Friday, December 31, 2010

Closing out 2010

Hi there, it’s me.

I find it funny to look at my last post that was about being able to post again…and here I am, six months later. I could not even scratch up an additional post while on vacation. Go figure. I think that it is really a statement about being busy.

For me, I feel that I killed my blog when I tried to turn it away from why I started it anyways – a way for me to journal what is going on in my life. I over reached.

I also put more time into my Facebook social life. It is far easier to come up with a snarky status than it is to write a post.

In closing out the year, I did complete reading/listening to the Bible with Daily Audio Bible. The Old Testament had a big impact on me, especially the minor prophets. I look forward to continuing the journey tomorrow morning.

Life seems to be moving so quickly that sometimes it is all I can do just to catch my breath. For 2011, I would like to be more responsive and less reactive. This applies not only to my relationships with my wife and kids, but also to my work. I want to apologize less for verbally throwing up on the people who mean the most to me. I would like to be proactive instead of being a procrastinator.

That’s about it.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Ah…to post again!

It seems like a long time since December of 2009. Only what, six months ago? And here I am, June 2010. Last time, I found something inside that really got me writing about our trip through Financial Peace and many of the lessons that we had learned.

Now, I am sitting outside on my camping lot in Myrtle Beach, SC. This week, I brought my family to Pirateland Campground, a location that played prominently in my childhood. And now, I get to share this with my kids.

I will ask them “hey, go see if that bridge is still there” or “go out on the beach and see if a creek separates this campground from the next” and off they go on some mission. I’ll tell them stories of how the old pool use to have a diving board and was much deeper.

Spending time with your family is important. Making memories even more so.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

24N24 – Completed

My initial Season 1 viewing schedule was wrong, and I noticed it when I finished my first disc a little before 3:00 am. Each disc was nearly three hours long, and with six discs, the total time was closer to eighteen hours than the original sixteen that I had anticipated.

I changed the plan to watch two discs in three viewings with a two hour break after disc two and a four hour break between disc disc four and and five.

I got home from work about 6:30 and went straight to bed. I was afraid that I would not get any shut eye, but amazingly, I did. Cindy woke me at 11:40 when the alarm clock went off.

The six hours was a lot easier than I thought. Maybe it was the anticipation of knowing that I had a whole day ahead of me and this was just the beginning.

At 6:00, I took my first two hour “sync break.” The show was already at 08:00. During the break, I made breakfast for my family and saw them off for their weekend trip.

The next six hours was considerably more difficult and I felt my head nodding from time to time. I ran out to grab some take out lunch and finished up before three.

During my second break, I had the opportunity to go and congratulation a friend of mine for graduating Regent Law school. By that time, I think I had a thousand yard stare. On the way back, I stopped in a very busy Starbucks for a venti Ice Coffee. No sleeping during the breaks.

The final six hours started at six. By this time, I was ahead of the 24 time (which was now at 16:00), and so it was catching up to me, instead of the other way around. This was by design so that I could conclude the show at midnight. I took a quick “sync break” before the last episode so that I stated at 23:19 and ended right on time.

What was it like watching an entire season of 24 in one day? When watching them on broadcast TV, I often lost details of story arcs because the time compression is so tight. A minor character is introduced who suddenly disappears and three weeks later, you are trying to remember what happened to them. In the continuous viewing mode, the story makes a lot more sense. However, it also servers to point out that the show does not really happen in “real-time.”

For example, at 18:59, Jack and Walsh are in an empty field walking down a hill. When 19:00 starts, a shot of the sun establishes that it is going down, and we pick up with Jack and Walsh now walking in darkness. So, between 18:59 and 19:00 we completely skipped dusk – it was as if someone had flipped a switch.

It also seemed that the writers had trouble knowing what to do with Jack’s wife and daughter once they were rescued at noon. They go to a safe house, which is compromised, the mom gets amnesia and thinks that the daughter is dead and both characters wonder around for the next several episodes. Once the Palmer story resolved around the 21:00 mark, it seemed like there was some difficulty knowing how to keep him around for the next several hours.

I think that one 24N24 is enough for me. It is something that I can now scratch off my bucket list.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Old Man Hip

I am looking forward to my 42 revolution around the sun. 42 is one of those numbers that, well, make certain geeks snicker: after all, we know it to be the ultimate answer to life, the universe and everything.

Now, if only we knew the question.

The problem is that the body does not quite have the same resiliency as it did, say, 41 years ago. I have some issues with my left hip that adds just a little pain to about anything that involves moving.

I went to my first physical therapy session, an evaluation of what was going on. It always takes me a little while to warm up to someone, but, getting to know someone while they are touching you doesn’t help.

Luckily, I survived with my dignity intact, but with some astute observations made that I was not aware of: my posture is horrible. I always thought I had relatively good posture (didn’t we learn this in marching band?). I suppose sitting in front of a computer 60 – 75% of the day does not help. In my heart of hearts, I know the issue with my hip will heal; I just need to be patient with the process.

What do I want for my birthday? Simple – A homemade sheet cake that has the words “Don’t Panic” written in big, friendly letters.

That, and maybe a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


On May 8th, Cindy, Katie and Megan will be out for the weekend, so I will have the ranch all to myself. What to do?

I have always wanted to do a 24N24 marathon – watch one season of 24 in a day. I would choose a day, and then begin watching a season and start the marathon at the same time that the show begins.

