planning for Christmas

calculating kids

i LOVE giving gifts to people at Christmas, it’s so much fun. there is something so gratifying about finding that “perfect” gift, the one you know will be loved and appreciated. being crafty as i am, i’ve handmade a lot of gifts for friends and family, but i’ve got some family members who are as into the handmade gift-that’s okay too.

whether handmade or store-bought, giving thoughtful gifts at Christmas-time is something i value greatly. i think it probably means more to me than the person receiving the gift.

the thing about giving gifts is that it can be stressful, because it costs money. and giving gifts is just ONE of the expenses that usually comes along with Christmas. we send out christmas letters with a photo card, we go out to eat a little more often around the holidays, we travel, we give more money away, and we just generally spend more money.

i’m not complaining, i love this time of year, and i love all the things that go along with it. even the spending money part. after all, it’s easy to spend money when you have money to spend! here’s how we plan for the Holidays financially:

at the beginning of 2011, we decided on a reasonable amount to spend on Christmas. we actually doubled what we tried to spend last year, because it was too hard to stay within such a small budget. then we divided that number up into monthly increments and saved a little bit each month for Christmas. instead of catching us by surprise, gift-giving is something we can do with out feeling sick about how much we’re spending. i’m so grateful for that.

i also am in the habit of Christmas shopping throughout the year. if i find a really great deal on something, or find something really unique that i know someone will love, i’ll buy it then and just pull the money out of our Christmas “envelope.”

what are your plans for Christmas spending? how early do you start putting money away? how do you save money during the Holidays?

have a great Thanksgiving tomorrow!

savings plan for 2012

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saving enough to pay our upcoming u-bill was our last financial goal to complete for 2011 and at the end of october, we were successful! all of our sinking funds have been filled and we just paid the last of our annual irregular bills. in my nerdy financial brain, 2011 might as well be over. 
that being said, it should not shock you that i’m already thinking about our 2012 financial goals. they are the biggest goals we’ve ever set for ourselves. some are fun, some are important, and some are essential. and when you add all the goals together, it’s quite a shocking dollar amount.

now, i’ve been really transparent with our saving goal for tuition. i’ve given you the exact dollar amount that we’ve saved each month. i reasoned that if you really wanted to know, you could google how expensive one year at the university of iowa is and figure out how much we needed and were saving. so i figured i’d just post the actual numbers so you could see in reality how much we’re saving for bryan’s tuition.

but my financial updates are going to look a little different in 2012. the main reason being that you can’t google how much we’ve decided to save for a vacation next year, or how much a fully-fund emergency fund is for us. we’ve decided not to make these dollar amounts public, because there really is no need to.

now that that’s out of the way, here’s what we have planned for 2012 (in order of importance):

  1. fill all of our essential sinking funds as fast as possible. these sinking funds include:
    • auto insurance
    • home insurance
    • auto tax
    • home tax
    • pest control
    • eye exams
    • eye glasses
  2. pay off our student loan
  3. fill all of our non-essential sinking funds. these sinking funds include:
    • christmas
    • clothing
    • vacation
    • birthdays
  4. save and pay cash for a second car
  5. fully fund our emergency fund (6 months of expenses)
honestly, looking at the bottom line, to save all of this in one year is impossible. but setting big goals seems to be good motivation for us and public (blog) accountability is an even better motivator for me. AND bryan will no longer be a student after may! not only will we not have to pay tuition, but he’ll actually be working! woohoo! 
because we have already completed our goals for 2011, we’re starting on our goals for 2012 now. i’ll blog about our progress at the end of november in lieu of the monthly tuition updates. 
happy saving! 

aftermath of the car accident

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i’ve mentioned that i got in a car accident in early october. i was on my way to ames to have some sister/mother bonding time. i was so excited about spending an afternoon shopping with my sister and going out to dinner with my mom. i left iowa city at 11:30am and was planning on getting to ames by 1:30pm.

but i didn’t get to ames until close to 3pm because i hit someone on the interstate.

why did i hit a car? because the car suddenly crossed three lanes of traffic into my lane, where i braked, swerved into the ditch and swerved back into my lane which resulted in the hit of her car and the ditching of my car.

it was not fun or amusing. and i was sorely disappointed at the time this was taking away from my family. and at the same time, this was the best car accident to get into. ever.

first of all, myself and my car could have been much, much worse. it could have flipped, i could have been stuck inside, i could have been injured. lots of things. as it were, i wasn’t even sore the next day and my car was still completely drivable. my car incurred a sizable dent, but nothing else seems to be wrong with it.

second of all, the other driver was not hurt either.

third of all, other cars could have easily been involved. it was a crowded interstate but we were the only two cars involved in the accident.

