Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Way Through

I am checking in again. Yes, I keep disappearing, but to tell you the truth, I am doing what I am supposed to be doing. On Monday I am going to get to teach a group of ladies how to budget and I am so excited about it. I have had so much fun preparing for it, but it has also taken priority in my free-time for now.

For those of you who have been following my blog for the past year, can you imagine condensing my blog down into a 30 minute talk? It is definitely a challenge, yet such a fun opportunity that I am busily at work attempting to make my notes on budgeting as direct and purposeful as I can. It is funny, because there are so many aspects of budgeting and managing your money well, yet I think one of the most important things that you will do is that simple printed budget with your income and all of your bills and spending categories listed on it. It is the most fantastic guide.

I just finished reconciling my bank account, bills, and receipts, to my budget. It is always amazing to me how my printed budget makes that process so easy. I know it is a little bit of work to get it set up, but it is really an effort that will impact your finances, and even the time you spend with your finances, for years.

I still need to blog on the "Digging Out" process with your bills and receipts, but I just have not had the chunk of time that I need to do it. In the mean time, I think I might repost some of my old blogs on how to set up a budget. As I am re-reading these blogs, I am reminded of why I love budgeting so much and how it can simplify and bring order to any financial situation. There is always a way through, and very often that path lies in your budget... and holding on to your Heavenly Father's hand.

God bless and have a wonderful Sunday.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Out From Under My Pile

Has it really been a week? This past week has been so very full for me. It has been one of those weeks where every day you think to yourself, "I really want to blog" but you never actually get there. Come to think of it, I think my blog got buried under my pile... which thankfully is almost gone. I am so sorry if I left you stranded mid-project. Hopefully, you went on and finished without me. However, just in case you didn't I am still going to post the rest of my series on "Digging Out".... as soon as I write it.

The silver lining is that I gave you a full week to dig out your pile :) The rain cloud under that silver lining is that you may need more than a week to dig out. If you have an enormous pile and were overwhelmed by the task last week, I would like to suggest breaking your pile into... well, piles. The first stack will be projects that are urgent that you need to get done this week. Your bills, receipts, and budget will fall into that pile. The second pile should contain about three projects that you are going to set as your goals for next week. The third pile can be for the week after, and so on. If you break it into more manageable chunks, it may be easier for you to face what you have been dreading.

But really, finishing your scrapbook, or writing thank you notes is not going to ruin your credit or send your home to foreclosure. Your finances have to take a priority in your time and in your pile. There are some projects where procrastination is devastating and your bills are one of those projects. If you already know what you need to do and have the grace to keep going without me, then go for it today. However, if you are stuck in an overwhelming financial jam, hopefully my next blog will help you to get un-stuck.

May the Lord bless you and keep you today. May He make His glorious face to shine upon you and give you His peace.
Tracy

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Back to the Binder

If you haven't yet converted to a Finance Binder, how is your filing cabinet working for you? Do you have a mountain of paperwork that is waiting for you to file? If you have converted, have you turned your Binder into home base for the rest of your paperwork which is stacked on top? Or do you have a beautifully organized Binder from last year, and have never started a new Binder for this year?

Whichever scenario you find yourself in, today is a good day to file. It is Wednesday, which means absolutely nothings except why not make it a good day to file? As the saying goes, "There is no time like the present," unless you procrastinate and the gift of right now is gone. However, we are only six weeks into the New Year and this a great time to get your year and your finances on the right track.

If you haven't yet bought a Binder, make a plan today to go and buy a 3" 3-ring Binder with about 15 dividers, and some pocket dividers. Label the tabs for the dividers with the categories from your budget and whatever other categories you get paperwork for. Then hole-punch your statements (this is when a 3-ring hole-punch is so handy ~ it really makes it go so quickly) and place them in your Binder.

This may be your first time with a Binder instead of a filing cabinet, tub, cardboard box, or maybe just a huge pile. If it is, let me encourage you that this system is going to save you time and energy and make finding and maintaining your paperwork so simple. Every two weeks when you sit down with your finances to reconcile your budget and pay your bills, your will sit with your Finance Binder as well and file your bills away as you pay them. It is also a great place to keep those bills until you pay them. Everything is located in one place and easily available should you need it. I love it because if I am talking to a customer service representative about my cable bill (for example) and she asks me a question, I can pull out my binder and instantly have access to all of my bills for the past year. I make notes of those phone conversations on the bill in question and then everything to do with that issue is stored in the same place.

