Groceries: The Final Frontier

I have a love hate relationship with groceries. I love to eat them.

But I hate to secure them. I hate to cook them. I hate to plan for them. I hate to store them. I hate to pack them in from the car. I hate to count how much they cost. I hate to wash them, soak them, open them, clean them, bake them.


And I hate that they are the last thing standing between me and my fully funded Roth/paid off Mortgage/Retirement at 45. Or whatever that dream was again.

But they taste so good.

When we paid off $100,000 in debt in two years, we did it by controlling each category of our lives at once, like a ring master jaunting around a circus with a 15 foot whip demanding the submission of hungry lions and bears that would threaten to devour him with one wrong move. SNAP!

Not really. I’m not a circus person. Creation care/ animal rights and all of that.

But we ARE pissed about money (I’m learning it’s more of a pissed-at-the-culture, actually) and we have been for some time now. Pissed in a Crack That Whip sort of way. We like to make our money do exactly what we want it to do, all of the time, in every single corner of our lives. We like to scream at it and boss it around. And we don’t take no sass.

When we were dumping debt, we ate beans and rice and rice and beans until our house smelled like Azteca. (yum).

But then we got FREE!!! And when you get FREEE sometimes you forget how you got that way.

Enter the $200 a week grocery budget. (YIKES mama!) Because we are an affluent family of five living in the suburbs with a six figure income and zero debt except the loan we have on the house, we deserve an $800/month grocery bill right!?!?

Ha. Ha. Ha. No.

What we do deserve is to walk in freedom, which means spending whatever the heck we want on food.

And I want to spend less. Like. $440/month less.

This isn’t my first Food Rodeo. The beans and rice schtick was one blip on the Food Graph for me. Since I’m pretty globally minded, I spend a lot of time thinking about how everyone else is eating, and more importantly, surviving. We spend more than an average amount of time questioning what we eat and why we eat it and how other people all over the globe are getting along with their food choices — their own or choices that are made by their circumstances. And why on earth we think we are entitled to stuff our faces (and throw so much away) when other people starve.

This is what keeps me up at night.

And it’s pretty depressing. Always. The $200 a week budget is pretty new…. and it came out of me being lazy. I like to go out to eat and I like to buy things already at least partly cooked. Because in this season of my life, I’ve allowed myself to think cooking is hard and time consuming. LOL. It’s not.  I used to LOVE cooking. But I lie to myself and choose convenience over work.

And I feel guilty about $200 a week. Ugh so guilty. Starving people in China, for starters. But there’s more to it than that. I’ll type that later.

Because the point I want to make is this: This week our budget is $65 a week! And then every week after that it will be in the $90 a week ballpark. That’s less than a buck a meal or thereabouts per person. Ish. Since we have five-ish people here (some are quite small so I’m really counting them as fractional-people. HA!). And there’s room for coffee and maple syrup and cream for my coffee. Yum.

And that’s not bad at all.

The Food Stamp Challenge, where you see what it’s like to eat using food stamps on the  amount the government provides, allows for approximately $25 per person per week (between $1-$1.25 per meal). For us that would be $125/week. Ish.

Sigh I remember the day our Real Life Grocery budget inched up to $125 a week. (It had been at 80). Rejoicing! I could finally afford to buy Oreos once a week.

So we did the Food Stamp Challenge, several times on accident, since our budget was already set at or below that mark. And once on purpose, when I felt guilty for having the $200 budget. And now we are at it again, but from a different angle. From a more pissed angle, if you will. Because this time, I want to fully fund my roth every year AND pay off Mort AND do it on one income, AND we are getting closer and closer to 40, AND our kids want to play sports AND we like to fix up our house AND our kids are growing and so it’s kind of like Now or Never.

The Dollar A Day guys, whom you can watch on Netflix, bring to light some of the challenges the rest of the world faces with food economics. It’s really really hard (slash impossible) to live on one dollar a day, but millions of people do it. So if they can do $1 a day, I am making myself do THREE TIMES that amount. Even that feels guilty. But because while sometimes as a family we challenge ourselves for the sake of gaining empathy for others, this exercise is more of a once for all change I’m making for the rest of our lives. I fully intend on doing the dollar a day challenge for week or two or a month, probably when my kids are older, so we can learn something.

My greatest fear is raising entitled brats.

But for now, we are making a final life change choice that is sustainable long term. Because we’ve done it before. I just got distracted by #RotisserieChickens and #Alfredo. And OREOS!

So for this week so far, I’ve been back in the kitchen cracking that whip. Limiting the meat big time and amping up the plant protiens — quinoa, rice and beans, and hitting the Amazing Egg pretty good. Taco bar, homemade broccoli cheddar soup, homemade bread, homemade graham crackers! (we have littles!), lots of carrots and celery and egglplant and zucchini (yum) and bellas.  And salads out my ears. Yes…. it’s good to be back in the kitchen.

Just like all of this Freedom stuff, there’re secret bonuses to be gained along the way. Yeah we are putting an additional $440 bucks a month into my Roth (Woot Woot!! Which doesn’t translate to stock piling riches for myself. It translates into being free at a younger age to spend money and time making the world a better place in completely my own way. When we don’t have to work a 9-5, because we are only spending $12k a year on survival, and our Roths can support that, then we get to spend time and money loving people and feeding them and talking with them and learning from them) but I’m cooking with my kids. We are eating PLANTS. (Almost time to plant our own garden again… and chickens will be laying this summer.) But we are gaining SO MUCH MORE JOY than what we had with the $200 budget!

