Blogging from A-Z – debt-proof living

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “D.” (I’m blogging the alphabet in April. Read the details at Suzy & Spice here or the Blogging from A-Z page here.)

__________________________

MaryHuntQuote

By the time I met Mary, she had gotten her family into $100,000 of unsecured debt … and back out.

She scratched and clawed (and prayed) her way out of the hole.

And, because she has been to the bottom of the pit and climbed her way back out, dirt under her fingernails, sweat on her brow, wisdom under her cap, she has built an organization out of helping the rest of us do the same – or, better yet, not digging that pit in the first place.Kids_noBG_noShadow_200

I’ve never really met Mary Hunt, as in face to face, but I feel as though I know her. She’s so open and honest about her experiences, even keeping a sense of humor about it, that a person can’t help but feel an affinity for her.

I like the likes of Mary Hunt. She took a bad situation – really bad – worked through it, dignity a little bruised but mostly intact, and decided to devote her life to being a lifeguard for others who were drowning. (Sorry if I’m using too many metaphors, but what would you call the guardian of a pit?)

I’ve been following Mary since 1994. That’s when, as a new homeowner (my first house!), I heard her on a radio program and signed up for her newsletter. Back then it was called Cheapskate Monthly, and it arrived on white, 8.5×11 paper (8 pages) via snail mail. (I still have all my back issues.) The newsletter has evolved with the times, though, and is now Debt Proof Living (still monthly), complete with a website, a blog, several books (I have most of them), reader forums and electronic tools that will delight the heck out of you – if, like me, you’re a geek. (But you don’t have to be a spreadsheet nerd to benefit from them.)

I love Mary’s no-nonsense approach to answering reader mail; she tells it like it is. (She can smell a rationalization a mile away, and she doesn’t let people get away with excuses.) When you’ve aired your dirty laundry for the world to see, you somewhat lose the need to tiptoe around the truth. As a practical girl (so I’ve been told), I can appreciate Mary’s practicality. If you were drowning, would you rather see Kevin Costner

TheGuardian

… or Robert Shaw? (Remember, he ended up as shark food.)

Jaws

And, while we’re talking about transparency, I need to tell you this: Two years ago, I signed up for Debt Proof Living’s affiliate program. It’s why (finally, last fall) I added the DPL icon to my right sidebar at Suzy & Spice. (Go ahead, look to the right.) This means that if someone clicks through from here to DPL via that badge and makes a purchase, I get a little token of Mary’s appreciation (a small deposit to my bank account).

This is the first time I’ve ever mentioned the DPL affiliate ad. I didn’t want it to seem as though the only reason I posted about DPL was that I wanted you to buy something. I wanted the next time I wrote about Mary to be a genuine, heartfelt story about good stewardship and living below your means. In fact, I’ve started and rewritten and abandoned this post half a dozen times. (If I had to make my living in sales, my husband and I would starve.)

But this month’s A-Z blogging challenge seemed to be the perfect time for bringing up DPL (starts with D, right?). So, if you do visit Mary’s site, please enter via the affiliate badge at the right. But if you don’t, you’ll still be welcome here. 🙂

But wait – there’s more!

I absolutely cannot leave you without talking about the other financial organization I’m in love with.

Navigate-DVD-Series-224x300I’ve been a volunteer budget coach for several years, and I need you to know about the ministry that makes it possible: Compass – finances God’s way.

Compass takes things one step further and talks a lot about biblical stewardship. (Mary Hunt does, too, but not in such a visible way. Think crawl space, where your plumbing, electrical and HVAC might be out of sight, but they are nevertheless present, foundational and keeping your home’s systems on an even keel. That’s Mary. Compass is more like the carpet on your floors – soft and comforting yet firm enough to walk on, and obvious to any observer who enters the house or peeks inside the window.)

Compass founder Howard Dayton has been talking about money matters for a long time, too. Early in his business life, he undertook a study of the Scriptures to see what God’s word had to say about handling money. He was astonished to learn that the Bible has more than 2,350 verses on the topic.

Compass was founded on the idea of small-group Bible studies and one-on-one coaching, as Howard had witnessed the impact of those teaching platforms in his previous ministry experience.

I’ve read most of Howard’s books and can recommend any and all of them (I’ll even loan you one if you’re local). He’s also a supernice guy (I actually have met Howard), has a couple of radio programs and podcasts (MoneyWise and Hey Howard), and has one of the funniest sidekicks/co-hosts east of the Mississippi. I don’t know what Howard would be without Steve. (Yeah, I’ve met Steve, too.)

You can’t go wrong with Mary or Howard. If you’d like to know more – especially if your money runs out before your month does – poke around their sites, follow them on social media or post a comment below and I’ll help you sort it out.

Don’t you think it’s time?

_____________________________

Monday: E is for Easter.

