75% of One Year DOWN

Our marriage turned 9 months on February 23rd, which is pretty exciting. Think about it, we could've had a kid by now, sheesh! Seriously, we're happy to have yet another month under our belt. Here's a current picture of us:

You know, it hardly seems like we're newlyweds anymore, I feel like we've been married forever. Bryan is more my family than anyone, it's as though we've always had this natural rhythm of life together. I say this a lot when asked about my marriage, but it's true: I highly recommend it!

Some Updates:

We made it through the month without going over our grocery budget! It was great to clean out our fridge and cupboards a little. But it will be even more great to have food in the house after a big grocery shopping trip tomorrow!

I've been keeping pretty disciplined in exercise, budgeting, and reading! It's been really great to feel like I'm accomplishing much more during my day.

However, God has really convicted me about how very undisciplined I am in reading my Bible everyday. I've felt so proud of myself these past 4-5 weeks, but God gently asked me, a few days after the Lent season started, "What impact are those things having in the Kingdom? Why is health, money, and education more important than Me?"

So I decided to start a Bible read-thru. I'm praying that God would help me to exercise discipline in this most important area of my life first and foremost.

Bryan and I switched sides of the bed the other week. That was fun! I'm still getting used to not being right next to alarm clock. Which is a little inconvenient because I can't see more than a foot away without my glasses on.

Bryan has been pretty busy with the Anthem Band, they've written a lot of songs and are starting the recording process.

Bryan also went to the Chiropractor and his daily headaches ceased for the first day in a long time-praise God!

This next month will be a really busy month for us, but I won't spoil all of the updates now. Until next month!


The Nuts & Bolts of our Budget: Part 1

About a year ago, when we were so close to ending our engagement and beginning our marriage, Bryan and I took a class with our connection group called Financial Peace University. If you've heard of Dave Ramsey, you've likely heard most of what I'm about to go through as it's similarly modeled after his class.

Over the next few weeks, I'll use terms that Dave (we're on a first name basis) would also use.

Part One.

We have a something of a zero-based budget (actually I'm not sure that name is correct, but trust me, I got all of this from Dave). This basically means, in Dave's words, we "spend all of our money on paper before the month starts."

Here's how we did it:

Step 1: We tried to account for every expense we could possibly think of. Literally anything that could come up over the course of the year, not to mention those trusty bills that happen to come every month.

Step 2: We came up with a monthly budget to account for all of those expenses.

Step 3: At least for us, our ideal amount to spend each was more than we wanted it to be. It wasn't more than we made, but we wanted to pay off our debts and start saving up for school so we shaved everything off we could. This relates quite a bit to the whole saying no thing. We didn't add dates to our budget until we were debt free, for instance.

Step 4: So then we had our bottom number, our budget. It was less than our income each month, so the last step was to make a plan for all of the extra income we brought in. That's where the goals come in, we funnel all of our extra money towards our goals.

So, in essence we have our income, which we tithe from first and foremost. Then we have our expenses, which are as little as they can possibly be right now. Then we have our goals, which we fuel with all of our extra income each month.

Here's an example:
(please note this is not our actual budget, but if you want to know what I spend on whatever, just ask!)

Income: +$3,500.00
Taxes: -$750.00
Tithe: -$350.00
Sub-Total #1: +$2,400.00
Rent: -$700.00
Utilities: -$125.00
Car Repair: -$100.00
Car Insurance: -$250.00
Fuel: -$200.00
Phone: -$75.00
Groceries: -$200.00
Medical Expenses: -$50.00
Clothing: -$100.00
Dates: -$50.00
Fluff: -$100.00
Christmas: -$50.00
Vacation: -$50.00
Sub-Total #2: +350.00
Goals: -$350.00
TOTAL: $0.00


and the winner is...


Congratulations! (I've just sent you an email, Christy.)

Just so you know, I was so thankful for ALL of your comments, it was so encouraging to hear from you! I really wanted to give you all free books!

I used random.org to choose the winner, because it seemed the most fair. Here's hoping that authors will read more of my book reviews and we can do this again!

Happy Monday!


Blue Like Jazz

I have never been brainy. But I have always been the perfect student in whatever situation I find myself in. I easily got good grades in school. My sunday school teachers and small group leaders loved me. If I were graded in those situations, I would have a 4.0. Math was a my worst subject by far, but I always got A's in my classes.

