Thursday, December 29, 2011


There are certain anticipated events in your life that you think will bring instant enlightenment. For example, I always imagined that as soon as I stepped foot into another country that a light would flash and it would be glorious. When I stepped off the plane in Taipei in 2000, no light, no instant enlightenment, just jet lag. But my month there did change me.

Paying off our last debt was something we had anticipated for 8.5 years of marriage. We had a general idea that we wanted to be debt free when we got married, but we had both made choices that found us in the red. So we started off our marriage by only spending what we had in cash on our honeymoon...and by the end we were eating bowl apetites from Target in our hotel room. But we were on the same page, but we didn't have a very good playbook. We were wanting to live debt free, but our teacher had been a culture obsessed with debt and credit.

In 2007 we read Dave Ramsey's My Total Money Makeover and something clicked. We knew of Dave's basic principles, but this was the playbook. This was how to make it happen. We were excited. We were on board. We were both working full time and had a plan to pay our debt off in two years.

A month later Andrew lost his job. That was the moment we cut up the last credit card we had been holding onto "in case of emergency". Luckily we saw quickly that in times of emergency, a credit card is the last way we needed to pay for things. Instead, we slashed our budget to one income and trusted God to provide, and He did. Two months later, Andrew had another job and we were on our way until...

We were expecting #2. Paying off debt was on hold. We moved to IL. I became a stay at home mom with two kids (never my plan). But we were committed and did not dig ourselves any further into debt. That even meant making the decision to trade in a newer paid for vehicle for an older mini van when we decided we needed the space. Once I started working some we did start to make some progress. All that time we had lived on a budget. We had lived within or below our means. And the biggest benefit is that we were so unified in what we were doing with our money that it made our marriage stronger.

Last December we set a goal. To pay off the last loan...Andrew's student loan. There was about 23K left. It felt impossible. But we wrote it down. We lived on as frugal of a budget as we could handle (I'm the spender, so it was toughest on me). Any extra money we got went to Iowa Student Loan. In August we decided I would be a mostly at home mama, so it looked like our debt payoff wouldn't happen in 2011.

But we stuck with it. God provided some extra hours just when we needed it, and on Dec. 28, 2011 we became debt free (except our some of you may not say truly debt free, but Dave lets us call ourselves that). It has meant driving older cars (both of ours will celebrate their 10th birthday in a few days), not letting Annika take dance, very few date nights, and no new computers for Andrew. But it has been worth it.

Unlike stepping into Taiwan, hitting the "submit payment" button brought instant tears of joy. The kids running around singing "we're dead free" (perhaps a fitting misunderstanding) was icing on the cake. They have no idea what it means, but its something we hope to teach them. The moment of the payoff was glorious, but the journey has made our family stronger and more unified.

In January, I'm going to do a series of posts on fitness...since many of you may have fitness/wellness goals and its an area I have a bit of knowledge in. But thinking ahead, I was thinking of doing Finances in February. I'm no expert, but I'd share some ways that we made budgeting and saving money work in our house.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Finding time

Oh busyness, how I have a love/hate relationship with thee! I really do like being busy, I feel more accomplished. But then there comes that point of diminishing return where I am so busy that nothing gets done well. And for most of us, the last month of the year becomes just that month. Food to prepare. Presents to wrap. Programs to attend. Family to visit. Exercise to do. Exercise? EXERCISE?

The number one reason most people give for not exercising is "I don't have the time." Now I'm the first to admit that different stages of life lend themselves to having more time (and energy) to engaging in exercise. The time I had when I was single or even newly married was more abundant than it is now with two small children. But for me, exercise takes a priority. How do I find the time? Well, to me, it's like "how do you find the time to shower?" Hygiene is important, so I always find time to shower. Exercise is important, so I always find time to exercise. It isn't always as much time as I would like, but my emphasis is on keeping it a habit so when more time does creep up, I am ready. The biggest key is to set time aside and keep it for yourself. Exercise time is me time...that's why I don't really like to exercise when the kids are around. Inevitably there is a fight that erupts, a toy that needs fixed, or an accident in the bathroom. So ideally I exercise in the morning (not often this time of year), in the evening, or when Andrew is home. But sometimes I do need to pop in an exercise DVD and hope the kids will either join me or need minimal assistance for 30 minutes.