Follow me on Twitter: @OakleySuzyT

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Correction about Crohn’s donations

I found out today that I’ve been giving people incorrect info about where to mail checks for my half-marathon fundraising efforts.

To recap: I’m running my first half-marathon on Sept. 22 for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America. My goal is $4,000, and I have to raise $800 of it by Monday, July 23.

I had said that checks could be mailed to the processing center in Washington, D.C. That’s wrong. The fastest way to donate is by clicking here, but if you’d prefer to pay by check, write it to “CCFA” or “Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America” and mail or hand-deliver it to me.

If you leave a comment below, I’ll email you my address, or if you have my email address or phone number, feel free to contact me that way. If you live, work or attend church near me and would prefer to hand me a check, we can work out the details when you contact me.

I’m updating my previous two blog posts in which I gave the bad information. Sorry about that, everyone!

And thank you for any way you are able to support me as I run for a cure for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

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Dear Nike

Dear Nike,

I don’t know how to break this to you gently, so I’m just going to be blunt:

Our 10-year love affair has hit a bump. I’m sorry to tell you this, but my feet have cheated on you. I have cheatin’ feet.

It started innocently enough. I needed new shoes to help with my plantar fasciitis problem and my crunchy knee. I went to the Runner’s World website, clicked on the Running Shoe Finder and took the quiz (apparently women’s magazines aren’t the only ones with compatibility quizzes).

After submitting my answers to several questions (Are you male or female? How high are your arches? What are your motion mechanics?), I got a list of suggestions, including the news that I needed stability, which you had not been providing enough of over the years. This was a bit of a surprise, but not entirely: I had been leaning a bit in the wrong direction (overpronating) for several months, possibly even years. It was inevitable that I would get hurt.

I don’t blame you entirely. It was a combination of things.

First, I hadn’t been in tune with my true needs. I was surprised to discover recently that I have high arches. I had always believed I was “normal” in that area, so I had never tried to deal with my issues. Turns out I needed better, more rigid arch support. I thought all I needed was a soft place to land (extra cushioning) with minimal support, and this is what you had given me all these years. I can’t exactly blame you for not providing what I didn’t know I needed.

Second, some of my needs have changed. When I began looking for you 10 years ago, the store clerk (or, as I prefer to call him, “the matchmaker”) suggested I try your women’s Air Pegasus model, which was for “heavier runners” (or, as I prefer to call us, “full-figured gals”). I felt the love immediately. As you gently caressed my feet, I knew this was a match made in Runners Heaven. And you weren’t bad on the eyes, either; the physical attraction was undeniable. White and black with a red swoosh. Ooh, baby!

But that was then. This is now.

I’m more mature now, and lighter. The extra cushioning is nice, but I need more from a shoe.

And there was my husband to think about. You might assume that he urged me to be faithful, but he did not. I had tried on a few models in a local store – brands I did not even want to look at, much less allow to touch my feet – but I kept longing for you. Nevertheless, he wanted me to keep an open mind, to be sure I had exhausted all local options.

I had already found a better, younger version of you online – one that offered cushioning and support. And even though the Running Shoe Finder helped me narrow my choices to one or two, that was a virtual store. I needed to try on a few real pairs before deciding, especially since this was such a big decision for my physical (and, yes, emotional) well-being, not to mention our checkbook.

You may (or may not) be surprised to learn that the one I had ultimately chosen online was … you again. A cushiony, more supportive version of the shoe you used to be. I had even virtual-chatted with a guy at the Road Runner Sports website. (Those guys are like the Dr. Ruth of athletic gear. They help you find true compatibility. True love to last a lifetime – or at least a few months, until the shoes wear out.)

I asked him the difference between the model he suggested, the Nike Zoom Equalon+ 4, and a similar model in another brand that I had been looking at, albeit reluctantly. I didn’t really want to stray from you, the one I had loved for more than a decade, but my husband/coach sometimes has to talk sense into me. I couldn’t try on the Equalon, and I had tried on some other brands that seemed to fit my needs.

But Dr. Ruth-guy had me sold on the Equalon; he said it was equivalent to the other model except that the Equalon had more cushioning. Support and extra cushioning! The total package!

But, alas, there was the third thing: a sale at the local store.

My husband, who’s also my coach (and my real true love), went with me and watched me run each time I tried a new pair. Because the store didn’t have my chosen shoe (you), he watched as the other brands corrected my overpronation. Nevertheless, he said I should think about it some more. He even urged me to ask the clerk to order last year’s model of the one that seemed to be the best fit (the older model was $40 cheaper, and I was under no obligation to buy it). A few days later, the store clerk called. My order had arrived.

I tried on the shoe. It felt good, it offered stability and … it was good looking.

