Adoption Update: a financial conversation

adoption, waiting for you We have been in the Adoption Waiting Phase since May 11 [when we hired Susan through Christian Adoption Consultants].

I am going to invite you a little deeper into the process, into what we are talking about and praying for and looking at in the way of adoption costs.

We presented to 3 different birth moms through private attorneys, early on in our process, before even being home study ready. Had any of these brave mamas chosen us to parent their baby, our adoption would have cost as low as $8,000 or as high as $12,000, including travel fees.

Once home study approved, we presented to two more birth moms through agencies. Had either of these two mamas chosen us to parent their baby, our adoption would have cost as low as $38,000 and as high as $48,000, not including travel fees.

VOCAB RECAP: "presenting to a birth mom" = having an attorney or agency show your Family Profile book to an expectant mom, who has {courageously} made an adoption plan for her baby.

Since announcing our adoption in May, we have fundraised and saved about $14,000 but spent $3,000ish on the home study and agency applications, leaving us at around $11,000 in the adoption fund. Any money ever donated or put into that account from our own paychecks stays there unless spent on adoption expenses. We are extremely disciplined in that way. There is no way we would use this money as an emergency fund or for anything other than our adoption. Our adoption means too much to us and the people who are generously donating are trusting us.

I have spent countless hours applying to grants. I mean, countless. I believe we have applied to 9 adoption grants, received 3 denial letters, and are in the Waiting Phase for the other 6, praying big prayers of provision. Why they would deny us, I have no idea - except that there are so many applicants. One of them even said, "Don't bother applying if you make more than $150,000." I thought, "Oh we've got this grant in the bag! We make like 2% of that!" Wrong. Denied. Too many applicants. Not matched yet. The other day I asked our adoption facebook group who received grants and how many they applied to -- I think 3 people out of the couple hundred commented. One family received $14,000 in grants, and explained how abnormal that is. The other two explained that they each got matching grants (your fundraising through them will be matched up to a certain point) for $2500 and $8000. To say I was a little discouraged is an understatement.

I cannot tell you the amount of nervousness I have had in the last few weeks regarding our fund and its lack of growth. Don't get me wrong, we have been blown away by people's sacrifice and generosity and courage. The support we have had so far has encouraged us and completely deepened our faith in humans. Every day though, Tummy Baby and I pray for Heart Baby and we beg God, "Lord, please provide us with grants. Please, Jesus, we ask for $15,000 in grants. Or God, we pray and we ask for a private adoption. Lord, your will be done. Help me trust your provision."

I also applied to about 5 different adoption, interest free, loans. Due to our extreme lack of credit (our score is great! we just haven't had a lot of debt), we were only approved for one and it was a really low loan.

Currently, we are reading this book that I will forever recommend to anyone considering adoption. I wish we had read it before beginning the process, but that's okay! Better now than never. It is called: Adopt Without Debt. The other night I read this: "There is not one example in the Bible of God calling someone to do something and then using debt as a tool to accomplish it." I don't believe that taking out a loan for our adoption is a sin or wrong. Not even 1%. I believe that the heart behind taking a loan out to bring a baby into your home is beautiful and pure and good...not sinful or selfish or materialistic. But that quote stopped me to think, do I believe God called us to this? I do. Do I believe He can provide for us without a huge $20,000 loan? I do. Will I walk in that freedom and trust that the funds will be available when they need to be? Not always, but I am working on it one day at a time.

 A COMMITMENT: TIME TO GET TIGHT AGAIN, and I don't mean our bods.

Before our big job/life/career transition, we were operating on a very strict budget and have been pretty disciplined our entire marriage (thank you Jesus!). Since May we were putting $100/paycheck towards our adoption, plus most of my photography money. Our life was sort of thrown up and tossed around, and so was our budget. God always, always, provides whatever we need, and reminds us what is a need versus a want. Oh my, our needs are slim if we are honest. But we were less than disciplined in the last two months, and we are at that point where it is time to get tight again! Once we have Loren's first paycheck in January (and when my job gets to rolling we will re-assess) we will be able to set up a budget again. We will be going back to using only cash for spending, aside from paying bills. This adoption means so much to us and we know that it starts and continues with sacrificeOur goals for our budget beginning in 2016:

FIRST, OUR PRIORITIES AT THE BEGINNING OF JANUARY PAYCHECK: >Tithe >Bills paid >$80/month total allotment for gas for both cars >$300/month total allotment for groceries >$100/month to adoption (plus any photography sessions)

If able, we will have these additional Budget Envelope Goals as well as, and here are ways we are cutting back and beginning to save again:

>Grocery spending is going from $400-$450/month to $300/month ($75/week). Included in our grocery budget: cleaning supplies, paper goods, toiletries, etc. Back into meal planning. I will find 30 meals that we like and put them in an easy rotation system. I will re-discover my "maximum spend" list, meaning I will not pay more than $1/lb for apples.

