Archives for : Lifestyle Secrets

We’re Having a Baby

We’re Having a Baby!

What we’re doing to prepare (and who knows what we’re doing wrong!)

By Jamie Griffin, who runs a personal finance blog www.mrjamiegriffin.com to help families get out of debt.

 

The title says it all, We’re having a Baby!!!! I can’t even describe how excited I am to be a Dad. My wife and I get giddy just thinking about being parents, and learning about all the amazing ways our tiny baby is growing. In case you’re wondering, at 19 weeks, the baby is the size of a tomato and weighs half a pound!

For the most part, we don’t feel too freaked out or terrified that we’ll soon be responsible for an entire human life. I mean, there’s a good healthy fear, but we’re not anxious or overwhelmed.

We Want to Be as Prepared as Possible

It’s our first, and so as you’d expect (especially if you have kids), we have no idea what we’re really getting into! We’d like to think “we’ve got this” and we’ll be amazing parents and our kid will always listen to us. I can almost hear all of the parents out there laughing and rolling their eyes, haha.

We’re also pretty realistic and know there’s no way we’ll ever be fully prepared. We’ve definitely got a plan of attack, but I’m sure there’s so many things we have no clue about.

What We Are Doing to Plan for Baby #1: Saving for Medical Expenses

It’s a no brainer that babies are expensive. That’s why we’ve waited so long to have kids. We started trying to have kids after about two and a half years of marriage, instead of right away like we wanted. Having $90,000 of student loan debt was a big deterrent.

Based off our income to debt ratio, it seemed irresponsible to have kids with that much debt. Of course we could’ve figured it out, but we didn’t want to be in over our heads. Now that we’re debt free though, we can plan and save the way we want to.

Related Posts: Goodbye Student Loans: We Are 10 Days From Being Debt FreeHow We Paid Off $29,500 of Debt in 2016

Our first big priority was to stash some money away to cover medical costs. In September, we were lucky enough to have an extra paycheck month. First off, extra paycheck months rock! Secondly, all of our monthly bills are covered with the typical two paychecks, we put the entire 3rd paycheck toward future baby costs.

Going forward, we plan to add $100 a month to our baby fund. When baby comes, we don’t want to worry about paying for unexpected costs. Also, if we need to buy stuff for baby, like a stroller, or diapers, or a car seat, it doesn’t need to affect our monthly budget.

Still need a stroller. So excited to push our little soybean around!

We Have Free Baby Stuff

Now that I’m pretty immersed in the world of all things Baby, I’m learning that I went into the wrong career. It’s like the wedding industry. If you attach the word “wedding” or “baby” to the name of something, the price increases by roughly 8,000%. I might be exaggerating, but baby stuff is crazy expensive and I really don’t want to pay full price for anything in general, especially when it’s hyper inflated.

Here’s a list of free items we’ve gotten so far:

  • Crib: our friends don’t need it anymore and our payment is, “please never give it back”
  • Baby Gate: we’re a long way from needing it, but we can dual use it for our dogs
  • Baby Rockers/Swings: our friend got them for free and is paying it forward
  • Baby Outfits: I’m convinced everything tiny is adorable, especially shoes.

Seriously. Baby shoes are the cutest thing ever!

We’ve already saved so much money by not needing to pay for these necessities. New cribs are hundreds of dollars, a baby rocker is $100, a baby gate is $35, and new baby clothes are way overpriced for how short a time the kid actually fits into it! Long story longer, we are really stoked we got a few freebies.

Of course, we are nowhere near done preparing our house and getting all the necessities. But it sure feels good to take a few off the list.

Planning Ahead for Day Care Costs

In our city, finding a good day care is ridiculous! We started calling at 10 weeks and one day care center had a wait list until 2019. 2019!!!! That means families who aren’t even close to pregnant are getting in line and taking all the good spots!

When my wife heard that, she put down the phone and immediately freaked out! Safe to say we didn’t call anyone else that day.

