A Beautiful Exchange

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Tips for setting and successfully living on a tight budget!

Today, one of the sweetest girls I have "met" through blogging is here to share some AMAZING tips for setting and successfully following through with a budget. As you guys know, when Jacob and I got married, we were living on one minimum wage income for more than 8 months and we survived that time through God's provision and the application of many of these tips. When you really stick to the things Natalie mentions it can do amazing things for the money you make, how you view your money, and what you choose to spend your money on!! Be sure to check out the bottom of the post for a little more about who Natalie is!

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Good afternoon, friends and readers of A Beautiful Exchange! I am beyond honored to have a space here and share with you what we have learned and what we do as a family when it comes to: BUDGETING! Before we get started, I do want to point something out: if budgeting, money saving, and reaching or remaining debt free is not a priority, this post won't be of much help for you. When it comes down to it, saving money and living on a budget is about being disciplined and using your "no" muscles. Loren (my handsome husband) and I have experienced so much freedom in tackling our medical and school debt. You can check out our It's So Good To Be Debt Free post here, if you're interested.  Loren and I have experienced the overwhelming grace and freedom that comes from the love of Jesus. As a response to His grace and love, we crave, we yearn, we desire to live a life that honors Him. We also fully believe (and have experienced) that when we live out what the Bible says, it is for our best interest and it is there that we find freedom! The Bible encourages us to be wise with our resources; to be good stewards.

Get in the right mindset!

Mindset #1: Instead of viewing the things we have, the money in our bank account, and the resources available to us as OURS, we have the mindset that they are simply gifts. They are the Lord's and He gifts us with these things to use. This first mindset has freed up so much entitlement, so much frustration, so much bitterness - I am not saying those things have disappeared. What I am saying is that when we remember to choose this mindset as our reality, we are free and more thankful. We see our things as gifts and don't walk around with the entitlement that WE NEED MORE.

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Mindset #2: If we are truly pursuing the ways of the Lord, pursuing a life that models His heart for His people, I believe (and have experienced) that He provides all of our needs. Our true needs. In honesty, I do not need that $28 dress, I do not need at $3 americano, I do not need to drive to Portland once a month. I do not need these things and if they are not in the budget, then they won't be purchased. But our mindset and firm belief is that He has always and will continue to provide food - even if it is just enough for the day or the week. We have never gone hungry; even if it is eating with a family from our church community. When I was sick two weeks ago, we had $0 in our budget binder and $0 in our checking. It was the weekend and we had no access to our savings account. Two ladies/friends from our church community brought over a plethora of vitamin C, medicine to help me sleep, and food. He will provide one way or another. Remembering this brings peace when things are tight -- this mindset helps us get through the rough last week before paycheck, or the rough months where Loren takes off a lot of work for his second job.

Also, our first and foremost move with any and every monetary income is to skim off our tithe to our church. Tithing is a whole different blog post in itself, but basically, we take out that amount before even looking at the rest of our expenses. We have now started a new thing of putting money into our savings second to tithing, as opposed to "whatever is left over." Every one has money to put into savings; it is simply, as I stated earlier, up to your priorities.

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Mindset #3: Don't love money. Don't thirst for money. Don't idolize money. Don't live for money. For a time, I was working ridiculous hours and becoming very bitter and angry and quite ugly. Why work so much? To "pay my bills." But if I would have slowed down and looked, my bills were paid. It was the excess money that I was striving for. It was the extra THINGS I desired. Not that desiring things are bad - it is when I place pursuing those things above living the life He offers. The life He offers is freeing, peaceful, joyful -- not exhausting, bitter, and money-thirsty. When we have the mindset of loving Jesus and loving His people, when we are not driven by money, we are so much more selfless. So much more beautiful. So much more impacting this world for something greater than ourselves. That is our desire.

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Quick Tips on cutting costs:

+ TURN YOUR LIGHTS OFF. Decrease your power bill by getting in the very good habit of living in the dark. Not really. BUT, we are so good at only having the lights on in the room that is occupied. We have disciplined and trained ourselves into switching the light off as we leave any room. Our power bill has been as low as $5 {mess up?} and as high as $100. The average is $40. The only time it was $100 was when we had a roommate, a third body.

+ Eat out only 1 time a week. That's right! Pack your lunch the night before work, prepare breakfast and dinner. I invite you to check out how we Meal Plan & Budget, because it has helped so much!
As mentioned above, Meal Plan.

