February 27, 2010

Tired of Stuff

I'm surrounded by stuff.  My clothes closet is jammed packed with clothes.  Many of the items I don't wear anymore.  I need to be bold and go in there and get rid of the stuff.  Then there is the old craft stuff.  Unfinished crafts from 20 years ago.  They need to go.  I have files of papers and saved magazine articles. Then there are the kitchen cupboards. I have too much furniture, too many games and puzzles and more stuff than a family needs to have.  It's time to get rid of all that stuff.  Do you sense a theme here?

The problem with getting rid of stuff is that you can start to purge a closet and then you become overwhelmed and give up.  I am not going to sit on the floor of my bedroom and spend time becoming emotionally attached to clothes that either don't fit me anymore or are out of style.

What is the point of owning things that you can't get to, that you have even forgotten that you own or that have no use or purpose? 

I am going to devote 2 hours each week to going through my stuff and getting rid of things.  One local charity makes it very easy to donate items.  You pull up along the back of their building, push a button and then their doors slide open and there is someone there to help you unload the items you are going to donate.  How easy is that? 

I would rather open closets that have a moderate amount of items in them than open doors to closets that are stuffed full of things. In the end I will be bringing more peace into my daily life.  Who doesn't crave peace?

February 26, 2010

Clothes to fit "real" women

Does any manufacturer make clothes for real women?  We women do have hips and we do have curves but sometimes I feel that manufacturers think we are a straight line from our necks to our ankles.  And if we do happen to find something that fits, it is probably way to short in length or the neckline is way too low, it is loose in one area and too tight in another, the fabric is too thin or the garment is not made very well. 

I have been on the hunt for a jean skirt for a long time and I have just about given up. Either the skirt is far too big in the waist or it is too tight in the hips. Then there is the problem with the slit – it is either slit up the back too high or in the front – way too high. This is ridiculous.

In the summer I prefer to wear knee length or just above the knee skirts during the day as they are much cooler than shorts or even capris. Now, I don’t want to dress like a teenager and I am not ready to dress like an old lady. I like to wear pretty feminine clothes such as cami’s with a lightweight sweater; just above the knee skirts; a top that doesn’t have a neckline too high and not way too low either; I love a little lace on a cotton camisole. I have collected some vintage clothing patterns and I love a pattern that flatters a woman’s figure but does not show a lot.

Problem is until now, I haven’t had the time to do a lot of sewing.

My denim skirt hunt continued in stores and I have gone to Goodwill. The next step was to shop online, but I hate to shop online for a hard to fit item because of the price of return shipping. I went online today and I noticed something. Wrap skirts are becoming popular again.

Several sites had cute wrap skirts in all sorts of fabrics and styles. That was my answer. Forget the denim skirt, I can make wrap skirts in a few different colors or prints and that will take care of the mainstay of my wardrobe.

I purchased three wrap skirt patterns (on clearance) and I can hardly wait to make these skirts. The only drawback to a wrap skirt is that when the wind blows the wrap can fly open. I will either sew the wrap shut or I will sew a snap or figure some way to keep the wrap closed.

McCalls 2192

McCall's 3145
McCalls M5430

All of the patterns do not require a great deal of skill and best of all do not require a great deal of fabric. I’m pumped and can hardly wait to find some fabric and start sewing. Years ago, when I was in my teens I sewed a majority of my clothes. I haven’t sewn in years because I didn’t have the time. I always enjoyed sewing.

So, I didn’t find a denim skirt. I don’t think I will want one after I get my skirts made.

February 23, 2010

When your child struggles in school

The hardest part in being a parent is seeing your child struggle in school.  Our youngest DS, for lack of a better word, hates math.  My DH spends a considerable amount of time helping him every night.  We're talking hours.  Our DS has plodded along getting decent grades but last night he hit a brick wall. If you have a teenager in your household you know the look.  It is kind of a glazed over the eyes, I don't care anymore look.  I just want this to be over. 

Our DS gets really good grades in his other classes, he is not a discipline problem at school or at home and he has a great interest in current events and politics.  He attends the school board meetings and city council meetings.  He is on a local community committee involved in promoting our downtown area and he is also on student council.  For him to want to give up scared me.  Or perhaps it is the fact that I understand what it is like to have to put hours into studying something that does not interest me.  I've been there.  I hated math too and subsequently I didn't get a lot of sleep last night worrying about him. 

This morning I made a phone call and have hired a private tutor to help him.  The tutor is a family friend and he and his wife tutor a lot of students in math. 

It will cost us around $15 per session - twice a week.  That is a considerable sum to add to our budget, but we can make cuts in other areas.  These are friends of ours and they have given us a break on what they normally charge. What they earn from tutoring helps to pay their bills (they have two small children) and I would never ask them to tutor our son for free.  Besides here is where the stockpiled pantry is going to come in handy.

Anytime we face an expenditure, I determine whether it is a want or a need.  This is a need and we will gladly pay for the tutoring if it alone gives our DS some confidence in the area of math and helps him improve his skills and his grade.

