All Posts By

Lauren DuPrez

0 In Motherhood

Serving from the Sidelines

On Wednesday my husband departed at the wee hour of 5 am for the high school summer camp our church is hosting. A battle had been brewing in my heart in the weeks leading up to it because 1) It’s in the mountains on houseboats – how fun is that?! 2) It’s ministry to high school students which I love and 3) I didn’t know if I should go. I know those first 2 factors make the decision seem pretty patent but as a mama of a one year old, I really wrestled with forsaking one of my primary ministries – to “do ministry”. When we first began serving with the high schoolers, the youth pastor assigned me the role of supporting my husband rather than leading a group of girls. Since I work part time for our church and am also a wife and mama (and my husband has been unemployed twice since we moved back and we moved again), I was super thankful not to have one more commitment on my plate. In this season I have greatly considered what the term ministry means not only as defined Biblically but practically as well. Many times I have asked my husband if I should just take on discipling a group of girls but have hesitated each time because if I choose to serve in that capacity, I want to do so faithfully and to the best of my ability.

I have received conflicting communication on how much I should be serving right now, which has been hard and honestly, a bit hurtful, but as I’ve prayed, talked with my husband and sought counsel, I’ve decided that I will continue to support my husband for now and that is not less valuable than serving in a different capacity. I’ve also had to be reminded that motherhood is a ministry – this doesn’t exempt moms from serving in the local church but it does mean it’s okay for a season if moms, especially with younger children, have less availability to serve in more formal roles. I’ve had to remember that the Gospel is about God’s grace and I’ve had to remind myself that I don’t serve to be saved, I serve because I am saved and I’m so grateful for what God has done for me in Christ!

When I have this mindset, I joyfully seize any opportunity for service seeing that even the smallest action makes much of the beauty of Christ’s bride and even more of Christ Himself (even if that means cleaning up vomit and tee tee all within 5 minutes, not that I’ve done that or anything. . .).

I arrived at this conclusion only after much prayer and many, many tears. When I served with youth students previously, I was able to make it to every event and in a sense, pour my life out for the students I served. Now I get to pour my life out for my own daughter yet my heart so often resents the responsibility because I am quick to believe the lie that it’s not a “real” ministry. Instead of being grateful for what I get to do, I often lament the loss of what I used to do and then I must question whether my service is unto the Lord or unto myself.

Motherhood is the hardest service I’ve ever done because the fruit of my labor doesn’t manifest itself as quickly or easily. Simultaneously, motherhood is the sweetest sanctifier because I have the opportunity to serve in ways that are unique to this role and this season. The Lord has blessed me with the privilege of shepherding a sweet and sinful soul because He loves me and desires that I become more like Him and to be sanctified so sweetly is a blessed thing.

In this season, I’ve felt that much of my service has been from the sidelines and perhaps there is some truth to that.

I’m slowly learning though that the sidelines isn’t so bad after all because it yields unique service opportunities that are equal parts hard and holy and that hold just as much value as service in formal capacities.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.”

John 12:24-26

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0 In Uncategorized

Gospel Grace at Graduation

This week most high school seniors across the nation concluded their four year long academic careers by receiving public recognition for the effort they made to receive their diplomas.

An exception to the public aspect of this celebration is Maddi Runkles, a senior from Maryland who was excluded from participating in the graduation ceremony at the Christian school she’s attended.

Why?

Well, according to her principal, David R. Hobbs, “Maddi is being disciplined, not because she’s pregnant, but because she was immoral.”

If you’ve followed this blog for some time, you are probably well aware that I don’t endorse pregnancy outside of wedlock. However, as a follower of Christ, I believe that situations such as Maddi’s merit a certain type of wisdom and grace that unfortunately seem to be lacking in this instance.

Upon beginning her high school career at the Christian school, Maddi signed an agreement acknowledging that she would do her best to abide by the school code which contains a stipulation stating that the application of Philippians 4:8, “extends to my actions, such as protecting my body by abstaining from sexual immorality and from the use of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs.”

In a recent podcast in which Maddi herself was interviewed, she acknowledged the stipulation and reported that she in no way promised to perfectly uphold it. It was interesting to listen as Maddi explained her situation to the hosts and detailed the injustice she has been experiencing as there are students at her school who have broken the school code by committing actions both immoral and illegal.

In light of this tension between Maddi and the school, I believe it is imperative that we, as believers, consider how we ought to respond. I have a daughter, mind you, she is one so my husband and I don’t often think about how we would respond were she in these types of situations. However, we also serve with high school students in the youth ministry at our church so sometimes these situations do become fodder for discussion in our home.

After seeing a video regarding Maddi’s situation released by Students for Life, I immediately clicked on the link to sign a letter of support for Maddi. However, as I began typing I realized that it would be unwise to jump up in support of Maddi when I didn’t have all the facts. The one fact I really wanted to know but was unaware of was whether or not Maddi is a Christ follower. I firmly believe it is important to show love and grace in these difficult situations and simultaneously I believe that one of the best ways to do so is by addressing sin and making sure the truth of the Gospel is known as Jesus is our only hope for salvation from sin and being made right with God.

