Friday, August 31, 2007

More Cell Phone Frugality

My last few posts were designed to help you cut your monthly cell phone bill. This one is a little different, as within it I consider other ways to be frugal or to save money in the realm of cell phones.

When your contract ends (or a few months before with some providers), you are given the option of renewing the contract which will enable you to get new phones. Everyone gets excited at that time of year, because it means you can trade in that trashy phone that wasn't even cool two years ago, for the coolest phone of the day. If you choose to upgrade, consider upgrading through a dealer rather than through the service provider! Through Wirefly AT&T customers can upgrade and get a Blackjack, Razr (pink, blue, black WITH free bluetooth headset), or a Samsung Sync, and many other phones free after rebates. Through AT&T these phones would cost $100, $50, and $50, respectively. There are some special terms though, check the site for those details.

If you are starting a new contract, sites such as Wirefly,, Amazon, and others will give you an even better deal for getting the phones through them. You can also consider local dealers, as the face to face contact sometimes helps you to get the deal you want.

Finally, should you keep a cell phone contract, or should you try to get out of the contract and then just pay month to month? Here's my reasoned opinion. If you pay month to month, you are eventually going to need to replace your cell phone anyways. We all use the phones a lot, and they wear out. To keep paying month to month, you would have to buy an unlocked cell phone, which would mean you would pay $100 or more per phone. If instead you upgrade, and renew your contract, you can get the phone for free, and keep paying the same rate per month anyways. Basically, wireless providers charge such high monthly rates, because within your two year contract you are paying for the phone. If they give you a $250 phone for free, that means that just over $10 per month of your service plan is going to pay for the phone. If you provide your own phone in order to stay out of contract, that means you are still paying for a new phone (since that $10 per month is built into the contract price), but you aren't getting that phone. Therefore, unless you are wanting to go month to month for a few months until you change companies, or have some other reason, it seems to me to make sense to stay in a cell phone contract.

I hope these ideas help you be more frugal with setting up, upgrading, or choosing cell phone service!
All Cell Phone Frugality Posts in this Series: Cell Phone Insurance: Is It REALLY Worth It?; Cutting Your Cell Phone Bill #1: Multiple Lines; Cutting Your Cell Phone Bill #2: Cutting the Minutes; Cutting Your Cell Phone Bill #3: Cut the Frills; Cutting Your Cell Phone Bill #4: TMTM - Too Many Text Messages; More Cell Phone Frugality

WYTI Links: 08.31.2007

It's Friday once again...the Friday before the first Saturday of College Football!

Here's some links:

Thursday, August 30, 2007

WYTI Links: 08.30.2007 (PtP Edition)

I've been at the BJCC in Birmingham all week for Polishing the Pulpit. If you've never attended, you need to seriously look into it for 2008. It should be the last week of August, and they are thinking it will likely be in Sevierville, TN. If you are able to get away for a week or two devoted to a lectureship of some sort, this should be toward the top of your list.

Here are some links to suffice for the week...consider it an "emotional" edition:

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Cutting Your Cell Phone Bill - #4
TMTM - Too Many Text Messages

Teens today use text messaging like our generation used instant messenger and e-mail. Text messages are sent, saying "God is so Good. If you love God, forward this on to ten friends and the person who sent it to you. If you don't love God, you don't have to do anything." When I receive forwarded e-mails like this, I immediately delete them, before even reading them. If my life doesn't show people that I love God, don't want people to have cancer, value their friendship, etc., etc., then sending them an e-mail that says such won't convince them. So I find chain letters and mass forwards through e-mail to be useless wastes of my time. Many people are now sending these through text messages though! Now no one sends them to me, but if you have a teenager in your home, you probably have come to realize why they send/receive so MANY text messages!

A friend recently called me concerned about his text messages. A friend of his had begun texting him massively, running up a $200 bill in text messages! Not too difficult at $.15 per message - each way! Allow me to take a moment to say, that charging for text messages was a brilliant move on part of the wireless providers! I know it takes some of their bandwidth to move these messages, but there is no way receiving a message with "Hey! :)" in it is worth 15 cents to me! So, if your cell phone bill is massive, and you've already cut the frills, check the usage section to see how the text messages are treating you. At 15 cents to send and receive they add up quickly. Even if you can curb your own sending, you pay any time someone sends a message to you. If you send or receive more than 33 text messages a month on average, you ought to be considering a text message plan. For $4.99 (the cost of 32.6 text messages) you can get a starter plan from AT&T that allows up to 200 text messages (sent & received combined). Additional text messages then drop to 10 cents each! If you send/receive more than 300 text messages a month, you ought to be using the "Messaging Unlimited" plan from AT&T that allows you to send/receive unlimited text messages to anyone on any wireless carrier. If you have a family plan, and two of your teens have a problem, though, you have to get the family plan at $29.99/month to cover all of your lines with unlimited texting.

So, for an individual plan, to have unlimited texting, you'll spend $20/month, or $240 per year. Is there another way to handle TMTM? Yes...ask your wireless provider to disable this option on your lines. You won't ever be able to send/receive text messages, but neither will you pay $240 a year for your friends to be able to send you those annoying little forwards!

If you want to cut your cell phone bill, take care of TMTM (too many text messages)!

All Cell Phone Frugality Posts in this Series: Cell Phone Insurance: Is It REALLY Worth It?; Cutting Your Cell Phone Bill #1: Multiple Lines; Cutting Your Cell Phone Bill #2: Cutting the Minutes; Cutting Your Cell Phone Bill #3: Cut the Frills; Cutting Your Cell Phone Bill #4: TMTM - Too Many Text Messages; More Cell Phone Frugality

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Pandora: Music Money Saver

I was reading an article this morning from Lazy Man and Money, and he mentioned something that I can't believe I've failed to mention on this site.

I love music, and I listen to it a lot. Having a music collection, though, can really become expensive--and quickly! CDs, even used, can cost $5-$10 each. Some own iPods and download songs; but at about $1 each, a few dozen songs can quickly run you into a lot of money.

If you are near a computer with high-speed internet very often, there is a great way to save money and learn about new songs. is a site that offers free internet radio, and it caters the music to your tastes. Simply register for an account, tell Pandora what your favorite song(s) or artist(s) are, and let the algorithms take over!

