{Q&A post, so many fun topics!}

Uh oh, I was supposed to answer these questions MONTHS ago — shame on me!!! Please say you’ll forgive me :] I promise to be better at responding to your questions because really, they do mean so much to me. Below are my answers to *12* questions ~ enjoy ♥

Stephanie and I at Blissdom, Jan. 2011

If you could give advice to a girl on the brink of a business ~ what would you tell her?
Hmmm, good question. Here’s what first times to mind: Know who you are and what interests you; make a list of the things you like; make a list of the things that inspire/encourage you — and look at these lists often. I would encourage you to find friends online organically and to be patient with the process. Be driven through personal & professional goals. I would strongly encourage you to know who/what inspires you and to carry that over online. One more thing I would like to add: when I look back at my life these last two years, a lot of things look like they just fell right into my lap, but I want to point out that a lot of things fell because I put myself in front of these things {like taking a risk by going to Blissdom last year, but then quitting my day job 3 months later}. I hope that makes sense. Working hard has it’s rewards and I believe we are all successful in life :] I also believe we’re responsible for a lot of our success <-- let that encourage you!

My Much Ado About You planner

How do you stay organized? Calendars, planners, systems? I’m a very visual person and I just can’t do the online/electronic thing for everything when it comes to organization. If I’m making a chart to keep track of something, I can usually do that online. But schedules and to-do lists must be on paper. My monthly/daily planner is by Much Ado About You — Emmy designed one for Gussy Sews, it’s soooo cute. She wants to design one for your business… contact her :]

Lately I’ve been giving myself small rewards when I accomplish a task. There’s so much to do, all the time, and setting little rewards has really been motivational. Some times it can feel really overwhelming to look at my to-do list, so I try and break it down by what makes the most sense. Using my Gussy Folder has been a lifesaver: I keep track of blog post ideas, to-do’s, and goals in there.

I also use gmail and archive everything – never delete. Anything that sits in my Inbox needs to be replied to, otherwise I archive it. Adding a star to an email makes it “urgent”. See? Told you I’m a visual person.

Other helpful posts: organizing workflow, organizing my studio, how I stay organized each day.

What is your favorite social networking website?
Probably twitter :]

You may have already answered this somewhere on your blog… but since I’m a semi-new follower, I haven’t found out. What camera do you use, and how do you take such great photos of your work?? Lovely.
I have a Sony DSLR and mainly shoot with a wide-angle lens (Aspherical 17-35mm). I take advantage of daylight and always shoot during specific times during the day {when the sunlight is the most natural looking}. I also take a lot of photos with my iPhone using the Instagram app.

Coffee cozy by Oh, Sweet Joy

So, I’m an amateur sewer right now who has been teaching myself and things have been going swimmingly with simple projects like curtain panels and throw pillow covers. I recently decided I wanted to take on a project of sewing some travel coffee mug cozies as holiday gifts and have hit a MAJOR snag. The cozies are contoured and I’m having trouble keeping a straight stitch. My cozies are turning out a little wonky, even if I stray a little bit.
Hmmm. One thing I’ve learned is that cutting a straight edge can make ALL the difference. If your edges are neat and true to your pattern you should be able to use the right edge as a guide when sewing, even if the edges are contoured. It took me a little bit to be able to sew a straight light, so make sure that’s mastered :] Every little part helps.

Any good advice about how to sew straight along a contoured edge? It may just be me and my need to practice a little more, and I feel like a complete IDIOT that I’m struggling with it so much! Did I get in over my head, or do is there something I can do to get better?
See the above answer :]

If you were a stuffed animal, say… a dinosaur, what kind of fabric would you be made of?
A cotton blend with polka dots everywhere :]

Hey Maggie! I’d love to hear how you and your hubby met (and fell in love)! :]
Ohhhh, fine ;] I’ll share…
Zack and I met in college, we were both freshman at Central Michigan University. We kept running into each other because we had mutual friends & we lived in the same area of campus//ate in the same dining hall. I was constantly seeing Zack on campus and thought he was so cute {tall, dark & handsome} and he had a great smile. I soon learned he was super fun to be around. SOLD! I was officially interested… We started to spend more & more time together and about 1 month before school was out for the summer we started dating {April 2004}. In May we both left campus for the summer and headed to our parents houses. Soon there was a long — 3 hour — drive between us, but we managed to see each other just about every 2 weeks. Being in love makes you determined, I suppose. Oh yes, you read that right… I loved Zack after being his girlfriend for just a month. And I told him. AND he still married me ;]

Also at around the time we met, Zack was singing in a male a capella group. They would sing around campus and have concerts and of course I was at every one, batting my eyelashes at him & hoping he saw me doing so. Zack and some of his buddies would even stop by my dorm room and sing to me {swoon} — can you see why I fell in love with him quickly?!