Education is a high priority in our family and sometimes we have to go the extra mile with our kids to help them out.  Our DS is so happy that we are sending him to this tutor as he knows it is going to help him.  I am happy as it relieves the stress from my DH having to spend hours each evening reteaching math to our DS. 

When I was in high school I had a lot of difficulty with Algebra and Geometry.  I would spend hours in the evening trying to figure problems out and I wanted desperately to understand the subject so that I could get a good grade. I was an A student in every class, except in math I was a C and sometimes D student.  It always bothered me. 

The irony of all of this is that our oldest DS majored in mathematics in college and earned his Master's degree last year.  He loves math and it comes quite easy for him.  Too bad he lives in another state.

No matter how old they get, they are still our babies.  When they are struggling or hurting, we feel it just as much as they do.  If I can make a financial sacrifice that in the end will give him confidence and understanding of math, then it is money very well spent.

Do you have a child that struggles in a subject in school?

February 20, 2010

Another snowstorm?? Time to bake cookies

Another snowstorm is predicted for tomorrow with our area of the state to get the brunt of the storm.  Okay -- enough already.  Now we are close to breaking the measurable snow fall record that goes back to 1911.  I would rather break a record in the Olympics.  Do you suppose that if you live in a State when a snowfall record is broken, that all the residents in the State get a golden snow flake award?  Someone needs to look into this.

My way of dealing with winter is to bake. My favorite thing to bake during the winter is cookies.  Yes, I love to bake cookies.  The main reason is that my family loves to have a full cookie jar.  It is pretty easy to please them.

Back in December when I was stocking up on all those good deals on baking supplies I snagged about 15 bags of Hershey's mini chocolate kisses at 99 cents a bag.  Today I used my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe and used the mini kisses instead of semi-sweet chocolate chips.  They are oh so good.

My chocolate chip cookie recipe is the standard recipe from the back of the chocolate chip bag with one variation.  The recipe calls for 2 1/4 cups of flour and I add another 1/4 cup of flour to the dough.  The result is cookies that aren't as flat and they hold their shape better.  They are still a little crunchy around the edges and soft in the middle.  Perfect.

My family prefers basic old fashioned cookies and here are their favorites.  Chocolate Chip is number one.  Then comes oatmeal, oatmeal molasses, snickerdoodles, rolled sugar cookies, peanut butter, oatmeal carmalitas and brownies. 

What is your family's favorite cookie?

February 17, 2010

Everything I know about keeping a home, I learned in Home Ec.

Lately I have been thinking a lot about my Home Ec. classes that I took in junior high and high school. Yes, those were back in the days when it was called Home Ec. Now it is referred to as Family and Consumer Sciences.

I honestly believe that those classes were some of the most valuable classes that I ever took in preparing me for life. No matter what we do in our lives, knowing how to cook, bake, sew (especially to sew on a button), plan a meal and create a budget, are all great skills to have in your repertoire.

I took my first Home Ec. class in 7th grade in 1971. I remember baking muffins for the first time ever in that class. I also remember when we had a budgeted amount to spend on a meal and we had to purchase, cook, set the table and invite a teacher to come and join us for the meal. I learned to roast and carve my first turkey in that class. We were taught how to bake a cake from scratch and decorate it. An entire year was spent on the science of foods from cooking and baking and meal management to nutrition.

Then in 8th grade, it was clothing construction. I learned to sew that year and I remember that my very first project was making a stuffed animal – a frog. From there I made a top to wear with my ever stylish bell bottom jeans. Then we learned to sew other more difficult pieces of clothing. I began to sew all of my clothes in 8th grade. Our family didn’t have a lot of money, so learning to sew really helped with our family clothing budget. Also, I was able to wear a lot more stylish clothes because I sewed them myself.

We studied fabrics and textiles and learned how to wash clothes and why some fabrics needed to be dry cleaned and what dry cleaning really was. 7th and 8th grade Home Ec. classes were required. After that, all Home Ec. classes were elective.

I enrolled in Home Ec. classes throughout my high school years. My last Home Ec. class in my senior year taught me how to refinish furniture. This is another skill that has come in quite handy.

Yes, I have been looking back and thinking about everything I learned in Home Ec. such as: sewing, interior decorating, baking/cooking, learning cooking terms, cooking on a budget, dinner etiquette, goal setting, time management, consumerism, color and design, first aid, child development, budgeting, marriage and family, food and nutrition, clothing construction, meal management, child care, fashion, and textiles and designs. Everything I was taught in those classes has served me well in my life.

Home Ec. classes were becoming quite unpopular when I was in High School. It was 1974 so who needed Home Ec.? The Women’s Lib movement was in full gear and focusing on a career associated with the home was deeply frowned on. I didn’t care as I loved those classes.

Home Ec. prepared me for the future. I used everything I learned in those classes about keeping a home even when I was working full time. I refer back to some of the information I learned every now and then. Yes, I still have a notebook of my old Home Ec. syllabus and papers.

A few years back I noticed this book at Barnes and Noble and I snatched it up right away.

