Lessons on Finances, Lessons on Grace

The following post contains affiliate links. I also received a copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review. For my full disclosure, click here. 

If I had to describe Erin Odom in one word, it would be gracious. I don’t do everything exactly the same way that she does, but I never feel demeaned by her writing. In the present climate of the internet, that can be a rare quality! When I discovered that Erin was writing a book, I knew I would enjoy reading it.

More Than Just Making It is part memoir and part practical tips for learning how to do more than just scrape by. Those who are struggling with their finances will be encouraged by the Odom family’s story of making it out of low income living. However, even those who are currently doing just fine financially will benefit from reading this book. Erin addresses common misconceptions about people who are low income and challenges the idea that “only bad or irresponsible people need assistance.”

As a result of reading this book, I learned several lessons about finances, and about living with grace.

Lesson #1: Buying a house might not make your dreams come true. Houses are not inherently bad things, but they are huge investments that should be considered carefully before making the plunge. We have the idea as a culture that renting is “throwing away money,” but it’s far better than being saddled with a mortgage that you can’t afford and a house you can’t sell. Ultimately, buying a house at the wrong time created a lot of heartache for the author’s family.

In retrospect, we should have rented longer and saved for a larger down payment, which would have prevented us from eventually being stuck with an underwater mortgage and a home we couldn’t sell during one of the worst economic crises of our nation’s history. – Erin Odom

Dave Ramsey has a great article about the right time to buy a house, which you can read here.

Lesson #2: We become more gracious when we are aware.

When describing a financial planning class that she took with her husband, Erin wrote, “And he was annoyed that the rest of the class looked at $50,000 a year as a ‘lower’ income while we were making it on less than half of that.”

Now, I live in the same state as the author and I was aware that we are poorly ranked in teacher pay, but I honestly didn’t know that it was quite THAT bad!

More Than Just Making It also discusses the issue of making assumptions about people. Many people don’t know that foster children get WIC benefits, even if the foster family they are currently staying with does not get WIC for themselves. Foster kids have been through a lot and need the help. However, this can lead to situations like the following…

You see a family with normal groceries in their cart. They have some cheese, peanut butter, and milk. But they also have a DVD. The woman pays for the food with WIC, and then buys the DVD out of pocket.

Those people! you think to yourself. Abusing the system! Welfare queens! Sucking up our tax dollars! Ugh!

But in reality…you can’t know everything about this family from one brief encounter in the checkout line. If the woman was a foster parent, she may have wanted to get the child a treat. There is really nothing wrong with that. You just. can’t. know.

Lesson #3: Money alone doesn’t solve all of life’s problems. 

Money can buy many things, and we certainly do need it, but money can’t buy contentment. Without contentment, no amount of money will ever seem like enough.

more than just making it

More Than Just Making It encourages the reader to see the little things as “kisses from Jesus,” which is another way of saying blessings. Perhaps you found a really great deal on something your family desperately needed. Maybe someone brought you some dinner. These small things breathe encouragement into a weary soul. My fellow launch team members and I are using the hashtag #kissesfromJesus to share stories of those little gifts from God. Feel free to join us!

Lesson #4: You can spend time or you can spend money. Which is better depends on your situation. 

Using coupons or cooking from scratch does save money. They cost time and effort. In the author’s situation, she was staying home with young children and had time to do things like cook from scratch, meal plan, and hunt for bargains at thrift stores. I wrote a post about things I cook from scratch and things that I still buy. Sometimes it’s worth it, and sometimes it’s not.

Buying used is another good way to save money. I love consignment sales. The key is to keep a list of what you need and your children’s sizes. You don’t want to buy something that you don’t need just because it’s a good deal. You can always save 100% by refusing to buy things that you don’t need. 😉 Hunting through consignment sales or thrift stores takes longer than shopping in a regular store, but if you have more time than money it’s worth it.

Lesson #5: Budgets need to be detailed. Very, very detailed.

Erin lists her family’s budget categories, which are detailed with incredible precision. It made me think about my own budget and tweaks that I’d like to make. Ideally, you should have a zero-sum budget in which every dollar is accounted for. There are several apps available that can help you track your finances more closely. We use Mint for our family.

Lesson #6: There is a way out if you are struggling with finances. 

It might require a career change, making radical cuts to your budget, or having both spouses work for some period of time. The book goes into various income generating options and the pros and cons of each one. The author and her husband worked various side jobs for a while before they landed on the solution that was right for their family. Today, they have made it out of poverty and are even able to send their kids to Christian school.

