Friday, January 28, 2011

Deducting IVF Costs on Your Tax Return

I knew in the back of my head we could do this, but it literally just dawned on me yesterday that we would have enough medical expenses for 2010 to actually take a hefty deduction on our return this year. As soon as our 2010 prep software was installed at work, I started throwing in our numbers because I like to get our returns filed as early as possible (if we have refunds coming). Yesterday I was looking back at my master baby bucks spreadsheet for some reason and had a *holy shit* moment. Medical expenses! We went from having a net refund of about $1,000 between Fed and state, to having over $6,000 in refunds after adding in our medical expenses for infertility treatments. So IF girls, please pay attention to this!

Most of us never get to deduct much of any medical expenses. You generally have to have a LOT of expenses to get above the 7.5% AGI (adjusted gross income) threshold. Meaning, if you have income of $100,000 in 2010, you have to have more than $7,500 in out-of-pocket medical expenses before you can deduct anything. So if you have $8,000 in medical costs, you would only get to deduct $500.

Costs paid for infertility treatments do qualify for the deduction. And you can bet your britches we're including all our IVF costs, meds, lab fees and my acupuncture costs. Understand that a deduction can only be taken for true out-of-pocket expenses paid with after-tax dollars. If you have a cafe plan at work with a flexible spending account or an HSA where you put in pre-tax dollars to use for medical expenses, you can not deduct any costs paid with those funds. And expenses covered by or later reimbursed by insurance are of course not deductible. Also, only costs paid in 2010 can be deducted for 2010. Even if you received treatment in 2010 but paid for a pre-paid plan in 2009, you cannot deduct costs paid in 2009 on your 2010 return. So like in my case, we paid for a pre-paid IVF plan in 2010. I will continue to receive treatment related to the plan in 2011, but I must deduct those costs on my 2010 return.

Just wanted to give you IF girls a heads up to be thinking about this. Keep good records and this is easy. Hop over here for some more guidance on deducting IVF (and other IF) costs on your return.

Personally, this was a huge epiphany for me yesterday. But if you remember, my parents graciously funded the bulk of our treatments last year. So as soon as I connected the dots, I sent the good news to my parents. The money is rightfully theirs, after all. And I was so excited to be able to "give" some of it back. But to our surprise, my parents talked it over and decided they wanted *us* to keep the money. My dad even suggested the hub and I take a little weekend trip somewhere after tax season with some of the funds since we've been so diligent with our beans-and-rice lifestyle while dumping debt. The hub and I both laughed and said "Hell NO!" to each other. That's going toward debt! Our heads are so intensely focused on getting out and staying out of debt that the idea of spending money on "fun" doesn't even register. We've got our eye on future fun. Thank you, Mom and Dad. We will get there faster because of you.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Book Review: Sex and the Soul of a Woman

I've been flying through books this month, so I've decided to up my personal reading challenge for 2011. I was originally pledging to read 25 non-fiction books this year, but at the rate I'm going, I doubled it to 50! Quite a goal... but easily attainable if I keep this pace. For whatever reason, I have this incredible thirst right now for knowledge and wisdom - whether it's for spiritual growth or learning more about personal finances... I just can't get enough! So uh, expect more book reviews. And don't forget to come be my buddy on Goodreads if you're a reader too!

The title of this latest book has you curious, doesn't it?! As you may or may not remember, the hub and I are mentors with the pre-marital program at our church. We're basically paired up with one couple at a time and work through an 8-week "course" with them, preparing them for the great adventure that is marriage. One of the subjects we tackle is of course sex and intimacy. I'm sure that's frightening for some, but it's actually an awesome, awesome session. One of the brides-to-be we mentored mentioned this particular book to us, saying it had completely opened her eyes to God's intentions with sex and the sacred beauty that is female sexuality. Christians are always hammered with the no-sex-outside-of-marriage idea. It's just one of those line items on the list of things "good Christians" don't do. But, why? I had answers, but I wanted more. Months later, I recalled this particular bride's recommendation and ordered a copy of Paula Rinehart's "Sex and the Soul of a Woman."

"If sex is a fire, God brought the matches." That's one of my all-time favorite quotes from our pastor at church. We so often want to exclude God from any definition of sex, but he created it. And who knows more about sex than its creator? Yes, this book helps the reader understand why God put boundaries around sex. But Rinehart doesn't deny women's sexuality. "Nothing on the planet is more essentially our birthright than our sexuality - the pleasure and beauty of being female." But she goes on to argue that when sex occurs outside the bonds of marriage, it is cheapened.

Everywhere you look, it seems as though society is telling women that they need to toughen up and behave like men. We should be able to have multiple sex partners freely without feeling a thing. So then you have young women everywhere attempting to amputate their heart from sexual relationships. Sure, you may ultimately become numb to feeling anything... but it's not possible for a woman to only be physical with no strings attached. And as Rinehart explains in great depth in her book, God intended it that way. "God made women to experience the joy of lasting, enduring relationships with men. That we cannot deaden our heart successfully is the best apologetic I know for the truth of how God made us."

Opening your heart and mind to the idea that God wants nothing but the best for you is the first step in understanding God's intentions here. "If you can sense the great, good heart of God in this, you will understand why his desire is to reserve this sort of intimacy as the one place of human sanctuary in your life where nothing but blessing touches you." Sex was created as the "superglue of the soul." God's not trying to rob of us something, he's trying to preserve something incredible for us. Yet most of us, in our best attempt to be "normal," just do what feels right. I mean, everyone's doing it, right?!

Yeah well, look how screwed up the world is. Maybe we shouldn't be taking our cues from Hollywood or even our peers. They had a segment on the Today Show this morning asking if marriage was becoming obsolete, in reference to all the recent Hollywood starlets getting knocked up before getting married. Seriously? I can just see God doing a huge eye roll from his throne. But truthfully, I think it breaks his heart. What we do with our bodies does matter - it matters to God. "Understanding how a man and a woman are bonded in the sexual experience is really built on the significance of the body itself," says Rinehart. "The living God revealed himself in a body, and what we do with our bodies matters." Wow. Convicted, much?

