Friday, August 31, 2012

Budget Blues (How We Save Money)

The last couple months have wreaked havoc on our checkbook.  Without going into details, suffice to say we majorly have to tighten up the spending, and I made a silent vow to not take anything out of savings the next few months.  (Or else, we won't be having Christmas.)  After paying bills and balancing the checkbook this morning, I was stressed and depressed to find out we had $350 to last the until the end of the month that hasn't even started yet.  And I haven't even bought groceries for the month.  Not to mention the gas Paul will need to get to work.
So I grabbed the ol' list and started crossing off things that I thought we could get by without until the end of next month.  Some were easy - like matching baskets to hold crayons and colored pencils (rather than the mismatched cardboard boxes I'm using), but some made me grit my teeth - like disposable diapers.  I used just over half a box last month.  Surely I can use just under half a box for this month. And I'm pretty sure we can live without soy sauce and sliced cheese.
Not that we can't take money from savings (I should be grateful we even have a savings account!), but just that I feel panicky if it drops under a certain amount.  A vehicle or appliance breakdown would wipe us out.
I think some people think Paul makes lots of money at his job.  He makes decent money for a factory job, but it doesn't afford us to a life of ease, by any means.  We can afford what we have by careful spending and going without some things.
Every time I see an article with a title such as "The Best Ways to Save Money," I always eagerly read it.  And it's the same old tips that everyone knows.  "Give up Starbucks, make your coffee at home."  "Take your lunch to work."  "Check books out from the library instead of buying them."  Duh.  Seriously.  How about some tips for real people that already and have always done these things?
So I came up with my own list of ways to save money.  Some of them are in those articles.  But I'll take them a step further, and show you how we save.  And spew my opinions upon you.  (You were warned.)
Ditch movie rentals.  First we ditched the movie store for Netflix.  Then we ditched Netflix.  It wasn't worth the $8 a month we were spending on it.  We own probably over 50 children's videos, and twice that many grown up movies.  If we can't find anything to watch in that collection, we need to find something else to do.  We also found that there the access to profane movies and TV shows was a temptation on Netflix.  And by saving the monthly subscriptions, we have enough money to buy the [very occasional] movie that we think is good enough to add to our collection.  (We do use Redbox if we want to watch a recent movie that we don't think is worth buying.)
Stop eating out.  I realize that sometimes you have to eat out.  Even as much of a cheapskate as I am, I am not dedicated enough to pack a lunch when there's no avoiding being out over lunch, nor am I stoic enough to endure 45 minutes of whining meltdowns because my kids are hungry.  We do eat out, but when we do it, the boys and I can eat for $3 plus tax.  A dollar hamburger for each of us, and water to drink.  My husband is not quite on board with the dollar hamburger, and when he comes with us, the total more than doubles.  (Part of this is because when Daddy goes with us, it's a treat, and we get french fries, too! :) )  But even if you stick to the dollar menu, eating out just three times a week can add up to $30 a month!  Now, this is not to say we never eat out.  I think we average maybe 2-3 meals out a month.  And we splurge for special occasions, and usually don't cheapskate it for those special times.
Get rid of cable/satellite.  You see advice to cut back to the basic service to save money.  But why not ditch it altogether?  A lot of people don't realize that since over-the-air TV went digital a few years back, many stations have two stations, if not more.  With just "rabbit ear" antennas, we can pick up nearly 20 stations with little to no adjusting. Seriously - why would you need more than that?  And really, do you even need more than one?  As long as you can get the news in an emergency, I'd call that enough.
Stay out of WalMart!  If you know me at all, you know of my disdain for this place.  I'll admit, with their "price comps," it is possible to save money by shopping at WalMart.  But only if you stick to your list. WalMart preys on people that have no willpower.  Even I am not immune to it.  How many times do you go in for your regular groceries, and come out with something you didn't need?  If your kids don't need new clothes, stay out of the kids section!  If you don't need new throw pillows, don't browse the home goods section!  If you're not looking for a print cartridge, stay out of the electronics!  Get in, get your stuff, get out.  I don't usually let Paul go with me, because I am much better at sticking to my list if he's not there browsing while I shop.  Last month's splurge: a $1.74 flyswatter.  This month's:  a $2.22 cube of Post-Its.  I justify my splurges if they are something I will use and are less than about $4.
