A look back at the past and forward into the future

Lodena Pouncey

Lodena Pouncey (nee Banks) ca 1943

Might be a long one, but I know I need the reflection. And it’s totally relevant! Remembering the past to direct the future is definitely  a principle of increase.  This weekend was our family reunion.

My grandmother came from Starksville, Mississipi. She was a part of the mass exodus of blacks from the south to Chicago that started around the 1920s. She left the south, like many black folk, for the prospect of less Jim Crow, more freedom and the chance to acquire for gainful employment. When she made the move, she was young. I don’t know how old, but probably a teen. She came here with some siblings, with whom she remained very close until her death. They came and set up shop. Some stayed, some left, but she remained up North.

No matter what she was doing, she always made the time to go back south. She would hop in a car or van and make the 12 hour drive, sometimes alone, sometimes not, to Mississippi. She had to check on family and friends down south. I’ve heard stories where she purchased land, trailers for the land, let relatives live there and so on. Sometimes she’d go back and connect with nieces and nephews who where the result of her “adventurous” brothers. Let’s just say they were some fertile men! Now matter how far removed or the involvement of her bothers in their child’s lives, she’d take everyone in as family. Sometimes they’d come to stay with her in Chicago as well. My dad has memories of them always going down south even since his childhood. From Mississippi they’d bring things like pecans and chow-chow (pickled cabbage.) We have great cooks in our family, so also brought were recipes for delicious things like collard greens, hot water cornbread, and fried chicken. On the route home, Granny would always stop at a favorite gas station to get fried chicken and potatoes. She also fancied black walnut ice cream, I believe from the same place. By the time my siblings and I started going south with them, we’d pass through Boomland in Missouri for food and cheesy souvenirs. It was the highlight of the trip and still remains as such today. (This time around I really enjoy the pickeled Amish goods and jellies.)

This trip sparked a lot of reflection. It brought up themes that my grandmother must have dealt with going back and forth to her two homes: the one for survival and the other more sanity and sense of belonging. As we traveled down the highways, I noticed the Native American names for campgrounds, counties and the like: Pascagoula, Okatibbee, etc. reminded of the the displaced peoples who once took inhabited the land. It was still a very beautiful place with lots of trees and striking red mud. Until this day people still live on the land in a way that is much more attached than their Northern counterparts.

We drove along roads where Confederate flags were prominent. It made me wonder about what my granny and her family went through in the South during the early 1900s right on through the early 1960s. It seems like no matter how much money they made or how they advanced in life, there was alway the stinging pain of institutionalized racism that reminded them of what was yet to be accomplished for blacks. Thank God for where we are today. Although the struggle is not over, much has been done.

Along the Gulf of Mexico we could see beautiful beaches and rebuilt homes from the devastating effect of hurricane Katrina in 2005. There were 400 homes destroyed in Pascagoula, and almost 300 had been rebuilt! Talk about triumph and overcoming. Even out of the remnants of destruction and pain, a new, beautiful start is possible.

I thought about the legacy of being a good family member. One that would make it a priority to see and help family. To be there in times of need. Over the years many relatives had passed. At this reunion, one of my cousins had recently lost her mom. It was her first reunion without her. She reflected, cried and went through a lot, but the family was there with comfort and great stories about her to ease the pain with light hearted memories. That’s why family is important. We networked, told great stories about what we had in common, what we didn’t and how we were making  life better for ourselves and untimely the world. We found out how to support each other’s hustle, children and pursuit of the American Dream through hard work, faith and selflessness.

As a youngster, I outwardly shunned these events, but as I get older, I relish them. My children love to go because of the nice hotels and pools. In fact, they think Mississippi is one big swimming pool! But, I like the idea of showing them the importance of family, connecting and belonging. In a world were rejection and dejectedness in inevitable, it’s nice to know that you can always go home and connect. It was a blast being with family this year and I am looking forward to many more to come.

July 2014

July 2014

 

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Not out of the water yet

beach

Chicago’s Lakefront

So this weekend was somewhat emotional, I have to admit. We are still in the throws of padding our “real” emergency fund (as opposed to the baby one of $1,000 Dave Ramsey initially suggests) and it’s been a lot harder than I thought. We decided to host a bible school student in our home this summer who is majoring in urban ministry. She has a heart for under-resourced neighborhoods and the youth that fill them. How could we say no to God’s work? Fortunately, because we are debt free, we didn’t have to. However renovating a bathroom and extra guest room did throw a little monkey wrench into our savings plan. Thankfully, our gut reaction is to go full speed continuing to build up that emergency fund and stay on track with other financial goals. We are not living pay check to pay check anymore, thank God, but we still have a lot to do in the way of finances.

