Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Financial Fast

I have participated in a few fasts from food. It was not easy. I love to prepare and to eat food. I did learn that if I can go without a necessity like food for a day or two, I can go without a non-necessity for a week, month, or even a year.

When I apply this idea to my personal finances, I call it a financial fast. It can include not purchasing soft drinks, not eating meat, not buying any new clothes, not eating out, etc. Everyone can benefit from a regular financial fast. It helps develop skills, and best of all, it helps you save money.

Self-control. Self control is essential to being successful with your finances (and in life!). But it isn’t something that can be developed overnight. It takes time. The key is to take small steps. Start out with a day or two. Then work up to a week. Eventually you’ll be fasting for a month without much effort.

Confidence. Sometimes we are fearful of doing anything because the risk of failure is overwhelming. So we stay in the same job, never try a new hobby, and don’t ever get out of our comfort zone. When I was successful in a small financial fast, it boosted my confidence and I slowly added the length of my fast. When I was successful in longer fasts, it built up my confidence until I gained control of my finances.

Money. At first I gave up something for short time, like a week. I didn’t see huge results from these short fasts. But as I developed more self-control and confidence, the results grew. Ten dollars I saved turned into twenty, which turned into fifty dollars. I discovered that when I completed a financial fast, sometime I never started purchasing that item again!

Just like with a fast from food, you have to be cautious when your fast is over. If you go out and eat a huge meal after a fast, it will be painful. I do recommend rewarding yourself when you meet a goal, but I don’t recommend splurging all the money you saved on your financial fast. If you give up buying soft drinks for a week, reward yourself with one soft drink at the end of the week. If you give up eating out for a month, reward yourself with one night out at the end of the month. If you decide you still want to!

What about you…what could you give up for a week, a month, or even a year as part of a financial fast?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Happiness Project for February

The month of February is a time many people focus on love, whether they want to or not. Some people have a positive experience and others don’t. But whatever their experience, they are inundated with commercials, promotions, and discussions about love. I guess that’s why Gretchen Rubin, who thought up the Happiness Project, suggests focusing on love this month. 

I like the focus on love because it is one of the driving forces behind my desire to be debt free by forty. One of the bible verses that sums up what a Christian’s life should look like is John 13:34, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another”. This doesn’t just apply to the person you are married to, engaged to, or are dating. This applies to every person in your life, whether it is family, friends, or strangers.

Gretchen’s tips for this month are giving proofs of love, fighting right, and not expecting praise or appreciation. Gretchen’s tips to fight right and not to expect praise or appreciation are a form of giving proofs of love. It is ok to disagree with a spouse or friend…it is hard to grow if there isn’t something pushing you to assess your views and beliefs. What is not ok is tearing someone down verbally because they don’t agree with you. What better way to give a proof of love than to do something for another person without expecting anything in return? That is the type of love that echoes the ultimate gift of love we received from Christ when he chose to give His life for ours.

Here are a few of the ways I am going to show proofs of love this month:

Give my husband a back massage. Mr. DFx40 is very physically active. He tries to run 30-40 miles every week. He is in nursing school so he is regularly on his feet for 12 hours or more each day. This is something I can do for him without expecting him to do anything in return.

Send a card to my mother. Mother DFx40 is stressed out this month because Little Brother DFx40 is getting married. His future wife is great, and this is something the entire family has been looking forward to. However, she has taken on a lot of activities by herself and I know she would greatly appreciate a handwritten note over a quick text or phone call.

Make a favorite meal for Cousin DFx40. He has been making great progress, but still feels very guilty about the circumstances that have him living with us. He also worries about the burden he thinks he puts on us. I know that he could use an extra portion of love this month. I plan on making his favorite dinner and telling him I’m proud of him for the growth he’s shown.

What about you…how can you increase your happiness by focusing on Love this month?


For future topics and past entries on my Happiness Project, see the list below.
January – Energy
February – Love
March – Work
April – Money
May – Mindfulness
June – Order
July – Spirit
August – Fun
September – Family
October – Friends
November – Attitude
December – Boot Camp Perfect

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Home Downsizing

I’ve got a little secret to share. I am in love  obsessed intrigued by the small house movement. I visit small house websites, I read about not so big houses, shoot, I even draw my own small house plans. What is it that has me so enamored?

Family - My grandmother grew up in a small house with no indoor plumbing and a shared bedroom for the kids. Mr. DFx40 and Cousin DFx40 both shared bedrooms with their older brothers. In a small home if it is going to work you have to learn to communicate with your family, which is definitely a good thing. You can’t have good relationships without good communication.