After listening to her responses in the podcast, I learned that Maddi does proclaim to be a Christ follower and I was so thankful to hear her heart regarding all that is happening in her life right now. It made me sad to learn that her father, formerly president of the school board, went before the board to discuss the matter and eventually resigned as a resolution was not reached in Maddi’s favor. I was surprised and encouraged to learn that Maddi knew she needed to repent and rather than letting the school administration alert the student body about her circumstances, she stood up in front of the student body herself, acknowledged her sin and repented. Additionally, and most importantly, Maddi is choosing to give life to the baby boy in her belly even though at one point she admitted abortion was on her mind.

All this having occurred, Maddi has still been denied the opportunity to participate in the graduation ceremony. For a while, I was conflicted in my heart as I wondered if this were the most gracious response.

I  wrestled through the following questions while thinking through what I, as a parent, would have done:

  1. What facts don’t I know?
  2. What is the school’s response to this?
  3. How would I respond as an administrator?
  4. How would I respond as a parent?
  5. Is Maddi proclaiming to be a Christ follower?
  6. Is Maddi repentant?
  7. Was going to Students for Life necessary?
  8. How can the name of Christ be most glorified in this?
  9. How can Christ’s bride, the church, be most accurately represented in this?
  10. Who ultimately is in charge of delivering justice?

I don’t have every single fact of Maddi’s case but from what I do know, when things didn’t work out in Maddi’s favor, her father went to Students for Life to bring light to the injustice she has experienced. I had to ask myself though whether I truly thought Maddi was treated in an unjust manner. From what I know, I don’t believe she has been treated in the most gracious manner, but whether or not she has been treated unjustly I am still wrestling through. I haven’t lived for too long but one thing I do know is that there are always two sides to every story.

According to a letter released by Maddi’s principal, she is being excluded from graduation not because she is pregnant but because she was immoral. I struggle with this a bit because Maddi has already repented and sought the forgiveness of her student body. As a parent I am learning that discipline needs to include a painful consequence which Maddi has already experienced by being denied attendance at the school and the loss of her leadership position on the student council. Furthermore, Maddi will also deal with many natural consequences of her sin for years to come.

Denying Maddi access to participate in her high school graduation seems a bit ungracious and un-Christlike considering the way that God responds to His children when they sin and are repentant – 1 John 1:9 tells us, “If we confess our sinshe is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” There are various Scriptures that reveal God’s character toward His children who sin. One such verse is Isaiah 43:5 in which God Himself said,”II am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sakeand I will not remember your sins.”

Since God Himself chooses to not remember the sins of His children, we as His children should respond in the same manner. The world tells us we don’t have to forgive and forget, but the Word tells us quite the opposite. When Christ followers don’t exemplify the forgiveness and grace they’ve been shown by God through Christ, it has the tendency to make the Gospel message very unappealing to those who most need to hear it. 

In contrast, I don’t know that I fully support Maddi and her family going to Students for Life who unsuccessfully attempted to have the school administration reverse their decision. Since having requested the help of Students for Life, Maddi’s case has been plastered across the press and is now widely familiar due to being picked up by the New York Times.

The issues that arise with this are that a worldly news source with little to no understanding of Scripture and the way the church should function is now left to portray a dispute which, according to  Scripture, should have been resolved privately between Maddi, Mr. Runkles and the school administration with the goal of peace and restoration. Romans 12:14-21 instructs believers to: ‘Bless those who persecute youbless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoiceweep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one anotherDo not be haughtybut associate with the lowlyNever be wise in your own sightRepay no one evil for evilbut give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possibleso far as it depends on youlive peaceably with all. Belovednever avenge yourselvesbut leave it to the wrath of Godfor it is written, “Vengeance is mineI will repaysays the Lord.”  To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungryfeed himif he is thirstygive him something to drinkfor by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evilbut overcome evil with good.’

There is also the additional attention that Maddi is receiving that is affecting her both negatively and positively and it seems she has endured so much already.

Would my husband and I have sought outside help if our daughter was in this situation?

Honestly, I don’t know but my hope is that we wouldn’t.

When it comes to responding to injustice, I know I would want my husband, myself and my daughter to respond in a Christ like manner. I am so thankful for 1 Peter 2:19-23 which shows us how Christ did this: “For this is a gracious thingwhenmindful of Godone endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it ifwhen you sin and are beaten for ityou endureBut if when you do good and suffer for it you endurethis is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been calledbecause Christ also suffered for youleaving you an exampleso that you might follow in his stepsHe committed no sinneither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviledhe did not revile in returnwhen he sufferedhe did not threatenbut continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the treethat we might die to sin and live to righteousnessBy his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheepbut have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

Of all humans to ever life, Jesus was treated in the most unjust manner as He was sinless yet suffered for the sins of all people.

