Learner’s Edge Review: Continuing Education for Teachers

A few months ago I almost asked my readers: should I keep my teaching license? But as I drafted the post, I knew I already had my answer. Although I don’t necessarily plan to return to full-time classroom teaching, I could see myself still working in the field of education in a variety of ways. I don’t know for sure what type of work I’ll do once my kids are in school, and that’s why it seems better to keep the teaching license rather than let it expire.

To keep it, I need 6 college credits every 5 years, and that runs out for me in one year. Most teachers take graduate classes, but for my first renewal I took online undergraduate classes through a community college or regional branch of a state university, since these were the most affordable options. (I’m not planning to pursue a Master’s in education.)

I finished my last round of coursework before we had kids. I needed a course that was online and flexible. Because completing an entire thought, let alone a homework assignment, is challenging with two little kids.

Through my search, I came across a company called Learner’s Edge. It’s was created by teachers to provide graduate level continuing education classes for teachers. All classes are online, self-paced, and offer credits through regional partnering accredited universities. After reading reviews about the company I decided to try a course.

I can’t say enough about the great experience I had. If you’re a teacher or know a teacher who needs continuing education credits OR wants to earn a Master’s degree in education, I highly recommend Learner’s Edge.

First off, the classes are a bargain at $425 for three graduate credits. That’s the same price as a three-credit undergrad class at my local community college. Secondly, the window for semesters is huge. For example, registration for my “summer” class ran from January 15-April 15, with all coursework due by August 15. That means you get up to eight months to finish your self-paced coursework. This is flexibility to the max, perfect for busy teachers and/or parents.

Learner’s Edge offers a wide selection of courses depending on your teaching area. They even have classes recommended for those who aren’t currently teaching. In that case, you’re encouraged to draw on past classroom experience for certain assignments. There were plenty of customer reviews of the courses, which was helpful in choosing what to take.

The company mailed the textbook to me within a few days. All the assignments for my course were posted in an online portal, so I knew from the beginning what I was in for. In addition to the textbook the teacher added a few interesting videos and links to articles.

Overall, I found the assignments to be useful. If you’ve ever taken an education class, you know this is high praise. I didn’t feel like I was obliged to regurgitate the same buzzwords ad nausea um. The coursework required reasonable degrees of extension, research, and application, without feeling overwhelming or like busy work. The content was relevant and interesting. In fact, I’ve already been able to apply it in everyday life.

Another huge plus for my particular class was that the student forums were optional and not part of the grade. I’m all for peer interaction and did comment on the forums, but sifting through the repetitive or overly opinionated comments of others while racking my mom-brain for something original to add is not my favorite.

The assignments were graded in a very timely fashion, within about two days for my class. And the grader’s comments were personal in the sense that the grader responded to particular parts of my work, and also offered additional resources or ideas based on what I had written. It felt mutually professional– another rarity in the field of education, in my experience. It was mostly for “completion.” I didn’t get a letter grade until the last assignment, for which I did slightly more work to earn an A. Because, what teacher doesn’t want an A?

I have one more class to take in the next year, and it will definitely be from Learner’s Edge. I thought about diving right into another one, but we have a lot going on this summer and I’m trying to be a fun mom J Again, I realize many of my readers aren’t teachers, but you most likely know someone who is. I’d encourage you to share this resource with them because it is the best solution I’ve found for teacher’s need for useful, flexible, and affordable continuing education.

What is the best way to meet continuing education requirements in your field? Any teachers out there with experience with Learner’s Edge or other good ways to earn CEUs?

Life is Not About Your Preferences

crying kid

Not my kid, but close enough.

My 3-year-old regularly has a melt-down if I give him the wrong color of plastic plate. “Pink is not my favorite, I need a blue one!” he’ll cry. It doesn’t matter that no blue plates are clean. He thinks he’s entitled exclusively to his favorites, all the time. He wants only his favorite foods, clothes, and TV shows. Of course we are trying to teach him “you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit,” i.e., not everything has to be your favorite. Life is not about your preferences.

Unfortunately, even as adults we fall prey to the “favorite” fallacy, or thinking that life is largely about discovering and securing our preferences. I’ve talked to countless people who explain that they can’t save money because they don’t prefer to bag their own groceries, or don’t want to work with bone-in chicken, or don’t like driving an older car that might require inconvenient repairs. They prefer to wear clothes that are in style. They don’t prefer eating beans over steak. They don’t like buying used furniture. They don’t enjoy shopping at thrift stores. Actually I’ve never met anyone who said they don’t like thrift stores, because thrift stores are awesome.

