Tuesday, February 5, 2008

A Wonderful FREE Valentine's Day Present

If you are looking for something special to do for Valentine's Day with your spouse, consider the Great Smoky Mountain Marriage Retreat. It is being held February 14-15, 2008 at the Sevierville church of Christ. The retreat is free - the only cost is for accommodations and meals.

7:00-7:45p - You Can Have a Great Marriage!
8:00-8:45p - Christian Couples in the Bedroom

9:30-10:15a - Christian Couples at Payday
10:30-11:15a - A Balancing Act: My Spouse and My Children
10:30-11:15a - The Empty Nest: A Time to Renew
1:00-1:45p - Christian Couples at Play (using recreation to strengthen your relationship)
2:00-2:45p - Christian Couples at Church (using your marriage to help you get to heaven)

The marriage retreat is being overseen by the elders of the Jacksonville church of Christ in Jacksonvile, AL. It'd be a great Valentine's gift, and a wonderful learning experience! In fact, this is what we are doing for Valentine's this year! For more info, or to register, e-mail

Thursday, January 31, 2008

My Favorite Utility Freeware Programs

After the computer is bought and up and running, the never ending need for one more program never seems to end. I never stop looking for freeware options to accomplish the needed tasks. Many people use shareware programs. However, shareware programs are only for trial purposes. Legally, you are expected to pay for the program if you decide to use it past a certain trial period. Shareware often also has limited functionality unless it is purchased. Freeware programs, on the other hand, are designed to be distributed completely free of charge, with full functionality. I've found a lot of freeware programs that are extremely useful. The following are my favorite utility freeware programs.

1. Mozilla Firefox
Firefox is a wonderful and free alternative to Internet Explorer. Firefox featured tabbed browsing long before IE did, and also features Add-on extensions, which enable you to customize and add additional features to your browser. I recommend Adblock Plus; Download Status Bar; Last Tab; Nuke Anything Enhanced; and Print Preview. Firefox 3 is coming soon, and the current edition can always be downloaded from the Firefox website, here.

2. AVG Anti-Virus
AVG Anti-virus is freeware for home users, in its most basic edition. The free edition automatically updates itself and automatically scans for viruses daily. It is the second most popular download from It can be downloaded from Grisoft here.

3. Ad-Aware 2007
This program is one of the best at removing spyware. I've found it to be unbeatable at cleaining up a spyware filled computer. It's the most popular download from It can be downloaded here.

4. Zip Genius
Windows XP and Vista have built in capabilities of unzipping (uncompressing) archived files in the zip format. Zip Genius adds to these capabilities. It adds right-clicking (context menu) options to zip (compress) files. Additionally, self-unzipping files can be made with advanced options for distribution. It truly is a powerful program that adds a multitude of options to compressed files. I have found no better compression program, and this one is free! Available here.

5. SyncEXP
I use two computers regularly, and like to keep my files synchronized between the two computers. Unfortunately I have found that Windows Briefcase is not up to the task. I have frequently had the sad misfortune of Briefcase mistakenly deleting files. So I began looking for an alternative. SyncEXP is not quite as user friendly, but is more powerful and gets the job done. I have also been a little disappointed with its speed - it seems to transfer files more slowly than a normal copy. All in all though, I can trust it to make the proper transfers. It can be downloaded from here.

Well, those are my favorite utility freeware programs. Look for future posts about my favorite Audio, Video, and Graphics freeware programs! A wonderful freeware program is a diamond in the rough, but they're worth looking for!

Long Trips: Money Tips

Next week my family and I will head to Henderson, Tennessee, for the annual Freed-Hardeman University Bible Lectures. We are planning on leaving early Monday morning and staying until Friday morning.

Being gone that long, and with the type of schedule the lectures have, we will have to eat out quite a bit. Here are some things we do to help this not destroy our budget.

1. We already have the cash set aside. We go to this lectureship each year, so we know about how much we spend on food. So, back in December, we set aside enough money to pay for our meals and our hotel room. That way the only thing coming out of our budget is gasoline.

2. We stay at a hotel with breakfast, but we also buy some items. The "breakfast" at this hotel consists of a few Little Debbie snack cakes and Sunny D. I can't drink anything with that much sugas in it early in the morning. Also, we are very busy until lunch (at around 11:30), so we need something with substance. So, we take our own juice and usually take a few homemade muffins or other items. While this doesn't really save us money at breakfast, it can help save money at lunch; since we are not as hungry.

