Friday, September 28, 2007

Armitage Family Pictures

Here are a few pictures from a photo session with the Armitage family.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Financial Peace

Financial Peace Revisited by Dave Ramsey

I've read Financial Peace a couple times before but this time was in conjunction with going through Financial Peace University. Both the book and the course have some great information on personal finance.

The driving principles behind Ramsey's philosophy are live on a budget, pay off debt as quick as possible, build an emergency fund, and get rich slow through diversified investments rather than trying get rich quick schemes.

He describes 7 baby steps (a phrase borrowed from the movie "What About Bob?") to financial peace. The first is to go crazy to build up a $1,000 emergency fund. This will allow you to take care of true emergencies while getting out of debt. (Things like going out to eat, new clothes for school, Christmas presents, etc. would not qualify as emergencies.) This emergency fund also allows you to cut up credit cards and never use them again. Since funds are available to cover unexpected expenses credit cards are no longer necessary. (And yes you can purchase anything online, rent a car, or book a hotel with a debit card. Anything you can do with a credit card can be done with a debit card)

He quotes studies by Dunn & Bradstreet indicating that consumers purchase 12-18% more when using a credit card versus using cash. Having to look Uncle Benjamin, Abraham, George, and Andrew in the eye and tell them that they'll being going to live with someone else is an emotional experience and has an ouch factor to it that swiping a card just doesn't have. McDonald's has also done studies indicating the people paying with credit cards end up buying around 30% more than those paying with cash. So yeah, even for those paying off their card every month and getting "skymiles" or "1% cash back," you likely bought 12 to 18% more by using that credit card. Hope you enjoy the "free flight."

The second baby step is to list all debts from smallest to largest and pay minimums on all except the smallest one regardless of interest rate. Once the smallest one is paid off you would roll that money into the second smallest one and so forth. The concept is referred to as a debt snowball.

Mathematically it might seem more advantageous to pay the highest interest card first and on paper this is accurate. However, personal finance is 80% behavior and only 20% head knowledge. When you start seeing the traction and progress you're making you get excited and more focused "gazelle intense" and start really attacking the debts which result in getting out of debt quicker.

Ramsey encourages selling so much stuff the kids start hiding 'cause they think they're next and naming the dog "eBay." Picking up extra side jobs whether that be delivering pizzas, cutting grass, babysitting, cleaning houses or some other hobby which generates money is also encouraged. He also advocates paying only cash for cars not only to stay out of debt but also to avoid the beating in value you take when driving the car 10 feet off the lot.

After paying off all consumer debt not including the house if a home is owned, baby step number 3 is increasing the emergency fund to 3-6 months of expenses. This emergency fund should be placed in something that's extremely safe such as a money market or savings account. One good reason to have this amount of an emergency fund is in cases of losing a job you would have a solid 3 to 6 months to look for one without the pressure of paying bills with no income.

After building the emergency fund to 3-6 months of expenses, you then move on to baby step 4 which is investing in a retirement plan through work if they match a percentage of your contribution and then through a Roth IRA. If there is no matching from the employer in a 401k, 403b, or TSP, you would start with the Roth IRA which grows tax free. Using mutual funds with solid 10 year track records is a great diversified investment strategy for a retirement account. One would also want to spread money around to various mutual funds such as a growth & income fund, an aggressive fund, an international fund, and a value or balanced fund. The goal is to invest 15% of a paycheck into retirement.

You then move on to baby step 5 which is funding education for children. This can be done through a couple different tax defered accounts such as an Education Savings Account (ESA) or a 529 plan. Only after building up retirement should one start on the kids college. Kids can get scholarships and work to help pay for college but retirement is not something that should be put on hold. You really don't want to be eating dog food in retirement.

After all 5 of these steps are in order, you would then pay everything else down on the house as quick as possible.

Once the home is free and clear, you win and have true financial peace. At this point, you invest in 100% paid for real estate as well as continuing to invest in solid mutual funds. You can now live the life you've worked so hard for and give lots of money away.

I highly recommend this book and the Financial Peace University class to anyone. Even those who already know a good bit about personal finance can benefit from them.