I have plenty of preferences myself, and I’m sure I don’t even realize how much I cater to them. But when it comes to saving money, I try to set aside my favorites and be content with less expensive options. Why? Because I prefer financial flexibility to debt. I prefer investing money to spending it on new clothes and iThings. I prefer to give away money instead of spending it all on things I don’t need. I prefer being able to take [expensive] opportunities that come along, like traveling on mission trips when we’re invited. I love staying home with my young children, even though that means having less income.

It’s okay to have preferences, and it’s okay to spend money on some of those preferences. But when you have a reason why you can’t save money in ten different ways because you don’t like this or that, maybe it’s time to think about the big picture. Do you prefer to shop at the Big Store more than you want to get out of debt? Do you prefer to drive a new car more than you prefer to save for the future? Do you want to eat at restaurants more than you want to give to church or charity? Maybe the opportunity cost of your preferences is something as big as retiring 5-10 years sooner, pursuing your dream career, or being really generous. People tend to think these “little” expenses don’t make a difference on their overall financial situation. But money cut from “little” costs, if invested, will grow exponentially, and that’s a power we underestimate while our money is enslaved to our preferences.

I’m sure the iStuff culture and foodie trends aren’t helping the preference obsession. My son thinks he should be able to request each individual song he wants rather than listening to the radio or an entire album. When you’re two it’s kind of cute that you want everything to be your favorite. But by age three the preference-obsession is decidedly not cute anymore, as any parent will testify. So if you’re reading this blog you have officially timed out of being allowed to live according to the favorite mentality. To be honest, I have preference problems, too, which become embarrassingly evident when SuperWalmart doesn’t have the exact version of an item I want. In times like those, I remind myself that the last thing I need is to procure a gourmet food taste or fancy product habit. Surely something less specific will suffice.

To set aside our favorites, we are fighting our underlying assumptions and attitudes we’ve absorbed from marketing messages and the 3-year-old inside us all. It’s tough for my son to just take the pink plate, and it’s tough for me to cook homemade food every night instead of getting take-out or frozen meals. But if cooking at home can contribute to saving, giving, and gaining flexibility, then it’s worth it.

The take-away? You don’t have to give up all your preferences, but decide what’s really worth it. I still don’t like ranch dressing and feel compelled to say this anytime that disgusting substance is mentioned. No one is saying you have to start listening to country music or that I have to start eating ranch. Just stop using your preferences as an excuse for not saving money.  We tend to think getting what we want will make us happy. Newsflash: it doesn’t! If I let my son have the blue plate, then he’ll start whining that the peanut butter sandwich on the blue plate isn’t his favorite. It’s an endless cycle if we give in, and the same applies to your finances. More convenience, comfort, and consumer goods won’t make you happier.

Instead of feeling deprived when you stop catering to a preference, focus on your favorite financial outcome that your small sacrifice will help you achieve. Is your goal to get out of debt? To give or save more? To travel or volunteer?  Letting go of preferences will help you become more flexible in every way—from daily situations to your finances. Remember the big picture of what you prefer your life to be about and let this control your spending, rather than letting your spending control your life options. That’s what financial flexibility is all about.

What money saving strategy have you avoided because of your preferences? What is your favorite financial goal?

Building Community Without the Commune

J. Money of Budgets Are Sexy recently sent me an interesting article about one nun’s experience of communal living. In her order, the sisters all take a vow of poverty in which they choose to contribute all their income (many have “secular” jobs) to a common pot, and own all possessions collectively rather than individually. It had some cool takeaways for anyone, and it also got me wondering: is communal living trending?

Because I’ve also been hearing buzz over Rod Dreher’s latest book, The Benedict Option, which suggests communal living in less extreme forms. We, too, have dreamed of buying a large property with friends, living in separate houses but sharing outdoor chores and using the property to serve the larger community.

It seems the idea of communal living is back in vogue after a generation of building decks in the back of the house instead of porches in the front. And attached garages so you never have to see your neighbors, unless serendipity strikes during the half-minute walk to the mailbox.

It’s true that a sharing economy has emerged, along with a rising movement toward minimalism/simplicity. People are going “back to the land” in various ways.  The idea of communal living may be more of a dream than a reality for most, but there are practical ways we can all build community. I imagine this is what people are actually longing for in the most individualistic culture ever.

I’ve lived in close community perhaps more than the average person. First it was my family of five kids, plus all ones my mom babysat and neighbor kids coming to play. In college I always had multiple roommates. After college, we lived in an apartment building where several of our married friends resided. I started calling this place The Commune because they said the gas bill was split evenly among the residents (it wasn’t).

When the rent increased people started moving out. So we moved in with friends. While we didn’t pool our incomes or anything like that, we did share a shower and kitchen.

