Hope for the Financially Frustrated: A Review of More Than Just Making It

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Photo Credit: MrJamesBaker Flickr via Compfight cc

 

From the time we were first married, my husband and I always had a budget. In fact,we had to make a list of all our bills to prove we could pay them each month before my parents would agree to let us get married. We were very young and I had never really known a life of financial struggle. For the majority of our marriage we were just making it. Most of the time, it didn’t worry me much. We had each other and if something terrible happened (which fortunately rarely did) we had family nearby. Certainly we were a bit naive but we also had faith that if we honored God with our lives and our money that he would be faithful, and we always had what we needed, if not a bit extra. I remember what it’s like not to have any financial margin, and many ways, I’m still there.

 

 

Tomorrow morning, More Than Just Making It by Erin Odom will be officially released by Zondervan publishers. I had the opportunity to preview the book and share my thoughts. I wasn’t positive what I was expecting from this book. I was expecting some budget tips, though I know that wasn’t the primary purpose. But the best feature of this book is Erin’s incredibly encouraging story. Yes, she has found success after years of struggle but this is not a how-to book. It’s not a step by step guide on how to get out of debt and build a financially healthy life. But it is filled with encouragement on how to slowly crawl out of a financial hole, no matter how you got there.

 

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I really appreciated the chapter on creating more income, though not for the reasons I expected. Some of her suggestions were good ones. But I was especially drawn to her wisdom not to select a side business that doesn’t mesh well with your personality. There are many times I’ve been tempted to take on a side gig that I knew wouldn’t work well for my personality of lifestyle but I felt desperate. There are times to be desperate. But truly, we weren’t there. Our kids were eating. We were surviving. We just had mountains of student loan debt that seemed insurmountable. We couldn’t seem to build our savings without it being drained every other month by the next crisis.

 

However, Erin did inspire me to take a hard look at the financial state of our household. I redid my budget and managed to scrape a couple dollars from each category to make sure we have SOMETHING going into savings each month instead of spending virtually every dollar as it comes in, toward the goal of rebuilding our savings account after a lot of moving expenses at the beginning of the year. We even tried a No Spend Month. While that didn’t net us the large amount of excess I was hoping, it did help to fill a few holes in my budget and helped answer some questions about how much we really can do without.

 

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Most significantly, I feel inspired to try and expand my blog further. I’ve always been nervous about doing this. Because sometimes the words just don’t come. It seems easier to stay in the holding pattern of low readership and a trickle of income. I don’t necessarily plan to build a full time income or anything. But I need to start taking some major growth steps, some of which will eat into the tiny income that we are currently making and mostly need.

 

I’m also trying to get back on track with my book. I’ve been working for several (we won’t say how many) years on my Lenten devotional. My Advent devotional, As We Wait, came so easily that I thought a devotional for Lent felt like a natural extension. Except it hasn’t been easy, it’s been like pulling teeth and most days it’s easier to just tap out another blog post or get caught up in the general chaos of my life homeschooling with three small children and helping to run multiple church ministries.

 

 

This book also helped me recultivate gratitude on my heart. Too often I focus on what we are lacking or the size of our financial difficulties than on all of the good things. Earlier this year, we were finally able to move into a home that is better suited to our growing family. Even just three years ago that seemed impossible. I am able to continue to stay at home and homeschool my children, yes it takes great financial sacrifice to do this, but it is nice to have the option at all. I know not all families do.

 

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It has also renewed my commitment to generosity regardless of our circumstances. Many times over the years we have benefited from the generosity of others, whether it be personally or anonymously. Sometimes it was random money, other times it was an item at a time we needed it most. When things rare tight for a season it can be tempted to be less giving because it feels so difficult. But I think maybe those are the kind of times I need to hold much more loosely to what I am and realize that it all comes from God.

 

No matter where you are in your financial journey, you will find encouragement in Erin’s book. If you have a spending problem or an income problem, have survived hard times or are only just now coming into difficulty; there is hope for you. If money is so tight that you can’t even think about purchasing this book, then try going to your local library and requesting that they purchase a copy. If you have the means, consider purchasing a copy for a friend that doesn’t and ask that she pass it on to another friend in need when she is done.

 

There is hope for a better future, not because of any magic formula or special method but through trust in Jesus and a little bit honesty and logic as we assess our financial lives. Someday, we will be more than just making it.

Read the first chapter here!

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I received this book for free in exchange for my review but my opinions are my own. This post may also contain affiliate links. Thanks for your support.

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Where Would You Like to See Yourself One Year From Now? My 31 Day Financial Challenge Goal Update

Nearly two years ago I undertook the 31 Day Financial Challenge I found on The Simple Dollar. I decided it was time to review the goals I set during that challenge to see how things are going.

 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

I don’t think my opinion on the 25 year goal has changed much. If anything I feel less strongly about the urgency of moving to a larger house and more strongly about living debt free. So I still hope to be in a larger house, but I hope that will only happen while being relatively if not completely debt free.

