Friday, December 31, 2010

How Much is That Baby in the Window?

This week, someone sent in a Facebook question to Dave Ramsey, which he answered on his radio show. The question was something like, "My wife and I are thinking of having a baby, but we've heard they cost about $1,000 a month. What do you think about this?"

Dave said a baby could cost a thousand dollars a month if the baby was in daycare. Without giving a specific dollar amount, he answered that he didn't think having a baby really cost that much more a month. Besides, he said having a child is the best investment you'll ever make. 

Here's what I would add to what Dave didn't say.

Dear Sir,
If you wait until you can spare an extra thousand dollars a month for a child, you'll probably never have one. You'll save your money, but you'll miss out on priceless riches that cannot be measured.

A baby can be as inexpensive or as expensive as you choose. Babies do not need designer nurseries, designer cribs, designer clothes, designer strollers, designer shoes. They need lots of love, which is free.
Certainly there is the initial expense of having the baby. Obstetrical fees and hospital costs for a normal delivery average around $10,000. If you have insurance, many of those costs will be covered. If you don't have very good insurance, or no insurance at all, make no doubt, it will be expensive. But that's where saving comes in. Many people balk at those costs, yet do not hesistate to spend more than that on a vehicle. I'd take the baby any day.
You will receive, as gifts, many of the large and small items you need. The rest can be borrowed from friends, purchased inexpensively at the store, or found in great condition for even less at a garage sale or thrift store.

If you shop sales, clearance racks, and nice second-hand or thrift stores, you can find great clothing for mere dollars. I have found nearly brand new Sketchers tennis shoes for my son for $1 at the thrift store; other shoes and boots I've picked up on clearance at Target for $3.24 (yes, I remember the exact number!).  In fact, with hand-me-downs and gifts, many months have passed since I've spent any money on clothes or shoes.

As far as feeding a baby is concerned, breastfeeding in the early days is free. Formula costs more, but there are programs to help with the cost if needed. Jars of baby food are really not that expensive. Mashing up a tablespoon of the sweet potato you're already eating for dinner, or the banana you're having for breakfast, is even cheaper.

Sure, diapers and wipes are an expense. But there are always diaper coupons out there (especially if you register at the company's web sites--they'll send them to you) and sales. Maybe you can skip going out to eat for one meal to make room for the $40 a month (or less) you'll need for diapers.
Of course you'll want to provide a rich experience for your child. But fancy ski vacations, trips to resorts, and buying tickets for lots of events are not a necessary part of child-rearing. Playing games together, running in the yard, talking over dinner, camping in the summer, sledding in the winter, and reading bedtime stories each night are the memories that warm a child's heart and create a childhood to remember. Oh, and they're all free.
So sir, please don't think you're not financially ready to have a baby. You'll have nine months to save up money, if you need to. And then you'll discover how inexpensive and yet how rich babies really are.
Share a blessing you're grateful for at Gratituesday at Heavenly Homemakers!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Lessons from the Amish

We watched an thought-provoking BBC documentary a few days ago called Trouble in Amish Paradise. It's in six-parts on You Tube. While it's sure to encourage you in your Christian faith, there are several take-away lessons I got from this series.
  1. What a privilege we have to be able to read and study our Bibles in English! In the documentary, families were being excommunicated for studying their Bibles (they are apparently told by the church elders not to read it in English, as their copies are in Old German, which many can no longer read), and holding prayer meetings outside of regular meeting times. To be fair, they were excommunicated for failing to obey church leadership on these matters; yet, as they said and the Bible teaches, one must obey God rather than man when the teaching doesn't line up.
  2. What hard workers the Amish are! They teach their children to work from the earliest age by having them work alongside the parents. As the father shared in the documentary, this is harder in the beginning--it's much easier to do the work oneself--but it makes the work go much more quickly in the long run.
  3. I picked up a mopping tip from watching the mom in the documentary. After a meal, she cleared the kitchen chairs, grabbed her mop, which looked like it had a large, sturdy pad that she covered with rags on the end of a stick. She took what looked like a bleach bottle (but maybe it was filled with soapy water instead), poured out a little water on the floor, and mopped it around. I think this approach would help me mop more consistently. It just seems easier than using soapy rags on hands and knees or getting a big bucket that you have to dip into, ring the mop out, and change the water several times.
  4. The Amish wake up early and get straight to work, which means they get dressed immediately upon rising. I, on the other hand, usually wake up, put my robe on, and either read my Bible if the kids are still asleep, or start breakfast if they're up and read the Bible to them after breakfast. The only problem with this is I don't feel ready to take charge of the day in my jammies and robe. It may be purely psychological, but as soon as I'm dressed, I feel like I can really start my day.
  5. Without electricity, the Amish do not have computers. How much more productive would I be if I stayed off the computer for a day? I may try it today (after I get this post up, of course!) :) (See my post, How the Internet Affects Our Contentment with the Ordinary)
  6. The Amish embody service and community. They help each other move, they bake meals and take care of each other's houses when unexpected events arise. Of course, the Amish are not the only ones to go the extra mile to help families in need (I see service all the time in my community), it's just a great reminder that we are called to serve.  
  7. Once the families learned that they were saved and justified before God because of what Christ had done for them on the Cross, and not the rules they kept on their own, it revolutionized their outlook on life. They had a strong, confident faith with great trust in God. Even when their daughter developed leukemia, their joy and trust in God through it all really encouraged me. "But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life." (Titus 3:4-7)
  8. Although there may be cultural differences among us, as Christians we are united by our faith in Christ and love for the Scriptures. The same Holy Spirit is in us all, if we believe in Christ. It's really cool that we could share a meal with the Amish family in this video and feel like we have so much in common.
If you have time, I encourage to watch this series as a family. Tell me what you take away from it! Time now for me, in the tradition of the Amish, to get to work!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Having a Baby Without Maternity Insurance

The exciting news is we are expecting our fourth child in August. The not so exciting news is we don't have maternity coverage, and the company our policy is with (Insurers Administrative Corporation) will not cover any complications to me or the baby if they arise, since we do not have the maternity rider. So what is the point of paying hundreds of dollars a month to have insurance? (Plus, we have had so many problems with this company that I have ethical problems with paying them).

