Monday, July 25, 2011

10 Unconvential Money Tips

When my marriage and family were brand new we made some mistakes.  One of the bigger mistakes had to do with our finances and the purchase of our home.  We bought a charming historic house with the original woodwork, a newly remodeled bathroom, and everything in sound condition.  We purchased the house seven years ago where real estate seemed to be the best investment for your dollar.  Need to pay off your soaring credit card balance?  Roll it into your mortgage!  Want a new car?  Take out a 2nd mortgage!  Doesn't matter, home values are only going UP! UP! UP! Then the housing market crashed.  And I cried.

We bought our house with the intention of staying in it for many years.  So we extended and bought a house out of our price range.  When the credit cards were becoming too large, we rolled them into the mortgage.   Two huge mistakes we learned: don't buy a house with a monthly payment of more than 25% of your take home pay and don't roll your credit cards into your mortgage.

One year into home ownership we discovered two huge problems.  Carpenter ants and bats.  Both were very expensive to remove and bats are almost impossible to get rid of forever.  Then the roof started leaking, and the newly remodeled bathroom needed $4000 worth of repairs.  Apparently the previous owner did all the work himself, and was a lousy carpenter/plumber/electrician.

Throw in two kids in daycare and trying to start a new business that wasn't bringing in money and you've got a recipe for financial disaster.   Despite the financial struggles we never once missed a mortgage payment.  Here are some unconventional tips we used to save money.
  1. Canceled cable.... saved us over $40 month and my wife and I learned what it was like to actually talk to each other rather than turn into zombies after the kids went to sleep.
  2. Trimmed our food budget to the bare minimum.  Lots of peanut butter sandwiches (which I love).  With the use of coupons and the purchase of generic products we only spent $200/month for our family.  We did learn one thing about generic products... most are great, but nothing beats KRAFT macaroni and cheese.  Never buy generic Mac n Cheese!  We also found out that Target brand has great prices on diapers, formula, and other baby stuff.
  3. Prioritized bills.  We always paid the mortgage first.  If we didn't have enough cash for the bills on the bottom of the list, we didn't pay them.  Some months we didn't pay the phone bill, trash, or the natural gas bill.  The late fees were minimal for these and the service after a couple months never stopped.
  4. Picked up a bunch of hours working as a part time bartender/waiter at the local golf course.  I discovered that one of the best part time jobs is working as a bartender for events and weddings.  Some weddings you can earn over $50/hour.  Which is twice as much as I make at the school district.  Plus weddings are awfully fun to work.
  5. Stopped going out to eat, and didn't go on any vacations.  This was very hard for us.  One summer we had to make the tough phone call to family members that we weren't able to go on the family reunion in Colorado. 
  6. Took advantage of daycare reimbursements through my employer so that my daycare costs were taken out of my paycheck before taxes, saving us hundreds.  We did the same with what's called a "Flex Account" for purchases like eye-glasses and dental work, things not covered by health insurance.
  7. Autumn and I stopped buying clothes for ourselves, and cut back on buying clothes for the kids.  We started shopping at Goodwill for items such as shoes, jackets, and necessary winter clothing.  Nobody would ever notice.  We were fortunate, the kids did get a bunch of new clothes from grandma and grandpa.
  8. Canceled the cell phone.  I know.  Huge.  10 years ago people surprisingly survived without cell phones.
  9. Then, a minor entertainment savings was showing up 10 minutes late to the local high school varsity games.  I found that right after tip-off, they close the admission tables and you can get into the games for free.  Didn't save me much, but I didn't fret about having the $5 to get into the game.
  10. Made homemade gifts for occasions such as Christmas, birthdays, and weddings.  My wife and mother-in-law bought me a wine making kit for my birthday.  My parents have a huge raspberry patch and people donate their used wine bottles to me.  I can make a bottle of wine for less than a dollar a bottle.  So when it comes time for Christmas, anniversaries, weddings, birthdays, New Year's Eve and other occasions, I give away my wine.  I've continued this and it has literally saved me hundreds of dollars.  Plus my wife makes play-doh, slime, bubbles, and other fun kid friendly gifts so that we don't spend a lot on our nieces, nephews, and our kids' friends for birthdays and Christmas.  Plus these gifts have a lot more meaning behind them than a gift card.  
I'm proud to say we survived our financial hardship without any handouts.  We just rolled up our sleeves and went to work.  Now that we are back on stable financial ground we appreciate the freedom that comes with money in the bank.  We have not reached all of our fiscal goals, but we will never ever again be broke.  

    Monday, July 11, 2011

    Marriage Woes for Baby Boomers

    In Sunday's StarTribune newspaper there was a front page story regarding an increasing number of baby boomers who are divorcing.  In fact 25% of divorces today are from those who have been married for 20 years or more.  The baby boom generation has already brought the highest divorce rate the nation has ever known, now they are showing us again how not to have a good marriage.

