Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Cookie Jar

Can I just tell you how good it feels to have all of your credit card balances be at zero? If you have no idea what that feels like, may I suggest you join me on my credit card "diet". Having credit cards at your convenient disposal is a lot like living with jars of cookies and chocolate all over your home. It is one thing to want to eat healthy or lose weight, but if your weakness is cookies and you are constantly surrounded by them, then you will have a very hard time reaching your goal. You will snack, and just have one or two, and all of a sudden you have eaten an entire jar of cookies! In the same way, credit cards seem innoculous in just charging dinner, or some clothes, or an ebay purchase, and pretty soon you have eaten the all of the cookies and are in a deep hole of credit card debt.

Matt and I aren't in debt (thank you Lord!), but we also feel like it is foolishness to keep doing the same thing expecting different results. So today I threw out the cookie jars. I took all of the credit cards out of my wallet. I paid off all of the balances. We actually only have one main credit card that we use, but I also have a few store credit cards that give me special deals for using them. They have saved me a lot of money over Christmas and I knew that I would immediately pay them off, but for at least this next month, they are all being packed away.

I also got my finance binder completely in order and bought my new binder today. It was a good day in finance land for me and my house. However, it was a little complicated to figure out just how to deal with some of the returns I still need to make to stores. If I pay off all of my main credit card now and then make the returns I will have a credit on my card and since I am not going to be using it, that does me no good. So what I have done is guestimate my return amounts and then made a payment of almost all of the total. After I have returned the toy Luke got two of, and the shoes that aren't comfortable (although very pretty), and a few other things, I will then make a final payment on my main credit card.

So that is my plan. What is yours? You might need to put yourself on a payment plan for what you have spent on Christmas. And let me just say, a payment plan is not your minimum payment! The only way to effectively work a payment plan on your credit card is to stop using them. First make a payment for as much you can. Then take the remaining amount that you owe and this is your goal for this year (and hopefully sooner).

And this goal is entirely possible with the help of your budget. If you need further help in digging out from credit card debt please read the following two blogs: Managing Your Credit Card Debt and Kill Your Giant. I have several other blogs on credit cards that will help you, but start with these two and go from there.

We all have such a good year ahead of us. God has gone before us and I truly believe that His heart for each of His kids is that we not walk bound with debt. I don't think that necessarily means that God is going to instantly pay off your debt. Just like He doesn't instantly make you skinny when you repent from over-eating. There is a process to going into debt and there is a growing process in getting free from it. But God does give you incredible grace for the journey and His wisdom to manage your money better. As God said to Samuel in 1 Samuel 16:7, "Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." It is not debt that is really at issue, but what is in your heart. I guarantee you that as your heart changes from dependence on credit cards to a dependence on God, you will see God's hand working in your finances in wonderful ways.

I am so excited to see God's faithfulness this year and what He is going to do in my heart, and it hasn't even begun yet :) But for me, today was a good beginning... at least I got rid of the cookie jars.

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Little Less Chocolate

Are you hiding from your bills and finances? I am... just a little bit. Christmas is such a magical season, but it is also magical how quickly money disappears during the Christmas season. Between the presents, stocking stuffers, parties, family and guests visiting, travel costs, the outings and even the utilities bills from having guests... it just adds up so quickly. Facing that final reality in the aftermath of Christmas can seem like a bucket of cold water. So we are all in recovery together.

Let's face it friends, there is no way through but to go through... and I for one do not want to start the new year with financial baggage. I didn't blog very much in December and it was for these reasons: I was sick for a good week before Christmas and then when I was finally better I hit the ground running with a trip to Nashville with my Mom, and then straight back into Christmas and family in town. I honestly feel like today was my first "normal" day in weeks. And I know that I am not alone. Many of you have had the same kind of month and may not even be breathing yet (although if you still have house guests, God bless you!).

But wherever you find yourself, the end of the month is coming and the beginning of a new year approaches. So tomorrow, I am going to file my small pile of December's neglected paperwork into my finance binder. This actually should close out my binder for the year, which is exciting. I am also going to go buy my new binder for the new year and start a fresh. Every thing that I need for my taxes is in my 2008 binder so I will keep that handy until I have done my taxes, but it is going to be lovely to begin again with an empty binder. If you haven't yet started a finance binder, or haven't read about it yet, let me encourage you to go read about it here , here, and here. It really will simplify your financial paperwork. Even when you neglect your paperwork for a month (like I have in December), you will never be that far behind with the binder system.

And to really end the year right and get ready for my "life after credit cards", tomorrow I am going to reconcile my books, pay off my credit card, and remove my credit cards from my wallet. Whew, deep breaths. I am already looking ahead at January at the challenges that I am going to face without credit cards. For my family it is a month packed with birthdays (including Luke's, which means a party :), anniversaries, we had even planned an overnight trip... these are all going to challenge me. I am going to have to think ahead and budget for the details like haven't done in a while.

