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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Time Gets Away

I've been swamped with work lately.  So much so that I hadn't even noticed that it's ten days since I updated this spot.  Wow. 

Gotta run.  More work to do.  Talk to you soon.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Small Saving Goes a Long Way

I'm an iced tea nut!  I love iced tea.  I start drinking it mid morning (after my two cups of coffee) and drink it all the way up till bedtime.  On average, I drink a gallon of iced tea a day.  I fully realize that information will give the caffeine police a coronary.  Chill. I've tried decaf.  It is expensive and taste like crap.  Not that I've tasted... well, you get the point.

For the last 6 or 7 years I've been drinking 'Cold Brew' by Lipton.  I like it.  It tastes good.  It's easy.  I'm lazy.  A perfect relationship.  Until recently.

As some of you know, B and I have tightened the purse strings in order to save money to buy a farm. For those in the dark, you can read about it in earlier posts

Like most people, one of the areas we are playing with is, groceries.  Since we've become debt free, we've been rather extravagent with our food spending.  So, for a while, we are cutting back.  Anyway, I noticed that Wal Mart "Great Value" tea bags were a whole dollar less than the "Cold Brew" tea bags.  Plus there were two more bags in the box.  I use a box a week.  Right off the bat, by being willing to boil the water, I'm saving $52 dollars a year.  But it gets even better.  After one pitcher, I discovered that I only need to use one bag of the "Great Value" tea versus two of the "Cold Brew".  that's an additional savings of $52.  That's over $100 per year with one small adjustment.  I find that very motivating. 

My House Smells GREAT.....

.... but it's way too quiet.

Brittan left this afternoon for Kansas to attend her Grandfather's funeral.  She's only been gone a couple hours and it's already quiet and lonely.  Roll on, Tuesday.

To console myself, I am cooking up a batch of Chicken Phaull, my favorite quasi Indian recipe.  The one that is impossibly spicy.  I tried an experiment using all dried ingredients; garlic, onion, garam masala, cumin, ginger, etc.  I even used habaneros and ghost peppers that we had dried in our dehydrator.  We want to market the ingredients as a kit next year so I thought I'd try it out on myself first.  As always, the tomato sauce also came from our garden.

The prep time was cut dramatically.  I could toss all the dry ingredients in a small food processor and bam, it's done.  I did have to add extra liquid as the dried spices soaked up all the extra moisture in the tomato sauce.  Apart from that, it looks and smells great.  I'll let you know later how it tastes.

Update:  10:00 p.m.

The results were very good.  The heat was everything one would expect.  Blazing!  The dish was just a little dry.  I added a quarter cup of water.  Half a cup would have been better.  It also needed more salt and more ginger.  But adding more is always better than having too much of an ingredient.  

I expect it will be even better tomorrow.  Tomato based dishes are often better the second day (think lasagna).

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Bes Laid Plans Get Blown Up From Time To Time

I remember one time, hearing James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, say that in the heat of an argument, his wife once quipped:  "When are you going to start putting into practice that stuff you write about."  OUCH!

Even after all these years, that story makes me smile, because its such a great reminder that we all mess up.  We all fail and fall short of our own goals and dreams once in a while.  It doesn't make the ideals wrong.  It doesn't make us losers.  Failing is not failure.  We are human and we fumble the ball on occasion.  It's what we do when that happens, that will determine our destiny.

In a football game, when a player fumbles, the object is to regain possession.  Sometimes it means falling on the loose ball.  Other times it means picking it up and running with it.  Never does it mean, quitting.

B and I have dramatically changed our budget recently.  We have tightened the strings just like we did when we are in debt.  We want to buy some farm land and we need some cash to make that happen.  One of the things we've cut pretty much out of the budget is Eating Out.  We love dining in restaurants.  Its fun, romantic and stress free. But it's not cheap.

Also, since we are on the South Beach Diet, we have some guidelines about what foods are best to eat to maintain our weight loss momentum.

This past weekend we blew up both plans in a huge way.  First we at out Saturday night and for two meals on Sunday.  Saturday's meal was loaded with carbs.  Both Sunday meals were at burger joints.  We spent coin and we ate big. 

Here's the deal.  We don't sweat the small stuff.  Sure, there are consequences in the pocket book and on the scales.  But it's not world peace.  It's not sin.  It's not a violation of a Geneva Convention.  The correct procedure is, acknowledge the mistake, learn from it, and MOVE ON.

The key is, Learn From It.  We will be better prepared next time the same set of circumstances converge. 

We all mess up.  Admit it.  Pay your dues.  Repent (that means change your behavior).  Get back in the game.  Grab the ball before someone on the other team does.  Run.  WIN!

Friday, October 9, 2009

President Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize

Now there's some news out of the blue.  For me, it's a head scratcher.  I didn't vote for him.  Won't vote for him in the future.  I disagree with nearly every policy the man promotes.  If he is east, I am west.  If he is left, I am right.  You get the picture.....

But Barack Obama is President of The United States of America.  And it's a win for the home team, so I congratulate him.  Now if he'd just drop the Health Care Bill he'd likely win the American Peace Prize.  But, that's wishful thinking on my part.

In my mind and in my heart the President has done nothing politically or diplomatically worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize.  Except possibly in a leadership area that has gone mostly unnoticed by supporters and critics alike.  Barack Obama demonstrably loves his wife and daughters.  I truly enjoy watching the Obamas intereact.  In this old right winger's eyes our President has set an example for the rest of the world leaders on what Loving your Wife looks like.  Perhaps that in itself promotes a lost notion of Peace.

Congratulations, Mr. President.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

"The Vegetarian Myth" - a Book Review


"The Vegetarian Myth", by Lierre Keith, PM Press/Flashpoint, June 2009 is a disturbing, enlightening, frustrating read.  I stumbled on it via a referral on the Nature's Harmony Farm Blog.  I decided to read it as a part of my sustainable farming research.  What I read challenged me on many levels.

First, Ms Keith and I have totally conflicting world views.  I am  male, Christian, heterosesual, right of center and capitalist leaning.  Her positions are always contrasting and often antagonistic towards mine.  Some pages dripped with bitterness.  I found the tone frustrating at times.

"The Vegetarian Myth" describes Ms Keith's journey from Veganism to Omnivorism.  She chronicles and documents her reasoning with great detail and passion.  She rebuts the Political, Moral and Nutritional arguments of vegetarianism (primarily its 'extreme' expression, veganism)  using case studies and scholarly research not often found on the front pages or top shelves of most media outlets.

Keith takes great pains to acknowledge the noble intent and sincerity of the average vegetarian, while attempting to pursuade them that they have been duped by 'Big Agriculture'.  Her arguments are eye opening. Her modus operandi is 'follow the money'.  Sometimes that trail takes the author (and reader) to some pretty frightening places.

I found the section on how commercial farming destroys the soil and environment to be particularly compelling.  But my commitment to sustainable farming and gardening methods may cloud my objectivity.

I was profoundly disturbed by the discussion of soy.  Ms Keith's documentation is there, she's done her homework.  I will continue to research the subject.  If what he says about the risks of soy is even half true, then we have a problem.  Stephen King has never written anything as frightening to me.

"The Vegetarian Myth" is well written and, as mentioned earlier, passionate.  I do not agree with some of her conclusions about the nutritional non value of grains.  But her related arguments about the destructive nature of monocrop agriculture is compelling.

If you read "The Omnivore's Dilemma" you really must read "The Vegetarian Myth".  You don't have to agree with either view, but the open mind demands point, counterpoint.  I am an omnivore.  My world view makes it a non issue for me.  But that same world view drives me to respect the choice to abstain from meat.  But we all must make good choices in what we feed ourselves.  "The Vegetarian Myth" does for Big Agra what the animal rights people have done for factory farming.  Ms Keith has pointed out the abuse, the lies and the all consuming drive for profit.

PETA and their ilk have not caused me stop eating chicken or beef.  They have, however, opened my eyes to abuse and to devise a plan to provide my own meat via humane farming and hunting.  Lierre Keith has not convinced me to stop eating wheat or oats.  But I will learn to grow my own, organically and sustainably.  I will make my choices differently.

After reading "The Vegetarian Myth", I have the strong impression that the author would not like me much.  We are a galaxies apart in the way we see the universe.  But I came away impressed and how many places our different philosophies converged.

Read "The Vegetarian Myth" at your own risk.  But read it.

Monday, October 5, 2009

A Nice Reminder


I saw a fun little article on Yahoo Finance this morning that I just have to share.  It's a nice reminder of the 'miracle' of compound interest.  Read it and SAVE.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Sustainable, Self Sufficiency - The Third Phase of the Revolution, Part 5

I have an idea.  Let's wrap this up. Even Doctor Zhivago eventually ended.  Not happily.  Nothing in Russia ever does, for some reason.  I have higher hopes.

