March challenge: Simplify home

Editor’s note:  I know that we are starting this on the 2nd of the month, with travel and family time, I am just getting started on this challenge.  Better late that never and I am getting started!

Simplify Your Home
March Challenge: Simplify your Home

So, this is a big one.  We are making some changes.  We have lived in our rental home for the past three years.  My husband didn’t want us to move here initially as he was concerned that I would fall in love with the space and when it would be time to leave that we would be unable to find something similar in our price range.

Boy, have we changed.  After our time here, research, and this incredible financial journey, we have realized that this is not what we want in our life right now.  So, to help us focus on our financial situation, to give us the space we need and not just what we want, and to help us minimize excessive spending, we are ready to downsize.  Here’s the challenge for March.

The March Challenge

Primary goal:  move from a 4-bedroom, 3 bath, 2 car garage, 3,000 square foot home to an apartment from 1,000 – 1500 square feet.  That’s a downsize.

Secondary goal:  eliminate all the junk in our home by 40-50%.  Room by room. Closet by closet.  Shelf by shelf.  

This is no joke. It’s time to roll up the sleeves, and get to work.  Are you with me?

And while I’ve never been a minimalist, nor am I trying to be a minimalist at this time.  I am certainly working to simplify our home during the month of March.

Here are the rules.  (And please, just know that these are the rules I’m using to get my home in order.  Please adjust as you deem necessary.)

  1.  Focus on one room at a time.  This is where I have gotten off track in the past.  You know, take this sippy cup into the kitchen, spend five minutes sorting mail while I’m there, then off to do laundry and… somewhere in there I lost a complete hour of good working time.  I plan to use the Pomodoro timer app to keep me in the area, focused, and working on just the section I need to be working on to finish.
  2.  Cupboard by cupboard, closet by closet, item by item. I plan to do it like this to make the right decisions that will keep the home in order for a good, long time.
  3.  Eliminate 30-40% of stuff.  Okay, everything I’ve read leads me to the 80/20 rule.  But getting rid of 80% of our stuff?  That’s huge.  HUGE.  I plan to start with 40-50% and see how it goes from there.
  4. Week by week through different areas of the home.  I’ll take a portion on the house, usually certain rooms and make the decisions of the day.

And, just arriving back home from our travel to my sweet Grandma’s funeral, I’m looking at the house with fresh eyes.  Part of learning to live an enriched life means living below our means.  For most of our marriage, we have tried to live “Right at our level of means,” or worse, “Just a smidgen above our means.”

Part of me dreams of being just a little OCD, so our home is stunningly clean and gorgeous at all times, in all seasons, and no matter who pops in for a visit.  But, let’s be real about this.  With all this, dare I call it, crap in the house we are never going to achieve that!

This is part a de-clutter, part a spring cleaning, and part purge of the junk.  So, what would be the perfectly- appropriate-upbeat-title for that?

Spring Simplifying?  Too vague.

Primavera purge?  Sounds like a bad trip to Olive Garden.

Tidy up for the Tiny House?  Who am I Stuart Little?

Ahem.  I digress.

Even though we are without a catchy title, let’s get going on this challenge.  (Side note:  if you think of a name for it, please send it over.  You’ll get all the credit, for sure!)

DeCluttering Calendar

March Challenge: Wk 1 Bedroom
March Challenge: Wk 1 Bedrooms

Week 1:  Bedrooms.  I plan to go through each closet, each drawer, each pair of shoes and make thooooose decisions.  I just have stuff around the house right now that we don’t need, and probably won’t use for a very, very long time.  I plan to ask questions like, “Have I even worn this in the past year?”  “Will I need this in the next six months?”  “Is there someone I know who could use this?”

You’ve seen those shows.  The kind where the person who is a collector of waaaay too much stuff calls in a professional organizer and gets things in order.  I plan to do that on a much smaller basis.  I’ll have 2 bins set up:  one for donations to Goodwill, the other for someone else to decide.  (For example, if my husband needs to decide on clothes or if one of my daughter’s friends could use clothes she’s outgrown.)  Other than that, it will go back in its place, nicely organized for a simpler, cleaner, clearer home and lots of organized future use.