If Pandora plays a song you like, you give it a "thumbs up," and that song goes into heavier rotation. If it plays a song you don't like, give it a "thumbs down," and it is never played again. You can even choose to have a song not play for a month.

While I don't listen to my station as much as I used to, I still get on my radio station about once a week for a few minutes--especially if I'm making sign-up sheets, or doing other work that doesn't require a lot of concentration.

Pandora is continually adding songs and features, so your station will never grow cold. It is a great way to listen to tons of music and do it for free.

Oh, and if you ever want to know what's on my station, just send me an email, and I'll send it to you. Trust me, it's the greatest station of all time!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Cutting Your Cell Phone Bill - #3
Cut the Frills

Many cell phone users today have an extremely large bill, which can be cut if some of the frills are cut. Wireless service providers sell all kinds of extra 'services,' knowing that the profit-margins from these extra services is much larger then the main wireless service.

As an AT&T customer, let me focus on their extra services, though I'm sure most wireless providers have similar services.
  • AT&T Mobile Backup - gives you the ability to back up your phone numbers so that if your phone is lost/stolen or you upgrade you will not loose numbers. Price? $1.99/month ($24/year)
  • Roadside Assistance - Towing, jump starts, flat tire changes, fuel delivery for when you run out of gas, lockout assistance, and key replacement services provided up to 4 times per year and up to $50 per event. Great service, but the price? $2.99/month ($36/year) This is like paying by the month for 1 service call every 1.5 years.
  • TeleNav GPS Router - If your phone is GPS enabled, receive live routes and directions over the phone. Price? $9.99/month ($120/year)
  • Enhanced Voice Mail - Increases maximum voice mail length by 1 minute (like I want that!), enables you to store 40 instead of 20 voice mails, gives an extra 7 days storage time, etc. Price? $1.99/month ($24/year)
  • Voice Dial - Dial *8 or *08, and then speak the name you want to dial, and AT&T will automatically dial that person so that you don't have to look up the number while driving. Price? $4.99/month ($60/year) - and many phones include voice dial abilities!
  • Push to Talk - Makes it possible to use the PTT (walkie-talkie like functionality) of some cell phones. Requires PTT phones on both ends. This makes the communication almost instantaneous. Price? $9.99/month or $19.99/month for family plans ($120, 240/year) Quite expensive when you could just wait the few seconds for the calls to connect.
  • Early Nights and Weekends - Extends the period of 'night' calls that are unlimited to 7pm to 7am instead of 9pm to 6 am. Price? $8.99/month or $16.99/month for family plans ($108, 204/year). You have to be making a lot of calls in those three hours of the day.
  • Data Connect Plans - Connect your smartphone ($9.99/month for 5MB or $19.99/mo for unlimited data) or PDA ($24.99/mo for 10MB or $39.99/mo for unlimited data) to the internet. Price? Between $120 and $480 per year. Quite expensive considering my DSL is about $20 per month, and I'm going to have that anyways!
There are a lot of options above, and a lot more available. My point here, is that all of these things are great, and may at times be helpful, but are for most of us unnecessary frills. I would love to be able to surf the internet and check my e-mail from my smartphone. But it just isn't worth $20 a month to me! Especially when I know it will be slower and more difficult to navigate than the computer. It is a convenience, a frill.

If you want to cut your cell phone bill, cut the frills, many of which you might not even be using!

All Cell Phone Frugality Posts in this Series: Cell Phone Insurance: Is It REALLY Worth It?; Cutting Your Cell Phone Bill #1: Multiple Lines; Cutting Your Cell Phone Bill #2: Cutting the Minutes; Cutting Your Cell Phone Bill #3: Cut the Frills; Cutting Your Cell Phone Bill #4: TMTM - Too Many Text Messages; More Cell Phone Frugality

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Cutting Your Cell Phone Bill - #2
Cut the Minutes

Many cell phone users are afraid of getting too few minutes, and end up with many more minutes a month than they need. If you have had a cell phone for several months you should be able to look over past bills, and determine how many minutes you actually need. Cutting the anytime minutes will cut your cost. In keeping with the first Cutting Your Cell Phone Bill post, I'll be comparing family plans.

AT&T, Nextel/Sprint, and Verizon Wireless have the following family rate plans:
  • 700 Minutes: 69.99 (9.99 each additional line); .45 for each additional minute
  • 1400 Minutes: 89.99 (9.99 each additional line); .40 for each additional minute
  • 2100 Minutes: 109.99 (9.99 each additional line); .35 for each additional minutes
  • 3000 Minutes: 149.99 (9.99 each additional line); .25 for each additional minute
  • There are other higher plans. Sprint/Nextel has a different method of calculating additional minutes - if you go over every block of 30 minutes is $5, up to 300 additional minutes, and then .20/minute.
Alltel has similar rate plans, but more minutes at each price level. Click here to see Alltel's family rate plans. With all of these companies, the plans now being sold include free nights and weekends and free mobile-to-mobile calling.

With the high cost of additional minutes, you can't afford to be going over your monthly allotment. But if you generally use 600 minutes per month, and are paying for 1400, you could cut your bill, saving $240 a year!

I'm a AT&T customer, and I am very glad to have rollover minutes. Rollover minutes make it possible to have a much smaller minute package. We have our 5 lines on 550 shared minutes per month. We currently have over 1,000 rollover minutes. Some months we go over, and use up those rollover minutes. Other months we go under, and build rollover minutes. If you have an AT&T account, use this system to your advantage. You can change plans as often as you like, without extending your contract. Anytime you switch, though, you can only keep the number of rollover minutes that are alloted per month in the plan you are switching to. SO....let's assume you generally use about 1,000 minutes per month. You have several options:
  1. Get the 700 minute plan, and pay the extra minutes, adding up to about $204.99 per month. $2,459.88 per year.
  2. Get the 1400 minute plan, and pay $89.99 per month, building your rollover minutes that you will never use. $1,079.88 per year.
  3. Most people go with option 2 without considering option 3! This is a little more complicated. Switch back and forth between the 700 and 1400 minute plans, using your rollover minutes. Below is a possible scenario for the 1,000 minute user. The cost will average $78.56 per month. $959.88 per year. It's a little more trouble, but I believe it is worth saving $120 per year!
  • Go with the 1400 minute plan for one month, you will build 400 rollover minutes.
  • Switch to the 700 minute plan for one month (leaving 100 rollover minutes).
  • Switch to the 1400 minute plan for a month, adding 400 rollover minutes (to make 500).
  • Switch to the 700 minute plan, using your rollover minutes for a month (leaving 200).
  • Switch to the 1400 minute plan for a month, adding 400 rollover minutes (to make 600).
  • Switch to the 700 minute plan, using your rollover minutes for two months (leaving 0).
  • Start over
Due to the rollover minute option, I believe AT&T to have the best plan options. If you have AT&T, utilize those rollover minutes to save you money! And no matter who your carrier is, be sure you have a large enough package that you won't be spending hundreds of dollars for extra minutes, but a small enough package that you aren't paying for many many minutes a year that you never use.