However, if you already have a Binder and are just snowed under a little, then take today to do a little hole-punching. I pulled out my pile to file today that I have been procrastinating and it took me all of 8 minutes to hole punch and put the paperwork away!!! 8 minutes for all of that burden and dread! This is so often the case with things that we are procrastinating. The procrastination actually magnifies and distorts the thing and steals life and energy from us. If we would just do it in the first place we would save our hearts and heads so much distress.

At the end of a very small investment of time today your paperwork will be organized, your Binder will be a happy place again, and once again you will have made a huge shovel load in the process of digging out. I even finished decorating my Binder today. After all, flowered paper and pictures of my children aren't the solution to every problem, but they certainly don't hurt :)

So, happy filing, sorting, labeling, and hole-punching today and may God continually give you the grace to do exactly what He has for you today.

God bless,
Tracy

Monday, February 16, 2009

Conquering the Pile

How is your pile doing? You know the pile: the stack of unopened mail, receipts, things you need to do, bills, and everything else that lands in the pile. If you are digging out with me this week, the chances are your pile is little mountain of clutter. Or perhaps your pile might have grown so large it has now spawned other baby piles all over your home. My pile keeps moving between my bedroom dresser (for when I have company) and back to my work area. Fortunately, I haven’t neglected it for long enough for it to become a true mountain or to replicate itself. However, it is only a matter of time…

Today, I want you to repeat this to yourself, “The pile is not my friend. It is an enemy to be conquered and I will not live with it one more day. It is sabotaging my finances, and stealing my peace. I will defeat the pile.” This is your mission for today.

Go through all of your “hot spots” where paperwork seems to land and collect it into one big pile. If you need to, use a laundry basket to collect it. Then sit where you work best with a trash can or trash bag at your feet and start on the pile. Start with the unopened mail, as most of this will be junk anyway. Open your mail, and throw away everything that is clutter. Make a stack of bills that still require your attention, and put them in the front pocket of your Finance Binder for easy access later in the week. By the way, if your financial life has not yet been revolutionized by a Finance Binder, then please read my blog here. We are going to use our Finance Binders to help us dig out, so I will go into more detail tomorrow.

The best advice I can give you as you dig out from you pile is: try to only touch a piece of paper once. If it is a notice that needs a response, respond right then. Otherwise you will end up merely shuffling the pile rather than destroying it. Write the thank you card so you can throw away that birthday card envelope. Yes, it might take you skipping an evening of television to beat this pile, but it is a worthwhile investment. TV won’t change your perspective on tomorrow; however, getting rid of your pile of clutter and procrastination will.

If you come across something that you have been procrastinating on because you know that it is going to take a while, then make an appointment with yourself to do that task. For instance, today from 12-1pm while my kids each lunch, I am going to work on thank you notes for my birthday… ok, and Luke’s birthday as well. It feels so good to accomplish a project and to be able to not think about that anymore. In fact, it is a great idea to start with projects that are easy so that you can gain momentum and motivation to keep going.

For today, your mission is clear. Your pile will fall, and you will be victorious. You don’t have to file today, or organize your binder. That is coming tomorrow. However, you definitely need to open your mail, throw away whatever you can, finish a few easy projects that you have procrastinated (for the great feeling of accomplishment it will give you), and sort your bills and receipts and put them in your finance binder for the date we are going to have with your finances.

At the end of the day, it will feel great to have fewer things weighing over your head. I guarantee you that you won’t feel as buried. Although you may not have solved any of your financial issues, you will have begun the journey of digging out, and that is fantastic. Don’t worry, we will get to the big stuff, but we just have to build a few muscles on the small stuff first.

Now, go conquer your pile, and I’ll see you tomorrow.
God bless,
Tracy

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Digging Out

There are times in everyone's life when you will get buried. Whether it is under a pile of manure like sickness or accidents, or under a pile of joy like birthdays, vacations, or having a baby, the results on your finances can be similar. Just getting back to a level place in your finances can seem like it requires a monumental effort. Bills, statements, and even unopened mail can seemingly grow into mountains of paperwork overnight. Piles of receipts from your trip, or from your recent round of doctor's visits and eating out, can haunt you and feel like a weight on top of you.

