Friday, April 17, 2009

Restoring Order: The Laundry Room

When I saw that Rebecca and Monica were hosting Restoring Order I thought this was a great time to get to work on my laundry room. It has been out of control for weeks and negatively affecting my motivation to actually do the necessary work in there. When I started on it today I found laundry in all stages, a bunch of clothes which needed to be ironed, cleaning supplies, gifts in hiding (waiting to be wrapped or delivered), outgrown clothes, worn-out clothes, craft supplies, cloth tote bags and curtains, among other things. I really needed to pare down to what is essential to have in the laundry room and purge or put away that which had been dumped there in recent months for one reason or another. Here are the before shots....humbling.

To restore order to this space I did all the laundry and put it away, ironed the pile of things which needed ironing, discarded or stored the unsuitable clothing, wrapped all the gifts for upcoming events and stored them elsewhere, emptied the trash, washed the floor, baseboards and door and washed the adjoining hall and bathroom. I know that tomorrow we will have an abundance of laundry again, but for today I just really needed to hit the reset button so that tomorrow I won't be overwhelmed at the thought of doing a normal task like laundry. Here are the after shots....aaaahhh!

What areas are you working to restore to order today? See what others are doing here.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

10 on the 10th

Well, I said I was unplugging, and I am, but wanted to join in on Meredith's 10 on the 10th.
I'm hoping my list will give me better clarity for the time I'm unplugged. So here's my 10 on the 10th: my top 10 priorities for the next 30 days.

1. Potty train our two-year old.
2. Finish the homeschooling year strong.
3. Go on a date with my husband. I wish that this didn't even have to be on my list, but there are many things which keep us from getting out alone regularly and we just really need that time alone, especially right now.
4. Keep laundry manageable, just a load or two done from start to finish every day, instead of letting it pile up and overwhelm.
5. Prepare my garden spaces for planting our vegetables when it is suitable to do so, mid to late May for this area.
6. Complete 4 craft/sewing projects...not sure what they will be yet, but the creative time energizes me and I feel like there is lots of time to think when my hands are busy.
7. Finish revamping my creative space so it is organized and inspiring.
8. Exercise hospitality. It has surely been lacking in recent months.
9. Be a supportive wife in many ways, and specifically doing some ironing for my husband each week.
10. Seek my Savior and the Word daily. My soul is thirsty and longs for his presence and I have not been rising early and finding other quiet times throughout the day to exercise even small amounts of discipline to come to him without distraction.
See you in a few weeks! Enjoy the springtime!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


My heart is full of emotions these days, but my mind is not feeling clear or inspired. So I'll be taking a break for a enjoy being surrounded by family this weekend, to complete tasks and projects that have been left undone for far too long, to gain perspective on priorities and calling, to enjoy the play of my children, and to relish in the never ending love and sacrifice of my Savior and the joy, anticipation and hope His Resurrection brings.

Have a joyous Easter!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Just Finish The Song

As I have been trying to be diligent to complete my goal of 300 workouts this year, there have been days where I just plain do not feel like working out. On those days I try to at least hit the treadmill for 20 minutes to put forth a minimal effort. And, let's be honest, I want to be able to put that check mark on my chart. But it seems that once I am on that machine, 20 minutes really goes by quickly and I get to the end and think to myself, just finish the song you're on. This usually adds just a few minutes of exercise, but I figure every little bit helps.

The more this has happened, the more I've been thinking of that phrase in my mind, "Just finish the song." And as I ponder, I feel that there are a lot of applications to this in my life to be fully present in the moment instead of just partially there, distracted with something that will need my attention in another hour, day, month or year. Just finishing a commitment that I started. Just finishing folding the end of that load of laundry before moving on to something else. Just finishing the day strong with my kids instead of pulling back when my husband returns from work. Just finishing the task or project now that isn't urgent now, but may be by tomorrow.

And it makes me wonder what other songs are playing in my life and how can I "finish the song" and finish strong?

Mistakes We Hope Not to Make Again

As I have mentioned recently, we are inching toward our financial goals. My husband and I have never been big spenders, but have often lapsed with being really careful with our resources. We have been okay with our finances since we've been married, but only got really intentional about an "on paper, on purpose" budget 18 months ago when we started going through Financial Peace University Online. It was worth EVERY penny! It was a real eye-opener and highlighted a lot of areas where we had made unwise decisions or needed to be better stewards of the resources we have. It also made us sick to think that if we would have taken this course right when we got married we could have avoided making some less-than-stellar choices than we did end up making. But we live and learn and hope to improve and gain wisdom, which often comes from making mistakes. The things on our mistake list may not be mistakes if you made the same decision, but hindsight being what it is, they were wrong for us.