>We have gone back and forth about getting internet. We have never had internet/netflix/tv/hulu in our marriage. I have been doing a bit of freelance writing which requires internet so I either use the hot spot our parents gave us or spend a few dollars at the coffee shop. But it adds up. So we are still debating which is more cost effective:we are leaning towards no internet. Budgeting a couple drip coffees a month, $10/month towards coffee shop internet & dates. (This is low priority and may not end up making the cut, or be lowered).

>Gifts for others envelope will go from $40/month to $5/month and I will have to become crafty. Gulp. I could also resort to not having friends?

>Eating Out will go from the current loosey goosey to being budgeted into Dates. Instead of what we had as $30/week for dates, we will go back down to $5/week for dates ($20/month). This means we get to be creative again about date night! If we want to see a movie or go to a nice restaurant, we will save the months worth of dates and compile them into one date.

>We will plant another garden this spring. We will raise 3 chickens this spring

>No clothes buying (we really only buy clothes this time of year for Christmas gifts, anyways! Or we consign)

>No more 3D Crest White toothpaste. We are going generic and coupon-savy, friends. This is the real deal. I LOVE MY TOOTHPASTE. Anyone who knows me, knows I love to brush my teeth. This was a big decision for me. (I know, pity). Generic household & baby items, here we come.

>Cloth diapers. (Please don't debate me. I hate debates. I research.) We have purchased some second hand and also have a dear love who has offered to donate theirs to us! Bless

>Tax return: if we get one this year, a percentage of this will go straight into our adoption fund as we have done with every return.

There you have it, friends. We are on the road to saving and paying for this adoption. Go ahead and feel free to ask us how we are doing with our budget and if we are being disciplined or not - accountability is always good. With everything, we are trying to remember that grace is good and covers every bit of this. We will fail and miss it. But we will pick ourselves back up again and remember the goal: bringing home our baby. So, little Baby, wherever you are: we are still waiting for you. We are making sacrifices for you and will work hard to continue putting money into your fund. If you are waiting through an agency, Lord will provide one way or another. If you are waiting through a private attorney, Lord will connect us. We love you.

we will begin writing names on the back NEXT WEEK!

Able to donate towards our adoption? We are still working on this puzzle! This is a photo I took in Austria and a quote that means a lot to us. We are writing names on the back of each piece that is purchased, and show casing the puzzle in our nursery in a double sided frame. That way, we can forever remember and thank Jesus for the many people who helped bring our baby home. We are over halfway finished with the puzzle! We have 403 of 720 pieces sponsored. Are you able to sponsor a piece?

How it works:

1)   Decide how many puzzle pieces you want to purchase to financially support our adoption fund!

1 puzzle piece = $25 

2)  VenMo and write in the memo "Baby Brenner"

- OR -

Click on the donate button below to give securely through PayPal


Donate via check. Email us at and we will send your our address to mail in a check!

However many you decide on, stick the name(s) you want written on pieces in the memo.

3)  Watch the adoption puzzle come together on our blog and see your name be recognized.

This puzzle, when finished, will get us to $18,000 - about half of our adoption financial goal.

Follow along: >Instagram: @nataliekbrenner or #brenneradoptionjourney >Facebook: Natalie Brenner >THIS BLOG!


The story of our Fundraised Income

fundraised income missionaries Many of you know that Loren and I fundraise most of our income. A multitude of you support us financially, emotionally, and prayerfully. You are our team and without you, we would not be where we are now. We would not have the capability of serving others to the capacity that we are currently able, we would not be able to spend hours with new believers, old believers, and unbelievers; __believers of Jesus and His word, that is. We would still be able to do a portion of these things as all Christians are called to do, but not to the full extent that we have been given the opportunity and privilege to now. For that, I cannot thank you enough. But I also know that this is bigger than us little Brenners...this is eternal and for Him.

To start off our marriage, Loren worked 21 hours a week at Trillium Farm Home - the securest safe unit for troubled mentally-ailed teens in the state - and I worked 21 hours at US BANK in Monmouth. Our schedules were exactly opposite of each other, which was painful on our precious little fragile brand new marriage. Every lunch break at the Bank I would walk to the nearest coffee shop, whip out my computer, and do my computer tasks for the church. Oh how deeply I craved to be in the office or downtown at Starbucks working for Corvallis Church, rather than in another city on my lunch break of a Bank job. But that was what we had to do; I know it could have been a lot more difficult. Eventually a full time position for Trillium opened up and I was able to quit my Bank job in order to spend more time with young women and also building more structure to the "program" [I would hardly call it that] part of the Youth Ministry. Our income was a beautiful $1200-1600/month.

