Monday, October 25, 2010

The Harvest of the Incredible Front Yard Edibles

Call it editable estates, urban agriculture, reducing your carbon footprint, or a throwback to the American ‘Victory Garden’ of World War II -- Last year, we decided to plant at least one surprise edible in every garden plot in our back and front yard. Among the many fruits and vegetables, we had peppers beside are day lilies, strawberry plants as ground cover lining are front walk under the yews, and sweet potatoes climbing the fence as a back drop to the zinnias.

Not only have we been rewarded with the playful fun of edibles interwoven across the landscape, we have relished (no pun intended) in the harvest. We have feasted on fresh vegetables and fruits all summer and have been canning and freezing to carry us well past Thanksgiving with home goodies. Who knew that three cucumber plants would give us enough to can dozens of quarts of dill pickle spears and bread and butter pickles? This fall, our pepper jelly has been a huge hit at gatherings. We found a very simple, step-by-step recipe at With very little effort, we have been able to reap the bounty of the harvest.

As we pulled in the last of our harvest this past weekend, we are already thinking about growing our production next year. We challenge all of you to tempt the fun of it next spring, even if it is just a few small strawberry plants as ground cover or a blue berry bush next to your garage doors. Before you know it, you also will be indulging in the joy of fresh picked berries with your morning coffee and swapping zucchini muffin recipes with co-workers.
Nothing warms up a cold, grey, winter  day like browsing through a seed catalog such as that from and imagining your own little garden, full of ripe tomatoes and chilies and cucumbers and zucchini and carrots and ... :). -Happy planning.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Flywheel of Finance

You have probably heard it said before, “the first million dollars is the hardest to save.” As I continued teaching from Jim Collin’s book 'Good to Great', he speaks to how disciplined thought and disciplined action brings about disciplined results. It is like a  flywheel -- like starting a lawn mower, where it is hard to get started and then through continual little pushes (disciplined action) the flywheel begins spinning faster and faster until you reach breakthrough (the engine's running).

As I am reading this, I keep thinking about how hard it is to make your first million dollars (I’m a long way from my first million) and how the flywheel provides a great analogy to saving your first million. It takes disciplined thought and disciplined action to start saving on a regular basis. If you start out saving $25 a month, you are starting your million dollar flywheel moving. Every time you get a raise, receive a bonus or a cash gift, you can add more to your monthly savings and you are pushing the flywheel faster. The more money you have in savings, the faster the flywheel turns because of compound interest. If you have $100,000 saved and you get a 5% annual return, you have just added $5,000 a year ($416.67 a month) to your savings. If you have a million dollars in savings with a 5% return, you are adding $50,000 a year to your savings or $4,166.67 a month.

When you look at your retirement flywheel, what ever your magic number for retirement, it is a big, heavy flywheel. It takes disciplined thought and disciplined action to get disciplined results. The best way to get your retirement flywheel moving is through monthly automatic transfers to your retirement savings; 401k, Roth IRA, traditional IRA or other retirement investments. Whether you start off with $5, $25 or $250 a month, you are starting your flywheel moving. The more you contribute the faster your flywheel moves and the quicker you will reach your goal.

The goal should be to have your flywheel move on its own without you adding money to it with enough to cover your expenses. At that point, you are independently wealthy and reach your point of financial independence. Your passive income is making enough to cover all of your expenses. Jim Collins would refer to this as “breakthrough.” What is your breakthrough number --$1,000,000 in savings returning 5% so you get $50,000 a year? $2 million in savings returning 5% so you get $100,000 a year? What ever your number, you can’t get there unless you start making contributions to your retirement savings.

Start Pushing Your Flywheel…..TODAY!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Leadership and Personal Finance

In my Senior Seminar class at Mount Mercy University we are reading "Good to Great" by Jim Collins. Chapter 2 is on Level 5 Leadership. As I read this chapter, I couldn’t help but to think how each one of us can be a leader in personal finance and how we can take some of the principles from Jim Collins and apply them to our daily lives. Collins describes a Level 5 Leader as someone who “builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.” We all want our families to be successful and I want my kids to be more successful than me (building enduring greatness).

