FPU: Big Tax Return = Big Screen TV! NOT!!


There may have been a time in our lives when a large tax return meant some new expensive toy for the family.   We are no longer those people and have really changed how we look at our tax returns.

In 2010 we embarked on a new journey to become debt free after attending Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University class at our church.   We are still working on that journey. The entire experience has been  life changing for us.   This experience changes how we look at our tax return.   Most of our tax return is earmarked before we even receive it.  We fully fund irregular expenses we know we will experience in the upcoming year.

I must admit: This practice would most likely not be endorsed by Dave Ramsey.  He would like you to manage your money and not have the government hold onto it for you all year.  For us, it works as it actually forces us to live beneath our means.  It is a fool-proof way to save funds that we know we can’t touch until we file our taxes. If the government makes an extra 5 bucks in interest off of our withholding, then they can keep it and we’ll appreciate that this money was saved for us Smile

That being said, you can bet we file our taxes very early in the tax season.  We file our taxes the first Saturday in February.  Since we both claim “single-zero” on for payroll deductions our return is usually pretty big.

For 2014, the following will be fully funded from our tax return:

Debt Reduction – we will pay off our last credit card, if there is still a balance once we receive our tax return. (That card is down to about 1 and 1/2 payments til zeroed-out.)

Emergency Fund – will be fully funded at $2000.

Car Insurance – set aside enough funds to pay car insurance on all vehicles every 6 months to receive a discount.

Christmas – yes, we fully fund Christmas in February!  What peace of mind!  (Because you know Christmas is going to happen again this year.)

City of WBL – irregular bills are hard to budget for so we fully fund them from our tax return.  This a quarterly bill that used-to sneak up on us at times….not anymore!!

Soccer Fees –  our youngest plays traveling soccer

Camp – our youngest goes to camp each year.

Duct Cleaning –  This year we are having the ducts in our home cleaned.  Between illnesses and allergies, it seemed like a good thing to get done.  This was last done in 2007.

Summer Fun – this is a new category we are funding this year.  We found that small parties, mini-weekend-vacations and other fun events over the summer wreaked havoc on our budget.  This year we set aside extra money to go to participate in summer fun!

Training – as a licensed social worker, I need to attend 40 hours of training every 2 years to renew my license.   I need to complete 26 hours this year.  This will fund the conferences, meals and lodging for me to complete my training hours.

We should be able to fully fund all of these items from our tax return.   This is a huge relief to us to know these expenses will not have to be worried about!   As you can see there is no Big Screen TV on our list, but instead many other things that give us a huge sense of relief knowing they are fully funded for the year.  The concept of saving for future expenses is called a “Sinking Fund”.  If you want more info you can read our blog post about “Sinking Funds” and how we organize our finances.

We are different people with different priorities….we live a simpler life striving towards our goal to be DEBT FREE, (and financially secure when we retire!)

Wishing you all a wonderful week!



Paul and Jen
Joyfully Living Below Our Means

Menu Plan Monday: Jan 20th, 2014


January 19th – February 2nd, 2014

It has been a wonderful weekend and very productive!!   Love a long holiday weekend that includes my birthday!   Hubby made my requested birthday meal, Broccoli Cheese Soup!   I love a weekend off of cooking and washing dishes.   This allowed me plenty of time to relax, cross stitch and do a few projects around the house.

Birthday flowers….SPRING will come!!

Our oldest son hung out with us for the weekend and built a snow fort ( technically called a quinzee) with our youngest.  It was a two day adventure that kept them busy in the mild winter weather.  For some reason they said it was my birthday present…..no way this Mama is going into the quinzee and would definitely not sleep in it over night!

snowfortssnow fort

New Favorites from Last Week’s Menu:

Southern Breakfast Casserole (Emeals # 515),  Italian Casserole (Emeals # 514), Pepperoni Rolls  (Emeals # 515)

eMeals - Easy Meals for Busy People!

Sunday 19th – (Soccer) – Spaghetti – Bread Sticks and Salad

Monday 20th – (HOLIDAY) – Beef with Red Wine Sauce (Crockpot) (Emeals # 515)

Tuesday 21st – Wild Rice Casserole, Glazed Carrots (Emeals # 514)

Wed 22nd – Meatball Soup – Grilled Cheese Sandwiches (Emeals # 516)

Thurs 23rd – (Book Group) – Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole (Simple & Delicious –Dec/Jan 2014 – pg 10)

Friday 24th – Corn Dogs – Fries

Saturday 25th – Spinach Cheese Manicotti – Green Salad – French Bread (Emeals # 216)

