Category: Frugal

On God, Provision, and Money

My husband and I have felt God leading us to pay off our debt for some time. But He has clearly indicated that we are to do it His way and not the world’s way. We have no budget but instead keep a balance of cash in the bank, a cushion against bouncing checks. Yes, we have tried a budget but as I have mentioned before neither of us is good at focusing on it, it makes us both very stressed and cranky, and it holds us back in the area of giving (give freely so that one hand doesn’t know what the other hand is doing is a constant cry from my heart.) I realize that every single money ministry out there explains how to do this with a budget but it doesn’t work for us and God has made that VERY clear to us.  So, that is where we are, paying extra on one big debt at a time (we have already paid off Rachel’s hospital bills both from her birth and from her hospital stay and ambulance trip a few years ago, as well as my husbands doctors bills and the car and hope to pay off the new windows and continue to pay down my college loan in the next six months), and keeping a small cushion in the bank with a home equity line to back us up in an emergency.

God has taught us a lot about ourselves and how He wants us to manage our money in the meantime, blessing us when we are keeping our eyes on Him and trusting, and withholding funds and sending us multiple emergencies when we start relying on ourselves and our “plan” (not all the emergencies are warnings, but some of them clearly have been).  Because we have a base salary that is stable (my husband’s work) that pays ONLY for the basics and minimum payments and rely on extra incomes from both of us for  paying down debt and treats it is very clear when we are moving in the right direction. 🙂

Having said all that, this weekend was an interesting experience money wise.  One of the reasons my husband said to go is that we had paid the entire months bills and knew how much money was in the bank.  (This is one of our trouble areas–putting off paying bills.)  We knew how much we had left and that in the coming month my husband would be starting a third paying gig, which would allow us to pay down one of our debts completely in a few months, but which also meant he had to spend some money up front (for those who don’t know my husband is a work-at-home programmer, plus runs a well-read blog, and makes web-comics–which starting next month he will get PAID for.  Woohoo!!!!  Since he uses screen shots for his images it means purchasing games to make fun of. :))  This is where things always get financially crazy for us.  We have a habit of counting our chickens before they hatch and jumping in with both feet.  This time was better than others and the Lord checked us at the perfect time.  Literally.

As I mentioned before He kept me from leaving Monday as I had planned. Instead I picked up groceries at Trader Joes (money I knew we had and had planned to spend on groceries already), we had a big storm, and I had a dead battery.  I decided to hang out on Tuesday and spent some time online at CJ’s work, checking my email, feed, and blog.  At one point I had nothing that needed done and I felt prompted to check our bank balance.  Praise the Lord!!!!  There was our bank account, with several items pending, which in one hour would have taken our account into the red and would start the snowball of bank fees.  I was able to immediately transfer funds from two other accounts–one to pay off all that needed paid, the second to give us a cushion until I could get home (I knew that two checks were on their way which would more than replace the cushion).

God is SO GOOD!    Not only did He bless the trip and make sure that I had enough cash for all I needed, including gas and groceries, but He protected us from a huge crash that would have ruined much of the work we had put into saving and paying off debt. We didn’t accrue a single bank fee, everything went through, and nothing bounced.  Had I ignored the prompting to check our balance for even one hour, we would be in a very different financial place right now.

The interesting thing about this is knowing that we are doing things the way God has led us to do them–which is very different from the world’s way or even other Christians’ way.

Yesterday this was brought  home to me clearly as we sat listening to two sales men try to convince us to “buy it now” and “lock in this awesome price, $2,000 off our normal price”.  As you might know by now our house has issues.  Big issues.  Lots of them.  We are not very good at dealing with these issues except in a piece meal do-it-yourself sort of way and my husband wanted to see what this company (who did our windows) would offer us for the job.  My husband’s idea was to find out how much it would cost to get the work done after we paid off the next big debt.  They wanted to lock us in now and he would have none of it. (I am so proud of him–it was very tempting).

A lot of what they said made sense from a worldly point of view. However, the factor they were missing was God. We are trusting God, our Jehovah Jireh, to protect us and to help us pay for each job in His timing. This was not His timing, this was THEIR timing (they kept calling asking if they could come out.)  The two salesmen were flabbergasted that we didn’t jump at their offer.  In fact, one of them said that in all his years of doing this he had NEVER seen anyone turn such an offer down.  We know that God will protect us and He will provide the funds when the time is right.