After realizing how much we were saving by growing our own fruits and vegetables, how much better they tasted and how great it felt not to be at the mercy of big agriculture and big government (even in this one small area), my mind turned to other ways to increase my sense of independence and to tell the world.

In researching ways to provide our own source of meat, I concluded that the best options for suburbanites are chickens (dual providers of meat and eggs) and rabbits (quiet, prolific, tasty and nutritious.  With the downside being that so many people think they're cute).  Goats made honorable mention (small, easy to maintain and dual providers of meat and milk).

Unfortunately, our HOA (big government, neighborhood style) does not allow chickens.  Bummer.  They were out.  Goats were banned as well.  I would have to settle for meat rabbits, only.  Not so fast.  Brittan discovered a paragraph in the HOA covenants that outlaws rabbit HOUSING.  And bee boxes, too.  Well, crap! 

While I understand a subdivision not wanting the neighborhood turned into 'The Beverly Hillbillies', I was disappointed in the narrow mindset that can't grasp the concept of a well designed, well maintained, backyard operation.  Properly designed, housing for 2 to three chickens and a buck and two doe (with offspring) would be neither an eyesore nor a source of foul odor.  The noise would be less than comes from many suburban dogs and most children, the droppings would go straight to the compost bin and the housing could be quite appealing.  But in a neighborhood that doesn't even allow garden sheds, I was just plain out of luck.

For now, we just stick to our veggies.  And I intend to increase my hunting trips this fall.  Hunting is a good alternative meat source.  Especially in places over run with deer and hogs, like Georgia, or teeming with wild turkey, like many places in the midwest.  Hunting also helps keep wildlife populations in balance. 

In the long run, though, our change in priorities (at least my change, you'll have to ask B about hers) means we will plan to move in the near future.  I can't take the HOA restrictions and I want to become truly self sufficient.  My independent streak is too strong.  Besides, we would like to 'downsize' our mortgage a bit.  We're not stretched, but we can't save like we want, our used to, there are too many places available that are nice, cost less and have fewer restrictions. 

As we got deeper into the concept of self sufficiency, the subject of sustainability kept appearing.  Sustainability refers to growing methods and animal husbandry that do not strip the land.  Much global agriculture is destroying the soil by the thousands of acres.  In order to continue to use it, gallons of chemical, fossil fueled spiked fertilizers are doused on the land.  These concoctions find their way via seepage and runoff into the waterways and are slowly poisoning them.  I'm not kidding.  I'm not being alarmist.  I'm just sayin'. 

It doesn't have to be that way.  I am, unlike some people I admire very much, not opposed to all use of fossil fuel or fossil soil (think, peat).  But I am all for moderation and renewable methods.  In our own case, our raised beds and containers, use a soil that is a mixture of compost, peat moss and things like perlite or vermiculite.  It is applied once and maintained annually, with added compost (which we are beginning to produce ourselves).  We believe this is a fine solution for the average backyard gardener and small, hobby farmer.  It saves space, and the environment. 

Similarly, I have become a proponent of 'pasture based' animal husbandry.  Raising animals that are close to the local ecosystem and using natural grasses and fodder rather than Big Ag produced grains.  I full support those who use these methods and intend to do so, myself.

The final step in the 'evolution of Farmer Sam' is a desire to move to the country and put my hypotheses into practice.  Green Acres really is the place to be.  It's not practical for everyone, but it is for me.

Sustainable, self sufficiency, however, is practical, to varying degrees, for anyone and everyone.  I encourage you to think on these things, implement what you can, and change the world.  Or at least, change yourself.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Sustainable, Self Sufficiency - The Third Phase of the Revolution, Part 4

Partly, I'm a control freak.  Partly, I'm a cheapskate.  Pretty attractive combination, I know.  Whatever the motivation behind my thinking, it dawned on me that the average American (and Brit, as well) has become enslaved to big government and big business.  Others control, or want to control, what we eat, wear, drive, what kind of, and how much health care we can have and how much we're going to pay for all of it. 

In response to what I felt was an ever increasing encroachment on my autonomy, I decided to do something about it.  Along the way, I've realized that some of the things I've discovered would benefit millions of others.

Phase 3, began merely as a baby step towards self sufficiency.  Brittan and I developed a 3 year plan to grow all (or as close to all as possible) of our own fruits and vegetables.  Because we live in surburbia, we didn't know how much we could accomplish.  So we did our research.  We soon discovered that our thinking about needing many acres and a tractor to supply our nutritional needs was out dated.  It was good news.

We discovered raised bed and container gardening.  In particular, we found the earthbox and the square foot garden.  By using these systems, and supplementing with ordinary buckets, we have taken huge strides towards our goal.  And we do it in a fraction of the space that one would expect.  Visitors often comment, "Your garden isn't nearly as big as I imagined."  That makes me happy, because that's the point.

Becoming self sufficient doesn't require a ranch in Montana.  We can begin right where we are.  We can do it at our own pace and fit it into our individual budgets.

We found that the start up costs were a bit steep, because we did so much at once.  We started with three or 4 large raised beds, about 10 earthboxes and another 10 buckets.  We more than doubled that for this year's garden.  Next year we'll add a bit more, but not a lot.  An individual, or family, could begin with just an earthbox, a square foot garden or even a couple of buckets.  But be warned, it can become addictive.

We eased the pressure on our bank account by working the garden into our budget.  When you don't have other debt, you can do things like that.  So we built one bed at a time and bought earthboxes three at a time.  While you don't need to use our timetable, I do recommend having a plan.

Somewhere along the way, we've had a couple of pleasant surprises.  One is, we've discovered that 'slow food' has.... flavor.  The stuff you buy in the store, even the fresh produce, simply doesn't compare to what we grow.  It isn't even a close race. 

We also discovered, nutrition.  We are filling our bodies with nutrients and are exempting all the chemicals found in store bought food.  Our diet is better balanced and more filling.  And it tastes good.  I said for years that I hated vegetables.  Turns out, that's because I'd never tasted any.  Heck, I even like squash (besides the fried kind.  I always like that).  Next year I'm giving eggplant another chance.  That one will take a miracle.

Our plan is working, financially, too.  We are saving money.  As an example, red, yellow and orange bell peppers range in price from a buck ninety nine to $5.99 a pound at various outlets around our area.  Green ones are a bit cheaper, but still are never less than fifty cents a piece.  A packet of 30 bell pepper seeds is less than $2.  A third of that seed packet will provide the average family more than enough bell peppers for the year.  Plus, you'll have some to give away, or sell to recoup your costs.  This is not rocket science.  Do the math.

A plan like ours can be implemented almost anywhere.  I know of urbanites who have their gardens on their roofs.  Some use their patio's.  Others carve out spaces in various parts of their yards and work the fruits, vegetables and herbs into the landscape.  Many of the varieties are quite lovely. 

The clock on the wall tells me it's time to get ready for work, so I need to wrap this up.  I'll finish next time, by explaining the final step in the evolution of my thinking.  I hope some of this is making you think, too.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sustainable, Self Sufficiency - The Third Phase of the Revolution, Part 3

Let's Review:

In phase one, we began giving 10% of our income to God, became debt free and started saving 10% of our income in various investments like mutual funds through our 401k.  We also started an emergency fund.

Phase two has seen us start a process of raising our giving and saving to 20% of our income.  In addition to a 6 to 9 month emergency fund, we are storing up a minimum of 6 months supply of staple household goods, also in case of emergency.  The logic behind this is simple; if a time of long term income loss should strike, we will be able to survive and even thrive in those circumstances.  The formula behind phase two is built on Bible passages in Genesis and Leviticus. 

I freely admit, that phase two is easier for Brittan and me than it would be for some, because it is just the two of us.  Two people require less income and fewer stored goods than a larger family.  But it seems to my simple mind, that it is even more important for a larger family to think ahead.  I'm just sayin'.

Phase two was still in formulation when a perfect storm came together to create phase 3; sustainable, self sufficiency.  First, the economy was sitting on a 'bubble', which, as you are well aware, has burst.  Second, political direction of this country became quite unsettling to me as I heard about a future of higher taxes and increased Government control of all areas life.  I am not interested in any Government oversight of my life, aside from National Defense.  Third, I began resenting the ever increasing prices, and ever dropping quality of produce and other supplies available from supermarkets and big box stores.  Fourth, I started reading the labels on things I put in my grocery cart and grew disconcerted over the chemistry experiment that has become the American diet.  Fifth, I began thinking about factory farming, both in terms of row crop agriculture and that of livestock.  Sixth, my health was falling apart, including severe obesity and a variety of heart and nervous system disorders.

I looked at all these things and was not happy.  I am not the kind to take adversity lying down.  I'm a fighter.  I have taken my share of 'beatings' in life, but I won't stay on the mat.  It's not the way I'm wired. 

