Sunday, December 30, 2012

FPU Week 3: Cash Flow Planning

This weeks lesson was on cash flow planning (budgeting).  Creating and staying on a budget is the key to success in Financial Peace University and winning with your money.  Dave Ramsey says, "money makes a fantastic servant, but it is a horrible master."  If you don't tell your money what do to in your budget then your money (or lack of money) will control you.

The key to a good budget is that you tell your money where to go at the beginning of the month instead of trying to figure out where it went at the end of the month.  Lots of people think they budget but are actually tracking their expenses  In order to be a good steward of God's money you need to take control and tell it where to go at the beginning of the month.

One way to do this is to convert some areas of your life to cash.  Using a cash envelope system would be a way to limit your spending in categories to just what you have budgeted.  In order for this to work, you cannot cheat.  No using credit cards, debt cards, or cash from other envelopes when you come out short.  You are the manager of your finances, don't make it so you feel like firing yourself!

Some of the common reasons that cash flow plans or budgets don't work are:

  1. We leave things out (this will happen often at first, but you will get better at it).
  2. We overcomplicate the plan.  I know at first I spend a lot of time getting very detailed, but have simplified our budget and it has helped us be more successful.  
  3. We don't actually budget.  This goes back to the problem of just track our spending.  We need to actually create a plan on what our money will be spent on each month. 
  4. We don't actually live on the budget.  A plan doesn't help if you don't stick to it!
Make sure the necessities are a priority in your budget.  After our tithe, we make sure to our "Four Walls" are protected first.  As 1 Timothy 5:8 says, "If anyone does not provide for his own, and especially those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever".  You do this by making food, shelter, basic clothing, transportation and utilities priorities in your budget before other bills and expenses.  

Creating a budget will help you gain power and control over your money.  The easiest and most powerful plan, according to Dave Ramsey, is the zero-based budget in conjunction with the envelope system.  We have found this to be true with our family.  When we switched to a zero-based budget we were able to eliminate our debt, save and give like never before.  We felt like we got a raise!   One area that we are going to focus some intentional effort on in 2013 is to do more with the cash envelope system.  We will begin January using our envelope system instead of our debt card on for our Entertainment, Food, Gift categories and continue to use cash for our personal fun money.  After the month is over we will decide if we want to expand to more categories or even reduce the categories   

What are some strategies you use to be successful with how your handle your money?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

FPU Week 2: Relating With Money

This week Dave Ramsey and his daughter, Rachel Cruze, taught us how money impacts our relationships and how to build stronger relationships with our spouses and how to teach our kids about money.

Dave Ramsey used his humor throughout this lesson talking about the differences between men and women and the differences between nerds and free spirits.  Money is the number-one cause of divorce in North America.  Dave mentions that, "if money has the potential to be our worst area, then it also has the potential to be the best area of our marriage."  In order to win with money, both the husband and the wife need to be making the financial decisions in your marriage.  Of course the more "nerdy" or the one with the natural gift of budgeting can create the initial draft, but both the husband and wife need to have a say and agree on a budget each month or it just won't work.    In our family my wife and I are both on the nerdy side, but after taking the survey at the end of our unit I scored "ultra-nerd", while my wife scored "nerd-ish".

Dave talked about the importance of accountability partners for single people and creating a written plan.  Without these it is too easy to impulsively destroy your chances of winning with money and having financial peace.

Rachel came out on stage and talked about kids and money.  Teaching our kids how to handle money is not the school's responsibility, it is our responsibility as parents.  One of the things that Rachel stressed was to teach kids the value of money is to pay commissions and not allowances.  This  helps teach the principle that "if you work, you get paid; if you don't work, you don't get paid."  We try to use teachable moments to teach William about giving, spending and saving.  He uses three envelopes to save his commissions, money he makes from selling his stuff and gifts he receives from others.   The three envelopes he uses are "giving", "saving", and "spending".  He puts at least 10% of everything he earns and puts it into his giving envelope and then decides what causes to give to at church, school or in the community.  He then is able to divides the remaining ~90% into the other two envelopes. William has learned so much and has already learned to make wise spending decisions.

This was a great class, I am very passionate about living a legacy for William and future generations.  It is important that we teach our kids what the Bible says about handling money so they don't make some of the same mistakes we have made.  Proverbs 22:6 says, "Trains up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it."  As parents it is our responsibility to train our children not only how to handle money, but to be people of good character.  The Bible has a lot to say about these things, especially in the book of Proverbs!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Reflecting on 2012 Goals

In central Iowa today we have had a significant snow storm that has canceled schools and lots of businesses and therefore has given me an opportunity to reflect on my goals for 2012.  I listed out some of my goals for the last part of 2012 in a previous blog entry.  You can check it out here.