Luckily we found a family day care a few blocks from our house run by the parent of one of our students. It fits our price range, we trust her, and it’s on our way to work. No waiting until 2019 for the Griffins!

Day care costs are basically the same amount as our student loans were. So sadly, our debt free lifestyle will only last for about 10 more months. Thank goodness we paid those buggers off!

Maternity Leave Will Force My Wife to Take a Pay Cut

The perfect timing for a teacher to have a baby is in the spring. If it happens just right, maternity leave will end right as summer vacation starts. Unfortunately we missed by a few weeks, so Jenna will need to go back to finish off the school year. During her maternity leave, she will get six weeks off, but it’s at 70% pay.

Part of our growing baby fund will got to offset the difference in pay. Like I said before, we want to avoid tampering with our regular budget.

What We Don’t Know: We Still Don’t Have “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”

I think we’ve done a lot right in preparing for our little soybean. One thing we haven’t done is, be prepared for shock and awe, read “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”. It’s basically a right of passage for all new parents, but we just haven’t gotten around to buying it. I’m sure there’s 10 copies sitting on the shelf at Goodwill, so I’m not sure why we haven’t grabbed one yet.

Last week we browsed a few pages at Barnes & Noble, a favorite date night spot. It was really interesting, and would be an awesome resource. For some strange reason though, we still didn’t buy it. We’re only halfway through so there’s still time for us to come around. We’ll see what happens.

What the Heck is an HSA Account and When Should I Start One

Confession, I know an HSA is a Health Savings Account, and I mostly know how they work. A bunch of my coworkers have HSAs and they love them. What I don’t know is when we should open one, or how much to contribute to it.

We’ll also need to research and talk with our HR director to see what benefits an HSA provides. When the time gets a little closer, we’ll need to elect new health benefits, and this is a top priority.

How Do We Introduce Our Baby to Our Dogs

We have two wonderful dogs that we love. Since we don’t have a baby in the house yet, our dogs don’t have much exposure to little kids. They definitely seem to be more protective over my wife and are extra affectionate lately. We hope this means they will lovingly accept our new baby into the house.

Look at these snuggle bugs! All loving, most of the time!

The advice varies depending on which article you read, but we’re doing everything we can to learn how to do this safely and smartly. Is smartly a word? I’m going with it anyway. We don’t plan on leaving our baby alone with the pups under any circumstance, or let the baby sit on the floor without direct supervision. Our dogs are good, but we don’t want to take any chances.

Wrapping It Up

We’re having a baby! We’re prepared for some things and clueless about others. In the end, we’ll figure it out and hopefully be really awesome parents!

Let Me Know in the Comments

What did you do to prepare for your first baby? Any tips or suggestions of big things we’re missing?

Want more advice on achieving financial freedom and getting your family out of debt? Subscribe to be the first to get new posts and get a Free Budget Spreadsheet and Debt Log!

 

Why I Use “We” More Than “I”

Why I Use “We” More Than “I” by Jamie Griffin. He runs the site MrJamieGriffin.com to help families achieve financial freedom and get out of debt so that they can overcome any financial challenge, and create a new family legacy for themselves and future generations.

 

If you’ve been following my blog, you might have noticed that I use the pronoun “we” a lot. And before you ask, no there isn’t a frog in my pocket! 🙂 Sorry, couldn’t resist a good “Dad Joke.” In fact, it’s pretty common for me to fluctuate back and forth between “We” and “I.” Most of the time I don’t even think about it, I just write whatever flows out, but there are times that I am very intentional about which wording I use.

 

The Transition from “I” to “We”

If you’ve ever been in a long lasting relationship, there is a point where you begin thinking in terms of both you and your partner, rather than just you. This is super important in any committed relationship. If you are constantly thinking about yourself, your partner will notice at some point and feel hurt that you don’t think about them more often or more intentionally. If you continue making plans without thinking about your partner, you might find you don’t have a partner for long.