A year later we purchased a home on the same block. From there, we set out to continue building community. We invited all our immediate neighbors to our house-warming party. Which, by the way, is the best way not to have the cops called if the party gets too loud. I also took cookies to our neighbors within a week of moving in. Thank goodness they weren’t home. The cookies were a little on the crisp side, and I learned later that my neighbor is a pastry chef.

But enough about me. Here are a list of other ways we can practice community and sharing without getting all Animal Farm:

  • Swap babysitting with other parents.
  • Make errands more efficient. If you’re stopping by a store, text your neighbor to see if they need anything.
  • Share tools. Why does everyone need to own a ginormous extension ladder? How often do you actually use some of your tools?
  • Share skills. While you’re sharing tools, why not share your skills? Whether it’s baking, crocheting, or rebuilding your ant-eaten home, sharing DIY skills is invaluable.
  • Share meals. Invite people over for dinner. Or brunch. Or a fire-side s’more. Just remember to aim for hospitality rather than entertaining. That makes everyone feel more comfortable.
  • Share baby gear. Even before you’re done having kids, sharing is caring. I’ve borrowed and lent out everything from clothes to carriers.
  • Give stuff away. Even if you could sell something, consider giving it away in order to build community. When I think of all the ways people have shared with me, I’m more likely to dismiss the few bucks I might get for an item and just pass it on.
  • Share life. At some point it makes sense to go beyond small talk and discuss real life. That point is different for every relationship, but being there for people (and having others to lean on) is what community is really about.
  • Share money. Be generous. Give to good charities. Support your local church. Treat someone. Take the tool that money is and use it for good in the lives of others as well as your own.
  • Share faith or values. For us the deepest sense of community comes from our church. Did you know the word church literally means the assembly? It’s not about the place. It’s about people coming together. And the word fellowship actually means to share or to have in common. Much of the sharing described above happens in this context for us, and it’s a source of great joy.

As I type this list, countless examples  of sharing come to mind. My neighbor who has clothed my son for the last year or more, and just sent over cupcakes this evening. Our friends down the street who gave us a shop vac for our house-warming present. And much, much more. I’m at once humbled and motivated to continue striving to share and build community.

For Further Reading: Frugal Friends Don’t Let Friends…

What are other ways of building community? What do you think of the idea of communal living?

10 Personal Finance Commandments You Don’t Need to Follow

Image result for commandments

Do you ever find yourself trying to follow advice you don’t really believe in? Here are 10 popular personal finance-related “commandments” and why you don’t necessarily need to follow them.

  1. Be frugal. I enjoy the many benefits classic frugality brings. It allows us to be more flexible, generous, and prepared for the future.  However, frugality has its limits. Frugality in itself is not truly a value, a purpose, or even a goal. There are many situations in which frugality as a controlling value would lead you astray. It’s just a tool to give yourself options. Please don’t make all your choices, including non-financial ones, based on frugality alone.
  2. Earn more. There are so many messages out there about how and why you should be increasing your income. I believe in increasing your income and growing your career in an ongoing fashion, to a point. But killing yourself to make more when you have a solid career, or basing all your major life decisions on income alone is also misguided.
  3. Go minimalist. Just because empty space is in, doesn’t mean you have to revolve your life around having less stuff. I appreciate the practical benefits of not being up to your eyeballs in useless junk. Totally get it. But when you are trying to make your house look like the cover of a Crate & Barrel ad, or causing marital division over how many shoes your spouse is allowed, it might be time to reign in the “minimalism.”
  4. Be normal a.k.a. Keep up with the Joneses. Cliché as it may be, it’s tempting to feel like the weirdo when you’re the only one in the neighborhood without an addition, kids who are in all the “enrichment” activities possible, or with mix-matched furniture. If we’re honest, we all conform to culture to some degree, and that’s not always a bad thing. But other people’s lifestyle choices shouldn’t be the main factor in yours. Whether that’s being fancy or frugal.
  5. Side hustle. Did you know you can make more money if you keep working after you get home from your day job? Would you like to read 1000 listicles about this fascinating and innovative concept? Just because side hustling is all the rage, just because so-and-so is making so much money this way, doesn’t mean you should be, too. It all depends on your goals and situation. If you have available time and actually need more cash, hustle away. If you’re short on time and not on money, I don’t see why you would. Unless you love money.
  6. Buy a home/Rent forever. Just because home ownership is the traditional path, doesn’t mean you have to. If you don’t want to deal with it, don’t. And just because it’s in vogue to question home ownership, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider it. Owning a home can allow for options that renting doesn’t, and that’s hard to quantify.
  7. Retire early. Why not declare an end date and race toward the finish line? Because we never want not doing something to define us, and early retirement at its simplest is just that. Instead of just inflating our lifestyle or our bank accounts, we also want to inflate our usefulness to others. And even inflate the lifestyles of those in need. If you’ve got better things to do with your time than work, start doing some of that now and see where it takes you. Stay flexible, and be responsible with your money, but also with your heart.
  8. Be more productive. Did you know that if you sleep one hour less per night AND give up caffeine and sugar AND exercise and read more, you could be BETTER!!!? Better at what, I’m not sure. Perhaps better at yawning? Or crying? In all seriousness, the productivity stuff appeals to me a lot and of course wasting less time on Facebook is a good idea. But when my value as a human is defined solely by what I do—what I produce—I might as well be a machine.
  9. Slow down/simplify. In response to all the DO MORE! productivity hype comes a very welcome call to slow down and simplify life. And as much as this reminder is needed, it also falls short. Because life isn’t simple, or slow. Life with kids gets hectic. Having friends is messy. Living with purpose means you have big stuff on your plate, and that isn’t something we should avoid in an effort to make life easier.
  10. Curate your life. Life is meant to be lived, not curated. For example, my closet is not an art gallery, nor does it exist for the sole purpose of self-expression. Clothes are for not being nakey. My home is for living in, not admiring (though I believe in frugal aesthetics). The pressure of trying to get my possessions or my schedule “right” is too much for me. I’ll gladly be sloppy, tacky, and busy if I don’t have to think about my life as a museum.

