Kansas Farmers’ Market

My mom picking out her potatoes.

Ever wonder about the prices at different Farmers’ Markets? No? Just me?

I wish I’d thought of this before we left Ohio, but I really was too crazy with the move to think about going to the Farmer’s Market the first weekend it started (the last weekend in May). Oh, and the friends we stayed with for almost two weeks before we left get a “Happy Box” every week (a version of a CSA) so there was no need to shop for extra produce.

The kids and I are now staying with family in my hometown of McPherson, Kansas for a couple of weeks before we continue on to California. I wish I could say that this Farmer’s Market was the one I went to as a child, but I can’t: not because it wasn’t there; but because we didn’t go. It’s rather small as Farmers’ Markets go, but McPherson is a small town. And we also got there rather late this morning, so the pickings were slim.

(As an aside, the lady selling my mom her potatoes is the wife of one of my high school English teachers.) (and my cross country coach.) (Gotta love small towns.)

The low-down:

  • Potatoes: $1.25/lb. (red/white/gold)
  • Eggs: $2.00/dozen (I can tell you I paid $2.50/dozen in Ohio and was glad to do so.)
  • Broccoli: $1/head (see photo for size) (and remember we were there late in the morning)
  • Sugar Peas (Slightly Heat Blemished [sic]) (love that): $1/bag (see photo)
  • Homemade Noodles: $1.75/half pound; $3/lb.

 I’m hoping to get to this Market at least one more time before we get back on the road; I’m curious what new produce they will have.

How do the prices compare to the Markets in your neck of the woods? (Do you visit Farmers’ Markets?) (Do you have one??)

 

Financial Update (aka Debt Update) — Come Link Up Yours!

We’ve moved out of our house! And our renters have moved in! But we’re still in Ohio — until the kids finish school next week.

Oh, and I’m just a wee-bit tired.

So without further ado:

Debt Balances as of the End of May 2011:

  1. First Mortgage:  $168,091.46
  2. Credit Card Transfer: $21,950.50
  3. Rental Property:  $104,783.76

Total Debt: $295,894.41

This is a difference of –$1,068.69 in principle from the $295,894.41 owed in primary and rental mortgage debt* at the end of April.

*The credit card transfer used to be our second mortgage.

Breakdown of Regular Payments:

  1. First Mortgage: $1641.58
  2. Credit Card Transfer #1: $0 due –> $551.50 paid
  3. Rental Property: $698.00

Total Monthly Payments: $2,891.08

$1822.39 of those payments went toward interest.

I still hate typing that out in black and white.

And now it’s your turn! Grab the button up above for your own post, and link away! (If you are reading this on email, you will need to click through to the blog to view the linky-linky.) Don’t forget to link to your post, not just your blog url. And don’t forget to visit the other links! Let’s all encourage each other along in our financial journeys! Happy number crunching!

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Packing up for a PCS: I’ll tell you my tips if you tell me yours!

The movers are coming next week and I find myself alternating between excitement and dread.

Needless to say, I have a lot of things yet to take care of and separate and cull through before I’m ready for the bulk of our stuff to get thrown into a truck and driven cross-country.*

*Just a reminder: we're moving from Ohio to northern California.

Whenever I find myself needing to chill my mind out, I remember what another, seasoned, military spouse once said, years ago now, when she was getting ready to PCS yet again. Her husband was a commander — which means his career required them to move even more than the average military bear — and they had four young children in tow.

“People keep asking me if I’m nervous about the movers coming, but what’s the big deal? They’ll come, they’ll pack up my sh!t, and they’ll leave. “

Excusez-moi for my [her] French. But it’s simply a brilliant way of remembering that, at the end of the day, it’s all just stuff.

That being said, I still need to have my act together by the time the movers get here, or they will gather my act for me.

I vaguely recall my first experience with (contracted) military movers: I was a newbie in the Air Force myself and all of 22-years-old. I had just graduated college and had moved back in with my parents while I waited for my enlistment date. I piled what belongings I considered mine in the middle of my parent’s living room floor and a couple of guys showed up and threw my stuff in a few boxes and were gone within minutes. They could have been anyone. Okay, not really, but honestly: I had no idea what I was doing or what to expect.

Eighteen years and some nine-plus moves and three kids later I have quite a bit more experience under my belt, which doesn’t make it easier necessarily, but somewhat better. If anything is easier, I’d say it comes from confidence I’ve gained in dealing with the packers that comes from Having Done This Before and I know what they should and should not do and whether or not they’re giving me a load of crap about how they’re supposed to handle loading up my crap.

Oh, crap, there I went with my French again. Pardon.

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Some Things I’ve Learned Along the Way…

1] Don’t make a list and a timeline of things you think best done around the house at the last-minute.

If you think of something that needs to be done, do it now. Cull through those closets. Take those loads to Goodwill. Get those Honey-Do’s done. (Or do them for him.) Plenty of last-minute things will come up… at the last-minute.

2] Six months out is not too early to start getting ready.

Unless you just moved six months ago. In which case you should already be (mostly) ready. Not that I would know this…

3] Be ready for the Moving Inspector.

This is the guy (yes, or gal) that comes to check out your stuff a few weeks ahead of time. He wants to know if the packers need to come with any special materials (for marble tops; oversized mirrors; appliances; delicate models; etc). He’s the one who decides how much stuff you have; how nice your stuff is; how many packers to schedule; how many packing days to schedule; etc.

  • Look him in the eye, let him know you’ll be serious and not easily messed with.
  • Clean your house before he comes. Tidy up. This shows him you have respect for your stuff, and he should, too.
  • Listen to his instructions and ask questions. Military hires local contractors for these moves. Every company is different. What was policy for one company may not factor in with another but something else may. Asking questions also shows that you’ll be serious about doing your part to prepare for this move.
  • Moving Companies will often estimate packing weight based on number of bedrooms and square footage of your home. If you are stuffer-organizer extraordinaire, emphasize that you have more to pack than may first appear. Show him your closets. Under those beds. Those hidden nooks. Better yet, show him stats from previous moves, if you have them, and point out anything you’ve acquired since then. I can’t tell you how many times Mr. Moving Inspector scheduled too few packers and packing days for our stuff and then last-minute they’re scrambling to finish on schedule. This doesn’t bode well for their moods or for your stuff.

