Wednesday, December 17, 2008


With the holiday season just around the corner and so many grand plans still unfinished, I was starting to feel a little stressed about getting and not getting things done. For example, a couple weeks ago, I spent quite a tidy sum on embossing pads, rubber stamps and card stock to make Christmas cards by hand.

How did that work?

Well, I am totally stocked for embossing powder and all the supplies I need to make cards. However, with one week before Christmas, I seriously doubt that is going to get done. So now I'll dig out my snowflake stamps with a goal of sending out Winter Greetings I said, GOAL. I think the goal of sending handmade Christmas cards will be recycled for next season. Actually I am planning to go ahead and stamp a few cards a day while it is freezing cold outside and keeping them with the stamps and embossing stuff. My reasoning is that is the best place for me to look next year. Will that work? We'll have to report on that next year...

We sat down with the boys and discussed the fact that Christmas is going to be slimmer this year. To my surprise, they were not only OK with it, they were supportive. It is going to be quite a bit different, but I think it is going to be more realistic. I am going to have the boys help me make cookies each day to take to friends and neighbors. We are also going to make jars of homemade hot cocoa mix to include with the cookies. This will allow the boys to get in on the action and participate in the giving. I will be hitting the dollar store this week for containers to put the goodies in, or to the thrift store for used baskets to carry the goodies in. I may be too late to find the baskets at the thrift store. The best time to look for baskets and things to package goodies in would be around the summer when nobody is thinking of Christmas yet. Oh well, I'll do the best I can and improvise a little. Hot glue and ribbons cover a multitude of sins...

As far as my goal of cutting our grocery bills this month, I am happy to say we are on target to do that this month. However since the month is not over and I also have my oldest coming from Iowa to spend a week, we'll just have to see. At this point, we are really well stocked for a lot of things, so I am going to see how far we go on the allotted amount. We are still above what I would really like to bring the bills down to, but as I said, it is a start. After the first of the year, I am hoping to be able to get a small freezer to start doing once a month cooking.

As far as gas for the car, I am still bundling trips and being really conservative with any driving even though gas is quite a bit lower. One thing that I have found disturbing is that Americans tend to have such a short attention span when it comes to conserving resources. When gas hit $4 a gallon and more, many people started lining up to buy hybrid cars, cancelled unnecessary trips and went out of their way to conserve. Now that gas is down, they have gone back to the same old routine. There were plans to build hybrid cars at a new plant in Mississippi due to the demand for hybrids, but that has been shelved due to the disappearance of the demand for these cars. What happened? My cars are not hybrids, but I do conserve carefully and am hoping to have a hybrid one day in the future. Our heat stays between 67 and 70 degrees (I admit it, the higher temp is my doing, not hubby's--I get really cold even with layers on in the house), which is just low enough to be comfortable. When it warms up, we will be putting in new windows and patio doors to keep money from leaking through those. They were needing to be replaced when we moved in, we just have not gotten to it. I'm still seriously making hard decision on what I spend our money on and am working to get a budget in place that will put us more on track with where we should be financially. Nothing like a recession to hit you in the face with reality!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Home Improvement

As you can see, big changes are happening here at my house. When we bought the house almost a year and a half ago, the deck was in bad BAD condition.

Actually it was just plain unsafe.

The previous owner paid for the rebuild so we were pretty OK with that. The contractor is a friend and builder that we trust, so that was even better. We knew he would not put our family on something he would not put his own family on, so we went with his bid. My family schedule has been pretty hectic the past year, so the project was put on hold until recently. Charlie came by last week and started the deck project. I am looking forward to it! The original stairs went directly from the upstairs to the downstairs. To get into the yard, you had to go up 3 rock steps that are part of the rock retaining wall. At one time, they must have been OK, but now it is very dangerous to use them. As a result, I don't go into the backyard too much and if I do, I use the wood stairs to hop off at ground level. Charlie is going to build a landing that comes off the stairs and allows us to safely access the yard and connects to the downstairs patio. YEAH! This will be great for me since I really want to get going on a decent garden this spring. After he finishes the deck and stairs, we are going to get quotes for a few other things we need fixed around here. We have been in the house for a while, yet I really haven't embraced decorating or making it OURS. While not exactly frugal, I am going to start looking for heavy fabric to make curtains for all the rooms. I plan to use the discount coupons and sales for JoAnn's and Hancock Fabrics, so it won't be a huge blow to the budget--and I plan to do a little at a time.

