Live Within Your Means: A Reminder From Life

Life tends to teach us lessons and remind us of things along the way, if we are paying attention.  Back at the end of June my wife wound up fracturing the upper portion of her tibia while playing with the kids.  The details aren’t important, but as a nurse working two 12-hour floor shifts a week, she has been unable to be at work all throughout the summer and probably for another month or two.  A few observations we have made…

Benefits Sure Help

piggy bank parachuteWhile health and insurance benefits shouldn’t be fully trusted, they sure help when things go wrong.  Working part-time as a nurse my wife definitely provides stability for our young family with the benefits her job provides.  The doctor and rehab fees associated with this injury have taken less out of our pocket than the average car payment.  The short-term disability insurance provided by her employer only provides 60% compensation as opposed to the 100% coverage it used to provide.  Those living paycheck to paycheck might be devastated by a 40% reduction in pay combined with medical bills and other associated costs, but this isn’t a big deal when you try to live within your means.

Pad Your Landing

It isn’t a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’ life events will trip you up.  Illness, injury, and other issues can pop up at any point and without ‘padding’ the financial effects of these incidents can become long-term.  (Obviously catastrophic illness or events will stay with you long-term in many ways.)  Let me give you an example…

I live in the great state of Texas!  I love this state but do take issue with a few things, like the unregulated payday loan industry.  In the last few years, these ‘vultures’ of the loan industry have popped up everywhere.  The industry preys upon people who probably don’t understand precisely what they are signing up for.  Payday loans literally have your paycheck spent before you even get it.  With interest rates as high as 650%APR  it is hard to ever recover from this poor financial decision.

Most experts would advise having an emergency fund for injury, major repairs, or other tough events that arise in life.  The average suggestions is around $6,000.  That number is a lot easier to attain before the events of life trip you up.

Thrifty vs Minimalism

Allow me a quick aside that runs parallel to this topic…

One of the best ways to live within your means is to be careful with your money, but is there a difference between being thrifty and living a minimalistic lifestyle?  My wife and I were talking about this topic the other night…exciting, I know.  It seems that minimalism is becoming a goal for the wealthy while being thrifty is relegated to the working class.  Minimalism seems to be focused more on the visual, mental clarity, and simplicity, rather than saving money.

An example, a minimalist, in order to cut down on paperwork and clutter in the files might buy a $400 NeatDesk digital filing system and digitize all those paper receipts and files.  But does a $400 scanner fit into the profile of someone who is classified as thrifty?  I guess that answer depends on who you ask.

The point, no matter how you think of yourself – minimalist, thrifty, penny pinching tyrant – stop and think about what are you doing and if it helps you to truly reach the goals you are striving for.  (You do have measurable goals right?)  Look to previous generations for examples of true thrift – no cable, economical and reliable cars, dedicated times for financial chores, modest homes…the list could go on and on.

Final Thought

We have been blessed with the ability to handle an injury and loss of income with little to no impact on our family.  The outcome could have been much different if a few variables were changed.  I encourage you to really think about how well you have planned for the challenges of life, and set honest goals that will help your family be prepared.

A Lasting Impression

The pot holders that Bonnie made for our family.

The pot-holders that Bonnie made for our family.

The other evening I was preparing a meal for our family and was struck by the memory of a kind Christian woman I knew.  When I reached into a kitchen drawer and pulled out the pot-holders that Bonnie had made for us, memories of a kind and caring woman immediately came back to me.  I know there are hundreds of people who have Bonnie’s pot-holders in their homes and that is a testament to a woman with a kind heart who loved to share and give as she could.

In my adventuress buying and selling items, I often wind up digging through things that were very special to people at one point.  For one reason or another they get separated from these items.  I recently purchased a Bible from the mid-1800s that had an extensive family history in it and a rose pressed into the pages.  When I look through items like these I always think about the impact these things must have had and am curious about how they slipped away.

