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Life has a way of throwing curve balls every now and then. Lately, I’ve been thrown a few changeups as well. The tale is too lengthy and too overwhelming to write about at this point, but basically my parents have both been deathly ill over the last three weeks. This last week they both finally made some progress, allowing my family to breathe a little easier. I suppose it’s the need for relaxation that’s actually gotten me to write a blog post.
If you were to follow my blog, it’d look like I’ve done pretty much nothing for about a year and a half. You’d be wrong. For one, I grew a human, as my friend Stefani would say. That’s a pretty big deal. Secondly, I’m now taking care of two little humans. That in itself takes up 90% of my time.
Apart from my kids, though, most of my work has been media related. I’ve been writing and pretending to be a real photographer for the past several months. Most of my work I can’t really show yet (coming soon!), but I realized I do have a little something to share.
My friend Kimberley is the most AMAZING massage therapist in the entire world and she needed a new head shot for the website at one of the businesses where she works. Then, because she’s a very smart lady, she decided to drag her husband Tim along and actually convinced him to take some pictures with her. Jared generally succumbs to my pleas for pictures together, but maybe she can tell me how to convince Jackson to do the same. Once that kid turned twp, he was done with the “Mommy and me” photos. He just refused to take them. Now that he’s three, he feels the need to be the photographer. Needless to say, we have lots of photos of Jackson’s finger and not much else.
Back to the photos at hand, though. They were a lot of fun to take, and because Kimberley knows good and well that it’s just a hobby for me, her expectations weren’t too high. Here are some of my favorites:
A big thank you to Kimberley and Tim for letting me have fun with my camera!
I’ve been gone for a really long time. It’s not that I don’t love my blog. I do. I started it because I enjoy writing and it gave me a way to fill my hours and contribute to my family’s income.
But every hour of my day has been taken up with working on projects for others. I’ve been writing articles, taking photos, designing business cards, putting together a website, all while making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, folding clothes, supervising baths, and reading bedtime stories.
I get tired just reading about it.
So I suppose I’ll get back into the swing of things on my blog at some point. I’m just not sure when.
Believe me when I say I’m well aware that a toddler’s little step stool is usually not cause to write a blog post. But when it takes 18 months to get around to it, I’m gonna celebrate. I don’t even remember where I got it, but I had always meant to paint it, as you can see from the one layer of scruffy black paint on top. I had started one thin coat of Chalk Paint® in Graphite before I became violently ill with morning sickness. (Don’t the words “violently ill” make you want to have a baby? Yeah, me neither.)
Then I became a big ol’ pregnant lady while chasing around a toddler and trying to paint clients’ projects, the last of which I completed at 36 weeks. It included a large dining table (with a script painted on the leaf), two nightstands, a desk and matching stool. Needless to say, I had no energy after that.
Now that Sam is almost three months, I finally feel like painting, and this was the perfect little project to start with. I chose to use gray and red because they were the only two colors I had in my stash and I wasn’t going to buy a new quart of paint for a step stool. I began with a couple of layers of Paris Grey Chalk Paint®, then taped it off with painter’s tape. For some reason, this simple little design has been in my head since I first decided to paint it. Once the tape was down, I added more Chalk Paint®, this time in Emperor’s Silk. After it was dry, I peeled off the tape and voila! Jackson and Sam now have a cute little step stool to call their own.
I will be adding two or three layers of clear wax, since it needs to be indestructible. Even with wax, I can only imagine what it will look like after a few years of use and abuse from those two.
Look, it’s not my fault. I joined Pinterest as a way to remember all the cute crafts, gorgeous interiors, and Chalk Paint projects I had come across. In the beginning, most of my pins included bookcases, double apron sinks, home accessories, or painting tutorials of some kind.
But when I found out I was pregnant with what would become this little mountain of fat rolls…
I almost immediately became the victim of some gnarly morning sickness. It wasn’t pretty. For two months, I was relegated to the bed and the couch when at home. Dishes lay unwashed in the sink, laundry piled up, and it was a good day when a brush made it from the bathroom drawer to my hair.
