My Plan or God’s Plan?

Psalm 127:1

Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain…

These words last weekend while attending a local retreat about world missions. In a darkened auditorium I listened to a seasoned missionary share stories of caring for the people of a jungle village on a Pacific island. After thirty years of living with some of the poorest of the world with spotty electricity, no paved roads, little communication from the outside world, and most other things that I take for granted, this missionary was winsome and joyful. He gave up a life of relative comfort in the United States to submit to whatever and wherever God wanted him to go, and he found a life of adventure, fulfillment and deep joy. He is proof that those who give their lives away will gain it back in the end.

“I have to apologize to the younger generation in the room,” he said, tucking his gray floppy hair behind his ears. “My generation has not modeled how to sacrifice. We have tried to protect you and give you everything you need and want, and now you don’t know what it means to sacrifice.”

Ripples of anxious butterflies started fluttering inside me. I knew what he meant. God has often convicted me of my idol of my own comfort. I don’t like to sacrifice. I avoid pain at all cost. I have ignored Jesus’ words to count the cost and to take up my cross daily. In the quite darkness of the room, I confessed this to God again.

Then God reminded me of Psalm 127:1. “Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain…” He whispered to my heart. “You haven’t asked me what I think about buying a home. Are you willing to sacrifice your plans?” My heart quickened. The whisper boomed inside my head.

Give up my plans? I cringed. I have wanted a house for so long. Andy and I have started to save for it. I have blogged about it. I have talked about it. But I know that God is right. I have not asked Him about His plans for a house or all of the money that will go towards it.

James 4:13-16 says:

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lords’ will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil.”

The music from the band on the stage interrupted my thoughts. The speaker left the stage. I knelt on the ground and repented of my boastful, self-centered plans. I asked God to show me what His plans are and to help me to learn to sacrifice. He is the best teacher. After all, He sacrificed His beloved Son for my sinful pride.

At this point, I think that God is still leading us to purchase a house, but I want to hold this goal with an open hand. I want to be willing to sacrifice my plans and dreams for God’s plans and dreams.

Ten Ways to Spend Less and Get Closer to Your Savings Goal

Saving up for our down payment does not only require increasing our income, it requires spending less. The less money we can spend, the more we can save.

Two experiences during our marriage taught Andy and me to live on less: his years in graduate school and a season of prolonged unemployment. Here are ten ways that we learned to spend less money through these periods:

  1. Own one car: This saves money on insurance, gas and maintenance. As much as possible, we have lived within an easy bus ride, bike ride or walk to Andy’s place of employment. That allowed me to access to the car to grocery shop, run errands and drive our kids around. We recently bought a second car, but fifteen years of owning one car has saved us thousands of dollars.
  2. Own one cell phone: If you can believe it, we did not own any cell phone until 2010, and we didn’t own a smart phone until 2016! Andy is at work most of the day during the week and can be reached on his office phone. I carry the cell phone most of the time, but if Andy is going away for an overnight, he takes the cell phone. We have a landline also, which is a lot cheaper than owning another cell phone.
  3. Keep the house/apartment warmer in the summer and cooler in the winter: Texas is hot in the summer, and I do not like to be in a warm home. I get angry when I’m hot. But I have learned to live with our thermostat set on 78 in the summer. We have ceiling fans in all of the bedrooms, which helps at night. The winters in Ohio were cold, but we set our thermostat to 63 in the winter. We wore lots of layers, and we used our gas burning fireplace in the living room to boost the air temperature when needed.
  4. Eat out less: This is hard some nights when I just don’t have the energy to cook. Creating a meal plan each week helps me avoid impulse fast food meals. With a meal plan, I’m not scrambling at five o’clock each evening to put a meal together. If I know that I’m going to have a busy afternoon or evening, I plan a crockpot meal.
  5. Use Walmart’s  grocery pick-up service: This helps me to stick to my shopping list and not make impulse purchases. I can even see the total bill in the sidebar while I am shopping. If I get close to going over budget, I can take things out of my cart. Walmart does not charge a pick-up fee or mark up the price of the items like most other grocery shopping services do.
  6. Eat less meat: We are carnivores, but meat is one of the most expensive items on our grocery bills. We cut back on our meat consumption when I stopped working, and now we eat meat about three times a week for dinner. There are lots of delicious, satisfying vegetarian recipes on the web.
  7. Camp on family vacations: We own a four-person tent that we use for most of our trips. During times of the year when weather is less predictable, we reserve primitive cabins that include beds and electricity but no bathrooms. The campsites and cabins cost much less than hotel rooms, and we bring food to eat most of our meals.
    Here’s our little camp site on a vacation in Northern California. I love those big trees!

