Monday, January 30, 2012

January Book Report

If you remember from the beginning on the month, one of my 2 goals for the year was to read one fiction and one-nonfiction book per month. A goal to do something I like? Yes! I often don't take time to do this thing that I a) love to do and b) can help improve me as a person. Each month I'll share with you what I've read, just in case you find a book or two that may be of interest to you.

Non-fiction: Grace-based Parenting by Tim Kimmel. This was a book I had looked at several times at the bookstore and finally broke down and bought it. So glad I did. I'll let you in on a little secret. I never thought I would be a parent. Never really had a desire to be one. Then I meet this guy and we get married and well, you know the rest. So two kids later I'm sitting in a job in which I have virtually no training and am completely at a loss at times. So I need to spend some of my non-fiction time learning how to be better at my post important job right now.

Kimmel's book focused on the three main needs our children have: a secure love, a strong hope, and a significant purpose. He also goes on to share with us how we can make our homes focused on grace. Homes not based on legalism or on being permissive, but on seeking God's guidance on how to keep that balance of discipline and grace. It is definitely a re-read for me (I didn't take notes, just read).

Fiction: Forbidden by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee. Not a book I would normally pick up. I've read (and enjoy) Dekker's other books, which tend to be dark mysteries. But this book was a mix of The Book of Eli (movie), Twilight (there are no vampires, but there are people being changed by blood), and The Legend of the Seeker (a tv show Andrew likes). Without giving too much away, after a major world war where almost is all is destroyed, scientists find the place in the human genome where all emotion is controlled. Through a scientifically-designed airborne virus, the human race is stripped of all human emotion except fear. Imagine it: a world with no love, no sadness, no joy, no appreciation of beauty. But there remains an order of "keepers" that have protected a vile of blood to help restore the human race. And 480 years after the world has been cleansed of all emotion, the time has come...

Bonus book: Made to Crave by Lysa TerKeurst. Most of you are aware I've been in a process of trying to be at a healthier weight. I finally decided to read this book at the right time. I find that many books that mix wellness and faith are, well, quite cheesy (although I feel both topics are strongly intertwined). So I was reluctant to read the book. I also, in the past, thought that if I just read the book God would just make me thinner (and I knew that was false thinking). But the book was refreshing. Lysa outlined her own struggles and journey to a healthier weight. And more than that, a dependence on God to help her deal with her own demons in the pantry. Like Lysa, food has often been my comforter, deliverer, and idol. Food isn't the bad guy, we need it for nutrition and God even encourages us to celebrate with food (think of all the OT feasts), but for me food was about way more than being nourished or even the occasional celebration. It consumed my mind and time. Had I read this book before beginning to really and consistently eat healthy I probably wouldn't have had the same "aha" moments. My book and Bible have a lot more highlighting and my journal has pages and pages of my reflections. I've been toying with the idea of blogging some of my journey through the month of February. Not as in "I had an egg for breakfast" type blogging, but the deeper stuff like why, even 64 pounds lighter than my highest weight, I still don't think the scale defines me (never has, never will), but it has influenced my internal dialog.

And as for my other goal...had date afternoon with Andrew earlier in the month. Two painless goals? Yeah, life is awesome.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Beans for your "Beans and Rice Budget"

One of the areas we tried to keep under control in our budget was our grocery bill. I never became a super coupon-er (I generally forget any coupons I actually cut out), but we did a lot of generic and shopped the sales. We'd often hear Dave Ramsey talk about the "beans and rice" budget (as in, beans and rice are a cheap way to eat and you basically buy only essentials). While I'm a fan of saving money and a fan of having whole, natural foods, I'm not such a huge fan of rice. But I looooove me some beans, almost any way you can prepare them. And the cheapest/healthiest way to prepare them is from scratch-as in dried in a bag super cheap scratch. I tried it a few times, but always had horrible results doing the soaking and cooking, or was it cooking then soaking? Too much work. Then I found a recipe for crock pot beans in a healthy kids cookbook (sorry, I can't remember the name). So simple even I didn't mess it up. I've made them a few times and you get a lot of fiber-rich, healthy beans for cheap and you don't have as much environmental waste (i.e. cans) per amount of beans.

