Monthly Archives: October 2009

Oct 31

Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps: A Real Path to Family Financial Freedom

By Dustin | Finances & Careers

Family Financial Freedom

Have you heard of Dave Ramsey and his Seven Baby Steps for success in personal finance?  If not, you are missing out on a fantastic resource for achieving financial freedom for your family.

In a basic sense, Dave Ramsey’s teachings on personal finance are conservative, Christian-based and old-fashioned.

Dave himself often describes his advice as “God’s and Grandma’s ways of handling money” on his mega-popular daily radio show.  And he jokes about how strange it is that common sense has become so marketable within financial circles in the United States today.

It’s the simplicity of his message that makes it so appealing.  When you read anything written by Dave Ramsey or listen to his radio show or podcast, you can understand it.

More importantly, you can follow his advice and implement it quickly, not because it is easy (it’s not) but because it is sensible and simple.

Unlike so many of today’s financial gurus, Dave does not advocate a get-rich-quick path to financial success.  Instead, he offers common sense and provides the tools and motivation needed to achieve long-term family financial freedom.

At the heart of the “Dave Ramsey plan,” are his increasingly-famous Baby Steps.  These seven steps will get you on a budget and take you from a very vulnerable financial status to one of substantial wealth and the ability to help others like you have never dreamed possible.

The Dave Ramsey Baby Steps

Baby Step 1: $1,000 to start an Emergency Fund

An emergency fund is for those unexpected events in life that you can’t plan for: the loss of a job, an unexpected pregnancy, a faulty car transmission, and the list goes on and on. It’s not a matter of if these events will happen; it’s simply a matter of when they will happen.

Baby Step 2: Pay off all debt using the Debt Snowball

List your debts, excluding the house, in order. The smallest balance should be your number one priority. Don’t worry about interest rates unless two debts have similar payoffs. If that’s the case, then list the higher interest rate debt first.

Our family reached the milestone of completing Baby Step 2 in February 2008 after paying off almost $55,000 of debt!  I can’t express the level of financial freedom our family enjoys based on this accomplishment.

Baby Step 3: 3 to 6 months of expenses in savings

Once you complete the first two baby steps, you will have built serious momentum. But don’t start throwing all your “extra” money into investments quite yet. It’s time to build your full emergency fund.

It is recommended that your full emergency fund be saved in a high-interest (i.e. not your local back), easy-to-access (i.e. not a CD or bond) savings account.  Personally, we use and highly recommended an online “Orange Savings” account with ING Direct.  It is very easy-to-use, highly secure, FDIC insured and held by a company with a CEO that shares beliefs similar to Dave Ramsey (and myself). 

If you sign up via my referral to ING Direct and deposit more than $250, you’ll even receive a $25 bonus! Please note I receive a $10 bonus for referring you to ING Direct.  If you’re ready to sign up, just contact me using the Contact form or leave a comment and I’ll send you a referral code so you can get your $25 bonus!

Baby Step 4: Invest 15% of household income into Roth IRAs and pre-tax retirement

When you reach this step, you’ll have no payments—except the house—and a fully funded emergency fund. Now it’s time to get serious about building wealth.

Baby Step 5: College funding for children

By this point, you should have already started Baby Step 4—investing 15% of your income—before saving for college. Whether you are saving for you or your child to go to college, you need to start now.

Baby Step 6: Pay off home early

Now it’s time to begin throwing all of your extra money toward the mortgage. You are getting closer to realizing the dream of a life with no house payments.

Baby Step 7: Build wealth and give!

It’s time to build wealth and give like never before. Leave an inheritance for future generations, and bless others now with your excess. It’s really the only way to live!

There you have it…a simple, but not easy, road map to family financial freedom!  Obviously, there are a lot of details to be learned as you go through the process, and I hope to shed light on those as I continue to add posts related to personal finance.

I have been a member at Dave Ramsey’s membership site since 2003, so I interact frequently with like-minded folks and see/answer a lot of financial questions on a regular basis.  I also encourage you to check out another quality site devoted to teaching these principles at Enemy of Debt.

Of course, the most straightforward way to learn additional information is to read one of Dave Ramsey’s bestselling books.  His first book Financial Peace Revisited provides the background and answers “why” his plan is what it is.  His latest book The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness provides a clear plan for “what” to do along with many inspiring stories of families that have used these principles to achieve financial freedom.