 

It usually starts with small things. For example, if your friend asks if you’re free to grab a beer, you hesitate before responding to mentally check if you have any plans with your significant other. You might even say, “You know, I’m not sure what we are doing later. Let me check and get back to you.” Or, “We actually already have plans tonight.” Chances are, you don’t even notice the difference. Spending so much time with your significant other will change your brain to think of you as a single unit rather than two independent people. Your plans become our plans and me time becomes we time. Trust me, this is a really good thing for your relationship.

 

This is especially true if you’re married. Jenna and I have been married for three years and our brains are programmed to think of “we.” And since we have two dogs, we mentally make plans for them, do we take them with? How long will they be in their kennels? It’s automatic. I rarely make plans before checking with her, and the same goes for when she makes plans. It’s basic marriage communication and it has clearly spilled into my blog writing.

 

The Real Reason for “We”

Like I said earlier, I often fluctuate between “we” and “I” when I write. Sometimes it just flows out that way. However, there are many times I choose “we” very intentionally. As a blogger, I want to share my experiences trudging through paying off debt, financial wisdom I’ve gained over the years, and successes and failures I’ve endured. And because I am so far the sole writer on my blog, it’s easier to say “I” when writing. However, our financial success wasn’t accomplished by just me. There is no way “I” could’ve done this on my own. “We” relied on each other. “We” challenged each other. “We” encouraged each other to keep going and stick to our goals. “We” held each other accountable and believed in each other. And “We” is so much stronger than “I”.

 

Jenna and I do all of our finances together. Yes, I am the one tracking our spreadsheet and paying the bills, but Jenna is involved in every step of the process. “We” talk about our budget and financial plans all the time. I don’t make any decisions without her input. As a result, it only makes sense to use “we.”

 

What If I Don’t Have a “We”

I feel so lucky to have a partner like Jenna who is so on board with our financial journey and is just as determined as me. I can’t imagine doing life without her. If you don’t have a partner to do life and your finances with, you can still kick butt and get out of debt! It might take longer and more discipline, but you can still make it happen.

 

One way to get closer to a “we” is to find an accountability partner or two who are similarly motivated to get out of debt. Get together and talk about strategies, share your stories, and talk about your plans to get out of debt. That’s actually how Jenna and I started. We each made a separate budget and helped each other become disciplined with money. Yes, we were dating at the time, but we still shared all of our financial back story and debt. There is no reason to be ashamed of your finances, especially if you are determined to turn it around. Find someone you trust and work together to find financial freedom!

 

If you currently have a partner, but they aren’t involved in the budget and are hesitant to get on board, you might need to kick butt as an “I” for a while. Unfortunately an uninvolved financial partner might cause some setbacks if they are unwilling to stick to the budget, but I truly believe that if you stick with it long enough, they will eventually come around. Choose to make financial freedom a priority and slowly explain why it’s so important. Work hard and have faith.

 

Wrapping It Up

Moving from “I” to “We” is a huge step in any relationship, and even more so when you do your finances as a team. All financial choices should be a team decision.

 

Let Me Know in the Comments

Are you an “I” or a “We?” What has been helpful in making the transition to a “We?”

 

Related Posts:

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?

 

 

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

 

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?

 

Tithing: Honoring Jesus with our Finances

Tithing: Honoring Jesus with our Finances

 

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.