As I have a sister who was a teen mom, I am grateful for Maddi’s heart to shed light on the ungracious treatment shown to teen moms inside and outside of the church, yet I wonder if the way in which she approached it could have been different. As a former school employee, I also understand the concerns of the school administration, yet I hope they will recognize and value the opportunity to demonstrate the grace of the Gospel and recant their decision to exclude Maddi from participating in her graduation.

My biggest desire in all of this is that the good news of God who made a way for sinful man to be made right with Him through the life, death and resurrection of His precious and perfect son Jesus Christ, will shine forth. I hope that both parties will be reconciled and that the humility, wisdom and grace shown will be so attractive that those who don’t know Christ will be reconciled to God through Him and that the beauty of His bride, the church will be radiantly on display.

Despite bits of the truth remaining unknown, I hope that Maddi will be able to hold her head high at the private graduation ceremony held in her honor today, knowing that, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 8:1).

0 In Grace

When the Future is Funny

Well, it should be to no one’s surprise that these past two weeks have marked another crazy chapter for the DuPrez family. If y’all have been followed our story through this blog, you may know that we recently experienced a rough season of unemployment after moving from Texas to California. We were so humbled and grateful that the Lord provided my husband with a job in March and provided us with a home on April 1st. My husband’s job was a blessing in that it paid $3 more per hour than he previously made, the company provided him with a work truck (a huge blessing since we are a 1 car family), and since they didn’t have company phones, his boss offered to give us $80/month toward our cell phone bill (we were really excited about this since our bill is only $60/month!). Through it all, Ihave been wavering between the temptation to fear that my husband would lose his job again and the desire to trust the Lord who gives us everything we need.

About 2 weeks into the new job, my husband was being sent home multiple days a week due to the company not having any work for him. Since this was becoming a pattern, he reached out to a company that had wanted to interview him after he had accepted his most recent job. After a few days passed and he didn’t receive a call back, we figured the opportunity had passed.

Come Monday, April 17th, my husband was a little discouraged as he was home again and I was having a hard time seeing him so. He decided to make the most of the time off by heading to the local library to prepare a message he would be teaching to the high school students at our church. He was gone only a few minutes before my phone rang and he told me he had received a call back from the company and the owner wanted to interview him locally at 1:00. Since the library had not yet opened, he decided to head home and prepare for the interview. He left that afternoon interested to see what the other opportunity might be and we were both a little intrigued as the owner wanted to meet him at a local sports bar.

Once the interview concluded, my husband arrived home and told me it went okay. The company definitely wanted to hire him but the pay would be less and he would be starting his shifts at 2 AM in Los Angeles. Not exactly the time and location he would prefer, but he was willing to accept the job if it meant he could provide.

Y’all, I love my husband. 

A few minutes after he informed me about the interview, he received another phone call on his old cell phone which happened to still be activated AND turned on. There was another company he had applied to and interviewed with while unemployed and they also wanted to hire him.

WHAT?!

Unsure of how to proceed, we decided that we would pray together, my husband would call a few guys to seek counsel and I would call my parents to see if their home would be available for my husband during on call shifts which are a requirement of the second job opportunity (my parents live much closer to the job location than we do). Praying together was bittersweet. We thought it so timely that there were options for my husband but it was hard for him to make a decision because they company he currently worked for had been so good to him. He was conflicted with the desire to be faithful to his company and to be faithful to his family as the provider. In tears, I went in prayer before the Lord on my husband’s behalf, asking Him to give my husband wisdom and to honor his desire to be faithful on both ends.

My husband proceeded to make his phone calls and I made mine. He was outside for about 20 minutes talking then came in to let me know how he was counseled.

Y’all, I am not exaggerating when I tell you that not even two minutes after he concluded his calls, he received another call from his current boss telling him the company would have to lay him off due to a lack of work.

WHAT?!

To say we were shocked would be a major understatement. It took a moment for the proverbial roller coaster to stop and for us to catch our breath. We were so amazed, surprised, humbled and a little fearful about the course of events that had occurred and SO beyond grateful to see God’s provision in our lives so tangibly on display. I literally laughed out loud because really, what else was I to do? I thought of the woman described in Proverbs 31 who is so confident in the Lord that she laughs at the time to come. I figured if the Lord saw us through unemployment once before, He is more than capable of extending His faithfulness to us a second time around.

My husband decided that the second opportunity would be the best fit for our family. That company is able to match was he was making and then some. They are also able to provide health insurance for us and a matching 401k. I learned during the first bout of unemployment that the only benefits we truly need, we have in Christ and these little earthly benefits are simply a bonus.

Honestly, I did shed a few tears later that evening. I was discouraged but hopeful at what was to come. It was hard knowing that we wouldn’t have an income for almost two weeks but I was reminded of how God provided for Moses and the Israelite’s when they were in the desert and I know that the same God also provides for me.