Home Comforts by Cheryl Mendelson

I love this book as it reminds me of all of my old Home Ec. textbooks and it is a book I refer to quite often. So, what skill did you learn in Home Ec. that you are using in your life right now?

February 16, 2010

The Bathroom Remodel was Easy Compared with Finding a Shower Curtain

In March of 2009 we had saved up enough money to have our main floor bathroom remodeled. It was in terrible condition.  The tub was cracked and the toilet had issues.  The sink was pulling away from the wall, just to name a few of the problems.  The prior owners to our home had done a lot of the "cosmetic" renovations themselves and they should have saved their time and hired out instead.  The walls in the bathroom were uneven from where the drywall did not meet.  I'm not kidding.  Also if there was any type of oak - wicker accessory available in 1982 when they remodeled, then they bought it.  For a small bathroom all the walls were covered with shelves, mirrors and cabinetry.  It was awful.

It was a hard decision when it came to parting with the money.  We did know at the time that there was a good chance that I would be losing my job that summer so this made the decision more difficult. After a lot of thought we decided to go ahead and spend the money as it would definitely add to the value of the house.  With all the other remodeling jobs that we need to do to our house, this is the only project that we cannot do on our own.  Also the bathroom needed to be done as we were having plumbing issues with the tub and toilet and so we bit the bullet and spent the money.  The key here is this:  we had saved up.  We didn't need to borrow the money and best of all, we never went over budget.

When we had the money saved up, we hired a contractor and he got to work making it a bathroom that we were not afraid to have a guest use.  When he gutted the bathroom we found wallpaper from the World War I era.  It was beautiful.  Then we found lime green, pink and yellow wallpaper from the 60's.  Oh my.  I never took pictures of the bathroom before it was remodeled because I knew I will never, ever forget what that room looked like. 

I was determined to not have a too modern looking bathroom in an old Victorian house and I was also determined that we were going to stay on budget and not break the bank.  This meant I would be putting in a lot of sweat labor while working a 50 hour per week job. 

I spent hours taking layers of paint off of the woodwork around the door frame and the door itself.  We found a local carpenter that was able to mill woodwork to match the rest of the 125 year old woodwork in our downstairs, then I stained it.  It took me 18 hours to get the layers of paint off of the radiator.  Yes, it was hard work but the result was a nice bathroom with touches of the past. 

This bathroom is used by our youngest son and also by overnight guests. 

Yes - I still need to stain some of the door frame

The infamous radiator.

Picking out the cabinetry, the fixtures, the tile flooring and the wall color was easy in comparison to finding a shower curtain.  For the past year the only thing up in the shower is the white vinyl liner.  I had searched the internet, been to Bed, Bath and Beyond and numerous other stores to find a shower curtain.  While we were on vacation I went into stores and looked.  I then started to look into fabric stores to find what I was looking for.  Then I started to ask myself, "what am I looking for?" I knew I wasn't looking for anything "modern" or with butterflies or flowers all over it.  It had to be something that was vintage looking.

Yesterday I was at Wal-mart looking at Valentine fabric and I looked across to some new bolts of fabric that they had just received and there it was.  Yep - I had found what I was looking for.  It is perfect.

The colors on the fabric look great with the wood, the wall color, the tile floor and the sink.  I am so excited to finally, after almost 1 year, have a shower curtain for that bathroom.  Rather I should say the fabric to make a shower curtain. 

Perhaps this post isn't very frugal, but I wanted to get across that sometimes spending money can be a good investment.  Especially if that money has been diligently saved up for the project.  I would have never been comfortable with taking out a home improvement loan.  If we didn't have the money to remodel the entire bathroom, we would have had to make a decision about what we would be able to afford to fix in that bathroom.  Pulling out the cracked bathtub was going to lead to replacing some plumbing, getting the walls fixed and so on. 

Putting money into a bathroom remodel has added value to our home.  It had to be done.  Now when guests need to use our bathroom, I don't cringe.

February 15, 2010

An Iowa Delicacy

When I moved to this area of Iowa 22 years ago, I was introduced to a main dish that is served quite regularly at church dinners.  It is famous in our area of the state.  What is it called?  Ham Balls.  Yep.  Ham Balls.  Now before you start letting your mind run wild wondering if this is some portion of a pig's body that is clipped and cooked, I will let you in on the recipe.  Here it is for you to enjoy.

Ham Balls

Meat Mixture:

1 1/4 lbs. ground ham  (I buy a boneless ham and grind it in my food processor.)
1 lb. ground pork
1 lb. hamburger
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 eggs


1 can tomato soup
1 cup brown sugar
6 tablespoons white vinegar
1 tablespoon prepared mustard

Mix together the meat mixture and form into meat ball size.  Mix the sauce ingredients and pour over the ham balls and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.

At our local grocery stores you can buy what is called "Ham Loaf Mixture" which is the ham, pork and beef mixture already mixed together and sold by the pound.

Yes, this is a big deal dish in our area of the state.  I have seen women take ham balls to church potlucks hoping that someone would rate their ham balls better than another woman's.  I know, just the words "ham balls" sounds kind of silly.