Painting, crafts, and blogging were out of the picture, since looking at a computer screen actually made me nauseated. When I finally came back online and went to Pinterest for the first time, it seemed like every pin I saw was a photo of some mouth-watering dish, savory or sweet. Case in point:
(Photography by Averie Sunshine)
These beauties, courtesy of Averie Cooks, are called Nutella Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies and they popped up on my Pinterest homepage one morning a few weeks ago. What am I supposed to do with that? Not make them? Not only does the photograph make me want to dunk my head in a big bowl of cookie dough, the name of the recipe itself makes me want to sacrifice my right arm just for a taste of one. Why, you ask?
1) It takes six words to describe these cookies. Six words = more deliciousness.
2) One of those words is Nutella.
3) Another one is chocolate.
4) ‘Nuff said.
Don’t get me wrong, now. Especially since I gave birth to the the aforementioned Mountain of Fat Rolls I’ve tried to curb my appetite for sweets. The savory board on my Pinterest account includes many healthy dishes. (Note: none of these include ingredients pretending to be other, tastier ingredients. I refuse to eat anything that must be described in quotation marks, like “meatballs” or “cheese.” Ewwww.)
I’ve even added some healthier options to my board full of desserts and sweet treats. The problem comes when I see the pins pop up on my Pinterest homepage of some new, ridiculously good-looking cookie or cake or pie. (Or all three. You know someone invented a cookie-cake-pie right? See what I’m saying here?)
I suppose I could go on a Pinterest fast of some sort. I could not re-pin every recipe in sight. Then my jeans would be quite a bit roomier. But then I’d miss out on things like Mongolian Beef, Homemade Ricotta Cheese, and Candied Bacon Ice Cream, none of which I’ve had the pleasure to try yet.
What’s a food-loving girl to do?
P.S. I’m going for a jog.
I know discussing money can be taboo. It was when I was growing up. I remember asking my mom how much she and my dad earned in a year and receiving a gasp that would make you think I’d slapped her across the face. In our house, leaving the price tag on a gift was akin to not sending thank you notes (a mortal Southern sin) and asking someone how much their house/shoes/video game/toothbrush cost would get you in trouble faster than you could blink an eye. You. Just. Didn’t. Do. It.
The disadvantage to this approach, however, is that it’s difficult to teach someone about money if you never talk about it. Which is why I’m doing exactly that. Talking, not teaching. I’m not a financial sensei. I won’t be sharing our income, as my mother, if she reads this, would have a heart attack. But what we’ve accomplished is just too exciting not to share.
(Let me clarify one thing before I share our story. The $26,000 mentioned in the title is actually $19,000 worth of debt and $7,000 put into savings. I just thought a blog post titled “How We Paid Off $19,000 of Debt and Saved $7,000 in 12 Months” was a little too verbose.)
Rev your engines, ladies and gents. Here we go…
When Jared and I married almost 7 years ago, we were in a pretty good spot financially. I didn’t have any debt, as I had paid for my own car my freshman year of college, using money I had saved working throughout high school. I had received a full scholarship to the University of Southern Mississippi, in addition to several others, which meant I actually earned money from going to college. I even lived in Vienna for a semester and traveled all over Europe without incurring a dime of debt. I never used credit cards, so that wasn’t an issue, either. Jared’s only debt was a student loan he took out to study at a university in Madrid for a year.
After we got married we always had money in savings, but never really knew what to do with it. We also never knew how much to save per month or what a long-term savings goal should be. We knew we wanted a house one day, so we made a down payment our one financial goal. So how did we go from having money in the bank to being $19,000 in debt, you ask?
First of all, we had about $8,000 in debt from Jared’s student loans. We could have paid those off in the first year of our marriage, but no one we knew had ever been in a hurry to pay off student loan debt, however small it might be. The payments were only $125 per month, so we didn’t feel the urge to pay them off either.
Then we used most of our savings to start Jared’s flooring business in May 2010. No big deal, we thought. We’d put it all back. Except we didn’t. Looking back on that first year, we still have no idea where our money went. We could have put back all the money we took out of savings and more, but instead we saved less than half of what we started with. Still, we didn’t see it as a problem.
And then one day in March 2011 a bombshell dropped on us. One of the contracts Jared had with a (much) larger flooring installation company fell through. It was a our bread and butter. It had provided a huge portion of our income, and now it was gone. We found out the day after the transmission in our car died on the way home to Nashville. To make matters even worse, January and February are the slow season for the flooring business, so we had been using some of our savings already for the previous two months.