Week 2:  Bathrooms. This will include going through the medicine cabinets, checking expiration dates, chucking those half-used bottles of shampoo, the stuff that just seems to clutter up the bathroom counter and get us back on track.

Week 3:  Storage Spaces.  We have a study that is more like the “stuff and study.”  We have an extra room that has been the place of  “stuff we will need in a couple months,” that has been in there for 3 years.  It’s embarrassing to say that aloud, but it is time to come clean and purge nearly all of that!  I’m sure there’s a couple things that we might be able to sell, but we will get there.

Week 4:  Kitchen, Living Room, and Playroom:  You knew that was coming, didn’t you?  Our kitchen is pretty organized.  That’s where most of my OCD tendencies come in to play.  The living room is pretty simple, and I want my little girl to see that we are donating a lot of stuff and are still okay, in fact, we are better so that she gets excited about donating more of her stuff.  She’s done a round of donating items before, I think we will have much more success in the future.

This is one of those months where I’m going to share with you the stuff of my life.  You know, the messy, ugly and all those nooks and crannies that just need to be cleaned up.  In complete hope that it will be organized and I’ll have it documented here to never have it get this bad again.

Care to join me?  What are you going to clean, de-clutter, and organize this month? Comment below and let me know.  I’m delighted to hear about it and even more excited to cheer you on to your success in simplifying!

The best money management system for you

The Best Money Management System for You.
The Best Money Management System for You.



Money management.

Is it just me, or do these words give you a sense of “Blah…”

It’s not a glamorous topic.  And, from the first twenty episodes of the podcast, talking to other people, and intense study…guess what?

There way more than just one way to keep track of it all.

You could do it that guy’s way, or you could have spreadsheet heaven…(Note:  we’ve talked about spreadsheets before, haven’t we?  Sure, they are an excellent tool for organization and line management of purchases…but the truth of it is:  I hate ’em.  They bore me.  To complete tears.  In fact, the worst business meetings I’ve been involved with have been along the theme of, “Show me the spreadsheets where we are losing revenue…” Ugh. I’m internally puking just thinking about that.)  Okay, back to the post.

That’s why I’m declaring this a safe space.  It’s a veritable “No spreadsheet zone!”

But, Amy…Seriously Girl, how do you expect to ever keep track?

Great question!  I’ve thought a lot about this.  I’ve been discussing this with my husband for months now and we decided to do something different.  Something that will work – for my mind, and our bank accounts to create long-term success.

But first, some back story.  I saw a video of a guy trying to determine how to manage his money.

The best money management system is the one that works for YOU.

[Tweet “The best money management system is the one that works for YOU.” via @itsamyrobles”]

Seriously.  That’s it!

Think about how overly-complicated we make this. It’s ridiculous!

That means if your money management system is a pen and a tiny notebook to track your spending until you figure out where your money is going:  That’s the BEST. For you.

If your money management systems requires additional time to scour the ads, cut the coupons, and make sure you are spending the very minimum necessary to live right now:  That’s the BEST.  For you.

If your money management system is sitting down, talking it out with your spouse while balancing the checkbook to make sure you are right on track:  That’s the BEST.  For you.

If your money management system is you trying to balance the checkbook while your spouse is kicking back on the couch…hmmm, this very well could be the BEST.  For you.

If your money management system needs spreadsheets and graphs to keep you organized so you can see the trends and projected growth of investments:  That’s the BEST.  For you.

Who is the expert that said we all have to do it exactly the same way?   Who determines if we need this card and that card, if we need 2 savings accounts or 7?  Which credit bureau says 3 credit cards are more influential than others?

You know what?  They are wrong.  They don’t know you.  They have no idea how your mind works.

But, if I may, perhaps they are not the problem at all.

You don’t know you.  You’re not sure what your money management system is…yet.

