My 31 Day Financial Challenge – Day 3: Create a Plan for Each Goal

I find this step hugely overwhelming. I am committing myself to seriously pursue each of these goals with specific actions. That alone is a little terrifying. Suddenly I find myself questioning whether I made the right choice for these goals. But when I look back on what is really important to me, these things still make sense to me.

 For each of the short term goals, I want you to define five specific actions:
I will do this in the next three days.
I will do this in the next week.
I will do this every week.
I will do this in the next month.
I will do this in the next six months.

 Put at least $1,500 toward principle of student loan debt

  • Next three days: Figure out how much per week and per month I would need to pay to put $1,500 a year toward student loans
  • Next week: look for ways to trim the budget or increase our income to accommodate that monthly savings
  • Every week: take one step toward increasing our income (list an item for sale online, send a query letter, perform energy/money saving maintenance etc)
  • Next month: Make a payment toward the student loan principle, even if only a small one.
  • Next Six months: develop a repayment plan that includes more consistent savings or additional income

Our student loan debt is currently in deferment, so I would like to pay down the principle as much as possible so that when the payments do begin the amount will be more manageable. Unfortunately some of the loans are still currently accruing interest, so obviously those loans are my first priority to pay off.

 Have finished two chapters of my novel

  • Next three days: review how much I have already completed of my novel
  • Next week: complete edits on at least one of my previously written installments from criticism given at my writers group
  • Every week: Spend at least 1 hour writing new material or completing edits on old material
  • Every month: Have new material from my novel to share with my writers group
  • Next Six months: review all work completed thus far on the novel and outline a plan for finishing it

 Query all potential publishers for my Advent Devotional

  • Next three days: complete a query letter
  • Next week: send out first query letter
  • Every week: Write at least one query letter
  • Every month: Send out at least one query letter, follow up with letters that did not receive responses
  • Next Six months: review list of responses, check updated copy of the Writer’s Market for any changes or new potential publishers

 You may notice that I altered this method slightly by including Every Month as my action category instead of Next Month. I found this to be more helpful when dealing with certain activities that need to be repeated frequently but not as often as once a week.

 Be pregnant with our second child

  • Next three days: list additional short term expenses for additional child
  • Next week: calculate how much it will cost to add an additional child to the family for the next five years
  • Every week:
  • Next month:
  • Next Six months: begin trying to conceive

 I will admit to being at a loss with this section. I’m not sure what kind of actions I could take every week or next month that would help to work towards this particular goal. I know that there are activities like cycle tracking, but those didn’t work very well for me last time, so I am uncertain about bothering to try that again. Apparently my ovaries have a mind of their own.

 Participate in physical activity (walking, Pilates, dancing) at least four times a week

  • Next three days: figure out when to best fit physical activity into my schedule
  • Next week: participate in at least one form of physical activity
  • Every week: Take at least one walk a week
  • Next month: Begin doing Pilates at least once a week
  • Next Six months: increase Pilates to twice a week, and possibly introduce bike riding

 I used to be a very active person, but more recently the hot weather and an uncooperative child have contributed to my decreased activity. Aside from house work and occasional gardening, I don’t do much anymore. It doesn’t help that my body is now burning fewer calories since I stopped breastfeeding. I used to walk twice a week and do Pilates twice a week. I sometimes even danced once a week on top of that. I would like to be back in good physical shape, ideally before I get pregnant with my next child, in the hopes that it will make the labor easier or recovery quicker. My husband has never been a physically active person, but his doctor and I both keep encouraging him to find an activity that he enjoys. The only two we have found so far are walking with the baby in the stroller (usually to the park) and biking. But he hasn’t biked in years. He also hates the hot weather. I’m hoping that the fall weather will last long enough for me to get us in the habit of taking family walks and maybe encourage the husband to take up bike riding again. The down side is that there is no money right now to invest in a new bike for him, but my dad has a bike he can borrow in the meantime. If we want to take family bike rides we’ll also have to invest in a bike trailer to carry our daughter in, but we will cross that bridge when we get to it.

