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Help for an Overwhelmed Newbie (Part 3)

If you missed it, be sure to read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

5. Make Simple Budget Cuts

Once you have streamlined your life, set goals, gotten your home in order and created a budget, you’re ready to get more intense about looking for ways to cut your budget in order to free up extra money to pay off debt or save money towards your financial goals.

I suggest you start with simple things that will make a significant impact: Do you have memberships or subscriptions you’re currently paying for but not really using? Can you renegotiate some of your bills to get a better monthly rate? Could you cut back on costly regular expenditures or come up with creative alternatives?

After examining your regular expenditures to see if there are things you can cut or renegotiate, if you’re still struggling financially and need to come up with more breathing room, I’d suggest that you consider doing things which might be more extreme (click on that link for a list of 28 things we’ve done to stay out of debt).

I also encourage you to start slowly adopting a “Never Pay Retail” philosophy. Living frugally or on a budget doesn’t mean you never buy nice things or never pay for anything new again (though buying used is definitely a smart choice in many instances), but you can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars per year just by committing to use some coupons for items you’ll already be purchasing, planning ahead and buying items you will need soon when they are at their lowest prices and looking for creative ways to get discounts on items you plan to buy.

For instance, if you have room to include a “Dates and Eating Out” category in your budget, you can stretch your budgeted money farther by watching for restaurant coupons and deals and purchasing restaurant vouchers through Groupon or Restaurant.com to local restaurants you like.

A Word of Caution

Don’t feel like you need to cut your budget down to such a barebones level that you don’t have any wiggle room or that you can never splurge on anything. If you’re planning to live a frugal and simple life for the longhaul, you must give yourself some grace. In fact, I say that you should budget for splurges. It doesn’t have to be anything costly, but choose a few things which you really enjoy and budget for them so that you can enjoy them without guilt.

For instance, we budget for eating out once a week, we budget for vacations and special family outings and we budget for me to get my hair done. Some people might argue that these things are incredibly extravagant of us, but these are things are family has decided we enjoy and choose to spend our money on. So we budget for these expenses and then we splurging guiltlessly!

Living on a budget doesn’t mean you have to eat beans and rice for the rest of your life or be misers. It just means that you are telling your money where to go ahead of time so that it’s not just passing through your fingers like sand!

6. Remember to Take Babysteps

As you start looking for ways to reduce your outgo and cut costs, it’s easy to get carried away and try learn and do everything at once. If you’re not careful, you can find yourself completely overwhelmed trying to menu-plan, stockpile, print coupons, clip coupons, organize coupons, shop at multiple stores, play the Drugstore Game, sign up for freebies, read great blogs…  and on and on it goes.

My advice: take babysteps! Pick one new skill to learn per month and don’t feel guilty over what you haven’t learned or aren’t doing yet.

7. Don’t Compare Yourself to Other People

Sadly, sometimes we can spend a lot of time worrying about what other people are doing or not doing and base what we do or don’t do upon that. If there’s one thing I can not re-iterate enough, it’s this: don’t compare yourself to other people.

We’re all in different families and situations and locations. We all have different goals, different needs and different strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, what works for one family isn’t necessarily going to work for another family.

Maybe your family has food allergies which mean you can’t eat certain things and you need to have twice the grocery budget that your frugal friend without food allergies has. Or maybe you enjoy going out to eat more often so you have a higher “Dates and Eating Out” budget, but you buy your clothes at the thrift store.

Perhaps you like to travel so you budget more for that, but you don’t spend much on food because you grow a lot of it yourself. You might have a really busy schedule due to caring for a disabled family member and working two jobs, so you don’t even bother with using coupons and you hire someone to clean your home but you save money by biking to work and re-purposing everything you can.

Whatever the case, determine what works for your family and what goals and priorities your own family has and then create your financial goals and plan based upon this. If other people don’t understand or possibly even criticize the decisions you’ve made, it’s okay.