The rest of the week was really rough as my husband contracted the stomach flu – bad. I totally gave him a hard time for whining about a man cold (which is what we initially thought it was), but when I took his temperature and the thermometer read 100.2, I knew we were in trouble. His fever went up and down but we eventually got it to stay down consistently. During these times of caring for my husband and my daughter I felt alone but had to remind myself that the lens for truth is not my feelings – the way I feel does not always determine what is true.

I read Psalm 54:4 in my Bible reading plan and it was so sweet to be reminded that I am never alone because it is God who helps me:

Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life. 

So simple and so sweet.

My husband began his new job (I hope I can stop saying that for a while) last Thursday, a few days sooner than we expected – how great is our God?

Moving back here hasn’t been anything near what we expected, not that we really had expectations. But, in the midst of the changes I am thankful that because of Jesus, I know and am reconciled to God who is the same yesterday, today and forever and who will never leave me or forsake me.

I can laugh at the future because I know Who is in control of it.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen”

Ephesians 3:20-21

0 In Financial Fitness

Budget Basics 101 // Cash Back Apps

This post contains affiliate links

In additional to the cash back websites I shared about two weeks ago, there are also a few cash back apps you need to know about. To date, we haven’t earned a ton of money from these apps but I’m almost at $20 in one app, which is the cash out rate and I’ve already earned a $5 reward with another. I never say no to free money so even though these apps just add a little bit back into our budget, they are worth using to me.

Ibotta

Out of all 3 apps I will be sharing with you, this one is most worth your while. Once you download the app and create an account, you are able to input your zip code and stores local to you will become available. You can search the app by store or category. Once you select an item from a certain store, all you have to do is purchase the item, scan the barcode and snap a picture of your receipt. I love Ibotta because of all the apps, it has the best selection of stores and items for receiving cash back. Ibotta also offers cash back on online purchases at select retailers. For a while, they were running a deal of 5% cash back on Jet.com purchases, so I definitely took advantage of that. If you use Ibotta for online purchases, make sure you check the cash back rate agains, ebates, Swagbucks and Topcashback to see which one offersthe best deal. The payout for Ibotta is $20 so depending on how much of the selected products you buy from the stores that are available, it may or may not take a while to cash out. To reach the payout sooner, you can always refer friends to Ibotta to earn an extra $5 per new user and your friend will receive $10 to their account.

Checkout 51

This app is similar to Ibotta in that it offers cash back on grocery items. However, Checkout 51 has a very limited selection of items so I’ve found that I haven’t made as much as quick when compared with Ibotta. Since downloading the app, I’m only at $1.50 and the payout rate is $20. I’ve seen Checkout 51 offer $.25 back on a dozen eggs and our local Aldi sells them for $.78/dozen so that was an awesome deal! This app may seem like a waste of time to some, but I’m okay with waiting for the cash back to accumulate.

Receipt Hog

Receipt Hog is an app that rewards users for uploading pictures of their receipts. Depending on how much you spend, you will be rewarded an amount of coins. As the coins accumulate, they can be redeemed for rewards ranging from $5-$40 (cash in your PayPal account, Amazon gift cards or magazine subscriptions). Essentially, Receipt Hog is paying users for the data they receive from the receipts. Prior to snapping a photo of each receipt, I’m usually asked one survey type question (typically I’m asked to rate my shopping experience on a scale of 1-5 stars). So far, I’m up  to a $5 reward and am letting the money accumulate until I can max out at $40. Again, not a significant amount of money, but right now it’s enough toward free products on Amazon or a free coffee!

0 In Financial Fitness

Budget Basics 101 // Meal Planning

This post contains affiliate links

“What’s for dinner?” seems to be the age old question that, when asked constantly, is enough to send anyone over the edge. Serving ones family by planning meals, shopping for them and preparing them seems like an easy enough task but amongst all that wives and moms do, it often becomes a point of frustration and discouragement. I remember as a newlywed I spent hours each week researching recipes online, making shopping lists and preparing a meal plan hoping to be this super awesome wife who was a mix of Sarah, the woman described in Proverbs 31, and Martha Stewart (pre criminal activity, of course).

I tried to come up with new ideas but found myself intimidated by the whole process and ended up repeating meals quite often. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this but my poor husband became tired of certain meals and would graciously let me know when it was time to switch it up. Honestly, I was tired of the same meals too.

Once I became pregnant and had our daughter, I didn’t have hours to set aside each week for researching recipes. I was also way more tired in those early months and would often forget to write items down on my shopping list which was very frustrating, especially if a meal depended on said item. We were beyond blessed to have our Texas church family provide meals for the first month of our daughter’s life but after that I knew I would need to find a solution that would best serve my family.

I looked into a few meal planning services, desperate for a solution but found that they weren’t quite the fit we were looking for. I used emeals for a while and liked it overall but many of the recipes in our meal plan included fish, which I don’t particularly like and steak, which we only buy a few times a month and usually only if it’s on sale. I had also seen posts for $5 Meal Plan which is similar to emeals but at the time I tried it, they weren’t offering paleo which is primarily what I like to prepare for my family.