Our family is currently doing Baby Steps 4-6, which are concurrent steps as long as you need to save for retirement, save for college, and pay down your home mortgage (provided you have decided to own a house).  If you already know about Dave Ramsey, please leave a comment to let us know how you found this message and state where your family currently is in the Baby Steps.

Here’s to long-term Financial Freedom for your family!

Photo by borman818
Oct 30

I Need Your Help! Help Engaged Marriage “Grow Up” the Right Way.

By Dustin | General

I am both humbled and excited by the interest that has been shown in Engaged Marriage.  The quick growth of this website is so affirming because it demonstrates that many couples want to be proactive and achieve the extraordinary in their marriage.  There is so much more to life than getting by with a “normal” marriage, and you guys are spreading the word that Engaged Marriage is something like-minded couples should check out as a resource to help achieve excellence in our married lives.  Thank You!

While the comments left on many posts provide some insight, I know they represent a very small portion of the readership of this site.  I really want to have a better idea of your interests.  This will enable the content and resources offered here to best match your desires and needs.

So, how can you help?  Please take TWO MINUTES and fill out a few questions on a survey that I have prepared.  It’s anonymous, quick and easy.  Just click below and you’re almost done!

Click Here to take the Engaged Marriage survey

If you want to “reveal” any of your answers, please leave a comment below or check in over at the Facebook Fan Page for Engaged Marriage.

Thanks for your participation and continued support of Extraordinary Marriages!

Oct 28

Weekly Round-Up of Interesting Reads #6

By Dustin | Link Round-Up

This week’s edition of the weekly round-up features a few great sites that I just discovered over the past several days, along with some fantastic articles from my regular reading list.  And there is even a bit of harmless self-promotion.  From marriage preparation to the difficulties of parenting, enjoy this week’s Interesting Reads!

  • 7 Awesome Ways to Find Your Creative Inspiration.  Wow, the author of this article must be a genius, I mean seriously how great is this post?  OK, so I wrote it.  But I am proud of it, and I totally love the My Super-Charged Life blog, and I am thrilled to have my writing featured there.  Check out this site to get the best from your life.
  • Being a Mommy is Hard.  The Extraordinary Mommy site is authored by a fellow St. Louisan, and it looks like a fantastic multimedia blog.  As a Daddy, I really enjoyed this short, but deeply meaningful, post about the emotions we sometimes face as parents of young children.
  • This week’s photo comes all the way from….my kitchen table!  We had a fantastic time carving pumpkins with our kids this evening, and I wanted to feature their work.  These pumpkins were picked at a local farm last weekend as part of our annual pumpkin picking/fried fish eating trip with close friends.  Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!

Oct 24

Fight Fair! 6 Simple Conflict Resolution Skills for Your Marriage

By Dustin | Communication

Fight Fair!  6 Simple Conflict Resolution Skills for Your MarriageIf you are married or in a serious relationship, I bet it’s fair to say that you have had disagreements with your partner.  For most of us, that’s putting it lightly.

It’s only natural that spouses that spend so much time together are going to have conflicts.

Whenever we do fight, it is critical that we use healthy conflict resolution skills and fight fair!

Remember, when an argument arises, your goal is to resolve the issue at-hand and not to hurt your loved one.

A healthy and marriage-oriented style of conflict resolution strives for two winners through compromise and understanding.  If your actions are not conducive to resolving the issue at hand, then you are not fighting fair.

Of course, this is easier said than done in the heat of the moment.

Fortunately, by adopting some simple rules for fair fighting, you really can allow cooler heads to prevail and resolve conflicts without causing long-term damage to your relationship.

My wife and I learned about these easy-to-remember-rules when they were presented by another (older and wiser) couple at a Pre-Cana marriage preparation course where we were instructing on a different subject.  Their topic was communication, and healthy conflict resolution is a vital aspect of good communication.

Like most good advice, these rules for fighting fair are provided in the form of a great acronym: FIGHTS.

Face each other

Look into each others eyes as you discuss problems.

This is particularly difficult for those who are used to guerrilla warfare – shouting some nasty comment, slamming down the phone or slamming a door – leaving no room for discussion because your partner is absent.  However, two people can be in the same room and still be absent.

