Friday, February 18, 2011

Money Matters

I have debt.  I realize that in America today, that is pretty much the norm, and in some ways expected.  However, I lived debt free, for at least 15 years; then like many of us, through a series of medical emergencies, I used up my emergency savings, and then had to start using the emergency credit cards.  I have not been able to get that totally paid off since 2004.  This stresses me out.  I do not like this at all.  It makes me feel trapped, and at the mercy of my budget.  I will say, however, that I still maintain an excellent credit rating, and while I am unable to pay my balances in full, I make more than the minimum payments each month, and though they are small, I can see that I am making dents in the balances.

I am very careful with my money, and have a very carefully planned out budget that I follow carefully.  After selling all of our investments when I got divorced at the end of 2004, I now have some small holdings again (401k through work, and a small money market attached to my life insurance), which feels really good!  The debt I carried with me from the divorce is hardly anything anymore, but the process of paying THAT off generated new debt of almost equal size, and that I am still dealing with.  I did pay off my car in 2009, and I was so excited, I used what would have been two car payments to go to Hawaii for nine days with two of my best friends!  I still feel like that was a wonderful way of celebrating!  Then I lost my job July of 2009, and went back to school, which brought student loan debt!  I was able to get half of my tuition money covered with grant monies, which was a LOT of hard work researching and writing applications and such, but so worth it!  I was also, so very fortunate to have qualified for a program that allowed me to collect my unemployment benefits while going to school full time, without having to job-search, or work!  I was offered my first job after graduation, one year to the day from when I got laid off!  If I did not have a very carefully crafted and held to budget, I never would have survived being out of work for an entire year!  It was a wonderful experience for me to go back to college as an adult, and I would gladly do it again, better prepared financially!

Over the years I have taken many classes on personal finances, and I really have to say that I love helping people plan their family household budgets, and helping them make a plan to get out of debt!  I may not be out of debt yet myself, but I have a plan that I am actively working, and regularly reviewing.  I am open with my plan, and suggest the same formulas and strategies for people that I mentor with.

In an effort to continually educate myself, and keep my skills sharp, and expand my own knowledge base, I regularly take classes, often through the credit union I belong to, as they are free; I read books I get from the library, and seek out free classes put on by professionals in the area.  Currently, I am participating with an online organization called the Women's Institute for Financial Education (WIFE) and have started participating in their Money Club 21-day Debt Makeover.  Each day I get an email with one small, 15-minute task to do towards recognizing where and what my debt is.  Each task is simple, and not at all scary, it is simply a matter of getting familiar with my money and responsibilities, which is the first, and most important step, in getting our finances under control.

I am continually seeking to improve my outlook, and my plan, and my options.  Later this spring, I am even considering taking a temporary second job, so that money can be directly applied to my debt reduction plan!  I am aware that I would be "burning the candle at both ends", I also know that it would be a temporary situation, and that the end result of returning to financial peace makes it worth while.  It might also open some opportunities for me to serve, as one of the types of jobs I am considering is home health care with special needs children, something that I did years ago, and very much enjoyed, though the pay is low. But this time around, it would be supplemental income, so I feel a bit more liberty in being open to that option.

While my debts are "under control" as far as being on time and ahead of my payments, I also know that they still exist, and they limit my ability to do other things that I would really love to be able to do, like travel, and spending time developing my musical, photographic, and crochet arts!  I would love to be able to work on a medical missions trip.  I would like to buy a small used truck, since I live more in the country now, and my little sports car does not really like the winter snow, and pot-hole rittled dirt roads.

I encourage you to take a look at your finances.  Don't be afraid of them.  When you are in control of your money, you have so much more freedom than when your money controls you!  As with all of my journeys, I will share with you as I progress what I am doing, and I encourage you to join me in the 21-day Debt makeover, and at least get a better understanding of how you really do have what it takes to make your financial life more solid!

Live Well!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Legacy, Leaving

I read, the other day, that we do not change as we get older, we just become more clearly ourselves.  The way a diamond cutter chips away the rough rock, to reveal each of the tiny faucets that make a sparkling, glittering diamond; I believe that every person we have ever met has made a mark on our psyche, even if we do not recognize it at the time.  And, I believe that we in turn, leave a mark on every person we meet.  As a leaf pressed into soft clay, whose impression shows a complex map of lines, each soul that intersects with mine brings clarity, definition, and detail to my life.

And much like the fine thread that I work carefully with my smallest crochet hook, to create complex and beautiful laces, each encounter I am allowed with another human soul, is designed and carefully orchestrated by the loving and gentle hands of The Master of the Universe, to create a beautiful garment, that clothes and warms, and protects me.

People come and go from our lives.  Some people however, leave longer lasting, and more recognizably important influences.  I cannot be more thankful for the short time that I was allowed to know one of the most loving and gentle souls, in the person of Ed Brand.

My relationship with him was brief, but somehow feels as if I had known him much longer than a fleeting 4 years.  From the first time I met him, I felt a kindred spirit with him.  There were a few times I was able to stop at the house and visit, just him and me.  I enjoyed those conversations with Ed very much!  He always asked such genuine and thoughtful questions about my children, who he had only met a few brief times.  He shared news of his grandchildren, and how proud he was of their accomplishments.  He relayed a particular story of Jeff and Matt floating past the house on the river in Granite Falls, as he sat drinking his coffee and watching from the window.  With a firm and patient heart he equally loved all six of the children he and Elaine combined when they married, and all of the grandchildren that followed.  His wise and gentle manner helped me, as a mom, to remember to see the long range for my own children, and realize that even the most difficult moments can work out for the good.  I thank you, Ed, for being part of the intricate map of encounters that continues to bring clarity and definition to my life, and nurture my healing heart.

Every encounter I had with Ed filled my heart with gentleness, and I always came away loving and appreciating him for helping me to see through softer eyes.  His thoughtful and guiding way of asking questions makes me, yet, long for that amazing skill in myself, and I tried to pay attention to that mannerism, so that I might nurture that quality in myself.  Ed was a great listener and teacher of life lessons for me.  I will always have a precious place in my heart where I hold my memories of him.  I am forever thankful for the rich detail, and intricate stitches Ed brought to the lace of my life.

After being surrounded by his large and loving family, Ed slipped gently and peacefully from this world and into the next, with his wife and daughter at his side.  While his presence will be deeply missed at family gatherings, his loving and gentle essence remains with all of us who are blessed to have counted him as family and friend.

A precious gem, sparkling, and radiant from a life that exposed and polished his many faucets, he is now set in the Crown of God.