Monday, January 16, 2012

FAQ: How to start Dave Ramsey-ing

As most who know us well know, Andrew and I are big Dave Ramsey people. I was introduced to Dave by taking the Financial Peace University course at our church in the fall of 2007. While taking the class, it became my goal to become debt free before our May 2008 wedding. I was able to achieve that goal in March 2008. Combined with the fact that Andrew has never had debt of any kind, we have had a debt free marriage and are coming up on our four year anniversary!

I am often asked for financial advice from friends who know that we have been successful with our money, so I thought I might do a few posts on my Dave Ramsey inspired advice.

For the record, Dave has seven "Baby Steps" as a part of his plan, and if you're looking for a Big Picture idea of what the plan is all about, here it is in a nutshell:
  1. Start an Emergency Fund by putting $1,000 in the bank for EMERGENCIES ONLY! ($500 for low income situations)
  2. Pay off all debt except mortgage if applicable
  3. Finish the Emergency Fund by saving a total of 3-6 months of expenses
  4. Begin saving 15% of your income for retirement
  5. Begin saving for kids' college/higher education
  6. Pay off your house
  7. Give, give, give!!!!
In my opinion, before you can do ANY of this, most people need to have some kind of working budget. The reason I say most people is, I guess for some folks, $1,000 may not be all that hard to find. Have a big garage sale, sell some stuff on ebay, move your existing money around a bit, and boom, $1,000. Lucky you! It was not that way for me. I had to figure out how I was going to make the mental leap from "living paycheck to paycheck" to "living well within my means". So, here we go!

Task number one: Identify the problem!
Is your income the problem, or is it the outgo? For most people it's primarily one or the other. Sure, we could all stand to spend less AND make more, but that's not always feasible. It's best to focus your efforts and figure out whether you ned to be clipping coupons and cutting off cable, or whether you need to be delivering papers and pizzas.

So, gather up all your financial info. Pay stubs, bills, all that good stuff. Grab yourself a legal pad or open an excel spreadsheet and basically start two columns: income and outgo. List it all: the amount of money you bring in each month, and the amount of money you spend each month. When it comes to credit cards, car payments, and other bills that have minimum payments versus a total balance, let's focus on the minimum for now. You should probably go ahead and list out the grand total of all those balances on a separate document for later use, but that big number may not figure into your monthly budget.

With regard to income, try to think about a "typical" month. I am not in this situation, so I don't have personal experience with this, but if your income varies greatly from month to month, this is not the time to be optimistic. If anything, go with the lowest monthly income you've had recently. The opposite is true with expenses. List everything and rack your brain (or check the family calendar, previous financial records, etc.) to come up with a list of expenses that you'll have to face in a month. This will include Every Month expenses like mortgage/rent, electricity, phone, and other utilities, as well as memberships and fees like the gym, kids' sports, lessons, and activities. Dave has a really good comprehensive list in his book My Total Money Makeover and has a few different budgeting forms online. Definitely worth checking out.

The main thing for the first task is figuring out how your income number and your outgo number compare. One of two things will happen, probably.

1 - you realize that your income should be sufficient for your family, because according to these numbers, you aren't spending more than you make. In this case, you need to take a look at your discretionary spending... are you going to Target/Wal-Mart for one small thing and leaving $100 later? Are you hitting the ATM or the drive thru a lot more than the numbers you just wrote down would suggest? Are you abusing credit cards for stuff that you should be cash flowing? Try to be honest with yourself and identify why it is that your income isn't as powerful for you and your family as it seems on paper.

2 - you realize that you do not make enough money to support your current lifestyle. In this case, it's still usually going to be easier (especially in the current economic climate) to cut spending than it will be to create income. So, start prioritizing and taking a look at your expenses. Brainstorm things that can be cut back (going out to eat, cell phone plan, grocery budget) or cut out completely (gym membership, magazine/website subscriptions, activities or organization dues and fees). Of course, if it's possible to up your income a bit by taking on an extra job, do it! Preferably, if you can make a little money doing something you'd do anyway, you'll clearly be more successful. Sell a skill that you have - do some personal training, childcare, landscaping, open an etsy shop for your crafting, teach lessons for something you do well. Or of course, go the old fashioned route and get yourself a part time job or a paper route. If those things aren't in the cards, get a garage sale going or (safely, carefully) craigslist some old furniture, kid toys/gear, handbags or other "high fashion" items.

The first step to changing your financial life, in my opinion, is admitting you have a problem and figuring out what it is! So, take on this first task!

Next up, the B word: BUDGET!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

An important realization.