fourth of all, we got a bunch of money for the damages! well, it was a bunch of money considering that we decided to leave the dent in the car and keep the cash.

bryan and i have been talking a lot about how to make the most of this unexpected money in the last week.

what would you do if you received a totally unexpected amount of money? 

dreams and things

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disclaimer: this post is not what you think it’s going to be.

since everyone knows how much of a tightwad i am, i thought i’d share just how far this can go. and it goes as far a dreams. not “i’ve got hopes and dreams” kind of dreams, but “i’m out cold, fast asleep, dead to the world” kind of dreams.

i dream about slightly altered versions of real life. and then the morning comes and i’m left wondering what’s real and what’s dreamland.

my dream sequence from the other night was as follows:

easily discerned as not real:
i was majorly flirting with a guy who was not bryan. i was practically drooling over him. i’m not going to say who, because there are some things in life that leave me red in the face, but it was bad. in reality, i’m happily married and as a bonus confirmation, i woke up next to my sleeping red-headed husband named bryan. also, this dream has nothing to do with me being a tightwad, it was just funny.

not real, but i wish it was:
i’m floating in water. i’m floating towards something. the something ends up being a bunch of assembly lines. i’m on an assembly line. and all the other assembly lines are full of the one thing i’ve been searching for: dryers for $50 each. hundreds of cheap dryers! i can choose anyone i want! a clerk comes to help me [i’m not on an assembly line any more apparently] and we look at tiny dryers and regular sized dryers and i pick the perfect one and i only have to pay $50 for it. can you tell our dryer is broken?

truly let down by the lack of reality:
the last dream i can remember from the other night was simply that i was driving around and my gas tank was almost full. when i woke up, i considered this, and determined that i must have filled up my tank on monday. when i got in my car to drive to work, i actually got angry at bryan for using over a half a tank of gas by driving 15 miles for adoleo practice last night. and then i remembered the dream. dang it.

i just need my dreams to actually dictate the future and i’d be set. except for the flirting part. sorry that i dreamcheated on you, bryan.

the tightwad ditch

calculating kids

here’s one thing i often forget about money management: the whole point of financial freedom is to be free.

i’m going to use a common youth group analogy to help explain this one.

every path has two ditches, right? so the path of financial freedom is the same.

one ditch is the party ditch. the one you fall into while you spend more money than you have on things you don’t even need. that’s the ditch that people like me avoid at all costs. what can i say, i’ve never been a partier.

but the other ditch traps you in the same way that all ditches do, it just feels a little more right as you’re falling in. if you fall into this ditch, you may not have debt. you may have a large savings account. you may, by all evidence, be financial “free.”

i fall into the latter ditch. and speaking directly from the tightwad ditch [as i affectionately call it] it’s still quite ditchy.

there are days when i don’t feel free at all. i feel bogged down by trying to figure out how every last penny can contribute to our savings account. i feel tired of compulsively checking my bank account and updating my check register and wondering why nothing has changed in the last hour. i get so easily obsessed with our finances that our budget sheet is almost constantly up on my computer. it’s a dark, damp ditch that isn’t the least bit encouraging or freeing.

and then i remember what i always forget. i remember that it’s pointless to try. so. hard. at this whole staying out of debt thing and this being wise with money thing if i’m just going to fall into the tightwad ditch. if i’m constantly stressed or obsessed with the bottom line, that isn’t freedom.

i think there are physical reasons to be stressed about money, like not having enough to pay your bills each month. but i’ve never experienced that, so i’m pretty sure the cause for my stress is completely mental. and therefore, i’m completely mental. i will drive myself crazy if i don’t lighten up on myself.

jeez, this sure turned into a rant to myself, so i guess i’ll just go with it:

note to self: don’t be such a tightwad.

dumping money into passion

calculating kids

i know i probably sound like a know-it-all about money stuff at this point. just to be clear, i don’t know it all. i’m just a huge nerd.

having said that, if i know anything about money management, it’s this: passion is a money pit.

this fact is neither good nor bad, just impenetrably true.

let me tell you about my husband. he loves playing the bass guitar. music in general is one of his greatest passions. can you guess what he spends money on?

our house is filled with records, cds, and musical instruments of all sorts. it’s fantastic. it’s not bad that bryan is passionate about music-it’s a quality i’d love for our children to inherit from him. and it’s certainly not a bad thing that we have a bunch of music-related “stuff” in our house. some (read: me) might call it junk or clutter, but not bryan. to bryan, it’s the most precious stuff he owns.

thus, in our family, music is a money pit.

i certainly have my own vices as well. and between the two of us, we’ve come up with some shared passions. these passions, in particular, are influenced by this money pit truth. in other words, we’ve considered the “money pits” that are most valuable and that we want to invest in the most.

so what are our passions?