More Than Just Making It will be released on September 5, 2017. If you’re reading this before then, check out the preorder bonuses at morethanjustmakingit.com. There are over $220 worth of bonuses – just for preordering!

More Than Just Making It will be available at Amazon, Target, Christian Book Distributors, Barnes & Noble, and Books a Million. 

She Isn’t Doing it All…And Neither Am I!

comparison

Pinterest is a blessing. I taught myself how to cook mostly using recipes and tips from Pinterest. Cooking is a useful skill, and it’s far easier to learn in the digital age. Millions of bits of information are available for free. Even if we already know how to cook, we never have to get tired of eating the same old thing. A new recipe is just a click away.

For all its benefits though, Pinterest can also feel more like a curse. Have you ever found yourself overwhelmed at the sheer number of things “everyone” is doing?

Eating all organic. Running marathons. Making busy bags. Going screen free. Going processed foods free. Making an income from home. Cooking everything from scratch. Having a lot of children. Homeschooling. Curating the perfect home decor. Spending $10 a week on groceries for a family of 67. Okay, maybe that last one is an exaggeration!

Comparison is the thief of joy. – President Theodore Roosevelt

You would think I would have this down by now, but I still find myself falling into the comparison trap. I helped to launch a book on this very subject earlier this summer. And…I still fail.

As the old hymn goes, Prone to wander, Lord I feel it…

I follow a very large blogger who seems like a really sweet person. I really do believe that she is and admire many of her qualities. But she does NOT do everything. Her blog is her family’s sole source of income, which means her husband does not work outside of the home and he does a lot of cooking and child care. They do not have any babies or toddlers. They have a house cleaner who comes in periodically.

Once I realized that, it was freeing. How often have we compared ourselves to something that isn’t even reality?

With that in mind, I want to share with you what I do…and what I DON’T. My goal is for this blog to never be a source of guilt. I want you to feel encouraged and equipped, and never torn down.

Things I Do:

Things I Do NOT Do!

  • I do not have a large family. I have one toddler.
  • My one child is not involved in any extra-curricular activities. People with older children often spend time driving them to their various activities. We are not in that season of life yet.
  • I do not homeschool. I have a 1 year old and I do not believe that formal school is necessary at that age. I just parent.
  • We do not eat all organic.
  • I make a very small amount of income from my blog, but it is not the primary income source in my home. Not even close. I’m perfectly okay with that, because I need to put a lot of time and energy into parenting right now.
  • I don’t do much of anything with home decor. The decorations in my home are all either repurposed from my wedding, or they were gifts.
  • I do not get up at 5 AM every morning. I struggle with being anemic and sleep is important if I’m going to be able to chase my toddler all day.
  • I do not blog after my son goes to bed at night. That’s my husband time and I’m not willing to give that up.

What do you do? What do you skip? Let me know in the comments! 

A Simple Method for a Sink that Sparkles!

by Davi, Guest Contributor

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in keeping a clean home is the power of homemaking habits. Repeating the small, boring chores makes a big impact on your home. Intentional habits allow us to better organize our time. They allow us to spend less time with chores and more time with family.

Morning and evening routines are important because they enable us to start the day with a purpose, rather than reacting to what the day brings. My morning list includes making the bed and wiping down the bathroom counters. In the evenings, my list includes cleaning the high chair, sorting the mail, and cleaning the kitchen sink. Every evening after dinner, I rinse the sink and empty it of any dishes. The sink is the heart of the kitchen, and when my sink is clean, my whole kitchen feels clean.

Once a week, the kitchen becomes the focus during the day. This is the day I wipe down appliances, straighten the pantry, clean out the fridge, and deep clean the kitchen sink. Cleaning the sink last feels like the frosting on the cake- the last step when I give myself a pat on the back and admire the room.

Steps for a Stainless Steel Sink that Shines

Step 1: Quick Clean the Basin
Using warm water and a sponge, rinse out the sink to remove any food particles and empty the strainers.

Step 2: Scrub the Basin
Sprinkle baking soda in the basin and scrub in a circular motion with a soft sponge. This will remove any stuck on stains, but is gentle enough that the baking soda won’t damage your sink. Don’t forget the area around the disposal and to scrub the strainers as well.

Step 3: Remove Hard Water Stains with Vinegar
White vinegar is one of my favorite cleaning tools. It’s an excellent way to remove hard water stains, soap scum, and a great general use cleaner. I keep a 50/50 mixture of water/white vinegar in a squirt bottle for cleaning purposes. Spray the vinegar into the sink (the baking soda/vinegar mixture will fizz) and then rinse with warm water.