In order for both of us to have the capacity and availability to serve the church the way we dreamed, the way we felt called, we needed more income. We needed to fundraise.

When Loren and I first began fundraising in December of 2012, I was scared to my wits end. Fears loomed and the reality that I had to be confident in this calling was frightening. THE THOUGHTS YELLED AT ME: You mean, we are going to ask people to send us money...every month...for...years? What a request to ask of others. Who was I to say I was called to this? Who was I to say that I am equipped? All we had were willing hearts and a confidence in this calling. When in High School, I did my fair share of fundraising for sports teams and mission trips - but those were easier and less daunting because they were one time events. We asked for a certain amount, one time. Not a recurring amount for years. There are many foreign missionaries that live solely off of fundraised support - but we were not moving to Europe or Africa or Haiti. We were remaining in Corvallis, exactly where we were, for the purpose of training and equipping the growing church plant right before our eyes, working to save lives eternally.  The individuals that Jesus was bringing to Corvallis Church were our mission - the humans of this city.

Mike (our Pastor/Mentor/Boss/Friend) walked us through what it meant to fundraise and how to do it. He taught us things like creating a pitch, reviewing the pitch, praying about the pitch. What is our story, how were we drawn to CC? What is the need here in Benton County --> statistics show that this exact county has the least percentage of church goers in the entire US. What is our bigger mission? What is our role in this mission? Mike taught us how to ask as specifically as possible. The need is monthly support - he reminded us not to be deceitful, be honest in humility. And let me tell you, it was humbling. It is still humbling. Mike spent so much time preparing us and walking us through fundraising - he trained us, he equipped us, he empowered us. I will be forever thankful for the hours, years, of investment Mike Miller has given us.

That first year we began receiving about $200/month of outside support in addition to Loren's second job. By the end of the year almost $600/month was being donated. As God faithfully continued to grow us and the church steadily and yet so faithfully, He also provided more income. Little by little, we saw that there was hope for Loren to possibly cut back on hours at Trillium to spend more time serving this church community. By December 2013, our faith had been built by mountains that were moved - though we were not quite half-way supported financially, it was possible. We saw that we could get there and were nudged deep within our hearts to make the leap. A part time position at Trillium opened back up and Loren went back down to 21 hours. By paper, that was the stupidest thing we could have done. But my heart was so inspired by my husband's faith. I was brought so much closer to Jesus by his act of faith, in leading our small family towards God's heart. We sent out more letters letting our Support Team And More know that we had experienced what God can do with willing hearts, and we craved more of it. We were hungry for more of His goodness. THESE WORDS WERE SENT SO FRIGHTENINGLY AND YET SO HONESTLY: So Loren is cutting his hours in half at Trillium, which removes all of his benefits and half of our income, and we need you! We need your support, so please continue, if not add to it.


matthew 6 11 daily bread

How scary this was! There were so many feelings of fear, excitement, and uncertainty. I knew that God had never let us go hungry - He always showed up in miraculous ways. Food on our doorstep, potlucks with left overs, random unexpected cash/checks/getaways, etc. But this was a big step for us little Brenners. We decided to lean in to God's mission rather than seek comfort on our own efforts. There is much more comfort in knowing that your 9-5 job will always bring you a paycheck, no matter what. There is so much comfort in having benefits and paid vacation time and promised raises. Hourly wages. An hourly wage and set hours = comfort, as we know what to do, we know when we can clock in and clock out, and we know with confidence that we will receive a certain amount of pay. But as we talked and dreamed and vision casted, we knew that God' mission was bigger than those comforts.

January 2014, my goal was to have Loren done with Trillium by July. Oh how earnestly I prayed for this to happen! It did not happen. August however, Loren took the entire month off to travel around for camps and retreats and all of that good Youth Ministry stuff. That was kind of a trial month to see how we would survive without the Trillium paycheck. Things were tight, but things have always been tight, and that is okay. We have learned to accept the tightness, pick ourselves up and say, "We have never gone without. We live extremely rich and blessed lives. Nothing we have is ours, everything a gift from Him." November was another month he had to take a lot of time off of Trillium. Tons of conversations and hopeful, terrifying prayers later...we decided to make the biggest leap yet at the end of 2014: Loren put his 2 weeks in. Officially quit. Be done. No more paychecks from a 9-5 job...but no more days and hours spent there, no more Trillium. This was a blender of scary and thrilling and trusting. It was here! Finally, we were at a place to leap into the unknowns of full time ministry and fundraised income. More letters written and sent out, letting our faithful and so generous supporters know that we are indeed leaping into a big pool of something and were trusting that He would be there to catch us. Our supporters are His hands - we needed His provision through them.

beautiful girls at camp

January 3, 2015 was Loren's last day at Trillium. Oh the praises were mighty and loud that day!