    To be honest, I don’t like to tent camp more than about four nights in a row, so sometimes we break up the nights by staying a night in a hotel.

  8. Buy a membership to a local attraction: Over the years we have purchased memberships to zoos, children’s museums, the YMCA and local amusement parks. While we did have to pay a large lump sum up front, we saved money over the year by using our passes frequently. Usually these passes pay for themselves after two uses, and now we have a go-to place when we are looking for something to do on a Sunday afternoon. Sometimes, we have requested passes as Christmas gifts.
  9. Swap babysitting services with friends: This has been a difficult one for me. I would rather pay a sitter to watch my kids for an evening without the obligation of returning the favor to a friend. However, paying for a babysitter does get expensive, and when we are able to swap with friends whose kids are similar in age to our kids, it usually does not require a lot of extra work.
  10. Buy some hair clippers and watch some YouTube videos to learn how to cut hair: We bought some clippers twelve years ago so that I could cut Andy’s hair. It was not difficult to learn how to give him a basic cut, and twelve years later, we have saved hundreds of dollars in trips to the barber shop. I do not let Andy cut my hair, though he has offered. 🙂 I just try to stick to hair styles that do not require regular maintenance.

Some of these money saving methods may seem too drastic for you to implement, but implementing just one of these methods could save you hundreds of dollars in the next year. That is hundreds of dollars that you can put to your money saving goal!

Please let us know what steps you are currently taking or have taken to save more money each month by leaving a comment below. We would love to hear them!

Show Some Hustle!

I first encountered the term “hustle” while playing tee ball as a seven-year-old. “Hustle up!” my  middle-aged coach would yell between innings of the game. My teammates and I would push the brims down on our emerald green mesh ball caps, grip our mitts tighter, and sprint to the dugout.

“Hustle! Hustle!” he yelled again to us down the first base line as we tried to outrun the throw to first.

“Show some hustle!” he yelled to me at practice when I chased a ball into the outfield and threw with all my might to the pitcher.

By the end of that tee ball season (a championship season for us Indians I should note), I knew the meaning of hustle. It meant hurry up, run, go after it, beat it and win all in one word.

Now that Andy and I have our actual number for our down payment savings goal, I’m finding new ways to “show some hustle.” One of those ways is working as a personal shopper for Shipt.

Shipt is kind of the Uber of grocery shopping. Members order and pay for groceries online and then request a delivery time frame. Shipt shoppers are then notified when an order has been placed and can claim the order. Once a shopper claims the order, he or she then has access to the member’s order and delivery instructions. The shopper goes to the store, shops for the requested items and delivers the order to the member within the requested time frame. Shoppers are then paid $5 per order plus a percentage of the order total plus tips.

Because Shipt shoppers make their own schedules and determine how often to work, Shipt seemed like a great way to earn some extra money. However, it has not been as reliable a source of income as I would like. For example, sometimes I put myself on the schedule for 9 am to 2 pm and am offered only two orders. My hourly rate is also significantly influenced by whether the member tips or not. On average, I would say that I earn $10 an hour working as a Shipt shopper.

On days when I have busted my hump to shop three orders in four hours with intense accuracy and efficiency, I may only make forty dollars. I get discouraged wondering if I could have spent those four hours doing something more productive and lucrative. I start wondering how much money will eventually be taken out of my pay for taxes, which are charged at a higher rate as an independent contractor.