I truly loved this book. It's not just about explaining the boundaries around sex and why they exist. It introduces and expands on God's greatest desires for us, what sex is really meant to be, and guides us through beginning to heal our hearts from our sexual pasts. And most importantly, we learn how truly powerful our sexuality is as a woman. "The beauty, allure, and sexual power you hold as a woman are holy things. They can bless beyond your wildest dreams or, as the biblical writer of the ancient proverbs observed, destroy everything you hold dear. The choice is yours. How will you use your power?"

The last few chapters discuss being able to recognize and love a truly good man. The thing is, sex outside of marriage clouds our judgment. We expect too little from men. "Allowing sex to be part of a dating relationship invites men to be their worst selves." It's not only cheating ourselves, but it's also disrespectful to the guys too. Rinehart says that men will rise to the level of our expectations. They are capable of much more.

I've always felt heavily convicted when it comes to sexual boundaries, but now I have a much better understanding of their spiritual significance. And it has nothing to do with unwanted pregnancies or STD's. All I can say is, where the hell was this book 20 years ago? This should be required reading for every pre-teen girl. Yes, it's a mature read, but I think it's a perfect book for a mother and daughter to read through together. What a GREAT way to open a good dialogue with your daughter about sex. Yes, they'll probably learn the mechanics in school and maybe even be encouraged to "abstain." But help them understand why their sexuality is so sacred and worth protecting. It's directly connected to their soul, their God.

Every woman should read this book. I'm grateful for what I've learned from this book. Heck, if we have a boy someday I'm going to make him read this. He needs to understand the value of a woman. Shoot, this should be required reading for anyone breathing. There are few subjects more sacred.

Next Up: "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" by Robert T. Kiyosaki

Previous: "48 Days to the Work You Love" by Dan Miller

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Valentine's on the Cheap

I've been de-cathed and I'm back at work!  Feeling tired and a wee bit crampy still, but OK.  And large, I feel large.  I'm on estrogen for the next three weeks and it makes me quite *puffy*.  So not really loving that, but whatever. 
So hey guess what... I'm in the AJC today!  Just a quick mention of our standing Valentine's tradition (fondue at home) in an article with some money-saving ideas for the holiday, but hey, I feel famous for being quoted.  Of course they left out the best part of our tradition - we do it all in Valentine jammies!  If you get the Atlanta paper, it's on the front page of the "Living" section today.  Read it here.
Can't believe Valentine's is less than 3 weeks away...  what other budget-friendly ways to celebrate do you suggest?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Last Day.

Today's my last day to rest up. I've actually been sitting up for a record two hours or so now. I've been mostly horizontal over the last 6 days. The first couple of days weren't bad because my pain meds would knock me out for the most part and allow me to sleep. But now I'm just OVER IT.

I've got my post-op appointment tomorrow morning to remove this uterine catheter - ick. It is not painful, but just annoying as crap. I'm absolutely tired of pajama pants. Never thought I'd say that. I've started wearing mascara the last few days just so I feel less dead. We did make a quick outing last night to drop off a Red Box video and get some ice cream. We were in the car maybe 15 minutes, but it was thrilling to get out of the house. We have been spoiled though while I recover... especially by friends from our small group who have brought meals by every evening since Thursday! Our fridge is packed.

I'm hoping work is not too crazy yet so I can ease back in over the week, but I'm sure I'll be busy. My tax season fog is about to set in. It seems to sneak up faster and faster every year. But with the snow storm a couple of weeks ago and now my surgery break, I feel like I've been out most of the month! So maybe the season won't seem so long and grueling... maybe.

Alright... off to write some thank-you notes. I'll be back later - I've got some book reviews and other goodies to post in the near future! I'm kicking ass on my book-reading goal. I've already knocked out 3 non-fiction books in 2011 and am racing through the next.

Hope y'all have a great week!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

I made it!

Sitting up for a few to say hello! I'm alive... just snoozing a LOT. Nice and drugged up and tucked in with a heating pad on the couch. I have a Glee marathon going on right now. Thanks so much for all the well wishes via Twitter and comments here! I appreciate them all. The surgery went well - Dr. T successfully removed the residual septum I had. I have a catheter in that he'll have to remove next week. It has something to do with opening up the uterus... I don't know. But for whatever reason, they have to leave it in for a few days. So it's been fun navigating around that when I have to pee. As expected, Tuesday was definitely the worst day. The seaweed crap left me in a mess of cramps up until surgery. As long as I was lying down I was OK, but as soon as I tried to get up, I felt like I was going to either pass out or vomit.

Now I've just got cramping, so a much improved state overall. And the hub is being a most excellent nurse, of course. I'm probably driving him crazy! Alright, I feel another long snooze coming on...