I can’t say it looked better than you in every way – I’ve grown to love your happy little swoosh over the years – but it was narrower. It made my wide boats look like … well, normal girl feet. And it has stabilized my gait. Not that the online version of you wouldn’t have done the same thing. But I couldn’t be sure of that. A relationship that begins online is risky.

So, Nike, I have cheated. I’m sorry I’ve strayed. But I have a feeling our love affair isn’t over – if you’ll take me back someday. Because someday money won’t be such an issue. I will still be frugal, but I’ll be better able to make the choices I want to make when it comes to my feet. I know you will offer me a soft place to land again (and again). And the stability I need.

Thanks for the memories, but don’t think it’s over for good.

I’ll be back.

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Book review: 'Your Money God's Way' by Amie Streater

In the 16 years I have been reading about personal finance (specifically, debt-free living), I have read a lot of books, studies, articles and scriptures on the topic and have gathered a ton of tips and advice.

And after the umpteenth book, I’ve been tempted to conclude, “You’ve read one get-out-of-debt-book, you’ve read them all.”

Amie Streater’s “Your Money God’s Way: Overcoming the 7 Money Myths that Keep Christians Broke” is different. But in a surprising way.

She uses words like “stupid,” “annoying” and “creeped out.” The woman doesn’t pull any punches. She tells it like it is.

And, while I am guilty of being brutally blunt at times (not as much as I used to, praise God), this woman takes the prize.

But once you get over the shock of reading sentences such as, “That’s the stupidest thing I have ever heard!” you grow to appreciate her candor.

She’s the Dr. Phil of Christian debt counseling.

And, yes, she is a Christian counselor – an “associate pastor for financial stewardship” who has met with countless individuals and couples who have screwed up their lives with bad money decisions.

(Haven’t we all screwed up royally in one way or another?)

Streater’s style may be blunt, but she offers solutions. She points out our “counterfeit convictions” and counters them with biblical wisdom, citing scripture to back up her advice. Many of those verses talk of God’s grace and his abundant love for us. He doesn’t want us to “live in chaos, frustration, lack, and debt,” she concludes.

And Streater doesn’t just talk the talk. She has walked the walk and lived to tell about it.

After all, God uses the fears and foibles we have overcome (with His help) to lead others to the light.

This book gives light. You’ll profit by reading it.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Out with the old, in with the new

I left my extremely stressful job last week and started a new one Monday. I don’t have a lot of time for detail this morning (groceries to buy, lawn to mow, fall flowers to plant, football to watch, etc.) but did want to update those of you who still check my blog occasionally.

I don’t want to disparage my former employer, so I won’t mention the name, but just let me say that my new company is a breath of fresh air. Or maybe I should say I can actually breathe at my new job – and take lunch breaks, and go home after eight hours. I loved the people I worked with at the other place, and the new job is somewhat a career switch (going from publishing to investments), but the new company is an extremely efficient, well-organized place to work. They seem to know what they’re doing.

The main thing is that I want to serve people by helping them with their finances (and I want to work at a place that doesn’t cause me insomnia).

I have been a volunteer with Crown Financial Ministries for the past few years, and that’s a little different from what the investment firm does, and yet the same. It all boils down to being good stewards of what God has entrusted to us.

So here’s to my new employer and 40-hour weeks!

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Color correction

I got tired of purple but can’t find a theme I like better than this one, and its color choices are limited. I’m trying green for a while but will prolly go back to purple soon. One of these days I’ll be able to afford to buy a domain name and make my own pages. (Didn’t I whine about wanting to do that last time I changed my theme?) Meantime I’m stuck with what other people design and WordPress offers for free.

Could be worse. I could be homeless. Please understand I really do know how spoiled it sounds to be complaining about Web page color choices.

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Cardholders' Bill of Rights

I received this e-mail from Consumer Reports, which I subscribe to online. Note that I have not checked out the legislation the letter refers to, so I am not recommending yes or no on contacting your lawmakers to support the Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights. I will comment on it more later, when I know more about it.

Dear Suzy,

x

Bank of America recently announced interest rate increases, even for responsible card customers — some people reported new rates as high as 28%! And the bank didn’t make it easy to object.

x

To decline the rate hike, the bank required card holders to write a letter agreeing to stop using the card and pay off the existing balance at the old rate, according to news reports. They couldn’t telephone, nor did Bank of America provide a form or a return envelope to help meet the short deadline. If the company didn’t get a quick response, rates would automatically rise.

x

Bank of America is not the only bank to hit card holders with high rates and fees. Banks get to raise your interest rates, as well as the fees they charge for most services, because fine print clauses in your credit card contracts allow it. They don’t even have to tell you why they did it.

x

Tell Congress to protect card holders from unfair rate hikes, exorbitant penalty fees and other fine print “gotchas.”

x

As the economy softens, some Wall Street analysts believe that big banks want to make up their investment losses by raising rates to good credit card customers.

x

A bill proposed in Congress would help rein in that practice and limit other “gotchas.” The bill would protect cardholders against arbitrary interest rate increases; hidden interest charges, due date traps and more.

x

This bill is long past due! Tell your lawmakers that you support the Cardholders’ Bill of Rights.

x

And please, take one more moment to forward this message to people you know who use credit cards so they can join you in action for reform, too!

x

Sincerely,
Jim Guest
President
Consumers Union of the U.S.
101 Truman Avenue
Yonkers, NY 10703-1057

What I will say is that this is a kick in the pants: If you have debt, get rid of it! Because you know that this company is not the only one that is dreaming up new ways to profit from us.

