Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Use-What-You-Have Organizing & Storage

Every year as the year begins I vow to get our house back in order and get fully organized. While most of this is wishful thinking with three young children in our home, I still gotta make the effort, right?! I could really go overboard on buying all sorts of containers to get organized, but with budgetary constraints and a desire not to waste that which is already in my hand, I've tried to repurpose some items around our home.

Baby food jars make nice containers to corral little items in the junk drawer and make good spice jars for spices purchased in bulk.

Open top apple boxes nicely hold bulky toy sets and larger items in the garage. We've picked up several of these very sturdy boxes from the warehouse club over the last year and they've been very handy.

Plastic salad containters make good dresser drawer dividers for socks and underthings. These come from the large tubs of spring mix or spinach at the warehouse club.

Divided vegetable trays have come in handy for storing things in our bathroom drawers. I found several vegetable trays a few weeks ago marked down in the produce section of the grocery store. After we finished eating the vegetables, these were washed up and put to work to keep order in one of those spots that seems to always get messy.

Clear zippered bags have been repurposed for storing children's clothing.

Colored gift boxes add a punch of color to closets and good storage for out of season clothing, shoes or accessories.

Baby wipes containers have a multitude of uses in our household. We stocked up on a wipes sale this year and now have several empty boxes to use.
- stuff with rolled up plastic grocery bags and keep by the changing table for messy diapers
- store homemade wipes
- remove lid and have drawer dividers for the kitchen, office, bathroom and closets
- remove lid and have a bin for baby socks, shoes or baby toiletries
- emergency baby kit for the car tucked under a seat – fill with a couple diapers, travel wipes, one receiving blanket, a plastic bag and an extra one-piece outfit or onesie
- refill with disposable wipes
- remove lid and store diapers upright in it on the changing table
- remove lid and use as a toy for playing in the sand or snow
- store little toys or art supplies

Buckets store kids' toiletries and make clearing the counters and cleaning the bathroom a snap.

I'm always on the lookout for new ideas for reusing items, so please share storage solutions that have worked in your home.

Hibernating Season

Well, the kiddos and I are officially on Day 10 of being at home, unable to get out to our regular diversions. Smiley has been battling a cough, making him impassable for childcare at the YMCA, church or women's Bible study. He is overall well and the coughs are not frequent, but when they come they would be enough to put any childcare worker on red alert. We are not strangers to winters like this in this season of having young children, but let's be honest, it gets old. I'm even a homebody, but Mama is going stircrazy. Oh, beloved Spring, when will you come?!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I Guess It's All In Your Perpsective

I'm not feeling very good today as I'm experiencing some flu-like symptoms, so I've spent the better part of the morning on the couch watching the kids play. I asked Sportster to be my helper today. His response was, "Sure, it is sort of like you are on vacation." Not quite, but I'll try to persuade myself.

Monday, January 14, 2008

101 Ways We Save

I still have so much to learn in the area of saving, but here are a number of ways we save money. While I do employ these tactics, I don't want anyone to get the impression I am doing all of these money-saving activities in any given week. That would be exhausting!