Put down the paper or turn off the TV, and come out of hiding.  You both need to participate.

Ignore distractions

Focus on resolving only the problem at hand.   Avoid raising side issues.

Guard your tongue

Avoid ridiculing and name-calling.

Name-calling is like swearing, and it attacks your partner’s character.  Once name-calling enters the fight, your partner won’t hear anything you say, no matter how right you might be.

He becomes too busy thinking about how to defend himself instead of listening to you.

Hold the history

“You always”, “why can’t you ever”, and “you never” are examples of history.  And history doesn’t belong in your arguments.

Bringing up history indicates to your partner that nothing will ever change and that the past has not been forgiven or forgotten.

Touch

Hold hands.  This position softens the heart and makes us feel vulnerable to each other.

We are more willing to be reasonable and caring than to win at all costs when we hold hands.

Stay in there

Finish the fight.  Don’t go to bed with unresolved anger.

Finally, you must be open to compromise.  You can walk hand-in-hand without always seeing eye-to-eye.

If you and your spouse take these rules to heart during a calm time,  you can set healthy ground rules for conflict resolution that will serve you well in your marriage.

When my wife and I argue and come to realize that we’re out of bounds and not following the “fighting fair guidelines”, one of us says “we’re not fighting fair” and we look at each other and laugh.

Then we get back to actually working to resolve the real issue.

Photo by specialkrb

No discussion on communication would be complete without some attention to conflict resolution.

Conflict is unavoidable … However, if you must fight … First adopt some rules for fighting fair.

Remember, your goal is to resolve the issue …

A healthy and marriage oriented style of conflict strives for two winners through compromise and understanding

M       Published guidelines on Conflict Resolution skills also helped us to understand much about ourselves,

and what we were doing “wrong” … “wrong” meaning not conducive to resolving the issue at hand.   Now when

we argue, and come to realize we’re “out of bounds” … not following the “fighting fair” guidelines, one of us

says “we’re not fighting fair” … and we look at each other and laugh.  Then we get back to actually working

to resolve the real issue.

  • Face each other Look into each others eyes as you discuss problems.  This

is particularly difficult for those of us who are used to guerrilla warfare — shouting some nasty comment,

slamming down the phone or slamming a door — leaving no room for discussion because your partner is absent.

However, two people can be in the same room and still be absent … Put down the paper or turn off the TV,

and come out of hiding.  You both need to participate.

  • Ignore distractions Focus on resolving only the problem at hand.   Avoid raising side issues.
  • Guard your tongue Avoid ridiculing & name-calling.   Name-calling is like swearing; and attacks your partner’s  character. Once name-calling enters the fight, your partner won’t hear anything you say, no matter how right you might be. He becomes too busy thinking about how to defend himself instead of listening to you.
  • Hold the history “You always”, “why can’t you ever”, and the “you never”

are examples of history … And history doesn’t belong in your arguments.  Bringing up history indicates to your partner that nothing will ever change and that the past has not been forgiven or forgotten.

  • Touch Hold hands. This position softens the heart and makes us feel       vulnerable to each other … We are more willing to be reasonable and caring than to win at all costs, when we hold hands.
  • Stay in there Finish the fight … Don’t go to bed with unresolved anger.

B        Finally, be open to compromise … you can walk hand-in-hand without always seeing eye-to-eye.

Oct 23

Engaged Marriage has a Facebook Page!

By Dustin | General

I am excited to announce that a Facebook page has been created for Engaged Marriage.  This page will allow both the readers and myself to interact about the wide variety of marriage enhancing topics covered here at the site.  It will also serve as a way to stay up-to-date with the latest happenings at Engaged Marriage and give everyone a fun place to share the ideas and experiences that have served to begin taking your marriage to the next level.

Please take a moment to become a “fan” of Engaged Marriage on Facebook.  I really look forward to putting this resource to good use as an interactive tool in our shared mission to create awesome marriages!

Engaged Marriage

Promote Your Page Too

Oct 21

Finding Your Creative Inspiration: My Guest Post at My Super-Charged Life!

By Dustin | Individual Fulfillment

I am excited to announce that Jeff over at the My Super-Charged Life blog has graciously published an article that I recently wrote on his site.  My Super-Charged Life is a favorite site of mine that provides great tips, information and resources aimed at helping us live life to the fullest.

