Sunday, January 28, 2018

My Huge Grocery Store Blunder

My recent grocery store shopping faux pax resulted in fourteen full days of cooking with only what I had on hand in the house!  Argh!!!!

I recently suggested you spend only cash on things like groceries.  Let's just say that I did not model the budget-savvy behavior that I ask from you, my readers.  Ultimately, the responsibility for the slip-up rests squarely on my own shoulders.

Here's how it all came about: 

As January arrived, I added up the amounts we had spent in each budget category in 2017.  I produced three documents:  our net worth, our list of goals, and the 2018 budget.  (See this post for information on these three documents.)  My husband asked me to formulate this year's budget on his straight-time salary alone.  I was to include no overtime.  We have a home improvement project on our agenda.  So, we decided to resort to self-imposed austerity.  Theoretically, this no-frills budget will give us enough in our "slush fund" by the end of the year to gut and remodel the downstairs bathroom.

By the first week of January I had the budget all prepared.  Then my husband's first paycheck arrived.  It quickly became apparent that I had made a miscalculation.   I stared at the paycheck and then double-checked my figures. We have lived with a degree of overtime for so many years that I had forgotten what portion of his paycheck constituted straight-time.  I had to cut another $600 a month out of the budget!

Holy cow!  That was some serious money!  I started over, working all the numbers and asking myself it we really needed to eat three meals a day.  (Just kidding!)  In the midst of rearranging my financial life, we ran out of food.  Seriously!  I had bulk cooked, leaving me with just 1 onion and 2 bulbs of garlic.  My kitchen looked like great masses of people had made a run on it preparing for a major snowstorm!

My Massive Mistake:

It was 7pm.  I made an extensive list.  Time was short.  My husband asked if I was ready to go.  "I have the list.  But, I haven't looked on EveryDollar yet to verify how much we have left over for the month."  "Oh, it will be okay.  Let's just get going," he replied.  MAJOR mistake.  I didn't even take a calculator with us to keep tabs on what we were spending.  While in the store, Larry suddenly remembered two or three more items we needed.  Not knowing how close we even were to maxing out the grocery allotment, I wearily told him, "Throw them in the cart!"  

By the time we hit the check out, I felt it all spiraling out of control.  As he rang up each item, I watched in horror as the total kept climbing.  Still, the full extent of the damage was not apparent until I entered the receipts into EveryDollar after we arrived home.  What??!!!  We had a whopping $.90 left for the next two weeks!  However, the 5# bag of sweet potatoes contained some spoiled produce, I returned it for a full refund.  This added $6.10 to the total amount of available grocery money. Wow!  Now I had $7.00 to spend! 

I grabbed my 13 year old sous chef, Daniel.  "Son, do you see these groceries?"  This is what we have available for the next 14 days!  Get the cookbooks and let's start planning."   We cooked up a storm!  We got creative and churned out some fantastic meals, all based on items that we already had in the house. 

Today is Sunday, January 28th.  We stopped by the store on the way home from church and found half price salad greens.  We bought  two 1 pound containers of spring greens and one bunch of bananas.  The total cost was $6.50.  We will end the month with $.50 left over in the food budget.

Lessons I learned from my mistake:

1.  Keep a running list of things you need to purchase at the grocery store.  I found out that it beats standing in my kitchen desperately trying to remember what we are out of and what needs to be replenished.  My mother-in-law kept a pad of paper permanently on a shelf in her kitchen to write down items as they used up the last of the bottle, bag, or can.  Definitely a strategy worth employing. 

2.  Don't leave home without knowing how much you have available to spend.  Talk about making a "freshman" level mistake on my budgeting!  However, this could have easily been alleviated if I had a cash envelope for grocery spending.  Given how tightly I've structured our no-frills budget, I'll probably use a cash-only policy for groceries for the remainder of the year.

3.  Necessity is the mother of invention.  I can be very creative, cooking with that I have in the house.  It actually became sort of a challenge as Daniel and I looked in the pantry and freezers to try to find buried ingredients for recipes.  I even created a wonderful new family favorite:  Grain Loaf.  I have a post underway to share the recipe soon.

4.  It wasn't the end of the world.  If you make a mistake, don't panic.  Work the problem, don't feed the frenzy.  All in all it went well.  But, believe me, I hope to be a little more organized for the rest of the year so that we don't have to do this again!