Step 4: Clean the Garbage Disposal
My favorite way to freshen up the garbage disposal is to drop a slice of lemon into it and turn the disposal on. The lemon cleans while also making the disposal smell great. We have a lemon tree in our backyard so we always have frozen lemons in the freezer.
Another easy, inexpensive way to clean your disposal is a garbage disposal refresher. The DIY refreshers contain ingredients you most likely already have.
Finally, using a dishcloth or paper towel, dry your sink basin.

Step 5: Make it Shine
The last step is my favorite because it makes my sink look brand new. Buff the sink basin with a dish cloth or paper towel using baby oil (olive oil also works great too).

Avoid These Mistakes With Your Stainless Steel Sink

  • Don’t leave wet sponges or rags on the sink to dry. This can cause bacteria to grow and leaves water stains. Rubber dish pads should be taken out to dry for the same reason.
  • Steel wool or steel brushes are too abrasive for your sink and can cause permanent scratches.
  • Leaving dirty items in the sink can cause stains that are difficult to remove. Wash dishes as soon as possible.
  • Don’t use bleach in your sink. I’ve made this mistake by soaking clothes in the sink in a bleach mixture. The sink will look very clean afterward, but over time the bleach will remove the finish.

Following these steps will leave you with a sparkling sink that looks immaculate!

What is your “must do” chore in the kitchen?

Davi writes at Homegrown Simplicity about intentional living, motherhood, and minimalism. She is passionate about helping mothers find joy in the ordinary by removing the clutter from their homes, minds, and life. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter for simple living inspiration.

How to Crisis Clean

This post contains affiliate links. For my full disclosure, click here. 

clean a disaster

I know what you’re thinking. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to crisis clean. We would have habits and routines and the house would never be completely out of control!

I completely agree. However, when we’re completely honest, most of us have had times where our homes were completely out of control. My son got the stomach bug last winter, and that was one of those times for me. I dropped everything else to take care of him. That was good and the right thing to do, but my home needed some serious help when he was better.

I had kept all of the sheets clean, but other than that? Oh man. Toys on the floor, dishes piled all over the counters, unsorted mail on the table…you get the idea.

Honestly, sometimes our homes are out of control because of laziness. I’ve been there. When we’ve lost control, a sense of overwhelm hits us as soon as we walk in the door. When my home has been in that state, it’s not a place of rest any more. It’s a place of stress that makes me feel frazzled.

But we don’t have to live this way. By doing a few basic tasks, we can make a huge impact on our homes…and on our sanity.

How to Crisis Clean:

Throw away trash. Hopefully everything made it into the trash can during the crisis. If it didn’t, dealing with trash is the best way to start. Dave Ramsey’s Baby Step plan for getting one’s finances in order is designed to give you a psychological “win” quickly. He suggests saving $1,000 in an emergency fund before you do anything else. When you feel you’ve been successful at one step, it gives you motivation to continue. Dealing with the trash first is the same principle.

Catch up on your dishes. It’s okay if you have to run the dishwasher more than once in one day. When I have it together, we don’t need to run it more than once a day because we have a small family. But life happens.

While the dishwasher is running, sweep your kitchen and wipe the counters.

Run one load of laundry. It starts with one load. I generally do one load a day. Depending on how long the crisis lasted, you might need to do more to get back on track. It’s okay. I wash all of my sheets, towels, and bathroom rugs after we’ve been sick.

Clean the sink and the toilet. In my opinion, these are the highest priority areas in your bathroom. The sink tends to collect hair, toothpaste remnants, and other gross things. We won’t go into detail about the toilet. If you have little boys, the floor around the toilet is also high priority.

Your house won’t be 100% perfectly clean just from these things, but it will be better. Better is good. Especially when you’re coming out of a crisis.

To download a printable checklist to help you get out of crisis mode in your home, click the button below.

The One Thing You Need for This Summer

 

get a bikini body

This post contains affiliate links. I also received a copy of this book for free for the purposes of review. All opinions are my own. See full disclosure here. 

I remember the first time my body image took a hit. It was nearly 15 years ago, but I still remember it vividly. I was at Awana one Wednesday night in 4th grade. As the other girls chattered, I quietly washed my hands. One girl had gotten her ears pierced recently, so everyone was pulling their hair back and showing off their earrings.

I did not have pierced ears, but I subconsciously pushed my hair behind my ears so it would be out of my face.