1. We don't eat out or order in more than once a week. Almost all restaurant visits also involve the use of coupons.
2. We eat at home for most of our meals.
3. I shop at up to 3 grocery stores and Target in one week to round up all the best deals available.
4. I clip coupons and use them.
5. I shop weekly grocery fliers.
6. I combine store sales with coupons and aim to save 50%, at minimum, on grocery store purchases.
7. We are using the envelope system for many budget categories. Not only does this not put us in a position of living one month ahead of our means with a credit card, but we spend less because spending cash hurts a little more. Dave Ramsey says people who use cash spend 12-18% less than those who use plastic. That's significant!
8. We pay whatever bills and charitable gifts we can online to simplify life and save postage.
9. I shop at Goodwill. I find good-quality clothing there for our family that I would never afford if I paid retail. Yes, I am becoming a brand snob and buy Gymboree, Children's Place, Hanna Andersson, Lands' End, L.L. Bean, Eddie Bauer, Chicos and more. We get to dress in better quality clothes this way for less than the price of Walmart clearance.
10. I list items we no longer need on Craig's List. The funds raised from these sales are used for some extras throughout the year.
11. I read several blogs that highlight great deals, coupons, freebies, special offers and using what you have.
12. We drive cars that are paid for.
13. We will not buy another vehicle until it can be paid for in cash.
14. We live with older and lower budget technology. Our last computer, which was middle of the road at purchase, lasted us 6 years. We finally had a get another one when it would freeze up daily and took about 7 restarts per day so the mouse would function.
15. We don't have cable TV. My husband was thrilled when he received a new pair of rabbit ears for our TV this Christmas!
16. I try to shop for Christmas gifts throughout the whole year.
17. We purchased a front-load washer which saves significantly on our water bill each month.
18. We keep our thermostat at 64 degrees in the daytime and 60 degrees at night in the winter, though we have been known to raise the thermostat when guests visit. :)
19. I stock up on non-perishable food items when they are on sale so I will not need to buy them until they are on a great sale again.
20. I rarely pay more than $1 for a box of cereal, and these are not generics.
21. We utilize my husband's medical spending reimbursement account to pay for services with dollars that are tax-free.
22. We are thankful for the generosity of our parents and grandparents who give our children clothing and toys that they need and want.
23. My husband brings his lunch to work every day.
24. I plan menus and then try to stay flexible so we can use up ingredients that would otherwise go bad.
25. I always look for meat and organic milk markdowns at the grocery store.
26. I use milk that has turned sour for baking.
27. We are thankful for free pork that we get from my family.
28. We've only stayed in a hotel once in the last 6 years.
29. We don't buy many convenience foods, except for cereal and...
30. Good-quality frozen pizzas, bought on sale, that save us from wanting to go out to eat on days that have been crazy and tiring.
31. I bake our bread with whole wheat that I've ground.
32. I hang clothes out on the line to dry in the summer.
33. I use a drying rack indoors to hang some clothes in the winter.
34. We have sometimes cloth diapered.
35. Other times I have seen the provision of the Lord in unbelievable diaper sales, combined with coupons.
36. When we eat out at fast-food establishments, our kids do not each get a kids meal. We buy one adult combo, one extra sandwich for the second adult and a third sandwich to split between the kids. We sometimes upsize the combo and always share the fries among the whole family. This saves us lots of money and the headache of trying to get our kids to part with those junkie toys.
37. Good or bad, we only have a date night out every 2 or 3 months.
38. We have date nights at home watching movies checked out from the library or rented with a gift card and splurging on chips and homemade guacamole.
39. I carefully buy things in bulk from a warehouse club. I find that many times I am able to find the same items more inexpensively by shopping store sales. The biggest savers for us at the warehouse club are yeast, honey, marked-down meats (go early in the day), and clothing, if it has been marked down substantially.
40. I don't shop for recreation anymore, unless you count Goodwill. :)
41. We try to make returns on items we don't need or didn't work out for us quickly so we can have our money refunded and don't forget to return something until it is too late to do so.
42. My husband and I don't give each other big gifts. While this is not the most romantic, this fits our budget a lot better.
43. We enjoy good coffee at home, not often at Starbucks.
44. My husband and I each have a monthly allowance to give us room to treat ourselves a bit with things we enjoy without the guilt and accountability of using family money. This saves us some sanity because if we are allowed a few small indulgences each month we are refreshed to carry on with the work of saving in all other areas.
45. I don't shop at Walmart anymore. The lure of low prices fills my cart up with lots of stuff I don't need right now, so I just stay away. It was easy for me to give up the big blue store, since I never enjoyed the shopping experience there anyway.
46. I buy personal care items for little or nothing using Walgreens' rebate and coupon program.
47. I cut open nearly empty bottles of lotion and tubes of toothpaste to get a few more uses out of each container.
48. I add a little water to nearly empty condiment bottles, shake and use as a marinade for meats or vegetables.
49. I reuse cereal bags for storing homemade bread and other baked goods.
50. I take a chance on marked-down plants at the garden center in spring and summer. They usually return to vitality after a week or two planted in the ground and well-watered. This really stretched our budget for our xeriscape project last summer.
51. When taking meals to ill friends or new moms, I try to avoid going and out and spending a couple bucks on disposable containers and reuse containers we already have on hand.
52. I bring my own bags to the grocery store and save 5 cents per bag off my grocery order.