4] Clean Your Stuff!

Do I really have to say this? But yes, you need to clean your stuff. This mean wash your rugs, or throw them out. Wash your trash cans, or throw them out. Wash your sheets — even if you need to sleep in them another night or two — or throw them out. Do you sense a trend here? Trust me: dirt you think nothing of on this end will look like the trash it is on the other, and may very possibly contaminate whatever else it’s packed with en route.

5] Take your stuff off your walls.

Stack the frames nicely along one bare wall or corner in a room with plenty of surrounding floor space. I speak from a home that has a lot of wall decor.  Seriously. People will come to our home three months after we move in and gasp, “You have more stuff on your walls than we do, and we never move!” It’s our thing, people.

Oh — and hang your stuff up already! What are you waiting for?

I will de-clutter our walls (indeed, I’ve started) even though the moving inspector told me not to. He doesn’t know: he won’t be doing the packing. The packers are always appreciative that I’ve done this for them. I just nodded knowingly this time when the inspector told me to “just leave your stuff on the walls” like I totally agreed with him that “it just gets in the way” if I take it down myself.

Stripping your walls serves multiple purposes:

  1. It gives one packer a working space with a clear understanding of just how many glass frames there are to pack. It’s not unusual for one packer to spend an entire day doing nothing but packing up our frames and wall decor.
  2. It keeps like with like. Having items such as glass frames all in one place helps to keep a sloppy packer from stuffing heavier things in with something more delicate. Like, say, your husband’s precious modeling boxes. Not that I would know this.
  3. It allows me to spackle the nail holes (and touch them up with paint) ahead of time. I will have plenty to do while the movers are here. And Lord knows I will not have the presence of mind to do this after they’re gone. Ditto for not having the time. See #1 above.
  4. It helps mentally prepare my family. Even though the kids know that the movers are coming, and that this is our last full week in this house (Olivia’s eyes got a little wide on that one), what does that really mean? You may be a seasoned mover, but your current home may be the only one your younger kids remember …
  5. Movers means that all of our stuff will seemingly disappear. And then we’ll be gone. Our wall decor is a huge part of what makes our house feel like a home. Taking it down is like undressing for another act. It’s time to get this show on the road, people. Emptying my walls is like telling my kids, “This is serious; we really are moving.” And then when I tell them they need to do something because we’re moving, or that we can’t do something because we’re moving, they’re more apt to take me seriously. Seriously.

6] Did I mention take your stuff off the walls?

Oh, yea. I did.

This includes your curtains. Wash them if they need it, then drape them over a hanger and stick them in a closet. They’ll be packed with your clothes in a hanging-box thing which will minimize wrinkling. Then they’ll be all ready for you to hang at the other end.

7] Be nice to the packers!

  • Have drinks available for them. Coke and other sodas are nice, but in my experience they mostly appreciate cold bottles of water. Especially in the summertime.
  • Some people like to treat the packers to lunch — order pizza, or slip them a $20 (or two) to go pick something up. I’m on the fence about this of late. We’ve done it in the past, and we haven’t done it in the past, and I’m not sure it makes a difference either way. If you have good packers, ordering pizza doesn’t make them any better. If you have bad packers, bribing them with food doesn’t somehow make them good.
  • Sometimes I’ve had packers flat out (sincerely and nicely) refuse the offer of lunch. This time, I think I’ll just be prepared with a couple of bills tucked in my pocket, and make my decision of what to offer once the movers are here.

Thoughts on this?

8] Do not assume they won’t pack something just because they shouldn’t.

They will pack trash. They will pack up those half-used containers of olive oil and ammonia cleaners (oh, yes they will) and rubbing alcohol you left in your pantry or under your sink or in your vanity thinking you’d deal with them later. Oh, they’re not supposed to pack them, of course, but not all packers are created equal.

And they will pack valuables (or steal them), so don’t leave them lying around.

One move when Conner was about five, I poured out a pile of pennies for him to count to keep him busy and out of the movers’ hair. He tired of that after a while and moved on to something else, and the next time I turned around a packer was wrapping and packing those pennies up, even though I’d been told “they wouldn’t pack money or valuables.” Now, I really didn’t need those pennies not to be packed, but it did surprise me.

When you meet with the Moving Inspector, you will have the impression that this is a professional company and they know what they are doing. And it is. And for the most part, they do. But not all packers are created equal. Especially during the summer months, you will have college students hired part-time just trying to make a buck. Oh, they (might) mean well, but they haven’t always been trained well.

9] Did I mention that not all packers are created equal?

Oh, yes, that’s right. I did. They’re not.

10] For Heaven’s sake, put your purse in your car!

And anything else that you don’t want the movers to pack! This may require you to pack up the car like you’re driving off the next morning (even if the packers are scheduled for a few days) then bring your overnight stuff back inside again once they’re gone for the day, then put it back into the car again in the morning…

You get where this is going? It’s worth it. Trust me.

Lock the car and put the keys in your pocket! Last thing you need is for one of the kids to go searching for their favorite blanket or stuffed animal they desperately want now and go walking around with it for a few minutes until they set it down somewhere and forget about it and next thing you know it’s packed up but good. This will make everyone very, very sad. Especially the packers when you ask them to unpack until they find it. Because you weigh their annoyance with the lack of your child’s Lovey for the next two weeks/months/eternities during this time of upheaval and choose accordingly.

11] If you don’t have a car to put your stuff in, or you have too much stuff you don’t want them to pack, cordon off a “safe” area in your home.