Using my trusty IMDB, the seasons of 24 start in the following hours:

Day 1 12:00 AM
Day 2 8:00 AM
Day 3 1:00 PM
Day 4 7:00 AM
Day 5 7:00 AM
Day 6 6:00 AM
Day 7 8:00 AM
Day 8 4:00PM

I think Day 8 is safely out, as it is the current season and will not be completed until May 24th. And because of the nature of the Marathon, I think I will rule out Day 3.

What scares me about the ones that are starting after 6:00 AM is going through the night without nodding off and falling asleep. I think that I would have enough momentum to go from 12:00 AM to 6:00 AM, and the 9:00 PM back to 12:00 AM seems doable.

Day 1 it is.

The next thing to consider is the timing. On broadcast TV, the episodes are 1 hour with commercials. On DVD, they are about 40 minutes. 40 * 24 = 960/60 = 16 hours. That takes 8 hours off of the marathon. If I started at midnight, I would finish around 4:00 pm.

But, is that in “the spirit” of a 24N24? There would be something cool about start at 12:00 and finishing the next day at 12:00!

Since the actual viewing time is 16 hours, I’ve broken that down into four blocks. I worked out the start and finish of the season matches up with the show and placed in 8 hours worth of breaks (Food, get out of the house, cat nap, etc.)

So, here is my initial schedule:


Again, I am taking anyone who wishes to sponsor me with caffeine products (coffee, five hour energy) and if you want to drop by and watch a block or two (or three or four) feel free!!


This morning, I woke up at 6:30. Cindy and Katie were getting ready to head off to Suffolk with the Ponies and Megan was still fast asleep.

Time to get up.

I went downstairs and made some coffee and remembered what had come from Amazon the day before: my blue ray version of Lord of the Rings. Not the Peter Jackson version, but the Ralph Bakshi animated film.

For me, this film holds a special place. I discovered LOTR in high school, and this film was something that I longed to see, but, it mostly showed at midnight movies. By today’s standards, the animation is not clean, but, put it in the context of 1978, the animation was absolutely fluid thanks to roto-scoping.

Coming in just over two hours, the film ends at roughly the same point as Jackson’s Two Towers. There was never a second film. I wonder if one was ever seriously planned?

The jewel of this disc, however, is the documentary. It is really neat to get into the head of an artist who was trying to do something that we take for granted today – make animation for adults.

One quote that Bakshi made was

Perseverance is something you get if you are doing something you truly love. And perseverance is something you don’t have if you don’t care about what you are doing.

This speaks to me, as I am realizing how much I want to truly understand and create via computer programming. It is almost like I had been in a fog for years where I was focused on the delivery, but not the craft. I had fallen into taking short cuts and bad practices and had done it so often that the end justified the means.

Over a year ago, I stepped away from a management gig because I wanted to program. But, I did not want to write software in the same way that I was previously. I challenged myself to learn and grow. You know what? There are a lot of talented people out there who share much of what they know and who can teach you new ways of doing things.

You have to just invest the time. Find your passion, and persevere! Don’t ask to be taught, go and learn!

As J.P would say: “Develop with Passion!”

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tolerance is a cop out.

A friend of mine shared an incident where his son shared certain cornerstones of the Christian faith with a friend at school. When my friend received the phone call, the word “tolerance” came up.

My friend responded with “Tolerance is a cop out.”

Crickets on the other side of the phone.

He went on to explain “Tolerance means that I can tolerate what you say, but still hate your guts.” Jesus’ teachings went way beyond tolerance. He instructed us to “Love our Neighbors in the very same way we love ourselves.”

Strive to move beyond tolerating your neighbor: love ‘em.

Friday, March 19, 2010

An American Hero

I apologize for reposting this obituary, but this hits really close to home.

Navy SEAL Chief (SOC) Adam Brown was killed in action in Komar Province, Afghanistan on March 16, 2010.  In true “Adam Brown Style” he died a true hero, placing himself in the line of fire to protect other members of his unit.  Adam’s Special Ops Assault Team was assaulting an enemy compound, an operation Adam had performed many times.  The U.S. Forces were engaging the enemy in a fire fight, when a portion of the U.S. soldiers were pinned down by very heavy fire from the enemy compound.   In an effort to protect his men, Adam charged the enemy and was firing on the enemy from a better vantage point, drawing fire away from his pinned down comrades.  His selfless action relieved the fire on his men, but it unfortunately resulted in Adam being struck by enemy fire.  One other member of the American Team was wounded, but Adam’s heroic action saved the other men.  The enemy compound was captured and all enemy combatants were killed in the action.


Adam was a 12 year veteran of the United States Navy, with several tours of duty overseas.  He is survived by his wife and two children.


I first met Adam when he and his wife took our Financial Peace class. He was a small group leader and a shining light of Jesus on his team.

My heart aches over this.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Embarrassing Moment

I like to take a break at lunch and get away from the office. For several years, I have scooted over to the nearby Barnes and Nobles to enjoy a cup of coffee and a quick read.

What irritates me, however, is people who talk loudly on cell phones. It never fails that when I score a comfy chair, someone in the chair next to me makes a call and talks. Sure, it’s America, and I take the high road and just grin and bear it.

(I am very tempted to get another chair and sit directly in front of them and stare slightly to their left…when they ask what, I’ll just say “I’m thinking”).

Today I brought my laptop into the cafe and pulled out my ear plugs. Believe it or not, my favorite white noise is bird song. So, plugging in, I lost myself in nature’s melody.

But something was wrong, it was really soft, so I turned it up. still a little soft…oh there it is…another volume control on the media player. There we go…cranked up nice and high.

