Faith and Financial Resources

The Secret to Contentment:

I think we all struggle to be content in general, and in all circumstances. I know I do. When Drew and I were paying off our student loans and living on a tight budget, I fought for contentment and tried not to compare our spending habits and/or possessions to others.

Secret to Contentment pic, blog

While I knew it wasn’t true, it’s almost like in the back of my mind I thought I needed to pursue contentment while our budget was tight but that I’d find it much easier to be content once we had more resources to spend. As if once I had more clothes money, “fun money,” newer furniture, more budget for eating out, etc. contentment would come naturally.

Since paying off our last loan in August 2016, we get to keep roughly $2,500/month rather than put the money towards loans. We’ve increased most of our budget categories and I’ve enjoyed being able to eat out more, “spruce up” my wardrobe, etc.

I’m so grateful our loans are behind us and we have more financial margin, but I wouldn’t say this has changed the need to constantly pursue contentment.

   *Photo Credit*

The past few weeks I’ve been shopping for new clothes. Again, super grateful to have the resources for this, but I’ve found myself getting more excited about other things to buy than appreciating what I was getting. It’s like the outfits I looked forward to buying when we were budgeting have been added to my wardrobe, I’m excited for a moment, and then off to the next thing.

So what’s the point of this post? I think it’s so important to pursue contentment in all seasons. It’s a battle worth fighting in seasons of little and plenty. There will always be more out there to want. Even when Drew and I had a tight budget, we were so fortunate and had all we needed to be content.

What’s the secret of being content? Check out Paul’s approach from Philippians:

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11-13

Paul’s speaking to the church in Philippians who’ve given generously to support him being in full time ministry to spread the gospel throughout the world. He truly learned how to be brought low (imprisonments, severe beatings, lacking physical provision, etc.) and still be content.

Talk about a difference between my discontentment of not getting as much Starbucks or that new outfit vs. lacking true needs like Paul. Regardless of the circumstance, he learned how to be content.

I like how “learned” is used twice in these verses because it gives me hope that we can grow in our pursuit of contentment, too.

Paul reveals the secret to contentment in vs. 13 “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

We find contentment through fixing our eyes and hearts on Jesus in all circumstances. Personally, when I was in our time of “need” I found my contentment sitting still in prayer and asking God to help me find contentment in all circumstances, to help me resist comparing myself to others and wanting what they had. Now in our time of “plenty,” I’m asking God for the same. I still need His help to find the same peace with little or plenty.

Practically speaking, I remind myself and pray through these truths:

  • Earth is my temporary home; my purpose isn’t to accumulate a bunch of stuff
  • Christ is my true joy, not image or physical appearance
  • Nothing on earth can bring true, lasting contentment, only Christ

It’s amazing the joy and freedom I find when I slow down, think through what’s going on in my heart, and realign to the big picture.

These truths replace negative thoughts and lies I may otherwise be believing.

The best part is, the pressure’s not on me in all of this. The Holy Spirit brings these things to mind and empowers me to replace lies with Truth.

So there you have it: the secret to contentment is Jesus. No circumstance brings true and/or lasting contentment without Him, but contentment and peace can be found in all circumstances through Him. Paul’s story is proof, and this truth helps me renew my mind daily.

Can you relate to any of this? I’d love to hear your thoughts, below!

.Em ❤

Contentment in Consumerism World

Benefits of Living Debt Free

It’s been 8 months since Drew and I made our last loan payment. I can’t tell you how refreshing it’s been to keep roughly $2,500/month vs. paying it towards loans. We still joke around and ask each other, “how much do we owe this month?” and then respond “ZERO!!!!”

But we made “sacrifices” to get here.    Benefits of Being Debt Free, blog

For almost 3 years we barely ate out, had minimal decorations for our home, and bought basic groceries. Snacks and desserts were treats, we ate lots of spaghetti, and bought the most affordable meats—lots and lots of chicken! If you were a guest in our home we’d offer you “water or water.” 😉

No doubt we had all we needed, and we didn’t go as far as to only eat rice and beans like Dave Ramsey references, so all and all we had a lot to be grateful for. Nonetheless, we were still making sacrifices.