**But I have to backtrack here: why, exactly, would you more stuff than would fit in your car? Are you shipping boxes to your destination yourself? Do you still have piles of stuff you’re going to give away locally? If at all possible, see #1 above **

  • If it’s already too late for #1 above, then pick a place in your home and designate it off-limits to the packers. They will appreciate this and it will not insult them. Empty out a closet of everything that’s going, then fill it with the stuff that’s not. Then tape the door shut and hang a huge sign, “Nothing in here goes!”
  • If it’s just a few things and a car is not available, put them in your oven — if it’s not going. Or in your washer — if it’s not going. Then tape those doors shut with a sign that says, “Nothing in here goes!”

Notice a trend here?

Even if the packers will be there for a few days, and even if they tell you that they’ll pack the bedrooms last, don’t leave anything lying around that you plan on taking with you.

Packers are like locusts: you just don’t know what they’ll touch.

12] Have friends help watch your kids.

I am so glad the military / moving companies don’t try to make this mandatory, because this is not always possible. But it’s a huge stress relief if it is.

Even now, I am trying to figure out just how, exactly, I’m going to get rid of my kids once they’re done with school. I’ll probably parcel them out to different friends so I’m not asking just one to drive all over hither and yon to collect them. (They go to different schools and get done at different times in the day.)

Since my husband isn’t here, I won’t be able to collect them off the bus and then drive them somewhere myself: It’s imperative you stay at your home and watch the movers.

This should go without saying; indeed, the inspector should stress this point. Even if you trusted the packers? (and no one expects you to) — it’s vital that you’re available to answer their questions. And they will have questions, no matter how much you prepare. And if they don’t, they probably aren’t doing their job very well.

Now that I’m typing this part out, I’m realizing I really ought to get this whole kid-issue thing figured out in the next couple of days. Thankfully, I’ve had offers of help from different directions; I just need to organize my thoughts around what’s going to work best for everyone involved and then make it happen.

13] It is possible for the movers to pack up your stuff even if your kids have nowhere else to go.

We have done this before. Luckily, it was just with one kid, Conner, again, when he was five. We’d lived in Texas less than one year and everyone we’d met and trusted (all military)  had just packed up and left, literally, the week before us. So rude. Aside from counting pennies (see #7 above) I also sent Conner outside and let him use a hose to clean out the trashcans. I really didn’t care if these trashcans were clean. I didn’t care if they moved with us or not. But it kept him busy — and out of the house — for hours. And he was happy. And the movers were happy. They told me so.

That was ten years ago and well before the advent of miniature electronic babysitters, which I will readily use now if need-be:

  • Gameboys; DSi’s.
  • Computer games on the laptop (that you’re taking with you).
  • Handheld electronic games normally just for road trips.
  • A quiet corner with special snacks just for this occasion.
  • This might even be in the car with all the windows open, if weather permits. But be careful and see #10 above.

Other ideas:

  • Books — of course! If you have a reader, give them a beanbag or a comfy chair (that you ask the movers to save for last) and again, a quiet corner (maybe the car) with special snacks just for this occasion.
  • If you don’t have a reader, now is not the time to try to make your kid be one.
  • Bubbles! Get a big-old jug and let them loose with it in the yard. Preferably without spilling it in five minutes. And preferably away from the movers’ truck.
  • I’m too distracted to think of more right now, because I am realizing that I am spending too much time writing about this move and I really need to get busy with the reality of it. Ideas?

14] Details, Details, Details.

Inventory:

  • The Head Packer (who will introduce himself on the first day) will be tracking the inventory of your stuff as it goes from room to box to crate to truck. The inventory details what they packed; what condition it was in; and other necessary vitals such as serial numbers of electronics, etc.
  • At the end of the day (or three or four) it will be your responsibility to sign off on this. You will be tired. You will no longer care. Your kids may be due home any second. They may already be underfoot. Everyone will be hungry. It’s a good idea to read these inventory pages throughout the packing days, one at a time, as he finishes them. The head packer dude may even suggest this himself. If he doesn’t, you should. You’ll be glad you did.
  • Do not be afraid to disagree with the condition in which they state your stuff is in. It’s not uncommon for the packers to write out a blanket description of “used, worn, rubbed or marred” for every piece of furniture, even if it were brand-new out of the box. They’re just covering themselves. Or lazy. Call them on it, nicely at first. But be firm if they resist. This will matter at the other end if the item comes out damaged. It’s a good idea to take pictures of certain items to prove what condition they were in before you moved.
  • Check each room behind the packers as they finish. They might not be as finished as they think they are. We’ve had the contents of a drawer completely untouched. A cupboard overlooked. We’ve had packers leave before we’ve even thought to make sure they were done because it was so obvious to us that they were not. That was not a good moving experience. (We were PCSing out of Las Vegas that time, for what it’s worth.) (Remember my point about not all packers being created equal?)

Take pictures of your valuables.

This is the easiest way to document serial numbers, model numbers, etc. Keep the pictures on your camera that you take with you. Or in a memory card that you take with you. Or download them onto a laptop that you take with you. Or onto an external hard drive — say it with me — that you take with you.

15] Have you checked with your insurance company?

They may want to alter your coverage while your stuff is en-route. Home ownership insurance is not renters’ insurance is not moving insurance. Did you hear about the cargo ship that went down in the middle of the ocean loaded with crates that included all the household goods of several military families? Yea. Let your insurance company know you’re in the middle of a move. It may alter your coverage. You may even save a little money, which has been our experience.

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As much as you can, prepare. Then take a deep breath and remember: at the end of the day, it’s all just stuff.

What tips would you add?

Are you getting ready to move yourself? Are you a novice? Or a seasoned PCS’er? What have you learned along the way?

When do you turn on your Air Conditioner? Come take the poll!

Ohio finally got the message that it can do something besides rain and man, is it hot. And humid. Hot and humid. Yuck.