Through prayer and lots of discussion, my husband and I decided to cancel my insurance policy altogether. At least that way we will be able to save the money we were paying for my premium. His employer generously agreed to pay my husband the other half of premium they paid for me, so that will allow us to save quite a bit each month to use toward our medical expenses.

Here are some of the other ways we will be saving up to pay cash for baby #4:
  • We are already on a bare-bones budget, so the only way I know to trim expenses further is to reduce our grocery expenses. That is why I have started posting the "Healthy $10 a Day Menus," and I will continue to do this.
  • We received some Christmas cash, which will go into the baby fund.
  • I know it would be less expensive to use a midwife and have a home birth. However, during my last pregnancy, I had a problem with my placenta and bled quite a bit at delivery, so it's just too risky for me. My husband and I prefer to use a hospital for safety reasons.
  • I plan to call the hospital and see what I can do, or bring on my own, to reduce fees. Also, if there are not any complications, and we can leave a few hours after delivery, it is likely that we can save dramatically on room and board. (As a side note, hospital costs can seem so excessive. Each of my boys roomed in with me, yet the hospital charged two room and board fees of more than $2,500 each--one for me and one for the baby. I called once and asked if, since we shared a room, the hospital would be willing to reduce one of the fees. Nope.  Same with the circumcision: my doctor charged $400 for the procedure, the hospital charged $400 simply because the procedure was done at their hospital and the doctor used a tray of their instruments. Whether one has insurance or pays cash, these charges illustrate the problems with the medical system). Plus, the honest truth is many times hospitals are more willing to negotiate with those who do not have insurance, than those who have insurance but it won't cover their services, or have a high deductible (over $5,000).
Sure, it's a little unsettling to not have insurance, but again, this company will not cover anything related to the pregnancy or birth, so it is a waste of money from my perspective. Plus, medical insurance is a relatively new concept. Prior to the 19th century, people paid a fee for services. Here is a bit of interesting information about the start of health insurance as we know it, from the article "A Short History of Health Care" and the book Sick: The Untold Story of America's Health Care Crisis---and the People Who Pay the Price:
What we recognize as modern medicine, Cohn writes, began in the 1920s. That's when doctors and hospitals, having only during the previous decade learned enough about disease that they could be reliably helpful in treating sick people, began charging more than most individuals could easily pay. To close this gap, which worsened with the advent of the Great Depression, the administrator of Baylor Hospital in Dallas created a system that caught on elsewhere and eventually evolved into Blue Cross. The Blues were essentially nonprofit health insurers who served local community organizations like the Elks. In exchange for a tax break, Blue Cross organizations kept premiums reasonably low.
The success of the Blues persuaded commercial insurers, who initially considered medicine an unpromising market, to enter the field. Private insurers accelerated these efforts in the 1940s when businesses, seeking ways to get around wartime wage controls, began to compete for labor by offering health insurance. If government regulators had thought to freeze fringe benefits along with wages, we might have avoided making the workplace primarily responsible for supplying health insurance, a role that most people now agree was ill-advised. Instead, the government jumped on the bandwagon by exempting from the income tax company expenses associated with health care...

The Blues, in their early days, charged everyone the same premium, regardless of age, sex, or pre-existing conditions. This was partly because the Blues were quasi-philanthropic organizations, Cohn explains, and partly because the Blues were created by hospitals and therefore interested mainly in signing up potential hospital patients. They were sufficiently benevolent that when Harry Truman proposed a national health-care scheme, opponents were able to defeat it by arguing that the nonprofit sector had the problem well in hand. As private insurers entered the market, however, they rejiggered premiums by calculating relative risk, and avoided the riskiest potential customers altogether. To survive, the Blues followed suit; today, they no longer enjoy a tax advantage and are virtually indistinguishable from other health insurers. Meanwhile, large companies, which tend to employ significantly more young people than old people, began to self-insure. The combined result was that people who really needed health care had an increasingly difficult time affording, or even getting, health-care insurance.
So that's where we're at today. People are paying more for fewer services. I don't know what the solution is, but for me, it's to pull out of the system altogether right now. I don't want fear of what could happen to dictate my life (and force me to shell out hundreds of dollars a month that I could be saving). Also, in what, or in whom, am I trusting? Am I trusting a system to provide my needs, or my God? I choose to trust in God. I choose to make responsible choices to do what I can to save the needed money, and I choose to trust that God will keep us safe and provide for all our needs.

Have you ever had a baby without insurance, and how did you make it work?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Read Your Way Toward a Cleaner House

When I think about the books that have helped me the most in my quest to keep a cleaner house consistently, these three are my favorites.

I absolutely love this book. It presents a relaxed, merciful approach for those of us who are trying hard to get it together. It's not a rigid system that you have to do or die; it's more like sitting down with an organized friend as she helps you evalutate what isn't working for you and how you can change it. Plus, the goal is not a picture-perfect house at all times--it's "relatively neat and clutter free most days." That is like breathing a breath of fresh air. Perfect mercy for those, like me, in need of it!

What I love about this book is that in the beginning of her homeschool journey, Mrs. Rockett was much like me: aware of the need to manage her home more effectively but not sure how to start going about that. So she studied and taught herself, and wrote this book as a way to mentor us younger moms. While it certainly talks about some practical aspects of homeschooling, it's more broadly about living in a house, trying to keep it manageable, while also homeschooling and raising kids. (By the way, she also had three boys!). She also developed a great system for managing paper, which is my downfall. Now I just need to implement it!

This book is practically an encyclopedia. It will talk you through perhaps more than you ever wanted to know about just about everything home related. Reading it inspires you that there really is an art and science to keeping house. You'll learn the right way to do things, and why. Personally, I benefited the most from the beginning of this book: chapters "Easing into a Routine," "Neatening," and "Kitchen Culture" (what you must do to keep your kitchen clean and why).

