Friday, July 31, 2009

Does Frugal Always Mean Free?

According to several dictionaries, frugal means making wise use of resources. If I took advantage of every free deal that comes along, I would get nothing else done. Yet, many frugal websites promote free deals as frugal living. I also read a lot about things that are completely overwhelming to me in my particular life situation. Examples include: making my own laundry detergent, grinding grain at home, and collecting tons of free samples.

I would like to offer a different opinion. I think frugal means making the best possible use of the resources God has given you.

I chose to work full-time. I chose to be married to a man who will probably work a shift opposite mine most of our working lives. I have had to learn how to make the best possible use of my time, how to be super organized, and how to manage life with a toddler by myself the majority of the time. Otherwise, things quickly fall apart.
This is what frugal means to me. This may seem completely oversimplified, but I know that there have to be other people like me who are completely overwhelmed by the extremity of other tips that are out there.
1) Be a good steward of what God has entrusted to me. Tithe. Give. Be Generous to Others.
When my attitude about giving is not right, it shows in every area of our finances. Everything I have received is a gift from God himself. I am not entitled to any of it, He has entrusted it to me.
2) Stick to a budget.
Budgeting is basically planning ahead and thinking about how much you are going to spend on what. There are several methods you can use for reference. Find one that works for you. Our method is kind of a hybrid of several different methods.
3) Don't waste.
Letting food go bad is money down the drain. Not using all of a cleaning product is money down the drain. Using more water than you need to is money down the drain. Do you see a theme here?
4) Stockpile and know what and how much you have in your stockpile.
I buy meat in bulk, cut it the way I want and freeze it in portions I will use. I stock up on frequently used dry and canned goods at Aldi. I stock up on favorite items when they are on sale at the stuff mart or grocery store. Many times I am able to combine coupons with a sale and walk out with a really good deal. Stockpiling limits the number of errands I have to run each week and that saved time is precious to me.
5) Continuously look for ways to save money.
Two examples. One, the interest rate on our home was higher than both of us wanted. We checked into refinancing and were able to get a rate two percentage points lower than before. That lowered our mortgage payment by $150/month and we'll also be paying out less in interest over the life of the loan. We practice the principle of doubling what you pay on the principle so we will stay more than minimum payment, but a lower interest rate is still awesome.
Two, we us propane for heat because that's what our city uses for gas. The five previous years we have lived in this house we just went with the company we inherited. Last year, propane when sky high and our heating bill tripled each month. I learned a valuable lesson, call around and find the best rate. If I had done that last year, I would have saved us .50/gallon. That would have meant we would have paid $1,000 less than we did over the course of the year. A hard lesson, but an important one.
6) Use your time wisely.
No need to go into detail here. Time is a resource and wasted time is a wasted resource.
7) Plan ahead.
My husband and I sit down together three times a month (every time a paycheck comes in) and talk about how that paycheck will be used. We talk about big things that we have coming up, a birthday, a wedding, a registration fee, etc. We save a little each month for big expenses like car registrations, unexpected medical bills, Christmas, and repairs.
8) Don't buy what you don't need.
Before I buy anything, I ask myself if I really need it before putting it in the cart and before checking out at the register. I put a lot of things back. I used to have this terrible habit of shopping to make myself feel better emotionally. I didn't think a $30-$40/week tripto the mall was that big of a deal. Note to self: the yearly figure is about $2,000. Consequently, I had a lot of credit card debt.
9) Shop sales.
I only buy clothes for my family when they are on sale. I have purchased several items of clothing for my toddler age son cheaper new than if I had bought them at a thrift store. I hardly ever pay full price for anything.
10) Avoid debt.
This has been a very difficult lesson for us. We are up to our eye balls in debt: credit card balance, adoption loan, and two student loans. We have learned a hard lesson, but are working our way toward being debt free. Every month when I sit down to pay bills I am physically pained by how much goes out in payments on debt. We will teach our children differently.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

One Hour Clean Sweep: The Living Room

In 15 Minutes I...

1) Put all the toys away.

2) Cleared all the flat surfaces: top of entertainment center, tops of end tables

3) Re-tucked slip covers

4) Sorted through our newspaper basket. I pulled out coupons to clip and took everything else to the recycling bin in the garage.

In main living areas it's helpful to take an empty laundry basket to collect items that don't belong. Then you can make one quick trip at the end of your time to put those items in their proper place. You can also take a small garbage bag to collect trash. Most of the trash that I find is paper so I just throw that in the laundry basket and take it to the recycling bin.

The One Hour Clean Sweep

To find out more about the One Hour Clean Sweep go here . To find out about the one hour clean sweep in the kitchen click here. For information on living rooms, go here. Updates will be posted the rest of this week.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

One Hour Clean Sweep: The Kitchen

In 15 Minutes I...
1) Took care of the dishes. This meant unloading and reloading the dishwasher. I leave anything that needs to be washed by hand until the very end and do that only if I have time. This is usually minimal, pots and pans and items that are too large or fragile for the dishwasher. I didn't get to a cutting board and an empty storage tub that needed to be washed out.