In Case You’re in the Neighborhood

Tomorrow I am preparing for our yard sale on Friday and Saturday.  We have some tricks up our yard saling sleeves–some of which we discovered when Rachel was preparing for her first yard sale last summer and started deciding what she liked and didn’t like from other people’s yard sales.

  • Price all the important items.  We price most items at one price (say 50 cents for all unmarked) and only actually price the big ticket items. This saves us time and effort and works as a draw when we advertise.  In this case all unmarked will be 50 cents though clothes will probably be $2.00 a bag full–which usually sends mothers scurrying about filling bags as much they can–which is good since we want rid of our 8 garbage bags FULL of clothes!  (We usually walk away from sales with no prices marked–in ours we have HUGE signs saying all of this item is this price.)
  • Set up a canopy a few days before and set some of the stuff under it under a tarp (if you live in a safe to do that area like we do.)  Everyone KNOWS that canopy means a coming yard sale so it is free advertising and it means you don’t have to carry a ton or have too much help day of.  Borrow wone or two–don’t rent them.  By the time you pay for it you have lost your revenue. We milk the neighbors and grands for tables and canopies every year–maybe someday someone will up and buy us one for Christmas or something.:)
  • Once you have the main stuff out of the house search the house for more. I always find all kinds of things I don’t need once I have the worst of it outside. This is why I give myself a week of pondering.   I move all the garbage bags to the garage and walk through the house looking for more.  Believe me I always find more.
  • Plan for rain. I keep tarps and bags available, keep most things under a canopy, keep totes available for the stuff that could get damaged.  This also makes it easy to pack up for the night–just cover everything or stash it and you are good till the next day.
  • Sell cookies and water. I make a ton of cookies a few days before and sell them individually or in small groups.  Since the kids are in charge of the yard sale they have to figure out my cost and reimburse me and they get to convince the customers to “just buy one”.  I have learned that most people can’t pass up a cookie if a 8 or 9 year old tries to sell it.
  • Put out some big items and make sure they are viewable from the road. We have a vintage Kroehler blond wood dresser set that I am putting out (I researched it first, not charging near what I could get but I know I don’t want the fuss.)  Also have some other dressers in the basement, a train table, and a weight bench to sell.  As each large item sells we move something else close to the road to get people to stop.  We are sneaky that way.
  • Have a cause and have it posted. People love to help out.  In our case my kids run the yard sale and are in charge of it (they pay me $! an hour;)).  We post a sign saying that this is our end of the year home school project (which it is even though we don’t do much of the sort of home schooling they think of when we say it.)  For the kids this is a huge lesson–math because they do all the change and are quite good, organization, planning, marketing, social stuff, and more.  It is a great experience and also offers them the opportunity to earn money–in this case to help pay for their best freinds to visit from Texas and to help finance our trip to Ocean City –if we can go.
  • Advertise. And unlike me remember to say WHERE YOU ARE.  Dur.  I posted it to our local non-Freecycle group–the one where we are allowed to sell stuff but forgot to add the address.  When I advertise I mentionsome of the main items we will ahve so people know if it is the sort of sale they are looking for.  I don’t buy an ad because I almost never make enough to pay for it.
  • Put up readable signs.  This is the year of the yard sale–really it is.  Everyone and their brother is having a yard sale this year.  The thing is that either they forget to price, aren’t organized, or have a whimpy sign that you have to squint to read–not so good whyen you are driving by at 35, 45, 55 mph.  I have seen so many signs made of pen on card board it is unbelievable.  We use old house paint and old pieces of wood and make large signs that are easy to read (dark blue on white because that is what I had.)  Another favorite of mine is white garbage bag over a board with black electrical tape words.  It works well and can be read from a 1/2 mile away–longer but we have hills and they are way nearer than 1/2 a mile between.
  • Place your signs well.  We place a sign at the huge intersection 1 mile away, at all the intersection nearby, and on both sides of our house.  The signs have balloons and arrows on them.  We use the same signs over and over so when people see those signs they know it is us.
  • Make sure you have lunch ready and waiting so you don’t have to cook or spend the money you are earning on takeout.
  • FInally have LOTS of change and bags. And have them the day before in case someone stops while youa re setting up.