Quit buying processed food.  We buy a lot of pasta.  And rice.  They may not be the best for you, but they're better for you than the pre-packaged "just add water" rice and noodle packets.  A packet or Knorrs noodles may only be $1, but it doesn't even feed a whole family one meal.  Meanwhile, that same $1 can buy a pound of pasta, which you can add a little butter and spices to, and you have enough for 4 meals.  Not to mention it's so much healthier for you.  And do I even need to mention how much a soda habit costs?
Your kids don't need as much as you think they do.  This is probably the hardest one.  It is super hard to tell my kids no.  We went to the fair this summer, and had to tell the boys they couldn't ride the rides.  (Tickets were $3.50 each.)  Seeing their tears hurt.  But they got over it, and by the next week didn't even remember.  You may say, "I don't want my child to feel deprived."  But they can't feel deprived if they don't first feel entitled.  I heard somewhere that kids have so much not because kids want so much, but because parents want them to have so much.
Since my little sister moved to Africa, I think I've become more aware of how much our kids (and all kids in our country) have, and don't even realize or appreciate.  In her first letter to the boys, Carlsie told them about how the children there don't have any toys, and they make cars and trucks to play with out of sticks, rocks, and trash they find.  Meanwhile, my boys have 6 drawers and 2 shelves full of toys, and yet they ask for more.  Do they really need more?  If we happen to end up passing some toys in the store (and we always do - strategic marketing), I always tell them no. They may whine at the time, but they forget about it by the time we're home. If I go shopping without them, and I want to get them a "treat" so they know I was thinking about them, they get special fruit (like berries), or maybe chocolate milk - not a toy.  I have to tell them no when they ask for those off-season raspberries that cost $5 for a half-pint, when apples are $1.29/lb, and explain to them why we're going to get the apples.  My kids will grow up to appreciate the things they have, be responsible with money, and not feel like they are entitled to something just because they want it at the moment.
Internet on your phone.  Do you really need it?  How much is it costing you versus how much you need it?  Need it, not use it.  Facebooking on your phone is not a need.  We've got internet at our home, and whereas it would be nice sometimes to be able to look up price comparisons or merchandise reviews when you're in the store, is it worth the $30 or $40 more each month?  Or is it just taking your time and attention away from something more important, like paying attention to your kids?
Stay home.  I don't like going places.  Partly it's laziness - wrangling 3 kids on my own?  Pass.  Let's just stay home in our pajamas instead.  Partly it's the cost of fuel.  Seriously.  With gas prices what they are, you're talking at least $10 in gas just to get out of town.  But mostly if I'm out shopping, even if I'm just looking and not spending, it makes me feel not content with what I have (which in the light of what some get by with, is a lot).  Which leads to......
If you don't need it, don't buy it (i.e. self denial/self control).  Dave Ramsey says, "A sale is not an emergency."  No matter how much of a steal it is, if it's going to make you come up short before the next payday, you don't need it right now.  We've lived in this house 7 years, and I still don't have curtains in any room except the bedrooms.  We have blinds on all the windows, so the neighbors can't see in.  I really want some nice deck furniture, but even on sale it's too big of an expenditure for something that we don't need.  We've got a picnic table that Paul's dad made out of scrap lumber on the deck.  I want matching lamps and end tables in the living room.  But I've got a coffee table on one end, and an end table on the other, and a lamp with a defunct shade.  It works.  Even though it's not what I really want, these things work for now.  My house may not be the most beautiful, but my checkbook looks pretty good.  Another Dave Ramsey quote:  "Live like no one else, so that later, you can live like no one else."  Someday, if we stay on track and keep things tight, someday, I won't have to think so hard about every cent we spend.  You'd better believe that the instant this house is paid off, I am using the money on some serious face-lifting on this house.
And I do realize that if we put all the money we've spent in the last year or two on say, movies, together, I would have enough money to buy myself curtains.  But I also believe that sometimes you have to let go and splurge on something unnecessary (within reason, usually under $20).  Paul works hard for the money he brings home, so when he wants something, I try to make sure he gets it.  If you stay absolutely uptight, everything becomes about money, and that can not be good on your marriage.
So there you have it.  This is how I save money.  Not by couponing or comping, but by common sense.

