Thursday, September 30, 2010

Beating the Budget Buster : Halloween Edition

Halloween is always a spendy time for our family.  Mainly because I am a Halloween NUT, and I love to make awesome costumes for my kids.  Most years, I have bought all new material and sewed them great outfits.  Some years have included a duck, a hunter, a teddy bear, a knight, a fairy, a ninja..and a few more.

This year, we are challenging ourselves to spend zero dollars on Halloween.  We've told the kids that they have to use something we already have in the house, make something with materials we already have, or borrow what they need.  Now, this should not be too difficult!  We have a ginormous rubbermaid tub ( seriously all three kids can fit in it!) of dress up clothes, boxes of extras in closets and more accessories than can be listed.  I have a closet full of material.  The challenging part is changing our habits!

I also ususally enjoy munching on Halloween treats all month long, but this year I am stregthening my self contol muscles!  I plan to buy only enough for the usual number of kids, at the last minute.  And maybe I'll have to settle for different treats than I usally get to cut down on cost.  Too bad a person can't give out homemade treats anymore, I make a mean chocolate/orange Halloween swirl cookie!

I'd love to hear from you if you wanna join me in this edition of beatng the budget buster!

Anyone have a bat costume to lend?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What do you value?

Recently, I was at a meeting of women interested in participating in mentorship.  Some ladies wanted to mentor, and some wanted to be mentored.  When asked to say why we where there, I discussed my long time reaction to Titus 2:4 " Older women should train the younger women ...".  Every time I read this verse, I say out loud to the pages of my Bible "oh YEAH? well where are these older women?!?"  In our mobile culture, many women are no longer surrounded by mothers, grand-mothers, aunts and other women of influence who can guide, lead, and encourage them to a right way of living.  Some of us long for someone who has the life experience to come along side us and say "I'm with you", and maybe impart a few words of wisdom that they have learned along the way. 

What surprised me was the reaction to my desire to be paired with an "older woman" for mentorship.  I ammended my words to include, more mature, and wise.  Still the reaction was the same: No one wanted to be an older woman.  In our culture, we praise youth and beauty, but those are fleeting.  These women did not want to be called "old". 

The Bible has alot to say about which we should value more, youth or wisdom.  The entire book of proverbs is dedicated to wisdom!  "Wisdom is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her." Proverbs 3:15  "Wisdom is a tree of life to those who embrace her, happy are those who hold her tightly" Proverbs 3:18.  Hmm, the tree of life? More precious than rubies?  Proverbs implores those of us who are "younger" spiritually or chronologically to seek wisdom whole heartedly.  Those of us who have gained wisdom are told to take care to pass it on... so why doesn't anyone want to be wise?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Nifty Thrifty Gifty: Photobooks

First, SPOILER ALERT!  If you are my parent or grandparent, you may not want to read this!!! That means you Nannie :)

My favourite, easiest thrifty gift idea is photobooks.  I made these last year for all the parents and grandparents in our lives (13 in all, seriously!).  I originally saw the idea on tv, to take pictures of kids artwork and have it put into a photobook.  Kids artwork is cute, but with lots of glued on sparkles and macaronis it's often hard to mail and gets wrecked over time.  This way, grand parents can enjoy the kids creations, and they immortalized forever.  I included lots of pictures of the kids too, holding the pictures up, or shots of them working on it.  I called it "works of HEART"

Every single recipient LOVED it.  I had them made in a 6X8 soft cover size, so they fit inside a purse.  It was a great idea for many other reasons.  Yes, I had to spend a bit of time choosing layouts, uploading pictures and putting the book together.  But I only had to do it once!  I had copies of the same book printed and sent to my house.  I wrote a dedication to each grand parent inside the cover, and put them all in envelopes.  Another bonus was that they could be mailed for the cost of just one stamp, instead of the cost of a parcel.  And, at a cost of under $10 each!  What else can I give all the loved ones in my life for $10 that would be meaningful and appreciated?

My theme this year is four seasons of fun, and I am including pictures of all the fun and neat things the kids do throughout the year...gardening, sledding, horse riding, raking leaves, etc etc.

There are lots of photo websites that are great,  Last year I used Black's, but I found their creation program a bit clunky.  Their print quality was awesome, though.  This year I am using Shutterfly.  I'm sure you can look around and choose one you like.

Another bonus free idea:  When you sign up for Shutterfly, you get 50 free 4X6 prints.  I plan to take a family pic and have them sent with the photobooks near Christmas, I'll write a quick message on the back, and VOILA! Christmas cards!  I also got a coupon for a FREE 8X8 hard cover photobook for signing up!  I used it to make an album for my husband made up entirely of pictures of him with the kids hunting and fishing.  That's what he's getting for Christmas this year...FREE!!  For those of you here in town, I also got some coupons for 10% off anything you order, and if you want one, let me know.