Both of my sons and my daughter in law and my husband love this dish. It is good, I must admit it.  So, if you want to try something new and different, give it a whirl.   

February 13, 2010

Lunch with my BFF

One week ago my BFF called me to see if I would like to go shopping with her in Des Moines and have lunch out.  We do this about once a year.  It is our day away shopping in the "big" city.  This week our family hit a budget crunch and I knew that we could not afford to have me go shopping and go out to eat.  My DH disagreed and he handed me some cash for lunch and told me to go.  In his words "sometimes you just need to get away."  I felt guilty, but I went.

We stopped at Kohl's and began to look at the sales racks.  My BFF picked out several items to try on and I found out that there are some really ugly clothes out there.  Who wears this stuff?  Perhaps that is why the clearance racks were full. 

My BFF earns a 6 figure salary whereas our total family income is far below that.  Money has never been an issue in our friendship.  She has always been able to buy anything she wants so she was not limited to the clearance racks. 

I followed her around the store helping her look for certain items. While she tried on clothes, I searched the racks.  Guess what?  I was having fun and I wasn't the one spending big bucks on clothes. 

After she had tried on a bunch of clothes and shoes we headed to the bath section as I have been on the search for a new shower curtain for over a year.  By this time we were kind of silly and she suggested that I purchase the Curious George shower curtain.  The sad thing about it is that I think my DS would like that in his bathroom.  We were laughing and having a good time.

From Kohl's off we went to Bed, Bath and Beyond.  I was looking at the drapes and all of them had tassels and ribbons hanging from them.  My BFF commented that "it looks like a giant cat toy."  Now we are getting to the point that the shopping is over and we are making fun of designers, so it was time for lunch at the Macaroni Grill.  We were laughing all the way out of Bed, Bath and Beyond and we were still giggling when we walked into the Macaroni Grill. 

That is what it is like when we get together.  We get silly and we have fun being girlfriends. 

We had left at 9:00 a.m. and were home by 3:00 p.m.  My DH was right.  Lunch out with my BFF and helping her shop for clothes was just what I needed - girl time.  Oh and as to lunch - it was $15.00 with tip.  It felt so good to sit down in a decent restaurant, be served, listen to beautiful Italian music and enjoy some time with my BFF.

As a side note, I grew up in Jamestown, New York.  Jamestown is Lucille Ball's birthplace.  My BFF is my Ethel and this clip from I Love Lucy sums up our friendship.

Stockpiling isn't for everyone

Today I wanted to post something in addendum to yesterday's post. Yes, I have a lot of food in my freezer and pantry. Last night I sat down and started to take an inventory of my pantry. I realized that the majority of the canned goods that I have in my pantry have expiration dates into mid 2011 and 2012.

Other items such as cereal and flour and such will expire by the end of this year.

I began stockpiling 1 year ago and I got into it big time in the fall.  In the end I saved my family money by buying in bulk when items went on sale.

This is not for everyone. Since I don’t have young children at home I can shop alone at grocery stores and spend a little more time finding a good deal.  Maintaining a pantry of my size takes a little time also.

If you are thinking of starting to buy in bulk and put extra food aside in a pantry, start small and work your way up to a level that you are able to manage. It doesn’t do anyone any good if you are spending a lot of time researching sales, couponing, shopping and maintaining a pantry if you are miserable doing it.

Everyone has their level of “comfort” when it comes to any task. If I didn’t enjoy doing this, I wouldn’t spend the time doing it.

February 12, 2010

Family Finances and Trust

Throughout our married life my DH and I have traded the job of keeping track of our money and paying bills. My husband is an accountant and for the past 12 years it has been his job to take care of our finances. I found out something about myself 12 years ago and that was that I was tired of taking care of our finances but I didn’t want to give up the control. That was dumb. My DH doesn’t keep anything from me and I ask questions every now and then. I trust him and I let go of my control to know about every single penny that we spent or earned. Letting go of my control did not mean that I let go of making financial decisions for our family. We do that together.

Being an accountant, my DH tracks our spending in different categories BUT he does not control what I spend. In other words he has never told me I could or could not buy something or spend more than I had planned on groceries for example. He trusts me and he knows that I am quite aware of our financial situation and I wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize our finances. We do not have a weekly meeting about our finances. I know what our bills are and what our goals are for savings. If I have a question, I simply ask.

I trust him and he trusts me.

So, how do I know when our savings is running low or if money is getting a little tight? 1. He tells me. 2. I ask him. 3. I check our bank balance.

1. He tells me.

When I say he tells me that does not mean that he takes me by the hand and directs me to the dining room table where he has his laptop on and shows me an excel spreadsheet or a quicken report. He doesn’t go line by line to show me where we are over spending or where there has been an extra expense we haven’t planned. I live in this house too and I know when a vehicle has broken down, the plumber has been called to repair something and so on. I am aware of extra expenses. On the contrary, this is what is usually said: “We’ve had a lot of expenses over the past month.” That is all that he has to say to get the message to me that our savings are down, we have spent extra this month on whatever and we need to tighten our belts.

