Monthly Archives: January 2010

Jan 31

Improve Yourself! Week 5: Don’t Be Perfect, Be Remarkable!

By Dustin | Individual Fulfillment

Improve Yourself!

As we enter week 5 of this challenge, I am willing to bet that you have lost any illusion of perfection in meeting your goals that you may have had at that start.  I know I have stumbled along personally, and progress hasn’t been as steady and smooth as I had hoped.  However, I know that I am still on the road to…

Be Remarkable!

This week’s book giveaway is centered around a fantastic idea that I have tried to apply to all areas of my own life.  You do not need to be perfect, you simply need to be remarkable in what you do.  That’s what The Big Moo: Stop Trying to Be Perfect and Start Being Remarkable is all about.  It’s an idea book, a manifesto for change and a call to action.  It’s awesome.

So, just what does it mean to be “remarkable”?  The back cover of the book gives some great examples:

Remarkable is being unafraid to stand out.

Remarkable is failing often and then trying again.

Remarkable is having a fire in your belly and an idea that won’t quit.

Remarkable is when you stand for something and make it happen and change the world – or your business or your life – along the way.

It is easy to see how these ideas relate to business and why being remarkable in your career leads to success.  But I don’t think this idea is limited to professional life or entrepreneurship.  Don’t you think you can be remarkable in the way your handle your finances?  In your approach to fitness?  In your marriage?

I do.  And whenever I start to feel lazy, uninspired or apathetic, I take a moment to remind myself that this is the year I declared to be a “Breakthrough” and this is the year I committed to Improve Yourself for at least 8 weeks.

I certainly fail often.  But, I always try again.  I take a moment to close my eyes and remember the fire in my belly that led me to make such bold statements about my goals and aspirations for 2010.  I will change the world, if only for myself and my family.

So, how about you?  We are halfway through this challenge.  Are you prepared to recommit yourself to doing something remarkable with your life?

This Week’s Awesome Prize

The Big MooThis week’s giveaway is an awesome book that has the power to change your life. I highly recommend that you read The Big Moo: Stop Trying to Be Perfect and Start Being Remarkable which is edited by Seth Godin.

This book is actually a compilation of short writings by 33 of the world’s smartest business people.  It is built upon the idea of being remarkable, which originated in Seth Godin’s bestseller Purple Cow.

Just enter your weekly update in the comments below, and you’ll be eligible to win your own copy of The Big Moo. Click the link above to read more about this best-selling book.  It is one of my personal favorites!

Just a short perfunctory reminder: if you are a participant, you must leave a comment below giving an update on your personal progress. Please do so by Tuesday, February 2nd at 11:59 p.m. central time to be eligible for this week’s giveaway. If you are not signed up, feel free to leave a comment anyhow and give your thoughts on this week’s post or your own progress…you just won’t be winning any prizes.

And please don’t forget that you must subscribe to Engaged Marriage via either RSS or Email to be eligible for prizes. There is a secret code at the bottom of the post (just above “Related Posts”) that is only visible if you read this post via an RSS reader or in your email. If you are selected but aren’t subscribed (you don’t know the code when I email you), the prize will instead to go the next person drawn.

Last Week’s Lucky Winner

Congratulations to our lucky winner of the Week 4 drawing:

Ambere who won QBQ! The Question Behind the Question: Practicing Personal Accountability at Work and in Life

Thanks to This Week’s Awesome Sponsors!

The great prizes being given away throughout the challenge are only possible through the generous support of our sponsors. Please take a few minutes to visit this week’s sponsors and check out what they have to offer.

MomStart is a fantastic resource created by a mother of two who provides an incredible amount of reviews, giveaways and writings related to all of the new things going on in the world of parenting.

MomStart

Enemy of Debt is the place to be if you want to get out of debt or simply celebrate the goodness that your debt-freedom has brought to your life. Brad is a passionate and informative resource offering a unique perspective on the personal finance scene.

Make Mine Happen “Stop Dreaming and Start Doing” by putting the motivational and informational posts at this site to work in your life!

Personal Finance Notebook is a great site created by Patrenia Spears after her family paid off an incredible $93,000 in debt! Her posts are intended to empower her readers to achieve their financial goals. Her tag line says it all: “A website that offers ideas, education and the motivation needed to create a personal finance portfolio to be proud of.

Budgets are Sexy is simply awesome. J. Money provides a site that is packed with really useful info about the world of personal finance, and he does it in his own (pimpin’) way. Entertaining and informative.

Budgets are Sexy

That’s it from me for Week 5 of the challenge! Look for the Week 6 post next Sunday. Get your progress stated below, visit our sponsors and BE REMARKABLE this week!

Don’t miss the other Improve Yourself posts…here is a running list:

  1. Improve Yourself! 2010 Announcement. This is the place to start and sign-up by leaving a comment with your area of focus.
  2. The Prize List. This is where you’ll get the details about the awesome prizes and learn about our generous sponsors.
  3. Week 1: Set SMART Goals. Learn about smart goal-setting and leave your specific goals for the challenge in the comments.
  4. Week 2: Baby Step Your Way to Success. Learn how you can achieve any goal by breaking it down into small, easier-to-handle tasks.
  5. Week 3: Prioritize Your Time for Progress. Learn the importance of focusing on important, but not urgent, tasks to improve your life and achieve long-term effectiveness.
  6. Week 4: YOU are Responsible for Your Progress. Quit making excuses, take ownership for your results and do the work necessary to make your goals a reality.
  7. Week 5: Don’t Be Perfect, Be Remarkable! You do not need to be perfect, you simply need to be remarkable in what you do. Don’t you think you can be remarkable in the way your handle your finances?  In your approach to fitness?  In your marriage?
  8. Week 6: Stick With It! I applaud you for sticking with your commitment to yourself and your fellow challenge participants. You are now in the minority as we close in on the finish line. Don’t Quit!
  9. Week 7: Communicate for Success Communication is a certain key to success in nearly all aspects of life.
  10. Week 8: Don’t Accept Mediocrity! Always get better even if it’s only in small increments.  Life is just too short to do otherwise.
Jan 29

Should Married Couples Have Joint or Separate Bank Accounts?