1 lb dried beans (any kind, I've used pinto beans thus far)
5 Cups water
Cook in crockpot on low for 5-7 hours

Then if you want to get a little fancy, using the pinto beans you can make "cowboy beans." Add 1 diced onion to the crockpot when you dump everything else in. When the beans are cooked, add 1 cup bbq sauce and a few squirts of ketchup and mustard (if needed). My favorite is to use Cookies Original BBQ sauce and they are super yummy and don't need anything else. Last night I used Walden Farms BBQ (it's a no-calorie BBQ sauce) with mustard and they okay, just not the same caliber as Cookies (I could just drink that stuff).

Monday, January 23, 2012

I'll bring the Doritos.

I know I've kinda beat some of you up with stories of achieving big goals, setting big goals, and improving yourself. Life may have you in some kind of a chokehold where you are thinking "I cannot achieve something big right now, it's all I can do to make it through the day with all this "stuff" of life." I don't know what your "stuff" is, but I'm here to tell you sometimes it's okay to just bring the Doritos.

Bring the Doritos? This is one of the truths I learned from a wonderful woman that will stick with me and liberate me all of my life. We were sitting at a women's ministry meeting planning a big weekend retreat for the women. If you've ever been in on something like this, you know it's a lot of work and at times overwhelming. We were volunteering for what snacks we would bring and this wise, wonderful woman of Jesus said "I'll bring the Doritos." She knew she'd have a crazy busy week and while she can make an amazing spread with the best of them, she also knew that sometimes doing less is absolutely best. I sat there in awe for a bit. You mean I don't have to always bring my best dessert that takes hours to just wow others? I can bring something that is as simple as going to the store? Or a simple dish to a potluck? Recognizing your limitations in a given season can provide you freedom and release you of self-imposed, unnecessary guilt.

I am not giving you license to get out of things that are good for you. You still need to engage in exercise, but if family life is crazy or you've been sitting at the hospital with a loved one, it may be a time of lowered activity (but some activity none the less). If financially you are getting unexpected medical bills, need new tires, and everyone just grew out of their shoes you may not make any progress on paying down debt. There are times when you'll need to reengage in those things with intensity, but truly evaluate your life situation and be honest with yourself.

Last week was a crazy week. Six straight nights I was gone. Then Saturday morning I remembered...pot luck tomorrow (and I had to work that night). Can I just tell you I have severe anxiety about bringing food to potlucks/group settings? What if people don't like my food? etc. etc. And the more I try to do something great the more something totally flops. So I grabbed my mantra of "I'll bring the Doritos" and made some finger jello (at least my kids would eat it). Yes, it is only a step above store bought cookies that would send my mom into a tirade ("can someone just make a batch of cookies?"), but it is what I could do without causing myself stress and tears.

P.S. Thank you, Ruth, for providing me such freedom! You impacted me lots in the short time we got to hang out as sisters, but bet you didn't know THIS is one of the things I remember most (okay, there's lots more).

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Treasure and provision

I spent a little time this morning reading through a well-worn passage from the sermon on the mount. (Well, I'm actually using a new Bible so there were no marks...there are now). I've probably read this section in its entirety and in parts hundreds of times...and probably even heard one of the revelations I came to today preached before, but for some reason today it clicked.

Matthew 6:19-24 is the passage on not laying up treasures on earth. This in itself if a daily struggle in the consumer-driven world we live in. Verse 24: "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money."

Okay, fair enough. I can't serve God and money...meaning my hope needs to be in God's provision and not on my own accumulation of treasures (this after I spent a good 30 minutes oogling running tops on zappos...which I didn't order. Not because by ordering the tops I would love God any less, I just really didn't need one.)

