Monthly Archives: February 2010

Feb 28

Christian Sexuality: The Supernatural Side of Sex

By Dustin | Sex & Family Planning

Christian Sexuality is a powerful, wonderful and mysterious thing.

Sex could even be considered “supernatural”…not in a ghoulish way, but in a Godly way…

I am happy to introduce the Engaged Marriage community to a fellow reader and author that I think many of you may relate to.  Actually, you may already recognize Gina Parris because she is a regular commenter here.

Gina often has some great insight to share from her experiences as a Christian wife and mom to four (including twins).

Well, Gina is also a high-performance coach, and she has used those skills to develop a new program aimed at helping to stoke the romance and passion within committed marriages.

When I heard about The Sexy Marriage Solution, I asked her if she would like to guest post here at Engaged Marriage to help spread the word about what I felt was a very worthwhile program.

Without further ado, please enjoy “The Supernatural Side of Sex” by Gina Parris!  Here is a quick intro note Gina asked me to include:

This post relays a story from my life that helped inspire me to create The Sexy Marriage Solution.  The program describes a technique that transformed my pitiful sex drive so dramatically and quickly that I had to pray about it to make sure it was not some kind of “voodoo.”

Thankfully, I was able to move forward in full confidence that my discovery was a good thing – and finally our years of  bedroom frustration were over.  –Gina Parris

The Supernatural Side of Sex

By Gina Parris

 

What a Beautiful Ring!Christian Sexuality and The Romance Rescue

My precious neighbor held my hand close to her face to gaze at my wedding ring.

She was from Pakistan – living in the house behind ours, with her husband and their grown children.  I loved this family – including her daughter who had fled an abusive marriage.  “What a beautiful ring!” She exclaimed.

“Thank you; this is my wedding ring,” I explained.  “Paul has one that matches it, only without all the diamonds.”

She nodded her head.

“In our Christian marriage, this ring means that everything that Paul ever owned or will own becomes mine, and everything I have ever owned or will own is now his. We are joined together in COVENANT.”

She shook her head in disbelief.

“Well, really it is a symbol of our relationship with God. Through Jesus, he created a covenant or commitment to us that made us one with God. Everything that He has is now available to us, and our lives are His.”

It was a little more than her Muslim mindset could swallow, but in sincerity she answered, “I wish my daughter could have a Christian husband!”

I gave her a hug.  “It’s okay. Most Christians don’t even understand it.”

…And the Two Shall Become One Flesh

The thought hit me as I was minding my own business one day.  Boom!  “For this reason a man shall leave his mother and father and be joined to his wife and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery but I am talking about Christ and the church.”

“Wow.” I thought. That’s a lot of words.  Do those verses even go together in the Bible?”  Then they kept mulling over and over in my mind.

I couldn’t stop saying the two sentences.  “What in the world is this about?” I wondered.

Finally I couldn’t stand it anymore.  Actually I had been teaching a series that I wrote called, “Blood, Guts, and Glory” which was all about the Blood Covenant in history and examples of God making covenants with man.

I had not thought so much about marriage at the time.  I had to find a Bible and see if these verses went together.

Sure enough.  Let’s look at it. (Ephesian 5:31-32)

“The two will become one flesh.”  This is a reference to spiritual, soul-bonding sex but also to the relationship that sex represents.  It is a cutting away from the old family unit and the creation of something new and very intimate.

“…A profound mystery, but I am talking about Christ and the Church.”  A profound mystery is something we can’t even pretend to explain with perfection, but it’s worth thinking about.   Jesus Christ was God in the flesh – sent to become a man to offer his perfection as redemption from man’s rotten state.

He was Love. Sent by Love, because of Love – to demonstrate Love and bring us back to the power of  Love – relationship with Himself. Redemption!

What a story.  What a covenant – sealed  by that supernatural blood, which came from his father’s DNA, just like yours did. This is why the Redeemer was born of a virgin. Everyone’s blood comes not from their mother, but from their father.

To Cut Where Blood Flows

The word “covenant” means “to cut where blood flows.”

Throughout history in cultures all around the world, we have seen an almost instinctive understanding of this kind of relationship.  We have seen “blood brothers” made where guys cut their wrists and mingle the blood to show an unbreakable pact.

We have seen small pygmies in Australia cut covenant with big Aborigines in the same way. When an enemy came against the short people, they could hold up their arms and the scars down their forearms showed that they represented relationship with many others.  “If you touch me, you’re touching all of them – and they will fight for me,” the scars said.

In most cultures the covenant extended to generations, and if one party were to break covenant – that person’s own family would kill him to protect the honor.  Covenant is not something to be taken lightly.

What Does All that Have to Do With Sex?