A friend of mine fills up a photo album for her grandmother every Christmas with new pictures of her kids.  Everyone loves photos of their grandkids!!

Monday, September 27, 2010

"Shopping" Differently

This mind set change is definetly altering how I "shop".  I think we as a family have become a bit lazy in our problem solving lately.  "We want something" has automatically become  a direct route through"We buy something" to end up at " We have something".  Not being able to spend money has made me look for new ways to cut out " We buy something".

Recently, our youngest daughter poured water into the charger base of our portable phone, frying the whole unit beyond repair.  True to our new guiding principle, knowing I couldn't eat a phone meant I couldn't spend money on one.  We lived for a couple months with only the kitchen phone, which has a two foot cord.  I have to stand at my kitchen desk to use this phone.  It definetly cut down on the long chat session type calls!  But during this time, I was helping to recruit volunteers for our church's children's ministry programs.  I had to phone dozens of people, and try to get my kids to not need my attention during the calls, since I was chained to the wall.  I grew very tired of this pretty quickly!  But still I was determined to persevere! 

During a chat with a girlfriend one day, she reminded me of Air Miles.  Our family collects Air Miles, and in the past, we did manage to use them to take several trips.  But now that we are a family of five, and trips use alot more miles, this family isn't going anywhere anytime soon!  I checked into the many things you can "buy" with Air Miles.....tons!! ( You should check it out!!!).  We ordered a portable phone set with two phones, and a carpet cleaner!  Now I will no longer have to pay to clean my living room carpet!! ( Believe me, it needed it!)

If we just use our creativity, there are so many more routes out there than " We buy something"!  What about trading? Or borrowing?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

I Love Hand-Me-Downs!

As a kid, I always loved when a friend of my mom's would bring me a whole black garbage bag of her daughter's outgrown clothes.  It was like a treasure chest, all full of neat clothes, all for me!  And you know what? I haven't outgrown that little thrill.  Partly, I suppose because often I'm being given clothes I might not otherwise afford, and also because the giver's thoughfullness delights me.

I love getting hand me downs for my kids too.  I think passing around hand me downs for kids is a bit more common, but I wonder if we can re-ignite it among us adults too?  I notice that offers of hand me down clothes are often pre-faced with " I hope you aren't offended, but I thought of you...".  Probably because some people might be offended.  But why? 

I know some of my friends often pass around clothes to each other, and I think it would be fun if we could get more people in on this.  Chatting with a mom at the playground the other day, I heard about how her and her friends have a "Merge and Purge" party.  Everyone gets together for a girls' night out, and brings clothes they no longer need/want/use/fit into.  Then, each gal gets to go through what everyone else brought.  Whatever no one needs at the end of the night is "purged" to Value Village or the womens shelter, or whatever charity was decided upon.

Who wants to "Merge and Purge" with me??

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Where did you buy that?

Imagine with me for a moment....
A friend comes over around Christmas, or your birthday, and hands you a nicely wrapped gift.  You open it and are delighted with some item that suits you so well, you're sure this friend must have been reading your mind.  "Where did you buy that? I've been looking for something just like this for ages!" you ask, and your friend says " I picked it up a garage sale because I saw it and immediately thought of you!"  Does your esteem of the gift, or the friend suddenly change?  How about " I saw it at Value Village?", or "I've had it for ages, but it just doesn't suit me and I knew you would love it!".  Why?

If it's in our power to give an item that is in good condition, from our own home, or any other "thrifty" location, isn't it still just as thoughtful and meaningful?  And why are we just as often embarrased to admit where we purchased the item?  Haven't we still thought of the recipient, considered what would please them and made a generous gift?

As the holidays approach, and I start planning for those on my gift list, I have been pondering this question.  Just so you know, I'm personally ok with all the things from the poll.  Recently, a friend told me that their family draws names among all the cousins, and the gift has to be something from your own home, you are not allowed to buy it.  I think that's fabulous!!  I'd love my children to generously share with their friends, toys or books that they no longer use.  Isn't that a great thing to instill in them?

Small steps...

Well, yesterday I was feeling discouraged about our month so far.  Shawn got a bonus at work, and had some overtime on his last check, but the amount left to save in our account is less than these things.  I wanted to see ALL that money go to savings.  But yesterday, I needed to focus on what is going well.  There is some money to save, a vast improvement from two months ago!!