Those are the top three books that have helped me the most in getting more organized. What are your favorites?

Healthy $10 a Day Menus

Hope everyone had a blessed Christmas and enjoyed a sweet time of fellowship with family and friends! We made a big brunch and didn't end up cooking our big Christmas dinner, so the plan is to make that tonight.

A few menu items you'll see repeating from last week. We always end up with more leftovers than I anticipate, so some meals I actually didn't end up preparing. They'll carry over to this week. We also may be visiting family later this week, so I am only planning out five days of meals.

I'm going to split this menu out a little differently today and group breakfasts, lunches, and dinners together, instead of separately by day.

Breakfast Ideas:

(None of these breakfasts are over $1. That's because flour, especially on sale, is super cheap. Gold Medal Flour was recently on sale for $1 for a 5 pound bag. There are 75 one-quarter cup servings per bag, so about 20 cups 1/4 c. servings, which means each cup of flour used in a recipe costs only 5 cents.
Eggs are inexpensive protein, and the milk used in these recipes costs maybe a quarter or less per recipe.)
I will round these out with fruit on sale (whatever is .99 cents a pound or less).

Puffed Oven Pancake
Oven-baked omelet
Peanut butter Baked Oatmeal
Swedish pancakes
Coco-Wheats: .30 cents/5 servings
(Milk reduced to $1.25/gallon; will use about 1/4 gallon=about .25 cents,
with spoonfuls of peanut butter added to bowls=roughly .05 cents (Peanut butter on sale for $1))

Macaroni Salad with hard-boiled eggs, oranges
Macaroni in bulk from Sams =.30 cents for this meal; celery and mayo=about .25 cents; 4 eggs=.50 cents; oranges on sale for .49 cents/pound

Tuna Oriental, rice, milk
Tuna=.44 cents/can; rice=.50 cents; cream of mushroom soup=.60 sale; celery, onion=.25 cents; milk=.25 cents

Ham buns, apple slices
$2 for this portion of ham, make my own rolls for about .25 cents, apple slices=$1

Quesadillas: homemade flour tortillas=10 cents for 10, 16 oz. cheese $2.50 (32 oz. on sale for $4.99)
Celery sticks=.50 cents

Cheesy Ham Chowder (with leftover ham, $2), bread and butter
Corn=.50 sale
Bacon (1/2 package=$1.25)
Milk, flour, broth, shredded carrot=less than .50 cents
Meal: $5.50 plus homemade bread and butter (minimal cost)

(Usually with milk to drink. I picked up some marked-down gallons for $1.25, so the cost is minimal for a glass)

Spicy Rice, Bean and Cheese casserole: .50 cents for rice, .50 cents for beans (cook half a bag of black beans), one can diced tomatoes (on sale for .50 cents), cheese=1.25, onion and garlic=let's say .25 cents
Meal= $3.00

Hamburgers, potato wedges, salad with homemade ranch dressing
1.99 sale for one pound ground beef, buns $1 (my husband prefers store-bought:)), potatoes .25 cents for one pound (10# bag=2.50) plus oil and seasonings, minimal cost; salad $1, homemade ranch approximately .50 cents

White chicken chili, tortillas or tortilla chips
1 pound chicken=$1.49
2 cans Great Northern Beans=$1.60 (cheaper to cook your own)
Onion and garlic=.50 cents
Tortilla chips=$2, tortillas minimal

Lentil Rice cheese casserole, cooked carrots
3/4 c. lentils=.75 cents (or less), rice=.50 cents, cheese $1.25, onion and seasonings=.75 cents
Carrots=.50 cents

Goulash, cornbread
1/2 pound ground beef=$1
Macaroni=.75 cents,
Tomatoes=.50 cents,
Tomato sauce=3 @ .25 cents each=.75 cents
other veggies and seasonings minimal cost
Cornbread from freshly ground popcorn kernels, butter, milk, sugar, one egg=approximately $1.25
Meal cost: $4.25

(Linked to Menu Plan Monday)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Magic Box

If you have company coming for Christmas (or even if you don't) and need to, or want to, tidy up fast, my best secret for wiping out hot spots is the magic box. While it's definitely not a long-term solution (you'll still have to go through the contents of the box at some point), it works fabulously in the short-term, which is what we're dealing with two days before Christmas.

So here's what you do:

Find a box. Clear the hot spot (maybe it's papers on the kitchen island), putting everything in the box. Now, you could get tricky with it and wrap up the box so it looks pretty under the tree. You could tell everyone it's a gift for Aunt Mildred, whom you'll see after Christmas, and no one will be the wiser. :)

After Christmas, be sure to open the box and sort the contents, throwing away what you don't need, and putting everything else in its proper place.

Other ideas for cleaning in a hurry:
  • Set the timer for 15 minutes to work on clearing hot spots.
  • Involve the kids (damp rags to dust furniture, wipe the floor)
  • Send toys to toy jail (a large garbage bag)  if the kids do not pick them up on their own. They can bail them out later.
What do you do to clean up in a hurry?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Whose House for the Holidays?

Because we live so far from my parents (nearly 3,000 miles), quite far from my father-in-law (1,500 miles) and somewhat far from my mother-in-law (about 5 hours), who we celebrate Christmas with isn't much of an issue. We just stay home. Whoever would like to come visit is welcome.

However, when I still lived in my hometown, dividing up Christmas was difficult, to say the least. Since my parents were divorced, festivities were always split up. The big question was--did we eat Christmas dinner with my mom, or with my dad's extended family? Someone usually felt cheated. (I wish people would think through the long-term consequences a bit more before getting divorced, but that's another post for another day).

This week, Dr. Laura Schlessinger dealt with this issue:
"This year, it's Dave's turn to have Christmas with his son and daughter-in-law. But they now have a one year old baby and the daughter-in-law would like to leave Dave's home early Christmas Day [10AM] so they can also be with her relatives. [Last year, they were with her parents.] Dave's wondering if it was reasonable or fair for them to leave "his" holiday celebration so early."
Personally, I can see how the in-laws would be disappointed. If last year, their son and daughter-in-law were with her parents (and didn't rush to be with his side), then this year it only seems fair that they spend the holidays with her son's parents.

