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12 Steps to Staying on Budget and Living Your Best Life

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As we close out January, many have been looking at how to get a healthier grasp around their budgets.  How to budget and what should be included are really considered as the credit card bills from December’s Christmas spending come in.

Those with kids are trying to figure out a way to better teach kids what it means to have a budget and that can be quite a difficult conversation.  For basic starters, check out this blog on 6 Steps to Taking the Fear out of Finances.  For those who want to dive a bit more, we are going to look today at the 10 steps my family uses to make and stay on budget while living our best life.

My husband and I both grew up in families where money was tight.  We did not get the newest and greatest things as they came out.  We ate meals at home and brown-bagged it to school.  In college, having to pay for it entirely on my own, I was no stranger to Ramen noodles.  During this time, I learned the value of food closets because I often needed them to eat so I could pay my school bill.  I worked six jobs and went to school full time.  I graduated with my bachelor’s degree entirely debt-free and my graduate school loans were paid off two years early.  Other than our house, we are entirely debt-free.

Though we are not financial gurus, we do know a thing or two about how to budget and have fun.  Here are some of our takeaways:

1. Make a budget: This seems basic, but you would be surprised how many do not actually do this.  There are three easy steps to doing this:

  • Look at the past: The best way is to take the bank account statement for the last month (three months is best) and really look at each transaction.  How much do you pay in bills?  Do these fluctuate (like utilities) or are all flat rates?  How much do you spend on gas? Food? Phone? Subscriptions? Entertainment? Once this is done, you get a good idea of not only where you are spending your money, but where your values are.
  •  Look at your income: How much do you bring in a month? Is this more or less than what you spend? 
  • Start with bills: Whatever subscriptions and plans you pay for and don’t use – close the accounts.  Next, always start with bills.  Ensure the income pays those first.  Next, have a line item for food, entertainment, giving, savings, and emergencies.  Allot your money as needed.
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2. Make a Wish List:  In an instance “click here” to check out with the one-click world, it is easy to spend more money than you think faster than you think. Instead, make a wish list (especially for those big-ticket items).  Take the time to research the best options.  If not an emergency (which you have been saving in the budget), take a month or three and see if you really need it or it was just a momentary want.  If the latter, you just saved money.

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3. Eat out less: I love food.  I say that all the time.  But eating out is not only costly to my waistline it is costly to my bottom line.  Eating out with friends and family for special occasions is fine (budget for this).  But, in general, we try to eat out less than once a week.  We eat better, feel better, and our bottom line stays in the black. This is also great for keeping up those new year’s resolutions and ensuring they work for you.

4. Buy second hand: Growing up second had got a bad rap.  Clothes bought second-hand would label you as poor or ugly.  In reality, that Nike hoodie your friend’s parent spent $60.00 on, my parent got looking brand new for $500.  So many places now make it easy to buy gently loved secondhand clothes, tools, games, décor, and so much!  Brand names even now have a “gently loved” section you can usually get a great deal on when you need to.  Check out Craigslist, Poshmark, and Marketplace to get started.  We once got a $5,000.00 elliptical machine (used times by the owner) for $500.00. 

5. Use what you have: Instead of going to the store when you need an item for a recipe, plan your meals ahead.  Don’t have the time?  See what you have in your pantry/fridge that can be used as a substitute.  So often there are quick fixes already in our home that make great meals.  Eat leftovers.  Re-purpose old toys, clothes, and furniture.  We turn our thinned towels into towels used when we work on the car or clean the garage.  We reuse fabric.  There are so many options.

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6. Look for Deals: Coupons are great! I am not an extreme couponer, but I know some people who are.  I know a family who has not spent more than $5.00 on groceries for a family of four in three years.  Coupons are great a way to stay on budget.  Many museums, zoos, and aquariums provide discounts to certain groups and even free days to enjoy and see if you want to come back.  Some will even discount the price of admission depending on how many hours are left in their business day. We use these free and discount days often.  We have seen some great culture this way.

7. Wait:  Seeing a movie in theatres is great fun! But it can also be greatly expensive.  Add in the price of admission, a drink, snacks, and popcorn and you for a family of four you are looking at close to a car payment!  For these types of activities, wait till they come to streaming or DVD.  Then you can view them at home in your comfort and have spent a fraction on the snacks while still enjoying family time.