Do what works for you and don’t worry about what other people think!

photos from Shutterstock

We Paid Cash! :: Disney Vacation

We paid cash!

Testimony from Brandi

Two weeks from today my husband and I will be taking our four children to Disney World!

The Background

I am a work-at-home mom of four amazing boys ages 7, 6, 3 and 2. My husband is a sales rep for a wholesale distributing company. We have purposed to live within the means that the Lord provides for us and are so thankful for His blessings. With four boys, it requires creativity, sacrifice and sometimes plain old miracles to make that happen!

By the blessings and grace of God, we are debt-free except for our mortgage. We have six months of living expenses saved and are contributing a very modest amount to my husband’s 401K.

Our Goal

With medical expenses and just “life”, vacation has never made it to the top of our priority list. We decided at the first of the year that we would really love to be able to take our boys on a nice vacation and began to ask the Lord if He would allow us this extra but certainly not necessary blessing.

I’m so happy to say, He has allowed us to save all the cash needed without touching our savings or going into any sort of debt!

How We Did It

  • We are participating in a time-share presentation in exchange for free lodging! (I told them upfront that there is no chance of us buying a timeshare but they still want to give it a shot. Bless their hearts!)
  • We had a yard sale and made $500.00.
  • I sold an old kitchen table on the internet for $200.00.
  • I bought $250.00 worth of restaurant gift certificates for $18 on Restaurant.com.
  • We will be buying groceries and eating in the condo for breakfast and lunch each day.
  • I saved $600 out of our monthly budget over the last four months by couponing, searching sales, freezer cooking and just plain saying “no!” to things. That $600 was the hardest part because we only have a monthly budget of $400 for groceries, eating out, clothing, toiletries, etc.

We Paid Cash for DisneyWhat We Gained

This has been an awesome way for us to teach our children about delayed gratification. We explained each time we had to say no to something that even though we were sacrificing now, the blessing of our vacation was going to be much greater.

We actually saved the cash in a bag so the boys could see it and when we sacrificed something they could see us add to the cash. This has been a great character and faith-building experience!

Brandi Johnson is wife to Brandon and mom to Taylor, Luke, Caleb and Zachary.

Have you saved up and paid cash for something — large or small? Submit your story for possible publication here.

Help for an Overwhelmed Newbie (Part 2)

Read Part 1 of this series here.

3. Get Your Home & Life in Reasonable Order

Once you’ve determined to streamline your life and set some goals, now it’s time to crack the whip and make changes in your life. While you might want to jump in and start clipping coupons or chasing bargains — don’t!

If your home isn’t in reasonable order and you already feel like things are spinning out of control, adding more things to your to-do list is only going to create chaos and frustration.

Take a step back and look around your home: what are the biggest areas you are struggling with? Laundry? Piles of clutter? Lack of organization or a plan? Too much to do?

Take inventory of your current time usage: are your priorities in order? Are you spending time enjoying and loving on your family members? Are you getting enough rest? Do you have margin in your life? Are the unimportant things crowding out the important?

If you feel like you are living in complete chaos, you need to do major cutting from your life. Say “no” to outside commitments and responsibilities. Don’t feel obligated to other people. Don’t start anything new.

Instead, stay home, make a simple plan for your days (my upcoming series on Time Management will hopefully be very beneficial in helping you there!) and stick with it. A plan doesn’t work unless you do!

Your home and life didn’t get out of control in one day and they are not going get back under control in one day, but you can make baby steps in the right direction every single day. So, determine what are your biggest problem areas and begin attacking those one at a time.

(There’s much more I could say on this subject, but I’m going to save it for my Time Management series which I’m beginning on Friday.)

4. Create a Workable Budget

Once your home is beginning to start to get in order (and, in most cases, that will take a few weeks), then it’s time to tackle budgeting.

Yes, I said the “B” word. You gotta make a budget.

You know why? Because if you do nothing else when it comes to finances — if you never clip a coupon, never buy used and never eat leftovers — but you devise a simple zero-based budget and you follow it, you’ll benefit a great deal.