I think it got up to 88 degrees yesterday, not sure what the humidity was, except gross-oh-hundred. But I refuse to turn on our Air Conditioner — yet. I drew closed the curtains and turned on the fans upstairs and we dealt. We’re going to at least get through this weekend, when the temperatures are supposed to drop again. Next week, we’ll see.

When do you turn on your AC?

Do you make everyone suffer? Do you cave right away?

I grew up in Kansas, where people joke, “Don’t like the weather? Wait ten minutes!”

It wouldn’t be unusual to have the heater on one day, the AC on the next. Or heck, you might wake up with a sweater and greet lunchtime with a fresh application of deodorant.

So… what’s your story? Are you all-American and can’t go a day with a little sweat on your brow? Or do you go el-naturel and wait until your computer starts to melt away?

Take my (very informal) poll and see how you compare to other readers!  (If you subscribe via email, you may have to click through to view the poll.)

I’ve also added a new tab on my navigation bar (under the header above) (for those of you not reading this on email) for Polls if you’d like to view and participate in all the polls I have posted so far on my blog.

Do you have a Will?

A survey popped up on my USAA accounts when I logged in this morning:

What percent of Americans do not have a will or estate plan?

  1. 92%
  2. 57%
  3. 44%
  4. 22%

What say you?

I did guess the correct answer, which was a whopping…

*****

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Over half of Americans!

The results are even more astonishing when broken down into age brackets:

  • 92% of adults ages 18-35 do not have a Will!
  • 44% of baby boomers ages 45-64 do not have a Will!

That is astonishing. And a bit frightening when you consider how many have children involved who would be at the mercy of the State (and its schedule) and close relatives if something were to happen to both parents, or even just one parent if the other’s out of the picture.

Military families have no financial excuse to not have a will, since Legal on base will provide us (a basic) one for free. We got our first one right before our first son was born. Even so, it took a deployment many years later to motivate us to update the one we had, several years after the recommended five-year mark, and more than a couple years after a couple more kids were added to the mix.

And more “Even So” — we have not given a copy of that Will to those whom we designated as our beneficiaries! Just an oversight, to be sure. Because really — who wants to talk about who you want to raise your kids in the event that you can’t be around? Not something you really want to bring up. But I’m determined to remedy that, soon.

A Will doesn’t do us much good if we’re dead: it needs to be in the hands of those who then have to deal with picking up the pieces in the immediate aftermath of what would, certainly, be a horrible tragedy. Who is that for you? Do they know what your wishes are? Do they have them in writing? Do you even have a Will? What’s stopping you?

Financial Update — Come and Link YOURS!

Debt Balances as of the End of April 2011:

  1. First Mortgage:  $168,292.32
  2. Credit Card Transfer #1: $22,502.00
  3. Credit Card Transfer #2:  $0 !!!
  4. Rental Property:  $105,100.09

Total Debt: $295,894.41

This is a difference of –$4,661.21 in principle from the $300,555.62 owed in primary and rental mortgage debt* at the end of March.

I just have to point out that we finally got it under $300,000!!!!!

(With a little help from our tax return!)

*The credit card transfers used to be our second mortgage.

Breakdown of Regular Payments:

  1. First Mortgage: $1641.58
  2. Credit Card Transfer #1: $208.00
  3. Credit Card Transfer #2: $0 (no minimum payment has ever been due, because they didn’t want us to pay it off too early. But we didn’t play their game! BWAHAHAHAHA!!!!
  4. Rental Property: $698.00

Total Monthly Payments: $2,547.58

Plus Credit Card Transfer #2 Pay-Off: $3930.03

$1816.40 of those payments went toward interest.

I still hate typing that out in black and white.

And now it’s your turn! Grab the button up above for your own post, and link away! (If you are reading this on email, you will need to click through to the blog to view the linky-linky.) Don’t forget to link to your post, not just your blog url. Happy number crunching!

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Ding, dong, the witch is dead.

1957-2011

I heard that from more than one direction this morning from my active facebook friends, when I was getting online to check for news alerts that had nothing to do with terrorism; rather, I was wondering if the all-night rain had caused any flooding that would affect my daughter’s school opening, the only road leading into it having a tendency toward high waters.

Misuse of witchy vernacular aside (don’t they know that a man is a warlord, not a witch? Yea, yea, not quite the same ring…) it seems all of social networking and the American world in general is in a state of Jubilee over the death of Osama bin Laden. I feel like I was the only person alive who unplugged last night before the news broke.

I hold no illusions that Osama’s death means the end of terrorism, or that all of a sudden our troops will be able to come home and my husband will never have to deploy again. I do think his death is a good thing — as much as anyone’s death can be a good thing. It’s been (almost) ten years since 9/11. Before that day, most Americans had no idea who Osama was. In the blink of an eye, he became our greatest enemy and the symbol of all who hate America.

Now that symbol is dead. But the threat is not, not by a long shot. We’ll have our moment of celebration, but then the media will scramble to put a new name on our threat, a new symbol. Much like when The Wall came down and the Cold War became no more, in no shape or form did all our enemies disappear overnight. They just weren’t quite so easily pigeon-holed anymore, although it took the general public and even our intelligence community a while to grasp onto that.

Like Cutting off the Head of a Hydra

I am waiting to see what knee-jerk reactions our military will have, our intelligence community, our media. Will this alter our defense focus? Will our leaders really believe that the threat of terrorism has diminished? That we’ve cut off a chunk of its brain and it’s just a matter of waiting for the body parts to decay?

I think of the mythological creature the Hydra, a serpent with multiple heads, who couldn’t be defeated by chopping off a head because two more would grow in its place. Did we just chop off a head of Al Qaeda? Definitely. Question is, which head? According to mythology, Hydra had numerous heads — some stories say eight or nine, others say as many as 10,000. But only one was immortal, and that was the one you had to get to kill the creature. Would that Al Qaeda would be the same, and Osama were that immortal head.