53. We use the library instead of buying all the books we'd like to read.
54. But we also use Amazon and get low prices and free shipping.
55. We use up liquid soap and shampoo that didn't work for us for cleaning.
56. I try to grow a few vegetables in the summer. Conditions are not ideal in our climate, but even a few fresh from the garden vegetables for several weeks in the summer save a little on the grocery budget and feel like a real treat.
57. We have one credit card with no annual fee which we pay off every month and that includes a rewards program. We cash in our points for cash for things we'd like to purchase or gift cards to buy stuff we don't like spending money on, like ink cartridges for our printer.
58. We started composting last summer and hope for some good organic matter for our planters and garden this summer instead of buying expensive soil from the garden center.
59. I'm learning to ask for discounts on items that are near their expiration date, in damaged packaging or that have some flaw or defect. You win some, you lose some, but it never hurts to ask. If they say no, I usually just don't buy the item.
60. I always check the clearance section at the back of the supermarket. Though this is hit and miss, I've found enough good things at amazing prices, I keep going back.
61. I do online searches for coupons for stores I plan to visit.
62. We enjoy the company of like-minded people, which encourages us in our pursuits of saving and living within our means.
63. I try to shop without my kids. Not only is this less stressful for me, but I am able to focus more on the sales and pick out coupons for unexpected items that I have found at a good price.
64. We open wide our blinds in the winter to benefit from some solar heating.
65. We pack meals and snacks to eat on trips.
66. While are kids are young, they are home with us, not in preschool or involved with teams or lessons, with the exception of swimming lessons at the Y.
67. We eat leftovers.
68. We stop our dishwasher as it gets to the drying cycle and open the door and allow the dishes to air dry. This works great in Colorado!
69. I use online recipe sites to use up ingredients I have on hand.
70. We keep track of our finances with personal financial software so we're always aware of where things stand.
71. We generally wait 3 days before taking our kids to the doctor if their symptoms are not severe or rapidly worsening. No, we're not neglecting our kids, just letting them build their immunities a little and we end up saving many trips to the doctor since many times they have shown good signs of improvement by the third day.
72. We enjoy camping and look forward to many such vacations in the years to come.
73. We are currently working through Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University Online, which is challenging our spending habits and attitudes toward money.
74. Our kids' birthday parties are frugal affairs hosted at home or a park with minimal cost for decorations, homemade food and cakes, and homemade invitations.
75. We look over the free listings on Craig's List from time to time and have some gotten some free items there which we could use, including stepping stones for our yard and trash bins for our composting system.
76. We use paper towels sparingly and usually opt for regular towels to clean up messes.
77. I am able to do simple sewing to repair clothing, make curtains and children's blankets.
78. We take photographs of our children at home, instead of Sears.
79. I enter some sweepstakes and giveaways and occasionally win. 2007 wins included two pairs of Robeez slipper shoes, a book and a chair booster for our children.
80. I find great deals on Target clearance for household goods, food and clothing.
81. We gladly accept hand-me-downs from family and friends.
82. We don't go to movies in theaters.
83. I keep a box of gifts which I find on sale.
84. I make simple greeting cards instead of buying them.
85. When we have determined a larger item we would like to buy, we keep an eye on Craig's List.
86. I keep a running wish list for my second-hand shopping.
87. I shop some garage sales.
88. I am not brand loyal on most grocery or personal care items, which allows me to maximize sales.
89. We do our best to consolidate our outings to save gas.
90. We stock up on school supplies when they are on extreme sales for use by our kids or as additions to gifts.
91. I buy deeply discounted wrapping paper and ribbons after Christmas and choose some in solid colors that will be appropriate for any occasion throughout the year.
92. I kindly decline invitations to home sales parties.
93. We patronize businesses that provide good products and great service.
94. We are in the process of switching all our lights over to CFL bulbs for savings on our electric bill.
95. Our xeriscaped front yard saves on our water bill throughout the summer.
96. We open blinds and curtains to rely mostly on natural lighting throughout the day.
97. We clean our own carpets. Our carpet cleaner has paid for itself many times over.
98. For limited use items, we try to borrow instead of buying.
99. We buy mostly fruits and vegetables in season. In the summer I buy lots of inexpensive berries and freeze for use throughout the year.
100. I pray before entering stores that God will direct my shopping and give me discernment as to what to purchase.
101. We ask God to make our hearts content with the abundant provisions He gives.

After compiling that list, I know why I often feel like saving money is a part-time job for me. But these measures are worth it for us to allow me to remain home with our kids.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Cinnamon Oat Waffles

This recipe has become a stand-by in our house and is something I've given as gifts in a jar a few times. Enjoy!Cinnamon Oat Waffles
In very large bowl combine:
4 C. oats (I use old fashioned)
2 C. white flour
2 C. whole wheat flour
1 C. packed brown sugar
1 C. dry milk
3 T. baking powder
2 T. cinnamon
2 1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. cream of tartar
Place mixture in airtight container until ready to use.
When ready to make waffles, mix:
3 C. oat mixture
3 eggs
1/3 C. oil
1½ C. water or more, so batter spreads out a bit on griddle or waffle iron.

Cook on hot waffle iron (or griddle for pancakes). Should serve two adults and a couple young children. Leftovers freeze well.