I am pleased to share that I was able to meet my social wellness goal by participating in various acts of service both at school, at church and with my family.  

We have started our second round of teaching FPU this month and I am look forward to future classes through the beginning of February of 2013.  

I also met my occupational, physical, intellectual, and emotional goals.  The toughest by far was the 21 day challenge to be complaint free.  I have sense fallen again but am a lot more intentional about my words and think I have become a much more positive person as a result in all areas of my life. 

I have not done very weel at meeting my environmental wellness goal.  I have continued to keep my computer on at night for efficiency of time management though I am not sure how much this has actually helped me.  I will need to look at this area to make a realistic goal for 2013. 

I have continued my daily reading of the Bible, but have not finished it yet.  I am on track to still complete my reading by the end of 2012 though.  My quiet time, while not daily, has been a more regular occurrence in December, I have a couple of daily devotionals I plan on beginning soon.

In a later post I hope to create some goals for 2013.  By making goals and writing them down I hope to be more intentional about the direction I want my life to go in.  By posting them on my blog I make them public to keep myself accountable not only to myself and God, but to you too.   What are some goals that you have for yourself in 2013?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Our Christmas Letter

12 Highlights of 2012 
Brown Family Memories 

2012 was a year full of many good things for our family. As the year draws to a close, we’d like to celebrate some special memories that came in numbered sets. Like the 12 days of Christmas, here are the 12 highlights of 2012 for our family:

12 Months of Love 
From January to December, our family has been blessed with a lot of love. We celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary this year and know that our love has grown even deeper since the day we said, “I do.” Through the hard times (like the passing of Josh’s Grandma Davis) and the fun times (like special trips as a family), our love and commitment has grown this year.

11 Towns Passed on RAGBRAI
When RAGBRAI passed through Altoona last year, Josh was inspired to try riding in it himself. This year, he joined the bike ride and did two days of the journey. He rode over 100 miles from Marshalltown to Anamosa. He got up early each day and made great time. The thing he enjoyed most was seeing the encouragement from the people in the towns he rode through.

10 Cub Scout Meetings 
Following in his Eagle Scout daddy’s footsteps, William joined the Tiger Cub Den in Pack 463 in Altoona this year. William has enjoyed doing “Go-See-It” field trips to the Historical Building, State Capitol and caroling at a nursing home. He’s working hard to earn badges and beads. This year he was already the third highest popcorn salesman in his pack!

9 Years of Teaching (for Anna) 
This fall, Anna began her 9th year of teaching in Des Moines. This year, she is busy with three preps: Conceptual Physics, Forensic Science and finally (after many years of waiting), Biology. She loves working with the staff and students at North High School. There are a lot of great things happening at this inner-city school and she loves feeling like her work there makes a positive difference.

8 Months of Blogging 
As you know, Josh is always busy with something. Between his work of passionately fighting for causes, meticulously organizing our family, and doing countless other things, Josh set a goal this year of maintaining a “balanced life.” To keep himself accountable and to record stories of his journey, Josh began his blog, “Brown’s Balanced Life” this year. On his blog, Josh writes about his efforts to maintain balance in his life. You can follow the blog at

7 Years at Goodrell (for Josh) 
This year marks Josh’s seventh year teaching at Goodrell. He is currently teaching 6th grade Global Studies, a social studies class that includes current events, culture, history and geography studies. He enjoys the enthusiasm of the 6th grade students. Some of his former students are even coming to North and have had both Mr. and Mrs. Brown as teachers! Josh also continues to be active within the teacher’s union. He is currently serving as the state executive board representative for the Des Moines Education Association. He was also elected Central Region Director for the National Council of Urban Education Associations this summer.

6 (And a half) Years of life (for William) 
William is very silly these days and brings lots of joy to our lives. He is a good singer, funny joke-teller and champion Lego builder. He is in first grade at the Downtown School and has done projects this year learning about apples and teeth. This year he even lost two of his own teeth and has two more wiggly ones right now. He is hoping he gets to sing, “All I want I want for Christmas is my two front teeth!” William also has been a generous giver this year donating some of his toys to others and giving away some of the money he has earned by doing jobs.

5 Days in Italy 
Anna’s surprise Christmas gift last year was plane tickets to Italy! This year, during spring break, we did a whirlwind tour of Venice, Pisa, and Rome. We were blessed to have our friends, the Hayes family, who were stationed near Venice as our tour guides. They were generous hosts and took us to all of the best restaurants, wineries and markets! We saw many beautiful and historic sites. It was amazing!