It seems that all through life, even what we consider to be small actions and words can leave a lasting impression.  The words we speak to our spouse and our children can impact them deeply and even change the entire course of their life for good or bad.  Co-workers, friends, and even acquaintances can carry a lasting memory of something we did or said.  We may never know the full impact of our words and actions.

My Dad told me of an event that apparently cut me deep as a child, but I don’t really recall.  As a kid I used to love drawing and doodling.  One day I came home from school and told my parents that the art teacher had said I wasn’t very good at art.  My Dad said I pretty much stopped doodling from that point forward and he was always disappointed that the teacher would have said something like that.

I am thankful for reminders, like the pot holders and the lessons I have learned and continue to learn.  When I am having a bad day or I’m frustrated it is MOST important to watch my words and actions.  Grand memories for my children, friends, and others don’t involve lavish gifts but simple, heartfelt expressions of love whether they be words, actions, or personal gifts.  I am thankful for Bonnie and her heartfelt gift and her constant reminder of the impact we can have on people.

Speaking of reminders of love that leave a lasting impression…  Here is Dinnertime Devotionals 30 that kicks off a study of Ephesians for your family.

Trailer Tires: A Lesson Learned

File this one under “Dad is Learning.”  A week ago I was driving home from evening worship service on a local freeway.  I was in the truck by myself in the right lane as another truck passed by in the left lane hauling an amazing looking ski boat.  Just as the truck passed me the boat trailer began slinging rubber back at me as the tire disintegrated.  I hit my hazards and braked to allow the truck to quickly maneuver to the upcoming exit ramp before the tire was completely gone.  No harm to anyone but this got me to thinking…

My trailer is my money-maker, but I don't want it to shake so I better put some new tires on it :)

My trailer is my money-maker, but I don’t want it to shake so I better put some new tires on it 🙂

Any regular reader of my blog knows that I buy and sell a lot of items.  That means 2 to 3 days a week I am hauling my 5×10 enclosed utility trailer behind my truck.  I purchased this trailer in 2006 to use for church activities and for hauling personal items.  This trailer has been to New Mexico, Oklahoma, and all across Texas.  In all those trips I have given the trailer tires a visual inspection but never took time to educate myself about trailer tires.

Trailer tires and maintenance vary significantly from passenger tires.  Tread wear/depth has little to do with the life of a trailer tire since the biggest factor is time.  Various manufacturers provide different data for tire replacement, but most say that trailer tires should be replaced every 3 to 5 years irregardless of tire wear.  Some manufacturers go as far as giving trailer tires a 7-8 year lifespan.  Lack of use is one of the biggest factors in aging a trailer tire.

On most tires, you can determine the manufacture date using the DOT code.  The last 4 digits of that code provide you the week and year of manufacture.  The first 2 digits are the week, and the next 2 represent the year.  Carlisle Tire estimates that trailer tires lose 1/3 of their effectiveness in the first 3 years, whether they are on a trailer or sitting on a shelf.

The best option for most trailer tires will be ST (Special Trailer) classified tires.  These tires are generally manufactured to carry more weight and have stiffer sidewalls that can provide greater stability during operation.  Use of automotive or light truck tires on a trailer can increase the risk of a blowout since standard tires were not made for the special needs of a trailer.

Since ST tires have strong sidewalls it is possible to have an under inflated tire without even knowing it.  The rigid sidewalls that assist in keeping a load stable can also mask a tire that is running low on air.  Underinflated tires cannot dissipate heat as well which can lead to sidewall failure and rupture.  Checking air pressure with a reliable gauge while the tires are completely cold (not used in 3 hours) is essential.  Make sure to inflate the tires to the maximum PSI listed on the sidewall of the tire.

With all that in mind I checked my tires.  When I read the code I found out they had been made in 2004.  Using an accurate tire gauge I found that my tires were inflated to 35 PSI, when they should be inflated to 50.  I was a rolling hazard to myself and to others.

A blow out on my trailer could be very dangerous.  The trailer manufacturer made this statement in the manual – “Tire or wheel failure may result in loss of control of the trailer and the towing vehicle, effectually leading to death or serious injury.  Trailer tires and wheels are more likely to fail than car tires and wheels because they carry a heavier load.”

