October 31, 2011

Thinking Ahead to Stressful Gift Buying

I’ve been thinking about Christmas this week.  I always feel that once Halloween gets here, Thanksgiving flies by and then it is Christmas.  I can’t really explain it, but I don’t feel like doing Christmas.  I’m just not in the mood.  I could be in the mood come February though.  I am so pathetic.

Do you know what causes stress for me at Christmas time?  It’s not the cooking, baking, cleaning or decorating – it’s the gift buying.  I am at a loss as to what to get people for Christmas.   Homemade gifts aren’t appreciated by many people on my gift list.  I get so frustrated.  It’s the same thing every year. 

What do you buy extended family that have everything they could possibly want yet seem to demand a gift that is personalized to them and very thoughtful?    Some years I find the perfect gift but most of the time, I am at a total loss.  Does anyone else have this problem? 

Then I have to send my mother a gift (notice I said “have to”) when she hasn’t sent me or my husband a gift in probably 20 years.  One year she even called me to say that we had forgotten to renew her magazine subscription to a magazine that costs close to $90 per year.  We had decided that we couldn’t afford it and had told her so, but a couple of weeks after Christmas she called to say that she hadn’t received her magazine and we must have forgotten.  It was her way of manipulating us into caving and giving into her.   We didn’t.  We had given her something else. 

Honestly I just want it to stop.  I just want to give gifts to my husband and my children and daughter-in-law.  The rest of the family I would love to give a simple gift, a homemade gift would be wonderful.  But if I did, there would be a great deal of disappointment when the gift was opened and that prevents me from doing it. 

Perhaps I should just start making gifts and that could become my "tradition."  It is too late to make afghans or lengthy projects for this year, but I think I will begin this in 2012.  No, I definitely will do this.  There are many things I can sew or crochet that would make nice gifts and by planning ahead I could buy supplies when they are on sale. 

I've been wanting to make my own soap and my own beauty products such as lip balm.  Now I think I have my first goal for 2012 -- learn to make these items to give away as gifts.  I like it. 

I'm curious, if you have made your own gifts, what have you made?

October 28, 2011

Helping College Students

Yesterday I went through our “coat” closet and looked at all of the sweatshirts and fleece jackets that we owned. I pulled out all of the hooded sweatshirts and jackets that I felt we no longer wore. I left them out on our dining room table so that my husband and son could look them over and make the final decision.

Today I took those items to our local United Way office to donate. These items didn’t fit into their “winter coat drive” needs but they had a “free” table set up for anyone to come and look over and take what they needed. So I was also able to donate a large slightly used backpack along with three zippered school notebooks that had little wear at all.

The table didn’t have a lot of items on it and I hope that someone will walk into the United Way office and will find a “treasure” on that table and take it home.

I appreciate Goodwill and other thrift stores in town, but what happens when you basically have no money for even these stores? We are doing fine financially now and by that I mean that that because of living frugally and getting debt paid down, we are able to have some wiggle room in our monthly budget. I can honestly say that wiggle room is good.

Even though there have been times in our marriage when we have had very, very little money to live on, I was always able to come up with a couple of dollars to take to Goodwill or a garage sale to find a much needed clothing item. However I am aware that this is not the case for a lot of people, namely college students.

We have a college located in our community and I have become friends with a few of the students. College is expensive and when you can only get a 5 to 9 hour a week work study job, you end up living on very, very little money. When I was in college I had very little “spending” money. Spending money was for toiletries, laundry and any other possible necessities. I got $10 a week and that was horrendous to try to live on even back in 1979.

To save money I would wash my clothes and hang them up to dry. Sometimes I would handwash all my clothes and wring them out and hang them to dry around my dorm room. I had to plan ahead as it took longer to dry. Books were always purchased used. I don't think I bought hardly any clothes when I was in college. Everything had to last and when it came to toiletries, I had to make sure I got as much as I could from the shampoo and deoderant I bought. I remember laying awake and worrying about where I would get the money to pay for tuition and my living expenses.

I remember one time when my shoes were wearing through so much that my feet got wet walking through the rain or snow. I borrowed money from my roommate to go to K-mart to buy some cheap shoes and then I paid her back as I got some money. It’s a horrible feeling to go to college away from home and spend money on tuition and such, try to study so you get good grades to keep up your scholarship and then to also have to worry about money for basic necessities.

