Tag Archive for reviews

How I Created a Budget: A Story Involving a Church Plant, a Spreadsheet, Cash, and Envelopes

Yes­ter­day, my post on 12 Tips for Sav­ing Money res­onated with you. Within 4 hours, this blog post quickly moved to fourth on my list of most-read blog posts. The three posts receiv­ing more hits than that one are these:

#1: Run­ning around Like a Crazy Woman: Why Less Is More
#2: Up In the Clouds or Down on the Ground: When Mar­riage Is Dif­fi­cult
#3: Why I’m Uncom­fort­able with Mother’s Day

Since you seem some­what inter­ested in money and how to save it, I decided to fol­low yesterday’s post with another post on this topic. Today, I’m writ­ing about how (and why) I cre­ated a bud­get and what it has done for me and my fam­ily. This process involves a story, a spread­sheet, cash, and envelopes.

Cash System

First, the story. In 2006, Shane and I lived in Gatesville, Texas. We had been mar­ried for four years, and Shane was a preacher at a church there. I had just fin­ished my Ph.D. in May of that year and began work­ing at Bay­lor in August of the same year. I was finally mak­ing a salary after so many years liv­ing off of Shane’s salary and a mea­ger grad­u­ate school stipend. We were excited about almost dou­bling our income and begin­ning the process of pay­ing off school loans and other debt we had accrued, includ­ing our car loan, loans on some appli­ances, and our mort­gage. Luck­ily, we did not have credit card debt. We only had one kid. We didn’t really need a budget.

Shane liked his job, and we loved that church (our first child was born there and those peo­ple and that church will always hold spe­cial places in our hearts), but we felt a desire to reach out to “non-church” peo­ple. Peo­ple who didn’t know about Jesus. Peo­ple who hated the church or who had been burned by “church peo­ple.” We wanted to reach out to, meet, and befriend the so-called “unchurched” or “dechurched.” We had heard about Mis­sion Alive, a church-planting orga­ni­za­tion, and became inter­ested in this thing called“church plant­ing. After many months of pray­ing and plan­ning and prepar­ing, we decided to move to Waco at the end of 2007 to plant The Grove Church.

Dur­ing the tran­si­tion time (or the “in-between” time as Shane called it in one of his blog posts at the time), from the time we decided to plant until we moved (which was about one year), I began to think seri­ously about our money. Like I said before, I’ve always been a saver, but now we were about to have to raise money for Shane’s salary and the church’s oper­at­ing expenses. This was not a part of the church plant­ing process that we liked. So much was unknown. We didn’t know how much money we could raise or how much money we would need to live on in Waco where we would soon be mov­ing to a new, big­ger, and more expen­sive house. We did not want to rely on the gen­eros­ity of oth­ers for very long (less than three years). In the worst-case sce­nario, I wanted to be pre­pared to live off my salary alone if we had to.

So, in late 2005 at the very begin­ning of our dream­ing and con­ver­sa­tions on church plant­ing (years before we took any action), I cre­ated a bud­get in an Excel spread­sheet. I looked online to deter­mine what cat­e­gories I needed for my bud­get. I decided on 18 cat­e­gories, rang­ing from House­hold Pur­chases, Sav­ing, and Gro­ceries, to Giv­ing Stu­dent Loans, and indi­vid­ual bills (cable, inter­net, phone, water, elec­tric­ity, etc.). I then input Shane’s salary (I was writ­ing my dis­ser­ta­tion and bring­ing home zero dol­lars) and divvied up the money accord­ing to his pay­check. I fol­lowed the bud­get for three months, all the while adjust­ing it accord­ing to what I really spent.

After I started work­ing and bring­ing money home a few years later, I decided to imple­ment a cash enve­lope sys­tem. Here’s what this sys­tem entailed: I wrote out all the cat­e­gories in our bud­get on var­i­ous envelopes (see pic­ture), which had been extended to about 35 dif­fer­ent items.

Some of the Budget Categories I Use

When we got our monthly pay­checks, I went to the bank and took out the amount of cash I needed for that month’s envelopes. I then put the right amount of cash in each of the envelopes. We used the cash until it ran out, and we were very dili­gent about not steal­ing from one enve­lope if we had run out in another one.