4 Small Group Studies 
This year we enjoyed growing closer to God and our Christian community by participating in four different Bible study groups. We did two Andy Stanley Bible studies, Financial Peace University by Dave Ramsey and Rick Warren’s 40 Days in the Word. Each study deepened our faith and walk with Christ.

3 People Running 
We were literally a very colorful family this year as all three of us ran in the 5K Color Run in Des Moines. This was one of many fitness challenges for us this year. Both Josh and Anna maintained memberships at Kosama. Josh participated in MANY runs including the Kosama warrior runs, Race for the Cure, Living History Farms race, Zombie Run, and even completed his first half marathon! Josh was awarded prizes in many of the races he ran. We are very proud of him!

2 Baby Nieces 
It was a joy to welcome our two baby nieces, Ava and Addie to the world this fall. They are both precious and perfect! We can’t wait to get to know them more and shower them with love. William is excited to be a cousin too!

1 Amazing God! 
We are honored to serve an amazing God. We experienced his grace in profound ways this year. He has challenged us to give and serve in new ways. We continue to be amazed by Him and look forward to many good things in the future!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Prayers Are Needed

I planned on writing a blogpost today and I just don't know what to write today after the tragic events that occurred yesterday at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  I a mix of numbness/sadness today while being grateful for my family. 

I keep asking myself what does this mean?  What can I do as a person, a parent or a teacher?  There really is nothing we can do to to fix the past, but as we look to the future we need to try to make the world the kind of place that we want our children to live in.  I may write more about this later, but right now I think we just need to pray for the 20 students and the 6 adults who were senselessly killed yesterday and their family/friends and the rest of the school community.

Some resources that I have found are listed below.  Please share other ones that people could use personally, parents could use to help their children or teachers could use to help their schools.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Giving Opportunity

The North High School National Honor Society students took on a huge volunteer project.  They are working on putting together gift boxes for all of the kindergarten students at Oak Park Elementary.  They would also like to make them for all the kindergarten students Findley Elementary.  Many students in these schools come from families that cannot afford to give much to their children for Christmas. 

They have already created enough boxes for all of the students from Oak Park, but need many more boxes to complete the goal of making them for all students at Findley too.  Students are selling candy canes at school, but they would have to sell quite a few to meet their goal.  

If you would be interested in donating to this volunteer project please let my wife, Anna, or I know.  Or if you would like to create a box, it would be great project to do with your own children or grandchildren.  Each box costs roughly $10 -15.  Students are adding at least 7 items in each box.  The items may include a toothbrush and paste, a pair of mittens and/or a hat, color crayons and a coloring books and a couple of fun toys.  The boxes would be designated "Boy" or "Girl".  

The students at North High School can wrap the gifts unless you or your family would like to do that.  Please let us know if you or your family would like to help the North High School National Honor Society with this awesome project.  

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Setting Our Children Up for Success

Most of us likely know that family income, race and the education background of parents have all shown a close tie to a student's grades.  What though, is the most accurate predictor of a child's school performance?  Many students have shown us that how well their parents create a home environment that encourages learning as key.  This is the job of both parents.  In too many cases raising a child and creating such an environment falls to just the mother.  Both fathers and mothers need to work together to foster a great home learning environment.

What can we do?  As Lori posted on the blog's facebook page, we need to get involved in our child's schooling.  As Sheila said, we need to actually find out what they are doing at school, be interested and encourage further exploration.

The average kid spends way too much time in front of the TV.  So let's shut off the TV and help develop the kind of culture at home that will encourage learning.  One key way that Cathy shared is to foster a positive environment at home that encourages learning is to read with your kids every day.  When they are younger read to them and as they grow have them read to you too.  Take your child(ren) to the library, it is free and opens up the world to them.  Help them find books that they are interested in.  

Let's take the tremendous power and responsibility of being parents seriously and take an active role in making sure to develop an environment that encourages learning at home and being interested in what is going on at school.  If you don't, who will?

Here is a top 10 tops for dads to get involved in their child's education from the National Fatherhood Initiative
  1. Don't let mom do all the work.
  2. "Show and Tell" how important school is. 
  3. Help with school work.
  4. Make school fun.
  5. Spend a day or two in class.
  6. Go to school and class events. 
  7. Meet with the teacher. 
  8. Join a group that helps parents become involved.
  9. Get to know other children and parents. 
  10. Ask your boss for time off.
While not all of these are possible for everyone, there are some great tips to help your child(ren) do well in school.  What will you commit to do to help your child be successful?  

