Budget Reboot

I figured that since I was leading a life group on Finances, I ought to take a good look at ours and make sure everything added up (literally).

I’ve prescribed to the envelope budgeting system over the years, using “virtual envelopes” in a computer rather than real ones, but there haven’t been many (any) good tools for this method of budgeting.

I’ve been using Microsoft Money (previously Quicken) for years, simply because they are pretty much the only game in town when it comes to tracking money accounts (as far as importing transactions from credit cards and bank accounts.)

However, they both stink when it comes to budgeting (in my opinion). There is no real accountability when you don’t stick to your budget.

I’ve tried for years to get this to work with the envelope system, but have been frustrated with the results. (If anyone is interested, I can give you the gory details.) It is like putting a square peg in a round hole.

So I recently found a new tool that seems to meet my criteria for money management software:

  • Easy and intuitive to enter transactions– that’s the whole key to budgeting is managing all your expenditures.
  • Imports QIF, OFX, and QFX files from banking institutions.
  • Allows you to have categories that maintain their balance from month-to-month.

Its called YNAB Pro, and although it isn’t perfect, it seems to meet my criteria. I spent Saturday working with it and it helped to expose some holes in our budget that I hadn’t seen and was able to close. (Looking at the same information in Money–everything looked fine. Stupid program.) It seems that it helps to have the right tools for the job.

Anyway, with a budget reboot, I hope to get things back on track…

Question for readers:  What tools do you use to track your finances?

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Grace was (and is) Given

Last night was the fourth week of a financial life group that I’ve been leading. It has been going well. People have been committed and come every week, the discussion has been good and they seem to be getting stuff out of the teaching.

For me, it has been nice because the preparation time has been much less than before. I’ve felt the freedom to be real and honest with the group (in some areas).

But as I prepare each week, one thought runs through my head: I can’t wait until this is over.

It has definitely been a struggle.  I have no passion for the topic, no passion for the people in the group and I keep wondering: What do I have to offer these people?

Nothing. I got nothing.

I was confessing this to God a couple of days before the meeting last week, as I tried to pray for the needs of the people in the group. I was wanting so much to just be done with the group–just wanting it to be over. And then I read this verse:

But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

– Eph 4:7

I realized that God doesn’t hand out His Grace to me to do this life group based on how much I prepare or my performance during the week.  It is given in the measure of Christ’s gift–which is a pretty big heap of a whole lot of stuff. I mean, a lot.

This group isn’t about me  and how I feel.  It’s about what God wants to do in these people’s lives.

And I found that it was easier to pray for the members in the group and trust that even though I didn’t have anything to offer, God has a whole lot.  I don’t have to work up a fervor.

Not to say it has been any easier.  I still can’t wait until this group is over.  But I’ve been clinging to that verse and hanging on tight.

Thank you, Lord for Your abundant Grace!

Back in the Saddle

I started up our life group again, but in a new form.  You may remember my struggles with low attendance.  We took a break from life group over the month of December, and then I decided to make a change.

Last fall, we had Crown Financial Workshop at our church, and there was a need for a Financial small group to start up, and I volunteered to lead that effort up.  Rather than re-inventing the wheel, we purchased a video series as a starting point.
As I was preparing to start up this new group, I got very discouraged because it seemed to me that nobody was going to be interested in the group and that it was going to be just me and one other guy.

I was then surprised when, the week before we started, there were several people that showed interest.  We’ve ended up having 8 people come to the group–a good size for a small group.

The group has been going well, and since it is a video, prepackaged series, it takes a lot less time to prepare for.   I’m not a financial guru, but don’t really have to be with this.

I guess my one issue is that because it is so “easy” to prepare for, I find it easy not to trust God with this group and just do it in my own strength.  But that is a road I don’t want to travel.

Thank you God, for this group.  Please minister through it and show me how to trust You with it! 

0 for 2

I’ve been leading a small group since the beginning of the year. It started out pretty good, and then we slowed down to one meeting a month during the summer and then have tried to pick things back up to 2 meetings a month in the fall. But it has been a struggle.

In September we had 1 meeting and nobody showed up.

In October, we had 1 meeting and one person came.