Which of these tools match your values, and which don’t? Have you noticed any other “commandments” that don’t fit your life?

How Do You Uncube? A Philosophy of Hobbies

Bees are abuzz in the back corner of our yard. Chickens roam, nestling among plants in the garden. Peas are making their way up their trellis. It’s spring time on the burbstead.

Do we want to “live off the land”? Not exactly. We just want to “un-cube.” You know, decompress from the daily grind. And we want to do so in ways that are low-cost, productive, and family-friendly. We also prefer hobbies that are flexible and can involve other people, rather than taking us away from time with friends and family.

In a parenting podcast the speaker said something that really resonated with me. He was talking about the transition people experience if they become a one-income family. “Maybe you can’t afford golf anymore,” he said. “You might need to find some different hobbies. Like running and reading library books.” I hate running, but I get his point.

Poor golf. It gets such a bad name. I’ve never golfed in my life so I can’t comment. All I know is, we’ve made it a point to choose hobbies we can do at home, with the kids, in the margins of life rather than demanding huge chunks of time, and that generally produce rather than consume. We also prefer hobbies that get us outside, moving around, naturally incorporating exercise into our lives.

While Neil loves raising food, building and fixing things, and playing sports with friends, I like blogging (obviously) and dancing. I play more of supportive role in the burbstead activities—feeding the chickens rather than slaughtering them; harvesting, cooking, and cleaning produce rather than planting; cleaning up tools rather than building bee hives. I’m just not very good at keeping things alive, except children.

Family, friends, and ministry come first and we fit our outlets in between these, rather than placing them at the top of the priority list. For the most part, our hobbies don’t have to be scheduled ahead of time on a calendar.

Our hobbies have changed or evolved over the years. I used to take Zumba classes at the fancy-schmancy gym. Then I had kids and going there got too expensive. Neil used to do photography as a hobby-come-side-hustle until that became a bit too time-consuming. Now instead of traveling overseas, traveling looks like camping, road trips, or scoring free flights. I’m sure as our kids age what types of recreation we choose will continue to change. But we never want hobbies to become all-consuming money-pits. That hardly fits the purpose of un-cubing, relaxing, and decompressing after work.

Integrating hobbies into your life, rather than needing to dedicate tons of time, energy, and money to them, is another great suggestion for those with kids. We can feed the chickens together. Neil took a beekeeping class with a friend, and brought our son with him and his friend to pick up the bees. The kids and I have dance parties while I work out the choreo for my next pseudo-flash mob. We read them chapter or nonfiction books that are interesting to us as well (in addition to lots of picture books of their choosing). We ride bikes to the playground together. Neil works in the yard while they play on the swing set.

When it comes to hobbies, sharing is caring. Whether that’s gifting pickled peppers to friends, having people over for meals featuring our homegrown veggies, chickens, or syrup; inviting our playgroup to interact with baby chicks; teaching a dance class, or hanging out with the other softball families at the games.

Some people get into similar hobbies with the dream of self-sufficiency. We don’t believe we’re made to be self-sufficient. We need God. We need people. We need ALDI. And sometimes even Target. We’re not about to make our hobbies our life’s purpose. They’re just there for a fun outlet. We all need a way to un-cube, and we’ve found some interests that fit the bill for us.