The next few months could have turned out much differently, had we dealt with our situation like mature adults. Instead, I stuck my head in the sand and pretended our situation wasn’t that precarious. Jared had to take care of the finances all on his own, because I told him it scared me too much to help. So he did. By using credit cards to pay our bills. Ouch.
By August, when he got another contract (a much better one, by the way. More on that later) we were far more in debt that we had ever imagined we could be. It took another month before I summoned the courage to even look at the numbers. We owed almost $20,000, including Jared’s student loan. That’s when we decided we would tackle our debt together, as a family, as we should have from the beginning.
We would have saved ourselves so much grief if we had reached out for help. That doesn’t mean we would have received money. At the very least we could have gotten advice from others who had been through a similar situation. Instead, embarrassed by our “failure,” we refused to tell anyone. I suppose “when pride cometh, then cometh shame, but with the lowly is wisdom.” This particular trail definitely taught us humility; it also taught us empathy.
Even after realizing what we should have done and how deep in debt we were, we still weren’t aware of how to do it. Oh, we thought we were. We’d pay several hundred dollars extra every month and in a few years we’d finally be able to put it all behind us. Then I went to my friend Christine’s house to stencil her wall. We talked pretty much the whole time I worked, and at one point she asked me if I had ever heard of Dave Ramsey. I told her I had heard his name and knew he was a financial guru of sorts but didn’t know anything beyond that. (I never paid attention to financial experts because their advice always seemed so convoluted.) She told me she and her husband had been fans of his for years. She gave me his book, The Total Money Makeover, and mentioned that he’d be re-taping something called Financial Peace University the next month. Christine was so enthusiastic, it made me at least want to read the book.
I devoured it the next week. I begged Jared to read it as soon as possible. I knew it was exactly what we needed. Not only did he tell us exactly how to get out of debt, it provided a plan to handle our finances after we were financial stable again. The next month Jared and I took turns attending the taping of FPU, the DVD sessions that go along with his program, and we were officially hooked. Jared saw audience members who had paid off more than one million dollars of debt since following Dave Ramsey’s advice. Our debt suddenly seemed like small potatoes; perhaps we’d be able to pay everything off far faster than we had previously thought. I am happy to say that’s exactly what happened!
How exactly did we do it? We followed Dave Ramsey’s Seven Baby Steps. They are:
1) Save $1000 for a baby emergency fund. The point of this is to get you through any small emergencies that might occur while you’re getting yourself out of debt. It’s small on purpose. The fear of not having enough in savings is meant to propel you to get out of debt faster. We already had more than $1000 in savings when we started, so we were done with this step immediately. We put the rest of our money from savings toward debt.
2) Pay off all debt using the debt snowball. This means paying off debts from smallest to largest. Once the smallest debt is paid, you take whatever money was going toward it and put it toward the next debt. By the last debt, your debt snowball should be fairly large, making it easier to pay off your debt quickly. Doing it this way gives you momentum from small victories. I’m the kind of girl who loves checking items off a list, so I reveled in this process. By the way, debt includes any and every form of debt you can think of, minus your mortgage. That means car payments, student loans, and anything else you have financed.
3) Save 3 to 6 months worth of expenses for a Fully Funded Emergency Fund. That’s pretty straightforward. Calculate how much your monthly expenses are, multiply them by the number of months you want to cover, and save up that amount. For us, being a one-income self-employed family, we are definitely going the 6 month route. I’m happy to say we’re halfway there!
4) Invest 15% of household income into Roth IRAs and pre-tax retirement. Again, this is straightforward. In order to have enough money to carry you through retirement, you need to start saving. Now.
5) College Funding for Children. College is expensive. Save now.
6) Pay off home early. Steps 4, 5, and 6 are done at the same time. Any extra money in your budget goes to paying off your home mortgage early. Then you’ll be truly debt free. How awesome is that?
7) Build wealth and give! Dave Ramsey’s catchphrase is “Live like no one else, so later you can live like no one else.” Sacrificing during baby steps one through six give you financial peace and the freedom to be far more generous than you can when you’re mired in debt.
There’s a lot more detail to them than what I’ve mentioned here, which is why I definitely recommend reading the Total Money Makeover or attending a Financial Peace University class (there are plenty of them all over the country.)
For instance, we couldn’t have made it through Baby Step 2 so quickly if we hadn’t used a zero-based budget. That means that we gave a “name” to every dollar that went into our bank account. No more wondering where our money from the previous month had gone (do you know how much you spend on groceries? Gas? Restaurants? A year ago, I didn’t either.) Creating and sticking to a budget every month was vital to paying off our debt so quickly.
