Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Pay As You Go Or Lumpsum?

So many things in life now have the option to make monthly installments, and many times it makes life more convenient.  Car insurance, heating bills, property taxes, house insurance and many more can be equalized over the year so you can pay one same amount every month.  Shawn and I have opted for this so many times, but lately we've been rethinking the practice.  We're noticing all the little ways it costs us more to do it!

Kid's activities are the first area we're addressing.  Take dance for example.  Yes, you can pay a set amount for 9 months of the year, and figure it into your monthly budget.  But, if you pay the whole amount at the start of the year, our school gives you 10% off.  We've decided that next year, we'd like to pay for the things the kids would like to sign up for outright.  Why not save 10% if you can?

Not all the activities our kids would like to try offer discounts, but knowing that it's completely paid for means I don't have to figure them into our budget.  I can't end up with any fees or charges for being late either.  But, I do have to come up with a larger amount of money in one month, which will require some saving over the summer.  We're not 100% sure which things the kids will want to sign up for this fall, but we are bouncing around some ideas with them, trying to offer them some choices.  Piano and ballet are for sure already.  Scouts and certain sports are still being considered. 

Over the summer, any extra budget money, overtime or proceeds  from some of the things we are selling will go to the kids activity fund first.  When we reach the goal we've set, we'll resume paying off debts and saving for the home repairs that keep popping up. 

While we don't have the extra budget room to address all the other things we could move off of monthly payments, I did take a second to check into what fees we pay for the service.  We pay our auto insurance monthly, and yep, they charge a bit extra for that.  Did you know you can save a percentage off your city tax bill if you pay the whole amount yourself at the start of the year?  We pay ours along with our mortgage and the bank submits it for us.  Eventually, we'd like to be in a place where we have enough saved up to pay out the tax bill and move away from the installments.  The problem is, once you start paying monthly amounts, it's hard to switch.  The first year feels like paying twice! We need to save the same amount we pay that month so that when the year is over, we have an entire year's payment saved and free to use.

While we'd like to get there eventually, for now, we'll start with what we can do, the kid's activities, and go from there.  Do you prefer the monthly payments? Or do you tend to pay for those big things annually?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Flooring Dilemma Update

Thanks for your suggestions everyone!
In the end, we decided to live with the subfloor.  We ripped out the carpet one Saturday afternoon, and were pleasantly surprised to find the chip board underneath in great shape.  We decided to stain it to even out the multiple colors, and used a gift card we had at the home improvement store to buy the one small can we needed.  Shawn had a can of Verathane in the shop, which he used to seal the floor.  It actually looks pretty nice, I have to admit.  Several people have commented that it looks like flooring!  So for an actual out of pocket cost of nothing,  we are really happy with the floors.  I'm sure we'll be living with them for quite some time.
Before the clear coat was dried, I went into labor.  Good thing we got the floors done when we did!  While I was in the hospital, Shawn finished the floor and got the furniture out of the kitchen and back where it belongs! 
The above photo is of our newest little one, Bremen, with the rapscallion dog that caused the whole thing in the living room.

Wondering what dilemma I'm talking about?  Read the original post here (Does This Justify Raiding the Emergency Fund?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

New Uses for Homemade Laundry Soap

While reading another's blog about living frugally, I came across an idea that I loved.  Use laundry soap as general purpose cleaner, she said, it's cheaper then the specialty bathroom cleaners you buy, and does a great job.

Hmmm? But why not?  Now, she was talking about a store bought variety that she uses, and was also pondering attempting to make her own laundry detergent, but I immediately thought of my giant pail of laundry soap and decided to give it a try.

I only just finished up the first batch of laundry soap that I had made.  The couple of dollars I spent making 10 gallons of soap has lasted my family almost a year!  We're still loving it, and I was excited...have I discovered another use for it too??  I asked myself if it could work.  Why not? It's three ingredients are a water softener, washing soda and pure soap.  Why wouldn't that clean?  I normally use vinegar and water to clean my house, and it does a great job, but I'm always open to trying a new idea. 

Today I washed my kitchen floors using the laundry soap in a pail of hot water.  It did a really great job!  Tackled all the sticky food spills easily and left no residue!  I'm going to try the super dried on toothpaste spill on the bathroom counter next, but I'd say it makes a great, cheap cleaner!

There you have it, another cool use for homemade laundry soap!  And hey, even if you don't make your own, if you run out of cleaner, now you know, you could use laundry detergent instead!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Goin' On A Worm Hunt

Last week, the two oldest kids felt like they were on a grand adventure when Daddy got them out of bed at midnight, helped them get dressed and head out for a hunt.  A friend of ours had driven over to join them, and the four of them spent almost three hours out in the middle of the night, looking for worms.  Whenever we have a good rain, one question gets asked repeatedly at our house. " Daddy are we going hunting for nightcrawlers?".  I'm sure that of all the things we do that are weird, this one might be near the weirdest end of the scale, haha!