Was it worth it? ABSOLUTELY!

There are so many benefits in being debt-free. By God’s grace, we’ve been able to build our savings and start investing in retirement and mutual funds.

Sidenote: we chose to put all our extra money towards loans and put off investing/retirement. We took this strategy since we were losing about 6% in interest, and we wanted to focus one one thing at a time -paying off debt, than investing.

Having financial margin has reduced stress and provided options. Like I mentioned in a previous post, Drew was able to quit his full-time job for a year to pursue a career change. We have a buffer if the economy crashes or we have a significant unexpected expense.

Ultimately, our trust and security are in Christ alone. We know that we could lose everything of earthly value today, or God could clearly lead us to give it all away. Outside of scenarios like this, I think it’s wise to have financial margin and savings for retirement, if possible.

So without getting into the weeds of our strategy, I want to encourage you with yours.

I want to encourage you that making some extreme decisions, and perhaps living a little different than the trend of our culture, is totally worth it!

What vehicle, house, new outfit, or living room set is worth being a slave to debt? What’s worth the stress that being financially burdened brings? Would you rather make some tough sacrifices now, or continue living strapped?

But…our culture tells us that if we want something, we deserve it.

Think of all the advertisements. How about the commercial this Christmas that showed one neighbor buying the “lame” snowman while the other bought the new truck. Or Verizon, “Didn’t get what you wanted this Christmas?” “There’s still time to get the new iPhone” (paraphrased).

We live in a world where billions of dollars in marketing are spent each year to make us feel like we need more to make us happy. We have to be aware of this and be ok living a bit differently.

So, what actions can you start taking, today?

Perhaps it’s selling a car and sharing with your spouse. Downsizing your home. Wearing what you have and pursuing contentment. Eating out less, and grocery shopping with a strategy and budget.

All of this sounds awful, right? But I can tell you it really wasn’t that bad. When it’s a choice to cut back in pursuit of a preferred future, it can be invigorating! It’s all about shifting your perspective.

“But I want to enjoy my life…”

You may be thinking you’ll miss out on life. We found ways to have fun on our budget, and I don’t think we missed out on anything of significance. Like I said, Drew was able to quit his job, there’s plenty of ways to enjoy life without spending a lot of money, and now we have plenty of cushion for fun.

I have no regrets!

A few closing tips:

If you start changing your spending habits, I recommend viewing your decisions as an opportunity to share with others why you’re living differently rather than feeling embarrassed by your frugal lifestyle. I think you’ll be surprised with how many people will feel encouraged to do the same, as if they wouldn’t be alone if they stepped out of the norm, too.

If you make some intentional choices to pay off debt, it’s so important to renew your mind often and remember why you’re choosing to do this. Between wanting to purchase something, comparison to others, and consumerism, it can be tough. But the battle is worth it!

Ok, ok, one more thought: there’s GRACE in all of the above. Think of ways you can start managing your finances better, and find what works for you.

That’s all for now, folks!

Comment with any questions, and start following for future posts (right-hand side of page)!

❤ Em

Practical Budgeting Tips

3 Ways to Start Saving Today!

I recently shared how my husband and I paid off $76,000 of student loans in less than 3 years. While this was a huge accomplishment, it can be intimidating to know where to start.

Today, I’m sharing 3 simple ways you can immediately improve your finances.

1. Determine Why You Want to Spend Less: 3_ways_to_start_saving_blog pic

It’s almost the end of March, so I imagine most of us have dropped off from our goals for the new year. Did you hope to get in shape, lose weight, or maybe change your finance situation? I think the reason most of us have a hard time sticking to new goals is because we don’t have a good enough reason to have the goal in the first place.

I think we need a clear vision and reason for a goal to actually achieve it. What’s your reason, your “why”?

If you don’t have an answer, pause and make this clear before starting a radical new change in the way you handle money.

Think about your future and how finances fit in. I get the impression that many people have accepted living with debt, and/or gotten comfortable living with little to no financial margin. Do you live under the “if you have it, spend it” mindset?