I took the envelopes with me when I shopped. I even found a nifty checkbook-size orga­nizer that had eight dif­fer­ent sec­tions in it to carry around the cash I needed when I shopped. The sys­tem worked great. It did take me a while to get “caught up.” What I mean by this is that before begin­ning the cash sys­tem, I paid my bills based on the pay­checks for that month. With the cash sys­tem, how­ever, I had to have enough money in the envelopes before I spent the money. This meant that I had to have money in the envelopes and the bank. It was a process to be able to save enough money for this to hap­pen, but it did.

Around this same time, I also decided to read Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover. I found many of his prin­ci­ples help­ful, espe­cially the ones about reduc­ing debt, namely pay­ing off the loans with the least amount of debt (which we did with my stu­dent loan, our freezer pur­chase, and two of our car pay­ments). I also liked his sug­ges­tion to have a $1,000 emer­gency fund for use in, well, emer­gen­cies. If you had to use the money, then your imme­di­ate goal was to replace it.

One note about the book: I did not imple­ment Ramsey’s prin­ci­ple of abstain­ing from giv­ing (or “tithing”, as he called it) until you are com­pletely out of debt. No mat­ter how much money you make or have or how much debt you are in, I think it’s impor­tant to give some of it away through­out the process of get­ting out of debt. If we all wait until we are com­pletely debt-free, we will NEVER give any­thing. Remem­ber the widow in the Book of Luke? She gave all she had, even in her poverty. One of my friends did recently tell me, how­ever, that he has since revised his stance on this issue (good!), but I’m not sure what he advo­cates now.

For sev­eral years, I car­ried around a lot of cash. Cash for gro­ceries, house­hold pur­chases, baby, hair­cuts, med­ical expenses, and a few other cat­e­gories. How­ever, this all changed two years ago when my hus­band and I went to see Wicked at Faire Park in Dal­las. While we were eat­ing lunch, some­one stole my big orga­nizer with all my cash right out of my purse (my driver’s license, social secu­rity card, and credit cards were also inside–ugh). I lost thou­sands of dollars.

I thus dis­cov­ered a flaw in the sys­tem. A HUGE FLAW.

I began look­ing for other ways to uti­lize this sys­tem. I decided to still uti­lize the cash sys­tem but to do so with­out hav­ing to take out so much cash each month. I decided to orga­nize it all in a spread­sheet and to just keep track of it elec­tron­i­cally. It has worked even better.

Today, our bud­get con­tains 57 items in the list. Shane thinks I’m crazy for how detailed it is, but it works for me (and him, I think). I am con­stantly adjust­ing the items and the amount des­ig­nated to each item because dif­fer­ent expenses come up as your sit­u­a­tion changes.

And what have been the results? We have a bal­anced bud­get. I don’t stress over money. I adjust the bud­get when nec­es­sary. We have paid off or got­ten rid of at least seven loans (2 school loans, 2 car loans, 1 fur­ni­ture loan, and 2 large appli­ances). We have not accrued any more debt. We now save in advance for cars rather than pay­ing for them after we buy them. We only spend what we have. We have gained finan­cial peace.

I want to leave you with a list of five bud­get cat­e­gories that have helped me in one way or another. These may not be the typ­i­cal items you will include in your bud­get, but they have been help­ful to me so I’ll share them with you.

1. “School Fees”, one enve­lope for each child you have (this includes teacher gifts, school sup­plies, school pic­tures, field trip money, t-shirt money, and all those other expenses that come up once kids start school).

2. “Extracur­ric­u­lar Activ­i­ties.” Includes tee-ball and other sports for your kids, as well as piano lessons, swim lessons, or art lessons. It can also include art, cook­ing, or ten­nis lessons for your­self (This cat­e­gory could also include the gym, but I typ­i­cally have a sep­a­rate item for it when I have been a mem­ber of the gym since it’s a recur­ring fee). You could also include going to the movies or other fam­ily activities.

3. “Babysit­ting.” If you want to have a Date Night with your sig­nif­i­cant other, or if you are a sin­gle mom/dad and want to go out at night, this enve­lope is a MUST. Sav­ing for a babysit­ter is also good incen­tive to actu­ally go on the date. You already have the money saved, so go spend it.