I like food way too much. And the food that I like is the wrong kind of food.

So, I'm going to have to work a little exercise into this whole deal. It's back to the treadmill for me... but, not gonna lie, my school starts a Biggest Loser thing on Monday, so that may be my kickoff. I won't be going on a binge this weekend or anything, fear not. But, Monday's as good a start date as any. (I'm sure many a diet and/or exercise plan dies with those very words...)

Good changes I've made this week already:
I've had breakfast of some kind every day this week
I've brought my lunch every day this week
I've eaten the lunch I brought each day this week (an important detail)
More often than not, I've had water with meals
No drive-thru food or vending machine food

Changes coming soon:
A return to the Couch to 5K plan
Consistent tracking
Water throughout the day, not only at meal times

Monday, January 2, 2012

For Today...

The One Day at a Time Plan is going fairly well so far. I have tracked for two days now (for those of you unfamiliar with WeightWatchers lingo, this just means that I've written down and counted points for everything I ate). This does not necessarily mean I've made 100% great choices, but for me, I find that tracking keeps me from snacking between meals or other mindless eating. No swinging by the office for a little piece of chocolate, that sort of thing. I have also chosen water more frequently than not, and those were my two goals so far.
Unfortunately, I'll not be able to go to my regular WW meeting this Saturday, so I need to make a plan for when to go to a meeting earlier in the week.

In other news, I returned to work today and missed my Little Man a lot. It was really nice being with him 24/7 for the last two weeks. Also, now that he's STTN (sleeping through the night... man, you people have GOT to get down with my lingo!) I really don't get to see much of him on workdays. He woke up at about 7:30 this morning, and I'm supposed to be at work at 8 (if not sooner). We got home with him at about 6pm (Andrew and I had to run a "quick" Denton errand after school) and he was down for the night shortly after 7. I think I may go in to his room and stare at him while he sleeps for a bit.

I made a couple of important pro-family decisions today. Since 2005, I have had an after school "pop choir" as a part of my choir program. Some years/schools I have had two! This year, I will have none. I had already decided to postpone the creation of any such group until January if I was going to do it at all this year... and today I decided it's not worth it to me. If there is an opportunity where I need a group of that type for a special performance, I'll figure something out for a One Time Only performance... but I'm not giving up an hour a week every week.
In the same vein, I have had for many many years a spring semester only Sixth Grade Honor Choir: an invitational group for my sixth graders that I really really like a lot and think are ready for a "challenge". Not this year. Here's hoping I'm just being a good teacher and finding ways to challenge those kiddos in the context of their regular choir class, and again, I don't need to give up an extra hour of my family time each week to do it.

So, boom. I continue to enjoy running a successful choir program that has absolutely no regularly recurring after school components. Love it.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year, New.... what?

Welcome to 2012, everybody. I heard a lot of news stories over the last few days that said that many people saw 2011 as a "bad year" overall and were more than ready to move on. Obviously, 2011 was a pretty great year for us: James was born, Andrew graduated from SMU. My parents' (temporary) move down here has allowed for a type of family togetherness that we haven't previously had. It's fun seeing my parents get to know my husband a little better, and of course having two sets of grandparents around is one of the biggest blessings we could ask for. Can't complain.
2012... well, what will 2012 bring?
Our hope is that Andrew will be accepted into a PhD program at SMU this year, starting in the fall.
My secret hope is that we'll move this summer to a slightly bigger, albeit still rented, place. I've been scoping out rentals every few weeks to get an idea of what's out there. Once we know what Andrew is doing in the fall, I'll hit that search full force.
As much as I joke about wanting to be a SAHM (stay at home mom for those not entirely down with mommy message board lingo), I know that teaching is the best thing for me right now. So, I'll wrap up Year Three at my current school and begin my tenth year of teaching. Ten years. Do I get a gold watch or something?
And of course, like many people, I'm starting (I swear!) to get serious about weight loss. I got down to right around 165 when I did the Big Weight Loss of 2010... and then of course I got pregnant and gained it all back... lost quite a bit of it the obvious way, but by no means all. I currently sit right about 20 pounds up, 186 to be exact.
The problem, to be totally honest, is that in 2010 I very much had the goal of getting healthier and losing weight for the specific purpose of preparing to carry a child. And, not gonna lie, that's not really on my radar right now. We're not planning on that again for a few years. So, even though I technically re-started Weight Watchers nearly four months ago, I really haven't made any progress to speak of. I'm in the process of trying to figure out what I'm going to do to motivate myself... because it's NOT going to be having two kids under two years old. Sorry, Mom.
I know what to do to lose weight, clearly. In 2010 I was tracking everything I ate, drinking water, eating lots of fruits and veggies, smaller portions, a fair amount of "diet food" or Weight Watchers products like frozen dinners. Brown rice. Yogurt. Whole wheat you-name-it.
Right now, when the going gets tough, this girl has another glass of milk and a couple of oreos. Or possibly a couple of sleeves of oreos.
So, today I'm starting small with a For Today goal of tracking and drinking water. For Today, I will choose water. For Today, I will track my eating. For Today. I can handle today. Don't talk to me about the whole year right now.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Music Books for Good Homes

