Tuesday 28 January 2014

How we budget - and getting you started too! (Free Download!)

The #1 money saving tip you'll hear over and over is HAVE A BUDGET.  We're making it really easy for you by providing a template of our own homemade budget spreadsheet*.  We started with a version of this when we married in 2011, and over the past three years it has evolved into a more organized (and more aesthetically pleasing) document.

If you're not used to doing it, it may seem daunting, and will take more time when you're starting, but you will definitely get faster at it, and it will be worth it!  I probably use one afternoon (2ish hours) a month, and that's all!  We review casually throughout the year, and then do a major review at the end of the year.

I must admit I even find it to be a fun sort of "game" each month.  Tally up the totals and see - did we go over, did we stay under budget?  Why are we spending more in a specific category?  How can we keep it down?

This would be a great task for your children to help with too.  They could be in charge of one category (groceries would be a great one).  Or you can give them their own spreadsheet, delete the categories they don't use, and start them on the right track young!  Your enthusiasm will be contagious as they see you doing the same thing.

I think once you download it and take a look it will all be pretty clear, but here's a little look at what you'll see:

Basically you list any income (gross, taxes, net) in the top section.  We've divided it between spouses, with additional lines for government income and gifts.  There is a section for giving where you can include tithing, or other giving categories (we call ours hospitality).

Below that, the bulk of the spreadsheet is devoted to expenses.  This is where you'll spend most of your time each month.  Over the years, these are the categories we've come up with for ourselves - but feel free to delete, add or edit as fits your family (see tips below for how to do this).  All you do is sort your expenses for the month, add them up, and put the total in the corresponding cell.

Then after you have a few months, the spreadsheet will give you all sorts of neat data to work with!  You'll see your monthly average, your yearly total, and a graph with your total monthly spending.

At the end of the year, you can use columns X, Y and Z to compare your monthly average with your budgeted monthly expenses, as well as your yearly totals.  And come up with your new budget for the following year.

Download the template here.*  (We've also included a bonus Balance Sheet template to keep track quarterly of your total monetary assets).

*The link will open a preview in Google Drive, click the downward facing arrow at the top left of the screen to download the Excel file to your computer.

  • Do your best to come up with your budget numbers for each category, but don't fret too much about them to begin with.  After a few months you'll have a better idea of what is realistic and where you'd like to try spending less. 
  • Collect your receipts in one place throughout the month.  I keep mine in my wallet, but at the end of the month I ask Andrew for his, and we have a spike peg where we can put them throughout the month too. 
  • Don't forget to check your credit card statements.  These days, its easy to make an online purchase and forget that you did when you're going through your receipts.  A quick scan on your statement after you've done the receipts and you will probably be able to pick out new expenses pretty easily.
  • If you have any bills that are payed automatically or that you do online, enter them into the budget right when you pay them.
  • Try not to fall behind.  It can be overwhelming (trust me, I know) to have to do three months at a time.
  • Add comments to cells to keep track of any unusual items purchased that month, or what the budget was spent on. (I do this almost every month for gifts, misc, ...)
  • To insert a row, right click on the row below where you want the new row to be.  Select "Insert row".
  • To delete a row, right click on the row and select "delete".
  • To edit a cell, double click on it.
  • Cells with red triangles in the corner have a comment.  However over the cell to see the comment.
  • To insert a comment, click on the cell and then right click and "Insert comment".  Select "Edit comment" to edit one.  
  • If you double click on a cell with a formula, excel will highlight the cells involved in that formula, and you can see it in the "Formula bar" at the top. 
  • Here is a little diagram labeling the parts of the excel screen.
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Wednesday 22 January 2014

Saving Mr. Banks Movie Review

Saving Mr. Banks, a movie about a movie, is the latest "family friendly" Disney film about when Mr. Walt Disney himself tried to get the Mary Poppins books unto the big screen.  The author of the Mary Poppins novels, P.L. Travers (played by Emma Thompson), is a grumpy woman in her 60's who is worried that Disney will change the character she created and loves, and doesn't want to let go of the rights without a fight!