Photo from

Monday, January 17, 2011


I haven't been too anxious about Wednesday's surgery, but I'm starting to really dread tomorrow's pre-op.  Ugh.  I was totally planning on loading up on Tylenol before going in tomorrow to get my seaweed fix, but I got some info in the mail a few days ago saying I could not take Tylenol, etc within a week of surgery.  Well, crap.  So I contacted my nurse and asked her if I could take it anyway and she says, "Oh we'll numb you before we put the tent in and Dr. T will call in some heavy duty pain meds while you are here to pick up on your way home." 
I thought I remembered getting injections up in my nether regions at one point for something.  Yep, this is it.  Can they not just go ahead and put me under starting tomorrow and I'll just take a really long nap?!?!  Who doesn't love a good nap?  I nearly passed out last time they did this "procedure" (3+ years ago) but at least I know what's coming this time.  Find a happy place.... find a happy place...
So tonight I guess I will be getting the house ready for my impending incompetence.  I must get my "lounging stations" ready.  Remotes, DVD's, books, magazines, laptop... perhaps a cowbell for the hub?!  And of course I feel the need to clean everything before I'm not able to for a while.  I've been wrapping up all my open items at work so I can leave here worry-free.  Luckily, we're not too busy yet but I'm prepared to be slammed when I return in a week.
Please do say a prayer for my oven, the doctors and nurses, and a successful surgery.  Fun with pre-op starts tomorrow morning and I'll be in surgery Wednesday at noon.  Thank you for all of your encouraging words!  I eat them up - every last one!  I'll touch base when I can. 
I wish I had the time and energy to do a post dishing on the Golden Globes from last night, but yeah... don't think it's gonna happen.  And by the time I care again, y'all will be over it!  It was a great show though - did y'all watch?  Big kudos to Colin Firth, Natalie Portman, and Glee!!!  I teared up when Chris Colfer won.  And of course, lots of great red carpet fun to be had.
One other quick thing before I go...  the hub and I are featured on Buckhead Church's blog today.  The church is gearing up for GroupLink in a couple of weeks by sharing stories from different church members.  So yeah, we're famous.  Ha!  Anyway, check it out
Hope you all have a fantastic week!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Eat some cole slaw. And be my friend.

Working at home today. Roads are still icy and I'm a wimp. And I don't have much at all going on at work today, so why take a chance? I've been in a ditch before. It's not fun. So while I'm waiting on some info from clients, I thought I'd share a quick recipe from one of my favorite Atlanta cheap eats...

Taqueria del Sol is the go-to spot when I meet up with kuntry bride and Lucky. It's a fairly central location for us all, it's delicious, and it's CHEAP. Anyway, last weekend we had my parents over for dinner to celebrate my Dad's retirement. (Both of my parents are officially retired now!) We cooked up some fish tacos with Mexican rice and Taqueria's jalapeno cole slaw. This slaw is super easy to make and a perfect compliment to fish tacos. Eat it as a side dish or pile it in your taco. I did both.

Jalapeno Cole Slaw
from Taqueria del Sol

- 9 cups cabbage, coarsely chopped
- 3/4 cup grated carrots
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon pickled jalapeño, diced
- juice of 1 1/2 lemons
- 1/2 tablespoon black pepper
- salt to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and add salt to taste.

This is a good one to make the night before or early in the day because it gets better and better as it sits. So good! Oh and I use light mayo and short cut it with the ready-pacs of shredded cabbage and carrot mix. Duh. The recipe also says it serves 15-18 but that's BS. Plan on that giving a good hearty serving to 6-8 maybe. I don't like to skimp.

OK so now that I've buttered you up with a good recipe, won't you be my friend? I recently joined Goodreads after a fellow reader recommended it. You may've noticed my little widget in my sidebar...

It is an awesome site for keeping up with what books you've read, what you're currently reading, and a wish-list of books you intend to read. It's a great way to see what other people are reading and get reviews on every book ever written. You can create reading goals for yourself and track them. But as they say on their website, "Goodreads is approximately 7 bajillion times more awesome when your friends are using it too. We have proven this. With science."

So far I have one friend. If you're a reader, will you be my buddy? Sign up here if you don't already have a Goodreads profile. And then come find me! It's fun to see what other friends are reading and get recommendations! I'm still very new to the site so I'm not very *seasoned* yet. I need some friends. Be my friend!

Thursday, January 13, 2011


You poor Atlanta mommas.  You're about to lose your shit, aren't you?!  Schools are already calling in with closings for tomorrow... the final day in a whole WEEK of snow days.  Sure, Monday and Tuesday were fun.  All the neighborhood kiddos got out their make-shift sleds and spent hour upon hour going down the big hill (our iced over street).  I only saw two sledders on Wednesday.  They kept hitting bumps.  The icy fortress was melting, so they gave up.  No more sledding.  Yet cars were still spinning wheels trying to get out of the neighborhood. One dude even got out there with a golf club trying to break through the nasty ice that was preventing him from escaping.  And now it's friggin' Thursday and you're seriously considering taking your hair dryer to the streets.
As much as I *love* being home, even I was getting a little stir crazy.  We have a Honda Element and it actually does great in the snow and ice.  We broke out Tuesday afternoon... visited some friends, grabbed a bite at Steak and Shake (one of the few restaurants open), and did donuts in the mall parking lot.  Good times.  I think we afforded Redbox a new station after all the movies we've rented (and delayed in returning).  You know Redbox has to love snow storms - especially ones that blow in on a Sunday night and strand their customers holding a weekend of movie rentals.  And what is it about being holed up in the house that makes you crave junk food?!  I would've severed my left foot for a hamburger.
Thankfully, I'm able to work from home if need be, so it was not a big deal to miss a few days of work.  But I made it back to the office today - gladly.  The hub actually drove.  The roads are still VERY icy and I don't feel comfortable behind the wheel.  Temperatures are supposed to get up to 40 degrees tomorrow though, so we're hoping things will begin to really thaw out.  I don't ever remember a time when we had not only this much snow, but snow that stuck around for days.  Our yard is as white as it was Monday morning.  Only now it's glossed over with a super slippery sheet of ice.  The dogs have a little trouble navigating through it now, but they're still having fun with it.  Of course, my dogs think it's OK to pee on the deck when it's covered in snow.  I guess I understand their rationalization there... but really?
Now I have gotten a lot done while at home.  Laundry's done.  My revamp-the-filing-cabinet project got done.  I'm making great headway on my annual see-all-the-big-movies-before-the-award-shows-start endeavor.  We just watched The Social Network last night - loved it.  Very fascinating.  Also rented The Kids are All Right.  Enjoyed it but I wouldn't file it under *Awesome*.  We've got Inception for tonight.  We saw True Grit in the theatre not too long ago.  LOVED it.  And then I got sucked in to the original John Wayne version on AMC the other day.  Now the book is on my to-read list.  I've got a date with a friend Sunday to see Black Swan (just before the Globes!).  And I'm hoping I can rope the hub into going to see The King's Speech this weekend.  There are SO many good ones!  I also want to see The Fighter and The Town before the Oscars arrive.  Any others I really need to see that are up for major awards?  Temple Grandin.  Need to Redbox that one.  Oh and Blue Valentine at the theatre.  Geez - TOO many!  If you didn't already know, yes I love me some movies and I freaking LOVE award shows.
Well, I'm not going to remember what a 5-day work week looks like after all this AND my (rescheduled) surgery next week.  I haven't had a full week of work since before Christmas!  And unfortunately I'll be thrown in to 6-day work weeks with tax season starting.  Full steam ahead!  But for now it's pretty quiet and my surgery will be next Wednesday at noon.  So I'll be out of work for a full week, starting Tuesday (for pre-op fun with kelp).  I'm sure I'll have lots of work waiting on me when I return on the 25th.  Fun times ahead!  But then we get to start thawing out our army of embryos in May, so I'll focus on that.  And yes, this week I did have the thought of Oh-crap-what-if-the-power-goes-out-at-RBA-and-all-our-frozen-babies-die?!  Just for a split second though.  I decided that was ridiculous.
Stay safe and warm, Southerners.  Well, all of you really.  It's cold everywhere!  But we tend to freak out down here and run ourselves into a ditch.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Giveaway Winner!