All Cell Phone Frugality Posts in this Series: Cell Phone Insurance: Is It REALLY Worth It?; Cutting Your Cell Phone Bill #1: Multiple Lines; Cutting Your Cell Phone Bill #2: Cutting the Minutes; Cutting Your Cell Phone Bill #3: Cut the Frills; Cutting Your Cell Phone Bill #4: TMTM - Too Many Text Messages; More Cell Phone Frugality

Friday, August 24, 2007

Greed Disguised

A few weeks ago we talked on Sunday morning about the Rich Ruler Luke 12 who was so greatly blessed by God but lost it all because he failed to be “rich toward God.” This is not an unfamiliar parable, but I saw it in a whole new light as we studied this time. I saw the sin of greed in this man’s life. Not the type of overt greed that we congratulate ourselves for not falling victim to. I saw the subtle greed that we as blessed American’s are so susceptible too. Greed that wears a disguise. Greed disguised as stewardship.
We all desire to be good stewards of God’s blessing in our lives. Truthfully, if I could not read in the text that God condemned this man, I would be tempted to put him forth as an example of good stewardship. What did he do when he received this blessing? He didn’t squander it like the prodigal son. (Lk. 15) He didn’t bury it in the ground like the unprofitable servant. (Matt. 25) All he did was invest in his future, but he failed to be “rich toward God” Greed disguised as stewardship is so hard for us to see because it takes good practices to an ungodly extreme. Greedy people are savers, and saving is a good thing. Greedy people are planners, and planning is a good thing. Greedy people want to make sure their financial future is secure, and that is a good thing. Don’t allow these good principals of stewardship to be turned into sinful characteristics of greed. Unfortunately, when I think about some of the strongest statements I have heard from fellow Christians regarding being responsible with money and being good stewards of God’s blessings they were all too often nothing more than well disguised excuses for not being “rich toward God.”
In this land of plenty that we have been blessed to live, may we never forget the source of those blessings. Listen to the words of Paul in 1 Timothy 6:17, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.”

Thursday, August 23, 2007

WYTI Links: 08.24.07

It's Friday!!! Here's some material to check out...
Car Corner:

"Giving Our Way to Prosperity" (Lesson Eight)

While hinted at in nearly every chapter, lesson 8 focuses the student's attention on the sin of covetousness. The purpose of lesson 8 is "to impress upon the mind that covetousness is one of the most deceptive sins known to man" (45). That word "deceptive" plays a key role in this lesson. The lesson is entitled "A Spiritual Cancer." When one studies this lesson, he/she can see why "cancer" is used.

The lesson opens with some examples of covetousness in the Bible (Achan, Gehazi, etc.) and what other sins that one sin led to. As brother Black points out, "Few sins are so distinctly and solemnly denounced in the scriptures as covetousness" (45). He then goes on to list several verses from both the Old and New Testaments that teach against this dangerous sin.

On page 46, brother Black takes a few moments to remind us that money is not wrong, but the "love of money" leads to all sorts of sins (First Timothy 6:10). Because we love money, its power eats away at us, causing us to do things we would never have envisioned ourselves doing.

After sections building on the main points of the introduction, brother Black has an interesting section that should cause every student to think (pages 48-49). He speaks of covetousness as the only sin that he had never heard anyone confess. While it may be one of the most committed sins, no one seems to want to admit his/her error in this regard.

In the brief final section (page 49), brother Black reminds us that covetousness is listed with other "terrible" sins, such as adultery and extortion. That alone should cause us all to think seriously about how important God thinks this subject is.

Cutting Your Cell Phone Bill - #1
Multiple Lines

Let me give you a glimpse of my cell phone bill for several months in the past: 10-05: $50.03; 5-06: $88.78; 10-06: $97.04; 7-07: $108.97. It was cheaper each time it changed. No that’s not a typo, it was CHEAPER each change. The first bill was when I had an individual cell phone plan, the cheapest Cingular individual plan for 39.99 per month, with all the taxes worked up to about $50. By May of 2006 I had three lines on the plan, so the $88.78 breaks down to about $29.59 per line. By October 2006, I had four lines on the plan, so the $97.04 breaks down to $24.26 per line. Last months bill represented five lines, at $21.80 per line. As most of you know, we’re a young married couple, with no children. So why do we have five lines? Frugality.

In December 2005, my father and younger brother finished their contract with another cell phone company. They asked if they could join on to my cell phone plan. I agreed, and we split the bill three ways, each paying for our text message usage. By July 2006, Stacey and I were married, and so we needed a phone for her. We added her onto the bill. Some time after that, my parents decided to get another line as a gift for my sister. Each time we added a line, we made each line cheaper. We are now at the maximum number of lines that AT&T wireless will allow on one family plan bill, and we are saving a lot of money to do it this way. My part of the cell phone bill each month is around $40 for two lines! Let’s say that we had all kept our cell phone plans separate from one another.
  • My payments from December 2005 up to last month would be: ($50 x 8) + ($70 x 7) = $890.
  • If my father and younger brother had gotten a new contract together, their payments in this time would be: ($70 x 15) = $1,050.
  • An individual line for my sister would have cost: ($50 x 5) = $250.
  • All together, as a group, this would add up to: $2,190
Instead, we joined the lines together. So:
  • Stacey and I have paid about: ($30 x 8) + ($40 x 7) = $520
  • My father has paid: ($30 x 10) + ($40 x 5) = 500
  • My brother has paid about ($30 x 15) = $450
  • For a grand total of: $1,470
We have each saved money - I have saved $370 in just less than two years, my father has saved $275, and my brother has saved $300 over what he would have paid to have an individual contract for all of this time.