    Interestingly, the fastest growing segment of the population that are now cohabiting, rather than getting married, are those in their 50's.   Shacking it up - it's no longer just for those in their 20s.  

    What's going on here?!

    The article went on to say that once the children leave the house or the youngest is about to graduate from high school, the children were no longer a reason for the couple to stay together.

    My immediate reaction to the story was this:  Start going on more dates people!  Go do something you both enjoy together and love on each other.  And I'm gonna say it - after the date is over, make sure you end up wrapped up in between the sheets together, naked!  Got it?  Good. 

    Yes children are important, but let's not forget about your spouse. 

    I referenced before on this blog that I'm not a marriage expert.  And I do realize that you baby boomers are old enough to have powdered by butt, - BUT, I do love my wife more than ever and we've got a good thing going.  I think we're doing some things right, so hopefully my advice carries some weight.

    Here are four reasons why author Bryan Davis thinks marriage is awesome.

    1. Marriage done right makes you less selfish

    It's not the institution of marriage that is failing.  It's us.  We, overall as a culture, are just more selfish.  It's all about us.  I have needs and if they're not met, I'm outta here.  Rather, marriage done right isn't as much about what we feel as how we can meet the needs of our spouse.  It's sacrificing ourselves to be others-centered, starting with our spouse.  In a nutshell, the most vibrant marriages are also the least selfish.  And this trait is acquired over a lifetime.  The more selfless you become, the more you will love your spouse.  And selfless, others-centered folks have a healthy spillover effect on their surrounding culture.

    2. Marriage done right makes you healthier

    Every single serious study ever done on marriage and singleness clearly shows that married folks live longer, healthier lives.  Most recently, The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that compared with married people, people who are widowed are 40 percent more likely to die, people who are divorced or separated are 27 percent more likely to die, and people who have never married were 58 percent more likely to die.  The main reason?  We were designed to be in a flourishing, monogamous relationship with a spouse.  When we deny this, the very way we are made, our minds, bodies and souls suffer.

    3. Marriage done right is what's best for your kids

    Similar to the overwhelming conclusion of marital studies on the impact of health, virtually all research shows that the two-parent home is what is best for children.  Recently, The Future of Children, a journal published jointly by the non-partisan Brookings Institution and Princeton University, found that children from two-parent families are better off emotionally, socially and economically.  Contrast that with the fact that the average prison inmate came from a single parent home according to the National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated.  Your kids need a healthy relationship modeled – your marriage.

    4. Marriage done right is God's best for your life story

    There is the gift of singleness, no doubt, but for the vast majority of us, marriage is God's best.  According to Genesis 2, marriage is the first and most important institution God created – preceding governments, churches and schools.  God designed us and knows what's best for us.  He doesn't want us alone.  He wants us "one flesh" with another human being.  As our Creator, let's not doubt His goodness to us.  Marry well.  Live well.

    Thursday, July 7, 2011

    The List

    Years ago, while still attending Jordan High School, (Go Hubmen!) the school brought in a former NFL back-up quarterback to speak to us.  I looked forward to it only because it meant a break from the classroom.  

    This guy told me something that changed how I approached life.  I mean this advice really gave me focus.  Something I didn't have.  It was simply advice and easy to do and I'd like to share it with you.

    He told the class to think of all the things you want to accomplish in life and write it on paper.  Then place your list by your bedroom door so you see it everyday.

    The speaker told us that this uncomplicated plan had worked for him and would work for us too.  Here he was, a successful athlete giving us his secret to life!  I decided that I would do the same thing.

    I went home that afternoon and constructed this list (please remember I was in high school at the time):
    1. Hit a home run.
    2. Dunk a basketball
    3. Score a touchdown in a varsity game
    4. Never do drugs
    5. Don't drink alcohol in high school
    6. Go to college and graduate
    7. Other stuff that doesn't need to be mentioned here!
    I completed the list and taped it to my bedroom door where I would see it everyday.  I eventually crossed off all except numbers 2 and 3.  I actually dunked a volleyball the summer going into my senior year, and during homecoming was tackled on the 10 yard line on my way to the endzone.  That tackle also tore my ACL ending my football career.  If that tackle doesn't injure me, I'm pretty sure everything on my list gets crossed off.

    Here is my list today...
    1. Start my own business that allows me to live each day how I want.
    2. Marry a beautiful wife and have a family.  Done.
    3. Make the day I marry my wife the day I love her the least. (so far so good)
    4. Become a community education director.  Done.
    5. Become debt free.
    6. Go to Italy, Egypt, and Alaska.
    7. Become a great Dad that spends qualitative and quantitative time with his kids.
    8. Write a book.
    9. Run a marathon.  Done
    10. Tip a waitress $100 on Thanksgiving day.
    11. Go skydiving.
    12. Continually grow in my relationship with Christ.
    I share this with you, because I think by publicly sharing it gives me some accountability to cross off items.  I have a feeling it will work.  Feel free to share with me your list at:  Want me to help you cross things off?  Let me know, I'd love to help!