Still snowed in here... but that's no reason to delay announcing the big weeeener of my latest Dave giveaway! A big congrats to Laura for taking the prize!

Laura, I'll leave a comment on your blog but I don't have an email address for you, so please send me an email with your contact info so I can get your goodies to you.

Thanks to all of you for entering - I really enjoyed reading what you'd all do with some extra cash at the end of the month!

In other news, I'm waiting to hear back from my doctor's office about my surgery. The city is still on lock down and there's just no way in hell we can make it down for my pre-op today. Forecasters are saying the snow and ice is not going to begin clearing till Friday. Even the malls closed yesterday! So it looks like my surgery is going to have to be rescheduled for next week. Of course I want to get it out of the way (especially with tax season looming), but there's nothing I can do about it. Perhaps if I had a snow-mobile. But we don't. For now, I'll be in my jammies doing some work-work at home. Not sure when we'll be able to get back to the office! The neighborhood kids are back out sledding already today. Good times...

Monday, January 10, 2011

Who doesn't love a snow day?

Well, I do. If I have nowhere else I need to be. Work is quiet right now, so no big deal there really. BUT I'm supposed to be out for surgery starting tomorrow. That is *if* I can get to my pre-op appointment in the morning. I tried to get an afternoon appointment initially, but no luck. The latest I could get was 9 am. Yeah, we'll see...

In the meantime, I'll just enjoy the snow since there's really nothing I can do about it!

the view from my home office window

can't even see the roads!

puppy prints out the back deck

Stay warm, Atlanta! And be safe! I mean, they're not even airing the Today Show on NBC here so the local news can continue to cover WINTER STORM 2011!!! We were cracking up at the reporters last night bending down to the ground so they could get hands-on with the floofy white stuff. "As you can see here, the snow has started to accumulate!" That's the South for ya. So, take cover!

The hub went on in to work really early but doesn't plan to stay long. I'll throw on my wellies in a bit and goof around with the pups once the sun comes up. Everyone's still being a bit lazy for now. (Fine by me.)

And here's one last reminder to enter my kick-ass giveaway! You've got until midnight ET tonight, so git 'r done.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Sushi Cervix

My phone rang this morning at 7:26am, showing RBA calling.  What in the world?  Who calls that early?  It was my surgery-scheduling lady calling to switch up my pre-op appointment.  Turns out, Dr. T wants me to get another laminaria tent put in before surgery.  Shit.  I nearly passed out the last time he put that thing in (over 3 years ago, but I remember it vividly).  Well, you can bet your britches I'll be downing some Tylenol before I go in for that appointment.  I was hoping to escape that "procedure" this time (and thought I had), but no such luck. 
So forget what I said about the IV being the worst part.  Tuesday morning will be the worst part.  And it basically incapacitates me for the rest of the day with gut-wrenching cramps from the devil himself.  But now I'm EXTRA grateful that the surgery will be at RBA so I don't have to trek down to another hospital after my seaweed injection to go through additional pre-op crap.  I'll have to miss work Tuesday now, since I plan to get horizontal pronto after my pre-op with Dr. T.  Get the heating pad, honey.  I believe this calls for a Buffy marathon.  OH, but I have Glee Season 1 now, too.  Hmmm.....  decisions....

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Surgery Scheduled

Finally!  I feel like I've been on the phone with my doctor's office all stinkin' day. Insurance woes, of course.  I'm thankful for our health insurance, but it can be so damn confusing.  Both of my previous surgeries had to be done at other Atlanta-area hospital surgical facilities because my fertility clinic and my RE were "out of network."  I still had to pay my doctor's fee, but having the surgeries at another facility allowed me to get in-network coverage for the bulk of it.  Same surgery, different place.  It's ridiculous, really.
But this year, with the particular plan I have, we'll actually pay less out-of-pocket if we do the surgery at RBA, even though it's out of network.  Fine by me!  It's way more convenient to just do it all at the surgery center at my clinic.  It's a lot easier to schedule, I'm comfortable there... it's just all around a better option if we can do it.  So I'm glad that worked out!  My actual surgery date is next Wednesday, the 12th.  So I'll be out of work through the following Monday recovering.  I pulled up my old calendar from three years ago to see how long I was out recovering and it looks like a solid 5 days should do it.  So I'm only missing 4 days of work - that's good.  Not exactly the time to be out of the office in my line of work!  But I'm getting it done fairly early and it shouldn't be a problem.  I'm very grateful to work for a firm that is so accommodating and flexible. 
Pre-op stuff is early Monday morning, so I'll get all my deets then.  I'm sure it's the same run-down as my last surgery, but that was over three years ago.  I don't even remember scheduling the other ones at all!  It seems like someone just called me and told me a date to show up.  Whatever, it's done now and I'm ready to go!  Not at all nervous - at least not yet.  I'm a pro at this junk by now.  Honestly, the IV is the worst part.  It's all about the nurse.  Give me a good nurse, Lord!
I'm so glad to have this all on the calendar and not looming over my head anymore!  So gear up for some good prayin' next Wednesday morning.  Or maybe Tuesday night... I will be out of surgery before a lot of you even wake up!
In the meantime, don't forget to enter my giveaway!  It's a kick-ass giveaway because it will kick your ass.  Into shape!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Life-Changing Giveaway!