 

Last year I wrote a post about tithing, and it was by far one of the most popular posts on my blog. Plus, with Easter last weekend, it is a pretty fitting time to bring the topic back around. In the Bible, God asks all who follow Him to give back to him the first 10% of everything we have. That is the basic definition of a tithe. If this is a new idea for you, whether you actively follow Jesus or not, tithing can have a powerful impact on your finances. In this post, I want to share how tithing has blessed our financial journey through honoring Jesus, learning to be stewards of our resources, and practicing becoming more generous

 

Honoring Jesus

 

To honor someone is to hold them in high esteem and treat them with respect. The definition seems easy enough to understand, but I don’t feel like honor is a word that is used very often. I most commonly associate it with funerals, and doing the best we can to honor a loved one’s wishes in death. But I think we can apply this to living people we encounter everyday, and definitely to Jesus. Another common use refers to authority figures. You can honor a person in authority by doing what they ask of you. When I was a kid, I honored my parents by doing the dishes or taking out the garbage, not because I wanted to, but because they asked me to and they were the authority over my 8 year old self. We can apply the same principle to Jesus. In the Bible, Jesus asks us to tithe the first 10% of everything we produce. If you choose to say yes, you are being obedient and intentionally choosing to honor Him.

 

At first, you might not like the idea of giving away 10% of your income, and to be honest, neither did I. But the more you do it, the more it becomes about loving Jesus and falling under his authority, and less about trying to aggressively clutch onto every penny you get. I think love has an important connection to honor, and without love, the honor doesn’t mean much. Showing honor is an act of love, and that’s what tithing can become. Be intentional and choose to honor Jesus with your finances.

 

Being a Steward of Money

 

I mentioned that Jesus is an authority in our lives. The cool thing about Jesus is that he also gives every one of us authority. He commanded us to go out and make disciples, spread the Good News, and speak and act with His authority. How cool is that! He gives us authority over our families, our neighborhoods, and the world around us and gives us the charge of taking care of it. Whether you know it or not, you are a steward to the world around you and everything in it. Well, one aspect of this world is money, and that is also a gift from Him. It is our responsibility to be good stewards with our money, and a great way to do that is to tithe. Tithing acknowledges that our money came from Jesus, and we are giving back to Him what is His.

 

Tithing Leads to Generosity

 

Tithing is a wonderful act of giving, and I believe that giving teaches us to be generous. There is so much we can give. We can give our time, our energy, our ideas and intellect, our food, our hospitality, and an abundance of resources (including money)! I’ve said before that budgeting and being intentional with money takes practice, and I believe the same goes for tithing. Each month you get the opportunity to practice giving your money back to Jesus! But like any new skill or act, the more you do it, the better you get at it and the easier it becomes.

 

Tithing has led us to becoming more generous with our money. Since my wife and I started dating, we made tithing a non-negotiable and haven’t missed a month in four years. Through our giving, we have become more generous people, and have found ways to give more of our money than just 10%. In the past year, we started giving away $50 each month in practical ways, in addition to our tithe. It might be a check in the mail, donating to a charity, or buying a gift for a family. Each month is unique and we treat it that way, finding a new way for our giving to be a blessing to others. Our goal is to increase this amount each year and eventually give away 50% of our income each month! It might sound crazy, but tithing has taught us to be generous with our money, and content with our lifestyle. I look forward to the challenges of growing in our giving as the years go by.

 

How to Get Started

 

At first, it might feel weird, or counterintuitive. Like how am I supposed to save money and get out of debt if I am giving money away!? Trust me, I have thought the same thing before! Right now we are sitting at about $9,000 left on our student loan debt! We are so close! Last year we tithed nearly that amount, so it is really easy to think, “if we only used that money to pay our debt, we would be debt free by now!” But I truly believe that we wouldn’t be. Jesus has blessed our socks and shoes off (in that order), and it is because we are good stewards of his money, are obedient, and honor him through tithing. For Jesus, 1 + 1 doesn’t always equal 2; it equals whatever he wants it to be! Trust him and let him be your financial planner.

 

If you feel Jesus tugging on your sleeve to start tithing (or just want to explore it more), I have some practical tips to help you get started.

 

Step 1: What is 10%

 

Figure out what 10% of your income is. This seems like a no brainer, but sometimes you have to start with the basics. Find out how much 10% of your monthly income is and see if you can pay all of your expenses without it. It might mean reconfiguring certain parts of your budget, but see how you can make it happen.