Give me your tips on living debt free.

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Your money counts

The way you handle your day-to-day cash speaks volumes about your money personality. So says this article from bankrate.com. And I agree.

I watch our financial accounts pretty closely. Not in an insecure way (although I’m sure some would argue that point) but in a way that says, “I don’t want this to get out of hand like I’ve seen happen with other people.” I’m a volunteer budget coach with Crown Financial Ministries. I’ve seen all kinds of money behavior, rationalizations and states of denial.

And I read lots and lots of articles on personal finance, debt, the evils of credit cards, you name it.

Being in denial will not help your situation, no matter how bad it is. In my reading, in my conversations with people in debt, and sometimes even in my own situation, I have found that not knowing is worse than knowing – even when the bottom line is lower than you had imagined.

I used to update our Quicken accounts almost daily. But with the busyness of life, that has fallen to the bottom of the priority list lately. And it is uncomfortable knowing the backlog is getting out of hand. When I finally get back to it, the updating can seem overwhelming. So I do what any normal person would do: I procrastinate even more.

But it doesn’t go away just because I ignore it. So when I buckle down and get the records current, it is so freeing. I feel almost euphoric, even when our balances are close to zero! At least I know where we stand.

One of the first things we do in our Crown counseling is encourage the counselees to write down every penny they spend for the next 30 days. Every penny. That requires keeping a little notebook (or a piece of paper) with them at all times. It is a nuisance at first, but it can make a huge difference. One woman I counseled came to our second session with the news that this practice had been revolutionary. “I was skeptical when you told me to do it, but I was amazed at how much I was spending without even realizing it. The little things do add up.”

Yes, it is amazing. When you see it on paper – in black (or red or blue or green) and white, it can be sobering. When you write it down, you are less likely to spend it the next time. My guilty pleasure is a Route 44 diet Coke or a cherry limeade from Sonic – with tax, nearly two bucks. For a while, I was buying one nearly every day. When I started writing it in a notebook, even though I didn’t have to show the notebook to my husband (he wasn’t in the Crown small group with me), I started driving to Sonic less often. It can be embarrassing, but financially empowering, to open your eyes to the areas where you are simply wasting money. It’s not like a diet Coke is good for me, other than as a “comfort food” that lasts only as long as it takes to drink it. Not a lasting treasure.

One Crown seminar leader I know still tracks every penny every day. This is someone who is not in debt. I’ve never asked him whether he keeps this up because 1) he feels a responsibility to practice what he preaches, 2) he thinks he will slip up and fall into debt if he doesn’t or 3) he is anal-retentive. The answer may be some combination of the three. Nevertheless, Dave has demonstrated that keeping tabs on his spending is a big key to financial freedom.

Contrary to what a lot of people believe, it’s not the amount of money you earn, it’s the amount you spend that determines whether you are in financial bondage or freedom. People who make tens – even hundreds – of thousands of dollars a year can be just as in-deep-doodoo as those of us with much lower salaries. And many “poor” people experience a freedom that some “rich” folks can only dream of.

Crown seminar instructors are not millionaires. In fact, I don’t know any Crownies who are. Crown co-founder Howard Dayton, who stepped down as CEO a few months ago, didn’t take a paycheck as the ministry’s leader. He isn’t “in it for the money,” as they say. His aim is to lead people to fullness in Christ through understanding the importance of putting their treasures in the right place.

The way to do that is to focus on what’s truly important in life, and it isn’t our money. Money is a tool for right living, not the key to happiness. Many people misquote the Bible, thinking it says money is the root of all evil. The verse actually says the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. The love of it, not the money itself. 1 Timothy 6:10

How we handle it is the thing. How we abuse it, misuse it, misunderstand its purpose and deny our situation is how we get into trouble.

Proverbs 22:7 is my favorite memory verse from the Crown Life Group Study: “Just as the rich rule the poor, so the borrower is servant to the lender.” I have thought about getting it printed on my checks as a reminder.

Because we all need reminders.

Visit Crown.org to find:
Information about a Life Group Study.
A Money Map coach (budget coach) – online or in person.
Calculators for getting a handle on your finances.
Financial forms, pamphlets and articles.

By the way, can you guess my money personality? Tell me yours.

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