Dr. Laura answered the question in this video.

Basically, she said--don't make a big deal of it, and don't be petty. Focus on having a great time on Christmas Eve (the time they do have altogether) and have a fun send-off breakfast Christmas morning before they head-out.

How do you deal with deciding who goes where, when, at the holidays?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

White Socks in The New Year

One of the things I love about starting a new year is you get a clean slate. My library fines are cleared, thanks to a neat program where you bring in food for the local food banks and the library zeroes out your fines. I can also start fresh when it comes to socks.

If I were to dump out all the mismatched socks we've ended up with through the year, they would just about cover my king size bed. I have two plastic bags full, plus a laundry basket halfway full, that's stored in my closet. I really don't want to carry these into the new year. I'm ready to zero them out.

So here's what I'll do.

I will give it one more honest effort to match up the socks. Then, I will gather up all the socks still missing their mates and send them to the trash. (You could keep a few for play puppets, dust cloths for yourself or your kids--just slip a hand into it. The rest are going bye-bye so I can enjoy a new start).

Once we clear out the old, everyone gets new socks for the new year. I can't remember where I read this tip, but I thought it was a great one: Each family member gets one kind of sock, and it's even better if they're all white, with a few dress pairs if needed.

So for example, my oldest son has a 6-pack of white Hanes socks (they have green lettering on the bottom). If I find a stray sock, it is easy to put it in his sock pile, because they all match. My middle-boys share a pack of Hanes with red lettering on the bottom. I can instantly tell whose they are, and they all match. My husband wears Smart Wool. I need to get myself some new socks.  I bought some white pairs last year, and they've all gone missing. Every single one, except for one. Isn't that strange?!

Today I am grateful for a fresh start with white socks in the new year.
(Linked to Works for Me Wednesday)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Healthy $10 a Day Menus

When you really want to save money, the most effective way I know to menu plan is to think through everything that's in your fridge, freezer, and pantry and work around those items--going to the store only for a few essentials you need to fill in the gaps (for example, lettuce, tomato and avocado to go with beans and rice). Creating a healthy ten dollar a day menu is fairly easy, especially when you've shopped and stocked up on staples when they're at their best sale prices of the year at the grocery store.
Ten Dollar (Or Less) a Day Menus

Oatmeal (bought in bulk at Sam's for $6; factoring the cost only for this meal, since it yields several servings)=estimating .75 cents for five servings (but I think it's less than that)
Blackberries ($2/pint...will last for at least two uses)=$1
Meal cost: 1.75

Chili, cornbread leftover from Sunday night
(3.5 pounds of ground beef bought on sale for 1.99lb, browned and frozen in 1/2-1 pound baggies; used 1/2 lb=$1; tomato sauce=.25 cents; diced tomatoes=.50 cents; tomato soup=.50 cents, kidney beans=.50 cents; onion, garlic, seasonings=minimal
(Cornbread from popcorn kernels ground in my wheat grinder. Popcorn=$1.50 Walmart...used only 1 cup, approximately .30 cents)
Meal cost $3.15

Cranberry Chicken over brown rice, broccoli, jello
(4# bag frozen chicken breasts=4.96; I will only use 1 pound=$1.49)
Brown rice: Bag=$2.79, for this meal (1c.)=approximately .70 cents
Broccoli=.88 cents for a pound
Jello=sale for .50 cents
Meal $3.57

Total for the day: $8.47

Veggie Scramble (saute red, orange, yellow peppers and a few chopped onions; scramble eggs in with the veggies, add cheese if desired)
Toast (I make my own bread, estimating cost to be .50 cents for 4 loaves or .12/loaf)
Eggs: From a farm for $2/dozen; will use a half dozen=$1; .50 cents for veggies
Meal cost: Around $2

Salmon patties, couscous
Can of salmon=around $3, veggies= .50 cents
Box of couscous=around $3, will yield several uses, so let's say .75 for this meal
Meal cost: $4.25

Spaghetti (made my own marinara sauce), Caesar salad, French bread (in bread machine)

Spaghetti: 88 cents
Marinara sauce $1
Caesar salad: dressing (3.79 jar/will make about 4 salads=.90 or less to make a salad)
Lettuce (3 romaine hearts for 2.49=.83 cents
French bread: maybe .25 for the loaf (bag of flour on sale for $1)
Dinner cost: $3.86

Total: $10.11
Blueberry muffins $1 (stocked up when they were on sale for $1/pint at the store and froze them)
Orange julius .50 cents
Potato soup (10 pound bag of potatoes for $1.49, need only one pound=.15 cents)
veggies and dip=around .50 cents
Milk=.60 cents for 1/4th of the gallon
Meal=$1.25 cents

Goulash, oranges
1/2 pound ground beef=$1
Macaroni=.75 cents,
Tomatoes=.50 cents, other veggies and seasonings minimal cost
Oranges=.49 cents
Bread and butter (minimal, but let's say .25 cents)

Total for the day: $5.75

Breakfast Burritos (I make my own tortillas; it takes a little time but it's pretty easy. To make this easier, I will make a double batch earlier in the week)
Sausage=$2.49 sale; will only use half=$1.25
Potatoes=.15 cents or less
Salsa=$1.59/jar, pennies for the serving
Cheese=32 oz. block on sale for $4.99, about .60-cents for 4 ounces
Breakfast=around $3
Pinto Beans and Rice, lettuce, tomato, avocado, cheese, sour cream
Bag of beans=$2; approximately .50 cents for this meal
Rice=estimating .70 cents

Tuna Oriental, rice, clementines
Can of tuna=.44 cents
Rice=.70 cents
Clementines=$3.99 for a 3 pound bag; $1.25 for a pound for this meal
Total for the day=$8.59