We had made the decision to lean in to God's mission rather than seek comfort on our own efforts. "And that always starts with being ready and willing to sacrifice and God having room to show up." [<<Mike shared that with us the other day]. Mike, among other Corvallisites, continuously confirmed our calling and reminded us not to doubt it. So did every single person who has supported us in one way or another - they have said with their sacrificial generosity, "You are called to this mission and we are here to support you. We've got your back. We believe in you, we believe in God in you."

"Then Nebuchadnezzar said, 'Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in Him and defied the king's command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any God except their own God.'" [Daniel 3:28]

God has never let us go hungry. He has never failed us, He has never abandoned us. I cannot tell you the depths of trust He has won me over to.

- - -

"The king asked, “Well, how can I help you?” With a prayer to the God of heaven, I replied, “If it pleases the king, and if you are pleased with me, your servant, send me to Judah to rebuild the city where my ancestors are buried.” The king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked, “How long will you be gone? When will you return?” After I told him how long I would be gone, the king agreed to my request." [Nehemiah 2:4-6].

With this piece of scripture, which has been so helpful with fundraising, we are reminded that the provider isn't Artaxerxes [humans], but God. They key to fundraising is our attitude, our heart, our humility. The results are God's - it is not about getting money, but being shaped into a godly you, transformed into a trusting, faithful, good steward.

I cannot begin to share the depths of transformation that has occurred through this huge thing of fundraising. It is one small and yet vastly significant way the Lord has been working in us over the last three years. Reminding us that all of our things are not ours at all. The cars we own were literally given to us, the home we rent is used for so much more than housing us (currently we have an extra loved roommate), the money we receive is to pay our bills and bless others, and the community we live in is a gift. Nothing we deserve. Everything, I learn again and again, is simply a gift bound up in love by God's faithful provision.

The other day I was telling Loren that I am learning to grasp this verse in a whole new light: "For we live by believing and not by seeing." [2 Corinthians 5:7]. When I look at the numbers and the budget and the income and outflow...when I SEE the numbers, it hits me that we should be panicking and having anxiety attacks and one of us needs to go get a 9-5 pm. But...never have we felt this angst as deeply as the numbers try to tell us. [Don't worry, we don't rack up the credit card]. We have always attempted to swallow our fear and entitlement - key word here: attempt - and Jesus always shows up. He always provides, whether through a random check given to us, a meal dropped off, someone purchasing a car for us and then offering to support us by paying for our car insurance [WHAT], and so many more things. So Many Things that make me say, "God, I never need to worry. Why would I? You have never failed us. You always always always come through, when I am seeking your way."

We have had many [young] couples share with us that they wouldn't want to put the financial burden on others. Also that they would never be able to live with such uncertainty when it comes to income. That they would never, "put their family through that." To those words I want to encourage you to really put those fears down and place them in His hands. If He is calling you to something bigger than yourself, you have no room to throw "buts" into the equation. If your ministry and calling is bigger than yourself, which it is, then everything that encompasses it will be bigger than you can handle. And that is where He comes in and rescues and assures and builds trust.

My friends, I share all of this to encourage you: do not doubt your calling. Do not doubt what has been laid upon your heart. If you are called into anything but money feels like the show stopper...don't listen to that. Don't see money as a show stopper. I have experienced that this is far easier said than done. But please, take this story and let it be another confirmation to the faithfulness of God. Let it be empowering.

And Support Team, from my heart, thank you.

My church: I cherish you oh so much. I still cannot believe that we get paid to spend time with you, to love you, to write letters to you, to plan events for you, and all the things.

Millers: thank you...Thank you.

fundraised income

[ If you have any questions, please email me. I am mainly an open book. Also, this post was already so jam packed, I figured I should stop before I kept going.]

Also- oddly, I enjoy spreadsheets, excel, and budgeting. We have quite the system down that helps us remain flexible but not go under. We save for things like adoption, Christmas, Germany, and gifts for others. If you would like some help, I would love to see what I can do for you!

Come visit me! I'm talking about money

how-to-set-budget Good morning and good day to so many good friends!

Today I am talking about budgeting! A few things I am touching on: how we live on an extremely tight budget, how we still save even with a low income, and quick tips to saving money immediately! It's not all fun. It takes discipline - but it's worth it!

I have the honor of guest-posting over at A Beautiful Exchange. Come on over, read my post and be sure you visit her beautiful blog. She is pregnant with Baby #2!

Click HERE.

