Keeping the Dream Alive

I do not really consider myself a control freak. This is not to say that there have not been definite times in my life when I probably was closer to being one than others.  Whether you have control-freak tendencies or not certainly comes in part from personality, some I think is maturity. The older I’ve gotten and the more I’ve learned about myself and the world, the more I have seen my perspective shift. Things I thought were important (read: life and death) at 24 are not the same things I concern myself with today…and thank God for that! Can you imagine if we all ran around our whole lives with the priorities of a 20-year-old?

Some of my control freak tendencies as a younger me stemmed from trying to figure out how to survive in the “real world”.  Prior to leaving my parents house, there wasn’t much I had to worry about, so I think I had more time and energy to spend being controlling about stupid things in life like the organization of my CDs.

Once I got out on my own, suddenly there were more real concerns…and these were concerns I had to face not as part of a newly married couple (as so many of my friends were), but as a single 22-year-old with no clue.  I was plagued with questions like: How do I get my utilities turned on for my new apartment?  Where’s the nearest laundromat?  What do you cook with when you have no money to buy pots & pans?  Can the human body truly subsist on mac & cheese alone?

Initially, I was also still concerned with the mundane issues like having my CDs in alphabetical order by artist, but the more busy I got with attending to the bigger picture, the more those cares and tendencies towards trying to control the little things slip away.  Today, my CDs are still more-or-less arranged by artist, but are not alphabetical and are spread across at least 5 different locations in my home so if you’re looking for a particular CD, good luck because unless it’s U2, I probably can’t tell you where it is.

I think if I were a true Type-A individual (which, as we all know is just a nice way of saying “control freak”), something like coming over and messing with my kitchen drawers or cabinets, would totally rock my world.  However, I can say with a pretty high degree of confidence that you could go ahead and do this and I wouldn’t really care.  This is not to say that I don’t try to keep my kitchen organized – I do, but not because I feel the need to be in control of my kitchen.  Rather, I just think it’s easier when all the pots, plates, glasses, and bowls are with more of their own kind.  Call me crazy, but I like not having to hunt for lids to my Tupperware. I’m also somewhat limited in cabinet space, so things have to remain somewhat organized or else it wouldn’t all fit.  Actually, the more I write about this, the more I realize that my kitchen may not really be the best illustration.

Let’s try the pantry instead.

My pantry is a crazy, assorted array of dry food and spices.  There is pasta, cans of soup, cereal, boxes of 100 Calorie packs, pudding, taco seasoning packets, and God-knows-what-else. The only things remotely organized about it are that the spices are all together on a rack and I think that the cereal is more or less on the same shelf.  That’s it.  My pantry is definitely NOT the pantry of a control freak.  Monica Geller would probably need to be hospitalized if she saw it.  My pantry is more representative of my approach to life than any other part of my house:  As long as I can find things and nothing is in danger of falling off the shelf, I’m good.

The problem with this approach to life is that it may work for my pantry, but doesn’t really fly when you’re trying to do things like a budget.  Until I started the Dave Ramsey plan in February, I’d go literally years without balancing my checkbook.  My sister would say she couldn’t understand how I could NOT balance my checkbook and I would try to explain to her how it was just one of those things I found tiresome and tedious and really not all that important.  I realize now that, while still tiresome and tedious, the balancing of the checkbook is actually very important.  Essential even.  Being on a budget and along the path to becoming debt free has forced me into a behavior pattern that does not come naturally to me – surprisingly I’m pretty good at it, but that doesn’t make it easy.  Needless to say, this has been a difficult albeit necessary shift for me.

Dave Ramsey calls people like me a “Free Spirit” (read: non-control freak) which is essentially the antithesis of what he calls a “Nerd” (read: control freak).  Marriages, he says, are generally made up with one of each.  As a Free Spirit single, having to take on Nerd activities is a real challenge for sure, but where I’m finding myself struggle the most these days is in keeping up my motivation. 9-months into my debt-free path, my interest is waning.  It was easy enough when I first started out and kicked some major debt-ass with my year-end bonus and tax refund, but the day-to-day grind is what’s bringing me down.  My monthly committee meetings with my budget accountability partner (Shanna) is a great help.  She gives me some much needed “Atta-girls” and reminds me to look at how far I’ve come since the starting point, not get caught up in how far away the finish line feels (“Are we there yet, Papa Smurf?”)

So Shanna helps.  Reading through old posts from when I first started my budget also helps.  But what I’m really getting excited about is what the next few months hold.  There are some things coming up which I feel will give me a much-needed ‘Matt Foley‘ motivational speech…and not a moment too soon.