My article is entitled “7 Awesome Ways to Find Your Creative Inspiration” and I will assume the title is self-explanatory.

Please take a minute to visit Jeff’s site and read the post.  It would mean a great deal to me if you could show your support in this way, and we would both love to hear from you in the comments section!

Welcome to the Readers of My Super-Charged Life !

If you are a visitor from My Super-Charged Life, I would like to welcome you to Engaged Marriage and say Thank You for taking the time to come over for a look.  While you are here, I’d encourage you to check out the “About” page to get a feel for the idea behind the site, and please take a tour through some of the categories along the right side of the site and check out some posts.

If you like what you see, please subscribe via RSS or sign up to get updates by email.

The mission of Engaged Marriage basically boils down to this: I want to help others take their good/normal marriages to the next level…so you can have an Awesome Marriage and an Extraordinary Family Life!

P.S. – If my post at My Super-Charged Life piqued your interest about No More Mondays, you can read my review of that book here: No More Mondays Book Review.

Oct 20

37 Family Things to Do at Home on a Rainy Sunday

By Dustin | Children

It occurred to me recently how dependent our family had become on getting out of the house.

While I love playing outside with the kids or taking bike rides on a sunny day, the majority of this time was spent doing “busy work.”

We spend a lot of time in the car driving from place to place, eating at restaurants or my personal favorite (not so much)…shopping!

Even worse, when we do have the opportunity to spend some time at home with our young children, we all too often find ourselves sitting in front of the TV or at best spread around the house doing our own thing.

The kids color, Daddy’s on Facebook and Mommy is fixing a snack.  We are not engaged in our relationships with each other at these times.

A recent Sunday afternoon afforded the opportunity for some reflection.

It was raining, the kids were bored and Mommy and Daddy were quite miserable with a mild case of “cabin fever.”  Now, we know that God proclaimed Sunday as a day of rest, but this seemed ridiculous!

We had become a family that we would quickly criticize if we were judging their actions.

I decided it was time for some positive action.  So, I made a list!

37 Things to Do at Home as a Family

You will find below 37 things that you can do as a family on the next Sunday (or any day) that you find yourself cooped up with your young children (or just with your spouse).

Not only are these ideas family-friendly, but they are essentially free so you won’t be putting a strain on your budget or hurting your plans to get out of debt!

Better yet, use these fun activities on a sunny day when you could easily be mowing the yard or running errands.  I bet you will not regret it!

  1. Watch an old movie you enjoyed as a kid.
  2. Read stories to each other.
  3. Make up a funny story and take turns adding the next line.
  4. Play a good ole board game.
  5. Let the kids choose an activity.
  6. Invite Grandma/Grandpa over for cookies.
  7. Talk about your favorite times from last week & what you look forward to next week.
  8. Discuss the homily/sermon from the morning’s church service.
  9. Have a real tea party.
  10. Bake some cookies together.
  11. Play hide and seek.
  12. Grab an umbrella  and take a walk in the rain (galoshes optional)!
  13. Let the kids help make dinner.
  14. Have a friendly family wrestling match.
  15. Let the kids play dress up in your clothes.
  16. Make sock puppets and put on a performance.
  17. Draw a family portrait with each person drawing their own picture.
  18. Construct a monster Lego project.
  19. Paint a room together (only for the brave at heart)!
  20. Create a huge tower using blocks or plastic cups.
  21. Gather the whole family (in their PJ’s) into Mom & Dad’s bed and watch a movie.
  22. Go through and check all of the kids’ toys and set aside the old ones for charity.
  23. Have a Nintendo Wii tournament.
  24. Sing karaoke or play the electric ukulele.
  25. Watch old family videos and share your memories.
  26. Have a dance party!
  27. Build a fort (pillows, blankets and chairs work well) and play Army or Knights/Princesses.
  28. Dress up in your Halloween costumes whatever the time of year.
  29. Play together in the garage or unfinished basement (roller skates, bikes, soccer).
  30. Play a favorite card game.
  31. Make paper airplanes and see who’s can fly the furthest.
  32. Play I Spy.
  33. Act out a favorite story.
  34. Get out some pictures and make a family photo album.
  35. Play Charades.
  36. Build a huge puzzle together.
  37. Go out and play in the rain!

