The Real Housewives of Benton County: Betsy Billman- “Money Mama”

Money, money, money! It’s that topic that can make a couple go from snuggles to sassy within seconds. It is the thing we don’t want to think or stress about, but most of us do. If I am perfectly honest, I would have to admit that I am neither horrible with money nor great with money. It is really important to me to not go into debt, but I also really lack organization and sometimes the willpower to save or invest how I would like to. I want to teach my children to be responsible humans, and money is one area where I would like them to be responsible.

I also have been thinking lately about what message we teach our children about what is important to us through how we spend our money. I have chatted with many friends/ family members through the years who are stressed about money, not feeling like there is ever enough, though we know that even people who are rich stress about money. Whether you qualify for food stamps or live in a mansion on the hill, all of us have to make decisions about how we spend our money. Some people truly barely have enough to pay for basic necessities, some people value living in a fancy house, some want to spend money on travel, or for some it’s clothes or eating organic. No matter our income… most of us have something in common. We want to manage our money better, but we don’t know where to get started! I am included in this category. I really want to do better and I need help!

This is where my dear friend Betsy comes in. Betsy is just awesome in so many ways. Betsy is loyal. She makes the best homemade whole wheat bread I have ever eaten and she has a love for eating/preparing whole foods. She is a great running partner, and she has really been there for me during some of life’s challenges. I always leave Betsy feeling uplifted and with more perspective. She always has a great scripture, talk, or spiritual thought to share. And.. she is willing to listen and hear me out without judgement.  She really is so easy to talk to and shows that she cares. The Billman family just moved to Idaho, and I am really missing this special  friend of mine!

Not only does Betsy always have great insight on life in general, but she has also given me great advice on finances and on how to teach children to be responsible. She has taken the time to really make a financial plan that works well for her family, and she follows through with her plan. I hope you will be inspired after reading this interview with Betsy! I would love for you to share your struggles and successes as well!

K-Have you always been financially responsible and organized with money? If not, when did you see the light?

B-Unfortunately I have not always been financially responsible with money! As a child I really liked having money and I babysat A LOT and probably earned a decent amount for a child. However, without any guidance, I usually spent everything I earned. As I got older I continued to work hard and continued to spend almost everything. Fortunately I didn’t make the mistake of running up any debt, so at least I was conscious of not spending more than I earned. When I got into college I had to become more responsible with my money. I was able to save for things I needed to pay for (half of my living expenses) but never could seem to save up anything for a “rainy day fund.” It wasn’t until Eric and I had been married a few years and we had started a PhD program that things started to change for me. I felt stressed about the little amount of money we had coming in and I wasn’t sure how to manage it. A friend of mine gave me the book “Financial Peace University” by Dave Ramsey and it really rang true with me. His philosophy is to spend in cash, not acquire debt of any kind (except a very conservative home mortgage), and “live like no one else so later you can live like no one else!” His principles are basic but to me it was a lot of practical sense. My goal at that point was to not take out any more student loans (we had taken a minimal amount out for the PhD) and to get better at budgeting. Spending in cash changed our financial life! It was easy to stick to and easy to see exactly where we were throughout the month. We are still primarily spending in cash almost 5 years later! Another thing Eric and I have worked on is getting on the same page, having a plan, and actually communicating about our finances. It has taken many years, but I feel like we have finally come together on our financial goals and dreams over the last year. I should say that we never really fought about money, but Eric never had a real opinion and I pretty much ran the show (I am a numbers person even though I am not a natural saver, go figure!). If feels so great to finally be working together – it has made all the difference!

Sam showing off his chore chart.

K-What is your philosophy about teaching children to be smart with money? And with chores?

B-It is critical for me to teach my kids about how to be smart with money. Dave Ramsey has a “Financial Peace Jr.” program that has worked well for us. It has lessons about how to work, save, spend and give. It also teaches about the dangers of debt. One day my 5-year-old daughter had a friend over to play and I overheard their conversation. My daughter asked her friend if she had ever heard of debt. When her friend replied “no”, my daughter went on to explain how bad it was and how you should never be in debt! It made me smile to think that my children were actually picking up on a principle I was teaching them! Yay! They have a very clear set of jobs to do each day and they are given “compensation”, not “allowance” for the work they complete. We have been using the system for over a year and it has worked so well. My kids make (mostly) mindful choices about how to spend their money and they have become much better at giving. I can tell my daughter has similar spending tendencies as me so I hope with a good foundation she can make good financial decisions in the future.

K-What are some of the most common mistakes that people make to hurt their finances?

B-I would say not being on the same page with your spouse. Like I said before, Eric and I didn’t fight over money, but I carried the burden of making most of the decisions because I knew what was going on. Now, we both have a say and we both keep each other in check. It has brought us closer in a way I hadn’t anticipated. I think another aspect that hurts people is not having a budget. As Dave Ramsey likes to say, give every dollar a name/mission at the beginning of the month so you know where every penny will go – that includes for expenses, saving, etc. Budgeting is hard work, but it does get easier. It is kind of like the concept of watching what you eat. Sometimes you don’t realize how much you are actually eating until you keep track and write it down. Small purchases add up quickly so having a budget that both you and your spouse agree on is critical!