So if you are traveling through Western Pa an hour north of Pittsburgh (or if you already live nearby–you all know who you are) stop by.  Did I mention I have eight huge garbage bags full of clothes the kids have grown out of?  4T through Juniors 5.  And 3 bags full of toys?  Please come, I am begging you!  I want RID OF IT!

WfmW: I’m Bored Edition

What works for me when I hear “Mom, I am bored?”

I put them to work.  Really. Yes, work.  Really.

Now I should mention here that we expect them to entertain themselves.  As my husband’s mom use dto say–“I am NOT your entertainment committee.”  That said sometimes they do need a little direction.

Now, I am not talking, “Go clean your room” type work.  Nope.  I give them something they will think is fun and set them to it.

For instance my son LOVES scrub brush and Method’s “Go Naked” multipurpose spray and let him go at it.  No it isn’t perfect but my tub is mildew free and he had fun AND I didn’t have to scrub.  

He also loves to wipe things off–I give him a wet wash cloth or a wet wipe and he will wash all my walls, counter tops, and the fronts of all the cupboard, plus all the door knobs.  With 5 people home constantly those things get gross.

With the girls it is trickier.  Letting them dust is a big one.  We got a free sample of Swiffer Dusters in the mail and they LOVE using those though they are just as happy with an old sock really (and the sock seems to work as well.  (On the other hand the Febreeze allergy reducer stuff REALLY WORKS!!!!  They LOVE spraying it on the curtains and furniture.)  They also like washing the car and cleaning windows and mirrors, when I let them.  (They go through too much spray and I always feel like I should be helping them–which I hate.)

Essie will also hang out the laundry to dry–she loves that, and Rachel will work on cleaning projects with specific goals willingly (like the basement so we can have an art class there or getting ready for the yard sale this weekend, or cleaning so we can have company.)

Not that they are actually bored that often–they spend most of their free time playing Wii, reading books, or helping the neighbors with their gardens.  Which is why my house is seldom actually clean–they are too busy MAKING messes to need me to let them clean them up.

*For more Wfmw: Bored Edition visit Shannon  at Rocks in my Dryer

A Frugal Vacation with Kids

The only time my husband and I ever went on a vacation where we did things even remotely “normal” was our honeymoon–and that was because it was a gift from our families.  In the 11 years following our only vacations have been cheap because we, in that time, have never had money to spare for extras like eating out let alone actual travel.  With vacation season upon us and gas and grocery prices sky rocketing, more people are trying to figure out how to do similar frugal vacations.  Most of it has been said better elsewhere but I thought I would share what has worked for us.

  • Research the trip (the internet makes this SO much easier–not only can you research travel prices but you can actually look up towns you will be passing by).  Figure out the cost of driving versus plane, train, or bus and travel accordingly.  The only time we have ever traveled by plane was when my husband’s company paid for it.  Even bus is usually more expensive than driving yourself.  Also, have you tried to deal with a layover with 3 screaming, whiny kids, or dealt with lost luggage with a baby who exploded her diaper, the clothes you packed in the carryon are suddenly too small, and the only store in the town you are staying only sells $50 baby clothes which is more than your budget for the entire trip?  No?  Well it isn’t fun, believe me.
  • Another benefit of research is knowing gas prices along the way (when I traveled the 12 hours between home and Mass. with my then two kids we knew every rest stop and how far I could go on one tank of gas, and where the cheapest gas was), knowing where scenic views and rest stops are.  You can even check for the towns with the lowest cost of living in the area you are going (for instance when we lived in Mass. there were several towns within a few miles of each other–three were tourist traps but one was MUCH more expensive than the others.)  Knowing where all the rest stops are is also a big plus of this.  When I traveled with the kids when they were small we kept a potty in the trunk for emergencies but seldom needed to use it sinc eI knew where the stops where and always let the kids stop and walk(run) around at each stop.
  • Visit friends and family.  Only twice in our married life have we traveled and stayed in a hotel–one was our honeymoon the other was when my husband’s company paid because they were moving us to the area.  Every other time we have stayed with someone or camped.  For instance, one set of friends lives in Mass. near where we lived, another lives in Washington DC, another in North Carolina, and my brother lives in Orlando, Florida.  Last year we traveled to visit my dad, who was renting a cottage on the ocean, and we stopped over with our friends in Washington DC.  The only costs we dealt with was food (which bought at the grocery store) and gas (which we had a yard sale to pay for.)    You can also take a tent and camp out-cheaper than a camp site and gives them their space.  Keep in mind–keep it short.  As my dad used to say, “Fish and company both start to stink after 3 days.”  Of course it depends on the friend (I have some I would LOVE to keep here when they stayed, others though, well 3 days is plenty.:))
  • Travel with friends or family.  We seldom travel alone.  Well, back when I was a homesick mom of two I traveled with my two babies the 12 hours to get home unless I could find a friend traveling the same direction, which I did on occasion.  Sticking together means that you both get to travel AND you split the cost, not to mention have help with the kids.  A note of caution however, make sure the person you are traveling with is not going to get horribly sick of the kids during travel–even grandparents can be affected by this. This can be VERY hard on relationships.
  • Traveling with friends.