You can really save some money by getting together with close family members and joining lines on cell phone plans. There are of course some catches that you need to recognize:
  • The bill will be attached to ONE person’s social security number and credit. I am legally responsible for all five of these lines and the usage on them. This is fine with me because I can completely trust all of the individuals on this plan. Entering into a 2 year contract with extra people you can’t completely and totally trust would be a mistake, though, and probably end up costing you much extra in the long run (just watch the People's Court to see some examples!).
  • It takes a little work for one person each month to get the figures straight. I spend a few minutes after each bill comes out calculating how much each person owes, and send them an e-mail showing how much they owe for the cell phone that month.
  • The payment has to be worked out in a way that will work for everyone. Each month we pay our parts online with credit cards. This makes it simple for the whole bill to be paid, and at the same time for no one to be paying more than a month at a time.
If you can work out the details, and have some people you can completely trust not to ruin your credit, combining lines can be a great way of saving money on the cell phone bill!

All Cell Phone Frugality Posts in this Series: Cell Phone Insurance: Is It REALLY Worth It?; Cutting Your Cell Phone Bill #1: Multiple Lines; Cutting Your Cell Phone Bill #2: Cutting the Minutes; Cutting Your Cell Phone Bill #3: Cut the Frills; Cutting Your Cell Phone Bill #4: TMTM - Too Many Text Messages; More Cell Phone Frugality

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

WYTI Links: 08.22.07

Wednesday's Links...a practical edition: (I had these ready to go on Tuesday night, but silly dial-up kept timing out when I tried to post them this morning. Sorry...blame Bellsouth...or the new AT&T.)

"Giving Our Way to Prosperity" (Lesson Seven)

When most Bible class students get to the seventh lesson, they are probably tired of hearing about giving. Then, they read the title of this lesson: "Give Till It Hurts." While the study of stewardship takes a great level of maturity, thinking of giving in these terms will truly test a person's commitment to the act of giving.

However, when the student begins to study the lesson, he or she is met with this seemingly paradoxical purpose: "To impress upon the mind that there is a joy in giving, and that there is no pain connected with true giving" (39). Why does that seem to be a paradox? Because the lesson title leads us to think that giving "hurts," but the purpose statement tells us that it does not hurt. How can that be?

The four sections of the lesson lead us to a greater understanding of the attitude of our giving. The lesson is divided into these four sections:
  • Our Giving Should be Consistent (40-41)
  • Giving Must come from Sincere Heart (41-42)
  • One Should Give with a Happy Heart (42-43)
  • Our Giving Is To Be Generous (43)

If one follows the logical progression of these four sections, he/she comes to the conclusion that giving from the right heart (or, with the right attitude) does not really "hurt." While our giving may be a large portion of our budget, when we have the correct attitude, we don't have pain when writing that check. We know our money is going to the right place and for the correct purpose.

This lesson may seem quite simplistic, but it helps students better understand how giving more money doesn't really "hurt" when we have the right attitude. Many Christians need to be reminded of that teaching.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Cell Phone Insurance: Is It REALLY Worth It?

Some companies estimate that 1 in 4 cell phones will be lost, stolen, or broken within the year. Due to the fear of loosing a $300-500 phone, many people choose to purchase cell phone insurance through their wireless provider or the company they purchase the phone through. The question: Is it REALLY worth it? Consider some of the facts below, crunch the numbers, and you will see that no, it generally is not.

Cost of Premiums - The premiums differ between providers. Insurance through AT&T Wireless, Verizon Wireless, and Alltel is provided by the third-party company Asurion, and costs $4.99 per month. Sprint/Nextel also uses Asurion, but charges $4 per month. NCOA coverage (which is what sells) costs $50 for 12 months ($4.17/mo).

Cost of Premiums + the Deductible in case of Use - If the phone is lost/damaged/stolen, the deductible for any plan based on Asurion is $50. NCOA does not charge a deductible. If you have insurance through AT&T and lose the phone one time in a two year period, you will pay $169.76 for the insurance plan which replaced your phone ($4.99 x 24 + $50).

Cost of Replacing Your Phone Without Insurance - This is hard to nail down, as the price of phones is constantly changing, and every model has a different price. Keep in mind, however, that the insurance company has the choice to "repair or replace" your phone. Also, if they replace your phone, they can replace it with a REFURBISHED (used) model instead of a new one. AND if they don't have your specific model in stock, they can just give you a 'similar' model, which may not have all of the features of the phone you purchased. However, consider the cost of purchasing a new phone through such sites as The Motorola L6 is $105; Motorola Razr $125; LG Chocolate is $170; if you just need a phone, the Motorola v180 is $65. This ought to show how foolish cell phone insurance can be. Even through Wirefly, you would pay $100 over two years, and have very little protection for your investment! Remember, the prices above are for NEW phones, you will be given a REFURBISHED phone. Compare it this way. A new Samsung Blackjack costs $330, but REFURBISHED on eBay, the phone goes for around $200.

Generally, cell phone insurance just does not make sense. As an MSNBC article points out, "insurance might make sense for some people — those who are prone to drop their phone, get it wet or somehow disable it. “It might be useful if you happen to work on building skyscrapers and you tend to drop your phone 30 or 40 stories,” . . . . It could also come in handy if you’re buying a high-end PDA phone that would cost you $500 or $600 to replace.” However, remember that the service is not available for some phones, and is more expensive on high end phones for which coverage is available.

Cell Phone Insurance: Is It REALLY Worth It? Generally, NO
Note: If you have had cell phone insurance through Asurion (sold by Cingular/AT&T, Sprint/Nextel, Verizon, and Alltel among others), and had to file a claim with them due to a lost/stolen/broken phone, and received a refurbished phone, you may be eligible to receive some compensation as part of a class action lawsuit settlement. Check here for more information.
All Cell Phone Frugality Posts in this Series: Cell Phone Insurance: Is It REALLY Worth It?; Cutting Your Cell Phone Bill #1: Multiple Lines; Cutting Your Cell Phone Bill #2: Cutting the Minutes; Cutting Your Cell Phone Bill #3: Cut the Frills; Cutting Your Cell Phone Bill #4: TMTM - Too Many Text Messages; More Cell Phone Frugality

WYTI Links: 08.21.2007

Monday, August 20, 2007

WYTI Article Featured

This is a week old now, but James' article about Credit Card Protector Plans was featured in last week's 100th Edition of the Carnival of Debt Reduction (hosted last week at No Credit Needed).