Cranberry-orange scones (oranges .49 cents/pound this week)
Craisins=$6 large bag at Sam's; approixmately .75 cents or less for 1 cup
Flour minimal
Meal=$1.50 (rounding up for flour, milk)

Leftovers for lunch or bean and rice burritos
(cost factored in earlier)

White chicken chili, tortillas or tortilla chips
1 pound chicken=$1.49
Tortilla chips=$2, tortillas minimal

Total: $6.59

Saturday: Christmas!
Christmas Morning Pie, fruit salad
(other half pound of sausage=$1.25, eggs=$1,
pie crust: make own for pennies or use store bought=$1.25
Fruit salad using fruit on sale=$1

Ham (.99 cents/pound; I bought one for $8.86, but it will last for several meals=$2 for this meal)
Scalloped Potatoes
(.15 cents for a pound of potatoes, cream and cheese=$1.50)
Pineapple casserole
($1 can of pineapple, $1.50 for Ritz crackers, but need only 1 cup, so .30 cents roughly)
Glazed baby carrots (a little over $1)
Merry Christmas pudding
($2.50 for frozen raspberries, approximately $3 for other ingredients)
Christmas dinner (a little over $10) = $11.50

Christmas Day=$14.50

Cereal (on sale, with a coupon for a $1/box)
Leftovers and snacks

So there you have it. That's how I do it around here to stretch the budget. I didn't really factor in drinks, but we usually have water or milk (between $2 and $2.50/gallon, which will last for about a week). For snacks, we'll eat things we already have in the pantry or fridge, like yogurt, Ritz crackers, apple slices, cheese cubes, almonds, walnuts, pistachios, fruit. Or I'll make something like applesauce bread, granola, granola bars, smoothies, sometimes cookies.

You can do this too, if you don't already! I'm happy to answer questions, if you have any. I'd also love to hear what you do to help stretch your food dollars.

Visit Menu Plan Monday to see more menu plans!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Scent-Sational Savings

I love Yankee candles, but they're a little on the pricey side when you're pinching pennies. Twenty-five dollars for a large candle? I don't think so--not in my budget right now, at least.

You know how some store-brands are really made by the name-brand but packaged in the store brand? While I'm not saying that's the case here, the scents are so similar, but the savings so much greater, it sure makes one wonder.

What I'm talking about is Better Homes and Gardens' candles, sold at Walmart (this is not a paid endorsement). I bought a Pumpkin Pie candle this fall, and it was seriously one of the best candles I've ever bought. It burned well, it smelled great, it was only $4.96.

At Christmas, especially since we switched to an artificial tree, I love the Yankee Mistletoe Candle. It smells like a freshly cut pine tree. This week, at Walmart, I stopped to smell the candles, and lo and behold--Balsam and Cedar smells exactly like it. Exactly. For a savings of $20. (They also make a cranberry one that smells a ton like Yankee's Cranberry Chutney).

With a little boy who has become quite interested in fire, I do need to be extremely careful burning candles. If I'm not in the same room as the burning candle, it needs to be out. My husband and I have also gotten rid of all matches for safety (we use a lighter that he hasn't figured out yet).

So anyway, my days enjoying candles are coming to an end for quite awhile for safety reasons, but this Christmas, we'll enjoy the scent and the savings of my find. Check 'um out sometime & tell me what you think. I think you'll be impressed!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Coffee Talk Thursday: Powder or Liquid?

So the question today is--admittedly--somewhat random, but I know we as moms have an opinion on it (and I'd love to hear yours). What do you prefer when it comes to doing laundry: powder or liquid detergent, and why?

I've always used liquid, because there were brands that I liked, and usually I could snag a bottle on a great sale at the grocery store. However, clothes kept coming out of the wash with dark spots (almost greasy-looking spots) on them, and I knew they didn't go in that way. After experimenting to see if it was happening in the washer or the dryer and settling on the washer, I called the manufacturer to ask if they had any clue what could be happening. They put me in touch with our local appliance store, who would service the machine.

Apparently, the problem with liquid detergent is it is paraffin based. At the high altitude at which we live, the detergent does not fully dissolve in cold water (possibly even warm), and it builds up a residue inside the drum of the machine. This residue then was leaking out onto our clothes, according to the appliance store owner.

His recommendation? Powder detergent.

You can make your own following this recipe:
Powdered Laundry Detergent - Top load machine
(I'll add pictures, so you can know what you're looking for)

1 Fels-Naptha soap bar
1 Cup - Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda*
½ Cup Borax

-Grate soap or break into pieces and process in a food processor until powdered. Mix all ingredients. For light load, use 1 Tablespoon. For heavy or heavily soiled load, use 2 Tablespoons. Yields: 3 Cups detergent. (Approx. 40 loads)

*Arm & Hammer "Super Washing Soda" is not the same as Baking Soda. I find it at my local ACE Hardware. It must be sodium carbonate!
Yes, I have tried this homemade recipe. My husband likes the smell of it (the Fels-Naptha soap). I think it works ok. I always at least 2 tablespoons, and if I have OxiClean on hand, I add a scoop of it to the load too.

Lately, though, I bought some  Arm & Hammer Powder Laundry Detergent on the recommendation of a friend's mother. I think it works well, and it smells good too! I really like the kind with Oxi-Clean in it.

The problem is--the spots persist. I have started using vinegar in the fabric softener dispenser, because I've heard it is a great and frugal softener, and it helps wash out the soap.

Has anyone else ever had this happen? Have you figured out how to fix it, short of getting a new washer?

What do you like to use--liquid or powder detergent, and why?

(Linked to Frugal Friday)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Empty Nest="Terrible"

An older couple we know always encourages my husband and I to enjoy each day (even the bad ones) with our boys. They are in the empty nest stage right now, and they said, "It's terrible." It's quiet. It's lonely. Being on the other side of the parenting experience, they are sharing what they can to help us in the thick of it keep perspective. The days--however long they feel sometimes--are short.