Around here, we have a large variety of nightcralwers that are excellent for fishing with.  When they come out during a good rain, our kids look forward to Daddy taking them for a walk.  They splash in puddles, get soaked and pick up all the nightcrawlers they can find along the way.  It's a big adventure for them.  The girls love to go too ( no squeamish sallys around here!) and Lily with her small two year old fingers tends to be the fastest worm picker-upper.

We put them in a large container, with dirt and miscellaneous stuffs, then keep them cool and use them throughout the year.  I've been doing some research on how to keep a "worm farm" with nightcrawlers instead of the usual red worms that one might use for a composter.  While we've always done this "just for fun", the kids think that it would be a fun "school" project to study the worms, and maybe even sell some of them.  Why not?  So... feeding the worms is now an item on our chores list... hahahahah!

This is completely free, and takes no real effort, but it's a fun little family activity.  I have kinda thought that we might be the only people who do this, but lately I have heard so many people telling stories about worm hunting when they were kids.  It's such a fond memory for so many people!  One friend tells of it being one of the funnest memories of being with his dad, another talked about how fun it was to sell the worms to local fishermen.  For some unexplainable reason, picking up these slimy little creatures is a very memorable childhood experience.  Remember that middle of the night adventure?  While they were out walking around, there were others out too!  One elderly gentleman they ran into talked about childhood memories of his own worm hunts and thought it was neat to see these guys taking the kids out. Talk about memories! One day they'll be sitting around laughing about the time Daddy took them worm hunting in the middle of the night and the ended up talking with some old guy!

It might be fun to try a worm farm of your own!  Why not?  If you're interested, here's a great link
Nightcrawler Worm Farm Info   from e-how.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Brands We Love

Lately I've been thinking about how many items in the grocery store I buy based completely on brand.  Sometimes there is a valid reason, and sometimes it's just habit.  I'm sure most of us have favorites, and I've become curious about what brands other people are loyal to.

In no particular order, here are a few brands I always reach for.

Aveeno products: Mainly because no one in my house is allergic to them, so they are my first choice for shampoo, body wash and soaps as well as sunscreen and lotions.

Campbell Soup: Because my husband refuses to eat the no name stuff.  He swears he can tell the difference.  I wait until there is a good sale and buy it by the flat.

Maxwell House Coffee: We started buying it because it was the cheapest when we were in our first house, and now we just like the taste of it. Ha! It was $4 a can then, and now $10 is a good price for it!

Huggies Diapers and Wipes : They have always fit my children well, and not bothered any of the allergies.  I guess they are more expensive than no name ones, but I really like these best.

Ketchup: No name.  Lol, that's right, I prefer the no name ketchup.  I don't know why!  My parents always bought heinz when I was growing up, but I actually like the taste of the no name stuff better!

Pop: I've always been a Pepsi drinker, but after I tried Superstore's blue label wave cola ( which is their president's choice version of Pepsi) I found I actually like it better.  Now, given the choice, I would choose the Superstore pop.

Toilet Paper: since I refuse to wipe with sandpaper, I have always paid more for toilet paper.  I have two brands that I like best, Royale and Purex, and will buy whichever is cheaper that week.

Kraft Dinner: no knock offs allowed in this house.  I wait for a good sale and buy the case.

Milk: I like Dairyland better than Foremost, though I can't describe what difference there is, haha!

Hotdogs: I buy the no name ones.  I can't taste any difference so I'm not willing to pay more for the brand name ones. 

Cleaners/Laundry Detergents: I make my own :)

So, that's all my brand quirks.  What are yours? Some of mine are based on preference, and some on price, and others on habit.  Did I miss any major ones in my poll?  Take a sec to answer the poll, I'm curious!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Alright, let me start off with stating that I have been very hesitant about broaching this topic on my blog.   As of this weekend, when school officially finishes for the year, we are going to be homeschoolers.  Bear with me as I try to put this decision into words.

I never thought I would homeschool, ever!  I have plenty of friends who homeschool, and to be honest, I thought they must be smarter, braver or more dedicated than me.  Or maybe they were just crazy?  But over the last little while, the idea of considering homeschooling began to grow in our home.

Our oldest is very smart, and has always loved to learn.  He could read at 3, write at 4, and started insisting we teach him his times tables for fun when he had just turned 5.  He picks up things at lightening speed, tell him once, and he knows it.  He can figure things out, imagining the inner workings of any machine.  Once, when he was 5, he came upstairs and said to us " Let me tell you why the basement is colder than the upstairs.  Heat rises, so all of the heat the furnace puts into the basement eventually makes it's way upstairs.  Also, the basement is part way in the ground, so the earth keeps it insulated and cools the floors and walls." Ahhhh, thermodynamics discovered all on his own.  So naturally, we assumed he'd do fabulously in school.  We put him in french immersion for two reasons: It's Shawn's family heritage ( I speak it as well) and it would offer him a challenge...hopefully. 