It is also a lonely feeling.

That is why I am drawn to helping college students. I was there one time and I want to pay it forward to help others. I can’t take away all of their money problems and frankly, we all need to go through the hard times in order to understand the good times. However, I can take the edge off.

So, if you know of a college student, do what you can to help them out even if it is simply a package of homemade cookies sent to them in the mail. The emotional support is just as important as a monetary gift.

October 27, 2011

Super Easy Baked Cavatelli

I help with cooking the youth group meals each week and I wanted to share with you this simple and easy recipe for baked cavatelli.  This goes over so well with the youth group.  They really love it and I love making it because it is so easy.

Baked Cavatelli

2 cups UNCOOKED rotini pasta
1 lb. ground beef, browned and drained
1 - 16 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 jar spaghetti sauce
Italian Seasoning
1 - 8 oz. bag shredded mozzarella
Pepperoni pieces (optional)

Mix the UNCOOKED rotini pasta, ground beef, tomatoes and spaghetti sauce.  Add about 1/2 cup water.  Add pepperoni pieces if desired.  Pour into a 9 x 13 inch pan.  Sprinkle with italian seasoning.  Cover tightly with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 1 1/4 hours.  Top with the cheese and bake another 15 minutes until cheese is melted and pasta is tender. 

I am making this on Sunday for our youth group and I will be donating the food from my pantry and freezer.  I need to put together 6 pans and here is what I am calculating this will cost per pan.

1 lb. Boxes of rotini pasta purchased @ 69 cents
Jars of spaghetti sauce @ 75 cents
Mozzarella cheese @ $1.00
Diced tomatoes @ 33 cents
1 lb. Hamburger purchased @ 80 cents (BIG sale in February of this year)

Add this up and you can see how little each pan will cost.  This is why I shop sales and use coupons, not only for myself but so that I can also save our church money. 

I will add to this day old loaves of italian bread purchased for around 90 cents each and we will have apple slices (apples already donated by someone) and ice cream (donated also).  The only thing the church will need to purchase will be 2 gallons of milk and the bread.  This will serve around 40 people. 

So, again, when you shop sales and get great deals, think about how you can donate some of those items perhaps to your church for meals or to a food pantry or other charity. 

October 26, 2011

I'm making this up as I go.

I'm making this up as I go.
I love the Indiana Jones movies and this is my favorite phrase from the first movie.  I’ve been using that phrase a lot lately as I am volunteering part-time at my church. 

Last July I felt it was time that I stepped up to the plate so to speak and give more time in service to my church.  I knew that this meant that I needed to make sure wherever I served, it was in an area that I was gifted in and that I enjoyed.  That does not mean that I don’t also do the tasks at church that are just plain needed and whether gifted or not, helping with cleaning up after a meal is just as important as planning an event.

I’m still trying to find the balance between my volunteer work and my responsibilities at home.   The past two weeks have been quite busy – mostly with getting our new dog Buddy used to his new home.  He’s thriving and we love him.  And my house has gotten messy AND horror of horrors – I have not done a good job of making up a grocery list.  Thankfully I still have quite a stocked pantry and freezer so I only need the basics.  It’s just that I keep going back to the store for the basics.  Why do I always forget the simple things like milk? 

Well I now keep that ever present piece of paper on the front of the refrigerator for my list.  Actually I have two.  One is for things we need from the store and one is for the things I think of that need done.  At least if both are attached to the fridge I won’t lose them.  Then I can take the to do list and put it in my planner.  I am always remembering things throughout the day and it is easier to quickly write them down on a piece of paper and then to sort those tasks out in the evening and put them in my planner.   

I love being busy doing things I love to do and giving my time to my church is something I love to do.  However, I love my home and domestic life just as much so it is important to find the balance between the two.  I am determined to keep the balance and most importantly to be careful and not let busyness get in the way of overspending on my budget.

What do you do to keep everything on track when life gets busy?

October 21, 2011

Church Mom's Group

Yesterday I spoke at a mom's group called MomShine about living on one income and frugality.  As I gazed over the young moms that were there it took me back to the time when I was mom to a young son.  You never forget what it feels like to hold your baby for the first time, to take him home and then realize you know "squat" about caring for a newborn. 

Then fast forward a few years to when you have your next child and you are an old pro, or at least you think you are, until you realize that their personality is completely different than your first born. Everything you learned from the first child has to be tweaked in order to raise the second one. 

