Financial Freedom: Attacking Deficits

(Note: This post is part of an on-going series on financial literacy. Two of the goals of Prosper Waco have to do with accumulating wealth: (1) Reduce the percentage of Waco-area households living without three months’ worth of savings if they were not able to work. (2) More than 50 percent of Waco households will have a net worth above $15,000. Our hope is that this series will help move our community towards accomplishing these goals both by sharing information about some of the challenges, complexities and practicalities of managing finances.  For other posts in this series, click here: Financial Freedom. — ABT)

By Phil Oliver

Financial patterns are established over time through both experiences and family practice.  Sometimes these patterns turn into family spending habits that lead to some type of financial deficit.  So, these patterns must be considered and addressed if true change will be accomplished.

It all begins with a spending plan and knowing exactly how much money you have coming IN and how much going OUT–where it actually goes by week-month-year.  Once you know your patterns and habits, you can then decide where YOU want it to go by week-month-year. If you don’t know how much you have and where your money is going, you’ll never be able to make any new choices about it.

Remember, borrowing from others (even family) CANNOT be part of your plan!!!  ATMs CANNOT be part of your plan!!

Debit cards and cash cards can continue to cause you to overspend if not part of your agreed plan.  Practice spending cash—it hurts more than swiping plastic!    (As explained in previous blogs, you might want to implement a cash envelope system in your household spending plan.)

Also, it is vital that all members of the household participate in MUTUAL, agreed sacrifice to attack and deficit. This is where EVERYONE in the household is required to participate (age appropriately) in the monthly FLOW process decisions both for family spending and PERSONAL spending.  This brings the buy in and commitment that is critical into growing future SUCCESS!  The financial deficit should give opportunity for conversations of changes that could be attempted and new goals to be discussed and decided on. These mutual, self-determined changes become the basis for ACTION STEPS that can be tried, discussed, revised, and then fully practiced.

When this is in place, THREE WAYS to address the deficit can begin:

1.Save (by spending less) – This is not just putting money in savings to have for emergencies, but looking at ways to save money and cut back on what you’re already buying by becoming a smarter shopper and intentional spender.

Some universal saving strategies are:  competitive shopping using coupons, sales, buying in bulk, buying generic (the products are always satisfaction guaranteed so you can try it to see if you like it and want to substitute it regularly……..if not, take it back and try another.)

Here are some websites to give practical ideas you could use in your household financial discussions.   Some will not apply to your household, but some will.    Part of the discussion and financial education is deciding what will work the best for your household at this time.

2. Sell Something – Yep….collect those things you no longer need or haven’t used for awhile and have a Garage Sale or list it on an electronic forum. Here are the most popular and most used:

There are also MANY emerging apps for your smart phone that will allow you easy, quick ways to “click and post”  Some even specialize in certain type of merchandise.

Here are a few:

  • Letgo
  • Neerbuy
  • Mercari

3.Work More – I know that many of you readers are finding it increasingly hard to just maintain your current standard of living, and many are already working several jobs to just make ends meet, especially with wages continuing to stagnate.   That being said, I highly recommend that if you do seek more employment, to set up an account with the Texas Workforce Commission.   The account is free and once you set it up, you can modify and adjust any of your job seeking choices at any time.  There are many local and national employers who extensively use this service to help them find employees.

Another great possibility is to find a product or service you really enjoy, get familiar with it so that you become an expert on it then look for sources to buy and sell it.    I have worked with people who were able to supplement their income by buying and selling golf clubs, baby items, sports equipment, or anything else that they already knew about because they used them personally during the week.

It really doesn’t matter what your (legal) choice is because once you know a product or service thoroughly, you know the prevailing cost or charges and can then buy it cheap and sell it for a quick profit.    You can even use some of those same selling sites to find customers.

Finally, As you look to adjust your finances to match your INs and OUTs, be aware that you can’t do it alone.   Enlist and engage your entire household in the process, and then bring in others that have shown financial stability and wisdom over time that you know in your family, fellowship or favorite civic organization.

I have found in my many years of financial coaching that healthy finances tend to flow from healthy relationships.    I believe the approach I have presented here will help you make sure that you are investing in your relationships while you are attacking your deficit. The biggest product will be to grow mutual financial freedom now, and the tools to continue the legacy in your family’s future.