But that’s why we call it hustle, right? Hustle is hard. It requires grit, intensity, perseverance, and a lot of energy. I am realizing that hustle requires pushing myself harder than I’ve had to for a while. It means going out on a Sunday afternoon to shop orders when I would rather be relaxing at home with my family. It means pushing fully loaded, left-veering shopping carts through sideways rain in the parking lot. I’m learning that hustle means saying no the pleasure and ease of the now in order to get the reward in the future.

If Shipt isn’t the best fit for you, here is a list from Dave Ramsey’s website of other potential side-jobs for you to get your hustle on.

Calculating our Down Payment

Thanks to an ice storm in San Antonio this week, Andy and I had some extra time at home to sit down and do some calculations for a down payment. The calculations were simple, and it provided us with a real number, a real goal for our savings sprint.

Why 20% Down?

As I mentioned in this post, Andy and I have decided that we would like to put 20% down on a house.  Our main motivation has been to avoid having to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI) once we buy a home. But I was pleased to read about three other reasons for a 20% downpayment in Egypt Sherrod’s book, Keep Calm, It’s Just Realestate. Sherrod is a real-estate agent who has been in the business for over fourteen years, and she is the host of HGTV’s Property Virgins. Here are the other reasons that Sherrod lists for putting 20% down on a home:

  1. Buyers with a larger down payment are viewed as less of a borrowing risk for lenders, which can then result in a lender offering a lower interest rate. This is very important in our situation with a zero credit score, because lenders will look for indications other than a credit score to determine our borrowing risk.

2. A larger downpayment requires buyers to borrow less money which then equals a lower monthly payment.

3. Putting 20% down automatically gives us more equity in our home. More equity could make it easier to refinance later, should we want to do so.

Doing the Math

So, we confirmed that our goal is to save enough money for a 20% downpayment. Now we needed to calculate how much money that 20% would actually require. To do so, we used this handy worksheet from Dave Ramsey’s website.

After about ten minutes and some simple math, we had our downpayment savings goal.

“Whoa, that’s a lot of money,” I murmured. My head bent over the worksheet on the desk while my detail-challenged brain tried to absorb the naked reality of the five-digit number. The space heater rattled, filling the silence between us as we both stared at the number.

“Yah, it is,” Andy replied. He stretched his long, lanky arms and shook out the chill in the air. “We will probably get some wind falls in the next couple of months- tax refund, cashed out vacation time. Plus, we’ll see what my first pay check at the new job looks like.” I breathed in. Even with those extra money sources, I don’t know how we could get to the number on the page. I sighed, folded the worksheet and slid it into my prayer journal.

So, our sprint to our 20% downpayment now looks like a marathon. The 400 meters has become 26.2 miles. It’s time to lace up the running shoes, buckle down our budget and chase after our audacious savings goal.

 


The worksheet above came from a series of emails about buying a home that I signed up to receive from Dave Ramsey’s team. I recommend visiting Ramsey’s website often as it provides lots of saving and budgeting information, such as how to calculate how much of a mortgage you can afford.

Networking My Way to a Job

My resume is updated and the job search has begun. In the last three months of my job search, networking has been the best method of job hunting.

At first, I looked for jobs online. My experience and training best qualifies me to work with children or in higher education administration, so I began my search by looking at job postings at local school districts and area colleges and universities. This method did yield a couple of applications and interviews, but most of the time, I felt like I was sending my resume into black hole after black hole.

One conversation at a dinner party changed my approach.

The Elevator Pitch

On a sultry September evening, Andy and I were enjoying hors d’oeuvres at one of his colleague’s homes. She is a lovely woman: gracious, hospitable, brilliant, yet humble. Her house reminded me of the home of a couple of college professors that lived in my neighborhood growing up: full of interesting travel souvenirs, walls of books and quirky yet attractive furniture. I usually feel out-of-place at these sort of gatherings, since I am usually the only one without an advanced degree or full-time employment. But tonight was different. Conversation flowed easily, and my plate was full of delicious food.

Then our hostess turned to me and asked, “Ginny, what do you do?” I explained that I spent the last eleven years as a stay-at-home mom, but that now I was looking for employment again.

Her face lit up, “What kind of employment are you looking for?”

I froze. My mind went blank. Her question caught me off-guard, and I did not have a good answer. I think I answered her eventually by saying that I wasn’t sure what kind of work I wanted. Then I quickly switched topics to talk about her dog.

