Ah, Mickey Mouse. The loveable little rodent that anyone over the age of 18 months associates with Disney. He’s lovable, slightly annoying at times, a money making machine – and he sucked me into his little trap.
On our first vacation after our honeymoon, Rebekah and I went to Disney World. Being a big kid at heart, it was fun to go even without kids and enjoy the warm Florida sunshine together. While there, we went to the Disney Vacation Club presentation with the intent of going just for the free gift. We ended up walking out as Vacation Club Owners. At the time, it seemed like a really good idea – we’d have paid for vacations for the next 50 years, we had to use-or-lose the vacations, we could stay at the really nice Disney resorts, etc. Just had to take on a new mortgage and then pay the monthly taxes and maintenance fees.
Being a young couple with no kids and pretty good incomes, the mortgage wasn’t a big deal, nor were the monthly fees. Shortly after purchasing, we took a trip to Florida again using our points – stayed in a nice Disney resort for a week and loved it. Still – no issue making the payments.
Once the girls were born and we started working the Dave Ramsey plan to get our finances in order, we paid off the mortgage on the Vacation Club and were left with only the monthly fees. Again, they were not killing us, but I did notice they started to go up every year.
Since the girls were born, we’ve used our vacation club at non-Disney resorts exclusively. Which meant each time we booked a reservation, there was a $95 exchange fee. Not that excessive really. But I started to take a harder look at this and noticed something interesting. We were still having to pay for our food, entertainment, etc. for the trips we took. We are pretty frugal on vacation and frequently eat at home rather than pay for dining out. So those costs were the same whether we had the vacation club or not.
What I started to put together was that for our most recent trip, we stayed for a long weekend at Myrtle Beach in a 2 bedroom condo. The condo was paid for by our vacation club – and we had a limited number of choices at Myrtle Beach. Since this was our only vacation of the year, the cost of the condo alone was our monthly fees PLUS the $95 exchange fee. By the time you add all this up, our long weekend (3 nights) in Myrtle Beach cost close to $1,000. We still had to add in gas, food, groceries, entertainment, etc. The condo was nice – it wasn’t that nice.
I thought to myself that we could easily do a nice vacation wherever we wanted by using coupons, online deals or whatever for $1,000 or less – for a longer stay. Our stay in Disney for 7 days – with park admission, full meal plan and lodging was only a little over that. Surely we could do non-Disney vacations for that.
With that in mind we looked at selling our membership. We lucked out and found a service that specialized in DVC sales – The Timeshare Store. We contacted them for more information on a Friday – by Tuesday, they had a buyer and the membership was sent to Disney for right of first refusal, and should be closing on the sale in the next few days. We’ll continue to put the same amount that we were paying in monthly fees into a vacation fund and have that for our vacation next year. However, since we’ll make a little bit of money back on the sale – we have some money to put on our debt snowball and keep working toward financial freedom.
It’s nice to know that for the same amount of money, we’ll still be able to stay in a nice hotel on vacation, but will have less debt to worry about. I’ve learned that things that sound like a good idea in the heat of the moment are really dumb when you take about 10 steps back and really consider everything involved.
We liked the DVC membership, but it didn’t make sense for use to own it when we still had some debts lingering over us. It’s even likely that we’ll buy back into a DVC membership sometime in the future – but it’d be with cash, and likely a resale. One less thing to worry about now – on to the next hurdle!
Over the last few weeks I’ve been asked by several people (friends, family, friends of friends, etc.) how in the world Rebekah and I have paid off so much of our debt and just keep killing it day after day. The short answer is with a lot of hard work and sacrifice. The long answer could really be broken down into the following tips. Read the rest of this entry
I’ve been eating pretty healthy the last few weeks by cooking a lot of my own food and we’ve been eating out less and less. And even when eating out, I’ve been skipping the fries (except for the occasional cheat) or other “bad” foods. By using LoseIt (thanks my buddy PT for that one!) I’ve been tracking my eating and watching my macro-nutrients (fat, carbs, and protein) pretty close and trying to hit my calorie amounts and seeing what my macro split was. I wasn’t really trying to hit a certain ratio or a number of grams of anything other than 200g of protein daily.