There you have it.  Next time you are faced with bored kids and restless parents, shift your thinking and look at the opportunity you have to spend quality time together.

You can create long-lasting memories for your children, and even better memories for yourself!

What are your favorite things to do together as a family when you are home?  What are some of your best childhood memories from long days spent around your house?

Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Are You Looking for Some “Kid-Free” Ideas to Spend Time with Your Spouse?

Click here to learn how you can refresh your marriage and rock your communication, romance, sex life and finances in just 15 minutes a day…


Photo by carolyn.will

Oct 19

Weekly Round-Up of Interesting Reads #5

By Dustin | Link Round-Up

It is time once again to highlight some great articles I have read on the World Wide Web this week.  This edition includes some family/marriage sites, some advice on reducing stress and some sound financial advice.  And, as always, we will top things off with a cool picture.  Enjoy!

  • 10 Ways to Reduce Stress Without Spending a Dime. I love the Dumb Little Man site, and this article lives up their high standard.  I am a big believer in minimizing stress in life, and this post provides some practical advice toward that end.
  • Finally Out of Debt?  Here’s How to Stay Out.  Any regular readers of Engaged Marriage know that I am a big believer in a debt-free lifestyle.  This great post on The Wisdom Journal gives some practical advice for staying out of debt after you reach that milestone.
  • Finally, I will end with another funny wedding picture.  This pic posted on Divine Caroline tells a great story of a probably well-intentioned bride who may forever be known as “Bridezilla”!

Bridezilla Takes Charge!

Oct 15

Green Sex, Anyone?

By Dustin | Sex & Family Planning

Healthy Sex for a Healthy Planet

When I read an article on Natural Family Planning today in the online edition of Time Magazine, I knew I had to respond with a post here at Engaged Marriage.

First of all, I was delighted to see NFP discussed in a national magazine!  With the creation of this site and the obvious interest I have witnessed about Natural Family Planning, my antenna is probably a bit more in tune to the coverage of the topic online.  However, I see an article like this (however flawed it may be in some respects) as a breakthrough in spreading the message that Natural Family Planning exists as a responsible option.

The article actually does a pretty good job of describing NFP at a high level and letting the Average Joe or Jane know the basic premise behind the method (for more info check out a previous post here at EM).  And I am sure the author’s experience in the Pre-Cana program is a common reaction to an initial introduction to the topic.  My wife and I have heard similar reactions in the marriage preparation courses we have taught.

Green Sex?

I am also very pleased to hear Natural Family Planning discussed as a legitimate means of expressing environmental responsibility.  Hence, my tongue-cheek-title to this post: Green Sex!

Truth be told, NFP is, well, natural.  There is no doubt that the artificial hormones found in birth control pills are excreted and find their way into our environment; hence, the growing stories about three-eyed frogs and deformed fish in our waters.  And the chemicals used in spermicides, condoms, IUD’s and the like are anything but natural and harmless to the ecosystem.  This is not to mention the harmful effects to women’s health, but that’s a topic for another day.

Some “Fuzzy” Assertions

I do take exception with a few assertions made in this article.  Natural Family Planning is 99% effective (the same or better than artificial birth control), so to state that “it” results in larger families is false.  On average, NFP couples probably do have more children, but this is related to their openness to life and love of family.  Plenty of one and two-child NFP couples abound, my wife and I included (at least for the time being).

And the article’s final, and weak, statement that widespread adoption of Natural Family Planning is harmful to our planet because we’ll have a higher population, and therefore more greenhouse gases, is a bit of a stretch.  If the intentions for limited family size are left intact, NFP is not going to result in more babies.  Of course, I do not see more babies as a negative thing.  Following this line of thinking would also suggest that less abortions is a bad thing–after all that would also increase the world population.

Sensationalism about the need for population control has been around for a long time.  If you believed the hype of the population “experts” of the 1970’s, you would think the world would be in state of total chaos at this point due to the lack of food and natural resources.  Our world and our country have their problems, but overpopulation and an oversupply of babies is not one of them.

The Bottom Line

In closing, I would just like to say “hooray” for some national coverage of Natural Family Planning.  I welcome with an open heart those that may practice NFP for the environment, for Mother Nature, for health, or for liberation.  I do not expect everyone to share my moral beliefs, but I do sincerely hope that everyone will become aware that Natural Family Planning exists as a viable option for improving our marriages, our lives and our world.