 Have developed a daily devotional habit and finished reading the entire bible

  • Next three days: figure out how much of the Bible I have yet to read to accomplish my goal and create a schedule
  • Next week: go to bed 30 minutes early, three nights a week with the specific purpose of reading the Bible and other devotional material
  • Every week: Read a chapter from a spiritual book I find inspiring. For example: I’m currently working my way through The Life You’ve Always Wanted by John Ortberg
  • Next month: Begin incorporating a weekly couples devotional into our week
  • Next six months: increase personal devotional frequency to 5 days a week

 Have completed a list of no/low cost renovations and landscape projects on the house

  • Next three days: create a list of no/low cost house projects that my husband and I can tackle ourselves
  • Next week: complete at least one of the above mentioned house projects
  • Every week: put in some work on one of the above mentioned house projects, and complete one if possible
  • Next month: schedule a time to complete a house project for which we require additional help and/or borrowing of tools
  • Next six months: pick a higher cost house project that has is a high priority and begin planning how to budget and save for it

 I haven’t even begun to develop of a list of long term goals and I already feel exhausted. This entire exercise is taking much longer than I thought. This 31 day project is supposed to take approximately 1 hour a day. I’ve already spent nearly two hours on this project and I’m only half done. It seems like I’ve accumulated more tasks than I could possibly fit into my average week. I still have to complete the basic tasks necessary for living and running a home. After all of those are done, I’m not sure I’ll have the time to pursue all of the tasks I now claim I will do every week. I’m not sure how I’ll remember to do them every week, let alone make time for them

 Now, for each of the long term goals, I want you to define five specific actions:
I will do this in the next week.
I will do this in the next month.
I will do this every month.
I will do this in the next year.
I will do this in three years.

 Have 3 children

  • Next week: Figure out expenses associated with having three children (need for a larger vehicle, etc)
  • Next month: make a list of what needs to be done to the house in order for us to have three children living here.
  • Every month: research the cost of one renovation necessary to accommodate a house for a family of five.
  • Next year: Calculate how much additional income will be required for three children based on the lifestyle we want to raise them in.
  • In three years: Review this goal based on our current financial and family situation

 Be living in a detached house with 4 bedrooms, family room, office space, 2 bathrooms, driveway and/or garage

  • Next week: Make a list of necessary projects to maximize salability of current house
  • Next month: research current cost of the kind of house we want
  • Every month: review list of house projects, decide which ones to pursue and create budgets accordingly
  • Next year: review current financial trends such as home appreciation, interest rates and inflation
  • In three years: review current equity earned on our home and current income along with the current price of the kind of house we would like

 Have published 3 books

  • Next week: Prioritize my writings projects
  • Next month: Create new material for two of my books
  • Every month: find one publisher who could potentially accept my novel
  • Next year: Have made a significant attempt to publish at least one of my books
  • In three years: Join the local area writer’s group as a resource and networking opportunity

Be debt free (the one exception to this is that we may still have a mortgage, but hopefully it will be at least half paid off).

  • Next week: check the current student loan total and mortgage total
  • Next month: calculate additional income necessary to make student loan payments, if and when they come due, based on current totals and potential totals if Rob continues in school
  • Every month: make a small payment toward student loan principle
  • Next year: design a plan to payoff the student loans early
  • In three years: discuss and develop a plan to pay our mortgage off more quickly, depending on current interest rates

 Cultivate a family lifestyle of fitness

  • Next week: Invite my husband to take a walk with me
  • Next month: Invite my husband on a bike ride
  • Every month: Take a walk as a family
  • Next year: Develop a family physical activity that occurs at least once a week
  • In three years: Consider making a financial investment in family fitness such as bike trailers

 Develop a meaningful relationship with Jesus and be able to pass that deep faith on to my children

  • Next week: Reflect on what goals I have for myself regarding spiritual growth
  • Every week: Do a Family devotional
  • Next month: Create a list of new habits or behaviors that will help me to deepen my relationship with Jesus
  • Next year: Begin family Advent devotional traditions
  • In three years: Have started family devotional traditions surrounding both Advent and Lent, begin incorporating a family or child’s bedtime devotional.

 This is still a daunting task. I can’t get past the nagging feeling that I’m doing this all wrong. But I can’t stop now. After all this work, I want to actually accomplish something.

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Can we really call a truce in the Mommy Wars?

My husband found this article for me and it got me thinking about the Church and the Mommy Wars. You would think that a group of people who united together under the premise of having the same beliefs about sharing the love of Jesus with the world around us would be able to agree to disagree on minor topics like cloth diapering and breastfeeding. But as this article points out, this is apparently not the case.  I do see the irony the writer of this article points out, that we have created a culture where it is socially unacceptable to criticize the behavior of others in so many ways, yet people have no problem telling you what you are doing wrong with your children.

I think that with a few exceptions, most parents are trying to do the best they can. But obviously not every philosophy works with every child. We use cloth diapers, in part because it’s less expensive and helps subsidize my ability to stay home with my daughter, but also because we feel it is the better environmental choice. It is the best choice for us. But for another family, where laundry facilities are limited or the budget is not as small, paying for premium disposables that the daycare center will more happily use may be the better option. I can wish that they would give cloth diapers a chance, and perhaps even believe it to be the better choice financially and environmentally, but ultimately I trust that they know what is best for their family.