It’s fun to eat out and it’s easy to bake some Costco Alfredo. But it’s CRAZY FULFILLING to get up at 4 and bake bread for your kids. And it makes my house smell AWESOME. It’s amazing to stand in my kitchen and help my babies wash and cut veggies. And it’s filling to eat all these plants. I feel like I’m learning to be a slightly better human, from a Creation Care standpoint. (Not because I think the Bible says we can’t eat meat. haha no. But because there’s a LOT that goes into our food before we get it in our bellies, from mistreatment of farm workers, slave labor, animal abuse, altering of ecosystems, pollution at large, etc. As a family we are learning to take care of this world, and that’s hard. But we are trying.)  And from a physical angle I don’t feel as tired and gross anymore because… no processed food (even though we typically don’t hit that very hard anyway…. unless we have $200/week to spend… ugh).

Wahoo. I consider this corner of the budget #conquered.


PS please don’t assume I’m judging people who spend $1000 a month on groceries. Or whatever. I just choose differently. We are all learning our own stuff. Enjoy your Costco Alfredo and cheesecakes. I’m enjoying my homemade super healthy CHUNKY MONKEY SMOOTHIES every single night at $.15 a pop. HAHA. And we can all hold hands and sing together on Sunday. 🙂 I just won’t have to go to work on Monday. 🙂




New Year! New Budget! #MyLoveLanguage

Getting ready for January in our house means going over the past years’ budgets vs. expenses and seeing where we nailed it and where we blew it. It’s my absolute favorite time of the year.

Turns out we nailed it pretty well! Came in almost 100% on budget, which means we have successfully disciplined ourselves into Financial Awesomeness.

In fact I was just complaining to my mother in law that I had to hurry up and buy husband’s Christmas gift if I wanted to use the debit card, because I have until noon on payday to use the card before he literally pays all of the bills, cashes out our spending money, and sends the remainder over to our Financial Advisor to put into Locked Up Savings.  From there, if we want money, we have to explain ourselves to our dear friend and advisor who totally spends more time walking us through our naivety than we pay him for. (Or we can hack into another savings account that is not Locked Up, but we agreed not to — we spit shook and everything.)

It’s great in all the months that aren’t December. But this year, I wanted to go off budget (gasp) and buy him tix to see Dave Ramsey live, which for us will include a hotel and some restaurant splurges and some lattes. HAHAHAHA. Yes really, Dave Ramsey tix were my splurge. It’s the only time I’ve ever gone off budget. And because we are on Baby Step 6 I figured it was okay.

Anyway, it’s self policing discipline. It’s ruthless. But it is that discipline that took us from a 5-figure negative net-worth to a six-figure positive net worth in just five years.

This is how we live on a little and have lots left for giving and saving:

In addition to doing a real, hardcore budget every single month of our lives, this year we also did a January BallPark Budget. The rationale was that, then we could look at big numbers and make more informed choices. $200 a week for groceries, which is what I wanted, comes out to $10,400 a year! Insane! Inappropriate! Uncalled for!

So here’s what we did.

First, we figured out our anticipated net income for the year. We based it on the last several years.

Then we figured out a ballpark Necessary Outgo. 25% for giving and investing, ala Dave Ramsey (#BigChief #TheBest).  Then add up our absolute minimum yearly expenses: We just copied the budget from the year we lived on beans and rice and made our own soap and didn’t buy coffee and used all our excess to pay off $100k in debt.

THEN, we subtracted all of that from our anticipated BallPark Post-Tax Salary.

That left us with a hefty chunk of change with which to enjoy our lives and family, change the world, update our home, and pay off our last debt, which we lovingly named Mort.

We named a big chunk “Extra Mortgage Payments,”and we were left with the excess to do whatever we wanted. We started reaming  and came up with awesome ways to spend the leftovers. Now that we are debt free, I did add in fun stuff like PREMADE Dishwasher soap!  And… COFFEE. Yes coffee was first thing to make it back into the budget.

This year, we’re going to do lots more hiking and backpacking, (SEE we’ve learned to have loads of fun for FREE). Like, twice a month. Plus seven trips to my Old Man’s (free sans gas and whatever we buy for him while we are there; but we do all grocery store food and no dumb souvenirs), and some babysitting costs for #$2datenight (we pay our sitters well because they’re worth it…without them, we don’t go on dates.) Maybe a car trip to the Grand Canyon, or some other National Park (backpacking and grocery shopping, not resorting). I found some places where we can buy mosquito nets or chickens or lean-tos or sewing machines and have them delivered to people in non-developed countries, along with education on how to use the items, so families across the globe can maybe make enough to support their families, maybe avoid horrendous diseases, and maybe make it another day. So, definitely some money going there. Finally, this year it will also include a slew of functional home updates to make this place more energy efficient long term, as well as tricking out our garden.

I’m telling you this to encourage you to make a BIG PICTURE BUDGET. Because looking at $1200 per year is more fun than looking at $25 a week. If you can teach yourself to view that daily latte as a choice between … a latte and a VACATION, then you can more easily say no to the latte. ($3 times 365 days equals $1095 bucks. Enough for a fun roadtrip or weekend getaway, at least. Especially if you do it on grocery store food and car camping). If your spouse is indulging in a daily latte, or a daily tin of chew, or a daily lunch out, that could be another $1000 or more. That’s $2000, a fun vacay right there. Or maybe you prefer the daily latte. Whatevs. Just sayin.

All this money doesn’t come all at once (dang it.) So that means we won’t actually see all of the money until the end of the year. But we were able to assume that, some stuff (home energy improvements) we wanted to do at the beginning of the year, so we’ll fill up that cookie jar first. Then start working on the Grand Canyon cookie jar. Etc.  So… then we have to go BACK THROUGH the budget and reallocate the money monthly. We know that a couple times a year, we get weird checks (like a tax return) so we decide what that money will be used for. Etc. Extra mortgage payments most likely will happen monthly, and most of the giving. But those vacations and day trips might come from something like the tax return or another random check.