The article even produced a playful comment from NCN...

Shall Our Brethren Go To War Alone?

The flea and an elephant crossed the bridge. When safe on the other side
the flea said to the elephant, “Boy, we sure did shake that bridge, didn’t
we?” (Winkler 195)

That little story is all too characteristic of what we see in many congregations of the Lord’s Church. A minority of the people do a majority of the giving and supporting the work of the congregation. Christians must come to understand the shared responsibility they have with their brothers and sisters within the congregation. In chapter sixteen verse two of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, Paul instructed that “each one” of the Corinthian Christians was to lay something aside. Every single Christian has shared responsibility in the Lord’s Church; that is true in regards to our financial giving as well. However, far too often in the Church today some people give 25% while others will barely give 2%. This problem has been caused by people not carrying their fair share of the load. The story is told that J.P. Sanders saw a group of ants carrying a dead grasshopper along on their backs. Looking a little closer he saw that some of the ants had climbed up on the grasshopper and were just getting a free ride. God wants His children to get off of the grasshopper and start carrying their share of the load.
One of the greatest examples of this shared responsibility is seen in the Israelites occupation of the promised land of Canaan. In Numbers chapter 32, before Israel entered into Canaan, the tribes of Reuben and Gad requested that they be allowed to settle in the land of Jazer and the land of Gilead. They desired this land because they were cattlemen, and they saw that the lands of Jazer and Gilead were good for cattle. Moses replied to their request in Numbers 32:6 with some very penetrating words saying, “Shall your brethren go to war while you sit here?” Moses was making the point that the tribes of Reuben and Gad had an obligation to support the other tribes of Israel as they went to conquer the land of Canaan. The leaders of these two tribes reassured Moses that they would not abandon their brethren. The Bible tells us that Reuben and Gad were allowed to occupy that land only after they fulfilled their obligation to help their brothers and sisters take possession of the land of Canaan.
In the Church today we are at war with the army of the Devil in the same way that Israel was at war with the pagan nations of Canaan. Paul stressed this point throughout his writing. In Ephesians 6:11-13 Paul encourages his brethren to, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” He admonished Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:12, “Fight the good fight of faith,....” And in 2 Timothy 2:3-4 he warns, “You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.”
This war which Paul describes can be won, but we need more preachers, more missionaries, and more benevolent acts so that the love and Lordship of Jesus Christ might be demonstrated to a lost and dying world. All Christians must understand that they have a responsibility to the Lord and the Church not to let their brothers go to war while they just sit there and do nothing. All Christians must take their responsibility seriously to support the war effort. That includes people of all ages, people of all economic levels, people of all social statuses, and people of all different situations in life. If one is a Christian then he has an obligation to give to the Church.
While most would deny the truthfulness of “faith only” salvation, too many of those same people in the Church are practicing “faith only” religion. They say that they believe in Jesus Christ. They say that His body is the most important thing in their lives, but they fail to demonstrate that faith by parting with their precious money. James said in James 2:17-18, “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” Which is worse? Preaching “faith only” salvation or practicing “faith only” salvation. I would hate to be guilty of either on the Day of Judgment.

WYTI Links: 08.20.2007

Friday, August 17, 2007

"Giving Our Way to Prosperity" (Lesson Six)

This post will be brief, because this lesson is one of the most basic in brother Black's book. The purpose of this lesson is, in many ways, the purpose of the entire book: "To impress upon the mind that God blesses a liberal giver" (33).

On page 34, brother Black points out that liberal giving has been a trait of God's people since ancient times. Back to the days even of Noah people gave of themselves to serve their Creator. That example should resonate with us today.

As the lesson continues, we are reminded of the generosity of those under the Old Testament. Specifically, we are led to Exodus 36, where materials were brought for the building of the temple. The people brought so much that they had to be restrained from giving any more. Wouldn't it be wonderful if such were the case in our congregations today?!?

The basic idea of this lesson to set forth some basic truths about liberality. On page 35, this truth is set forth: "Liberality increases spirituality." When one truly studies passages such as Matthew 6:19-21, this comes forth. As brother Black says, "Liberal, joyful, believing and sacrificial giving will make you a stronger spiritual man. It is impossible for a man to have his heart in the Lord's work while all of his material interest is in the world" (36).

The final "truth" laid out in this chapter is that "Liberality leads to plenty" (36). This is not the "health and wealth" gospel that so many preach. Rather, it is taking God up on a promise (Luke 6:38). Jesus promised spiritual gifts here. In the Old Law (Malachi 3:10) God promised to open the windows of heaven to bless those who "challenge" God in their giving. While we may not get a million-dollar bank account, God still richly blesses those who give liberally and then trust Him to protect.

Brother Black finishes the chapter with these good words:

It is not wrong to tell the farmer that if he makes an investment by sowing seed, that he, in due season, shall reap what he sowed. It is also right to tell the Christian what the Bible so often says: "giving" is sowing and the Lord of harvest guarantees the reaping. (37)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Time is Money
Google's Internet Accelerator

When we find a way to save time, we are in essence being more frugal. I want to share just one quick way to help save time.

I spend more time on the internet than most people, I'd say, and really most days probably more than I should! However, if I'm going to be looking at things on the internet, at least I can do some things to save time while on the internet. One of these time savers is of course to get high-speed internet. I cannot fathom going back to dial-up. In dial-up days I would usually do something else while I looked at things on the internet. For example, I'd read, and every time I finished a paragraph check to see if the page had loaded yet. With DSL, I basically just surf. In addition to high-speed internet though, I recommend an internet accelerator. Google's Web Accelerator is free to download and use, and helps to speed up page load times. One method of doing so is through 'pre-fetching.' When you go to a page, the accelerator begins downloading the links from that page into a temporary storage folder, in case you want to view them. This is a benefit, because over time it shortens the time you have to spend waiting on the pages to load. Since I purchased my new laptop in December, I have looked at 38,021 web pages. To view all of this information would have taken 3 solid days of browsing with my DSL connection. With Google Web Accelerator, I've spent just less than 2.5 days - I've saved 13 hours of browsing time in 6 months (click here to see Google Web Accelerator's report of my usage). That's a considerable amount of time saved, and time is money!