Short-term at least, it is clear that our defense is on even higher alert because of his death — fearing immediate retaliation; or an attempt by terrorists to prove their on-going validity, no doubt. To prove that we just cut off a head; we didn’t kill the creature.

Car Bombs and Commissaries

Our base here in Dayton was on a higher alert this morning, for instance: THREATCON (“threat condition”) BRAVO rather than the usual ALPHA. On a practical level, this means that parking areas near major buildings are cordoned off. You can’t pull your car up under the overhang by the commissary, for instance, to load your groceries into your car, a bit of an inconvience for the baggers on this (yet another) rainy day in Ohio.

The reasoning behind that, naturally, is that a terrorist might pull right up next to the building under the pretense of loading groceries, except he’d have a bunch of explosives loaded in his trunk instead. You know, to kill a bunch of moms and old ladies grocery shopping on a base in the middle of Ohio.

But we gotta have our precautionary measurements, and I guess the Powers That Be decided that was one of them, so we all just deal. Oh, we grumble and mutter about common sense, but mostly we understand this is just part of base regulations and military life in general. It’s not always going to make sense. And if you think it’s supposed to you might as well go and bang your head against a brick wall for all the good it’s going to do you.

Pashtu?

John has been in California since last Fall, studying at The Defense Language Institute in Monterey. He was selected for this great Air Force foreign affairs program and then put in the not-so-great language of Pashtu.

Huh? Yea. That’s how we felt.

No, these are not chicken scratches.

Pashtu (aka “Pashto/ Pakhto/ Pushtu/ Pushto” or “Push-wa..?”) is spoken (and not usually written) in scattered mountainous enclaves throughout Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and India. It’s the language flavor du jour for the military. Back in the 80’s, it was Russian. The 90’s started the rush to Arabic…

Thing is, the military has a history of sort of neglecting to update their language training as quickly as the changes in the political landscape. The Russian emphasis lingered on well past its prime, and Arabic took a while to catch on. Pashtu seemed to be an afterthought considering how long we’ve been involved now in Central Asia. Granted, it takes time to form these programs. (Where do you find educated souls who are fluent in Pashtu? I’m still trying to figure that one out.) But still.

When John got this language, we were less than thrilled. We’ve joked that we’re just too old for this sort of thing. The young Marines in his class? (We call them “kids”.) They are totally motivated. (And extremely bright.) They look at Afghanistan as Their War, and they consider Pashtu incredibly relevant. They will, after all, likely hit the ground running, literally, and use the language in-country.

John’s purpose is not so clear. Will he work at an Embassy? Over there? What about his family? (What about meeeeeee?)

There’s talk of a school at a base in Florida that uses Pashtu linguists for part of its cultural instruction courses. Meh. The whole point of this foreign affairs program was for us to go overseas again!

But now I feel like I’m whining, and I really don’t mean to. John is very proud to do what he does, even if the purpose isn’t always clear. And I am very thankful that he is not in harm’s way as a matter of course. Like the Special Forces. The Navy SEALS. Can you imagine a life married to someone who routinely risks his life in service to our country? It’s true valor, I tell you. And a calling to serve, that is. I admire it, and value it. But I’m not sure how I’d do being married to it.

I think of that guy, the one who put the bullet in Osama bin Laden’s head. I’ve no doubt he did not hesitate. Their training is too rigorous, too thorough, for that. He had a mission, and he completed it. As a facebook friend (and military officer himself) commented, “Luckiest Guy in the World: The SEAL that got to double-tap Osama.”

That sounds so cold, so harsh. But that’s what war is. “Somebody’s got to do it” sounds so cliche, but I suppose it fits here. What I wonder is, after he did it? After he “double-tapped” Osama? Did the realization finally hit him of what he’d done? That he was the one who pulled the trigger on America’s greatest enemy of the last decade? Did he revel in pride at the role he played? Did he shrug it off as being just one of team who had a mission to do and succeeded? Did he get the shakes? Did he get drunk?

I may never know, and I’m okay with that. I’ll just continue to be forever thankful that there are people who are called to duties such as these, so that I may continue with my own. And if it makes the language John is studying irrelevant for our national defense…? We can only hope.

“The$e Are a Few of My Favorite Books…”

Did you know it’s Financial Literacy month? I was just a tad-bit late realizing that, and here it’s almost over before I’m posting this. I suppose I have just a few things going on right now…

These are a Few of My Favorite Books…

Okay, so I haven’t exactly read all of them. I sort of have a habit of second-hand shopping ahead of myself. And some I read years ago and could barely summarize them for you now; they’re probably worth another look-see.

Which Book is Best?

I believe that the best financial reading is the one that works for you. Does the message ring true? Does it resonate? Did it cause you to pause and challenge your financial paradigm? Did you finally start doing things differently instead of doing more of the same?

The common quote, usually attributed to Albert Einstein, comes to mind: 

“Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.”

What will you read when you are finally sick and tired of the insanity that is your finances? When you’re finally ready to hear the message?

Then that’s the best financial reading for you.

1* The Total Money Makeover

That said,The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness" target="_blank"> Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover really resonated with me. It clicked. He holds no punches. He lights those fires. He challenges the American paradigm of debt and our love affair with credit and I Can Borrow My Way to the American Dream and tells us all to grow up.

I love memoirs, and Dave’s book reads like little memoirs that he scatters throughout the book in the form of case studies of actual people who share their financial journeys and struggles with debt and what they did to make real, lasting changes in their lives and how they manage their money. (You can breathe now.)

A couple Dave Ramsey quotes:

“You must gain control over your money or the lack of it will forever control you.”

“Too many people buy things on the ‘lay-awake’ plan.”

“Act your wage!”

Gotta love Dave.

I discovered Dave in the Spring of 2009. In the following ten months we paid off $19,375.72 of debt. Nothing changed except our mission. Dave lit a fire under our boo-tocks, and we wanted to put it out.

