UPDATED: Abbie is the randomly-chosen winner! : )

I’ve felt this need to get my LIFE in order since Grace was born.  Having her made me feel this immediate need to take responsibility for the areas of my life where I felt I wasn’t so skilled and I felt like I finally had to do the things I had on my mental Life To-Do List.  This may sound strange, but I was ready to grow up.  The kind of growing up where you step into a new realm of contentment and understanding.  Adulthood 2.0.

For instance, my finances made me s-t-r-e-s-s-e-d out.  (I know I know!  If I would have even seen the word “finances” or “money” in a blog post, I would have cringed and left for greener pastures on someone else’s blog years ago.  Stay with me.  Good stuff ahead.)  I was so tired of feeling like I wasn’t good with numbers.  So, I spent a good portion of my maternity leave — between first diaper changes and many sleepless nights — getting my finances sorted out, categorizing hundreds of charges and entering them into Quickbooks Online Pro (what I use for business) and Mint.com (what we use for personal finance tracking).  After years of saying, “I’m just not good at numbers,”  I had to learn to re-write that thought. Read my post from yesterday.  For so so so long I would get so so so frustrated when having to deal with finances.  I didn’t even know where to start!

I had to play tricks on myself to turn working on my finances into something I genuinely looked forward to instead of dreading.  I would play great music.  I’d promise myself a reward after finishing a session of Quickbooks time.  Usually frozen yogurt.  I added that into my budget!  I’d light candles.  I would pray.  A lot.  I would literally give myself a gold star.  I was determined.  I was sick and tired of not feeling like the money I was working so hard for wasn’t being used in the very best ways possible.  I felt like, “I am a smart gal.  Why is this so hard?”  God was working deeply on my heart in all of this.

I wanted my time back.  Desperately.  I wanted to know how much I actually needed to work.  How much money did I really need to make our lives work?  How much could I give?  How many consulting sessions did I need to take?  How many hours a week did I need to be at my desk and still pay our bills, tithe and give generously?

I am so grateful to God to now say that I am confident in my ability to manage money wisely — with a lot of help and learning (our very own Emily Thomas writes excellent posts on personal finance here that I highly recommend reading!) and lots of growing still to go.

If you feel like you have no idea where to start, I offer you a simple task.  First, make a list.  Where do you feel like you need to be more skilled?  What are the larger tasks you’ve had on your heart?  Write them down.  Get these Life List things down in black and white so you can just face them.  That was the hardest part for me.  Admitting I needed to make some big changes and get my life in order.  So, I started a Life To-Do List — larger long-term tasks — and have been plugging along, very slowly checking things off the last two years.  Here is my list:

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My list is based on our own personal family goals, so your list may be completely different!  Choose what’s right for you and your family.  And please don’t for one second let my list overwhelm you.  My list two years ago just said “get our finances in order so tax time wasn’t a midnight mess on April 15th.”  That seemed like an impossible task at the time.  It was through tons of research and prayer over many months that this list has been added to, refined and worked on.

I had to break these things down into tiny action steps to make them happen.  How many of you have tasks on your general to-do lists that have been there for months (or years!)? Things like “get teeth cleaned” or “get oil changed” can stay on our lists forever and nag at us every day that they are not checked off.  In our minds we think that getting those not-so-fun tasks done will somehow take days, when in reality they take just moments to set up and not very much time to accomplish.  Action steps have to be:

1) Realistic.

2) Physical.

3) Small.

So, to go to the dentist to get my teeth cleaned, my first action steps would be to:

1) Open my computer and open Google.com

2) Google the name of the dentist and find the phone number

3) Pick up my phone, dial the number and call while I open my calendar

Making a dentist appointment takes me less than two minutes.  Yet, I put these “big tasks” off with excuses like, “I don’t have time!”  What we really don’t have time for are the things that are taking up our mental space every day.  Going to finally get my teeth cleaned — which really only took me two hours including driving time — and finally checking that off my list made me feel oddly FREE.  Like I had a whole new realm of mental space on my list to fill with something better.  It has been the same feeling, times 100, that I’ve felt in working on my Life List.  While those action steps above may seem completely elementary, sometimes it takes us breaking things down to the smallest steps for us to take action on things because we see how easy they can be.  And many times – most times – the hardest part is taking the first steps.