A little cumbersome but at least I am more willing to say NO to Pad Thai when I know I’m saying YES to the Grand Canyon.

Daniel Fast Part Deux

Daniel turned down delicious kingly delicacies in turn for a delicious caesar salad, no dressing, no croutons, no parm. So… Romaine. Yumm.

Last time I wrote about how Dan was living for a different calling, a calling that was above even what the king had for him. He was able to say no to something that looked delicious so that he could instead say YES to something later that would be more delicious. When Dan said no to a foreign king, he was saying YES to the King of the World. He knew that God had bigger plans, even though he didn’t know what they were.

I submit that God has bigger plans for our Daniel Fast (and every other fast, and every other non-fast day, too) than we can imagine. In Isaiah, there’s a beautiful passage about fasting. (It’s Isaiah 58; you should look it up in its entirety. My mama always taught me to look up all my own scriptures and double check them. People are very good at misleading. Plus you don’t even know me. I could be way off).

So God says:

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

What if we did THAT on our Daniel Fast? What if we took our fasting as if it were a time to right wrongs and heal hurts and come along side people who needed to see the beautiful light of Jesus!? I totally realize that this passage is from the OT where God is specifically talking with Israel. But this theme is so consistent throughout scripture. There is FREEDOM in Christ and as His followers, we are to be ambassadors of the Freedom that comes only from Him!

As American Christians, we have so much to give. Compared to the world at large, we have so much money. If we could allow Jesus to help us climb out of the debt pit, we’d *feel* like we had so much money, it’d be that much easier to give. If we took time to notice the hurt all around us — or if we got crazy and even started looking overseas at the need there — we would be ashamed I’m sure of our spending habits in light of the pain around us. At least Husband and I were. Ashamed. Oops. I mean “convicted.”

We have so much opportunity to bless. What if we all allowed Jesus to move in our hearts AND our finances, setting us free so we could really, truly, crazily bless others with the blessings He’s given us? What if we fasted like this? What if we broke the chains of oppression and fed the hungry and provided shelter for the wanderer?

I just know God has plans for us besides just paying off our Christmas debt in time to rack up more next year. I know He has plans for us besides just “fasting” so we can feel like we are doing a hip Christian thing and maybe losing some weight. I know His plans for us involve healing hurts.

When are we going to get legit about this? I know there are people all over America who were legit about this long long long before I was even born. There have been generations and generations of Jesus followers who have healed so many hurts and broken so many chains of oppression.

I guess what I’m saying is, when is my generation going to break the record? When will my generation take it to the next level? 🙂 I theorize it’s when we get our butts out of debt — say no to the delicacies of this world — and say yes to what Christ has for us.   🙂

Daniel Fast!

Christmas evening has arrived; the prime rib’s chillin in foil, the mixed nuts have made their last rounds, and only sprinkles are left on the cookie platter.

Holiday gluttony is coming to an end and I’m practically aching for some strenuous hikes and lots of lemon water to dredge out the culinary indulgences of the season. Plus I want to break in my new wool gloves.

My body is longing for what it knows is next: The Daniel Fast. Every January since high school, I’ve practiced the Daniel Fast in some very loose form or fashion (the loosest form were the years I just watched other people do it. HAHA). As of late though I’ve been pretty hard core, following the Biblical guidelines for the fast: drinking only water and eating only plants.

The Daniel Fast has been used in a bazillion commercial churchy ways, popping up in books and blogs and recipe cards and devotionals and … lots of people be making lots of money off of a couple of words: plants, and water.  I mean literally, the verses we are talking about here are as follows: “let them give us vegetables to eat and water to drink.”

The Daniel Fast (I don’t even like calling it that, because it wasn’t really a diet or a fast or a plan at all) biblically, was just a natural byproduct of a circumstance. See the King of this other country had kidnapped Daniel and his fiery-furnace friends (same story/characters, btw) and was planning to raise them up in his ways. Teach them to be strong countrymen in a country that wasn’t their own. I bet the other boys were jealous. But Daniel was annoyed.

And I think, has that happened to me? No, no one kidnapped me. But a quick survey of the New Testament affirms that *this world* is not, can not be, my home. My home’s elsewhere. And I don’t want to get lulled into the rhythms and norms and standards of this world on accident. Yes I live here. Yes I look like I live here. And there are lots of frivolous things I can do that make me look American and don’t take away from my real identity in Christ.

But I want to make sure every thing I do is measured against the Country I am a true citizen of: The Kingdom of God! His ways and His Laws guide my direction, not this country’s norms. Sure we pretty much look like Americans. But there are some key elements that are different. One is that we love people unconditionally; two is that we sacrifice ourselves in order to love others. There are more. But those ones are big and Christmasy.

The king wanted Daniel to eat like he did — gluttonolly. (a new word I just made up). Rich foods, fine wines, expensive meals prepared by the best chefs around. And Daniel recognized that this wasn’t what God had planned for him — he wasn’t supposed to be “defiled” as the Bible says, by these foods — so he declined. He had been raised with a strict diet as per his religion — Judaism — and to keep his heart lined up with that culture, he resisted indulging in a new diet. Simple. Done. Button it up. Put a bow on it. When things/people/places/actions have the power to pull us away from God’s plans and purposes for our lives, we should say no to them.

I assume (having spent approximately 14 minutes of my life as a theology major, you should not take my theories as biblical facts. This is armchair Bible study here. Please read your own Bibles. A lot. Every day. And listen to your pastors) that defilement could’ve come from a couple of places:

Maybe these foods weren’t God-honoring in that they weren’t Kosher.

Maybe they were defiling because they were rooted in gluttony — delicious meats and fine wines prepped by palace chefs seems excessive.

Or MAYBE (drumroll) it was just that food is a major part of culture and Daniel was trying to avoid complete assimilation into a culture that would nudge him to forget God’s plans and purposes for his life.