As far as my goals for one year from then, well I don’t know if I actually accomplished them in the following year, but I was pleased to see that I’ve made progress in the last two years. We did pay off another $1,500 of our student loans in 2011 and another $1,700 this year. I’d like to be further along, but every little bit is encouraging. Hopefully we’ll pay off another $2,500 at the end of this year and then maybe another chunk after next year’s tax returns. Our biggest hope is that my husband’s soon to be published novel will be a success and allow us to finally free ourselves from those student loans for good.

I am several chapters further into my novel. I have also sent many queries regarding my advent devotional. Sadly, I haven’t gotten any interest from the religious publishing market, so I’m considering self-publishing, which I never thought I’d be doing.

As far as growing our family is concerned, our second child joined the family in March of 2012, our son Robin Isaac.

I am currently very physically active, usually 3-4 days a week, though I shoot for 5.  But that hasn’t been the case consistently. One year after I made that goal I had just gotten pregnant for the third time, after miscarrying earlier that year. So exercise, while important, wasn’t high on my priority list. But I am attempting to make it a priority again now, mostly because I know that it helps me to control my anxiety and because it makes me feel good about myself.

Well, I am currently working on building a daily devotional habit, something I continue to struggle with. My times of daily prayer and bible reading ebbed and flowed for the past two years though I currently feel like I’m on a good track with a system that works for me. Though I still haven’t finished reading the Bible all the way through, but hopefully I will have by the end of the year.

Probably the biggest failure of my goals is the lack of progress made on our house. With the two pregnancies in a row and now with a new baby in the house, we haven’t accomplished much. I have made some minor additions to my garden but mostly we’ve been trying to declutter; giving items away or selling them on Ebay. Last year we divested ourselves of an entire box of my husband’s childhood He-man toys, which helped pay for Christmas expenses. They also helped make extra student loan payments and contributed to our hospital co-pays when the baby was born. Though we haven’t done any more Ebay selling since the baby was born, I’m hoping to get back into it soon, both for decluttering and financial purposes.

While overall I’m more pleased than I expected with my goal progress, being the perfectionist that I am, I’d rather be making larger strides. But as a parent of a newborn and a toddler I’m also learning the meaning of “good enough.” I think my success is good enough for now and I’ll keep plugging toward the future.

One of the best ways not to spend money is not to shop

One of the things I do miss about being on such a tight budget is the fun of shopping. Shopping can be a fun activity when you have the time and money to spend and the purchases are not so urgent that you must buy regardless of quality, price and preference. When I first took over managing our household finances, I didn’t realize that when there really isn’t money to spend, or not much money to spend, shopping is just torture. I used to go to Kohl’s whenever I had a 30% coupon, regardless of if I urgently needed anything. I reasoned that I would buy clothes for my daughter in the next size up, shop ahead for birthdays or Christmas or replace aging items in my husband’s or my wardrobe. Sometimes I would even buy things I didn’t need simply because I liked them and it was a good deal. But as my parents used to say, the best way to save money is not to buy something. I soon realized that if I wanted to manage our money as tightly as we needed, I was going to have to stop shopping for things we didn’t need and couldn’t afford.

I began throwing away the catalogues and sales flyers. Sometimes I would still scan through them if I wanted to price a particular item for a future purchase, but I quickly saw that window shopping, even in catalogue form didn’t educate me on prices, so much as make me desire things I didn’t really need. Sometimes the best way to stick to your budget is to avoid seeing all the things that are out there. Obviously if you need a new winter coat and you have the money set aside to buy it, then shop around to see which store has the prices and styles you like and can afford. But sometimes reminding yourself of all of the things that you could be buying but choose not to, or would be buying if only you had slightly higher income, is ultimately self-defeating.

If I look at enough ads for new refrigerators I will soon convince myself that not only do I need a new refrigerator but that I both deserve a new refrigerator and my home in fact requires one to be optimally efficient. In reality, my refrigerator is older, but it still works fine. I do sometimes wonder if updating to a new Energy Star model would save us money in the long run, and no doubt it would. But it would probably take many years to pay for itself in energy savings. If my refrigerator broke, I would absolutely replace it with the least expensive but most efficient model I could afford. But my refrigerator isn’t broken, and I don’t have the money to spend on a new one. But when I read articles on green living and watch kitchen remodeling episodes on HGTV, I feel nearly convinced that having a new Energy Star model refrigerator is virtually a necessity. But the advertisers and experts trying to convince me that I need a new refrigerator are not interested in what is best for my finances; they are interested in my purchase of a new high efficiency appliance. They are not aware of, nor do they care, that my emergency fund would be potentially wiped out by this non-emergency purchase or that I just recently paid several large medical bills. That glossy sales flyer that arrives in my mail box advertising a beautiful stainless steel French door HE refrigerator at 50% off may seem like it offers a solution to my quest to lower our monthly energy bills, but it required and up front investment of more than I have. The bold type offering 0% financing may seem enticing but is really just influencing me to take on more potential debt, of which I already have more than I can handle.

The best way I’ve discovered to stay on budget is not to buy things, and not to shop for things I don’t intend to buy. That way I’m less likely to lose my motivation to save my money for important long term goals like being debt free and buy something with short term satisfaction like a new outfit or new appliance.