Since then we have bulked up our savings, John has moved to California, we’ve put our house up for sale (unsuccessfully), and the kids and I are getting ready to join John in California after renting the house out to friends. We’re doing this all with cold, hard cash, baby. I think Dave would be proud.

2* Mary Hunt

I have to plug Mary Hunt, because she was my introduction into the personal finance world. Well, after my foray into personal banking, that is. I worked at a (very large bank) for a couple of years in my mid-20’s and learned all I never wanted to know about how too many people (don’t) handle their money. I hated every minute of it. What can I say? We needed the paycheck. Oh, the irony.

The Freedom Account

Anyhoo. I took You can" t pay your credit card bill with a credit card and other habits of the financially confident woman" target="_blank">Mary Hunt’s study “The Financially Confident Woman”  at our church and started using some of her methods with our finances at home. Namely, her Freedom Account, as she coined it. A Freedom Account is simply Mary’s name for a separate checking account that you keep for all of those irregular payments that come up throughout the year. Instead of waiting until the quarterly insurance premium is due, for example, you divide the payments into monthly amounts and deposit that money into your freedom account until the bill is due. Then you just draw the money from the Freedom Account and, Wah-lah! No more “unexpected” bills!

That tool worked very well for us for a number of years. Especially in your younger years, or when your income is lower, it’s imperative that you anticipate irregular bills — and Christmas is included in that! It does come every December 25th, after all…

3* The Millionaire Next Door

This book will shatter any pre-conceived notion you might have about who really are America’s wealthy.The Millionaire Next Door: Surprising Secrets of America" s Wealthy" target="_blank"> Thomas Stanley’s The Millionaire Next Door closely examines the lifestyles and habits of people who actually have millions in their bank accounts — not the people who just look like they do.

I was particularly struck by recognizing that high-income earners are not usually the ones with all the wealth; and that most of America’s successful entrepreneurs were mediocre students at best — something I think should be touted more in the schools and with kids who are growing up under the impression that doing well in school guarantees you success in life, or vice versa.

This is a must-read for every American, in my humble opinion.

4* Enjoy Your Money! How to Make It, Save It, Invest It, and Give It

I won this book from a blogger (sorry if you’re reading this — it escapes me who you were!) and had never heard of it before then. Now it seems like it comes up everywhere!Enjoy Your Money!: How to Make It, Save It, Invest It and Give It" target="_blank"> Steve Miller’s Enjoy Your Money!: How to Make It, Save It, Invest It and Give It" target="_blank">Enjoy Your Money! is perfect for anyone just starting out in managing their money. Or, ideally — before they start out! (Think “teenagers”!)

I asked my own young teenager to read this so we could discuss it together. This was about a year ago. He did start it, and we did discuss several chapters together, along with another friend of his. Then we got busy and distracted and never finished. But I plan to go back to it eventually with my son, now that he is older and is developing a more vested interest in handling his finances. Pun intended.

His friend, by the way, said he devoured the book well ahead of our scheduled talks for each chapter, and then he gave it to his older (high school) sister to read.

Just a note: At first I didn’t like the “movie script” dialogue format with the fictitious characters the author developed to hone in the messages. I thought it was cheesy. But then, this book is not necessarily meant for people like me, who actually seek out financial books. As one reviewer noted, it’s “A readable book on personal finance for people who don’t want to read a book on personal finance.”

But the characters, and the writing style, did end up growing on me. And by the end of the book I recognized that Steve had covered absolutely every important financial topic. If you’re looking for a way to introduce your high schooler, or any young adult, into personal finance, this may be it.

5* The 4-Hour Workweek

I initially checked this book out of the library because I was interested in the traveling aspect of the author’s story. The 4-Hour Workweek, Expanded and Updated: Expanded and Updated, With Over 100 New Pages of Cutting-Edge Content." target="_blank">Timothy Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek chronicles his journey that enabled him to “Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, And Join the New Rich.”

I’m a sucker for traveling memoirs, and I thought that’s what I’d be getting with this book. After all, a “4-hour workweek”? Leaving the rat race? Out-sourcing your life? Travel the world without quitting your job? I’m a SAHM: I can’t quit my “job” (and wouldn’t want to!) What would all that have to do with me? It’s not like I can “outsource” my kids!  Or could I…

Oh, I jest.

I just wanted to read about his travels, but I ended up getting sucked into his philosophy on working and earning an income and life in general. His view is controversial and definitely outside of the box. Instead of promoting Time Management, for instance, he tells you to evaluate your Busyness and Do Less, not more in less time. He also challenges the idea that The Customer is Always Right, a decidely American mindset. If that customer is causing 90% of your headaches, do you really need him? While his ideas may seem to only pertain to the person who works for a paycheck, I found myself applying them to different areas of my life as well in a very personal way.

Ferriss refers to the New Rich as those who don’t defer the lives they are supposedly working toward. They do what it takes to make that life possible right now.  His book is so not all about traveling the world — unless that’s what you choose to do. It’s about living the life you want to live, right now.

Why are you working? What are you planning on doing when you retire? Do you really have to wait?

I bet you can guess what his answer is!

“Retirement planning is like life insurance. It should be viewed as nothing more than a hedge against the absolute worst-case scenario: in this case, becoming physically incapable of working and needing a reservoir of capital to survive.” ~ pg. 31

In other words, we don’t retire because we want to; we retire because we have to. If you’re doing what you love — why would you stop?

Remember the story about the two fisherman?

“Two fishermen are sitting in on a quiet beach. Each day they catch fish: some to eat; some to sell to make a living. They grow up together, living life and sharing stories and chatting.

Then one day, one of the fisherman says “I want to try to make something of myself….I want to become something! I’m going to do it, go out into the world and become a success!”

The remaining fisherman says, “I wish you the best my friend.”

So the departing fisherman does just that: works hard; gets a corporate / office job; climbs the “corporate ladder” and builds his wealth.

Later, the corporate fisherman retires from the corporate world…

… and returns to the fishermen village. He picks up a fishing pole and sits next to his old friend and asks, “How’s everything? I missed it so much here. I worked so hard, made something of myself, made some money, look at me!”

