Sunday, June 30, 2013

Half Way There

The year is half over!  It is hard to believe that my goals area already 6 months old.  There are several goals that have had to be changed and others I have already accomplished.  Here is a quick update on them.

Financial Wellness 
By the end of 2013, we would like to pay off over 20% of the current outstanding debt on our house.  To do this Anna and I will continue to work together with our finances  find more opportunities to earn and save more money.  We have also considered looking at selling our house, since we probably have a larger house then we really need. 
UPDATE:  Anna and I are still on pace to surpass this goal in 2013.  We have knocked another month off our debt free date and are now on pace to be debt free no later than June 1st, 2016!
Occupational Wellness 
One of my goals this year is to have portfolios prepared for every one of my students showing their specific progress based on the Humanities IB-MYP Objectives for 6th grade.  In order to do this, I will continue to stay organized and make sure to be given specific and meaningful feedback on all major assessments throughout the year. 
UPDATE: I have completed this goal and will not be adding another goal in this area this year so I can concentrate on the other areas. 
Physical Wellness 
I have many physical wellness goals this year.  One of my goals is to complete the entire week of RAGBRAI in July.  By the end of 2013 I would like to be back at my pre-broken foot weight. 
UPDATE: I have actually taken steps backwards on this goal and this month likely will not help as I am traveling most of it.  I still will be making this a goal and doing the best I can during the month of July.
Environmental Wellness 
One of my goals in 2013 is for William to complete the "Leave No Trace" requirements for cub scouts to learn the importance of taking care of our environment. We will work with William to learn to be intentional with doing things outdoors and indoors to help protect our planet. 
UPDATE:   William completed this achievement and got his award at the June pack campout.  I will not be creating another goal in this area to be able to concentrate on the other goals. 
Intellectual Wellness 
My goal for 2013 is to read at least 100.  As Charlie Jones said, "Five years from today, you will be the same person that you are today, except for the books you read and the people you meet."  I want to read some good books, so that I can be a better person five years from now. 
UPDATE:  I have currently read 46 books in 2013 and am working on several other ones.  I am currently three books behind pace to make my goal, but hope that July helps me catch up and get ahead while on vacation. 
Emotional Wellness 
I will continue to blog about my throughs and feelings at least once a week throughout 2013. I will also post additional content on my blog's facebook page 
A friend shared a great idea on facebook that our family has decided to put into action in 2013.  We will be keeping a "Good News Jar" to write notes of all the good things happening this year to open up and read on December 31st, 2013.   
UPDATE:  I will continue working on these goals even while traveling. 
Spiritual Wellness 
After finishing reading the Bible again in 2012, I plan on starting over in 2013.  In addition to reading the Bible, I will be using Tony Dungy's The One Year Uncommon Life Daily Challenge for my personal quiet time in 2013.  Another spiritual wellness goal of mine for 2013 is to begin weekly devotionals as a family at least 5 days a week using Bruce Wilkinson's Family Walk.
UPDATE:  We completed our marriage small group study in June.  Anna and I are working on a couple devotional together over the phone while I am away and in person when possible this month. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Keeping Priorities in Balance

One of the struggles I have while striving to live a balanced life is keeping my priorities in the right order.  I have many responsibilities to my family, at church, at work and within other groups I choose to be involved in.  Each of these responsibilities uses part of the the time I have each day.  Jon Acuff in his book Start says that we need to make sure to "disappoint the right people".  Who are the right people?  To know the answer to this question, we must know the priority order of our responsibilities. This will help us know who we should be disappointing when we are faced with a a decision with conflicting priorities.

Here is the order I believe our priorities should be and I will give some reasons why.  You can think about them and pray to help set your own order.

Priority 1: God
I believe that God should be our number one priority.  All other decisions and parts of my life are impacted on my relationship with God. This does not necessarily mean that your church activities come first, but your relationship with God should.  You need to make time to be in prayer and to study God's Word so that you can listen for what he is calling you to do in other areas of your life.

Priority 2: Spouse
If you are married, your spouse should be right below God and above everything else.  You need to continue to work on strengthening your relationship with each other.  God calls us to be one and you cannot do that without investing time into your relationship to communicate with one another about life.  If you have children it is important so that they can fill security of a strong marriage/family and have a model for relationships in the future.