Until next time,

Do all to the glory of God,


Monday, January 22, 2018

Ten MORE Ways to Slash Your Budget

"People who live Under the Median with deliberation and an iron will aren't even looking at Starbucks, except to slow down to smell the aroma on our way home to brew our own hot beverage for pennies instead of dollars." - Under the Median

I just did a post on Four Ways to Slash Your Budget. We looked at "big picture" items - ones which can result in significant savings every month. But, when you are striving to achieve great big goals, you need to carefully comb through your budget to harvest even the areas which result in saving just a little money.

This post, filled with 10 more tips, contains some "black belt tips".If are ready to do whatever you need to do in order to meet your goals, this is your post! You have fire in your eyes and you're hanging on to those dreams like a dog with a bone!

When I read finance websites touting the advantages of simply giving up your daily latte if you want to save money and balance your budget, I either chortle with inner amusement or screw my face up into a silent message which clearly implies my disdain of their simplistic answer.

People who live Under the Median with deliberation and an iron will aren't even looking at Starbucks, except to slow down to smell the aroma on our way home to brew our own hot beverage for pennies instead of dollars. We like to whittle our budget down to a fine-tuned machine of thrift-minded perfection!


If you know my story at all, you understand that I have developed the habit of examining each nickel and dime before it leaves my wallet. This all began when my husband and I decided to live debt-free on an income which averaged about 30% under the National Median Income. In a technical sense, we lived above the definition of poverty. But, raising a family on this amount of money was a monthly balancing act in both thrift and black belt economics.

So, let's talk about what to do if you have cut all the easy stuff out of your budget and still need to save more coin each month to make headway on your goals. I've employed all of these methods in my personal life.  Some of these ideas will net you just a couple of hundred dollars per year.  However, as I proposed each idea to my husband, he wrote down the expected savings, added it all up, and then showed me the total. We looked at each other, smiled, nodded, and said, "Now, we're talking some real money!" 

In order to give you accurate numbers, I looked at our yearly budgets and budget totals for 2009 and 2010, the years in which we cut the budget to the bone to save 40% of our yearly income in order to pay cash for our new home. Yep!  I still have them all in a file. I'm a budget junkie!  😄


It is a misnomer that industrialized, boxed, processed, preservative-laden, snack food is less expensive than whole food. Not only is it devoid of most nutritional value, fattening, and full of salt, sugar, and oil, it is not even really cheaper.  

Take potatoes for an example. My family can eat an entire bag of chips in about five minutes flat.  Each bag will cost you between $1.50 and $4.5.  Contrast this with a ten pound bag of potatoes, which can be had for less than $4.00! A bag this size will last you for several meals. Potatoes lead the pack in potassium, vitamin C, and fiber. They fill you up, but don't weigh you down. I guarantee your children will be hungry two hours after eating that bag of chips, but full for the rest of the evening with a hot, stuffed baked potato.

My experience: 

 Let's see our example works in real life. In 2009, when my husband and I were saving to pay cash for our house, we employed this budget-slashing method and successfully reduced our food bills to $325 a month for our family of six.We bulk cooked once a week, ate seasonally, baked bread from scratch, and had a small square foot garden. Nearly every single bite of food that hit my children's mouths was made by me, with real ingredients. 


When I say hang it all, I mean laundry. Years ago I read that it cost an average of 50¢ to dry each load in a dryer. So, I began hanging ten loads of laundry on an outside line every single week. I kept the ritual until it was so cold that all of the items came off the line dried into stiff cardboard like shapes and my fingers needed resuscitation after coming in from the cold. If you hate the  scratchy feeling of line-dried towels, throw them in the dryer for about 10 minutes after you take them off the line.  They will emerge with the soft feel to which you are accustomed.  

My Experience:

Using the $.50 per load formula we estimated we saved $20 a month or about $160 a year by doing it March through November.


The degrees I am talking about are on your thermostat. For years we had an "80 degree rule", the A/C didn't come on until the thermometer consistently read 80 degrees or above. Instead, we had two whole house fans and we used them! As long as the humidity stayed down, we were able to cool the house off quite nicely to sleep comfortably, even with fairly hot daytime temperatures. When we finally turned on the A/C, we raised the thermostat 1 degree every day until we really felt uncomfortable. Then, we backed it off 1 degree and left it set there.