On the way home, Andy gently rebuked me for not having a prepared answer to her question.

“You need to have an elevator pitch,” he said. “You know, like a sales pitch. A one minute answer about the kind of job you’re looking for and your qualifications.” He was right.

The Results

Since that night, I have written my one minute elevator pitch. It sounds very similar to the “objective” section of my resume, and now I am ready to deliver it when someone asks me about my job search.

I have also sent my resume to one of our pastors, a friend-of-a-friend, and an elder in our church. Though nothing has yielded a job yet, my efforts have yielded several leads that I continue to pursue. These contacts also provide clear means of follow-up.

How can you begin to tap your network today? Here are some ideas to get you started:

Write your elevator pitch, and practice delivering it in conversation to people like:

  • neighbors
  • other parents at your children’s school
  • people that you meet at the gym
  • social media
  • people at your children’s school
  • people from church or your place of worship
  • people that you meet at your children’s soccer games, dance classes, etc

 

Rebooting My Resume

I loved my full-time mothering years. Yes, they were exhausting days full of changing diapers, washing sticky floors and doorknobs, folding laundry, pushing swings, washing dishes and other thankless jobs. But they were also full of snuggling with sleeping infants, doing the funny voices of Dr. Seuss for toddlers, making Lego fairy worlds with preschoolers and realizing that taking walks in the sunshine of midday is one of the most therapeutic experiences in life.

Now my youngest daughter is in kindergarten, and we need more income so that we can buy a house. It’s time to reach into my dusty box of professional tools and see what skills I can market to the working world.

Updating My Resume

The first task in my job-hunting expedition was to identify those dusty professional skills and to update my resume. In doing so, I was pleased and surprised to discover how many skills I had acquired or sharpened over the last eleven years of motherhood. For example, I have always considered myself an excellent problem-solver. When I worked in student services at the collegiate level, I loved to help students and parents problem solve their way through tuition bills, financial aid packages and class registration. As a mom, I’ve had to trouble-shoot countless problems such as how to motivate a whiny kid to clean her room, how to move across the country with two young children, and how to feed a family of four 21 meals a week on a tight budget.

As a mom, I have had countless opportunities to care for children other than my own, including a two-year stint as a foster parent. These experiences have provided training in child development, behavior management, and care coordination. Those phrases now appear on my resume.

I was also surprised to discover skills that I wanted to develop further, but, until now, didn’t have the time to nurture; I remembered how much I love learning languages and decided that I wanted to learn Spanish. I realized that all the creative writing classes I took in college were going unused, so I decided to start this blog. Rewriting my resume has been like pulling out the box of summer clothes after a long winter. I’ve rediscovered forgotten interests and realized that I have some new skills to show off.

If you are a full-time mom looking to re-enter the professional world, take some time to sit down and think about the experiences and skills that you have acquired over your years at home. Then incorporate them into your updated resume. It took me several hours and some soul searching, but it was well worth my time.

Here are some questions to help reboot your resume

  • Look at your old resume. What skills have you further enhanced as a mom?
  • Do you have any volunteer work that you could list on your resume? What skills have you acquired through this experience?
  • As moms we often overlook training that we have received in things like basic first aid, child development, budget management, and meal preparation. What training, formal or informal, have you received since you have become a mom? What information, skills, or certifications did you receive as a result?
  • If you had to hire someone to do the job of a full-time mom, what skills would you look for in a qualified applicant? You probably have most of them!

Please let me know what skills you discover or rediscover in your brainstorming process by leaving a comment below. I would love to hear them all!

Work. Save. Trust God.

There is a squirrel who must live in one of the trees right outside our apartment. I like to watch him in the morning when I read my Bible. He is spry, playful, energetic and well, squirrelly. Today I spotted him scurrying down a tree trunk with an acorn in his mouth. When he made eye contact with me, he froze, mid-step, acorn in mouth, and flattened his ash-brown body against the trunk. I didn’t want to scare him, so I smiled and walked away.

