Why and How to Be A Lifelong Learner

“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” – Socrates

When people ask me what I do for a living, I often say, “I learn for a living.” It sounds intriguing and it’s certainly true of not just myself, but all of us.


Because we humans are learning machines. From the beginning of our lives, we are constantly absorbing, interpreting, and communicating information about ourselves, each other, and the universe around us. That is the basis of learning. We innately learn in order to understand, grow, progress, contribute, survive, and thrive.

In Self-Education: Twelve Chapters for Young Thinkers (1852), author Edward Paxton Young wrote:

“Our whole life is an Education – we are ‘ever-learning’, every moment of time, everywhere, under all circumstances something is being added to the stock of our previous attainments. Mind is always at work when once its operations commence. All men are learners, whatever their occupation, in the palace, in the cottage, in the park, and even in the field. These laws are stamped upon Humanity.”

When people ask what I love to do, I often say, “I love to learn!” But this sentiment isn’t necessarily true for everyone. Why and how can you become a lifelong learner?

What is a Lifelong Learner

A lifelong learner (also known as an autodidact) is devoted to self-education for their entire life. Some of history’s greatest influences were autodidacts: Leonardo DaVinci, Benjamin Franklin, The Wright Brothers, Florence Nightingale, Clare Booth Luce, Jane Austen, Steve Jobs, and many more. Autodidact Abraham Lincoln said:

“I do not think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday”.

Lifelong learners exhibit these behaviors:

*  Consciousness – Learning certainly happens on both the conscious and subconscious levels. But lifelong learners make a conscious effort to learn and curate what they learn. As a result, their conscious devotion to learning often puts them into situations where they learn a great deal subconsciously.

*  Beginner’s mindset – Lifelong learners don’t always feel the need to be experts. Rather, they are undeterred by being a beginner. An expert looks for confirmation and validation of what they already know. But a beginner constantly looks for new ways to expand their knowledge. They view things with an open and eager mind.

*  Curious – One of the most powerful tools to learning is asking who, what, when, where, why, and how. Lifelong learners are insatiably curious, showing as much enthusiasm for obviously exciting things as they do for seemingly mundane things. They love to ask ask questions and, more so, to find answers to those questions. Cultivating curiosity while adding to your knowledge is an important exercise for brain development.

*  Make connections – Famed social ecologist Peter Drucker said, “To make knowledge productive we will have to learn to see both forest and tree. We will have to learn to connect.” Being able to connect their existing knowledge to the situations, challenges, and opportunities of their life is a key quality of a lifelong learner.

*  Engaged – Lifelong learners don’t just passively sit and let the world flow past them. They are always learning! They take action, try things, get their hands dirty, fail, and pick up themselves up again with gratitude for their learning experience.

*  Reflective – Lifelong learners pause. They think about how they think, what they think, and why they think. They review what they have learned and think it over. They connect new knowledge to things they already know, and consistently curate their knowledge bank.

*  Humble – Lifelong learners are humble optimists. They know great change is possible. They know everyone is capable of great things. But they also know there are things we will never know. They know that, despite their quest for knowledge, there will always be unsolved mysteries and things not quite understood. This mindset demonstrates humility and also motivates a lifelong learner to keep learning.

*  Always learning – It’s obvious that lifelong learners are always learning. Lifelong learners learn “just because”. They want to fly a plane, so they take lessons. They want to learn another language, so they enroll in a course. They want to play the guitar, so they buy a guitar and start strumming. Although there are many excellent reasons to be a lifelong learn, true lifelong learners choose to learn because they love to learn.

A lifelong learner realizes that knowledge is power. Lifelong learning is continuous, self-directed, and active learning beyond formal education.

For many folks, learning stops the moment they leave school or clock out of of their day job. They often spend the majority of their free time in a mall or pursuing other leisure activities instead of learning something that is useful to their career or personal development.

Even when required to attend job training, many workers are rather disengaged from the learning process. They reluctantly attend courses and hardly take learning seriously. Their information retention rate is therefore low and very little is applied after the training ends.

Those who are more motivated will read books and websites on self-improvement, but the effort is usually sporadic, disorganized, and lacks a proper system to retain and apply useful information. These people are the ones who are fine with posting smart quotes and advice on Facebook but don’t actually live it.

In contrast, lifelong learners are self-initiated. They don’t need anyone to tell them to read a book or figure something out. They actively seek useful and relevant information on their own.

A lifelong learner is thirsty for knowledge and, more importantly, wisdom. As Martin H. Fischer said,

“All the world is a laboratory to the inquiring mind.”

