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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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!