Last night, he said just that. I knew that in the past 30 days we have had car repair bills, doctor bills, optometrist bill for me (and my DS is going there this morning) and some other normal extra expenses. I thought we had stayed on track for our Christmas spending but as it turns out when my DH sat down and really “crunched the numbers”, we had overspent. YIKES.

2. I ask him.

Some couples put the role of family finances on one person and then they let that person carry the burden of that job. In the alternative the person that is paying the bills might not like to reveal what is and isn’t being paid. These are family finances and since we are a family I ask questions when I need to and I don’t leave the entire burden on my DH.

3. I check our account balance

I can go on line, check the balance at the ATM or call the bank. If I am getting cash from the ATM I always get the bank balance while I am there. I don’t put my head in the sand and let my DH take care of everything. After all we are married and we are a team. I want full disclosure and I can have it anytime I want it.

Action Plan

When my DH told me “We’ve had a lot of expenses over the past month” that sentence put me into action. (I might add that there was a certain tone to his voice that told me that he was quite concerned.) I started to make a list of any extra expenses I knew that we were going to occur over the next 6 months.

My DS wants a letter jacket. He has lettered in orchestra and when his brother was in 9th grade we bought him a letter jacket for lettering in cross country. It will cost around $200. Yes, this is not a necessity. It is a reward for hard work and he does deserve it. I will find a way to save up for that jacket.

Upcoming family birthdays, mother’s day, father’s day. We have in-law birthdays along with mine and my DH. I can make some gifts and others we will have to be a little more creative. For example, there is nothing wrong in purchasing used books or DVD’s for a gift along with a little homemade gift. I will work on making up a list of gift ideas and if I decide to sew or cross stitch a gift, I will need to plan ahead. I am already now thinking about Christmas 2010.

Vacation. We need to drive to Western New York this year where my mother lives. She lives in a small apartment so we will need to stay in a hotel. Between gasoline, hotel and food we have to save up quite a sum of money. Add to that the fact that my mother is not very nice to us (my own sister has totally disowned her); it is not a pleasant “vacation.” We only visit her every other year. Perhaps I will post sometime about what my life was like growing up and how that made me strive to be a better parent than my mother was to me. As a small taste, I grew up every day being told I was a “big dummy.” It is hard to set aside money for this major expenditure, all things considering, but she is still my mother and we have an obligation.

Major household repairs. Our roof is definitely showing signs of needing replaced. I do believe that we may get another year out of it. Our furnace is 28 years old (boiler furnace) and you just never know. We need to get more money into savings for this category.

Paint. We will need to paint our house again this summer. Paint is expensive and we don’t buy our exterior paint at Walmart. We will head to Sherwin Williams (the only paint store in town) to purchase a decent quality paint. Paint is expensive. A gallon on sale can run $30.00. We need to plan for this.

I think for some couples when they see what lies before them financially speaking it can be discouraging. But as I have said before, I am always up for a challenge. Yes, when the economy picks up I can go out and find a job. I really don’t want to do that unless it would absolutely be necessary. After all it doesn’t matter whether I am working outside of the home or not, the exterior of the house will still need to be painted, the downstairs of our house will still need to have the plaster repaired and painted and so on. These are all projects we can do and want to do. It is a tradeoff.

We have debt and are on track to having most of it paid off by August 2011. By then our only debt will be our mortgage payment and my car payment.

So where are we going to get the extra money to put in savings for our extra expenses? I am looking at that today. One major area is groceries. Last month’s pantry challenge only made a dent in what I have in the freezer and my pantry. Of course I did deviate from the challenge when I purchased some stockpiled items instead of only purchasing what was necessary.  Here is what my pantry and freezer look like as of today:

I also have another bin of brown sugar and confectioner's sugar

But wait, there is more ...

5 Bins of cereal items

Plenty of Pasta

How much toilet paper does a family need?

Yes, we have just the one freezer. 
I know - you must be surprised.

Now I'm starting think that I may have to sign up for that t.v. show on hoarding.

Today I am going to spend my morning making up an inventory of my pantry. Everything has been labeled with an expiration date or date of purchase. When I am putting items away in my pantry I always take a marker and write the expiration date on the outside of the item. Now I am going to go downstairs, sit at a table with my laptop and make up a spread sheet of exactly how many cans I have of what and when it is due to expire. I need to do this. Then I will know exactly what is down there and how I should be incorporating those items into my menu planning and get them used up before they expire. In the 1 year that I have practiced stockpiling I have not had to throw out anything due to an expired date of expiration.

This afternoon I am going to inventory and organize my freezer. I have been keeping an inventory list but I know there some things that I have taken out or some things that I have put in the freezer that missed the list.

I will then have the information I need to sit down and make up some menus for several weeks or even a couple of months or more. I am sure I will be surprised when I realize the amount of meals I will be getting out of my freezer and pantry. Also, I want to try some new recipes and this is as good of time as any to try some new food combinations.

As to stockpiling, while I am using up what I have in my freezer and pantry there frankly isn’t room for any “new” food in my freezer or pantry. I need to use up what we have and only buy perishables. Perhaps I should post what I have on hand and what meals I am going to make from those items. It would be wonderful to hear what others would suggest.