Read the rest of this entry
Recently I’ve been training pretty hard in preparations for my initial Spartan Race in March 2013 and really have enjoyed training again. I look forward to the training sessions each morning and really do enjoy beating the crap out of myself at 5:30 AM.
One thing I’m still struggling with however is my goal setting. I thought that paying my entry fee for the Spartan Race would give me a goal and that would be all I needed to do. I’m still doing much better than I was, but there’s still that constant struggle in my own mind with what my short term goal needs to be.
Read the rest of this entry
I’ve been trying to watch what I’m eating here lately but have missed some sweet snacks. So I found a great recipe for protein bars from Jamie Eason, which I’ve modified slightly and make them as cupcakes rather than bars. I make a batch of these about once a week and snack on them whenever the sweet tooth hits.
- 1 Cup Oat Flour (I make my own out of about 1-1/3 cup of whole quick oats)
- 4 egg whites
- 2 scoops vanilla whey protein (I’m using new formula EAS Whey, so I actually use 4 scoops or 2 servings)
- 1/2 Cup Splenda
- 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 8 oz apple sauce or berry flavored apple sauce
- 4 oz water
- 3 tbsp baking cocoa
- Preheat oven to 350° F
- In a large bowl, mix all dry ingredients (whey, Splenda, oat flour, baking soda, salt, cocoa)
- In a medium bowl, mix all wet ingredients (apple sauce, egg whites, water)
- Combine wet and dry mixtures
- Spray muffin tin with cooking spray (or use baking cups – I have silicone ones that work really well).
- Bake for 20 – 30 minutes until done.
- Makes 12 servings
Nutrition Information (as calculated by LoseIt.com)
Per 1 cupcake serving:
- Calories: 77
- Fat: 1 g
- Carbohydrates: 10.2 g
- Protein: 6.6 g
Hope you enjoy these as much as I do.
I’m sure all 2 of my readers, Facebook friends and Twitter followers are tired already of hearing me ramble on about the Spartan Race coming in March of next year. I know I’ve been posting a lot about the training I’m doing, sharing lots of Spartan Race’s photos/updates on Facebook, etc. I’d like to say that I’m sorry for it, but that’d not be the truth. *GASP!!* But here is why…
I am a very goal oriented person. Without having a goal to shoot for I feel lost and lazy. It’s true in my home life, my work life and my hobbies. If I don’t set a goal of what I want to accomplish, it simply won’t get done. By registering so early and paying my money out, that cemented the goal for me to compete in and complete the Spartan Race.
By posting that I’m headed to the gym, or sharing photos from the current Spartan Races, it helps keep my goal in sight and remind me what I’m working toward. It also serves as a way that if my posts start to fall off, I’m hoping that someone will ask me about it and give me the kickstart I need to keep going if I had fallen off the mark.
How Training Has Been Helping
Training for the race has helped me bring routine back into my days. I’m up at 5 am everyday (including Saturday and Sunday). I don’t train everyday though, Wednesday is an off day to meet with my men’s prayer group, and Sunday is a 50/50 shot I’ll train depending on whether I am drumming in the worship band that day. But each day starts out at the same time, so I know going to sleep the night before exactly what time I’m getting up and getting my day started.
By following a routine I had a pleasant surprise that it gave me time to have a morning devotional. I use a pre-workout supplement powder (Optimum Nutrition Essential Amino Energy) to help clear the cobwebs out at 5 am and it takes about 20 minutes to kick in. So while I’m mixing it up and drinking it down, I take the 20 minutes or so that it takes to kick in to spend some time in the Word, read a devotional message and pray for the events of the day.
