Suzy & Spice

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Archive for the ‘frugal living’ Category

Book review: ‘Your Money God’s Way’ by Amie Streater

Posted by Suzy Taylor Oakley on November 1, 2010

In the 16 years I have been reading about personal finance (specifically, debt-free living), I have read a lot of books, studies, articles and scriptures on the topic and have gathered a ton of tips and advice.

And after the umpteenth book, I’ve been tempted to conclude, “You’ve read one get-out-of-debt-book, you’ve read them all.”

Amie Streater’s “Your Money God’s Way: Overcoming the 7 Money Myths that Keep Christians Broke” is different. But in a surprising way.

She uses words like “stupid,” “annoying” and “creeped out.” The woman doesn’t pull any punches. She tells it like it is.

And, while I am guilty of being brutally blunt at times (not as much as I used to, praise God), this woman takes the prize.

But once you get over the shock of reading sentences such as, “That’s the stupidest thing I have ever heard!” you grow to appreciate her candor.

She’s the Dr. Phil of Christian debt counseling.

And, yes, she is a Christian counselor – an “associate pastor for financial stewardship” who has met with countless individuals and couples who have screwed up their lives with bad money decisions.

(Haven’t we all screwed up royally in one way or another?)

Streater’s style may be blunt, but she offers solutions. She points out our “counterfeit convictions” and counters them with biblical wisdom, citing scripture to back up her advice. Many of those verses talk of God’s grace and his abundant love for us. He doesn’t want us to “live in chaos, frustration, lack, and debt,” she concludes.

And Streater doesn’t just talk the talk. She has walked the walk and lived to tell about it.

After all, God uses the fears and foibles we have overcome (with His help) to lead others to the light.

This book gives light. You’ll profit by reading it.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in books, debt-proof living, frugal living, God, money, reading, religion | 1 Comment »

Pipe dream

Posted by Suzy Taylor Oakley on January 31, 2009

kitchen-pipe

I was turning off the dishwasher this morning (to save electricity, I turn it off when it reaches the drying cycle), and I stepped in water.

I just knew I was going to have a dishwasher repair bill in my near future. But it was simply a pipe under the sink that had rusted through. My finger felt a little opening along the bottom, but when I started twisting it off, it broke in two in my hand.

Thank goodness the nearby Stanley Hardware opens early on Saturdays. They always take really good care of me there. When I left, they said they’d see me again today (“You’re doing plumbing; you’ll be back” – they were quite confident), and I so wanted to prove them wrong. And I did.

Making the repair, I had a moment when I thought I had bought the wrong-length pipe and would have to return to the store (and eat crow), but I was able to make it work! It was fixed in less than 5 minutes. I didn’t even have to dig out a wrench.

And this $8.27 plumbing problem had unplanned but happy consequences. It made me take a good look around at the house. I realized it had been several weeks (ok, months) since I had mopped the kitchen floor. After I swept and mopped, I got a lot more done (vacuuming, taking the rest of the Christmas decorations downstairs, paring down our collection of cleaning products and corresponding empty containers, and more).

And tonight I’m updating our budget. Bruce got word last week that he has been approved for disability, a process that took only five months vs. the 2 years we expected it to take. We’ve even gotten a check already. An answer to a lot of prayers (a big thanks to those of you who said them). So now we can start digging ourselves out of the hole.

I’ll go get the shovel.

Posted in frugal living, home | 5 Comments »

Worship Fully. Spend Less. Give More. Love All.

Posted by Suzy Taylor Oakley on January 3, 2009

I’ve been behind on reading my favorite blogs these past few months. I wish I had run across this video that Alison posted a couple of weeks before Christmas, but its message is relevant any time of year.

After you watch it, visit Advent Conspiracy and get inspired.

Happy New Year (and happy anniversary to my sweetie and me – 11 years today!).

Posted in family, frugal living, God, holiday, inspiration, reaching out | Leave a Comment »

Not crazy for catalogs?

Posted by Suzy Taylor Oakley on December 26, 2008

Too much junk mail piling up on the table by your front door? Too much temptation to whip out the credit card and buy that fabulous new (insert name of fashion item or electronic gadget) when you look at catalogs? Too little time to sort through the stack and shred the pages containing personal info? And, most important, want to stop merchants from killing all those trees?

Have I got a site for you!

Via Catalog Choice, you can register your preferences with retailers who send you unwanted catalogs.