If you have further questions, please feel free to e-mail me directly:

Phil OliverPhil Oliver is a retired educator.   He is an independent Financial Coach, active mentor, and community activist.   He has spent the last 8 years empowering individuals and families to take charge of their finances through his FLOW system.  He is active in many community efforts to grow financial literacy and responsibility including Prosper Waco and Citizens for Responsible Lending.  He consults with many local organizations to teach and inspire their efforts to empower clients in personal finances.  You can contact him at:









Ten years in …

By Ashley Bean Thornton

Ten years ago this summer I took a trip to New Orleans that changed my life.  I went there for youth camp with the kids from my church.  The camp had a focus on “missions,” and the “mission” that year was Hurricane Katrina clean up.   Even though it had been a year since Katrina, the Ninth Ward where we were working was still the biggest mess I have ever seen or ever hope to see.  The devastation from the storm was terrible, but that’s not what changed my life. It was like the storm had ripped the lid off the city so that it was easy to see the poverty and the wealth and everything in between.   It seemed like the mess was already there, the hurricane just laid it bare.

I was 45 years old and I don’t think I had ever thought about “the systems” of a community and how they worked, much less whether they were fair or good.  I think for my whole life I had been mainly just a “consumer” of my community.  Busy using what I liked – schools, hospitals, roads, fun things to do — I hadn’t given much of a thought to what a community “should” be like, or the work that goes into shaping a community, or that I might have some responsibility for helping to create a good community.  

That week in the Ninth Ward flipped a switch in me.  I felt like the systems in New Orleans were broken – that all these people living in poverty was a terrible waste of potential and that our society couldn’t afford that waste. When one of the youth on the trip reminded us that the rate of poverty in Waco was just as bad as that of New Orleans, I began to feel a personal responsibility.  I began to feel strongly that for all our sakes, we had to do better. I started trying to learn more about poverty, about what we could and should be doing, about what I could and should be doing.   

Learning about poverty has been like dropping through Alice In Wonderland’s rabbit hole into a whole confusing, tangled spaghetti bowl of problems and opinions and statistics and theories and theology and political stratagems and turf issues about education and workforce development and affordable housing and health care and neighborhood development and all kinds of other interwoven issues.  I learned that there’s a name for these kinds of tangled up messes where nobody knows what to do to make it better – they’re called “wicked problems.”  Appropriate name.  Trying to work on the “wicked problem” of poverty here in Waco has been an exercise in self-doubt and generally always feeling overwhelmed and ignorant.    

All that to say…I wish I had never gone on that trip to New Orleans!

Ha!  Kidding!  (sort of…) It is frustrating, but it also feels like work worth doing, and I am in love with the idea that a community of people can work together to set goals and solve problems and accomplish things together if we can only figure out how and stick with it. Ten years in, I would like to think I had figured out a few things in that regard…kind of a unified theory of how to get things done…but I haven’t. All I have to show for my efforts is a pile of random, half-formed ideas.  Here are a few of them…maybe you can help me make sense out of them as we are working together these next ten years…

  • Focus on what you want, not what you don’t want.  – We want a great community for everyone who lives here, not just “not poverty.”   Keep the real goal…the higher goal… in mind.
  • When it gets right down to it, relationships are what make things happen.
  • Have faith that the faith you have is enough faith to keep going and to do some good.
  • Participate and help at least ten times more than you criticize.
  • It’s not enough to just be compassionate; we have to also try to be smart.  We have to learn to use information better. But, we have to be compassionate too.
  • Work with the people who want to work with you…if the others come along later, great, but don’t waste time and energy trying to drag them.
  • Don’t feel like you always have to invent a new thing.  Chances are, someone is already doing something.  Listen to them.  Learn from them.  Build on what they are doing.  
  • It does cost money to do stuff.  Not everything can be done for free or cheap.  (But if you don’t have money, there is still stuff you can do.)
  • Try things – they might not always work, or work like you think they will, but you will almost always learn more than you would by talking and not trying.
  • It’s easy and more comfortable for White people to ignore the role that race plays in all this.  Don’t ignore it.
  • When in doubt, err on the side of boldness.
  • Do what you think is right – people are going to gripe at you either way, so you might as well do what you feel good about.  
  • If you don’t have any ideas about what to do, go around the table and have everyone share their ideas.  There is probably some quiet person who has a great idea, but hasn’t said it.
  • Sometimes you don’t need a new idea, you just need to apply the ideas you already have more consistently.  Sometimes, though, you need a new idea.
  • Keeping up with the details – the to-do list, the email list, the meeting notes – is half the battle.
  • When in doubt, over communicate.
  • “Them” is always us.
  • Art and song and dance and joy and play and fun are central.  They are not “fluff” to be ignored until we are done with the “important stuff.”  They are the things that fuel the creativity and energy and passion we need to do the “important stuff.” 
  • Don’t forget to say “please” and “thank you.”

Ashley Thornton 3This Act Locally Waco blog post is by Ashley Bean Thornton, she works at Baylor, helps out with Act locally Waco, and facilitates the Waco Foundational Employment Network which is a part of Prosper Waco.  She likes to walk and doesn’t mind at all if you honk and wave when you see her.

 The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.