We dated for the next 1.5 years when Zack proposed. It was a summer evening in July. Zack and I had seen each other a few weeks ago, at my family’s cottage, and when he drove off to head back home I was the saddest girl ever. We weren’t going to be able to see each other for a while because of family plans/work/etc. and I didn’t want him to leave. He was actually visiting with his family and as they left I was a crying mess in my mom’s arms {do you like that visual? hehe.} BUT! Little did I know he’d be back… and soon!

The next weekend came and I was back at our family cottage {one of my favorite places to be in the summer}. I was in the water and *just* came back from riding the Sea-Doo… all of a sudden Zack comes walking around the back deck — BIG SMILE on his face — and I let out a little scream {a pre-yeow!, perhaps?} & run over to give him a BIG HUG ♥. I felt like this was a dream to be seeing him again so soon. I kept asking if he was staying for the weekend and he looked at my parents, then at me, and said yes! So that night {Friday}, we went out to dinner, just the two of us, and had an amazing time — come back to the cottage, got ready to have a fire [mom & dad are looking at my finger for a ring; no ring!] and watch the fireworks — did I mention it is Fourth of July weekend [actual date was July 3rd]. Before we headed to the fire pit near the lake we hopped in the car quickly to get my brother who was at another cottage on the other side of the lake. Are you following? I know it’s a crazy story. We pulled back into our driveway, Matt [my bro] went ahead of us and suddenly it was just Zack and I. The sky was dark, the stars were out, the crickets were singing to us… We were behind the cottage, near my mom’s flower beds, and Zack started to get all mushy on me. ♥ I loved it and was secretly thinking HOW PERFECT would it be if we got engaged this weekend?! ♥. I am just dying inside with excitement & hopefulness.

Then he holds my hands and tells me how perfect & beautiful I am, and how he wants to make me his wife [gets down on one knee] — Maggie, will you marry me? I gave him a big smile and a look… he said, Of course I talked with your parents first. Why do you think my family and I were here last weekend?

WHAT?! I knew they were up to something ;]

After I smooched him 28,765 times we walked to the lake side of the cottage and I shouted out, “I’m going to be a Whitley!” We all celebrated, watched the fireworks, and then it was bedtime. I kissed Zack goodnight and went to my bedroom where I seriously stared at my ring for HOURS. I hardly slept that night. I just wanted it to be morning so I could hang out with my fiance more :]

We were engaged on July 3rd, 2006 and on June 7th, 2008 we were married. Our wedding date is 6-7-08 ~ 6 + 7 + 8 = 21, two become one, my pastor told us as during the wedding message. TWO BECOME ONE. Absolutely love that :]

This summer we’ll be celebrating 3 years of marriage and it has been PERFECT! I can’t wait to celebrate with my hubby :]

I’d love to know where you finally saw the difference between steady sales and explosive popularity. Was there something in particular that made the difference? Your blog? Ads/sponsorships? Etc.
One thing I’ve seen to be super helpful is attending conferences because it’s put a face to this “Gussy Sews” name everyone sees online. Last year I attended Blissdom, the Minnesota Blogger Conference, The Creative Connection and Relevant. Since I make a point to be active online I think it really helped readers & customers to put a face to my name through conferences. Besides, who doesn’t want to meet their online friends??? :] It’s one of my favorite parts about attending conferences. I think having consistency through my blog & my products made my success seem so “quick”. When I look back at the time line I can see a slow, steady progression. I do think I saw a bit of a boom, but it took time and so that’s the main thing I want to share with others. *Remember that each story is unique from the next and I think what you put into it is what you’ll get* — I write that to encourage you. If you have dreams, you can make your dreams happen :]

Every blogger has their own experience, though, and I really believe that everyone has their own story {which adds so much magic to the uniqueness}.

What are you favorite ways to promote your business/blog? Which provided the most traffic? Which were the most fun for you?
I love all forms of social media but use my blog, twitter & facebook the most. I think anything that can help connect me to my readers/customers is successful, which lately has meant vlogging. Yeow ;]

What kind of meals do you cook for dinner?
I love “one pot” dishes because they’re simple & super tasty. But I also love spaghetti & homemade meatballs {<< that's my fav. recipe for it}, potato & kielbasa skillet, a HUGE salad {sorry, a dainty salad doesn't fill me up}, macaroni & cheese, pizza from Pizza Luce

I love your items, but if you don’t have something I am looking for is the easiest place to start on Etsy? And are Etsy people from all over the world, US or more local?
Etsy is a world-wide shopping site.