Here’s some key areas worth considering when thinking about finance goals:

  • Do you have debt to pay off?
    Paying off debt is one of the quickest ways to make money. Imagine what you could do if you kept or invested the money going towards debt this month! Not only do you keep it, you’re not losing interest every month. Our loans were ~6% interest…aka someone was making money off of us vs. the other way around (dang it!).
  • Do you have an emergency fund and savings?
    An easy way to prevent debt is having cushion in your budget. When the car needs repair, do you have money set aside, or would you need to use your credit card? I recommend building towards 3-6 months savings. If this would be too big of a goal today, set an achievable goal to work towards. Maybe start with $500-$1,000 and then increase again once you hit your goal.
  • Do you hope to save for a home?
    Perhaps you want to save for a down payment on a home. I think this is a great goal, but I do recommend having some savings before purchasing a home because of the risk you take on with unexpected repairs and other expenses.
  • Do you want to save for the future?
    Have you thought about the future and your finance goals? Are you saving for a family vacation? Replacement car? Retirement? If not, would you like to be?
  • Do you wish you could give more?
    What if you could increase your giving and make an impact with your monetary resources? What if you could manage your resources and build a lifestyle conducive to regularly increasing your giving?

For Drew and I, all of the above were and are our goals. We knew having $76,000 of student loans was a huge hindrance in pursuing the other goals, so that’s why we tackled it first.

2. Determine What You Currently Spend:

Genius idea, right? I know this is simple, but it’s so important. If you see a nutritionist they’ll probably ask you to do the same thing (i.e. write down what you currently eat). You’ve got to know where you are to know where you want to go.

Try this. Write down everything you spend money on for a month. I suggest a month so you capture recurring bills (rent/mortgage, car insurance, utilities etc.), in addition to general spending. If you can’t stick to tracking it for a month, start with a week (then repeat x3…just teasing!).

After measuring current trends, learn from your spending habits and get motivation to start cutting back in areas. Could you eat out one less time/month? Shop when you have a need vs. want? How often do you spend $1-$3 without even realizing it (ordering a drink at a restaurant, getting coffee or snack on the go…)?

3. Focus on Areas You Can Save Money:

Find areas in your budget where you can save money, then set goals and stick to them! Again, not rocket science, but super important.

The areas that typically have the “lowest hanging fruit” to save money are groceries, spending, and eating out.

If you start using a budget and set a goal for how much you’ll spend in groceries, I’m confident you can find ways to cut back each month. Maybe you currently spend $400/month and you can shave off $30/month by being intentional with what you purchase.

It’s crazy how you can easily spend $10-20 more each time you get groceries if you don’t have a plan! Think about it, if this is true, and most of us don’t need convincing that it is, this means we could save $100/month just by having a goal!

Where would you prefer that $100 go each month?

Additionally, $400/month was what Drew and I intentionally budgeted for the first year of our marriage. If you’re not currently using a budget for groceries, I bet you could easily save 15-20%/month by starting a simple budget! Do the math for motivation!

*Note: it’s just my husband and me, so these numbers are based on feeding two people.

Here’s some grocery saving tips we used:
We would often cut back on buying sweets, snacks, and drinks (easily saves $20/each week). We’d frequently choose to eat spaghetti in efforts to make that month’s goal, or eat a bland meal instead of trying a new and exciting recipe (ingredients add up quick!). I’d check the budget before getting groceries, and add up what I thought I was about to spend before checking out.

Make a game out of it. Try to balance the budget without going a penny over. Put stuff back if you need to. Not because you have to, but because you choose to for your preferred future!

As mentioned here, we used the YNAB budgeting tool to help us stick to a budget. One thing I love about this tool are the reports it provides so you can look back at spending habits (data below).