3. We don't buy snacks throughout the day. During the brief breaks, it can be tempting to go grab a soda or candy bar for a little "pick me up." To be honest, we might do this one time during the week, but we simply avoid doing it daily. We only buy a little snack if we are going to have time to enjoy it.

4. My wife orders water (and I do, too, ... sometimes). We usually eat fast food for lunch, but then we try to have a "sit down" meal for supper. As you know sodas, tea and other drinks greatly add to the total bill. Drinking water can really help keep costs down, especially if you are eating out a lot.

5. We ask about our daughter eating free. She is just 2 and doesn't eat all that much right now. However, we do not want to just assume that she can eat from our plates. We like to ask so that, if another worker sees her doing so, we can say that we asked about it. So far, we have never had a problem with this, and that alone saves a lot of money. Many restaurants charge anywhere from $2-$6 for a child's meal!

6. In connection to that, our daughter drinks water nearly every meal. She likes it, so that helps!

7. We take advantage of discounts or gifts. I am one of the song leaders at the lectureship next week, and, as such, I am entitled to a free meal on campus. That means that one of our meals will be eaten at half-price. The line for this meal is always long, but you can't beat half-price food! (And the food is quite good.)

Whether it is a vacation or a business trip, nearly everyone will face a trip like this one at some point. Using some planning and a little common sense will help you avoid running through your food budget, and will help you have a little extra money at the end of the trip. Maybe you can use that money to buy a souveneir for the kids!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Debt on Hold? Is that Possible?

Yes, it is.

We are still paying on our debt (of course), but we are not paying extra right now.

As you may or may not know, my family and I have accepted a job in Nashville, Tennessee, and will be moving at the end of March. We have all-but sold our house (it still has be be inspected, but we haven't had any large cracks in the walls or large mice crawling around), and have had an offer accepted on a house near Nashville (Hermitage, Tennessee, if you are keeping score at home).

With all the extras that come up in moving, we have decided to put away money for the move--just to be on the safe side. We have really been blessed in that we will have zero closing costs on either end of the house selling, and the congregation where we are moving is paying for our move (unless we can't get a decent estimate). So we should not have any major costs.

However, there are always little things that pop up in a move, and we know that. So, for the time being, we are saving up cash for "moving costs." We won't spend the money unless we absolutely have to, but we want to have it ready in case it is needed. It is serving almost like a "moving emergency fund."

But then...

whatever we don't spend?

Straight to debt!

Monday, January 21, 2008

A Car Update

In late October 2007, I mentioned that our car (a 2001 Daewoo Laganza) had died. It is shot, but still has some value (although not much).

After a lot of thought, I have decided to sell the car on eBay. I took some pictures, gave an accurate description and listed the car last Friday night. I was hoping to get around $400-$500 for it.

The auction doesn't end until this Friday and, to my surprise, the car is already at $400, and has over 10 people watching the auction. While it may not "move" a lot from here, it is nice to know that it is already where I wanted it to be.

Since that day in October, Leah and I have been living with one car. Some folks at church loaned us their car for awhile (and we are extremely thankful!), but we have decided to try it with one for awhile. It gives us a chance to get out of debt faster (since we have less insurance to pay) and to make sure that, when we buy another car, we are informed and ready (read: to pay cash!).

We are moving to Nashville at the end of March and we aren't sure how this whole "one car" thing will work, but we also don't want to buy a car that we can't afford just because we "need" a second car. (Note: I was watching a car last week on eBay, but the price jumped and I stopped looking.)

I have been trying to look for information on reliable used cars, and today Yahoo! Finance has a good article about buying used instead of new. In the article, the writer mentions her personal blog, where she recently wrote about reliable used cars. I found this brief article interesting, too.

It's not the most fun in the world having just one car, but we can make it. We are saving up slowly for a good, cheap car to buy, but I'm thinking it would be smart to wait until we move (or at least until very close to the move). The reason? We'll have to get tags in Tennessee. Why pay for tags twice?

If you have thoughts about car buying--especially recommendations of reliable and inexpensive used vehicles--feel free to leave a comment.

And, if you want a Daewoo Laganza for parts...check out eBay!!!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Tax Tips for Students

I am really enjoying pursuing a master’s degree in counseling, however I don’t enjoy the loans that have to be taken out to pay for higher education. However, if I’m going to have to pay so much for education, the best thing to do is see how to minimize the cost of that education.