A workable zero-based budget is going to take work. It won’t just happen. But if you commit to making it and then following it, it will very likely change your world — and your financial situation!

For more help with creating a zero-based budget, I highly recommend you check out The Total Money Makeover from your library. You can also read Dave’s article on The Truth About Budgeting. And here are some free downloadable budgeting forms to get you started.

If you’ve never had a budget before, expect it to take at least three months to get a workable budget in place. The first few months you’ll likely overfund some categories and underfund others; it’s a work in progress, so don’t worry if you don’t get it right the first few times. You’ll see headway just by trying, I promise!

I also highly recommend that you use cash envelopes for much of your spending categories. This guarantees that you stay within the budget parameters because, with cash, when it’s gone, it’s gone.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post on babysteps towards better financial success!

What would be your top tip or piece of advice for someone who is feeling like their life and home is chaotic and disorderly?

photo by Muffet

Tell Your Time: The method which has revolutionized my time management — only $7 today!

Six months ago, I was overwhelmed, overworked and over-committed. I was exhausted, I was stressed, and my family, marriage, health and home were suffering.

I’d been praying about hiring an assistant and God just kept bringing me back to Amy. While she’d never worked as a virtual assistant before, she had the skills and the heart I was looking for. So I offered her the job, she accepted and my life is forever changed.

Not only has Amy taken over a lot of the load of the behind-the-scenes responsibilities which come along with running a blog with a lot of readers, but Amy has helped me get my personal life back in order. And this has brought incredible peace back into our home and family.

I waited four months after implementing these life-changing things before sharing them with you, because I wanted to make sure they were lasting changes, not just something I started and raved about on my blog and then ended up falling off the bandwagon after two weeks.

The changes and calm have stayed… for four whole month!

Just a few of the changes which have come as a result of implementing the things Amy shares in her book:

::I’m spending much less time online.

::I’m spending more time in God’s Word and prayer.

::I’m spending a lot more time loving and enjoying my husband and children at a leisurely pace.

::We’re more involved in our church and community.

::I’ve been reading a book every other week or so.

::I’m exercising for at least 45 minutes to an hour almost every day.

::We’re eating more healthfully.

::We’re reading and praying together as a family on a very regular basis.

::We’re delighting in learning together and exploring more new places, people and concepts in our homeschooling.

::I’m actually keeping up with the laundry and cleaning — most days!

::And believe it or not, I’m getting around 7-8 hours of sleep almost every night.

Now, please don’t get any impression that we’ve got all our ducks in alphabetized rows around here. I’ll be sharing my journey towards becoming a better manager of time beginning on Friday of this week and I have a feeling I’m going to disappoint every one of you because you’re going to learn once and for all that I am not superwoman. I’m actually doing a lot less, so that I can focus on what really matters.

I’ll be fleshing out a lot of the things Amy shares in her book and how we’ve applied the principles in our own lives. But I want to go ahead and encourage you to buy a copy of Amy’s brand-new ebook, Tell Your Time: How to Manage Your Schedule So You Can Live Fulfilled.

It’s priced at an introductory rate of only $7 through Friday, November 5, 2010 when you use coupon code MoneySavingMom at checkout. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed, over-committed or just plain exhausted, I think you’ll find the tips and tricks in this ebook to be revolutionary. At least I know they’ve changed my life!

So, what are you waiting for? Go buy your downloadable copy of Amy’s ebook for only $7! Just use coupon code MoneySavingMom at checkout to get this deal.

Help For An Overwhelmed Newbie (Part 1)

I’m a brand-new mom of a 4-month-old and I work at home part-time. I’m also a disorganized and a recovering procrastinator and money-waster. I’m thrilled to have found your blog, but I discovered it at a time in my life when I hardly have a free minute to spare.