I had to try this system and that to understand that my mind doesn’t want the money management systems to be so complicated.

I crave simple.

I crave this or that.

I don’t want to have to evaluate complicated systems to decide if I can afford another new book this week.

So guess what we did?  We MADE it simple. For me.  For him.

We are on the same page.  I don’t have wonder if I just overspent in one category and watch him skip going to lunch with the guys so we can cover our expenses.

Aaaaah, the peace that brings.

Know what we did?

Just opened the right number of accounts. One account for groceries.  One for gas.  One for Mom’s spending money.  One for restaurants.  One for the monthly expenses. Every month we put it the exact amount of money we have determined we will spend on each.

And I am sticking to it.  I’m not pulling from one account to make it work.

I now carry a few debit cards.

I can look at our online account labeled, “Groceries,” and know the exact amount of what we have left for the month.

If I think that there’s more money left, when I look at all the transactions they go to the same few locations.   I know how much I spend on our transaction.

I now have simple.

If this is a system that you can make work for you day in and out, then use it.  If this is the system to help you get out of debt and then you’ll change it later.  Use it.

Just own your decision.  You work too hard for your money.  Don’t squander it away or lose it due to lack of organization.

Make it your own.  Make it simple.  Make your money work.

That’s the best money advice I could give anyone.

Tell me now, what’s one way you have simplified your money management system so that it works for you?


Pantry Challenge Week 1

We are in full swing of the pantry challenge.

Take the Pantry Challenge
Take the Pantry Challenge

As this is the first time I’ve gone through an entire month of a pantry challenge, I plan to report the time investment, what I’m learning and plans for improvement.

I once heard someone say, “Goals are like dominoes.  Knock one over and it naturally takes down two more.”

That’s so very true.  Sure, our main focus is saving some money this month.  But I’m also learning the power of organization; figuring out how to make our meal plan system work; and using my time wisely to make the healthiest meals with what we have on hand.

This has become a creative challenge as well.

Note: We did go to the grocery store on Saturday and bought one gallon of milk.

Not bad for a start.  Also, at a birthday party for our friend’s little girl this weekend, we came home with posole (this yummy Mexican soup) and have had it for a couple dinners.  There was that much leftover.  Yummm.  Bonus!

Here’s how this morning went for our pantry challenge.

Initial plan:  Take inventory of all items available

Pantry Challenge
Before I could get maximize our pantry items, I had to organize the pantry.

I envisioned making a list of all the items in the pantry.  Sure, we have black beans, but how many cans are there? That kind of thing.

Then I looked at the pantry this morning.  It’s quite embarrassing to show you this.  I’m usually organized about things.

Oh.  Yikes.

I can’t even see what staples we have available.  Well, I thought, I’ll just take a quick twenty minutes and clean this right up.


Actual event:  Cleaned out pantry

Nearly three hours later,  I had gone through every item in the pantry, pulled it out onto the counter, checked the expiration dates, threw out a few things, washed the shelves, and put it back in a much more efficient way.

This morning has shown me how much I need to keep at the organization portion to make sure we are using every dollar the best way possible.

I’ve been sufficiently humbled.

And I learned a couple of things while cleaning it out.

First, I still buy things faster than we can use them.  I don’t bake nearly as much as I used to and we have three containers of baking soda ready to use.  Whoa.  (Yes, I do use soda for cleaning sometimes but even that  seems like too much.)

Next, why are my cookbooks up so high that I can’t reach them?  I want to use those cookbooks regularly.  Some of them, I’m sorry to say, have not been opened up in… a year.  Or more.  I have shame.  I love to cook.  Time to get that fixed directly.

Another thing, my daughter is almost ready to get her own cereal in the morning. I want her to do that.   I want her to keep on this track to independence.  I love that about her.  Opportunities need to be created for her to grow in this.  It doesn’t make sense to have the cereal in the tippy top of the pantry.

One more little nugget learned:  my daughter loves Jell-O.  I never make it.  What is that about?  We have it.  I just haven’t been making it.  That changes this month!