Baden also needs time to adjust to changes, especially big ones.  So, being a caring mom, I put him in pre-school so he would have a slow and smooth adjustment to school.  He hated it.  He cried before and after school.  Now, this is a fabulous school, and I have nothing negative to say about it.  But, he struggled with the stress all year. 

Surely, Kindergarten would go better!  By Christmas, Baden was fluent enough in french to understand pretty much anything you said to him, and he could say what he wanted, with atleast 75% of the words in french.  By all measurable standards, he was a stellar student.  Well liked by the teacher and his classmates, he did well in all subjects.  But still, he hated school.  Suddenly, he didn't find learning as fun.  The stress has been showing at home in his behavior and his thoughts.  We talked to the counselor, who assured us he would adjust and was doing just fine.  Both his teacher and his principal were shocked by our request to see the counselor because they knew nothing about the behaviors we were seeing at home.

Summer was a relief for us.  Surely, after a nice break, grade one would be better?  Baden was thrilled with his teacher, who had also taught him pre-school.  He continued to excel in all measurable ways at school, except maybe dance class, which he loathed, lol!  But, the stress continued to show at home.  He would melt down over silly things.  He felt left out of whatever we were doing during the day while he was gone, and would be extra demanding of our attention when he was home, as if trying to make up for the hours missed while at school.  Our son, who had always been gentle and caring to his sisters was becoming mean and often angry with them.  Small situations at school seemed to bother him for a long time, making him upset. He often felt helpless dealing with certain classmates.  He's picked up behaviors and language we don't agree with.  It's been a fight to get him on the bus everyday this year.

We've spent a lot of metal energy trying to figure out what is causing this stress.  To be honest, we still have no idea.  He goes to a great school.  His teacher is fabulous and has really gone the extra mile for him.  It's been so frustrating to have no idea why he is stressed, we were sure that if we could figure it out, we could at least improve or fix it.  However, we also began to think we may not be able to wait until we identified the reason, the stress was getting so bad.

Each time he had a school break, our whole family could breathe a sigh of relief.  The first day of a week off, he'd be a mess, but by the end of the week, he was himself again.  Often Shawn and I would say to each other " It's a shame we have to send him back!"  Well, after the spring break, Shawn said to me " Why do we have to send him back?"  It's a simple question, but a loaded one.  So began my research into homeschooling.

I have been very impressed by what I found.  It really is do-able, and there are lots of amazing curriculum choices out there. There are plenty of studies out there, and great books, all showing how you can offer your child a great education.  The more I read, the more I felt like God was telling me to be prepared.  That's all I could hear, so I kept reading, exhausting my homeschooling  friends with my endless questions.  One let me borrow her daughters books for a week, so I could read through them and see if they would suit my kids or not.  It's really hard to pick which math book you might like, if you can't see any of them!  We prayed and we considered, and still we felt we were being told to "be prepared and wait". 

Finally, on a day off, Shawn volunteered at the school.  He went to help kids read books.  As a guy who speaks french, his willingness to volunteer was a real help to the boys in Baden's class.  It was an average day.  Nothing terrible happened.  No lightening from the sky, no bullying, no problems.  Yet, he came home and declared " That's it, we're homeschooling."  I asked him what had happened to make him feel so sure, but it was nothing he could articulate.  All of our preparation was put to good use as I began to order the materials we had picked out.

We discussed the idea vaguely with Baden, but we didn't tell him flat out that he would not be returning to school.  It didn't seem smart, in the middle of a local teacher's strike, because the two were not related at all.  I knew what our provincial regulations were, and began filling out forms, and writing a formal education plan for the year.  Finally, after a particularly bad day at school, I finally told Baden that he only had to make it to the end of the year, and then he wouldn't have to go back.  It has relieved his stress visibly.  I registered with the school board, and informed his school.

We also had to decided what to do for Colleena.  While she may enjoy Kindergarten, the idea of going to school if Baden isn't going with her, scared her.  She had always imagined getting on the bus with Baden and playing with Baden during recess.  After a lot more talking and praying, we decided not to send her either.  One of the benefits of homeschooling is the lack of a school schedule, of being able to organize our days around Shawn's work schedule.  We'd lose out on that if we sent Colleena.

I have always enjoyed teaching my children things, and sharing those "Aha!" moments with them. In a way, we've always homeschooled our children without really calling it that.  We taught them as we went about our day, and let them explore interests and encouraged them to learn many things.  I've missed that while Baden has been at school, and I admit, I am looking forward to next year very much.  I know it won't all be smooth sailing, and there will be lots of hard days, but I think it is the right choice for our family.