When I saw a post in a Facebook moms group for Plan to Eat, I knew I had to give it a try. After signing up for the free 30 day trial, I was sold. Plan to Eat is the best option for me because it gives me the flexibility I need when it comes to meal planning. Financially, it makes SO much sense because we only buy what we need – no food goes to waste and we don’t go over our grocery budget.

Simple Meal Planning - Plan to Eat

Some of my favorite features of Plan to Eat are:

  • The flexibility to add recipes from anywhere – copy and paste a link or manually type it in.

 

  • The drag and drop calendar – I’m a visual person, so this is really helpful.
  • Being able to add to the calendar – we buy miscellaneous items that aren’t necessarily recipe ingredients (i.e. snacks) and Plan to Eat allows me to type them in on the calendar which automatically adds them to the shopping list.
  • Adding friends – I LOVE this feature because once you become friends with another Plan to Eat user, you get instant access to all their recipes. If you choose to sign up, feel free to connect with me, my user name is LDuPrez.
  • No mobile app – this might seem a bit behind the times but Plan to Eat does have a mobile site which allows me to physically check off items as I purchase them. For me, this is way more practical than printing out a list and carrying it around the store, especially since my one year old would probably eat it at some point (not that we’ve ever had that happen or anything. . . ) and this means one less app taking up space.
  • Adding my Meal Plan to my Google Calendar – Google Calendar is simply one of my favorite apps (yes, I know I’m a nerd) and having the ability to take my meal plan and place it on my calendar is a great feature. With the Plan to Eat calendar, users are provided with links to their recipes, ingredients and notes – you have the flexibility to add whichever calendars you want to your Google Calendar or other calendar apps that allow import via URL. I may or may not have imported our recipes to my husbands calendar to keep him from asking, “What’s for dinner?” (and of course, he still asked just to be obnoxious).

Overall Plan to Eat is a win because it is extremely flexible, it does the work for me, it makes it so easy to find new recipes, it saves me a TON of time and I can add my meal plan to my calendar – I’m so grateful that the meal planning madness has finally come to an end!

Check out the slideshow below to view my personal Plan to Eat interface to see how it works.

Overall Plan to Eat is a win because it is extremely flexible, it does the work for me, it makes it so easy to find new recipes, it saves me a TON of time and I can add my meal plan to my calendar – I’m so grateful that the meal planning madness has finally come to an end!

 

More in this series

0 In Financial Fitness

Budget Basics 101 // Cash Back Websites

This post contains affiliate links

If you could get paid to shop, would you?

When I learned about the various ways to earn a passive income by shopping through cash back websites, I jumped at the opportunity. Don’t be alarmed, this isn’t one of those weird, too good to be true scams. If you are smart about the way you shop, these sites have the potential to add hundreds of dollars back into your budget and provide you with savings on everything from household items to travel accommodations. This week I am sharing with you the top three sites I’ve found to be most helpful and the pros and cons of each. I’ve used each of these sites at various times for various reasons and it has forever changed the way I shop.

Ebates

Ebates is probably the best known cash back website. I joined in 2015 when my husband and I were expecting our daughter. We had received money and gift cards at one of our baby showers just in time for Cyber Monday shopping. I was searching online for coupons for baby items we were purchasing and stumbled across Ebates. I had heard the name Ebates in the past but was truly clueless as to what the site was actually for. I learned that by signing up, I would have $10 automatically added to my account. Once my account was set up, I learned that I could generally earn 2%-5% cash back for items I was already purchasing online (although Ebates now offers cash back for some in store transactions too). I found out that Ebates has a referral program too so that meant a little bonus was added to my account for each person who signed up via my affiliate links. I immediately sent out links to close family members and friends to earn a little extra. So far I’ve earned $129.96 through Ebates – not a fortune, but it has been helpful.

Pros: 

  • Sign up bonus of $10
  • Sign up was easy
  • Earning cash back is easy
  • Great referral rates
  • Cash back online and in select stores and restaurants
  • Cash Back Button makes it easy to see which sites offer cash back
  • Custom coupons (when redeeming cash back for a certain retailer, always check for Ebates specific coupons – typically their coupons can be stacked with coupons provided by the retailer)

Cons: 

  • Payout is quarterly
  • Lower cash back rates compared to other sites

Swagbucks

I’ve been using Swagbucks for about 7 years and initially discovered it while attending a couponing class hosted by a friend at church. Essentially Swagbucks is a rewards site in which users earn Swagbucks in exchange for completing various activities. If you’d like to add “money” to your account, you can do so by taking surveys, daily polls, performing web searches, redeeming coupons and my personal favorite, shopping online. To me, it’s not worth it to spend time doing many of the activities on Swagbucks because they don’t pay very well. However, if you have the time, it may be worth it for you. I created an account for my husband (I didn’t find this to be a violation of the Swagbucks terms of use) and we primarily use his account as I earn 10% of what he makes since he signed up via my referral link. Once a Swagbucks account reaches 500, bucks can be redeemed for various types of gift cards (you can wait until you reach 2500 and receive money sent directly to your PayPal account which is my favorite option). Since I’ve been using Swagbucks, I’ve earned $67.10 which may not seem like much but it has been helpful. My goal with Swagbucks is to earn gift cards to stores we regularly shop at (Target, Walmart, Sam’s Club) and to buy small household items so we can remove those costs from our regular budget (and of course, I buy those items online so I can earn my cash back!). With Swagbucks gift cards we’ve been able to purchase baby wipes, soap, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant and we occasionally order a Starbucks gift card.