I dig into whatever I was reading and about ten or fifteen minutes pass by when I feel a tap at my shoulder. Looking up, I see my good friend and co-worker Laura pointing at the volume control. I take my earphones out to say “Hi” when I realize that I had plugged my earbuds into the microphone jack.

Who is the obnoxious guy now!?

Monday, February 08, 2010

The Card Game

I watched The Card Game on Netflix Watch Now last night. If you do not subscribe to Netflix, you should! Subscribe to their lowest tier and you get access to thousands of movies (and growing) that is available to stream directly to your computer.

Want to watch it on your TV? Then pick up a Roku Movie Player.

The Documentary

This past week, we had our “Dumping Debt” lesson in FPU, so this documentary really had resonance.  Here are some things you may not know about banking practices:

1. Free Checking – Once upon a time, you paid for checking. Then, they came up with the idea of “Free Checking.” By now, you should realize that nothing is “Free” – they moved the fee. Where did it go? Over draft fees. Before “Free Checking” if you bounced a check, you not only paid the bounced check fee, but you had to go contact the merchant and clear everything up. With Over Draft protection, they will cover you up to three of five hundred dollars. This “loan” is not labeled a loan, but a convenience – therefore it does not fall under the truth in lending terms. The rate on the overdraft convenience is 460%. Very competitive with Pay Day Loans.

2. Over Draft Protection – Was the banks response to Pay Day Loan industry, whom they were failing to compete with.

3. Prioritized Clearance – The bank uses sophisticated software that will clear high charges first in order to drain your account. If you go into overdraft, that same software will start to clear out the lesser charges next. This way, you can pay $50.00 for a $4.00 coffee.

4. 0% Credit Cards – Like Free Checking, 0% Credit Cards and No Annual Fees is another gimmick. However, Credit Cards are far less regulated than banks. They simply moved the annual fee to another fee structure.

4. What is my Interest – The founder of Providian, when presented with a credit card offer, admitted that he could not tell what his actual interest rating would be after the introductory period.

5. Universal Default – If you are late on a bill unrelated to your credit card, your credit card holder can raise your rates. Its called Universal Default.

6. Adjusting Loan Limits – Credit Card Companies can adjust your credit card limits and reset their terms – just because.

7. It hurts the poor – This really got me – those who are able to take advantage of credit cards are doing so at the expense of those living close to the edge. The reason that the product exists is to make money for the company. Those who are poor or living close to the edge are being raped by these companies. I agree, they should not be using them, but, that’s another subject. I might write more about this.

8. Congress’ Legislation did not go far enough – To put it bluntly, I side with Chris Dodd on this one –The Obama Administration did not want to do anything that would hurt the soundness of the banking industry. The banking industry is built on top of fees and until that is regulated that industry will continue to screw the consumer.

9. Housing – The reason that we are in the economic situation has a lot to do with the housing market. Did you know that people were refinancing their homes with sub-prime mortgages to pay off their credit cards just to go and run them up again?

But What about the Free Market?

I believe in the free market and capitalism and generally think that regulation is a bad thing. Most of the times, the Market will adjust and drive out the things that are harmful.

Not so in this case. In this case, the banks have done a good job at marketing their product. What other product do you approach with bended knee? Oh please, please give me credit.

The component of Capitalism that is missing from this formula is Moral Restraint (again, I need to write on this too).

This American Way of using Debt is unsustainable by the consumer. At least, that’s what I found to be true for me.

That’s why I quit. I am out. It’s not a win-win game, and don’t tell me about your Free Points and Air Miles that you get.

It’s a game of they win, you loose. I am not going to play their game. I quit. I am out.

The borrower is slave to the lender. – Proverbs 22:7.

Creating a Budget, Part 3

This is a series for creating a budget using Google Docs. Part One and Part Two describe creating a basic budget form.

In Part Two, we completed our Google Document Budget Spreadsheet. Now, you should test out the formulas that we entered and make sure that everything is working.

Go ahead, take some time to fill in the numbers. Don’t worry, if this is your first budget, it will not be accurate for about the first three months. After that, budgeting becomes second nature.

Allocating Your Income

Congratulations! You have just completed your first Zero Based Budget! You have spent EVERY penny on paper, on purpose before the month has begun. You want to do this every month. Cindy and I recommend that you start about mid-month so that you can forecast all of the monthly variables (such as Valentine’s Days, birthdays and kids needing clothing).

Next, we want to allocate your income over the next month. Life would be simple if we could get one paycheck at the start of the month and we could execute on the budget, but most of us get paid on a varying cycle.

In my household, we have only one regular income, which occurs bi-weekly. The biggest category on my budget is the mortgage. If I pay for my mortgage out of one paycheck, it will leave very little left over for other necessities, so, I am going to take half out of each paycheck.

With your Spreadsheet open, we are going to add to our column headers:


I have added a Pay Date, an Income and an Allocated Column. The Income Column and the Allocated Column are going to save the same purposes as cells B2 and C2.

Next, just like in the budget side, we are going to merge cells. However, instead of two columns, we are going to merge three:


Finally, we are going to add a formula to the allocated cell at F2: E2 -SUM(D3:D26).

Note: When you merge cells, you address the values in formulas using the left most cell. That is why we use SUM(D3:D26) instead of SUM(F3:F26).

Complete the new columns by adding formatting to the headers. If you have any other income that occurs on other dates, add another set of columns.


I copied and pasted the columns from D – F, but I had to re-enter the formula because the cell references where not correct. Make sure you enter some values to test that the Allocated values are working correctly.

Making Sure it all Adds Up

The last thing that I want to add to this are columns that will help me to determine that I have allocated everything correctly.