Let’s imagine I am pulling my trailer loaded with file cabinets.  If a tire were to blow out not only would the trailer shift, but the entire load could shift.  The coupler on a trailer may or may not disengage from the tow vehicle and safety chains will most likely keep the trailer attached.  It would be best to avoid a wildly flailing payload of 3,000lbs or more.

A few things to keep in mind when buying trailer tires.  Make sure to use a company that is familiar with trailer tire installation and axle maintenance.  The axles on most trailers need to be greased once a year or every 12,000 miles.  Knowledgable tire installers would also make sure to use ST classified tires that are appropriate for the load rating of your trailer and axle.

If you don’t have a trailer, you probably didn’t read to this point in this post.  I am sure most trailer owners were already aware of this information but perhaps there were some other owners like me who were unaware of the specifics of proper maintenance for trailer tires.  Let’s keep our trailers safe and our loads moving down the road.

 

Reel Adventures at Fort Worth Museum of Science and History: Favorite Things Friday

Our family always enjoys going to the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History!  On a recent Friday evening we joined a group of families from our church to attend a ‘Reel Adventures’ event at the museum.  They were playing the perfect movie, “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.”

fort worth museum of science and history reel adventuresWhen we entered the museum I knew we were in for a fun night.  We lined up for admission and could see staff members in costume ready to register guests for the evening.  We were checked in by a pharaoh while Teddy Roosevelt, Amelia Earhart, and Al Capone helped register other guests.

I appreciated the guided adventures that the museum set up.  There was a scavenger hunt and questions to ask the historical figures who were spread throughout the museum.  The staff members and volunteers who were in character were fabulous.  My personal favorite was Abraham Lincoln who was handing out pennies as his ‘business card.’  Many of the historical personalities including George Custer, Al Capone, and Amelia Earhart were deep in character.  Darth Vadar was fun too.  Gathering the costumes and researching these historical personalities must have been a great undertaking.

The kids enjoyed getting autographs from the historic figures on the movie posters that the museum provided.  I appreciated the activities that were hands on in the various exhibits, such as measuring the length of the bison bone in the Dino Lab.  The time allowed for the activities was pretty tight so the kids stayed busy the whole time.

After the activities were over there was a brief time to purchase refreshments.  In additions to popcorn and candy there was also pizza for this special event.  It would have been nice to have another option or two for those who needed a quick dinner due to the timing of the event.

fort worth museum abraham lincolnWithin a few minutes, all the guests shuffled into the Imax Omni theater for a showing of “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.”  I had never watched a standard film on an Omni screen.  I was glad we were sitting at the top of the theater in the center, as those seats provided the best vantage point for viewing.  It was a fun movie and a perfect ‘theme’ for the Reel Adventure.

The Fort Worth Museum of Science and History always does a great job of bringing in special exhibits and hosting special events.  In October they will host a Harry Potter themed Reel Adventure.  I am sure that will be an excellent event as well.

Disclaimer: As always, the opinions in this post are my own.  I was not compensated by the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.  We purchased our own tickets for the event and paid for all services.  Just wanted to share a fun event for my DFW area friends.

The Barometer Bush

Some blooms on our sage plant.

Some blooms on our sage plant.

The other day I found my Dad out in front of our house talking to one of the plants.  He was standing in front of one of our bushes saying, “Bloom!  You can do it!  Bloom!”  Of course I had to ask him, “What in the world are you doing?”  He explained to me that the Texas sage in our flower bed has a unique quality…

It goes by many names – Texas sage, purple sage, silver-leaf, Texas ranger, cenizo, and wild lilac.  Texas sage has been nicknamed ‘barometer bush’ because of the unique reaction it has to increased atmospheric humidity.  Native to Texas and Mexico, this plant can bloom in the hottest of weather when humidity increase and conditions become optimal for rain to occur.