Just today, we received a catalog from The Container Store, and I have no idea how we got on that mailing list (it was addressed to Bruce, who never signs up for anything). Maybe the company’s marketers just blanketed the region because there’s a new store in Little Rock. Who knows, but we don’t need or want their catalogs.

Darn it all, The Container Store isn’t on the list of participating merchants, but others who pester me with catalogs are. And if a merchant isn’t a participant, you can still register your preference. Catalog Choice will keep track of it for future reference. Here’s what they say about merchants that aren’t listed:

“If you can’t find the catalog(s) you are looking for, please help us by suggesting them for inclusion in our database. Just go to the Find Catalogs screen, and click the “Suggest a catalog” link at the top, and enter your catalog title. (This is more efficient than emailing them to us.)”

I’ve poked around the site for a while this evening, and I’m so excited that it exists. Even though some of my merchants aren’t listed there, I recognized the names of many major retailers, some of which I know you receive catalogs from. I’m adding the URL to my favorite links on the right, so if you forget to bookmark it you can always come back here to find it.

So check it out and save a tree (or three).

Posted in environment, frugal living | Leave a Comment »

Homeless

Posted by Suzy Taylor Oakley on September 9, 2008

Our community is holding a Homeless Outreach Event this weekend. Click here to find out how you can help. And join us Saturday under the Broadway Bridge in Little Rock.

And if you want to look at being poor in a way you haven’t looked at it before, click here. When you’re finished, maybe it will make you pause the next time you’re tempted to think “we” are very different from “them.”

Posted in frugal living, inspiration, reaching out, volunteering | Leave a Comment »

Cardholders’ Bill of Rights

Posted by Suzy Taylor Oakley on March 15, 2008

I received this e-mail from Consumer Reports, which I subscribe to online. Note that I have not checked out the legislation the letter refers to, so I am not recommending yes or no on contacting your lawmakers to support the Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights. I will comment on it more later, when I know more about it.

Dear Suzy,

x

Bank of America recently announced interest rate increases, even for responsible card customers — some people reported new rates as high as 28%! And the bank didn’t make it easy to object.

x

To decline the rate hike, the bank required card holders to write a letter agreeing to stop using the card and pay off the existing balance at the old rate, according to news reports. They couldn’t telephone, nor did Bank of America provide a form or a return envelope to help meet the short deadline. If the company didn’t get a quick response, rates would automatically rise.

x

Bank of America is not the only bank to hit card holders with high rates and fees. Banks get to raise your interest rates, as well as the fees they charge for most services, because fine print clauses in your credit card contracts allow it. They don’t even have to tell you why they did it.

x

Tell Congress to protect card holders from unfair rate hikes, exorbitant penalty fees and other fine print “gotchas.”

x

As the economy softens, some Wall Street analysts believe that big banks want to make up their investment losses by raising rates to good credit card customers.

x

A bill proposed in Congress would help rein in that practice and limit other “gotchas.” The bill would protect cardholders against arbitrary interest rate increases; hidden interest charges, due date traps and more.

x

This bill is long past due! Tell your lawmakers that you support the Cardholders’ Bill of Rights.

x

And please, take one more moment to forward this message to people you know who use credit cards so they can join you in action for reform, too!

x

Sincerely,
Jim Guest
President
Consumers Union of the U.S.
101 Truman Avenue
Yonkers, NY 10703-1057

What I will say is that this is a kick in the pants: If you have debt, get rid of it! Because you know that this company is not the only one that is dreaming up new ways to profit from us.

Give me your tips on living debt free.

Posted in debt-proof living, frugal living, money | Leave a Comment »

Are you smarter than a 6-year-old?

Posted by Suzy Taylor Oakley on February 28, 2008

Taking inspiration from Berit’s post, I want to ask you four of the questions she asked her son, plus one question of my own (I added #3). The answers below are mine. For Cole’s answers, you’ll have to read Berit’s post. Berit, care to share any more of Cole’s school questions?

1) If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you like to go?
Australia, especially Ayers Rock and Sydney Harbor.

2) If you could be anybody else for a day, who would you be?
The person who gets to test flavors at an ice cream company.

3) What job would you least like to have?
Cleaning up road kill.

4) What else do you like to read besides books?
a) My friends’ blogs. No, seriously. I was going to say cereal boxes (to indicate that my love of reading is so intense that I will read just about anything), but blogs are more interesting, especially the ones written by my friends. It’s such a great new way of getting to know people you see maybe once a week. I have gotten to know Berit more through our blogs than anywhere else. b) News. c) Articles and essays on writing and editing, on words and how to use them well. d) Personal-finance stuff. I like to find ways to teach people how to make the most of their “treasures on earth.” e) The Bible. It’s the best source of inspiration, information, encouragement, training, correction and Truth you could ever ask for.