A central theme of this chapter is setting up the company for future success and not worrying about individual success. Our last blog entry was on how much money it will take to retire so I naturally put the two together. I want my kids to be able to retire and live successful lives, so I want to set them up for future success. The questions are how do I do that and am I doing the right things.

What we decided to do is a Roth IRA "parent match"; matching up to a certain dollar amount each year, dollar for dollar, that the kids put into a Roth. For the kids, they are doubling their money. For us (the parents) we are giving them their inheritance early and hopefully instilling in them the importance to save for retirement. At age 17, Clay has a Roth IRA which will be tax free income when he retires. Fifty years of compounding will really cause his Roth IRA to grow.

We have also helped the parents of our grandchildren to set up 529 college savings. I know it doesn’t sound exciting, but at Christmas and birthdays, we contribute to their 529 accounts. We like to look at it as long-term love. Over 15-18 years, 3-year-old Jordan’s and 5-month-old Emmy's money will grow and ease some of the cost of a college education.

So I guess what I’m trying to say and do is that it is not so much about us anymore as it is about the future of our family. We all try to do the right things, share our love, and now share our knowledge and finances. We make a comfortable living and it would be nice to have more, but I would rather cut back a little so we can help the kids and grandkids with their future expenses and saving goals; in personal finance and leadership, taking our family from "Good to Great".

Sunday, September 26, 2010

What is it Going to Take to Retire?

In reading the Sunday, September 26th Cedar Rapids Gazette, there was an article “From Boom to Bust” by Susan Tompor that got me thinking what it would take for me to retire. Susan also wrote the article “How to Prepare for Retirement” to help you plan. One of the things she stated in her “How to Prepare” article is “that you want to spend 4 percent or less each year from your retirement saving.” So….how much is it going to take? Other experts say that you will need 80-100 percent of your pre-retirement income in retirement.

If we put together all of this, and for ease of numbers, say you make $100,000 before you retire, you want 100 percent of your pre-retirement income, and you are only going to spend 4 percent of your retirement per year, you would need $2.5 million in retirement savings.

Now this does not include your Social Security income. Right now, you can start collecting Social Security at ages 62, but if you want to receive your full Social Security benefit, you must wait until you are 67. It might be earlier deepening on your ages. You can check what you will receive from Social Security at

All I can say is that I’m really glad that I have a job that I love and that it is a secure job. I don’t know when I will actually retire or if I will just slow down and travel more. It’s good to know your retirement numbers; no matter how scary they look so you can plan. A favorite quote of mine as it relates to retirement savings is “The best time to plant an oak tree is 20 years ago. The next best time is today.”

Thursday, May 13, 2010


On Monday, our oldest son returned back to Colorado Springs from Afghanistan after being deployed for 13 months. We were able to meet him at the Denver International Airport after his 72 hours of travel from Kuwait. It was so good to get the hugs and see him face to face. We helped him get settled into his apartment, pick up his new Jeep and took him out for non-army food, complete with non-disposable tableware and actual glass goblets.

As we sat eating dinner at the Blue Star Restaurant in Colorado Springs, Nate said something that really stuck with me. “Everyone should be required to spend a few days in Afghanistan. They would really appreciate what we have here in the United States a lot more.”

Our army captain has been deployed 25 of the last 30 months, first to Iraq and then he volunteered for Afghanistan. He enjoys the little things a lot more; like a shower that he doesn’t have to walk 200 meters to, a bed that fits his 6’5” frame, with more than a 2” mattress, no sand or dirt in his coffee. I can only imagine what life was like on his deployments.

Some families have been up against some financial hardships and it calls for tough budgeting to pull through these times, to really draw a hard line between needs and wants. I would like to challenge everyone reading our blog is to mentally go to Afghanistan or Iraq for a moment and think about what your life would be like. When you return from your mental trip, I hope you feel as I did; the appreciation of everything you have, what the United States has to offer, and for the men and women deployed away from friends and family.

Thanks to all the men and women serving in our armed forces; And may every son and daughter serving, return home safely.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Fitness and Financials

Four weeks to my bucket-list triathlon sprint. It is the last hour panic of must get healthy, must get fit activity. I had forgotten how good you feel when the endorphins kick in after a run. What’s so great is that you can do it all so cheaply. 