+ Consign your clothes and use the in-store credit as your clothes & jewelry shopping! Or, visit Ashten for a closet swap.

+ Wash your dishes instead of using the dishwasher!

+ Skip using your heat/air!
Tips on Budgeting

+ Make a list of wants/needs. If really needing to cut back and start saving, I suggest truly looking at your spending and make a list of all the categories of spending: shoes, clothes, food, gasoline, eating out, movies, toys, etc. Make a list of your needs. NEEDS: things you cannot physically live without. Food, rent/mortgage, bills, shampoo. Make a list of your not as necessary needs: gasoline (do you have a bus system? a bike?), eating out, clothes, internet, etc. Make a list of your wants & entertainment.As you add up the sum total of each category, compare it to your income. The most important things in your budget should remain, and go down the list and see what you can get rid of or decrease in spending for a time (or forever).
+ Account for every penny spent. I know, so boring, so tedious, and yet so important. Save those receipts and get in a routine of entering them into a spread sheet. That way, you can see what you realistically spend in each category.
Budget realistically. If you don't put enough money in a certain area, you are setting yourself up for failure and frustration.
+ Cash only. Leave your cards at home. When you use cash, you feel it disappearing. When you swipe a card, it is so easy to disregard and disconnect from the money leaving your account. Also, as you use cash more and more, it is easier to say no. In fact, I have come to a place where it is so easy to say no, simply because, "oh there is no cash in my wallet!" I have come to a place where my money and possessions are not tied to my identity or value - I am not jealous when people get something new or go on a beautiful vacation, I get to be happy for them! It is so freeing.
Cash in envelopes. Envelopes for each week is how we do it. We get paid two times a month, so we budget two weeks at a time. See below:
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+ Food Tab: envelope for week 1 and for week 1, each with its allotted cash. Same for our Gasoline Splurge/entertainment (coffee, eating out) Home (TP, paper towels, plastic baggies, detergent, soaps, shampoos) Decor (rug, fabric, towels, a decorative dish, flowers) Nat's Business (fabric for pillows or rice sacks, gasoline to a client, etc) Loren's Splurge (books, clothes, whatever) Beauty (make up, nails) Each of these budget areas, aside from gasoline and food, only get $10-$20 a week. Not much, but that in order to build a savings account and not go into debt, that is how it must work for now. Often, we won't spend any of the "decor" money and need a little more in the "home" area, so we swap around. It works! It always works out one way or another.
+ Use jars to save for short term goalsBecause we see saving for these things as a priority, our weekly budget binder is pretty tight. But when these things roll around and it is time for Christmas shopping or to purchase new tires or a birthday pops up or someone is in need of something... we have prepared to the best of our ability! Just as we stick $10-15 in our budget binder for each week, we stick $10-20 in our jars each paycheck. That is $20-40 towards each jar! And about $2o0 a month, depending on the month's true needs. We have been doing this since the beginning of our marriage and it has helped so much! It's also super fun to watch the jars grow.We have purchased with jar money: 75% of last years Christmas gifts; last year's Turkey dinner for Thanksgiving; baby shower and wedding gifts; plane tickets to Boise (2x); trips to Canada (2); art class; and we have a good chunk in out adoption fund! This is working! When things come up unexpectedly, say a dentist bill (this happened two months ago), instead of freaking out because of your tight budget or using your credit card, pull cash from the various envelopes. Use your home decor, your entertainment, and your clothing/beauty money. It is worth it.

Jar savings! Save up for trips, car tires, adoption, etc. 

+ Know your big bills, pay them online if possible, set up recurring payment plan for the day you get your paycheck. After they have been paid, go to the bank and take out your cash. It takes me 15 minutes TOPs to sit down, tally our income, swipe off our tithe, rent, bills, and then see what is left for our weekly budget binders. Almost always it is about the same per category (but our income wavers month to month). I then write out how many of what bill goes into each envelope, and I make it super easy on the bank teller. 
Example: Food = 2 at $100 ($200/2 weels), Gasoline = 4 @ $20 ($80/2 weeks), Splurge = 4 @ $10 ($10 each of us/2 weeks) 
Tally up how many of each bill, take it into the bank, and you've got a smooth transactions!
Ready to get serious about your budget?! Get started by downloading the sheet that Natalie uses each month HERE!