4. “Christ­mas.” I have a “Gift” enve­lope for birth­day par­ties, hol­i­days, and other spe­cial occa­sions, but I have found that I am more con­scious about how much I spend on Christ­mas and what I buy when I have a spe­cial enve­lope des­ig­nated for Christ­mas. Begin­ning in Jan­u­ary, I start putting money in this enve­lope. By the time Christ­mas comes around, I know exactly how much I have to spend, and it is there before I spend it. No wor­ries. No fuss. I have also noticed that I spend much less than I did before. It’s not because we don’t nec­es­sar­ily have the money to spend; it’s just that I became aware of how much money I spent on Christ­mas and real­ized that it was way too much…and not even what Christ­mas is about for me any­way. If you don’t cel­e­brate Christ­mas (or if you don’t spend enough to war­rant a sep­a­rate enveloped), then maybe you can think of a dif­fer­ent occasion.

5. “Work Expenses.” I have two sep­a­rate Work envelopes–one for Shane and one for me. We both have expenses for our jobs (most of them are for books we need to buy). It’s impor­tant to item­ize all of these small items so that you don’t mess up the budget.

Thanks for reading.


My Favorite Children’s Books

One of our favorite things to do dur­ing the long sum­mer days at home is to read. We like to read through­out the year, but we des­ig­nate more time dur­ing the sum­mer for read­ing because we are home almost every day, we like it, and it’s a good skill to prac­tice and learn. It also fos­ters bond­ing, con­fi­dence, and independence.

One thing we did for the first time last year was par­tic­i­pate in a cou­ple of sum­mer read­ing pro­grams. Our local library always has a sum­mer read­ing pro­gram. They par­tic­i­pate in the State of Texas’ Library Association’s read­ing pro­gram. This year, the theme is “Get a Clue…at the Library.” Last year the theme was “Dig Up a Good Book.” Both Pey­ton and Eliz­a­beth, with my help, read 100 books dur­ing the month of July. I don’t know about you, but that is A LOT of books to read for one month (25 per week), and since I was help­ing both of them read, that was dou­ble for me! But, we all per­se­vered, (some­what begrudg­ingly by the end), and the kids felt so much pride in hav­ing read so many books and com­pleted the pro­gram. They espe­cially liked the cel­e­bra­tion at the end where they earned cer­tifi­cates and prizes. They were suc­cess­ful con­sumers of lit­er­acy, or “lit­er­acy win­ners” as I call it in a recent arti­cle pub­lished by CCC.

Other com­pa­nies like Barnes and Noble and Scholas­tic also have sum­mer read­ing pro­grams that often offer free books or incen­tives for kids who par­tic­i­pate. All in all, these pro­grams can moti­vate kids to read, encour­age par­ents to read with their kids and older sib­lings to read to younger sib­lings, and get you through the “I’m bored” talk of the long sum­mer days.

For today’s 12 series, I am going to list my favorite children’s books. Children’s books are both visual and ver­bal, beau­ti­ful in words and in art, and I really, really like them, espe­cially as a teacher of writ­ing and mul­ti­modal com­po­si­tion (using words and images and other modes together to make mean­ing). I have a lot of favorites, but these are the ones that top my list right now.

1. How Do Dinosaurs Say I Love You by Jane Yolen. This book is silly and fun to read. It’s also poetic and clever, espe­cially for ram­bunc­tious chil­dren. My son Pey­ton had it mem­o­rized after the 4th or 5th read­ing and loves read­ing it as we go to bed. (Also, check out How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night? and other titles int he series)

2. There Is a Bird on Your Head by Mo Willems. I dis­cov­ered Mo Willems last sum­mer dur­ing our read­ing extrav­a­ganza, and I enjoy many of his books. My kids laughed out loud at this book and most of the oth­ers we read. This spe­cific title is part of the Ele­phant and Pig­gie series about two friends expe­ri­enc­ing life together. He has another series about a pigeon, and the kids liked those, too. I highly rec­om­mend this witty author. Both the words and pic­tures will crack you up.

3. The Pen­cil by Allan Ahlberg. Cre­ative, sus­pense­ful, and fun to read. It will keep your kids atten­tion and keep them guess­ing through­out the entire book about what would hap­pen next.

4. The Beren­stain Bears and the Messy Room by Stan and Jan Beren­stain. We like so many of the Beren­stain Bears books, but I listed this one because of our recent empha­sis on sim­pli­fy­ing and de-cluttering and “less is more”. Last sum­mer, Eliz­a­beth only wanted to check out these books.