So instead of amazing crazy delicacies, he opted for the side salad, no dressing. Every single day. Day in and day out, he ordered straight up plants. It reminded him “I don’t belong here. I’m not going to partake in this delicious yumminess because I have a greater calling.”

Daniel wasn’t starving himself to death. He was just saying “I will live in your world, but I’m not going to assimilate into your world; I will eat with you, but it’s going to be obvious that I’m not like you; I am separate from you.” He was in that world, but not of it. His country was elsewhere. He lived at the palace, wore palace clothes, did palace stuff, was in a program where he was climbing the palace ladder. But he didn’t belong there and didn’t allow himself to begin to look like he belonged there. Your basic Romans 12:2.

I like the Daniel Fast because it reminds me of my identity in Christ; that I’m a citizen of a place where there are different norms. It becomes really hard to function as an American when you can’t go out to eat without lots of finagling the menu, you can’t grab a snack from a vending machine, you can’t reach in the cupboard for a granola bar, you can’t whip up some Hamburger Helper at 530 when the kids are screaming after a long day. It’s a reminder that I’m not supposed to just be able to so easily go with the flow here.

I can’t just wander through my days mindlessly when I’m fasting. So too, I can’t just wander aimlessly through my day and through all cultural norms if I’m REALLY a true follower of Christ. There should be plenty of instances during the day where I choose to do something uncomfortable — where I choose to sacrifice myself for the sake of others or choose to deny myself some pleasurable thing because it would make me drift from God. (For me that’s wine, for one. For two, it’s fancy clothes. And nice cars and manicures. Those are just my personal hang ups because those things make me feel like I’m awesome). We should happen to look different than the world not because we have a list of rules to follow, but because our hearts start each decision with the question: Does this honor God? Does this line up with His plan for me life; the plan where I look like Jesus?

Daily, that looks like choosing to love someone or extend grace when the normal response would be to cast judgement. Maybe it’s choosing not to use a credit card to buy things I don’t need, or choosing not to buy that latte and instead using the money to help buy a mosquito net. Not that any of that is right or wrong, but that, we have choices and each choice isn’t already made for us in the way that sometimes this culture makes us feel. We get to put all of our options up for debate; we get to measure this whole thing against God’s Plan for our lives, and if we’re honest, I think often times we would find that there’s a LOT more room for sacrifice, for grace, for prayer. 

When we choose the nourishing, life-giving guidelines (Logos/Words) of God as our roadmap instead of whatever the automatic choice is (even if it’s delicacies at a king’s table), there are beautiful, energizing benefits in that. After 10 days, Daniel looked amazing; after 21 days, he looked better than everyone else.








Self-Sufficiency: what brews when you stop owing people money

Christmas is almost here, which means it’s almost past, which means it’s almost time to plan my garden! ❤

I’ve always been pretty down to earth. Maybe too much. I don’t like to wash my hair too often, I don’t like to eat processed crap (in theory.. I mean, who’s gonna turn down a junior mint) and I don’t like to drive places when I can walk. Turns out, I can walk most places. And food! Who wouldn’t want to grow their own food?! (Based on the internet, looks like plenty of people are doing that stuff, too. YET! When I do it in *real life,* real life people look at me funny.)

Getting out of debt made me even less like everyone else in the local demographic to which I belong. Because when we got out of debt, we took a long hard look at EVERY SINGLE EXPENSE in our lives. And then started round-house kicking those expenses in the face. In a lot of cases, that left us without normal middle class STUFF/activities/ problems. And it left us with a lot more money. (cha-ching!)

Processed crap is expensive, for my wallet and my waistline, so we stopped buying it (except Hazelnut creamer! For company! And since I’m being honest, the processed stuff snuck back once the debt disappeared). Shampoo and aquanet are expensive when you consider the opportunity cost (if only I could have *invested* that $3 a month — or whatever — over my lifetime!)

And gas guzzling! Getting that in check takes the cake for best money saver, hands down. (Assuming the mortgage’s paid off). Because walking is FREE and effective! For pre-freedom us, forfeiting gas almost entirely except for road trips would be a savings of $72,000 over 30 years, even before investing, plus the health benefits of walking everywhere and then carrying groceries home… and teaching my kids to do it, too. We’re talking endorphins, family bonding time, neighborhood awareness, cardio, more intentional purchases, practice talking to strangers, more practice telling my kids “no” to plastic crap — if nothing else because I don’t want to haul it home. It’s really a win win win win.

So as I drifted down the rabbit hole of expense-slashing, I found myself dreaming of other crazy expenses to diminish as well. What about food!? We could grow our own and then we wouldn’t need to pay someone else for theirs. What about a protein source!? We could grow walnuts, or beans! Or … raise CHICKENS!!What about laundry!? To save money, we used our dryer four times last summer.

Maybe I can find a way to harness solar energy beyond just clothes drying. What about our water heater? Or adding windows to our cave-like dining room for more light/less electricity!? This is what keeps me up at night.

So we started! Got our new house with a huge-for-suburbs lot and our garden beds. Last year we produced enough to carry more than half of our veggie needs. This year, we are doubling the size and adding some more berries, herbs, and melons.

I just wish we had those gosh darn chickens. (I think?).

This is what you can do when you don’t have to worry about money — daydream about chickens. #CharmedLife #Blessed LOL.