I really wanted to only post this as a facebook note but the Notes app wasn't enjoying my thousands of amazon links, so I'm posting here.

I'm looking to de-clutter a bit and stumbled upon a big box of (mostly) vocal music books that I haven't touched in years. So, they're free to a good home... although a donation to the Terri Hamilton Appreciation Foundation will not be declined.

I've included ISBN numbers and/or links to amazon where applicable. If you would like more info, such as a table of contents for one or more of the books, hit me up on facebook.

Broadway Love Songs 0-7935-1249-2

Greatest Songs of Jaci Velasquez (Med range) 0-634-06975-6

The Art Song 0-8256-4025-3

Modern Chords, Advanced Harmony for Guitar (with CD) 0-7866-7129-7

Charlie Parker Omnibook for C instruments

The First Book of Soprano Solos 0-7935-0364-7

Arias for Mezzo Soprano 0-7935-0401-5

Music Minus One - Famous Soprano Arias (with CD) (can't find ISBN or amazon listing, message me for more info)

Music Minus One - Verdi Operatic Arias for Soprano & Orchestra (with CD)

Music Minus One - Everybody's Favorite Songs Vol. 2 for High Voice (with CD)

CD only: Pocket Songs Broadway Hits for Soprano

The Definitive Love Collection 0-7935-3624-3

The Best R&B Songs Ever 0-7935-7263-0

Contemporary American Art Songs

50 Art Songs 0-7935-4802-0

Romantic American Art Songs (High Voice) 0-634-00224-4

The Complete Ave Maria 0-7935-1196-8

The First Book of Tenor Solos (with 2 CDs) 0-634-02048-X

Arias for Soprano 0-7935-0400-7

Contemporary Christian Wedding Songbook 0-7935-4291-X

The Best of Gospel & Inspirational Music Vol. 1

Lilith Fair - A Celebration of Women in Music 0-7935-9748-X

Counting Crows - August & Everything After 0-7935-3523-9

Life is a Caberet 0-7935-2357-5

Fiona Apple - Tidal 0-7935-9243-7

Counting Crows - This Desert Life 0-634-01512-5

Joni MItchell - HIts 1-57623-753-2

Songs of the 80's 0-88188-875-3

Songs of the 40's 0-88188-564-9

Chart Hits of 95-96 0-7935-6291-0

Sarah McLachlan Easy Piano 0-634-01640-7

The Professional Pianist's Christmas Fake Book 0-7935-1056-2

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The 12 Dates of Christmas

So, I do not normally consider myself to be a "crafty" person at all... or even a particularly "creative" person, really. But, I'm on pinterest like a lot of people, and even though I've never used mod podge or made anything exciting out of a bottle brush, I do get a little inspiration from time to time and do something that borders on crafty.

Pair all this with the fact that we have a new baby and combine that with
our pre-existing cheapness, and you won't be surprised to hear that I was on the hunt for something inexpensive, yet meaningful to give to my husband for Christmas.

On pinterest, I saw something about 12 pre-paid, pre-planned dates as a gift, which is pretty cool except, I don't have the cash on hand to pre-pay 12 dates. I also saw a "Can of Dates" idea on pinterest, which led me to spend a little time on the Dating Divas site and get some ideas there.

All of this manifested itself in a gift only my husband and Dave Ramsey would love. The 12 Dates of Christmas and a Date Jar sinking fund. Basically no money out of pocket right now, and 12 lovely dates with my man over the course of the coming year.

I started with this empty binder.

Yes, it's Vera Bradley. Can anyone who knows me really be shocked? It's actually a leftover binder that I had from the 2011 Agenda. So, no money out of pocket, and it's nicer looking than your average Office Depot offering. It's smaller than standard size, probably 8x5 or something.

I had recently bought a little value pack of cardstock to use in our Christmas cards, as well as a couple of white pens since most of the cardstock was dark. The five main colors you will see throughout this binder (black, blue-grey, maroon, beige, and green) are from that value pack. Also, double sided scrapbooking tape is my favorite thing.