Dinner Menu & Meal Planning & BUDGET

meal planning on a budget This is about as creative as we get for a week's dinner menu:

this weeks menu, gluten free this weeks menu, gluten free this weeks menu, gluten free

We encourage art in our family. I would bend over backwards for the little girl that drew those beautiful pieces of art. Can you see the transformation in her drawing? They are almost in the shape of a real human! Getting there, people. Marks of a true artist.

weekly dinner menu

Our allotted weekly budget for meals is $100. We usually spend around $80 but once in awhile a girl needs some cider and ice cream. And dairy free ice cream is $5 for a tiny little scoop.

Now that we are getting back into a routine, we are able to eat our weekly dose of fish. Because Mondays are usually a day off, we use them to make dinner together. We have this recipe engrained into our brains because, well, its delicious. The chicken chili and quinoa with zucchini and chicken sausage can be found here. The chicken chili was amazing, though I added some cayenne pepper. Neither Loren nor I were a huge fan of the slow cooked quinoa; it tasted a little bland.

I eat gluten free. I skip milk and cheese. I most definitely add half and half to my coffee, but that's about all this body can handle before it stops up like a dam. I find it a lot easier on my life and my wallet and my hopes and dreams to simply omit things. I have stopped trying to find substitutes for cheese and bread. To me, it isn't worth it. Cheese that is everything-delicious-free isn't good. Bread that isn't made with wheat is not fluffy and soft and like heaven in your mouth.

How Do We Eat On A Budget?

The answer: Meal plans.

They are wonderful whether you want to admit it or not. They organize your brain and your food, they provide a structure for grocery shopping, and guess what? If you don't get to the meal you had planned, hopefully you have eggs and bacon you can eat. Or cereal. Every Monday, as the start of our week, I make our dinner meal plans. Our lunches and breakfasts aren't so creative or exciting, as they remain the same quite often. >Breakfast Groceries for the week: -1 box cereal, Loren's choosing -5 dozen eggs (its only $7 for 5 dozen at winco) -1 pack bacon -Potatoes -1 gallon whole milk or almond milk

>Lunches Groceries for the week: -1 loaf bread -1 package sliced cheese (we do this because it normally lasts two weeks and the only time we use cheese is for Loren's sandwiches; it's easy and cheaper than a block. I recognize you get more per capita when you buy the block, but we don't need that much) -romaine lettuce (used for his sandwiches and my salad) -1 pack of sandwich meat, which also lasts about 2 weeks worth -2 cans of shredded chicken for my salads will last me a week

>Snacks for the week: -4 cliff bars for Loren -4 kind or lara bars for Nat -1 bag of chips, Loren's choosing -dried banana chips -applesauce squeezes from Trader Joes (4 for $2) -bananas -apples or pears -hard boiled eggs

>Dinners When we shop for dinners, I simply add to my list what I don't already have. If dinner is from a Pinterest recipe, I look it up and write down any ingredients needed. With our budget, we eat a lot of chicken and ground turkey, with 1-2 nights of red meat. So far this has worked really well! The way I plan our dinner menu is by sitting down, looking at the calendar each day, and discerning about how much time I will have to make dinner. Tuesdays need quick dinners- they are usually something easy like breakfast-for-dinner (brenner) or croc pot. Wednesdays are the same. Thursdays and Fridays I can usually alot a bit more time.

Eat out? Right. We use the jar system (see our budgeting here). We put $20/week to go eat out on a date or with friends. What usually happens is every other week, creating a $40 eat-out night. Really, eating out isn't a top priority for us. It may be different in your home!

There you have it, friends. That is how we budget and meal plan and stick to the menu. It takes about 15 minutes of planning every Monday + the normal grocery shopping. Totally worth it!

How do you meal plan and budget? Give us your tips!


Friends! Today, I PAID OFF THE REMAINING BALANCE OF $77.61 IN COLLECTIONS from my blood clot!

Today, I was set free of a debt that once felt like it was drowning me.

Today, I was reminded that we can conquer small things that seem DAUNTING and HUGE! Today, we Brenners are free of a debt that was a result of me almost dying!

And the story goes: Monday October 4, 2010, I fell on my walk home from Fred Meyers. I know right? Fell. The muscles on the right side of my body were extremely tight the entire precious week. My muscles were full of knots and my breathing stabbed my lungs. I was fatigued like never before.

As I crawled into bed that evening, somewhat early, I wore a crazy patterned pink GoodWill sweater over a long sleeved shirt. {I am a warm body, so this was rare for me}. I had on red and blue plaid male boxers {they were comfy}. I tell you, because I will never forget the details of this day. I pulled twice the amount of covers over me as I lay there shivering, crying myself to sleep, hoping the pain in my body and breathing would subside. What seemed to be 3 hours, was actually 1 hour, of me attempting to sleep but only sobbing; I decided I should drive myself to the emergency room.