It’s pretty awesome how much better my days have been going since I started this Spartan Race training and getting each day started right – both physically and spiritually.
30. Yep, I’m turning 30 in a couple of weeks. It’s one of those birthdays where you look back at all you’ve accomplished – well at least for me. I know some folks see it as a death sentence…
I look at life now and I have a beautiful wife, two amazing kids and a great job. I look at some of the hard work put in over the last couple of years and see that we’ve paid off almost all of our debt – we just have a couple of items left, but at least Sallie Mae doesn’t get any more of our money!
One thing I’ve really noticed over the past few years has been what really motivates me to get of bed in the morning. When I was in my early 20s, I was very overweight at 305 lbs. It took a picture with my brother where I saw just how much bigger than him I was and how sloppy I looked. That flipped a switch in my head and I started working out in some fashion daily. We had a Bowflex at home and I started using it to lift weights and walk on the treadmill. I got my eating under control and the weight started coming off. I set a goal to get down to 240 lbs and any time I lost focus I pulled that photo back out.
The goal of “losing X lbs” has lost it’s luster on me as I’ve gotten older. I had set a goal of losing 30 lbs by my 30th birthday. I took off like a mad and actually dropped 10 lbs, but laziness and many other things crept in and that goal of 30 lbs faded into the distance. Even though I had written my goal down on paper and had set a path to achieving it, I ultimately failed to accomplish my goal. I can say this even though my birthday is a few weeks off because I in fact gained those 10 lbs back and gained a few more on top of that.
It’s becoming more clear to me as I’m getting older that I need a concrete deadline with a specific goal attached to that deadline to keep my focus. It’s also more clear that watching the scale is a terrible way to set my goals. It worked when I was radically overweight as I wasn’t carrying the muscle I am now and it was clear that as the number on the scale went down, so did my waistline.
After becoming a gym rat, I also equated losing weight with hitting the gym every single day. No rest, no days off. No cheating on my diet – and radically restricting my diet on top of that. All it did was run me into the ground and I got really cranky (as Rebekah can attest). I also had no stake in the game. If I lost the weight, great! If not, eh, I’m still here, just a bit more to love than I’d like.
So what am I going to change in my goal setting?
I’m giving myself a concrete deadline and putting some stake in the game by signing up for next year’s Spartan Race at the Whitewater Center. I have a hard date on the calendar – the race is coming whether I’m ready or not, and it’s going to cost me some cash. I’ll have to put up some of my “fun money” in the budget to pay for it. I’ll have to pass on some other fun thing to pay for the race.
I’ll also need to be in better overall shape. Going to the gym and deadlifting 405 lbs or squatting 455 lbs (personal bests) but not being able to run for more than 2 minutes at a time doesn’t really mean much in this type of race. I’ll need to be not only strong, but have some cardio endurance as well to make it through the race portion as well as the obstacles. I will need to be able to perform several pull-ups and learn how to properly knockout 30 burpees for those times when I fail to complete an obstacle.
There are lots of other races like this (Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash, etc.), so why did I choose the Spartan Race? First, it’s a “sprint” distance – about a 5K. I had done the couch to 5K running plan and got to where I could run a 5K in about 40 minutes (yes, I’m slow – but you try moving 250+ lbs much faster than that!!) Secondly, even though I’m throwing my cash in now, I’ve got 281 days (as of 6/14/2012) to prepare for it. That doesn’t mean I’m going to wait until the last 30 days and go nuts – I’m very strategically planning my training to be able to complete the race. I have plenty of time, so I can be methodical and concentrate on my cardio endurance as well as gaining back some of the strength I lost from not weight lifting heavily since the girls were born.
I am generating workout plans based on suggestions from Spartan Race to build overall fitness and prep for the race. I’m not looking at this to lose weight – in fact my weight could stay the same for all I care. But if I’m in better shape, healthier overall, can actually do some pull-ups and complete the Spartan Race, then I would say my training was a success and I met my goal.
