Monday, September 30, 2013

how to live within your means #31days

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I began a series a few weeks ago called how to live within your means. And then I got distracted and after 3 posts, stopped posting about it. And I was planning to continue the series throughout the month of October, posting here and there. But then I decided maybe I should blog about that topic for the 31 Days challenge. I thought, I may not be able to write every single day for 31 days. But then I thought, I at least need to try! 

On day one of the challenge, instead of writing a brand new post, I want to link back to a couple of the previous posts I have written on the topic (is that cheating? eh). But also use this space to say that I am very excited about the next 31 days. There are a lot of things I want to say about living within your means; all things that the Lord has revealed to me, pounded into my head, pressed into my heart and completely changed my life with. Whether you make $8 an hour or $100,000 a year, we should all live within the means that we currently find ourselves in. That will probably mean a lifestyle change, a heart change, a spiritual gut check and may even take a lot, a lot of prayer and faith.

But God has been walking me through this process for several years now, and I cannot wait to share what that has looked like and what I've learned with you during this series. I hope you'll stick around.

how to live within your means: introduction
living within your means in the kitchen
how I meal plan (a vlog)
a favorite (cheap) recipe: faux chicken gumbo
how God changed my view of stuff (and prepared my hear to live within my means)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sooo, we bought a house. Now what?

Untitled You may remember this post a little while back about our offer that was accepted on a short sale. At the time of that post, we were waiting to hear back if the short sale would be approved. From there we would go into the appraisal phase, which basically decides everything. If the home is appraised lower than we offered, the appraised value is all the bank will lend us. If the seller wants more than the appraised value (which, in this market they can almost always gets) and we don't want to pay more than the house is worth, then the deal is off. We walk.

But, if the appraisal comes back at or above the offered price, then the deal is still on.

You won't believe which scenario played out for us (okay, based on the title of this post you already know).

The house was appraised at $100 above our offer price. And so, the deal is on. We remain in escrow and close on the house at the end of this month.

All praise and glory be to God.

I said something in that previous post that bears repeating:

God is sovereign over all. And that includes where we live. And I trust Him with that. My prayer during this process has been simple: that we would end up exactly in the place that He desires us to be, in the neighborhood that He has for us, and in His time.

I don't know if you are aware of what is going on in the Las Vegas market right now. Basically, every house that is currently for sale is listed for higher than the value of the house because people will pay it. Inventory is low, so prices are high. And bidding wars are common. Especially in our price range. For every offer we made on a house (which was several) there were probably 20 other offers on that same house. And we were only looking at maybe, 1 or 2 houses a week. Low inventory. In our price range, almost every home for sale is bought by an investor with cash. Offers are accepted within hours of homes being listed. Things are a bit ridiculous.


So, how was a regular 'ole family, not using cash, not being able to pay anything above appraised value, going to get a house in this market? I believe that it's only by the will of God. His provision for our family. And I believe that because I know the God I serve is sovereign over all.


Does he care about where we live? When we move there? How it happens? Yes. 


From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands Acts 17:26

God is involved in all the details of our lives, including the boundaries of our lands. He has placed us in specific states, cities, neighborhoods and homes for His purposes. He also does so at appointed times. He knew exactly when the time was for us to buy that home. Wait, back up. He knew when we would need to be in Las Vegas, start looking for a house, before that home was on the market. 


Am I saying He called us to Las Vegas so we would buy this house? Absolutely not. I am saying that He had already purposed a home for us in this place before He even called us here. He has a provision for us, a great purpose for us in this place. Living in this house, in this neighborhood, is just part of the whole picture.


So as of today, we are on track to close at the end of September. And even if it doesn't all go according to plan, even if something unexpected comes up, even if for whatever reason we don't get the house, He is still sovereign. 
We are the kind of people who don't get totally excited until something is a done deal. Signed, sealed and delivered. Because, you know, stuff happens.

Now, I must warn you. This house is a hot mess. Well, it's really just more of a mess. It apparently used to be a rental, one that tenants obviously didn't care for and I'm not sure the landlord had any money to put into it. I say all that to say, it needs a lot of work. I mean, a lot. Which was another reason we weren't willing to pay more than it's worth, because we are already going to have to put a lot of money into it. But we're excited about getting started on that work. 

Ben and I are homeowners at heart, but renters by circumstance.