My printed budget governs all of our bills and spending, but there is still wiggle room in the discretionary spending. Unfortunately, that wiggle has become a full out dancing jive to the music of credit cards, and our discretionary spending keeps spilling into our savings. It is just so difficult to have accountability when you can so easily use a card. So, I am excited to rein in the wiggle this month. Actually that sounds like a diet plan too :) Maybe we all need a little less wiggle in our walk. So... a little less chocolate, and a lot more running. Or in financial terms: a little less credit card, and a lot more budgeting.

God bless.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

New Beginnings

A new year is coming and I just love new beginnings. Many people laugh at new year's resolutions, but every year I see it as an opportunity to begin again. I ask the Lord for fresh vision for the year and for my life. I look at my calendar and write in all of the birthdays for friends and try to think "birthday budget". I clean out my closet and go through my junk drawers. In my house, everything gets a fresh beginning for the new year... and that includes my budget.

So as I have been looking at my budget for the new year, Matt and I have decided to do something a little drastic. Over the last few years, we have started using our credit cards more and more. We pay it off every month and we meticulously track our spending, however we have also started to feel the slide of spending without knowing exactly where the money is coming from. Up until now, we always had a steady salaried paycheck so we knew that at the end of the month we would be able to pay it off. However, with Matt moving towards a commission based income, where it is not always a guarantee that clients will pay you by the end of the month, we no longer feel that our credit card "habit" is safe for us.

Consequently, starting in January we are going to quit using our credit cards. I am going to take them out of my wallet, and outlaw online spending (at least for a month), and I am going to blog about the adventure. I am sort of seeing it as a fast for my budget. I have gotten lazy with my spending and I just think this is going to re-focus us towards "purposeful spending to enable our dreams" which is the very heart of my philosophy on budgeting. You don't budget just to control your spending. You budget to enable your dreams, because just having a goal of deprivation is not enough to empower a life change in your finances. But when you have a purpose for budgeting, it takes on meaning and the dollars you save become significant because they are enabling your dreams. (budgeting in a nutshell :) )

Matt and I have a huge dream this year of going to England for our 10th anniversary in August. We have talked about it since our 2nd anniversary and it is almost here. It seems a little difficult to me with starting a business and all that goes with it, but it is not impossible. But first, we need to get back to purposeful spending.

So, I am going to call this next month "Life After Credit Cards". I know it is possible, but for me it is really going to be a challenge. Anyway, I am going to share the journey with you this month. Of course, I will probably write about other things along the way, but I hope my adventure will inspire you to think outside your box of the familiar in order to reach your dreams.

We get so used to doing things a certain way that it seems so sacrificial when we have to change. Yet, many times the things that we are holding on to are actually just holding us back from our purpose. As we look at this new year, are there things or habits that you are holding onto that are holding you back. For me, the credit card has become a crutch that has enable my faith to get weak (I'll write more about that later). What is your crutch? What habits are you keeping that are actually sabotaging what is God has put in your heart? We still have three more days until the new year. Take these days to ask the Lord what He has for you this year and what He would like you to leave behind in the old year. The new year is a beautiful time for new beginnings. And the new beginning for me is life after credit cards :)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Father's Love

Well, I can't seem to get the blog written, but I am working on my book, so I think it's just that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing.

But I just have to share this video with you. Nothing to do with budgeting, but it also puts everything in perspective. Love and fear cannot co-exist. His love drives all fear from your heart. So if you are in fear in your finances... this is such a wonderful reminder of who your heavenly Father is and how much He loves you. What amazing love...

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Hey friends, I just wanted to give you an update since it has been a week. The Jones family is doing great. We are enjoying the Christmas season immensely. It is so fun to hear the kid's questions and to focus our conversations with them so much on Jesus. I know you should always do that and we do, but Christmas provides such a purposeful opportunity.

And for me personally, I am working on my book again and that is why I haven't been blogging. Honestly it is a little hard going. It is so much more fun to write a fresh story or article than to edit the ones you have already written. However, I have a goal for December so I am pushing towards it. It is just so good to keep forward momentum, and so on I go.

I do have a blog that has been stirring in my heart and I am working on, so maybe I will get that posted a little later today. It is a bit "soap boxy" but with such a powerful point that I hope will challenge you as much as it has me. That is, if I can just find the time to write. But as I keep reminding myself, this is just for a season. It's funny, but nothing will get your creative juices going like having to take a break from doing the thing you love. Maybe it is just that there are so many budgeting issues that surround the Christmas season, especially this year.

So from my home to yours and in the mean time... keep on budgeting and have a wonderful day

Monday, December 1, 2008

Thoughts From Beneath the Tree

I was sitting beneath my beautiful Christmas tree last night, looking at all of the pictures of my kids and little ornaments that represent all kinds of holidays, years, milestones in our lives. And all of a sudden I was struck by the abundance of Christmas and how it flies in the face of the current trend of “frugality”. Everywhere I look and read people are scaling back, cutting back, and trying to figure out how to give less. And though I absolutely applaud being purposeful with your money, there is something so empty in this approach to Christmas. They call it refocusing the season on Jesus, but in the process many have lost the spirit of the giver.

And as I sat there looking at my tree I was struck again by the nature of my wonderful God who extravagantly gave His only Son to us, so that we might know Him. He held nothing back. He didn’t scrimp on His gift. He gave freely, with love and abandoned generosity. We give in celebration of His gift. We give because He gave.