As I slowly crawled out of my top bunk, I walked through the study room in quite a haze. My newest friend and one of my first official roommates in college, Haley, saw me trembling as I grabbed my keys.

This is Haley & it is her birthday today:

She noted my lips & nail beds blue and insisted she drive me to the hospital {neither of us knew where this hospital was in this new college town}. As she frantically called her friend Brett, he somehow guided us in the dark via cell phone.

We parked. We walked to the wrong door, which was actually locked. We stared inside. Out of nowhere a lady with blonde curly hair & a red jacket touched the door, opened it, turned around & left. Obviously, she is now known as my angel. We ran to the check in and after a late night of tests, finally found the nemesis trying to take my life:

A massive blood clot, completely blocking my right lung as well as a many number {maybe 50} of minor blood clots floating around my left lung, ready to lodge at any minute.

[Bilateral Pulmonary Embolisms]

I was diagnoised with two different blood clotting disorders. {They don't affect me on an average day, currently - life could be bad. I have a great and blessed life.} Haley stuck with me late into the, the early morning.

I remained in the hospital that week. I was a prideful and angry sun of a gun, "not wanting" visitors. "Not wanting" balloons or get well cards. I was stuck in the mud of pride, confusing it with false humility. A whole different post and learning experience in itself. I barely got sleep that week. I spent a lot of time writing letters to the nurses, thanking them. I cried a lot. It was a week of emotion. Then again, I'm always having emotional weeks. I am a giant emotion.

A miscommunication happened: one of my parents told me they would be sure to pay off the medical bill. Unknown to me, I was being sent bills to their house for months, and no payments were made. The bills were in my name, I was 18+. If anyone has any experience with this, you know that the hospital ends up sending it to collections, when no contact has been responded to.. You also know that no one really let's you know; it just sits & collects a lot of interest.

A year later, September of 2011, I went to apply for a credit card to begin building my credit. To my shock, I was declined with this reason "outstanding medical debt." I remember staring at that statement.

I stared.

Then, my eyes filled with tears.

I called the hospital and they gave me the debt collectors phone number. The medical bill had gone from $1500 to $2400. And the interest rate was high. By this time in life, I was a full time student at OSU and working at least 40 hours a week, night shift, as a caregiver. I was barely making ends meet and was overwhelmed by this shock. It was one of those moments you are sure you can't go on. You only see darkness. You see no hope. You feel alone and lost and empty.

Once I calmed down enough to pray, I found peace. I put on my big girl pants and set up a payment plan. The lowest payment they would take was $50 a month, or they could increase the interest rate 3% and lower my payment to $25. I took the latter option.

Eventually I was able to increase the monthly payment to $50, and in the last 9 months, $100. We wanted to get rid of it as fast as we could because of the high interest rate.

When I called today I was paying my second to last payment of $100. Or so I thought. When she declared that I only had a remaining balance of $77.61, I jumped with complete victory. She unleashed squeals of joy and freedom found in releasing this looming bill that I once saw as impossible and daunting. Everyone at Jiffy Lube heard of this victory. I made sure of it. Although this was not my biggest debt I have paid off {school was!}, it was the biggest victory. This debt came at me with a shock that felt like deep betrayal. It came at a time of already-darkness, with my parents divorce deep in loom. This debt felt like a trap and chains, it was suffocating me with fear the moment I learned of it & its interest rate. School was different  -  I had known it was going to happen. I am in awe at the way Jesus releases us and frees us and glorifies Himself in the ways He provides.

One minor side note: the timing of paying off this bill was perfect. Absolutely perfect. Our income is adjusted slightly, come June. I was slightly nervous about this. But let's just say, Jesus always provides. He always works in mysterious and majestic ways. He never fails. I don't know why I allow myself to worry, ever.

Friend. Keep on going. Keep on making those payments. You will conquer the looming debt! It is quite freeing to let loose those weights that try to hold you down. It is such joy to see how far Jesus has carried us in small things like finances.

And always, always remember: money is not what sustains you. Money is not what gives you life. Money is not what brings hope and joy. Jesus is.

Some ways we personally steward our money with a low income: •We budget, using the envelope & jar system, only paying with cash >> we often make ourselves leave our cards at home, so we don't spend unnecessarily

•We are a one car family and ride our bikes & walk as much as possible. Less gas money, less insurance payment, less maintenance, etc.