Do you want to know my secret? I never questioned authority. I couldn't question authority because I never once thought outside of authority. I did what my math teacher told me to do. I was shocked when my classmates would ask why y=ax+b. I didn't care why, the teacher said it was true and I simply solved the equation in the way my teacher asked us to. Why do you need to know the reason behind something when you can just solve it and move on?

I've done this, and do this with most things in my life. I don't question anything. If that's the way it was when I first discovered something, that's the way it will and should always be. In this way, I am very black and white. This is not an admirable quality. Sure, it makes me incredibly easy to get along with because I have no backbone and everyone likes to have someone who agrees with them.

But this morning, as I was finishing this book, all these conversations started running through my head that ultimately, ashamed me. So many times I've been in conversation and the person opposite the table from me makes some offhand remark implying an opinion that I in no way agree with and yet I jump to say, "yes, of course, totally". I have no idea what I'm even saying! I think I've been calling it love and reassurance all these years. I just don't want to hurt anyone's feelings or make anyone feel stupid.

I loved this book, first of all, because Donald Miller is incredibly human. He really lets you see into his soul, even though it means you'll like and dislike him throughout the book.

Often I found myself judging Mr. Miller completely. Thinking to myself, I would have never done that. But ultimately, I found myself loving the true person that he was, one that was "cranky" sometimes, "selfish" and "immature" sometimes (his words, not mine).

This book taught me to think about my surroundings. To think about what I say, what I agree to, what I have opinions on. I'm convinced Donald Miller thinks more in one day than I ever have in my life.

As I read this book, story after story of his thoughts about the events, people, and institutions around him, I was so convicted. I have always been one to follow someone else, without fuss. I don't challenge anything about my leader, because I simply haven't thought enough to have an opinion different than my leader.

If I had to guess Mr. Millers purpose in writing this book, it would be that he wanted us, the readers, to experience the journey he's been on with God. To experience his frustrations, his questions, his joys, his victories. And to that I say, bravo.

This book challenged me not because it made feel guilty or like I needed to change my life in a very specific way, but it challenged me because throughout the story the main character, namely Donald Miller, was challenged.

The English teacher that changed the way I looked at literature and writing always told me, "Show. Don't tell. Show." This book is best example of that lesson I've ever seen. He simply laid his life (and his friends') before the reader and showed me what God has to offer.


books and things

Tuesday night, I wrote a blog about the first non-fiction book I've ever finished. Wednesday night, the author of that book read my review of her book. SO COOL! In her comment, she offered to send me a free copy of her book to give-away to one of my blog readers (go here and enter to win by Sunday night!). Again, SO COOL! I emailed her about details and yesterday she replied by telling me that she had just read my blog on budgeting, so she thought she'd help by waiting for me to choose a winner, and ship the book directly to them. SO STINKIN' COOL!

It's been a fun week for this girl in the blogging world.

On a similar note, I wanted to remind myself of the books I really want to read by the end of March:


Finance Friday: The Hardest Part

[photo credit: hi5]

Last week, I argued that the most important step in personal financial success is to set goals for yourself. In the same way, I'll argue that the hardest thing about personal financial success is, you guessed it, saying no.

My husband and I dialogue about our finances very regularly. He often "jokes" of how he feels like our budget is his parent. Just the other day he told me about an inner dialogue he was having with himself, it went something like this:

Wow, I feel like a popsicle. I really want one. Maybe I should just go buy some. But I don't have any spending money right now and I know my wife is trying to stay under budget for groceries this month...Jeez, I'm a grown man and I'm debating whether or not to buy popsicles because of our tight budget this month!

I laughed when he was telling me this, but he was actually kind-of serious. Bryan loves shopping, much more than I do. He tends to be the spender and I'm the saver. That's the way our awesome God made us. In light of the way we were created, it's hard for Bryan to say "no" to the things he wants. And it's really hard for me to say "no" to Bryan.

We both struggle, on a daily basis, to deny ourselves much of what we want. We say "no" a lot. So, if we struggle so much with it, why do it?

The Benefits of Saying "No"
  1. Saying "no" to things like popsicles when we they don't fit in our budget means saying "yes" to our goals. Goals usually end up requiring some sort of sacrifice.

  2. Instant gratification isn't a long-lasting feeling. While it might feel really good to eat a popsicle right when you're craving it, I promise you'll just want something else later. I can also promise it won't feel as good as accomplishing one of your goals. Have you ever heard your grandparents say that you'll always appreciate the things you worked hard for more than the things that you didn't work hard for? Yeah, that's true. Goals take hard work. Putting a box of popsicles on a credit card takes a swipe.

