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And UPGRADE'S Founder

   Dawn Wilson


Entries in Financial Freedom (5)


Financial First Aid for the New Year

Ellie Kay is one of the people I trust to always give wise financial counsel, and in this Financial UPGRADE, her "financial first aid" kit is a good place for everyone to begin if they want to prepare for a financially healthy future.

"If you want to set your family up for success in 2019, then you may want to create a financial first aid kit," Ellie says. "It’s a lot easier than you may think."

I (Dawn) know what Ellie says is true. My own financial advisor has wisely helped set up this "kit" for us, and it really eases my mind.

Ellie continues . . .

When our youngest son, Joshua, was born, we started saying, "If he had been our first, he would have been our last." That boy had more energy and could get into more scrapes than all our other children combined.

When he was 18 months old, he stripped down to his diaper, took a plastic sword, and chased his four older siblings around the house—thus earning the nickname, "Conan, the Baby Barbarian." By that age, he had also jumped off the top bunkbed (three stitches) and "flown" off our travel trailer (four stitches).

Joshua was the reason we purchased a serious first aid kit.

Just as every family needs a good first aid kit for those unexpected accidents, they also need a financial first aid kit, or practical ways to help safeguard their financial future.

1. An Emergency Savings Account

This account is not an investment account—it doesn’t include IRAs, retirement accounts or CDs. Its purpose is not growth, but safety.

These are funds that are accessed in the event of spouse unemployment, emergency home repairs, or unexpected auto repair bills.

The best way to build this account is to establish a family budget using an app such as mint, pocketguard or YNAB (meaning, You Need A Budget). I recommend automatically transferring funds from a paycheck or checking account into a savings account every week.

A good guideline is to save three months of living expenses for dual income households or six months for a single income family.

2. Life Insurance

This is an easy ingredient in your financial kit. You will need enough money so that your dependents could invest the money and live modestly on the proceeds.

Use a QUOTE COMPARISON site—it will not sell your info, it is confidential—instead of a LEAD GENERATION site (they will sell your info). You can try insurify, Policy Genius, or Nerdwallet.

3. A Will

Here’s another easy one—as easy as making an appointment with the JAG  (Judge Advocate) if you are military or your HR department to see if your company offers free legal service for wills.

The main section of this critical document will assign a guardian for your children.

In many states, the surviving spouse may only get one-third to one-half of the assets that were in your sole name. Your children get the rest and if they are minors, a court administrator could handle their money until they become adults.

Make sure the beneficiary designations on any 401(k) plans, IRAs, life insurance and bank accounts are also up to date. 

To find a free service for a will, just type “pro bono will” followed by your state’s name into an online search engine to see about programs that you might tap.

4. A Retirement Account

If your company offers a 401k, then you could be leaving money on the table by not taking advantage of the matching part of that vital retirement tool.

Set up an automatic withdrawal to fund this account or start a Roth IRA or Traditional IRA so that you can get started on tomorrow’s retirement today. As little as $50 a month will get you started and the earlier you begin this account the more you can take advantage of the miracle of compound interest.

A good place to being with as little as $500 in an investment account is with Emperor, who specializes in helping beginner investors. Be prepared to give your social security number and bank information on the secure site and enjoy the adventure of investing!

5. A Good Credit Rating

The best way to rebuild good FICO, or credit score, is found in three steps: 

  • Pay more than your minimum payment (even if it’s only $5/month more).
  • Pay a day early rather than a day late (set up automatic transfers from your checking account to your credit card company for minimum payments.)
  • Pay attention to utilization and never let your available credit fall to less than 30% of the total credit available (for example, $2,000 on a $6,000 credit line.) 

Each year, get a free copy of your credit report by going to Annual Credit Report, or go into the base’s Family Support Center where they can also run a free copy of your report and check your score.

Do you have all these tools in a financial first aid kit? If not, get started soon to build the kit. Guard your financial health!

Ellie Kay is a best selling author of 15 books and a popular co-host of the Plutus Award finalist podcast that she hosts with her millennial daughter called The Money Millhouse. She is the mother of seven and a veteran speaker of 2,000 events. She’s the founder of Heroes at Home, a non-profit providing free financial education to military members. 