I'm also a control freak.  I need to be in control of my own circumstances, my own destiny (note:  I freely, willingly, totally know that ultimately, God is in control.  That fact comforts me.  But God's control should liberate me to act, rather than medicate me into complacency or resignation).  I have a few good years left before my 'sell by' date and I will not surrender the reigns to any man, organization or Government.  If I want a better life, better health, better environment, it is my responsibility, and no one else's, to take steps to ensure that.

Over time, a plan of action came together.  I'll describe it in part 4.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Sustainable, Self Sufficiency - The Third Phase of the Revolution, Part 2

During our last chat, more of a monologue, really, I described some of the thought processes that have been driving some of my decision making during the two years since the release of IOU NO MORE.  The fact is, I have changed a great deal since then.  The principles and outline for becoming debt free have not changed, my thoughts on "Life After Debt", have changed dramatically.  I will probably elaborate on that a little in my upcoming e-book, "Debt Beat Dads".  But I'll introduce the subject here, in hopes of stimulating some thought.  BTW, we always love it when you share your thoughts.

I finished the last entry, with the fact that it was my Bible reading that has changed my views of wealth building and preparing for the future.  Specifically, my new thinking comes from the first 5 books of the Old Testament.  Even more specifically, from the latter chapters of Genesis and from the book of Leviticus.

Before I go into any detail, I might as well address all my Christian friends who will say, "We're not under the Old Testament Law, anymore.  We're under Grace."  You are exactly right.  If you will stay with me long enough, you'll see that I'm not advocating a return to Mt. Sinai, but rather I'm adapting some PRINCIPLES gleaned from Joseph and Moses, that I believe give us insight into the heart of God and provide some COMMON SENSE approaches to our own times and finances.

Phase two of the Revolution most profoundly impacts the categories of 'Giving' and 'Saving'.  Ok, I'll backtrack.  In IOU NO MORE, I conclude that money is really only good for three things; Giving, Saving and Spending.  That's it.  That's the list.  You could maybe add, burning, but the coins don't do that well.  The 'Cruise Control' spending plan is divided into those three categories.  You can see the plan in the Appendix of the book and it's available as a part of our 'Complete Forms Library' in the store.

In 2007, when I released IOU NO MORE, I promoted the traditional concept of giving 10% (tithe) and saving 10% (to 15%) of income.  I still believe that's a great place to start. My Bible reading, however, has caused me to raise the bar. Note: If you are trying to get out of debt, I still recommend saving up a $1,000 emergency fund and putting all other saving on hold until after you're debt free.

As I was reading through the Old Testament last summer, as part of my daily devotional time, I was struck by the fact that the Israeli's gave much more than a 10th of all they had.  While it's true that the tithe was the starting point, by the time you add up all the various offerings and sacrifices, the Israeli people were giving a minimum of 20% of their resources to God.  How interesting.  Most of us are not aware of that, because we rarely read the book of Leviticus.  I freely admit, it's not a page turner, but it sure was an eye opener this time through.

Similarly, the same book, affected my views on savings.  In several places, Moses describes the "interest rate" for buying back property, etc. as being 20%.  That made me go, 'hmmmm....'  The real kicker, though, for upgrading my views on savings came from the story of Joseph.  In Genesis 41(first book of the Bible), Joseph, of 'Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat' fame, after a series of dramatic events, becomes a prominent leader in Egypt.  He advises Pharoah to 'tax' the people 20% of their harvest for 7 years to prepare for disaster.  When the disaster (famine) came, Egypt had enough for her people and surplus to sell to neighboring nations. 

The implications of all those Bible passages was not lost on me.  Common sense, a rare commodity in the 21st century, said that 20% saving and giving was not in the Bible by accident.  God doesn't work that way.  To me, they have come to symbolize wisdom and generosity.  Wisdom, by saving 20% in order to be prepared for whatever comes our way, and to build wealth.  Generosity, by giving 20% to relieve the suffering of others and to advance the Kingdom of God.  I got very excited about it.

Here's how Brittan and I are working out phase 2 in our lives:  We began by increasing our giving.  We raised our weekly contributions to our local Church and we are giving to other causes, as well, mostly Christian Mission organizations.  Our goal is to raise our giving to 20% of our income.  We are at approx 15% now.

As for saving, we're doing that two ways.  1.  We are saving from our income via 401k and a money market account.  Our goal is to have at least 6 months living expenses in a money market account with easy access.  This is not an investment, it's insurance.  We're not trying to get rich off of the emergency fund, we're trying to make sure we have some security in time of crisis.

Additionally, we are storing up a minimum of 6 months (eventually, 1 year worth) of basic household supplies, like dried beans, rice, soap, toilet paper, etc.  We don't make a big deal about it.  We're not 'survivalists' or doomsayers.  We're trying to be wise.  We are not doing it all at once.  We buy a few items each time we go to the store.  We only buy things that have a long shelf life, and we buy basic or generic brands for our 'emergency store house'.  We also have a 'rotation' plan that uses up things that are getting close to shelf life and replacing them with fresh.  Again, our goal, through various methods of saving money and storing goods is to save 20% of our income.

I know it sounds crazy; give 20%, save 20% and live on 60%.  But you'd be surprised what you can do when you are DEBT FREE.  Can you imagine how the world would change if the debt free revolution really catches fire.  Just think about how much cash would flood the economy, how much money would be out there for charitable causes and how much less stress would be felt by the average family.  The pressure taken off of Government agencies would be enormous. I believe.  Oh, yes, I believe.  And I'm doing my best to live out my convictions. 

Coming up:  Phase 3, "The Road to Self Sufficiency".  Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sustainable, Self Sufficiency - The Third Phase of the Revolution, Part 1

My financial journey has been a scenic one.  It has taken many twists and turns.  Some of the views have been breath taking.  Others have been rather terrifying.  But I have enjoyed every minute.  I love sharing my story and my vision for universal financial freedom with anyone who will stay still long enough to listen. 

Now that we are debt free (except mortgage, but that will be soon enough), I have turned my attention to what it means to live a 'debt free lifestyle'.  I thought I would move down a path of 'wealth building', but that one is well worn, having been travelled by many who are far more knowledgable than I.  Two of the great ones are: Dave Ramsey and David Bach.  I love their wealth building ideas.  Since they've already done the heavy lifting, and since my name isn't Dave, I took another path.  Fortunately for me, my bride has been willing to walk this new trail with me.  I am a lucky man.

As you might guess from the title of this weblog, I call it "Recession Proof Living".  The website will be, www.recessionproofworld.com.  The space is reserved, but not yet built.

If you read IOU NO MORE, you know I introduced the subject of putting your finances on 'Cruise Control'.  If you haven't read the book, get a copy right away.  If you can't afford a copy of your own, borrow one.  I'm serious.  The plan will change your life.

Turns out that for and ADD charged, Type A male, like me, 'Cruise Control' was boring.  Smart, but not satisfying.  So I began to investigate why I was feeling unsatisfied.  I came up with several answers. Some  were spiritual, some were political, some were personal.

Politically, I am very concerned about the direction of this country.  Both parties worry me.  I see Govt. getting bigger and the American wallet getting smaller.  My 401k hit the tank like everyone else's did.  I have no confidence in the future of Social Security nor in taxation.  I began to ask myself what would happen if this country had a total meltdown.  What would life look like?  Would a 3 to 6 month emergency fund be enough?  Were others wondering the same thing?

Personally, I am a control freak.  I need to be in control of my own destiny.  And I felt at the mercy of the Government, my employer and the big industries that dominate supply, demand and pricing of commodities and other necessary goods and services.  I look down the road and am bothered about what I see.

I'm not a Global Warming believer.  I hate fear mongering politics disguised as concern for the earth.  Bah.  Humbug!  But I do have some things in common with the environmentalist fringe.  I don't like the way we're mishandling resources.  Traditional farming methods are destroying the soil quality of our planet at an alarming rate.  We are washing tons of chemical fertilizer waste into rivers and streams, poisoning the water and the life dependent on those waters.  And whatever you do, don't get me started about commercial animal production....Oh, by the way, have you looked at the label on a can of pretty much anything we put in our shopping carts on a weekly basis.  We are pretty much ingesting the entire periodic table.  I'm thinking that might not be a good thing.  And we're paying for the privilege. 

On a final personal note, I was born to live in the country.  I need room to roam.  I need to work in the soil with my hands.  I need the fresh air, the livestock....the manure.  Green Acres is the place to be.  Living in the suburbs, spending hours of my day in commuter traffic, punching the clock, is not 'cruise control'.  It's torture.