i’ve always wanted to be a mom. and i’ve known for a while that when that day comes, i want to stay home with our children. we want to provide for our children all that they need. everyone knows that kids cost money and a lot of it. but it’s a worthwhile money pit.

reaching the world with the gospel. 
this is an area where we are tested to put our money where our mouth is often. while we don’t have any particular plans to move overseas, we know that God could put this in our future. we want to be available and ready to go if/when God asks us to and we want to support those who do have plans to go overseas. this is a money pit we never want to lose sight of-we always want to be passionate about the work that God is going.

investing in our community.
sometimes it’s throwing a party, sometimes it’s providing for someone in need, and sometimes it’s the simple act of investing in our local church. we don’t want to forget about those near and dear to us, and investing financially is a great way to stay connected.

being a light.
sorry for the small soapbox i’m about to step on, but has anyone noticed how cheap christians can be? bryan and i always want to be open-handed with our money. we want to pay our bills on time, give good tips to waiters, and pay a fair price for services or goods. we don’t want to be known for always asking favors or taking everything we can get. this can be a struggle for me especially as “frugal” can quickly turn into “cheap.”

what are you passionate about? is it a worthwhile money pit?

stay out of debt, as much as possible

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the title of this post is pretty self-explanatory. this is one of our highest goals (second to giving) and probably will be for most of our lives.

i want to start out by saying that paying off debt can be addicting. staying out of debt can be just as addicting. it’s amazingly fun to see such momentum, to feel so much relief, and to feel so free from the bondage of debt.

i don’t know about you, but these feelings of relief or momentum can cause problems for my heart. it causes me to question: would i rather give to someone in need…or fill our tuition fund

the problem is, neither one of those things is a wrong choice. it’s certainly wise to plan for expenses and try to stay out of debt. and it’s definitely within reason to contribute a donation to someone in need. it begs the question, how do we choose? my head would choose the savings account every time. often, my heart would as well.

bryan and i have come to the conclusion that we are not going to be successful in staying out of debt unless we’re committed to generosity first.

honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.” -proverbs 3:9-10

when we give to the Lord first, He fills us up. this principle is not just true with finances, but it is true in every aspect of being a follower of Jesus. He loves for us to lay ourselves at His feet and let Him work through us, not in spite of us. we have personally found this to be true in our lives. when we are generous, which is only because of God’s work in our lives, we feel blessed by God. this is not a blog promising unending financial blessing from God, or even any kind of financial blessing from God. all i’m saying, is that God always seems to meet our needs, especially when we give.

while we are always striving to stay out of debt, we simply won’t consider taking away from our tithe or saying no to a support letter just because we want to lower our debt. it’s just too tempting to be a good idea. : )

goals to stay out of debt in 2011-2012

  • pay off $5,500 student loan as quickly as possible, preferably before interest accrues
  • increase our mortgage payment
  • save cash for a second car
  • save 6 months of living expenses in an emergency fund

the goal before all other goals.


calculating kids

my husband wants to be a goat farmer in switzerland and live off the land. he doesn’t want to live a conventional life. ever. he doesn’t want to live for his career or money or a big house or new cars or anything the american dream entails. bryan would love to be in fulltime ministry or a missionary or move all around the country with various church plants.

now, you won’t find me complaining when bryan starts some sort of career after he graduates college or when we have a house that isn’t on cinderblocks. but i don’t really want to live a conventional life either. i’m not convinced that means we’re moving to switzerland and purchasing some goats. i’m not even convinced that means we’re going to be fulltime missionaries and live off of support. i like money and stability and america. but i don’t want to live my life for those things and bryan and i agree on that.

in order to keep ourselves accountable to our lifestyle goals, we’ve come up with a financial goal that directly affects all of our other financial goals:

give generously, all the time, no matter how much is in our bank account. 

our idea is that if we’re always giving generously, than we’ll never get fully caught up in making more money, buying bigger and nicer things, or focusing on our careers.

my goal is to be transparent but not prideful. so while the below ideas are indeed things we have implemented into our own lives, i thought it would be fun to point out all the amazing examples that have influenced us to give more generously. we’ve had a lot of good examples.

tithing is a non-negotiable.
this one is exampled by many people we know. whether rich or poor, they are disciplined to tithe. my favorite story about tithing is when my best friends parents were teaching their youngest child about tithing. after he thought he understood he asked: “wait a minute, we give God 10% and then we get to keep all the rest?!”

giving to God’s work is first priority. 
i can’t express how thankful i am to be receiving support from some of my dearest friends. i’ve been support raising for just two months now, but i completely under-estimated how cherished i would feel by receiving support-thank you! (you know who you are!) now that i am on the receiving end, i am all the more eager to give, give, and give some more whenever we get any sort of support letter.