(And thus ends the first installment of my overly opinionated posts.)
(And apparently my opinions are very long-winded!)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Be Forewarned:

I'm mulling over several blog entries, and I'm going to warn you ahead of time:  the next several entries will be chock-full of my opinions and convictions.  I've been thinking a lot, and I need to write these thoughts down.
I'm not one that thinks that just because I think and am convicted a certain way about something, I think everyone should abide by my convictions.  But I do think that hearing another's convictions should give you pause to think about your own.  Prepare to be offended if you don't agree.  Or even if you do agree, but don't want to face the truth.

So that's what I'm mulling on.  When I get time.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

August Update

I can't believe we are almost to the end of August.  Seriously.  Where has this month gone?
I've actually had a fairly productive month.  It started with my media Sabbath, and got better from there.  I have been spending less and less time on the Internet.  I haven't even been checking my email every day, and I've declared Fridays "Facebook Fridays."  I don't miss it; it's kind of freeing, actually.  I usually watch about 15-20 minutes of local news (network morning shows are complete jokes) each morning to catch the weather (I'm obsessed with weather reports) and find out if anything important is happening in the world.
I love walking.  I've been walking 2+ miles every morning on our roads.  I haven't lost much weight - only like 6 pounds in the last 3 or 4 weeks.  Frustrating, considering I've also been trying to eat better.  But I've had more energy and feel generally healthier.  But I also know that "slow and steady" is a better, more maintainable way to lose weight.
Keeping the house clean is NEV.ER.END.ING.  Good grief.  I've swept the floor every day (unheard of), and am trying to clean the kitchen after every meal.  It doesn't take ridiculously long, but added up, it seems like most of my day is in the kitchen or dining room, cooking, picking up or folding laundry.  (I know, my place is supposed to be in the kitchen.)  But I so much prefer the end results.  It's almost become habit, and it gets so it bugs me if there's stuff laying around.  This is a good thing!  Now, to get  it to bug the rest of my family enough they want to pick up as well......
Nathan has two days of preschool left.  As I predicted, we're going to finish it up just in time to start his Kindergarten.  We'll finish up on Friday, take a week off and then start up again on Labor Day.  (It's not a real holiday.)  We asked him what he wanted to do to celebrate being done with school, and he said he wanted to go on a picnic.  In our yard.  We talked him into going to the lake.
For his curriculum, I wasn't sure how much to do.  We settled on Math, Reading, and Science.  We're using Saxon math, and it actually is a step back from what he's already learned with the Answers in Genesis preschool curriculum.  But it covers much more than numbers - for example, the first lessons are about the calendar/days of the week.  So we'll have to keep up with his addition and subtraction so he doesn't forget all that.  The reading is a phonics approach; we're using A Beka.  And science is also A Beka.  It's actually 1st grade, but he's ready for it.  I think it's considered 1st, not because of the material, but that the student book is like a reader.  The first part of the year is health and manners, then the second is more "sciency."  We're going to try to do some social study/history type things, but the basics are more important.
Oh yeah.  I got these.
I'm sexy and I know it.
When I went to the eye doctor, he said my eyes aren't that bad and normally he wouldn't prescribe glasses.  But it is 30% worse than it was (from  "2" to  "3" points near-sighted, in his explanation).  And I think that that decline all happened in June when my eyeball swelled up, which is why it bugs me so much and I notice it.  We looked at our insurance, and it actually is really good, and pays 100% on glasses.  So I went ahead and got them, mostly for driving at night and whenever I am watching TV or reading lots on the computer (like now).  Apparently they look natural on me, because I've worn them to church twice and also to couples group and the only person that noticed was my best friend (besides my family, obviously).  Paul bestowed his most sincere compliment:  "Your glasses don't look that bad."  Praise indeed. :)
All 3 kids are kind of sick.  Just snotty noses and some coughing.  It wasn't enough to keep the boys from skinny dipping in the freshly cleaned dog pool.  But it still bothers me to hear them cough in their sleep, or to see snot dripping off of Jacob.  Zadie is handling it pretty well, too.
The little miss is not so little anymore.  I'm not sure what weight she's up to, but she's about to outgrow 3-6mo clothes.  Her 4-month birthday was last week.  I know she's teething; you can see the teeth changing the shape of her gums.  She is still so laid back and happy, though!  Oh my goodness, we love her.
Is she not absolutely beautiful?!
She's been sleeping downstairs in the playpen, so we can save money on a/c bills (she'd have to have a window unit).  It's been cooler lately, so she's been doing naps upstairs, and we put her up there the last two nights.  (Too hot again tonight, though.)  I thought it might be a big adjustment for her, but she took it with her usual laid-back nature.  Didn't fuss, didn't wake up.  If all babies were like her, I'd want to have 50 more.
I have had several "refuse to cook" weeks this summer, with this ridiculous heat.  So once again, I made Paul cook outside.  That grill has been completely worth the $100 we spent on it.
We perfected the grilled pizza.  The key is don't rush to get it on the grill, let the heat get down.  And don't screw with the heat once it's on there!  The thermometer reads about 100 lower when there's a pan in there.
Veggie Pizza - tomatoes, peppers, onions, zucchini, mushrooms, and olives.
 The more fat there is in bread, the better the flavor. (E.g. when you make the dough with milk versus water.) And cheese just makes it amazing!
"Breadsticks" - I'm too lazy to form the individual ones, so I press the dough into a pan and top it with spices and cheese.
 This whole meal (minus the buns, I guess, this time) on the grill.  Grilled curly fries - amazing!
 These deserve their own picture.  Bacon-wrapped green beans.  Fresh green beans, wrapped in bacon, sprinkled with brown sugar, garlic, and dry mustard (1/4 c sugar, 1 tsp each garlic and mustard).  SO GOOD.  Add a little water and cook for about 20 minutes, then take the foil off and cook until the bacon crisps up.  If my fall beans in the garden produce, I'm pretty sure this will be what I use all of them for.