Photo by woodleywonderworks

Oct 13

Book Review: “No More Mondays” by Dan Miller

By Dustin | Book & Product Reviews

With a subtitle like “Fire Yourself and Other Revolutionary Ways to Discover Your True Calling at Work,” I knew as soon as I saw it that No More Mondays was not your ordinary career guidance book.  Of course, as a regular listener to author Dan Miller’s 48 Days podcast for several months, I should not have expected anything less.

The basic premise behind No More Mondays is that your work should not just function as something you do between weekends.  The “Thank God it’s Friday, Oh God it’s Monday” mindset that plagues so many is simply not healthy, and it is no way to spend the majority of the conscious hours in your life!

The career advice in this book is not as brazen and abrupt as the subtitle may imply.  Dan Miller does not suggest that you “fire yourself” immediately and live among the unemployed (although I suppose you could then use the tools found in his previous bestseller 48 Days To The Work You Love).  Instead, he is simply stressing that you are in control of your career and your life, and it is up to you to escape the rut you may find yourself in to pursue truly fulfilling work.

No More Mondays is filled with inspirational quotes and good general guidance, but it doesn’t stop there.  Along with many real-life examples of those that have escaped “Cubeville” to find work with a passion, many historic and even childhood metaphors are used to make key points.

One of my favorite lines from the book recalls a classic Peanuts cartoon where Charlie Brown complains to Linus that his lunch is the same every day.  When Linus asks Charlie who makes his lunch, Charlie Brown replies “I do.”  If you want different  results, you must do something differently.

But please do not get the impression that this career-guidance book is simply 253 pages of fluff and generalizations.  Far from it!  Dan Miller provides a myriad of practical, real-life examples of unique and fulfilling work.  And he provides tools for helping you to find your personal vocation (or calling) in life.

At first glance, it may seem like the entirety of No More Mondays is devoted to entrepreneurship, consulting, inventing or online business opportunities.  And while these types of work are covered thoroughly, the traditional model of work is discussed in detail as well.  The idea is not necessarily to leave your 9-to-5 job, but to revolutionize your job to ensure you are fulfilling your life’s passion with your work.

Why a Review of No More Mondays Here at Engaged Marriage?

So, I obviously enjoyed this book.  If you haven’t read the “About” section of Engaged Marriage, you may assume that No More Mondays must have transformed me into an internet marketer or a jet-setting freelancer.  Far from it.  I am an engineer with a fairly traditional work model.  Heck, I’m married to a teacher!

So, why would I write about this book, especially on a website aimed at improving marriages?  First and foremost, our careers and our finances have a huge impact on our quality of life and our relationship with our spouse (and others).  While I enjoy my “day job,” I know there are many others reading this who truly would benefit by “firing themselves” and pursuing a new direction in their career.  And their marriages would certainly be strengthened as a result of their improved mood, sense of fulfillment and financial success.

However, the real reason that No More Mondays holds such a special place in my heart is because it was this book that led me to create Engaged Marriage!  During a vacation with my wife a few months back, I felt a real calling to do something creative with my life (some “right brain” stuff to balance out all of my “left brain” engineering work).  I picked up No More Mondays to read on the beach in Cancun, and it truly changed my life and the paradigm through which I view work and life.

The specific idea of a marriage website was not quite formed in my head by the time we flew back home.  But the wheels were turning and I experienced the greatest flood of inspiration and creative thought that I can recall in my entire life.  As I spent more time thinking it over and clarifying where my real passions in life are found, I knew that I needed to do something to help others (and my wife and I) experience an awesome marriage.  And I thought that a website would be the perfect vehicle to engage a wide audience of those who shared my desire to live a fulfilling life with the ones they love.

It may be obvious, but I highly recommend that you read No More Mondays.  I would rate it a 9/10 on the EM Awesomeness Scale.

If you would like to buy your own copy, just click on any of the links in this post and you’ll be taken to Dan Miller’s site where you can pick it up at the best possible price.  He even offers autographed copies and extra goodies like electronic versions at no extra charge.  After you have given it a read (or two), please provide a comment on this post and let me and the readers know what you think!