Why be a Lifelong Learner

In addition to learning helping you to be a better parent, the benefits of being a lifelong learner are immense:

*  Learning is fun and engaging – The more you learn, the more the world around you becomes your oyster. You’ll experience things for the first time or in a whole new way. It’s exciting to have your mental light bulb go off as you understand a new concept or explore a new topic. The internet has made learning easy, accessible, and affordable, and eliminates all good excuses to not keep developing in all areas of your life.

*  Learning keeps your brain strong, even into old age – Just as diet and exercise keep you physically fit, learning keeps you mentally fit. Learning new things helps to protect against ailments common of old age, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. Brandeis University psychologist and old age specialist Margie E. Lachman’s research has shown that the more education an elderly person has – whether obtained formally or informally – the better they perform on cognitive tests than elderly people who had less education. She said:

“Education seems to be an elixir that can bring us a healthy body and mind throughout adulthood and even a longer life.”

Research psychiatrist Norman Doige, M.D., reveals in his book, The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, that continued learning, as well as the lack of it, can alter our brain anatomy. Continued learning improves cognition and perception, even as we age. This is profoundly true when you challenge yourself to stretch your mind in areas where you are weak or inexperienced. As they say, “Use it or lose it.”

My great-grandmother was an American immigrant who received no formal education beyond the third grade and spoke mostly broken English. Yet, she was a devoted single mother, a successful entrepreneur with eight businesses, built three homes with cash, was an active part of her community, she was healthy, strong, and robust, and was entirely independent until her passing this past November at the ripe age of 93. She was one of the most intelligent and awe-inspiring people to ever live. What attributed to her success in all areas of her life, and her long life itself, was that she was always learning. In her mind, there was nothing she couldn’t do because she was always willing to learn how to do it.  She was not just smart; she was wise.

*  Learning keeps you emotionally healthy – When you challenge yourself to master a new skill or concept and then accomplish your goal, you profoundly boost your self-esteem. The sense of fulfillment you receive from the process and application of learning is exciting and gives you the confidence and motivation you need to continue succeeding.

*  Learning keeps you on your toes – The world is constantly changing and, despite what you’ve heard, old dogs can learn new tricks. It’s important to keep learning so can keep up with the world around you or else it will pass you by.

*  Learning makes you independent and useful – You can acquire a bevvy of knowledge and skills through constant learning. This depth and diversity allows you to be independent and useful not just for your sake, but for others as well. When you have an arsenal of abilities at your command, you are able to confidently take initiative and efficiently get things done.

*  Learning makes you attractive and interesting – As you develop your knowledge, skills, expertise, and interests, you become a more engaging, conversational, sophisticated, and intriguing person. When you broaden your intellectual and emotional horizons, you attract and connect with a wider variety of people and develop a more informed and enlightened perspective of the world.

Learning makes you more money – The working world is far more competitive than it was 50 years ago when you could just finish college and have all the education you need for the rest of career. The digital era of technology and rapid and widely accessible information in which we now live means that things are constantly changing. Skills that were cutting-edge just a couple years ago are now likely outdated, and the jobs we perform in the next decade don’t even exist yet. If you want to be competitive in today’s workforce, you need to become an autodidact.  By advancing your knowledge and skills, you become more valuable to the workforce. Your boss will promote you and your clients will return. If you develop your emotional intelligence and leadership skills, you are viewed as a big player with the qualities to move ahead in your career. Being an autodidact opens up new careers paths beyond being a traditional employee. A key quality of successful entrepreneurs is their obsession with learning.

*  Learning makes you more human – As author Robert Heinlein famously put it:

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

*  Learning makes you more satisfied with life – In his highly recommended book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, author Dan Pink states that we need three things to feel motivated by and satisfied with our life: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Lifelong learning fulfills all three of psychological needs. When you’re an autodidact, you – not your parents, professor, or boss – decides what to learn. Instead of being a passive consumer of information, you become an active curator of knowledge. This is autonomy. As you learn new skills, you’ll become proficient at them and exhibit mastery.  Finally, you’ll feel a profound sense of purpose as your self-education reveals to you what your role in life is.

The benefits of lifelong learning doesn’t stop there. The more you know about the world, the deeper you can experience it. Whether you’re conversing, traveling, watching a movie, and so on, your library of knowledge helps you make connections that you may have otherwise missed.