Sunday 26th – (Soccer) Fontina Chicken & Pasta Bake – (Simple & Delicious –Dec/Jan 2014 – pg 10)


Monday 27th – (Soccer) – Broccoli Scalloped Potatoes (Simple & Delicious –Dec/Jan 2014 – pg 12)

Tuesday 28th – Chicken Tortilla Soup (Emeals # 516)

Wednesday 29th – (Working Late) – Chili Beef Corn Bread Casserole (Simple & Delicious –Dec/Jan 2014 – pg 11)

Thurs 30th– (Sort) – Taco Spaghetti (Simple & Delicious –Dec/Jan 2014 – pg 15

Friday 31st – Meatball Subs – Strawberry Parfaits (Emeals # 516)

Saturday 1st – Chicken Dijon, Mashed Potatoes , Pear Spinach Salad (Emeals # 516)

Sunday 2nd – Sunday Chops and Stuffing (Simple & Delicious –Dec/Jan 2014 – pg 13)

Food Budget:  Decided to start tracking how much we spend on food/household expenses each month again in hopes to budget appropriately.  Wanting to keep our budget at $100 per person each month.   We are a household of 5 adults, 1 growing boy who eats like an adult and 1 toddlers.

This weekend was our HUGE shop. In that we were out of most cleaning supplies and paper products that we purchase at Sam’s Club.   This is about a twice a year level of purchasing.

Shopping Trip:  1/18/14
Aldi – $139.19
Walmart – $103.12
Sam’s Club – $354.00 (Toilet paper, plates, klennex, dish soap, paper towels, furniture polish, laundry soap, fabric softner, wipes,  – are items that are not purchased monthly)

Total for 2 weeks of food/Household Items for 6 months:  $596.51/ 6.5 (count baby as 1/2) = $91.77 per person or  $198.26 per week on groceries.

January Food/Household Total –  1/4/14 = $260.76  + 596.51 (1/18) = $857.27
Monthly Total:  $131.89 for 6.5 members of the household.

For more Menu Planning inspiration stop by and visit Laura at Organizing Junkie and participate in Menu Plan Monday.  Need help getting started menu planning –  Emeals is a great solution.  Many meal plans to chose from at a very affordable price.

Wishing you all a wonderful week!!!

Happy Cooking!!

Financial Peace University: Leap of Faith


This is your chance to make a new beginning.   Take the chance and take this leap of faith with us and get started on changing your financial future. You might be reading this and saying, right now my kids are little so this won’t work for my family. Or you might be thinking, we don’t have enough money to start this.

When your kids are young is the perfect time to start this journey as you will be teaching your children through example financial skills that they will take with them into adulthood. If you don’t have enough money to do this…..that means more than anything this is something you NEED to do. Have faith, you are stronger than you know! The biggest hurdle you have to jump over to start this journey is yourself. 80% of your success begins with changing your behavior.

Don’t go it alone, join a local Financial Peace class which is offered at many churches across the country. Go to Dave Ramsey.com to find a class near you.   Keep in mind; if you are married it is crucial that you and your spouse begin this journey together.  Couples must have agreement on spending, saving, debt reduction and planning or your plan will fail before it even starts. 

Learn how to beat debt and build wealth with Dave Ramsey’s Seven Baby Steps.  This is the foundation of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. 

Step 1:  $1,000 in an emergency fund

Step 2:  Pay off All debt except the house – debt snowball

Step 3: Three to Six expenses in Savings

Step 4: Invest 15% of income into Roth IRA and pre-tax retirement plans.

Step 5:  College Funding

Step 6: Pay off Home Early

Step 7:  Build wealth and give!

Where do I start???  Stop going into DEBT.  If you don’t have cash for your purchase, don’t buy it.   After our first class we took all of our credit cards out of our wallets and did not use them.  We even cut some of them up….not all of them, that was too scary!!!

Dave Ramsey on Baby Step #1 –

Focus on Baby Step #1 – $1,000 in an emergency fund.  This step is extremely important.  By having $1,000 in the bank, you end your dependency on Credit Cards for unplanned events.   We have saved $1,000 and spent it on an emergency more times than I can count!    But the whole point is we had the money we needed and didn’t have to rely on credit. 

Next week we will talk about how we started on a budget for the first time in our life! There is that word; you knew it would be coming……BUDGET! It is a good thing, really! Until next week find those financial statements, make a list of your debts and total them up. It is very important to write them all down so you can see the number. That is the prep for Baby Step 2.

If you have any questions or would like us to blog about how we handle any aspect of our FPU journey, just leave us a comment. We would be happy to share what we have learned along the way.