So next is where a lightbulb went on. Maybe I never noticed it before because of how most Bibles have nice little section titles so we often read with continuity. Maybe its because I'm a little thick headed. But verse 25 begins: "Therefore (emphasis mine) I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?" (There are about 100 different things I could write about the impact of that verse on my life right now for how God is working in me...but I'll share the first one).

When Jesus tells us "therefore don't worry" (my paraphrase), He's referring back to His comment on not being able to serve God and money. We can't serve both, and we need not be anxious about how God is going to provide. When we get anxious about money and stuff, whether we have $1 in the bank or $1,000,000, we are choosing to serve the money and not God. In verse 31 Jesus says our heavenly Father knows what we need...He knows we need clothes, He knows we're out of milk, He knows someone is going to outgrow their boots next week in the middle of a major storm...He knows, and He will provide. The passage specifically refers to food, drink, and clothing. If He would have referred to shelter and transportation we have our basic needs covered (pretty sure He's on top of those as well).

You may say "but you don't understand all the bills and all the stress." Trust me, I do. We may have just moved into a place of debt freedom, but we've had plenty of times where we had to wait to buy groceries or where shoe glue was God's way of providing footwear for a season. And when in our times of financial need we could have (and at times did) could have put so much emphasis on our needs and lack of "good things" that earthly treasures, even if they weren't in our possession, were taking first place in our lives. And now that we are in a season of not being so strapped for cash we could also easily let stuff become what drives.

God's provision doesn't mean He's going to bless us with cars and houses and other sparkly things here on earth (although there are some that preach that...that's a false message that makes my stomach turn). It means when we look to Him for our provision, what we need will be given.

If you're in a time of need, trust that God will provide in some way at the right time (stories of God's provision at exactly the right time are awesome...I'd love to hear some of them in the comments). Maybe you're in a time where God is providing even more than you need. I challenge you to allow God use you to be part of providing for someone else in need.

*all Bible passages today are from the ESV

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Being okay with "now"

It's late (well, for me). Everyone in the house is snoring, yet I've been up thinking about that silly age-old question that I ask myself way too frequently: what do I want to do with my life?

It always goes back to a career question: maybe I should be doing this? Should I be looking for a job elsewhere? Should I be changing careers? What kind of job could I get in Hawaii?

So I spend time looking, dreaming, fretting. When in actuality, I like the "mini-jobs" I have right now so that I can fulfill my main role as mama. Sure, those mini-jobs may not be there next year or they may no longer fit with our family situation, but do I trust God enough to know that if they fall through, something else that is perfect for my life at that time will come along?

It starts welling up due to the inner struggle between what I thought I wanted (a great career) to the gift I've been given (my children)...and trying to find how I can have both. For me, I know that for now, the career is taking a bit of a back seat...just keeping my nose in it enough to return full force if I ever want to. I figure if I mess up by stepping out of my career the worse that could happen is I would have to go back to school/training to get back into the career world (and since I love school it wouldn't be bad at all). But if I spend too much time on my career and mess up my family through neglect there's no getting that back. Some parents can handle a solid career and family beautifully, but I know my bent and I know it's selfish and I know I would often choose work over family.

So I need to learn to be okay with now and not worry about where my career path will be in the future. I really could have spent the last two hours reading a book or something else more productive than looking at career websites for jobs I'm not even looking for right now.

But in case you're wondering, there are 2 GA position openings in Hawaii...but unless Greene Galvanized Stairs opens a Pacific Islands branch, I won't be applying.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Debt weapon #3

I couldn't come up with a more creative title so I've been dragging my feet in writing this. But I am absolutely convinced that this change of habit was big in helping ME keep our budget each month.

I'm a spender. I generally don't buy big things, but I can $25 us at Target many times over, busting our budget. I was frequently going over our grocery budget, in part because we didn't budget enough, but even when we did I was still going over. We were still using our debit card for everything (the credit card was long gone). We kept track of our spending in a computer program and I always knew where we were at, but we kept going over.