I have seen him burying acorns many times, and every time I see him, I think about Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:25-26: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (NIV)

The squirrel does store acorns, but how many acorns he stores and then how many he can actually recover are out of his control. I have often seen Mr. Squirrel bury an acorn, return to the same spot moments later, dig furiously and come up empty. Wide eyes blink, jaw stiffens, tail twitches, and he is shocked that the nut is lost.

Mr. Squirrel’s tree outside our apartment

Even after all of his scurrying, gathering and burying efforts, God is the One to meet his needs.

Mr. Squirrel  is a good example of how to live in the tension that we are experiencing. He frantically gathers and stores acorns every day, but at the end of the day, God determines how many acorns he has. I need to do the same. I need to work hard each day to do the things God has given me to do, the work of the gathering and storing. But at the end of the day, I have to rest and trust God, knowing that He is my heavenly Father who provides for His children and who values me even more than the birds of the air and the squirrels of the trees.

The Disappointment

Going into the home buying process, my husband, Andy, and I thought it best to give ourselves over a year to save up for at least a 20% down payment on a house. We knew that paying less than 20% down on a house meant having to pay for private mortgage insurance (PMI). Leo from Churchill Home Mortgage confirmed this. We also wanted to pay at least 20% down so that we would be less likely to buy a house that we couldn’t really afford. Plus, putting at least a 20% down payment meant decreasing the total amount of our mortgage, which would mean a lower monthly payment.

However, Leo questioned whether or not we should abandon our ideal of 20% down. He told me that FHA loans only require 3.5% down, and most private loans only require 10% down. While putting less than 20% down would require paying for PMI, we could write off the PMI on our taxes. Besides, buying a home before interest rates and home values increase would probably save us money in the long run.

I am a spender, not a saver. If I can buy sooner rather than later, I am inclined to do so. Andy is not. He is a saver. He is careful, methodical, and disciplined with our finances. I have always appreciated that about him.

Convincing Andy to buy a house with less than a 20% downpayment will be difficult. I am not even sure that I think that it is a good idea, but in the spirit of our home buying adventure, I decide to pitch the idea to him one Friday night.

Andy is sitting on our hand-me-down couch watching tomorrow’s weather forecast. I snuggle into his side. The house is still warm from the sunny day, but the evening chill is starting to settle into the apartment. I tell him all about my conversation with Leo and how Leo encouraged us to shorten our one-year timeframe.

“He told me that we didn’t need 20% down.” I throw it out there, trying to sound casual. “He said that we can write off our PMI on our taxes and that if we get a private loan, we will stop paying PMI once we pay 20% of the principal.” Andy glances at me. Inwardly, I cringe.

“Yeah, but we just don’t want to pay PMI,” he says. The weather lady rambles about more sun and high temperatures.

“True. But in the long run, we may end up paying less if the interest rates and home prices go up,” I counter. Andy grimaces.

“We don’t really have enough money right now for ANY down payment.” My stomach sinks. He is right. Money is tight. Our move from the west coast to Texas meant a pay-cut, and right now we are having trouble covering our monthly expenses without tapping our savings account. I sigh, because I know he’s right.

The optimistic spender in me hoped that we might be able to get into a house in less than one year. I am eager to settle into a home after several years of renting and to make Texas our permanent home now that Andy has a permanent job. I am ready to buy a house, but our bank account really isn’t.

Andy wraps his arms around me and pulls me closer. He sees that I’m disappointed.

“God just doesn’t have us in a place yet to buy a house,” he says.  “We are trying. You are working. I’m looking for a promotion. We just have to keep waiting.”

So that’s where we were Friday night: sitting on our couch, leaning into each other, realizing that what we have really wanted for several years is still out of reach and that we still need to wait on God to provide. As I lean and sit and wait, I think, “How do I wait and be proactive at the same time?” I will need to think about this for a while.

Alternative Credit Trade Lines

With our zero credit score in mind, I started the research yesterday to discover what our mortgage process will require. I started by calling our local credit union, which we have held membership in for over 15 years, and I was quickly informed that they will only approve mortgages for people with a 620 credit score or higher.

I hung up the phone feeling a little surprised that our long-term credit union would have no options to give us a mortgage, but I was not discouraged. My next call was to Churchill Home Mortgage.