Graphic adapted, original courtesy of Gigabeto at Pixabay.


Upgrade Your Finances: Financial Freedom in 2018

Ellie Kay, better known as "America's Family Financial Expert," loves to teach people how to find financial freedom. In this Financial UPGRADE, she focuses on three steps that can help anyone find that freedom in the coming year, and she shares her "financial testimony" to make this personal and practical.

“Sacrificing for a short time helped us gain financial freedom in the long run," Ellie says.

I (Dawn) think financial freedom is a wonderful tool for growth and ministry. Why? Because, as Ellie Kay shows in her own life and teaches so powerfully, there is so much we can do for the Lord if we're not deeply in debt!

Ellie continues . . .

In Romans 13:8 it says, “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loves another has fulfilled the law.”

What does financial freedom mean to you?

When I think of the times I’ve felt truly free, it’s when I’m on a roller coaster, bungee jumping or on a zip line. These “adventures” are full of letting go, experiencing the moment and screaming until I’m hoarse!

Financial freedom is very similar, because it can be a roller coaster filled up ups, downs and unexpected turns. But it is also the freedom to let go of worry, live life in the moment and enjoy the adventure around the next bend.

Financial freedom doesn’t necessarily mean an early retirement, but it does mean you are financially healthy.

But that’s hard to do when living paycheck to paycheck or with excessive debt.

Conquering consumer debt can be as daunting as stepping into a roller coaster or stepping off the bungee platform . But it doesn’t have to be an overwhelming experience if you take a few easy steps to get started.

1. Assess Your Debt.

The first step toward financial freedom is to find out where you are in your journey and how far you need to go to reach your goal.

Start by ordering your credit report for free at annual credit report. Use this report to add all your consumer debt (for both spouses if married). Most consumers don't know how much debt they have, which is why this step is so important.

2. APR Reduction

This is where the miracle of compounding interest happens and it can either work for you or against you.

If you’ve been working on your credit score and still have high interest rates on your credit cards, then it may be time to call your credit card provider to ask them to reduce your APR. A lower APR can save hundreds of dollars a year. Just tell the customer service person you want to reduce your APR because your FICO has improved, you’ve been paying on time for many months and you could transfer the balance to a different card (outside of their company) if they can’t help you.

If you don’t get the answer you want, kindly ask to speak to a manager. Then repeat the process. You’d be surprised at how often this works.

3. Absolute Commitment

When my husband and I had 40K in consumer debt early in our marriage, we had to fully commit to getting out of debt. This helped us pay off that debt, on only one income, in 2 years.

This means all the money saved will go toward consumer debt including tax refunds, bonus checks, birthday dollars and items you sell. We even sold one of our cars, when we lived on base, and my husband rode his bike to work or car pooled for a year.

We realized that we couldn’t have debt and a lot of extras at the same time. Sacrificing for a short time helped us gain financial freedom in the long run.

What is one step you can take today to be financially free in 2018?

Ellie Kay is the best-selling author of 15 books, veteran of 2800 media interviews and podcaster of The Money Millhouse. She is the founder of Heroes at Home, a non-profit organization that provides financial education to military members. She’s married to Bob and they have seven millennial children.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of stevepb at Pixabay.


Heroes at Home - Fighting for Financial Freedom

Today, we have a special guest blogger, Ellie Kay, who is the founder of Heroes at Home, a 501(c)(3) dedicated to helping military families and all Americans find financial freedom. 

"How would you like to live debt free?" Ellie asks. "Even as we celebrate Independence Day and the men and women who keep our nation stay free, we also can become financially free."

I (Dawn) believe there are many kinds of freedom we can experience as members of the family of God. Financial freedom is one kind of freedom that can affect your family, career and even how you give to ministy! God wants you to be a wise, intentional and cheerful giver (Proverbs 21:20a; 2 Corinthians 9:7), and one way to do that is to operate out of financial freedom!

Ellie continues . . .

In my work helping service members with financial readiness, there are tips that apply to everyone.