It has been exactly 6 months since I have been home. I look back over that time and see that we have had some setbacks financially but I have also seen areas of spending that we have reduced and made some positive changes in our finances. For savings we have always had an amount that we said we would never go under and unfortunately due to extra expenses we have gone under that amount. But we have not had to rely on credit cards for paying extra expenses. We have had the money in savings for those expenses and it is empowering not to have to reach for the plastic.

The extra money that we need to replenish savings and plan for future expenses is going to come from my basement. Yep, I will be grocery shopping from my basement for a long time. Kind of makes me think of when I was a little girl and I would pretend to have a store and would go grocery shopping in my mother’s kitchen. Maybe I need to find a little cart and download some grocery store music to my MP3 player so I can get the full experience.

February 10, 2010

New job for my DH

Back in January I wrote a post about worry and towards the end I told how I felt my DH's job was in the toilet.  Well much has changed.  12 days ago my DH received a phone call from the president of a local company.  He had a job opening and wanted to hire my DH. We know this man and when someone in his company took another job, he remembered my DH.

The job is a dream job, but it isn't without risks.  It is a smaller company than the one he works at now so in time it could be bought out by another company.  He has decided the regret of not taking that job far outweigh any risks. 

Since this has happened my DH is so happy.  He will be making the same amount of money and will receive the same benefits but there is a major difference.  The president of the company will be his boss and they mutually respect each other. 

We are blessed.

Sweating the Small Stuff

In order to live on one income, you can’t continue spending like you still have two incomes. Okay, everyone knows this, however some people don’t embrace it and find themselves in financial trouble. Expenses have to be cut when income decreases. It is just a fact.

In the past few months I have taken on the mantra of “Sweating the Small Stuff.” Yes small cutbacks on expenses can add up to big savings over time. However, it is getting into the mind set of seeing that those small savings on nickels, dimes and dollars adds up. We may think that it is not worth the trouble if it is only going to save a dollar right now. But over time, perhaps annually, it could lead to bigger savings.

Look at the big picture. That $1.00 a week saved by using a coupon or buying store brand cereal adds up to $52 annually. If someone said to you “I can guarantee you $52 in savings” you would listen.

Sweating the small stuff adds up to big savings annually. Here is what I have done with our budget (or challenge as I have come to call it):

Netflix – We reduced our membership to one at a time, unlimited. We are still able to get a good movie on dvd and we now make a conscientious effort to view movies or documentaries on line. Savings - $1.25 per week; $5.00 per month; $60 per year.

Haircuts for my DH and DS - I have learned to cut their hair. At the salon the stylist used clippers on their hair. Both were willing to have me give it a try. The cost of the clippers paid for themselves after 2 haircuts. Savings - $7.50 per week; $30.00 per month; $360.00 per year.

Laundry Soap – I make my own. Savings - $0.785 per week; $3.14 per month; $37.68 per year.

My Haircuts - I used to get my hair cut every 4 weeks and now I get my hair cut every 6 weeks. Savings – $2.00 per week; $8.00 per month; $96.00 per year

My Eyebrows – I would have my eyebrows waxed at the salon when it was time for a haircut. I now do it myself. Savings - $2.50 per week; $10.00 per month; $120.00 per year.

My Hair care Products – I used to buy my shampoo, conditioner, root lifter, etc. at the salon. I have found products such as Pantene and Suave that work just as well or better. Also, I add to the savings by using coupons for these products. Savings - $2.50 per week; $10.00 per month; $120.00 per year.

Pet Savings – We have a black lab and we use a lot of dog cookies over the course of a month. I now make my own using whole wheat flour, saved fat from meat, broth from cooking down bones and such. (As a side note, we only buy Iams dog food for our dog and our cat is on vet food. We will not skimp on their main food source.) Savings - $2.00 per week; $8.00 per month; $96.00 per year.

Magazine Subscriptions: When it has come time to renew some of my subscriptions, I have elected to let them go. I have found that even though I am home I still don’t have the time to sit down and read them. A lot of the “women” magazines repeat the same topics or articles and I can look at these online. Savings: $1.25 per week; $5.00 per month; $60.00 per year

Savings from above: $19.785 per week; $79.14 per month; $949.68 per year

Grocery Savings – By cooking and baking from scratch (I bake my own breads, noodles and so on), through the use of coupons and stockpiling sale items, I have reduced my grocery bill. I used to spend around $500 per month for the 3 of us. This is what I was spending when we went to one income. Now I spend between $250 and $300. Savings (if I use the $300 amount): $50.00 per week; $200 per month; $2,400 annually.

Savings with Grocery Savings added in: $69.785 per week; $279.14 per month; $3349.68 annually

The small stuff adds up.

Notice what I am now saving per week on laundry soap. It is less than a dollar but over time this adds up. On other items the savings are $2.00 or $2.50 per week. Everything adds up.

Don’t get discouraged by thinking that it is useless as you can only save a small amount of money at a time. Get a jar and put the savings in that jar and watch it grow. Get yourself in the mindset of saving and finding ways to cut back.