Have you ever thought about your philosophy of hobbies? Do your hobbies fit your lifestyle, or do you struggle to fit life around your hobbies?

What are your hobbies? How do they fit in with your bigger picture?

Why Not Rent?

Does the seven year itch apply to home ownership? Because seven years in, renting is sounding pretty good. I’m very grateful for my home. It serves our family well. We love having a yard, storage space, and a garage. We also enjoy having space to share with others. There are advantages to home ownership, but there are also real drawbacks.

Let’s look at some common reasons for wanting to purchase a home.

My own space.

The dream: Before you buy a place, you scheme about what colors you’ll paint the walls, the sleek interior decorating you’ll do, and the spare room where you’ll finally have space for your hobbies, or guests.

The reality: Houses are huge boxes made of things that break and wear out, full of items that break and wear out. And fixing and replacing all this stuff isn’t easy, or cheap.

Lots of stuff has been breaking, wearing out, or needing to be upgraded around here. That’s just routine. And then there’s the time ants ate the studs of our house two years ago. You really can’t quite appreciate what “maintenance and repairs” will involve until you’re several years into home ownership. It’s not merely cosmetic. Homes have to be maintained, sooner or later, and we’d rather keep up with it along the way than wait until it falls into real disrepair.

I’d love to have a yard.

The dream: I’ll read out on the back deck while drinking coffee every morning. The kids will play out back while I clean the house. We’ll host fabulous neighborhood barbeques and everyone will like us. I’ll also raise a vegetable garden and can the fruits of my labor.

The reality: The yard you’re longing for? Has to be mowed. The garden you want to keep? Is a ton of work. The flower beds you dream of? Good freaking luck. Maybe I’ll plant flowers when my kids go to college.

That said, we love our .3 acre (.1 acre “farmable”) burbstead. Right now we have chickens, bees, a garden, a woodpile, and a years’ worth of sap from our maple trees.

I want a garage.

The dream: I will never have to scrape a windshield before work again. I’ll have a place to put my bike and tools. I’m going to do projects and make awesomeness out there.

The reality: I don’t miss scraping my car windshield in the winter. But you know what I do miss? Not having to be responsible to fix every single thing that breaks. So next time you’re scraping your windshield, think about all the time and trouble you’re saving by not having to fix stuff.

If you really want a garage, rent a place with a garage. Then you get to not spend all your money fixing your house, and you don’t have to scrape your car, either. Best of both worlds!

I want more space.

The dream: You’ll have room to move, host, do hobbies, store stuff out of sight, and have kids.

The reality: Having more space is nice, and there are some perks to that especially once you have kids or for people who want to host big groups. More space also means more to clean and maintain, and it makes it easy to accumulate excess stuff.

I would ask: could you get some of that space in a rental? We had some decent-sized parties in our one-bedroom apartment. We fit about 10 girls for a youth ministry sleepover once. And our Bible study used to meet weekly in the basement “party room” of an apartment complex.

I want to gain equity.

The dream: I will sell my house for way more money on day, making it a great investment.

The reality: That “equity” is often purchased with your interest payments and the cost of maintenance. Why do you think it’s called a mortgage–French for death pledge? Read a breakdown in Millennial Revolution’s “Why Renting Will Make You Rich.”

Why let someone else build the equity by renting? Because we don’t have to do the work. We don’t have the risk—of what will break, and when, and what the market will yield if/when we ever want to sell. Plus taking a mortgage is a lot like renting from the bank.

The Takeaway

If we could go back we might buy a duplex, live in one half, and rent the other. We could save the money we made for a down payment in the future. Then, when needed more space and were ready to move, we could potentially cover most of both mortgages by renting out the two apartments in the duplex. In this scenario, there would be more to maintain, but at least it would be for an actual investment (here’s why I don’t think most residences are investments).

I don’t mean to discourage prospective home buyers, but to say: enjoy renting as long as you do. If there’s no rush to get a place, take your time. Because a few years later, you just might find yourself missing the old apartment.

 

 

Renters–what are you longing for in a home? Home owners–do you ever miss renting?

Why Do You Hate Money?

Why does she hate money?

What if someone asked, “Why do you hate money?” every time they saw you with a frivolous purchase? Better yet, what if someone asked you this before you bought that $5 daily coffee drink, or gorgeous new shoes, or that fancy new phone? Would that change your spending at all?

What if you asked yourself, “Why do I hate money?” when making spending choices.

What if someone asked, “Why do you love money?” every time you thought about money? Better yet, what if someone asked you this before you checked the stocks for the third time that day, or search for deals or coupons, or took on more side gigs? Would that change your savings at all?