Churchill Home Mortgage (CHM) was recommended to us by a friend who just bought a beautiful home with a zero credit score. We had also heard of CHM from radio personality and financial coach, Dave Ramsey. Before calling, I browsed the website to see what info they may have for families in the zero credit score situation. I was pleased to find an article that outlined the basic underwriting process for people in our situation. The article said that CHM will do manual underwrites for mortgages and that in the case of a zero credit score, the borrower would need to provide four “alternative credit trade lines.” Since I was not familiar with this term, I decided to call Churchill.

I spoke with a friendly loan officer (we’ll call him Leo) at CHM, who was very helpful and friendly. He informed me that alternative credit trade lines are entities, to which a person makes regular, consistent payments such as rent, utilities, insurance.

“You need at least four alternative credit trade lines to get a mortgage,” Leo told me. “When you are ready to begin the pre-approval process, you will need to provide documentation from each trade line that shows that you have made your payments regularly and on time with no late fees.”

We can do that! I thought to myself. Besides our rent, we can get documentation from our electric company, water provider, car insurance and cable/internet provider.

“My husband and I do not expect to purchase a home until about a year from now. What advice do you have for us at this point in the process?”

Leo suggested that I make sure that both Andy’s name and my name were on all four of our alternative credit trade lines as each of us needed to provide four trade lines individually. It would be okay if they were the same trade lines, but each had to show both of our names. That was a good tip. I made a mental note to check on this. Leo offered some other helpful information regarding down payments, which I will discuss in future posts.

I came away from my conversation with Leo feeling very encouraged. Getting a mortgage with a zero credit score doesn’t sound as complicated as I first thought. Now, our next hurdle is saving for our down payment.

A Zero Credit Score?!

I have to admit that, though we have owned a house in the past, the task of getting a loan, searching for a house, deciding on a house and then closing on a house all sounds like a really daunting, overwhelming task. This process would be intimidating in of itself, but we have one other complication to add to the mix: a zero credit score.

“What?” you may be asking. “How does anyone have a zero credit score?”

The answer is simple; we currently have no debt and no lines of credit. We did purchase our first home with a mortgage. But since we sold that house four years ago, we now have no lines of credit and therefore a zero credit score.

We have scrimped, saved, trimmed fat and worked numerous jobs over our last 15 years of marriage in order to avoid debt besides a mortgage- no student loans, no car loans, no credit cards. For us, debt is not an option.

Now, I have to admit that I have not always been on the debt free plan. My parents taught me to pay cash for purchases. However, I was also taught that upon graduating high school, I should start to build my credit. So during the first week of school my freshman year of college, I signed up for my first credit card. (Free 2 liter of Pepsi anyone?) My plan was to use the credit card for emergencies and when I did use it, to pay the entire balance off each month.

The problem occurred when I became a resident advisor in my dorm my junior year of college. I wanted to host a program in the dorm to welcome all of the new residents, and I wanted to buy some pizzas to share. Of course, I could be reimbursed for the cost of the pizza, but I had to pay the money up front first. So I used my credit card. This became a fairly regular habit during my time as a resident advisor, but the problem was that I was not disciplined enough to take the reimbursement checks, deposit them and use the money to pay off the credit balance. I got lazy, and my bookkeeping was nonexistent. Pretty soon, I was carrying a couple hundred dollar balance and only paying the minimum payment each month.

The crazy thing was that in the process of being undisciplined in my finances, I was actually building an amazing credit score. I was making regular payments on time. Never mind that I didn’t have the money to pay off the balance or that I had no savings. I was still considered a good borrower.

After I graduated college, I finally decided to stop the insanity of the minimum monthly payments and pay the whole thing off. After all, Andy and I were to be married nine months later, and I didn’t want to bring any debt into our marriage. I was able to pay it off in a few months.

When Andy and I purchased our first house three years later, I still had that great credit score, and I still had that open line of credit. It made our mortgage approval process easy, but Andy and I both began to question the credit game. A year or so later, we both decided to close our credit card accounts and to quit the senseless credit score game for good.