Sexual intercourse is an act that brings two people together in covenant.

Blood flows when the virgin breaks that mysterious hymen. Scientists don’t know the purpose for such a piece of tissue. God knows though. It represents deep unity.  This is why it is so painful to be physically intimate with someone and have the relationship be meaningless.

“Casual Sex” is a lie.  At its core, divine unity between a husband and wife represents another divine mystery – Christ and the church.

Loving unity is a symbol of the heart of God towards you. He desires to make you one with himself.  He cut the covenant through Jesus, when the blood flowed on the cross. You are safe when you respond to that wooing and say, “Yes, I am yours.”

You Are Loved – Supernaturally

Perhaps you were raised with images of an angry God who was waiting to punish you.

The Truth is that He is LOVE. When you can know in your heart that you are loved unconditionally, by the One who IS love, than your whole life can change.

You can ultimately only give what you have received.  I encourage you to receive this love. It comes with full forgiveness of the past. God is longing to embrace you.

If you ever struggle with having great sex in your marriage, please check out The Sexy Marriage Solution to see if it may help.

Photo by Stoichiometry

Feb 28

Improve Yourself: The Final Report!

By Dustin | Individual Fulfillment

Improve Yourself!

We made it!  Today represents the official end to the Improve Yourself! 2010 challenge, but we still have a winner to select…

If you started with us back in the Announcement Post, you are eligible for the grand prize of a $100 Amazon gift card.  Of course, I know who has been reporting in each week, and I have to say that they’ll have a definite advantage in making the finals.

Regardless, I’d love to hear from everyone to see how they did with their SMART goals.  And this is your last chance to make an appearance and not be counted among those that quit!

What Do You Need to Do Now?

It’s simple.  In the comments below, please give a brief summary of what you accomplished during this 8-week challenge, how it compares to your initial goals and what it has meant to you and your marriage.

That’s all there is to it.  Just be sure to leave your comment before Tuesday, March 2nd at 11:59 p.m. central time.

How Is the Winner Selected?

I will choose the top three finalists based on their stories and my knowledge after following all of the weekly reports along the way.  I’ll post on Thursday (March 4th) to announce the finalists and share each of their stories.  That post will include a poll where the readers of Engaged Marriage will be able to vote for the winner.

And the lucky (and very deserving) final winner of Improve Yourself! 2010 will be announced the following week.

Our Sponsors Rule

I want to give one final shout-out to the awesome sponsors that we had for this challenge.  Without their support, the great prizes would not have been possible, and the contest would certainly not have reached so many people.  I look forward to working with these fine folks on many projects in the future!

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

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!

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.
Feb 27

Round-Up of Interesting Reads #12: Rock Out with Your Teeth Out Edition

By Dustin | Link Round-Up

Can you believe that it’s almost March!?!  This new year is certainly flying by at our house with a lot of fun, busy and wonderful times for our family.  We’ll be welcoming our third bundle of joy in only 4 1/2 months!

In case you missed it, I am having a “button” made to represent Engaged Marriage on other sites who want to show their support of this blog and what it represents in their own marriage.  There is a great discussion going on over at our Facebook page, and I’d love for you to stop by and leave your thoughts on what our motto should be!

I wanted to once again share some high-quality reads that I think you will enjoy.  If you have a great link to share, please feel free to add it to the comments for everyone to see.

From my fellow members of the The Extraordinary Life Network:

Other great stuff:

  • Love Everyday the FREE e-book that myself and 27 others put together recently, which has been read by approximately 25,000 people so far!

Finally, I wanted to share with you an awesome video that a reader shared in the comments earlier this week.  I hope Bethany and I can do this after 62 years of marriage…of course we’ll have to learn how to play the piano together first!  Have a great weekend everyone!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XtyAsiZWktY[/youtube]

Feb 26

What Is An Extraordinary Marriage?

By Dustin | Ask the Community

So, just what is an extraordinary marriage? A few weeks back, I turned things over to you all in our first “Ask the Community” post and asked: What Does An Extraordinary Marriage Mean to You?

As expected, the response was awesome, and I learned a lot from your comments on the blog and over on the Engaged Marriage Facebook page.  I wanted to take the opportunity to highlight a few of my favorite answers (my emphasis added) and let you know my own thoughts as well.

Mark gave his thoughts on why some settle for less:

I would say being on mission together for something much bigger than yourselves describes an extraordinary marriage. More than likely, almost every couple would say they want that, but most don’t know how or just don’t want to do the work to be extraordinary and end up settling for less.