By Dustin | Finances & Careers

Do you and your spouse use a single, joint checking account?  Or do you choose to keep separate bank accounts?

Have you considered the alternatives?

I was frankly surprised at the responses I’ve heard to these questions over the past week or so.  And I was really shocked at the emotional reaction that many have in defending the structure of their family finances.

It started in the responses I received where everyone seemingly ignored my main points in the “7 Simple Steps to Financial Success in Your Marriage” and focused in on my statement that a joint checking account was the way to go.

Curious, I then posed the question on the Engaged Marriage Facebook page and received some incredible responses.

For instance, the pro joint account crowd provided comments like this:

Mary: We have a joint checking account. Always have and always will. We’re married and share everything – nothing is his and nothing is mine. We agree on finances and how we spend OUR money.

Erica: We have joint everything…we discuss all major purchases/goals/bills, but gas, food, etc. just comes out of our joint account as needed. It works very well for us and I couldn’t imagine having it separate. All the figuring out who has paid for which thing and how much and trying to make it “even” etc. has never made sense to me. It’s US, and OURS. 🙂

And some readers love their separate checking accounts:

Sam: We have separate accounts. I cover most of the bills and the majority of his money is used for discretionary costs (gas, food, etc). We both have access to each others accounts, so it’s not like my money is strictly my money (and vice-versa). Works for us!  Honestly, I think a joint account would cause some stress for us.

Jennifer: We have separate accounts. I pay mortgage and living costs (groceries, fun, etc.) and he pays all other bills and savings. We find it much easier to manage money that way.

Don’t Tread on My Financial Life

I don’t think my suggestion of trying a single joint checking account was too radical or really all that forceful in the way it was presented.

Nevertheless, pretty much every comment on my Couple’s Financial Success post was related to that issue.  I was even accused of making broad generalizations, and it was clear that I offended some folks with my recommendation.

It turns out that people can be pretty passionate about their choice of bank accounts!  I loved the conversations, and as I have taken some time to think about the issue a little more, I’ve even opened my mind a bit.

I thought it would be useful to outline the main reasons why a married couple may choose a single joint account vs. separate accounts.  And then, for the really important part of this exercise, we’ll take a look at why this decision should matter to you and your spouse.

Reasons Why a Joint Bank Account is Best

  • Encourages regular communication about finances
  • Built-in accountability partner on spending matters
  • Fosters unity in money matters
  • Strong sense of working together to meet financial goals
  • Clear that all household income is treated as “our” money
  • No conflict or administrative work in “splitting up the bills”
  • Dave Ramsey says this is best, and we all love Dave, right?

Reasons Why Separate or “Yours, Mine and Ours” Bank Accounts Rule

  • Duties of financial bookkeeping not solely on one person
  • Clear boundaries set up-front for individual spending
  • May be easier to track specific savings goals
  • Easy to surprise your spouse with gifts
  • No need to talk about finances regularly
  • Each spouse can keep “their proportionate amount” of household income
  • Ability to maintain privacy about what you spend money on
  • More independence and autonomy to spend as desired without seeking concurrence

So, who is really right?

After reading a lot about this issue and reflecting upon it, I have divined the one, true and infallible answer to this age-old question:

It depends.

You will notice that the reasons I listed in support of separate accounts are broken into two groups.  In my opinion, the “black” group are legitimate and healthy reasons for having multiple accounts.  However, the “red” group spells trouble.

The reasons listed in red are centered in a mentality of not just separate accounts, but separate finances within the marriage.

I feel strongly that this is a dangerous and unhealthy foundation for money management for a married couple.  These reasons come from a spirit of selfishness, and they do not reflect the fact that marriage is a partnership.  And they certainly do not support open communication and trust.

The Key is Intent

Personally, Bethany and I use a single, joint checking account and feel that is absolutely perfect for us.  And before I gave this much thought, I would have prescribed this same arrangement for every married couple.  Actually, I still think this is the way to go, but I can see where other approaches can work fine, too.

The main reason that we choose to keep a joint bank account is our belief in unity.  We believe that when you get married, you become one, and money is a key area where this is lived out.  There is no “yours, mine and ours” but only “ours.”

When you handle your money together, you are agreeing on your hopes, dreams and goals together.  The use of a single joint account also encourages (requires, really) open communication about your finances, which is absolutely critical to a successful marriage.

As long as the right intent is there, I think you also operate in full unity with multiple accounts.  I don’t think it provides as accommodating of environment for unity and open communication, but I fully believe many couples lead happy, healthy and successful financial lives together under this arrangement.

Plus, we feel it is just easier to manage when everything goes into one account and out of the same account.  For us, it’s the simpler solution to maintain a single checking account.

I realize that some couples find the simplicity of their money management to actually be enhanced by using multiple accounts.  And, while that’s not our deal, I can certainly understand and respect that.  In fact, we have several different savings accounts for this same reason.

The Bottom Line

In my opinion, the real question to ask here is not how many accounts you have, the types of savings accounts, or what you call them.  The key is to operate your finances in a unified way with open communication at all times.

You can do that with one account or twenty. However, if you do operate with multiple accounts, they should all be “joint” accounts that you both can access, and there should be absolutely no secrets about how money is being earned or spent.

And remember that your motivation should be one of unity.  That will keep you in the black and out of the red in more ways than one.

So, I just have to know:

Do you and your spouse use a single joint checking account or do you choose to keep separate accounts?  Why?

If you are new to Engaged Marriage, I’d encourage you to sign up for our popular Marriage Time newsletter.  And please check out all of the great resources we’ve compiled for you in our Get Debt Free & Enjoy Your Money tutorial.

Photo by alancleaver_2000
Jan 27

Book Review & Giveaway! “Improve Your Marriage” by Russell A. Irving

By Dustin | Book & Product Reviews

Improve Your MarriageI was asked by the author to read and give an honest review of “Improve Your Marriage: Don’t Overlook the Obvious.”  I was delighted to do so, and I really enjoyed reading this book.

I thought this would also be a fun way to reward you guys with a little gift for being loyal readers.  So, I will be randomly selecting one lucky winner from the comments on this post and sending them my very gently used copy of Improve Your Marriage for free.  If you think you’d enjoy reading this book, but you are not the lucky winner, you can buy it from Amazon using any of the links in this post.