The main reason I am choosing to share all this on my blog is that this choice is having a effect on so many areas of my life.  It definitely is a factor in my budget.  It's changing what I thought my life would look like at this point.  Having just brought home baby #4, our life will be quite busy this fall.  I'm not sure what life will look like for me, as I tackle the running of our home, tasks like doctor and dentist appointments, grocery shopping and housework and try to add a fourth child and homeschooling to it!  What will happen to my time? I'm still not sure.

Obviously, I believe I can do this well, or I wouldn't try it.  However, I still struggle with doubts and fears.  It's a big thing to take on total responsibility for their education.  I have to mourn the things I imagined enjoying about the school experience.  Like all parents, I imagined watching school plays, science fairs and first bus rides.  While I am in the process of making this change, I am allowing myself leeway to make mistakes, miss certain parts of the school experience, and change the experience to work for us.

Since this blog is about me, my family and our journey, I've decided to include our homeschooling experience, which has become so entwined with all the other aspects of our lives.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Does This Justify Raiding the Emergency Fund?

What makes an emergency worthy of a raid on our hard earned savings fund?

This is the question on my mind today, let me tell you why.  So, our dog is getting old and has been peeing on the floor more and more frequently.  We do own a carpet cleaner, and have been able to clean it time and time again.  I won't bother to go into how much I hate this, because you've all probably heard me rant about it already, and it's totally beside the point of this post.  The second last time Jinx peed on the floor, I followed my usual routine of cleaning it up immediately with our Bisell Little Green Machine, treating the carpet with pet stain and odor remover and then shampooing it again with the full size cleaner.  (ok, technically, Shawn does all of this, I played the sensitive pregnant nose card and got out of it).

The problem is, this time it didn't work.  I shampooed several more times, and still the whole house smelled like a combination of wet dog and dog pee. Niii-iiice huh?  I kept apologizing to the kids' piano teacher, since she had to be just feet from the odor that week.  A week of nice weather so I could keep windows open and air out the house, and a whole box of baking soda later, it finally smelled ... a bit less gross.

One week later, the morning of the next piano lesson, the dog peed again.  Now, I don't think the dog just has it in for the piano teacher, but I did feel bad for her again!  It had dried completely before we saw it in the morning, so Shawn poured a bit of cleaner and water on it before starting to suck it up.  The smell was so horrid, I almost threw up and had to run out of the room.  We followed our usual procedure again, and it did not work at all.  I covered the spot with an upside down bin so the kids wouldn't walk in it ( it was conveniently right in the middle of the main living area, thanks Jinx).  I cleaned again and again.  I dumped baking soda in it, and left it over night.  I tried odor removing sprays, desperate to at least cover it up.  Nothing has helped at all.  Over a week later, it still smells so strongly like ammonia that I don't even want to sit in my living room.  And there is no way any of us can sit on the floor to play!

Now, this carpet is not in the best shape anyway.  It's original to the house (1986) and a torturous shade of off-white.  It's sculptured-textured beauty has long faded, but at least I could always get it clean, if not completely stain free.  Having carpet bothers my allergies, but it was nice to have been able to sit on the floor to play with the kids. 

Shawn's theory is that the poor carpet is just too saturated to salvage anymore.  We suspect that the dog is getting old enough that she may not be around forever.  But we can't keep living with it until she is gone.  It's now so gross, that I wouldn't be able to let baby lay or sit on the floor.

So this is why, with only about 10 days until my due date, we are having to rip out our carpet.  But then what?  I have lived with bare floor boards before.  For many years, while we renovated our previous house, we had bare floors in one room or another..or all of them.  If we're going to have exposed floor boards, though, we will have to seal them with something, so that any future accidents aren't just going right into the floor itself.  If we're going to buy cheap paint, stain or sealer, would that be money well spent, or should we just suck it up and buy flooring?  If we buy flooring, what do we get?  Do I want to settle for just whatever I can find cheap enough by this weekend, Shawn's only day off before baby's arrival? How long will it take us to replenish the emergency fund if we do?  Do I want to spend more than that and look for something I like? Do I have time for that?  Should I just seal the floor and save for what I'd like? 

Of all the reno projects on my dream list, I really didn't want to deal with living room flooring first.  But, now that I don't have a choice, what should I do?  I feel so frustrated, because there are so many other things I'd rather have paid for first, like the bench we need in the kitchen, the activities the kids want to do next fall and at least one fishing trip this summer, to name a few!

So, to answer my own question, I don't think this is an emergency worthy of breaking open my piggy bank.  I may be living with bare floors for a while, but at least they won't smell like dog pee!

What would you do?

Here's how it turned out... (Flooring Dilemma Update)

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