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8. Plan for Emergencies: Life happens.  Cars break.  Kids see doctors.  Cavities happen.  Without saving, these costs can be costly and harmful to the bottom line.  Instead of dealing with the emergency plan for one. One line item of the budget should be about 10% of your budget solely to be set aside for emergencies.  Then when they hit, you are prepared and way less stressed with the results.

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9. Fill your time with other activities: For those who use shopping and eating out as a way to socialize, I understand how hard this can be.  But it is not impossible.  Instead of shopping or eating when stressed or hanging out, fill the time with another activity.  Work on your new year’s resolution.  Read a book.  Do some art.  Get outside and walk around.  See God’s beautiful handiwork in nature.  Play a board game.  Make up a new game. Talk with your friends and family.  There are so many options that do not involve money and best of all, they grow your friendships more.

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10. DIY: As a military spouse who has been through deployments/TDYs, it is Neuton’s Law that when a spouse leaves, everything breaks. The last deployment I kept a list of everything that broke and had to be replaced from our washer to the shower rack. We have learned to fix things ourselves. There are so many classes and tutorials out there, it is so easy to not only do the fixing for less (sometimes with items you already have). Repairs to the car and house can often be done at a fraction of the cost when you do it yourself. ***NOTE: Do not attempt anything a license professional will need to do unless you are a licensed professional.

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11. Give: When you give, you get.  We take 10% of our budget and use it to give. Great places to give where your money is multiplied are non-profits and churches.  There is so much need in the world, giving just 10% won’t make a huge impact. But if all of us did that, oh what a difference that would make! 

12. Save: We talked about emergencies, but savings should go beyond that.  Want to go to college? Scale Mount Everest?  Travel the world?  10% of your savings should be set aside for these wonderful dreams!  Then when the time comes you have the funds without stress.  You are not taking from your bottom line and, if you have put this in a savings account, you made money on it from interest.  The longer it sits the more money you make.

Staying on a budget doesn’t have to be scary or hard.   When we get back to the basics, things fall into place.  These simple changes will help you stay on budget, strengthen your relationships, and de-stress your life.  Now go out and enjoy your best life!

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Three Steps to Great Friends

Me with my two besties of over a decade and spanning three states and four time zones.

Transitions are hard. From deployment to moves to the “new normal” after COVID-19 quarantines, you can expect challenges to come at you left and right. Sometimes it feels like us versus the world. Sometimes that is true. But there is a way to push through, fight back, and end up on the other side better, stronger, and happier.

I watched a great movie with my best friend and husband recently, TAG. I laughed so hard! But, more importantly, it reminded me of my great friends who developed across the country and for years. It helped me realize the importance of friendship in transition (be that deployment, move, health diagnosis, or something else entirely). Here are three things I have learned about creating friendships that last a lifetime.

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Strength in Community

In life, support makes or breaks you. Without it, you walk a tight rope with no safety net. With it, you walk a tight rope with a smile. A good support system includes people who are willing to walk with you in your best and worst moments; people who know when to check in because they know you; people who know when to let you figure it out because they know you and when to hold you accountable.

Ever notice how the most influential leaders surrounded themselves with a quality support system? Abraham Lincoln had his wife and Joshua Fry Speed. Martin Luther King, Jr. had his wife and Ralph David Abernathy. Gandhi had Charles Freer Abernathy. Jesus had the twelve, but within the twelve he had the inner circle of three. If they could not face the challenges of this world alone, why do we think we can?

As we walk through life, we must remember we do not do so alone. Every part of our life touches another’s. It is ok to ask for help. It is ok to let people in. It is ok to spend the afternoon enjoying a cup of tea with a friend. Do life together. For more ideas on community, check out my blog on thriving during transitions.

Build a strong community

I won’t fool you – building community is hard. Letting someone in to see the real you is difficult. But it is SO important to a quality life. But there are so many people out there in it for themselves, how do you know where to start?