Entrepreneurs of Waco: Black Oak Art

(Note: This post is part of a series called “Entrepreneurs of Waco.”  The series is collaboration between the McLennan Small Business Development Center (SBDC), the Professional Writing program at Baylor University, and Act Locally Waco.  The McLennan Small Business Development Center offers technical assistance, business mentoring, training, and resources for all stages of small business. For more information, visit their website:  To see all the posts in this series, click here: Entrepreneurs of Waco.  – ABT)

By Shannon Lesko

magmugTwo minutes to throw, three minutes to assemble and stamp, another minute to trim, two days to fire, 30 seconds to glaze, and there you have it– a finished Magnolia Market mug. At the end of the week Black Oak Art has 1200 Magnolia Market mugs, at least, that’s what they’re averaging these days.

Meet Jonathan Martin, the mastermind behind this production. As a Baylor graduate Jonathan is, in some ways, back home in Waco, although he originally hails from Los Angeles. At Baylor he thought he might end up teaching for a living, which he did for a while. Then he returned to Los Angeles where he and his wife, Sara, helped plant a church. After living with their first child in a small one-bedroom apartment, he decided to move his family to Waco. He admits, “When we came back to Waco it felt like a defeat, but somehow I felt like God had spoken to me and that we were coming back into the promised land.”Jonathan smiled, almost in disbelief in what he was saying, “We had all these dreams in our hearts for whatever reason, and we had this sense of hope that God was going to bring us into those when we came back to Waco.”

BOA logoWaco was not always the “promised land” though. Jonathan did his time as a “starving artist.” Well maybe not starving, but as he says, “peddling my wares wasn’t quite cutting it.” Initially he would fill his truck with boxes of pottery and drive around, stopping any place he thought might sell his pottery. Thinking back on those early days, he laughs.

It was a college friend who ignited Black Oak Arts workflow. Joanna Gaines, owner of the now famous Magnolia Market and star of HGTV’s hit show Fixer Upper, took note of Jonathan’s craftsmanship. “Joanna’s first order was for these gift baskets she and Chip would give to their realty clients, but at that point no one really cared if their logo was on the side of a mug.” That original order was for 25 mugs; now Jonathan is trying to get 1500 out the door every week.

PotterNeedless to say, Jonathan is not a one man show anymore. He has assembled a team and his dream of cultivating a workplace where potters could collaboratively create pieces together has come to life. That doesn’t mean that Jonathan has stopped getting his hands dirty; his clay splattered Black Oak Art apron can attest to that. While he maintains a friendly banter with the other potters, his hands carefully begin morphing a lump of clay into a cylinder and then, in one graceful motion, he gently draws out a recognizable shape. Effortlessly it seems, he lures a mug out of the shapeless lump. Jonathan explains that it’s not an exact science, and even though they try to get the same look every time, each one ultimately is unique – that is the magic of it all.

“There is something tangibly different about a hand-made piece,” Jonathan knows.  At the Magnolia Silos, the patrons recognize that each piece is different. They carefully sort through the mugs to find the right shape, size, and look to complete the experience of enjoying their morning cups of Joe. Since the opening of the Silos in October, twenty-four thousand handmade mugs have gone home with Magnolia fans; that’s a whole lot of mornings that Jonathan gets to be a part of.

Jonathan’s dreams for the future include more than mugs. “I have these really cool pots and wall pockets in the works for Magnolia,” he says.  Black Oak Art also plans to open a new storefront called Gather. “Gather is a sort of marriage between my passion for artisanship and my wife’s passion of entertaining,” Jonathan smiles. The retail store will hold tabletop treasures, all designed and hand thrown by Jonathan himself, ready to enrich the homes of patrons in new and unexpected ways.

Jonathan smiles as he remembers back to the days they only had twenty mugs on dock for a month, now he produces three hundred times that, “but it’s cool to look back and see that when we came back to Waco it really wasn’t a defeat but God was bringing us into this new thing. I don’t necessarily feel that we are promised years and years more of this, I mean, I could be back peddling my wares again someday, but I’ve learned it’s one day at a time.”

Jonathan MartinThe entrepreneur…Black Oak Art is a local ceramic shop in Waco TX.  Founded by Jonathan Martin a 2000 Studio Art graduate from Baylor University.  Black Oak Art specializes in custom ceramic designs.  We work with each client to create the pieces that match their needs and personality.  We sell both wholesale and retail pieces.

Shannon LeskoThe writer…Shannon Lesko puts her degree in Professional Writing to good use at the intersection of business strategy and creativity, as a Content Strategist. She is a lover of words, beginnings and Waco. You might find her around town exploring hidden gems, hiking, or brainstorming her next project with her husband. She believes there is power in telling stories and cultivating the dreams of the people behind them. 

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.