What if you asked yourself, “Why do I love money?” when making financial choices.

Of course, none of the actions I’ve mentioned—from buying a mocha to a car, to checking stocks or side hustling—are wrong. What matters is why we do them, and what we’re ultimately trusting in to bring satisfaction. The casual spender who frequents Starbucks could have a much better relationship with money than the frugal, committed net worth tracker. Or vice versa.

Three Attitudes Toward Money

The Bible has something to say about our attitude toward money: “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” The love of money tends to manifest itself in one of the two ways described above. Either you love having money, or you love spending money (what I call “hating” money). Each of us has a natural tendency to save or spend; to love or hate money; to hold onto money too tightly or too loosely.

The Bible also suggests a different perspective on money: it is simply a resource to be managed. If “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1) and there’s nothing we’ve been given “which you have not received” (1 Corinthians 4:7), then it all ultimately belongs to God. The parable of the talents, found in Matthew 25:14-30, illustrates the principle that we are managers, not owners. This view actually motivates me to manage money better than if it were mine to do with as I pleased.

It’s important to note that if money is a resource for us to manage, it isn’t inherently good or evil. In fact, the Bible says wealth can become “filthy riches” or a “blessing” from the Lord. It all depends on the manager’s attitude toward it and use of it.

Breaking Free From Loving or “Hating” Money

Money is neutral, and therefore doesn’t deserve our love or hate. Don’t waste your passion on pieces of paper your government has assigned some value to. Money itself is cold, detached, indifferent. And these should be our feelings toward money.

We manage money well by harnessing it as a tool. A tool isn’t good or bad on its own. Think of a knife. It’s amoral. I can use it for good—to cook a meal for my family. Or I could use it violently, to harm an innocent person. In either case, the knife isn’t right or wrong. The person wielding it is the one we pass judgment on.

We will wield money one way or another. What good can you do with money? The possibilities are endless. Charitable giving, freeing yourself up to volunteer, providing for your family, practicing hospitality, and being available for family and friends come to mind.

So you can go through life prioritizing how to have more money—loving money. You can go through life prioritizing your next purchase that will make life better—“hating” money. Or you can manage well the money that’s been entrusted to you, motivated to please the good and gracious Giver.

Are you naturally a saver or a spender? How does viewing money as a resource to be managed free you up to make better financial choices?

We Bought a Car for $200

We sold our rusty but trusty Focus last weekend.

I’m always a little afraid our site title will be taken too literally. We don’t claim to be “extremely frugal” or living at the poverty level. But if there’s one area we veer pretty far from the norm, it would be our vehicle purchases. Perhaps a good way of describing it would be “pretend to be a teenager.” Because who besides a student drives a $1000 car?

While I wouldn’t assert that everyone should follow suit, allow me to divulge the thinking behind the thrifty approach to vehicles that’s served us well into our 30s, carseats and all. Perhaps you’ll find something that will help next time you need a car.

Would foregoing car ownership altogether be the cheapest option? Yes! But this isn’t a good fit for many, including us. Instead we’ve tried to minimize what we’ve deemed a necessary expense.

Who Wants a Hooptie?

We’d been preparing to replace our rusty but trusty 2002 Focus for a while. This meant we had money in our car fund and Neil had his eye out for the type of car he wanted in the under $5000 price range. He was strongly considering flying south for a weekend and bringing back a rust-free vehicle. Before a free weekend materialized, his coworker told him that his neighbor wanted to sell a car for $500 max—a 2004 Scion that needed a clutch.

After contacting the owner, Neil got a ride from his coworker since the location was an hour away. Neil, usually a hard-core haggler, wasn’t trying hard to get the price down. Because it had some problems in addition to the clutch, the owner thanked him for taking it for $200. No, that’s not a typo. That’s $200–less than what most people pay for a bike or a stroller.

Neil got the Scion home without incident. He could replace the clutch himself for around $300, but that could take the better part of a weekend. A mechanic friend quoted him at $500 for the job and we decided it was worth it to outsource. (See–not extremely frugal.) The total for all repairs came to $800. So you could say we bought the car for $200, or spent $1000. Either way, it’s a steal.

Neil listed his other car on Craigslist and within the week it sold for $750. More on that below.

Uncommon Sense for Car Buyers

Having the option to buy a car for $200 is hardly reproducible but it wasn’t totally random either. I picked Neil’s brain and unearthed the secrets of a frugal car-buyer, most of which fly in the face of conventional wisdom.