Priority 3: Children
If you have children, we are called to take care of our own household or we are worse than unbelievers.  Not only does this mean providing for them financially, but being there to lead them spiritually, emotional, etc.  As a father I believe it is my job to help my son be the best version of himself he can be.  I want to help raise him to love God and to be a person of good character.  In order to do this we need to invest your time into our children.  Also, in order to take care of your family you need to take care of yourself, so I include my own physical/emotional needs under priorities 2 and 3.

Priority 4: Other Family Members
After you take care of your immediate family it is important to continue to strengthen your relationship with parents, siblings, grandchildren, etc.  This means spending time with them and helping them when needs arise.  You may even include close friendships into this priority level.

Priority 5: Work 
Whether we work outside the home or stay-at-home with the children we have responsibilities that take up time.  In Colossians 3:23-24 we are called to do everything we do as if we are doing it for God and that includes our work.  It is important to do the best we can at our jobs to be able to provide for our family, but also to represent our faith in the work environment.   We are called to be honest and be hard workers.

Priority 6: Friendships and Other Activities 
I include extra friendship time in priority 6.  I build friendships in throughout my life in the other priorities, but don't do as good of a job scheduling time to really build on these relationships as I would like.  Many times it friendship compete or are partnered with the activities I choose to prioritize.  To help prioritize the other activities in your life, you could make a list of the activities you participate in.  This list may include extra responsibilities at work, church activities or the clubs/associations you are a member of. When you finish compiling this list put the activities in order of highest priority for you.  By doing this, you will be able to know which ones are the most important.  Some strategies I use to rank my list include:

  • the difference I can make in people's lives by doing the activity.
  • the time the activity will realistically take away from my other priorities.
  • the difficulty of getting someone else to take the role instead of me.
  • the relationships (family and friends) that I could build on while doing the activity. 
I hope this helps you as you think about making a list of priorities in your own life.  What did I miss?  How would you rank your priorities? 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Liebster Award for Financial Blogs

I want to thank David Rudd at My 2 Cent Opinion for nominating Brown's Balanced Life for the Liebster Award.  This is an award that is passed onto new bloggers so they can introduce themselves to other members of the blogosphere.  I have really enjoyed blogging on living a balanced life and talking about my journey toward financial freedom. 

So here’s the deal:
  1. Each blogger should post 11 random facts about themselves.
  2. Then each award winner should answer the questions the nominator has created. 
  3. As a recipient you then choose 5 new bloggers (with less than 200 followers) to pass the award to and link them in your post.
  4. Now it is your turn to create 11 new questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer.
  5. Go back to their page and tell them about the award.
Random Facts about Josh:
  1. I am a Christian.  My faith is an important part of how I live my life. 
  2. I am the husband of Anna Brown.  My wife is an amazing woman and I am blessed to have her in my life. 
  3. I am the father of William, a 7 year old boy, who will begin 2nd grade in the fall.  William can make any day better with his smile. 
  4. I am a teacher.  I teach 6th graders and enjoy building relationships with my students and watching them grow and learn throughout a school year. 
  5. I love to exercise. I have not done this nearly enough this year due to breaking my foot.  Some of my passions are biking, running and playing sports. 
  6. I am very goal-orientated. I set goals regularly and then work to achieve them. 
  7. I am working hard to lead my family toward debt freedom.  We will currently have a debt free date of no later than July 1st, 2016. 
  8. I have three brothers who are all married.  Two of them have beautiful baby girls who are both less than a year old. 
  9. I am very active in the the education union.  I have served my association in many roles and most recently was elected to the National Education Association's Board of Directors to represent the state of Iowa. 
  10. I love to learn new things.  I currently subscribe to 20 podcasts and have a goal to read 100 books in 2013. 
  11. I have been blogging for just over a year.  I cannot believe I passed my 1 year anniversary without noticing.  Maybe I will notice for year 2. 

Questions from David Rudd:

  1. What is your favorite movie?  I really don't have a favorite movie anymore.  I enjoy watching movies with my son, so right now some of our favorites are any with super heroes.  
  2. If you had a super power what would it be? I would love to have the ability to fly.  It would save a lot of money on transportation and help me get places faster. 
  3. What’s the worst thing you've ever eaten? The worst thing I have ever eaten were frog legs.  I had them while in New Orleans and even tried them at two different restaurants incase I had a bad batch.  They were terrible.  
  4. What will be your next technology purchase?  Likely a new phone.  I have been out of my contract for nearly two years now and have a cracked screen.  I will make my current phone last as long as possible though. 
  5. What is your favorite show?  I really don't watch TV.   I do love listening to the Dave Ramsey Show on the radio though. 
  6. Would you rather have no teeth or no arms?  While neither would be preferable, I would probably choose no teeth since I could get dentures to substitute for my teeth. 
  7. What’s your favorite televisions show of all time?  Again I don't watch TV, but I loved The West Wing when it was on.  
  8. Why do you blog?  I blog as a way to process my own thoughts and to help other people. 
  9. What was the last book you read?  The last book I finished was A Leader's Legacy by James Kouzes and Barry Posner.   In the book they talk about questions and challenges leaders have as they build a lasting legacy.
  10. What’s the funnest trip your taken?  One of the funnest trips I have ever taken was with my wife a couple years ago.  We went to Italy to visit some friends and see the sites.  It was fun to be in another country and experience their culture. 
  11. If you friends had to describe you in 1 word what would it be?  It is funny, I actually just asked some of my friends what they thought I was known for and the two words that came up the most often were motivated and positive. 

Some of my nominees may not follow rules exactly, but I really dont' know how long people have been blogging or how many followers they have so I just picked five.  I know that MoneyPlanSOS has way more than 200 followers, but consider yourself nominated if you want to play along! 

Questions for nominees
  1. Why do you blog?
  2. What is your favorite financial book?
  3. Who are some of your mentors?
  4. What are some of your struggles balancing blogging with the rest of your life?
  5. What is your favorite thing to do when you have "free time"?
  6. What would you do if you were given a million dollars?
  7. What is some of the best advice you have ever been given?
  8. What is one of your long-term goals?
  9. If you could go back to a point of your history and give yourself some advice, what would it be?
  10. Would you rather give up the internet or your phone?
  11. What do you want your lasting legacy to be?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Called to Generosity

In the final class of The Legacy Journey, Dave Ramsey reminds us that we were made in the image of God and therefore are called to have a spirit of generosity.  Giving is the antidote to selfishness, so we should continually practice generosity.

Biblical Principles of Giving
  • Giving is an expectation of God's people.
  • Giving should almost always be done in private.  In very rare circumstances God may call you to use your giving to influence and inspire others, but this will not be often. 
  • Giving should include your time, your treasures and your talents.  This is not multiple choice, it is all of the above.  You can tithe in all areas, but you should not substitute your talents/time for your tithe of income. 
  • Giving is the most fun you can have with money.
  • Giving creates overflow in your spirit which will unlock your potential in many areas of your life. 
  • Unless you are called by God to do so, you should not give all of your wealth away.  You should not surrender your role as the manager of God's resources to someone else. 
  • Practice the displacement method when giving.  You can use the time, treasurers and talents God has blessed you with to displace evil in our world. 
  • Remember that you are the manager and not the owner of God's resources. 
  • Commit to due diligence when giving.  We are investing in the Kingdom of God so you should understand how the money will be used to further God's mission.  Do your research just like you would for your investing for your own future. 
  • Let your passions and values influence your giving.
  • Always ask yourself if you are wasting God's resources.  This will make sure that the focus in on how the money will further the Kingdom of God. 
  • Remember that we are blessed to be a blessing.  We are not blessed to consume everything but to be cheerful givers.
At what babystep should we be giving to others?
We should be giving our tithe (10% of our income) to our local church at all steps starting at step one.  We give our first fruits to God's Kingdom.  We begin to give extra starting at babystep 3.  We do this after we have taken care of our own household as the Bible calls us to do.  We then get to start "giving like no one else" through extravagant generosity when we reach babystep 7 or when God calls us to.  

I am looking forward to reaching babystep 7 and giving to causes and people that will further God's Kingdom here on Earth.  This was a great class and I would recommend it for anyone who has completed babystep #2 and wants to make sure to do the right things to change their family tree in a Biblical way. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Talk to Your Kids about Money