WYTI Links: 08.15.07

I'm feeling very "foundational" this week for some here are some current links that reinforce sound--and basic--financial principles:

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

"Giving Our Way to Prosperity" (Lesson Five)

After trying to help us understand that we must give, but do so cheerfully, lesson five reminds us that free-will giving is "God's Plan for the Support of His Church." Many seem to feel that a congregation "runs" without money, but money is needed to do the Lord's work. Each member giving from his/her livelihood is the Lord's plan for supporting the work.

For example, if we are to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), we will either need our own money or we will need to give money to support others willing to go to other lands, or who are willing to give up a secular profession to preach locally. There are dozens of other needs for financial support, and every member should see these needs.

I don't want to give away too much of this lesson, but it's basic purpose is to take a brief survey of giving throughout the three dispensations of the Bible (Patriarchy, Mosaic, Christian). While this may be a basic lesson, it helps us see the importance of giving from the very beginning.

Finally, the chapter ends with a quick reminder to not just give, but do so with the right attitude. While this has been mentioned in the book before, it needs to be emphasized at this point, because we need to avoid giving "just because others have in the past."

Monday, August 13, 2007

WYTI Links: 08.14.07

  • Protect Your Files: How to Back Up Your PC (via Wired How To's) This is a very important concept for someone like me who has everything related to my sermons, Bible class lessons, etc. in digital form. I even have the bulk of my study resources on my computer.

Choosing a Bible Study Software Package

This post looks long, and it is, but it is primarily long because of the comparison to follow!

There are so many different Bible study software packages on the market today. Each package claims to be the best, listing many reasons why you should select that package. Each package provides many of the same benefits including: fast electronic searches, multiple Bible translations, commentaries, savings over purchasing the materials in book format, etc. The packages generally include some different resources and tools as well. Some of the programs include macros to easily paste Bible verses into Microsoft Word or other word processing programs.

The most popular Bible software programs I know of include: PC Study Bible, Quick Verse, Logo's Bible Software, GRAMCORD, and E-Sword. While there are others, these are the five that I most often hear recommended. The price of the different current versions of these programs ranges from free to $1,379.95. In the spirit of frugality, or should we say in the spirit of stewardship and yet retaining our interest as students of God's word, I want you to consider what is the best Bible study software package for your investment.

In order to make this determination, one really has to compare the contents and prices of different Bible programs. In the chart below I look at many of the reference tools that I frequently use or that are considered standard reference tools, and compare which of the programs they are included in. In the chart the following programs are being compared:
  • E-Sword v. 7.8.5
  • Quick Verse 2007 Standard Edition
  • Quick Verse 2007 Expanded Edition
  • PC Study Bible 5 Reference Library Plus (Red Box)
  • PC Study Bible 5 Complete Reference Library (Purple Box)
  • Logo's Bible Software 3: Christian Home
  • Logo's Bible Software 3: Scholar's Library
  • GRAMCORD for Windows: Scholar's Bundle
  • GRAMCORD for Windows: Ultimate Bundle
Click the image to the
left or here to see the full
comparison chart of
the different programs.

When I compare what is included in the programs listed above, I must conclude that what I get for around $100 or more is a brand name program with extra reference materials which I wouldn't use even if I had access to them. I would like to have the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament on my Bible program, but I do have it in book form for the times I need to consult it. I would like to have the NKJV and the NASB in E-Sword, but those really aren't necessary with the KJV, ASV, and ESV, but I can add them both for $35 if I'd like to.

I use the free E-Sword program. I do so because it is free and I cannot see how I can justify spending hundreds of dollars for the bells and whistles that come with the other programs when I will rarely access those extra tools. I look forward to hearing comments from users of other programs, and your reasons for going with your program. If you disagree with me at this point, that's fine, but I encourage you to seriously consider . . . what am I getting for the hundreds of dollars I spend every few years to have the latest version, compared to what James has for free?

"Giving Our Way to Prosperity" (Lesson Four)

The example of the Macedonians, as recorded in Second Corinthians 8:1-5, is one that we should follow daily. Found in that context are these words, which form the basis for the fourth lesson: "And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God."

Lesson four is called "First Give Yourself," and has this purpose: "To impress upon the mind of every contributor that the gift without the giver is bare" (21).

The idea behind this lesson may seem basic, but it is one that deals with a part of man that must be correct in all avenues of worship: his/her attitude. We need to have joy when we give, and we need to be willing to give our very lives to and for God's service.

In this brief lesson, brother Black gives two reasons why those at Macedonia were liberal in their giving:
  1. They first gave themselves to the Lord. Black comments, "This is the key to the problem. When individuals first give themselves to God, it is not difficult to get them to be liberal givers" (22).
  2. They had been truly converted. "In all probability there are more people in the church who need converting on the subject of giving, than any other subject. When you hear someone complaining or offering objections to class study on the subject of the subject of stewardship, you may put it down he is not converted and this is why we must continue to study the subject" (23).

Other sections deal with the Macedonian example by teaching us that they "made a complete surrender to Christ" (23-24) and they "had strong faith" (24-25).

Finally in this lesson, brother Black points out that those at Macedonia did not have much; rather, they were poor. There are some Christians today who do not have much in the way of this world's goods, but that does not excuse them from giving liberally to the Lord. The Macedonian example serves as a great marker for us all, rich or poor.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Car Insurance: Is it REALLY Worth It?

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usHere's another type of insurance to consider and determine its real value.

In almost every state liability car insurance is mandatory. See here for minimum requirements of each state. When it is the law, there is no question that it is worth it - both financially, legally, and most of all morally/spiritually worth having. If you live in one of the few states where liability insurance is not mandatory, unless you have enough savings to pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars in the event of a wreck without missing it, it would be foolish to avoid liability car insurance. For older drivers, the policy is not cost prohibitive. For young drivers (especially below 21), the costs are high, but so are the risks of a wreck with inexperienced drivers. The bottom line, you can look into any factors you want, liability car insurance is worth it.