5. Ox-Cart Man by Don­ald Hall. I had the joy of hear­ing Don­ald Hall give a won­der­ful pre­sen­ta­tion a few years ago when he came to Bay­lor as part of the Beall Poetry Fes­ti­val, which the Eng­lish Depart­ment here puts on every Spring. My chil­dren love this book. It’s a sweet story about a hard-working fam­ily who lives on a farm and makes their liv­ing by work­ing with their hands. It’s sim­plic­ity at its best. The images are evoca­tive and the mes­sage is sim­ple, yet pro­found. It’s an oldie, but a goodie.

6. The Run­away Gar­den: A Deli­cious Story That’s Good for You, Too! by Jef­frey Schatzer. This book is about a gar­den that runs away and what hap­pens to the indi­vid­ual veg­eta­bles as a result. This book con­tains a lot of lit­er­ary devices, includ­ing homonyms and puns, which make it fun for older chil­dren as well as adults. And I always like books about food.

7. Sir Cum­fer­ence and the First Round Table by Cindy Neuschwan­der. What a fas­ci­nat­ing, orig­i­nal book. The author has sev­eral books in the series and I rec­om­mend them all. This book teaches math terms (radius, pi, cir­cum­fer­ence, diam­e­ter) in a very cre­ative way. You def­i­nitely should check it out (my daugh­ter didn’t like it as much as my son because “it’s a boy book”, but I dis­agree with her!).

8. Where the Wild Things Are by Mau­rice Sendak. Clas­sic book about imag­i­na­tion and dream­ing. I didn’t read this book as a child (prob­a­bly because I was almost a teenager), but I highly rec­om­mend it. Beau­ti­ful pic­tures.

9. The Curi­ous Gar­den by Peter Brown. My sweet mother-in-law gave this book to Pey­ton recently, and it’s a won­der­ful book about tak­ing care of the planet and being good stew­ards with our resources. Big change starts small, and this book empha­sizes this through­out. The art­work is amaz­ing.

10. Zin! Zin! Zin! A Vio­lin by Mar­jorie Price­man. When I give some­one a book, this is the book I give them, espe­cially younger chil­dren because it empha­sizes count­ing and music. But older kids like it, too. You must read this at least once. Great story about an opera.

11. If I Ran the Zoo (and many more…) by Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss is, by far, the most often read author in our house. Between The Lorax, Oh, The Places You’ll Go, Green Eggs and Ham, and The Cat in the Hat, we feel like Dr. Seuss is a mem­ber of our fam­ily. What an amaz­ing tal­ent he was. His legacy lives on in kids and adults all over the world.

12. Aliens Love Under­pants by Claire Freed­man. I tend to be a lit­tle bit of a prude (I was raised that way), but hav­ing sons has changed me. Boys like to talk about pee and poop and under­wear and penises and all other sorts of things that used to make me very uncom­fort­able (the fact that I even wrote the word penis shows how far I’ve come!). This book is won­der­fully hilar­i­ous and great fun for boys (at least for my son) who like to talk about these things at the din­ner table.

Well, there’s twelve of my faves. But I do have one more, so here it is, just because…

13. Alexan­der and the Ter­ri­ble, Hor­ri­ble, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. This book is a clas­sic. I always liked it, but as an adult and a par­ent, I like it even more. I under­stand the story dif­fer­ently, and I think it teaches a lot of good lessons for children.

What children’s books would you add to this list? What were your favorites as a kid? What are your favorites as an adult? A par­ent? Will your kids be par­tic­i­pat­ing in a sum­mer read­ing pro­gram? I look for­ward to see­ing what you come up with.


Running around Like a Crazy Woman: Why Less Is More

Simplicity Parenting book coverI am cur­rently read­ing Sim­plic­ity Par­ent­ing: Using the Extra­or­di­nary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Hap­pier and More Secure Kids. This book, by Kim John Payne, a school coun­selor and an edu­ca­tional con­sul­tant, has chal­lenged me to re-think the way I par­ent my chil­dren. He has encour­aged me to con­sider the ways my good inten­tions as a par­ent may have neg­a­tive con­se­quences on my child. This book is chal­leng­ing, provoca­tive, and inspiring.

Right now, Eliz­a­beth is 6 years old. She is play­ing t-ball. Begin­ning next week, we will have prac­tice or games 3 nights a week.