The formula for the first row is as follows: =B3-SUM(D3:G3). To translate what this is doing: subtract the value of cell B3 from the Sum of Cells D3 and G3 (technically, this says to sum all cells between D3 and G3). I am going to place this formula into cell J3 and then will copy this all the way down to my last category:


I’ve also created a header.

Now the completed spreadsheet looks like this:


Just a note – I do not use Google Docs for my spreadsheet – I use Excel. I have found that entering formulas into Google and copying cells is not as forgiving as Excel, but, as a free alternative, Google Docs is pretty good.

I hope that this series helps you get a very simple way of creating a zero based budget and allocation plan.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Picasa 3.6.0: Coolest Thing I Have Seen Today

If you are like me, you have tons of electronic photos that you have been snapping for the last 10 – 15 years. Do you use a photo organizer?

If you don’t, give Picasa (from Google) a try.

I opened up Picasa looking for a “photo stitching” tool to help me with my Panoramic photos. There wasn’t one, but, I was prompted to update the software.

Following the software, I noticed my hard-drive spinning, and Picasa was stating that it was “scanning.” However, the “scanning” was under a new tab labeled “people.”

Picasa was scanning our photos looking for faces. Once you tag a few faces, it starts to build an album.

And it really works…notice how it is accurately picking out my daughter even at different ages in her life:


Now, that is cool!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Christmas 2010 Challenge

Today is January 29th, 2010. By now, you should be getting your credit card statements from last month’s Christmas extravaganza. Time to pay the piper, right.

Here is my Christmas 2010 Challenge: Ditch the Credit Cards and pay Christmas 2010 in cash!

Go Green! Choose Paper over Plastic!

This year, Christmas comes in December. That gives you about 11 months to figure out how much you want to spend next year and then save for that amount.

And…the best part of all, no piper to pay in January 2011!!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Oh No!!!!


The last time I used a credit card was in November of 2006. Seems that now, I have more emergency savings, more investments, more college savings and NO DEBT.

But my credit is a C. Dag Nab It! I was going for an F!!!

Read Blogs? Get a Reader!

I went through several years of keeping all of my favorite blogs booked marked in one of “My Favorites” folder. I would simply wake up in the morning, grab some coffee and some cheerios and see what was going on in my little slice of the super highway.

Then, I noticed something called a blog reader. A blog reader, or aggregator, is a tool that is specifically designed for capturing data coming from a blog, or RSS feed. With it, not only can you keep up with your favorite sites, but, you can check out what is getting released this week at Netflix.

My current favorite is “Google Reader.” I like it because it is a web based reader. That way, when I am on vacation, I can still keep up. And, because it is from Google, you have excellent searching capabilities if you ever want to catch up again.

But be warned, my simple list of sites has grown! I can’t possibly read them all.

(HT to Marjie B. for the inspiration to write this)

A Sucker Born Every Minute


I think I will jump right on this!! Seriously, do you think they need my social, or, anything else?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Get A Check Up!

It is that time of year again to get a check up: on your credit report.

There are three credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, each of these reporting agencies must give you an annual report. But, you have to ask for them

Don’t Get Fooled

There is a lot of money being made by companies that will sell you a credit report. Watch out, if they start asking you for a credit card number, you are NOT at the free site.

Go to AnnualCreditReport’s web site. From there, you can get started. Once you have requested the report, some might want to sell you a FICO score as an add on. Just say no.

What to do with the Information

Your credit report is your credit reputation. You want to make sure that it is accurate. For example, this year, a Walmart credit card has mysteriously appeared on my report. It wasn’t there last year.

I used an online dispute form. According to the FTC, they have 30 days to prove that this is mine.  I know it’s not mine, and I even called the GEMB, who had absolutely no record of me in their system.

Make sure it is right.

How often?

You can order 1 report from each of the agencies once a year. There is nothing stopping you from ordering all of them at once, however, I recommend doing this once every four months.

That way, you are checking your credit report all year round.

Enjoy the free benefit courtesy of the FTC.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Handy Man Saturday

I came home from grocery shopping with Cindy this morning and was greeted by my oldest daughter. She informed me that her lock was broken on the door to her room.

As parents, we instantly switch to the “what did you do to screw it up” mode. It turned out everything was fine, but the latch was not aligning with the strike plate. The door would close, but you could effortless push it open.

Here is my time patented trick for fixing an interior door that can be pushed open.

  1. 1. Get about three or four magazines and a screw driver.
  2. 2. Loosen the screws on the butterfly hinge that is mounted to the door jamb.
  3. 3. Put the magazines under the door to push it up a little.
  4. 4. With the magazines still under the door, tighten the screws.

Nine times out of ten, this will fix the problem (and, gave me a chance to show the kids some of my mad handy man skillz).

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Why I Quit Reading the Bible

It seems that, along with loosing some weight, being a better husband, a better father, I always make a New Year’s resolution (or change, or commitment) to read through the Bible during the calendar year.

For those who have taken this on, and have succeeded, I salute you. I usually start to trickle off somewhere during Leviticus (if I make it past Esau’s lineage).

Why do I quit?

There are some parts of the Bible that, honestly, don’t seem to make a difference in my day to day life. Just saying.

But, that’s not the real reason I quit. The real reason is that I have set myself up to fail in this task. I have taken this on as a resolution, a task to be accomplished somewhere between the time I wake up and go back to bed.

What is the Right Reason?

I have a lot of ideas about God, who He is, what He likes, what He dislikes. The problem is, most of my ideas are formed around what others have said about Him.