In winter, we did the process backwards - subtracting a degree every day until we were cold, even after adding warm socks and a sweater to our ensemble.We used space heaters to warm up the room in which we were sitting, rather than raise the thermostat.*Be sure to follow safety rules and NEVER leave a space heater unattended and make sure you leave a clearance of least 3 feet in every direction.

For every 3 degree variance on your thermostat, you will shave between $10 and $20 off of each monthly bill.  By installing and using a progammable thermostat can also shave $300-$400 a year off of your utility bills.

Check with your energy provider to see if they offer free home assessments or energy-saving devices to customers. Here is a link to one such program offered by ComEd.  

My Experience: 

We currently use PowerSmart Pricing through our power company, Ameron. Power Smart Pricing is an hourly electricity pricing program for residential customers. The price you pay per kilowatt hour varies throughout the day. The rates are posted 24 hours in advance. In this way, I can plan cooking and laundry at times when I pay the least per kilowatt hour. The program also makes perfect sense for us since we own an all electric car. We charge our trusty steed from 1am-4am, when the prices hit rock bottom. Last year we saved 5% on our electric bill by using Power Smart Pricing. That may not seem like much, but, remember we transitioned to this program simultaneous to purchasing an electric car. So, if we were not charging an electric vehicle every night, I suspect that our savings would be higher by another 10-15%. 


While saving for a new home, our Christmas and gift-giving budgets became nearly non-existent. We made gifts from scratch, bought from garage sales and second-hand stores, and scoured clearance racks for unbelievable bargains. Additionally, we agreed to go to only four  garage sales that summer! These were major neighborhood garage sales.  

What?! Why in the world would we deliberately cut off our garage sale circuit - the source of a thrifty supply of clothing and household items? For one specific reason: I know, I said that we looked at garage sales for gifts - and we did.  Garage sales had become our way to blow time together every weekend.  But, the more we went, the most things we found that we didn't need, but couldn't pass up.  So, we made the decision:  if we don't go, we can't be tempted to spend money on unnecessary items.  Instead, we went to carefully selected sales and were still were able to find every item we needed, and few that we didn't. 

My experience: In this post I gave a list of ideas for doing Christmas while living Under the Median.  You can also read here and here for a large list of gift ideas for $3.00 or less! The ideas in these posts can be applied to holidays, anniversaries, weddings, and birthdays.  By using a combination of all of the tips and ideas that I gave you above, we cut both our Christmas and gift budgets by 25% each.

TIP #5: Oh, Baby! 

We had a new baby at the time we began saving for our home.  We cut our "baby needs" category in the budget from $40 to a very minimal $10 a month. This was baby #4 and he needed very little that we did not already own. The $10 covered the cost of occasional use of disposable diapers (which I generally got on sale and with coupons) and other miscellaneous items.  I breastfed until the age of two, made my own wipes, used cloth diapers, made my own baby food after the age of six months, and bought used clothes.  We also had really great friends who gave us hand-me-downs.  New clothing, in general, has been very rare in the lives of any of my sons.   

Miscellaneous Ideas

Here are some other miscellaneous areas which we were able to "right size" by asking ourselves if we  really needed it:

  • TIP #7: We cancelled our newspaper subscription.All magazine subscriptions bit the dust and were cancelled. 
  • TIP #8:  We cancelled our internet.We accessed it at the library once or twice a week.
  • TIP #9: We went out to eat 3 times each year (using coupons and gift certificates). Instead, we had Friday night picnics. Here's a post on that tradition 
  • TIP #10: Every extra penny that came into the house went straight into the bank. 

Our Family Mantra Became:
"If we can't eat it or wear it, we don't need it."

Do you have specific goals for 2019? When establishing your family budget for this year, consider each nickel and dime. Trust me. They DO add up to dollars. 

 Do you have tips on saving money or questions on how to save on expenses?  I'd love to hear them.  Comment below.   

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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Four Ways to Slash Your Budget

Today, I'll give you some black belt techniques to help you see "change" in 2019.  


 That's right!  You wanna spend less money?  Fork over hard earned US currency.  There are many categories which lend themselves to paying with cash.  Clothing, groceries, and household are just three budgeting categories which make good sense to pay with cash.  Statistically you will spend about 30 percent less when you use cash.  