  • Start by choosing the people you want in your community. This could be family or friends. Church, community organizations, and volunteer groups are a wonderful place to start because you know the values and things that interest people from the start.
  • Serve. Serving is a terrific way to see people for who they are. Are they someone who genuinely cares about the cause or people? Or are they someone who wants the limelight? Is Instagram selfies how they spend time or do they invest in the people in from of them? Is this someone you want to invest in or have invest in you?
  • Spend time with people. My favorite way to spend time with people is by strolling a farmers’ market, playing games, or having a nice cup of tea/coffee/wine (depending on circumstance). It is in the conversation you get to know people. If you cannot do these things, write letters (I love getting mail that is not a bill) or Zoom/Skype someone. Just take the time. As for plants and a good wine, time makes relationships sweet.
  • Don’t tell everything about yourself at the very start. Take time getting to know each other. Be honest (but smart). Not everyone is going to be quality; not everyone is going to be in your life forever; not everyone is going to safe with your information. If you wouldn’t want it blasted virally on social media, keep it to yourself until trust and need-to-know have been established.
  • Don’t think a no is a no forever. Sometimes people are just busy (or stressed). They want to hang out and invest but have no idea where to start in the chaos of their mind and life. Keep the door open for future invites and be sure to check in on them to see if you can serve them. Sometimes knowing someone is out there who cares is just as important as spending time over a cup of Joe.

Be the Person You Want to Be Friends With

I have lived everywhere from CA to MD, in big cities and small (having moved 25+ times in 20 years). I can say (without hesitation) people are guarded, wary, and skeptical. They have every right to be. Today’s world is infested with social media telling us what we should look like, act like, be like. Let’s face it: magazines are photo-shopped -NOT REAL. Let’s own it: we put on social media the best of our lives and hide the not-so-great. Let’s take accountability: We prefer looking down at a screen than straight across at the face of who we speak to because…here is the killer….it is easier. Then we complain we have no real friends.

Tough love, but true. If we want genuine friends, we must, as Jesus said, “love our neighbors as ourselves.”  What that looks like is different for everyone (because we are all uniquely and wonderfully made). But the basic principle is the same: treat people with respect and you will have respect. Treat people with love (thinking of them above yourself), and you will be surrounded by love. The best part of this, when you treat people the way you want to be treated, it opens doors to new people, possibilities, and brings so much joy. So, why not?

Friendships enrich your life and improve your health. You can find so much strength in quality communities. Building strong communities can help in transitions from life-changing moves to life-changing diagnoses. They provide places to laugh, cry, and be real in. Being wise in developing community and friends can ensure you have lasting friendships for life.

For more on developing friendships and community, check out my Facebook page.

10 Tips to a Peaceful Christmas Season

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Quartine.  Sickness.  Riots.  Arguments.  Politics.  Tantrums. Deadlines. “I wants.” 

Kids home most of the year. Routines completely out of whack. Families apart for the holidays.

It seems like Christmas 2019 was a different world.  This year peace seems so much farther away than usual.  But it doesn’t have to be.

Here are some of the things my family does year-round to help us remain in peace.  May these simple tips help you and yours this Christmas season.

  1. Deep Breathing: Breathing is essential to life.  Deep breathing is essential to self-control and calmness.  Along with regulating blood pressure, helping relax muscles, deep breathing decreases the stress hormone cortisol – and who doesn’t want less stress? When things seem out of control, take a deep breath.  Recite a favorite verse or proverb and remind yourself, this too will pass.  Here is a great article for Harvard Health on how to make deep breathing a routine.  this more a routine.

2. Go to bed on time (maybe even a little early): For my followers, you know how much I value sleep and the many benefits it gives.  In addition to improving concentration, lowering health issues (like heart and diabetes), sleep is good for emotional response. A study done on this by the Mental Health Foundation found that people that didn’t get enough sleep were four times as likely to suffer from lack of concentration, have relationship problems and 3 times more likely to be depressed, and 2.6 times more likely to commit suicide.

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3. Go outside: Something is calming about being out in nature.  Seeing the colors, feeling the warmth of the sun, or the comfort of a cool breeze, it a sensation unlike any other.  More that, being outside lowers depression and stress, is social, and increases short-term memory and concentration.  But, more than that, it gives the brain a minute to take a break and process the day.  For those who need it, it is also a safe way to take a break from family members or use it as a way to talk through a situation.