Schools are not being allowed the time or resources to teach students sound personal finance.  As parents, it is our responsibility to educate our children about handling money wisely.  If you teach your child to have a healthy relationship with money it will impact them positively for the rest of their life.  It is never too early to begin teaching your children how to handle money and introducing them to fundamentals of personal finance.  Here are a few tips.
1.  The number one key for our family is that we manage our money for God.  Therefore, we are called to only do things with our money that would glorify God.  We are also called to be good stewards of his resources.  We pass this down to our son through our words and our actions.  We make sure to teach our son a commitment to giving.  We are helping William establish his own habit of giving financially as well as looking for ways to give our time in service to others too. 
2. Use real world situations to talk about money issues.  Do not shy away from the topic of money with your children.  If they don't learn how to handle money in different situations from you, where are they going to learn?  Even if you do not have a perfect history with money, your children can benefit from hearing from your past mistakes and lessons you learned.   
3.  Start now!  As soon as kids can count you can introduce them to money principals.  Help them learn to tell the difference between coins and bills.  Then move on to help them learn how to save, spend and give.   We also feel it is important here to introduce to your children the idea that money comes from doing work.  Set your child up on a commissions so that they get paid for the work you agree for them to do in advance.  As your child gets older the jobs will change and increase in pay.  We used Dave Ramsey's FPU, Jr. kit with our son and found it to be a helpful tool. 
4.  Discuss other basic personal financial principals with your children as they are ready for them.
  • Help your children recognize the difference between needs and wants.  Too many people in our society today cannot accurately define these two words. 
  • Help your children set savings goals.  When they are young they may save for a toy and as they grow they may save for their first car.  
  • When your children are older teach them about long-term savings and the power of compound interest. 
  • Help your child be a smart shopper.  Take children through a store to see the prices of goods then go to garage sales or check online through stores like ebay.  Discuss the difference in prices with your children. 
5.  Once your children are old of enough you can include them in your monthly family budget meetings.  This will allow your children to appreciate how spending decisions are made and how much different things from your family budget cost.
6.  Let your children make their own money mistakes.  They may learn a lot from their mistakes.  The key is to keep your children safe, while allowing them to learn to handle money wisely. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Parenting Tools and Resources

One of my favorite parts of teaching with some dedicated men is that they have brought the All Pro Dad program to my school.  During the program dads and their children talk about various family issues.  One of the final sessions this year we were giving a "Parenting: Tools & Resources" guide. In the guide they had lots of great tips on how to make sure to put your family first (after God).

The first step of creating a family-centered life is to do a quick evaluation of your current situation.  What are you spending your time doing throughout the day?  How much of that time is dedicated to work?  How much of that time is dedicated with your family?  How much of that time is spent online, watching TV or on your phone?  How much of that time is spent with friends?

Once you evaluate your current reality, make a SMART goal on what changes you would like to see happen.

Here is a list of ideas that you may want to do with your family this summer:

  • Schedule some one-on-one dad (or mom) time with each of your children.
  • Have your entire family gather for dinner most days of the week. 
  • Hold a monthly home video night.
  • Hold a monthly family board game night. 
  • Include kids in family chores and work side-by-side each other in conversation. 
  • If you watch TV, mute the TV during commercials to talk about life or the show as a family. 
  • Go camping as a family.
  • Plan more family activities outdoors. 
  • Do some community service together while focusing on the ways God has blessed you and has called us to give back to the needy around us. 
  • Plan and cook meals with your child(ren) at home. 
  • Go to a museum and create a scavenger hunt for them to complete while they are there. 
  • Have a picnic at the park.
My favorite new suggestion that for this summer is to hold a "Un-Birthday" celebration.  Have everyone draw a family member's name out of a hat and - with a $5 limit - buy, wrap and give an un-birthday present to that person.  Make a cake to celebrate the un-birthday with everyone.  

Do you have any tips of ways to connect with your family during the summer months?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Dave Ramsey's Generational Wealth

The sixth lesson in Dave Ramsey's new class, The Legacy Journey, is about generational wealth.  Dave shows examples of how generational wealth is all over the Bible.  Families are called to be managers of God's resources and that responsibility is transferred with the wealth to your heirs.  Dave explains that wealth is not supposed to be about consumption, so the kids should not be looking at their inheritance as an opportunity to not work or to buy anything they want.  Generational wealth should be used for expanding God's Kingdom.  

Culture teaches us that money is evil and that people with money should leave their inheritance to charity, but this is not what the Bible teaches us.  Proverbs 13:22 states, "A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children, but wealth of the sinner is stored up in righteousness."  Families are called more often to mange God's money than institutions.  Families that understand that the money that comes to them through work, gifts, or inheritance is to be managed for God will not be ruined by wealth.  While leaving money to charities and non-profits is okay, it does not follow the spirit of scriptures.

So, how do you make sure that the wealth God has called you to manage continues to be managed well?  Teach your children how to handle money as I have written about from previous sessions.  In addition to this, you need to do some estate planning.  This is an important piece to ensuring that you are being a good manager of God's resources.