How to be a Lifelong Learner

To the non-autodidact, lifelong learning might sound like a tedious and boring thing that requires superhuman persistence. If this is your impression, you just have to eliminate your excuses and discover the right methods for you to make learning a lifelong pursuit.

Common excuses include:

*  Time – Yes, you’re busy. It might be difficult to imagine finding free time for self-study when your day is already packed with work and family. But you don’t have to spend hours each day, slogging over a skill you’re trying to pick up. Surely, you have a few 10-minute chunks throughout the day to pick up a book or work on that new skill. Turn your spare moments into opportunities to learn.

*  Money – This is only a valid excuse if you need formal classes to learn. You don’t. The internet has tons of free information just waiting for you to tap into. Excellent (and often free!) online learning resources include:

Open Education Database
Khan Academy
Project Gutenberg
YouTube EDU
Harvard Online Learning
Stanford University Online
MIT OpenCourseWare
Udemy (Currently features a great course from our friend, Sean Marshall of Family Rocketship, titled Online Marketing Business: $2050 in my First Month Online. Check it out!)

*  Location – The internet has also eliminated this excuse. Access to credible learning opportunities is increasingly available wherever you go, especially if you have a smart phone. Apps such as Lumosity, Elevate, Fit Brains, NeuroNation, and Duolingo make learning easily accessible. Of course, a quick online search will lead you to countless articles, e-books, videos, and podcasts about nearly every topic under the sun. My husband regularly uses YouTube to research how to fix things around our home, such as the water heater and refrigerator. We saved hundreds of dollars by doing it ourselves!

*  Desire – Why read a classic book instead of a gossip magazine or visit a museum instead of the mall or watch a video course instead of a TV show? Because learning is exciting! Actively engaging your mind opens up amazing opportunities and there’s an extreme sense of pride and fulfillment when you realize you are wisely spending your time and investing in yourself. Once you start learning, you’ll want to learn more.

As you can see, learning needn’t be time-consuming, expensive or boring. Simple replace your excuses to not learn with reasons to learn.

Truly learning to do anything means acquiring a new habit. Your habits are your automatic actions which cumulatively comprises your behavior. To reprogram your behavior, you need to reprogram your habits. Here a few tips for installing the habit of lifelong learning:

Embrace the identity of “Learner” – Declare yourself a “learner.” Resist the urge to squander spare time on mindlessly consuming entertainment and other uninspiring distractions. Look for learning the opportunity in everything.

* Change your perspective – Instead of looking at learning as a chore, see it as opportunity. Don’t force yourself to learn things because they’re important and necessary. Realize that every time you learn something, you’re investing in yourself. After all, when you die, your knowledge and experiences are all that you can take with you. It’s up to you to realize and seize the learning opportunities that are all around you. You know you’re a lover of learning when the desire to learn comes from within.

*  Learn with a purpose and commit to it – If you read a book or attend a class without specific goals, you’ll most likely come out feeling empty. Without a purpose, your brain is less inclined to realize and retain vital information. You must give your brain reasons to remember what you learn. Success requires commitment. To make learning a consistent, focused part of your life, you need to set goals for what to learn, how to learn it, and how long it will take. Write down your goals and your plan to accomplish them, and set a specific time each week for reviewing and tracking your progress.

*  Learn how you learn – The best way to learn depends on the learner. There are several different kinds of learning styles but they boil down to three main methods: visual, auditory, or kinesthetic (tactile). Most people learn through multiple methods but favor one or two. If your learning style isn’t yet apparent to you, you can take this quick quiz to help point you in the right direction. Use your learning style preference to your advantage. If you’re an auditory learner, learning via audio tapes or speaker presentations is a great option. If you’re a visual learner, you’ll probably enjoy viewing online video tutorials or will benefit from making flashcards to retain information. If you’re a kinesthetic learner, taking notes, role playing, and finding ways to make your learning experience three-dimensional will best help you develop your knowledge.

*  Foster a growth mindset – You might believe that you’re incapable of learning new things. But neuroscience and psychology have proven that notion to be false. Neuroplasticity refers to the changes in your brain due to your environment, experiences, and other factors. This exciting field of scientific study has proven that our brains remain plastic and malleable well into old age and that it’s possible to create new connections (synapses) among our body’s neurons and thus learn new things regardless of our age. Lifelong learners use the science behind brain development to back up their belief in growth. Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck discovered that people have one or two “mindsets” – fixed or growth. People with a fixed mindset believe that their talents are innate and unchanging. They don’t believe they can improve with work and effort. On the contrary, people with a growth mindset believe they can improve themselves by trying new things, developing their resiliency, extracting lessons from other growth mindset folks, and constantly pushing their learning boundaries. Don’t compare yourself to the “lucky brainiacs” or let negative learning experiences from your past stop you from reaping the rewards of becoming a lifelong learner now and into the future.