  1. Don’t drive your car into the ground.  While we believe in driving cars for a long time, but we don’t drive them into the ground–anymore. We jumped Neil’s 1985 Ford F150 twice on the 5-mile trek to the junkyard. Later we were a one-car couple for a month while searching to replace a dead car, the free totaled vehicle he restored and drove for years. This is when we bought Neil’s beloved 1990 Dodge Shadow, a $750 car he sold years four later for $500. My 1992 Brother still drives it. Most grown-ups (including us now) can’t tolerate the inconvenience of a truly dead car, and that urgency tends to spur people into overpaying for vehicles.
  2. Don’t pay for less miles. Not only do we not see the point in buying a new vehicle, we don’t see why we’d pay much more than $5000 for any vehicle. Beyond $5000, you’re most likely just paying for lower mileage. We actually prefer cars that have lived a good life 100,000 miles, at which point some major repairs have been done and depreciation drops off dramatically.
  3. People do notice you drive a clunker–and that’s a good thing. Getting connected with the $200 car wasn’t entirely random. A couple years ago, a different coworker had a car he wanted to get rid of. Neil bought it for $1800 and sold it for $3500. All he put into it was the price of the temp tags and about an hour’s work. Neil works at an engineering firm that employs lots of young grads who drive nice cars. He sticks out in his rusty 15-year-old vehicle. Being known as a scavenger/grease monkey is ideal when someone is looking to offload a hooptie.
  4. Less rust is worth it. If you work on your own cars and live where it snows, it’s worth starting out with a rust-free vehicle. Getting a $50 airline ticket somewhere south and driving back in a solid vehicle is a good idea if no one tries to sell you a car for less than the price of a bicycle.
  5. God provides. The timing of both cases of Neil’s two most recent vehicle purchases was uncanny. In the first, the $1700 profits covered the exact balance due after fund-raising for my India trip. In the second, we’d been actively planning how/when to replace the Focus. We’ve found time and time again that God provides in unexpected ways as we follow Him.

Car ownership is expensive, to be sure. But it doesn’t have to a $20,000 proposition. It doesn’t even have to be $10,000. You can save a lot by recalibrating your view of what a reliable used vehicle can cost. And how sweet would it be to never have a car payment again?

For further reading check out How I Spent Less Than $8k on Cars in 17 Years of Commuting.

What is your approach to vehicle purchases? Has your frugal reputation ever scored you a great deal on something?

The Math of a Mission Trip

In 2013, Neil traveled to India with three friends to witness India Gospel League’s (IGL) growing ministry. In addition to teaching at a Pastor’s Conference, they traveled up steep mountains roads to visit a village transformed by the Adopt-a-Village program. This holistic program provides clean water, schools, vocational training, medical camps, Bible teaching, and much more.

The trip cost approximately $3000 for each traveler, bringing the total trip costs to a hefty sum of $12,000. Many, including myself, would balk at that price. Wouldn’t that money be much better spent directly helping the people there? Couldn’t it go further there? Are these trips more for the travelers than those they’re supposedly serving? Are they financially inefficient?

These are important questions. It took a decade of interest in short-term missions for Neil to find a organization and type of trip that seemed like a sensible partnership.

Even still, it was hard to cough up $3,000 for travel expenses when many people lack basic needs. Should he skip the trip and give more? In the end we decided it was important to see the work firsthand, help with the organization’s need for Bible teachers, and meet and encourage our sponsored child.

Neil benefited personally from the trip in many ways. He learned new things about himself, God, and the work going on through IGL. He gained a new perspective on the world and our family. But the trip also started a chain reaction of financial giving and spiritual impact, and the cumulative effect far exceeds the $12,000 the team invested. From a mathematical standpoint, this trip was far more financially effective compared to if we’d gifted $3,000 to the organization.

The Chain Reaction

For starters, while Neil’s team was in India they used their limited wi-fi access to connect unsponsored children they met with sponsors from our church. At least 8 children were sponsored at $360 per year, a commitment the donor can continue until the child finishes high school.

When the team returned, they came with a huge ask: Could our church raise $75,000 over 5 years to sponsor a village in India through the Adopt-a-Village program?

Many individuals in our church said yes, and our church was matched with the most remote village in the program. Since then, the village and church there are growing spiritually and economically.

In the past year, a farmers group started meeting to help improve agricultural efforts. Eighty women attended a candle-making training to learn how to generate income for their families. Other women have been trained in tailoring, or making crafts or food to sell.

Adopt-a-Village staff and leaders also gathered for training on communicable diseases, pre- and postnatal care, accessing government subsidies, running Women’s Transformation Groups, and character development.

The people of this village have not been content to keep these benefits to themselves. Another important aspect of the ministry is outreach to other villages in the region. The pastor was walking up to 15 kilometers a day (over nine miles) through rough mountain terrain to share the gospel with neighboring communities. He was living the prophet Isaiah’s statement: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation, the news that the God of Israel reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7).