Something that I am learning is how much God loves me. Not in the Grand Daddy kind of way, but in the Daddy kind of way. He loves me enough that he disciplines me, He places new challenges in front of me. Sometimes, He leaves me alone, so I can learn the experience of making mistakes on my own.

The Bible tells me what God has said about Himself.

I want to discover more about Him. I want to allow Him to shape who I am, by surrendering my pre-conceived notions of what our relationship should look like.

Tools for the Journey

I have discovered Brian Hardin’s Daily Audio Bible. It is a 30 minute podcast that started five years ago. The format is idyllic: soothing music and nature sounds combined with Brian’s mellow voice create an image of sitting outside with a cup of coffee and a good friend reading the Bible. Every week, Brian changes versions of the Bible, and it is an excellent way for you to determine which one you like best.

Currently, Brian is reading out of Genesis, Matthew, Psalms and Proverbs. It takes about 20 minutes, and the remainder is spent with brief comments on a passage, promotion of the web site, and callers with prayer requests.

I listen to this in the evening, prior to going to bed. In the morning, I am reading out of Genesis (I just made it past the lineage of the Edomites). After having heard the passages read the night before, the text becomes much more real and alive.

Additionally, I have joined a smaller group of men who have committed to get together on a weekly basis for a para-biblical study (Elderidge’s Fathered by God). We are committed to praying for one another and building each other up in the Lord.

Instead of just reading the Bible alone, and quitting, I am moving along side others to walk with me. Maybe the real, real reason I have quit in the past because I have tried to do this alone.

I hope that with companions along the journey, I can spend this year in the Bible (even if I don’t get all the way through it!).

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Ringers - Where There's A Whip, There's a Way!

I tried to watch Ringers: Lord of the Fans last night and it was...horrible. Except for two clips of bands that had done covers of some of the music from The Hobbit and The Return of the King.

I especially liked No More Sundays version of "Where there's a whip, there's a way."

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Creating a Budget, Part 2

I started a series on creating a zero-based budget using Google Docs. Part one can be found here.

Today we are going to complete the header and the categories of the budget. Before we are complete, you will see how to add a formula and how to format the spreadsheet cells.


The following categories are taken from Dave Ramsey’s Quickie Budget. I have removed the categorizations and the “cash” asterisk indicator.

Giving Car Payment
Saving Car Payment
First Mortgage Gas & Oil
Second Mortgage Repairs & Tires
Repairs/Mn. Fee Car Insurance
Electricity Clothing
Water Disability Ins
Gas Health Insurance
Phone Life Insurance
Trash Child Care
Cable Entertainment
Food Other Misc
These are a very limited amount of categories, but should suffice for helping to build your first budget.

Back To Google Docs

Open your web browser and navigate to the Google Documents web site. After signing in, select your spreadsheet that you started during part one.

When we left off, we simply froze the top two rows, which will become our headers. Let’s fill those in now:


In cell A2, enter the text “Categories” by typing directly into the cell.

Cell B1 and C1 will contain the values “Income” and “Allocated”.

Income is the total amount your family brings in during the period that the budget covers. This your “Net,” or after tax. We will use a formula to calculate how much of your income has been allocated.

Next, add values for the categories into the cells starting at A3:


You can directly key in the values, or, you can try to copy and paste the values from the table above into the spreadsheet.

Next, I will “merge” the cells starting at B3 and C3 to form one cell that spans both columns.

Select cell B3 and move your mouse over to cell C3 while still holding the mouse button down. With both cells selected, release the mouse button (both cells should remain in the selected state) and then select the Merge Button on the toolbar (third button from the right). Both cells should now be merged together.


Repeat this for each of the categories. Save your work.


One of the reasons that I like using a spreadsheet is that I can enter calculations and formulas that will do everyday simple math. I have come to realize that if I am going to make a mistake with the budget, it will be because of simple math.

I can have a spreadsheet automatically add a Range of Cells by using the following formula: =SUM(B3:B26). This formula will give us the total amount that has been entered into the categories. We can subtract our Income by modifying it to =B2 - Sum(B3:B26) which will give us the amount allocated.


To test the formula, I am going to enter 2000 for the income value and then add numbers to the categories. Allocated value should be calculated as I enter numbers.


Save your work.


Another thing that I like to do is format my spreadsheets. This is completely up to you, but the things I like to do is

image Format the Numbers as Currency
image Color the Headers
image Add Lines
image Bold the Headers


Don’t forget to save your work. Now, you are ready to “play” with the numbers and start your first quickie budget.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

There is no Plan B.

A brief break from financial peace in order to bring you a trailer that looks amazingly better than I would have imagined.

Creating a Budget, Part 1

On Thursday, January 14th, our next Financial Peace University class will start. Classes are starting in your area, so go online, enter your zip code and get signed up.

The word “Budget” registers in the same part of your brain as the word “Diet.” We lovingly call it the dreaded “B” word, because most people hate the concept of living on a budget almost as much as they hate the thought of starting a diet.

It’s not that bad.

In fact, I can promise you that you will find that you give your income more muscle when you use a budget: you really have more of it than you think.

Today, I will show you how to begin creating a spreadsheet using Google Docs.

Budget Basics 101

In our household, Cindy and I run a zero-based budget. To date, I am not aware of any software that takes this approach. For example, for many years, I tried to use the budgeting system that you find in Microsoft Money. It did not work for me.

The best software tool that I have found is a spreadsheet. Although I personally use Microsoft Excel, you can use the spreadsheet that is freely available on Google Docs.