In November, both meetings were planned, scheduled, and announced and nobody has shown up.

Reasons are legitimate and understandable. People have been out of town or sick or too tired to come.

With a small group, you need a couple of anchors, people that always show up no matter what. That way, even if you have a few less reliable people, you can still meet with your “core” group. We started off with a couple like that, but then they decided to go to another church, and I don’t have any more anchors.

To be honest, I’ve been initially relieved to some extent. After a hard week at work, it is hard to come home and be ready to minister. But after relief, there comes discouragement of “wasting” all that time on preparation. And then the nagging questions: I was convinced that this is what I supposed to be doing. Now, I’m wondering if I’ve missed it somehow. Am I really doing what God wants me to do?

My wife’s advice: “Don’t make any decisions tonight.” And she’s right. If I’m ready to throw in the towel, it should be because God is moving me on, not that people don’t show up. I need to see what God wants me to do, and then stick with it.

Oh, and I need to pray for some anchors.

Cooling Off

We had trouble with our A/C yesterday, the very same day that the temperature topped out at 102 deg. in our fair city.   By the time I got home from work, our family room thermostat was reading 88 degrees.  Oh, and we had our life group meeting at our house as well.

As my wife headed off to take ~K~ to soccer practice, I scrambled to figure out if I could fix the A/C.  Air was blowing on the inside, but no cooling was going on.  I had a couple of shots at it, but no dice.

Luckily, we have another unit to cool the front of the house, and so the life group met in our living room, where the 2nd unit struggled to keep up with the extra bodies.

By the time people left at 9:30, the temperature was reading 83–warm, but bearable.

In the midst of my troubleshooting, I suspected the compressor had gone south, but I’m no A/C expert–I had a guess but real idea.

So I called the repair guy this morning, after praying over the A/C unit, that it’s malfunctioning would not be a costly one.  The guy came in the afternoon–a blessing, so we wouldn’t have the weekend without A/C. Fortunately, it was only a capacitor that had lost its capacitance(?) (another blessing).  (I could actually almost explain to you why this would cause a problem with the A/C unit, but I won’t bore you with such details.)   By supper time, it was a comfy 77 and my wife commented that it was a little chilly.

Much to be thankful for–God is gracious, even when things don’t go exactly as planned.

Thank you, Father. You are so good to us!

To the Praise of the Glory of His Grace

This phrase comes from Ephesians 1:6 where Paul is talking about our adoptions as God’s sons. This is part of the passage that we covered in our life group last week and I had a question written down in my notes to discuss with the group:

How do you praise the glory of God’s grace?

I think I understand that we can praise God’s grace in our lives. He pours it out on a daily basis, and I know that I can praise Him for that.

I think I understand that we can praise God’s glory, His attributes and qualities.

But what does it mean to praise the glory of His grace? What is the glory of His grace?

I remembered someone saying that glory is the outward manifestation of inward qualities. So then, substituting that definition into the phrase: we are to praise the outward manifestation of the inward qualities of God’s grace.

So, in other words, when we see God’s grace, we should praise it. Simple enough. So I wrote down the next question to ask the group:

What does God’s grace look like?

And I brought that Sunday school answer to our life group. But I left with much more. Continue reading

Back to Ephesians

We had our Life Group this week (tonight), and so I’ve been busy getting ready for the group.  We’ve scaled back to once a month over the summer, so the commitment has been somewhat lessened. We’ve not been going through a book or anything–it has been topical.  But, not having a set agenda makes it a little tricky sometimes to figure out what to do.  I keep on reminding myself that this is not my group, and that I need to trust God with whatever happens.

But that is easier said than done.

After praying, I felt that it was time to start a bible study on the 1st chapter of Ephesians.

I have been going through Ephesians on my own and really got a lot out of it.  Last summer and fall, I did a series of posts on the topic:

We covered about the first 6 verses of the chapter, but I actually found some pretty good material from these posts while I was preparing for the group.

We ended up having a great discussion and I saw some new things that I hadn’t ever seen before.

I came away from the group with a new appreciation of God’s acceptance and grace in my life.  I hope that others were blessed as well.