One way to reduce the cost of an education is through secondary means of taking advantage of education tax deductions and credits. First, the more popular education tax credits. The IRS makes available the Hope and Lifelong Learning Education Credits through form 8863. The Hope Credit can be taken for the first two years of higher education, gaining a credit of up to $1,650 per student. After those two years, the same form can be used for the Lifetime Learning Credit - which can also be used throughout graduate school. This credit is for up to 20% of the qualified educational expenses (maximum credit of $2,000 per student).

An alternative to the Education Credits is the Tuition and Fees Deduction which is submitted through form 8917. If eligible, this option makes it possible for an individual to gain an above the line deduction of up to $4,000.

One catch is that of the above three option (Hope Credit, Lifetime Learning Credit, Tuition and Fees Deduction), only one can be applied to each student. However, if you have multiple college students in your family a different option can be applied to each student. Since Stacey and I both had graduate classes in 2007, we will be able to take a Lifetime Learning Credit for Stacey’s classes, and a Tuition and Fees Deduction from my classes.

A final method of minimizing the cost of education through a tax advantage is available through the student loan interest deduction. This is also an above the line deduction, allowing you to deduct all the interest that was paid on qualified student loans before your adjusted gross income is computed. This deduction is taken as a line item, line 33 on form 1040, instructions can be found on page 30 of the form 1040 instruction manual.

Higher education is an investment. However, hopefully if you are making this investment you are also taking advantage of these tax tips to make the investment as small as possible! If you know of any more tax incentives for those in higher education, post comments!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Book Review: "Faith and Finance"

Focus Press has put out a lot of good material in her magazine, THINK, dealing with how we should look at money from the Biblical point of view. Jim Palmer writes a monthly article in that magazine under the heading "Faith and Finance."

Now some of those thoughts have found their way into book form, with the volume having the same title. Subtitled Understanding the Inseparable Link, Palmer's book is one that everyone should read. If you even remotely believe in God, this book will remind you of His perspective of money, and help you make sure your view is the same as His.

In this review, I want to give a brief overview of each section of the book.


In this brief section, Palmer has the reader imagine that he, the reader, owned a business that was having some problems. What would you do? Would you continue to do the same things, or would you seek to solve the problem?

Sadly, for many, when it comes to money, we do the same things and expect different results. With that mindset in place, Palmer moves to chapter one.

Chapter One: Is Money Your Servant or Your Master?

This chapter really forms the basis for the rest of the book, and the title question is the overarching theme of the entire volume. Money is neither good nor bad, but it is necessary and important. How we view money is not just important, it is eternally important! Jesus taught that "no one can serve two masters" (Matthew 6:24), and the rest of that passage shows that the main thing Jesus had in mind was money (or possessions).

Palmer points out that we can be a servant to money if we are rich or if we are poor. Both of these lifestyles can lead us to covet more and more, so we must keep our minds properly focused.

In this chapter, Palmer also briefly mentions the problem of using debt to gain the lifestyle we want. This is a way of making money (or the possessions money can gain us) our master.

Chapter Two: Prosperity Theory

This chapter deals with the "health and wealth" gospel that is so often seen on television. This is the belief that God wants me to have whatever I want and, in fact, He wants me to be rich.

While there might be some truth to the fact that God wants us to prosper, He is not going to "zap" a huge amount of money into our bank accounts, and He certainly does not want us to get rich by unscrupulous means.

Palmer writes

The problems with the Prosperity gospel are many. The danger in adopting this "other gospel" (Galatians 1:8) is that we no longer focus on eternal blessings and instead favor blessings which will not last. (page 23)

The rest of the chapter deals with the mindset that this view gives: that God is nothing but a cosmic ATM! We begin to get whatever we want and the ultimate "god" then becomes money, or ourselves. This obviously is not the Biblical view of wealth and money.

Chapter Three: Poverty Theology

This teaching is the exact opposite of the Prosperity gospel outlined in chapter two. We won't spend much time here, because the "opposites" are obvious.

Those who subscribe to this teaching say that we should not have anything. We should give everything away and basically be a hermit. "God will provide" is their motto.

The basis for this teaching is a misinterpretation of Scripture. God will provide, but sometimes He provides money and things! Also, the Bible does not teach that money is evil; rather, it teaches that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (First Timothy 6:9-10). It's not the money, it's the love of it.