5) Do you think you’re smart?
I’m smart enough to know that’s a loaded question.

Now it’s your turn …

Posted in books, friends, frugal living, fun, humor, inspiration | 1 Comment »

Your money counts

Posted by Suzy Taylor Oakley on February 19, 2008

The way you handle your day-to-day cash speaks volumes about your money personality. So says this article from bankrate.com. And I agree.

I watch our financial accounts pretty closely. Not in an insecure way (although I’m sure some would argue that point) but in a way that says, “I don’t want this to get out of hand like I’ve seen happen with other people.” I’m a volunteer budget coach with Crown Financial Ministries. I’ve seen all kinds of money behavior, rationalizations and states of denial.

And I read lots and lots of articles on personal finance, debt, the evils of credit cards, you name it.

Being in denial will not help your situation, no matter how bad it is. In my reading, in my conversations with people in debt, and sometimes even in my own situation, I have found that not knowing is worse than knowing – even when the bottom line is lower than you had imagined.

I used to update our Quicken accounts almost daily. But with the busyness of life, that has fallen to the bottom of the priority list lately. And it is uncomfortable knowing the backlog is getting out of hand. When I finally get back to it, the updating can seem overwhelming. So I do what any normal person would do: I procrastinate even more.

But it doesn’t go away just because I ignore it. So when I buckle down and get the records current, it is so freeing. I feel almost euphoric, even when our balances are close to zero! At least I know where we stand.

One of the first things we do in our Crown counseling is encourage the counselees to write down every penny they spend for the next 30 days. Every penny. That requires keeping a little notebook (or a piece of paper) with them at all times. It is a nuisance at first, but it can make a huge difference. One woman I counseled came to our second session with the news that this practice had been revolutionary. “I was skeptical when you told me to do it, but I was amazed at how much I was spending without even realizing it. The little things do add up.”

Yes, it is amazing. When you see it on paper – in black (or red or blue or green) and white, it can be sobering. When you write it down, you are less likely to spend it the next time. My guilty pleasure is a Route 44 diet Coke or a cherry limeade from Sonic – with tax, nearly two bucks. For a while, I was buying one nearly every day. When I started writing it in a notebook, even though I didn’t have to show the notebook to my husband (he wasn’t in the Crown small group with me), I started driving to Sonic less often. It can be embarrassing, but financially empowering, to open your eyes to the areas where you are simply wasting money. It’s not like a diet Coke is good for me, other than as a “comfort food” that lasts only as long as it takes to drink it. Not a lasting treasure.

One Crown seminar leader I know still tracks every penny every day. This is someone who is not in debt. I’ve never asked him whether he keeps this up because 1) he feels a responsibility to practice what he preaches, 2) he thinks he will slip up and fall into debt if he doesn’t or 3) he is anal-retentive. The answer may be some combination of the three. Nevertheless, Dave has demonstrated that keeping tabs on his spending is a big key to financial freedom.

Contrary to what a lot of people believe, it’s not the amount of money you earn, it’s the amount you spend that determines whether you are in financial bondage or freedom. People who make tens – even hundreds – of thousands of dollars a year can be just as in-deep-doodoo as those of us with much lower salaries. And many “poor” people experience a freedom that some “rich” folks can only dream of.

Crown seminar instructors are not millionaires. In fact, I don’t know any Crownies who are. Crown co-founder Howard Dayton, who stepped down as CEO a few months ago, didn’t take a paycheck as the ministry’s leader. He isn’t “in it for the money,” as they say. His aim is to lead people to fullness in Christ through understanding the importance of putting their treasures in the right place.

The way to do that is to focus on what’s truly important in life, and it isn’t our money. Money is a tool for right living, not the key to happiness. Many people misquote the Bible, thinking it says money is the root of all evil. The verse actually says the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. The love of it, not the money itself. 1 Timothy 6:10

How we handle it is the thing. How we abuse it, misuse it, misunderstand its purpose and deny our situation is how we get into trouble.

Proverbs 22:7 is my favorite memory verse from the Crown Life Group Study: “Just as the rich rule the poor, so the borrower is servant to the lender.” I have thought about getting it printed on my checks as a reminder.

Because we all need reminders.