K-What will you miss most about living in Corvallis?

B-Oh boy, what will I miss the most?? Besides my friends and the wonderful people I have met, I will miss the beauty of Corvallis. I have come to love the trees so much! I will miss being so close to the coast. The Oregon coast is one of the most beautiful places in the world! I will miss all the amazing produce and living in a community that is so health-conscious. That has been such a treat! I hope to spread that vibe in Idaho:)

Sam, Zeke, and Hadley are looking happy.. because that mama of theirs has taught them well!

K-What advice do you have for a family who has the desire to make changes but is also overwhelmed by the idea of budgeting and taking control of their finances?

B-I guess I would say think about your dreams and goals. What would you do if your finances were not an issue? Then, start by just writing down what you are spending. Get an idea of where you are and where you want to be. Try making your budget for the month and then taking out the money in cash. It hurts to spend cash! Plus, when it is gone, it’s gone. And give yourself time. It takes a few months to get it right. I am not sure if that is even helpful, but that is how Eric and I gained control of our finances.

K-What else are you passionate about?

B-I really love teaching people how to do things! I learned how to make bread about 5 years ago and make it every week (for the most part) for my family to eat. I have now taught several of my friends and family members how to make bread and now they make it for their families. I just love the thought of spreading good things around. I also love deep conversation! I love to read and discuss ideas with friends and family. I just love connecting with people.

K-What brings you peace and happiness?

B-I would have to say my religious beliefs bring me the most peace and happiness. When I am on with doing the things I have come to know I should do, life just functions better. Also, my husband and children bring me so much happiness. It is the things we work hardest on that are the most satisfying. I try and remember that when things are difficult – eventually those hard things turn into some of the most treasured blessings. Close friends also bring me so much happiness – like I said before I thrive on connecting with people! And finally, being in nature and just soaking in the beauty really brings peace to my soul. I wish I had more time to sit on the beach and just breath in all the beauty!


Kids’ Lunches!

Gabe looking very proud of packing his lunch! I love this kid a lot!

Gabe’s lunch included a salad, yellow watermelon, roasted hazelnuts, homemade pear fruit leather, and some local nitrate-free jerkey

When we started the September challenge, I worried that my kid’s school lunches would be more work than I wanted to do  (notice that I like to take shortcuts when posible). After a recommendation from a friend, I invested in these Bentgo boxes. My kids also have lunch bags and these Thermos. We have found that each kid having a thermos is totally essential in how we do lunches. Not only can we pack things like yogurt with fruit in them, but we also send them to school with leftover soup, pasta, enchiladas etc.. The thing I like about the Bentgo boxes is that they come in handy when you are short on groceries and just a bunch of random stuff to throw together (like Gabe’s lunch this day).

When the boxes came in the mail last week, the kids said that they wanted to pack their lunches for the next day right that second. I reminded them that they would need to pack food that fits into our Oregon challenge. Gabe (who tends to be my most picky eater) said, “I should pack a salad.” Um… okay Gabe, I guess I can help help facilitate that  if you insist:). It was amazing to see how my kids got so into this process. It was a good reminder that including kids in the food process as much as possible helps make for healthier/happier kids. And… my kids are learning through packing their own lunches as well as helping with meals, what foods grow in Oregon and which ones don’t (and where all of those foods grow).

Also in regards to the challenge, I have to confess that there have been a few cheats. Yes, I did buy my kids a GTF doughnut at farmer’s market today (and of course had to have one myself). Oh, and yes I did get my kids a hot chocolate at the coast when I showed up with very underdressed kids at a very chilly day at the beach. I really want to have this be a positive experience for my kids and not an experience where they feel like they were forced to participate, so if cheating here and there helps rejuvenate them to face another week of only Oregon grown food, then so be it! I’d love to hear how you all involve your kids in the cooking process, and in particular with their school lunches. I would love to have one less thing to do in my life, so I am excited to continue letting the kids have ownership over their lunches!

sharon - September 10, 2014 - 9:07 pm

I just love this whole thing on so many levels (and I love that picture of sweet Gabe too).

sharon - September 10, 2014 - 9:08 pm

I just love this whole thing on so many levels (and I love that picture of sweet Gabe too)

Brandi Carlile

I am taking a break from my food posts to talk about something else very important to me… music. My sister Kris got me tickets to see Brandi Carlile singing with The Oregon Symphony. Brandi Carlile is someone I have wanted to see for a long time, and she didn’t disappoint. And having an amazing symphony behind you doesn’t hurt either!  I already love her version of “Hallelujah”, and having a symphony behind her during this song made it more beautiful than I could ever imagine. It seriously felt like a spiritual experience listening to her sing this song with the violins in the background. Music is one way that I most easily am moved and connect to God.