Laura, you have such little ears! Look at her ears, they’re TINY!

I pulled my hair back over my now red ears and tried to maintain a sense of dignity as I walked out of the church bathroom.

Now, this was a really stupid incident that probably shouldn’t have bothered me, but it did. And you know what? I didn’t get my ears pierced because I was so self-conscious about them and I thought earrings would draw more attention to their weird size.

Would you like to know how long it took me to get over that? EIGHT YEARS. Unfortunately, I’m not kidding.

I attended a Christian university. Among the freshmen, perhaps the most infamous course was “women’s evangelism.” I personally did not take this course, but one of my friends did. And it drove her insane.

“I am a BEAUTIFUL creation of GOD!” she told me in a sing-song tone. “We have to say that at the beginning of every class. Just ugh.”

After a while, my friend started saying “I am a depraved wretch saved only by the grace of God.” (She’s a rebel like that).

While I dodged the bullet of taking that particular class, the ideas presented are fairly common in Christian culture.

It’s what’s inside that counts.

Everyone is beautiful in their own way.

Every woman who regularly attends church has heard those two things approximately 872439 times. And if they’re like me, they tuned out on the subject around age 14.

Compared to Who? by Heather Creekmore takes a different approach to these issues. Instead of telling the reader that she just needs more self-esteem, she deals with the root cause of body image issues: idolatry.

“I didn’t realize how my body image issues kept me bound and, truthfully, dead. I couldn’t experience the freedom of new life in Christ because I was held captive to the belief my answer was in fixing my appearance. I tried to justify myself by making my ouside pretty enough to earn acceptance. It’s been my experience that a lot of self-named “good girls” like me never ventured into obvious rebellion, yet still engage in a desperate search or worth, value, and joy in ways contrary to God’s plan.” – Heather Creekmore, Compared to Who, p. 75

Buckle your seatbealts, friends. It’s a convicting ride.

My favorite part of the book was when Heather contrasted the modern concept of self-esteem with what the Bible actually says about loving God, our neighbors, and ourselves. While I have grown up in the church and have heard countless discussions about self-esteem, Compared to Who gave me some ideas that I had never heard.

When we battle body image, there is a root issue at work. When we say things like “Oh my goodness, you’re so skinny! I hate you,” we’re committing the sin of envy. When we covet what another has, we are sinning. When we think that being thin would be that ONE THING that would make us happy, we’re making that one thing an idol: something that we serve instead of God.

Friend, if you claim Christ as your Savior, if you say you are saved, I want you to ask yourself, honestly, if you’ve really allowed Him to rescue all of you. Do you believe He can help you with your body image issues? Do you believe He can replace your affections with a greater affection for Him? Do you believe that you can find true and transcendent joy and peace in Him alone, or do you still think that maybe one of your idols will deliver? – Heather Creekmore, Compared to Who, p. 119

Until we’re honest with ourselves about our sin, we will never be free from the shackles of the comparison trap.

The key distinctive of Compared to Who is a focus on the root issues paired with an emphasis on Scriptural truths that point the reader towards the Lord and how He would want us to live. At the same time, it’s not confusing or technical. I would recommend this book for Christian women of all ages. Moms of teens may want to preview, since there is a mention of sex towards the end of the book.

Compared to Who is being released TODAY, June 13th, 2017. It can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Christianbook.com, and wherever Christian books are sold. To learn more about the author, Heather Creekmore, check out her blog at comparedtowho.me.

                   

Married By His Grace

The Not-So-Sweet Facts about Sugar

This post contains affiliate links. For my full disclosure, click here. 

Sugar has virtually no nutritional value, yet it is added to thousands of products. According to the University of California San Francisco, added sugar is present in 74% of the packaged foods in your grocery store.  This isn’t just added sugar in obvious places like puddings or ice cream. Added sugar is present in breads, ketchup, yogurt, and even the organic salsa at my favorite grocery store. Many people are consuming far more sugar than they think they are because a large portion of the sugar is hidden.

“Healthy” Foods Still Have Sugar

Even products which are marketed as being healthier aren’t immune from this phenomenon. I recently picked up a box of Almond and Coconut Fruit Nut bars at my local Aldi, only to find that cane sugar was the second ingredient. You could argue that cane sugar might be better than its GMO counterparts, but cane sugar still spikes the blood sugar. When a person’s blood sugar spikes and crashes repeatedly, insulin resistance can develop.