No, it's not a million dollars. But it does have the potential to change your life, dear readers. After getting such an awesome response to my recent post on spending less and saving more (and a shizload of requests for our budgeting templates), I figured y'all deserved a fabulous budget-themed giveaway!

Up for grabs is Dave Ramsey's Cash Flow Planning DVD (a $19.95 value), which is the 3rd lesson from Financial Peace University (his 13-week course on how to handle money). This video is all about the nuts and bolts of budgeting. A DVD on finance stuff? Seriously? I assure you it's no snooze fest. It's packed full of great information, but it's also freakin' hilarious. It'll make you laugh. It'll make you cry. It'll make you say, "Aw shit, that's us." You will love it.

Here are the deets...

In this 85-minute lesson, Dave walks you through a step-by-step method for setting-up a household budget that you can live with. No longer will you have to dread living on a budget.

Dave shows you how to live on less than you make, pay your bills, allow for entertainment and still have money left over at the end of the month. You'll never feel confined by a budget again after you learn how to do a budget the way thousands of other families have, the Financial Peace way.

You'll Learn How to:

-Stretch your money further
-Set up your own cash-flow system
-Live on a budget
-Have money left over at the end of the month
-Spend money without guilt
-Get control and keep control of your money

We've been through the class twice and I've listened to the audio from this lesson countless times. It is priceless information and a perfect way to get your butt in gear for the new year! One winner will be picked by random number generator. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post answering the following question:

If you were able to find more money left over at the end of the month, what's the first thing you would do with it?

Entry deadline is Monday, January 10th (midnight ET). A winner will be announced on Tuesday the 11th. Please provide an email address in your comment so I can contact you if you win! Best of luck...

Budget Templates

I have gotten lots of great emails from you guys regarding my last post.  And many of you are asking for copies of the budget forms we use.  Yes, I absolutely have templates available (with our numbers zeroed out) that have notes throughout explaining how we use them.  I would be more than happy to send you a copy!  If you've already requested one, I'll be responding to you shortly with the files.  If anyone else is interested in the forms or if you just have some general questions, feel free to drop me an email!  I am glad to help in any way I can.
It's back to the grind today...  though when I got here this morning, the power was out!  So we're just now getting back online and running.  I'm also waiting on a call back from my doctor to get this surgery on the calendar.  I'm hoping the dates don't interfere too much with work, but I can't exactly worry about that!  It is what it is.  I'm just ready to knock it out!
Hope y'all have a great week!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Resolving to Spend Less?

We aren't. It's damn near impossible for us to spend much less than we already do. But as a reformed shopaholic, I can proudly boast that I now kick ass at spending less. But as most of y'all know, we were forced into a financial makeover more than two years ago. So we didn't really have the choice to say, "Oh I think we'll resolve to spend less this year." No, we just kinda had to. And of course, as I've said countless times, it was probably one of the best life lessons we've ever been handed.

I know "spending less" and "saving more" are two of the most popular New Year's resolutions people have. It's very easy to say, but not so easy to do - especially if you don't have a plan. So as someone who not only spends less on everything, but has also been on a self-imposed shopping hiatus for over TWO years, maybe I can help. At the very least, I can tell you how we do it. We've been sticking to our guns for over 26 months, so I can guarantee these methods are tried and true. You may argue, "that's great for you, but that wouldn't work for me." But all I hear is "I'm not willing to make those sacrifices." The truth is that it does work. It doesn't matter who you are or what your financial situation looks like. There's nothing fancy or sophisticated about this, but you gotta work it. I realize it's a lot harder to *choose* to cut back than to be forced into it. But if you want it badly enough, you can do it.

Below are five keys to spending less and saving more. I didn't make these up. These are things we have learned and ingrained in our heads over the last two years. They are not temporary changes - they are lifelong. Whether we have $10 in the bank or $10 million, these principles hold true.

1. Get on a budget (and actually stick to it).

Oh, that dreaded "B" word, I know. Someone says "budget" and we immediately picture a straight jacket. But the big secret is... a budget is not a form of bondage; it is freedom. Most simply put, it is a plan. As my go-to guru Dave always says, "If you don't tell your money where to go, you'll wonder where it went." And a budget is just that: telling every dollar where to go. We do what's called a "zero-based" budget every month. This means every single dollar that we know is coming in has a name on it before the month begins - before it ever hits our account. So, income minus expenses each month equal to ZERO.

Pictured here is an actual screen shot from our current budget. Just a snippet, obviously. But this is basically how our main budget is laid out each month. We have 13 different categories of expenses and three are shown above. Amounts that are estimated are highlighted in green until I receive the bill and know exactly what's due. If you're interested, I'd be glad to go into a lot more detail with you about how we run our budget. I use Excel to keep up with the budget (which is one file with several worksheets) and I use Quicken to track our cash flow. Drop me an email if you have questions - I seriously LOVE helping people with this stuff, so feel free.