1. Credit Credibility

No matter what your financial picture is, it’s critical for every person to improve her own FICO (Fair Isaac Credit Scores). These scores determine not only the APR you pay on a home or car loan, but they also impact auto insurance premiums, whether you’ll get the promotion or the job (many employers check FICOS), whether you pay a security deposit for utilities, and much more.

You can go to to check your score and they’ll even give you specific ways to improve each area of your credit score.

You can improve your FICO in three easy steps:

  • Pay early – Set up automatic payments online so you will never be late.
  • Pay More - Add $5 to $10 more than the minimum balance that is due; this indicates you are paying down debt.
  • Pay Proportionally – Also known as credit utilization—make sure you don’t have more than 30% of the available credit charged on any one card at any time. For example, a card with a $5000 limit should never have more than $1500 charged.

2. Savings Savvy

It only takes 15 minutes to save hundreds of dollars! Once you save money in one area, use those funds to pay down consumer debt or to build up a savings account.

  • Auto Insurance – Once a year, compare policies by getting a variety of quotes. Take the cheaper price back to your existing provider and tell them you will switch companies unless they can match the price. (Be sure to check out quotes from if you are military and qualify to be a member.)
  • RetailMeNot – If you have a smart phone, download the RetailMeNot app or bookmark it on your computer. This is a code site that offers 400,000 coupon codes at any given time. Just enter the store’s name and you’ll see all the codes to get the better prices. Use this on entertainment, travel, electronics and any kind of online shopping or in the mall.
  • – I was one of the original extreme couponers and it’s served me well all these years. If you go to this site, she’s done all the work for you and will tell you what is on sale in your neighborhood, what codes are available, what coupons are out for the item and which stores double coupons. I calculated that over the course of twenty years, I saved our family over 160K!  

3. Debt Deal Dilemma

With a slow economy comes an influx of those who want to "help" prepare you for the worse by consolidating your debt. However, most “for profit” debt-counseling companies charge a hefty fee for their services, which is usually tacked onto your debt load.

Instead, go to the National Consumer Credit Counseling Service at and use their free services.

4. Budget Baby

If you don't have a budget—as part of your lifestyle—then yesterday was the day to start! Set one up with online budgeting tools, found at mint.

The problem for a lot of families is not having a budget, it’s sticking to a budget.

Set up a “budget date” once a month with your spouse to revisit how the plan is working.

This kind of regular accountability works as well in finances as it does in Weight Watchers. When you know there will be someone asking you why you bought that purple mohair sweater for $198, you’re less likely to give into the impulse to go off budget.

Can you celebrate your "Financial Freedom" today? If not, which of Ellie's tips might help you claim your independence?

A special JULY 4th note:

During this time of the year, be sure to thank those heroes at Heroes at Home ... thank them for their service. [For more information on where Ellie Kay’s Heroes at Home is visiting next, explore their website at]

Ellie Kay is the best-selling author of fifteen books including Lean Body, Fat Wallet, and Heroes at Home. She is a Toastmaster Accredited Speaker as well as a popular international speaker and media veteran who has given over1,200 media interviews including appearances on ABC, CNBC, CNN and Fox News. As a popular columnist, she writes for six national magazines and has been a Subject Matter Expert for the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington Post. Currently, Ellie provides financial education to military members through her “Heroes at Home Financial Event” sponsored for USAA. Ellie is married to LTC Bob Kay and they have seven children. 

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Morguefile.


Finish Well: Embrace Freedom

In the previous two UPGRADE posts, "Take Courage" and "Build Strength," we considered a number of ways seniors can finish well. In this final post in the series, I (Dawn) want us to consider how we can "Embrace Freedom."

In my span of 65 years, I've discovered two kinds of seniors.

One kind retires from life and fails to dream new dreams. As one such woman told me, "I'm just waiting for the rapture." You may have heard someone say that too.

The other kind grabs hold of every day, buying up the time. As one senior I know said,  

"I don't know how many days I have left on this earth, but I'm not dead yet and I'm going to drink my cup of life dry!"

The first woman foolishly sqandered many opportunities to serve the Lord. The second woman was living out Ephesians 5:15-16, redeeming time, wisely making the most of every opportunity.