Until we became a (mostly) cash-only family. We use cash for most of our expenses. It took a little getting used to and a little trial and error. For example, we tried doing cash for gas, but the envelope was either at home or with the wrong person. For gas, we keep using our debit card, which actually keeps us OUT of the gas station and less tempted to buy a drink or candy. But for groceries, personal spending money, clothing, gifts, personal care (haircuts, etc.), and entertainment we get cash out and keep it separated by envelopes (i have a special wallet with several compartments). It is a little more painful to spend cash. I ask myself "do I really need this" with a lot more clarity when I'm spending cash versus when I'm swiping my debit card.

The separating the cash by envelopes (or compartments) was also key. Otherwise mama was likely to buy herself a pair of shoes with money that should go to groceries.

For groceries, we get the money out every week or two weeks for what we will need. The other categories we just get out one lump sum each month. If we have extra left over, it just gets added on to next month. Some months (like this one), no one needs clothes. Other months it seems that everyone needs new underwear and shoes, so the building up of money in the envelopes generally works well.

This was huge for taming my spending. Not only did the budget free me to spend without guilt yet give me guidelines to stay in, it also gave me a much better visual of what was left to spend and gave me an emotional checkpoint to keep my spending in check.

I use me a lot because I'm the one that does most of the shopping for anything and everything our household needs because I love to shop. My personal spending money was almost always gone at the end of the month...somehow the hubby never spends his and saves up to buy things.

And unlike the credit card commercial, I have never found that cash slows the flow of activity in the checkout line.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Giving myself grace during the race

Here is my ideal relaxing Saturday morning: sleeping in a little later than normal, going for a long run, coming home for some yummy coffee that the hubby brewed while I was gone, and relaxing a bit while he runs.

I love my Saturday runs...or more recently, my Saturday walks. I realized I was using exercise as an excuse to overeat. So as I've been focusing on a better relationship with food I haven't been exercising as intensely so I don't revert to old ways. So for about 2 months my main cardio has been walking. It gives me a chance to slow down and reflect on why I exercise, and what I really want to be doing, not what the latest fitness marketing tells me I should be doing.

I've come to realize that many of the latest exercise crazes (P90x, Insanity, etc) just aren't for me. My joints can't take it and they end up doing me more harm than good. I also don't ENJOY them. There are plenty of forms of exercise that I enjoy, so I'm not going to spend my time on ones I don't enjoy or hurt me beyond just the good muscle burn. Many of them also continue to propagate an unhealthy and unrealistic body type.

But I've realized I do enjoy running. It is good for my mental health, and I enjoy the social aspect of joining friends for races. I love the way it makes me feel.

So last week I began adding some running back into my Saturday workout. No other days, just Saturday. And it felt good. Really good. I was ready to start building my running, but I am making myself wait until March (still working on that whole eating thing). So today was a running day...and my hips and knees were telling me they didn't want any part of it. I haven't spent enough time stretching and with my arthritis, some days are just like that. In the past, I would have forced my body to do it and had my hips screaming all the way...and probably for a few days after. But today, I listened to my body and just walked. I gave myself the permission to be okay with doing less, knowing that on another day my body will be ready for more (the Warrior Dash will be here in June...)

Find exercise you LIKE! Find something that helps you feel better physically and mentally. And be okay with having days that you need to take it down a notch, because there will be other days when you can go up hill both ways, with the wind in your face, brother on your back, with no shoes...and like it!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Debt (& weight) weapon #2

After the budget, having a meal plan was key to us keeping on track financially (and helped me finally lose the baby weight).

One "resolution" I made early in our marriage was to make a weekly menu plan. Early on we have very, very limited cash flow as Andrew was a full time student. To be able to eat within our limited budget and avoid going out to eat we HAD to have a plan for meals, most of which were canned soup, mac and cheese, and cheap frozen pizza. My early meal plans were written on the back of old envelopes with corresponding shopping list on the back. It was crude, but it was effective. It kept us within our budget and never left us wondering "what will we have for supper."