Okay.  I need to get to bed.  That's a sampling of what I can think of that we've been up to lately.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Work in Progress

So I've been sitting on the broom/dustpan picture for quite a while, intending to use it for my blog header.  (Yes, I took the picture.  And no, I did not intentionally sweep the dirt into the heart shape.  But when I noticed it, I just had to take a picture.)
The header and layout is a work in progress.  I'm not totally happy with the yellow font, but going into Paint and changing it is proving to be more of a pain in the backside than it's worth right now.  So I'll get around to a different look..... eventually.


I had an awesomely productive day yesterday.  I fully cleaned the kitchen and dining room (which actually weren't that bad), and even mopped the floors for the second time in a matter of weeks.  (I think I need to see a doctor....)  I got all the laundry folded and put away.  I did school with Nathan and cooked a nice supper.  I had that victorious feeling of almost being on top of the housework.  Today, the plan was to clean the bathroom and sort toys/movies/books and vacuum the living room.  Paul would come home to a shining house and be able to kick back and relax while I served him supper in high heels and pearls.... (ha ha)
So of course I wake up not feeling well.  It's not to the point of not being able to do anything, but definitely making me feel tired and lethargic.  I'm watering trees outside, and my legs feel heavy and my joints ache as I walk across the yard.  I had to take a nap.  I did manage to tidy up the kitchen and dining room of the school and lunch mess, but that's about all that I've managed, other than sitting on the couch contemplating my cramping gut and churning stomach.
Does this happen to anyone else?  It seems like it happens every time I'm getting with it on the housework - I get sick.  I don't know what it is, whether it's my body complaining about the mutiny from it's usual state of laziness and complacency, or God keeping me from getting too proud of myself and having a clean house.
On the upside, what allowed yesterday's productiveness and today's nap was the fact that the little miss took a 5 hour nap yesterday and a 4 hour nap today.  I put her upstairs in her crib, which I've only done a handful of other times.  But I think the quiet and dark is helping her sleep.  (And the fact she may be going through a growth spurt.)  We've been having her sleep in her playpen in our front room so we don't have to pay an a/c bill for her window unit.  The last couple nights have been pretty cool (low 60s), so with the windows open and fan on, combined with the fact it's on the west side and no sun comes in the window 'til about 1, it was pretty comfortable up there at 11 when I put her down.
Oh well.  She's awake now and she's voicing her opinion of me being on the computer.  Back to it.

