Yep, that’s right, 11 weddings in one year. It was full of fun, laughter, and tough decisions in our budget. I want to share how our budget survived.

 

Getting Invited to a Wedding is Awesome

 

Like I said before, I love going to weddings, especially now that I’m married. I get to wear my suit, eat free food, and dance the night away with my beautiful wife! What could be better?! I also think it’s beautiful watching my friends commit their lives to each other, and the support of the wedding party and family standing to support their union. Did I mention I’m a hopeless romantic? 🙂

 

Adding Up the Costs

 

I think the two biggest expenses of attending a wedding are to cover traveling and staying in a hotel. If the wedding is in the same town you live, you’re in luck! Cross those expenses of the list. If you do have to travel though, try splitting the costs with friends and family who are also going. It might not always be ideal, especially if your significant other is with, but it definitely cuts down your costs.

 

Then, there is always the wedding gift. A side note on gift giving: I learned after getting married myself to always, ALWAYS buy from the registry. We find it so much easier because we don’t need to wonder if the newlyweds want the gift. Of course they want it, they registered for it. The registry gives so many options that can fit into any budget, just find what works for yours and grab it! And as a bonus to the bride and groom, they don’t need to wonder what to do with Hippo shaped cookie jar from Target or where to hang the sentimental collage style picture frame.

 

Lastly, be prepared to pay for drinks at the wedding. A lot of the 11 weddings we went to offered a limited selection of beer or wine hosted by the bride and groom. This is always a nice bonus, but I’ve learned not to expect free booze when I go to weddings. It’s getting more common for hosted drinks during a brief happy hour followed by a cash bar for the rest of the reception. If you don’t plan for it, those $5 drinks can add up in a hurry! And as a fellow bartender, always remember to leave a tip! 😉

 

Being IN a Wedding

 

Getting invited to a wedding is very different from being in a wedding. I find it an incredible honor to be asked to be in a friend’s wedding, but it comes with added expenses. The year of 11 weddings, I was IN 4 weddings, including my own. Jenna was also in one of the weddings. As a result, our out of pocket costs skyrocketed.

 

The first big expense we ran into was renting a suit or buying a dress. We were at the mercy of the brides and grooms and needed to spend whatever they asked us to. Fortunately for us, it wasn’t too outrageous and only cost us a few hundred dollars for all the weddings we needed to be in. We are really thankful it was so minimal compared to what it could’ve been.

 

Next was the bachelor/bachelorette parties. This can get out of hand if you’re not careful. In my opinion, the bride or groom shouldn’t need to pay for anything, which leaves the wedding party shelling out extra cash to cover drinks, food, and any fun activities. For my bachelor party, we played paintball and it was awesome! I couldn’t have been happier or more thankful that my friends planned something so fun and picked up my part of the tab.

 

Don’t forget about wedding showers. You will more than likely end up attending a wedding shower or two if you’re in the wedding, especially as a bridesmaid although it is becoming more common for mixed gender bridal showers. It could mean buying party favors, decorations, food, and ultimately a gift. It might not seem like a lot, but you don’t want to get surprised by unexpected expenses.

 

During this crazy wedding season, we chose not to buy gifts

 

This was not our favorite decision. It felt awkward and uncomfortable, and we definitely felt like we were being cheap. We very frequently felt like the worst wedding guests ever. For all of our friends and family, we wish we could have gotten you a gift. But in the end, our money goals required us to make pretty extreme decisions. It wasn’t just wedding gifts we skipped out on. We didn’t go out to eat. We didn’t visit our families very much. We didn’t go on road trips. We did everything we could to work towards our goals. We eliminated all extra spending that wasn’t in the category of absolutely necessary. I’m sure a lot of people won’t agree with our decision, but we needed to do what was best for our family.

 

Wrapping it Up

 

Weddings are a blast! If you get invited to one, or a bunch, remember to plan ahead for the extra costs that creep up. It’s never fun being caught off guard. Share a fun wedding story in the comments!

 

Let Me Know in the Comments

 

What’s the most weddings you’ve been invited to in a year? How do you budget for the extra expenses?

 

If you enjoyed this post and found value, check out more of our story at mrjamiegriffin.com and tell me about it in the comments. Click to check out my pages on FacebookTwitter, and Google+. If you want new posts delivered directly to your email, subscribe in the sidebar or click Subscribe in the menu. Thanks for your support!

 

Savoring Summer

Savoring Summer . . . by Sharon Sheppard

Scents of wild roses and smoke from campfires…

Sounds of waves lapping against the shore of a northern lake…

The wonderful sensation of beach sand oozing between your toes…

My brother Paul and I recently compared notes on some of our favorite childhood memories of sensory details from our growing up years in northern Minnesota:

His favorites:

Digging angleworms for fishing, and catching bullheads at Rocky Dock on Pine Mountain Lake

Catching lightning bugs to keep in Mason jars

Watching ants on ant hills

Listening to the cry of loons on the lake at night

Watching flocks of redwing blackbirds in willow bushes

Adding salt to the ice and hand-cranking the freezer to make homemade ice cream

Inhaling the aroma from bouquets of home-grown flowers adorning the altar of our small church—lilacs, crab apple blossoms, irises . . .