 

Step 2: Tithe Right Away

 

If you are worried about having enough money at the end of the month, don’t wait until then to tithe. It is a lot easier to tithe the first 10% of your paychecks than the last 10%. If you wait until the end of the month, you run the risk of spending extra money going out to eat, seeing movies, or a whole lot of other fun things. If you tithe right away, it is over and done with! It might mean adjusting the entertainment budget, or a few more home cooked meals, but it can definitely be done!

 

Step 3: Be Consistent

 

Once you start tithing, don’t skip a month. It is like building a muscle, your tithing muscle. The more you work it out, the easier the workout becomes. Make a decision to be consistent and tithe every single month.

 

Wrapping It Up

 

Tithing has been an unbelievable blessing to my family! It has taught us to really trust Jesus and become more generous people. By giving Jesus the first 10% of your paycheck, you are choosing to honor Him and be a good steward with what he has given you. Tithing will also help you become a more generous person, not only with your money, but also with your time and energy. It is another way to say Yes to Jesus!

 

Final Questions

 

Why do you tithe? How has tithing changed your finances?

How Decluttering Your Home Can Build Your Financial Foundation

How Decluttering Your Home Can Build Your Financial Foundation

 

By Jamie Griffin

 

In Minnesota, spring is right around the corner, and with it, spring cleaning! Everyone I know has stuff that they don’t need, or maybe more accurately stuff they don’t use. Stored in garages, attics, basements, and storage lockers across the country are piles of stuff that are taking up space, forgotten, unused, and unappreciated. Instead of your old stuff wasting away in a dark corner, you can dust it off and sell it to someone who can put it to good use. Not only will it create more space in your house, but it can help you get started saving money and build an emergency fund.

 

Emergency Fund = Financial Foundation

 

An emergency fund is a great first step to building a solid financial foundation. According to Dave Ramsey, prominent author and speaker on personal finance, it is the first step toward true financial freedom. The entire purpose of creating an emergency fund is simple; it is a reservoir of savings meant to help your family through unexpected emergencies. These can include a wide variety of things such as car repairs, hospital bills, or broken household appliances. When an emergency hits, most people are unprepared. I recently read an article from Market Watch that says 62% of Americans do not have more than $1,000 in savings. That means if the furnace stops working in the middle of winter, a lot of people will have to rely on credit, loans, or build a fire every day to get by. If you already have debt, the last thing you want to do is add more to cover emergencies.

 

A simple way to combat unexpected expenses is to plan for them to happen, because trust me, they will. Just last summer my car started making a bunch of scary clunky noises and the repairs were about $900! It was the least stress I have ever felt with a car problem. I simply transferred money from savings and it was covered. Then we set to work to rebuild our emergency fund back to where it started. Without preparation, this could have turned into a stressful situation that would have set us back on paying off our loans. Instead of a giant crater in the road, it was a small speed bump. Trust me, creating an emergency fund will go a long way to setting you up for future financial success. Let’s see how decluttering can help get you there.

 

Declutter Like Crazy

 

Back to the basements, attics, and garages. If you don’t have an emergency fund, you probably have your jump start lying around waiting to be sold. A favorite quote of mine is from Jim Carrey’s Grinch, “One man’s toxic sludge is another man’s potpourri” is a perfect way to sum it up. (Or you may be more familiar with “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” :)) If you aren’t using it, it serves no purpose to you, so why not sell it. My wife and I like to go through our house a couple times a year to reassess and reevaluate what we still want and what we are ready to get rid of. In the last month, we sold a snowboard with a bag, an electric guitar, and some old beanie babies for $150! It was basically free money since we hadn’t used them in years. We have a few more items waiting to be sold that can make us another couple hundred bucks.