It is in this recovery period that so many people get derailed in their budgeting efforts. It feels like starting over. Actually, it feels like you are starting under because you feel buried before you begin. This week I am going to walk you through the process of digging out when life has handed you a blizzard, even if it was a blizzard of joy.

My dear friend Katie just returned from two weeks away from home as she travelled to the beach with her husband. He was there with work and they used the work trip as an opportunity for family bonding and a mini-vacation. However, even though she hadn't lived in her house for two weeks, and left it clean and perfectly in order, she arrived home and immediately felt buried. The restful vacation feelings were long gone, and the mountain of mail, the piles of laundry from their luggage, and the endless "to do" lists that awaited her return left her feeling in over her head.

The key to digging out is to take it one step at a time, and I am going to walk you through those steps. I'm not going to walk you through your laundry, but I am going to walk you through the process of digging out your finances from an avalanche of expenses or neglect. The goal is to get you to a level place where you can breathe again and have a sense of peace in your finances, confidence in your budgeting plan for your money, and purpose in your spending.

I want to encourage you that if you need to dig out this week, then you are not alone. After the last two weeks with sickness, sever migraines and birthdays, I am digging out as well. I have neglected my Finance Binder, and my Finances. However, like a Northerner with a snow shovel, I know what to do to get out of this pile and I'm happy to lead the way out. This may be your first time to attempt to dig out, or you may still be trying to dig out from Christmas, but this is a great week to do it. I am going to take it one day at a time with a new assignment for each day. So don't miss, and don't despair. Whether it's a pile of manure, or a pile of fun, your budgeting shovel will work on them both. And let me tell you, no matter what the pile is made of, it's a much better view standing on top of it, then buried underneath.

I'll see you tomorrow.
Tracy

Friday, February 13, 2009

Loving Life Again

I didn't mean to disappear this week. I honestly thought I would be writing all week. I thought I would get a lot of other things accomplished as well. However, all week I have been struggling with headaches that have made it really hard to look at my computer screen. I very rarely have headaches, and so for me this migraine-like headache has been so dibilitating and unexpected. It started with a "crick" in my shoulder that has plagued me since last week and just gradually got worse and worse.

It was one of those weeks that takes you by surprise, and not in a good way. Nothing went as planned, everything was put on hold, and my family and I clung to the grace of God and prayed for Mommy's healing. I have finally felt a little better this afternoon and just wanted to check in and let you know where I went.

I probably won't blog tomorrow either because my little family is going to be celebrating Valentine's day together. We will make heart-shaped pancakes, and ice heart shaped cookies and then cover them with sprinkles. The kids are so excited about their holiday, and I love that. I want it to always be a day for them when they celebrate love. You don't have to be romantically in love, to celebrate loving and being loved. I think it is a great day to surprise a friend with candies, or give your Mom chocolates. It's a day when kid's can love on each other and feel how very much they are loved. I have surprises for them in the morning, and I'm just looking forward to a day enjoying my family... without a headache.


God bless, and I will be back soon.

Tracy

Monday, February 9, 2009

You Can't Make This Stuff Up!

Tonight at dinner my little girl, Ava, asked to say the prayer. We all held hands and bowed our heads and this is what she prayed,

“Jesus, thank you that you are wonderful and lovely, and thank you are always giving us surprises, like Christmas, and Birthdays, and the Tooth Fairy, and that you bless our presents. Amen”

It was so unexpected and sincere that I started laughing and crying at the same time. It was like a beautiful little song from her heart over dinner. I love that my 4 year old daughter knows her God as that good.

I don’t have the energy to blog today, because I actually haven’t felt well today. I just thought I would share that little thought with you. My prayer is that you would know the Father in His goodness, and that you would be reminded that He is always giving us surprises. Today my surprise came out of the mouth of my darling 4 year old daughter. Yes, sweet Ava, He is wonderful and lovely, and He is always full of surprises.

Have a lovely day,

Tracy

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Isolation of Wealth

I heard the strangest comment I have ever heard today. It might not sound as strange to you, but I am still processing it, so I thought I might blog and share it with you. Matt and I were sitting with a friend who was telling me of another friend who has cancer. I hadn’t known about the cancer before today, and I was so shocked and saddened. “What can I do?” I asked. “If there is anything? Maybe I could organize meals for her family?” She has three kids, and I just kept thinking about them as their Mom undergoes surgery and intense chemotherapy and radiation. “No,” my friend replied. “If they need meals, they can hire a full-time chef.” Wow. I just sat there in shock, as that thought has never occurred to me in my life.