The other day, we were are looking at family pictures stored on the computer, and I teared up at a candid one my husband took of the boys and I eating dinner around the table. Most nights, it's wild and crazy, and hardly a day goes by that a glass of milk or water spills. But, if I'm honest, it's also incredibly fun (even when I think it isn't), and I will tremendously miss having my boys at our table when they're grown and gone.

Thinking of the future can help us in the present. What do we not want to regret when we have an empty nest? What might we wish we would have done differently in our parenting journeys? Honestly, I wish sometimes I wouldn't become so irritable and short-tempered when my boys get into stuff they shouldn't. Big messes (or general destruction of property) make me real grouchy, and when I scold the boys with a raised voice, the tone of our home suffers. I know I will look back on those times and wish I would have handled it differently--with a spirit of calm and patient instruction, instead of a raised voice and harsh words. So since I am aware of that now, I am working on changing it. (So far we're having a pretty good week!)

Live each day so you'll cherish your memories of a full house when you're faced with an empty nest.

For more encouragement on this topic, see also: The Golden Years
The Magic Time

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Bus Your Station

In high school and college, I waitressed off and on to earn money for tuition and spending. When running an efficient restaurant, as soon as one party leaves, the table must be cleared and the station cleaned so it can be sat for waiting guests. The waitress may remove some dishes, but the duty primarily falls on the busser. The busser promptly clears the table, putting the dishes in a dish pan, and taking them back to the dishwashers.
If the floor is quite dirty, it must also be swept, and the table must be wiped down.  After the last guest leaves, and the restaurant is preparing to close, waitresses must do their closing duties in their station: restock salt and pepper, sugar, make sure everything is arranged on the table properly, and sweep, so the janitor can mop.

Following the restaurant model at home can help us run highly efficient and tidy kitchens. The problem is, prepping the meal, serving the meal, clearing the meal, washing dishes, drying them, putting them away, sweeping, and mopping is--in a restaurant--not a job for just one person. It is exhausting. That's why restaurants hire several people to perform the differing jobs. Yet, at home, Mom usually gets stuck with doing it all.

So the first step in following the restaurant model at home is getting your husband on board. At my house, the guys usually help some, but then retire to the living room to relax while I am in the kitchen, bussing my station. I presented the idea to my husband that if everyone worked together to essentially "bus the kitchen," it would be much cleaner consistently (and besides, I could really use the help). Having him on board is crucial, because he can help direct the boys and keep them on track when they want to run off and play.

Despite their young ages (5, 3, and 2), all of my children are highly capable of helping. They already take their plates to the counter, but now we are requiring more. Two nights ago, my five-year old helped me dry and put away non-breakable dishes, and then we all took cloths (which I wrung out beforehand) and wiped down the table, chairs, any spots on the floor, and any dirty spots on the wall. I have to say that after all that work, the kitchen looked amazing!

I love the look of home ec kitchens. The counters are spotless, always ready for the work of meal prep. Once finished, all dishes are washed, dried, put away, and the work space is immaculate again.
By following the idea of bussing your own station (your kitchen) with your helpers, you can have an immaculate kitchen too! When the space is clean, it is much more inviting and much easier to cook and bake.

After the kitchen is clean and closed, my husband leads the boys in picking up their toys. Sometimes, he'll even vacuum the living room. :) I'm trying to be better about making sure any laundry in baskets in the living room are put away before day's end, too. All of this is helping keep it tidier around here. It takes a lot of discipline, but it sure is nice coming into a clean kitchen in the morning!

Do you have an evening routine you follow after dinner? What does yours look like?
There are more ideas of evening routines in Large Family Logistics and also a general routine here:

I am grateful for a cleaner kitchen!
(Linked to Gratituesday).

Monday, December 13, 2010

Morning, Afternoon, Evening Routines

In Large Family Logistics, author Kim Brenneman (mother of nine) shares the secret to keeping a consistently tidy and clean house is "as simple as keeping a daily chore time." It encouraged me to read that I am not doing something wrong that my house can get so messy during the course of a day. She writes, "When a large family lives in a home twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, things get dirty, messes are made, clutter is left lying around, and small children create chaos. Yes, it will be a mess. That's a fact. But don't let it discourage you, just get to work. Make housework a habit that happens without a great deal of thought, and it will become much easier to do."

When we neglect consistent chore times, our houses can all too easily become pig pens. I've always thought of pig pens as being very messy, but Mrs. Brenneman's description brought new life to the meaning:
"Pigs root around with their noses, turning over anything and everything in order to find something to eat. This process is very destructive to the place where they are kept. They eat anything and everything. Pigs wallow and move their bodies around in dirt in order to create a bed. When it rains in their wallow, it becomes a mud bath where they take residence until cold weather comes. And when they pile on top of each other, they routinely suffocate the pigs at the bottom of the pig pile. This is not a happy site or a model we should emulate!" Imagine papers piled several places, that one shuffles through and stacks; clothes strewn around, traces of meals still in the kitchen; and toys everywhere. New messes are never cleared up entirely but only added to each day. Things sure stack up.

So what's the solution?

Performing a morning, afternoon, and evening chore time, every single day to keep things  from piling up. That way the house is always just a few minutes away from welcoming guests. Yet, if chores are skipped for a few days or a week, the house "looks like a pig pen and will take an extended period of time to straighten and clean." (I've learned this the hard way).