The long-time friend replies, “Welcome back, I’ve been enjoying life right here all along.”

6* Secrets of the Millionaire Mind

Okay, I admit it. I thought this book was going to be a bunch of hogwash written by a guy who just wants you to spend a couple grand signing up for his seminars that really don’t offer anything new but a way for him to make money from a bunch of suckers.

I was wrong.

No, I haven’t attended one of his seminars, but a cousin of mine did and raved about it to me. She and her husband are entrepreneurs, and after reading Secrets of the Millionaire Mind: Mastering the Inner Game of Wealth" target="_blank">T. Harv Eker’s Secrets of the Millionaire Mind, I can understand how this guy would inspire them — or anyone — to work their business successfully and not limit themselves within unconscious barriers or to preconceived notions of what is possible.

I had no intention of seeking out his book. But  I happened to come across it at the Thrift Store (of course!) not too long after our conversation. As I joked with my cousin, “I guess the book didn’t work for the person who consigned it!”

Eker helps you to recognize your “Money Blueprint,” which comes from the “information, or programming, that you received in the past, and especially as a young child.”

Do you understand what your financial paradigm is? Do you even realize that you have one? This book will help you to understand why it is you handle money the way that you do (for better or worse) and help you to recognize subconscious beliefs about money and wealth and success that you may not even realize that you have.

“All the statements you heard about money when you were young remain in your subconscious mind as part of the blueprint that is running [or ruining!] your financial life.”  ~pg. 21

Understanding how we all develop our financial blueprints helps you to understand your partner’s beliefs about money as well. Indeed, our own “blueprint” can even determine the company we keep! Eker cites an example for couples:

“If you are a woman whose money blueprint is set for low, chances are you will attract a man who is also set for low so you can stay in your financial ‘comfort zone’ and validate your blueprint. If you are a man who is set for low, chances are you will attract a woman who is a spender and gets rid of all your money, so you can stay in your financial ‘comfort zone’ and validate your blueprint.”  ~pg. 42

  • How many of you decided to finally take control of your finances, then found that you had to find some new friends? Or you discovered resistance from your family and loved ones?
  • How many of you — particularly spouses — thought you were on the same page financially, then turned around to discover that your loved one was saying one thing, but doing another? And not out of malice or ill-intent, but seemingly unconsciously. In fact, they handle your frustration with true bewilderment or in complete defense, shrugging their shoulders and saying, “What?” And you’re wondering if your last conversation you had was just a figment of your imagination. This book could help you to understand that. And I daresay, even change it. If you could get your spouse to read it, too… (hi, honey!)

7* Achieving Financial Freedom

25 Biblical Principles That Can Change Your Life

 You may only be able to find this book in a Christian bookstore, or ask your library if they can order it. At least, I had trouble finding it online. (Obviously, since I’m not linking to it.)

I haven’t sat down and read this book cover-to-cover. Rather, I thumb through it and pause at one of the many short chapters whose theme catches my eye: “Keep Money in Perspective,” or “Learn From Your Mistakes,” or “Expect God’s Abundance,” “Seek God’s Wisdom” and many, many more.

This thin book packs a lot of punch into biblical principles that can keep us on track financially and help us to remember what’s really important and that, ultimately, we leave this earth as naked as we came into it. (Totally my words.)

My favorite thing about it is all the quotes and verses about money that are included in every chapter. If you didn’t know, the bible talks about money almost more than any other topic (except love?), with well over 1,000 verses on the subject. However, you can’t exactly plug “money” or even “finances” or “wealth” into an online search engine tool to find all the verses: most of them don’t even include those words.

This book contains a plethora of verses as well as many quotations by figures as varied as Laura Ingalls Wilder (“I am beginning to learn that it is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all.“) to Yogi Berra (“If you don’t know where you’re going, be careful. You might get there.“) 

I list some favorite quotes and verses up above under my About Me tab, and many of them came from this book.

Some more samples:

“The most powerful life is the most simple life. The most powerful life is the life that knows there it’s going, that knows where the source of strength is; it is the life that stays free of clutter and happenstance and hurriedness.” ~ Max Lucado

“Success and happiness are not destinations. They are exciting, never-ending journeys.” ~ Zig Ziglar

“When a believing person prays, great things happen.” ~James 5:16

That’s exciting stuff.

What are some of your favorite books that really kicked you in the gut and spoke to you when you were ready to hear it? Favorite quotes? Verses?

Please, do share.

A Financial Re-Think.

Well, that was fun, wasn’t it? (See previous.)

Now that we have that crisis diverted, can I see a show of hands for those who may be conducting their financial lives differently in the future? No more can we claim our income is guaranteed just because we work for the government. Oh, we would have gotten paid eventually once Congress reached an agreement… But what about in the meantime? And what about the “non-essential” civilian government employees who were told not to bother coming to work until the politicians signed an agreement, because their pay wouldn’t be made up anyway?

From what I gathered listening in on cyber conversations, a lot of people were not prepared for the eventuality of not getting a paycheck, even for a day, let alone a week. Or more…

Some of them couldn’t help it. One military spouse in particular comes to mind: her family had just experienced a year of unemployment and her husband had recently joined the military. He was getting ready to deploy and leave her and the kids on the homefront. They’d depleted their savings during his unemployment and hadn’t had a chance to shore them back up, and she was scared. Can you blame her?

I’m not talking about people like that.