Getting financially fit has turned into all the other types of fitness. Doing more physical labor because I no longer want to pay for other people to do stuff for me when I (slash husband) can do it for free-ee, means more physical benefits. (You must read “free-ee” in a singing voice). After I do stuff (slash watch husband do stuff) we both have more endorphins, more energy, more got-er-done-ness. We’ve spent more time together; our kids have learned that they’re valuable in helping accomplish stuff; we’ve bonded as a family. We’ve met our neighbors because we are outside more. Our neighbors have stopped to help us. On the days we garden hard, paint, cut trees, lay flooring, whatever, I’ve burned more calories and don’t *need* to ditch my family to go to an artificial gym. (HAHAHA Like I was going to do that anyway!! LOL)

And we don’t fill our days consuming out in the world, bouncing from one activity to the next, trying to stave off boredom with overstimulation, doling out 20s at every turn.  No TV means we read more and sit by the (non-energy efficient… yet) fireplace.

When we sold that motorcycle five years ago and stopped sending that monthly payment, we gained one taste of freedom, and were totally addicted. And like an addict, we’ve been searching and grasping for our next hit every since.  Now the scale has tipped crazy in the other direction.  I spend all my free time thinking “what can we do without?”  (answer: Netflix). What can we cut next? (more gas) What can we add in to make our lives more whole? (Fruit trees! Chickens!! a Fireplace Insert!) Wahoo!!!!

The ironic thing: getting out of debt has given us more money. Like… lots more. But this lifestyle we are living gets less expensive every day. In effect, retirement date is getting insanely, unbelievably closer (still a ways from where we are now, but super close compared to America at Large); we have much more surplus to give; and even though there’s more money, it’s like we need it even less. It’s weird. Upside down feeling.

The End. 🙂

#Kid-Friendly Christmas!

I am the Dancing Elaine Benice of Christmas.

Actually, I’m the Dancing Elaine Benice of lots and lots of things. Off beat, awkward, and totally in my own world.

To me, Christmas has always been a kind of dance of social awkwardness. If everyone else at Christmas is Cary Grant and Grace Kelley, I’m Elaine.

I just don’t do American Christmas quite right. Oh I’m there! All in! I love me some Christmas. Tinsel! 1980s electricity-sucking lead-paint lights. Fudge. Church. Mariah Carey. Fingers crossed that this will be the year we sing Mariah Carey songs at church. I’m all in, Day After Halloween until New Years! But I do it…just a little bit.. off.

I am no good at choosing gifts.  I’ve never sent a Christmas card. (I know what you’re thinking. “Get Out!!”) My clothes never match and are rarely clean. I frost cookies but… really my kids do it. And my kids are five…

My tree looks like the 1980s vomited it into my living room (which is actually what we were going for. #WonderYears). My ornaments are made of cotton balls and googly eyes.

I am Elaine. Full on, committed, totally crazily… off beat in a room full of Grace Kelleys. And loving it.

It’s a very kid-friendly Christmas at my house. That’s what I’m going with. #Kid-friendly. This handy little hashtag has magically made it okay for me to be the house where people drop their masks. The random laundry and popsicle sticks and legos all over means people come here to pour themselves their own delicious caffeine in my kitchen in a huge mismatched mug and know right where to find the Hazelnut creamer in my serve-yourself fridge. And they know where to find the Old Fashioned Heavy Whipping Cream, too. Because here… calories totally count… and we consume them anyway. We don’t fool around. Half our visitors don’t knock, and when they do, it’s just to figure out if we are inside or in the yard.

We’re Real.

Just like J.Lo. hahaha.

When we decided to get out of debt, the things we did and the way we looked changed. We didn’t buy extravagant gifts for everyone in the world. We didn’t pile gifts under our tree. (We wouldn’t have ever done that anyway; it’s just not my gig. Starving People in China and whatnot). Instead we made BACON CHEESE BREAD for our friends and family. Deciding to get out of debt catapulted us out of the Consumer Game for good. And the “How do I Look” Game. And the “Do People Think We Are Successful?” Game. And the “I feel guilty about x y and z so I need to buy stuff” game.

But the byproduct… was that, when people came to our house, they could remove themselves from those games, too. Turns out #Kid-Friendly actually means #humanity-friendly. Women can come to my home and bawl their little eyes out over all the heart-hurts in their lives or their big wins on any given day. When we started getting out of debt, I dropped Facebook et. al. so I wouldn’t spend my days looking at what other people were doing with their #BlessedLives and #BestHusbands, so I don’t have that subconscious impulse to also have a #BetterHusbandThanEveryoneBecauseHeTakesDuckFaceSelfiesWithMe.

People can tell me their sucky stuff because… my house looks kinda sucky. I mean… It’s wonderful and beautiful and we are really blessed-without-the-hashtag but I go to great lengths to make sure it NEVER looks like a magazine (HAHAHAHAHAHA. It’s hard work to be so unimpressive). And if people are willing to tell me their sucky stuff because they feel comfy with me, then we can build an authentic relationship. And we can authentically encourage one another to be more like Christ.  Just like Real Church.

I never want to act in a way that makes people feel like they’re not up to my standards. So I keep low standards 😉 Kids can come to my house and make messes! And our kids can learn to figure out their differences together! And we have boxes to play with! Boxes! Like… with nothing in them.

I do clean my house. I do pick up stuff. It’s not trashed. But if Martha Stewart came for coffee… she’d have a list. It’d be long. (But “crappy coffee” wouldn’t be on it!! #priorities)

And guys can come over and see that my awesome husband installed all of our flooring, including carpet, by himself! And it looks NOT TOO BAD! Because we went into it not caring if it came out perfect. Because we wanted the experience and pride of saying “we (slash he) did that ourselves (slash himself… I like to get a little credit since I fetched hammers and brought coffee).” But my awesome husband isn’t #BetterThanYourHusband (which I’m convinced is what #BestHusbandEver actually means). He’s perfect for me and I love his awesomeness! But spoiler alert: He’s a human. So am I. And we’ve had our share of poop pies #TheHelp. Let’s just be real.