This review also posted at Amazon

For additional articles I've written on personal finance topics, see the following links.
Who Can Set Up Roth IRAs
Choosing Mutual Funds for Your 401k
Why Tax Refunds Are Bad
Emergency Reserves for Later
The Importance of a Solid Financial Team

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Talk Like A Pirate Day

Ahoy and avast me maties. It be Talk Like A Pirate Day. Aye 'tis indeed. Be sure ta say Arrrrr!! at least once.

For more pirate fun check out

and these Youtube videos
"I'm a Pirate" song
Talk Like a Pirate Day: The Five A's"

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Guitar at the Plaza

Last Friday evening, I went down to the Plaza and sang and played guitar on the sidewalk beside one of the fountains. I received $5.86 in tips. :-) Standing in one place for an hour you see lots of interesting people.

During college, I used to go downtown and play on the sidewalk as well. I used it as a ministry opportunity in talking with the homeless, drunk, as well as Christians and various other people. It was neat in that God would usually bring someone along during an evening that He allowed me to minister to in some way. During one semester I made about $140 which I gave to the Baptist Student Union's summer missions program. It was lots of fun!

Monday, September 17, 2007

In A Pit With A Lion On A Snowy Day

In A Pit With A Lion On A Snowy Day by Mark Batterson

This unusual title comes from a Bible verse in 2 Samuel 23:20-21 which says, "There was also Beniah son of Jehoiada, a valiant warrior from Kabzeel. He did many heoic deeds, which included killing two of Moab's mightiest warriors. Another time he chased a lion down into a pit. Then, despite the snow and slippery ground, he caught the lion and killed it. Another time, armed only with a club, he killed a great Egyptian warrior who was armed with a spear. Benaiah wrenched the spear from the Egyptian's hand and killed him with it."

So basically, Beniah was the freaking man. He was the type of guy you'd want on your side going into battle. He became the head of the bodygaurd for King David and eventually became the comander of the army of Israel under King Solomon.

The book is based around this passage and goes on to expand and describe how seemingly difficult circumstances which one might initially shy away from or avoid can turn out for great good if faced head on.

Batterson describes a number of modern day lion chasers whom he has known such as a Georgetown lawyer who stopped practicing law to make a film about human trafficking in Uganda, a tenured professor who quit his post and started a dot com company, a college graduate who moved to the Marshall Islands to teach English, and an executive at Microsoft who gave up millions of dollars in stock options to start a church. Batterson himself is a lion chaser in that he moved to Washington D.C. to plant a church in the heart of D.C. on Capitol Hill which meets at a movie theatre in Union Station.

There are all kinds of logical reason not to do certain things but sometimes we need to have some guts and just go for it. God doesn't call us to a life of mediocrity but wants great things to happen through His work in us. Many times these things don't seem to make sense in our finite understanding but God is working so that He will be glorified if we're willing to step out in faith.

A great scene from the movie "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" illustrates this concept as well. Jones is faced with a great chasm which is impossible to jump across but realizes it is a step of faith. When he takes a step out into thin air despite what his eyes see in the great depth below, he then finds firm ground and is able to walk across the chasm.

Of course there are times to be practical and follow common sense as well. One should not simply jump into something just because it sounds fun or exciting. It should be thought out and prayed about. God has a tendency to confirm direction towards lion chasing opportunities.

A quality quote from Mark Twain also illustrates this mentality. "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

Throughout the book Batterson helps motivate the reader and give them the chutzpah to go tackle tough tasks and chase lions. I recommend it for anyone who might be hestitating about something in life or who needs a little extra encouragement in seeking out and going after goals in life.

This review is also viewable at Amazon.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS) Prevention and Treatment

Iliotibial band (IT band) syndrome can be a painful and frustrating injury common in runners. Pain usually resides in the outside of the knee and sometimes in the hip. The IT band is a ligament which runs from the hip down to the knee and is used to stabilize the knee and hip and surrounding muscles. If this ligament becomes inflamed, as mentioned previously, it can result in pain on the outside of the knee or hip.

The most common cause of Iliotibial band syndrome is over use through an increase in exercise and more specifically running. To help prevent this injury one should begin an exercise program slowly and gradually add mileage. Experts recommend no more than a 10% increase in mileage from week to week. Another quick thing to check is the condition of your running shoes. If the shoes are worn out, they will no longer provide adequate support and protection. The rule of thumb is that a pair of shoes will last 300-500 miles.