Also, I feel the need to explain why, if you’re only supposed to save $1000 before you pay off all your debt, we already have 3 months of savings. Because we were expecting our second baby in March, we were in baby mode for 9 of the past 13 months. That means we were actually supposed to only pay minimums on our debts while we put all of our money into savings in preparation for the baby. Any money left over is supposed to go toward your debt. After this cutie arrived, we had plenty in savings to pay off our debt and kick start our fully funded emergency fund. That means we actually could have been debt free even sooner. But I’ll trade a healthy, handsome little man for a small delay any day.
As much as I regret how much money we wasted in the first 6 years of our marriage, I’m thankful for the trial we went through. As difficult as it was, it led us toward a brighter financial future. We have begun to change our family’s legacy. I’m already looking forward to teaching our boys what we’ve learned so they don’t have to make the same mistakes we did. We’ll teach them how to be different from most of the world. We’ll teach them how to be weird.
I’m glad I finally have the energy to write, since I don’t have the energy to do much else these days. Being a full-term pregnant lady has kinda put a damper on all my creativity. I have been working for Tawnya at C’est Moi quite a bit, so that’s filled my time sufficiently. I’ve been creating ads, writing for their blog, and trying to put together their new website, all without any professional experience whatsoever. You learn as you go, right?
A few weeks ago, though, I did get the chance to work on a little DIY art project with both of my sisters while Jared installed some Carerra marble counter tops. Of course, we did all this at Sugar B’s, my sister’s bakery in Prattville, Alabama. I’ve chronicled the transformation of the antebellum building for the past year and half; you can read about that here, here, and here.
But let’s go ahead and do a quick before and after, shall we?
This isn’t even the real before picture. They had already primed the walls and Jared had sanded and buffed the floors. You should have seen it before that. Bad. Bad. Bad.
And this can’t officially be called the after shot, since she now has glass in the case, among other things. But it’s definitely a great “in progress” picture, wouldn’t you say? I wish I had taken the before picture from the same angle. Oh well. You get the idea, right?
The wall to the left of the door, where I took the photo above, was big and empty. In fact, it looked like this:
Forgive the photo. I took it months ago, and the focus was the door, not the wall.
Michelle decided she wanted something punchy and fun on the wall. Nothing shabby chic, as that just wouldn’t fit with the rest of the room. I had just painted a dining room leaf with script, using graphite paper to transfer the text. I found this sign on Pinterest and showed it to Michelle. She loved it, but wanted brighter colors and wanted to do a phrase rather than just one word. The wall is also pretty large, so we needed to divide it up anyway.
So off to Hobby Lobby Michelle, Angela, Jackson, and I went. We picked up three canvases, a pack of paint brushes (all different sizes for outlining, filling in, etc.), and several bottles of acrylic paint. Michelle chose red, orange, yellow, and blue, and we needed black for the lettering. Here’s how they turned out:
I used a font called Lobster, which you can download for free here. First we painted the backgrounds on the canvases, using cookie cutters Michelle had on hand and painter’s tape for the stripes. I printed out the letters, only printing them out a couple at a time to get the spacing right. Then I taped the letters together and taped them to the graphite paper. I then laid the graphite paper over the canvas, making sure everything was straight and taped that down as well. We traced the letters with pens, then outlined and filled in the letters with the black acrylic paint. Basically, we used the same method that Miss Mustard Seed uses in her antique sign tutorial.
Here’s a better look, from farther back. I think they’re adorable! They really made a difference in the space, and were fun and inexpensive to boot!
While we were there, Jared thought he might go ahead and install Carerra (or Cararra) marble tile on the bakery case counter top. The bakery case used to look like this:
But now it looks like this! Pictures really don’t do it justice. It transformed the look of the room. It took Jared and Michelle’s husband Eddie one day to install it. It’s absolutely beautiful in person.
Here’s a close up. You can see the variation in the gray veins, which I love. He installed extremely small grout lines, so it looks as seamless as possible.
All in all, it was a fun, albeit exhausting weekend. Now that I’m a week away from my due date, I suppose this will be my last post for quite a while. It’s hard enough to write while I’m pregnant, much less when I have a toddler and a newborn to take care of!