But it was reading the Bible that changed my whole perspective.  God has a way of grabbing hold of me, shaking me like a rag doll and pointing out my obvious blindness.  What I discovered about saving and giving was life altering.  It was also liberating.  Phase two of the Revolution came directly as a result of my Bible study.  Phase three is, I believe, a natural consequence of phase 2.  I'll start explaining myself next time.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Budgeting 101 - Part 6, Transportation

So far, we've completed 3 sides of our perimeter; God, Food and Shelter.  The West wall will complete the circle.  The final side of our perimeter is, transportation.  You have to be able to get to work, school, church, grocery store, etc.  So figure it into the budget. Plan for it so you're not surprised:

  • car payments (though, these will be temporary)
  • gas and oil (including oil changes)
  • insurance
  • license and registration
Later on, we'll budget for maintenance and repairs, but for now, we're taking care of the basics.

As you can see, I'm only describing BASIC transportation.  I highly discourage automobile loans.  They are not necessary. If you've read IOU NO MORE, you know I've outlined a plan so that you'll never have to make a car payment again......ever.

On a side note, I can't even begin to describe how much I loathed the recent "Cash for Clunkers" program.  The memory of it, still makes my blood boil.  Millions of Americans now have new debt they can ill afford.... Ok, Sam, relax.  Have a coke and a smile.

There are still a few things we can do to save on transportation costs.
  1. Sell your car and buy a 'cash car'.  It's the only kind I drive.  I rent nice ones on vacation, but I drive paid for older ones for every day.  It saves, by eliminating payments and reducing insurance
  2. Increase your deductable on your insurance
  3. Car Pool 
  4. Whenever your job allows it, work from home one day a week
  5. Walk, or ride a bicycle to things that are close enough to do so.  This saves money and improves health at the same time.  I love multi tasking.
  6. Change your oil every 5k rather than 3k miles.  Many studies have shown that this is optimal.  But, DO change it.  Changing your oil costs a little at the time, but will save on costly repairs in the long run.
  7. Put a little thought into your excursions so that you accomplish multiple tasks on a single trip, rather than taking multiple trips out.  
  8. Use public transport whenever possible.  When I lived in the United Kingdom, I used bus and train services frequently.  There are places here in the States where this is still a valid option.  Take advantage of it.  It could save you a bucket full of cash.  
Saving money on transportation is not as easy, or as sexy as some of the other boundary items, but it's critical.  Transportation costs can be real budget busters, so plan carefully, write it down and stick to the budget.  Your wallet and your future will thank you. And remember, we'll happily provide you with a FREE Basic Spending Plan.  We're here to help.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Really Cool New Website

I want to thank Tim and Liz over at Nature's Harmony Farm for introducing me to Veggie Trader.


Veggie Trader is kind of like Craigslist for fruits and vegetables.  It's a buy, sell, swap site.  The site hasn't been out long and doesn't have many subscribers yet, but I hope it catches on.  It could be a fantastic way for those interested in supporting and enjoying local produce to communicate and do commerce.  I signed up right away.  Don't be surprised if you see ads from "Recession_Proof" (my user name) appearing in the near future.  Check it out.  I hope you enjoy it.

Interruption

We interrupt the current series Budgeting 101 series just to say that these are exciting times for the revolution.  We have two new websites under development as well as a bi-weekly newsletter.  The 'store' is receiving a total makeover and we are designing a line of organically grown products to be sold fresh at local farmers' markets, with jarred and dry ingredient options being available via the internet.

For example, let's suppose you go to your local farmers' market (which you should), and you see a 'kit' that has all the ingredients for a wonderful marinara sauce, beautiful Roma tomatoes, garlic bulb, onions, fresh italian herbs, already measured out and bundled together with a nice recipe.  How much better would that be than opening a jar of preservative laced junk food, or even than making something from the flavorless factory farmed vegetation sold at most supermarkets.  We're talking, fresh, local (if you're in Georgia), organic, chemical free, natural goodness.

Ok, so you can't make it to a Georgia Farmers' Market, what if you could buy that same kit online.  Even better, what if a marvellous cook like Mrs. B had already prepared the sauce and canned it just for you?  Mouth watering yet?

We're also considering a line of jams, jellies, spice rubs and curries.  Several books are in various stages of production.  I'm just so excited about the future.  It started out as a little paperback called, IOU NO MORE, and this revolution is about to introduce millions to a Recession Proof World!

We now return you to your regularly scheduled Budget.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Budgeting 101 - Part 5, Shelter

We have two walls of our budget perimeter in place, God and Food, so now we turn our attention to the East boundary, which we call, 'shelter'.

Again, without trying to become too repititve, the walls of our perimeter come before ANYTHING ELSE.  We budget and pay these things first, regardless of who screams, calls, threatens or postures.  We're going to pay ALL our debts, to be sure, but one of the fundamental behavior modifications in Recession Proof Living, is correcting our priorities and sticking to them.  It will be hard, sometimes, especially if others are hounding us for payments, but if we do the right things, and do the right things right, everything will turn out right. 

Ok, back to the East boundary.  We want to keep a roof over our heads, we want to keep the lights, on, stay warm and dry, etc. so our third priority is, shelter.  Under shelter, I include, electricity, heat, house payment and basic phone service.

Let's take them one at a time:

Electricity:  We are fairly dependent on Ben Franklin's discovery these days, so paying the light bill is high up our priority list.  We use electricity for light, running appliances, powering our telephones (in most cases) and sometimes even for heating our residences.  Therefore, I recommend staying current on the electric bill.

I also recommend doing all we can, to keep the electricity bill as low as is reasonable.  There are many things we can do to save on electricity:

  • as light bulbs burn out, replace them with the new energy saving flourescent kind.  They are more expensive to buy, but consume only a fraction of the power and last for years.  You will start saving the very first year
  • turn lights off when you leave a room
  • use window air conditioners rather than central air (where practical) and only cool the rooms you're in.
  • set air conditioning at something like 78 rather than 68.
  • open windows and use electric fans when weather permits.  It's much cheaper.  Besides, I'm sure you're mother told you, "Fresh air is good for you!"
  • lower the thermostat on your water heater
  • run dishwashers and clothes washers and dryers only with full loads.  Better still, air dry (when possible and practical)
  • unplug computers, televisions, printers and other non essential appliances when not in use, to save on 'electricity leak'.  I don't recommend unplugging the refrigerator.  I'm just sayin'.....
Hopefully, these tips will get your creativity cranking and you'll think of other ways to save.

Now, let's look at heat.  The best way to save on heat is to set your thermostat lower.  Brittan and I are famous now, for setting ours at 62 degrees in the winter.  People think we're crazy.  We think we're crazy like a couple of foxes, when our heat bill is a fraction of those of family and friends.  We do turn it up when we have guests, because not everyone is acclimated to our world.

We stay warm with layers.  It's a little trick I learned living in Scotland, where frugality has reigned for centuries.  Americans want to be able to run around the house in our gym shorts in January and be comfortable.  And that's ok, if you have piles of cash somewhere, but most of us don't, so we shouldn't act like we do. 

I like to wear sweat pants, or similar, on winter evenings.  I complement those with comfortable slippers and a nice ankle length house coat that Brittan bought me some years ago.  And I promise you, I am never cold.  Brittan, dresses similarly.  She accessorizes with some nice throw blankets that we have on our sofa and chairs.  She usually has a dog or two sitting in her lap as well, which helps. 

The point is, we are comfortable and save a bunch of money.  Anyone can do it.  It's all about common sense and behavior change.

If you have a wood burning fire place, use it.  But don't buy wood.  Go out to the woods and pick up your own.  Spend some time in the summer splitting logs and letting them season.  You need the exercise, anyway.  You know you do.

We close the vents and doors in rooms we don't use, to avoid wasting heat on empty spaces.  Again, there are lots of ways to save on heat costs. 

House payments.  Really, the only way to save on these is to make sure you don't have 'too much house'.  If you're a home owner, your payment should not exceed 25% of your take home pay.  I know that some lending institutions will loan higher, but that's because they have their own best interests, rather than yours, at heart.  You should have a fixed rate mortgage.  Any other kind will do you more harm that good in the long run.  If you're renting, make sure you look around and get the best deal possible. 

Keep in mind, that being a home owner also means things like, property taxes, water bills and etc. that must also be budgeted.  I recommend using the same formula that we do for everything else.  Using property taxes, take the annual tax bill and divide it by your number of pay days.  In my case, that's 26.  By doing so, you'll know how much to set aside in each pay period.  Use a simple money market account or savings account for this.  It's not an investment.  It's merely a place to set the money aside to pay it when it's due.  I don't recommend wrapping your insurance into your mortgage payment.  All that does is loan the money to the mortgage company.  I'd rather pay......ME.  I don't get much interest from my little savings account, but at least I'm in control of it.

Next is, basic phone service.  We need to be able to stay in contact with family, friends and emergency services.  These days, most companies offer unlimited long distance in the basic service for a pretty low price.  In fact, telephone service is cheaper now than it was when I first got out of college many years ago.