The hardest part of all of these things was taking the very first steps.  After that, things were in motion and there was no more room for fear or doubt or regret that we never took action.  

For Ari and me, each one of these Life List tasks started with prayer.  We asked God to guide us.  We looked in the Bible for wisdom about finances and giving and responsibility. We wanted to do this well and not fight in the midst of these hard tasks and tough conversations that would follow.

After praying, we divided up the tasks so we each felt like we had equal responsibilities that played into our strengths.  I took the book keeping for personal and business finances (I like computer programs more than Ari does) and he researched life insurance and retirement plans (he likes numbers and logistics).  I take care of the general house shopping and grocery shopping each week (and hunting for coupons!) and he takes care of writing our tithing check every week at church and keeping track of those payments.  Every Saturday, we talk about our personal budget and I update him on how we are doing.  At the end of each month, I email him the amount we have saved that month and he puts it into our emergency fund and a small portion toward his student loans.  We divide and conquer.

photo 3

Making this list happen has not been easy.  It has involved hours of research and hard conversations.  Life insurance and wills aren’t exactly the easiest thing to talk about.  But, I’m so glad we did talk about them.  Making this list happen has required us to step into personal fears about money and talk them out together.  It has taken some tough decisions.  It has crushed my ego 8 trillion times and made me pray a lot (and kick and scream in my heart!).   But, I learned what was important to Ari and I grew to love him more in these sticky sometimes-scary talks.  We both started to feel more like a team as we stepped into every challenge together.

But, let me just stop and say that reading this list I am very aware of how much we have. There are so many things that I have started to not take for granted anymore like health insurance and a house to even make payments on.  Having these things does not make us more blessed than others though.  It depends on your definition of blessed.  The Bible tells us that the first will be last and the last will be first.  Possessions and finances can keep us far from true contentment if they become more important than God.  Money is not the enemy; the love of money is.  ‘For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.’ (1 Tim 6:10)  While I am doing the Contentment Challenge right now, I have come to see that is just surface stuff I am fasting from.  I am now craving a deeper level of sacrificial giving.  We are blessed to be a blessing to others.    I want to be a living thank you letter to God for all He has done in our lives.  Like I said above, I have so far to go.  So far.  But, I am grateful for this refining journey and how it has strengthened our marriage and our hearts.

OK, back to the Life List.  Ari and I met this week to go together and finally sign our wills and life insurance paperwork.  I wrote our wills using LegalZoom.com (with Ari’s input on end-of-life wishes of course!).  If you don’t have a will yet or haven’t considered one, here are two great posts to read from my friend and financial coach, Will Ray: why you need a will and how to get one.  It’s a strange thing, this life. It doesn’t last forever and, while taking an hour from work to go do this may seem like a morbid task to do… I feel grateful. Grateful that we did this for Grace. This year, one of the greatest seeds God has planted in my heart is this: do everything with great love. Do everything for someone else. Plant good seeds. I have so far to go – so very far – but every little step counts.

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Your little steps add up friends. Even the not-so-fun ones. One thought that kept me going through this list was thinking about how I would feel when we finally had things in order.  I knew I would feel peace.  I knew I would feel joy in being able to give more because I would know where that money was coming from instead of haphazardly making financial decisions.   ”For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’?’  (Luke 14:28)

Make your Life To-Do List happen.  Little by little — perhaps over the span of years like me — you will get your Life List done and you will be so grateful that you did.  These tasks are not small or easy, but they have been worth it for us and the peace of mind we have for my family and Grace’s future.

LARA-CASEY-LIFE-LIST-PRINTABLE

Make your own Life To-Do List with this FREE PRINTABLE and one commenter will win a copy of a book that was truly life-changing for Ari and me, The Total Money Makeover.  If I could give a copy of this book to everyone I know, I would.  If you already have this great book, you can win a copy for a friend!

So, tell me what’s on your Life To-Do List or what you have been considering/challenged by.  I’d love to hear from you!