Pros:

  • Sign up bonus of $5
  • Cash back is easy to earn
  • No payout calendar (it’s up to you to decide how fast you want to earn and how soon you want to cash out)
  • Swagbucks can be redeemed for gift cards and cash
  • Custom coupons (when redeeming cash back for a certain retailer, always check for Swagbucks specific coupons – typically their coupons can be stacked with coupons provided by the retailer)
  • There are various activities you can do to help you earn your payout threshold of 500 Swagbucks
  • Referral program allows you to earn 10% of your referral’s earnings for life

Cons:

  • You must earn 2500 Swagbucks if you want to receive actual money
  • Swagbucks can take a while to add up
  • Referral rate is lower than other cash back programs

TopCashback

TopCashBack is one of the newer cash back sites but is also typically the highest paying. Whenever I make an online purchase, I check between all 3 sites to make sure I’m getting the best deal. TopCashback also has it’s own coupon codes that can usually be stacked with those offered by retailers and it sometimes provides cash back for retailers that Ebates and Swagbucks don’t (again, it’s best to check all 3).

Pros: 

  • Sign up bonus of $10
  • No payout threshold – once your purchase has been confirmed, you can request payment immediately.
  • You can earn additional cash back by cashing out via various gift card options (American Express, Amazon, Gap, Nike and Hotels.com to name a few)
  • Custom coupons (when redeeming cash back for a certain retailer, always check for TopCashBack specific coupons – typically their coupons can be stacked with coupons provided by the retailer)
  • You can donate your cash back to charity (it looks like The American Red Cross is the only one currently available)
  • Good referral rate

Cons:

  • It takes a while for purchases to be confirmed
  • User dashboard isn’t as easy to navigate as other sites

How to make the most of your online purchases: 

  • Buy used gift cards from Raise.com and use them toward products you are already purchasing
  • Review all 3 sites for the best cash back value and coupons
  • Take advantage of free shipping if it makes sense
  • Take advantage of buying online and picking up in store (As a mom of a 1 year old, I LOVE this!)
  • Plan ahead and shop during holidays (This is where it’s important to budget for the future – the best deals I’ve found have occurred on Cyber Monday).
  • Sign up for emails (I suggest creating an account for store emails and only check it while shopping to learn what sales coupons are available. I have about 3 retailers whose emails I receive daily and this allows me to learn the pattern of when coupons and sales are available and helps me plan the best times to shop at those stores.)
  • Sign up for text messages (Most retailers will send you a coupon within 24 hours of signing up for text alerts.)
  • There’s an app for that (Most retailers will give you some kind of coupon or freebie once you download their app. Personally, I don’t like having a ton of apps that I don’t regularly use so if I need a coupon, I’ll download the app, retrieve the coupon and then delete the app.)

Join me next week for additional ways to save with my top 3 cash back apps and be sure to check out the rest of The Frugal Family series below!

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0 In Financial Fitness

Budget Basics 101 // Cell Phones

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Can you hear me now? Good. Because our cell phone situation is one you want to pay close attention to especially if you are looking to add over $1000 a year back into your budget.

Prior to being married, I remember spending time researching which cell phone company would be the best for us financially. I knew I wanted the iPhone despite past reservations and at the time, the only carriers offering it required a two year contract. We were stuck deciding between Verizon and Sprint and ultimately chose Sprint because our monthly bill would be lower. Since my husband and I had chosen free phones, he the Galaxy and myself the iPhone, I thought it would be best to save a few dollars and forego purchasing protective cases. We were on a tight budget at the time and since I hadn’t previously dropped any of my smartphones I figured we were good to go. Not even two weeks later, my husband, who was working in construction, came home and let me know that he had accidentally dropped his phone on the job and while it still made sounds, the screen was completely black. Reluctantly, we called Sprint requesting a replacement phone and forked over $150 for a phone that was initially free. It was painful knowing that we could have spent $25-$40 for a good case and prevented the unnecessary expense but hindsight, after all, is 20/20.

After my phone surviving halfway through our contract term, I was a new mom with a tired brain and completely forgot that I left my phone in an open pocket on our baby carrier. I pulled the carrier out of our car and my phone fell, screen down, on the asphalt. My heart sank a little as I realized some of the glass screen had completely shattered off of the phone and there was a huge crack down the middle. The phone still worked – mostly. At that point, with a new baby, we really couldn’t afford an additional $150 for a replacement phone or even the $100 to get the screen fixed. Over time, my phone started experiencing a variety of problems due to being dropped and has pretty much stopped working altogether.