I want to be like that second woman. I want to redeem the rest of my years. Because I have freedom in Christ, I want to embrace freedom and finish well.

Now I don't know what redeeming the senior years looks like to you, but here are four ways I'm going to embrace freedom in my own senior years.

First, I'm going to . . .

1. Purge the Unnecessary.

In today's culture, with so many things to buy and so many storage units to keep them in, it may not be as natural to pare down in the senior years as it used to be. To be sure, many are "down-sizing" as they get older, but others are still burdened down with too much stuff.

In our elder years, we should be simplifying our lives, purging out the unnecessary, making much of our sweet memories, and preparing for heaven!

Many problems would be helped or even solved, if we just owned a lot less.

  • We might find extra hours in our day or more money in our checkbooks;
  • We'd have a lot less housework to do—like dusting all those knick-knacks;
  • We'd eliminate a lot of stress about our stuff;
  • We'd find the calming freedom of "space;"
  • We'd be able to, perhaps, release ourselves from others' expectations (just think about the freedom of not having to keep up with the Joneses or fashion's dictates); 
  • And maybe we'd finally learn true biblical contentment.

It's not about being a minimalist. It's about becoming a wiser consumer and a better steward. It's about finding the joy of freedom. It's about not being "encumbered" and distracted by so much stuff!

If you're looking for help decluttering, there are many good books that can help. I recommend Kathi Lipp's book, Clutter Free, and Marcia Ramsland's, Simplify Your Space.

2. Use Resources Wisely.

Wouldn't it be wonderful to enjoy financial freedom in old age? That doesn't just happen. Many seniors have frittered away valuable dollars that could have been invested for the latter years.

But regardless of our past foolishness, we can still learn to be good financial stewards. There are so many helpful resources to read and apply, like Ron Blue and Jermey White's Faith-Based Family Finances; Dave Ramsey's Your Money after the Big 5-0; and numerous books and booklets by financial expert Ellie Kay.

It's not just financial resources we need to consider. I believe God wants us to walk through our homes and ask Him how we might better use the material goods in our homes. Maybe we could lend or give an item we own to someone in need. Or maybe we could sell something we have to make compassionate use of the money we generate.

Maybe there is a skill we have that could be used for the Kingdom. We could make quilts, blankets or clothing for someone in need. We could paint someone's fence or help plant a garden. We could write or edit for a financially-strapped ministry. Ask, "What can I do?" Then ask, "How can I use this, Lord?"

Another wise use of resources is considering where we might leave special financial gifts in our will for a favorite ministry or two after we pass on. (You do have a will, right?)

3. Keep on Dreaming.

As people in many walks of life have noted, when we stop dreaming, we start dying inside. If nothing else, our dreams die! And that's sad. Seniors need to keep on dreaming. Dreaming is a diamond for old age with many facets.

Part of dreaming is creativity—figuring out ways to act on our dreams and keep on contributing to our families, church and society.

Creative expression is said to benefit the elderly, promoting health and wellness. I've always admired people like "Grandma Moses" (Anna Mary Robertson Moses), the American folk artist, who started painting in earnest at the age of 78!

Dreaming also includes visionary thinking. Cam Townsend, founder of Wycliffe Bible Translators, went to Moscow and learned Russian to assist in Bible translation when he was 72.

Another part of dreaming is reading and being a lifelong learner. Did you know Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes began the study of Greek at the age of 92? People no doubt wondered why he waited so long. He said, "When else would I have had the time to take it up?"

So keep on dreaming. It will keep your mind young and give you unexpected opportunities to serve the Lord.

(Lost your way and think you can't dream again? Cindi McMenamin can help—read her book, When a Woman Discovers Her Dream.)

4. Pursue New Adventures.

Related to dreaming is: Never be afraid to try something new. When I think of the word "freedom," I often associate it with the word "adventure."

There's just something exciting and freeing about going on an adventure with God!

My friend Pam Farrel has modeled adventursome living over the years. I loved Pam's book, Becoming a Brave New Woman: Step into God's Adventure for You. 