40 Show Comments
  1. Riley Dever

    *Pay off my student loan
    *Contribute more a month to my boys 529 plans
    *Pay off my business loan
    *Simplify my home from unnecessary clutter
    *Become more involved in my boy’s schools
    *enjoy more home cooked meals
    *Live simply

  2. Caroline

    Being a newlywed, our Life-To-Do list is somewhat short, but (I believe) vital to a successful marriage. Similar to yours, my main focus right now is creating a stable financial life that incorporates tithing and planning for the future. I have to remind myself frequently that though we may be young, our gifts and services still make a difference in our church. My mother always says “focus on what you CAN give, rather than what you cannot.”

    As for our future, it is so important that we start planning from the beginning- make it a habit early on. So many times I hear that young people do not look to the future and see how the financial decisions you make today affect you for years to come.

    While my list goes much further and deeper than this, I know creating a strong financial foundation (through prayer and research) will help as we navigate the highs and lows that we will inevitably experience throughout our life.

  3. Stacey

    Lara,
    Thank you for this post. It’s the kick in the pants I needed to write my own list. Financial goal are ones my husband & I find difficult to stay on track. We have decided to set smaller goals with mini rewards. Thanks for the inspiration! -S

  4. Brooke

    This is great, Lara! At the top of my Life To-Do List is opening a 401k or IRA. As a PhD student at UNC, I’m technically on payroll, but I don’t know whether UNC matches 401k contributions for graduate students!

    Second on my list is getting to the doctor for my annual physical. For whatever reason, I’m on top of going to the dentist, but not the doctor…and I’ve finished two years of medical school! How CRAZY is that?!

    My boyfriend is a HUGE Dave Ramsey fan, and Total Money Makeover has been sitting on my nightstand for TWO YEARS, so maybe starting TMM would be third on my list!

    What a great job you’ve done tackling all these not-so-fun tasks!

  5. Erica Hart

    I so need this in my life! Beautiful and well spoken!

  6. Mary

    I think making the first step is the biggest hurdle for me! My to-do list is pretty similar to yours, actually. When we were in the military, those things were kind of taken care of for us in a way. (life insurance, retirement, etc.)

    P.S. I loved your “make a life handbook for Grace”! Such a great idea!

  7. Wendy

    This is so timely for me. I have a friend that is going through a Dave Ramsey study right now and she is so enjoying it. I am not putting any money in a 401K right now and I want to work towards that. I also need to create a will, and plan for that part of my future. I’m excited about the printable, to have all my goals in one place. Thank you!

  8. Em

    Proud of you! You have definitely come a long way, and these things are not easy!!

  9. Casey

    Great post! I am a Lara Casey newbie. I am really loving your goal setting posts and how you’ve integrated God into each piece out your life. A few of the things on my life list are: A sibling for my daughter. Open a bakery. Build my best possible relationship with hubs. Adoption. And write a will, if you insisr.

  10. Janay

    Thank you for sharing so openly not only your “list” but your love for God and everything He has done in your life. I recently stumbled upon your blog and it has truly lit a fire in me. Not being a blog reader (AT ALL) I can honestly say God brought you (in the form of a blog) to me. The time I have spent reading your post over the past few days has inspired me to take the plunge, create the lists, but more than anything connect more with God in all areas. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  11. Abbie

    Yes! I’m totally on the same page with getting life in order. Your post has just given me the umph to work on our wills. I have already been looking into life insurance for my husband and definitely need that book!

    • Lara

      YAY! Congrats!!! You are the randomly chosen winner for the book! : ) Email me your mailing address – lara at lara casey.com

  12. Tabitha

    When you said that you wanted your life to be a thank you letter to Jesus! Girl, that’s exactly what I felt like God was saying to me after he blessed me with the gift of staying home with my two daughters full-time. I felt like He said “Say thank you with your life.” AMEN! I love this post because finances are scary to me but with God’s grace He will cover it with His wings! I know I can do all things through Christ! Thank you again Lara! I have ONE MORE WEEK left of work then it’s full-time stay at home mama!!!

  13. Catie Ronquillo Wood

    Thank you, Lara, for your motivating posts!

    Our life to do list includes:
    – paying off debt by June 2014
    – clear out my office of clutter and make a workable space
    – make our house a home…still kinda feel like we haven’t quite made it ours and have lived there 4 years next week!
    – quit my job by June 2014 to do portrait photography FULL TIME

    Love you, friend! Can’t wait to get PowerSheets for 2014, so I can blaze a plan to quit this life-sucking job 😉

  14. Alexandra W

    Having just gotten married, we are still figuring out joint finances. Everything is getting paid, thankfully, but I feel that we need to be more intentional about how we spend, save, and share with others.