First is a one-day seminar on Personal Finance we’re holding at The Well in November followed by a full run of Financial Peace University which we’re starting in February 2009.  In general I find there is nothing like feeding off the inspiration that comes from being surrounded by others on the same journey…

Additionally I know that as I get more involved in this area, I will be able to help encourage and support others which I think is the best form of motivation there is…  Well, that and not waiting to end up living in a van down by the river.

How to Sell an Ugly Cat

I find it funny that the month my friend Esther’s column in her local newspaper featured an article on a multi-family yard sale, I actually participated in one myself.

Saturday was the day.  We were originally shooting for September 13th, but the weather had called for rain and so rather than risk it, we postponed a week.  Weather-wise, it was worth the wait.  We had a beautiful day – the kind where you want nothing more than to be outside, so what could be better than being outside while making a few bucks off your junk?

I was up at 5am, out the door by 5:30.  After a quick stop at Dunkin’ Donuts for a veritable jug of coffee and a dozen donuts, I made it to Shanna’s in time to start unloading the car and setting out the boxes and boxes of things I had managed to pull out of my attic and identify as unused, unwanted, and undeniably ugly…well, some of it anyway.
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Privet! Keep Out!

No, the title is not a typo.  This is what was written on the cover of my very first journal.  I have always been a journal-keeper – beginning in 4th grade (hence my lack of spelling skills), and running through…well, I guess my journal has just moved over time from notebooks to emails to blogs.  And really, aren’t bloggers just the journalers of yesterday?

Rarely do I pull my physical notebook journals out of moth balls anymore.  I used to think that when I got older, I would share them with my daughter – assuming I had one – and since that hasn’t happened as yet, I have basically let them sit together bundled up in a Rubbermaid container lo these many years gone by.

So today for kicks, I pulled them out of the dark corner in the closet to take a quick glimpse into what 9-year-old, 12-year-old, 15-year-old me was like, and – in the name of blog post topics – thought I’d share some of the inner workings of Deb-in-the-making.  Who knows…this may turn out to be a great theme to do a series of posts on…we shall see.  Of course, it could also turn out to be as boring and dry as butterless toast, in which case this may be my ONLY post where I share from my past!

The first post below is actually the second entry in my diary.  To give you background, the day before I had gone to a rollerskating party for school (remember those?) and a friend of mine who I don’t remember to save my life (Jenny) spent the night.

Hope you enjoy the following writings of a 9-year-old on a mission – I am typing it as-written so enjoy also the typos and lovely word usages – some so vague I’ve inserted the true meaning:

23 March 1984

Dear Diary,

After what happened last night today I was in a very good mood.  Jenny went home at 1:00 o’clock.  Before she left we went to the drug store.  Also today is grandaddy’s birthday.  And Jenny and I made him a bookmark.  After Jenny left I went to the drug store to get a card for Grandaddy.  I had to go there twice because at first I got a card for “Grandmother”!  And then when I went back again I got a card about an ensurance pollice (read: insurance policy).  He was 39 today (read: 58 – I was WAAAAY off!).  When I got to his house Jocelyn was there and so was Aunt Susan, Uncle Jeff, and Uncle Scott “and soon to be…” Aunt Lisa.  Jocelyn had a baby that has a white washcloth and pink baby diper pins for a diper.  For supper we had lots of things and the cake was called chocklet cream and it had chocklet iceing in some parts nad it was almost competly covered with mine (read: mini) chips covered with chocklet power (read: powder).

Sign.

One more quick entry…something of an early movie review:

16 June 1984

Dear Diary,

I think today was wonderful!  Daddy, Joanna, and I went and picked-up Sarah and Allyson.  Then we went to church.  Soon after we got there we went to Gremlians (read: Gremlins as in the movie).  It was so scary and so funny.  There was this one part after all the bad gremlains were about.  Some of them saw the children singing to the people (mind you it was Christmas eve) so they actacked (read: attacked) the children, got on ear muffs and everything and went to the door of an old lady that hated children that sang.  So when she heard the gremlains singing she got mad, went to the door and when she saw the gremlains, she was scared half out of her wits.  She hoped (read: hopped) in her chair that went up next to the steps, turned it on hight (read: high) speed and went zooming up the stairs.  When the chair got to the top it went through the window and flying!

P.S. it wasn’t hot today.

‘Nough said, I think.  Stay tuned for more…

A Girl’s Best Friend

Today I’m privileged to be featured as a guest poster (no autographs please) on my friend Dorie’s blog.  The post is entitled “A Girl’s Best Friend” where I spend a few paragraphs giving my two cents on friendships and the importance of them…to me, anyway!  Check out the post, and read some of Dorie’s posts while you’re there – she’s awesome and a gifted writer, not to mention funny.