  3. Saying "no" is counter-cultural. It's possible that the most unifying behavior we in the western culture have is this instant gratification attitude. You want something? Get it NOW. I believe there's a lot of biblical back-up for avoiding worldly behavior. Let's avoid this behavior as followers of Christ and exercise patience in our spending.

  4. Saying "no" is a surefire way to simplify. "Stuff" that piles up is usually a result of that instant gratification thing I mentioned above. I just read a book about simplicity and money was just as big of an issue as time was.

  5. Finally, "Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one." (Matt. 5:37) If you've said, "Yes, I want to be wise with my finances, I want to meet my financial goals this year, I want to live below my means, etc," then let your "yes" be "yes" and say "no" to the other stuff.
Just so you know, Bryan didn't end up buying those popsicles. And right now I have $2.85 left in my grocery budget for the next week which means I have to wait to get some things we're out of. But we're making it work. And I'm definitely putting popsicles on the list for next month. : )

Next week: The Nuts and Bolts of our Budget.


breathe: Creating Space for God in a Hectic Life

First of all, I would just like to celebrate the fact that this may very well be the first non-fiction book I've ever finished. Seriously. And I'm hoping to improve on that record.

Paige (and Todd) got me this book, breathe: Creating Space for God in a Hectic Life (along with another similar book, rest: Living in Sabbath Simplicity) for Christmas. I stuck these books on my amazon.com wishlist after Paige and I had dialogued a bit about the Sabbath and it's relevance in today's culture.

It took me about a month and a half to get through all 250 pages. The book mostly consisted of stories about women trying to "ruthlessly eliminate hurry" from their lives. I found a lot of golden nuggets (as I like to call them) and really enjoying reading about different women with different situations trying to slow down their lives in different ways. However, the same things I liked about this book are the things that made it generally long and arduous to get through. As I mentioned above, it took me a month and half to get through.

All the same, if you're looking for a good read on simplifying your life, I would recommend this book. Here are some golden nuggets:

"She seemed to be the epitome of unselfishness-always doing for others. Looking back, Laura says, no one really knew the anger and resentment that bubbled below the surface. 'I wanted to give people the perception that I was available,' she says. 'I said yes mostly to validate my importance.' In other words, she was bearing burdens she was never meant to bear. And doing it because she thought it would please God." (pg. 64)

"'...I would get these leadings...maybe leave them a gift, or send them a note, do something nice for them.' She still does these things, but lately, 'I've been practicing secrecy...it really tests what drives me: God's approval or other people's.'" (pg. 72)

"The opposite of simplicity is not complexity but duplicity. Duplicity means we are divided-we have a split personality. We don't have a singular focus but rather multiple focuses, which create a feeling of being pulled in a thousand directions." (pg. 75)

"If I say I would 'like to' spend time alone with God, but I don't actually do it, there's this disconnect, this duplicity, in my heart...When we actually take steps to live out the things we say that we value, we are moving toward simplicity." (pg. 145)

My personal favorite quote:

"'The Sabbath command is especially relevant to contemporary life. How difficult it is for people in our achievement-and-production-obsessed culture to rest. Keeping the Sabbath means trusting God to be God, recognizing that we are not indispensable. When we refuse to take a single day a week for genuine refreshment and rest, we try to outdo even God! In the light of God's rest, our anxious, compulsive activities may be exposed as little more than efforts to stay in control, or to fabricate life's meaning out of constant activity.'" (original quote from Soul Feast by Marjorie Thompson, pg. 164)

Check out Keri's blog at Deep Breathing for the Soul!


Mom's Meatloaf

Just a confession: I loooooooooove meatloaf. I even order it at restaurants when I (rarely) find it on the menu. It's always been one of my favorite meals.

Needless to say, I was broken-hearted when my husband told me that he, in fact, did not care for meatloaf in the slightest.

But, I was confident enough in my mom's recipe (as she has had her shining moments in the kitchen) that I made this for him anyway. His response? LOVED IT! I hope you will too!

  • 2 lb. Ground Beef (thawed)
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 Packet Onion Soup Mix
  • 2/3 c. Bread Crumbs
  • 1/2 c. Brown Sugar
  • A few squirts of Milk (if necessary)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Mix first 5 ingredients until completely incorporated
  3. If you're having trouble mixing, use a little milk
  4. Press into loaf pan
  5. Squirt ketchup on top
  6. Bake for at least an hour or until completely cooked
It's that easy! We had ours with Asparagus the other night, yum!