Wendy R. did a wonderful job explaining God’s role:

To be extraordinary, be a three-fold cord. Individually, we are not perfect and will inevitably disappoint our spouse time after time. With God’s strength truly binding the marriage, it is indeed “not quickly broken”. To me, this means that if I’m really trying to conform to Christ’s example, that will make me a better spouse, and when my husband is also working toward this, God will bless the marriage with common purpose. Ultimately, as with every good thing, God gets the credit for a great marriage.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12: Two are better than one, Because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, For he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; But how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Ken offered a more practical definition:

An extraordinary marriage is when both partners seek to serve each other. It’s one where communication is free flowing and each partner is safe to share issues that concern them. It’s a marriage where both partners are quick to forgive. It’s a place where commitment is unswerving. It’s realizing that you always need to be learning more about each other over time.

Tom and Debi Walter offered some wonderful insight from their 31 years of marriage:

What a great question! We are about to celebrate our 31st anniversary next month…yet, it feels as if our life together has just begun. What makes an extraordinary marriage is one where each spouse gives of themselves 100% with a willingness to lay their lives down for the other.

Difficult? Oh, yes! Especially during arguments where you KNOW you’re right. Possible? Only by the grace of God at work in both hearts.

God is more interested in our holiness than our happiness, and marriage is a great garden for cultivating holiness. If we are truly wanting an extraordinary marriage, it must be on God’s terms – we are to reflect Christ’s relationship to His church. When they see us – we are providing a mirror of Him that looks so attractive that others are drawn into the Kingdom for His glory, not our own.

And to top it all off – God helps us grow more and more in love as the years pass. Amazing!

There were many other fantastic insights as well, but I really think that these four do a great job of summarizing all that an Extraordinary Marriage represents.

What Is MY Definition of an Extraordinary Marriage?

Well, with a tag line like “Achieve the Extraordinary in Marriage…and in Life!” you know that I have some thoughts on this question.  However, to be honest, I’ve never really been able to pinpoint exactly what it means…for me, an Extraordinary Marriage is one of those things that you just know it when you see it!

This is where you guys helped me think through it and develop my own, solid thoughts on this topic.

What is the Engaged Marriage “definition” of an Extraordinary Marriage?  Let me start with the more spiritual aspects and proceed to the more practical examples of what it looks like through my eyes:

  • It’s sacramental, Christ-centered and fully embracing of the Holy Trinity (it IS a Holy Trinity).
  • It serves as a vivid example of God’s love for His people.
  • It takes two people and joins them together with the capacity to do more good than the sum of the individuals.
  • It lets two ordinary people combine their love of one another so powerfully that an entirely new person can be created by God through them.
  • It’s based on a spirit of trust, open communication and deep mutual respect.
  • It includes a lot of problems, difficulties, tough times and hurt feelings.  But forgiveness and commitment overcome all obstacles.
  • It doesn’t “settle” for the mediocrity and weakness that our culture says a “normal” marriage should be.
  • An Extraordinary Marriage doesn’t quit.

That doesn’t exactly fit on a business card, huh? 🙂  But I think that’s a good starting point for what an Extraordinary Marriage is all about.

Do you like my definition?  What am I missing or overstating?  Let’s talk about this one!

Feb 25

You May Be Married, But Are You Truly United?

By Dustin | Finances & Careers

Marriage, Money and UnityEditor’s Note: This is a guest post by Brad Chaffee.  Engaged Marriage is sponsoring his Manage Your Money Challenge, and I encourage you to check it out.

Every year we find ourselves celebrating our anniversary with the one we love. What is it that we are celebrating exactly? What does it mean to be married? Marriage symbolizes unity, or the coming together as one, but is that what we are really celebrating?

It’s what we should be celebrating, but is it? Maybe what you are really celebrating is a social achievement that acts as a mask, covering the real reason that getting through another year is so special. Let me explain.

Before I go on let me just say that I am guilty. I am guilty of taking that day for granted sometimes. Don’t get me wrong. I love my wife with every ounce of my soul and being married to her is so wonderful, BUT the truth is that I sometimes fail her. Sometimes I do not act as if we are a team, and she would probably admit she has her days as well.

It’s a part of being married. What do you do?

You remind yourself every single day how much you love your spouse, and you FIGHT to make yourself a better mate! You’ll never be perfect but when it comes to your family, it should always be your goal. My point is that you should never stop trying to be extraordinary in your marriage. You should never stop trying to be truly married united.

Are you truly united with your spouse?

That question reaches into many aspects of your marriage, but I want to talk about one in particular. Did someone say money? Well what did you expect, I am the Enemy of Debt after all.  And I am feeling very pumped up right now about this subject specifically, because I am starting my first ever Manage Your Money 31 Day Challenge. In order to win with money you have to manage it right?

What if I said budgeting could save your marriage?