Yesterday, I went to the consignment sale our church hosts for childrens toys and clothes.  If you've never been there, you might not be able to understand the huge-ness of this sale.  The whole basement of our church ( two gyms and several classrooms) is converted to a shopping-palooza!  I had volunteered to work at the sale and planned to shop for our kids while there.  Before I went, Shawn and I sat down and figured out what each kid might need, and came up with a short list...nothing.  Yup, we evaluated the winter clothes, and what they have in their drawers and realized that our kids have plenty.  I did decide to look through the toys in case something jumped out at me as a good christmas present, and I came home with two small things totalling four dollars.  My mind set is already changing!  I didn't even look through the areas of things I had already decided I didn't need, why tempt myself?  Yay Progress!!!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Thankful Thursday

So, today I am thinking of things I am already thankful for on this journey. I could list the many things I am thankful for in my life, but that list would be tedious to read, so I will focus on one thing this week. I am thankful for the new perspective that is leading to this change in our lives.  I am thankful for where I am now at the same time as I am trusting God to lead our family to an even better state of being.

I am thankful for the things God has brought into our life for free this last week: a scooter which will make an excellent christmas gift for our son, half an elk for meat, and lots more veggies from friends gardens.  He provides for us in many ways, if only we would open our minds, and hearts and let him!  If only we understood the vastness of His love for us, his immense storehouses that cannot be depleted!  Every good thing comes from God.

" And this same God who takes care of me will
supply all your needs from his glorious riches..."
Philppians 4:19

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Know the cost!

So often, when our family wants, or needs, something, I buy it without thinking first about the actual cost.  We eat bananas, so I buy them.  I don't pay any attention to the cost per pound and have no idea what a good price for bananas might be.  There are a few things I pay attention to, like cheese, but even if the price is higher, I buy it anyway!

I saw a speaker once who's message was that if you knew the total cost you were paying for something, you would have less of an over spending problem.  Let's do some super simple math as an example.  I want to buy something that is a dollar.  In our province, that means I will pay $1.13 with sales tax. BUT, I have to earn $1.28, so they can deduct income taxes first, to have $1.13 to buy the item worth one dollar.  Okay, I know this is a little example, but add a few zeros and you have to earn $1280 dollars to buy a $1000 couch...adds up!

In our new way of thinking, saving even a penny at a time, I have taken the time to do a cost break down on some things I spend on without thinking.  First Laundry.  We have three kids, a mom who spills and a dad who works in a job where he often gets dirty.  I wash atleast 10 loads per week, and thats a nice round number for easy math.  I have to use a special soap because of one child's excema.  I have to drive to a different store, across town, where the laundry soap is the only item I purchase, but I'm not even figuring in that cost yet!  I buy liquid soap for my HE front loader that washes 30 loads ( MAYBE, if none of them require extra soap!).  I wash in warm water, and dry them in my dryer.  The soap costs me $9 per bottle.  That means that I spend just three dollars a week on soap, and use about 1/2 a litre of it.  Running the dryer works out to about 70 cents per load. Thats $7 a week!!  So I spend $10 a week, just washing my clothes, but not including the cost of water, and heating it.  Wow, I never realized how much we spend simply washing clothes.  I already do some things to save in this area, like running full loads, drying on medium heat etc.  After doing the math, this does seem like a good area to cut some costs in.  First, I am switching to cold wash ( I know, I should already be doing this!).  Second, I will put up a clothes line next spring.  Until then, I will set the dryer to get the clothes almost dry, instead of very dry, and have the dryer running less time.  But the biggest cost saver I am discovering is this: I am going to make my own laundry soap.  I can buy a bar of laundry soap for $2( and customize the amount in it to avoid irritating skin), and then all I need is 1 cup of washing soda (cost...maybe 50 cents), and 1/2 cup of borax (cost maybe another 50 cents).  And this will make 10 gallons of soap!!!  I'll let you know how it goes!

The second thing I have done some quick math on this week is the milk program at school.  In the past I've always just written a check and been glad that I only have one kid to pay for.  The school charges 75 cents for the small milk.  This week, my mother in law wondered out loud if that was really a good buy, and I whipped out my calculator ( I already know I'm a dork).  I can send him the same amount of milk in a thermos for under 25 cents.  So, I think I'll skip the milk program.  Plus, sending a thermos lets me mix it up a bit for him so he doesn't have the same thing everyday.  I wait for the juice in bags, Del Monte for real juice, or Kool-Aid as a treat, to go on sale for under $2.  Kool-Aid I can often find for $1.50.  Those items are only 15 cents, or 20 cents to send.