The thing was, my friend wasn’t being harsh or calloused, he was being realistic. My friend with cancer is incredibly wealthy and intensely private. She wouldn’t want the attention or the invasion of privacy. She probably will hire a chef, and that really is a great long term solution to her very critical situation. However, I have been thinking about that comment ever since. What I am particularly struck by is the idea of money meeting your needs instead of the body of Jesus. There is a self-sufficiency that comes with wealth that can enable you to do both amazing things, and isolate you from experiencing real relationship.

Wealth isn’t always coupled with isolation, and yet when you look at the lives of the wealthiest people in the world, they often seem like the loneliest. They comment on how it is difficult for them to know who their real friends are, and become extremely secretive and private people. I understand the dilemma, yet I often feel that it is a prison of their own making. Their fear of losing what they have makes them skeptical of everyone’s motives, and so they pull back from genuine relationship. It is a nasty trap.

I don’t have many good examples of wealthy people that have escaped this prison. However, those that have managed to find freedom in the midst of great wealth often do so through being fantastic givers. They give with their time, their energy, and their resources. As they freely give, they get over the worry that they will be taken advantage of, and just go for it anyway. There is something about giving that breaks the power of fear and hoarding. On both a large scale in great wealth, and on a small scale with what you have in your wallet today, hoarding is the enemy of your soul.

It is actually something that you also have to guard against when you are living on a budget and finances are tight. If you find yourself not having people for dinner because of your budget, or not wanting to give when you are prompted because money is tight, then these should be warning flags to you that you are holding onto money tighter than you are holding on to the hand of God. He won’t lead you where He won’t provide for you to be.

I was recently faced with this exact dilemma. A friend was coming into town and asked us to go to lunch. Our entertainment money was gone, my grocery money really low, and we were not using credit cards. Yet, I really felt in my heart that we were supposed to go. If we had chosen not to go it would have solely been because of the money. We would have sacrificed getting to build on a friendship for the sake of holding onto our money. This is such a red flag for me in my heart. If I am not doing something that I really feel God is in because of the expense, then I have to question where my trust is: in my budget, or in my God. I have said this before, but it bears repeating: a budget is a tool to help you manage the resources that God has given you and to help you be purposeful with those resources. It is not a law to your heart that governs your decisions. That role should only be filled by the Holy Spirit. Let your budget be a guide for your decisions, but don’t let it paralyze you and keep you from what God has for you.

I had another instance where the Lord prompted me to take a meal to a friend and we had very little grocery money left. I didn’t want to put it on the credit card. I could have taken money from savings, but I felt so hesitant to do that. I followed my heart and took the meal to the friend and decided to just trust the Lord to make up the difference in what I still needed for food for my family. I’m not kidding when I tell you that for the next three nights our dinner was taken care of. Friends invited us round to eat, my Mom brought us food one night… it was amazing to me. I have so many of these little illustrations of the faithfulness of God when you follow His Spirit and do what He prompts you to do… even if it contradicts your budget.

Of course, my experiences on hoarding mostly come from the perspective of not having enough, but oddly enough the lesson is just as valid when you have abundance. The best illustration I can recall of someone fabulously wealthy that never sacrificed relationship for money was Jesus. He chose to limit His fabulous wealth (His Father does own the cattle on a thousand hills after all… and everything else) in order that we might know Him and He might be known by us. Everything that He had He freely gave, and still He never lacked. Thousands clamored for His attention and He healed them and touched them. He walked among them and fed them. He was moved with compassion and lived out of that compassion, and the love that He inspired in His followers is still an inspiration to us. Many of them died for Him, and many die for Him still.

What would protect you from isolation should the Lord bless you with fabulous wealth? Living a genuine life led by the Holy Spirit and giving up your right to “have” what you are given. My Dad calls this “living open handed.” When you are given something, let’s say a coin, for example, if you close your hand around that coin in a fist and hold onto it, you will keep your coin, but it will also keep you from receiving any more coins or from ever seeing that coin realize its purpose. Living open-handed means that you acknowledge that the Lord has given you the coin. It’s His coin and it is free to pass through your hands. An amazing thing happens as you open your hands: you also let go of fear of losing the coin. It’s actually the best definition of stewardship to not hoard and hold onto, but to give, to sow, to invest, to use wisely.