This weekend was a beautiful one. The kind of weekend that would be perfectly spent at a nice pool or water park in the Dells or, better yet, Disney World. Yet, that wasn’t an option for us this because we are still focused on being financially grounded. It was somewhat tempting to start getting down about it. After all, haven’t we “arrived” financially?

Really, eliminating debt was just the FIRST step in our journey. There is saving, giving and living that has to be done still. In fact, I can see us hosting more students, more missionaries and more people who might have a heart to serve in this community. God knows they are needed. So while we didn’t make it to the Dells, I was grateful for the beautiful Chicago Lake Front, where we still had a great time and didn’t have to spend more than a few dollars in gas to get there. I’m more than sure that the “fun” factor wasn’t decreased just because it was a free outing. In fact, I think I can say it was even more fun because on Monday, we’ll still be on track, on budget and exactly where we need to be planning for the future, planning to help people and planning to make the lives of others better. That’s what financial freedom is really about!

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Spent- Looking for Change… a story about the financially underserved

Have you heard of this documentary? Check it out at http://www.spentmovie.com/. It’s narrated by millionaire film mogul, Tyler Perry, presented by American Express and features the story of people who “live outside the traditional banking system.” According to the film, they are people who’ve fallen on hard times due to poor choices and/or life circumstance and are thus faced with the expensive reality of being poor. They must spend money to cash checks perhaps because their bank accounts are overdrawn due to multiple NSF events. They spend money and are subject to high interest fees on payday loans or car title loans. They are hit with fees and fines that are typically associated with the nontraditional banking system.

The stories chronicled in this documented  really hit home. Living from pay check to pay check, one disaster away from catastrophe and the hopeless despair of being broke are all things we can identify with. What really strikes me about this documentary is that, at the end of it all, the solution to these problems are to serve these people in the form of better financial products. The bulk of these products include loans, credit building methods and better access to capital for entrepreneurs (loans.)

I think the attention to the issue of borderline poverty is noble. But why is the answer to financial woes borrowing money? The newly introduced marketing lingo like “financially underserved” ties directly back to American Express’ pre-paid credit card product “Serve.” American Express has a history of capturing the markets of the financially erudite. These people were typically more inclined avoid the downward trending borrowing cycle by using  charge cards, not credit cards. But why the sudden interest in people in the “underserved” areas of banking and credit? It seems to me that if someone can’t qualify for traditional loans, the only way to serve them would to disburse funds at subprime rates. Could that be the motivation here? I’m not sure.

Does anyone see a conflict of interest that a credit card company is providing solutions to the “unbanked” in the form of more credit? This beautiful, sexy credit may have a social mission and moving documentary associated with it, but at the end of the day, you still have to borrow to make ends meet. Only Amex’s solution is to borrow with the swanky, socially conscious,  technology driven methods that they of course endorse, support and underwrite. I could go on, but I’ll leave the remainder of the discussion you…

 

 

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Frugal Fridays- Garage Sale Season is Here! How to Maximize Good Deals

In the spirit of Frugal Fridays, I’m going to talk about one of my favorite aspects of summer: the garage sale. For some, summer is about no school, swimming pools and ice cream. I enjoy those things, but I also appreciate a good garage sale. I’ve already forayed into the season of second hand goodies and came up with a few tips that might help you get the most out of your buying experience.

  1. Make a list of what you need- This one is important, otherwise you risk going somewhere and buying up a bunch of stuff and blowing your budget like you would have at regular retail prices. If possible, write down specifics, so when you come across the right size, color, etc., you are sure the deal is for you.  I keep a list on my phone so when I’m out, I’ll remember what I needed, but didn’t want to pay full price for.
  2. Know your tolerance for the fixer uppers- If you are not that handy and don’t have time for things that require a lot of work in the way of restoration, then skip over the bruised, dented, chipped, etc. items. Check your history. How good have you been at fixing broken things around the house? Take that as a cue on how much time you’ll have in the future for similar projects.
  3. Haggle- Many times garage sales are meant to accomplish a purpose other than making  money. People are usually just trying to clean up. Perhaps they are moving or wanting the extra space. Often, they’ll negotiate just to get rid of things.
  4. Take a friend- If you have a buddy who is like minded and honest, they will tell you when you really need something or not. Also, they will likely have good input on whether or not you are truly getting a good deal.
  5. Be mindful of hoarding- This is where your list comes in. If you go out to a sale just to go shopping, then you’ll be a prime candidate for your own garage sale soon. The purpose here is to mindfully acquire items you need at a reduced price. Not accumulate stuff just because you can!
  6. Look for combined sales- When an entire block or PTA group has a sale, there’s likely a larger variety and better deals. Craigslist is a good place to find these gargantuan events.
  7. Research- The advent of the smart phone is wonderful for so many reasons. But I especially love being out and being able to google the specs, reviews and prices of items on the fly. Google the model and you might find recalls or other useful information to help you decide whether to purchase or not.
  8.  Calculate risk- There is a chance that you will buy something that doesn’t work, fit, etc. Before you spend $100 on a window air conditioner, decide if you can afford to lose that $100 should the item be a dud. If you are ok with that, buy away. If not, take extra care in negotiating the price or making sure the item works. The seller will sometimes make concessions for you to try things or even take them back if they don’t work. But it’s always a good idea to check your options ahead of time, especially big ticket items.
  9. Plan for transporting large items- If you are on the market for something large like furniture. Try to rent a larger vehicle for the day. You may also want to call ahead and let the seller know you will want to look at the item before you invest in a way to transport it. They should be amenable to this arrangement and hold it for you should you decide to buy and pick up later.
  10. Have fun- There should be a planned amount of money for nice, spontaneous finds. As long as the amount is in the plan, you are still in a good position to stay within budget. At this point, you should know what you can and cannot afford to spend. Depending on your current financial situation, that may be $5 or $500. Either way, include this in your budget to remind you of the excitement and fun of good garage sale finds!