This however gets even more complicated when dealing with families within the church. As members of the body of Christ we are encouraged to build each other up, as iron sharpens iron. Sometimes this means offering advice, though preferably solicited, to someone if we think it will ultimately help him or her. In my own church I have seen these conflicts reflecting a new generation of parents who are dissatisfied with their own parents’ attempts and want to do things differently. This is also a casualty of allowing the culture to dictate how we raise our children rather than the faith that we claim in the center of our lives. How you chose to discipline your child is between you and God. We need to try to avoid being pressured by the latest expert or the old traditions. Each has advice to give, glean what you can, and move forward from there. Too often I see people gravitating to the “traditional” or “modern” ways of doing things as a knee-jerk reaction rather than a thought out approach to parenting. No, I’m not criticizing their choices, they are theirs to make. Perhaps it is too much to hope that our choices, whether right or wrong, would be made for the right reasons. Parenting like everything else goes in cycles. What is popular now will probably be out of fad for a few years and then be repacked and repurposed and called new again a few years after that.

So how do we as Christians fulfill our call to build others up according to their needs without descending into full blown Mommy Wars? Perhaps it is more about a spirit of love both in the advising and the receiving. When my daughter wouldn’t sleep at night, opinions were a dime a dozen, both from parents and non-parents. But the best advice I received was from those who shared out of empathy for my situation, offered their support no matter what choice I made, and then stepped back. Advising a mother struggling financially that cloth diapers might save her money and offering to help her get started is great. Dropping hints every time you are together and/or berating her for not choosing your way, the “better” way, is just smarting for a Mommy War. At the same time, part of taking advice from others is adjusting the attitudes of our own hearts. Just because someone gives me advice with the wrong attitude doesn’t mean the advice is bad. I need to learn to hear the words more than the tone and weigh them through prayer, the same as I would if I was being given advice on how to improve my devotional life. As Christians our call to build each other up doesn’t exclude parenting, but we need to be dutiful to examine our own hearts both in when and how to offer insight and how to receive it when it comes.

The Lost Art of Button Sorting

A writing friend of mine has taken up button sorting. I know, it sounds like a strange hobby. But in her quest to de-clutter her life and write a devotional for hoarders like herself, she has begun sorting out the accumulated trove of buttons she has collected over the years. Some go back as far as two or three generations in her family. So at night, while her daughter and husband watch television, she sits with them and sorts buttons, sewing them onto cards and listing them on Ebay. She has buttons made of shell, actual metal and rubber buttons and other odd materials. As I looked through her pile, seeking a few matching ones for a jacket I’m knitting for my daughter, I felt like an archeologist sifting through layer after layer of history. I’d only known those extra buttons that come in the tiny zip lock baggies attached to new clothes. I’ve only sewn on a handful of buttons in my life, and not very well.

I realized that saving buttons, quilting scraps and household rags has become part of the past. Now when a buttons falls off, we stop wearing the item until we forget that it has lost a button, and then eventually give it to the Salvation Army or even throw it away. Old clothes get thrown away, rarely cut up into rags for cleaning. Cleaning is done with disposable paper towels. Quilting is a hobby, not a necessary life skill and rarely can I find someone under 40 who really knows how to sew on a button. So is this trend simply a side affect of a disposable generation too used to fast food and cheap clothes to bother replacing a button? Or is it a torch waiting to be passed to the right person? These domestic tasks were pivotal parts of our past; lost arts. A part of living that has gone by the wayside, that doesn’t necessarily need to be lost. I keep a small basket on my dresser for buttons. Whenever I buy a new outfit, I put that little baggie of buttons into the basket. At least then, if a button gets lost, I know where to look for a replacement. But it isn’t really about the buttons, it’s about a philosophy. Waste not, want not.

At a time when “being green” seems to be a societal trend, the old ways seem to be new again. What could be greener than replacing a button rather than a shirt, using that old T-shirt to make rags instead of buying a bag of rags at Home Depot and giving away that which you don’t need or use to someone to save them buying a new item. So rather than obsessing over carbon footprints and researching windmills and solar panels, we can be better stewards of what we already own and learn to sew on a button.

My 31 Day Financial Challenge – Day 2: Defining Your Goals from Your Values

Where will you be 25 years from now?