  • Be prepared.  Pack for the weather but only take what you need. If you take too many clothes it is very easy to leave something behind.  We plan a few outfits per person that can all be mixed and matched.  One bag per person.  You can always wash something out in the sink and allow it to dry overnight.  Thi seleminates a lot of the mess that occurs when traveling.  If the kids only have 3 pairs of shorts and shirts they are less likely to strew them about the room or tent.
  • Stock up on what you will need before you go.  DO NOT travel light.  Okay, travel light in the clothes department but not in the needs department.  Take all the food and body care you will need with you if at all possible.  Have a cooler with drinks and non-messy foods (fruit and cheese and ready made sandwiches are good.  I also take a thermos full of coffee so I am not tempted to stop.  Unless you are traveling to a non-tourist place that is cheaper than your home town this is important.  If you don’t want to carry it all with you then stop in a small town before you hit the tourist trap.  For instance, last year we visited my dad in Ocean City–before we finished our trip we stopped at a Safeway and picked up all the food we would need, even getting their discount card so we got the best price.  This saved us a ton since Ocean City, Maryland has tons of little touristy shops but no big, normal, cheap grocery store in site, especially none that carry the specialty foods the kids need.  In other words, shop like a local but not necessarily locally.
  • Budget for “I am sick of the car and car food and want a hot meal and a rest”. We usually plan for a quick meal towards bedtime at an actual restaurant.  I try to choose a place where we can get a few cheap things to supplement our car food instead of whole meals as well as a place with a climbing play area and good bathrooms so the kids can change into pj’s if need be.  I usually let each kid pick one item on the dollar menu, get water, and let them run around and let off some steam.  This does a lot for everyone’s sanity.
  • A quick walk to pappap\'s house to jump on the trampoline is a favorite break.

  • Plan your souvenirs. Souvenirs are expensive, though if you plan ahead with the kids there are some cheaper things you can get that will remind you of your trip.  Magnets used to be a cheap souvenir though now at $5 a piece, well, no thank you.  If you must collect magnets stop at the local Walmart–they usually have local ones for much cheaper than the souvenir shops.  We usually stick with post cards and brochures.  Postcards are nice because you can keep them in an album and collect them at each stop.  We also found that brochures work well.  We collected them at every stop over the past few trips–they make fun reading material for the kids while driving and are a perfect way to record all the stops you made.  In fat, we kept ours in a photo album after our North Carolina camping trip and the kids still love to look at them to remember all we did.  My kids also love to pick up maps at the rest stops so they can keep track of where they are and where they have been.  This is also great for future home school activities–my kids learned a ton from all those brochures.
  • Plan around kids sleep schedules. When my littles were babies I would plan my trips around their nursing schedule.  Later I planned around naps.  Since my kids slept well in the car I would leave on my 12 hour trek right after an early lunch.  This meant the littles would sleep for a few hours at the start of the trip.  Then they would be awake for a few hours and then asleep for the rest of the trip.  It worked out really well.  Nowadays we leave after breakfast (one less stop) and listen to books on cd the whole way.  Investing in some Adventures in Odessy ($5 for the travel set) made all the difference traveling 9 hours each way last summer.  It kept the kids entertained and kept squabbling to a minimum.  I also do what my mom did when we made the same trip growing up–I keep a stash of stuff up front and have the kids keep a stash of things in back.  Each has books and activities they enjoy doing as well as a pillow for naps.
  • Finally got them to sleep.