You don’t need to spend money on a gym or buy equipment to get fit. Running outside beats the tread mill for cost and keeping you fresh and inspired. Public Television broadcasts workout programs you can record and follow. The internet has a great yoga videos you can follow along for free. Staying healthy- staying fit helps keep your healthcare cost low and keeps you feeling great.

If you are paying a gym membership, now might be the time to suspend it and spend your time outside running or riding a bike. Grab friends to join you on the run or bike ride and make a day of it. Not only will you be saving the cost of your gym membership but you are building a tighter community of friends; all getting healthy together.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Tax Time – The Psychology of Taxes

Okay, so I have my MBA in finance and I know that we should have our tax withholdings set from each paycheck so that come April 15, we still owe $1,000 or more on taxes. My propblem is that I really like getting a tax refund. Financially I know that if we get a tax refund, we have just given the government an interest-free loan. We could have invested the money or paid off debt instead of having a “forced savings of 0%” by overpaying taxes.

If we owe money come tax time, I REALLY dread doing my taxes, put it off until the last minute, get moody and am generally no fun to be around. I feel that the government is taking way too much of my salary for taxes and look for every possible deduction that I can find.

 When I know that I’m getting money back on my taxes, I look forward to getting them done to see how much I get back. I’m in a much better mood and feel good that I’ve done my civic duty of paying taxes. I then put the money towards debt reduction, investing, savings or vacation. It is “guilt free” money that I feel good about spending.

Are a few dollars in interest (or more) worth the reduced stress come tax time? Financially and psychologically, I have two different answers. In this case, my mental soundness wins over my financials.

Hope you are, as well, on your way to a pain-free April 15th tax day.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Jewel in the Rough

We found another mini-vacation site only 35 miles from where we live. It is the Ladora Bank Bistro, in no other place than Ladora, Iowa, population 286. Proprietors, Brad Erickson and Colleen Klainert purchased the 1920-built “jewel box” style bank and turned it into a bistro of fine wine, phenomenal food and an atmosphere that an old banker loves.

The structure maintains its marble teller windows and the iron teller cages, original wood floors and the two original vaults, now being used as a wine cellar and a kitchen storage closet. Engraved in the wall, next to the 24 foot high ceilings are four pillar statements that warm my heart:

“Frugality is the the Parent of Fortune”
“Integrity in the Companion of Success”
“Wealth is the Achievement of Thrift”
“Diligence is the Mother of Virtue”

On the outside of the bank, above the entrance etched in stone reads “The wealth of this community embodies the richness of her soil, the integrity, frugality and diligence of her people.” On the first visit, Kristy bought me their t-shirt with the sayings.

Colleen and Brad have a great menu of small plated appetizers meant to be shared. Our favorites are the Prosciutto, Maytag Blue Cheese, Stromboli and mini mushroom tart coupled with the California blend Snap Dragon. Colleen is a wine expert and pairs the wine with your taste and food to make the culinary experience extraordinary. We end on either the chocolate covered cherries or the Turtle Minis, both wonderful.

Chocolate, Red wine, a Fortress of old money….is this heaven?

If passing through Iowa or a nearby resident, we invite you can take an afternoon or evening mini vacation and experience the comfort and fun of the Ladora Bank Bistro. Check out the website for the story on the bank, Brad and Colleen, pictures, the menu and hours. Let us know what you think.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Save Energy -Save $$$

If you have a primary residence in Iowa and are served by MidAmerican Energy, then you are most likely eligible for a free energy inspection audit. We had our EnergyAdvantage® HomeCheck this past week. Not only was it FREE, but they made energy-saving improvements to our home during the audit. Outcome of the visit:
  • A FREE report of the condition of our home's insulation, heating and cooling efficiency, water heating equipment and windows
  • Replaced bulbs with FREE energy-efficient light bulbs
  • Swapped out two FREE shower heads with energy-saving, massaging shower heads
  • Installed a FREE energy-saving faucet aerator on the guest bathroom sink
  • Provided us with a 70% rebate for additional insulation in the attic (value of $750!)
There were a number of other things that they would have done, had our home needed it (such as water pipe insulation, water heater insulation blankets and programmable thermostats).