To illustrate how much you can save in the areas mentioned above, check out what we spent in these categories over the past 3 years (the time-frame in which we were paying off our loans):

Groceries:
2014: $4,285
2015: $3,730
2016: $4,350

Spending*:
2014: $2,385
2015: $1,600
2016: $1,840

Eating Out*:
2014: $880
2015: $630
2016: $1,830

* “Spending” includes the “entertainment” budget Drew and I share, as well as the “fun money” and “food money” we each individually have.
* “Eating Out” is a budget Drew and I share, unlike our individual food money listed under “spending.”

I’ve emphasized 2015, because this is the year Drew quit his job to pursue a career change. Literally living on one income, we tightened down our budget even more. This is important for you to see because this was the year we were most intentional with our budget.

Check out the total savings all of this adds up to:

If you compare 2014 to 2015, we spent a total of $1,500 less in 2015. If you compare 2015 to 2016, we spent a total of $2,000 less in 2015.

How many of you could pay off a small student loan or credit card bill with $1,550 or $2,000? The small changes in how we budget for groceries, spending, and eating out go a long way!

Here’s how much we saved in each category/month in 2015 compared to 2014:

Groceries: On average, we saved ~$45/month, ($4,285-$3,730)/12.
Spending: On average, we saved ~ $65/month, ($2,385-$1,600)/12.
Eating Out: On average, we saved ~$20/month, ($880-$630)/12.

So there you have it; cutting back a little each month goes a long way! What one thing can you take from today’s post to apply to your finances?

Please share if this was helpful! ❤

.Em

Contentment in Consumerism World

Engagement Ring: Pursuing Contentment and Perspective

Why I Only Wear an Engagement Ring:

Blog-engagement ringMany people think I’m still engaged since I don’t wear (or own) a wedding band. This wasn’t planned, but something I intentionally chose after we got engaged.

Don’t get scared off…keep reading… I promise it’s a balanced perspective. 🙂

History of the Wedding Band and Perspective:

Before Drew proposed, I was learning a lot about margin (time, finances, possessions, etc.) and recently watched Blood Diamond. This is a movie based on true events of laborers in Africa being forced to find diamonds, a tragedy still going on today. I started thinking through the original meaning of a wedding band versus the focus and pressure our culture puts on finding the “perfect” (and often very expensive) ring.

I can picture the first wedding band now. I envision someone tying a piece of thread together or having the goldsmith create a beautiful wedding band out of metal.

Photo Cred: Met Museum of Art for far right image. This is from the 6th and 7th century…glad this didn’t stick!

While I love the meaning of showing the world you’re married, I don’t like how our society has taken the idea and run with it. Making a soon to be groom feel like the weight of his bride’s answer depends on the size of the diamond.

To support my point, check out these interesting facts about wedding bands:

  • The history of a wedding band dates back about 5,000 years ago and were often made from reeds or leather.
  • The tradition of a diamond engagement ring began in the 1400s.
  • Diamond engagement rings weren’t the norm in the US until ~1940 when De Beers created “Diamond is Forever” campaign to push the sale of diamond engagement rings.
  • De Beers is a leading company in the diamond industry (of course!).

I found these interesting facts from With These Rings and Today I Found Out.

Fight Comparison and Pressure:

I love beautiful engagement and wedding rings, I just think we have to mindful of the culture we’re in and to push back against the temptation to get caught up in comparison, spending more than we can afford, and often lusting after something because we feel like we’re “supposed” to have something.

I think it’s helpful to be aware of the original meaning of the wedding band, the purpose of marriage, and push back against the pressure placed on us. We should focus on who we’re marrying and the marriage we aim to build.

What’s Important to You (not other opinions):

I also think it’s good to consider who you are and what’s important to you. For me, my wedding ring is the only piece of real jewelry I wear or desire. My ring is simple, elegant, and I couldn’t imagine a better fit for my taste. I know many women who have a set and just wear their wedding band for the same reason. I don’t like expensive accessories (sunglasses, earrings, etc.) because fear of losing them adds stress. This also matches my general taste and personality. If I’m not working, I’m typically in Toms, jeans, and a v-neck.

On the other hand, I know women who really appreciate diamond earrings and other special pieces. Maybe their ring looks different than mine because it’s something they really appreciate. Some of my favorite women love dressing up and have a greater appreciation for jewelry (and you won’t catch them in Toms 😉 ).