Tasting cold watermelon and the first radishes fresh from the garden

Setting lit firecrackers under tin cans on the 4th of July

Savoring the fragrance of our mother’s homemade bread fresh from the oven (at any time of year)

My favorites:

OK, so my brother took all of the good ones…

(He can have the angleworms, ant hills, and noisy firecrackers.)

Here are some of mine:

Full moons over the lake on warm summer nights

Dainty wildflowers: violets, mayflowers, bluebells, and honeysuckles

Blueberry pie—hot from the oven–with flaky crust and berries fresh from the woods

Sunsets and rainbows

Corn on the cob dripping with butter

The sound of crickets singing in the evening

Deep-fried walleye fresh from the lake

Sunsets and rainbows

Slightly charred hotdogs fresh from the campfire

The smell of pine boughs

 

*And one of my all-time favorite summer memories is from the second date I had with the man I was to marry:  Canoeing on a pristine lake on a perfect June day and picking waterlilies . . .

 

So rather than allowing this summer to go by in a blur,

Let’s SAVOR special moments…

 

 

 

 

Canoeing on a pristine lake and picking waterlilies

 

Photos from the Trail

Greetings,

It’s Brad from the Alaskan frontier, back with more photos to share.  This batch comes from a recent hike I did from the small community of Hope to Cooper Landing along the Resurrection Pass Trail.  The trail travels 38 miles through Alaskan wilderness, and is maintained by the state parks department.  There are several cabins and campsites available for rent, but it’s up to you to get there!  I took a friend’s dog along for the three day journey.  We saw many beautiful landscapes, a few ptarmigan, marmots, moose, and even some wolf tracks!  Enjoy!

A Few Tricks to Keep Your Budget Cool This Summer

A Few Tricks to Keep Your Budget Cool This Summer

 

Jamie Griffin is a Middle School Teacher and Blogger who runs the site MrJamieGriffin.com. He and his wife are working hard to pay off their student loans and teach others how to Do Money Differently.

 

Summer is my favorite season of the year! It is full of adventures at the beach, hiking, playing golf, grilling, and camping. Oh, and if you’re in your 20s, don’t forget about all the weddings you will get invited to or asked to be in. Summer is time to let loose a little more, get outside, and be more active. It’s also a time where it becomes really easy to spend more money than you really want to. That’s right, those extra activities aren’t free! Now I’m not saying to skip out on all the awesome, fun adventures. Definitely have fun, hang out with friends, and make some great memories. I am saying however, that you don’t need to break your budget to have fun this summer! I want to share a few tips to help you get the most out of your summer, and stay out of the red.

 

Map Out Your Summer Ahead of Time

March and April seem to be the months that I start making plans for summer vacation. Since I’m a teacher, I still get to dream of and enjoy a true summer vacation 🙂  I’m a huge baseball fan, so I try to get to at least one game every summer, two if I’m lucky. I feel like my wife and I talk about taking a camping trip every year, either together, or with friends, or heck, maybe both! It is a lot easier to travel and visit friends and family who live a few hours away, so we make sure to include those mini trips into our calendar. Plus, my family usually spends a week camping in our neck of the woods around the 4th of July, so that throws off our normal schedule of meal prepping. The warm weather seems to beg us to buy brats or steak to throw on the grill and have a few beers while we host some friends on our back deck. And that isn’t even close to all of it! Your summer schedule can fill up so fast, with an overabundance of events, dinners, adventures, and traveling. If you don’t sit down to map out your summer, you could end up spending money like a football player who just signed a $20 million dollar contract, which I can only imagine is like crazy! Don’t let summer get out of hand, take control now!

 

You may have picked up on this by now, but Jenna and I are really intentional when it comes to our money. Therefore, we don’t just plan out our summer adventures ahead of time, we also plan out how much our adventures will cost. In my dream world, I would love to go to a Minnesota Twins game a couple times a month, go on a long road trip to the east or west coast, and spend a few nights a week grilling out with friends. But the realistic part of my brain, and also my practical minded wife, kick in and remind me that it would be crazy expensive to always do whatever we want each summer. Yes, we might have fun, but we would also be cringing on the inside knowing that we are spending a lot of money, moving us further away from our goals.