Visit Crown.org to find:
Information about a Life Group Study.
A Money Map coach (budget coach) – online or in person.
Calculators for getting a handle on your finances.
Financial forms, pamphlets and articles.

By the way, can you guess my money personality? Tell me yours.

Posted in family, frugal living, inspiration, money, volunteering | 2 Comments »

The high costs of eating meat

Posted by Suzy Taylor Oakley on February 10, 2008

I’m not a vegetarian, and neither is the writer of this New York Times article, but it will make you think about what our nation’s out-of-control meat consumption is doing to our planet – and our bodies:

Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler, Jan. 27, 2008

Coincidentally: One of the pictures on the page — I almost didn’t notice it! — is of cattle at Harris Ranch in tiny Coalinga, Calif. One of my relatives used to work in the restaurant or gift shop at Harris Ranch, and my brother and I were born in Coalinga. Just some trivia for you.

Posted in family, food, frugal living, inspiration, money, nature | 1 Comment »

10 years of wedded bliss (ok, maybe not bliss every minute — but bliss now)

Posted by Suzy Taylor Oakley on January 3, 2008

wedding_kiss_010398

Ten years ago today, Bruce made me his bride, and we have had very few dull moments. It’s kind of strange, but the last year or so has seemed like history repeating itself …

We had a small wedding planned for Jan. 3, 1998 — just family (including the justice of the peace, who was my brother’s father-in-law) and two good friends (my matron of honor and our photographer, Barney, who didn’t charge us for any of it). My brother’s house, complete with Christmas tree, fireplace and white poinsettias, provided the cozy setting.

I had never dreamed of a big wedding, even when I was a girl, so the preparations didn’t cause a lot of stress. We spent less than $1,000 on everything — rings, dress, veil, suit, license, flowers, cake. My mom handled the flowers and the cake (both provided by friends), and even the punch — she suggested raspberry, and I said OK even though I didn’t care for raspberry. I just wanted things to be as simple as possible.

Things were sailing along, only 11 days to go. Then I got a call at work — the afternoon of Dec. 23 — about my dad.

We got to the hospital five hours before he died, but he was really already gone before we arrived.

Christmas was never going to be the same.

And the wedding? My brother gave me away. I walked on the wrong side of him. I barely remember the ceremony. I couldn’t tell you what the cake looked like. I was numb.

That was 10 years ago today.

Nine years ago, a couple of weeks before our first anniversary, Bruce spent 16 days (including Christmas) in the hospital. They diagnosed him with Crohn’s disease.

He came home with an IV needle in his chest. By our one-year anniversary, I had learned how to hook up the battery-powered pump that fed him via total parenteral nutrition (TPN). By Feb. 1, he had graduated to baby food. By March 1, he was back at work full time. He had another hospital stay in early 2004, and he recovered more quickly that time. But his little body would never be the same.

Fast forward to Dec. 3, 2006. We lost Bruce’s dad, an Army Air Corps veteran who had served his country honorably as a young man but could not beat Alzheimer’s in his 80s. We went to California and buried him in a national military cemetery on Dec. 7, the anniversary of Pearl Harbor.

After that, Bruce was ready to forgo Decembers for a while.

In early 2007, my sweetie began getting sick again. For most of the year, he battled the Crohn’s. He was in the hospital in late May, again in late June/early July … and in December.

Over the past year, we haven’t celebrated birthdays, anniversaries or holidays the same way as usual. In fact, we’re no longer sure what usual is.

I have a new job that — along with battling the disability insurance people, caring for a sick husband and just trying to get through the holidays with a bit of sanity — has again made me numb on many days.

But Bruce and I have never been closer. Having never walked in his shoes, I cannot say that his illness has been a good thing, but I see aspects of it as blessings in disguise. We’ve spent more time together this year than ever, and our appreciation of each other has grown. We have battled common enemies (illness, bureaucracy, financial hardship, dog poop), and we have grown extremely close.

Tonight I came home from work, apologized for not buying him a gift — or even a card — received his apology, and drove to Burger King for a buy-one-get-one-free deal that we had a coupon for. Our 10th anniversary is a big deal, but failing to buy each other gifts or dine out — no big deal. We ate the burgers, then crawled into bed to watch holiday bowl games, content just to be together.

It sure beats hospital food.

wedding_marked_010398

Bruce is taller than he looks here. He is slumping to show off where I “marked” him.

P.S. Happy birthday, Judy.

Posted in family, food, frugal living, inspiration, money | 3 Comments »