Monday, August 6, 2012

V for Vendetta

So I mentioned in this post about the bug infestation we got in our kitchen.
Still gagging about that.  Ulgh.
Indian meal moth a type of pantry moth
These are what the little buggers looked like.  They're called pantry moths/flour moths/meal moths, and are about 1/2" long.  They were everywhere.  For probably two weeks afterwards, I would go on a rampage whenever I saw one, and go hunting and kill at least a half dozen (daily, if not multiple times each day) - opening cupboards, looking at the underside of the cabinets, and pulling chairs into the kitchen to swat them off the ceilings.  I still am opening the cupboard at least once a day and looking for them.  The boys got used to seeing me go from walking calmly through the house to going all ninja on one flying through the air - they don't even ask what I'm doing.  But I am determined to rid our house of these things!  I cannot describe to you how absolutely disgusting cleaning all that out was - and I made Paul do it, so I wasn't even the one handling the stuff!  One live moth means the possibility of baby moths.
Just in the last few days, I've finally stopped seeing them.  Every once in a while, I'll see a small moth in the living room, but I think they're something different.  (I kill them anyways.  "If it flies, it dies.")

Saturday, August 4, 2012

This Is Why I Oppose Gay Marriage

This article has excellent points.  It's rather long, but it helped me put my thoughts together on this controversial subject.

If we don't maintain and define "marriage" as between one man and one woman, preaching tolerance, and "acceptance of one's orientation," then, by default, we must allow anyone to marry anyone or anything.  If we allow two men or two women to marry because "they love one another," then we must also allow a man who wants to marry two women, a bisexual who wants to marry a woman and a man, a man who wants to marry a young boy or girl (because I'm sure, in their own twisted way, they do sometimes love each other), a man who wants to marry his cousin, his sister, or even his daughter, or a woman who wants to marry her cat.  Because if the qualification is "we love each other," if marriage is not defined as "between one man and one woman," then we must allow anyone to marry under the mantra of being "tolerant."  Gays say we (conservative Christians) are intolerant, but they themselves are, because they would say that gays should be allowed to marry, but not any of the above who "love each other."
If we ignore 6,000 years of history (up until the last 20 years) of marriage being known as only between a man and a woman, it's a slippery slope of what is allowable.
And that is why I oppose gay marriage.

(Besides the fact that God's Word explicity says homosexuality is a sin. I Corinthians 6:9-11)

I Hate Housework

I hate housework.  I really do.  I keep thinking it will come to the point that I enjoy it, find it soothing, blah blah blah.  No.  I just hate it.
Especially the dining room.  Seriously.  It is the bane of my existence.  It will not stay clean.  Last week, I spent four hours - four hours! - just sorting through the CRAP piled on the table and tall cupboard....  That FOUR HOURS didn't even include the stuff on the floor or sweeping and mopping.  It was the recent crap, like junk mail and schoolwork, and two-months-old crap that I had stashed in a box when we were having company over back in June.  Part of the reason it took so long is because (with the exception of filing old bills) I put everything where it belongs.
But seriously.  The dining room.  I could spend an hour cleaning just that room every day.  Ugh.  EVERYTHING ends up in that room.  It's the crossroads of any activity in the house.  To get to any other room, you have to go through the dining room.  Besides eating there, it's also our schoolroom, office, and craft room (and kind of our back porch as well).  Our most-used door to the outside is there (even though I'm trying to change that).  Dirt, food, pets, toys, clothes (the socks!), shoes, schoolwork, mail, dishes, blankets, hats, baby bouncy seat and/or exersaucer, laundry baskets, burp rags, shopping bags, to-be-returned things, my purse, the diaper bag..... GAAAH!  And that's just from one day.  (Keep in mind this is not a large room - maybe 20x12?) I try to get the boys and Paul to put things away, but apparently this concept doesn't compute in the male mind.  Stashing it somewhere or shoving it to the side, for me to put away later doesn't help me at all, and in fact, makes me grouchy.  And I'll admit:  it's my own things laying around, too.  (Especially the shoes.....)
I'm trying something new......    It's called the "touch it once" policy.  If I pick something up off the floor or table, instead of stashing it, I go put it away.  This is not the most convenient, as anyone with kids knows, to go put something away when breaking up a fight or soothing a fussy baby, but it does help my sanity at the end of the day.  I don't always manage to get stuff put away right away, but I'm getting better.  And I'm trying to instill it in the others that live here - but as I said, it's not computing, and just coming off as ungrateful nagging and "Mommy's mean."  I don't get it completely clean every day, but at least the pile doesn't grow every day.
Please tell me that this is "just a stage" - that it gets better as the kids get older!  How do you train your kids in orderliness?  Not just the "how to" but the "want to."  I don't need the room to be shining every day, just not buried under clutter.
Now I need to go finish it up before bed.
Sigh again.