Paul & Jen


Other Articles in our FPU Series:
Our FPU Story: That was then…..This is now
Financial Peace University
FPU: Leap of Faith
Budgeting…Time to Make a Plan
FPU: Inside Our Weekly Budget Meeting
FPU: Sink Your Debt with a Sinking Fund
Groceries: Cut the Dance and Start to Wiggle!
Summer, Soccer and avoiding the Golden Arches


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In The MailBag: Budget Chat


I know I have been missing from blogging lately, so I thought a good way to get back to blogging is to answer some reader mail!   So you know me, I am mostly an open book, so ask away and maybe your question will be answered!   I am trying to do better at answering questions, really….I am .

I read the questions below and thought….man what a great blog this would make!   LOL!!

Do you have a budget for everything? Do you focus on only a few? My husband and I with the best intentions have a hard time managing different budgets from one account. do you have any ideas on what works for you?

I would say we have a loose budget for most things.  I have a debt reduction plan.  I use a Rapid Debt Reduction Calculator on a site called Debt Proof Living.  I took all my current loans and credit card debt at the their minimum payment plus an additional $100 a month and that is what I put towards debt each month.  This is not a free site.  My oldest son made an impressive debt repayment plan from a free site.   It uses the same principle of snowballing your debt repayment and sets up a debt repayment plan for you. 

In our house one of us is paid each week, so I actually work on a weekly budget.   I have a bill paying sheet similar to the one below for each pay period in the month that details what needs to be paid each pay period.  This works for us….we seem to live week to week or paycheck to paycheck.


Due Date





3/26/10- 4/06/10





Weekly Budget





Paul’s Money





House Payment





School Tuition





Tuition Bucks Order










Xcel Energy





Chase – Online

6th (2/2010)




Bp/Chase – Online

6th (2/2010)














Each week I set aside $100 in cash in our grocery envelope.  I also purchase $25 Walmart Gift Card each week for any household items that need to be purchased at Sam’s or Walmart.  I save them up from week to week until I go to the store.  That is how I budget for groceries and household things.  We also budget our gas purchasing this way.  We buy the same amount of SA gift cards each week.  We purchase all our gift cards through a program through our son’s school so we get a portion back towards his tuition.  This year we were able to cover just over one month of tuition with the earnings from our purchasing gift cards through the program.  I will always take free money!!

I also set aside out of each paycheck 1/4 of the cost of our house payment so we can spread the larger expenses out over the entire month.   I do the same with School Tuition and Child Support for my stepson.  I put a bit away each week until the payment is due.

We have a separate checking account (Freedom Account) that we put the money we are saving so we don’t accidently spend it.  We keep a accounting of all the money in that account and what it is set aside for.   It is sort of like a virtual envelope system.   Below is a sample of common categories in our virtual envelope system.  The total at the bottom should be the same as the total in that checking account.   I use online banking so I am able to move money very easily from account to account. 

Emergency Fund118.45356.45 
Car Insurance17700 
City of WBL/75.00 to savings525450 
School Supplies2000 
House Payment233466 
Tuition/Summer Daycare   
Child Support100200 

The other things that is a vital part of our budget working is FUN MONEY.   We have a set amount that each week goes to myself and my hubby that we do whatever we want with.  Neither of us is allowed to come down on the other regarding the choices the other makes with that money.   What I deem as FUN is different than my hubby’s idea of FUN!

Focus???   I focus on my debt repayment plan and continue to pay the same amount each month.  That plan when you set it up has you continue to pay the same minimum payment even as the minimum due decreases.   I focus on one debt paying an extra $100 to that one.  Once that is paid off I take all the money that monthly would go to that debt and apply it to my next debt to pay off.  This is the snowballing principal.  

My husband and I with the best intentions have a hard time managing different budgets from one account. do you have any ideas on what works for you?

My hubby and I have come up with a system that works for us.  What works for us is to have three checking accounts.   My hubby has a checking account that is his.  He only uses this account for his FUN MONEY.  I move it into there each week and he budgets that.  We agreed a long time ago what our set FUN MONEY amount is and adjust it as needed when one of us has something going on like going out with friends or something.  This is pretty infrequent.   We each also get a SA gift card each week to pay for our gas for the week. 

  I have a checking account which is our Household Account in which I pay all of our bills out of.  I take my FUN MONEY out in cash and use the envelope system for that and our grocery money.   The third checking account is what we call our Freedom Account.   This is where we transfer all the funds we are saving for future payments that month, such as 1/4 of our house payment each week.  Then the payment comes due, I transfer the funds from the Freedom Account online into the Household Account to make the payment.  

This is what works for us…..maybe bits and pieces of it will work for you!   If you have more questions, just let me know!! 

Happy Budgeting!!