With the exception of my severe morning sickness with my pregnancies causing me to be very food averse and not setting a plan, we've always functioned in some way, shape or form with a food plan. I've tried several methods. I won't bore you with them all, a simple google search would give you a lot more good advice by people that have mastered the process. I will tell you that currently we use a 4 column weekly calendar (purchased at Promises, for you local folks). In the 4th column I write our events for that day and from that info I can plan the other 3 meals in the columns (which are always subject to being changed around if needed). Then I can make an accurate shopping list. I keep a printed shopping list on the fridge so I can just put a check mark by an item if I realize we are almost out of toilet paper (minimizing the need to make a late night Walmart run).

All this has huge benefits: 1) I never wonder "what's for dinner", 2) we always have the food we need on hand (and recently that food's been pretty healthy), 3) and we stay in our budget.

Sound like too much work?? For a while I used E-mealz. E-mealz is a service that sends you a weekly menu schedule (you can chose from several different plans) along with a shopping list. The work is done for you. It was fabulous!!! They had supper yummy and easy recipes, and I didn't have to spend time doing the menu planning and shopping list. Since becoming a mostly-at-home mom I actually enjoy the time I spend making menus and trying new recipes. I'll probably use e-mealz again at some point when I get tired of all the planning.

Just call me the woman with a plan.

Exciting news...on Feb 3 at about 3-4 pm CST we'll be standing in the Financial Peace plaza lobby talking to Dave doing our debt free scream. You can listen live to the show on his website, listen to the podcast later, or find the local station if Dave is carried in your area. We also get to meet him.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Our "Stupid Tax"

I've decided to continue on the financial theme since I've gotten a lot of feedback that people want to know more about our today I'll tell you how we totally blew a few things along the way (just in case you were considering elevating us to superhero status).

Today I put in a request to be able to do our debt free scream from the Financial Peace lobby (if you aren't familiar with Dave Ramsey, that won't make any sense). I haven't heard back yet, but part of the request process was to add up our total debt that we paid off. I actually hadn't done that yet. We had approached the process in steps (paying off the smallest ones first), and the only number I knew for sure is we had paid off 23K in the past 12-13 months. So I got out my paper where we listed our debts, added it all up and it was...

$85,700 in debt paid off in 8.5 years.

If we had looked at that number from the start it would have seemed insurmountable. If we hadn't had those debts, we could have literally bought our house plus made improvements with cash! That doesn't include the interest that we paid.

But we made some stupid choices, especially pre-2007, that made our debt a little higher.

Any good financial person that helps you get out of debt will tell you to first, "don't take on any more debt." Dave tells you that, but for a few key (and big ticket items) we just didn't listen. That's what Dave calls stupid tax...knowing better, yet taking on more debt and the price you pay is stupid tax. I'll give your our big three.

1. This is absolutely the MOST painful when we look back. It still takes our breath away to think that if we had made a better choice, we would have had more like $59,000 to pay off. When we first got married Andrew was going to school at Eastern Illinois...FOR FREE. Tuition +$1000 a month from his GI Bill and IL veterans grant. But we were young and in love and got this crazy idea to move to Iowa and Andrew transfer to Northwestern, which was not free. So that lovely wrong choice (at least financially) was about $27,000 in debt (plus what we paid out of pocket, I just refuse to add up that total cost). We loved our time and friends we met there but that was a huge cost.

2. Once Andrew was out of school and we were both working full time we bought a brand new Vibe. It was 0% interest (we reasoned), and we would keep it until our kids learned to drive and that would be their first car. Great idea, but it was severely flawed. Mainly because 2 years later when our family had grown and we didn't think that 600 mile trips in the Vibe with 2 kids sounded like fun, we had to trade it in for an older minivan, and took a huge depreciation for that 2 years of newness (which wears off pretty quick). We had actually paid off the car before that time (by then we just wanted to be out of debt), but we still paid the tax of losing about half the value of the car, which is typical with new cars. If we had paid cash for a slightly older Vibe, we wouldn't have lost as much in depreciation and would have paid off our debt sooner.