Like I've said before, we would rent forever if that's what we needed to do. We love renting. But we also love making a place our home. And it's really difficult to do that in a rental. Until now, we've been pretty good at finding a balance. 

But now we can dive head first into it. I feel like we'll finally be able to settle down, make this place our permanent home (at least until God decides to move us), make some major changes, make it into the place we have dreamed of for our family. There are a bunch of wood working projects Ben can't wait to get started on and I'm already dreaming about which walls we are going to knock out. Stay tuned for that progress!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

that time Isaac peed on someone else's floor

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If you haven't read this post, you have to. Just stop, go read it, and then come back. I was inspired to write this post after reading that post. 

Being a mom can mean you are put into some pretty embarrassing, humiliating situations, all thanks to your kiddos. You have no control over it. They just do things. Things that make all the color drain from your face, or make you blush and break out in hives. Either way, if you aren't yet there as a mother, just wait. That moment when you are mortified beyond anything you've ever experienced, it's there, waiting, always lurking around the corner, just waiting to pounce at the most inopportune time.

There we were, in the lobby of our mortgage broker. I needed to drop off a book worth of paperwork so they could begin our loan process. I had with me a small baby on my hip and a semi-potty trained toddler by my side. The toddler was wearing regular underwear, which usually isn't an issue in public. He had gone potty before we left the house, but he isn't always so keen on letting me know when he needs to go potty. I thought we'd be fine.

I was wrong.

Way wrong.

Isaac was sitting on the floor, playing with his truck as I talked to our loan officer. After he had gone back to make copies of all the paperwork I brought in, he answered a few quick questions for me. With that, it was time to head out and run a couple more errands. Little did I know, but soon found out, Isaac had decided to pee on the floor while he was playing. He, of course, said absolutely nothing. But when he stood up, there was a large puddle of pee on the ground.

And that's when I turned a thousand shades of red.

It was one of those moments where a thousands thoughts run through your mind at once: did anyone see yet? how can I clean it up so no one notices? he saw it already? crap! what can I do to fix this? can I just run away and pretend I don't know this kid?

Our loan officer, bless his heart, insisted on cleaning it up for me. He ran to the bathroom and got a bunch of paper towels. There I was, mortified, saying, "No, no. Please. Let me clean it up. I am so sorry." He laughed it off, told me he had 6 kids and not to worry.

I didn't know how to respond.

Do you just say "thank you" to someone who cleans your kid's pee up off his floor? I felt like I needed to say more, do more. But there wasn't anything else to say.

"Thank you so much. You are too kind. Have a great day!"

That's all I could say.

And with that, we headed to the bathroom where I proceeded to change the kid's underwear. Lucky for him, I did have a clean pair of underwear but I didn't have any clean shorts in my bag. He got to walk down the hall, get in the elevator, walk through the lobby and out into the parking lot wearing no pants. Awesome.

As moms, we are put in tough, embarrassing, awkward, unusual, no-fun situations all the time. When people actually take the time to help you out, it's really an incredible thing. It shouldn't be because you should be able to expect others to be courteous and helpful, but that isn't always the case. In fact, it isn't usually the case.

But to those who do take notice of a mom in need and step in to help, thank you. We really really really appreciate your kindness. It means a whole lot to someone who, most days, has to deal with a whole lot of tough stuff on her own.

By the way, when Isaac is old enough to read this and understand that I told the internets about this embarrassing moment, I hope he laughs. I'm sure he'll appreciate his 2 year old self doing something like this to his mom. I'm sure he'll be proud. He is a boy after all, and my husband's son.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

how God changed my view of "stuff"

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This isn't officially part of the how to live within your means series, but it does fit into how God has molded and shaped my view of what it means to live within your means.

I used to be seriously addicted to stuff. Mostly clothes. Also CD's (remember when those were cool?). But mostly clothes. When I was 15, I got my first job and worked hard. And all the money I earned, went to stuff. Mostly clothes.

That was, until I turned 16 and got my driver's license. Even though I drove my mom's car, my parents still required me to pay for my own car insurance and gas. I am so grateful for that these days because I think it instilled in me an appreciation for hard work and an understanding of the value of a dollar. Parents take note.

But still, the rest of my money went to stuff and eating out and seeing movies. That was my lifestyle, you know? Buy new clothes every week. Go out with friends often. Spend, spend, spend. Fill my belly and my closet.

It's the lifestyle of this culture. Wait, who am I kidding? It is this culture.