I blogged about creating a morning routine, so let's focus today on an afternoon routine. What does it consist of? Here are suggestions from Large Family Logistics:

  • Pick a time (before Dad gets home if possible, maybe at 4pm)
  • Light a candle, put on some fun music, create a fun atmosphere
  • Get everyone involved
  • Kids pick up and put away their toys
  • Pick up and throw away trash
  • Dust with a feather duster or cloth
  • Older children can be assigned a room to tidy up (after you've instructed what needs to be done)
  • When room chores are done, kids can work on bedroom chores (if they are little, we as moms will have to do the bulk of the work, but our kids should be alongside us so they are training for what they will do soon enough)
  • Mrs. Brenneman suggests doing a deep cleaning chore of the day after room chores and bedroom chores are done (I don't think this would be manageable for me right now)
  • Get yourself ready for your husband's arrival and start dinner
  • Then once the house is clean, assign the kids a sit time, where they can look at/read books, or play a quiet game before dinner (pick-up sticks, Uno, Skip-bo, etc.
An important disclaimer as we go about the process:

Sometimes, I'll admit I get way too stressed out and uptight when the kids toys are scattered everywhere and the house looks chaotic. In an effort to clean it up, I'm an irritated drill sergeant, and it was convicting to read Mrs. Brenneman's words:

"While cleaning is an important task we should approach with focus and vigor, it can become an obsession that is destructive to our families. Clean is not the only goal of the home keeper. The home keeper also wants her family to live with love, comfort and happiness. These are intangibles that have more to do with atmosphere and attitude. The pulse of your children's hearts are more important than excess dirt on the floor. While you need to conquer the dirt monster, don't do it at the expense of your children. Demonstrate to your family that you care more about hem personally than you do about keeping the house in perfect order all of the time. And show them its because you care about them that you want to keep a tidy home."
So may that encourage us today. Tomorrow we'll focus on evening routines.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Tea Party Time

I'm hosting a tea party gathering tomorrow--not the political kind, the hospitable kind. I've blogged about how I wanted to intentionally focus on our faith, our family, and our friends this Christmas season. Marybeth Whalen's e-book, A Recipe for Christmas Joy (wonderful, by the way!), discusses the idea of hosting a peppermint tea party. I loved it, and we are having one tomorrow.

Here's what we're doing:
  • Drinking peppermint tea, of course
  • I will also brew some Belgian Chocolate Rooibos and have other teas (and coffee) on hand
  • Eating snacks (We made red velvet peppermint cream whoopie pies and candy cane cookies; I'll also put out pretzels, a fruit tray, a veggie tray, and crackers and cheese)
  • Reading the The Legend of the Candy Cane
  • Beading candy cane ornaments (bought materials for these at Hobby Lobby--pipe cleaners, beads, ribbon)
  • Making goody bags: candy canes on a card that shares the meaning of the candy cane, Snowman soup (hot cocoa mix, a candy cane, some Hershey Kisses)
I ordered some items (like the candy canes on cards, table covers, candy cane plates and napkins) from Oriental Trading Company. Everything is coming together. Now if only I could get the house clean, and the kids would keep it clean! As I am writing this, they just dumped out a whole bunch of stuff in the sun porch.
So off to take care of that...and the dishes...make dinner...dishes...vacuum...pick up after the little more dishes. Eventually, I'll just have to stop and say "It's as good as can be," and enjoy having friends over, even if the house doesn't look exactly like a page out of Southern Living. Whenever I'm on the receiving side of hospitality, I so much more remember the feeling of being with friends (and the kindness of their invitation) than what their home looked like during our visit.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Day My World Turned Upside Down

Growing up, I couldn’t wait for December 25th. But, for me, December 24th held all the excitement. My sisters, mom, and I baked cookies for Santa, peeled carrots for Rudolph and the reindeer, wrote notes to Santa, set up the kid’s table by the fireplace so Santa wouldn’t miss our notes and treats, looked out in the sky to see if we could see his sleigh anywhere, and eventually went to bed—vowing we’d secretly wake up and hide in the coat closet until we heard Santa sneaking through the fireplace.

I remember vividly the day I learned the truth. I was around eight or nine years old (I can’t remember exactly because it was so traumatic), and in the middle of a petting zoo on a family vacation, I asked my parents the question every parent dreads: “Is Santa Claus real?”

I can still see the scene with remarkable clarity. My mom looked at my dad and said, “Should we tell her?” They sat me down on the petting zoo bench and broke the news—“No, honey, Santa’s not real.”

I cried so hard. “No, he IS real,” I screamed. “He IS!” Onlookers gawked. “What is going on?” they wondered. As my crying-to-the-point-of-hyperventaliting continued, my mom and dad decided to try to change the story by telling me that he was real after all. But there was nothing they could do. I already knew the truth. In fact, I took the news harder than learning of my parents’ divorce a few years later.

I vowed that someday, when I had children of my own, I would protect them at all costs from the crushing news that Santa’s not real. It’s a white lie that seems innocent enough. But is it? When you believe something so strongly and so passionately, only to find out it’s all a lie, it is devastating. Absolutely devastating.

Furthermore, as a child, I knew in the back of my mind that Jesus played into Christmas somewhere (the whole baby –in-a-manger, Silent-Night thing), but it was really about Santa to me. What was Santa going to leave me? What was Santa going to write to me? What was I going to write to Santa? What treats were we going to leave him? Santa and Christmas were like best friends forever.

For me, there are more serious implications for perpetuating the Santa story. If we believe Jesus is real, but we teach our kids that Santa is real too, when they find out that Santa is a fake, are they going to think that Jesus is make-believe too?

The evidence is very compelling that Jesus is not only a real historical figure (unlike Santa Claus), He is the promised Messiah and Savior of the world. While you won’t find Santa’s Workshop in the North Pole, I believe with all my being that Jesus is alive today in heaven—a real place out there somewhere. Scripture affirms that He is coming again, not as a humble baby, but as a powerful King for which every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord of Lords and King of Kings. While December 25th is debatable as His birthday (it probably wasn’t the actual day), the fact that He came to earth to die on the Cross for my sins so that I could live with Him and my family and friends in heaven for ever and ever is worth celebrating again and again every year.

That is why, to me, Christmas will always be about Jesus. It trumps Santa every time. Although the truth about Santa turned my world upside down, I am so thankful that the truth of Jesus makes my world right--eternally.

I know there are plenty of people who don’t agree with me on this one, and who believe differently than I do. If you are one of them and would like to discuss Christianity from a non-antagonistic position, I welcome you to email me at

Monday, December 6, 2010

When a Day's Work Is Never Done

Last week, I got behind in the house. We had a few rough days around here, and those days almost always leave me feeling discouraged. When I'm discouraged, I lose the pep in my step, and the house slides downhill too.