The journey of getting out of debt put the final stamp on our family of “Unimpressively Real.” Because we didn’t have any plastic with which to buy… plastic. And all our cash went to initially, giving & debt, and now it goes to giving & investments. There’s no time in the future where we anticipate “extra” money going to status symbols for the sake of status (for us it’d be Cadillacs. hahaha. They’re great for some people. But for us, I’d just feel TOO FREAKING COOL AND PUT TOGETHER AND DESERVING AND NOT BROKEN driving one… and maybe I’m wrong but I feel like that’s not really like Jesus.)

I never feel sad for not buying my kid some large plastic green dinosaur machine thing that screams when you push a button and poops out a plastic bouncy ball — which is what my four year old asked for. I don’t feel bad for not assembling Ulta gift bags for all my #bffs.

Because to date, the best gift I figure I can give is the gift of Heavy Whipping Cream and the promise of a gag order!

And isn’t that kind of what Jesus wants? I mean it’s His birthday. Loving us up, sitting in His company; loving each other, being real, not comparing, not making people jealous of us, not acting like we are perfect and everyone else should be acting that way too. Turns out, I’m actually totally ridiculous, broken, and a horrible dancer.

Just… walking in the Freedom to be Real. Even if everyone else at the party laughs at our dance moves. 🙂 🙂 Because I guarantee– there’s someone on the wall wanting to dance too, but afraid they’re not good enough. Let’s make a place where everybody gets to dance. 🙂

Debt!: A Shape Shifting Monster

I feel like should say debt comes in lots of forms. For lots of reasons. Medical emergencies, spending habits, recreation, sad heart feelings (:(), college, general poverty, the list goes on and on and on.

Debt looks different for everyone. I get that. This is my story of how we got free from OUR debt in OUR specific set of circumstances. While the Debt Monster looks different in every story and while the tools we have to tackle that monster are going to be different for everyone, I do believe there are some Universal Truths to be gleaned here.

One A:Getting out of debt is really about spending less than you make. That’s basically the magic formula. How it plays out in your life will look different than mine (though I believe if we all functioned at the same level of intensity, our bank account outgoes could really start to look similar.)

One: Jesus loves you. He loves you no matter what you do or what you’ve done. If you take on half a million dollars of selfish debt tomorrow morning, He’s going to love you just the same as if you sold everything you had and used the money to buy hungry people delicious burritos. Your financial debt doesn’t separate you from Him. If you DO feel separate from Him… tell him! Have a nice long chat. He wants to hear from you. You can’t say the wrong thing.

Two: I believe lots of Americans can get free of their debt. And I believe the Americans who are struggling with debt right now will probably doubt their abilities to get free from debt at least once on their journey out. We struggled a lot. All. The. Time. Because we were dumping twice what we were making and as far as we could tell, we were kind of the first of our demographic/friend group in our area to do what we had done. But Jesus met us. He totally met us. We stepped out in faith to pay off one thing, even though it “probably wouldn’t make a difference in the long run” and he blessed that for us over and over again. Then we’d step out to do another thing in faith. And He’d meet us again.

And He never magically just paid off our stuff. But He gave us more passion. More drive. More overtime opportunities. More favor with our bosses. He helped me with my caffeine addiction so I didn’t NEED coffee. More coupons on ground turkey. #It’sTheLittleThings

Talk to Him. He will help you. It’s not a magic finger snap. He’s not a magic Genie. He is madly in love with you and is going to shepherd you through this if you let Him. And you come out with more than just debt freedom. You’ll come out with Heart Freedom. #Better.

Our Debt Freedom Journey was as much or more about our relationship with Him as it was about our relationship with money. Dive in with Him. He will meet you.

Three: our journey is different than yours will be. Do it anyway. You are changing your kids’ lives. That’s worth all the lattes in the world. It’s worth all the Xboxes and all the car payments and all the Galaxy 7s or whatever.

You can do it!! 🙂


For Narnia!!

A while ago I said that the first step to getting out of debt is screaming “FOR NARNIAAAAA!!!!!!”

While I find that to be helpful, what I find to be more helpful is the attitude *behind* the screaming.

The best way to get out of debt is to change your behavior; i.e. stop doing the same things that got you *into* debt.

The best way to change behavior, though, is to get your heart changed. Jesus can do that for you!! How He did it for me was stirring passion inside of me and making me realize this is a battle He had already won on the Cross. (Spoiler Alert: That #win wasn’t just about sin. It was about total redemption to the way life and relationships were intended to be).

For me, the passion was a great realization that I was short changing myself. Once I realized we made enough money to fix a lot of people’s pain *if only* that money actually belonged to us instead of our creditors… then I started to get mad!

And that anger — I let it fester. Big time. I got SO FREAKING MAD at DEBT. I allowed myself to see that my debt was SUFFOCATING MY DREAMS. My debt was almost singlehandedly responsible for my inability to do the THINGS I HAD BEEN CREATED TO DO. Whether it be feed hungry people or buy coffee for a friend who needed a boost or take my kid to McDonalds when she had a bad day.

And when I let that feeling of anger and despair and general pissed-off-ness fester and grow and start to take over, the debt seemed smaller and the anger seemed bigger. It’s a Holy Discontent. It’s that thing that gets in your soul and says “THIS IS WRONG; DO WHATEVER IT TAKES TO FIX IT.” (That’s when Jesus comes in and whispers “actually, I already fixed this. Will you allow me to let the Victory play out in your life.”)

And I had enough anger one day to finally tackle the Monster and Gain back my Rightful Inheritance: the hope of Glory/Good Works that Had Been Prepared In Advance For me To Do/ et cetera. Christ had plans for me and that Horrendous Monster had robbed me of the ability to succeed at those plans!!!