Hope these tips are helpful. Happy garage-sale-ing!

 

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Frugal Fridays- Check out my interview with Debt Free Divas on how we became debt free

Check out my interview with the Debt Free Divas (www.debtfreedivas.org):

 

http://debtfreedivas.org/index.php/about-us/243-aja-mcclanahan-creative-twist-on-debt-freedom

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Frugal Friday- Fun Meals to Combat Frugal Fatigue

Frugal fatigue in a nutshell is when you get tired of pinching pennies for the sake of a better life “someday.” I’ve made it sound rather drab here, but it’s what you think when you are in the midst of things. Dave Ramsey makes it sound noble and fun, but during a bout of frugal fatigue, it can make your efforts seem somewhat draining and frankly, not worth it.

Before I began the journey to financial health and debt freedom, my mantra was “I never cook on payday Fridays!” I felt that it was a day where we deserved forgo cooking and to eat out.  That behavior sometimes set us back up to $200 a month! For some, that might not be a lot, but if you are on a mission to cut back expenses to pay down debt and/or save and invest, it can be a lot. Since I’ve gotten a little more financially savvy, I can see that my mind was in desperate need of a change. Since the weekends have always been the hardest time to stay away from eating fast food, I began to find fun meals we could cook on the weekends. Here is what I came up with:

1) Pizza- this one is so fun , easy and inexpensive, it will become hard to do take out any more. You can opt for boxed pizza from the frozen section or make your own with ready made dough. We like the dough from Trader Joe’s (a little over $1.) A jar of pizza sauce is not much more and lasts forever. Our toppings are things like beef bacon, onion and pineapple. Who wants to order a $20 pizza that won’t even taste as good? Not us!

2) Hot wings- I get the full wings from the store and cut them up into wing pieces like you would get from a fast food restaurant. This makes it a little more fun for us. These can be baked or fried and enjoyed with a variety of sauces: hot sauce, BBQ and blue cheese for dipping are favorites at the Mac Cave.

3)Philly cheese steaks- an inexpensive cut like hanger or skirt steak is all you need. We’ve even used roast beef from the deli. Add your favorite cheese like provolone, cheddar or swiss plus veggies that include onions, mushroom and green peppers. A nice Italian sandwich roll will add that restaurant flare. Voila! You’ve got grease spoon fare for less money and health risk!

4) Tacos- No brainer here. Your choice of tortillas shells (hard or soft) or nacho chips won’t matter. The toppings will please whether you go with pico de gallo, salsa, cucumbers, lime, cheese, lettuce, cilantro or avocado. Taco bars are a win-win for everyone. Your local taqueria will have a hard time competing with the new family favorite.

5) Burgers- We keep our freezer stocked with beef patties almost all the time. Whenever we feel we are too exhausted to cook, this is a constant go to. You just can’t get tired of a nice burger. Using grass-fed beef, we are able to get a lean, buttery tasting patty that just doesn’t compare to even some of the best burger joints. In about 10 minutes you can cook this up and serve with chips or oven baked fries. Sometimes we get crazy and drop some onions rings in the fryer to make the experience complete (not often, because frying is, well, you know, not that healthy!)

I hope these ideas have encouraged you to look at Friday’s a bit differently. It’s one of the more difficult times to cook, but if you can press through it, you will be more likely to develop a habit of cooking more throughout the week.  It might seem small in the grand scheme of things, but ultimately could change your financial situation and ultimately your family legacy around prudent habits for money management.