Next, you need to realize that the ONLY portion of the budget that you really know is your income. If you are like me, I had no idea how much I needed per month for gasoline and groceries. Knowing that you don’t know, be prepared to make adjustments to your first three months of budgets often.

Finally, start with a large set of categories. You will not be able to put money in each category, but this will give you something to think about.

Getting Started With Google Docs

Google Docs is a set of free software applications that allow you to store and edit documents online. You will need to create an account with Google. After you have created your account an logged in, you are going to select “Spreadsheet” from the “Create New” drop down.


A spreadsheet is a tool that allows us to create rows and columns.

Today, we are going to create a “quickie” budget. This will simply have our categories, the total amount of income per month and the amount that we are going to spend in each category.

Once you have created a new spreadsheet, you will have a blank slated:


You will notice that, between row 1 and row 2 there is a slightly thicker separator. This is how Google Docs indicates that the first row is “Frozen” to change.


Because I am going to want to add additional information into the header, I will freeze the first two rows instead.

image This will separate the Header Information (row 1) from the data information (row 2) and beyond.  To do this, select the Tools Menu, then Freeze rows and finally, Freeze two rows.

From the file menu, Save your work. Congratulations, you have created a spreadsheet in Google docs!

In part two, we will create the categories and header sections and I will show you how you can have the spreadsheet do all of the math for you so that everything stays balanced.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Baby Step 7 – Build Wealth and Give

The final step is not a period to the process. It is not a finish line that you pass and suddenly, you are fabulously wealthy. Wealth building is the natural result of doing smart things with your money.

But, this is not why we are passionate about having financial peace. We are not doing this to become future millionaires. We are doing this because of what God has done in our lives throughout the last three years.


In one of the lessons, Dave says something that comes off funny: broke people cannot help broke people. Even while I laughed, I wondered if this was true. I have seen people who are natural givers – unfortunately, I was not one of them. There was always something that would come up in my family that would need attending. I simply could not afford to help.

But was this a financial issue, or a heart issue?

Cindy and I discovered that in Baby Step 2, once our budget was working, there was more than enough money in our household to meet our needs. When we started, there was always “too much month at the end of the money.” Now, we had money left over at the end of the month – and everything was paid.

Throughout this process, God was changing my heart. I had made stuff my god –and acquiring more stuff a chief form of worship. I am not sure when or where I realized that I did not have the desire for bigger or better, smaller and faster. I found something all together unexpected: contentment.

I am content with where I am, and with what I have.

Open Hand Policy

The international sign of anger is a clenched fist. I will be embarrassingly honest by telling you that I held my money with a clenched fist. In this process of finding financial peace, I realized that I had opened my hand and started trusting God with my money.

As this happened, He would test us by placing people in our path with needs to see if we would give. Whether through anonymous giving or contributing to special calls for help in church, this has brought a new found joy in our walk with God.

In the last paragraph, I made a purposeful mistake – it was never my money, it was always Gods. When I would hear fellow Christians say that, I would but on a good smile and say nothing. Ok, I was saying something like “Right!” behind that smile, but I was using my inside voice.

Here is another area where God has changed me – God said in Psalm 50:10 “and I own the cattle on a thousand hills.” I believe it was Larry Burkett who added “and he owns the hills too.” I am just the steward of this stuff. Once I got this straight in my mind (and in my heart), God was able to open my hands.

We are Debt Free

Over the years, I have dropped a few posts about this program. I am sure my family thinks we are nuts, but there is a reason for our passion.

It freed us from chains we were unaware of.

Our marriage is flat out better. We talk more, we plan more. Cindy doesn’t stress out over money. I don’t spend everything we make. We are preparing for our retirement and our kids education. If I die today, Cindy will be taken care of because I have life insurance that will replace my income. And we are giving in ways that will never show up on our tax returns.

We express our gratitude to God by returning our time back to Him through coordinating FPU classes at church.

All of this because of seven very simple and logical steps. That, and also because God showed us what His word says over and over again about owing money: Debt is Dumb.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Baby Step 6 – Pay Off Your Home Early

Today is January 7, 2010 – Happy Birthday Dad!

Week 12 of FPU is entitled Real Estate and Mortgages. This is the class that I wish I had taken back in 1996, prior to my first home. I have recently taken a step towards this goal, but I feel it is a drop in the bucket.

Even though Dave uses the 100% down plan, this is the only area where Dave doesn’t get angry if you incur debt as long as your mortgage falls within these parameters: 15 year fixed, with payments no more than 25% of your monthly take home pay.

There is no short cut to paying off your mortgage except for big hairy payments. However, if you know how, you can still buy a house that will not own you.

How Much House Should I Buy?

In 1996, I was twenty eight years old. Cindy and I had recently returned from Okinawa where I was stationed with the U.S. Air Force at Kadena Air Base. By God’s leading, we moved to the Hampton Roads area of Virginia where Cindy took a job teaching in the Norfolk Public Schools.

We rented an apartment our first year: it would be foolish to buy a house until we knew the area a little bit better.

Our first stop was at the bank to be pre-qualified for a loan. This process simply told us how much the bank would loan us for the purposes of purchasing a home. I remember Cindy and I looking at each other with our jaws on the floor – they will loan us HOW much!?

We were young, and in love and very excited that the bank thought we were worthy/capable of such an amount of money. Now, shopping for a house became an exercise of finding a home we liked that was less than the amount the bank would loan us.

Ah, youth.