That’s where screaming “FOR NARNIAAAA” Comes in. You can scream whatever you want as long as it’s awesome (and as long as you don’t pull a Michael Scott and scream “I declare Bankruptcy” …Please, don’t scream that.) But Scream your battle cry like you are absolutely insane. Maybe do this in your car with the windows up or do it with your spouse on the Night You Decide To Get Free and Take Back What Is Yours.

Or just do it in your head.

But scream something powerful that will make you feel like a warrior.  And then go get the Monster. Find accountability partners to help you and read books about doing this thing you’re about to do. But at the end of the day… Do it. Don’t pansy out.

The Debt!: The Means By Which We Punched It In The Face

For two years we didn’t go to restaurants.


No chimichangas. No pad thai.

We didn’t buy convenience foods. We didn’t buy disposable diapers. (I’m like superwoman, BTW. I can say that because I cloth diapered 2.5 babies and anyone who does that wins the right to be Superwoman. Speaking of that, cheers to every great grandma).

The things we forfeited while on Dave Ramsey’s Baby Step 2: The Snowball (there’re only two ways out of step two, by the way: success, or death by embarrassment. That’s right; failure’s not an option) included restaurants. Coffee. Disposable diapers. Internet connection. Gas. New clothes. Store bought Christmas gifts. Cable. Car payments. Backpacking gear. Random trips to my dad’s house which is Far Away. Any type of vacation and most weekend trips. Make up. Hair appointments (thanks to Clairol I made it through!). Hotels.

Shave gel.


Basically everything you can think of that’s part of the daily lives of the middle class. CELL PHONES. Yep. Switched down to a tracphone..

Ah but what did we acquire? The Red Rocket, for one, the name my husband sweetly bestowed on our $1800,  1999 Maroon Buick Park Avenue, complete with one shiny hubcap and a four-foot crack in the eight-foot windshield. I can still feel the velour seats and smell the faint scent of mildew. #Classy (Actually, turned out to be an awesome car and if I could get it back, I would. But now we think it belongs to a drug dealer. #SoNevermind).

And we acquired some handed down clothes, some gift cards to restaurants from inlaws who worried about us (rightfully so… we crazy)– which we used on multiple Happy Hour evenings at the spot where 2 bucks gets you a burger. But that was our only restaurant. (Unless you count TWO DOLLAR DATE NIGHT!!! Every Friday we’d hop in the Red Rocket and hit up the 7-11 for some corn dogs and a Red Box Movie (since, no Netflix). HASTAG ROMANCE! Sometimes we’d sneak into a high school sporting event just to keep it fresh).

We also acquired some bulk Folger’s coffee and some toilet paper made of, I’m almost sure, air and sawdust.

WAIT! Not TRUE! We also acquired the “Congratulations! You have paid off your student loan.” letters!! Like… 7 of them. Plus the title to our Cadillac, as well as the title to my car (won’t tell you what it is because you’ll wonder what’s wrong with us… ahem …it was an… ahem Kia) both of which we promptly handed to someone else.

So I start making lists like this of all the things we “didn’t do” when we were dumping debt and it’s not long before it morphs into the things we DID do. Because let’s face it, that’s just more positive sounding, and that’s really the catch with all of this. Having an upbeat attitude and looking for the good in all our situations is what makes a really hard challenge become A Super Cool Story To Tell Your Grandkids.

We already had lots of money saved up, so we plummeted a ton of it to the first debt to kick off the Debt Snowball. When the vertigo stopped and we realized we were going to survive, we did it again. And again. Until we only had a couple grand in the bank. (Yikes, scary.)

And we stopped spending money on everything but debt payoff. We stopped eating.

Jk. But we did stop eating everything except beans and rice. And homemade bread. And soup. So. Much. Soup. And oh my goodness, I’ve never been to so many church potlucks in my life #RespectTheCrockpot #JelloSalad

We did walk a lot more. We did do a lot of puzzles. We hiked.  We volunteered our butts off. We had game nights with friends. We had fires. We had candlelight dinners. We had Family Pizza Night. Lots of food issues, I’m seeing here lol.

We built a lot of forts. We slept on an air mattress for fun and had family movie night with stove popcorn. We baked a lot of cookies with friends. Lots of cookies. And actually, we sold those cookies and made enough money to send a Haitian girl to school for a year and pay for her school supplies. So that’s an added cool bonus of what can be done when you have a lot of time because you don’t have enough money to do Cool Rich American Stuff like go skiing.

We basically asked my husband’s grand parents how they used to live when they were “just starting out” and then… we copied them.

And before you know it, we were living on very little, which is, after all, a very good way to save money.

So between little things like using vinegar to clean, and cutting out lattes (okay.. that’s a big thing), and bigger things like cutting out the INTERNET (yep really, because the library has the internet. Yeah it was Impossibly inconvenient. But… I’m out of debt now so…I guess you could say it was HASTHAG WORTH IT), and other big things like planting gardens, and taking the bus, and going meatless, and walking everywhere, and using cloth diapers, and buying only used clothing and selling the old stuff, and hanging wet clothes on a clothesline, and not buying plastic crap for our kids but instead, encouraging them to play outside and use their minds and ride their bikes, and making our Christmas gifts… between all that new hippie chic stuff (or The Good Old Human Way, depending on how you look at it) we can really save a pretty penny!

Which we can throw at our debt to get us out faster.

And soon, we hit the middle, the hump, the part of the story where we owed less than half of the original amount. And then, it wasn’t a burden anymore. Then it was a friggin challenge. Like, let’s slay this dragon!! FOR NARNIAAAAAAA!!!!

Then it became about these cool badges and battle scars (the Buick, for one, or the time our friends made fun of us for not going out to eat cheesecake. To this day, literally, when I see a cheesecake, I see our mutual fund statement. No joke. And it’s worth a freaking lot of cheesecakes). It became about all the joy we found in the cool new things we had learned to do.