Stretching areas surrounding the IT Band are important to keep things loose. An IT Band specific stretch can be done by crossing one leg in front of the other and leaning into the hip of the back leg. So if the left leg is in front, the torso would lean to the left and consequently stretch the IT Band on the right leg. The stretch will be felt in the hip and slightly on the outside of the knee if performed properly.

Another way to stretch out the IT Band and the surrounding muscles is using a foam roller. To use it, lay on your side, put the foam rollerunderneath then slowly roll your leg along it. It may be tender and possibly a bit painful especially if the IT Band is significantly inflamed. Try to do 10 rolls per leg and repeat at least on a daily basis. Over time you'll notice increased mobility and reduced tightness. A foam roller is a great investment towards recovery and is available from Amazon for just $25.

Strengthening exercises are also beneficial. A specific strengthening exercise for the IT Band is laying on one's side, lifting the top leg, and holding for a second or two. This helps build strength in the areas surrounding the IT Band. In addition to this exercise, other good core exercises to perform would be lifting the bottom leg to strengthen the groin muscles. Leg raises while laying on the back will strengthen the quadriceps muscles. Of course crunches and back extensions are also important in any good core strengthening program. A large number of repetitions is not necessary and the whole routine can be completed in less than 5 minutes.

If the runner feels swelling or more specific pain occurring in the knee or hip areas, he or she should ice the area for 15-20 minutes. This should be followed by a period of allowing the skin to warm back up to room temperature then can be repeated. One can also use an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen to help reduce swelling but should not rely on this solution long term. Massage can also be beneficial in some cases.

The best way to reduce pain and eventually return to full speed is to rest with no running. Low impact activities as walking, bicycling, or an elliptical machine can be pursued as alternatives to help maintain fitness in the interim. If the person has access to a pool, a good exercise in addition to swimming is pool running. This can be conducted either in a shallow part of the pool with feet touching the ground or if a flotation belt is available can be performed in the deep end. Aerobic benefits can be obtained as well as utilizing running specific muscles in pool running.

Rest can be frustrating to those who are used to exercising regularly but will ultimately help the runner to get back to the activity they love more quickly.

This article is also posted at Helium.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Smithville Lake Sunset

Here is a picture I took of the sunset at Smithville lake on Labor Day.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Street Lawyer

The Street Lawyer by John Grisham

In this novel by Grisham, the protagonist is an attorney who has a violent encounter with a homeless person. This sparks him to investigate the facts behind this man and how he lived. Through a series of events, he begins volunteering at soup kitchens and homeless shelters. He is eventual persuaded by a lawyer with a legal clinic to leave his lucrative position at a silk stocking law firm in Washington D.C. to work with the homeless and their legal needs.

Added drama throughout the story was a discovery that his former employer was involved in an illegal housing eviction of a number of impoverished people who were kicked out on the cold wintry streets of D.C. This resulted in one family's untimely demise. Through investigation, he and his colleagues at the legal clinic pursue a law suit against his former law firm to bring justice and media attention to the plight of the homeless of D.C.

I read the whole book in one day and while it's not the best Grisham book I've read, it was certainly entertaining and a quality read.

This review is also posted at Amazon.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Favorite Vocalists

Below are a few of my favorite vocalists.

Mac Powell (lead singer of Third Day): He's got a great southern roots folksy sounding voice
Louie Armstrong: "What A Wonderful World" in my mind epitomizes that mixture of ballad/Jazz/Blues singer with thick vocals
Michael Tait: his voice has a pure melodic sound with the ability to let loose on higher notes
George Straight: classic country singing
Fred Johnson: this is a man at the church I grew up in who's got one of those deep bass voices that one enjoys listening to. When I grow up, I'm going to sing like him :-)

Alison Krauss: her voice has a pure and haunting sound to it that gets down to your core.
Norah Jones: great jazz/blues sound, the type you can sit by a fire and listen to while reading a book
Emily Herod: one of my favorite church singers, she brings energetic melodies and gives a vivacity and life to a song.
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