I desperately want to change, but being so new to this lifestyle, so set in my bad habits and so extremely busy, I have no idea how to go about it. Do you have any suggestions for an overwhelmed newbie? Thanks in advance! -Deanne

Excellent question, Deanne! I was hoping to answer it in one post, but as I started outlining the post on paper (as I usually do with lengthier posts), I realized there was no way I could cover everything I wanted to cover in just one post.

So I’m going to do a series over the next few days with some step-by-step help for you and others who have just discovered this blog and are feeling overwhelmed at where to start in getting your finances in order.

1. Streamline Your Life

Saving money is going to take some time and effort. There’s no way around that. If it were effortless to live beneath your means or save 65% on all your grocery bills, everyone would be doing it!

It doesn’t have to take hours and days of your week, but if you want to change your finances, you first need to be willing to commit to put forth the time and effort required.

It will be worth it, but it won’t always be easy. However, the long-term benefits of short-term sacrifices can be amazing.

You can’t do it all. When you say “yes” to one thing, you must say “no” to another.

So if you really want to see some significant changes in your finances but you’re feeling completely overwhelmed and busy with your current responsibilities, you’re going to need to cut some things out of your life in order to make time to spend getting your finances in order.

2. Set Short-term and Long-term Goals

Once you’ve decided to streamline your life and put forth some effort when it comes to getting your finances in order, it’s time to get down to business! The first thing I recommend is to set goals.

Take a few hours during a quiet afternoon to sit and think (I highly recommend doing this exercise with your husband for those who are married). Where do you hope to be in five years and ten years from now? Don’t be intimidated! Just write down whatever comes to your mind. It’s okay to dream big dreams — even if they seem impossibly out of your reach.

Once you’ve scribbled down a lot of big ideas, choose which ones you really want to shoot for. I say to pick no more than three long-term goals. If you’re not out of debt, that should be at the top of your list. It’s hard to get any financial traction if you’re dragging the bondage of payments around with you wherever you go!

Now, break these big long-term goals down into smaller, bite-sized pieces. For instance, let’s say you have $12,000 in credit card debt and you’d like to have it paid off in two years. That means you need to have a goal of paying $6,000 off per year which translates to $500 per month, or about $125 per week. So there you have one of your concrete goals: you need to find an extra $125 in your budget each week in order to have all your credit cards paid off within two years.

Come back tomorrow and I’ll be sharing some tips and ideas for maximizing the mileage of your limited time and money!

Readers: What suggestions do you have for Deanne or other brand-new readers here who are feeling overwhelmed with where to start? I’d love to hear what has helped you!

photo by Katie@

The Relevant Conference: Humbling, inspiring… life-changing

Left to Right: Courtney, Kristen, Kimba, Alyssa, Jessica, Dana, Melissa, Angie, me, Sarah, Jen — I enjoyed all the speakers so much but I especially loved getting to know Angie and Melissa. And what’s amazing is that they make me look tall, which is something that rarely happens seeing as I’m 5’4″! {Photo by QuatroMama}

After all of our flight complications, we finally made it to The Relevant Conference location on Thursday evening just 15 minutes before I was supposed to be in the ballroom for the Speaker’s Round Table Dinner. I was still in my dirty-diaper-blowout-soaked clothes, so we lugged the suitcases up to our room as quickly as possible and then I changed into the outfit I was planning to wear.

I had spent money (well, actually a Groupon!) and had my sweater and skirt dry cleaned for the occasion, seeing as I didn’t want to distract everyone while I was speaking with my wrinkled rayon black skirt (because I’m usually too cheap to dry clean it!). When I went to put the sweater on, I realized the dry cleaners had pressed the collar wrong so it stuck out all funky. And I do mean funky.

Um, not gonna work.

So, I dug through my suitcase and put together a Plan B outfit in the three minutes I still had left. (I almost put my skirt on inside-out in all the commotion; wouldn’t that just be like me to look down when I’m up on stage and realize I have this big white tag sticking out on the side because my skirt was on inside-out?!).