If your monthly grocery funds are in an envelope, you will work really hard to insure that you have money until the end of the month.  It's so easy to look in that little white enclosure and instantly see that you have just two or three twenty dollar bills and there are still ten days until the next month begins.  You know you won't be getting chips or snacks.  No, instead, you'll be getting a ten pound bag of potatoes for less than five bucks!  Potatoes are versatile, nutritious, and easy to make.  Paying with cash helps you get down to brass tacks really quickly when it comes to money.   

My personal experience:  It never occurred to me that paying with cash would result in spending less money until we took a Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University class.  I had been budgeting and saving money for over two decades of marriage.  Honestly, the only reason we even took the class was because our teenage son was handling our family finances for six months (a requirement for high school graduation in the Ware family).  I thought, "I have no idea what this guy will say to me that I don't already know."  Well, on the video he explained the idea of cash envelopes.  Not being one to back down from a challenge, I did it.  It was the hardest two months of my life!  I kid you not!  The physical act of handing over cash (and not fudging on how much I spent) was one of the most difficult experiments of my life!  But, whenever, the budget is tight, I dig those envelopes back out.  It does work!  


It's not that we never dine out, rather it's that we have planned dining experiences, not spur-of-the-moment restaurant rushes.   Those who save money know how much money is set aside in the written budget for eating out.

Consider that in 2015 the average American family spent about $4000 a year on groceries and just over $3000 a year in restaurants.  That restaurant tab is  seventy-five percent of the total amount spent on eating at home!  Just consider the savings if you cut that amount even in half!   According to a research study by Peapod and ORC International, in 2017 both millennials and boomers planned to spend more time in the kitchen and less time in restaurants.  Their reasons varied from saving money, eating healthy, to wasting less food - all music to the ears of super thrifty people!

My personal experience:  For over two decades we have eaten out at  restaurants - any restaurant - fast food and sit-down fare combined - anywhere from 3 to 6 times a year.  Nope!  That's not a typo.  When we announce to the kids that we are eating out, genuine joys breaks out.  It is truly a treat for them to eat at a restaurant.  Instead, we focused on providing family experiences that cost little to no money.  For many years we had "Friday Night Picnics".  I packed up whatever I made for supper and we carted it to the local park.  Here's a link to a post I wrote on it.  My older boys always mention this tradition when we ask them for special memories they had growing up.

If the weather is inclement, spread a blanket on the floor and eat picnic style.  My boys loved it when I prepared what they called "snacky supper".  This was their word for me putting out little pieces of cheese, various crackers, breads, fruits, raw veggies, hummus, and cookies for supper.  They got permission to graze and snack to their heart's content.  Kroger has a great bin with chunks of cheese that are $5 or less.  It's high quality cheese.  It's just small pieces of it.  So, they discount this cheese.  We sometimes buy three or four different kinds so the boys can try various textures and flavors of good cheese at a bargain price. 

Don't pressure yourself to "keep up with the Jones' by carting your kids to overpriced venues more times than you can afford.  Give them the gift of family. Splurge on a chunk of imported cheese, a hunk of good bread, fruit, and a simple dessert.  Then, feast at home.


By "trips" I mean any time you get into the car.  Before you stick that key into the ignition think, "Is this trip necessary and can I combine these errands to make better use of my gas budget?"
My personal experience:  When we were saving to purchase our second home with cash we sliced and diced our budget, showing no mercy whatsoever.  The gas bill turned out to be one of the easiest to regulate.  We got our gas bill down to one fill-up per vehicle per month!   My husband rode his bicycle three miles each direction to work as often as possible.  I walked to the bread store with the boys.  We combined every errand that we could, stopped for groceries on the way home from church, and planned out driving routes to reduce overall miles driven as much as possible.  Using these methods we sliced our gas bill by 40 percent!  


It's a quick and easy way to cut up to $1000 out of your yearly budget. 

Do you really need 100 television channels? Are you paying huge fees for something that you watch a handful of times a month?   I challenge you to ditch your cable or satellite television. Subscription services are always listed as "monthly fees".  Do you know why?  It makes their astronomical charges easier to stomach.  People rarely take the time to actually multiply that number by 12 to see what they are paying every year.  Do it!  It will curl your hair! 