Finance Friday: The Secret to Success

Photo Credit: Your Organized Home

Before a budget, before a program, before you try that new personal finance system that only costs 7 easy payments of $19.95, you're going to need to have:


Personally, I don't think there is anyway we, as a couple, would make this whole budget thing happen without them. Seriously.

The age old saying, "That money is burning a hole in your pocket!" is so true.

When money is in my hands, I just want to spend it. If it's in my checking account, I want to spend it. When it's in my savings account, I want to spend it.

And seriously, I can rationalize anything. Bryan's even better than me. We so often connive against our budget and try to find ways to escape it's difficult grasp.

Do you recognize the feeling? Spending money totally feels good. Retail therapy can totally be effective. There's just that remorse later when you have to pay your rent and you can't or you get your credit card bill and realize you can't pay it off. That's worse than the spending was good.

Our solution for this attitude of spending? Well, having a goal or two works just great for us!

Here's how it works:

Step 1: What's your goal?
  • Make it challenging
  • Make it reachable
  • Make it wise
We think our goals last year fit all those categories. Pay off all of our debt in 7 months-challenging? [check] reachable? [check] wise? [check]

Maybe your goal will be completely out of necessity, as in, you have to change something or you're not going to be able to eat. Maybe, you just want some discipline in your life and you've decided to reign in your spending habits as a result. Maybe you want to have more money lying around for a rainy day. I don't know what you're motivation is, I just know you need a challenging, reachable, wise goal to accomplish what you want.

Step 2: What's your time line?

Again, maybe your time line will be based on necessity, as in, you're going to have a baby, and it's definitely going to come in 7 months, so that's gotta be your time line. Otherwise, use the guidelines from above-is it challenging? is it do-able? is it wise?

A year is a nice amount of time to work with, but maybe it needs to be two years because there's a lot to accomplish. Maybe you just want to go as fast as possible.

If you have no idea where to start, a helpful way to figure out your time line take your goal and divide it by how much you can afford to put towards that goal. We'll talk more about this later, but think about making temporary sacrifices in order to reach your goals. If you make some sacrifices and live below your means, you'll be able to reach your goal a lot quicker.

Goal (pay off vehicle): $5,000.00
Extra money to put towards that goal each month: $275.00
Time line: about 18 months

I like a bit more of a challenge, so a more challenging way to figure out a time line is to divide your goal by your time line.

Goal (pay off vehicle): $5,000.00
Time line (12 months): about $417.00

It pushes me to be a little more creative and figure out how I can come up with that extra money each month.

In Conclusion:
In my opinion, goals are even more important than a budget for this reason: there is
no way that we would stick to our budget with out goals. If I don't have a designated job for the money that magically gets direct deposited into our account every two weeks, my mind considers it discretionary. And if in my mind our money is discretionary it would be really easy for me to forget about the bills each month, especially when I would love to go shopping for clothes or decorations or that super-cute-must-have-item at Target.

On the contrary, we
have set goals for our finances and those goals motivate us to actually spend less than what we can afford. Amazing, huh?

One of my favorite blogs, Money Saving Mom, also recently posted a great blog on setting goals, you can check it out here.

So set your goal(s) today! You could even post your goal in the comments so you have some accountability, here are our financial goals for 2010!

Next week: The Hardest Part about Managing your Money


Productivity Day

Well, I'm home for another snow day. I think I've had 5 snow days so far this winter-this weather is relentless!

On the bright side, I finished Gilmore Girls Season 2 yesterday so I have no choice but to be productive. Which is stellar, because my home could really use a deep clean:

To Do:
-List last updated at 8:54pm-
Work Out*
Clean Living Room
Clean Kitchen
Sweep Kitchen Floor
Clean Stove
Clean Microwave
Make Bed
Clean Bathroom
Finish Laundry
Chop Lettuce
Chop Broccoli
Cook Chicken
Make Beer Bread
Make Bacon Bacon Dip
Make Dinner
Watch LOST

DONE and DONE! Hooray for productivity!

*By the way, I'm so excited I just have to share! I've finally getting into a manageable work out routine! I worked out twice last week and once the week before. This week I'll easily get to work out twice again. But the especially exciting news is that I've lost 6lb. in the last month! WOOHOO! I want to keep this trend going!


a little inspiration and a free kitchen table go a long way...