In order to be eligible for the free book giveaway, simply leave a comment below stating your favorite “simple piece of advice” for marriage.  And, if you’d like one bonus entry, please Retweet this post to your Twitter followers using the button at the bottom of the post.  Just be sure to leave your comment by Friday January 29th at noon central time because that’s when I’ll draw the winner.

Now for the Book Review

Let me just say up front that Improve Your Marriage is not a “normal” book.  I really don’t think most people would sit down and read it cover-to-cover like most books.  Instead, I viewed it as more of a compilation of short quotes or words of wisdom.  In fact, if it had a bit of a catchier cover design and a larger format, I think this would make a great coffee table book for casual browsing.

In its current smaller paperback format, I think this book functions best as a sort of “daily devotional.”  There are generally three or so short pieces of advice or thought-provoking phrases on each page.  If you simply read one page worth of material each day, spent some time reflecting on it, and then applied it to your marriage and life that day, I think you could realize some real benefits.  With 226 total pages, you could casually work your way through the book over the course of around eight months.  At that point, you may even want to start over or just deeply reflect on one phrase at random when you need a little introspection or inspiration.

In general, you are not going to find any earth-shattering, scientific or deeply spiritual passages in Improve Your Marriage.  Instead, you’ll find straightforward and simple (“obvious” to borrow the author’s word) advice and encouragement to remind you of the good things you already know.

I read nearly every phrase in the book casually over the past several weeks, and there were numerous passages that I found worthy of deeper thought.  The topics center largely around communication but they delve into sex, money, parenting, romance and all of the other goodies we talk about regularly here at Engaged Marriage.  Here are a few examples of the phrases provided on a given page on the book:

From pg. 100:

Sometimes a wise financial purchase is a ‘frivolous’ one.

Shake up your daily routine. Try something new. With and without them.

Stop making everything about you.  Or, about them.

From pg. 195:

Rationalization can eventually become reality.

Starting an argument simply to get their attention is both foolish and harmful.

No one is always late unless they do not care about the other’s feelings, or they wish to ‘pay them back’ for something real or imagined.

I am sure you did not learn anything new by reading these six passages.  However, I’m sure you can see the benefit in reflecting on them and making a conscious effort to be a little better to your spouse on a given day as a result.  To me, that’s what this book is all about.

The Bottom Line

So, the bottom line question to any reviewer is, “Would you buy this book?” and I am an honest guy.  My answer is “no” but my reasons should be considered.  I am not a “daily devotional” type of guy, and I genuinely prefer to spend my time reading “normal” books that consists of chapters, stories and running themes.  So no, Improve Your Marriage is not a book that I would personally buy if I picked it up at the bookstore.

However, if you enjoy this type of reading, I would encourage you to check it out.  If you are a reader of Engaged Marriage, I think it’s safe to say that you have an interest in improving your marriage and being intentional in that effort.  If you think you would benefit by reflecting on some simple thoughts each day and applying those to your own relationship, then by all means pick up a copy of Improve Your Marriage and start working your way through it.  Encourage your spouse to do the same.  And if you both live out the “obvious” principles presented by Mr. Irving, I think you’ll certainly be on your way to improving your own marriage.

Jan 25

Ask the Community: What Does an “Extraordinary Marriage” Mean to You?

By Dustin | Ask the Community

Ask the CommunityI had a lot of fun last week having two guest posts published (at Simple Marriage and Romance University) and interacting with lots of new people.  Some of these conversations carried over onto Facebook and Twitter as well.  On top of all that, I read some other thought-provoking posts on other blogs.

I loved all of the interaction, and I know we have a community here at Engaged Marriage that is second to none. So, I think it would be both fun and really informative to occasionally ask you all a thought-provoking question and let you run with it in the comments.  When we hit a good groove, I’ll follow-up with a post giving my thoughts and highlighting some of the best responses (with links to your sites if you are a fellow blogger).  Sound cool?

So, the first question(s) I have for you strike at the core of this site and our stated mission.  I have my thoughts, but what is most important is what you think…

  • What does an “Extraordinary Marriage” mean to you?
  • Do you have one?
  • Do you want one?

Please share you thoughts in the comments section, and let’s see what you think.  I’m really looking forward to this one!

Photo by Andreanna Moya Photography
Jan 23

Improve Yourself! Week 4: YOU Are Responsible for Your Progress

By Dustin | Individual Fulfillment

Improve Yourself!

This challenge was started under the theme of “Your Goals, Your Actions, Your Results.”  Do you notice the word that’s repeated three times in that short tag line?  This is your challenge, and your competition is yourself and your own level of personal commitment.

Personal Responsibility is the Key to Personal Progress

This week’s book giveaway is centered around an incredibly simple but extremely powerful concept: it is your problem, your job and your responsibility.  Personal responsibility is key.  That’s what QBQ! The Question Behind the Question: Practicing Personal Accountability at Work and in Life is all about.

In QBQ, John Miller implores us to get away from the blame-game and our inclination for making excuses for the challenges we face in both business and our personal lives.  Instead of asking who is to blame for the situation, we should ask, “What can I do to improve the situation?” so we can take ownership of the problem and take proactive action to solve it.

Whether you are making great progress toward your goals in the Improve Yourself challenge or you are struggling, the results you are seeing are directly related to the effort and commitment that you have exhibited for the last three weeks.  I personally didn’t start off the way I should have, and I made a lot of excuses to myself to make it seem okay.  However, this week I decided that I was done with the pity-party, and it was time that I took responsibility for my actions and my results.

One of the participants in this challenge had a similar realization last week as well.  I won’t use his name here in case he’d rather stay private with his thoughts, but I will tell you that he has inspired me to take my game to the next level.  After giving a half-hearted effort to his fitness goals the previous week, he lost one pound.  That’s not bad, right?  Well, this man hit a turning point and decided it was time to take his health seriously, get off his rear and do the work necessary to achieve extraordinary results.  He decided to take personal responsibility for his actions and his results, and I believe you’ll see him report in with a weekly loss of 7.5 pounds this week!

How are your results thus far?  Are you prepared to own them and do the work necessary to meet your goals? You can do this.