Aside from the mechanics of the budget itself, it's extremely important to do this with your spouse if you're married. A plan is no good if only one of you is on board. The other one will screw it up in about two seconds flat. This doesn't mean you both have to sit down at the computer and hold hands as you punch out your budget. I'm obviously the nerdy one in my marriage - so I actually put together the budget and pay the bills each month. But the hub is certainly involved in all decisions and we sit down together monthly (at least) to go over what's going on in the upcoming month. Generally, one of you is better at handling the budget, but you both have to be involved in carrying it out. Once you've settled on the budget for a given month, consider it a contract between the two of you. This is our plan, and we're sticking to it. You of course will run into something every month that wasn't in the plan. That's just life. Take a time-out, juggle some things around and continue on.

2. Give, Save, then Spend.

Without a plan, most of us will spend, spend, spend... and if there's anything left at the end of the month, we might give and/or save. What's a sure fire way to rock your financial world? Turn your old spending habits upside down. I dare you to give FIRST out of your monthly income. Pay YOURSELF next by saving. And lastly, live on the rest. This concept alone has changed our lives and the hub and I both agree it's the best decision we've ever made together. At the very top of our budget each month is our tithe. It comes out automatically twice a month, so it's gone. And thank God for the automatic withdrawal because if it didn't go first I know there's many a month it might not have gone at all. Second on our budget is our "Savings" category. I will touch more on savings here shortly. Everything that follows is general "spending." Our monthly bills, debt payments, and everyday living expenses.

Understand that there is something incredibly spiritual about this ordering. It doesn't always seem mathematically or logically sound. All I can tell you is that it will mess you up - in an amazing way. Tithing, specifically, is about trust. It will open your heart in ways you can't believe. In ways no financial expert can quantify.

One other thing I should say about giving... We personally only tithe right now. Our budget is extremely tight, so we do not currently do any giving on top of our tithe to our local church. We're told to take care of our own households first and foremost, and the hub and I take that seriously. When we're out of consumer debt and able to give more (one of the things we can't WAIT to do), it will of course fall in this "Giving" category on our budget. I know people are always pulling at you to give $20 here and $30 there for great causes. If you can, do it! But if you're in a financial bind, it's your responsibility to take care of you and your family first. It's OK to say NO, and you should. I have a big heart for giving and definitely understand the urge. Use your time and your hands instead. There are many opportunities to serve that don't require you to write a check.

3. Build an Emergency Fund.

And no, a credit card does not count as an "emergency fund." How many of you have stuck a credit card in your wallet "just in case?" That's a recipe for disaster, as I'm sure many of you know. Whether you're a proponent of credit cards or not doesn't matter here. I think you know my position (or you will by the end of this), but you've got to set CASH aside for emergencies regardless. Otherwise, your beautifully planned out budget can take a big unexpected whacking and suddenly bills aren't getting paid. A solid emergency fund is made up of 3-6 months of expenses. That's not 3-6 months of income; it's 3-6 months of funds needed to LIVE. So if you normally spend about $5,000 per month on the mortgage, utilities, debt payments, grocery bills, and other necessary spending, you need to set aside $15,000-30,000. In CASH. Not invested in the stock market or locked up in a 401(k). This is not an investment; it is insurance. It's "a buffer between you and life," Dave says. Stick it in an interest-bearing savings account and leave it alone.

That's a lot of money, right? And if you're familiar with Dave Ramsey's plan, you know the fully-funded emergency fund is actually baby step 3 (in his 7-step plan to financial peace). So if you're in the midst of paying off consumer debt, as are we, limit your emergency fund to $1,000. If you know a storm is coming, of course stop and save, save, save. Otherwise, believe it or not, you will get by just fine with only $1,000 put away. We have for over two years. The amount is small for two main reasons: It's easy to save quickly, but it's small enough that it's a little scary. The idea is to push you to get your debt paid off so you can fund the rest of it.

And remember we're talking about saving for *emergencies* here. New tires are not an emergency. Back-to-school clothes are not an emergency. Christmas gifts are not an emergency. An emergency is an unexpected event and none of those I mentioned qualify. But there are things, such as Christmas, that pop up every year that we need to plan for. And this is where other short-term savings come in to play. For example, put $100 in "Christmas Savings" on your budget every month and you'll be able to shop pain-free in December. Whatever you're saving for, the biggest point I'm trying to drive home is that your savings must have a purpose. If you just have a savings account at your local bank that you stick money in here and there with no real purpose, those "savings" are likely to disappear. You walk past a pair of hot new boots and suddenly you're transferring money from your "savings" account on your iPhone and viola! You've got killer boots and no savings.

Just like your monthly income, every dollar that goes into a savings account needs a name on it. Don't just save for the sake of "saving." Save with purpose. Whether you're saving for emergencies, future spending, or retirement, save with purpose.

4. Use cold hard CASH.

Maybe you're picking up on a reoccurring theme here... intentionality. Basically that's what all of this is - being intentional with your spending and saving rather than flying by the seat of your pants and hoping everything falls into place. We tried that method! It worked for a while. And then it didn't. So if there's one fool-proof key I can give you to carrying out your intentions each month (i.e. sticking to your budget), it's the cash envelope system.

To me, this is the absolute secret to success. It is so simple yet SO effective. It is revolutionary, yet it's not - it's just common sense. In fact, your grandmother probably did this. The short of it? Use cash (as in the green paper stuff) for your everyday spending instead of debit cards or credit cards. On your budget, identify what categories you'll use cash for and designate a dollar amount. We typically have cash envelopes for Food, Entertainment, Dogs, Dry Cleaning, Gifts (birthday, etc), Hair Cuts, and Miscellaneous. Some months call for an added category or two, but these are our most-used ones, personally. Each pay day, I pull out the amount of cash we need to replenish our envelopes (we fill them every pay period, not just once a month). When I go grocery shopping, I use cash from the Food envelope. If we go to the movies, the hub pays for his popcorn from the Entertainment envelope. We both have our own Miscellaneous envelope for whatever. But once an envelope is empty, it's gone. There is no "borrowing" from other categories or whipping out the debit card. If it's gone, it's gone.