This year, "Adventure" is Pam's focus word—with perfect timing. God is taking Pam and her husband Bill on a big detour in life, but rather than sitting around and complaining about it, they are contemplating what might be right around the corner! They are on a fresh adventure with the Lord. They are anticipating new opportunities with their family and growth in their ministry together.

When we allow God to lead us as He wills, as our Sovereign Lord, we can know that all our adventures will be for our good, others' benefit and His glory.

So don't be afraid of new adventures. Embrace them! (I'm determined to run my life race, wherever it takes me, with joy! Isn't that what you want too?)


What does finishing well look like for you? What is God asking you to change in the days to come so that you can hear His words, "Well done, good and faithful servant"?

 Dawn Wilson, founder and president of Heart Choices Today, is the creator of three blogs: Heart Choices Today, LOL with God (with Pam Farrel), and Upgrade with Dawn. She is the Director of the San Diego chapter of Network of Evangelical Women in Ministry (NEWIM). Dawn is the co-author of a devotional, LOL with God, and contributed "The Blessing Basket" in It's a God Thing.She and her husband Bob have two grown, married sons, three granddaughters and a rascally maltipoo, Roscoe.

Graphic Adapted: image courtesy of Mike Enerio,


The Health and Wealth Connection

Ellie Kay’s new book, co-authored with Danna Demetre, offers wisdom principles from the Author of Life. In Lean Body, Fat Wallet, they help us upgrade two key areas of life: health and finances.

“It is as important to be fiscally fit as it is to be physically fit—but spiritual health trumps all else,” Ellie said.

Ah … I’m glad Ellie added that last phrase. When we are spiritually in tune with God, He gives us wisdom for every area of life.

Ellie continues …

One of the best ways to get our health and wealth in order is structure our lives according to Biblical principles. For example, Romans 13:8 says, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another.”

We are encouraged to love each other and to have no financial debt other to care for each other with a God-sized love. Furthermore, we can do a better job of caring for others if we are physically healthy enough to do the work and financially healthy enough to support the work.

The beginning of a Lean Body and Fat Wallet lies in getting rid of consumer debt.

Getting out of debt is like going on a diet—it may sound simple, but it sure isn’t easy.

The only thing that really works is to:  spend less and save more.

Proverbs 22:7 says, The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.” Debt doesn't benefit a marriage, a family or your future. Just as being overweight leads to health and emotional concerns, so debt has its consequences as well.

On the other hand, those who have a low debt load experience many benefits.

  • There are fewer arguments over money their households.
  • You can answer your phone and not worry about having to screen calls from creditors.
  • You also have the freedom to financially bless others in need.

Stepping on the Scales: How to Know If You’re Financially Overweight

Maybe you’ve thought, “Hey, I’ve put a few dollars here and there.” There’s no more effective way to see if you have a problem, than as stepping on the scale.

You need to go on a debt diet if you:

  1. Use credit card cash advances to pay for living expenses.
  2. Use and depend on overtime to meet monthly expenses.
  3. Use credit to buy things that you used to pay for in cash (i.e. groceries, gasoline, clothing).
  4. Use the overdraft protection plan on your checking account to pay monthly bills.
  5. Use savings to pay bills.
  6. Use one credit card to pay another.
  7. "Float" the bills: you delay paying one bill in order to pay an overdue bill.
  8. Pay only the minimum amount due on charge accounts.

Consider making an appointment with the counselors at (National Foundation for Credit Counseling). You can also get out of debt sooner by reducing spending and repurposing those funds. As soon as you save in one area, immediately channel the money saved toward your debt load. If you don’t take that saved money and put it toward a credit card or other debt, then it will just get reabsorbed into your spending.

By following these biblical principles of good stewardship, you will find yourself with a Leaner Body and Fatter Wallet as well as the freedom that comes from living a healthy and wealthy life.

Do you need to go on a debt diet? Which of Ellie’s points do you think would help you the most?

Ellie Kay is a regular expert on national television with ABC NEWS NOW’s Money Matters and Good Money shows. She is also a national radio commentator, a frequent media guest on Fox News, and CNBC, a popular international speaker, and the best-selling author of fourteen books including her newest release, Lean Body, Fat Wallet (Thomas Nelson, 2013). For money savings links, or to view Ellie’s blog, go to