Money is one of the leading causes for divorce, and certainly the number one reason for money fights. Money causes money fights? Go figure. 🙂

Are you truly united with your spouse on money?

  • Do you have a budget?
  • Do you feel like a team?
  • Are you on the same page?
  • Do you talk about your goals?

Does your spouse know where YOU WANT TO BE in 5 years? (I know, enough with the questions already, but I have a challenge for you at the bottom of this post about those questions, so bear with me.)

First, let’s discuss how you can become better united with your spouse. I want you to practice “becoming perfect” by working on the list below. I want you to do it as a team. Spend 15 minutes a week discussing this list—make an appointment to meet about this specifically. Forget about American Idol and ESPN for 15 minutes. This is how you continue to FIGHT AS HARD AS YOU CAN to be your spouse’s everything. You become extraordinary. For you, for her, and for your family’s sake.

This list pertains to every aspect of your marriage, but for today, and this challenge, we are going to focus on your money relationship with your spouse. Budgeting is the best way to come together with money. Perhaps you could become united with money the right way by signing up for my Manage Your Money Challenge.

It’s TOTALLY FREE, there are A LOT of prizes that will help you both become UNITED with your money, so I hope you’ll consider it. (I encourage you to join but even if you don’t, check out that awesome prize list.)

“THE” List WE Need To Work On
To be practiced daily

Challenge Yourself To:

Be Accountable – No placing blame anymore! If there was a mistake made and you weren’t involved in it, you should have been—take responsibility.

Be Patient – It takes time. Don’t think you are going to be able to agree on everything. Mastering the budget *specifically* takes time and patience. Stick it out!

Be Realistic – Do not make, or hold onto unrealistic desires. If you have debt, and no budget, you can’t afford to buy a new car. Just sayin’. 😉

Be Understanding – Understand that your wants and needs will not be your spouse’s wants and needs. Compromise on the things you may see as invaluable, even if you don’t understand. as Dave Ramsey says, “You don’t have to get it, you just have to get it.”

Be Specific – Make sure that you are clear about what you want? Discuss your goals in detail. What do you want? How are you going to get it? When do you get started?

Be Honest – Managing the money as a team is about trust. Don’t ruin that trust by being dishonest about your purchases. Ladies, you know you spent $30 from your grocery budget to pay for that purse. And men, you know your friend didn’t pay for that fishing trip.

Be United – Be on the same page! It’s hard to read the same book when you are both on different pages. Just like it’s hard to win with your money when there is constant resistance slowing you down. It’s in your best interest to be united.

Remember you are a team! Act like it.

I asked a lot of questions in this post. A bonus challenge of sorts, although it could be argued that you should do it first, is to take a piece of paper and write every question down. Answer the questions honestly, and discuss them at your first 15 minute meeting. Get to know each other. You don’t have to cover every question the first time. Try one per week.

Maybe Dustin would be so kind as to let me do a follow-up post to see how we’ve done, *myself included*, in about two weeks. 😉

Good Luck!

________________________________________________

My name is Brad Chaffee from Enemy of Debt, and I absolutely love helping people become debt free. Something I love even more is helping you realize that you are the only person holding you back. I was a non-believer myself, but now I am debt free and you can be, too. Stay motivated and subscribe to Enemy of Debt today.

Feb 23

Are You a Marriage Builder?

By Dustin | Spirituality

Marriage BuilderEditor’s Note: This is a guest post from Lori Lowe at Life Gems.  I am excited to bring it to you, as this is a subject that is near and dear to the hearts of my wife and I.

The Association of Marriage and Family Ministries (AMFM) serves churches of all denominations across the country by training, equipping and encouraging church leaders to build and repair marriages and families. I spoke with co-founder Eric Garcia recently, and he provided strong insights into how and why faithful people can be supporting and building marriages.

“We believe at the heartbeat of the transformation of faith is the marriage and family,” says Garcia. “If we are going to be successful in bringing people to Christ, we better be able to keep our own homes intact. How can you proclaim an eternal message of faith, but yet that faith is not strong enough to keep you connected in your own home? We can’t expect kids to want to marry today without modeling successful families.”

Garcia says the Church should influence the culture, and not the other way around, which is so prevalent today.

How Do We Influence the Culture?

“Every family should be a marriage-building family,” he says. “Parents and married couples need to impart those relationship skills into their kids. Model and teach them at home. If that happens, every church can be a marriage-building church. Every community can be a marriage-building community.”

How are you building marriage in your own home and community? What are you teaching your kids about Christian marriage? How are you modeling successful relationship skills? Are you seeking to learn and to improve? Are you modeling the priority of your relationship with God, then marriage, then family?