2) Cleaned off all the flat surfaces: tabletop, counters, and top of the stove. I didn't get the vaporizer put away because it has to go downstairs and I ran out of time.
3) Swept the floor.

Monday, July 20, 2009

One Hour Clean Sweep, Introduction

Over the next few days, I'm doing a series on the One Hour Clean Sweep. This is a technique I use when my house in in complete disarray and I am lacking the motivation to jump in and set it straight. The One Hour Clean Sweep is adapted from Fly Lady's Crisis Cleaning.

The One Hour Clean Sweep

1) Choose four rooms that need the most attention. I often break this down into kitchen, living room, master bedroom, kids bedrooms. Sometimes I lump the bedrooms together and add the bathroom as the fourth room.

2) Set a timer for fifteen minutes and start in the worst room. This is usually my kitchen.

3) Do as much as you can in that room in fifteen minutes. Do the job that will make the most difference first (more to come on this is future posts).

4) When the timer goes off, go on to the next room. For me that's my living room. Do as much as you can in fifteen minutes. Do the job that will make the most difference first. Keep going until you've spent fifteen minutes in each of the four rooms.

5) At the end of one hour, you'll have spent fifteen minutes in four different rooms and your house will look put back together.

Sometimes I need an extra fifteen minutes at the end to finish my kitchen.

The trick to making this work for you is to stay focused and stay in that one room. Do as much as you can in fifteen minutes.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Weekly Wrap Up

Seven random things I discovered this week...

1) I cannot keep to my grocery budget and have company for the weekend.

2) I do not have to hit every good deal. I was all prepared to hit this great coupon/rebate deal at Staples and then I looked at my budget for the week and was a little more hesitant. I finally decided to skip the whole thing. The next day I found another package of printer paper that I had forgotten in a box from our basement construction project.

3) Simple Sunday lunches and dinners work well for me. I need to be better about resting on Sunday. I feel a lot less stress about the end of the weekend/start of the work week when we do simple meals. Lunch: turkey wraps, cracker plate, fruit, baby carrots. Dinner: angel hair pasta with meat (Italian sausage) sauce, salad, fruit

4) I am not doing very well with my nightly routine. I do get the dishwasher started every night before going to bed, but if it's been a busy/long day I get little else done. Maybe I should try mornings?

5) 5.5 weeks left of pregnancy does not give me much time to get organized for the little lava lamp that is about to join our family. Thank goodness my mom and my sister are more than willing to help.

6) Actually reading health insurance statements is really important. I wonder how much money I have paid in medical bills that was already paid by our insurance. Tonight, I found a $20 discrepancy.

7) The Beth Moore Esther Study, It's Tough Being a Woman, is quickly topping the list of one of the best Bible Studies I have ever done. So much applies to modern womanhood.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Schedule for a Young Toddler

My DS (dear son) is 21 months old. He has always been very laid back and easy going. He had a routine for his days, but not a schedule. About two weeks ago, I started noticing some definite changes in his behavior. More tantrums. More screaming. More irritability. He just wasn't his easy going self anymore.

I did quite a bit of reading and this is the general consensus: toddlers need a routine and a schedule to feel secure. The daily timing of meals, naps, and bedtime on that schedule should not vary more than 15 minutes in either direction.

The schedule looks like this:
6:30-6:45am Wake Up, Milk, Cuddle with Mom, Change Diaper, Get Dressed
7:30am Breakfast
Free Play
Walk in Stroller
Play outside or play with mom inside
11:30am Lunch
Free Play
Quiet Activity
Read Books
12:30pm-2:30pm Nap
Free Play
Daily Activity
Run Errands with Mom
5:00pm or 5:30pm Mom prepares dinner, DS watches short video
6:00pm Dinner
6:30pm Play outside
7:30pm Bath, Pajamas, Books, Milk
8:00pm Bed
After about a week and a half, DS is back to his easy going self. And, as long as we stick to his schedule most of the time the times when he gets off schedule (Sundays, special outings) are not nearly as hard to overcome as they were before.
Note: I rotate toys so his free play activities vary every day or every other day. I have a basket in the living room that I change out when I rotate toys.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Weekly Wrap Up

Seven random things I discovered about home management and family life this week...

1) We've switched to a new system of budgeting that is really working well for us. My paycheck goes straight to bills and savings. We've always done that because I get paid once a month. Hubs' paycheck gets split between bills and what we call discretionary spending (groceries, gas, household items, allowance, etc). Hubs gets paid bi-weekly and his pay is deposited midweek. So, we take the amount we have allocated for discretionary spending and divide it by two. That amount is what we spend each week. This works better for us than trying to put an exact amount on discretionary items. I do try to stick to around $50-$60 for groceries/week. Other than that we just plan out what we need to spend money on that week and work from that amount. It really works for us.