Remember, the parable that Jesus told about the rich man and the talents? The rich man gave 5 talents to one steward, 2 talents to another, and only 1 talent to the last steward. The last steward was so afraid of losing the talent that he took it and buried it in a field to guarantee the coin’s safety. Yet the rich man did not commend that steward when he returned, but instead reprimanded him and took the one coin away and gave it to the steward who had invested the 5 and now had ten to give to his master. (Matthew 25:11-30) There are so many lessons from this story, but what strikes me about the story as it relates to my subject is the steward with 1 talent’s response when the rich man returned. He said, “I was afraid and went and hid your talent in the ground.” It is fear that causes us to hoard, and fear that keeps us from experiencing the abundance in relationship and provision that God has for us. Even in wealth, fear keeps us alone, it keeps us isolated, and keeps us from ever realizing the purpose for the wealth that God has put into our hands.

The really tragic thing to me from my conversation today is not only that my friend has cancer, but that she is walking through it alone. Fear has isolated her. I know she has family who are helping, but I believe that there is so much more that the Lord wants to bring into her life, but her hands are too tightly closed. It makes me think of a story that I watched on TV about a lottery winner who had stopped speaking to all of his friends and family because of his belief that they all wanted his money. He had lost everything of real value in order to hoard what was a gift in the first place.

As I watched the story and heard him make the statement, “If I gave to everyone who asked I would have nothing left,” I felt my heart saying, “So what?” You may not have a million dollars, but you would still have your family and your friends. You might have actually changed some lives. The truth is lottery winners rarely give all their money away. They spend it on houses and cars, and it’s gone in a blink. What if they had taken their checks and built an orphanage in Africa instead, or shelters for the homeless, or paid rent for the single mom down the street? Would they have really lost all their money, or would that money have been used for the purpose it was always intended for?

It is a solemn question and a challenge to us as well to not hold onto what isn’t ours. Live open handed with your life and with your finances. Use your money wisely and with purpose, but when the Holy Spirit prompts you, give, give, give. It will free your heart from fear as you see God’s faithfulness, and it will remind you what the purpose of wealth is all about.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Week Off

I certainly didn't intend to take the week off from blogging, but it is already Friday and that is exactly what I have done. It has been a very full week for me. I have had something on every evening which is usually when I have a moment to write. I even had several blogs in my heart and head that I intended to write, so I might just have to sneak them in over the weekend.

I hope it has been a wonderful week for all of you. Thank you so much for all of the kind birthday wishes. It was a wonderful birthday day and I am so excited about this next year of my life. God is so wonderfully and sweetly, good. Everywhere He goes, His goodness goes with Him. Consequently, the thought of God going before me in this year makes me expectant that I am going to run right into His goodness throughout the year. What a wonderful thought.

I pray that you would be suprised by His goodness today in the way that He has gone before you. Have a wonderful Friday and hopefully I will get to post again today.
God bless,
Tracy

Monday, February 2, 2009

A Groundhog's Birthday

On this beautiful day, many years ago, I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. My amazing Mom had labored for about 48 hours. She was already two weeks past her delivery date because I just didn't want to leave my warm cozy home in her tummy. After a horrible delivery, I finally arrived in the world. So on this day, I want to once again honor and thank my Mom for what she went through to bring me into the world. She is the most amazing Mom I could ever ask for, and she gave me the greatest gift in the gift of life.

For those of you who are unaware of the significance of this day, today is Groundhog's day. On February 2nd every year, the ground hog comes out to predict the weather. If he sees his shadow it means there will be 6 more weeks or winter. If he doesn't see his shadow it means that spring is on it's way. Fortunately, unlike Punxsutawny Phil - the most famous groundhog of them all, I did not see my shadow when I was born and summer was on its way. Actually, since it was in South Africa it was already summer... so I guess I was ahead of the groundhog. Today however, Phil did see his shadow, so more winter is in store. Well, that is if you believe in the groundhog.

All of this to say that I am not blogging today or tomorrow. To be honest, nobody wants to think of how to pay for your birthday when it is your birthday. That should come before your big day, or at worst, after your big day. But on your birthday, you get a day off from budgeting and I am taking mine.

I will see you again soon, and have a wonderful Groundhog's day :)