No, it’s not about the price of a gift, or the size of the gift. Rather I am talking about the spirit of the giver. This season is all about Jesus, but that shouldn’t mean that we don’t give gifts to our family and tell them we are focusing on Jesus. It means we embrace who God wants us to be in our family’s lives. Be His hands and His ambassadors to your parents, aunts, and grandparents. Instead of asking, what is the cheapest gift I can give to my brother or niece, ask the Holy Spirit how you can bless your brother. I guarantee you that God knows your budget, but it is something in your heart that changes when you give from His heart rather than your lack. I think the problem is that we are embarrassed when our gifts are small, rather than just celebrating that we get to give. You may be giving coupons to baby-sit for your sister’s children so that she can have a break with her husband, but that may be exactly what will bless her the most even though it doesn’t have a monetary tag.

People get so “religious” at Christmas and want to criticize the consumerism and excess and call for spending less and just “focusing on Jesus”. But while I agree with them on some things, I just think they have missed the whole point. People get into excess when they aren’t giving from their hearts and are instead giving because of expectations, obligation, or fear of offending someone. But you can be just as bound by being miserly. The fear of not having enough for yourself, stinginess, judgments that they have too much already, and religious self-justification all trap your heart inside a prison of fear and hoarding. Remember Scrooge? It’s not really that he had or didn’t have, because though he had lots of money, his heart was impoverished because he didn’t know how to be a giver. It’s not really the giving in excess or the hoarding, it is the spirit of the giver that is at issue

I have actually wanted to write this blog for some time now about the absence of “frugality” in the nature of God. Instead, everywhere you look you see His liberality. Why did He make so many kinds of fish in the sea, and then make completely different fish for the rivers? Why the amazing variety of colors in flowers? Why did we need so many different kinds of ants, or spiders, or butterflies? Have you ever stood on a mountain and watched a sunset, or happened on a field of wild flowers? God said that He is revealed in creation, and everywhere you look you see His glory and His extravagance.

Or look at Jesus. Yes, he lived simply, but He never lacked. In fact, when there was lack He multiplied what He had and fed 5,000 people. Such amazing compassion and generosity. Everywhere He went, He healed, He touched, He gave. His focus wasn’t on what He didn’t have to give, but instead He gave everything.

It just reminds me of how many people read the Christmas story and focus on the scarcity of the manger, instead of the extravagance of the gift inside. The wise men saw it and brought Him everything. The shepherds saw it and worshipped. The truth is that the manger doesn’t matter when your eyes are on your Savior. And in our lives, it isn’t our circumstances that define who we are, it is the gift that has been given to us that defines us. We love because He first loved us. We give because He gave.

This Christmas is one of the tightest financially for us and for so many others, but I have never been so excited to give. Yes, I still want the best deals on what I am giving, but my heart is to be an extension of the heart of God. There are some gifts that I am giving that cost so little, but I know it is what the Lord put in my heart to give. So I’m not adding to it. I’m just giving exactly what He prompts me to give. There are other gifts that cost a little more and Matt and I have prayed through those too. But when you know in your heart that you are giving from His heart, there is so much joy in the giving.

Your budget for Christmas may just be a plate of cookies for everyone on your list, but if that is what the Lord puts in your heart to give, give with joy and with liberality. Rejoice that you get to be a blessing to those in your life. Right a meaningful note of thanks to accompany the cookies and give with joy. If you give with the spirit of frugality and lack you will miss the joy of giving whatever gift you give. You will constantly be apologizing for your gift and your circumstances. Rather, set your budget and then instead of focusing on what you don’t have to give, set your heart on the joy of getting to give.

Generosity does not mean more, or bigger, it means giving with freedom. No matter what your financial situation, you are free to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit and to be led by the prompting of the Spirit of God. And where He leads, He also provides. And that is the amazing thing about giving in the Spirit of our generous God. He loves a cheerful giver and just seems to pour His blessing all over it.

I am reminded of the story of George Muller. He ran an orphanage in England and saw miracles on a daily basis. He literally poured out His life giving to those children and God was continually surprising Him and proving His goodness. He tells the story of having nothing to eat for breakfast and setting the table anyway. They all sat down at the table and He prayed and thanked God for His provision. At that moment, the doorbell rang and a milk truck had broken down outside the orphanage and the milkman asked if they could use his milk because it was going to spoil, then someone stopped by with groceries, and the butcher showed up to give them meat. Literally daily miracles.

There is an old saying that you can’t out-give God… I dare you to try it this Christmas. Don’t give what you don’t have (I am NOT advocating putting Christmas on the credit card!), but give with liberality from what He has given to you (and I am not just talking about money, toys, and presents), and you will be amazed at what will happen in your own heart. Christmas is truly a birthday party celebrating the most extravagant gift that has ever been given. Whether you live in shack or castle, God gave His only Son so that you might be reconciled to God and have relationship with Him. Chew on that. Think about God’s liberality toward you, and ask Him to give you His heart this Christmas season: a heart for the sick and the poor, a heart for the lonely and broken, a heart for your family, a heart of compassion and generosity, a heart of a giver.