This Week’s Awesome Prize

QBQ BookThis week’s giveaway is an awesome book that has the power to change your life.  I highly recommend that you read QBQ! The Question Behind the Question: Practicing Personal Accountability at Work and in Life by John G. Miller.

Just enter your weekly update in the comments below, and you’ll be eligible to win your own copy of QBQ. Click the link above to read more about this best-selling book.

Just a short perfunctory reminder: if you are a participant, you must leave a comment below giving an update on your personal progress. Please do so by Tuesday, January 26th at 11:59 p.m. central time to be eligible for this week’s giveaway. If you are not signed up, feel free to leave a comment anyhow and give your thoughts on this week’s post or your own progress…you just won’t be winning any prizes.

And please don’t forget that you must subscribe to Engaged Marriage via either RSS or Email to be eligible for prizes. There is a secret code at the bottom of the post (just above “Related Posts”) that is only visible if you read this post via an RSS reader or in your email. If you are selected but aren’t subscribed (you don’t know the code when I email you), the prize will instead to go the next person drawn.

Last Week’s Lucky Winner

Congratulations to our lucky winner of the Week 3 drawing:

Mike who won The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Thanks to This Week’s Awesome Sponsors!

The great prizes being given away throughout the challenge are only possible through the generous support of our sponsors. Please take a few minutes to visit this week’s sponsors and check out what they have to offer.

Enemy of Debt is the place to be if you want to get out of debt or simply celebrate the goodness that your debt-freedom has brought to your life. Brad is a passionate and informative resource offering a unique perspective on the personal finance scene.

Make Mine Happen “Stop Dreaming and Start Doing” by putting the motivational and informational posts at this site to work in your life!

Budgets are Sexy is simply awesome. J. Money provides a site that is packed with really useful info about the world of personal finance, and he does it in his own (pimpin’) way. Entertaining and informative.

Budgets are Sexy

MomStart is a fantastic resource created by a mother of two who provides an incredible amount of reviews, giveaways and writings related to all of the new things going on in the world of parenting.

MomStart

That’s it from me for Week 4 of the challenge! Look for the Week 5 post next Sunday. Get your progress stated below, visit our sponsors and take ownership for the progress (or lack thereof) that you’re making toward your goals!

Don’t miss the other Improve Yourself posts…here is a running list:

  1. Improve Yourself! 2010 Announcement. This is the place to start and sign-up by leaving a comment with your area of focus.
  2. The Prize List. This is where you’ll get the details about the awesome prizes and learn about our generous sponsors.
  3. Week 1: Set SMART Goals. Learn about smart goal-setting and leave your specific goals for the challenge in the comments.
  4. Week 2: Baby Step Your Way to Success. Learn how you can achieve any goal by breaking it down into small, easier-to-handle tasks.
  5. Week 3: Prioritize Your Time for Progress. Learn the importance of focusing on important, but not urgent, tasks to improve your life and achieve long-term effectiveness.
  6. Week 4: YOU are Responsible for Your Progress. Quit making excuses, take ownership for your results and do the work necessary to make your goals a reality.
  7. Week 5: Don’t Be Perfect, Be Remarkable! You do not need to be perfect, you simply need to be remarkable in what you do. Don’t you think you can be remarkable in the way your handle your finances?  In your approach to fitness?  In your marriage?
  8. Week 6: Stick With It! I applaud you for sticking with your commitment to yourself and your fellow challenge participants. You are now in the minority as we close in on the finish line. Don’t Quit!
  9. Week 7: Communicate for Success Communication is a certain key to success in nearly all aspects of life.
  10. Week 8: Don’t Accept Mediocrity! Always get better even if it’s only in small increments.  Life is just too short to do otherwise.
Jan 21

You Need Alone Time: Jesus Said So!

By Dustin | Spirituality

You Need Alone Time: Jesus Said So!

Attention to the secular and/or non-Christians among us: This post starts with some Jesus-stuff and even quotes the Bible.  However, the message goes beyond that, so I encourage you to stick with us on this one.

I had the pleasure of attending a Church Mission night last week, and it was truly inspiring in many ways.  A particular highlight was the reading of the Gospel and our priest’s personal take on its meaning in his life.

It turns out that Jesus not only gave us examples of how to be a united community and to love our families.  He also showed us why we all need some alone time to truly serve our spouses, our children and our community in the best way possible.

And when he had taken leave of them, he went off to the mountain to pray.

When it was evening, the boat was far out on the sea and he was alone on shore.

Then he saw that they were tossed about while rowing, for the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them walking on the sea.

Mark 6:46-48 NAB

If you know much about the Bible, you’ve probably heard of the two miracles that happen just before and within this passage.  Jesus is resting alone on the mountain after He fed around 5,000 people with fives loaves of bread and two fish.  And as the last line mentions, He shows off His walking on water trick to His disciples after He sees them struggling in a storm out in the sea.  It was a big day for Jesus!

Be Alone & Change Your Focus

I have heard this reading several times in the past, but I never really paid any attention to what Jesus was doing in between His two miracles that day.  It turns out that He told His disciples to go out to sea for a while, and He spent time alone resting and praying up on a nearby mountain.  It was only after He got this “me time” that He came down to the shoreline and returned His focus to the disciples.

Our priest did a wonderful job of putting this Gospel into a context that I could really relate to.  He talked about the reasons he has become an avid hiker and spends much of his time away from the Church taking hikes.  He expressed the refreshment and sense of peace he feels when he completes a solo hike.  He said he prays throughout the day, but his favorite time for prayer is atop a mountaintop (or a large hill as we have here in southern Illinois).

But here is the real power behind this Gospel: his alone time changes his focus.  When he doesn’t get any alone time to hike and relax, he can feel overwhelmed and become self-centered with thoughts of all that he sacrifices dominating his mind.  However, after a good hike, he returns to our parish with a renewed enthusiasm and a keen focus on those that he serves.

Go Climb a Mountain, Sit in a Tree or Walk Around the Block

I can totally relate to this.  We all need some time to “recharge” our minds and bodies.  More than that, we need time to refocus through prayer, meditation or simply relaxation.  With the busyness of life, I need time to hear my own thoughts, sit for ideas and allow God to remind me of my true priorities.