And what is that bottom shelf? It didn’t always look like that.


I hadn’t realized how bad it had gotten.

Pantry inventory revealed:  Aaaah. I can breathe.  And cook.  And save money.

Pantry Challenge
Organizing the pantry makes a pantry challenge so much more effective.

Bonus:  I cleaned out the pantry and re-organized while I was at it.  Now that’s a great way to start a pantry challenge.

Now the cereal is right at my little girl’s level.  Cookbooks can be accessed easily.  The staples are right up top and easy to reach.  And the best part is the rest of the packages fit behind them so easy to see where they are in the rotation.

The canned items are organized to set us up to use in an orderly fashion.

Aaaaah.  It feels so much better.

And it will be much easier to plan our meals for the rest of the month.

It got me thinking about money.  Does my purse need to be cleaned out?  If I’m not taking care of the organization of the finances, how can I expect to use it wisely?

A lot of lessons learned this morning.

Tell me, When was the last time you cleaned out the pantry?  Did you have a lot to go through?  Do you think this will set you up for success in a pantry challenge?


Our Debt Snowball Update

May I be frank?  (No, you’re Amy.)  Right.

This has been a crazy year for us.  Can’t you say that every year?  Yes. Yes, you can.

But this year has been different.  Really different than any year in our marriage and any year in my life.

Getting our Debt on Track
Getting our Debt on Track: Where we are on our Debt Snowball

Last Christmas, like every Christmas, we would get our Christmas cards and some of them had letters inside.  They were the re-cap of the year:  the good, the amazing, the lessons learned.  I love those.  My husband never really got into it so much until last Christmas.  He knew the people who were writing them that we hadn’t seen for a few years and had taken a few minutes to really catch up with them.  He mentioned that we should have something to report next year.

So we made some goals.  One of which, was to pay of $5,000 of our credit card debt.  I wrote it down on the white board and had no idea how or even if that would be possible.

And then, February 21st we went to our first Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University class. Actually, I went.  Our little girl was too sick to leave with a sitter, so my husband insisted on staying home while I went to get a glimpse of this program.

To say it lightly, my world was rocked.  I came home a completely different person.  I finally had the vision that not only could we do it, but that we were going to do it.  Absolutely.  Going to get out of debt.  My husband was shocked how much I was moved from that one meeting.

We took a look at our debts.  At that point, we were making payments to 8 different debts each month.

Sure, Dave Ramsey calls it a snowball.  Trent Hamm calls it the snowflake strategy to your debt snowball.

But in my mind, I see it like train tracks.  Absolute train tracks.  Every month, we have 8 trains that we have to catch, all headed in 8 different directions to make sure we have our obligations paid off.  Here’s what those trains of ours look like.

Moving loan

The military offers you the possibility of one month’s salary as you plan to move to a new location.  A lot of families just plan on that money to help with eating out, possibly living in hotels until they have housing arranged in a new place and/or adding the trimmings to make a new apartment or place feel like home.  Sure, it seems like great money at first.  But not when you have to pay it back the next year in a new place.  We have just paid that back and have seen the monthly income check go up a couple hundred bucks.

Lesson learned:  it’s no surprise that we will have to move again.  Once our debt is paid off, we will have an account to make sure we don’t use that  crutch of a moving loan.

Uniform payment

Along with my husband’s promotion last year, there were several new uniforms necessary to purchase.  The military sends you a clothing allowance all at once and you can pay either pay it back in one lump sum, or make monthly payments throughout the year.

Aaaand, guess which one we chose?  I don’t even remember how we justified making these monthly payments, but we did.  And it took a while.  But now, we are DONE with those!

Those were only applicable to military families.  Here’s where regular life comes into play.

Small student loan

When you go to a for-profit school, they make it really convenient to get the student loans.  In fact, they make it part of the application process.  How do I know this?  I worked at one for a year.  They trained us to make it really easy and walk people through the process.