Learn more about Natalie by visiting her blog, The Brenner Bunch, or contact her if you need any help with your own budget! 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fall layers

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Around here, it seems that fall has finally decided to make its debut. The temperatures have been a lot cooler and I spent yesterday being extra thankful for my fuzzy socks and my husband's stash of sweatshirts. The mornings have been more than "crisp," and the sky has been a blue that you only see at this time of year. We have been spending a lot of time taking Eli to the playground near our house, we went to the pumpkin patch, and we were able to make it to a UNC football game this past weekend--one of my favorite fall activities. 

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I finally felt good about switching out all of my clothes and it's been so nice to feel like I have a whole new wardrobe to choose from. I pulled out things that I loved last season and forgot all about, paused to remember some of the good times that were enjoyed while wearing some of my favorite pieces, and feel the comfort of sliding on a pair of boots for the first time in months! I have always loved this time of year, and it just gets sweeter with each time it comes around. There's always so much joy and happiness as the air turns cooler and I can't wait to start turning towards the holiday season--a time full of celebration, family, and laughs. 

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I've been trying new drinks (Is anyone else totally obsessed with Panera's Caramel Latte?!), cuddling with my husband while we watch our favorite shows, and pausing in the morning light while drinking my coffee to feel my little girl bouncing around in the womb. It's a sweet time of the year, and boy do I love it. 

Is fall your favorite season? What fun things have you enjoyed so far this season?

*This post was linked up with Creative Closet.


Meet Rachel from Oh Simple Thoughts

One of the sweetest bloggers I know and one of my daily reads, Rachel from Oh Simple Thoughts writes a little something for everyone. She is passionate about cooking, sharing her faith, and offering encouragement wherever she can. Her passion for inspiring others shines through her blog and now, her Etsy shop Oh Simple Joys. The shop launched just yesterday and I am counting down the days until I get the adorable cozy I bought! Among adorable cozies, Rachel sells custom scarves, quote totes, and mugs! Everything is so adorable and all of the profits support her blogging ventures!! It's an absolute joy reading Oh Simple Thoughts each day and supporting Oh Simple Joys, so be sure to stop by and say hello!

Want to stay up to date on all the fun things happening with Rachel's shop? Follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram! Plus, enter to win a mug/tote here!

Monday, October 20, 2014

8 ways to prep for a custom blog design

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After blogging for quite a while, I came to the place a few months ago where I was ready to let go of the reins and let a professional create a custom blog design for me. I decided that after months and months of "designing" my own header, sidebar titles, and social media buttons, that I was done and ready to invest in the look and feel of my blog. I was honestly really terrified going into this experience because I wasn't really sure what to expect and it was hard to let go of that "creative control." I really liked being able to change things whenever I wanted, but knew I needed a design that people would recognize and appreciate. Now that I am on the other side of the blog design process, I wanted to share a few things that really helped (or would have helped) me out before I got the ball rolling! Hopefully, if you have been considering a custom blog design, these tips will help you!

Make a secret Pinterest board of inspiration
I actually didn't do this when I began the process of my custom design (I know, I suck), but I have heard of other people doing this and think it's a really great idea. My designer did a really good job interpreting what I meant by "calm, welcoming pastels and a clean design," but it probably would have helped her a good bit if I had searched for some color palettes that particularly spoke to me.

Sift through different websites and pin color palettes or actual sites with design features that you like. When you go to save your pin, mention in the description what you loved/hated about the site right then and there. That way, as you go through to fill out your design form (and as your designer takes a look at your board) there is that extra level of understanding. Be sure to make the board private so that only you and your designer know about the exciting changes that are coming! Everyone loves a surprise!!

Determine what type of design you like
You obviously want something that really shows your personality and is a good representation of the vision of your blog, but look around at some of your favorite blogs and think about what you like/don't like about their designs. For me, personally, I really gravitated towards the designs that were really clean, organized, and simple. Others like bold colors, bright patterns, and fun designs. All of those are great in their own way, but you have to pick something that really feels like you. You don't want to tell your designer that you want bold colors and patterns just because you think others will like it--it's your blog, so you really need to focus on your style.

Also, you should consider the style of all of the "must-haves" for your site. For example, you need to decide if you like your navbar better under the header, as a part of the header, or locked in place at the top of the site. There are so many different ways a design can come together, so if you're not sure if your designer can achieve that particular thing ask them!