Why are Christians shy to talk about marriage and their biblical view of marriage in their own homes and in their own communities?

How Great is the Need?

Garcia says if faithful people don’t share their values, then the culture provides the predominant influence on our children and neighbors.

With 90 percent of Americans choosing to marry at some point, the relational needs of church communities are “off the charts,” says Garcia. Read How Should Churches Support Marriages & Families? to find out how AMFM serves churches across the country, including the Catholic Church, African-American and Hispanic churches, and evangelical and Protestant Christian churches of every denomination.

Garcia says improving marriage skills, such as communication, can be important. After all, he cites conflicts about money, sexual intimacy and communication are the top reasons for divorce. However, he says, “Without a heart change, the skills have no stickability.” What creates that long-term heart change, he says, is a relationship with Christ.

“Marriage and family is the backbone of the local church, and if we help people get relationships right, we will see the church grow,” says Garcia.

AMFM provides online ministries as well as physical ministries in cities around the country. Technology has enabled the organization to reach a key demographic of those married less than eight years. Garcia says a whopping 75% of just-marrieds leave the church until they are expecting their first child. Therefore, more needs to be done to reach out and support these couples in their early years of marriage.

Many churches and faithful people are doing a better job of helping couples prepare for marriage, but are we encouraging couples once they are married, or are we keeping a safe distance and never discussing anything too personal?

Generation X grew up during a doubling of the divorce rate, which means many of us lack role models for positive marriage who were once common in families. Seek out positive role models within your church or community, and consider mentoring or encouraging other couples, particularly as you gain experience and wisdom.

What Are Your Thoughts?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments:

Do you feel like your marriage is supported by society and, in particular, your own institutions of faith?

What could churches do better to address this great need?

What are YOU doing to be a marriage-building family?

Photo by Bill Ward’s Brickpile

______________________________________________

Lori Lowe provides marriage tips and research at LifeGems4Marriage.com.  She is writing a narrative non-fiction book profiling couples who have improved their marriages through adversity.  She lives in Indianapolis with her husband and two children.

Feb 21

Improve Yourself! Week 8: Don’t Accept Mediocrity!

By Dustin | Individual Fulfillment

Improve Yourself!

Wow!  We are now entering the FINAL week of the Improve Yourself! challenge.  I am excited that you are still reading this series, and I hope you are closer to reaching your goals now than you were seven weeks ago.

A Peek Ahead

This will be the last giveaway week before we crown an overall winner who will walk away with a $100 gift card from Amazon.  So, this week you’ll just give the typical update about your progress over the past week.

Next Sunday (February 28th), you will each provide a summary of what you accomplished during the full 8-week challenge.  Based on those summaries and my own impressions throughout the competition, I will pick the top three contenders from the group and ask them to share their story in a special post a few days later.  We will all then vote for the top story and those votes will determine the overall winner.  Then comes the glory and the cash…now back to this week!

Mediocrity Sucks

If you’ve read many posts here at Engaged Marriage, you have probably picked up on the fact that I feel strongly that we should all be proactive and give our best efforts to our marriage and family life.  One of my favorite mottoes is: “When it comes to the most important relationship in your life, don’t be normal.  Normal sucks.”

I feel the same way about all aspects of my own life: career, spirituality, finances, parenting, friendship, fitness, hobbies, writing and all the rest.  Does this mean that I don’t have bad days in all of these areas?  Does it mean that I am expending insane amounts of energy in all of them all at once to try to be the very best in the world?  Does it mean that I consider myself a failure whenever I slip up in my progress?

Of course not.  I’m a normal guy and I’m human, so I know I won’t be able to excel at all things at all times.  However, that doesn’t mean that I have to settle for mediocrity in my life either.  And I feel passionately that I don’t want to be mediocre, and I always want to be getting better even if it’s only in small increments.

I want to “Improve Myself”…life is just too short to do otherwise.

This week’s book giveaway is all about climbing out of the rut that you find yourself in and seeing the awesome opportunities that are all around you.  No More Mondays by Dan Miller (a fellow contributor to the Love Everyday project by the way) is an awesome book that focuses on helping you find work that you love in both traditional and non-traditional ways.

Although the book focuses on career issues, I believe its lessons and guidance will help you in many areas of your life.  It was actually one of the inspirations behind Engaged Marriage, and I hope you will take a few minutes to read my full book review of No More Mondays and the story of how it motivated me.

This Week’s Awesome Prize

This week’s giveaway is another awesome book that has the power to change your life for the better. I highly recommend that you read No More Mondays: Fire Yourself and Other Revolutionary Ways to Discover Your True Calling at Work.   I think you’ll love it.