 

And it is so easy to sell your stuff today! There is craigslist, ebay, and even facebook. If you use facebook, there is a garage sale type group on facebook for almost any community across the country. The bigger city you live in, the higher probability you will find someone that wants your old junk! But even if you live in a small town, all you need to do is find the right person. I’ll bet if you declutter with a sense of purpose, you can make $1,000 within a few months and voila, emergency fund complete!

 

Inspired by Minimalism

 

When I first began taking control of my finances and started living on a budget, I was highly inspired by the blog Becoming Minimalist. The entire premise is to declutter your life and focus on what is truly important to you. They have a lot of articles about practical steps to declutter your possessions and become a minimalist with your finances as well. Part of our debt free journey has involved being minimal with how we spend our money. We say ‘no’ to a lot of things that our friends and family don’t and choose to live very simply. I believe this has helped us stay focused and motivated to get out of debt and provided a basic framework for our financial philosophy. Give his blog a read and see how it can apply to your own attempts to declutter and start your emergency fund.

 

Wrapping it Up

 

Creating an emergency fund is a big first step to prepare for the unexpected and set your finances on the right track. Spring cleaning is the perfect opportunity to not only declutter, but to get a jump start on your emergency fund. It may be hard to part with some things, but if you can say goodbye, you can earn some serious money basically for free. Then as a side benefit, you may be inspired by your new life of being more minimal.

 

Endnote: How has an emergency fund saved your finances? Tell me a fun decluttering story. If you want to hear more about how my family handles finances, budgets for expenses big and small, and for tips on how to get out of debt, follow the link to my official blog at mrjamiegriffin.com

 

 

 

 

Welcome to February

Adventures in PHOTOGRAPHY . . .

This month we’d like to introduce our Blogmaster, Brad Tombers, who patiently puts up with us and also shares samples of his extraordinary photography from time to time.  In addition to being tech savvy, he has his own photography business and teaches high school in Alaska.

He has agreed to share some of his photos with us, along with a brief commentary during the next few months.

To get remarkable photos, it’s often necessary to put yourself in remarkable circumstances.  Whether it involves climbing a mountain in subzero temperatures or getting up hours before everyone else to get a sunrise shot, the pictures are amazing because they let people experience the world in ways they otherwise wouldn’t.

This particular photo/experience comes from Eklutna Lake, a glacier fed lake about 20 miles north of Anchorage.  The water that melts off of the glaciers into this lake will ultimately be used by the 300,000 residents of the area for drinking.  It tastes good.

I’ll be posting a different picture every month accompanied by a tip or thought.  If at any time you want to see more of my work, visit BradTombers.com.

-Brad

 

Welcome to February, a month for Presidents, lovers, groundhogs,

& so much more!

Did you know that February also designates special days for:

 

Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast Day (It’s the first Saturday of the month, but if you’ve missed it, you have our permission to make up for it next Saturday.)

Thank a Mailman Day (4th)

National Weatherman’s Day (5th)

Do a Grouch a Favor Day (16th)

Random Acts of Kindness Day (17th)

Love Your Pet Day (20th)

Oscar Night and Superbowl Sunday are also coming up this month!

ENJOY!

Jamie Griffin Financial Management; Getting Back on Track

Happy New Year!!!

 

We are delighted to introduce a guest blogger we think you’ll love.   His name is Jamie Griffin, and, appropriately, he has experience and expertise in the area of managing finances.

 

He will be back again to give practical ideas about other aspects of financial management, but today he is talking about a most timely aspect:

 

Getting your finances back on track after the holidays

 

3-2-1…HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!! First off, let me introduce myself. My name is Jamie Griffin and I am a middle school teacher. Aside from teaching, my other great passion in life is to teach people how to get out of debt and get ahead in finances. I graduated from college with about $50,000 in student loan debt, which jumped up to $90,000 when I got married. In the last four years, my wife and I have worked extremely hard to become debt free. We will achieve our goal in April and we couldn’t be more excited! I want to share our story and help as many people as I can destroy their debt! My goal today is to help you get on the right track as you start the new year.