So, who wants to run it with me?
Several months ago, we opened a checking account with PerkStreet Financial after hearing about them on the Dave Ramsey show. Setting up the account was a little slow as I commented on in another post, but after it was setup it was great. We started out earning 2% Cash Back on our debit card purchases, and we also had a special promotion to get an additional $25 in cash back if we met certain number of transactions totaling a dollar amount. The cash back perks racked up very quickly at the 2% level – which you have for the first 3 months, or if your balance is over $5,000.
We were really enjoying the account, it had online banking where I could download my transactions into YNAB to manage my budget. We could transfer money to and from our other checking accounts. There were a few roadblocks with transfer limits, but we got around those by using direct deposit as well as initiating transfers from our other accounts as to not hit the monthly limits. Redeeming perks for gift cards was very easy and the choices of perks are very nice.
All of this sounds great, right? So, what happened?
Account management happened. It had nothing to do with PerkStreet itself. They are fantastic and if they were my only bank, I would stay with them. The downfall in my case is the number of accounts I have in various places and how much time throwing PerkStreet into that mix required.
I work at a large financial institution and have my checking, savings, business and several other accounts there. With them all in one place, it makes it very easy to check my financial health in one stop. All of my bills where setup to be paid here, and PerkStreet was really only being used for daily purchases and a few auto-pay bills on our debit card. But because we were using the PerkStreet account so frequently, I was constantly monitoring it and ensuring we had enough money in the account to cover the month. PerkStreet does have online bill pay, but after all the work I did to get my bills setup at my current bank, I didn’t even want to bother with trying to move them just in case it was more difficult to manage.
Additionally, transferring money was really the only other method of funding the account other than direct deposit. I frequently have the need to deposit checks or cash into my account. The options for doing this with PerkStreet were to mail in the checks with a deposit slip, or deposit them in another account and transfer the money afterward. The additional transfer step, while pretty easy with online banking, was just another management item I had to do. And sometimes, it just didn’t happen.
Since we use YNAB for our budgeting needs, it was a pain to enter the constant transfers from one account to the other. Even though YNAB makes it really easy, we still had lots of transfer transactions that we entered each month, and they frequently needed to be tweaked just a little bit after importing transactions from PerkStreet or our main checking account due to slight differences in how each bank lists the transaction.
Overall, I would definitely recommend PerkStreet to anyone who has a need for a simple account with a debit card who has paychecks direct deposited, uses online bills, and has little to no need for other cash and/or check deposits. In our case, we have the need to move money between different accounts pretty frequently and the ability to do so instantly online with our current bank and simpler account management outweighed the cash back perks we were getting through PerkStreet.
A few weeks ago our Pastor brought a message on entitled “The Rule of Contentment” where he talked about being content with what you have, and how that is a smart and Biblical way to manage your finances. This was something I struggled with. I’d see these new flashy things and would say to myself “My life would be so much better if I had (insert item here)”, and I’d buy it – usually on my credit card for the points/miles/etc.
We’ve been doing the “Dave Ramsey” thing, as some people call it, since shortly before the girls were born. It’s been the hardest, yet most rewarding, financial decision we’ve ever made as a family. The best thing to come out of it has been our monthly “budget committee meetings”. Rebekah and I sit down together and generate our budget for the month. We give each dollar of income a job and after all obligations are met, the rest it put into a “debt snowball” category and that is used to pay off a debt.
So, how does this play into the Rule of Contentment? It controls your spending, as long as you FOLLOW your budget. Budget is not a dirty word, it’s not a restriction, it’s not the end of the world – it’s a plan. It’s us telling our money what it’s going to do each month. We’re being proactive with our finances, not reactive. We started budgeting before the girls were born and thanks in part to great insurance and great planning, paid CASH for their delivery and 14 day NICU stay.