Determine what you need
When you finally choose a designer and start your process, everything can be a little overwhelming. I have been at this blogging thing for a while now and I still was a bit unsure of which aspects of the design package I needed to pay extra for and which I would never use and could go without. A lot of this goes back to determining what kind of designs you like in the first place, but think about whether it's important to the flow of your blog to have things like a Pinterest feed, a custom ad, a search bar, category buttons, etc.! If you decide all of these things up front, it will help you choose a designer that can achieve everything you want, plus, you will be able to add up your totals quickly when shopping for the right person for the job.

Also note: some designers don't have itemized lists available on their websites that show the actual fee of little extras (like the design rights, business card design, etc.). If you are really interested in their work and style, go ahead and shoot them an email asking for a quote. You are potential business and they probably won't (or at least shouldn't) send you away. This is yet another reason why it's good to decide all of these things up front. If you get confused and aren't sure what you need, ask around on social media and see what your fellow bloggers have to say!

On the heels of that last point...SHOP AROUND
When you finally decide that you have the funds and dedication to invest into a blog design, it's really easy to want to hire the first designer you come across. DO NOT DO THAT! A custom blog design is a big deal and there are so many designers out there. Look around at some of your favorite blogs and see who designed them (there is usually credit at the very bottom of a site). Compare prices. Look at past work of the designer and determine if you really think they could create a site that represents you. Shopping around will allow you to not only choose someone that will do a great job, but also hire someone that will give you what you want/need at the best price!

Don't be afraid to ask questions and make revisions--basically, be honest.
Chances are if you're reading this post, you haven't gone through the process of getting a custom design done yet. So you will probably have a few questions, especially since each designer seems to do things a little differently. Don't feel bad about asking your designer for clarification on something and if you do reach out and they respond with hostility or impatience, you should maybe move along. The same thing goes with revisions. Most designers have a limit on the number of major revisions you can do, but in my opinion, it's the little things that seem to make the biggest impact on a design. If you are getting a custom design, chances are you are paying good money for it and since you are paying for something that is custom, if you feel like certain aspects of the design don't look right or fit your blog, you have every right to vocalize that.

Ask about timing and waiting lists
When you are "shopping" around for the perfect designer, be sure to keep an eye out for any mention of waiting lists and turnaround time. Even if you aren't in a huge hurry to get things done, go ahead and ask up front for a date of completion. The reveal of your design will be a big deal and you need to go ahead and get your designer to commit to a certain window of time so that there's some accountability there.

Get someone to take good photos of you
One thing that any blog design absolutely needs is a picture and name somewhere on the homepage. I know we are not all fashion bloggers and we don't all have really expensive cameras or the money to shell out for professional photos, but get a friend to snap a few really great pictures of just you! You will want a few really good ones to use on your homepage, your about page, and on any possible ads or business cards. If you go ahead and do this before you finalize the form for your design, you don't have to worry about having a gorgeous design with a blurry and pixelated picture on your homepage! Dress in whatever way makes you the most comfortable and make sure you have a few pictures of yourself that are mid-torso and up--a full body shot will be too far away for a picture on the home page!

Look ahead
Throughout all of the different things that you should consider and do before diving in to get a custom blog design, I think the most important would be for you to look ahead. Look ahead to the future--six months, one year, five years--and think about where you want your blog to be then. Getting a completely new design is something that will help you brand yourself and you should always be thinking about where you are headed, not where you are right now. Don't be intimidated by the custom blog design process--let yourself imagine the design of a blog that meets goals you have already set for yourself! Creative processes like these are so fun and unique, so use the talents of your designer to your advantage!

Do you have a custom blog design?

Want a few more blogging tips? Check out these posts:


Meet Anne from Love the Here and Now

The writer behind Love the Here and Now, Anne shares anything that strikes her fancy! She has great tips, some recipes,  and blogging tips, but doesn't lock herself in to just one topic! If you are interested in meeting new bloggers and sharing your posts, you can also link up with Anne on Wednesdays for her "Wednesday Wishes" series! It's so simple--just share a few things you are wishing for and link your post up! Anne is so sweet and her blog truly has something for everyone! Follow her on Twitter and Instagram to get to know her better!

Be sure to check out a few of my favorites by Anne:

How to create a custom email signature

The toughest job you'll ever have--YES!