As to Future Savings:

Landline: we are considering dropping our landline. Savings - $2.50 per week; $10.00 per month; $120.00 per year.

Flowers for my flower garden: I harvested the seeds from last year’s garden and will plant those instead of buying seeds or plants. I plan on being patient and waiting longer in the season so that I can buy plants at a significant price reduction. Last year I paid $200 for plants. I should be able to save $150.00 with this plan.

Gasoline: When the weather gets warmer, we will be doing more walking or riding bikes to our destinations.

Throughout the day as I am doing housework or taking a walk, I think about other money saving ideas and I write those ideas down and try them out later on.  If you were to ask my family if they feel deprived by any of the cut backs that we have made, they would say no.  How can you feel deprived when you are eating homemade whole wheat bread with homemade jam? 

I used to give up and say what is the use if I can only save $5.00 a week by cutting back on something. Now I see the big picture of looking at all the small stuff and seeing how it adds up into big savings.

What small stuff do you sweat that translates into big savings over time?

February 09, 2010

Laundry Soap Update

Back at the end of December I wrote about using homemade laundry soap. At that time I had been using the powdered version and had decided to try the liquid version. Well after about 6 weeks of using the liquid version I must tell everyone that I love it. It does a very good job of getting our laundry clean and the clothes do smell fresh. I only need to use a small amount of liquid fabric softener with this laundry soap and when I say small, I am talking less than 1 tablespoon.

For anyone interested in making their own laundry soap, I use the first recipe found on Soaps Gone Buy for the liquid soap.  I can buy all of the ingredients at my local grocery store cheaper than what I can buy on line. 

There are certain tests that I do to see if a laundry soap/detergent is working. My husband sometimes wears white dress shirts and the collars get dirty.  I have been pouring some of the liquid soap on the dirty collar and I scrub it with a clean toothbrush, I bought for just that purpose. Then I toss the shirt into the washing machine. It does help to remove that “ring around the collar.” Remember that old Wisk t.v. commercial?

One other benefit I have noticed is that my skin doesn’t itch as much in the winter time now. Could it be from using a milder, laundry soap? I think so. Our towels are much softer too.

One recipe of liquid laundry soap filled 5 – 32 load size jugs, that I had saved, for a total of 32 cups. Since you only need ½ cup per load this turns into 64 loads for only 65 cents (per the prices in my town). A word of warning, the caps of the store bought detergent are different in size so I keep a 1/2 cup measuring cup near my detergent bottles.  There isn’t a coupon in the world that would bring me this kind of savings on good quality store bought detergent.

When I bought store bought detergent, I would only purchase it when there was a sale for $3.00 for the 32 load size. Normally (but not always) I would have a coupon for at least 50 cents off. This would last me anywhere between 2 to 3 weeks. So I figure that two jugs would cost me about $5.00 with a coupon.  I save about $4.35 every 6 weeks by making my own laundry soap or a total of $37.70 saved annually.  Money saved, is money earned.

I know that this may sound weird, but this is one more item I have learned to make and it makes me feel independent. I don’t have to wait for laundry detergent to go on sale. I have the supplies in my house and I can make a recipe any time I need it, which brings me great satisfaction.

I’ll never go back to buying store bought laundry soap. I’m sold for sure.

February 07, 2010

Pantry Challenge - End of January

I meant to post this last week.  The last week in January I spent $19.91 which brought my total for the month to $160.58.  I overspent by $10.58 as my budget was $150.00.  My DS told me "you posted the week before that you could easily stay on budget."  Well, that was true until I came upon a sale on bar soap.  I was able to get 8 bars of Dial soap for $2.50 and since we were down to 2 bars in the house, I purchased a few packages.  Then I was able to purchase a couple boxes of Electrasol Gel pacs (20 count) for only 99 cents after using a coupon.  Sometimes you have to over spend a little to save money in the future. 

I am so pleased with the amount of money I saved in January.  By really cutting back and watching the grocery budget we didn't feel the pinch as much when we faced some extra expenses in our budget.  Not once did we feel deprived in what we ate.  I feel I was able to stay on task by not really viewing my grocery money as a budget but as a challenge.

So instead of being on a grocery budget, I am on a grocery challenge.  Sometimes it is all in the wording.

February 04, 2010

Being Home Alone

I am asked quite often if I still like being home and yes, I do. Being home means many days of being at home alone but it doesn’t mean that I am lonely.

For many years I worked outside of the home and dealt with the public and specifically our clients. The moment I would arrive at work the phone would ring and clients would stop by to talk, whether they had an appointment or not. I would spend a couple of hours taking care of people’s needs, before I even was able to type one word on a legal document. This led to my bringing a lot of work home at night in order to keep up.

Work became an interruption to my life. Years of my life were spent burning the candle at both ends. It seemed that my work life was spilling over into my home life constantly and the lines between work and home were being blurred.

Now I have my morning cup of coffee and I decide what I am going to do that day and make my plans. The only interruptions I have are an occasional phone call. I am in control of my day which brings me great satisfaction.