It's fun to re-hear the songs from the original Mary Poppins movies, and to remember a film you might not have seen since you were young - but this movie is really about much more than the flying nanny.  It's a story about a woman who won't let go of a hurt she felt half a century ago.  It's about fathers and daughters. And it's about the place of whimsy and truth in our everyday lives.

You probably know as well as I do that Hollywood doesn't make movies without a message - and even in this innocent looking film, we can see a worldview being exposed.  Now I know there are probably many of you who REALLY loved the movie, but I think it's important that we don't become too emotionally connected to what Hollywood puts out (that is their specialty after all) to be able to consider films critically in the light of the truth we have from God's Word.  And so I want to bring up two messages I believe the film is sending:

  1.  It's perfectly acceptable (maybe even desirable) for a parent to love their children more than their spouse.  I believe this is a message we are finding more and more throughout our culture.  I just recently read an article in Maclean's magazine about co-sleeping and it stated that many women cling to their relationships with their children because the mother-child bond should last for life, as opposed to the husband-wife relationship which could break-down at any time.  This is certainly not what we see in God's plan for marriage.  He has told us "What God has joined together, let not man separate"(Mark 10:9).  Marriage is designed to be a picture of the amazing, eternal relationship Christ has with his Church.  Through it we have an opportunity to show just a little of the unconditional love God demonstrates us, and a husband is called to a regular life of self-sacrifice for his wife.   This is not what we see in Saving Mr. Banks.  It broke my heart to see how this husband treated his wife - how he obviously put his relationship with his children before his relationship with her.  She knew it, and in the most disturbing scene of the movie, it almost leads her to kill herself.
  2. Reality should be escaped, and only when we pretend the world is an illusion can we be happy.  This is a sad message at best, but ultimately I believe it is a dangerous one.  God created this world perfect, but because of sin we now live in a greatly flawed version of his original creation.  So yes, there are harsh realities we will face - dramatic, life-changing ones, alongside the everyday disappointments of life.  However, that is our burden to bear just as much as the next persons, and how much help can we be to others if we refuse to acknowledge the hardships that we, and they, are facing?  Although in the movie we see this most through the character of the father, it also comes through in a small way by the end of the movie.  P.L. Travers tells us that Mary Poppins wasn't about hiding hardships, instead she loved truth - and helped the children understand and deal with things that were hard.  But I'm not sure if the movie overturns this idea by the end, celebrating the fact that they would paint a more ideal picture of her father (and of Mary Poppins) than the one she actually knew to be true.  We could view this as thinking the best of others - which certainly is a good thing to do - but I fear the movie errs on the side of deluding ourselves about the ways others have hurt us.

What did you think of Saving Mr. Banks?  Are their other messages you see throughout the film?  (I think it also commented on forgiveness, money, our own view of self...) Were there more positive aspects you appreciated?  Share share share! :)

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Monday 20 January 2014

Is it wrong for LEGO to market to girls?

This week I read an article from Huffington Post titled "LEGO Friends Petition: Parents, Women and Girls Ask Toy Companies to Stop Gender-Based Marketing".

My first reaction is what a silly request that is.  In this world, there are men and there are women - and part of good marketing is knowing your audience and aiming your product or ad at them!  All sorts of products are aimed at men or women - I buy orange, squishy handled razors, and Andrew gets blue, plastic ones. I got Pioneer Woman's cookbook for Christmas, not Pioneer Person's Cookbook.  The sweater I'm wearing right now has pink stripes and was in the women's department at Old Navy.  So if we're okay with every other area marketing specifically towards men or women - why would we expect differently of toy companies?

Those were just my thoughts from the headline!

It seemed the real issue of the article (which was from 2012, but I found via this article written in 2014 - which is basically a rewrite of all the same points), was a new line of LEGO called "LEGO Friends" marketed at girls. It includes sets which the article mentioned (a dream house, splash pool and beauty shop) and ones it didn't (adventure camping, lemonade stand, and sunshine ranch) - yes mostly in shades of pink and purple.