  15. Em

    Lara,You do NOT know how much this post means to me. I’ve felt overwhelmed by the “money stuff” for so long and it’s been the mental clutter that I just can’t get out. Thank you for a swift kick in the pants today that I CAN do it and I need to break it down and make it happen. You are amazing. love you

  16. Heidi

    We are working on our life to do list…we have a in our heads plan, but we need to get it down on paper. We had a baby 1 year ago and would love to add another in the next couple of years, but we need to get some things completed first!

  17. Lindy

    Lara, you are just the best. After my morning routine , I sat down to my desk and my heart was just on fire to finish up my November tending. The last 10 days I have witness more change in my life (and my average 5!) than I have ever been blessed with thanks to MTH13 : ) Finances are something that is top of mind with our wedding coming up next April. We’re trying so hard to stay grounded and focused so we can make the best decisions for that day and to be sure we’re starting our life together on the right foot. We’ve worked hard to pay off our debt and to get to a good place with our finances but we need to step up and DO more! We need to take control and reading Dave Ramsey’s book has been on my to-do list for months now. Whether I’m the lucky winner or not, I’m moving that book to the top of my reading list so we can get a head start even before we’re husband and wife! Here’s to a great November, full of what matters! : )

  18. Becky

    Finances are also at the top of our family’s life to-do list. Like you, we are blessed to be more financially secure than many, but our debt (especially my student loans_ is a constant source of stress that, I believe, is truly interfering with our family life. Thank you for the inspiration to confront the money monster and take care of it once and for all.

  19. Stephanie

    A favorite quote from A League of Their Own, or as I like to call it, Wisdom from Tom Hanks. “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”

  20. chris

    Great posting! Your writing is always so inspirational. Several of your to-do items are similar to mine and my husband’s. Appoint temporary and long-term guardians for our kids (this is crucial in case something happens to us — you should definitely look into this as well if you haven’t already done this for Grace), write up a will, pay off student loans, ensure our long-term investments are in the proper types of vehicles based on our goals (likely these need to be adjusted), increase our life insurance. I noticed these are mostly to protect something, our children, our financial future. That book sounds like it could be a helpful tool at this time. Love your blog and your message.

  21. Jennifer

    I so needed to read this tonight! I came over to check your blog while taking a break from working on my fiancé and I’s budget. We are young and I am in law school so I want to get our finances organized before our March wedding!

  22. Lydia

    Teaching a beginner photography class has been in the back of my mind for awhile, and I think 2014 will be the year to start to make it reality!

  23. Jenn P

    Oh Lara, you’ve done it again my friend! Always making me think and know that I am not alone in my worries. Ha! We have been wanting to read Dave Ramsey for so long and I don’t know why we haven’t done it… I hear that he’s ‘the MAN’!
    Here is my short list:
    * Pay off student loans
    * Save down payment and buy our first home
    * Meet with a financial planner to start investing properly and most advantageously in our 401K’s
    * Start a college fund for our future kids

  24. Melinda

    Getting my finances in order is my biggest one! I need to establish a budget and stick to it and stop spending money on things I don’t need.

  25. Linda

    I have been dancing around the edges of getting our financial lives more organized, without ever going ALL IN. It is time to commit fully!! Thank you for your encouragement!

  26. Peggy Garcia

    My life to do list includes running a 5k and doing a mission

  27. Rachel

    Lara, in tears right now reading this. At this very moment, I am putting off organizing my family finances because I am so scared and stuck in fear. Scared that my husband will judge me for having spent money on myself, scared that I will never pay off our debt, just plain nervous and anxious. With a new baby and a new business, this stuff is so important. Thank you for laying this on my heart in such a real, loving way.

  28. Amanda

    Lara, first thank you for this post. I’ve felt for months now since my husband and I got married (and even before ) that I wanted to get things “in order”… And it’s not so much micromanaging everything., because admittedly I do that from time to time :)” but more so craving more time…more time, with one another, with our pup, with Jesus, giving back… And for some reason when I’m unorganized I can’t see through all the clutter.

    So thanks again… My husband and I would,love to read Dave’s book!