With the one minute left, Jesse and I prayed together and then I bounded downstairs, laptop in hand, praying all the way down that God would calm my nerves.

I got into the ballroom and dinner was already just starting, but I had to meet with the tech guy for him to check my laptop to make sure the adapter cord would work and allow my slides to show up. While I was hashing out details with him, Myra came up out of nowhere, hugged me and told me she was praying for me.

She had no idea how much that meant to me right then. God just flooded me with peace again and I went to sit down at my assigned table.

Dinner was spent mingling with the attendees (the speakers had assigned tables and we rotated them every 15 minutes) and God just helped me to keep my calm and be able to focus on these amazing women and their incredible stories. I even managed to sneak in some bites of salad and chicken, too!

All too soon, dinner was almost over with, and I stole away to the restroom to try and compose myself and pray for two minutes in the bathroom stall (I can’t believe I just confessed that on my blog!).

A week ago, I’d planned to get at least two really good nights of sleep before the conference started. Instead, I was running on a total of about seven hours of sleep in a 48-hour period because I’d been up with Silas.

A week ago, I’d envisioned I would spend the last three days before the conference going over my speech with a fine-toothed comb and doing a complete run-through of it with the slides at least five times. Instead, I’d only gone over the entire speech with the slides one time — and that was late the night before and peppered with interruption after interruption.

We’d booked our flights planning to get into the hotel in the early afternoon so that I’d have time to decompress, pray and prepare. But instead, I barely arrived at the hotel in time to change my clothes.

If there was ever a time when I needed God to step in and undertake for me, it was now. I was about to go up and speak for an hour in front of 240 women — many of whom were women I’d long admired from their blogs — and I was exhausted and terrified.

Back in the ballroom, I discovered my computer wouldn’t work with adapter cable and I’d need to run the slides on another computer. By now, it felt like we were about on Plan W, having long ago tossed out my well-laid out Plan A, B and C.

We finally got the slides to pull up on the screen on the borrowed laptop and then the live-streaming wouldn’t work. We were delayed by another ten minutes or so while trying to get that to pull up (all the while I was secretly hoping it maybe was in God’s plan that my talk wasn’t going to be live-streamed!).

Stephanie came over — out of the blue — and asked if she could pray for me. I remember her praying specifically that I wouldn’t be nervous while at that very moment my knees were knocking together!

Then I was introduced and walked up onto the stage — wondering what on earth the next hour might hold and pleading with God to please guide my mouth and give me peace.

As soon as I started speaking, He did just that.

I’m not sure what all I said, but I felt His presence streaming through every ounce of my body giving me courage, calmness and clarity.

As soon as my talk was over, the most amazing thing happened: People started coming up to me — many with tears in their eyes — telling me of their struggles… thanking me profusely for sharing… talking about how God used it in their lives and convicted them of areas they needed to change.

And I knew that God had shined through in a powerful way. He had taken a weak, inadequate, unprepared person who’d never given a talk longer than ten minutes in her life and He’d used her to impact lives for the glory of God.

It felt humbling and amazing to be His conduit.

The rest of the conference was just incredible. It’s really impossible to put into words, but the best I can describe it is that God moved in powerful ways — healing wounded hearts, inspiring women to do great things for God, encouraging women to recommit themselves to put first things first, changing and transforming lives.

I met so many amazing women. There were many tears shed. Much laughter shared.

And there was authenticity and real-ness and brokenness.

No one was trying to be someone they weren’t. We were ourselves — and we were accepted and loved just as we were.

It was a beautiful thing to be apart of.

Jolanthe from Homeschool Creations, me and Carisa from 1+1+1 = 1 — two women whom I’ve been so blessed and inspired by as a brand-new homeschool mom. They are so fun in real-life that I could have spent all week long with them and we would have never run out of things to talk about! {Photo by Jill from FNA Photography}

For those who might be interested: You can read more thoughts and take-aways from the conference by other bloggers at The Relevant Conference site or at 4Tunate.net.