Check with your energy provider to see if they are offering the same service. Not only were the upgrades free, but they will help us save money on our future energy bills, the updates conserve energy and reduce the demand on natural resources needed to produce energy, reducing our carbon footprint.

Sunday, February 28, 2010


It’s the end of the month and time to assess how we are tracking fiscally into the new year. As we continue to reassess our spending habits and values, we still crave for a more simplified lifestyle. Not so much about spending less time at work, we both love our careers. But we both feel the need to spend more time with our family, our extended family and our friends. We love meals at home, movie night with homemade pizza and popcorn, playing dominos, cards or watching the boys take on marathon nights in the game of Risk, soccer games and story-time with our grandchild. Those times are starting to seem more few and far between.

It is difficult to keep a healthy balance between work and time for family and friends. There is always one more report to write, another meeting to prepare for and another e-mail to answer. We have to consciously make family and friends a priority. We know that balance is important in reducing stress and maintaining our health. How convenient that doing the simple things at home with family and friends is also better on the budget and living within your means.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Staying healthy and fit is one of the best things you can do for your bottom line and your waist line. You get to that point where a little voice in your head starts to think that if you don’t get going, you’ll be too far gone to ever be fit again. How to get there? Aim high. Isn’t a triathlon on everyone’s bucket list? Are you in the Midwest? Check out the June 6th Pigman Sprint Triathlon in Palo Iowa. Not in the Midwest? Find a USA Triathlon sanctioned event near your hometown.

Yes, we are recruiting first-time participants, preferably over the age of 50. We like good company and would be thrilled to have some still with us at the finish line. This year, it’s all about finishing and all the endorphins between now and June in prepping for the big event.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Phenomenal Alfredo

Yes, Bob did it again. You must try this! Friday night we had Chicken Alfredo for 4 for $12. (Cost of paired wine excluded).

We followed the Alfredo recipe from RecipeZaar with the addition of ½ cup of shredded Asiago cheese. This sauce went over a bed of thin egg noodles from Kalona and was topped with chicken (cubed) browned in olive oil and 1 cloves of garlic. For a wine, we paired it with Mayo 2008 Sauvignon Blanc. If you are a die-hard red fan, then a pinot noir will work very well. Mighty fine dining at a mighty fine value!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Linen Liners

Have you ever received a gift where the wrapping paper is so beautiful, you can’t bear to toss it? I love to upcycle beautiful gift wrapping as linen linings in my dresser drawers. A special treat is to sprinkle them with lavender oil. Even if the paper only stretches for one drawer, I love the mix and match of each drawer having it’s own characteristics. Seeing the lovely paper when I root to the bottom of the drawer reminds of the event's special celebration day. 

Friday, February 12, 2010

Valentine's Day Panic

It is almost Valentine’s Day and with all the other chaos, you have yet to prepare for how you will let your loved ones know how much they mean to you. Short on time or money, the following action plan will save you:

1) Relatives and parents for whom you have not yet mailed a valentine: Take a picture of yourself/family blowing a kiss from your phone; and then send off to their cell phone their ‘Happy Valentine’ picture-card.

2) Write tons of little notes to your kids/husband/wife and hide them everywhere they will pass that day. Example places with sample messages:

a. For your kiddos: coat pockets “Pocket full of love for you”, toothbrush “Your smile lights up the room”, math book “1-2-3, my love for you will always be”, I-pod “Your voice is like music to my heart”, steering wheel of car “Even when you drive me crazy, I still love you”.

b. For your hubby or wife: in their shoe “You are my soul-mate” , bathroom mirror “ lip-stick kisses”, remote control “You turn me on”, light switch “You are the light of life”.  You get the picture - the sillier, the better.

3) Plan a dinner where everyone participates. A favorite of ours is homemade heart-shaped miniature pizzas.
Hope you all have fun-filled day with your loved ones.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snowy Sundays

It’s Sunday afternoon, there's a lot of snow on the ground, it’s cold and we have no energy to do all the things we need to do. Solution: Escape on a mini 4-hour vacation. Last Sunday, we went out with another couple to chase away the winter day and take a time-out from our overwhelming list of 'not-done's.