2) My neighbor gave me this great tip. She cuts her baby wipes in half. I've always used half a dryer sheet, but never thought to do this. You really don't miss the other half and the wipes go twice as far. I know I could make my own, but that's one of those things I don't think I'd have time to do.

3) I started getting up before my family. I'm on summer break and it's tempting to sleep as late as the almost two year old Dear Son will let me, but I don't feel ready to face my day when I do that. So, I started getting up earlier, taking my shower, and enjoying a few minutes to myself before the day begins. It makes a huge difference in my productivity throughout the day. And, it's helping me get ready for the early mornings to come with baby #2 on the way.

4) I made the yummiest beef enchiladas I've ever had tonight. I found the recipe on the back of a package of Hy Vee cheese. Even better, it's a pretty frugal dish that would freeze well. There's good stuff on those packages. I'll start paying better attention.

5) I'm not doing very well on establishing a nightly routine. Maybe it's because I'm 33 weeks pregnant and pretty much zapped of energy by 9pm, but I'm just not doing very well. Ideally I'd like to accomplish the following every night before I go to bed: start dishwasher, sort laundry, pick up the house, clean kitchen, and wipe down the bathroom. I always get the dishwasher started and some nights I can accomplish everything on this list. Other nights, nada. Am I trying to do too much? What works for you?

6) I am in love with Aldi's milk and salad prices. No where else is comparable and these two items are hardly ever on sale at other stores.

7) I cannot parent an almost two year old in my own strength. I used to think I was pretty patient. I have seen some ugliness in myself lately as I respond to my precious boy that I have not liked one bit. When I feel myself start to lose patience, I take a deep breath and pray through the list of the fruits of the spirit. This works for responding to Hubs as well.

Best Wishes for A Great Week!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Inexpensive Cleaning Supplies

I know that many people are WAY more frugal than me when it comes to cleaning supplies, but this is what I do to save money on cleaning supplies.

1) Use a concentrate. I am currently using up my supply of Mr. Clean and then I'll transition to Basic H. I use concentrate for my kitchen countertops, my bathroom, my floors, and pretty much any solid surface. Concentrate saves a ton of money. I can buy Mr. Clean on sale or with a coupon for between $1 and $2. The bottle I have now, I've been using for over six months - much cheaper than specialized cleaners.

2) Buy laundy detergent on sale. I was raised on expensive laundry detergent and at times I do miss the fragrance, but the cleaning power of a cheaper detergent is about the same. I buy Purex and Arm and Hammer when they're on sale and try to have 2 bottles in my stockpile at all times. I also only buy dryer sheets on sale with a coupon. My last great bargain was .87 Snuggle.

3) Forget the squirty mop and special pads. I bought into this because it's convenient, but it leaves a sticky residue on my floor and the cleaner and pads are expensive. Instead I use this mop for my daily kitchen wipe down. I love it! I just wet the pad in my sink, strap it on, and mop away. The pad is machine washable. The whole set up cost me $11 at the local stuff mart and I don't have to keep buying cleaning solution and pads.

4) Buy cleaning supplies when they're free or almost free. Though I have come a long way in my frugality when it comes to cleaning, I still can't give up Windex, Pledge, toliet bowl cleaner, or disenfecting wipes (my favorite for wiping down the bathroom). I buy those products only when they are on sale and I have a coupon. I'm still working on a stockpile of pledge that cost me .50/item from a Target deal last summer. I also have a stockpile of Windex that was free from a Target deal earlier this year.

5) Use what you have. I use cheap shampoo to clean my shower while I'm in the shower. If you buy Suave when it's on sale and use a coupon you can get it for free. I use vinegar in my dishwashwer instead of jet dry. I use lemon juice and baking soda to clean my washer tub. I just pour in equal amounts of both and run a large empty load on warm.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Favorite Summer Recipes

Two of our favorite summer recipes

Zesty Italian Salad
Mix together in a large bowl:
1 box/bag tri-color rotini pasta,cooked and rinsed in cold water
1 package pepperoni, cut pieces in half
1 green pepper diced
1 cucumber, peeled, quartered, and sliced
1 container grape tomatoes, cut in half
1 can sliced black olives, drained
*Omit any vegetables you choose.

Pour 1/2 cup Kraft Zesty Italian Dressing over the top

Sprinkle with 1/4 cup parmesan cheese and 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese

Toss together, chilll, and serve

Turkey Bacon Guacamole Sandwiches

On a hoagie roll, wrap, or whatever bread you choose, layer oven roasted deli turkey, mozzarella cheese slices, and thinly sliced red onion. Toast in a toaster oven until cheese is melted. Top with tomato slices, shredded lettuce, guacamole, and ranch dressing. Enjoy!