House shopping with a Payment in Mind

In order to avoid become house poor (i.e., your house is too much of your budget), you want to aim to have a mortgage payment that is no more that 25% of your total take home pay.

If I had known that, I would not have looked for how much the bank would loan me. Instead, I would have looked for how much I could pay (and still save, get out of debt, eat…you know, life).

Calculating a monthly payment is easy. The following formula and example is taken from the FPU Members Workbook.

Rate 15 Year 30 Year
4.5% 7.65 5.07
5.0% 7.91 5.37
5.5% 8.17 5.68
6.0% 8.44 6.00
6.5% 8.71 6.32
7.0% 8.99 6.66
7.5% 9.28 7.00
8.0% 9.56 7.34
8.5% 9.85 7.69
9.0% 10.15 8.05
9.5% 10.44 8.41
10.0% 10.75 8.78
10.5% 11.05 9.15
11.0% 11.37 8.52
11.5% 11.68 9.90
12.0% 12.00 10.29

The formula is:

Sales Prices / 1000 = #1000 X Factor = Monthly Payment

For example, if you bought a house for $150,000 on a 15 year fixed of 6.0%, your monthly payment would be $1,266.

$150,000/1000 = 150 X 8.44 = $1,266

The problem with this formula, for me anyways, is that it is still starting from the loan amount. I want to start from 25% of my take home pay!

Did you know that you can work the formula backwards?

Still using the numbers from the workbook, let’s say that 25% of our monthly take home pay is $1,266. How much of a loan would you be able to pay?

Monthly Payment / Factor X 1000 = Sales Price

$1,266 / 8.44 X 1000 = $150,000.

Instead of the bank telling you how much they will loan you, you will know if the house you want to buy is going to be a blessing or a curse to your monthly budget.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Death of a Refrigerator

Thanks to all the sympathies from my Facebook Friends over the recent passing of our beloved refrigerator.

In Baby Step 3, FPU members are taught that they are to fully fund a three to six month of expenses emergency fund. For us, saving this amount took a long time because we went all the way to six months.

Something happens to you when you save for those emergencies: your definition of emergency slightly changes. We joke that we want to have an Emergency Fund for the Emergency Fund.

I wanted to document a real life experience that is not uncommon to what you have faced before and tie it back to what Cindy and I have learned through FPU.

At Least It’s Cold Outside

Yesterday, Our blessed refrigerator, that conveyed from the previous owners nine years ago, went on to her great reward. The Maytag Man came out and pronounced her DOA – massive compressor failure.

We had noticed on Saturday that things were beginning to melt in the freezer and that the refrigerator was getting warmer. We placed items in ice coolers and others on the porch. At least it would be cold this week, barely topping 36 degrees.

After church on Sunday, Cindy took me shopping for new refrigerators. She already knew what she was looking for: side by side, white with the textured finish, no digital read-outs. Sure, we opened every other refrigerator, but, that is how she shops.

Ask for a Bargain

Sunday’s shopping spree was not really about shopping – it was reconnaissance. We wanted to know how much a refrigerator would cost (anywhere from $600 to $2200). Between the features that we were looking for and the measurements of the refrigerator nook, we eliminated most units that cost over $1000. The one we settled on was at Lowes for $799 (they also offered free delivery and take away).

After the repairman left on Monday, Cindy took the EFCB (the Emergency Fund Check Book) to Lowes and went through the purchasing process.

Week 8 of FPU is called That’s Not Good Enough, and we learned not only where to look for bargains but also how to ask for one. Cindy told the sales person that she did not need financing and was going to be paying cash for the purchase: would she sell it for $750.00? Yes! With Taxes, Titles and Tags, Cindy bought the refrigerator for $787.50.

Cindy’s only regret was that she did not ask for a bigger bargain!

But was it an Emergency?

Certainly we had a need for a new refrigerator, but, it is not what I would call an Emergency. However, fortunately, we were able to go and purchase one with cash. Would we have been able to ask for a bargain if we were just putting in on the credit card?

What if, like most Americans, we had just finished putting Christmas on those same credit cards? Instead of having a fun afternoon on Sunday, spending time with my wife, there would have been a lot of stress and anger.

And that, my friends, is life. As the saying from the 80’s went - “Stuff happens.”

The question is, are you prepared? Do you have a plan?

Visa certainly has a plan: their plan is that you don’t have one.

And guess who will always be there to catch you in your emergencies?

Monday, January 04, 2010

Baby Step 5 – Kids College

I have to confess that we did not do a good job saving for our girl’s college fund. It can be attributed to not having a plan.

Sometimes, we try to do a little bit of everything and we end up not getting anything accomplished. This applies to life, relationships and money. I believe that this is why the Baby Steps have worked so well for us – it tells us that it is ok to wait until we are able.

Now that budgets are second nature, the debt is paid off, there is an emergency fund and retirement is taken care of, we can now move on to the next step: saving for the kid’s college.

DOC – Debt after College

Cindy and I have developed a mindset that debt did not bring us any blessings. We do not want our kids to graduate college and begin their lives with a big student loan. The average four year college student has a student loan debt of $19,237. Dave often quips on The Dave Ramsey Show that people keep their student loans for so long that it becomes a family pet.

We have begun speaking to our kids about college. Under our plan, we are aiming to pay for 75% of their in-state college expenses (living in the dorm, eating on the campus meal plan). The other 25% we expect them to earn. This can be a combination of scholarships and/or work. If they go on to graduate school, they will need to pay for that 100%.

Saving With Tax Favored Plans

There are several plans that you can save for your kids college. One is the Educational Savings Account (sometimes called an Education IRA).