Sustainable - It doesn’t take much common sense to realize that a smaller house uses less material and causes less waste when being built. They also use less energy to heat and cool. And if you do happen to live in a small home and you want to update to be more energy efficient, it takes a lot less material to do that also!

Money - Smaller House = Smaller Mortgage. If that isn’t enough to convince you, take a look at this…Smaller House = Smaller Bills. Enough said.

Time - It takes me long enough to clean and maintain a 1300 square foot home. When I think about adding bathrooms and other rooms to clean, I start to hyperventilate. And if you haven’t figured this one out yet, a smaller home (and a smaller mortgage) equals less time at work to pay for it. That aligns perfectly with my motivation to be debt free by forty.

These reasons were enough to motivate a few conversations about downsizing from our huge (ha) 1300 square feet house. We realized there were plenty of advantages to doing so. What made us decide to stay put? Two of the same things that has me so in love  obsessed intruged with small houses!

Money - Our current mortgage is far from unbearable. We bought a house for around 70% of what the bank offered to loan us three years ago, which was based on my income alone. We could still comfortably afford it on half of our current income. That is with me working full time and Mr. DFx40 working about 12 hours a week while he finishes school. We decided the extra $200-$300 a month we could save by downsizing wasn’t worth the three years of equity we would lose or the stress of moving.

Family - As some of you know, Cousin DFx40 moved in with us in September. What none of you know is that another Cousin DFx40 will be staying with us for a few weeks in March. She and her husband will be moving from Mexico (he is a citizen of Mexico) to the town we live in, and she needs a place to stay while she looks for a car and an apartment. If we downsized we would miss out on a lot of opportunities to help out the people we love.

What about you…what size house/apartment do you live in? How many people share that space with you? Would you ever consider going smaller?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

January Firm Determinations Update

At the beginning of 2010 I made a few Firm Determinations. I am very excited about my progress in some areas, and just a little disappointed about my lack of progress in others. Here is how I’ve done with my Financial, Health, Faith, and Blog FD’s.

Save $5000 towards student loan repayment by May – We have saved $2.250.00 towards this goal. That’s 45%, so we are way ahead.
Increase Emergency Fund by one month’s living expenses by May – We have saved $110.00 towards this goal, which is just over 5% (you can do the math). We are a little behind on this, but I’m not worried because we’ll receive $1500 rebate in our taxes for energy efficient upgrades (our air conditioner died).
Open a Roth IRA with retirement money in Money Market Account – We are still looking into this. I have the option of opening one up with the same people who do our company’s 401K so I’m going to set up a meeting within the next few months.
Reevaluate goals in May 2010 – this is one FD we are looking forward too!

Hmm. I really thought that this would be one of the easier categories for me. But it ended up being the worse one.

Run/log 600 miles – I only logged 4 miles this month. That doesn’t even come close to the 50 miles a month it will take to fulfill this FD. I don’t have an excuse except that it has been freakishly cold in Texas.
Ride my new bike to work 24 times – I did not ride my bike one time in January, which is obviously short of the 2 times a week I need for this FD. I’m expecting this to pick up once it starts staying above freezing at night.
Do back exercises/stretches 3 times a week – I’ve done my back exercises and stretches an average of 1 time a week. I saw results from the few times I did this. This will increase when my running increases.
Try one new meatless meal a month – I honestly forgot all about this FD until I sat down to write this update. But here’s a picture of the yummy chicken fajitas the three of us ate last night.

Volunteer to lead college small group once a month – I completely blew this one away this month. I volunteered to lead 3 of the 4 times we met. And it wasn’t that bad.
Spend time with children from bus ministry once a month – This is one of the FD’s I’m most disappointed with not fulfilling. I will have to schedule in a Saturday to do a home visit for February.
Spend 3 hours a week reading and studying my bible – I struggled with whether or not to include our Sunday and Tuesday college bible study and Sunday small group bible study in this. In the end, I decided to count 30 minutes for each. I ended up averaging a little under 3 hours each week.

Post a new article once a week – I didn’t technically meet this goal. I posted a total of 4 times in January, but I went an entire week without posting anything.
Track all of my input/output and share it once a month – I successfully tracked everything in a spreadsheet. My next post will give you the tally for each of the following items tracked for January:

Spiritual Growth/Live Missionally

Like I said, I fell short in some areas and excelled in others. It may take me all year to have a completely successful month, but I am still optimistic.

What about you…how have you progressed towards fulfilling your Firm Determinations? Have you reevaluated or modified your goals?