And for that reason, it's an incredibly hard lesson to learn that stuff isn't important. It's a rude wake-up call when God pulls your card and aggressively changes your heart and attitude towards things.

It also takes a while. At least if you're stubborn like I am.

If I had to pinpoint a time in which this process began in my heart, it would be when God convicted me about the type of music I was listening to. I know, you're like, what does that have to do with buying things? Just hear me out because it was the beginning of Him showing me what's really important.

I had always hated Christian music. Actually, I refused to even give it a try. I was into grunge and punk and ska. I was far too cool for Christian radio. Over the course of probably 5 years, God continually convicted me about the music I listened to. Not necessarily that it was bad, but because I was in the world when I partook of it.

For me, music is so much more than just something to listen to and enjoy. I love music. I mean, it speaks to my soul. So, if I'm not guarding my heart in this area, then I'm opening myself up to the enemy. This is true for any seemingly "neutral" activity that we partake in as Christians. And as a Christian, we need to determine, through prayer and wise counsel and time in the word, exactly where we are easily influenced by the world without even realizing it. Examples might be television shows, movies, art, magazines, shopping, social media, alcohol. Really the list is unending. These things are not inherently evil, as music isn't inherently evil. They are neither sacred nor secular in nature and so we'll call them neutral. But, they can be used for both good and evil.

If you're questioning at this point whether alcohol can be viewed as sacred and wonderful, then you haven't read this verse and others like it. Of course alcohol can lead to bad things, very bad things and that is exactly my point. But, if you view it correctly and keep it in check, it can be yet another way through which we worship God. By enjoying a glass of wine, for example, and being moved to thank and worship God for the drink He has allowed you to enjoy, by His own goodness and grace. But I digress.

Point being, I was in no way intentional about the music I had been listening to. Instead of listening to music that was spurring me to worship the Creator, the Inventor of music, I was basically wasting time and energy. Does that even make sense? Like, instead of listening to a really beautiful piece of music and it speaking to my soul in a way that caused me to say, "God, this is beautiful and it's stirred in me an appreciation of Your beauty" I would just listen to music and say, "That was good." And yeah, I guess that's not necessarily bad. But it's sort of a waste.

And that's how my changed attitude toward stuff, toward things, toward material possessions, relate to this conviction about music.

Because, I soon began to learn that caring about my things, wanting to add to my things, it's a waste.

Like music, things are not inherently evil. Money itself is not evil. The scriptures don't say "money is the root of all evil." They say, "the love of money is the root of all evil." Those are very different things. There's nothing wrong with having money, even a lot of money. But when you allow it to take root in your heart and you grow to love it and the things it affords you and the power you gain through it, then you have a problem.

I've written many times about how tightly we live and have almost always had to live since we got married. There's no doubt in my mind that God foresaw the life ahead of us and determined it best to change my heart early on. And I am so very grateful for that.

I'm not going to lie. It was a process. It's still an ongoing process. Hello, I'm a girl. I'm totally tempted by cute clothes and adorable hair styles that I would love to have for myself.

Part of that process included not having cable. I know, I know, there I go again, talking about something totally unrelated to the topic at hand, right? Not quite.

We have never had cable. We have always had TV in some capacity, whether it be rabbit ears, Sky Angel, Netflix, Hulu, you name it. So we're not completely out of the loop (but pretty close). But I realized something recently that had never even crossed my mind about not having cable, having next to no channels to watch and therefore watching almost no TV at all. You know what it was? I don't give a rip about pop culture. I mean, I would go so far as to say that I hate pop culture. I know, that's where you stop reading. How dare I say something like that!

But it's true. It's so true.

Because I stopped watching television, I stopped filling my head and my heart with images of beautiful people wearing beautiful things, driving beautiful cars. I am almost entirely unaware, except for what I see on the few blogs I read, about the latest fashion trends, what is popular and what I should have in my closet. And I'm completely okay with that. If you had asked me 10 years ago if I would ever be okay with not shopping for at least one new article of clothing each week and with not watching certain television channels and with not reading a single magazine, I would have said "heck no!"

But that's because I was a slave to those things. I cared far too much about what I wore, how I looked, what I owned and all the rest of it. And I allowed those things to take root in my heart.

And then God radically changed my heart.

The best thing about not caring about stuff, about having the attitude that things just don't matter, is that I'm free. There is an incredible freedom in not worrying about clothes and furniture and ipads and cars and purses and shoes and jewelry and makeup and houses and boats and window coverings and televisions and kitchen appliances.