And here I get a little confused... are they against pink and purple LEGO?  That seems to be part of it.  But certainly some girls enjoy playing with pink and purple LEGO!  In grade school, I remember one friend had some and I thought that was really neat!  Would I refuse to play with the red, blue, yellow LEGO?  No!  But it was fun to see it in my "favourite colour" too.

Maybe their issue is that these are sets, not just plain LEGO building blocks. The article quotes one mom: "I have no problem with them making pink LEGOs, but I really hate the message they send.  [Riley] doesn't need to be building a hot tub and serving drinks.  I want her to build whatever she wants."  But LEGO has been making sets for a REALLY long time - fire stations, airports, spaceships, and lots of popular culture type sets - Star Wars, Batman, etc.  And I'm sure lots of girls loved to play with them - but perhaps they have different interests - and maybe they're really excited to see a set based on something they love to do.

(For the record, we believe that the beauty of LEGO is in the ability to use your imagination, creativity, and early engineering skills to dig pieces out of that big box of random blocks and come up with something all on your own.  We've already got the big box of LEGO up in Jake's closet, waiting for him to get past that choking hazard age.  And it will most likely be this same box of LEGO that his little sister will end up playing with too.)

It seems to me that what is really happening here is a an agenda to pretend that there are no differences between girls and boys, but when looked at critically the argument throughout this article is rife with inconsistencies and just doesn't make sense.  It's hard to argue that girls and boys are the same because, well, they aren't!

To end, I do want to say that I do disagree with the common theme in newer versions of classic toys which give the girls more shapely, mature and sometimes obviously sexy bodies.  For me, that is the glaring difference between the before and after pictures at the end of the article for various toys (Strawberry Shortcake, Candyland, Rainbow Brite, etc.).  And that would be a valid issue to take up.

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Tuesday 14 January 2014

Growing Your Blog While Managing Your Home - Review and GIVEAWAY!

I've been blogging on and off since my university days.  Really it's been more like "dabbling" than "blogging".  I like to write and it seemed like a fun thing to do - so I jumped on the bandwagon.  However, without a focus, and without a vision - each of my previous attempts quickly dwindled.

It wasn't until after I was married (almost 3 years ago), that with the encouragement of my husband I considered taking it up in a more serious matter.  It is a passion of both of ours to encourage other Christians, and blogging seemed like a great platform for doing so.  But I think without the friendship of Jacinda (who blogs at the very popular Growing Home), I never would have had the nerve to really jump in with both feet!

My husband knew Jacinda and her husband before we were married through the local homeschooling circles, and he mentioned that he thought we would get along - he was right!  We have been so blessed to share in the sweet friendship of another young Christian couple whose convictions line up so similarly with ours.

When we saw what a positive impact Jacinda was able to have for the glory of God through her blog, we were excited about doing similarly.  With her encouragement, and certainly with her practical advice - we decided to go for it - and that's a large part of what you see here at WHO CAN STAND today.

And so I am VERY excited to be offering you an opportunity to read her new e-book Growing Your Blog While Managing Your Home - because I can tell you, she's the real deal!  I've been to her house - and she manages her home!  Her husband and her share a vision for the family economy, which she deftly employs while carrying out the noble task of mother to her three darling children.

If you are just starting out blogging, and considering making it more of a opportunity to bless your family financially - than there is no better resource for you than Growing Your Blog While Managing Your Home.  Tackling the subject from a Christian mother's perspective, who understands her role as helpmeet, mother and homemaker, I truly believe this is a unique resource.

The e-book (available in Kindle or PDF) is divided into four sections:
  1. Creating a Vision and Maintaining a Schedule
  2. Content and Design
  3. Growth and Monetization
  4. Logistics and Legalities.
In the first section, Jacinda begins by challenging you to ask the questions "To Blog or Not to Blog", noting that it is of the utmost importance we have our priorities in line.  She shares her own daily schedule, a lengthy list of practical time-saving homemaking tips - and then lest you think she is wonder-woman - she shares another list of things she doesn't do (iron, dust weekly, bake homemade bread, etc) - a pretty funny read!