Why is this method successful in cutting back spending? The truth is, spending cold hard cash "hurts" more. Psychological studies have been performed that prove there is an element of actual pain triggered by spending cash. Using a debit card still triggers some pain, but much less. Spending with a credit card registers virtually no pain. Translation? You spend a lot more when you use a card, especially credit cards. According to a Dunn & Bradstreet study, consumers spend 12-18% more when using credit cards. Do the math - that is a HUGE chunk of your budget. Huge. Think about it... why did all the fast food joints transition over to taking plastic? It's not for your convenience, that's for sure. McDonald's reported that their average ticket rose over 55% once they accepted cards. You spend more when you use plastic. You spend less when you use cash. If you want to spend less, use CASH.

I realize it's a big change for most. Pictured here are my actual cash envelopes. (I have a smiley on Food because I love food.) I was lucky if I had a single dollar in my wallet before we moved to an all-cash system. I whipped out the debit card for everything. But I think you'll find that being on a cash envelope system provides a lot of freedom. You've already pulled out the cash for the $100 you budgeted for clothing. You don't have to think about it or feel guilty for spending it. You (and your spouse) agreed to that amount on your budget and it's there for you to use accordingly. And once it's gone, you're done. No more shopping till next month.

This has particularly been a huge help for us on our grocery bill. As I'm going through the aisles, I'm tallying up everything I put in my cart. I round up to the nearest dollar to keep it simple, but I know how much I'm spending before I ever get to the checkout line. I've only got a set dollar amount in my envelope and I know I can't go over it. And yes, I've totally had to put stuff back after realizing I was exceeding my budget. And given that our grocery funds are very limited, I've become a coupon nut too. We've completely changed the way we grocery shop. I never paid attention to prices before, not really. I was a sucker for creative packaging. If it looked good, I bought it. And I'd swipe my debit card at the checkout, hardly ever taking real notice of what I spent. If I've learned nothing else, I've learned the true value of the dollar.

The biggest protest I hear regarding using cash is the we-run-everything-on-our-American-Express-and-pay-it-off-every-month. If that's your thing and you're "doing fine," go for it. I can give you a list of reasons why I don't agree with that method, but people are going to do what they're going to do. I just gave you one freaking huge reason. So if you really want to spend less in 2011, get out of that habit. You can easily afford airline tickets with the money you aren't spending on other crap.

5. Identify areas where you can make sacrifices.

"Every little bit helps." The hub and I say that all the time. When we were initially making over our finances, we had to quickly examine our spending and find things we could cut out or cut back. You may not have to do this, but maybe you do. We found ourselves immediately ditching our maid service, cable TV, and home phone service. We also cut out any dining out. We used to eat out ALL the time. So that one was a big adjustment for us. We still only eat out maybe once or twice a month at most, and if we do it's at our local dirty Mexican joint 90% of the time (very cheap). What's eating up your budget that you can trim down? The daily Starbucks? Weekly golf games? Pricey concerts? Gym memberships? (I'm not encouraging you to stop working out, but you don't need a gym.)

Whatever your goals are for 2011, there is undoubtedly an amount of sacrifice involved in order to win. Whether it's not spending money on something you normally would, or not spending time somewhere else in order to have more time doing something more worthwhile... we often must give up something in order to achieve something better. Sacrifices, even small ones, can have big payoffs. With spending less and saving more, you have to learn to say NO to some things. You have to learn to say NO to yourself. Dig through your bank statements and seek out areas you might need to say NO to... I'm pretty sure you don't need that $5 latte.

I share these things with you not because I know it all. Again, I didn't dream up these ideas - we learned them and incorporated them into our lives. And we are SO the better for it. I was running our spending report on Quicken the other day - I get a really nerdy satisfaction out of revisiting where our money went over the last 12 months. As I did for 2009, I ran a tally of all my "shopping" for 2010. This is money spent on clothing and accessories for me, just because. I couldn't give you an "old me" tally because I didn't keep good records then. Let's just say it was exponentially higher than the numbers I'm about to give you. In 2009 I told y'all I spent $45.57. The only other spending I did that year was for a bridesmaid dress and shoes, which I didn't include in that figure. In 2010, I beat that number! Drum roll, please... I spent $34.90. Ten dollars was spent at Old Navy and the rest was on a Vera Bradley bag I ordered. Now of course I have gotten other clothes as gifts and have received a gift card here and there that I've used to buy clothing. But only $35 came out of my wallet. Pretty damn good, I say! Shopaholic reform is possible, girls, and I am living proof.

So if you are resolving to spend less and save more in the new year, you've now got a solid how-to. Incorporate these principles into specific goals for you and your family. Whether or not you want to do it is ultimately up to you, duh. But if you're serious about it and ready to make some big changes, you will find success if you apply these principles. All of this is an expansion on topics specific to spending and saving, but if you're really looking for a top-to-bottom money makeover, please go rub elbows with Dave and get cracking with the baby steps to financial peace. It'll rock your world.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Book Review: 48 Days to the Work You Love

One of my go-to reading lists is on Dave Ramsey's site and one of the books he mentions at least 10 times on his radio show on any given day is Dan Miller's "48 Days to the Work You Love." Dave's always giving out copies of this book to callers who are in an income crisis or feel lost in their current job situation. I bought the book months ago for my husband when he was in the middle of his job hunt. Of course I soon realized I should've bought the audio version because he just isn't a reader! I told y'all before, he loves to soak up information, but he just doesn't do books. So with my new goal of reading lots of good non-fiction for added wisdom, this was an obvious early pick. Well for one, we already had it on hand and secondly, after listening to Dave recommend it over and over and OVER again, I was curious.