Yes, these moms were in the midst of having very young children at home.   I remember what it was like to try to get one ready to leave the house much less 2 or 3 at the same time, under the age of 5. 

So, I hope I didn't overwhelm some of these moms with frugal tips about saving money on groceries.  I still believe it is the first place to look to in order to save money.  I also hope they got my message about not trying to do all of the money saving tips at once.  And that who cares if your friend or neighbor has granite countertops.  Does it really matter that you have old laminate ones?  In the end I hope they got the message that saving money and getting out of debt means freedom to have choices.

I like having choices.

October 17, 2011

Reining it all In and making new goals

I am reining in my unnecessary spending.  Yes I have spent money over the past month that I shouldn't have.  Time to get back on track and make some new financial goals. 

1.  Make a list and go to Wal-mart once a week.  I've been disorganized and this has led to my going to Wal-mart one too many times and picking up a few impulse purchases along the way.  Enough said here.

2.  Grocery spending.  Make up menus to use up what is in the freezer and save the balance of my budgeted grocery money.

3.  Save money towards a semi-private vinyl fence for our yard to be installed next summer.

Along with these new goals are the old ones of paying off debt by March 2012, putting money into savings each month along with paying off the mortgage as soon as we can.

I have some other goals that I have made that are things I want to do.

1.  Go bungee jumping - NOT!!!!  I want to learn to make soap.  This is something I have always wanted to do.  There is something about using lye that kind of freaks me out, but as I have read and watched the tutorials I know I can do it.  It is just finding the time.

2.  Learn to sew some vintage clothes from the Edwardian/Titantic era.  Next to making soap, this is something I want to do.  It will mean I need to practice my sewing skills so I can actually accomplish some more difficult techniques. 

3.  Learn to knit on the round knitting looms I bought.

I see so many people make financial goals and that's great.  In the quest to quit spending excessively and to pay things down, don't forget the fun goals that you can make.  Is there something that you want to learn to do, but never made the time?  Many of the things that I want to do won't cost much money.   

There's something gratifying about working on financial goals while also learning to do something new.  If you are facing a mountain of debt that will take you a long time to dig out of, the worst thing you can do is to be totally obsessed by it and think of nothing else.  Make your financial plan and goals and stick with it.   While you should take getting out of debt serious, there is no reason you can't also bring joy to your life by learning to do something new.  It makes your life interesting.

October 14, 2011

No, not Peanut Butter too!!

Due to the drought in the southern states, the peanut crop has not done well at all which means peanut products will be going up in prices an estimated 40%.

My husband has peanut butter on a bagel every morning and I love crunchy peanut butter granola bars for breakfast.  I even make homemade dog treats that contain peanut butter.  Peanut butter is a staple for a lot of people.  I'm not going to go into the good and bad of regular peanut butter versus natural peanut butter.  The fact is it is a good source of protein for many people.

I have several jars in my pantry that I purchased for 99 cents a jar over the spring and summer.  Now I wish I would have purchased more.  Perhaps I should pay attention to what is an actual serving size of peanut butter so it will last longer.  Then again I should do this with all food.  For peanut butter a serving size is 2 tablespoons.  I know that we spread more than that on piece of bread or bagel slice.  So with everything pay attention to the exact serving sizes.

When I was a child I remember that peanut butter was one of the things that our family would receive in the commodity program.  When my father was out of work we would get some food from the government commodity program.  I remember peanut butter came in a large institutional can and I thought that was kinda "cool" as peanut butter in the store came in a jar. 

This week has been a week of excess spending because we adopted Buddy our new dog and had as of yesterday $238.00 in veterinary expenses.  The dog may have been free, but the upkeep and maintenance isn't.  Now that Buddy is in our family we will budget his expenses as we have with other pets.

Buddy is a gentle, wonderful dog and it just seems that him being  part of our family was meant to be.  With the addition of a new pet there comes new routines and more time has been spent getting Buddy used to his new home.  Also, there is the training.  Fortunately Buddy is housebroken but not leash trained so I am spending more of my time to get him leash trained so that I will be able to walk him without him straining at the leash. 

Buddy will be my new exercise partner as our older dog, Griffey, doesn't walk very fast due to her age.  She kind of lumbers along and I doubt that I burn 10 calories if that when I walk her.  But old dog or not, Griffey enjoys and savors her daily walks no matter how long it takes her.  Perhaps this is something we as human beings can learn from our pets - to savor the small things such as a slow lumbersome walk on a cool fall day. 