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Super Saving

Today a small group of friends and I began our journey through Dave Ramsey's updated Financial Peace University course.  I am really looking forward to coordinating the nine week class with a small group and being able to discuss each lesson in a meaningful way.

Today's lesson was titled "Super Saving: Common Sense for Your Dollars and Cents".  Dave introduced us to the 7 baby steps and then talked about baby step #1 and 3 in detail.
  1. Save $1,000 into a beginner emergency fund.
  2. Pay off all debt (except the house) using the debt snowball.
  3. Put 3-6 months of expenses into savings.
  4. Invest 15% of your household income into Roth-IRA's and pre-tax retirement plans.
  5. Save for your children's college education using tax-favored plans. 
  6. Pay off your house early.
  7. Build wealth and give!
Dave Ramsey taught us today that saving must become a priority and we need to pay ourselves first.  I know this is something I have struggled with in the past.  One of the ways I have found I have been able to do this is to take it right out of our paychecks or by setting withdraws to happen automatically from my checking account so that I cannot spend or give the money away.  Dave covered three different reasons for savings.  They are to save for emergencies, to save for purchases and to build wealth.

One of my personal take-a-ways form today's lesson is that I need to get better at using a sinking fund for purchases I know will be coming up in the future.  We have chosen to stop borrowing money, so in order to make paying with cash/check/debit card easier Dave Ramsey recommends setting up a sinking fund.  A sinking fund is a systematic way of saving money over time for a specific purchase. This will allow us to put a line in our budget to set money aside for specific purchases like car repair/replacement, vacations, Christmas gifts, etc throughout a year.  This will keep purchases that we know will occur eventually from "sneaking" up on us. 

I am looking forward to improving this skill throughout the next 9 weeks. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Building Memories

One of the most important jobs I have been put on this planet for is to be the best father I can be to William. I have made plenty of mistakes with this job, but as with other areas of my life I am constantly trying to get better and improve. One of the best ways to help your child(ren) build great childhood memories is by doing things he/she enjoys with them. No matter how old your kids may be, take time to learn about what they are interested and try learning one of the activities your child enjoys.

Try finding activities you can do with your kids that they will enjoy and you will have fun with too. One of the things William has started to get into more is hitting a ball, I need to spend more time on nice days getting him outside throwing the ball to him and allowing him to hit it. As William grows up I know his interests will change and I will need to make sure evolve as a dad and keep learning about things he is interested in stay a critical part of his life and stay bonded.

Take time this week to find out 2-3 things that your son(s) or daughter(s) are interested in and schedule some time to do at least one of those things with them each week. You and your child(ren) will have a great time and you will be building great childhood memories for them and taking advantage of one of the greatest gifts God has blessed you with.

What are some of your favorite things to do with your child(ren) or what are some of your favorite childhood memories with your parent(s)?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Never Forget

On Thursday this week Marion Blumenthal Lazan, a holocaust survivor, will be visiting my school.  It is a great opportunity for all students (and staff) to hear from someone who lived through one of the horrific events in our world's history.  It is important that we continue to take advantage of these opportunities so we do not forget the wrongs of mankind in the past and realize the power that people have.  I hope that students will appreciate that they are the last generation of people who will be able to hear firsthand from a survivor of the holocaust and gain a respect for others that may be different from them.

You can read an article about Marion Blumenthal Lazan here.  She has written a book, Four Perfect Pebbles, about her experiences.

We can never forget this terrible event from history and must learn from the sins of ourselves and others.  A goal/standard I am trying to hold myself to is to keep working on improving.  In order to do this I need to reflect on my sins and the mistakes of others to learn from them and make myself better. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Making a Difference

This week I have been working as part of the National Council of Urban Education Associations (NCUEA) Executive Board to put on our fall conference to train local urban leaders using the theme "Local Organizing...Engaging and Energizing Members for Action."  It has been a great week so far and am humbled by the expertise of all the leaders and educators I am working with this week.  There are hundreds of passionate leaders in education here wanting the same thing - to make a difference in the lives of our current and future students.

I have been able to attend a variety of training sessions and talk to guest speakers/presenters from across the country and will be able to use the valuable information I am gaining to help strengthen out local association and to help me in my state and national roles within the association as well.

NCUEA is an organization that empowers it's members by building relationships among local urban leaders form across the country and helps us make connections to partner organizations that want to work with us.  NCUEA helps grow leaders and make them more effective.  I am looking forward to continuing my work with NCUEA and striving to make a difference for my son, William, and all other students in public schools across our country.

Don't forget to go to my blog post reviewing Living Beyond Rich to enter to win a free copy of the book.  I know have facebook page for this blog and I would love for you to like it!