What about full coverage car insurance, though? To determine if this type of insurance is worth it, you’ll have to do some figuring on your own.

First, compare the cost of premiums between liability only and full coverage insurance. Consider how much the difference is, and remember that the main reason to pay for the extra coverage is to replace your vehicle in the event of a wreck that is your own fault.

Second, consider how much this will cost if you pay for the premiums for an extended period of time, have a total wreck, and have to pay the deductible. Compute this for a year and then for two years of paying the premiums.

Third, consider how much it would cost to replace your car if you do not have full coverage insurance.

Fourth, consider your ability to pay for that need without insurance based on your savings.

Fifth, consider your ability to self-insure. If you take the difference in premiums, and invest it at 5% (online banking) for the year or two that you figured before, how much would you have in the account? Is it enough to cover what would actually be paid by the insurance company (after your deductible)?

To compute the value of your used car, check the NADA price guide here and Kelly Blue Book personal value here and realize your insurance company will go with the lower of the two values!

If you are driving a newer vehicle, you may decide that the value of the insurance is worth it due to the high loss that could be sustained in the event of a wreck. As your car ages, however, you continue to pay high premiums, though the coverage constantly declines. When a person is paying full coverage for a 10 year old high-mileage car, they are making an unwise financial decision! The amount you would receive in the event of a total loss is less than the amount of premiums payed in over a year or two, and definitely less if the individual self-insures! $100 per month for two years invested at 5% will build to just over $2,500. On the other hand, if you are an individual who has a lot of wrecks, the need for full coverage may be greater, but then, so will the costs!

Think it through though, and re-evaluate your decision to keep full-coverage car insurance on a yearly basis. As that car ages, it is less and less sensible to keep the full-coverage car insurance!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Where Your Treasure Is...Featured!

A recent article on house flipping was submitted and selected to be in the Carnival of Wealth Building Ideas.

Check out the entire Carnival here.

"Giving Our Way to Prosperity" (Lesson Three)

The third less in brother Black's book is called, "The Liberal Soul Shall be Made Fat." Romans 12:8 is used as the main text: "He that giveth let him do so with liberality." The stated purpose of this third, very important, lesson is, "To help us understand what liberality is, and also how I may know when I am liberal."

Introducing the lesson, brother Black gives the major question we are to answer: "How much is liberal?" He also mentions that those who oppose a lesson such as this are often those who are guilty of not being liberal, but, instead, are not giving as they should.

The first section of the lesson is, "The Bible says much about liberality." This section is not long, but it introduces us to the fact that we are studying a Biblical subject; not just the thoughts of the author of this book. We are to be liberal in our giving, simply because God told us to be so!

After establishing that fact, brother Black reminds us, "The Lord blesses a liberal giver." This is taught in both the Old Testament (Proverbs 22:9, 11:25) and the New Testament (Second Corinthians 9:6). When we give, get get; and that, from God!

Next, as an example, brother Black reminds us of those at Macedonia (Second Corinthians 8:1-5). While they did not have much in the way of this world's goods, they continued to give, "first of themselves." Brother Black says, "If we had congregations with the spirit of giving that the Macedonians had, we would evangelize the world in our generation" (18). Amen!

To conclude the chapter, V.P. Black gives "some guide lines for liberal giving." While there is nothing extremely specific in this section, the thoughts are needed:
  • Liberality depends on how I have been prospered.
  • Circumstances could be such in the church that my liberality would lead me to sell everything I own and bring the money to the elders that they might use it to help feed the poor.
  • A man's liberality also depends upon his ability to make money.
  • There are men in the church who are making a lot of money...Those of you who have good jobs and make good money, are you using your talent to the glory of God by manifesting liberality in your giving?

August Financial Goals

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We currently are working on several financial goals that have taken some time, and may take more time.

  1. Pay Immediately - we are working on building up our checking account so that any time a bill comes in we will be able to immediately pay it. Right now we could do this, but we'd have to take money out of savings. We always pay our bills on time, but usually near the end of the on-time period! I've seen family members with this ability to pay immediately, and it generally helps lower financial stress.
  2. Give More - Stacey's internship has turned into a paid internship, and as we begin receiving some income from this, we intend to give back to God more!
  3. Pick Up Long Term Savings - This probably won't happen this month. We've already contributed a significant amount towards our IRA's this calendar year. Right now with both of us in Grad school, our student loans are all in deferment, and only one of three is even gaining any interest (the smallest loan :). So this comes after goal number one and of course number two, meaning it will probably be next month before we are again able to contribute to the IRA's.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

"Giving Our Way to Prosperity" (Lesson 2)

Lesson two of V.P. Black's book is entitled "Some Facts about Money," and has as its purpose, "To help us have the attitude toward material possessions" (9).

Before we begin thinking about giving, we need to have a Biblical attitude toward money in general, so brother Black introduces us to several facts from the Bible that deal with money. (As I said in the last post, these reviews will not be long, but will be more like outlines of the lessons. You should want to find this book and study the lessons on your own.)

Here are the sections from lesson two:

1. We "must be honest in making money" (9-10).

2. We "must have the right attitude toward money" (10-11). This section, while brief is worth our personal study time. As we have pointed out, and will continue to do, on this blog, our attitude determines how we use God's blessings, including finances.

3. "Why do I give my money?" (11) When it all comes down to it, this is the basis for the book. Very briefly, brother Black gives several "motives" for giving to the Lord:

  • The motive of duty
  • The motive of self-respect
  • The motive of love (obviously should be the one for which we strive)

4. "How do I give my money?" (12-13) This section contains a very brief word about tithing, but more will be said later in the book about it.

5. "How should a Christian spend his money?" (13) This section introduces another very important concept to the book: stewardship. We are to be good stewards of the money God has given us. There is more about this later in the book, as well.

Monday, August 6, 2007

"Giving Our Way to Prosperity" (Lesson One)

This book, originally published in 1968, needs to be read and reread in many congregations. Brother V.P. Black wrote this book, which has giving as its focus. While it is not the easiest book to find, many brotherhood bookstores still have copies available.

I was first introduced to the book in 2001, when I moved to Haleyville. The 9th Avenue church of Christ was using this book for its auditorium adult class. Since I had just moved there, the elders asked me to "visit around" in different classes. I got to sit in on several lessons in the series.