Final Score: Phones 2, DuPrez’s 0.

After all the phone drama, I decided enough was way more than enough and began to look for ways we could have the phones we wanted without spending $150/month which is what our Sprint contract was costing us. My husband ended up hating his Samsung Galaxy and wished he has chosen the iPhone instead. I am now an iPhone aficionado too and hope never to switch to something else. I knew if we were to both have iPhones, I was going to have to find a plan that would work better with our budget and stretch our hard earned dollars a little further.

We considered ending our Sprint contract early but decided not to since we didn’t have all the money up front to purchase new phones, pay for a new plan and pay the Sprint cancellation fee of $200. This was painful but it also gave me time to research our options. For the longest time we debated between Straight Talk which offers unlimited everything for $45/month or Virgin Mobile which offers the same for $35/month. Our hope was that since everything was unlimited we could save even more money by not having to pay for internet service. We initially decided we would go with Virgin Mobile because of the cheaper cost over time but since the only available iPhones in stock were near $400 each, which made us hesitant to make the move. We had been waiting to receive our tax return to purchase our new phones but still weren’t comfortable with paying so much for a device that isn’t necessary for our survival and has a life expectancy of roughly two years.

While listening to Pandora recently, I heard a commercial for Boost Mobile and decided I would check them out just to see what they could offer. It turns out they had refurbished iPhone 6’s in stock for $199.99 each and they offer and unlimited everything plan for $30/month. I was instantly sold. Before purchasing however, I decided to Google “Boost Mobile Coupon Code” and found a coupon code on RetailMeNot for 50% off any phone purchase under $399.99. HECK. YES. This was the perfect fit for us.

To boost our budget a little more, we will be purchasing our minutes via the Walmart link on Swagbucks which will send our code for our minutes right to our email – no need to drive to the store when we run out AND will give us 7% cash back. Since the overall cost was much lower than anticipated, we were able to use money from our regular income to get new phones – FINALLY! We’re also a little wiser this time around and invested in this case.

We spent a bit of time researching and discussing what would be the wisest phone choice for our family and are so blessed to have found this option through Boost Mobile, which, it turns out, is backed by Sprint. We’ll be getting the same quality of service for a fraction of the cost! No more contracts and silly fees for us.

PS – My friend Brandee who uses T-Mobile knew about our move to Boost and was inspired to find a way to cut her bill. She called them and was able to get the to lower her bill by $40/month!

What steps will you take to trim your cell phone bill?

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3 In Homemade

DIY // Lip Balm

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Maybe it’s the old soul in me, but I’m a firm believer in the concept of not buying something if you can make it yourself. In this day and age where convenience is a hot commodity, I actually find it fun to learn how to make things that I use on a regular basis. One of the items that is kind of detrimental in the DuPrez family is lip balm. It might seem silly, but my lips are constantly chapped and it’s really uncomfortable. For a while I was purchasing Dr. Bronner’s chapstick because I liked that it went on smooth versus waxy but then I found out Dr. B’s supports marijuana legalization and contribute $600,000 toward the cause – not something I want to support by any means. I had used Burt’s Bees in the past and although it wasn’t my first choice, I decided I would switch back. However, when I saw that Katie, the Wellness Mama, posted her own recipe for making homemade lip balm, I knew I had to give it a go!

 

 

My recipe is adapted from hers to fit the needs of my family and I tweaked it a bit to make it simpler for myself. I also purchased ingredients from different companies than she did and was highly pleased so I will be sharing about those ingredients and their respective companies as well as the prices I paid for the various items.

DIY Lip Balm Recipe

Time: 15-20 minutes

Yield: 20 lip balms

Directions

  1. Fill a sauce pan with about an inch of water and place it on the stove on medium heat.
  2. Place a 16 oz mason jar inside the pan.
  3. Add the beeswax, coconut oil and shea butter to the jar (the beeswax will take the longest to melt).
  4. Once all ingredients have melted, remove the pan from the heat and add your desired amount of peppermint essential oil drops.
  5. When the mouth of the jar is cooled, pour the mixture into the lip balm tubes (be careful as the contents is hot and jar is too – I held my tubes over another mason jar as I poured just in case).
  6. Once you see the mixture begin to solidify in the tubes, place the lid on.
  7. Store the lip balm in your fridge for 1-2 hours.
  8. Enjoy!

 

The cost of the items (not including shipping, tax, etc.) comes out to $27.63, divided by 20 it equals $1.38/tube. To me this was a pretty good price compared to Burt’s Bees which retails for about $2.50-$3.00/tube. I also have enough ingredients left to make 20 more lip balms – I just need to order more tubes!