A third thing we exercised our calculator fingers on was the cost of our hot tub.  If you have a hot tub, you may already know that the first two months or so you use less chemicals to maintain water, but by the third month, you start using alot more to maintain chlorine levels and cleanliness.  Averaged over a whole year, when we use it about 5 or more times a week, year round, it costs us $40 a month to heat it, and $20 a month in chemicals.  We love the hot tub, as a family thing to do, and to keep from feeling stiff and sore.  A total of $2 a day seems well worth it to us.  We spend way more on tv each month anyway!  But surely, there has to be a way to cut down the cost, right?  We realized that the first two months or so, it likely only costs us $10 a month for the chemicals we need, and the third or subsequent months would be $30 to $40! WOW!  But what does it cost to drain and refill the tub?  We got out our water bill, did some fancy figuring and realized that for our 1500 litre tub, it costs us $20.  I think we'll just change the water more often!!

Have you ever stopped to figure out some cost breakdowns? How about how long you have to work to earn the amount you spend in a certain budget area? I'd love to hear them!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Month of Free

Our first month, Shawn and I agreed that we would keep open minds to anything God brought our way for free.  Now, you may already know this isn't a huge change for us, since Shawn is a bit of a ..ahem..scavenger anyway.  But what we set out to do was find how many different things are out there for free.  This will be an ongoing journey, I'm sure.

Now, August was a great month to do this challenge, since there was lots of extra garden produce to be had.  We picked left over crab apples from a friend's house.  Normally I would never go to the effort of trying to do something with crab apples, but this year I made a zillion things to freeze and keep.  We picked raspberries to freeze as well, and put away more rhubarb than I am sure has ever been compiled in one location before!  Good thing we all like rhubarb crisp!  Of course, there was also lots of lettuce, cucumbers, carrots and zucchini to go around too.  What I found was that if I was willing to use what others had extra of, there is a lot of selection out there for free.

Cool as it is, extra garden veggies in August is not the surprising part.  When we got a phone call asking us if we'd like a commercial cooler, we said yes!  Now our informal meat shop that we as a family, and our circle of hunting friends use, has a huge cooler.  When we were asked if we would use a camper, we said Yes!  Now we will have a 6 person camper to use next summer.  Shawn found a lawnmower, several bikes and a powerwheels jeep.  I was given a huge load of hand-me-down clothes for our son, and a tricycle for our youngest that only needs a few bolts tightened to be as good as new.  We found that if we were willing to invest just a little bit of our time, to clean or tune-up something, we could have a great find.

I'll admit that I needed to get over my own pride.  Taking what someone else is done with, or has left over, was sometimes hard.  But why should it be?  Its greener and more economical!  This is a change in perspective for me.  Its not that I can't go buy something, its that I choose not to.  I am choosing to live simply in order to pay off debts quickly.

At the end of our first month, we haven't saved a huge sum, but we did not go into any more debt, which was an improvement I will take as progress.  By sending us so much for free, I felt that God was encouraging us to keep going, to trust that there will be more progress.

So, I challenge you....what can you find for free?

Friday, September 17, 2010

"If we can't eat it..."

The first challange we needed to face was changing how we decide what to spend money on!  So, we committed that for one month "if we can't eat it, we don't buy it".  Of course, there are some exceptions!  I can't eat gas, but I needed to put it in my van anyway.  What this affected was those times when I was standing in the grocery store thinking "this is a neat little (___) why not buy it?"  But of course, those were things I did not NEED.  Many items were on the chopping block that month, but it made me take a good look at where we had been spending money.

We also knew that we needed a plan.  We sat down together and agreed how much we would allocate to each spending area; groceries, gas, etc.  We itemized everything we would need to pay that month, and I made excel charts to track everything.  Yes it was alot of work, but now I can use those charts every month and it helps us know exactly where all the money goes.

We started using all cash.  I have seperate pockets in my wallet for things I generally pay for, like groceries and gas, and Shawn has the cash for things like hot tub chemicals.  We pay all our bills online, and take out the cash we will need for a whole month.  When its gone...its gone.  We've needed to think ahead to what other things we may need in a month before we spend money.  But it still feels a little wierd to pay cash at the grocery store, I'll admit.

I read Dave Ramsey's book "Total Money Makeover", and tweaked his plan to suit our family.  I would highly recommend this book, especially since he looks at finances from a christian perspective, an important difference to us.  I love his plan of having a small savings account before paying off debts.  That way if something comes up ( like a water heater) you wont have to dip back into credit cards.  Then you pay down debts, smallest to largest, to keep your motivation high.  He has a total of seven steps, if you're interested, he has a great website and resourses.  I couldn't buy his book ( 'cause I couldn't eat it) but I did borrow it from the library.

We also agreed that we would open our minds to ANYTHING God sent our way for free.  What an amazing month!

So far, our creativity is flourishing.  We have needed to think of new ways to accomplish things, not to just fall back on spending.

What is your first step?

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