We landed at Fireside Winery, located in Marengo, Iowa about 30 minutes from our home. We had great fun browsing through their gift store and sampling their wines. Who knew Iowa could produce such lovely reds? Levi, our host, shared warm brie and bread with everyone in the tasting room.

Our favorites? The Frontenac and Hearthstone, which pared well with the artichoke spinach dip, our meat and cheese plate, the good conversation and wonderful company. The scenery of the snow covered field was peaceful and relaxing. You don’t always need an expensive vacation to escape. There are discoveries to be made in your own backyard. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Ties that Bind Us

Our office moved into a new location. With cutbacks this year, there was no budget for art. Our solution was to create our own artwork. To start, most everyone contributed at least one old necktie from their household.

This past Sunday, volunteers pulled together and created the tapestry for our reception area, titled ‘Ties that Bind Us’. The backing, stuffing and neckties were all repurposed from previously discarded items. Our work of art is a great example of “Upcycling”, where you repurpose discarded items to give them a new life. Turning trash into useful items goes a long way in saving you money and the environment.

Not only do we have a lovely work of art; the pride, joy and teaming together to create the work of art is priceless. Wearing the remaining portion of the clipped neckties will add to the fun during our open house next month. :)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Less-Stress Investing

New Bank Rules Sink Stocks”, “Turn at the Capitol Rocks the Market”, “Stocks Set to Bounce” -The stock market and individual stocks are susceptible to headliners, rumors and speculation. Daily monitoring of the ups and downs can be disheartening or exhilarating. Remind yourself that stock market fluctuations are relatively short-run and investment in stocks should be for the long haul. Historically, prices recover over time. If volatile stock investments are too stressful for you, consider growing your investment portfolio through low-cost index funds (i.e. check out Vanguard 500 Index at Index funds reduce the effects of individual stock fluctuation by diversifying your portfolio and have performed comparably well.

In order for your savings to outpace inflation; you will need to take on a certain amount of risk with your investments. Low-cost index funds are an option for the road-weary.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Never Shop Hungry

Yesterday I stopped at the store on my way home from work to pick up a few items on a list. Being close to dinner time, I was hungry. I ended up filling my cart with junk food. My intent was to pick up a battery, laundry detergent and milk. While I did get the items on my list, such items as Tostitos, Velveeta cheese, salsa, crackers and Oreos also populated my cart. Bad move to grab a cart vs. a basket which further enabled caving into my hunger cravings. The kids at home were happy to see the junk food but it was not what we needed. I ended up spending over $50 on what should have been a $20 trip.
Lessons learned:

Don’t go grocery shopping when you are hungry. Food and low prices (I’m always looking for a deal) were just too hard to pass up.

Stick to the list. Even though I had a list, all the end caps, large stacks of food and low prices were too good to pass up. Even though I got a great deal on all the extra munchies, it cost me twice as much as I should have spent.

Use a basket not a cart. I had plenty of room in the grocery cart and it didn’t weigh me down when I added the additional items not on my list. If I would have used a basket, I know I wouldn’t have been as tempted to purchase items not on my list.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The 28-Day Challenge

Feeling cash strapped? Trying to dig out of debt from December? February is the shortest month of the year and is a good time to challenge yourself to simplify. Experiment with cutting out non-necessary expenses for 28 days to see the impact on your cash flow and your happiness. What would happen if you made most your meals at home with your family and friends; If you invited your friends over to make a meal together instead of going out on the town; If you didn’t watch the cable add-ons for the 28 days; If you packed your lunches and not buy anything from a vending machine?

Only you can decide what your wants are, what makes you happy and what is worth the cost. Try the 28-day experiment. See how much money you can churn toward reducing your debt, build up your emergency fund or give to a cause like Haiti. The challenge is on… go for it!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Home Maintenance

Last week, a broken kitchen faucet led to an accidental remodel of our first floor bathroom. We love home improvement and a trip to Lowell’s is like a visit to the candy shop. The bathroom remodel was part joy and part good ongoing upkeep.