Instead of desiring and wanting the next new thing, I am free to worship and thank God for the few things that He has allowed me to have. It's just too exhausting to care about what I don't have. Seriously.

There's a quote from an old theologian that has always been one of my absolute favorites, and although it's said about money, I think it can be related to stuff in general.

"Money never stays with me. It would burn me if it did. I throw it out of my hands as soon as possible, lest it should find its way into my heart." John Wesley

We shouldn't be holding tightly onto our possessions. Instead we should be generous with them, willing to part with them if needed. We should desire to bless others with that which God has blessed us. And we should be always diligent about what we are allowing into our hearts. Because, if we're not careful, when we're not being intentional, those things will take root.



Monday, September 9, 2013

influence conference, here I come!

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[that's me, and the two little people who follow me around all day]

Today I'm linking up with all the ladies attending the Influence Conference in a couple weeks. What?!? You read that right, I.am.going.to.Influence. Can you believe it? Me neither.

Believe me, I thought it had been ruled that the conference was out. Staying home was in. No questions.

I had prayed about it. I had discussed it with my husband. I had tried to figure out how to fit it into our budget. I had thought long and hard about getting sponsored. I researched it all and prayed about it all.

And it all ended with the same answer. Doors were shutting left and right. I thought it was a done deal.

And then one day I was offered a hotel room.

I had to regretfully decline, because I couldn't afford a ticket to go.

And then one day I was offered a ticket to go.

I looked over the budget again, prayed some more, talked with my husband some more, worked on lining up someone to watch the kids (thanks mom!). If I could squeeze out the money I needed to buy a plane ticket, it could work. I'd have to eat very cheap dinners and take the bus to and from the airport, and certainly no splurging on snacks or souvenirs (and I was totally okay with all of that).

And then I was given some extra money to splurge on dinners and snacks and Starbucks (her words).

Seriously?

I just need to take a minute to tell you all how amazing this online community is. That, seriously, these women are the church. They are the hands and feet of Jesus. You ladies are a.maze.ing. And I love you to pieces. Bits and pieces. I cannot wait to spend 3 days in community with you (in real life!!). All of you!

Okay, now on to the link up, shall we?

What are 2 things you will be sure to have packed in your bag?
1. Journal/notebook. I am a hands on, pen to paper note taker
2. Snacks. Probably goldfish. I am a snacker all.day.long. Come find me if you get hungry ;)

What 2 things are you looking forward to about the conference?
1. I actually already mentioned the first one. That is, spending time in real life, in person, face to face community and fellowship with some amazing women of God that I met online and love. And getting to do that with new women that I will meet there (including my roomies).

2. A chance to have my soul refreshed by the Creator God. Spending day in and day out with 2 little people gets a bit exhausting and mundane. Believe me, I love it. I would never want to do anything else. But sometimes, you need a little break. And I am so ready for it.

Will I see you there??

DIY door mat

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This probably isn't the most exciting DIY post you've ever read. I'm sure several other people have posted this same or a similar idea. But, I still want to share because it turned out so well and it was so cheap!

The idea was inspired by this welcome mat from West Elm. It costs $30 and we all know I'm not about to spend that kind of money. On anything. Ever.

But I'm a fan of stencils. I stenciled Isaac's dresser. And I love spray paint. Best invention ever. So I decided I would just make an anchor stencil and spray paint it onto a plain doormat. Simple, right? So simple.

My husband, at first, was like, "what's with all the nautical stuff in our house?" Isaac's room is nautical themed and some of the things from his room have made their way into the bathroom and our living room. That's just how I redecorate: move stuff around instead of buying new stuff. But I explained that I didn't choose the anchor because it's nautical. I chose the anchor because of what it symbolizes. That our home is where we are anchored as a family. He liked that idea. Plus he's a "soldier of the sea" (a former Marine). So it kind of fits. Pretty well actually.

I found the door mat at Ikea (um, what isn't Ikea good for??)

I borrowed a can of spray paint from my brother-in-law's garage.

I free-handed an anchor (just googled "anchor" and searched the images until I found one I liked. I chose this one). Then I cut it out.

I placed it where I wanted it on the door mat and then secured it with some push pins (Ben's idea. And a good one).

Then I sprayed.

And voila!

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Total cost of this project: $4.99 + tax for the doormat. That's it! And honestly, I like it waaaaaaaay better than the West Elm one.