Just enter your weekly update in the comments below, and you’ll be eligible to win your own copy of No More Mondays. Click the link above to read more about this best-selling book and learn what it can do in your life.

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 23rd 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 7 drawing:

Kathleen who won The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate

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 8 of the challenge! Look for the post next Sunday where you can leave your final reports. Get your progress stated below, visit our sponsors and Be Extraordinary 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.
Feb 19

Budget Software Reviews: Choose Your Tool for Successful Money Management

By Dustin | Finances & Careers

Best Budget SoftwareBuilding a budget is a primary step toward achieving financial success for your family.  Our family has used some homemade Excel spreadsheets as our “budgeting software” of choice for several years.

However, as I explained previously, our day-to-day money management has really grown stale recently, and it had a lot to do with the cumbersome way that we have tracked our personal finances…think piles of receipts accumulating until month’s end followed by hours of data entry among several spreadsheets.

Our system lacked efficiency, and it frankly got so boring and time-consuming that we let it slide.

I decided it was time for a change.  So, I’ve spent a great deal of time lately researching and reviewing popular budgeting software.  And, lucky for you, I am going to share with you what I’ve found.  You will find below five of the top budget software tools available along with an overview of their features and my opinion on who may find them most useful.

The Best Budgeting Software I’ve Found

1. You Need a Budget

UPDATE: Since my original cursory review, I completed a detailed review of YNAB.  Please read my full review of You Need A Budget.

I am thoroughly impressed with You Need a Budget (YNAB) and its mix of capabilities and simplicity.  YNAB is a computer-based software that you buy for a one-time fee.  It does all of the things a great budgeting software needs to do, but it goes well beyond the typical tasks of tracking income vs. expenses and planning for future purchases.

For starters, it allows you to directly import your transactions from your bank which allows you to say bye-bye to receipts and data entry.  The YNAB community is also very impressive with free online classes, a blog and forums so you can learn all about effective money management.  But what really sets You Need a Budget apart is that it has a powerful “Money Management Methodology” built right in.  The four key rules of this method are reflected in the software’s set-up to make them easy for you to achieve:

  • Rule One: Stop Living Paycheck to Paycheck
  • Rule Two: Give Every Dollar a Job
  • Rule Three: Save for a Rainy Day
  • Rule Four: Roll with the Punches

The only drawback I saw with You Need a Budget is that it’s not web-based, so you’ll be limited to using it on a single computer.  However, the ability to import your bank transactions makes it just as convenient.

Who This Software Is For: Anyone who is looking for a thorough budgeting program built on solid financial principles with good money management lessons included.  This is not the software for you if you need a web-based platform.

Where You Can Get It: You can learn much more about YNAB and sign-up for a free 34-day trial at their website.

2. Pocketsmith

Pocketsmith is a web-based program that you pay for on a monthly basis, although a free version is available as well.  Pocketsmith takes a unique approach to the budgeting interface by utilizing a calendar to forecast your future cash position.

It works like any web-based calendar, except the events are financial.  You put in your scheduled salary, bill payments, rent, and grocery bills, etc. on the appropriate date and you can make them repeat as appropriate.  As you go, PocketSmith takes the events and generates a 6 or 12 month cash forecast (depending on the level of detail you purchase), so you can plan your budget for the coming year.

Pocketsmith allows you to directly import your transactions from your bank as well.  And since it is web-based, you can access your budget and make changes from anywhere that you have access to internet.

Who This Software Is For: Those who are looking for a web-based budget that operates on an intuitive calendar-based platform.

Where You Can Get It: You can learn more about Pocketsmith and sign-up for the free, premium or super version (depending on your need for accounts, budget events and length of forecasts) at their website.

3. Pear Budget

Pear Budget is another web-based budget that requires a small monthly fee.  The creators of Pear Budget present it as “a really simple budgeting and expense tracking service.” Budgeting plus simplicity…sounds like a winning approach!

Pear Budget uses the classic “envelopes” approach to monthly budgeting but brings it online for ease-of-use and full access from anywhere you can get on the internet.  You will have to enter your own receipts, but the program helps keep it as fun as possible.  The built-in step-by-step set-up wizard will have your first budget ready to go in ten minutes, and the system is designed to make updates simple and quick as well.

Who This Software Is For: Those who are looking for a web-based budget that is simple, attractive-looking and based on the classic envelope system.

Where You Can Get It: You can read more about the features of Pear Budget on their (simple) site.  You can also sign up for a free 30-day trial while you’re there.

4. Mint

Mint is a totally free, web-based budget and financial account hub.  In addition to a detailed budgeting component, Mint also allows you to access information for all of your online accounts from a single location.  This gives you a real-time snapshot of your cash, investments, debts and net worth so you can easily track your overall progress.