*  Make it a daily priority – You’re learning all the time. But when it comes to achieving focused learning goals, your mind appreciates regularity and rhythm.  You don’t need to budget gobs of time in your day to sit down and read the encyclopedia. But make sure that learning something new is part of your daily routine and get rid of distractions during your devoted learning time. Regularly devoting any amount of time to learning will help you grow. I like to start my day by reading my scriptures alongside the news and several non-canonical articles that I find interesting. Then I catch up on work for online courses in which I’m currently enrolled. When I have some spare time throughout the day (which isn’t much but even 10 minutes at the doctor’s office can suffice), I’ll go through the brain games and language learning apps on my phone. I’m currently improving my electric guitar playing, so I typically spend at least 15-20 minutes on that each day. It might not seem like much but slow and steady wins the race!

*  Take care of your body – Learning is physical and mental activity that can take its toll on your body and brain if done without proper nourishment. Be sure to get adequate sleep, eat healthy foods that boost brain cognition and supply enough oxygen to your brain, and exercise regularly. Relaxing is also important since being under stress for long periods of time can cause damage to the hippocampus which is critical for long-term memory. Meditation can help you quiet your mind and calm your body so that you can optimize both your learning and relaxing times. So relax and the learning will come.

*  Learn the basics – Making sense of the big world around you is easier if you have a working grasp of basic concepts. I’m not a mathlete but I do know how to balance a checkbook; I’m not a rocket scientist but I do understand the basic laws of physics and chemistry. Having foundational knowledge allows you to make more connections.

Ask questions – Instead of passively consuming information, actively participate in your learning process by asking questions. Asking the right questions can be just as important than having the right answers.

Always have a book – Read widely and often. Regardless of how long it might take you, always be working on reading a good book. Reading for even a few minutes here and there each day can you to polish off a book quicker than you might realize.

Keep a “To-Learn” list – Just like making a to-do list, make a list of all the things you’d like to learn – skills, hobbies, new topics of study. Write down whatever interests you.

Have more intellectual friends – Spend more time with people who think – not just book-smart people, but people who are active learners in whatever their area of expertise is whether it’s calculus or cooking. One of the smartest people I’ve ever met was an automechanic who didn’t graduate from high school but could easily overhaul a vintage VW engine like it was no one’s business. Surrounding yourself with active learners means their learning habits will rub off on you, they’ll inspire you to learn more, and they’ll share their knowledge with you.

Reflective Thinking  – Albert Einstein said, “Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.” Follow studying the knowledge of others with reflective thinking of your own. Journal, meditate, and contemplate ideas you have learned.

Curate your sources – There is a difference between information and knowledge. Make sure your sources are credible and have solid substance. Be discerning about what sources you look to and what information you consume.

Create – Some of the most powerful learning occurs when you create something. The creative process enlivens and sharpens various types of intelligence within you.

Put it into practice – Learning is useless if not applied. Don’t just read or listen your way to knowledge. Find a way to put your knowledge to work.

Teach others – As Joseph Joubert said, “To teach is to learn twice.” In teaching others, you will find that you learn even more than your students. If you share your ideas with others, you solidify your learning. Discuss your ideas with a friend, start a blog, or even mentor someone.

Learning is one of the greatest joys and privileges of life and it can also be critical to staying employable and keeping your mind fit as you age. Look for the learning opportunities in every day. By resolving to be a lifelong learner, you’ll realize that you are never finished learning.

” ‘A’ohe pau ka ‘ike i ka hālau ho’okahi.” (“Not all wisdom is learned in one school.”) – Native Hawaiian proverb

Be Debt-Free!

“A man in debt is so far a slave.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

What’s one of your goals this year? “Be debt-free” tops the list for many folks. And rightfully so.

Debt is no fun. Everyone knows it. But a lot of people go in debt just to keep up with those who already are. Some people operate with the notion that debt is inevitable – a necessary and probably insurmountable obstacle. They feel that no matter how hard they try to avoid and rise above it, they’ll never be debt-free.

But debt needn’t be a given in life. You can have financial freedom – and probably sooner than you realize. We’ve talked about how to get a hold of your finances here and here. We’ve created other products and programs focused on helping families to become familyprepenurs. But everyone always wants to talk first about being debt free.