Don't go crazy with a bunch of add on services that you don't need.  And you'll notice I said nothing about cell phones, unlimited text messaging or premium cable.  You don't NEED any of those while you're trying to save money.  That is poor stewardship of your resources.  The key word is BASIC.  Sometimes, often, in fact, cable companies have some great deals on 'all in one' serivces for phone, cable and internet.  Shop around.  Do the math.  Make good choices.  The best financial choice may be basic phone, no cable and dial up internet..... for a while.  When you need high speed, go the the public library.  It's only for a while.  I'm not talking forever.

In our case, we were able to maintain a great rate on an all in one package the whole time we were in our 'get out of debt' phase.  So you might not have to go too spartan.  But we were, and are, prepared to go that route to win.

We also got rid of some cell phones.  While you are trying to gain control of your finances, some cell phones and certainly premium services, need to go.  If you're on the road and need a phone, get a phone.  Not a hand held computer/social networking connectivity recepticle, a PHONE.  Consider a pay as you go phone.  Remember, you're trying to win.  Cool can come later.  Besides, I think winning is cool.

Shelter is important.  Be wise about it.  Establish your perimeter.  Victory is in sight.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Budgeting 101 - Part 4

Establishing a perimeter, continued....

Millions of Americans (and millions more around the world) will tell you that money is not just tight, right now, it's scarce!  With unemployment growing and the dollar shrinking, it's more than difficult to make ends meet, it's difficult to get them to see each other.  That's why creating a household budget is more important than it's ever been.  This is war.

The first thing an invasion (or defense) force needs to do is, establish a perimeter.  A perimeter represents the boundaries of their operation.  Everything behind the line will be defended at all costs.  The forces' very lives and future depend on it.

In our last post, we established God as our North boundary.  The first thing we budget is our tithe to Him.  Now it's time to take a look at the South boundary, which is food.

Many people are nearly as incredulous about prioritizing the South boundry as they are the North.  For some odd reason, we think that food should be the last thing we budget.  To the contrary, food is second only to God in a wise budget.

You have to eat.  Your children, if you have them, have to eat.  That is a fundamental fact of life.  It is non negotiable.  Master Card can wait.  They might scream, but who cares?  If they do, just chew louder.

In order to have the strength to work and earn the money to pay your bills and debts, you need nourishment.  That comes from a little something I like to call.....food.  It is not noble to put debts ahead of nutrition.  It's foolish.  God wants us to be wise.

Frankly, women find that last paragraph harder to fathom than men.  I have known many women, including my own mother, who would go without food, but never be a day late on a VISA payment.  Rarely, though, do I meet men with such a sense of honor.  With us, it's "Feed me, Seymour, Feed me."  I assure you, if you take care of your basic nutritional needs, you will be in much better shape to master your finances.

When I talk about food being our number 2 priority, I'm not saying it has to be luxurious or expensive.  It has to be filling and nutritious.  Mac and Cheese may replace Wine and Cheese, and Beanie Weenies may replace Steak and Lobster.  You may very well have to give up eating out for a while.  And cooking may become a brand new hobby.  You might try checking out sites like Cheap Cooking for ideas to help you get started (in a fit of gratuitous self advertising, Brittan is currently compiling a "Recession Proof Cookbook" which we hope to have available early in 2010.  Keep your eyes out for that.)

One of the ways we found that helps save a ton of money at the grocery store, is planning our menu out before we go to the store.  By doing so, we know exactly what we need, how much of it and when we will need it.  Then, we make a shopping list to help minimize impulse buying.

Some other things that will help reduce the cost of food:
  • use coupons
  • buy store brands
  • watch for 'day old' items on sale
  • buy in bulk 
  • shop in the 'club stores'
  • use the internet to watch the grocery store sites
  • study the circulars that come in the mail
  • shop in the 'off peak' stores like Aldi and Sav - a - lot
  • grow some of your own fruits and vegetables (more on that in a few weeks)
  • buy fresh vegetables only when they are in season
  • incorporate pasta, rice or potatoes into your dishes (in my day, we called foods with those things 'casseroles')
There are many other things you can do.  Hopefully, this list will get your creative juices flowing.

I also recommend going shopping at pretty much the same time each week, and don't go when you're hungry.  Make grocery shopping a game.  For Brittan and me, it's a fun time together.  It's just the two of us and acres of food stuffs to choose from.  It's great.

Remember, God comes first.  After Him, as the old T.V. commercial says, "You gotta eat!"

Monday, September 14, 2009

Budgeting 101 - Part 3

Now it's time to begin 'establishing a perimeter'.  You have your pencil, Basic Spending Plan, calculator and recent bank statements?  Good.  Let's get started.

One of the FAQs I receive is whether to budget weekly or monthly?  The answer is more complicated that I'd like.  The simple answer is; whatever works best for you.  Since most bills are monthly, that option is the one normally pursued.  But some, like car insurance or property taxes are quarterly or even annually.  That complicates things just a bit.  Here's what I recommend.  I recommend budgeting 'per paycheck'. I'll use house payments as the example.  Take the monthly payment and multiply it by 12 which will give you your total house payments for the year.  Then, divide that by the number of paychecks you receive in a year and you'll know how much to budget per paycheck.

I get paid every two weeks.  So, staying with our example, and making the numbers easy, we'll say my house payment is $1,000 per month.  I will multiply that by 12 and come up with $12,000.  Next I will divide that by the number of paychecks I receive, which is 26.  Many people assume that bi-weekly translates to 24, but there are always two months that get 3 checks.  I love those months.  Anyway, I take the $12,000 and divide by 26 and I get $461.54 (technically, it's a long decimal fraction, but rounds to to that.)  So I put that amount down in the Spending Plan as the amount I need to budget each paycheck.  Simple.  And easy if you have a calculator.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled perimeter:

The North Wall of your perimeter is "God".  On the Basic Spending Plan, I call it "Tithe".  There are still an amazing number of people who remain bewildered at this being the first item budgeted.  I, on the other hand, am bewildered that anyone would consider anything more important than God.

Let me explain my world view.  I'm glad this is a blog rather than Twitter, because I'm going to need more characters.

I am a Christian.  My relationship with God is the most important relationship in my life.  I love my wife, my children, my grandchildren, with every fiber of my being.  I have friends I hold very dear.  I love my country.  But nothing compares to my love for God and what He has done for me.

I won't bore you with the details of the triumphs and tragedies that are my life, but despite my numerous flaws and failures, Jesus loved me and spilled His blood on a cross, so that my sin could be forgiven and I could have a relationship with Him.  It is a remarkable love story.  And it has an extremely happy ending.  After three days, Jesus rose from the grave.  He conquered death itself. He is totally able to forgive my sin and give me a new life here on earth and eternal life later.  I intend to make the most of the opportunity.  The only thing that would make the end happier, is if you had a relationship with him, too.  He is waiting and eager to welcome you into the family.  You can read about it in the Bible.  If you don't have a Bible of your own, you can borrow mine.  Alternatively, you can read the love story of Jesus right HERE.

Brittan and I made a decision long ago, that God would receive the 'first of the best and the best of the first.'  It's like laying the foundation for a building.  If the foundation is good, the building has a chance at survival.  If the foundation is bad, 'Lucy, choo got problems."  So, if God is first, then He is first in our budget.  Frankly, I don't believe the IOU NO MORE plan would work any other way.  I'm certainly not going to test it.  My mamma didn't raise no fool.

Tithe literally meant 10%.  We give the first 10 percent of everything we make to God.  The first check I write each week is made out to our local Church.  If I get a bonus, or windfall, 10% of that goes to God right away.  Bonus money gets split between the local Church and a variety of ministries we support.  (Note:  if you stay tuned till the end of this series, you'll discover a plan to raise your giving to 20%.  Same thing with your saving.  And you'll still have more than enough to live on, quite comfortably.  But it's way too early for that.).

I don't want to get into a big, hairy debate about tithing on gross vs net.  Just start somewhere.  If you're afraid to start with 10%, start with 5% and plan to raise it to 10 when you see how amazing God is at honoring your faith.  If you have questions about tithing or about how to begin a relationship with Jesus, drop us a line.

One more side note:  Currently, the IRS allows Americans to take a tax deduction on our tithe.  How cool is that? Give money to God, and then get to write it off your taxes. You should take full advantage of that.  It's not unspiritual.  I don't recommend giving FOR the deduction, but I don't think we should reject the offer, either.

The day may come when giving to God is no longer a tax deduction.  My behavior will not change at that time.  I give because I love Him.  Everything I have ultimately comes from Him.  Jesus is Lord of all.  Even the tax code.

To summarize:  The very first thing to budget is your tithe.  Determine how much you will give.  Write it down. There, don't you feel better already?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Budget 101 - Part 2 - Establish a Perimeter

There are probably 3 keys to effective budgeting.  Yep, only 3.  This is not rocket science.