 If I thought determining my values was hard, defining my goals has proven even harder, particularly long term goals. There are so many day to day struggles that I am dealing with, it is hard to imagine what kind of goals I should set for 25 years from now. I would like to have a larger family, live in a bigger house, be debt free, but it all seems so out of reach right now. But since I challenged myself to take on this financial review, I plow ahead.

 Based on what I determined are my most important values, I set six goals. I don’t think this is by any means an exhaustive list, but for now these are the goals I’m choosing to focus on.

 In 25 years I would like to:

 Have 3 children (possibly 4)

  • Be living in a detached house with 4 bedrooms, family room, office space, 2 bathrooms, driveway and/or garage
  • Have published 3 books
  • Be debt free (the one exception to this is that we may still have a mortgage, but hopefully it will be at least half paid off).
  • Cultivate a family lifestyle of fitness
  • Develop a meaningful relationship with Jesus and be able to pass that deep faith on to my children

 What about 1 year from now?

 Put at least $1,500 toward principle of our student loan debt

  • Have finished two chapters of my novel
  • Query all potential publishers for my Advent Devotional
  • Be pregnant with our second child
  • Participate in physical activity (walking, Pilates, dancing) at least four times a week
  • Have developed a daily devotional habit and finished reading the entire bible
  • Have completed a list of no/low cost renovations and landscape projects on the house

 These goals don’t seem to cover all the things that I want to have in my life. I will admit to being unsure of where this exercise is going. Obviously there are things that have to take my time, attention and money that don’t line up with my personal values. (Taxes anyone?) Maybe I am just a person with too many goals. Narrowing them down this way seems incomplete. Does this mean that I will have to eliminate everything from my life that does not line up with these goals? I can understand trying to cut back on things that don’t fit in with your values, but in my opinion these goals serve mostly as a jumping off point, not a complete manifesto of my life ambitions.

My 31 Day Financial Challenge – Day 1: Your 5 Main Values

List your 5 Main Values

 I found this to be a difficult exercise. Maybe it’s because there are many things that are important to me. I guess the question is: should all these things be important to me? So I finally narrowed it down to six. I know the exercise said five but I just couldn’t consolidate or eliminate any further.

 Control

Family

Growth

Health

Fulfillment

Faith

 (These values are not ordered by priority)

 So I’m assuming that these values will come into play further along in the process. I’ve always believed that everything I do in my life, including my finances, should reflect my values. But sadly, that isn’t always the case. Perhaps what I need to do is frequently remind myself of what my values are, or perhaps what I want them to be. Then every decision I make can be held up against the standard: Does this action fit in with my values? If it doesn’t, why am I doing it? Does it reflect values that I would like to have or is it simply a thoughtless decision? I think I often make thoughtless decisions based on what is expedient rather than weighing the significance of my choices.

My 31 Day Financial Challenge-Can the Simple Dollar Help Me?

I recently took over managing our household finances. Now that I’m at home with our daughter, I thought I should take responsibility for the day to day budget overseeing. Seeing the cold hard numbers is rather startling. I was hoping to find a way to pay down the significant student loan debt that we owe. Fortunately, we don’t have much debt, just our mortgage and student loans. We don’t have car payments or credit card debt. But better than half of the student loans are accruing interest at a rate of 6.8%. Ouch! While the loans are currently in deferment, that won’t last much longer. I am a stay at home mom, which means that we only have one income, and while that income does pay all the bills, that is pretty much all that it does. I keep going over and over the numbers hoping to find some extra money, but I just can’t seem to. But then I discovered The Simple Dollar. The author of this blog has an impressive story of how he and his family got themselves deeply into debt, but also dug themselves out. While he clearly had larger income to work with than we do, I still found many of his points encouraging. While his series 31 Days to Fix Your Finances is several years old, I thought it might serve as an encouraging jumping off point. So here it goes.

Victory of Eagles

Being held pending trial for treason, Laurence and Temeraire are again separated. Temeraire is relegated to the breeding grounds where he is bored and irritated with the apathy of the other dragons. His attempts to convince them that they deserve more rights are initially unsuccessful, but when Laurence is reported lost at sea during Napoleon’s invasion of England, Temeraire flees the breeding grounds and takes all the other dragons with him. Using Temeraire’s knowledge of battle strategies and Chinese dragon culture, the wayward dragons organize themselves into their own army and take off across England to thwart Napoleon’s advance and avenge Laurence’s apparent death. While this book was a bit slow moving in places, it still advanced the plot. It did have me scratching my head and checking my history books with fictional events like Napoleon’s occupation of London. Novick weaves alternative history beautifully into the fantasy/historic fiction genre.