When our church heard this we realized the pastor needed more than just his feet to carry the message—he needed some wheels. The church raised funds and bought him a motor bike.

Since then the pastor has started churches in six neighboring villages. With the help his motor bike, the pastor recently discovered an extremely remote, primitive tribe which is unreached by any government structure. No schools. No health care. No running water or electricity.

To address these urgent needs, our church is in the process of raising an additional $10,000. The gift will be used to provide educational materials for the school and daycare that IGL has started. The money will also provide skills training for villagers, and run medical camps since malaria is rampant.

The Bottom Line

Are mission trips a waste of money? In Neil’s case, his team’s $12,000 investment has yielded well over $90,000 for the ministry. This has directly benefited hundreds of people whom the government was likely unable to help.

Mission trips should not be a trap for endless fundraising. But done right, they can unlock support and action when others hear about an effective organization from a person they trust. In fact, all of our charitable giving has started as a result of hearing a friend speak about their firsthand experience with a particular ministry.

Many of the benefits of a missions trip are difficult to quantify, but there’s no doubt Neil’s trip was a great investment in financial and spiritual impact. Without seeing the Adopt-a-Village program there was little chance our church would’ve felt ready to commit. Our $3,000 was just a drop in the bucket, and we’re excited to hear how far the ripple spreads.

For more on short-term missions, read Are Short-term Mission Trips a Scam? and What Seeing Poverty Taught Me About Pretending to Be Poor.

Do you believe mission trips are financially inefficient? How have you seen the ripple effect of a trip?

The Most Important Factor in Your Finances

What would you say is the single most important aspect of your finances? Your net worth? Your income? Your budget? Your investments? Insurance? To find the answer, let’s consider a famous ancient story:

Then Jesus told them a story: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops.  He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’  Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods.  And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”’

But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’

“Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” (Luke 11:16-21)

In this parable (teaching story), the guy retired early, with plenty of savings to see him through a luxurious lifestyle for the rest of his life. The catch? His life ends just one day after he blows out the candles on the retirement cake.

Fortunately Jesus sums up the point of the story for us. It’s not that it’s wrong to be wealthy, save for retirement, or enjoy good food and drink. He says it’s foolish to prioritize getting rich while ignoring more important matters, namely, having a “rich relationship with God.”

Friends, you can have your finances in perfect order. You could be debt-free, with a solid income, and growing savings and investments, but still be headed toward disaster. Because the most critical factor in your finances is your heart.

Here’s why: your underlying goals drive your financial decisions. If your underlying goals are unwise and selfish, your money decisions will be unwise, too. Even if you follow the most conservative financial advice.

So what’s your goal? Do you want a super-successful career? Do you want to reach FIRE ASAP? Do you want a parent at home with young kids? Do you want to do full-time ministry or volunteering one day? Do you want to own a home? Just “be comfortable”? Impress others? Have nice things? Few of us would admit the latter goals, but I imagine they are latent in many of our hearts.

Many goals aren’t right or wrong in and of themselves. Our motives, our underlying heart attitudes, are what determine whether our financial goals and choices will lead us toward a good life, or destruction.

We’ve made a lot of inefficient financial decisions that would be considered unwise by many. Working part-time, refusing to relocate for career, giving away money while in debt, and volunteering instead of side-hustling all come to mind. Yet we don’t regret any of it because it flowed from our values and priorities.

We also toss around a lot of tips, tricks, and advice on this site. Buy a used car. Consider a 15-year mortgage. Shop at ALDI. And while we only share what has been helpful to us, the details of how one does money matter a lot less than why ones does it.

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)

This well-known verse illustrates just how closely related our hearts and money are. It’s descriptive: where your money/stuff is reveals your true values, what you care about most. Maybe your treasure is a fancy car, beautiful clothes, the latest technology, or an impressive investment portfolio. Maybe it’s your savings account, your home, or travel. We all have “earthly” things we treasure a little too much. What does your treasure say about your heart?

Will we treasure more those things that will outlast us? These are what make us “rich toward God.” This could be supporting your local church, charities, or humanitarian causes. It could be investing in your family, friends, church, and the less fortunate in your community or around the world. It could be taking a family vacation, taking your spouse on a date, or taking your sick neighbor some soup.

Your net worth, the term of your mortgage, or your paycheck simply do not tell the whole story when it comes to your financial health. I’m all for financial education, but never underestimate the importance of setting your heart on what truly matters. Someone with a heart that loves God and cares for others, and that views money as a tool to use toward those ends, will tend to make better choices with money than someone with the best financial training.

What are your top values or goals? Has your heart ever led you astray with your finances?