 

In all the excitement of a brand new year, millions of people around the country are creating New Year’s Resolutions. The idea of a new year is so freeing! It is a chance to start over, to fix past mistakes, to pave a new future, and a wondrous chance to make this year, better than last year. In the end, a New Year’s Resolution is a goal that people hope will last an entire year, many centered on improving the quality of life. On average, about 50% of Americans make some sort of resolution, but according to Forbes, only about 8% actually achieve or keep their resolution for the entire year! That is crazy! How is it that so few people stick it out? What happens along the way? I’m sure there are a lot of answers to those questions, and I am certainly not going to take the time to answer them. Sorry, but we have more important things to discuss! I am here to talk to you about financial goals.

 

The website Statistic Brain states that the third most common resolution made by Americans is to spend less, and save more. And I can see why that is such a common goal. After three months of holidays stacked back to back to back (Yes I am counting Halloween as a holiday. People spend a crazy amount of money on costumes and candy!), people are hitting the stage of the year where they think, “Oh crap! We really need to get back on track with our finances! It brings up the question, what does it actually look like to set goals and get back on track after an expensive holiday season? Let’s dive in and take a look.

 

Step 1: Analyze Spending from the Holiday Season

 

One important step to getting your finances back on track is to figure out how much you actually spent during the holiday season. Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas all have expenses that need to be accounted for, and sometimes it is difficult to keep track of when you are in the midst of the hustle and bustle and the rapid succession of the three holidays. One minute you are buying costumes and planning trick or treating routes, and the next thing you know you are loading up the car preparing to risk your lives driving on icy roads to a Thanksgiving feast, while simultaneously planning out Christmas shopping lists and how on earth you can possibly attend four Christmas celebrations in two days. It is madness!!! It all flashes by so quickly and hundreds of dollars are spent along the way. Now here you are in January wondering what the heck happened. I believe this is a common scene in America, one I was certainly a part of as a kid. If you plan ahead and set aside money throughout the year to spend during the holidays, I tip my hat to you and invite you to keep reading to see if you have any advice for my readers. However, if you are like most Americans and are hitting the “Panic!” button, I have a few basic steps to figure out your finances for the new year and make plans to avoid the same spending extravaganza next holiday season.

 

So now that the dust has settled, it is time to start picking up the pieces and putting your finances back together. One thing my wife and I do to help plan and track holiday spending is to make notes in our budget. The notes include how much money we spent on Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas presents, and extra traveling expenses. As a result, when November and December roll around, we only need to look at what we wrote down from the previous year and plan to spend the same amount of money this year. It is super helpful! Without these records, there is no way we would remember how much we spent the previous year. Now, we didn’t always have this practice in place. In order to leave ourselves accurate numbers, we had to sit down after our first year of marriage and actually track how much we spent!

 

Make Notes for Next Year

 

My wife and I are pretty diligent budgeters, so tracking our spending is already a part of what we do with all expenses we encounter. If you don’t normally stick to a strict budget, it is time to go back through your bank account or read through your receipts and start adding up expenses. I highly encourage you to keep expenses separate for each holiday. If you are like my wife and I and don’t spend much on Halloween, don’t even worry about that holiday. By the end of tracking, you should have a number for how much you spend on each holiday. It is also really helpful to break it down into subgroups. For example, my wife and I spend $50 on Thanksgiving dinner so we keep that expense separate from our $50 we budget for our Christmas tree, which we also buy in November. In the same way, Christmas presents are a separate expense from any food we buy for Christmas. Once you have tracked all of your expenses and split them into categories, write it down in your budget! We keep our budget on Google Sheets, but Excel or paper work just fine too. Whatever your system is, utilize it efficiently by writing notes to help you plan for the year!