In closing the chapter, Palmer writes,

In order for us to walk in all the ways the Lord God has commanded we must train our hearts and minds with thorough application of all of God's Word. We must prepare our hearts to willingly accept God's provision and use it to His glory. That way we will not be enamored with and deluded by extremes that would endanger our souls and the souls of others. (page 44)

Chapter Four: Stewardship Theology

In this chapter, Palmer gets to the Biblical view of money and possessions. As we attempt to point out on this blog quite often, we are just stewards (caretakers) of the blessings--money and possessions included--that God has given us.

That implies, according to Palmer, that God wants my best effort in giving, in care taking and in all other areas related to money. On pages 56-58, Palmer writes a section entitled "Find--and Keep--Your Balance." This section is worthy of your reading, as it really (in my estimation) gives a great summation of the Bible's teaching on money. (In fact, I am using this material in a sermon on Sunday night!...thanks, Jim!!!). Included is a list of passages and points on page 58 that is worth preaching or teaching; especially to young people.

Chapter Five: You Can't Take it With You

This very brief final chapter is one of those "put it all in perspective" chapters. Why do we spend and horde and spend and horde? We all understand that when we die, or the Lord returns, we won't have any of our "stuff" anyway?

We should enjoy the things we have, but we should not be a miser. We need to plan for our children's future. We need to give more liberally to the church and other important works. In short, we need to have the Bible's view of money.


While this book is not long, it is filled with information that will help you. Each chapter has questions for thought and discussion (and a little soul searching). There are a total of 21 quotes (called "links") interspersed throughout the chapters that keep the reader's mind going in the right direction.

I recommend this little book for individuals, and I think it would also be a fun book for a group to read and study together (a small group or Bible class for 1-2 months).

To order Faith and Finance from the Focus Press website, click here and scroll down a bit.

Monday, January 14, 2008

State Income Taxes and Politics

NOTE: I am by NO MEANS a tax professional. Nor am I qualified to give tax advice. I am not a CPA, don't have a business degree, and am only mentioning some things I have found that might be helpful. Truly my only suggestion here is to do the research yourself to see if you qualify for this tax credit!

When I moved away from Tennessee, I knew one financial change would be moving from a state without an income tax, to one with a state income tax (Arkansas). This year I will end up paying over $1,000 in state income tax, and still have to pay a sales tax of 9.75%. It doesn't seem hardly fair! Since I do have to pay state income tax, I searched for ways to limit how much I have to pay. To my knowledge there isn't yet a deduction or credit for education expenses on Arkansas income taxes (without itemizing), though there is a deduction for interest paid on student loans (AR 1000 ADJ, line 4).

This year in the packet that I received, however, I paid more attention to the forms that I hadn't used before. AR 1800 - the Political Contributions Credit. Basically, I can donate up to $50 (or up to $100 as a married couple) to a candidate seeking public office (state level or lower - not federal), an approved PAC (Political Action Committee), or a political party, and receive a 100% tax credit. The donation must be made by April 15, 2008 to count as a credit for this year. This year we have decided to send $100 to the Arkansas Right for Life PAC. After filling out AR 1800, we will send in $100 less in state income taxes, making this donation cost us nothing more than we would be spending otherwise! Oregon and Virginia also have similar laws.

If you have to pay state income tax, check and ask around - see if you can make a contribution to a political organization and thereby become qualified for a tax credit! What a great way to quite easily make your voice heard!

NOTE: I am by NO MEANS a tax professional. Nor am I qualified to give tax advice. I am not a CPA, don't have a business degree, and am only mentioning some things I have found that might be helpful. Truly my only suggestion here is to do the research yourself to see if you qualify for this tax credit!

Friday, January 11, 2008

"Faith and Finance" = A Duel Review

Lord willing, over the coming weekend, I hope to read Faith and Finance by Jim Palmer. Jim works for Focus press and writes monthly in THINK magazine about the Christian and money. His book is not long, but seems to be filled with important information and Scripture.

I am calling this a "duel review," because I plan on putting a longer, chapter-by-chapter review on this blog, and a quicker, more "overall," review on my personal blog.

If you wish to order Faith and Finance from Focus press, click here. (You will need to scroll down a bit. The cost is $12.)

A Quick Site Update

The authors of Where Your Treasure Is want to pass along a couple of updates.

First, we apologize for not posting for so long. We all basically took a holiday break...and then it just kept getting longer. With James' post yesterday, we are back on track.