The debate on the meteorological accuracy of a blooming Texas sage has been going on since the 1800s.  Some dismiss the barometer bush as an old wives tale, but others look for the bloom and pray for rain.

Perhaps we can see the same thing in our lives.  There are people who seem to set themselves up for failure while others bloom and wait for the blessings to come pouring down.  Attitude and outlook seem to have a lot to do with it.  In the midst of intense heat and drought, the Texas sage puts out blossoms as a sign of good things to come.  When things get ‘hot and dry’ in our lives do we whither away or do we blossom?

God’s creation stands as a testimony to his ongoing care and provision.  God’s people should also try their best to remind themselves and others of His ongoing care for us…

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
– Matthew 6:26-29

On a personal note, sorry for disappearing for the past few weeks.  My wife injured her leg about two months ago and I have been redirecting my time and energy to helping at home.  The side business I started this year has also been doing really well so that consumes a fair amount of time.  I have a string of post ideas written down and hope to have time to get them developed and posted in a timely manner.  Thanks for reading.  Thanks for sticking with me.  I hope you have an incredible day!

Don’t forget Dinnertime Devotionals 29 – The end of Joseph’s story.

Distractions

Today’s post is a bit different, let’s have some fun.  I have a 54-second video challenge for you to watch and then we will get back to the post..

How did you do?  Did you get the answer right away?  Most folks are challenged by the simple brain teaser because they are distracted and fixated on the coins.  This brain teaser works even better in person since you can really control the attention of the person you are showing the coins to.

distractionsThere is a great application to life in this simple brain teaser.  Lots of things in life are right in front of our face.  Some are visually appealing, others are screaming for our attention, while others sit quietly and patiently wait.  Our challenge is to make sure that the things in life that need and deserve our attention get it.  Too often we find ourselves fixated on things that really don’t matter that keep us from the real answers in life.

Joseph was someone who was able to cut through the distractions of life.  To say that he had a hard life is an understatement.  Very few of us will endure the hardships that he did.  Join with us as we head into the final few installments in our series of lessons about the life of Joseph. Dinnertime Devotionals 28

The Best Or The Worst?

Are you a cup half full or half empty kind of person?

There is an older preacher in Oklahoma who helps publish a monthly email titled “Good News.”  As the title suggests, the publication is filled with good new from churches and ministries from across the world.  Sometimes this good news comes from some of the most bleak circumstances while other times the good news comes from an environment that is overflowing with positive occurrences.

28936891_sHere’s what I appreciate about the “Good News” email…it is all positive!  The July issue of “Good News” had positive reports from the US, Africa, the Caribbean, and efforts online.  In a world that seems to be fixated on the negative, it is good to be encouraged and inspired by what others are doing.

For the same reason I really enjoy a quarterly magazine we get at our house called “Seeing.”  The latest issue is about summer work.  In all honesty it is about the things that we often refer to as ‘chores’ like mowing the lawn, watering plants, etc.  Through the power of prosaic, “Seeing” attempts to embrace the positive and connective power that daily tasks have on the family.

Perhaps I’m odd, but I reflect on ‘chores’ with a positive perspective as they provide a connection to positive childhood memories.  Working in the kitchen, helping with laundry, mowing…all these things bring back childhood memories of my parents.  I know I’m not odd because “Seeing” is filled with stories from others who connect back to their childhood and make connections with their own children through the work of the home.

Let me bring this full circle with the example of chores.  We can approach the work of the home with either a positive or negative perspective.  It can be something that has to get done, or it can be something that helps us connect with our families both present and past.  The work of the home is just one example in a life where we choose what perspective we bring with us in our daily walk.

Joseph was a man who chose to view the positive in life.  I am sure he had his moments where he felt low, but instead of being filled with bitterness and resentment he made the best of his situations and eventually saw the hand of God in the events of his life.  Continue with us as we explore the often overlooked portion of the story of Joseph >>> Dinnertime Devotionals 27

 

 

Tips for Buying and Restoring Used Furniture

IMG_8931

When hunting for bargains…search high and low!