 

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Leaving Debtlandia….Do not return!

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Live Small, Tell Big Stories

I was really inspired by Jon Acuff’s recent post Live Small, Tell Big Stories. In it, he’s able to put perfectly into words the very reason why the McClanahans exist the way we do. We live in the inner city. Consequently, we don’t live very lavishly despite having dreams of grandeur and success. In fact, we live a life that, quite frankly, could be depressing to some. You see, we chose to live big but in a different way. Our bigness doesn’t play out in the size of our home or the fanciness of our automobiles, but rather in the pouring into life experiences that could never be minimized, repossessed or seized if the money ran out today. If you see us and we don’t don the latest fashions or show up at the hottest night clubs it’s because we are choosing to invest in life experiences that, to me, have a more tangible “awesome factor.”  Working in the community, watching my daughters play instruments and sing at our small church and traveling for missions & ministry, vacations and work (both my daughter and I travel for work) are all apart of our attempt to invest in our family, contribute positively to society and give back to the world. I’m so glad that we have been blessed to see that a life living this way is of so much more value than any amount of accumulated things could ever offer. I’m not saying I don’t like things, because I really enjoy a nice purse and shoes every so often, but they can’t be the reason I live, work and do this thing called life.

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Freeconomy- The Power of Doing Stuff for Free

So… I thought I coined this termed when I found out Freeconomics (and its wildly popular homophone, Freakonomics,  which happens to be a New York Times Best Seller) was already in existence. After a few minutes of googling, I  found it wasn’t an original word at all. To different people it means different things. Some mention the ideal society where you don’t spend any money. Others describe it as a way of attracting more customers with free goods. There’s no seemingly dominant meaning, but I believe I was thinking more on the latter meaning. It’s a model that is becoming pretty widespread in the digital world. Think google, facebook and other companies that give you free stuff and offer upgrades at a nominal rate. Well, maybe I’m a little in the middle of the freeconomy spectrum.

I guess I’ll get to the point. Doing stuff for free is a great way to gain entry into a job or career that you wouldn’t normally have access to. For example, I had a student who studied photography and wanted to make it a career. Her very first photo shoot was actually my wedding. She did it at no charge because she needed a portfolio to get started. She was super diligent and our photos are still relished as beautiful until this very day. I was happy to refer her to my friends and she eventually gained a lot of attention on her own, simply on the merits of her excellent work. Now, she makes well over six figures and shoots celebrities and very high profile weddings where she often travels all over the world. I would think this is actually a dream come true. You would probably never think that photography would afford someone such a glamourous life! But what if she had lots of bills, responsibilities like a family and decided that she didn’t really have the time or energy to do things for free to get started? This story would have never even come to life. What a terrible thought.

Sadly, that is the state many people are in. I’m not saying sell your kids and take the next plane to Costa Rica for a zip lining internship. But I am saying make room in your life for success. If you are in a really competitive field, making room may mean taking on work at a lower rate to get a foot in the door. I’ve done it many times. Yes, even for free. But it’s not a luxury that everyone can afford. As the good book puts it “The cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches” seem to suffocate any good ideas or steps in the direction of manifesting good ideas. If you can’t sell your kids and live off the land, there is still hope. Eliminating unnecessary bills (like debt) and stress (usually induced by over commitment) in your life will give you and your dream room to grow.

Think about what you can do to get your name circulating in places where you can reap the benefits. If you can’t do it because of time and money constraints, how can you begin to do away with those constraints? Let’s get your dream going today!

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Throughout the process of paying down debt and eventually whittling it down to nothing, I became acutely aware of not only the emotional freedom a low expense lifestyle provided, but also of the freedom to pursue passion with the results of debt elimination. Think about people who are heirs to large fortunes. You can find descendants of the Rockefellers, Hiltons and Waltons a like dabbling in creative pursuits like the arts, fashion design, entertainment and technology innovation. From what is reported, they don’t even do terribly bad. I submit it’s because they have all of their wants and needs taken care of. They can literally take 5 years “off” to hone a skill in a field that is normally hard to make a good living in. If you are not a starving artist, you are probably freer in the realm of creativity if you aren’t worried about how your basic needs will be met. In fact, it’s why most people can’t continue pursuing something they are interested in. _____ just doesn’t pay the bills. What is your blank? What did you have to give up because the financial pressures of life were squeezing you too hard? While you may already know that you will never inherit a fortune, there is still hope.  That hope can come in the form of financial discipline, leading to debt elimination and eventually freeing you to go after a dream, hobby or passion that will be more fulfilling and possibly more lucrative than anything you’ve ever imagined.

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