  1. Create a Written budget
  2. Create the budget in the right order.
  3. Implement the budget
Of course, if you're married, there is a 4th key:  Create the budget together.

In our last post, we discussed the importance of Keys 1 and 4.  The next several installments will relate to Key 2, Create the budget in the right order.

Perhaps doing the budget in a certain order seems a bit silly, but I promise you, the whole process usually stands or falls on this step.

A typical budget process goes like this;  A motivated individual, or couple, grabs a sheet of paper and starts jotting down all the bills: house payment, car payment, credit cards, electric bill, etc.  Since the regular amount, or minimum payment is generally known, the numbers are fairly easy to come by.  After all these bills are added up, the sum is subtracted from the monthly income.  Finally, whatever is left over is written down, "for food".  Usually, that number is pretty small.  Already, the once motivated budgeter is a bit concerned.

Then its time to go to the grocery store.  Its amazing, how we budget food last, but go to grocery shopping the most.  Anyway, the once highly motivated, now somewhat concerned budgeter, goes to the store and buys groceries.  At the checkout, he/she is hit right between the eyes with a bill that totally blows their written budget out of the water.  Discouraged, the now disheartened, once highly motivated budgeter, pays for the groceries and trudges to the car.

As she/he loads the bags into the back of the car, the totally defeated, once highly motivated budgeter, says something like, "This is stupid.  Budgets don't work.  It can't be done.  It's all a lie.  Debt in inevitable.  I wish I'd never bought that stupid book."

I know it happens that way, because I talk to people almost every day who've done it that way.  Oh, and then there's the fact that I tried it that way..... several times.  Hey, I never said I was a quick learner.

The order in budgeting is crucial for morale.  But it also helps us align our spending with our priorities.  And most of us need to get our priorities in order.  Our spending patterns synch precisely with the order of what's most important to us.

I think of finances as a war.  It's a matter of survival and conquest.  And I'm determined to win.  My family and my own life are dependent on the outcome of this struggle.  So, just like a commander would be foolish to enter a battle without a plan, we would be equally foolish to expect to win the cash flow wars without a strategy.

The first step is to 'establish a perimeter'.  Most of us have seen movies where the invasion, or defense, force does just that to determine and protect their base of operations.  In the old westerns, it was, "Circle the wagons!"  But it's the same idea; form a boundry that protects what is most important.  Everything behind the perimeter line is mission critical and precious.

We want to build the 4 perimeter walls quickly and in this order (I'll explain the order later):

1.  North Wall:  God
2.  South Wall: Food
3:  East Wall:  Shelter
4:  West Wall:  Transportation

These are the 4 categories that we protect with our lives.  Once we have secured the perimeter, we can build a strong defense and later prepare for an invasion.  Yes, I said invasion.  Our long term goal is not survival, but conquest!

In our next post, we'll start building our perimeter walls.  If you just can't wait, you can get all the details right here.

Oh, don't forget you can always write to us with your questions.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Budget 101 - Yep It's That Time of Year Again (First in a Series)

Fall's here, footballs are flying, leaves soon will be, so it's time to start thinking about the Holidays and the New Year beyond.  It may come as surprise to you but 2009 is almost over and Christmas falls in December this year.

The Holiday Season (From Halloween through New Year), does amazing damage to the American pocket book.  We all know about Christmas and Thanksgiving, but it's quite impressive how much Halloween costs.  Besides mountains of candy, we spend a fortune on costumes and decorations.  Many communities are as extravagant in their Halloween decorations as they are with Christmas.  We are Americans.  We love lights.  We love opulance, we love gaudiness (Think Time Square or The Vegas Strip).  And apparently we love debt.

Well, it's time to kiss the whole debt thing goodbye.  Kick it out of the house and let it join the circus or something.  But we are through with it.  Right?  Right?......................

Ok, if you're still here, let's go over the basics of how we can accomplish all of our financial goals.  First, we have to have goals.  Let me suggest a few:  1.  Live on less than we earn, 2. Get out of debt, 3. Build a nest egg for the future, 4, Give to worthy causes, 5. Stop having to WORRY about money.

Those will do.  You might add some of your own related to vacations, education, buying a house, etc.  But the 5 above pretty much cover the core.

In this series, We're going to focus on #1, Live on less than we earn.  We'll touch on the other goals, but we won't stay long.  If you want a step by step plan on all 5 goals, you should check out IOU NO MORE.

I don't know many people who get excited about budgeting; at least not not at first.  But once we learn to do it right, budgeting is a lot of fun.  Ok, a little fun.  But, I guarantee you  that it's not a drudgery.

Think of it as "Fantasy Spending".  We all love to spend.  Back when I was a phone rep in a Call Center, as a part of our offer, we entered prospects and customers into a sweepstakes with a grand prize of $1,000,000.  We would ask people, "What would you do with ONE MILLION DOLLARS?"  I loved listening to the far away sound in their voices and customers spent that money in their imaginations. 

Think of a budget the same way.  It's spending the money on paper, before we spend it at the store.  Nerdy, detail oriented types love this part.  I've seen some people's budgets that rival a major coporation in their granularity. I don't recommend that.  Use something simple, but practical.  We've already done the outline work for you and if you like, you can get a basic budget plan for free right HERE.  Just tell us you want the free Basic Spending Plan and email it right out to you.

It's important to do a WRITTEN budget.  Doing it in your head just doesn't work.  As we say in the south, "That dog don't hunt."  Writing it down will help you focus and it will assist you in making sure you cover all areas.  If you are married, you should do this with your spouse.  It's ok if one of you does the heavy lifting.  But make sure you are both in agreement on the numbers and priorities.  Marriage is not about dominance or dictatorship, it's about teamwork and mutual submission.  You remember the ceremony right?  All that 'putting the other person first' stuff.  Well, budgeting TOGETHER is one way of actually doing what we promised.

Use a pencil rather than a pen.  I know, now I sound like the nerdy, detail oriented type (which everyone who knows me knows I'm not).  But I am practical.  There will be a great deal of erasing.  Pencils have erasers.  They are designed for work that has to be done over.  Ink pens..... not so much.  They are all about permenance.   Hey, what happened to my spell check.  It's missing..... bummer.  Ok, back to the subject.

You'll need a calculator and a copy of at least your most recent bank statement.  Good news, both are probably availble on the computer you're using to read this article.  You'll find the calculator under the 'accessories' tab in your start menu (if you are using a PC.  If you have a MAC, I have no idea.  I'm not cook enough for a MAC.  You'll have to find it yourself).  For the bank statements, go to your bank's website and log into 'online banking'.  If you haven't yet set up an online banking account, now is the time to do it.  If you already have one, you'll know that it's a great place to keep track of your spending patterns.  I check mine every day.  It's a safety thing.

Ok, you have a pencil, a budget form, some historical information and a calculator.  We're ready to begin.  In our next installment, we'll do just that.  We will look not only and the categories, but which order in which to budget them.  The order is mission critical.  But that will have to wait till next time.  I have to take a shower and go to work.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Things that make you go Hmmmmmm........

I thought we were in an economic downturn that would rival the apocalypse?  I thought credit was hard to come by?  I thought the sky was falling?  Then why the heck am I suddenly getting so many Credit Card Offers?

To be sure, these are financially tight times.  I don't want to downplay the seriousness of things, especially for those who've recently lost jobs.  But I find it weird that the credit card industry is cutting back with one hand and spreading their seed with the other.  I have had two Discover and two Chase credit card offers in the last 4 days or so and it has really caused me to raise my eyebrows. 

I know 4 doesn't sound like much, but considering we're on the 'do not solicit' list of all the major cc companies, 4 is a mountain.  My assumption is that at least some of the companies are on a major push to get credit cards out in time for the Holidays.  Not good.  Not good at all.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

I Don't Hate Banks......Really, I Don't

Many readers of IOU NO MORE somehow come away thinking I hate banks.  I'm not sure why and it couldn't be further from the truth.  I don't hate banks at all.  I hate debt

I don't even hate bank fees.  At least not all of them.  For example, it doesn't bother me that banks have overdraft fees.  Common sense dictates that if you spend more money than you have, there should be a price to be paid.  Technically, it's stealing.  The over spender has taken money that is not his/hers.  The bank converts the theft into a loan, saving the (over)consumer embarrassment and making a little money on the service.  It's called, Capitalism. It is not the bank's fault when we overspend.

Having said all that, I think that consumers should be very careful when we choose our banks.  They are not all created equal.  Many banking institutions really are reputable and sound.  Others, are, shall we say, less so.

One change in at least some bank practices that really burns me up has to do with how they process transactions at the end of the day.  Once upon a time, most, if not all, banks added your daily deposits before they subtracted your withdrawls and checks.  It was thoughtful and customer focused.  It was almost as if the institutions really did have hearts.  Now, many banks do it the other way around.  The reasons are fairly obvious, primarily the chance to find a fee charging opportunity.  That's just not cricket! It makes a bank look like  Snidely Whiplash from the old Penelope Pitstop cartoons.  And it's just the kind of thing that will cause me to look for a new banking partner.