The budget portion of the Mint program is fairly intuitive and easy-to-use after the initial set-up.  It automatically imports all of your bank and credit union transactions, and you can change their labels to correspond with the budget that you set up at the beginning of the month.

A cool feature is the ability to set alerts that will be emailed to you when your attention is needed (over budget, low checking account balance, large transaction amount, etc.).

Who This Software Is For: If you want a free web-based budget that gets the job done, you’ll want to check out Mint.  However, keep in mind that free comes with a price…in the form of advertisements and “savings suggestions” where you’ll be offered products that could potentially save you money (like a different credit card or auto loan, which are not my idea of money-saving products).

Where You Can Get It: You can read more and sign up for a totally free account at Mint.  You’ll need to feel comfortable providing the log-in information for your online accounts, although you will remain anonymous (they never ask for your name).

5. Quicken

Let’s round-out this budgeting software review by taking a look at a classic player in this market.  Quicken is a computer-based software that you buy for a one-time fee.  It offers a full financial management picture rather than focusing solely on budgeting.  In that way, it is a lot like Mint in a desktop (rather than web-based) application.

Quicken brings your accounts together all in one place and helps you set budgeting and savings goals, and it provides alerts for upcoming payments to help you avoid late fees (assuming you are accessing the software to see the alert).

While its budgeting approach is not as intuitive as the budget-focused YNAB software, it does have the added bonus of integration with TurboTax.  This allows you to export your financial data directly to TurboTax for fast and accurate tax preparation (with the additional purchase of that software, of course).

Who This Software Is For: If you prefer a desktop-based software that provides a full financial picture (rather than focusing on budgeting alone) at the risk of being a bit complicated, then you’ll want to take a look at Quicken.

Where You Can Get It: You can read more about Quicken and its customer reviews on Amazon.

So, What Are We Using?

I hope you enjoyed reading about these popular budgeting software systems, and I trust that you found one that may work for you and your family.  The difference in format, features and price in these products provides a great opportunity to find an awesome budget that serves your needs.

Remember, though, that having a budget and using it is much more important than which particular software you choose.

Personally, I am trying out Mint right now and enjoying its full financial summaries and online access.  However, the usability and awesome money management principles built in to You Need a Budget are really drawing me in.

I’ll let you know when we make our final decision, and I’m sure a full review will follow.  NOTE: We made the switch to YNAB and love it – here’s the full review!

I’m anxious to hear from the community on this topic.  Have you tried any of these systems?  Have I piqued your interest in any of them?  How does your family handle your budgeting currently?

By the way, some of the links in this post are “affiliate links” so if you purchase that product after clicking through from here, I receive a small commission though your price is not affected at all.  It’s a small amount, but I wanted you to know that upfront and let you know that any support you offer Engaged Marriage is always greatly appreciated.

Photo by Don Hankins
Feb 16

Holy Crap! I Eat Out A Lot!

By Dustin | Finances & Careers

Easting Out is Hard on the Family BudgetMy wife and I have recently recommitted ourselves to the budgeting process.  We’ve lived on a budget for the past several years since we discovered Dave Ramsey and followed his plan to become debt free in 2008.

However, in the past six months or so, we got a bit lazy and lackadaisical in our day-to-day finances.  I decided to check out some new budgeting software that would make things both easier and more fun to track than my good ole, self-made Excel spreadsheets.  I learned a lot about what’s available in the world of budgeting software, and you can read my review of five top budgeting software systems for the details.

For this post, I just had to get something off my chest…I seem to have a big problem with eating out at restaurants!

Every day?  Yep.

As I took the time to reflect on our spending habits over the past several months, it quickly occurred to me that I had eaten at least one meal at a restaurant virtually every…single…day!

This habit is really apparent during the work week.  Last spring and summer, I was doing great and using my lunch time to go cycling when it was nice outside or hit the gym on rainy days.  I brought a simple lunch most days and maybe went out for lunch once a week or so and usually when I was traveling for work (and it was reimbursable).

Not lately.  I have literally been going out every day for the past four months or so.  This could be a sit-down restaurant with co-workers, lunch with clients or just fast-food drive-through on the way to a meeting. And our family usually eats at least one meal in the form of carryout each day of the weekend just to top off our excess.

Wow, this explains a lot!

Holy Crap, that’s Big Money!

So, what’s the big deal?  Well, let’s take a look at what this is costing our family.

For just my lunches, I spend probably an average of $11 per meal when you average out a few $6 value meals with more frequent sit-down restaurants with bills around $12-15 with a tip.

At five days per week, that’s $55.  That adds up to around $220 per month.  Or more than $2,800 a year…for lunch!