October 12, 2011

Rescuing a Dog

Someone dumped this dog in front of our house yesterday.


Today he became ours.

He is part Boxer and part Coon Hound.  It was not a frugal day.  The vet bill was close to $200 but he is a sweety.  We had been talking about getting another dog for a long time and I have always wanted a Boxer. 

He's a keeper.


October 10, 2011

Preparing for the Future

It’s been almost a week since I posted.  There are so many things I need to do but my energy level has been low.  Last week I felt “cruddy.”  I was tired a lot. Actually I think I had a mild case of the flu and so I didn’t push it too much and rested.  This is the luxury of being home in my opinion.  I can lie down on the couch when I don’t feel well and take a nap. 

Last week my husband was offered an opportunity to change jobs.  He wasn’t looking for a job as he is very happy with where he is working right now.  Sometimes though opportunities come along when you aren’t looking for them and then you find yourself trying to make a life decision – one you hadn’t asked for.

So last week we spent a few days trying to decide what was best for him and our family.  He would have to work in a community that is about a 30 minute drive from our home.  The salary and benefits are better.   If you looked at it from a financial view, you would immediately think that the obvious choice would be to take the new job. After all more money and better benefits translates into more money to pay off bills and our mortgage sooner.  It also means more money for retirement.

But it also means working in another community which means you can’t walk to and from work anymore nor come home for lunch.  My DH has a tremendous amount of flexibility with his job which is why he is also able to coach cross country for the local high school.  This is something he would have to give up.

So in the end the decision my husband made was to stay right where he was at.  Sometimes you can’t put a price on the non-monetary benefits that a job can offer you. 

The one thing that I have always worried about is that in light of what has happened in the past few years, job security is a thing of the past.  Companies can close or be bought out and employees can be laid off through downsizing.  My husband and I have never talked much about what would happen if he found himself out of a job when he is in his late 50’s, until this weekend. 

My husband is 53 years old and I am 52.  We talked about the scenario of being out of a job in his late 50’s and what we would do.  How would we pay our bills?  We came up with a plan which involves continuing to be careful about our hard earned money.   Our credit card debt will be paid off between January and March of 2012.  What a relief.  And what comes next – the mortgage.  Think about it – what would your life be like if you had no credit card debt, no car payments and no mortgage?  Without those bills, my DH could work a job that pays considerably less money.  We talked about all the possibilities. 

The key is that we live simply and will continue to live simply.  Nothing will change. 

I have a goal in the next year or so to start my own business.  It won’t be a big money maker, but I do hope that I can at least net around $300 a month.  I want to make bar soap, lotions, lip balms and lotion bars to sell.  It’s something I have always been interested in doing.  At the very least I could start out by making these as gifts to give to my family and friends on special occasions.  It’s a hobby that could be transformed into a modest money maker.  I'd be interested to hear from anyone who has ever started a "cottage" business.

I started this blog as a way to keep track of my new lifestyle and how I could cut back on expenses to live on one income.  Now I am realizing that this lifestyle is the way we will continue to live for the rest of our lives and that is so freeing.  My husband does not need to work a job that pays more money just so we can buy more stuff.  That is not freeing.  It is far more fun to live on less and enjoy the freedom that it brings to become debt free.

October 04, 2011

Does your spending change as you pay down debt?

We paid off our car in July and we made the final payment on my husband's truck this week.  It's a good feeling.  Two years ago I looked ahead to this time as I knew that once these two vehicles were paid off, it would jumpstart the further reduction of our debt and also enable us to put more in savings. 

There's something about having extra money in the budget each month to put on the remaining bills or put in savings.  It's just a little bit of piece of mind.

We are not yet to our final goal of paying off all consumer debt and then the mortgage.  I have been thinking about the psychology of this scenario.  When you've become accustomed to a smaller amount of money to spend on food or anything else for that matter, what happens when you pay off debt and have more money you can spend?  Do you relax the purse strings and spend money? 

Yes and no. 

With my getting busier as I am doing more volunteer work, I have added some money in the budget so that we could eat out once a week if we would like.  Now when I say eat out, we are not big spenders in restaurants.  We go to Subway, Wendy's or out for pizza.  We eat at better restaurants for special celebrations such as our anniversary.  Other than that, nothing else will change.