So I’m not saying one size fits all here (no pun intended!), just giving another angle to view this topic through.

Can You Afford It?

And remember, apart from all the preferences, the question of CAN YOU AFFORD IT is key. Maybe you would appreciate something outside of your budget but need to wait until you and your husband can save for it. The wait is worth it! You’ll never hear that at the jewelry counter!

Does the Decision Honor God:

I’m still working through how we make expensive purchases in light of so many needs around us but, as a quick point here, I think we should always pray and ask God for perspective and wisdom in how we spend His resources. What’s the motives in our heart?

That’s a Wrap:

So, why do I only wear the engagement ring as my wedding band? For me, personally, I love the ring Drew gave me and don’t want to change it. He had it made using the diamond from his mom’s engagement ring and had a setting designed especially for me. I truly like it better without the wedding band that would go with it. I know if I got the band it’d only be out of pressure from what you’re “supposed to do” and not something I desire. So, unless it becomes something important to me and/or Drew (and assuming we could afford it), I love the ring pictured above.
I hope my story provides a different angle than what we’re constantly hearing around us. The point isn’t to avoid having a nice ring set, but to just ask important questions that bring perspective. What’s the meaning of a wedding band? Are you being a good steward of the resources God’s given you? Are we caught up in comparison and pressure of others and/or our culture? Who are you and what’s important to you?

I hope this post encourages you wherever you are in your “ring journey,” today! This concept can be applied to so many other things, as well.

…and I didn’t even get going on the wedding industry…I’ll save that for another post 😉

xoxoxo

.Em

Practical Budgeting Tips

How We Paid Off $76,000 of Student Loans in Less than 3 Years (and my husband quit his job)

Our strategy to paying off our students loans was really quite simple. Nothing in this post is rocket science, and most of our plan was inspired by Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps. I share our story to encourage you it is possible to get out of debt by simple principles, and I hope it inspires you wherever you are with your finances.

So here we go..blog_money_03

When Drew and I got married, one of our biggest goals was to pay off our $76,000 of student loans ASAP!

We both wanted to pay off debt before having kids. Not to mention, the thought of paying roughly $250,000 in the long-term with interest rates was infuriating and a good motivator to GET ON IT.

If you haven’t done this, Google a loan calculator to see what the end amount will cost. It’s super motivating to aggressively pay it off!

With the thought of having kids 2-3 years into marriage, we decided to pursue a plan to pay off our loans within this time-frame. We knew it would take a lot of discipline and God’s providence but it would be worth it. With the monthly loan payment of $986/month (basically the cost of a mortgage!!) we knew this would be a huge hindrance and harder to pay off the longer we waited. 

Earlier on in the year that we got married, we started making financial decisions that aligned with our end goal. We purchased older cars that we could pay cash for, and I downsized from my own apartment in a nice area and moved in with roommates to save ~$350/month. We were already frugal but we tightened up on spending, in general.

When we got married, part of our strategy was to primarily build our lifestyle and budget on Drew’s income. For us, this meant making some “sacrifices” like buying used furniture and minimal decorations, living farther from our church and community, living an in older apartment complex, and spending far less than we made.

We got on a strict budget and used an amazing tool called You Need a Budget (YNAB). This is an incredible tool for predetermining what you want to spend in each category, tracking what you spend, viewing spending trends, and creating saving goals. It’s similar to Mint, but you manually track everything, so you’re constantly aware of what remains in each category.

With the end goal in mind (paying off our loans in 2-3 years), we set our monthly budget categories (groceries, entertainment, rent, etc.) based primarily on Drew’s income so we could put most of my income towards loans. These predetermined goals, both overall and monthly, helped “gamify” sticking to our budget categories.

To reach the monthly goal of putting most of my income (in addition to the regular payment) towards our loans, staying within each category helped maintain the overall goal. Each month paying our end of the month goal brought us a step closer to paying off another loan. If our grocery budget was $300/month, I knew that not spending over in groceries would help reach the monthly goal.