Today we will be looking at a few tips on buying used furniture on Craigslist and at garage sales.  I have written this post using bullet points so you can easily skim the tips to find the ones that are best for you.  I’d love to hear some of your tips in the comments section of this post…

  • Good bones – “They just don’t make it like they used to” is a very accurate phrase for the comparison between modern furniture and most pieces that are 30 years or older.  The vast majority of current production furniture is made with some sort of pressed wood and sometimes even cardboard.  “Knockdown furniture” (furniture in a box for assembly) serves a purpose and can be useful but is primarily short-lived and disposable.  Never waste time trying to fix cheap furniture that is made of particle board and laminate.  Solid wood pieces are easy to find at garage sales and on Craigslist.  Wood pieces with minor defects can be a good bargain if you know how to touch things up.  Let me share a few tricks I have learned for quick touch ups for wood defects on those pieces with good bones!
  • Water rings – Giant white rings in the finish of wood furniture can be unsightly and drop the price dramatically.  If the ring is white and foggy looking, there is a quick fix.  You will need an iron and a thin piece of material like a dinner napkin.  With the iron hot and the steam off, place the corner of your cloth over the ring and begin making circles over the ring with the iron.  Continue for 5 to 10 seconds then pick up your cloth and spin it around to a cool spot of fabric and continue for another 5 to 10 seconds.  Moving the cloth keeps it from bonding with the finish of the piece.  This process allows moisture trapped in the finish of the furniture to be released.  Continue ironing and moving the cloth for about one minute and evaluated the ring.  Most rings will come out in a minute or two.  I would not try this method for more than a few minutes as you might damage the finish.  Water rings that are dry and faded looking might be a good candidate for the next tip…
  • Howard’s Restor-a-Finish – I am not compensated by Howard’s at all…but this stuff is AMAZING!  My parents introduced me to this liquid miracle.  Howard’s can be used on most stained wood furniture to revitalize the finish.  I have used it on dried out water rings, scuffs and dings, even sun faded furniture.  The product comes in a variety of colors so you can closely match your piece.  Apply Howard’s using a car polish pad or a piece of 00 steel wool (super fine steel wool).  Follow the instructions for drying time then wipe away any excess.  It is important to seal the piece with wax for a long lasting repair.  Do not try and seal the piece with polyurethane or any other type of finish as this will cause hazing.  I have restored desks, tables, and other items with Howard’s Restore-a-Finish and it is an amazing product.
  • Chalk Paint – I am not a huge fan of painting beautiful wood furniture, but sometimes wood pieces are too damaged to be refinished with stain.  Chalk paint is the new and hot item for painting wood furniture.  In most applications it covers with just one coat and has a unique look and feel.  Retail chalk paint is expensive!  I have already written about making my own DIY chalk paint.  Prep the piece by lightly sanding away any glossy finish.  The old paint or stain finish doesn’t have to be completely removed it just needs to be scuffed up if it was glossy.  Fill in any gouges with wood filler and allow it to dry if you want a smooth surface.  Chalk paint is applied with a standard paint brush and goes on pretty thick.  You might see some brush strokes but most of these will go away as the product dries.  Once the paint cures, make sure to seal the piece with a rub on or spray on polyurethane product.  Chalk paint will not be very durable if it is left unsealed.

    IMG_9404

    Getting children involved in safe refinishing projects is great family fun.

  • Upholstery – Many times I have been surprised by how well furniture upholstery can clean up, but there are times when upholstery is too far gone or long outdated.  When buying a piece to re-upholster, here are a few things to consider.  How easy will the task be?  Dining chairs with removable bottoms are the easiest thing to re-upholster.  Simply pop the bottom off and staple your new fabric on.  Follow the patter the manufacturer used will help produced a good looking finished product.  Dining chairs with the cushion missing can be a good find.  Make a seat template from cardboard then trace the pattern onto plywood.  Using foam rubber panels cut out the desired shape and thickness for your seat and cover with material.  How expensive will it be? Couches and side chairs are beyond the skill set of the average DIYer.  It will cost several hundred dollars to get a side chair re-upholstered and at least $500 to get a couch recovered.  Use a 40% off Hobby Lobby coupon to get upholstery fabric at a good price.  Furniture with decorative tacks can be fun but time consuming.  It pays to get a tacking hammer to save your finger from getting pinched or smashed when tapping in decorative tacks.