What I am experiencing is satisfaction that we have met a goal of getting two major bills paid off.  Living consciously of where our money is going, of how to save more money out of our budget has definitely become a new way of life to me. 

I'll never go back to the way it used to be.  I'll never be irresponsible with our hard earned money. 

When you start out looking at a mountain of debt and you are on a limited income, it is too much to look at the big picture.  The worst thing you can do is to think it is too much to face so you give up.  Take it one bill at a time.  Stick with it and in time, yes it takes some time, you will see your hard work and your "stick with it" attitude paying off.

Hang in there.  It will happen. 

October 03, 2011

Shopping at Goodwill and Dealing with Paxil

I have been to our Goodwill store here in town twice.  The first time I didn't find anything I needed.  The second time I found a perfect woven table cloth for my dining room table. 

While I was attending a church leadership seminar in Kansas City last week, I noticed some of the clothes that the presenters were wearing.  Later in the hotel I would write down what I saw and what I liked and I was determined to find some of the same "looks." 

I have never had a jean jacket that I truly loved and after seeing the jean jackets being worn by women with various outfits I decided that I wanted a jean jacket.  Now, the one thing I am determined to do is that when I buy an article of clothing, I must get rid of something in my closet. 

On Saturday I went shopping at our local Goodwill store and I found just what I was looking for.  In fact I found a couple of really nice sweaters that I bought also.

Here is the jean jacket that I bought for $4.00. 

The following items I have had in my closet for over 5 years and I wear them off and on.

The skirt is lacey.  Here is the jewelry that I already had. 

Look what happens when I open the faux pearl necklace and wear it long.  The silver chains will be hidden by the collar on my jacket.  Then I add the rest of the articles of clothing and I get this. 

Here's the jacket close up.

Here is a crocheted skirt that I have had for at least 6 years.

Here it is with the jacket for a slightly Bohemian look.  I like both looks.

Now I am on the hunt for a knee length coat to wear with jeans and pants.  I made a major mistake when I went to Goodwill on Saturday.  As I came in the door I saw a coat that was a good possibility but I bypassed it and went looking for jean jackets.  I should have put the coat in my cart to try on after I found the jean jacket as someone else bought it before I could.  Oh well, lesson learned. 

Tuesday is a good day to shop at Goodwill so tomorrow I will take a break from my work to go and see what has come in on the latest shipment.  I'm hooked. 

While at Goodwill I didn't only purchase clothing.  I have been wanting old style canning jars for years and look what I found at Goodwill. 

And now on to Paxil.

Last week was week three of being weaned off Paxil.  Well, I hit a brick wall while I was in Kansas City in that I suddenly started suffering the side effects from going off this drug.  I could handle it for the most part but after I got home it got worse.  Migraine type headaches along with nausea, vertigo and "brain sparks."  These are like zaps or jolts in the brain.  Why I was doing so well only to be sidelined on the 21st day is beyond me. 

I couldn't cope with the side effects so I chose to go back on Paxil and leave weaning off of it for another season.  After talking to my doctor about what I experienced it sounds like when I am ready to try weaning off Paxil again I will need to decrease my dosage very, very slowly instead of what normally works for everyone else. 

While in Kansas City I went to bed a lot earlier and I am continuing to do so.  As long as I get at least 8 hours of sleep at night, I am good during the day.  I'll leave going off Paxil for another time. 

I would love to hear from any of you about your shopping experiences at thrift or Goodwill stores.  My rule remains the same of buying only what I need and at a good value.  The fun thing is that with the prices of thrift stores I can come up with a look that is all my own -- I guess the best way to describe it is I like to dress a little "funky" sometimes with a Bohemian edge and I love doing it for a small fee.

I'm back from Kansas City

My day today is filled with laundry, picking up around the house and updating my calendar and organizing my volunteer work.  I had a wonderful time in Kansas City.  Here are glimpses' of my post that will be published tonight:

1.  Went to Goodwill and found a couple of additions to my fall wardrobe.  No more department store shopping for me.  I loved the treasure hunt.

2.  I hit a brick wall with my weaning off Paxil and I am back on it.

3.  I'm still tired from my trip but strangely I am energized to get stuff done at home and at church. 

Missed you all and hope all is well with your families.  I will "talk" to you tonight.