How do I get connected with the overall local community (handmade items?) as a consumer? Again, love your items, but is there an overarching website that provides info for MN or fairs (or are they craft fairs?) to attend and where is the best place to get that information?
I did a quick “Minnesota handmade fairs” Google search and many links popped up that look like what you’re looking for. {Yes, I just handed you my “I’m still new to MN even though we’ve lived here for 18 months” card.} — oh wait, The Creative Connection is in St. Paul this year… be sure & check out their site.

{our love story // 6+7+8 = 21}

Zack and I met in college — we were both freshman at Central Michigan University. It was pretty much love at first sight ♥. Zack and I had mutual friends and often saw each other around campus. At the time, Zack was singing in an all-male a capella group, and he wooed me with his fun personality. OK, and great smile… :]

Want to read MORE about our love story?
Click here to visit Danielle’s blog ♥ {and to decode the title of this blog post}.

Happy VALENTINE’S Day!

PS. the winners of the 2 – $50 Gussy Sews shop credits are Ari from Bambino and Alli from Life on LeRoy. Email me, lucky ladies :]

{Budgeting your family’s money, part II}

{photo credit}

This post is a continuation of part I, which is part of my mini-series on budgeting.

***

“You can do anything you put your mind to.”

Do you believe that phrase? I was reading a blog that was hosting a recent Gussy giveaway, and the author wrote about Gussy:

    The short version of her story is this: She decided that she wanted to sew, so she learned. Then she decided that she wanted to make it a full-time job, so she made it happen.

I guess when you get down to the point that’s exactly my story, however it’s the very short version. It’s also the simple version :]

If you had the opportunity to put on a shield of braveness, what would you “put your mind to”?

On Sunday I asked you to think of something you’d like to achieve financially. This can range from a simple goal — personally or professionally, or something serious like funding 3-6 months of your income as an emergency fund. The goal is totally up to you, and I’m already excited for you and what’s to come.

Keep in mind the freedom that you experience when you’re in charge of your money. If you don’t already work off a budget, I hope you’re now encouraged to start! Don’t think about the debt you have currently, think about what you’re going to accomplish by building a budget.

Focus on the long-term benefits of serving God vs serving money…

Luke 16:13 (NIV)

No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

***

Getting started: know your numbers

This part is easy! Simply gather all incoming & outgoing expenses and organize them by type {in or out}. Be sure to think of your 401(k), insurance premiums, money allotted to savings each month, etc. as these are expenses, too, but may not arrive in the mail {or even monthly} like a typical bill.

For Zack and I, it’s easier to make a list of all incoming & outgoing expenses bi-monthly because Zack is salaried. You can also do this every two weeks if that’s how you are paid, by the month as a whole, or however your income is most easily broken down.

* side note A: One super easy way Zack and I track all expenses is to use Google Calendar and schedule our bills as an “event” one week before they are due. It’s a yucky “event” to add to the calendar, but I’d rather be informed than surprised when it comes to our money/finances. Google Calendar also lets you share calendars with other Gmail users, so Zack and I can both see our bills.

If you have Gmail, Google Calendar is already available to you. You can always buy a cute calendar from my sweet friend Emmy with Much Ado About You to track your expenses manually {REMEMBER TO PAY WITH CASH & FROM YOUR “FUN” SPENDING ACCOUNT :] }

* side note B: If you use a calendar {of any kind} to track your bills, remember to read over the past few months to make sure you don’t miss something that is a once-a-year or quarterly, etc. bill.

Here’s what you do:

1. Decide how you’re going to break down your expenses/income, then write down all expenses & income that fall into your preferred time frame {twice a month, every two weeks, etc.}

    - For example, we use the 1st-14th and the 15th-30th for our time frames. We create a column for expenses and a column for income. When all of this information is gathered on one sheet of paper a person can more easily grasp an entire month’s cash flow.

    - When your expense/income columns are complete, add them each of them up by type {expense, income} and write down each type’s total.

    - Here’s a sample of organizing your family budget into a monthly time frame. Please read it over a few times to get a clear understanding of what I’m describing for your budget.