If you want to see that "big game", find a friend with cable and offer to bring along chips and beverages and settle in on their couch with them.  Most movies are available on Netflix , Hulu, and Amazon video shortly after they are released to the mass market. Paying to stream a movie twice a month is a whole lot cheaper than cable television.  The cheapest Netflix subscription is just over $10 a month. 

My personal experience:  I've been married for nearly 30 years.  We've never had cable, satellite, Netflix, Amazon, or Hulu.  More importantly, we've never missed them.  We have, however, made terrific use of our public library and we do borrow movies about twice a year from our local Family Video. Otherwise, my kids know that when new movies debut at the theater, we look up the video release date and put our name on the "wait list" at the local library.  It goes without saying that if a child over the age of 12 wants to go to a movie that they pay for the experience out of their own funds.  For our family's views on finances for children up to age 16 see this post

How much money will you save?  Well that depends on how much you currently spend.

Let's get the discussion started!  If you have tips of your own or questions on budgeting, comment below or send me an e-mail at  

Until next time, 

Do all to the glory of God, 


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Yearly - vs - Monthly Budget

Do you need a yearly budget or a monthly budget?  The answer is: 


Have both, use both, and keep both!  

Monthly Budget

A monthly budget gives you great control over regularly occurring expenses.  You are not going to stick $6000 for a year's worth of food in an envelope.  But, on a monthly basis, it is easy to put $500 in an envelope and spend until the envelope is empty.  You can even use paper clips to put $125 in four stacks, put all the bills back in the envelope, and allot one stack per week. Alternatively, you can put $100 in five stacks - $100 for each week's groceries and $100 for stocking up on items which you find at a fantastic price.  Canned no-salt green beans and corn were recently on sale for $.39 a can at HyVee.  I bought 40 cans.  I think we can all agree that this was an unusual purchase. But, we'll be eating from this stash of veggies for several months to come.  This is an example of a purchase which would be made from the "stock up" grocery money stack.  It's also an example of how tracking regularly occurring expenses on a monthly basis, rather than a yearly basis, works very well. 

Yearly Budget 

A yearly budget allows you to look at all aspects of your income and expenses simultaneously.  You can easily view expenses which occur once, twice, or four times a year and plan ahead for them.  My property taxes occur once a year. It appears on my yearly budget sheet at the full amount and on my monthly budget sheet at 1/12th that amount.  Each month I set aside 1/12th of the property tax bill in a special account.  That way, when it is due in May, all the money is already accounted for and ready to write that big check.  It's the same with the life insurance, car insurance, and house insurance bills.

 If you look at only a monthly budget, it's easy to forget periodic expenses and be uncomfortably surprised.  Also, if your income is variable, using a yearly outlook in order to set up your monthly budget categories will insure that you won't be flush with cash one month and then flat broke the next.  You will have looked ahead and saved up money for those leaner months.

Use Both!

You can see from the above scenarios how the two types of budgets work in tandem with one another.  You really need to have and use both budgets for a successful plan.

What I Do:  

I use Everydollar, a free budgeting app from Dave Ramsey for my monthly budgeting.  Periodic expenses: like car, life, and home insurance are broken down into equal monthly increments and listed on the monthly budget.  At the end of every month, I transfer my monthly totals to an excel spreadsheet so that I can track the totals and insure that we are staying on track and within our agreed upon parameters in each category.  It also means that we are ready to pay those annual, bi-annual, or quarterly expenses on time and with no extra frustration or anxiety.   I find the excel spread sheet invaluable in preparing a "quarterly report" for periodic budgeting and goal-setting "dates". Well, actually it's coffee and cookies at home after the kids go to bed.  But, it can still count as a "date", can't it??!! 

So, which type of budget do you use?  And why do you find it most helpful?   

A. monthly
B.  yearly
C.  Both
D.  "What's a budget?"

Answer and leave a comment below and let's discuss the "in's", "out's", "pros", and "cons" of the budgeting process.


Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Do These THREE Things Before the End of January!

Ah, the New Year has arrived.  (Insert deep sigh here).  I always have mixed emotions about the passing of another twelve months of life.  The kids are older (good in some ways, sad in others), I have a list of last year's goals (some of which were met, while others remain untouched), and for the most part my weight, intelligence, and income have all remained pretty much stagnant. 