Make a List and Estimate Your Costs

When you start to make a list of your summer plans, estimate the costs of each adventure. It helps put into perspective how much money you will need to save up ahead of time. We like to make lists, or at least my very organized wife does. On our list we write down all of our plans, and then we write the best guess price next to it. It really helps us visualize the value in terms of cost and enjoyment. Another nice benefit of actually making a list is it helps you prioritize what you actually want to do, and can afford to do. Which conveniently leads me to my next point.

 

Prioritize Your Plans

If you can afford all of your summer plans and that is truly how you want to spend your money, I say go for it. Do it all! Traveling, camping, and visiting friends is always a blast if you don’t have to stress about money. Carpe that Diem! But if that’s not possible, the list you make will help you figure out which plans are important and what is actually feasible with your budget. It also helps you see if you even have enough free weekends to get everything done, and not feel burned out. When I see a price next to an event, I can more easily weigh the cost against the experience. Is it really worth it to spend $250 on a weekend out of town to watch a Twins game, eat out downtown, and stay in a hotel? Or is it more worth it to spend that $250 on a week long camping trip? Or going to see the Opera or a concert? There are so many ways to spend money and time during the summer. Choose what is most important to your family, and start booking weekends to make it happen.

 

Save Money Ahead of Time

I have always been a saver when it comes to money. Even when I was a kid, I would hoard Christmas and birthday money for years before spending it. I didn’t always know what I was saving it for, but it seemed like a better idea to keep it tucked away than to spend it on candy and pop. Maybe that is why I love planning ahead and saving for things I really want. It helps remind me every month of what I want to do and gives me something to look forward to. Saving also helps me determine if I really want something, or if it is just an impulse. For example, if I see a shirt I like at Target, I like to carry it around the store while I do the rest of my shopping. While I am carrying it, I can continue to analyze if I really want it or if I’ll actually wear it. When I get done shopping, if I still feel like it’s something I want, and I have cash for it, I buy it. If not, then I put it back. Saving for summer plans can work the same way. If you spend a few months saving, you might decide that you don’t really want to charter a sailboat for a week after all.

 

I also feel like it is more satisfying when I know I have been working hard to plan and save money. I like to reflect on the journey it took me to be where I am, and it feels good to know I met my goal. I appreciate the journey as much as the reward.

 

Find Free and Cheap Dates and Adventures

For the past four years, we have been extremely frugal with our money and in the process found a bunch of dates and mini adventures that are free or very cheap! In fact, sometimes the cheap dates were more fun and memorable than when we splurged. One of our favorite dates that we repeat every summer is “Act like a tourist day.” We live on Lake Superior where tourism rules during the summer. There are all kinds of fun activities around town especially driven by the tourism industry. On act like a tourist day, we choose a handful of these mini adventures and do them with full enthusiasm, including taking all of the typical tourist pictures. Last year we spent $10 on a ship tour, wandered through the gift shop, explored art galleries, walked along the lake, and skipped rocks into the lake. One year we even talked in accents the entire time and built up a backstory in case anyone asked where we were from. For the record, I claimed to be from Ireland and Jenna was from London and we met while I studied a semester at the University in London. We explained the trip to Duluth as our honeymoon to America. It was an absolute blast!

 

Our city also has a free movie in the park every Friday in the summer, and one time we even brought our own computer down to the park with speakers, a blanket, and pillows to watch a movie. We always enjoy a good trail hike, packing a picnic, and spending quality time with each other. If you are creative enough and willing to be goofy and silly, there are loads of things to do really cheaply right in your own backyard!

 

Wrapping It Up

Summer is awesome. Period. But to get the most fun without stretching your budget too far, make a plan and prioritize what is most important to you. Save up and have a blast without the stress. And don’t forget about the free stuff around town. There is always free stuff!

 

Let Me Know in the Comments
What are your favorite summer activities? Any free or cheap date ideas or getaways?

 

Running, Numbing, Fighting

 My adult life has been spent either running from myself, numbing myself, or fighting myself. That’s the truth.

But during the last six years I have been open to facing myself differently, with the help of friends, therapy, 12 steps, and God. Overall I have come to peace with me and what being me entails. I am aware that what happened to me still hurts, still frustrates me. The difference is being able to let go of it. I still feel anxious at times, but with God’s help I can soothe my anxious thoughts and fears by praying, breathing, or taking a walk.

Learning how to take care of my body, mind, and spirit has been life-changing. My career changed as well as my thinking patterns, my eating habits, sleep habits, and social expectations. In order to take care of my body I realized I had to SLOW DOWN. A lot. Way down. Irritatingly slow. It was in that place of rest that I began to heal. My body still screams out in anxiousness if it is not properly tended to.

I recognize and understand that life happens. I also recognize that only I can take care of myself. If left unattended to, I deteriorate physically and emotionally quite rapidly. The way I take care of myself is by getting enough rest, spending adequate time alone, journaling, and talking with my two closest friends. This is a daily practice that has made all the difference for me.

~ Terri Johnson