  • When all else fails stay home.  When my husband takes his vacation time each August (for our combined birthdays) we don’t travel.  He HATES traveling so we stick close to home and plan a few fun activities locally.  We usually stay within an hour of home.  The kids also like to go camping at the pond where I grew up.  It makes for a nice change and if something happens we are only 4 miles from home.  You can also check out local campgrounds or go swimming at a local hotel (ours charges about $5 per person.)  Miniature golf, gocarts, or the local farm show or fair are all cheaper mini vacations than traveling.  Just think–for $100 you can get a pass to the local museums for the whole year instead of just the price of gas to one vacation spot.

Frugal Friday: cheap candy

Okay, I know real candy is fairly cheap.  However dye/preservative free candy (which is what my kids require due to food allergies) is NOT cheap.  My kids don’t get candy too often–maybe a package a month if I buy it–but that is still $5 for candy.  So, instead I have done some research into candy making and have come up with some cheap alternatives. (Some of the linked recipes I adapt to suit our needs.)

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Baking soda/vinegar shampoo recipe

I have had so many people email me about how to do this that I thought maybe I had better just post it here.  You can read about our experience with it here.  The “recipe” is as follows.

I fill a jar with baking soda and water–making a paste (I store the jar plus a squirt bottle full of vinegar in the shower).  I use that to scrub my hair then rinse with water.  Afterwards I pour vinegar over my head (upside down so it doesn’t get in my eyes) and rinse again.

I have super thick long hair and it takes about 2 Tbs regular shampoo for me to cover my hair.  I have found that the same goes for the baking soda paste:  2 Tbs baking soda/water then a cup or so of vinegar.

I buy a huge bottle of white vinegar at Sam’s club and it lasts me 6 weeks or so.  The thing is that you can wash it less often as well which is also better for your hair.  With regular shampoo I have to wash every other day or so or it gets greasy–this way I can go as long as 5 days without a hint of grease, not to mention no longer needing styling products for my very frizzy wavy hair.  I can now let my hair air dry –I comb it as soon as I get out of the shower and either braid it or pull it back in a low pig tail until it dries.

I know some people who have done this and have had time when their hair got dry or flaky.  Someone mentioned using a bit of brown sugar in the mix to keep the flakiness away.  I have also, in the past, used an egg mixed with some olive oil every 2 weeks or so which deep conditions your hair (leave it on for 3-5 minutes.)  You can also use a fruit smoothie on your hair to condition and clarify (same ingredients you would put in a smoothie–fruit, yogurt, honey–awesome for your hair and also  makes a great facial mask.  One thing that I do is use mineral oil to keep my skin from drying out (I have it in an old Skin-so-soft bottle) –after I rub this into my skin I run my fingers through my hair which seems to keep my hair from being so static-y and lets it dry less frizzy.

You can find lots of recipes for homemade body care products on the Dollar Stretcher.

Update as of June 3, 2009: We are still using this and have made some changes for the better which you can read about here.


Saturday Photohunt: Candy

I did a doodle for this over at Elasah.com but also decided that since the kids ate all the syrup candy (as they call the candy I make from the syrup I make for pancakes (mix of molasses, maple syrup, honey, and corn syrup–the candy tastes like Bit-o-hunny).  So I got out a new recipe I found for gummies, made that, twice, and then made syrup candy plus peanut butter–tastes like Mary-Janes.

Coconut and blueberry gummies

Coming Soon: Art Class

My kids are helping me prepare a series of art lessons for kids.  Instead of telling you how to draw a specific person or thing (like so many drawing books do) we are going to show you how to learn to draw anyone.

If you want to join in (adults are welcome as well as their children) you are going to need a decent sketch or drawing pad with plenty of paper–it can be slightly used but needs lots of fresh sheets.  You will also need a pencil with an eraser (I prefer a mechanical pencil to drawing pencils.)  Then, check in each Thursday to post a link to your version of the assignment and to check out the next week’s assignment.

The lessons will be posted each Thursday on my art blog: Elasah.com.  (Don’t worry, I will let you know when I post them here as well.)  My kids are looking forward to making some new friends and having others working along side them.:)

BTW–I would love it if you would get the word out.  If you know someone you think might be interested could you let them know?