    Amanda

  29. McKinsey Bellar

    Lara, once again, you’ve motivated me! I am a young wife, barely into my twenties, and just shy of my 6 month anniversary. My husband is a teacher, with good benefits and a very steady income. It allows me to finish school, and to work part time as a Preschool teacher. We tithe regularly, and pay our bills, and we still have fun… But we have barely any savings, and no back up plan. I’m not sure either of us know where to begin! I’m going to begin to make lists (I love lists!!) for us to get organized. My worst fear is us getting pregnant, and going into debt. I also want a house SO BAD… But I don’t even know how to begin saving for that! Thank you for giving me some direction.. I’m praying my husband is open minded with me, and open to new suggestions. Again , thank you for writing so beautifully and openly about your personal and professional life! We are so grateful! 🙂

    • Lara

      You can do it, McKinsey! If I would have started this in my early 20’s, I would have been much more ahead of where I am now. Just start with small steps. I am praying for you!

  30. Rebecca

    The three big areas I need to work on are (1) take better care of myself (physical fitness etc) to set a good example for my daughter and ensure that I will be around for a long time for her and my husband, (2) get us to a point where we’re not just barely treading water financially, for the long term stability of our family and (3) be more purposeful about teach our daughter goodness.

    • Lara

      I am praying for you now, Rebecca! You can do it! Start today even with something very tiny. It will add up.

  31. sarah

    Dave Ramsey is amazing! I listen to his show most days and it’s such an encouragement to keep on persevering and not get caught up in keeping up with the Joneses.

  32. Holly

    I love this! I am a huge to do list nerd but we don’t have a general life one. Our first babe is due in January so we definitely need to take care of things like wills and life insurance.

  33. Susan

    I need to totally get my house and finances in order… it’s a big order!

  34. Malisa

    Pay off the rest of our student loans. We’ve already paid off my husband’s. And move on to the other baby steps. What a fun giveaway. We love Dave Ramsey

  35. Nancy

    I’m creating and solidifying a budget and meal plan for 2014. I spend so much on junk and food. That’s all changing! Thanks again for the inspriration.

  36. Kyla F

    Good morning!

    The three biggest lessons I learned from what DID work:
    -Finding what I am passionate about (God, design, creating for myself and others, country-inspired decor, writing, eating more whole foods, exercising my heart and mind, country music, and my dream of having a ‘shed’ office in my backyard) worked. Finding what makes my heart sing is something that truly fires me up because I am developing the confidence and maturity to invest time into those things and choose to surround myself with them because they make ME happy.
    -Digging deeper in faith worked. It has been a much more gradual process than I had expected it to be, but I have asked more questions, opened more pages, and gotten down on my knees to pray more than any other year before. It is finally.starting.to.click. in a truly deeply heart-changing way. I welcome God’s love to flood my heart and soul and bathe it in truths and finally see the value in His grace! 🙂
    -Taking care of my body by eating clean, taking deep breaths, hydrating, and sweating it out worked. In all honesty, my ‘health kick’ occurred from mid-April to late summer, but I learned so much during that time. I had my stumbling block of my herniated disc after that, as well as self-pity followed by a few too many brownies in the later months of the year, but overall those months were a huge accomplishment – and they required WORK.

    The three biggest lessons I learned from what DIDN’T work:
    -Dwelling on the negatives and asking way too many ‘Why?’ or ‘What if?’ questions about the life storm I am in. I unknowingly let my back injury consume me and I am finally seeing how deep that issue runs and how I have to intentionally work at and pray about pulling those roots out and making room for trusting God there instead.
    -Not putting God first for most of the year and not making him my core did not work. His plan is ultimately better than anything I could ever cook up myself, and I wasted a lot of time this year trying to go my own way. I learned that He has got it all figured out and He does not make mistakes. I need to ask for wisdom, discernment, and understanding so that I can walk confidently in the way that he has set before me.
    -Not being consistent with my health didn’t work. When I was eating clean and making my health a priority, I could think more clearly and complete my daily tasks with more abounding energy. I have learned that if you make your body a priority, it will have much more ability to keep up with you as you chase your goals and passions.

    I am going to make a visual board of what fires me up and I will share the link when I have it. Have a great day everyone! I am surely loving this goal setting 🙂

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