not just money, but time and resources too.
two families stick out in my mind. first, my best friend’s family practically always had someone living with them. i got to know so many college students/random people because there seemed to always be someone new living in there basement. it was awesome!
second, the family of one of my old roommates might be the most modest and generous family i know. they are so quick to borrow out their possessions, be it their truck, their tv, or their vacuum. seriously, they are ridiculous. it makes me jump at the chance to give away our stuff, too!

putting others before ourselves.
i can’t think of anyone in particular that exudes this character, aside from the above people. i’m going to admit, sometimes we just like to challenge ourselves. sometimes, we write a check to someone in need just because it’s a little uncomfortable. sometimes, we offer our home to people just because it might be a little awkward.

in our experience, giving can be challenging, uplifting, frustrating, annoying, and freeing. but i can’t say we’ve ever had “giver’s remorse.” it’s always good for us!

the cost of the future


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if i could say one thing about our marriage, it’s that it’s kind-of a miracle.

the way bryan and i are designed could not be more different. i was recently talking to a friend of mine about how my marriage was going. i babbled about various struggles or victories we’ve had in marriage for a few minutes, but finally i just told her, we don’t fight about those three things that they warn you about: sex, money and family. we fight because our personalities are so different that we have a lot trouble understanding each other. 

i know opposites attract but really, have you met me and bryan? i think a lot of people are secretly puzzled at how or why we ever got married.

but somehow, it seems to work. we’re head over heels crazy for each other [for the record], and i truly believe God is glorified through our marriage. we’re much better together than separate.

the above may seem like a non-sequitur, but i assure you, this post is about finances.

the kitschy little tagline to this series is “the stories of a couple of youngsters calculating the cost of the future.”

as i told my friend, we don’t really fight about money. we’ve had our disagreements, yes. but regardless of how different we are in method or personality, we have the same mind about the future, that is, we want to invest in it. we don’t want it to hit us like a ton of bricks. we don’t want to be dead and have nothing to show for it. and we don’t want our future to be just about us.

so what does the future look like for us? what goals do we have for ourselves? what do we want our lives to look like in 5 or 10 or 50 years?

[gotcha hooked didn’t i?]

read more next week!

details are my friend

calculating kids

maybe i’m a gossip, but i love knowing the details of peoples lives. that sounds awful. i work for a church, for heaven’s sake. let me clarify. i’m fascinated with people and i’m a copycat. i love knowing all that i can know about people i respect so that i can mimic them and thus become a respectable person. does that sound better?

because of my love for details, i assume everyone else has an intense desire to know everything that is going on in my life. you probably already know that if you read this blog.

so, for that reason and for the reason that personal finance can be just plain hard, i thought i’d give those who are interested some insight into how things roll in this house. and for those that are not interested but can’t take their eyes off their computer screen, i’ll try to make it an enjoyable experience.

i do everything.
just in case you’ve been wondering who keeps track of all our expenses, bills, and receipts in our household, it’s me. bryan is willing to take over if it’s ever a struggle for me (read: if i ever become a budget-monster and start acting like king richard from the robin hood era). but details really aren’t his thing. and details really are my thing, so i really enjoy keeping our check register up to date.

we make decisions together. 
bryan has less opinions then i do about our budget, but we make decisions together. sometimes, i’ll give him an idea of what we need to think about and he tells me what we should do. but a lot of times, i’ll come up with some change to our budget and tell him what i did and he’ll approve. every once and a while, he’ll disapprove because of something i hadn’t thought about and we’ll rework it together.

we don’t have that “jerry rule” that restricts us from spending a certain amount of money without talking to each other. we have so little money that we talk to each other about every extra expense outside of our budget. it’s not really in a, “can i have permission” way, it’s more in a, “this is why we should spend money, do you agree?” way.

excel is free and it’s my best friend.
i use excel for all our budgeting needs. i do fancy stuff like formulas and crap. it’s top of the line, let me tell you.
it’s pretty simple, i have one sheet for our monthly budget, which is inspired by the zero-based budget idea. on this sheet i have all of our expected expenses listed out. throughout the month, i’ll add what we actually spent and our incomes before and after taxes.
the second sheet is a pretty simple check register that i use to balance with our checking account. i balance a little more often than weekly thanks to online banking.

we try to stay one month ahead
we start the beginning of the month with all the money we need. for example, our expenses for august add up to $1,766.84. so we started the month of august with that much in our checking account. this way, we don’t have to wait on my paycheck to have money to pay our bills. throughout the month, my paycheck will refill our checking account and get us ready for the next month.

at this point in the series, i hope i’ve given you some more insight into how we deal with finances in the alsbury family. so far, you may be able be able to conclude that we’re pretty committed to staying out of debt and living within our means. the road is hard, but so rewarding.