Author Dan Miller is a professional career counselor and in "48 Days to the Work You Love" he takes the reader on a journey to discover his true calling in life. This isn't strictly a how-to-find-a-job book. It's about unveiling your God-given talents and skills and leveraging those to build a new "life plan." In our (American) society, our lives tend to revolve around our work - our jobs. Work takes the bulk of our time, we let it define us and it allows people to make a list of assumptions about us, based on what we do. Everything else - family, church, community, recreation, and personal development - takes a back seat. But Miller suggests a total paradigm shift here... to where "work" is simply one component of our lives and not the heavy front-runner. He contends that success in all these other areas (family, church, etc.) are equally as important. "Your goal should be to plan your work around your life, not your life around your work."

With this holistic approach, Miller encourages those out of work to take special care of other areas of their life while looking for a job. As the hub and I are well aware, it's very easy to become depressed and down on yourself when you're out of work for an extended period of time. This is especially true for men - their "self-worth" is so wrapped up in their work. While job-hunting, it's crucial to exercise your body and your mind, to stay in touch with friends, to nurture your marriage, and play with your kids. Not doing so can get you in a slump in a hurry. But success in these other areas of life will likely spill over into your work, and you'll begin to find more success in your professional life. Miller spends several chapters on finding a job and gives some really great advice here. He also has lots of additional resources online that many will find helpful. The version of 48 Days that I read has since been updated, so I know that he addresses the current down market in his latest edition. But even in a bad market, the advice I read still stands. You may have to fight a little harder, but he still provides you with the tried and true tools to do so (in the older version I read).

But as I said, this book isn't only for those currently seeking employment - it's for anyone who's ever had a dream. (Translation: everyone.) It's about discovering your calling and making a plan to carry it out. Perhaps your plan is to be your own boss someday! Miller noted that most of us have had several creative ideas but never followed through on them. I know I have! We often talk ourselves out of running after a dream because of fear or uncertainty. We're not smart enough, or our idea's not good enough, or our parents will discourage us, or... I'm sure you have your own list. But Miller insists that ideas are a dime a dozen. "It's not even the quality of the idea but rather the quality of the action plan brought to that idea that determines success." You don't need some bright and shiny new idea that the world has never seen. If you've got a passion for something, you just need a plan.

I was reading Jon Acuff's blog the other day and he wrote that we're becoming the "I'm, but" generation... as in "I'm an accountant, but I want to be an artist." Ha, I know that holds true for me! I'm always thinking, I know I'm good at what I do... but it's not what I'm meant to be. Miller's book addresses this - God giving us certain skills even though it's not ultimately what we're called to do. I personally feel like I'm on a good path to where I want to be, but I must exercise patience. Is what I'm doing my ultimate passion? Absolutely not. But I do not *hate* it and I'm in fact very grateful for it. I know the skills I'm practicing and continually improving will follow me wherever I go. But for now, our financial goals take precedent in our lives and my current job affords us to continue to make strides there. No, money certainly isn't everything - Miller goes into this over and over. Money is never enough compensation - we need for our work to have some kind of "meaning." But sticking to and reaching our current financial goals will afford us GREAT opportunities in the future. Opportunities to do what I really want: help other people.

That's not really defined, I know. Still working on that. But this book has definitely made me think more about my dreams and how I can use where I am now to make progress toward realizing those dreams. The fact is, God has a calling for us all - we just have to listen and seek it out. And it's also important to know that every job is of great importance. Whether you're making the donuts, answering phones, or negotiating million dollar contracts... every job has purpose. God's glory can be seen in every job.

No matter where you are in your career, I highly recommend this book. It's time to realize that a job is not just a paycheck. Discover yourself and make a plan to live out your dreams, passions, and God-given skills. It's there that you'll truly find the work you LOVE.

Next Up: "Sex and the Soul of a Woman" by Paula Rinehart

Previous: "Questioning Evangelism" by Randy Newman

Saturday, January 1, 2011

It's a New Year!

Although I hate to see the holiday season end, I do love the excitement of a new year. I hope 2011 is a GREAT one for you all! We had a fun night last night with friends, slept in this morning, and started the day off with blueberry pancakes! I'm enjoying the last of this ridiculous holiday calorie-fest, but it's back to Moo Goo on Tuesday (when I return to work).

I know lots of you are coming up with goals and resolutions for 2011, as are we. We still have to have our "sit down" goal-planning session this weekend, but I've got lots swimming in my head already. But for any goal or resolution - if you're really serious about it - you have to have a defined plan. That includes (1) a measurable goal and (2) a set time frame. You can't just say, "Oh I want to lose weight in 2011." Duh, who doesn't after all those Christmas cookies? But good luck with it if that's as far as you can define it! You need to have a reasonable goal of, say, losing 15 pounds in 4 months. Otherwise, how can you really say you reached your goal if you didn't have a true finish line?

Worthy goals often mean we have to *start* doing some things and *stop* doing others. Many times we have to sacrifice more to achieve a goal than actually "do" more. Maybe it's about learning to say NO to something. Either way, you often need continued encouragement or a good ass-kicking. A great way to keep your goals in your face all the time is to write them down and post them on your bathroom mirror. We keep our debt snowball on ours and it mockingly stares us down every morning and every night. Eye on the prize! I hope you'll all spend some quality time mapping out the next 12 months. What is life without setting goals? Everyone dreams... so pick a dream, make a plan, and BAM - you have a goal. Financially, professionally, spiritually, relationally... where do you want to be at the end of this year? In five years? Ten years?

We've definitely got lots of big hope for 2011... I feel like I say that every year. But I still manage to be full of hope for each new year that comes. Have fun setting goals and I'll be sharing some of ours soon. Cheers!