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4. Make a list of things you’re thankful for: I am a big proponent of counting blessings. There is something about writing them out that does help shift the mind from a “Woe is me” to a “Blessed is me” attitude.  Gratitude helps physical and psychological health and is a benefit to getting good sleep.    

Reading

5. Read/watch something uplifting:  What we put before our eyes affect what we think and feel.  Ever walk out of the theatre after watching a suspense movie and take extra precaution walking to the car?  This year there has been so much negative news and more movies and shows of intense drama, fear, and, call it what it is, poor behavior.  When I talk to friends and family who have been reading and watching these things, their anxiety and fear are much higher than those who have chosen to spend that same time watching and reading positive and uplifting things.  Positive words are healthy for one’s body and mind.

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6. Listen to uplifting music: Some of us do not have time for books and TV shows.  Instead, we spend our days working and running the household and driving kids to this appointment or that.  But, during that time, we are still taking in messages.  Use this time to listen to what is uplifting.  In the car, limit how much news and talk radio you listen to.  Set a specific time frame and then move on to uplifting audiobooks or music.  At work, create a playlist or station on Spotify or Pandora that is designed to help focus and still brings in good vibes.

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7. Write down your worries…then burn them:  This is one of my favorite things to do.  There is something powerful about writing down the worries.  It gives them a concrete feeling.  And concrete can be destroyed.  Once they are written down, it allows me to see the worry as a challenge with limits.  Once there are limits to the fear, that means there is a way to conquer the fear.  Once I can see the worry is not abstract, I then pray over them and then – burn them. 

8. Spend time with a close friend: When we are busy (or quarantined), it is easy to forget to invest in other relationships.  We forget to do things that bring us joy and help us relax.  But something is refreshing about spending time with people we love.  As a military family, we have lived all over.  It is still my favorite thing to screen time family and friends, not near us.  The apps Marco Polo and Whatapp are particularly great for this because you can send video, text, and audio no matter the time of day for them to open when it works for them.  But, there is something wonderful about sharing a cup of Joe and playing a game or watching a movie together (either in person or on a Zoom). This also helps us carry each other’s burdens and reminds us we are not alone in this. 

9. Enjoy a delicious, nutritious meal: I love food! I also believe it has a major impact on our health, behavior, and attitudes. Health food helps my body to operate better.  But, more importantly, I feel better.  When I feel better physically, I feel better mentally.  I also respond to information with more logic and less emotion. When we are pressed for time and/or overwhelmed, it is easy to let good healthy habits fall by the wayside (especially with the holiday goodies at every turn).   However, taking a little time to eat nutritiously, will change the impact on your life and the life of those in your household.

10. Be playful and laugh a lot! This year, more than most, it has been easier to forget to laugh and play. But these two things are so important to our relationships, heart, and mental health. Adults need recess too! Play is both fun and motivating. Studies show that people and leaders who laugh are more composed in the face of adversity and have a “bright side” mentality.

This Christmas and holiday season, as we are celebrating with new traditions, different people, and face the coming New Year, let’s remember we can be at peace in the face of adversity.  May these tips help you, as they do me and mine, this season and year to come.

5 Easy Steps to Socializing Your Home School Kid

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“I am worried about sending my kids back, but I concerned about socialization if I homeschool.”

“I loved the flexibility of homeschooling this last semester, but I am concerned about socializing.”

“I really want to homeschool, but I am concerned about socializing.”

Sound familiar? 

This is actually the number one “concern” I hear when people learn we homeschool.  It honestly makes me laugh – more so now that I know the changes districts across America are making.

When we chose to pull our kid from public school (for so many reasons), we were “concerned” about socializing as well.  This was particularly concerning for a parent of special needs children who need the stream-lined socialization for more than just play.

The fears of the “weird home school kid” label and, worst, it becoming true, were a serious battle for my family.  I did what any data-loving person would do – I calculated all the time he spent “socializing” at traditional public schools.  There is no talking in class (unless a team activity, which was once a week at best). There is no talking in the hallways (too and from PE, lunch, and recess or assemblies).  There was no talking on the bus to and from school.  So, I was left with the 20-minute lunch, 15-minute recess, and 20-minute PE class on average most days.  I added in another 20 minutes of “team activities” for grace.  All in all, my son was “socializing” 90 minutes a day – at best.