In the last year or so, we’ve gotten more sophisticated with our budgeting, and use a software package specifically designed around a budget called YNAB (You Need a Budget). I’ve done a previous review of the software, so I won’t delve into that here, but it has played a huge role for me to combat my “stuffitis”, as Dave Ramsey would say. YNAB has a mobile app that I’ve loaded on my iPod Touch (a pre-budget purchase ) that goes with me everywhere. Whenever I feel the “I gotta buy something!!” itch, I can pull up the budget on my iPod and see where we stand in a certain category. If I’m out of money, or don’t have enough, in my fun money account, then I don’t buy it.
It’s hard to be content sometimes when you’re constantly bombarded with advertising in all forms of media. You see a coworker with the latest gadget, or the neighbor pull up in a shiny new luxury car, or the friend who is going on about all the cool stuff they just picked up. I admit, it’s tough. When this happens to me, I start thinking about how that would be so awesome if it were me doing the bragging about my new cool thing; however, if I just take a minute to stop and think about my budget, it all starts to fade away. I can visualize where we stand, and just how much debt we’ve paid off, and how little we have to go – the finish line is in sight.
I’ll be content here for now. I’ll do without cable, a smartphone (even though I’m dying to have an iPhone), a flashy car and a huge house (even if we’re busting at the seams now). To borrow a phrase from Dave Ramsey, we’ve decided to “live like no one else, so later we can live like no one else”, and that means being content with what we have, not trying to keep up with the Joneses, and digging like crazy to get out of debt. As long as we keep that finish line in sight and keep moving toward it, even a little each month, we will be just fine.
If you’re interested in hearing Pastor Terry’s message on this subject, it’s available for download from our church’s online media library.
After we finished at the maximum security prison, and had a quick lunch, we headed over to the medium security prison to visit with the inmates there. We had to follow pretty much the same procedure of being searched and stamped as visitors as we did at the max security prison, except it was much more relaxed. There were no huge steel gates or holding rooms – we just had to get past a pat down and a small security desk and we were cleared to go.
As I entered the prison, I was paired up with an inmate who carried an umbrella for me to provide some shade from the sun and to lead me to the small chapel where we would share with the inmates. The chapel was much smaller than at the maximum security prison, but it was filled to capacity again, and had tons of guys standing around the outside of the building to see what was going on.
The band was scheduled to lead some worship music as we did in the max security prison, but we began to run short on time and our instruments did not arrive in time. Thankfully, there was a and a guitar in the chapel, so Curtis hopped up, grabbed the guitar and tuned it up as best he could while I made my way to the drum kit. When I got to the drums, I found that the drum throne had been tied to the drum set so it wouldn’t “sprout legs”; however, it was tied at a distance for a Filipino player, not a taller (however, short by US standards) player. So I wiggled myself down behind the drums, picked up the sticks and Curtis and I played as best we could. Even at that, it was still pretty cool! With just 2 instruments leading, the place sang along with us and just had a great time worshipping the Lord.
Shortly after we stared, all the instruments arrived, and Curtis swapped out for his guitar, and Mark Peskir grabbed his Sax and got up there with us. The area was really too small for the whole band to join in, so we kept going as a 3 piece with Mark filling in some of the melodies and soloing a bit. I can’t really describe how the Lord could do so much with so little. It was literally half of the band, but the Holy Spirit was moving and the sound was full and everyone was enjoying praising Him!
After the worship set, Pastor Brett brought a message on Daniel and how he showed his faithfulness to the Lord, even in the face of being thrown into jail and threatened with death. Not everyone was an English speaker, so Pastor Neil served and Pastor Brett’s interpreter. I had a great time listening to both men speak and Pastor Neil mimicked each of Pastor Brett’s vocal inflections and hand motions. I still knew very little Tagalog, but just from the way Pastor Neil spoke, I almost understood exactly what he was saying.
