Six Month Progress Check

Now that we are about six months into our journey to home ownership, I thought I would provide a quick report on our progress.

The Down Payment

Our biggest goal over the last five months has been to save up money for a down payment. Since we have no credit score, we have been advised to put at least twenty percent down. Making extra money through my side hustle jobs as a personal grocery shopper for Shipt and a test grader for Educational Testing Service has been slower than I would like. Most weeks, I’m only making about $60.

Andy started a job a couple of months ago that came with a pay increase, but the increase has required an increase in living expenses for things like a second car and more expensive medical insurance. Sometimes, I feel a little like the couple in the movie Up who keep having to break open the savings jar to pay for other expenses.

As of today, we are 18% of the way towards our savings goal. Sigh.

Calculating a Mortgage Payment

We used the mortgage calculator on Dave Ramsey’s website to figure out how much of a house we can afford. Ramsey and his team recommend limiting a monthly mortgage payment to no more than 25% of the household take-home pay. He also recommends getting a 15 year fixed mortgage. With these factors, we calculated the price of an affordable home based on our income. This was encouraging news as the area where we want buy currently has several houses for sale in that range. If we decide to go with a 30 year fixed mortgage, we could afford slightly more.

Starting the Wish List

On a more fun note, Andy and I have begun to talk about what features we really want in a house. We are not picky home owners. We have no visions of moving into a Flip or Flop remodeled gem. Shag carpet, formica counter tops and popcorn ceilings are things we can tolerate. Here is our current list of must-haves and wishes:

Must haves:

  1. at least three bedrooms
  2. at least one and a half bathrooms
  3. a back yard that can easily accommodate a medium sized swing set
  4. a garage (any size)

Wish list:

  1. single level
  2. mature trees
  3. a screened in porch or a porch that could easily be screened in
  4. open kitchen, dining living area

Free Printable!

My brilliant, creative sister, Kim, has created a handy meal plan worksheet. I like it so much that I have printed it, framed it, and hung it on my kitchen wall to use like a dry erase board. You could also attach some magnets to the back of the frame to hang it on the fridge, or you can simply print a new one each week. It’s a quick, handy reference for me to look at before I head to the store or when the kids start asking, “What’s for dinner?”

The great news is that Kim is making this free printable available to all of our subscribers! If you want to grab your copy, simply click the subscribe button in the left margin and check your inbox for the welcome email. You can view and purchase Kim’s entire home organization pack by clicking here.

March Meal Plan Madness!

Welcome to March meal plan madness!

To be honest, planning meals each week is one of my least favorite tasks. I run out of creativity and often get stuck in a rut of the same meals over and over again. However, I am committed to making weekly meal plans, because it is the best way for me to avoid overspending at the grocery store. Like I mention in this post, spending less each month means that Andy and I can save more money for a down payment.

In honor of the Final Four coming to San Antonio this weekend, I thought I would post our meal plan for March.

Here’s a few quick notes about my meal plans:
  1. I only plan dinners. We eat much of the same thing for breakfast (eggs, toast, cereal, oatmeal) and lunch (peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, mac and cheese, grilled cheese, leftovers), so I already know what items I need to buy for breakfast and lunch.
  2. We only eat meat for dinner 2-3 times a week. We like to save money by eating more vegetarian meals, but we also like the way our bodies feel after eating a vegetarian meal.
  3. I usually only plan one week of meals in one sitting. This calendar shows the past four weeks of planning.

Let the madness begin!

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday

Sunday

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

1

2

3

potato soup, apple-cinnamon muffins and salad pizza and salad veggie frittata, polenta and salad

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

sloppy joe and roasted potatoes spaghetti with artichoke hearts, bread and salad vegetarian tiki masala, rice and salad tacos, corn and Spanish rice veggie burgers, roasted potatoes and salad pizza and salad hot dogs, baked beans, potato salad and carrot sticks

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

Take out from Subway 🙂 spaghetti, bread and salad burrito bowls pork chops, mashed sweet potatoes and salad veggie frittata, corn muffins and salad pizza and salad roast chicken, mashed potatoes and a green vegetable

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

veggie burgers, baked potatoes and raw veggies (ie: carrot sticks, cucumber slices and cut bell pepper) breakfast tacos and Spanish rice pulled pork sandwiches, homemade mac and cheese and coleslaw pesto chicken pasta (using leftover chicken from roast) and salad teriyaki veggies and rice pizza and salad tacos, corn and Spanish rice

25

26

27

28

29

30

31

pasta, bread and salad burrito bowls hot dogs, baked beans and potato salad veggie lasagna and salad leftovers 🙂 pizza and salad BBQ chicken, sweet potatoes and corn

Join the madness and let me know how you like to meal plan by leaving a comment below!