Next, we are sorry to see one of our authors step down. I know you enjoyed reading Wes Hazel's articles that dealt with the Bible and money. His posts were always powerful and thought-provoking. Each of us writes on this blog voluntarily, and it does take time. Wes decided that he needed to step away from this (hopefully, just for awhile). We wish him well and thank him for the contributions he made to this effort.

Finally, after the holiday break, the authors decided to slow down our posting a bit. Hopefully, we will have more regular posting schedules and that will help you, the reader, be more familiar with the work being done. We will not take month-long breaks (like we just did), but we will also not have a daily post. With this site still being less than one year old, there are still some "kinks" that need to be worked out, and one is our scheduling. We hope to continue to post solid, Bible-based, practical articles that help you with your money and your faith.

If you have not added Where Your Treasure Is to your blogroll or feed reader, please do so!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Taxes and Savings

Yes, I know it isn't April 14th yet, and you're probably waiting until then to start on taxes, but don't you think we might be able to get a jump start on taxes? After all, part of frugality involves planning ahead, and making wise financial decisions now for the future. I am by NO MEANS a tax professional. Nor am I qualified to give tax advice. I am not a CPA, don't have a business degree, and am only mentioning some things I have found that might be helpful. Truly my only suggestion here is to do the research yourself to see if you qualify for this tax credit! However, every year since I had my first job, I've filed my own taxes with only the help of my mother (thanks!). As I'm beginning to work on my 2007 taxes this month, I want to share a few things I've found this year, or in the past, that are really beneficial to me as I prepare my taxes. Most of you will probably already be aware of them, but in the event that you aren't, maybe what I share will encourage you to study the relevant tax laws yourself to see if they might apply to you, or to ask your tax preparer about these deductions and credits.

The first income tax 'discovery' I'd like to share is what I have found concerning retirement savings contributions. Most people are aware of the fact that if they make contributions to a traditional IRA, the contributions may be tax-deferred (see IRS Form 1040 Instructions for requirements). Many of you, like myself, however would rather pay the taxes today, and be able to withdraw those funds after retirement tax free, expecting to withdraw more than you put in, and so we choose Roth IRA's. Here's the great news - just because you don't get the above the line deduction for a Roth IRA contribution, doesn't mean there aren't any tax benefits! You may qualify for a tax credit for contributions to your retirement account (whether it is a traditional IRA, Roth IRA, 401(k), or other plan). IRS Form 8880 should be consulted to see if you are qualified. Some specific requirements concern your Adjusted Gross Income. If you meet the other qualifications and have an AGI of $15,500 or less ($31,000 or less for married couples) you can receive a credit for 50% of your contributions to the retirement savings plan, up to $2,000. The credit phases out for those with a higher AGI, with a 10% credit for individuals with an AGI less than $26,000 ($52,000 for a married couple).

So then, supposing your income is as low as mine, and you work to deposit $2,000 into your Roth IRAs throughout the year, you will pay $1,000 less in taxes - essentially allowing the federal government to match your first $1,000 of contributions!

Don't pass up this great possibility at a tax credit that encourages you to save for retirement! And, if it is already too late for your 2007 taxes, work towards utilizing this credit in 2008 by beginning to make regular deposits into a qualified retirement account now!

NOTE: I am by NO MEANS a tax professional. Nor am I qualified to give tax advice. I am not a CPA, don't have a business degree, and am only mentioning some things I have found that might be helpful. Truly my only suggestion here is to do the research yourself to see if you qualify for this tax credit!

Friday, December 28, 2007

2008: The Year That...

When Leah and I got really serious about getting out of debt, we looked at "the numbers" very closely. We added up our debts from Turner's birth and the debts we already had, and looked at our income and any other variables we could think of.

While things change and some numbers change, we are still focused on getting out of debt on our target date. That date?

December 31, 2008.

We are happy to say that, since April of this year, our debts have continued to go down. We have not added a penny to them. While we do not know if we will "hit" that target date, we are going to do our very best.

Hopefully we can keep you up-to-date on this blog as to how we are doing.

In other news...

Where Your Treasure Is has been added to This site is a reader--much like an RSS feed--of scores of personal finance blogs. However, to be added, a site has to be reviewed and approved. I am proud to announce that we were approved yesterday and added late yesterday. Check out the site for literally hundreds of great articles from dozens of blogs and watch for articles from Where Your Treasure Is!