Here comes the part of this post in which I must admit that I am not much for making New Year's Resolutions.  I don't even use the word resolutions, because I don't tend to keep them anyway.  But, I DO enjoy a bit of inventory-taking and goal-making.  I find this concept to be very different than making resolutions.  Resolutions seem to be bits of left-over guilt all mashed together into vast, unattainable visions of perfection.  I feel pretty imperfect much of the time.  I see no need to exacerbate the feeling.  Goals feel more concrete.

Many years ago, I quit my full-time job. I would primarily be a stay-at-home parent, which effectively cut our meager income nearly in half.  I quickly realized the importance of taking a yearly finance inventory, creating a new budget for the next twelve months, and making a list of short, medium, and long-term goals.  Without these life-changing documents, I really ended one year and began the next with no idea of "how we had done" or if we had made any progress.

I'm going to give you three assignments to do during the month of January.  Sorry, it's the teacher coming out in me.

 So, let's get started!  

I love having a "game plan" to begin the year. 


What in the world is a net worth statement?  Simply put, it is a document that compares how much money you owe with how much money you have.  Ideally, your bank accounts and investments should add up to more than you owe your creditors.  I produce this document every single year in January.  In fact, I have all the totals from the last 20+ years listed on one document.  I know!  Crazy! 

My two favorite money management organizations are Dave Ramsey ( and Crown (  Both are Biblically based and offer you a boatload of hints, tips, and information absolutely free on their websites.  They also have products for sale, which will aid you in your financial and spiritual journey.  But, you can glean ideas at no cost, as well.  

For your first assignment, Go to Crown's website and download a simple net worth PDF document from Crown here.   Then, just fill in the blanks.  It will lead you step by step in creating a net worth statement.  


You have NO idea how many people I had had tell me that they either:
A) Can't seem to live on a monthly budget
B)  See no need for a monthly budget
C) Can't figure out how to put a budget together ... so they just don't.  

Okay, this is where I exhibit a little tough love.  If you aren't living with an actual written budget and tracking every penny you are spending (to the best of your ability) you are digging a hole.  Each month that you fail to have a budget, you are digging the hole deeper.  You have no plan to fill the hole.  Additionally, even if you did, you never will, because you don't know the depth of the hole. 

Sorry.  But, there it is - in black and white.  I'm a born pragmatist.  I'm about as practical as they come.  But, I don't want you to stay where you are!  No!  I want you to join the ranks of those who live on a budget, plan for the future, and give every dollar a name!

So, right now, while you are thinking about it go to  Sign up.  Create your first budget.  It's FREE - my favorite word as many of you know if you've followed my blog for any length of time.  There are tutorials on the site to get you started and answer questions. 

Alternately, you can go to and download this packet of budgeting forms.  They are pretty intuitive to use and cover basic budgeting, net worth, creating a debt snowball, and tracking spending .  You can also download their Money Map for free.  I have the paper version of this document and think it's a great graphic for sorting through how to proceed towards being debt-free and having financial freedom. 

I have used both Dave Ramsey and Crown materials for years!

 Really it depends on whether you are more of a "pencil and paper" sort of a person or a techie. is great for an "old school" paper and pencil type of person.  I did our budget that way every month for years.  But, three or four years ago my middle son took over our family budget for six months.  He's an IT guy and immediately set it all up on the computer.  God bless him forever and ever!  I love it!  Here's a link to a post about why each of our sons takes over our family budget for six months before graduating from high school. Everydollar is not difficult to manage (even for a tech illiterate person like me).  But, your success depends on you going on-line and inputting your spending into the form on a regular basis.  So, I recommend Everydollar for those who have access to the internet and are willing to spend time at the website every week. 


I did a whole post on why you should have a list of goals.  You can find my post about goals here.  I give specific instructions on how to set up each kind of goal and track it.  

If you live "under the median" you do not get a "pass" on this important assignment.  In fact, it may very well be more important that you take this step than if you were rolling in lots of dough.  I would go so far as to say that it is only through having a list of written goals, that you will be able to see and achieve financial progress.  So, let's get those goals written down and being working toward them!

That's it!  That's your January homework.  Let me know how you do!  Leave your comments or questions below.

Until next time,

Do all to the glory of God,