Pey­ton is 4 years old. He is play­ing t-ball. Eliz­a­beth and Pey­ton are not on the same team. Shane (my hus­band) is the assis­tant coach of Elizabeth’s team and the head coach of Peyton’s team.

For the next 8 weeks, we are going to be eat­ing, breath­ing, sleep­ing, and think­ing t-ball. T-ball every night of the week, except Wednes­day when we have church. T-ball on many Sat­ur­days. Sev­eral nights, both kids have a game, so we’ll be at the t-ball fields for close to 4 hours.

But we love t-ball. We like that our chil­dren are engag­ing in activ­i­ties (we think) they (will) like. I enjoy chat­ting with other par­ents and get­ting to know adults and chil­dren in our small com­mu­nity. We like that our chil­dren feel good about them­selves by play­ing and accom­plish­ing some­thing. We like to be Jesus to the com­mu­nity by serv­ing them. We like being involved. We like our kids start­ing and fin­ish­ing something.

But that’s not all. In the Win­ter, Eliz­a­beth played bas­ket­ball. In the Fall, Eliz­a­beth and Pey­ton both played soc­cer. And through it all, we had a new­born baby who is now 8 months old to cart around.

I pause now to ask myself, “What are we doing to our chil­dren by enrolling them in all these extracur­ric­u­lar activities?”

In the United States, par­ents are told the fol­low­ing dom­i­nant nar­ra­tive: “You must enroll your chil­dren in as many activ­i­ties as pos­si­ble at very a young age. The more the bet­ter. Bal­let. Dance. Swim­ming. Soc­cer. Sum­mer camps. Team sports. Indi­vid­ual sports. And on and on.”

Just look at some of the exam­ples of prodigy kids. Tiger Woods began golf at 2 years old. Andre Agassi started play­ing ten­nis around age 4. Cild actors like Drew Bar­ry­more and the Olsen twins began act­ing when they were young. I’m sure there are numer­ous other sto­ries (if you know of some, leave them in the comments).

In short, if you want your child to be good at some­thing, start them early on the activity/task. Mal­colm Glad­well even points out in Out­liers that to become good at some­thing, per­fect at it, you must put in over 10,000 hours of practice.

So what have we done to make our chil­dren suc­cess­ful? We begin early. We want them to reach that 10,000 hour mark well before their teenagers and it is deemed too late. Just con­sider the book The Bat­tle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua (which I will write about soon). If you haven’t read it, you’ve prob­a­bly heard about the book (it was quite con­tro­ver­sial) and her “Chi­nese way of par­ent­ing.” The author–a law pro­fes­sor at Yale–spent count­less hours every sin­gle day mak­ing sure her chil­dren had mas­tered the piano and vio­lin. They prac­ticed all the time–literally. Even on vaca­tion. Every­where. Every. Sin­gle. Day.

But Sim­plic­ity Par­ent­ing asks a sim­ple ques­tion really, “Why?” 

Why do we do this to our chil­dren? What do they really gain through these activ­i­ties? And what is the cost of this atti­tude of more, more, and more? What are the results of our over-scheduled, over-stimulated, busy lives? Espe­cially on our children?

Through­out the book, he answers these ques­tions, and in quite provoca­tive terms. Put sim­ply, he says that “less is more.” Seems sim­ple, but when you unpack this idea in terms of sched­ules, tele­vi­sion, screen time, clut­ter, toys, your day hav­ing a rhythm, order, and flow, stress, antic­i­pa­tion, sleep, food and eat­ing, an ordi­nary day, and fil­ter­ing out the adult world from your chil­dren, you can see how this idea becomes even more convicting.

Less is more.

We have for­got­ten the gift of boredom.

Less is more.

Our chil­dren need unstruc­tured play time.

Less is more.

We need to clear away the clutter.

Less is more.

The true power of less is that it cre­ates smarter and more imag­i­na­tive, ener­getic, inde­pen­dent, cre­ative, self-confident kids. Kids that know how to solve prob­lems, get along well with oth­ers, fig­ure things out, and build a deep rela­tion­ship with their par­ents and others.

Sim­plic­ity par­ent­ing is worth the try.

For those of you inter­ested in learn­ing more about the book, you might like to watch this infor­ma­tive four-minute video by the author.