In 2009, you can save $2000 per child after paying taxes. This means that the money will grow TAX FREE, and when you draw on it for college, you will not have to pay the taxes on the increase. If you have a child who is young, this is the best way to start.

If you have a shorter amount of time to save, you may want to consider certain types of 529 accounts. Certain types means that it leaves you in control of the mutual fund at all times (it does not freeze your options or automatically change investments based on the age of the child.

Functionally, the ESA and 529 are the same. However, all ESA operate the same while there are different flavors of 529, so be aware when you go shopping.

You don’t want to save using insurance, savings bonds ore pre-pay college. Each of these vehicles have poor interest rates as compared to the available mutual funds inside either the 529 or ESA.

Because Cindy and I started late, our ELP helped us set up a couple of 529 that we funded with money that we had been saving in a standard savings account.

How Much?

There is a worksheet in the FPU book for determining how much you will need to save for Kids College. This section is taken directly from that worksheet.

In order to have enough for college, you must aim at something. If you save at 12% and inflation is at 4%, then you are moving ahead of inflation at a net of 8% per year.

Step 1: In today’s dollars, the annual cost of the college of your choice is:

Amount per year


X 4 Years


Step 2: To achieve that college nest egg, you will save at 12%, netting 8% after inflation. So, we will target the nest egg using 8%.

Nest Egg Needed


Multiply by Factor


Monthly Savings Needed


The 8% Factors

Child’s Age Years to Save Factor
0 18 .002083
2 16 .002583
4 14 .003287
6 12 .004158
8 10 .005466
10 8 .007470
12 6 .010867
14 4 .017746

Your ELP Can Help You

When Cindy and I went to have our Roth IRA accounts established, we also set up the 529 for our girls. The ELP was able to do both tasks and it cost us nothing out of pocket.

Once again, time is the element that can give your savings muscle. Maybe you have more time than we had, so 100% savings may be a gift that you can offer. However, make sure that you are in the correct baby step. If you are in Baby Step 3, you can increase your cash flow by deferring your contributions.

When age appropriate, begin speaking to your children about college. My homeschooled girls were wondering if they even WOULD go to college.

I think they will thank you one day for not giving them a new family pet.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Baby Step 4 – Planning for the Golden Years

Most people have the will to win, few have the will to prepare to win.

-Bobby Knight

In FPU, we teach that members should put retirement investments temporarily on hold while they get out of debt. Once they have a three to six month emergency fund, it is time to actively prepare for those golden years.

53% of Americans have less than $25,000 in retirement savings. 43% of those people are over 55. 30% believe that they only need $250,000 or less in total retirement savings.

Guessing Game

If you are of my generation, you probably can remember the concept of company’s having Pension funds. Those days are largely over, and many companies offer some type of Employee directed retirement plan, such as 401k or 403b.

Before taking FPU, I was simply enrolled in my company’s 401k. They offer a “match” of 1/2 up to 6% (e.g. 3%), which, as most of will say, means free money. I was given a prospectus of the various funds and was asked to distribute my contributions over the funds.

I had absolutely NO IDEA what I was choosing, so I just guessed.

FPU Members are given two classes on Investment: Of Mice and Mutual Funds (week 9) and From Tuition to Fruition (week 10). Between these two classes, we learn the differences between a Mutual Fund, a single stock, Growth Stock Mutual Funds, Roth Investments, IRA, 401k, 403b…whew! It’s enough to make your head spin.

If you want to know why you should take FPU, I point to these two classes (along with the Insurance class, Clause and Effect).

What We Did

In January 2009, Cindy and I finished Baby Step 3 and were ready to begin our investments. We knew that 15% of our income would go towards this step. I restarted my 401k through work with a phone call to HR. I had them pull 6% our of each paycheck. Next, I contacted an Endorsed Local Provider (ELP) to begin investing in mutual funds that grow Tax Free (Roth IRA).

The Dave Ramsey ELP program is a certification program that the person who you go to operates the same way that Dave recommends. There are ELP for Investing, Real Estate, Tax Services…the list goes on.

We went to a Investing ELP, who set us up with American Funds. Every month, 9% of our income is automatically withdrawn and invested. Cindy and I were not charged a penny for this (well, directly, anyways, I am sure he gets something from American Funds). Once we had the accounts set up, I haven’t seen the ELP since.

How Much?

How much will you need to be able to retire with dignity? There is a simple formula that you can use, which I will explain. This formula comes directly from the FPU Workbook (page 142).

If you save at 12% and inflation is at 4%, then you are moving ahead of inflation at a net of 8% per year. If you invest your nest egg at retirement at 12% and want to break even with 4% inflation, you will be living on 8% income.

Step 1  
Annual Income (today) you wish to retire on: $50,000
Divide by .08  
Nest Egg that will be needed: $625,000

To achieve that nest egg, you will save at 12%, netting 8% after inflation. So,we will target that nest egg using 8%:

Step 2  
Nest Egg Needed $625,000
Multiply by factor .000436
Monthly Savings Needed $272.5

The Factor in step two is the “8% Factor” that matches your age and years to save:

Your Age

Years To Save




























I believe that the work book is good for giving you an Idea of what you will need, as opposed to being like 30% who believe some large number will do it for them. Run the formula again and change age brackets. See what happens if you wait? The Compound Interest Kung Fu will not be working for you.

For us, this formula was not as depressing as I thought. Rather, it gave us a goal. Once you finish the first three baby steps, the goals become less immediate, and more long term. I need to know that I am heading in the right direction.

How about you?