It is different when you are home with small children and have no adult contact during the day. Getting away with some friends is a good idea and in many ways I feel it is a necessity to connect with other mothers at that time in your life. It is like hitting the refresh button on your computer.

I was home for a few years off and on when my boys were younger so I know what it is like to be home with a baby or toddler and have no adult contact during the day. It was harder and even though I liked being home, it wasn’t without its interruptions. When you have kids you can make plans and those plans can change. I had to be flexible with what I wanted to do in a day. A simple day planned with getting the laundry done or perhaps cleaning could take forever sometimes when my boys would want and need to go for a walk, they were sick or fussy, or just the fact that every household chore took a little longer when you are also caring for little ones. My alone time came when my husband got home from work and we ate and I would get out and go for a walk alone.

Being home alone works for me in my life at this time. I have the opportunity to meet friends for lunch when I want to or to help out at my church. These are my choices and are not interruptions. I am in charge of my life and what I do with my day.  I finally have the opportunity to focus all of my attention on my family and our home. 

Nearly every day it is me alone at home and I find that after many years of being surrounded by people in a high paced office, that home has become my sanctuary.

I have a purpose in my life right now and that is a strong desire to be home.

This is where I am meant to be.

February 02, 2010


When I wrote the post regarding aprons, I wrote about my memories of learning to iron when I was a little girl.  I was surprised at how much more I remembered about ironing day.  First of all and most importantly my mom had the necessary equipment to get the job done.  This was typical of my mom.  After all being a homemaker was her vocation so she would have made sure that she had everything she needed to accomplish a task. 

The ironing board had a thick pad and cover.  The iron itself rested on a metal plate on the ironing board and the iron cord was looped up a rod that was clamped to the side of the ironing board.  This kept the cord up and out of the way while someone was ironing.  To the right of the ironing board was a plastic folding bin that held the items to be ironed.  All of these items had been sprinkled with water and rolled up to stay moist.  Next to the iron was a glass bottle filled with water.  There was a sprinkler top on the bottle so that you could sprinkle a little water on the item you were ironing and this helped get out the wrinkles.  Last but not least there was a can of starch to use on shirts. 

Okay, I know, right now you are thinking - hey I just take the shirts out of the dryer and hang them up and we are good to go.  Well, not in the 1960's.  I think my mom ironed anything that wasn't moving.  We ironed handkerchiefs, boxer shorts, white undershirts, tea towels, sheets, pillowcases, shirts, pants, dresses, and more.  It was a way of life until permanent press fabric was made.

Isn't it something how much a smell can take you back in time?  Some smells such as spray starch do that for me.  I love the smell of it as it reminds me of those days when my mother was teaching me to iron.  Perhaps that is why one of my favorite candle scents is "Fresh Linen."  I have always loved all things domestic so it should not be a surprise to anyone that I had a toy ironing board and iron to play with along with an entire play kitchen.  Let's not forget the ever popular Easy Bake Oven.   Okay, now I'm getting off track.

Being home all day means I have the time to do things the way I was trained by my mother.   On Monday I do the clothing laundry and on Tuesday I launder bedding, towels and any throw rugs.  So today I decided that I was going to take some of my son's 100% cotton shirts that he wears to work and I was going to iron them all at once.  Usually I grab one and iron it quickly before he needs it.  Here is the result of my work: 

Four crisply pressed work shirts all ready to be worn. 

I will admit to you that while I was ironing I watched a movie from Netflix on my little kitchen t.v.  (During my mom's day she watched the ever popular General Hospital and Jeopardy when she was ironing.)  After I was done with these four shirts I started looking around and I saw the basket of just dried sheets and pillowcases.  My mom always ironed the sheets as they did soften even more when they were ironed.  But I think the real reason she ironed them was the way they looked all nice and neatly pressed and folded in her linen closet. 

I ironed the sheets and I went one step further by lightly spraying them with a little linen scented fabric spray.  Here are the sheets and pillowcases nicely folded and ready to be put away. 

Later in the day I decided to put them on our bed immediately.  As I unfolded the sheets and I lifted them in the air to fluff them and let them fall on the bed I remembered how much easier it is to make a bed with sheets that have been neatly pressed and folded.  They just seem to fall into place. 

No, it is not necessary to iron the sheets.  The reason I will continue to do it is because I enjoy ironing and best of all I enjoy the feel of ironed sheets on my bed.  It is a little bit of work for a big luxury.  I have no children at home during the day and if I did I doubt I would take the time to do an afternoon of ironing.  It is a little dangerous to try to iron when there are little ones running around the ironing board.  I know that my mom would agree with me that she is thankful for permanent press fabrics and that it is not necessary to spend an afternoon or day each week doing the ironing.  She would also agree with me that somehow a shirt that has been pressed with a little starch always looks sharp and that yes, those sheets are nice when they are ironed.

Being a full time homemaker at the age of 50, without any children home during the day, means that I can take the time to do some extra special things for my family that I did not have the time to do when I was employed outside of the home. 

I would challenge you to find something special to do for your family this week.  It may not be ironing but it could be taking the time to bake a homemade special treat that they enjoy.