I realize everyone things I should have used navy blue. I get that, I do. But black is what we had on hand so black it is. I'm seriously so cheap I didn't want to go buy a brand new can of spray paint just to use on this project. Also, I realize some of my spray paint got away from me and onto the outside of the stencil. But I like that it's not perfect.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

that time my husband was in an accident

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This is our only car. We have been a one care family for quite a while. We depend on this car. And although it's Blue Book value is very low, it's value to us is immeasurable.

So you can understand why, after my husband told me he had been in a car accident, and that the car wouldn't even start, and that the transmission was busted open and fluid was spilling out all over the ground, that I was more than concerned about what we were going to do.

But let me back up a little bit.

It was a Saturday afternoon. We had just finished watching a movie and my husband, being the amazing husband that he is, could sense that I needed just a moment of time alone without the kids. He decided to take them both down the street to Home Depot for some good, quality, father-son, guy time. And he was right, it was just what I needed. I picked up the living room and got dinner started. No sooner had I sat down to relax that the phone rang. It was Ben. And he said, in his most comedic, sarcastic voice so as not to alarm me, "So... we just got into a fun car accident."

I assumed by his tone that everyone was safe. They were, thank goodness. Everyone was fine. No one was injured. The boys didn't even know what had happened. Only that, "Someone broke my car" (Isaac's description). But very quickly the reality of dealing with a car accident hit me. He needed someone to come pick up the kids. Not a single family member (and we have a lot of them in this town) was answering their phones. We needed the car towed and when I called the insurance company they wanted me to file the claim first. Um, hello, I wasn't there and I just need the car towed! We would be without a car until ours could be fixed. Where would we get a car? And the biggie, this thing might be totaled.

Totaled.

That word had me the most anxious.

Everyone was like, "Hey, if it's totaled you get a new car!! Yay!" Okay, it's not that simple people. If the car is totaled, they write us a check for what the car is worth.

Our car is worth, well, pretty darn close to nothing.

I wonder what kind of new car we can get for nothing? Oh yeah, not one. And while we have money in savings for emergencies, the last thing I wanted to think about was spending more money for a new car that we hadn't planned on buying. I'm sure you can imagine why.

Over the course of the next few days, everything unfolded pretty slowly. Thankfully Ben's cousin called me back that evening and was able to bring the kids home. That was about the same time that Ben's brother got home and brought Ben home after filing the police report. The car ended up getting towed by the police department and taken to wherever they take broken cars.

Monday morning our insurance company picked up the car and took it to the body shop, where it sat for another couple of days. In the mean time we had several offers from family members to borrow their cars. (Oh, did I mention that Ben decided to buy a scooter the week prior? That was a blessing in disguise.) Tuesday I went over to review the car before they assessed it and to sign the paperwork. He told me he'd try to get to it the next day but he had 4 cars ahead of me. Sheesh.

So I think it was this past Thursday that Ben got the phone call with the news. I had been praying that it wouldn't be totaled. But also that God would see to it that all would be taken care of, His way, not mine. Because, I don't know about you, but in our lives God has a way of continuously showing up, declaring His sovereignty and always showing us that He's got it taken care of. There is no need to worry.

Anyways, back to the phone call. They told Ben the amount of the damage (which is a lot) but that it didn't get close to the 60% value of the car it would need to be in order to total it. Instead, it would be repaired, paid for completely by the other driver's insurance (his fault) but that it could be up to 18+ days.

Relief.

Yeah, we're without a car for 3 weeks or more. Yeah, we have to go through the hassle of playing musical cars in the mean time (our neighbor saw us pull up in my sister-in-law's car the other day and said, "Do you guys have a used car lot or something that you go and swap cars every few days?" Um, kinda. Haha). But you know what? We're getting so many repairs done and new parts put in that we never could have afforded and were probably getting close to needing replacement (like the transmission). And that is an incredible blessing in the midst of all this.

It's funny, as I write this it doesn't sound like a big deal. It's actually showing me how not a big deal the whole thing really is. And yet, in the midst of it, it felt like a big deal. It's kinda dumb how worried we get and how worked up we get about things that are totally out of our control, over things that aren't that important. But if we trust God, that He is going to take care of us, that He's in control no matter what, all of a sudden, things like this are just a small bump in the road. Nothing to fret over or worry for. Just another way for God to reveal His faithfulness to us in the every day.

Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? Matthew 6:26,7