Credit Temptation

I felt it last week: the temptation to get a credit card.

It all started in a harmless way. In anticipation of summer, I was thinking about how nice it would be to escape the Texas heat and go visit family in the temperate Northeast. The girls and I have a very flexible schedule in the summer, and we love quality time with family.

The problem is that we live several states away from them. Going to visit family requires either a two-day drive or an easy three hour flight. Of course, our mad dash to save for a down payment means forgoing luxuries like air travel. Or does it?

Enter the timely mailing from Southwest Airlines reminding me that we are frequent flyer members. It tells me that I can earn more miles by applying for and using their handy Southwest credit card. In fact, when I am approved for the card, I will automatically get enough points to cover two round trip tickets to any where in the Continental US!

I imagine stepping off the plane in Pittsburgh and feeling fresh and energized with two happy children rolling their suitcases in tow.

 

Poof! A little red demon complete with pitchfork and pointy beard appears on my left shoulder. His voice is smooth and reassuring.

“Don’t worry,” he says. “You can pay the balance off each month. You won’t even accumulate debt. You’ll just earn frequent flyer miles while making regular purchases.”

“Wait!” an angel on my other shoulder shrieks. (The angel strongly resembles Andy.) “What are you thinking? You’ve been through the credit game before, and you know that most people don’t win.”

I remember the credit card debt that I quickly accumulated as a college student. (You can read the full story on this post.) That credit card made it easy to buy without being aware of how much I was spending and how much I owed. Before I knew it, I had maxed it out.

The demon presses his pitchfork into my shoulder. “Don’t listen to him. Think about all of the visits that you can take to see family. Think about skipping all of those hours in the car and flying in comfort.”

“Think about the hidden fees,” the angel rebuts. “Think about the non-usage fees. Think about the credit card companies getting rich on people’s poor financial decisions.”

Poof! The angel and the demon disappear, and I come back to my senses.

The angel is right. I can’t resist the temptation to overspend with a credit card in my wallet. The credit industry is a multi-billion dollar industry that is built on the understanding that people will buy what they can’t afford or don’t realize they can’t afford.

This summer will not bring easy, breezy flights to visit family, but at least I won’t be stressed out over spending too much on credit.

 

The Drive to Save

During the summer breaks of my college years, I, along with hundreds of other university students from across the country, participated in a Christian leadership training program in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. We worked together at various establishments, lived together, learned Christian leadership skills together, and so forth. Twice each week, the students crowded into an area church (thankfully, outfitted with crisp air conditioning) and a pastor addressed us about any number of topics: evangelism, servant leadership, maintaining a Christian witness in college, and many others.

One time my pastor took up the topic of marriage. His delivery was capital, and, because he was speaking to hundreds of young adults about a topic that we all desired to experience, he held our rapt attention. The most memorable part of his comments was a story about a young man he had mentored. The young man was convinced he had found his future bride. Knowing the young lady, my pastor supported their union. But there was a condition: “You need to save $10,000 before you ask her to marry you.” When I heard this statement, I expected the story to end by my pastor saying the fellow required several years to accumulate that sum. I was wrong. Driven by his desire to marry, the young man saved every cent in short order. The story demonstrates that, when the longing is present, money can be saved quickly.

Thankfully, Ginny and I are not saving to marry. But we, like the romantic in my story, are driven. And drive is a major requirement in saving.

We have received some helpful advice in the area of saving from Dave Ramsey and his team. Click here to sign-up for a five day email series from Ramsey that is chockfull of tips on saving for a down payment.

How has your drive helped you save? Share your story below in the comments.

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. Click here to sign up for the five-day email series that is chockfull of tips to save for a down payment.

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!