Today I’d like to share a guest post from Deb. Deb lives in the Philadelphia suburbs, blogs at The Writer Bee and is part of The Well community. At the bottom of the post, I’ve linked to a few of my favorite posts she has shared on her blog. I hope you enjoy this as much as I have… Read the rest of this entry.

Hindsight

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” – Jeremiah 29:11

The saying that “hindsight is always 20/20” is an interesting one because people typically use it when referring to things they think they should have done like, “Oh, if I had only invested in Microsoft when it first went public…” However, I think it’s also something that applies at times to understanding God’s providence and protection of us.

Sometimes things happen and we have absolutely no clue as to why – for instance, you miss a plane and end up taking another flight, but unless the plane you were supposed to be on doesn’t go down in flames, there doesn’t seem to be any obvious reason as to why you missed that one particular flight. Other times, I think we’re shown reasons why something happens the way that it does – like God gives us a little peek into His plan and, while there may be thousands (or even millions) of reasons why something happens the way that it does, we are shown one or two of those reasons that perhaps impact only us.

I am having one of those moments.

This has so far been one of the craziest most historical weeks I have known since I started working in financial services. As the sub-prime mortgage market continues to wreak havoc on the industry, we are all watching the decimation of companies like Lehman Brothers while Merrill Lynch is consumed by Bank of America. AIG is next on the chopping block if someone doesn’t step in to save the day by helping them raise the capital they need to stay afloat. There’s something really sad about watching companies of 100+ years disappear…even sadder when you realize that it could have been avoided if not for the over-leveraging of debt. Hm…perhaps Dave Ramsey is right – perhaps too much debt and risk is not wise! I see “leverage” in reference to debt as fast becoming a dirty word in financial circles. For a taste of the impact this is having, consider that Merrill Lynch stock closed yesterday at $16.59. Lehman Brothers was at $0.18. Imagine if you worked there and your retirement account consisted of mostly company stock. Can you say, “Enron”? Scary, sad stuff.

That’s what’s happening now, but let me take you back to 2006…

Merrill was trading around $80. I had moved out of NYC to take another role with ML in Princeton in October 2005. I had been with the company for almost 10 years, but due to circumstances beyond my control, I ended up leaving the company. It was a tough decision – I had been with ML a long time and had a lot of connections and loyalty there, but after much thought and prayer, I knew it was the right thing to do. As a result of my changing companies, I transferred my 401(k) out of the company which forced me to sell the bulk of my stock holding and purchase mutual funds instead. In an effort to also have a stake in my new company, I sold about half of what little ML stock I had left and purchased shares of the new company (since this is a public post, I’m not going to say where I work now, but most of those reading this already know).

From where I stand now, I look back on the series of events that after a decade moved me away from Merrill Lynch only a year before things started to fall apart. Merrill began their write-down’s from the sub-prime fallout in late 2007 and has been struggling as a company ever since. There have been layoffs, salary freezes, and bonus cuts. It has not been an easy time over there – every time I go to look up one of my friends, I can never be sure whether they’re still employed.

By the end of 2007, Merrill was trading at $58. By August of this year, their stock was hovering in the $20’s. Meanwhile, because of the company change, I ended up getting out of almost all my Merrill holdings (which included about half of my 401(k)) at $84. Wow.

Again, I don’t want to go into details about my current company, but suffice it to say that we are standing strong. Even in this environment, we are hiring. Last year we saw raises and increased bonuses. We have stood out as one of the true industry leaders. We have been (and will continue to be from what I can tell) part of the solution and not the problem. Where my friends and colleagues from other firms are worried about their jobs, I have security I would have never imagined in an industry environment like this.

I could have never predicted this, but that’s where I see the hand of God. He knew that this was coming down the road. By moving me out of Merrill Lynch when He did He knew that I would be secured in a way I could have never foreseen or even imagined. I’m not at all trying to say that if I was still with Merrill that He wouldn’t have had a purpose in that – His sovereignty oversees all situations and circumstances – but the fact is that He didn’t leave me there.

I also find that these moments where I get to see 20/20 increases my ability to trust Him through the times where things might not turn out so obviously well. I praise Him when they do (e.g. saving me from Merrill), but also when they don’t (e.g. still single at 34 – what the heck?). I guess you could say it all helps keep things in perspective.

So when I find myself in a situation that doesn’t make sense or that seems like the world is crashing down around me, I can pull from what I know to be true about God and His love and rest in the fact that His ultimate purpose and plan for me will not “leave me out to dry” eternally. He will come through (Rom. 8:28). He is always there (Matt. 28:20). He loves us beyond measure (John 3:16). What more could you ask for?

God rocks.