Take laundry, for instance. I had no problem doing it--running it through the washer and dryer. But then it sat, piled high in laundry baskets (either folded or laid flat so it doesn't wrinkle) for days.

Same thing with dishes. If I felt too drained from the day with multiple squabbles among children and behavior issues, I couldn't bring myself to wash all the dishes after dinner, dry them, and put them away. So if I went to bed with dishes in the sink, I awoke already behind for the new day.

After reflecting on why I got behind and how I could catch up, I came to realize it boiled down to this:
I wasn't finishing a day's work.

So before I started any laundry today, I took time this morning--with the kids' help--to put the laundry in baskets away. I actually didn't do any new laundry today. It can wait until tomorrow, because the second realization is:

Make your day's work realistic.

Maybe washing, drying, folding and putting away five loads of laundry in a day is too much for me right now at this stage of my life. But I can do one load (or two). If you are finding yourself getting behind, too, then maybe you are trying to do too much each day. Focus on a few things and do them well.

The other tip that helps me immensely (when I actually do it) is to sit down and plan out my day's work the night before. Even if I don't follow the schedule exactly, I still accomplish much more than if I only had a rough idea in my mind of what I wanted to do the next day. With the no-schedule approach, we all have lots of down-time where no one really knows what we should be doing. We wander around semi-aimlessly, and the boys seem to get into more fights with more free time.

A reasonable, manageable plan for the day can help so much to keep us productive and on track. Because we're not doing more (or less) than we're capable of, it is much easier to reach day's end and feel like our work for that day has been finished.

Menu Plan 12/6-12/12/10

We are following our grocery/spending money budget, and right now we're out of cash until my husband's payday Friday. So I am planning meals from the pantry this week. I do, however, need to buy some eggs, an onion and an avocado (but maybe I can round up enough change around here to avoid using my debit card).

Creamy Carrot-basil soup, rolls
Sesame chicken, Brown rice, sugar snap peas

Lunchtime Salmon patties, ranch potato wedges
Southwest Bake with lettuce, tomatoes, avocado

Granola, pomegranates
Peanut butter Sesame noodles, mandarin oranges
Parmesan-Crusted Tilapia, baked potatoes, broccoli

Applesauce bread
Leftover lunch
Chicken Broccoli Wreath

Biscuits, sausage patties
Crockpot Potato soup
Black beans and Mexican Rice

Peppermint Tea Party (Will blog about this later this week!)
Spaghetti marinara, salad, french bread

Roast, potatoes, carrots
Sunday night popcorn and snacks

View more menu plans at

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Benefits of a Broken TV

It finally happened. Our TV died. Sunday, we watched football and America's Funniest Home Videos. Monday, the television wouldn't turn on. It's a good thing, really.

Our kids were getting in the habit of watching PBS cartoons when they woke up. The problem with one is that it turns into two, and two can easily turn into three. When I would tell them it was time to shut it off, usually at least one child whined, and discipline problems began.

Same thing when they woke up from their naps. If they woke up still groggy or cranky, they would ask to watch a cartoon. A "no" was not often met with a compliant, "Ok, Mom. No problem. I'll just look at a book instead."

Sometimes, on a bad day, I would allow them to watch an afternoon cartoon or a short video. After all, it can be a real sanity saver. Many times, crying kids, clinging to my legs, would stop if I offered them a video. Then I could unload the dishwasher, start dinner, and keep that last little bit of sanity. Sometimes it was already gone, and I could work on getting it back before my husband came home.

From not turning on the TV all week, I've noticed my kids are better behaved. They play better together. They look at books more. They draw. They find creative things to do that they haven't done in awhile, or ever (like get down the Memory game and try to play it on their own). I like it.

The problem, I think, is that kids' brains are small. When the TV goes on, it's like their brains turn off. It takes awhile for them to power up again. Their behavior after watching TV illustrates this. I just never knew it was directly related to TV. From my own unscientific study, I can now confirm television viewing does affect behavior--usually negatively.

Not only are our kids behaving better, I also love that not having the option of watching TV makes it so much easier to be intentional this Christmas season about family time, crocheting gifts, reading books as a family, baking, doing craft projects, and more.

For the record, my husband wants to buy a replacement television. He found one on close-out at Sam's. He's planning to pay for it with part of his Christmas bonus--that is, as long as he doesn't receive jars of jam instead (like what happened on National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation )!  But we won't watch TV until after Christmas.

Also for the record, I don't think television is inherently evil. There are many educational programs out there, and we like to watch good quality, clean movies together as a family on the weekends. Plus, I think there are moments when a 30 minute cartoon or video can be a life-saver for a mom at home without any outside help. So I'm not saying you need to turn off your TV. What I am saying is I'm glad mine is broke. It's a nice Christmas present in an unexpected way.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Coffee Talk Thursday: What Do You Like Most?

This blog is for me, in that it gives me an outlet to write and a way to encourage other moms. This blog is also for you. I hope you find encouragement and practical help here to aid you in all you do each day as a wife and mother.

This Coffee Talk Thursday, I would love to hear from you on what you like most about this blog, and what would like to see more of?

  • Would you like to hear more of our stories of "misadventures," as someone once commented (we sure have a lot of those--yesterday at Hobby Lobby raised my blood pressure several notches, and then my youngest son's finger got cut by haircutting scissors, courtesy of a brother).
  • Would you like more devotionals--reflective thoughts on mothering?
  • Frugal tips?
  • What about housekeeping hints? I've shared before that I was raised in a very cluttered home, and so I have to keep teaching myself how to effectively run a home. As I learn new ideas and tips, I share them here.
  • I stopped doing our once-a-month cooking festival, where we shared hints to ease meal prep. There really wasn't much participation, so I just figured there was not any interest in it. Would you like to see more recipes and kitchen tips?
  • Is there anything else I've blogged about that you wish I would blog about more?
I'd love to hear your ideas and suggestions, since they will help me better serve you!

Have a great day!