From what teachers are telling me, with new COVID-19 measures, children will not be allowed to socialize with those outside their class, dividers will be put up between students at their desks, team projects are out the window, and oh, PE, recess, and lunch will likely be in the same room with the same kids they are not allowed to go within 6-feet of.

Then I considered WHO he was socializing with.  Daily we were informed of bullying (my son was actually bullied by students, teachers, and aides).  Daily he would come home with stories that would break your heart. 

The kids he could hang out with without being bullied, well, their morals were questionable at best.  Parents allowing elementary kids to watch movies like Saw and other horror movies, or who believed kids should not be held accountable for behavior because they are “kids and need to figure things out on their own.”  The lessons he was learning from his peers were not love, kindness, and mercy, but hate, selfishness, and worry.

Weighing the pros and cons, we obviously decided to pull our son.

So, how do we get that 90-minute social activity?  How could we as parents fill the role the state has been doing so mediocrely? Could we do it better? The answer was a resounding YES.

Our son winning the Gold at Florida State Championship

1.       Team Sports: Many parents say they are exhausted between school and the numerous activities they do after soon.  Homeschool actually offered less time “in the books” and more time to have fun.  Our son joined a community team – first flag football and then track and field.  He is held accountable, taught self-discipline, and has so much fun!  He has been a state champion in flag football and in track and field three years running. I addition to some great local teams, check out Special Olympics – for streamlined and special needs kiddos. 

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2.       Play-dates: I don’t know about you, but I love play-dates (even as an adult).  The beauty of homeschool is I get to pick who my child spends his time with.  Gone are the days were every kid in a 30-student classroom has to be invited to every party and play-date.  Now, we got to know who he was spending time with, the values those kids were pouring into each other, and not have to do the obligatory invitations to kids we knew our son did not want to hang out with. Don’t rule out co-ops, small groups, youth groups, and Sunday School.

Community Serve Day making cards for senior citizens

3.       Volunteering: There is so much emphasis in high school to do community service.  A lot of schools now require this to graduate.  But, why do we wait so long to instill that into our children?  Volunteering is so important to the community and developing young hearts into compassionate passionate adults.  Some great places to get involved are your local church, food closets, and community centers.  We love working with senior citizens, writing cards, calling, video chatting!  Our son has now started helping lead the young children at our church in Sunday School activities.  I love it when my son gets to help out our local Rotary club serving meals, helping in supply drives, and more or helping Habitat For Humanity.  See what your community offers, I bet it is more than you think.

Exploring the Florida Cavarns

4.       Field Trips: Our son was lucky enough to go on one to two field trips a year.  Field trips are so important for hands-on learning and socializing.  People are more themselves when not in a traditional classroom.  Since we pulled for home school, my son goes on at least once a month (COVID-19 aside).  There are so many places to go for free and a lot of places have openings for homeschool groups.  For biology and ecology, we took a trip to the Florida Caverns, for history we went to a live re-enactment of the Spanish colonies in Florida.  There are so many possibilities!  Even before homeschool, we would travel somewhere at least once a month just to see the world and new cultures.  These are perfect outings for playdates, other homeschool families to join in on, or just fun for the whole family.

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5.    Extra-curriculars: Just like any kid, homeschool kids need extracurriculars.  Our son has enjoyed learning dance and guitar.  These are great ways to introduce other teachers while also helping encourage friendships to grow in unlikely places.  Many community centers offer these classes for free or cheap. Don’t rule out acting, dance, art. Scouts are a great way to teach volunteerism and socializing.

It is easy to be concerned with socializing your child.  I think we should be concerned about what that looks like regardless of where they go to school.  As the old adage says, bad company corrupts good character.  Homeschool offers an ability to know what is happening in your child’s life, offers more opportunity to grow and learn in a social environment, and allows you the opportunity to invest in the lives of those who hang around your child.  

Whether you homeschool or not, I hope you consider these tips and how they can help your family grow together in love, laughter, and learning.