3. When we moved to IL, we had made a profit on our house. We should have used that to pay down a big chunk on stupid tax #1 and we would have been out of debt about 2 years sooner. Instead we rushed into buying a house. Don't get me wrong, we like our house, but we probably would not have chosen this house if we were taking a bit more time. We also would have been out of debt sooner and probably had an even big down payment on the house.

So those of you starting the journey...learn from our mistakes. From this point on, don't take on any more debt! We would have had about $33,000 (plus interest) less debt to pay on and have gotten out of debt 2 years earlier (okay, maybe several years earlier if we hadn't done #1...)

Monday, January 2, 2012

Best debt weapon

I promised I'd share the #1 thing that was vital for us to pay off our debt. It's the B word...


I can't imagine not living on a budget. Most of what we've learned about budgeting we've learned either from Dave Ramsey or Crown Financial Ministries. We've always TRIED to live on a budget since we were first married. And we made lots of mistakes, especially early on.

Our 3 big mistakes:
A general, vague budget: not looking specifically at what income was actually going to come in that month and what expenses were actually there. We would just use general percentages of what our money "should" go to...and then wonder why we'd be way over in one category and way under in another. We weren't adequately gauging what we really needed in different categories. We never fought much about money since we had a shared goal, but the disagreements usually had to do with being off in certain categories which was actually generally due to poor budget planning and not overspending.

Not budgeting enough in key areas, especially GROCERIES. I primarily do the grocery shopping and for a long, long, long time I always thought I could do it on a ridiculously low amount, then be frustrated that we went over. It was almost always our budget buster, and not because I went crazy in the candy aisle, but because we weren't budgeting enough for the things we needed. Clothing is the other area we often underbudgeted (people are going to need new underwear, it's just a fact).

Being surprised by expenses that were no surprise.
Guess what? Christmas comes in December every year. We usually want to take a vacation to see the family in the summer. The car will need new tires. Early on we didn't budget for these things. When we got better at budgeting in 2007 we started creating "sinking funds". We'd put money in our savings earmarked for things that came around once a year (or more): car repairs, Christmas, vacation, car license plates. Once we mastered this, very few would have have "surprises" that set us back.

Budgeting is trial and error. If you've never done it before and you are going to start, be prepared that the first few months may be rough. It may cause some "discussion" in your relationship. But when you plan on where you money is going and follow through, it can have some big benefits.

Our big 3 benefits:
It brought us unity. We had a goal we were mutually working on (and recently included the kids). We spent the first of the month sitting down and looking at income and expenses. We were unified in purpose. Now, I'm not saying every "budget meeting" was pleasant. We had disagreements. But in the end we'd compromise, look at the end goal, and agree on what we needed to do. This was the first month EVER since we've been married that our goal wasn't to pay off debt with any extra income. It was strange. Before we sat down it felt like we were going to have a ton of money to just spend. But we set some savings goals that we agreed on. It will help us stay unified and not become consumer driven.

It brought us freedom. Freedom? Finding out you can only spend $x.00 on clothing brings freedom? Absolutely. Okay, at first it feels restrictive, especially if certain budget areas are low. For most of our journey things like clothing and entertainment have been very low. But there was a freedom in knowing how much I had saved up to spend (usually in my cash envelope) when going shopping with a friend. I didn't have to justify it, that was the money for clothing.

It ultimately brought us to our goal. If we hadn't budgeted we never would have known how much extra we had to put on debt. We wouldn't have known where we could cut costs. Some months we may have made too big of a debt payment, not remembering that we had to buy license plates. Our budget was our monthly road map...and kept us from driving off a cliff!

Dave Ramsey and Crown Financial both have great tools to help you in setting up a budget. They both have forms and some online tools. We're both computer type folks so we used (and continue to use) a spreadsheet to track our budget, but pen and paper or computer programs can work as well. Whether single or married, taking the time to do a budget on a consistent basis is the best thing you can do for your financial future.