Banks are great places to store your cash flow.  Brittan and I have a checking account in a bank.  We use a bank for our mortgage.  We use an online bank for our savings because rates are better.  Since we don't do debt, we don't have to worry about fees or cards or minimum payments or much of anything else, really.  It's a great relationship.  We store our money in their computers.  They use it for investments, loans etc.  In return, they let me use their cash machines, provide checks and statements for us and let us have it back whenever we want it.  As a result, we have a peaceful alliance.  In the event our bank changes the game on us, we will find another home for our nickels.  It's just business.  I don't hate banks.  But I'm not married to one, either.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Coping With Rising Unemployment

Unemployment is set to hit 9.7% nationally.  Many places are already in double digits.  There are no signs of imminent turnaround in those numbers which means stress levels on millions of American families is going to remain at code red levels for a while.  I know how it feels.  I have experienced two long stretches of unemployment in my life.  I remember the frustration, the hopelessness, the helplessness and the bewilderment.  It's difficult to describe the attack on one's self esteem. 

Here are some coping tips for those facing or experiencing unemployment:

  • Trust.  First, trust in God.  He has you in the palm of His hand, even when it feels like you're free falling.  Secondly, trust in yourself.  You have skills.  You matter. You have strengths.  You offer value.  Far from worthless, you are a priceless treasure, created in the image of almighty God.  But you may have to remind yourself of that from time to time. 
  • Abandon Credit Cards.  Statistically, many people use credit cards in times of unemployment for many basics like groceries and utilities.  In the end, it makes the financial hole bigger.  Credit Cards are not for emergencies.  They create them.
  • Get on a written budget.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.  Now more than ever, you need to make every dime count.  For budget help www.iounomore.com.
  • Create a routine.  The despair from unemployment can easily turn even the most stout hearted individual into a couch potato.  Face each day with a plan.  Write it down just like you would if you were creating your task list at work.  Formalize your schedule with set times for job hunting, resume work, exercise (I treated exercise like a part time job and got very fit. My only regret was not keeping that up after I found employment), yard work, house work, prayer time.  Don't let life happen to you.  Make life happen FOR you.
  • Get creative.  Look at your skills and talents rather than just your resume as you seek the next phase in your career path.  There are multiple options for you to pursue outside of 'what you've always done'.  You can find some great tips, tools and resources at www.48days.com.
  • Make a game out of bargain hunting and finding ways to cut costs.  Even after all this time, I still get a thrill out of finding a way to save a buck on anything, especially things like utility bills.
  • Stay focused.  You will have times of great hope and times of deep hopelessness. Make sure you work your plan rather than allow yourself to be carried along by your emotions.  
  • Help others.  Nothing will help you take your mind off your own problems better than assisting another person with his/hers.  Volunteer at a nursing home.  Help out at Habitat for Humanity.  Help out at your Church office.  The opportunities are endless.
You will find work.  Maybe it will take a while, maybe it won't.  And you may find out that the next job is better than the last one, so don't assume that you will have to settle for less.  That's exactly what happened for me.  After a long period of unemployment, I found a job that put me on a career path that has been fruitful in more ways than I can count.  It ain't over till it's over.  You can win!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Introducing................................

................... a brand new logo.  IOU NO MORE and Recession Proof Living are a part of a larger world we call, "Sam Burton Presents...."  Today we unveil our logo.  Keep your eyes open, you may soon be seeing it everywhere. 

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!

A friend of mine told me a great car buying story this week and I want to share the substance of it.

She and her husband decided a good used car (already a sensible choice) was in their future. They did their research, packed a checkbook and headed out to test drive. Once they found their ideal car, and did their negotiating it was time to close. The sales person said, "I suppose you'll be needing to arrange financing", to which they replied, "No, it's ok if we write a check, right?"

"What?"

"Write a check. We're going to pay cash."

The entire dealership fell into silence. As they handed over the payment in full, they were told, "I don't believe this has ever happened here before."

I love the revolution! Talk about a stimulus plan. Pay yourself instead of the bank. Then pay in cash for what you need. Everybody wins. Except those who feed off of debt, of course. What is it we call things that feed off of other things again? Oh, that's right............ parasites!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Fun Discussion Today

I had a great time this afternoon discussing financial matters with a group of people I work with. We talked about budgets, saving for college, debt and the miracle of compound interest. We had some great laughs along the way. It was a refreshing change of pace from.......well.......work!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Just Some Shameless Self Promotion

It's almost time to get ready for Church, but I thought I'd take a minute and introduce some projects I'm working on. I've mentioned some of them before, but they are worth talking about again, because I've been in the workshop with them this week.

First, as announced last week, "IOU NO MORE" is now available as an ebook. We are very excited about this development, because of the growth of popularity of ebooks and because with ebooks, readers have the ability to check out the references, materials and tools referred to in the book just by clicking on the active links in the text. With traditional books, you must lay down the book, open your computer and find the url. We plan to use both traditonal and ebooks going forward.

We have two other active websites besides IOU NO MORE. The first is, Sam Burton Presents, nicknamed, SBP. SBP will become the primary portal for all of our sub pages, books, materials, newsletters, etc. IOU NO MORE will become of of the service sites under the SBP umbrella.

The second is, Sam Burton Ministries, or SBM, for short. We felt that this was an essential step for the many services, products and information we develop especially for Churches and other Faith Based groups. SBM is very special to me and I'm looking forward to developing it.

Both those websites are just in development phase and really only have holding pages up. But go ahead and check them out, save them to your favorites and let me know what you'd like to see in them. There is contact information all over them. In fact, that's about all there is right now.

Besides websites, I'm currently adapting the "IOU NO MORE" material into a format and presentation especially geared to men. I'm calling it, "DEBT BEAT DADS: common sense financial and life principles for men (and the women who love them). There are some nice 'manly' insights added to the material along with some tweaking of the Spending Plans that will translate well to the 'male mind'. If all goes well, that will be available by Christmas.

My regular reader (yes, I think there's only one), will remember that I'm working on "LIFE LESSONS FROM A LEAD DOG: amusing anecdotes and heart warming tales from 30 years with sleddogs". The proposal is coming along nicely, as are the seminars associated with it. I want to shop this to some major publishers. People keep telling me this one has a populist appeal.

In early Spring, 2010, you should look for an ebook on vegetable gardening basics for urban and suburban dwellers. This project is being outlined, along with a seminar, and should be a lot of fun. It does not have a title as yet.

Finally, I have outlined a book and seminar (I've presented the seminar hundreds of times in the classroom) on optimizing your career as a call (contact) center agent. No point having all these years of experience if I'm not going to share what I've learned. Right now I'm calling it, "BYE, BYE, DILBERT: a quick start guide for turning the mundane life of cube world into an adventure and turning your headset into a gold mine." Can you tell I like subtitles? They help with search engine optimization, in case you were wondering.

Well, that's enough for the moment. Some of this is rerun. Some is new. Thanks for stopping by. Time for Church.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Fall Garden Planted

This afternoon, Brittan and I put in our fall vegetables. We planted broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, snap peas and one last round of green beans. What else is a body to do on Saturday? Go golfing? Take a nap? Watch cartoons? Bah! Humbug!

I really do like vegetable gardening. It is therapeutic and productive all at the same time. I like prepping the soil, planting and harvesting. The tending to the plant in between is a chore, but there is always something to learn. Today, for example, we found squash bugs on our pepper plants. The weren't doing any damage, but since there is no squash for them, they are searching for new things to devour. Squash bugs have been a real nuisance this year. I hate them more than any other garden pest. The are prolific, destructive and they stink. I'm considering trying hydroponics for squash next year, just because there won't be any soil for the squash bugs.

Our pepper harvest just keeps piling up, as do the cucumbers. I have never been more sick of cucumbers than I am this year. Next year we're growing pickling cucumbers. Yummmm.

Watch for a Vegetable Gardening 101 ebook from Recession Proof Living and IOU NO MORE next spring. It's going to be fun to put together and a useful quick start guide for urban and suburban vegetable gardeners.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Read Em And Weep


Just read an article describing the bad and the ugly that is coming out of the new regulations for Credit Card Companies. Notice, I didn't add, 'good' to bad and ugly. There is no good. Sure, the CC companies will have to be more transparent in disclosing their fees and rates, but many of them are using the opportunity to raise those newly clarified fees. Yeesh.

There is a level on which I don't care what they do, because I haven't had a Credit Card balance in years. They could raise the rates to 300% and it doesn't change my world.

One interesting thing that came out of all this, though, is I found out I still have an open Credit Card account I didn't know about. I got a letter from a particular bank saying my cash advance limit had been reduced. Oh, darn. I thought I closed that with the rest of my Visa an Master Cards years ago. I certainly haven't used it. Oh well, it's closed now.