So we made a course based on our journey to becoming debt free. It’s called Be Debt-Free!

That’s pretty straight to the point, eh?

And so is the course. If you wanna be debt-free, go get the goods.

People often ask us how we work from home, how we homeschool, and how we live minimalistic lives in a world full of distraction and clutter. Those aspects are all part of our family lifestyle design. But so is being financially free.

Financial freedom opens up the gate to so many other freedoms. When you’re not worried about living paycheck to paycheck, you can focus on living the life you want to live – on your own terms and without someone breathing down your neck about the bills.

Like most families, debt was a significant part of our life. We have kids, a house, cars, student loans, and all the trappings of life in the “real world”. Having so much debt (we’re talking $300K with the house) was a huge and constant ball of stress!

Budgeting helped, of course, but it seemed to barely make a dent. We tried going for the big bucks with a runaway business of our own, but that came with its own headaches (mo’ money, mo’ problems). Where was the middle-ground? Where were the results?

The thing about a lot of debt payoff advice is that it addresses only part of the problem. Like reaching any goal, becoming debt-free requires a plan and action. Within a plan and action, you need know-how and motivation. Within that, you need accountability and actual, lasting change. Most people don’t talk about that stuff upfront and when they do, man, it can be so overwhelming that you stop dead in your tracks!

Most debt payoff advice also revolves around just decreasing expenses, probably through budgeting and frugal living. But what about increasing your income? And after you’re financially free, then what?

Be Debt-Free! tackles all of those issues in one comprehensive course. It’s 12 weeks of lessons, assignments, materials, and tools to help you create a money plan, stay motivated, and actually become debt-free in months instead of years. Be Debt-Free! takes a 3-tiered approach to your finances by focusing on decreasing your debt, increasing your income, and your future of financial freedom.

We worked really hard to make Be Debt-Free! the real deal of debt payoff courses that goes far beyond just paying off your debts. It’s an honest and affordable course with easy-to-follow steps that will get you sweet results (like, “Hey, honey, we’re already done paying off the car” results). What’s taken us years to figure out is all here for you to take advantage of over the next 3 months. (We even share ways that you can make $400 or more in 24 hours or less.) This simple, smart, and solid course is based on our proven formula to financial freedom, and we’re really excited to share it with you.

To celebrate our launch, we’re offering a 30% discount and an additional $5 for subscribing to our Raising Happy Useletter. We charge for the course to support our Progress with Proceeds initiative, which includes donating 50% – 70% of all proceeds to charity. This month’s charities are Donors Choose and Hawai’i Foodbank. Feel free to email us with any questions you might have ahead of time.

If you want to finally be debt-free in 2015 (and beyond), we’d love to have you aboard Be Debt-Free! See you on the inside!

“Debt is normal. Be weird.” – Dave Ramsey


Organize Your Household

“Organizing is something you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.” – A.A. Milne

Happy New Year! 

Another year has gone flown by and here we are, already 15 years into the new millennium.

At the end of every year, our family takes stock with our review and resolutions. We do our best to tie up the loose ends of the old year and get a fresh start on the new year. This includes organizing our household.

By myself, I’m quite organized. Perhaps OCD-level organized. I was a very tidy child, became even more clean-conscious as I grew up, and I firmly believe that “cleanliness is next to Godliness”.

However, organization, tidiness, and cleanliness have been harder to come by since starting a family of my own. My husband, bless his heart, is a typical ridiculously messy guy. He “passed on” his “messy gene” to our eldest child. Our youngest child luckily possesses some of her mama’s “clean gene”. But she’s only so big and can do only so much.

Embracing minimalism has helped us to clean our scene (not entirely though just enough for now). But the backstage running of a family still takes massive amounts of organization. Between work, school, chores, sports, doctor appointments, birthdays, travel, grocery trips, receipts, insurance policies, goals, and more, there’s a heckuvalot to organize, plan, and do. Every parent knows that.

Why get organized

Organization is important to minimizing the stresses that come with daily life. Organization saves money, time, and frustration.

Organizing systems help you manage everything from your personal paperwork to your professional obligations to your parenting responsibilities. They can create order out of chaos by setting boundaries on what to keep, what to toss, and how to store the material things in your life.

Research shows that a disorganized home affects the well-being of individuals in a very emotional and physical way. A cluttered home leads to a cluttered mind. But a home that is organized and orderly gives you a rewarding sense of calm and relaxation, even if life is still busy.