Anything else that looks cute in this binder is probably from my box of misfit cards. Lots of stationery, greeting cards, blank cards, etc. that I don't use frequently. Tons of cards without envelopes, envelopes without cards, that sort of thing. So the picture of the kids and the umbrella is the front of one of those cards. The poetry is all original.

And here's where the concept of the binder is explained. Basically, I set up a sinking fund for the dates in this binder. If you're unfamiliar with the concept, "sinking fund" is the fancy way of saying we're going to set a little money aside in a cookie jar each month to finance this little project. So, each date is planned based on setting aside $40 a month. When a date costs less than $40, the remainder stays in the jar and allows us to carry the money forward for a pricier date later on.
So, the first date is a cheapie to get the ball rolling: redbox and carry out pizza, a budget of $20. As you can see, I went ahead and set aside this month's $40 and included the $20 cash for this date on the January page. The other $20 is in our "date jar" which I didn't take a picture of because it's not all that pretty. I'm sure a craftier person would've had a lot of fun with that part of the project.

I made the book with the idea the each page, front and back, is its own thing... so what you see here is January on the left, February on the right. If I had it to do over again, I might consider making it so that when the book sits open like this, you're looking at the same month on both sides. [shrug]

The next date, February, is kind of cheating. I had already received a voucher for two free Dallas Stars tickets from my mother in law, and one of the dates the voucher was good for was in February, the night before my husband's birthday. So, this is a nice little birthday date for us. $25.00 budget for this one for dinner at Chipotle and transportation on the DART rail. Or I guess we can spend the money on parking and pack peanut butter sandwiches. ha I prefer Option One.
Again, the cute matting is just repurposed Thank You cards that aren't really my style.

The envelope on the left there is part of the February date. Inside are the game tickets and a short note explaining that the budget is $25 and all those other details I mentioned earlier.

So... now you get the idea. March: game night!

April: a trip to the batting cages and a bar

May, the month of our anniversary: fancy dinner out at a restaurant way nicer than our normal.

June: a date idea from the Dating Divas site. A "video date". Basically, I prepared some questions for us to interview each other on camera a bit, and this can be a nice little keepsake for ourselves, James, or other future children on down the line. I mean, I would love to see a video of my parents when I was tiny, or before I was born... talking about their lives, giving advice, etc. So, that's a fun "free" date we'll try.

July, a baseball game! The budget is $50, so we'll decide later this year whether that allows us to get cheap seats, parking, and no food at a Ranger game, or if we'd prefer decent seats, parking and food at a RoughRiders game.

August will be a bowling date, $25 budget

September is simply going for a walk and doing some window shopping, $15 budget for lunch

October's date will be a local HS football game. Andrew and I went to the same high school, although not at the same time, so why not take advantage of our shared "school spirit"? My concept with this date is a "hugh school" date: eat in at a fast food restaurant, go to the game, make out in the car, home by 11. lol

The November date is your typical dinner out date, with a $50 budget and the caveat that it must be a "new" place, at least new-to-us.

The December date is a holiday lights tour. I budgeted just $15 for Starbucks and a self-guided tour, but that will leave us with about $100 in the Date Jar. So, we'll talk then about whether we want to use the leftover money for this date, roll it over to the 2013 Date Jar, or do something boring like put it in our retirement savings or something.

Well, this gift was lots of fun for me to make - so much so that I blogged! Woot! I hope you enjoy!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Project Slim Down is underway!

Well, I'm now two weeks postpartum and my doctor gave me the all clear today to re-join WeightWatchers if I wish. So, I did! Yay!

I gained right around 45 pounds over the course of the pregnancy, ending up right around 210 pounds. So, here's my "before" picture. Not totally fair, I know, since I got to lose at least 7 pounds in pretty short order the very next day, but whatever.

So, in the two weeks since, I've not done anything to constitute exercise, and I've been more or less eating what I want, I guess. But, what I want has changed somewhat since I'm breast feeding and feel responsible for all of James's nutrition... so I have been trying to drink a ton of water, eat fruits and veggies, all that stuff. To that end, I have weighed in as low as 188.6 on my scale here at home.

I'll actually go to a WW meeting to get an official Starting Weight sometime later this week. But here's my "after pregnancy but before WeightWatchers" picture.

Sorry I had to take the picture in the bathroom mirror like a 13 year old on myspace, but that's the way it goes right now. More updates as the Weight Loss Saga continues.