As well, much of what has become second blogging nature to me now is practical advice I took from Jacinda's section on Content and Design.  She tackles topics like titling your posts, editing photos, finding inspiration, and ideal lengths for posts.  As well, she includes her own little snippits of html code, which make it so that even you (yes you!) can customize the look of your blog beyond the usual templates you find on Blogger or Wordpress.

In the section on Growth and Monetization, she tackles how to use all the big social networking sites (Facebook, Pinterest, Google +, Twitter) to your advantage, as well as providing detailed guidelines and tips for the various ways you can make money through your blog.  It is clear that Jacinda is sharing tried and true wisdom, and its wonderful to have all this advice in one place!

(You can view the complete Table of Contents here.)

All this to say, you will be well prepared to face just about any blogging challenge with Jacinda's e-book in hand.  For the rest of this week, it is on sale for HALF PRICE - only $3.99.

You can also enter below to win a copy, and if you do, but you've already purchased one, Jacinda will refund you the cost.  So buy your copy now, because after Saturday (when the giveaway also ends), the e-book will be back at it's regular cost of $7.99 (still well worth the price)!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Monday 13 January 2014

Who is it blogging back here?

It's been almost a year since I've been writing this blog and I've really loved it.  But as Andrew and I considered our vision for 2014, I realized I had gotten to a place where I felt like I had to be a certain type of person when I sat down behind my keyboard. Without anyone else placing this pressure on me, I had become paralyzed by the idea that everything I said had to fit a certain mold.  Except the mold was one I had created - a fictional mold about what "someone who writes a blog should be like".

And so I'm trying to break out of that, and just go back to being myself when I sit down with my laptop! This blog is a place where Andrew and I really do pray God will use us to encourage others, and so yes, what I say matters.  I want to be honoring to God, and I don't want to waste your time, or mine.  But just like in real life, there are infinite ways to do this!  So the content of this blog may sometimes be serious, sometimes be practical, and sometimes be lighthearted - just like I am!

To go ahead and give these shackles a good shake - I'm just going to tell you some things about me - the girl behind "WHO CAN STAND":

  1. The amount of love I feel for Andrew is CRAZY. It motivates me to pray for and encourage my single friends to really seek out the person God has for them, not choose according to their own agenda.
  2. I love to play board games (our favourites right now are Settlers, Bonanza, Dutch Blitz and Euchre).
  3. These days, I think about having our baby (did you know its a girl!?) ALOT.  I'm 37 weeks as of yesterday - which means technically I'm "good to go" anytime!  That said, last pregnancy I went over by 14 days (yes a full two weeks!), so I'm trying not to get too excited (but not really succeeding).
  4. Jacinda from Growing Home is a dear friend of mine and a major inspiration for starting this blog.  I think she has SUCH a gift for writing the truth in love, and that God really has and is using her platform to reach so many, in addition to blessing her family while operating in the role God meant for mothers. Also her blog really is one of my favourites to read!
  5. I also love The Pioneer Woman blog - it is definitely my favourite source for recipes, and Andrew got me her newest cookbook for Christmas!
  6. Every night before we go to bed, we peek in at our little toddler just to see how cute he is (and cover him up with some blankets).  I love this part of the day.
  7. Part of what I'd like to do is share more of the interesting stuff I read online, over on our Facebook page. Between Andrew and I, one of us has always got something to share with the other that we read - so we might as well share the love!  Dinnertime conversations starters for your family! :)
  8. When we first got married, Andrew said he'd like for our family to sing together - hymns, choruses, or other songs of worship.  I thought this was a bit strange - but now it is one of my favourite parts of the day!
So there - now you know some things about me!  Some of those you're likely to find really effect what I write here, and some you might never have known but for this post!  

And truly, I feel that this blog is a two-way platform.  I'd like to know who you are - person reading!  What are you like? Why are you reading?  Go ahead, introduce yourself!  I hope to be around more often this year :)

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