Since the chapters are actually lessons, I don't want to give long reviews of each, as I might with other books. The reason is simple: the book contains the study material, and brother Black's words are far better than mine. However, I will try to give a short overview of each chapter.

Lesson One: "It Is More Blessed to Give"

Each lesson contains a "thought for today." The thought for this lesson is, "The worst thing about money is, it costs too much." The main purpose of this first lesson is to help change our minds about giving. It is not a way of getting poor; rather, it is a way through which we receive rich blessings.

Acts 20:35, "It is more blessed to give than to receive," has been called "the most disbelieved verse in the Bible." While that may or may not be true, it should cause us to think. In our society, we think that getting is the way to have blessings.

The study of lesson one provides three reasons why giving is more blessed:
  1. Because it is an expression of love (pages 4-5).
  2. Because it makes the child of God strong (pages 5-6).
  3. Because it is rewarding (pages 6-7).

As with each lesson, this one ends with a long series of questions that basically walks one through the entire lesson. This would be most helpful for the instructor of a class.

Friday, August 3, 2007

WYTI Links: 08.03.07 -- Lifehacker Edition

Here are some links from my favorite online blog--Lifehacker (most are links to other resources):
Have a great weekend...

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Our August Goals

Amanda and I took some steps backward financially when we made the move from our apartment into the church-owned house last month. For us, August will be an opportunity to get back on track and essentially re-build some things:

1. Use only cash for purchases. Exceptions include: gas (card), contribution (check), and bills (online and checks). We have done this before with success; the emotional connection to cash helps us make much better decisions.

2. Keep track of every single penny spent. This is something we have attempted to do on several occasions, but have not completed it to satisfaction. Our regular expenditures have changed some with the move, so we need to re-evaluate what all is currently going out.

3. "Pay ourselves" $50 a week. We have a long way to go with our savings goals. It has been several months since we have saved like we are capable (and need to).

WYTI Links: 07.02.07

Sales Tax Holdiays

Every April we complain that we have to give so much of our hard earned income to the government. Why give the government any more than we have to? This option isn't available to me at home, since Arkansas doesn't participate, but many states have a "Sales Tax Holiday" on which certain items can be purchased without having to pay sales tax. With school just around the corner, many states schedule a sales tax holiday in August for families to purchase back to school products (clothing, school supplies, and computers are included in some states) without having to pay sales tax. The states which have a sales tax holiday this August include: Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Missiouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Clicking here will take you to the Federation of Tax Administration's webpage about State sales tax holidays, which in turn includes links to many of the state's webpages about the rules for their sales tax holiday. Most of these states started their sales tax holiday today or will start it tomorrow, though, so check on this information now! Hopefully if you lived in one of these states you already knew about the sales tax holiday and planned to take advantage of it. If not, now you do, and I hope you do!

Does it Make Sense to Use Credit Card Protector Plans?

In this post, I'm NOT going to be getting into the wisdom of using or avoiding credit cards . . . though that is in the plans for future posts! IF you do you use a credit card (or cards), this post is to help you to determine if you should enroll in the 'Credit Protector (Citi),' 'Payment Protection (Discover)' or similar program.

First: Consider the Cost These programs sound so cheap. Citi's Credit Protector only costs "85¢ per $100 of the previous billing period's New Balance." Discover's program sounds very similar, but is not. It costs "89¢ per $100" of "your total balance at the end of each monthly billing period" thus including your old balance that you are still paying on. So, if a person is carrying a balance of $1,000, and charged $500 in one month, Citi's program would cost $4.25, and Discover's would cost $13.35 - quite a difference! Even Citi's program would cost $102 per year if you purchase $1,000 per month on average!

Second: Consider the Benefits Each program yields different benefits. Citi's program will cancel any new balance in the event of your death, up to $10,000. It also allows you to defer the total balance on your card for job loss, hospitalization, military reserves called to active duty, disaster relief, and many life events. "
While your account is deferred, finance charges and fees will not accrue and you will not be required to make payments on your account" (see full description here). Discover's program has similar benefits, but in the case of death would completely cancel your balance - up to $25,000 (see full description here). Thus Discover yields better benefits in the event of death. The benefits on these programs is similar, but not identical!

Third: Consider Your Situation If you are a regular user of credit cards, using them for regular purchases, then the cost of these programs is probably more than it is worth. To pay $102 per year or more would be foolish for most people, but you have to consider your situation carefully. There is one situation in which I think these programs makes sense! If you have stopped using your credit card and are currently working on paying off the balance, these programs might make sense - depending on which card you have. If your card's program is similar to Citi's, and would only cost you if you are accruing new balances, then it shouldn't ever cost you since you aren't using the card! Thus, it would be free protection, enabling you to keep paying off the balance, but to be able to suspend both payments and interest from accruing in the event that one of the listed events does occur. If the program on your card charges based upon total balance (like Discover's program), then the program probably will not be cost efficient.

Consider the factors for yourself. If you use your cards regularly, try to avoid these programs, as they seem to me just another way for credit card companies to take more of your cash. If you are working to pay off the balance on a credit card and are no longer using that card, look into it, as it may make sense for you!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

WYTI Links: 08.01.07

It's's almost here :)

An August Journey

While we don't plan to be too personal on this site, our blog is about personal finance. As such, I thought it would be interesting to share our financial goals for August and then let you know how we did at the end of this month.

As a youth minister, August is an interesting month. There are still youth activities going on (which require money), but, then, the young people go back to school. In other words, life gets back to "normal" (whatever that is!).

Here are some of our goals:
  1. Only spend money in our envelopes for those expenses. Nothing extra!!!
  2. Buy materials (or begin saving for them) for a minor bathroom remodel, and get prices for a couple of other upgrades to our house (do-it-yourself stuff--not professionally done).
  3. Pay at least $500 extra on our debt (above the required amounts).
  4. Compare our electric bills before CFLs and finish installing them in all lights.

These may not be huge goals, but they are what we are trying to accomplish this month. Money will be tight. We will be going to Tennessee in August for the birth of our niece (yeah!!), and we have a youth trip planned later in the month. Also, beginning today, we'll eat out at lunch with the youth group for 3 days in a row. These things add up and make it harder to stay on budget, but we're going to do it!

Or, at least, we'll do our best!