And we had pride knowing that every single intentional choice was bringing us one step closer to the Debt being Gone Forever. And we still have pride knowing we are really working hard with what we have for a goal that’s going to change our lives and our generations after us… and one day our freedom will impact the lives of these beautiful people around us who really are living in poverty and who really are in need, and who we really could help if we just had the money.

When I learned that there are programs that feed people for a dollar a day, or I could buy a mosquito net and literally keep someone from dying for the price of a couple of lattes, and I realized that as soon as I was debt free, I’d have a heck of a lot more money to invest and give — the sacrifice of a latte didn’t seem so huge anymore. When I stacked it against the ability to help someone whose baby is starving, all of a sudden, living without the internet for a season seemed not that large a sacrifice.

That’s when things got Crazy. 🙂


The Debt!: The #Struggle

Getting out of debt is hard work. It’s just. Hard.

Because life happens while you try to get out of debt. The world doesn’t stop moving when you decide to get your crap together. Kids still grow. They still need shoes. And food. You still have to fix crap that breaks. Just because you decide to get out of debt doesn’t mean bad things stop happening while you play catch up with money.

In fact, when we were climbing out, we realized we had the *same amount* of stuff to deal with! This time around though, we noticed it because we didn’t have a pretty little card to swipe to give us three wishes every time we found ourselves up the creek. (Actually we didn’t use credit cards except for the wedding dress and the TV I bought for my dad. But we swiped our debit cards constantly, effectively draining our bank account to zero every two weeks.)

It’s hard, too, when friends around us get to seemingly do whatever the heck they want all of the time and seem to have an endless supply of cash to fund their every whim. And when they wondered audibly why we, too, wouldn’t play along… it was a struggle.

What to do, what to do.

But really, the struggle isn’t about our friends. The struggle isn’t about stuff breaking and me realizing I no longer have unlimited swipes with which to fix problems.

The #Struggle is really about me teaching myself how to live differently. Because guess what. When I got out of debt, people around me didn’t. No one else in my life started living differently.

Just me.

When I got out of debt, the world didn’t pause for me. I had to learn a new way of handling the same old problems. I still wanted a cell phone and I still wanted to go to restaurants and I still wanted new shoes when my heels broke.

The world, much to my chagrin, continued to function exactly the same as it always had.

I was the one who needed to change. When I decided to lose weight and get healthy, commercials about brownies and pizza still came on television. They still sold nachos at football games and Starbucks had the nerve to continue selling Pumpkin Spice Lattes. But I managed to lose 50 lbs because I changed how I responded to a world of choices.

So it goes with debt. I had to teach myself a new way of functioning in a static world.

There’s no reprieve. There’s no let up. There’s no Biggest Loser: Financial Edition where you get to go live in a secluded facility with a fitness coach and a chef, er, an accountant and a … idk what else it would be. Mom. haha.

When you let that passion rise up in you and you make that decision to dive in, and you make that Debt Payoff Thermometer and you cut up those credit cards and you wrap your Debit Card in an inch worth of masking tape so that, if you want to use it, you can but it’s going to take you an hour to peel it free, THAT’S when you have to let the Passion take over. You have to get accountability and you have to make your OWN Biggest Loser Financial Edition. You have to read books by like minded people who are winning with money. You have to tell yourself all day every day that you’re living for something different. You have to have a SO FREAKING WHAT moment. You have to have a WHY THE HECK AM I DOING THIS!? talk with yourself and then you need to post your answer all over your house.

Because living without debt isn’t normal. It is so friggin weird. So you’re not going to find that life lends itself to debt freedom. In fact, life is going to pull you in the opposite direction EVERY WHERE YOU LOOK for a while. So be ready! Just like losing weight, if you find that watching TV makes you want to snack, you’ll have to shut the TV off, and that will be a fine sacrifice that will pay dividends for you! Likewise, if watching TV makes you WANT STUFF, shut if off! It’s a noble sacrifice. If hanging out with “those friends” makes you want to go buy stuff, you need to have a nice long chat with Jesus and let him break those yucky chains of jealousy for you (because that’s what that is, btw.). If being with all the other soccer moms makes you really want a Pumpkin Spice Latte, you might have to start making your own at home or drinking pumpkin tea (gross) or doing whatever it takes — find a way! — to be able to function in the SAME WORLD with a DIFFERENT MODE OF OPERATION.

If your gray hair is coming in, praise Jesus, but you’re committed to not spending $120 at the salon, you’re going to have to find a way to figure it out. You just… have to. (Maybe Clairol can help you  or you could let your true beauty shine through and OWN IT, GIRL! In the words of my supermodel friend Nicole, those are wisdom highlights!!)

When you lose weight, you often have to plan ahead what you’re going to eat that day. So too should you make a BUDGET for your money so it’s planned ahead of time and you don’t blow it on stupid stuff.

In order to get your exercise in, you might have to get up first thing to jog (gross. People who jog are amazing, wonderful specimens of what a perfect human is. I am not that. So, kudos to all you runners. One day, I will try again. But right now I’m on money and raising kids who are nice people. One step at a time.). Financially, to avoid overspending, you might have to get your buns to the bank first thing on pay day so you can cash out your budgeted money. (Using CASH in envelopes is how we beat the “oops I spent all the money because I couldn’t stop swiping my debit card” monster.)

And then one day, you wake up, and you’re 50 pounds lighter. Or you wake up and your debt is gone. It just… happens. One day at a time. One step at a time. Just like anything. You just keep your little head down, little nose the grindstone and you just bust that baby out. Git er done and whatnot. Baby Steps! One little choice at a time all day, every day. And eventually, you find yourself at lake Winnepesaki with your goldfish, jumping off the dock without a care in the world — maybe even teaching someone else to dive in. (see what I did there!?) Debt busted, diving into freedom.

You can do it. 🙂