Following our time at the chapel, we were treated to a tour of the prison and were shown the School of the Arts that is inside the prison walls. At the school, the students performed a musical number for us that had an interpretive movement that coordinated with the song. It was very impressive! The students wanted us to play a song, so the band trundled up to the instruments, and at Pastor Neil’s prodding, Pastor Sean came up to sing with us. We sang “I WIll Follow”, an awesome song written by Pastor Sean. Unfortunately, the rigorous schedule of concerts had taken it’s toll on Pastor Sean’s voice, so he had a hard time singing it like he normally does. However, it still sounded pretty good for an impromptu performance on borrowed equipment. I found the drum throne tied to the drum kit again, and was even closer this time, so I really struggled with being able to play the kick drum with my gigantic feet! I noticed when I got to the kit that the drumsticks they had were pretty beat up, so I left a set of my sticks on the kit as a gift to the students. The ones I left had been used, but they certainly were in better shape than what was there, so hopefully they could get a little more use out of them. Sticks are relatively cheap in the US, so it didn’t really cost me much to leave them behind – I can always order more.
Before leaving the prison, we stopped by the art gallery that hosted the student’s artwork. The were carvings, word burnings, paintings and all kinds of art there. These are some very talented students! I only wish we had been able to take our cameras in to be able to snap a few photos of these art pieces. They were incredible!
We were now ready to head across town to our final crusade. Our van ride to the venue was interesting to say the least. By this time, we were all getting very slap happy from exhaustion due to the rigorous schedule we were keeping. I’m also thinking that the constant fumes from all the cars on this ride helped contribute to the slap-happiness of the ride. Mark Peskir, JD, Curtis and Heather were all on the ride with me, and we died laughing the whole way to venue. This is also the van ride that originated the issuing of “dork stamps”. We were talking about something and Mark went into a very detailed explanation about Star Wars, or Star Trek, or something like that and in my silliness, I exclaimed that he “just earned a stamp on his dork card!” Which in doing so, the van erupted in laughter, and from that point on we began issuing each other “dork stamps” as just a silly thing to pass the time. We even went so far as to equate them to the Starbucks Gold Card program and came up with levels of the dork card – all the way up to “free drink status”. Yes, it was silly, but it made us all laugh and was all in good fun.
The venue for our final crusade was down a very narrow road, and Tatay Larry drove our van like a pro down the narrow winding road to get us to the venue. The venue was a small court area that had a very small elevated stage area. The entire stage was concrete – it was going to be loud, and we were all going to be crammed on top of each other – but we were all excited to play another worship concert. Pastor Sean’s voice was not up to doing the concert, so we all met before and went through the set list to figure out who could lead each song. Due to time constraints and other factors, we scrapped giving band testimonies and cut the set list a bit. After a time of shifting songs around and some serious prayer, we had a plan and were turning it over to the Lord.
Like several of the other crusades, we had an ”opening band” that night that played a couple of songs before we started our worship set. Tonight’s band was a pretty awesome rap/metal band. They were very talented musicians and several of the members could rap really well in addition to sing. We later found out that they were all members of the local gang and drug dealers that had been saved and were now using their musical talents for the Lord. Such a great salvation story!
It was certainly an act of God when we got on stage that night. We were a man down and had divided up the singing responsibilities to those who could actually sing (yours truly excluded). However, with all that was stacked up against us, the first set went really well. Afterward, I was very happy that the first set went so well, so those that needed to hear the message could. The second set was another subject – it was, well….rougher. Musically, it was good, we all hit the right notes and riffs, but we weren’t 100% on the transitions, so it was really pieced together. Thankfully, we had saved a good chunk of high-energy songs for the second set, so even through rough transitions, we were at really high energy and volume, so it was able to be covered somewhat.
We had a good number of people come to know the Lord at the final crusade as we did at most of them, and it was so awesome and such a blessing to be part of it. But we still aren’t done – we’ve got a couple more stops to make!!