Reaching our monthly goal gave me energy to keep up the hard work. Knowing we had a goal and reaching it in a month was motivating and provided monthly, attainable goals.

In order to stay within our budget, we tracked everything we spent. Not even joking! $1 pack of gum…yep, we tracked it! Seriously. We built the habit of checking our budget before spending, which I think is crucial for serious debt elimination.

Another motivator for us was aggressively paying off one loan at a time rather than spreading the extra loan payments over all loans. We started with Dave Ramsey’s advice of paying the smallest loans off first. Next, we paid the one with the highest interest rates.

It’s super exciting when you pay off a loan to see the total monthly payments decrease. Next to paying off our final loan, our biggest celebration came when we paid off the 1st of 3 major loans that was roughly $20,000. Our minimum payment went from $986/month to less than $500/month, allowing us to add an additional $500/month towards loans.

blog-night-we-paid-of-first-loan
The night we paid off our first big loan (~$20,000)!!!

Cutting our monthly loan payment in half also allowed Drew to quit his job for a year to pursue a career change. Had our debt not substantially decreased a couple of months prior, we probably wouldn’t have entertained the idea. This is just one example of the benefits from making radical, disciplined financial decisions for a preferred future.

Literally living on one income, made us tighten down the budget even more. Again, this is when having a clear vision helped us stick to the daily sacrifices we were making. But… It. Was. Worth. It!

By God’s grace, Drew started his new job in January of last year and we got back on our original plan of paying one person’s income towards loans and sticky to a tight budget. We were able to pay off our last loan 8 months later, August 2016.

I can’t tell you how exciting it’s been, and the weight that’s been lifted! Living on a tight budget for ~3 years was challenging but, in hindsight, I don’t look back and feel like we missed out on anything of significance. If anything, I’m extremely grateful for the experience, as it’s taught me so much about where my identity and joy come from, stewardship, and being grateful for what you have.

I recognize that everyone is at a different place financially, and that your strategy may look much different than ours. I do hope, however, that our story has encouraged you wherever you are in your journey. Our journey required a vision, a plan, and discipline, but the strategy was really quite simple.

Whether you have a lot of debt like we did, or a small amount; whether spending less comes easy for you, or is a big challenge, I’d encourage you to pursue freedom from debt. It’s so worth the sacrifices you’ll make.

I hope this has encouraged you wherever you are today.  I look forward to expounding on many of the things I learned along the way!

~Em

 

P.S. Just for fun, here’s some scenarios from our story. You may relate or feel encouraged to get crazy with budgeting…

You know you’re on a budget when…

  • You think splurging is buying $3 “special” face scrub
  • Buying gum is a treat…and sometimes you chew it as dessert to save money
  • You have random dinner like scrambled eggs with broccoli and Asian dumplings in efforts to stay within budget and clean out the fridge
  • You choose between buying hairspray or mousse, waiting until next month to buy the other
  • It’s the end of the month and you combine 3 categories of your budget to pull together enough money for fast food burgers

 

 

Random

Let the Journey Begin!

blog-headshot-option

I’m so excited to begin this blog, as my dream of 5 years is finally coming true!

I’ve had a dream to be a voice about the way we view our resources for many years but because of fear, and lack of dedication to pursue it, I postponed.

As my passion for budgeting, stewardship, and giving has increased, I believe this tug at my heart is from God. I think He’s placed this desire in me and has created these interests for a purpose.

So here I am. Starting a blog. I’ll post budgeting tips I’ve learned from our journey of paying off $76,000 of student loans, but I’m most passionate about sharing perspective on avoiding debt and the “root” of what gets us in debt to begin with.

I’ll also highlight the needs of others in hopes that we’re constantly keeping perspective on how our resources, when viewed in light of eternity, can make a significant impact.

I aim to create a supportive community where you come away encouraged that you’re not alone in your financial journey. Whether you need to pay off debt, desire to be more intentional with your budget, or aim to grow in stewardship in general, I want us to support each other.

Let’s ask questions, laugh with each other, and be transparent.

Thanks for your grace along the way!

~Em