Creating order in a family home is especially important because there are so many moving parts – many people to consider, multiple schedules to coordinate, different demands, and so on. Sometimes the task to get organized in the first place can seem overwhelming enough!

How to get organized

There are many ways to organize your household. Many people get caught up in trying to find a perfect, fancy system. But organization isn’t about perfection. It’s about efficiency. And you can’t be efficient if you don’t start. So the best organizing system is the one that you start today.

I’m a visual mapper and list-lover. I like to write everything down and see how it all relates to each other. (The whiteboard was made for me, haha.) At the same time, portability and accessibility are important too. (Whiteboards aren’t portable.)

Running a family is like running a business – everyone needs to be on the same page in order to get anywhere. So everyone needs to have access to the same information you do. Your organizing system should clearly communicate what is going on and what needs to be done.

We use both a paper system and digital system. The paper system consists of a wall charts and a binder often called a Household Organizer or Home Management Binder). This is basically a binder of all our family’s important info.

As a graphic designer, I like to design my own templates for our binder and wall charts. But I was extra pressed for time this year (holidays, birthdays, trips, and babies, oh my!), so I found several perfectly sufficient and free printables online.

Thirty Handmade Days provides free organization printables

For our wall system, we print out calendar, chore chart, to-do list, cleaning list, and special dates templates, place them in sheet protectors, tape them to the wall, and use dry erase pens to write on them as we need to. These sorts of templates are also readily available for free online. (We’ll be uploading some of our own freebies soon.)

The wall system is especially helpful for my husband who isn’t likely to open up a binder, and for our children who like to see everything out in the open and on display. This system functions as our Family Messaging Center.

Our digital system is run on our iPhones and iPads. All of our information is synced to our devices, so there’s no excuse for no one not to know what our schedule is from day to day. We use Cozi but have also tried AboutOne and GoogleDrive.

Our important official documents (i.e. birth certificates, titles, insurance policies) scanned and kept in the cloud via CrashPlan so that we can access them from anywhere we have an internet connection. We keep the hard copies in a fireproof, waterproof safe along with our priceless items (i.e. portable hard drive containing all of our photos).

Get organized today!

Start the year right by getting off on an organized foot. You can duplicate our organizing system, someone else’s, or create one of your own. You don’t need to spend money or rearrange your decor or make space or even a ton of time to get a system in place. Those are excuses. Just get something in place today!  The main goal is to organize your household so that you can get things done as efficiently as possible and thus have more peace in your home and family.

“Organize yourselves, prepare every needful thing, and establish a house…even a house of order.” – Doctrine & Covenants 88:119


Give Gifts That Matter

The holidays are here! Instead of taking up your precious time with a lengthy blog post, may we simply share with you one of our favorite Christmas quotes and perfect year-round reminders:

“This Christmas mend a quarrel. Seek out a forgotten friend. Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust. Write a letter. Give a soft answer. Encourage youth. Manifest your loyalty in word and deed. Keep a promise. Forgo a grudge. Forgive an enemy. Apologize. Try to understand. Examine your demands on others. Think first of someone else. Be kind. Be gentle. Laugh a little more. Express your gratitude. Welcome a stranger. Gladden the heart of a child. Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth. Speak your love, and then speak it again.” – Howard W. Hunter

Give gifts that matter, and may you and your family have a very merry holiday season.

How to Stop Living Paycheck to Paycheck

“Too many people spend money they earned to buy things they don’t want to impress people they don’t like.” – Will Rogers

If you’ve ever lived paycheck to paycheck, you know that it’s both financially and emotionally stressful. Although research shows that most American households live this way, a hand-to-mouth lifestyle can be disastrous, especially if your car breaks down, you need to take extended sick leave, your job lays you off, or any other unexpected emergency happens.

Breaking the cycle of paycheck-to-paycheck living isn’t easy, but having peace of mind is worth the effort and sacrifice. Family finances are always important. One of our family’s proudest accomplishments and greatest sources of contentment comes from conquering our debt and getting off the “struggling to make ends meet” treadmill. Anyone can learn how to stop living paycheck to paycheck. Follow these six steps to financial freedom:

Step 1: Get your mind right

Whether or not you realize it, you probably choose to live paycheck to paycheck. Your choices are based on your values. If you value a life of material comfort and consumerism, you’ll always spend money, even if you don’t have it. But if you value a life of financial freedom, you’ll go the extra mile to save a dollar. The life you live is the sum of your choices, values, and actions. So be very clear about what is important to you and keep reminding yourself when you feel tempted to give up on your goals.