Speaking of budgeting: We have really been pinching pennies in anticipation of the holidays. I have been keeping my family budget online at Pear Budget and am in love with that service. The first couple months shocked me! BIG TIME! What I THOUGHT I was spending on the different categories (what I had budgeted as the max amount) vs. what I WAS spending after all the receipts were entered was not a pleasant surprise. For example--we spent $250 more on EATING OUT than I even remotely imagined we did. And we spent SEVERAL HUNDRED dollars more on groceries than I even wildly imagined. After adding up all the little receipts for trips to the groceries "to get one thing" (and ending up with $50 in the cart or more), it was a very unpleasant reality trip. However, having it there in black and white (and a lot of RED)allowed me to see why we have so little money in savings and left in checking at the end of the month after Hubby gets paid. Each month I'd lament that he makes a decent salary, where is it going?! Now I can see where. Financial experts say everyone should have an emergency cushion of 6 months worth of salary in the bank, just for emergencies. Do you have that? This is our goal for the new year. By being more conservative and not buying everything I want just because I can, I am hoping to get us to that point. Part of being in charge of the family books is taking care of making sure there is a cushion and being a good steward of the resources you are given. I've been a little (OK- a LOT) lax in that area so 2009 is going to be the year of getting it back in line with what it should be.

So, this month we have been making menus and eating at home, not eating out as much, not doing small trips to the store (or I send Hubby, who is better at just going in and getting that ONE thing that is missing from the recipe I am making right that moment) and just generally making a real effort to say NO. Oh, and actually eating the leftovers in the fridge instead of letting them "age to a certain patina" before throwing them out. I'm not saying this month is perfect, but so far it is lining up to be much more successful than last month. Christmas cooking may throw it off a bit, but at least we are going in the right direction. I figure by the end of January, I should be on target to buy a small upright freezer so that I can be better prepared to do some freezer cooking (AKA Once a month cooking), that will save more $.

I did find a recipe for homemade hot cocoa mix that has turned out to be fantastic! I am going to put it in quart jars (that I got at the thrift shop for 10 cents apiece--I just have to buy a box of lids) and make decorative tags using my rubberstamps and paper that I have from scrapbooking. I'll be making up batches of this sometime this weekend, then I'll print both the recipe and a picture of some of the jars before we ready them for delivery. I am letting my boys help deliver them so they get in on the act of giving. It just one little way of involving them in the act of giving. We are focusing less on consumer goods and activities this year in favor of downscaling and putting meaning back into the holiday.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Cyber Monday?

Last night I was contemplating when I would be buying a set of starting blocks (for track season) that my son wanted BADLY for Christmas. They were $70 plus $10 shipping. Not a huge amount, but I was holding off until the last minute. Last night I popped online to look again and was surprised to find that Dick's sporting goods was running a "cyber Monday" special on the entire site for 25% off. As a result, we got a little better quality set of blocks for the same price we would have before--actually we got the better set for $10 less than the lower priced set INCLUDING shipping.

I'm totally happy with that!

I've never heard of Cyber Monday before, but I'm glad I looked online when I did. Next year I am going to buy more since it is my understanding that this is going to be repeated. I DO NOT participate in Black Friday mainly because it causes me more stress and I don't like seeing how people behave towards each other while in pursuit of "a deal".

I am not much of a mall shopper, so going online to Wal-Mart. com yesterday saved me money on a couple other things like gas and time. To save shipping, some of the items are going to be shipped site to store, where we will pick them up, but I can live with that considering we saved a good amount of $ not driving around looking for what the kids wanted. The items I bought online were not available in the stores near us and going online allowed us information to compare three similar models of this item before settling on the one we bought. A good deal all around, I must say.

Are you doing any baking this Christmas season? I have decided to extend the feeling of Christmas beyond just the one day, we are going to make/bake a different kind of cookie/candy for 12 days after Christmas (the Epiphany) and distribute them to friends. I have kept the list manageable, 6 or 7 people/families, and they will get a dozen each day (or one type of candy). This can be done easily with my candy/cookie recipes. Four of the families are in our old neighborhood. We only moved 2 blocks down and one block over, but it seems we just don't go sit and hang out with the neighbors as much as we would like to. I am going to work towards giving the holidays more meaning beyond the standard "gimme" syndrome. Luckily my boys aren't that caught up in the commercialism of the holidays and are all right with a more scaled down holiday.

And after the holidays are over, I am going to participate in SimpleMom's 2009 book club. You can hit the link on my sidebar to find out more about the book club. The first book is going to be "Your Money or Your Life", which is a classic. I am looking forward to all of the books she has chosen. They are well chosen. I like that the first book out of the gate is one about refocusing financially. It is a good start to the new year. I'm all over this book club!!! Especially since it can be done from my house. Totally do-able!