There are many other tips and tricks for buying and restoring furniture.  Starting with cheap (or free) furniture projects is the best way to learn.  Buying furniture to refinish and resell is a challenging proposition due to the expense of the products use to make repairs and the time involved.  Buying and restoring used furniture is a great way to save money on home decor.  The unique and well built pieces you create are far superior to the over-price, mass produced junk that the big box stores pump out.

Blisters

The past few days I have been away from the office and the walking desk doing some incredibly hard work.  My brother-in-law and I have been working to put a new roof on his Mom’s sunroom.  It turned into a a fairly large job and I appreciated my friend Doug coming to bail us out with his expertise in roofing and my other brother-in-law coming to help out when we were all running out of energy.  But I’m not here to talk about roofing today…

hammer in handMy keyboard typing, mouse clicking hands aren’t used to the rigors of the scraper, hammer, and shovel.  At the end of the day I had a few blisters.  But here is the cool part…no…the amazing part.  What was a blister last night, turned into a tough piece of skin today.  Not only had my body healed but it had become even tougher.  How cool is that?!?

I wanted to find out a bit more about blisters and this amazing defense that was created as a part of my body.  The blister I had was a friction blister that was caused by repetitive motion that irritated the skin.  These are most common on the hands and feet.  As the skin becomes irritated, the outer layer of skin is released from the deeper layers of skin in an effort to reduce friction and prevent damage.

The clear fluid in a blister is the AMAZING part of a blister.  The clear fluid is serum or plasma that is released by the red blood cells in the impacted area.  This fluid actually helps the body to speed up the repair process in building new skin cells and connective tissue.  That is why the experts tell you not to pop a blister if the fluid is not creating painful pressure.  Blood in a blister is evidence of damage in the deeper tissues and pus in a blister is sign of an infection.

How cool is that?!? I know most of us don’t enjoy getting blisters or checking them out up close and personal, but this well designed defense mechanism of our body is an excellent credit to the Creator who designed us.

Of course we can best learn about God by reading His word.  Here is Dinnertime Devotional 26, an emotional one as Joseph and his family are reunited… Dinnertime Devotionals 26

Created For Good Works

Last week I was privileged to travel with my family to another church in the area to speak as part of their summer series of Bible lessons.  They are working through a study of Ephesians and I was asked to speak about Ephesians 2:10 –

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (ESV)

The verse was given to me months before the date of the speaking engagement, so I really had a good chance to think about it and consider it.  I’m sure everyone else has already figured this out, but in preparing for this lesson I realized I have been misunderstanding this scripture.

8631585_sBefore really considering this text, I had always taken the term ‘created’ as being a reference to the fact that we were created as good people to do good things.  When I really got to looking at the context and the original meaning of the word that is translated ‘created’ I found out I was mistaken.

This verse is written to Christians and is about Christians.  A more accurate translation might use the word ‘transformed’ or ‘reshaped’ in Christ Jesus for good works.  Those outside of Christ haven’t been transformed for this purpose.  There are lots of people who aren’t Christians who are doing good things, but Christians especially are created for good works and to be changed people who are committed to doing good for others constantly.

We obviously aren’t going to fulfill that role perfectly all the time, but we can sure give it our very best effort.  And it is best to start at home and with the people we are the most familiar with.  Too often I find myself giving my best energies and efforts outside the home and I need to make sure to keep a good reserve for the people I love the most and am responsible for.

This week the Dinnertime Devotional series continues in the detailed exploration of the life of Joseph.  Enjoy… Dinnertime Devotionals 25