In your estate planning, you should first make sure that everyone over age 18 has a will.  There is a 100% death rate for humans, so you will die and you need a will! Here are some things you should know about wills:
  • Wills are state-specific, so if you move to another state you will need to redo your will. 
  • Always update your will when major events occur.
  • Married couples could do mirror-imaged wills. 
  • Wills allow families to function in a crisis situation.
  • Make sure you let people know what is in the will while you are alive so there are no surprises after you are gone. 
  • If you have a net-worth or assets over a million dollars, you will want to consult an estate planner.

A few other important things to consider regarding estate planning:
  • Most people do not need a living trust because it is not worth the hassle.
  • Do not deed your home to family members prior to death.  
  • Create a family constitution that will describe who you are as a family.

The final piece of advice that Dave gave in this lesson was creating a legacy box that contains all of your important information in one place.  This is something I am excited about doing for my family.  Creating a legacy box is one way you can communicate your love to your family.  Dave mentioned several things that you should include in your legacy box including the following:
  • An executive summary of what is in the box
  • All financial account records
  • All ownership records (house, cars, etc.)
  • All insurance documents (health, disability, life, etc.)
  • All investment account information (retirement, college, mutual funds, etc.)
  • A financial statement summary (debts/assets) 
  • Contact information for all accounts
  • Your will/estate plan
  • Your funeral plans (you should pre-plan, but not pre-pay)
  • Birth certificates, social security cards, etc.
  • Legacy letters for the future to be read on death or important events

After you create your legacy box you, may want to create an additional copy of all the documents and put them in a safety deposit box. Make sure to show your family everything ahead of time so they understand how to use it and find the information they may need.  You also should update everything on a yearly basis or when major events occur.  

Overall, this was an inspiring lesson about how to ensure that the legacy of your devotion to God is carried on here on Earth even when you are with Him in heaven!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Guest Post: Avoiding Retirement Pitfalls

Are you ready to make the leap?

Before you do, take action to avoid these retirement pitfalls. Making intentional choices will prevent your next phase of life from being stressful, when it should be peaceful. As others have undergone the transition to retirement before you, you can learn from their mistakes about how to handle debt and investments along with making sure both you and your spouse are ready to make this change.

Retiring with large amounts of debt: It will be difficult to manage your finances in retirement, if a significant portion is going immediately towards old credit card debt or unpaid student loans. At least try to make a dent in these before retiring, especially as these sorts of debt will continue to cost you in interest for sums of money that may have originally been much smaller.

Purchasing too much of your company's stock: While part of your 401(k) may allow you to purchase your company's stock at a lower price, you still want to limit how much you spend. Because you are already dependent upon the well-being of the company for your salary, consider only putting 10 percent of your investment funds toward your company. This will protect you in the future, so that if your company struggles, the impact on your personal finances will be smaller.

Not diversifying investments: This relates to the previous pitfall. Regardless of how early or late you start investing; relying on only a few stocks or mutual funds puts you at risk. Even though it may seem simpler to manage a basic portfolio, you will leave yourself vulnerable to market volatility. Instead, ensure your portfolio is balanced, containing multiple kinds of stocks and various sizes of bonds.

Your finances are not the only area to put in order for retirement. Take the time to also examine the relational aspect of making this huge life change.

Not coordinating retirement goals with your spouse: As you near the time you intend to retire, it is important to communicate your hopes and plans with your spouse; making income changes will affect you both. Not every couple is ready – both financially and emotionally – to retire at the exact same time. Make sure to discuss how one of you leaving your job will impact the other.

Another aspect of retiring together is looking at how you will be spending money after retiring. Do you have the same lifestyle expectations as your spouse? Do you have the same ideas as far as spending on hobbies or vacations? Answering these questions early will help to ease conflict and put together a plan that meets both of your needs.

Not making sure your spouse has access to funds: As you put money aside, you will want to make sure that either your spouse has power of attorney or holds accounts jointly. Skipping this step can become a major obstacle if there is an emergency like a stroke or premature death. Without a name on accounts, your spouse may have to file a petition to gain access to retirement accounts. Taking the time to prepare for both you and your spouse will safeguard the money that you worked hard for.

Alanna Ritchie is a content writer for, where she writes about personal finance and little smart ways to spend (and save) money. Alanna has an English degree from Rollins College.