 

 

I was inspired to try this recipe after my friend Courtney had made some homemade lip balm a few years ago and let me have one. It was my favorite lip balm and I decided to make some for my little family. I’ve ordered some cocoa butter (Aura Cacia brand) to use in place of the peppermint essential oil and am planning on using 4 tablespoons with the above recipe #becausechocolate.

 

0 In Financial Fitness

Budget Basics 101 // YNAB

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If you’ve been looking for a tool to help you budget, look no further. You Need A Budget, or YNAB as it is commonly called, is the perfect solution for helping you get on track and stay there. I began using YNAB while I was single to see what all the hype was about. I could barely afford the initial fee at the time so I searched Google for a coupon and was fortunate to find one. Initially YNAB was a software you could pay for once and download via an emailed link. I had some trouble understanding how it worked at first but my roommate was kind enough to show me the ins and outs and now I’m not sure how my husband and I would function without it. I really hate spending money if I don’t have to so I was reluctant to upgrade to the new YNAB which is $50 a year or $45 annually for those like me who had purchased the software early on. However, when I realized that I could keep track of our budget and update our expenditures entirely through the YNAB app I was sold.

 

YNAB – web view

When YNAB 4, the first edition of YNAB was released, the only way to update how much money you wanted to place in each spending category was by turning on your computer and updating it from the software. The app allowed users to add transactions which was helpful but the app in it’s current format is way more functional. Having a little one at home, I am all about things I can do that serve my family in saving time and money which makes YNAB a win for me.

The heart behind YNAB is to give every dollar a job. It’s the same as the concept of “zeroing out” your budget. My husband and I have added categories for weddings, birthdays, books, coffee and date night – it’s totally customizable to suit your needs. YNAB is extremely flexible and although it comes with some categories built in, you can add to or edit those categories to your liking. Compared with Financial Peace University, another popular budgeting tools, YNAB is only $50/year which breaks down to $4.17/month versus $190 (although the $190 is for a lifetime, we have found the value of  YNAB to be greater). YNAB does have to be renewed annually but for us it has been more practical than listening to talks about finances, going through a program and reading a book (#aintnobodygottimeforthat). YNAB is also more friendly toward those who prefer to use the card system versus the cash system, although it can be used for both. We primarily use cards when making purchases and hardly have cash on hand so the envelope system of Financial Peace University just doesn’t work for us.

 

YNAB – app view

Because we use YNAB, we were able to pay off our lease early. We also paid off our Sprint contract early and switched to a company that will save us $90/month – all while living on an income provided by unemployment. Of all seasons, you would think unemployment would be a period of financial unrest but YNAB allowed us to plan for our future and has helped us to abound financially.

If you think YNAB would be a good fit for you, click here to try it free for 34 days.

PS, Derek got a job – praise God! – so we are really looking forward to using YNAB when regular pay checks come in!

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0 In Financial Fitness

The Frugal Family // Series Intro

If you’ve spent some time reading through previous posts on this blog, you are likely well aware that I am passionate about pinching pennies and doing whatever it takes to boost our budget. I’m a super saver of sorts. Since ultimately everything we own is the Lord’s, I want to do my best to ensure that we are faithful stewards of what He has entrusted to us. As you may know, my husband recently lost his job. Because God is faithful, unemployment has been one of the hardest trials we have endured but also one of great blessing.

In this season, my husband and I were never fearful over our financial situation because 1) We trust God and know that He is sovereign and 2) we have been working with a budget since we were first married. As part of our premarital counseling, we were required to present our budget to our counselors and I’m so grateful we did because it has helped immensely.

While living on a budget consisting primarily of unemployment funds, we were able to pay off our lease early (we decided not to break it when we moved as it was pretty pricey) and we were also able to complete our contract with Sprint early (we decided not to renew – more on that later).

Budgeting can be frustrating at times but in this day and age, there are plenty of tools to help, a few of which I will be covering throughout this series.

My hope is that by sharing about some of the budget basics we have applied, you will be encouraged and equipped to implement these measures that will help you be a faithful steward of your resources.

To kick off this series in which I will be sharing a few of our family’s favorite apps, tricks and tips for making the most of what you’ve  been entrusted, I want to share with y’all two of my favorite resources that help us understand God’s heart behind money.

  1. Whose Money Is It Anyway?  – A sermon series by John MacArthur. I listened to this when I was first married and it really convicted my heart toward certain attitudes I had toward money and helped me desire to be a better steward.
  2. Managing God’s Money by Randy Alcorn- I actually bought this as an e-book with a settlement I received from Barnes and Noble which I am grateful for because at the time, I wouldn’t have been able to buy it otherwise. I haven’t finished this book yet but based on what I have read, I highly recommend it. Unlike Dave Ramsey’s materials, Randy Alcorn gets to the heart behind stewardship, reminds readers that everything is the Lord’s, our hope isn’t in our possessions and that ultimately our trust should be in God. Trusting God to provide for us was a really big struggle in my life at times and this book provided the encouragement my heart desperately needed. I’ve heard high praise for his book The Treasure Principle and am looking forward to reading it in the future.

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