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.

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