Part of getting your mind right is being realistic about why you’re in your current financial situation. Take responsibility for your actions instead of blaming your employer, the economy, or the fancy marketing behind some new gadget. Identify what triggers your behavior. Are you addicted to shopping? Do you spend money to compensate for some other void in your life? Are you too lazy to budget and price compare? Do you like to have new material things as a way to pretend you’re someone you’re not? Do you just not know where to start? Are you overwhelmed by your finances and would rather run away from it than tackle it head on? Is there a way your family can work together to become financially fit?

Sometimes it takes a few “Jedi mind tricks” to get yourself over the hump:

*   Live below your means. Pretend you earn less than you do.
*   Literally snap out of it. Every time you feel an impulse to buy, snap your fingers and walk away.
*   Grow an aversion to “more stuff”. Let the thought of bringing one more item into your life repulse you
*   Imagine your worst money nightmare. Perhaps having your car repossessed or your home foreclosed – and wishing that you hadn’t spend the money you’re about to spend.

Step 2: Stop the bleeding

Drop your bad money habits once and for all. They might include:

*   Using money you don’t have. Immediately stop using your credit cards, don’t take out store credit lines, and quit borrowing money whether it’s from the bank or your grandma.If you need to pay for anything, you can do so via automatic bank deduction or with cash that’s hard to let go of. It’s OK to keep one debit card but only if it has a hefty incentive which pays you, such as a cash back or miles reward program.
*   Shopping without need. Maybe you’re bored, maybe it’s entertaining, maybe you lack self-control like a hormone-crazed teenager. Whatever the reason, learn to value need over want and buy only what you absolutely need. There are many apps that can help you find the best deals. For example, Safeway has a mobile app that will match the cost the groceries nearby. (That being said, sometimes I prefer to buy local, especially if it’s fresh produce from our farmers.)
*   Wasting money because you don’t cost-compare. Look for the best deals on everything from utilities to cell phones to clothes, groceries, and bank fees (Simple has no overdrafts and no minimums!) Of course, the cheapest item doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best item. For example, I am willing to pay more for healthier, organic foods instead of feeding my family with a fast food dollar menu. I also prefer to buy a used unlocked cell phone and monthly minute cards than commit to a 2-year cell contract just to get a free phone. But at the same time, I power my home with solar energy, buy only used cars, and shop only the clearance racks. So it all evens out. The principle is that I cost-compare so that I don’t waste money.
*   Refusing to downsize. Do you really need a TV in every room, a car for every driver, the latest gadget, and a closet full of clothes? Probably not. Be brutally honest about where you can afford to trim the fat and then trim it! Besides, a simple life is a happy life.
*   Not counting the small things. Yes, a $5 smoothie might seem like just $5. But it all adds up and if you get a $5 smoothie just twice a week, that’s $52o a year in smoothies! When I had a regular hourly job, my rule of thumb was not spending more than 1 hour per workday of my income on discretionary spending. So when my hourly wage was $20 per hour, it meant that I didn’t budget more than $400 per month on discretionary spending. At the same time, I made sure not to spend more than I saved. If something cost $40, I would ask myself, “Is this worth 2 hours of my workday?”
*   Not using automatic payment. As much as possible, try to pay your bills through automatic deduction. If you don’t see it, you won’t spend it. You can also save money through automatic deduction. This is a great way to cut out the temptation of spending more than you can afford to.
*   Not doing your research. In this age of rapid and [mostly] reliable information, there is no excuse to be in the dark about personal finance. You no longer need a fancy CFP or even a 2-year magazine subscription to show you the ropes of simple budgeting and even investing. There are many great websites and resources readily available for free! So do yourself a favor and get educated. You can start with Yahoo! Personal Finance, Finance at Khan Academy, Money 101 at CNN Money, and/or Dave Ramsey’s Seven Baby Steps. If you need a little incentive, the Earmark app can help. Pioneer Mint and newcomer Level are powerful budgeting apps but they’re certainly not the only ones. Get Rich Slowly and The Simple Dollar are popular and useful finance blogs.

If you don’t stop your careless spending and don’t actively go after ways to save money, your finances and peace of mind will only continue to bleed out until everything is wasted. Bottom line: Stop getting into more debt!