Insulin Resistance Causes Health Problems

Insulin resistance is a condition that tends to lead to type 2 diabetes. Scientists have not established the precise cause of insulin resistance, but we know that lifestyle factors may help. What we do know is that being insulin resistant makes it more difficult for your body to maintain normal levels of glucose and insulin on its own. For a better and more scientific explanation, see this article from the National Institute of Diabetes and and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.  Please keep in mind that I’m not a medical professional. 🙂

Check Your Labels!

Label reading isn’t just for people with allergies. The ingredients are listed in order of amount from greatest to least. Therefore, if sugar is the second ingredient, it’s likely that there is a substantial amount of sugar in the food. Nutrition labels also list the number of grams of sugar per serving. Personally, I don’t stress out if it’s only 1 gram per serving.

Sugar goes by many names – and none of them are really great for you. There are at least 61 different names for sugar that appear on food labels. Some of the most common are sucrose, high fructose corn syrup (check out your labels – this is in everything!), dextrose, and maltodextrin.

In the 1980s, eating a low-fat diet became popular. Many packaged low-fat products became available, such as yogurt. However, removing the fat tends to leave the food with a worse taste than its full-fat counterpart. In response, food manufacturers began putting more added sugar in the low-fat versions of food. It’s understandable, but now we have products like Yoplait original strawberry yogurt, which has almost no fat…but 26 grams of sugar in a 6 ounce container.  That’s more grams than a Twinkie.

We are not called to live with a spirit of fear, but we are called to be discerning. I don’t believe that there is any one diet that is perfect for all people. Someone who is active and has a high metabolism like my husband needs more carbs than someone who is diabetic can handle. Even so, most people benefit from lowering the amount of sugar in their diet. I hope this information has been helpful!

Motherhood in Light of Eternity {Motherhood Matters Series: Part Five}

The following post contains affiliate links. For my full disclosure, click here.

motherhood in light of eternity

This is the final installment of the Motherhood Matters series.

Part One: Motherhood and the Gospel

Part Two: Focusing on Truth

Part Three: When Things Don’t Go Our Way

Part Four: Finding Your Value as a Person

I awoke to my cheerful alarm, grabbed my computer and my coffee, and sat down to write. As soon as I opened my browser, I heard my baby.

“MAMAAAAAAA!” he shrieked in his distinctive 10 month old voice.

Maybe he’ll go back to sleep, I thought. He usually sleeps more than an hour later than this.

Nope. After a few attempts at soothing, I saw the futility of my efforts and recognized that he was indeed up for the day. I had hoped to write an entire blog post. I hadn’t written a single word.

Such incidents happen regularly around my home. On the day that this particular episode happened, he also refused to nap when it was nap time.  I confess that sometimes I don’t think joyful thoughts when things don’t go as planned. A lot of women struggle with feeling as if their work doesn’t matter. Personally, I have a hard time with the fact that I do the exact same things over and over, and they never stay done. There is always another diaper or another dish.

The feeling of monotony leads to a feeling of futility or worthlessness. By its very nature, staying home with a baby is isolating. I’m blessed to have a mom friend who I text often. She lives in another state, but she understands what I tell her.

I recently heard a friend say that she feels like mothering just isn’t enough. I think we all relate to that at some point, whether we admit it to others or not. Moms get tired!

How shall then shall we stay motivated? How do we focus on what matters when it seems impossible?

As I was doing housework one day, a phrase popped into my mind: Motherhood in light of eternity.

What does that mean? It means focusing on the end of the story. Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, said “Begin with the end in mind.” His quote is generally used in a business context, but it applies to mothering as well.

The fact of the matter is this: the only thing that I will take into eternity is my family, if they are saved. Each moment with my son is an opportunity for discipleship. When I read his story Bible to him, I’m planting the seeds of knowledge about God. When I pick up a Cheerio off of the floor for the millionth time, I’m showing him love. When I pray over him after I put him in his crib for the night, I’m asking God to show me how to parent him (believe me, I need the help).

I did some cool things before I entered the season of marriage and motherhood. I was ranked second in speaker points at a national debate tournament. I interned in Washington, DC. I graduated summa cum laude from college. I worked at a job that I loved. I’m proud of these things and the effort that went into them, and that isn’t inherently bad. As cool as they are though, they do not matter as much as the soul I’m shaping now.

I want my son to follow God, even when it’s scary. I want my son to be in a Scripture saturated home. I want my son to remember a mom who was filled with joy, even in the midst of the mundane.

And that is what ultimately matters.

but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD. – Joshua 24:15b KJV

I’m linking up to Salt & Light.