Fortunately, I had the opportunity so spend some quiet time in reflection during my favorite time of the year over the holidays.  I entered the New Year with a renewed enthusiasm for all areas of my life as well as a commitment to improve my actions to better reflect my priorities.  You may have noticed the contemplative nature of some of the posts around this time, such as “Do You Practice What You Preach?

I recognize now that I really need this alone time in smaller, more frequent doses.  Right now, I get it through morning workouts and late-night writings here at Engaged Marriage.  In the spring and summer, I will be recharged while cycling our area bike trails and the fall will bring another season of bowhunting. Occasionally, my family will join me, but for the most part these will be solo pursuits.

These are not selfish activities.  In fact, they are vitally important for the well-being of my marriage and my family.  I think Jesus would totally agree.

I’d love to hear from you on this topic.  What do you do to refocus on your true priorities in life?

Photo by peasap
Jan 17

Improve Yourself! Week 3: Prioritize Your Time for Progress

By Dustin | Individual Fulfillment

Improve Yourself!

I hope you were able to continue making strong progress toward your goals through the Improve Yourself! 2010 challenge this week. As always , I trust that these weekly posts will offer value to anyone looking to improve their life and their marriage, regardless of whether you are officially part of the contest.

If you are a participant, you must leave a comment below giving an update on your personal progress. Please do so by Tuesday, January 19th at 11:59 p.m. central time to be eligible for this week’s giveaway. If you are not signed up, feel free to leave a comment anyhow and give your thoughts on this week’s post or your own progress…you just won’t be winning any prizes.

Time Keeps on Ticking…

If you have not read this week’s giveaway book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, you owe it to yourself to check it out.  The seven habits Dr. Covey outlines are legitimately vital and practical.

My favorite principle from the book is Habit 3: Put First Things First, which is focused on personal time management.  Basically, there are four areas, or quadrants, where we can classify every task in our lives: Urgent/Important, Not Urgent/Important, Urgent/Not Important,  and Not Urgent/Not Important.  The key to success is to maximize the time you spend in “Quadrant II: Not Urgent/Important” and this is where many of us struggle.

When we manage our time effectively enough to focus on issues that do not require immediate attention (not urgent) but are in fact important to our lives, we become strategic planners and we take actions that will benefit us in the long-term.  If you are a regular reader of Engaged Marriage and/or you are actively participating in the Improve Yourself challenge, you are spending at least part of your time on Quadrant II activities.  Nice work!

Expect in emergency situations, there is nothing necessarily urgent about your fitness level, your financial strength, your spiritual life or even your marriage.  That’s why it’s so easy to get into a rut in all of these areas.  When we lose focus and don’t manage our time effectively, the more urgent (even though less important) tasks begin to rule our days.

By setting goals and devoting your time to meeting them, you are setting yourself up for success and becoming effective in that area of your life.  When you use your time wisely, you not only help yourself, but you are making progress in your marriage and family life as well.

I look forward to hearing about the progress you have made this week, and I certainly know that it takes wise time management and sacrifice to make it happen. Please leave a comment below letting us know what you did during Week 2 to better yourself.

This Week’s Awesome Prize

7 Habits of Highly Effective PeopleThis week’s giveaway is another great one. If you want to learn how to be more effective with your time and efforts in all areas of life, then I highly recommended that you read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.

Just enter your weekly update in the comments below, and you’ll be eligible to win your own (gently-used) copy of The Seven Habits. Click the link above to read more about this best-selling book.

And please don’t forget that you must subscribe to Engaged Marriage via either RSS or Email to be eligible for prizes. There is a secret code at the bottom of the post (just above “Related Posts”) that is only visible if you read this post via an RSS reader or in your email. If you are selected but aren’t subscribed (you don’t know the code when I email you), the prize will instead to go the next person drawn.

Last Week’s Lucky Winner

Congratulations to the lucky winner from our Week 2 drawing:

Sherry who won The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness

Slacker Alert!

Unfortunately, we have had numerous people “disappear” since the original sign-up for this contest.  Out of the original 64 participants, 51 commented in Week 1, and only 33 commented with their progress in Week 2. For those of you sticking with it and progressing toward your goals, your odds of winning each week and overall are improving with each drop-out!

Please note that missing one week doesn’t drop you from the contest, so if you simply forgot to leave a comment last week or just got off-track for a week, I encourage you to refocus on your goals and get back to work!  Leave a comment here and let us know you are still working alongside us all.

And, yes, if you signed up originally and you are not around for Week 8, I will be posting your name and, if available, your website address at the end of the contest for being a slacker.  You wanted accountability and I want to give you some! 🙂

Thanks to This Week’s Awesome Sponsors!

The great prizes being given away throughout the challenge are only possible through the generous support of our sponsors. Please take a few minutes to visit this week’s sponsors and check out what they have to offer.

Personal Finance Notebook is a great site created by Patrenia Spears after her family paid off an incredible $93,000 in debt! Her posts are intended to empower her readers to achieve their financial goals. Her tag line says it all: “A website that offers ideas, education and the motivation needed to create a personal finance portfolio to be proud of.

MomStart is a fantastic resource created by a mother of two who provides an incredible amount of reviews, giveaways and writings related to all of the new things going on in the world of parenting.

MomStart

Budgets are Sexy is simply awesome. J. Money provides a site that is packed with really useful info about the world of personal finance, and he does it in his own (pimpin’) way. Entertaining and informative.

Budgets are Sexy

Make Mine Happen “Stop Dreaming and Start Doing” by putting the motivational and informational posts at this site to work in your life!

That’s it from me for Week 3 of the challenge! Look for the Week 4 post next Sunday. Get your progress stated below, visit our sponsors and go take some more progress toward your goals!