 

Step 2: Analyze Credit Card Spending and Make a Plan to Pay it Off

 

In the 1920’s, Henry Ford was rolling out his assembly line and making automobiles more affordable to the middle class working family. One great innovation that Ford, and several other businessmen of the era, used to help make big purchases like a car more affordable was to encourage people to buy expensive items on credit. This trend roared through the 1920’s but didn’t stop with the stock market crash. In today’s society, most people don’t save up ahead of time for holiday spending, instead relying on credit to make holiday purchases. As a result, families rack up credit card debt in the frenzy to buy everything on the Christmas list, especially big ticket items. In 2014, an average of $986 was piled on top of already existing credit card debt! If you rely on minimum payments, that could take over a year to pay off with high interests rates, especially if you open the all too enticing store credit card to save a few bucks at check out. The point is, if you used a credit card to make holiday purchases, it is time to make a plan to pay it off fast! (And then a plan to avoid using credit cards next year)

 

Pay more than the minimum and Make extra payments

 

If you used a credit card (or two) during the holidays, the new year is the perfect time to check out your balance and make a plan to pay it off. One of the best pieces of advice I have about any kind of debt is to always pay more than the minimum balance. Most credit cards only require $15-30 as a minimum payment, which is next to nothing and will take you forever to pay off. Instead, I urge you to pay as much as you can to kick this nasty debt in the pants! Plan out your monthly budget so you know exactly how much extra you will have, then pay as much as you can each month until the debt is gone! In extreme cases, this might mean you have to go on a spending freeze or limit yourself in other areas like entertainment or eating out, but it will be worth it to get rid of the nagging expense of a credit card payment each month.

 

Another great strategy for destroying credit card debt left over from the holidays is to make multiple payments each month. I have done this personally and it really accelerates the process! Some credit card companies even make it incredibly simple by giving an option to set up automatic payments. All you need to do is schedule a payment to occur every Friday or every payday and you will see your credit card bill quickly disappear! Whatever your plan is, make sure you stick to it. Getting out of debt is about many small decisions applied consistently over a long period of time! You can do it!

 

Step 3: Start Saving for Next Year RIGHT NOW!

 

You are already set up perfectly to do this after steps one and two! If you followed the first two steps, you already know how much you spent on the holidays. (For complete accuracy, make sure you include your credit card balance in this total!) Now that you have the total, you can plan ahead to save that much throughout the entire year. The simple math is to divide the total amount spent on the holiday by ten. I know there are twelve months in the year, but I prefer to have all of my holiday spending money saved up before the holidays really start to alleviate any anxiety about breaking my budget and spend more freely. If you want to include Halloween in your holiday spending, it might work better to divide your total amount by nine so you can start spending in time for costumes and candy. The dollar amount you get after this simple math is how much you should set aside each month. You can put the money in a savings account and keep a running total of how much is there, or pull the money out as cash. It might even work best to open up a separate account you only use for holiday expenses.

 

Tips for Saving

 

If you have trouble saving money, use this tip my dad taught me. For years, my dad has always budgeted for Christmas by setting up a direct deposit with his paycheck. Each payday a specified amount goes directly into an account set aside for holiday spending. The money is taken out before he even gets to see it and he always has enough spending money when the holidays come around. Regardless of how you choose to save up for the holidays, January is a great time to start so you can avoid the trap of swiping the credit card next year!

 

Wrapping it up

 

If the holiday season put your finances over the edge, sit down with your family this month to track your holiday spending, analyze your credit card purchases (if you have any) and make a plan to pay it off fast, and finally begin planning to take some of the stress out of next year’s holiday season by saving all year long. Now that sounds like a New Year’s Resolution to stick with!

 

Endnote: What strategies do you use to plan and save for the holidays? How does your family get back on track after the holidays? If you want to hear more about how my family handles finances, budgets for expenses big and small, and for tips on how to get out of debt, follow the link to my official blog at mrjamiegriffin.com