The first rule in the IOU NO MORE revolution, is "STOP BORROWING". That means Credit Cards, too. Don't give me the 'for emergencies' line, either. The emergency will be trying to pay the darned thing off.

Gotta get ready for work now. You can read the article HERE.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Workplace Suicide Rates on the Rise

I saw today that workplace suicides have risen 28% over the last year, while overall workplace deaths have declined. I find that quite disturbing; and more than a little disheartening.

There is little doubt in my mind, that the current economic and employment climates have played a significant role in the steep rise in on the job suicides.

After reading the article, I did some quick searches and found that suicide in general seems to be on the rise. I don't mean to sound crass, but that suggests to me that "Hope" and "Change" are not working out as planned.

I don't want to descend into politics. Government is not, and never should be, a solution to financial, career or personal difficulties. Certainly, money is no reason to take our lives over.

My first thought is to remind everyone that Jesus is our best Hope in all things. I would urge everyone to investigate Christianity before resorting to suicide.

Also, the overwhelming majority of people in financial crisis could gain perspective from a program like IOU NO MORE. There are answers. They aren't always easy. They sometimes require dramatic and drastic action, but what is more drastic than suicide?

Folks, things are not hopeless. Trust me on that.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What's in the Oven

The clock on the wall tells me it's about time to get ready for work, but before I begin my ablutions, let me share some things that are coming down the road for IOU NO MORE and Sam Burton Presents.

First, we have a brand new product that will be available later today. IOU NO MORE is now an ebook as well as a traditional paperback. The electronic version has an expanded appendix which includes reproducible forms (and a larger set of forms than in the paperback version). The "New IOU NO MORE" also includes the details of our referral program. The referral program looks like, and even pays out like, a traditional Multi Level Marketing plan, with one exception, you don't have to pay to participate. Everyone who purchases a book, ebook or starter kit from our shopping cart is eligible.

Speaking of the shopping cart, it's in the process of receiveing a makeover. Soon, customers will be able to track their purchases and will be able to directly download certain products rather than wait for the mail or email.

I am currently writing a spin off book, "DEBT BEAT DADS: Common Sense Financial and Life Advice for Men (and the women who love them). It will take the principles of IOU NO MORE and add some content especially geared towards men (and their wives).

I also have outlined a project, probably an ebook, on Vegetable Gardening Basics those who don't live in the country. Brittan and I have learned so much the last few years and we want to share it with others who want to eat better and be more self sufficient, but who are stuck in suburbia. It doesn't yet have a name. How about "Vegieburbia" or "The Suburban Gardener"? I'm open to suggestions. If you come up with the title for me, I'll give you a copy of the book and mention you in the acknowledgements.

I'm also working away on my book proposal for "Life Lessons from a Lead Dog". That book and the study materials that could spin off from it, has the potential to make a big impact in the and on the world.

Ok, enough commercials for now. Must get moving.

Monday, August 17, 2009

New Magazine Coming


Brittan and I are long time subscribers to, and even longer time readers of, "Hobby Farms Magazine" . Later this month, about the 26th, the editors of that publication will be releasing the first issue of "Urban Farm", a magazine designed especially for those of us stuck in town, but committed to self sufficiency, growing our own produce and reaping the rewards and savings of taking responsibility for our lives. I am very much looking forward to the launch of this magazine. I sure hope the publishers read this post and give me a discount on my subscription!

Friday, August 14, 2009

"Cash for Clunkers", A Trojan Horse of a Different Color?


The President's Cash for Clunkers program has, by most reports, been a tremendous success. Big enough that Congress has 'gone back to the well' for more cash to back it. Where are they getting that cash? Oh, that's right, from the very tax payers who are asked to buy the cars. So in essence, we're being asked to pay taxes to support our tax credit. Anyone dizzy from this circular reasoning yet?

It is not the logic, though, that has me miffed. What has steam coming out of my ears is our Government bribing Americans to get into debt. As already mentioned, it is disguised as a tax credit. But it is a tax credit paid for by tax payer money. It is marketed as a call to 'save the environment, but is in reality an attempt to bail out the newly Government owned Automobile companies. It is billed as a way to save money at the pump, but is in reality a way to get Americans into debt. It may very well turn out to be the automobile version of the 'subprime mortgage'.

Oh, and because the 'clunkers' are all being destroyed, the inventory of cheap used cars is being dramatically reduced, forcing low end used car buyers to pay more. And, finally, the program is pushing up the prices of new cars, which were falling.

Debt is bad. But when it's debt on a depreciating item (I can't bring myself to use the words, depreciating asset, because that sounds like an oxymoron when debt is attached to it), it's doubly bad. If you have not fallen into this trap yet, I urge you to look away. Don't inhale that new car smell. Don't let the 'fever' weaken your resistance. Stay on your winning plan of recession proof living.

On the happy front, I found an article that says the 'Cash for Clunkers' program may be losing some momentum. We can only hope. Read it HERE.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Harvest is Plentiful

Each day brings a new sense of wonder at our bounty this year. We already have to buy a second freezer to handle the overflow. We're just waiting for the best deal. Tonight I brought in a plastic grocery bag brimming over with peppers of all varieties and a few tomatoes. We'll have another 20 or so pounds of tomatoes to process before long. And a new harvest of beans will begin within the week. Maybe as early as Sunday or Monday. We should have beans well into September.

I have only two real regrets this year; 1. not enough squash and zucchini, and 2. not enough cantaloupe.

We will do a whole post season assessment around October when we start designing next year's garden.

We let some of the beans from the first crop dry on the vine. Brittan brought them in and we are storing them in hopes that they sprout next year. We will start one or two in January to see if they do grow. If so, we won't have to buy bush beans next year. I love it. We are eating healthy, getting exercise and saving money all at the same time. If I ever get time, I'll probably write a book about it. Time.............. what a concept!

Time To Expand

For the past few weeks, I've been exploring a number of ways to expand the reach of IOU NO MORE and SAM BURTON PRESENTS. I feel a real sense of urgency in getting a message of real hope out to the masses. I've had a couple opportunities to speak publicly in the last two weeks and it reminded me of where my gifts and talents lie.

So I'm looking at things like, ebooks, web infomercials, ezene, podcasts, You Tube and etc.

I'm also looking at adding materials on Divorce Recovery and Life Lessons From a Lead Dog. I'm excited, I just don't have enough hours in the day. And sometimes, my head is so full of ideas, that it's hard for me to focus on just one or two items. Other times, my head is just full of nonsense. Go figure.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Still Available on Amazon


Although we are now selling IOU NO MORE on our website, the book is still available on Amazon.com, and all other major online book sellers. We have been very fortunate with the number of places that carry the book. We are blessed by the number of emails we get each week from people who are seeking help taking charge of their finances.

As we gear up for the coming Holiday Season (it's never too early to plan), we are going to do a fresh marketing campaign and kind of a re-launch of the book. After two years we're still excited about 'the simplest money management plan on earth.'

Monday, August 3, 2009

Are my eyes bleeding?

I just got finished reading an article about a recent college grad who is suing her college because she does not yet have a job and she feels the college isn't doing enough to help her find work.

Even coming from ultra liberal New York, that's ridiculous. Colleges are for education and preparation. The fact that many of them have services to assist with job placement is a plus, a perk. While I can appreciate a sense of frustration when jobs are scarce and income is inconsistent, it is not, and has never been, anyone's responsibility other than our own to find work.

If this lawsuit somehow finds its way through the system and a decision is made in favor of the plaintiff, which I think it won't, then all bets are off for college coffers. Can you even imagine the can of worms that would open?

Read the article HERE.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Thin Edge of the Wedge

This week I have been following the tragic story of a Wisconsin man, who has been charged with murder in the death of his daughter. The short version is, the girl became ill and the family chose prayer over medical attention. In the end the girl died. Her family treated her well, comforted her and nursed her. But they would not take her to a doctor, believing that if they had faith, God would heal the girl.

Today, the man was convicted.

First, let me say that I disagree with his decision to fore go medical assistance. I believe in prayer and I believe in doctors. Medical treatment can be an answer to prayer. Sometimes God works through people and circumstances.

But I believe that cases like this will be cited as precedent in future litigation where the political and social views of the 'state' will run contrary to traditional faith. I see a time when Christians will be discriminated against and possibly jailed for things like public evangelism or publicly denouncing certain practices as sinful.

Do you know what you believe? How deep are your convictions? Are you prepared to lose your job, your home, your reputation or even your freedom over your beliefs?

Just one more nugget to chew on. I am convinced that this world is only a shadow of what is to come and not the end in itself. If I understand my Bible correctly, God did heal that little girl. If you will allow me to mix metaphors, I suspect she is healthy as a horse and happy as a clam.