Don’t miss the other Improve Yourself posts…here is a running list:

  1. Improve Yourself! 2010 Announcement. This is the place to start and sign-up by leaving a comment with your area of focus.
  2. The Prize List. This is where you’ll get the details about the awesome prizes and learn about our generous sponsors.
  3. Week 1: Set SMART Goals. Learn about smart goal-setting and leave your specific goals for the challenge in the comments.
  4. Week 2: Baby Step Your Way to Success. Learn how you can achieve any goal by breaking it down into small, easier-to-handle tasks.
  5. Week 3: Prioritize Your Time for Progress. Learn the importance of focusing on important, but not urgent, tasks to improve your life and achieve long-term effectiveness.
  6. Week 4: YOU are Responsible for Your Progress. Quit making excuses, take ownership for your results and do the work necessary to make your goals a reality.
  7. Week 5: Don’t Be Perfect, Be Remarkable! You do not need to be perfect, you simply need to be remarkable in what you do. Don’t you think you can be remarkable in the way your handle your finances?  In your approach to fitness?  In your marriage?
  8. Week 6: Stick With It! I applaud you for sticking with your commitment to yourself and your fellow challenge participants. You are now in the minority as we close in on the finish line. Don’t Quit!
  9. Week 7: Communicate for Success Communication is a certain key to success in nearly all aspects of life.
  10. Week 8: Don’t Accept Mediocrity! Always get better even if it’s only in small increments.  Life is just too short to do otherwise.
Jan 16

I Love My Wife Enough to Shop at Wal-Mart

By Dustin | Household Management

Wal-MartThere comes a time in every man’s life when he must put aside concern for his own well-being and be a warrior for his family.  He must sacrifice his security and face fear in the eye in the interest of serving his wife.  For me, that time arrived on a cold, melancholy Saturday afternoon in southern Illinois.

The lunchtime weather forecast called for snow, and it was imperative that my family have the provisions on-hand to make it through the night under the heavy blanket of what could be up to 2 inches of snowfall.  Like a good mother hen, my wife sprang to action and quickly assembled a detailed list of products that would allow our family to survive the calamity.

Good Luck, Honey

I looked her in the eye and told her that I would serve my usual role with bravery and honor.  While she went shopping, I would, to the best of my abilities, sit at home while the kids were napping.  It would be difficult since my heart and thoughts would be with her while she was away, but I knew I could muster the strength to surf the internet while I watched college football.  I could and  I must.

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, it was at this fateful moment that my life changed forever.  Pushing out her belly a bit more than usual, she batted her eyelashes and reminded me that she was carrying my child, and it sure was tiring to grow a little mini-me in her womb.  Yes, she required a nap to sustain her strength, particularly with the stress of the impending storm weighing on her mind and soul.

Alas, it was I who would be leaving the homestead behind and venturing to….Wal-Mart.   It was I.

The Journey Through Suburbia

I have to admit, I was scared.  While a trip to Wal-Mart was a regular occurrence for my wife, routine even, I had not spent much time in the place, and never alone. Nevertheless, I knew what was required of me, so I swallowed hard, grabbed the list from her hand and kissed her for what I hoped would not be the last time.

Before departing, I peered in to see my children sleeping, realizing that it was their innocence and their welfare that I would be preserving that afternoon. I had to get those toiletries and assorted foodstuff.Lucky Parking Spot

With much trepidation, I left the house and got into my Dodge Stratus.  My senses were heightened, and as I passed every nearly-identical, suburban home, it was as if it was the first time I had made the 1.2 mile trip to…Wal-Mart.  Today, I wouldn’t be enjoying a tasty toasted sub from the adjoining Subway.  No, today I had a mission to complete.

45 Acres of Asphalt and No Place to Park

When I arrived at the shopping center, I quickly realized that I wasn’t the only one stocking up for the impending blizzard.  I found a parking spot near the back of the lot.  It was right next to the Ghostbusters van, so I started to feel a bit better.  I parked, looked at myself in the mirror and said aloud, “You can do this. You must do this. You will do this.”

After a quick double-thumbs up to my own reflection in the car next to me, I made the 300-yard jaunt to the front door.  I resisted the Girl Scout cookies sale and the incredibly-priced vending machine soft drinks and walked straight to the automatic door.  I had arrived.

Well, actually this was the exit, so I had to walk around the vending machines and Scouts to get to the actual front door.  Now, I had arrived.  And, as luck would have it, I was greeted by a guy who I’m pretty sure was Justin Timberlake of NSYNC fame.  What an incredible start to my shopping experience!

Small Prices & Even Smaller Aisles

Upon entering the store, I was greeted by an elderly man who tried to put little stickers on my gloves, coat and shoes.  He insisted I report to the customer service desk, but I finally got around him and found a beautiful shopping cart with three functional wheels and something sticky on the handle.

I looked at my list and saw that diapers were necessity number one.  This was easy.  The “baby” section was straight back according to the large overhead freeway signage.  On the way, I found an incredible Ninja t-shirt and some very classy lingerie for the little lady. In fact, a disabled old man was wearing a very similar piece, and it was truly striking.

As I smiled to myself about the remarkable deals I was finding, I was quickly distracted by the sound of a child dragging along the tile floor.  I stopped my cart just in time and avoided a near collision.  I thought to myself, “That looks really fun, and that floor looks fabulous.”

The trek from lingerie to diapers was trying.  It seems that no one within the walls of Wal-Mart understands or respects the rules of right-of-way.  At seemingly every intersection along the journey, I was forced to pull back on my cart like the reins on a wild stallion to avoid a serious crash.  I am still not sure if these were experienced shoppers trying to intimidate me, or whether their intelligence level was so low that they truly weren’t capable of perceiving distance, space or time.  Regardless, I was becoming anxious to get the items my family needed and head back to the safety of home.

I found some diapers and headed for the next item on the list.  It was time to check out the grocery section for some delicious (and nutritious) frozen entrees.

Onward to Groceries

Frankly, the grocery section in this particular Wal-Mart left a lot to be desired.  The aisles were narrow and many items were placed so high up you’d need a ladder to reach them.  I did see some other shoppers improvising, and frankly the big sale on Fanta soda left me wishing I had brought along a small child myself.

Focus.  I had to focus and complete this trip as soon as possible.  My family was waiting at home with only a pantry full of food and a wide assortment of drinks, meats and cheese in the refrigerator.  I needed to proceed onward.