But what about the rest of us? Lest you think I’m picking on you, I can think back to just a year ago when my husband and I were not exactly prepared in the event his employer decided not to pay him on time, no sirree. We were going hog-wild and paying off debt Dave-Ramsey style: that is, keeping only $1k in liquid savings and putting every extra penny toward our snowball. Had we lacked a paycheck, even for a week, we had virtually nothing to draw on besides that measly $1000. Which doesn’t go far when you have a mortgage to pay and lights to keep on and food to put on the table…

We would have been forced to reach for the credit card. Or to not pay our bills on time. I know some of you were facing that choice this time around. Which would you have chosen? Did you even have a credit card as a choice? Hard-core Dave Ramsey fans would have already cut up their credit cards…

I think we have a responsibility to ourselves, and to society at large, to be as prepared as possible to help ourselves in the even of a financial crisis — even when it’s not of our own doing. Or maybe especially when it’s not of our own doing. It’s all good and well to whine and cry about how unfair it is and how Congress is still getting paid and How Dare They? and point the finger and blame everyone else. But that’s not going to put food on your table or keep a roof over your head. And it’s certainly not going to help your neighbor who may be worse off than you. And there will always be that neighbor. Don’t we want to help them out, too?

I think of the young family, new to the military, fresh off of a year of unemployment. It’s difficult enough to face your first (or second, or third…) deployment, let alone wonder if your husband’s going to be paid while he’s gone. In times of old, that young woman might have known that her neighbors would come to her aid. That food would find its way to her table. That her rent would get paid. That she would get by, with a little help from her friends.

I feel like we’ve lost that faith, and that feeling of responsibility: that when times get bad, neighbor will help neighbor. Part of it is that we don’t know who needs help: they don’t exactly go around with a sign around their neck. Part of it seems to be a lack of trust: what did they do to get themselves in such a bind in the first place? But much of it seems to be our inability to help anyone else because we’re just treading water ourselves.

I think this budget crisis woke a lot of people up. At least I hope it has. The crisis was averted a whole five days ago. Have you already forgotten?

I’ve been thinking about how we in the Budgets household might do things differently, both short-term and long-term. I’m thinking a little differently about our financial planning, and about what purchases we were thinking about that we might hold off for now. For example:

Short-term:

  • I did not re-enroll my youngest in Karate for the two months we have left in Ohio. That’s about $200.
  • I had told John that I wanted to get a new washer and dryer when we get to California in June, finally. We’ve always made do with used ones. I’m re-thinking that now.
  • John wants to get a motorcycle and has been shopping around. That purchase is on hold.

Long(er) term:

  • Continue to snowball debt. The crisis renewed my motivation to do this as fast as possible. See above.
  • Double our liquid savings. The original amount was arbitrary to begin with, and partly determined with the mindset that John’s military employment and income was secure. In light of the budget crisis, and of our becoming reluctant landlords for the second time around, we need to rethink our savings buffer. In my mind right now, doubling it is just until we pay off more debt. After that we should add to it even more…
  • Figure out how we should best balance bulking up savings with paying off debt.
  • Add income: Several months ago, I sort of stumbled into a way to earn a little income through a home-based business. I’m more motivated to continue doing the work necessary to maintain this business and allow it to grow, albeit slowly.

What about you? Are you making financial decisions differently? Holding off on purchases? Halting retirement contributions to pay down debt? to bulk up liquid savings? Are you making any radical changes in lifestyle to lower your cost of living? Looking for a new (non-government) job?

Please, do share.

Government Shut Down?

John addended one of his emails to me last night, all casual-like, like it was just an after thought (which it probably was): “Hey, what’s our strategic reserve lookin’ like. You know, in case we don’t get paid next pay period.”

NOT FUNNY, HONEY. Rhyme intended. Because he’s joking, ha-ha and all that, right?

Apparently I’ve had my head buried in the sand, what with immersing myself in the Homeschool Convention and my kids being on Spring Break and enjoying this visit with my parents and, and, and.

Because the news is out there: I just wasn’t paying it no mind. I mean, it’s so, improbable, isn’t it? That the government would actually shut down? and paychecks would not be issued?

Social Networks are all a twither about the possibility and what it means for military pay. Are you prepared? Do you have savings in place to cover expenses until the government gets its budget act together?

We do, to an extent, to answer my husband’s question. (Just a reminder: he’s in California and the kids and I are in Ohio. We communicate mainly by email.) (And occasionally even via this blog, wink-wink.)

Our savings could replace a month of his income and a little more, is all. Although that is, I’m sure, a much better position than many others would find themselves. Indeed, just a year ago I wouldn’t have been able to say that even for ourselves.

Replacing Income vs. Covering Expenses

But replacing income and paying for expenses are not the same thing. Obviously, when something so unlikely, so improbable (like a government shut down) happens, you tighten your belt and cut out anything and everything absolutely unnecessary: eating out; kids’ activities; shopping for anything other than food… (what did I miss?)…

So our savings could cover much more than one month’s worth of expenses, thank God. But as unlikely as a government shut down seems to be, a government shut down lasting longer than a few days or even a week seems about as likely as … Oh, American ground troops landing in Libya, just to throw something out there.

(Oh, wait…)

How prepared are you? Is this a wake-up call for anyone out there? Is this going to affect how you prioritize your finances in the future?

From what I’ve read (which isn’t much) the budget is “paid” (read: agreed upon) through April 8. Tomorrow. After that? Things could get interesting…

Regardless of what happens in the short-term, I hope you all take this to heart to change how you plan for things long-term: if you don’t have emergency savings in place, start one, now; if you think the government will always be there to bail you out, you might want to re-think your paradigm…

I, for one, have doubts about the government always being there for us financially, despite my husband going on 20 years of military service. I don’t even believe we can count on his retirement pay continuing until the day we die, just as I don’t think any of us should count on Social Security. There’s a reason so many baby boomers are planning on working until the day they just can’t, and those are the ones who are collecting Social Security!

I do think this current budget crisis is a hiccup, and that my husband and others like him will receive their pay in due time, if not on time. I just hope that we remember this time of uncertainty and use it to gird ourselves even further against future crises, however improbable they may seem. That is the definition of an emergency, after all: things for which you can otherwise not plan. I hope you all use this time to rethink and prepare your own strategy. If our own soldiers aren’t financially protected by our government, how well are you?