2. Don’t forget about the “other” expenses:
* Groceries/Necessities
* Gas/Auto
* Medical/Rx
* Entertainment/fun {you MUST include this in your budget, no matter the amount listed. I’ll explain later.}
* Savings

    - This “other” expense column may create an additional column on your month-at-a-glance expense/income sheet, but that is OK.

    - By organizing our expenses and income into 2 monthly time frames we’re able to see on a more realistic basis if we can pay the bills that fall into each specific time frame with the income we receive in that same time frame.

    - If you find out you aren’t able to then you know you need to find money from another paycheck time frame to supplement that specific section of bills {expenses}.

    - Take a minute to think about even more random, silly purchases you made over the last few months…

    - At this point we have our expenses organized for the first half of the month, our income for the first half; our expenses for the second half, and our income for the second half.

3. You’re almost done!!! The final task in creating your budget is to add up all income, all expenses and find a balance.

The goal is to balance out at $0

No, I don’t want you to be broke, but I do want you to tell every single dollar you own where to go. If you don’t tell your money where to go then it will be in control. Once all your bills are paid {including adding to your savings account monthly}, if you see you have money left over you need to tell it where to go. Whether you want to spend a quarter of your income on entertainment, or elsewhere, it’s important you put that amount in that category.

Here’s a thought: If you have money left over each month you could add it to your monthly savings {may be used for debt or general savings, etc.}, but remember to rework your numbers so your balance is at $0. If your balance is negative then you need to go through and re-work your numbers. Or get a second job. And don’t hate me for typing that.

Remember that entertainment expense listed in “other”? That amount should always be the first expense you reduce if you are in the negative, but it’s SO IMPORTANT you don’t reduce it to zero. You NEED to have some spending money. If you don’t have anything allotted in this category then you’ll end up spending way more than you originally budgeted for/can afford and your budget will burst.

Burst = not good.

{photo credit}

Writing the budget was the easy part… Here’s the hard part:

You must, must, must put your budget in action and stick to it! Most bills are monthly and consistent. Other bills, such as groceries/necessities, gas, medical, can fluctuate and can be hard to predict. Do your very best to come up with a solid, reasonable number/average for these bills and stick to them. If something goes haywire you can always pull from your savings account, but remember to put it back later!

But I don’t have a savings account!!!
Yes, you do. Remember one of your “expenses” above was to put money monthly towards savings?

You’re welcome.

3 tips to sticking to your budget:

1. Check on it often — are you on-track? Does your budget allow you to succeed or do you need to adjust it?
2. Remember that your budget is your friend but non-budgeted money is NOT your friend
3. Make sure you are saving! By watching your savings account grow you should be continuously encouraged to press on.

Tip: For the expenses that you purchase multiple times a month {like fuel, groceries}, keep a running total of what you’ve spent each time, leading up to your maximum monthly total. Let me explain…

Say you allow yourself to spend $400/month in groceries. You know that’s an average of $100/week. To stay within your budgeted amount, each time you go to the store keep that amount in mind. Then, when you get home, write down how much you actually spent and subtract it from the monthly budgeted amount. Next time you go out you’ll know how much you have left in that category.

This is another great way to help yourself stay within your budget. Use a simple chart like this to keep track of expenses you pay each month, like groceries, to make sure you’re not over spending.

***

Remember:
* Inconsistent monthly expenses can be “found” by dividing the total yearly amount by 12.

* If you don’t know an amount, make your best educated guess and adjust as you learn more, even if this means adjusting your budget every month.

* DO NOT let this overwhelm you. Don’t focus on every single dollar; focus on the bigger picture, which is not going into debt and growing your savings account. If you find your budget is off, sit down and re-work it. And when your done, think to yourself, Gussy is super proud of me.

* Maybe you aren’t able to save much because you have a lot of past debt to pay off? Please read Total Money Makeover. Dave Ramsey has a great debt-free plan, called Debt Snowball, that you’ll read about in the book. This plan teaches you how to put money each month towards minimum payments with the idea that when you pay off one debt you use that minimum payment amount and put it towards your next debt. It’s fabulous, but you must read the book! Dave explains it in much greater detail than Gussy does :]

* Use cash. This one is huge and the only way you’ll move forward with your budget. If for some reason you aren’t able to pay your bills with cash from your income, you may need to consider finding supplemental help. There should be programs within your state or county to assist you. When you continue to use credit you’re treading backwards on a one-way street. It’s nearly impossible to succeed with credit and the point of a budget is encouragement, education & success.

Questions?

Leave a comment!

Up next: {Budgeting your business’ money, part I}