When I arrived at the frozen food section, I was caught off-guard by a sense of awe and respect.  Before me stood what I figured must be the President of MENSA, a true genius in our time.  This man…er woman…um mannish woman, had bestowed upon his/her head a crown of glory and achievement.  While I would potentially be exposed to snow upon my own head when I left the store, or water in the event that the sprinkler system were activated, this person-thing had what can only be described as a manifestation of human ingenuity already in place ready to defend “it” against any perfectly vertical precipitation.  I still think back to this creation and know it could only have been inspired by God himself.

After slapping myself upon both cheeks, I snapped out of it and grabbed the Salisbury Steak Lean Cuisine entree I was seeking.  It was at this time that things get fuzzy.

Accosted in Health and Beauty

After being humbled by my experience in frozen foods, I was closing in on the conclusion of my list.  I needed deodorant, and then I’d be out of this store faster than a fat kid in dodge ball.

I weaved in and out of “action aisle” traffic in a mad dash toward Health and Beauty.  Victory was near and I could feel a sense of intense pride welling up inside.  I had nearly made it, all by myself.

To this day, I don’t remember exactly what happened next.  I remember seeing a rather rotund man in a t-shirt, and I asked him something about what number two looks like.  I think he hit me or perhaps I was broadsided by an errant cart.  I’ll never know for sure, but I think I was knocked unconscious.

When I awoke, I was sitting at the courtesy blood pressure machine checking my own vitals.  I was a bit woozy, but I was alive.  More alive than I had felt in so long.

It was time to leave this place behind and get back home to my loving family.  I figured that they were probably worried about me at this point, and I truly had no way of knowing just how long I had been knocked out since I had no watch and I left my cell phone in my car to avoid being distracted.

Checking Out

Not wanting to waste another moment, I hit the “emergency release” button on the blood pressure machine and extracted my arm.  I stood, steadied myself and pushed my three-wheeled cart in a beeline past an amazing array of tobacco products and straight to the checkout area.

There was exactly one line open to serve approximately 37 people with full shopping carts.  I killed some time reading the backs of the various packs of super glue using the adjacent magnifying glasses.  I also used the opportunity to catch up on the latest news on the Tiger Woods scandal and got some real insight into the daily struggles faced on Jersey Shore.

Finally, I was next in line, and I was so anxious to complete my trip and make my drive home.  Well, as luck would have it, the man in front of me demanded a price check on some leg warmers he wanted to buy.  I couldn’t blame the guy because I myself remembered that they were on display for $4.49, and it just wasn’t right to pay $4.59 under those circumstances.  The man was a bit dejected when the price investigation revealed that the tiger-striped warmers were considered a premium edition.  It would require the full sum of 459 cents to bring that particular model home.  Worth. Every. Penny.

The Triumphant Return

Battered, beaten and tired, I stumbled out of the store’s exit doors, ignoring the incessant pleas of the Girl Scouts.  Despite my fatigue, I was overpowered by a sense of accomplishment and pride.  I had made it.  I had metaphorically left our cave, killed some prey and was about to drag it home to my appreciative family.  Diapers, frozen entrees and deodorant were mine.  And so was the adoration of my peers and the love of my dear family.

In a twist of irony, I returned to the Stratus to find that the Ghostbusters van that had brought me so much comfort upon my arrival had been replaced by an equally interesting vehicle.  It was a pick-up truck, and its payload revealed so much about the life and love of the price-check man.  I stopped, saluted him and his companion, and made my way into the familiar security of my car.

Just as I arrived home, the first snowflakes of the impending blizzard began to pour down upon our driveway.  I was so relieved to know that not only had I made it (mostly) safely, but through my own valiant actions my wife and children would be secure and comfortable through the uncertain night ahead.

I burst through the door, single plastic bag in hand, and declared that I had returned home with every single one of the three items that my family needed for survival.  Everyone was asleep, so I poured myself a glass of Fanta and waited patiently to share the news of my adventures.

My dear wife awoke from her nap and greeted me with a kiss.  I started to unfold for her the glorious tale of my undertaking, but she stopped me shortly after I showed her the incredible lingerie I had purchased to ask…

“Did you get my text message about picking up some toilet paper while you were at Wal-Mart?’

Editor’s Note:  First of all, I need to be clear that I love Wal-Mart and would never want to be sued by them.  Also, most of the photos used in this post were borrowed from an incredibly funny site called People of Wal-Mart, and I suggest you spend several hours looking around there and supporting their sponsors.

If you happen to be a new reader of Engaged Marriage, you should know that this is my first attempt at a funny post.  Everything I wrote above is pure satire and just for fun.  The vast majority of the posts here are aimed at helping you achieve an Extraordinary Marriage, but this one was intended to just give you a laugh or two.  I’d love to know what you think about this change of pace in the comments below!

Jan 11

Big News for Our Family & A Happy New Year’s Link Round-Up

By Dustin | Link Round-Up

My wife and I are looking forward to a very Happy New Year indeed!  I am excited to announce to you all (who I consider my friends and part of an extended family) that we are expecting to welcome a third small Riechmann into the world in early July, God willing.

We told our two (out of utero) kids the big news on Christmas morning after they opened their gifts, and I am proud to report that they were even more excited by the thought of a brand new baby than by their shiny new toys, at least for a few seconds.  When we said, “We’re going to have a baby!” my almost five-year-old son’s immediate reaction was “RIGHT NOW?!?!”.  From the mouths of babes…

As if that wasn’t exciting enough, it’s also time for another round of links to awesome reads that I recommend you check out.  There are a lot of links here, but I had a lot of time to read over the Christmas break and I wanted to share a nice variety of stuff.

And I’ll throw in a picture of my favorite new t-shirt that I received for Christmas for good measure.  It is super-sweet!