A little inspiration: I fell in love with this painting as soon as I saw it in my Elle Decor Magazine. I love the dark gray and simplicity of it. And I figured it's just stripes, right? I can do that. I put it on my DIY list.

So when I picked up our FREE kitchen table last week (thanks again Andy & Laura Lynn!), I knew the perfect spot for my inspiration to take form, and I knew I wanted to make our kitchen cute and home-y. I'm also going to take the time here to put in a plug for Art Night at my house every other Monday. The next one is February 15th! You should come!

Anyway, here's the before shot:

and here are the after shots:

Much improved? I think so!


Finance Friday: An Introduction

Photo Credit: Personal Finance Blog

Hi, I'm LisaGrace, and I love personal finance.

I wish you could see my face light up when it's time to balance our checkbook. I love forming our budget. I love figuring and re-figuring, until everything is just right. Some may call it a chore, I call it a wonderful hobby.

God created this passion within me, and one of my goals for 2010 is to dialogue all the more about it.

Specifically, I wanted to blog about it because I find it incredibly inspirational to read other financial success stories. Real people, dealing with real money, in today's "I want it now" world-when there is success, it's a cause for celebration! It's also encouraging to know that everyone has a different story and a different way of doing things. I love to be able to pick and choose different methods and try them out for myself-and it's so helpful to have a real example and experience to follow.

So my mission is to encourage, to offer our methods of handling money and to record our successes and our failures. I plan on posting a finance post every Friday in February and March. Let me know if you have any questions, or want to know more details about how Bryan and I handle our finances-I'm an open book!

Next week: The most Important Step to Financial Success


homemade chicken & spinach alfredo pizza

As far as extremely delicious and slightly healthy meals go, we found a definite winner in the Alsbury household! I got the idea from Lauren's Kitchen, used a homemade pizza crust from Money Saving Mom, and made a homemade alfredo sauce from Tammy's Recipes. Yes, I love blogs.

This recipe caused Bryan to say, "This is greatest thing I've ever tasted," for the second night in a row! (the first being when I whipped up some
Grilled Panini's)

For the crust:

  • 1 Tbsp. Active Dry Yeast
  • 1 cup Warm Water (105 to 115 degrees F.)
  • 1 tsp. Sugar
  • 1 tsp. Salt
  • 2 Tbsp. Vegetable Oil
  • 2 1/2 cups Flour
Dissolve yeast in water. Add remaining ingredients in and mix. Dump onto a floured surface. Knead into a smooth dough. Roll out and press down onto a greased pizza pan.

For the sauce:
  • 3 Tbsp. Flour
  • 1 Tbsp. Cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp. Salt
  • 1/4 tsp. Pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. Dried Basil
  • 1/4 tsp. Parsley
  • 2 1/2 cup Milk
  • 2 Garlic Cloves, minced
  • 1/2 Onion, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. Oil
  • 8 oz Cream Cheese, cubed
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, all spices and 1 cup of milk. Set aside. Cube the block of cream cheese. Set aside. In a large saute pan, saute the garlic and onion in the oil. When the onions are translucent, stir in 1 1/2 cups milk and bring to a boil. Gradually pour the flour mixture into the hot skillet. Heat until thick and bubbly. Reduce heat, add the cream cheese and parmesan cheese. Stir until smooth.

*Note: This batch of alfredo sauce will make at least enough for two whole pizzas. Just store in the refrigerator and use on pasta later! Or better yet, see my time saving tip at the bottom!

For the Pizza:
  • 1 cup Chicken, cooked & cubed
  • 1 cup (or desired) fresh Baby Spinach leaves
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded Mozzarella Cheese
  • Red Onion Slices
  • 2 tsp. Italian Seasoning
Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Pour warm alfredo sauce onto prepared crust, spread evenly to edges. Add toppings in the following order: spinach leaves, chicken, cheese, onion slices, italian seasoning. Bake on center rack for 12-13 minutes

Time-Saving Tip:
Admittedly, this took me about and hour and a half to make everything from scratch, but it was so worth it!

To save a little energy later in the month, I made two pizza's at the same time. It added nothing to my prep time. As I noted above, the sauce is more then enough to cover two pizzas, and doubling the crust is really simple.

I prepared the second pizza on tin foil (as opposed to directly on the pan) and stuck the pizza on a pan in my freezer for two hours. Then, I removed the pan, covered the pizza completely with saran wrap and replaced it in my freezer for whenever we feel like eating it again.