The thing that is so cool about Brandi is that her voice is completely 100% unique. If I were blindfolded and heard 100 singers, I could pick her her voice out singing any song. She does this wailing almost yodeling type thing with her voice that is so amazing.  For many, they would sound like a hurt cat trying to do what she does :), but she pulls it off so well! If you aren’t familiar with her music, I will give you homework of a few of my favorite songs!


Sorry in advance Chris that I will be listening to this music on repeat, and sorry if I do sound like a hurt cat trying to sing along:)


So it might seem like a person who would do a challenge like this would need to be a really amazing cook. I would like to clarify that though I can hold my own in a kitchen, I am actually not an amazing cook. I usually cook easy and forgiving meals that don’t stress me out too much. I love to experiment in the kitchen, but if I am most definitely not fancy. I learned several years ago, that you don’t have to make fancy meals to get healthy food into your family. This month is already proving to force me into the kitchen more than I might like.  To clarify, I like the being in the kitchen cooking part, but cooking from scratch each meal leaves a VERY messy kitchen. Chris and I are both tiring of so many dirty dishes, but I’ve never been a huge fan of dishes:)(though I’d rather do dishes than iron or clean toilets).

Here are pics of what we had for dinner the last 3 nights:

Garbanzo beans from “Camas Country Mill” after soaking them over night. I used these in my homemade hummus!

Sofia rolling out naan bread dough.

On Tuesday night we had homemade naan bread and hummus. I adapted from these recipes:


I didn’t use tahini in my hummus and I didn’t use white flour in the naan bread at all. This meal is one of my family’s favorites. We tripled the naan recipe to freeze a bunch of extra bread. We will be busting out some of the frozen naan bread tomorrow night to use as crusts for pizzas.

On Wednesday night we ate a lentil/barley soup. This is my go to lentil soup recipe as my kids seem to really like it.

I packed leftover soup today in my kid’s thermos for lunch with extra homemade bread. I was glad that I made such a large amount, because I needed a little break from not having to cook as much today. Leftovers are great, and with soup, it tastes even better the next day!

Homemade bread is a whole different topic and something I certainly am far from mastering, but it was yummy. I used my friend Betsy’s famous recipe for whole wheat bread. Again my grains were from Camas Mill Grains. The leeks, onions, and carrots for the soup came from Peoria Rd. Market, and the tomatoes came from my garden. The jam for the bread is raspberry jam that I made with my sister and parents over the summer.

For tonight’s dinner, we had homemade mac n’cheese using “Pasta Gardner” pasta made in Eugene with Camas Country Mill flour. The label on the pasta said that each serving had 14 grams of protein which is very impressive for pasta, though their serving size was probably a larger amount than the average person would eat. I used tillamook cheese for the mac n cheese as well as sautéed yellow squash and zucchini. The melons are again from “The Melon Shack”.  I threw in some basil from the garden, and we were good to go! My family was really happy with this meal. I should write a whole post about making cheese/cream sauces, but this is definitely something I learned from my mom growing up.



Betsy - September 5, 2014 - 11:38 pm

This post makes me oh so happy! Real (local) food is the best! Love this post and love you! And thanks for the shout out :)

5 minute salsa

Most of our meals this month will not be that exciting. Many of the meals I will be making will take a lot of extra prep, so we will definitely also be eating a lot of scrambled eggs this month. Scrambled eggs are something that Sofia can make as well, so it will be fun to have her help out with meals. Our chickens are producing a lot of eggs these days, so we have enough to keep us covered for the month. September is also a wonderful melon month in Corvallis. i usually buy my melons down the street at Twedts farm stand. I am usually pretty happy with the melons at Twedts, but I have been buying more melons this summer from “The Melon Shack” which is just a 1/2 mile from our house. I have to admit that even though they are so close, I had never bought their melons until my dear friend Betsy recommended them. On the day that Betsy was moving to Idaho almost a month ago, I asked her if there was one last favor that I could do for her. She asked me if I could get melons from The Melon Shack (sold also at farmer’s market).  They really are consistently so delicious.

I also decided for lunch to bust out some quick salsa with our surplus tomatoes. I don’t have a lot of salsa making experience, so I made it up as I went. I threw about 10 roma tomatoes into my food processor, half of a jalapeno pepper. a couple of tablespoons of cilantro, some vinegar, a slice of onion, and a little salt. It turned out totally delicious, and I am now storing it in my fridge for the week. I apologize in advance for my lack of exact recipes. I just kind of do the trial and error method. If your salsa is too spicy, add more tomatoes. If it needs more flavor, add more salt and cilantro. If you want spicier.. add more jalapeno :). This is the kind of recipe that I follow. This is the kind of simple lunch that I could repeat over and over again and be happy!