Happy budgeting.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year. New You?

Today is the day...I'm sure most of you have received emails, sale ads, or other reminders that today is the day we reinvent ourselves. "New Year. New You!". Wow, sounds great. If I just buy this thing or that thing or join this plan or that plan...then I too can be all I want to be. Guess will still be you and I will still be me. I'm not against resolutions. I think there are yearly times when its good to reflect on the past year and look at the areas where we'd like to grow. Maybe its New Years. Maybe its a birthday or anniversary. Maybe it's a random day in March.

If you reflect on the past year and realize "hey, I want to improve _____________", then the way to really go about it is to set a goal. A resolution is generally vague "I want to do better financially." A goal is more specific "I want to get out of debt in 2012." I've often read about goals and how to do them, but until last New Year's Day I never really followed through correctly. Last year, I set three goals for the year and ended up meeting them all: 1. Run in the Warrior Dash in June, 2. Pay off all our debt by the end of the year, and 3. Weigh 170 by the end of the year (yikes, I just put my weight out there). Using the following guidelines made a huge difference. None of this information is original, but it really does work.

1. Write it down. Yes, you. If you really want to achieve something, write it down. I always skipped this step. I would think "I know what the goal is, I don't need to write it down", or I would write it tucked away in my journal. In 2011 I wrote my three goals on a piece of paper and posted them above my desk at work. I had a regular reminder of what I was working for. When I wanted to skip a run, I realized that would really make the Warrior Dash much harder. If I wanted to go shopping just because, I'd acknowledge that would only set us further back in paying off debt.

2. Make SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely. Saying "I want to lose weight" is too vague. How do you know when you will get there? "I want to lose 10 lbs." That's better, but by when? 10 years? 10 days? Which brings me to realistic and attainable: it needs to be a realistic and healthy (mentally and physically) goal.

3. Break big goals down into smaller goals. Our goal of paying off our debt was big. Felt nearly unattainable. But we broke it down month by month. We'd look at our budget and how much each of us would be working that month and what expenses we would have. We'd set a goal for how much we wanted to have extra to put on debt at the end of the month.

4. Reassess and give yourself some grace. Life happens. You may set a goal to run a 5K in May, only to break your leg in April. You have to realize that even when giving everything you have toward a goal, life can come up and kick you in the teeth and set you back. We easily could have had a major medical expense or other emergency what would have made our debt payoff impossible this past year. At the same time, don't allow yourself to come up with every excuse in the book why you can't reach your goal. If you want to achieve something, spend more time figuring out how you can achieve it than how you will have obstacles in your way

5. Not every goal has to be "big" or life changing. Last year I did set 3 big goals...and they were life changing. In the Warrior Dash, I overcame my fear of heights and found I could do more physically than I ever thought I could. With the process of paying off debt it changed something in my spirit and in my family with how we view money and debt. This year, I'm scaling it back. I set two goals, both of which I hope will be beneficial to me and my family, but don't require the intensity of the past year (frankly after all that, I need a nap!)

My goals:
1. Read 1 non fiction and 1 fiction book every month.
2. Have one date night a month with my husband (we had very few while we were getting out of debt due to our focus on all our extra money going to debt)

Don't those sound fun? Goals don't need to be unenjoyable. In fact, if you set a goal and it makes you groan, cross it off and start over! I'm serious. Life is too precious to spend time doing things you really don't want to do just because you think it will make you better. It doesn't mean every step of the journey will be enjoyable, but find the most pleasant road to the destination.

To those of you who don't set goals or hat is off to you. You probably show a lot more maturity and self-acceptance than I do!

This month most of my blogs will be directed at those trying to make physical improvements in their life, but with the response to my debt payoff blog, my next blog will be on the #1 thing we found to be most important in our debt payoff.

So I don't really want a "new me", I just want to make sure I'm doing everything I can to enjoy and use the life God has given me.