  • Social Experiments. I found this out-of-the-box post over at Do You Dave Ramsey? to be a great read.
  • Setting Goals in Marriage: The Goal Ladder. The Marry Blogger is another favorite blog of mine.  Stu put together a nifty little video to help us with our goal-setting, which is critical for a good life…and a great marriage.
  • Top 5 Personal Finance Resolutions. Ron from The Wisdom Journal boiled down where we need to be focusing the renewed enthusiasm many of us feel this time of year in this great post.
  • What is the Point of Marriage? Kathleen is putting together a wonderful, thought-provoking series of posts over at Project M.  She asks and then tries to answer this basic, but very important, question about marriage.
  • 6 Ways to Knock Out Creditors. J. Money from Budgets Are Sexy adds his entertaining style to a tough subject that many are resolved to tackle in the new year.
  • ThemeWord 2010. I love this post at Make Mine Happen!  By the way, MY ThemeWord for 2010 is Breakthrough…and it applies to so many areas of my life (marriage, family, fitness, career and Engaged Marriage) as I lay out a game plan for the New Year.
  • Declutter Your Way to a Happy Home.  This post at Zen Family Habits is fantastic.  We did a lot of decluttering during our time off work over the holidays.  It makes the house a much more pleasurable place to hang out!

Without further ado, please check out my new t-shirt, proudly displayed here late into the night of our New Year’s celebration (pretty tame party given the prevalence of pregnant women 🙂 ).  For reference sake, my “day job” is as a transportation engineer!

Yes, I have been drinking...

Engineer by Day, Marriage Ninja by Night!

Jan 10

Improve Yourself! Week 2: Baby Step Your Way to Success

By Dustin | Individual Fulfillment

Improve Yourself!

I hope you had an awesome first week in meeting your goals through the Improve Yourself! 2010 challenge!  If you are not already signed up for the challenge, you have unfortunately missed the deadline and won’t be eligible for the awesome prizes that are being given away this time around.  However, I trust that these weekly posts will offer value to anyone looking to improve their life and their marriage, regardless of whether you are officially part of the contest.

If you are a participant, you must leave a comment below giving an update on your personal progress.  Please do so by Tuesday, January 12th at 11:59 p.m. central time to be eligible for this week’s giveaway.  If you are not signed up, feel free to leave a comment anyhow and give your thoughts on this week’s post or your own progress…you just won’t be winning any prizes.

Baby Steps are Huge

If you have heard of Dave Ramsey and his financial advice, you are certainly familiar with his Baby Steps for Financial Freedom.  My wife and I followed this plan to pay off $58,500 in debt, and we continue to apply these principles in our family financial planning.

The great thing about the “baby step” approach is that it is fully applicable to any area where you want to improve yourself and meet some big goals.  Taking baby steps is simply the act of breaking down your overall goal into bite-sized chunks.  We took the first step together by identifying our SMART Goals last week.

Each week of this challenge is another baby step in your journey of self-improvement.  If your goals are fitness-related, it could be losing one pound, exercising three times this week, or even passing on dessert one evening.  Don’t get overwhelmed and discouraged by a larger goal of losing 20 pounds.  Just keeping baby-stepping your way toward success each day!

I look forward to hearing about the baby steps you have taken this week.  Please leave a comment below letting us know what you did during Week 1 to better yourself.

This Week’s Awesome Prize

This week’s giveaway is a personal favorite of mine and a book that changed my family’s lives.  If you want to get your finances in order, pay off debt and “change your family tree”, then you must read The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness by Dave Ramsey.

Just enter your weekly update in the comments below, and you’ll be eligible to win your own (gently-used) copy of The Total Money Makeover.  Click the link above to read more about this best-selling book.

And please don’t forget that you must subscribe to Engaged Marriage via either RSS or Email to be eligible for prizes.  There is a secret code at the bottom of the post (just above “Related Posts”) that is only visible if you read this post via an RSS reader or in your email.  If you are selected but aren’t subscribed (you don’t know the code when I email you), the prize will instead to go the next person drawn.

Last Week’s Lucky Winners

There were three lucky winners in our big first-week kick-off celebration.  Congratulations to:

Cassidy who won The Happiness Project

Krystal who won Unclutter Your Life in One Week

Laurie who won The Success Principles: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be.

Thanks to This Week’s Awesome Sponsors!

The great prizes being given away throughout the challenge are only possible through the generous support of our sponsors.  Please take a few minutes to visit this week’s sponsors and check out what they have to offer.

Budgets are Sexy is simply awesome. J. Money provides a site that is packed with really useful info about the world of personal finance, and he does it in his own (pimpin’) way. Entertaining and informative.

Budgets are Sexy

Enemy of Debt is the place to be if you want to get out of debt or simply celebrate the goodness that your debt-freedom has brought to your life.  Brad is a passionate and informative resource offering a unique perspective on the personal finance scene.

Make Mine Happen “Stop Dreaming and Start Doing” by putting the motivational and informational posts at this site to work in your life!

MomStart is a fantastic resource created by a mother of two who provides an incredible amount of reviews, giveaways and writings related to all of the new things going on in the world of parenting.

MomStart

That’s it from me for Week 2 of the challenge!  Look for the Week 3 post next Sunday.  Get your progress stated below, visit our sponsors and go take some more baby steps toward your goals!

Don’t miss the other Improve Yourself posts…here is a running list:

  1. Improve Yourself! 2010 Announcement. This is the place to start and sign-up by leaving a comment with your area of focus.
  2. The Prize List. This is where you’ll get the details about the awesome prizes and learn about our generous sponsors.
  3. Week 1: Set SMART Goals. Learn about smart goal-setting and leave your specific goals for the challenge in the comments.
  4. Week 2: Baby Step Your Way to Success.  Learn how you can achieve any goal by breaking it down into small, easier-to-handle tasks.
  5. Week 3: Prioritize Your Time for Progress. Learn the importance of focusing on important, but not urgent, tasks to improve your life and achieve long-term effectiveness.
  6. Week 4: YOU are Responsible for Your Progress. Quit making excuses, take ownership for your results and do the work necessary to make your goals a reality.
  7. Week 5: Don’t Be Perfect, Be Remarkable! You do not need to be perfect, you simply need to be remarkable in what you do. Don’t you think you can be remarkable in the way your handle your finances?  In your approach to fitness?  In your marriage?
  8. Week 6: Stick With It! I applaud you for sticking with your commitment to yourself and your fellow challenge participants. You are now in the minority as we close in on the finish line. Don’t Quit!
  9. Week 7: Communicate for Success Communication is a certain key to success in nearly all aspects of life.
  10. Week 8: Don’t Accept Mediocrity! Always get better even if it’s only in small increments.  Life is just too short to do otherwise.