Step 3: Assess your situation

Time to get out your favorite financial tracking software, budgeting app, or just a pen and paper. Write down:

1. How much you make. Whether you’re paid hourly or salary, figure out how much you make for each specific month. (Some months have more weeks than others.) If you have a fluctuating income, like our family does, pinning an exact amount can be difficult, so go with a low number. Figure out your monthly income for the next 12 months.
2. List your bills. This includes both your rollover debts, such as mortgage and loan payments, as well as monthly bills, such as insurance, utility, and phone bills.  A simple spreadsheet that lists the debtor, debt amount, interest, terms, and contact info is a great way to get a snapshot of your bills. List all of your bills, including the ones you’re trying to forget! Confronting them is the first step to making them disappear for good.
3. Bonus: Get one month ahead. Saving enough to get one month ahead can make a big financial and emotional difference. This might seem like a lot of work but it’s especially helpful if you have a fluctuating income as it helps to avoid the panic of “budgeting in the moment”.

Taking a good hard look at your finances is a required precursor to all the steps that follow.

Step 4: Stick to a Zero-Sum Budget

Your income is your path to wealth. The best way to harness the power of your income is by having a monthly budget. Don’t be afraid to make a budget. It needn’t be all bread and water until you pay off every last cent of your debt. Budgets aren’t boring taskmasters; they are freedom tools! Don’t let the fear of facing your finances paralyze you. Do something! No matter how much debt you’re in, know that you can get out from under IF it you set and stick to a budget.

Setting a budget is easy – everything seems to work out on paper. But sticking to a budget can be much harder, especially if you haven’t done Steps 1 – 3.

A zero-sum budget is an easy budget formula to use. Basically, you allocate every single cent of your income and spend all of your money on paper.

Zero-Sum Budget Formula:
Your income – your savings – your bills –  your discretionary spending = $0

While some argue that it’s best to spend first on your bills, our family believes in paying yourself first.  This means putting something aside for savings each month. (See how we adjusted our attitude to think of “saving” as “paying”? 😉 ) 10% of your gross income is recommended, but $10 will suffice if it’s all you really have to spare. (But with self-discipline and frugality, you can probably find more!) You can further divide your savings into categories such as emergency fund, home downpayment, vacation fund or any other big expense. Making saving a regular part of your spending is the best way to divide and conquer and learn this good habit.

The main benefit of a zero-sum budget is that you know ahead of time where every cent of your money is going. Being clear about that one thing can make all the difference and prevent a lot of other problems common to piling up debt. To learn how to create a zero-sum budget, start here where it’s explained by renowned financial advisor, Dave Ramsey. He even provides an excellent and free Guide to Budgeting.

Step 5: Create a Debt Snowball

There are several approaches to paying off debt, but we prefer the “Debt Snowball Method” especially if you have more than one debt. This debt reduction strategy is about tenaciously paying off your small balances first while paying the minimum on larger balances. As each balance is erased, you take the money you put towards old debts (and any extra money you find) and attack the next debt on your list.

Systematically and energetically tacking each debt one by one gives you a sense of progress and accomplishment. You gain momentum with every payment and feel an invigorating sense of accomplishment to see your debt erased dollar by dollar every month – every day!

To figure out how fast you can get out of debt, you can use Dave Ramsey’s Debt Snowball Calculator online or download an automated Excel spreadsheet here from Vertex42.

Step 6: Track and tweak

Now that you’ve got the right attitude and a solid plan, it’s time to put it in motion and make it work. Periodically tracking your money and making necessary adjustments will help you to strengthen weak spots and create an even more awesome finance plan. While you probably won’t blow your budget by randomly splurging on a brand new car this month, you might overspend on groceries and miscellaneous items. So check in on those areas of your budget at least once a week. We’ve successfully used the Envelope System for areas which we had trouble staying within budget.

…Finally enjoy financial freedom!

Once you’ve completed these steps, you should be freed from the paycheck-to-paycheck slump. Now you can spend your money on living instead of debt! Remember that your goal is financial freedom. To not have debt, to not worry about money more than is absolutely necessary, to be able to trust yourself with your money, to know that you are financially prepared for the unexpected, to sleep easy at night knowing there’s money in your bank and you have sufficiently provided for your family – these will be the fulfilling fruits of your labor. After all the work you do to make money, it shouldn’t be work to worry about how to keep it. It may take effort and sacrifice to get your finances in order, but you will never regret being proactive with your money. Money can buy a lot, the best of which is financial freedom to live the life you truly want.

“Financial peace isn’t the acquisition of stuff. It’s learning to live on less than you make, so you can give money back and have money to invest. You can’t win until you do this.” – Dave Ramsey