If something is important to you, find the time and set it aside. Do a time budget. Find that block of 15-30 minutes you can have to yourself. Now caution: you cannot find time to do everything you would like to do. It is important to me to exercise, read, socialize, scrapbook...the list goes on. But I cannot be and do everything everyday. I have to place priority on what is most important. Sometimes exercise takes a back seat, but usually it is right up there.

Here's a quick full-body workout you can complete at home with as much (or little) time as you have. Repeat 3 x for just over a 20 minute workout. Add in 10 minutes of walking at another time during the day and you'll have 30 healthy minutes devoted to you!

March, Jog, or Jump in place (1 minute)
1 minute (wall, knees, or regular)
1 minute punches (keep feet jogging if you want to keep your heart rate up)
1 minute squats
1 minute front kicks (add alternating punches to keep heart rate up)
1 minute crunches
March, Jog, or Jump in place (1 minute)

Start by just getting in the habit of exercise. If it already is a habit but you are crunched for time, do this short (or find a similar) workout to get you through until more time opens up.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Happy Holidays

Ah! That time of year. The time of year when we debate what we should call this time of year. Merry Christmas? Happy Holiday? Happy Holy Days? Oh-crud, winter-is-here? I know a lot of my friends fall into "it needs to be Merry Christmas" camp...and that's okay. And I don't mind throwing out the occasional Merry Christmas, it's even on our greeting cards this year, but I'm kinda more of a Happy Holidays kind of gal. Now before some of you get all upset with me, hear me out.

1. Let's be honest, from mid November until January 2, we are in a season of holidays. Even if you do just celebrate the "big three" (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's), that's a lot of celebrating. Especially if you throw in every family gathering, every work party, every church celebration, every...well, you get the idea. There's a lot of holiday to go around.

2. There's a lot of behavior associated with "Christmas" that really doesn't do anything to celebrate Christ. Pepper spraying people for an XBox? Kind of discouraged on the sermon on the mount (you know, that whole if a man asks you for your cloak deal). Giving people lavish gifts we can't (or shouldn't) afford...also shows a bit of where our treasure is (more earth than heaven).

3. Even though I try to embrace it, there is a bit of the historical cynic in me that just screams "Jesus wasn't even born on Dec 25! The angels bringing the message looked more like my husband and less like my daughter..." All kinds of inaccuracies that have become part of the Christian side of Christmas time. I do think the nativity story...Christ willingly becoming one of us to save us, is a story I want to teach my children. We even do a nativity scene and talk about it (Annika asked when we got done where the cross was...I was blessed that already she knows the cross is the ultimate reason we celebrate Christ). But I'm not really a "Jesus is the reason for the season" person. The holiday originally began as an alternative to a very secular, very immoral Roman holiday. Christmas isn't something the Bible calls us to observe, we've made it that way. I'm not opposed to the nativity story at Christmas, it's a great time when a lot of ears are open, but the message of Jesus needs to go far beyond one day. God ordained several different feasts and festivals, especially during Old Testament times, but He never instructed us to make sure we read the nativity story under a Christmas tree after digging into a plate of cookies. None of those bad things, we just don't need to make mandatory what wasn't made mandatory.

I do love Jesus. I do think our passion needs to be directed into sharing the message of hope He brings, not in assuming everyone who says Happy Holidays is trying to be Politically Correct or is a heathen. I'm not saying don't celebrate Christmas, not at all. I think it is a perfect time to take time to spend time with family, reflect on what a gift God did give (cliche, I know) even if it did occur historically at a different time of the year, and to use our resources to help the poor, needy, oppressed, orphaned, and widowed.

So embrace your favorite greeting. Relish in your favorite tradition. Spend time with family and friends. Embrace those around you who have lost a loved one and will struggle this time of year. And know that God is not changed by what we do or how we celebrate Him. He does not need us to use "correct terminology" to be glorified, He doesn't need us. We need Him.