•We don't have an internet bill, which also means we don't have a Netflix or Hulu bill

•We eat out no more than 2-3x a month

•We meal plan - and eat left overs for lunch

•We keep a Gifts For Others Jar for birthdays, anniversaries, and random blessings

•We plan for things in advance {as best we can}: we are going to Boise at the end of this month. So for April & May's paychecks, we saved $50 from each paycheck, cut back on our coffee dates, and now have money to go! We also have a Car Tires Jar that we stick $10-20 in each month, so when the time is here, we will at least have something ready!

We don't feel restricted by this. We feel freed and find adventures through it.

I am so passionate about stewarding our money well. I fully believe in Gods power to use it for His glory. Fully and 100%. I want to be available to be used with all of our resources. And what freedom to not be buried in debt! Growing up, there were days without power because the bill couldn't be paid...among other things. I want to fight that life style by blessing Jesus with the way we use His provision.

We have learned time and time again that life isn't predictable. Money doesn't sustain us. We don't depend on money for security; but we do what we can to save for what we know is happening, rather than spend on things before our eyes. Life doesn't always go as planned, but we plan anyways. We have found such freedom in not having internet - we read, we walk, we run, we chat. We don't have to pay for it.

This isn't what a lot of people choose. And that is 100% completely okay with me. If it weren't, I would be out of friends.

How do you manage the money given to you? Do you have any tips or victory stories?

See our Budget Page.

I am willing to talk numbers and would be honored to help you set up your own budget / money system. Email me via the CONTACT ME Page.

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Our Wedding Details: Money & Decor & Photos

wedding on a budget Our wedding cost our personal pockets under $1,000.

We were given $1,000 in addition which was used for our honeymoon. Loren and I had a short, yet all too long, three month engagement. I was ecstatic to be Mrs Loren Michael Brenner. We were so blessed with our wedding. Many people warned me through our engagement that I will be stressed out and the wedding day will be full of anxiety: I am here to tell you that it doesn't have to be! When you don't put the purpose of a wedding on the wedding, it lightens your heart and you are able to focus on what matters. At the end of the day, you're getting married!

Before I begin the money & decor details: we continuously reminded each other to put more focus and preparation on our relationship with Jesus and with one another. We focused on our upcoming marriage and the life we were about to begin building. Celebrating marriage is needed! A wedding is a gift to so many for various reasons. But in preparing and planning for a wedding, I urge you to spend more time cultivating a healthy relationship. Example: when you begin to get flustered that your invitations are not printing correctly, and you are sick and tired of stamping them, (or whatever the struggle is) focus on how you treat your fiance - it is in the messiness of the planning when we grow, whether towards Beauty or ugly. It is in the patience for sexual intimacy that you will flourish and be blessed, on your wedding night and beyond. In the difficult moments, don't lash out and lose control of your tongue, causing damage that may last months, years, but choose to serve your future spouse, rather than tear them down. Build. Begin the building now.

>>Pre-Marital Counseling<<

Do it! Find a married mentor in your life who you look up to and who lives a life and leads a marriage worth following. Ask them questions, ask them to pour into you as an engaged couple, seek out guidance. It is healthy and teaches you how to navigate communication in ways you didn't realize you needed. It directs you to conversations that need to be had. It forces honesty and truth. Pre-Marital Counseling is something I will always recommend.

>>The Bride to Groom Reveal<<

The Bride to Groom Reveal

The Bride to Groom Reveal

The Bride to Groom Reveal


The Bride to Groom Reveal


The Bride to Groom Reveal

The Bride to Groom Reveal

The Bride to Groom Reveal


The Bride to Groom Reveal


>>The details<<

Our wedding cost our personal pockets under $1o00. Our honeymoon about $1,000, which was given to us up front to pay for.

>>The Dress<<

Haley and I accidentally found it and purchased at House of Vintage on Hawthorne BLVD in Portland, OR for $75.

We took to lace off of the top and moved the sleeves to cuff-like sleeves. We also took off about 2 feet and used the extra fabric to make our flower girl's tutu!

With hemming and alteration: $235

Dress fitting 4 Dress fitting 5 Dress fitting 6 Dress fitting 16 Dress fitting 17 Dress fitting 21

The Bride & Groom

At the altar Flower girl, ring bearer, outside wedding, avery park See her tutu? We used the extra fabric from my dress to make her a tutu. The old Bible the ring bearer is carrying has the rings tied to it - the Bible was purchased at the antique mall.

>>The Venue<<

Rented from 8 am to 10 pm: $175 Thompson Shelter at Avery Park in Corvallis, OR *Included in this venue was a huge grassy area with tall trees surrounding, a very large parking lot, a play ground, a shelter equipped with a kitchenette as well as picnic tables.

Tall trees and blue skies

Trees at Avery Park, wedding

Swing set wedding photo

>>Engagements photos: $50<<

Julia green - a friend favor, because she knew we were on a tight budget.