That’s half of a fully-funded Roth IRA.  Or a nice used car every five years.  If you invested that money every year in a good index fund and averaged 8% annually for the next 30 years, those Big Macs start looking like $350,000!

Holy Crap, that’s a Big Belly!

If you’ve been following the Improve Yourself! challenge, you know that I am trying to shed some extra pounds.  Well, I think I found a big part of my problem.

I looked up the nutritional value of one of favorite meals at Applebee’s Restaurant.  The Oriental Chicken Roll-up with a side of fries weighs in with an artery-clogging 51 grams of fat and more than 1,100 calories.  And that’s with a side of zero-calorie Diet Pepsi!

This is certainly not the worst thing I eat each week, but it probably represents a fair average.  I could instead be eating a healthy turkey sandwich and baked chips at under 500 calories.  That’s a net difference of around 600 calories per meal.

So, over the course of a five-day workweek, I am consuming around 3,000 extra calories!  That’s the equivalent of almost one pound per week…just from my lunch choices!  Or around 50 pounds per year if all else is held constant!

My Family Deserves Better

I am really glad that we decided to take a fresh look at our family budget.  It seems so obvious now, but it really took the effort of focusing on my habits to reveal my lunchtime problem.

So, I have committed to reform my expensive and fattening ways.  I will be limiting myself to one lunch out per week, and I’ll try to make that on a day when I am traveling and get reimbursed for the expense.

Our family is looking forward to having some extra money in our account and less weight around my waist as a result.

How often does your family eat out each week?  Do you have any other habitual budget-busters that you know you need to address?

Photo by pointnshoot
Feb 15

Don’t Take the Little Things in Life for Granted

By Dustin | Spirituality

The Simple ThingsDo you ever take the time to reflect on all of the blessings in your life?

I think many of us would say that we probably do, at least from time-to-time.  Whenever I think about my own blessings and even take the opportunity to thank God for them through prayer, my focus is pretty predictable.

I have been blessed with a strong faith, an incredible wife, great kids, good health, a productive career, close friends and a fulfilling ministry of sorts here at Engaged Marriage.

These are all very important and valuable blessings, and I certainly have much to be thankful for.  However, only recently did I realize that the items on this list have something in common: it’s the Big Stuff of life.

What About the Little Things?

I have often observed that kids really enjoy and appreciate the little things in life.  After his nightly prayers, my son will often add-on something he wants to thank God for giving him.  A few evenings back he said, “And thank you for Daddy hitting me in the head with a stuffed animal when I was hiding under my covers.”  He has actually thanked God for that moment numerous times since then.  He hasn’t lost his appreciation of the little things.

This idea really hit home during a recent homily at Church.  Our priest (a huge Colts fan) was telling us that his sad week following the Super Bowl was turned around by an incredible blessing that made it one of his favorite weeks in recent memory.  Wow, I thought, this is going to be big news!

He went on to share that he had recently been invited to dinner at a parishioner’s home, but the real magic came after the meal.  When the family’s young daughter was getting ready for bed, she had approached him and asked if he would read her a bedtime story.  And he did.

And THIS was the huge blessing that had turned his week around!  He explained that this was first time in his 41 years of life that he had been asked to read a bedtime story.  It was obvious that this meant a great deal to him, and he thought it was just so cool that he had been given the opportunity to share a book with that little girl.

His homily went on to talk about some deeper issues related to the beatitudes and our choices to feel woe vs. blessings when we encounter things in our lives.  However, I had taken away the message I needed to hear with that simple introductory story.

Think of All We Take for Granted

The story shared by the priest could have just as easily come from an infertile couple or a mother who had lost their child.  Or even an empty-nest couple reflecting on how much they miss having their children at home.

I have the opportunity to read to my own kids most nights before they go to bed.  I don’t give it a second thought.  In fact, I sometimes get annoyed when they want an extra story and I think of all I need to do after we get them to bed.  Talk about taking them and their youth for granted!

When it’s put in this context, I can think of so many “little things” that I take for granted every day.  In my marriage alone, there are  many daily “minor” moments that I would miss deeply if they were taken from me, yet I have become complacent in my appreciation for them:

  • Kissing my wife when we head to work each morning
  • Saying and hearing “I love you” at the end of our phone conversations
  • An email from her wishing me good luck before a big meeting
  • Little “brush by” touches when we squeeze by each other in our small kitchen
  • Exchanging a smile when one of the kids does something sweet
  • Snuggling up in bed on a cold evening

And of course this list could go on and on.  It’s truly the little things that make our relationships and our lives so special!

So, what “little things” do you take for granted every day?  Have you had any experiences that raised your appreciation of these moments?

Photo by meddygarnet