But before I worked there, I was a student.  Every year it was check in, go sit at their computer and do the FAFSA, and get started on school work.  One of my loans was to Sallie Mae for $1500, plus interest.  And sadly, I never thought about it before.  Then I realized I was paying $50 a month on a $1500 loan.  And I realized: They NEVER wanted me to stop paying!  NEVER.  EVER.  EVER.

Do you know how mad that makes me now?  Why didn’t I see that before?  We’ve been paying on this $1500 loan for YEARS.  Man, were we getting hosed.

That’s why I started this blog! That’s why I am taking a serious stand against debt!  Because we are getting HOSED.

You, me, we are nice people.  We follow the rules.  We help others.  And when I read a $50 payment I thought, ‘Okay, 50 bucks.  That’s no big deal.”  But the big deal is this little 50 bucks was going out of our family’s pocket every month for several years!  Ridiculous.  I don’t want that for you!  Look at your balances.  Get rid of them!  You work too hard to just let someone take that from you.  It’s that teeny, tiny, leak in the bucket that you can hardly see.  And several of those will run your bucket DRY.

Needless to say, we paid off that beast.

Credit card 1

This one, mine, was the card that for a while, became the security blanket while my husband was on deployment.  A quick run to Target was my connection to the outside world when I had a newborn, a look at fun items and quick purchase to make our little place a home.

What was wrong with me?  Oh, I know.  Deployment stress.  Newborn. Lots of crying and letting baby grow. Lack of sleep.

Except those are all excuses.  I was alone.  Tired.  And needed…something.  Now I realize that I was using the credit card to feel a void in my life.  My husband was gone.  I was tired all the time.  And I wanted to talk to someone during the day.  I loved my baby, but I needed some adult interaction, too.  It was a tough time.

If and when I’m stuck, feeling lost, alone and struggling like that, I will certainly most not be looking to buy some pretty little thing to bring in some happiness.  The key for me will be to remember days like this when we’ve struggled for so long to get there.

Credit card 2

His credit card.  For some reason, we always thought traveling home to visit family was better to put on his credit card…because he has a better percentage rate.  HA!  What were we thinking?

What a huge lesson we have learned.  We have had to make sacrifices.  And we have done it all this year: turned down invitations- even though we really wanted to join in the fun; watched movies at home instead of the theater;  shared only one car instead of buying another and getting some major car payments; planned outdoor free activities just to keep us from spending money.  And instead of pulling us apart, it feels like it’s only pulled us closer together.

We are right on track to having his car paid off by the end of this year.  This.  Is.  HUGE.   This means we are over half way there- not just in the total amount but in the loans left.  And there have been days when I’ve been angry and pouting about getting up before 5AM to take Dad to work to make sure we can have the car during the day.  There have been days when I’ve thought, “Oh man!  Just forget this.  Let’s go out and have a night on the town!”  That’s when my husband pulls me in to make sure we are staying on track of our goals.

The 3 Big Daddies

So now all the trains are continually moving.  That’s what they do.  But we only have 3 payments left and the student loans will be done.  As in….done.  Fin.  Finito.  Done.

Starting next year we will be down to 3 payments each month. From 8 major payments and train cars to load up and send off in different directions.  We just have three.  These are the big daddies.  These loans are going to take some work.  These are the loans I thought we would be paying off for the next 20 years, like most of America.  But we will conquer those.  We will.

I can feel the momentum starting to get strong.  I can see how we are paying much more on the payments than the minimums requested.  I can see our faith begin to shine in the finances.  I can see we are on the right track.  And the train is moving faster, stronger, with more power.  The peace that is over coming my heart and mind is tremendous.

I want this for you.  I want you to have the success in the finances and feel the peace that can come from these decisions, hard work, and focus.

And I want remember this moment.  We have some momentum building here.  We are getting it.  We still have lots of goals.  There are people to help.  Work to do.

But right now, to the Big Daddies I say:

“We’re coming for ya. We are building up steam…”

Tell me friend, how have you done on paying off the debt this year?