>>Invitations: $40<<

Card stock paper, printed photos onto 4x6, two on each, making it inexpensive. We were given paper. Then we printed them at my mom's office, for free. Folded them up without an envelope and wax-sealed them with a B! Thank you, mom, for postage!

>>Flowers: $20<<

Heather, my friend, gave up her garden roses as well as her beautiful gift of arranging! What a blessed gift. I also had two youth girls pick some Queen Ann's Lace from the fields! One of my bridesmaids had some left over teal silk flowers that we painted peach to add to the stage. We also paid about $20 for a few extra flowers for center pieces, from a local farm.

The little details of the wedding

Silk Flowers

>>The little small detailed decorations: $100ish<<

Suitcases found a goodwill as well as my mothers garage; $15 Apple crates found in my mothers garage Doors backdrop found in my mothers garage (didn't even pain them!); $5 for the hinges Burlap found in my mothers garage as well as bought a few extra yards; $15 Lace found at goodwill in the form of drapes and table cloths; $10 Mason jars donated by many ladies part of Corvallis Church String & twine found at goodwill $3 Mini keys tied to mason jars found online, package 150 for $30 Ribbon bought online for $8 Frames & window screens, I had Guest book: $0.98 at goodwill - we razored out the written-on pages! Mini red chalk boards purchased by a friend Desk is mine Twinkle lights from my mama

Favors done by my grandma: she bought tinsel and tied bird seed into little pieces!

>>Food: $100<<

I bought 3 $50 gift cards to Safeway and asked 3 ladies at church to plan out finger foods for 250 people! They did it all, prepared it, brought it, and served them!

>>Our cake and guest's cup cakes<<

They never showed up, which is totally okay because at the end of the day, we were married! Heather, our friend, ran to the Safeway and purchased a small cake for us to cut.

Cutting the cake Cutting the cake

>>Our shoes: $75<<

We custom ordered red Converse, each engraved. Mr Brenner & Mrs Brenner

>>Hair & Makeue<<

Free. Done by my sister Kayla Newbold who is a beautician.

The Bride to Groom Reveal Just married, heading into reception


Made by Grandma. She used the flower from her veil.


IMG_6912 Veil, birdcage

>>Bridesmaid dresses<<

Almost all of them purchased their own, but they were each under $20 at Forever 21! Peach.


Shirt & pants bought at Old navy. We bought them their bow ties for a total of $3.98 online. They also bought brown converse.

Groomsman, Bridesmaid

We had the BEST friends in our wedding!

Groomsmen, suspenders, green outfits

>>Loren's attire<<

He bought the same pants at Old Navy. We found a red and cream pinstriped shirt on clearnace at Macy's. Bought his bow tie for $0.72 online! We rented his cream vest at Men's Warehouse.

Bride + Groom IMG_6870

>>The stage<<

Free. Corvallis Church let us use theirs along with their sound equipment! We asked two men that are part of our church to play music for us.

Trunk, suitcases, wedding decor, lace Hiding the speaker with an apple crate & suitcase; wedding Wedding details Apple crates; lace from goodwill Door backdrop, wedding, Avery park

>>Wedding photos<<

Done by Timothy Monson at the most reasonably blessed price - he was my youth pastor. My mom split the cost with us.

Seriously, I will never forget the wedding week. It was SUCH. A. BLAST. Brides: please, soak it in. Slow down and remember to carry a light heart. Your life is so much better, and hey, lets be real - so is every one else's. The last thing you want to do is remember being so stressed out that you didn't enjoy your wedding week or wedding day. What a beautiful time of friendship building, memory making, and reunions of friends and family!

Over all, we had the help of an amazing community. There is no way we would have had the beautiful wedding we were blessed wit without them all. It was a special day I will never forget. Gods grace and love was stamped all over the day and celebration.

Because we did not spend thousands on the wedding, we were able to give gifts to those who played a major role in helping us with the wedding as well as those who gave us (and still do!) marital advice. They believe in us and the calling Jesus was placing on our lives as a family unit-to be.

I can't tell you how many women from our church community had donated/lent/offered to give us things. The community that we are blessed with amazes me time and time again. What would I do without them? I pray that you are just as blessed in your days of wedding planning. I hope that you flourish as you prepare for your marriage. I dream that you see Jesus's love in what marriage is. Click here to read my Purpose of Marriage post.

God is amazing. I am excited to forever celebrate & dance on August 11.

Bride + Groom, forest Bride + Groom, photography Bride & Groom Bride + Groom, photography, forest First dance as a married couple First dance as a married couple Wedding Party Table - reception Sending off the bride & groom Send off, bride + groom, old car

To view our entire wedding album, CLICK HERE.