Home repairs play an important part in protecting your investment. Doing it yourself can be a fun challenge and a source of pride. In taking on the task, it is important to do your homework. Taking advantage of the free classes at your local home improvement store is a great way to build skill and befriend an expert. We believe we cut our remodeling costs by more than half in doing it ourselves and are very happy with the outcome.

‘Labor of love’ or just plain ‘labor’, doing it yourself is a great way to keep your maintenance cost low and your home value up.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Dieting and Dollars

Has January always been plagued as diet month? Ads plaster the newspapers, commercials are everywhere and we hear of the excessive holiday weight complaints throughout the day-from ourselves as well as others. Our excess weight is a sign of how we spend our money. Over 10% of American's disposable income is spent on food. This is twice what the typical family spent in 1929.

We know we don’t need to join a club or start a fad diet to lose weight. We could cut two-thirds of our fat, shave 700 calories and save at least $7 a day (> $2,500/person this year), simply by selecting healthy food options compared to eating processed fast junk food. If we eat healthy, we will lose weight, save money and live a longer, healthier life.

Diet and dollars – may both our weight and budget reflect healthy losses and gains in this coming year :)

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Gift of Service

We were visiting with a new graduate and his fiancĂ© Friday evening. He had an interview earlier that day and felt it had gone well but didn’t seem excited about the opportunity. They were taking about their honeymoon plans and how they love to travel. We suggested that they give thought to a year or two of volunteerism. With a tight job market, it is a good way to get experience and growth. It is also something you have the freedom to do before you take on the responsibilities of a home mortgage, a car payment and children.

The travel and experiences will enrich your life in so many ways. Leading a productive life is rewarding. Giving of yourself to help others is incredibly fulfilling. There are a number of options; Doctors without Borders, Peace Corps, Financial Service Corps, USAID, KIVA, teaching English abroad in underdeveloped communities and a whole host of missionaries just to name a few. For new graduates, it something to consider as you weigh your options against a tight job market.

Friday, January 8, 2010


As the New Year begins, it is time to reevaluate budgets, investments and giving. On Saturday, January 2nd we were driving and listening to one of our favorite money broadcast: Marketplace Money. They had an article about the Fifty Percent League that made us rethink our giving. As Marketplace Money states: “The Fifty Percent League is made up of people who believe it’s their moral obligation to give away as much of their money as they can.”

We believe in the 80-10-10 rule where you live on 80% of your income, save 10% of your income and give away 10% of your income. This Saturday was the first time we heard about the Fifty Percent League and it made us question if we were giving enough to the causes we believe in.

The article interviews Pilar Gonzales, who only makes about $35,000 but gives away at least twenty-five percent of her income. Even though she does not make a lot of money, she has placed her priorities in helping others and is living out her values.

No matter how much or little you make, you can make a huge difference in other people’s lives by giving of your time, talents and financial resources. As you make your New Years Resolutions, are you living out your values with your time, talents and money? We invite you to listen to their story.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Fresh New Year

New Year, New Resolutions, New Expectations. New Years is time to de-clutter. Clutter is physically and mentally exhausting. Following all the commotion that comes from the end of the year frenzy, I long for quiet, peaceful, at rest January. It is a time to de-junk my house, my office, my closets and my life. Doing so brings about clarity and energy. Steps of this process:

1. Assess priorities and establish a plan on how you will give focus to your priorities.

2. Choose the objects, obligations and activities that align with your priorities. Say no to the things that don’t matter. Saying yes to things that are not a priority will drain you.

3. Eliminate the non-essential. This frees you from having to tend to things that aren’t important to you and reduces clutter both physically and mentally.

4. Make sure every physical item has a place. Being disorganized is a waste of your time as you look for lost items as well as an irritant. By being organized, you gain control over your space and time.

5. Create a schedule where every priority is allocated it’s time. Dedicating time to your priorities assures you are working toward achieving and maintain your goals and will keep you in control and on top of your world.

6. Review and update your budget for the new calendar year. Make sure it reflects your priorities and that you are living within your means.

7. In setting up a budget, follow the 80-10-10 rule of living off 80%, saving 10% and gifting to others 10%.

Following these steps kicks off the year with focus, clarity and new energy.