Top 10 Money Mistakes
10. Cashing out investments (gifts from family..ugh!) and using much of that money to move to and establish ourselves in a city we had never seen before. This is a story for another day. Live and learn.
9. Buying a vehicle with a loan. Even though we had saved a fair amount, we went well over what we had saved when our previous car died. We could have purchased a used Civic outright with the savings at that point instead of forking over our savings AND making payments for the next 18 months (originally a 5 yr. loan). Live and learn.
8. Refinancing our first home less than a year before the move mentioned in #7. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. Live and learn.
7. Upgrading from our modest 1000 square foot first home to a much larger home because we couldn't possibly have two kids in a 2-bedroom house. Oh, yes, we could have managed fine with two kids in that space with a can-do perspective, careful furniture selection and some rearranging of rooms. And when property taxes were adjusted on this new home, it really was not a comfortable payment anymore. Live and learn.
6. Living for many years without a savings cushion. During that time, we were seriously about 2 mortgage payments away from losing our home if something major would have happened and we did not or could not have converted retirement investments. We are working on a fully funded emergency fund now and it feels a lot less stressful. Live and learn.
5. Using Visa for purchases when our bank account was running low without a budget. We always paid off the entire balance, but in many ways we were living one month ahead of our means. Not good. Live and learn.
4. Not having a family financial mindset when we were DINKS and thinking to have kids. Choices we made before we had children are still having consequences today, and those consequences cannot be dealt with quite as quickly with one income as they can be with two. Live and learn.
3. Not taking time to soak in the gravity of a home purchase decision and what a large mortgage means and the impact that one payment every month will have on the rest of life. Live and learn.
2. Paying retail and not being careful enough with what we acquire. I have always been a sale shopper and we have always been open to cast-offs from family, but until 2 years ago I did not even consider it an option to by secondhand clothing, furniture, and household items. Even so, the more you have, the more you have to maintain and the more space you feel you need to have to store or keep it. I wish I considered simplicity more seriously early on. Live and learn.
1. Living without a written, on paper-on purpose budget for every pay period of our marriage to tell our money where to go. But I'm glad we started this in year 8 of our marriage instead of year 38!

Live and learn! There may be 10 more big money mistakes we make in the next 10 years, but they hopefully they won't be the same as the ones above.

Monday, April 6, 2009

My Grocery Shopping Method

Warning: long post ahead and it may be blah, blah, blog to you if you don't care about this sort of thing. It is in many ways a brain dump of all my tactics for saving on groceries learned over the last several years.

Recently I explained why I became a bargain hunter. My method has evolved to what it is today, though it is not exactly precise or very neat and tidy. I vary quite a bit in how and where I shop from week to week. In thinking this over, I could simplify my life by just choosing one day or evening to go grocery shopping and make a few stops in that one time frame with a very detailed list. Right now this method works for me, though I will be honest that I would sometimes rather just skip the bargain part entirely and go to SuperTarget and buy everything I need for a given week in one fell swoop. But I know if I did this on a regular basis I would have to spend more. So I'll keep to the bargain method for now.

In general, my method goes something like this.

1. Clip coupons from the Sunday paper and keep them organized in my coupon box. We get the Post because it seems to have better coupons and more coupons than the Gazette. We would love to go local, but the Gazette is so much more expensive than the deal we got on the Post for weekends. We get ONE paper only. I know folks who get multiple copies each week, but I feel for us that would not be worth the extra newspaper expense, time for me spent in clipping and organizing the coupons, additional environmental waste and may lead me into buying multiples of things we really need one or two of at a time. I just clip coupons for categories we will use, so I skip the coupons for supplements, hair color and pet food, for example. I know that some subscribe to services like CouponSense or the Grocery Game, but I'm too cheap to pay for these and think I've figured out a system that works for my family. I organize my coupons by category and take the whole box with me to the store whenever I go, because many times I have benefited from this when I found an unexpected markdown. The box I use now is a metal one with a handle that I got from Hobby Lobby and manila dividers I cut down to size to fit the box.

Using coupons, I rarely pay for:
- toothbrushes and toothpaste
- feminine products
- deodorant
- hair care products
- soap and lotion
And since I'm not paying for these items, I have more available to spend on food. Of course I use coupons for all our food categories, too, but the savings usually don't come to 100% for those food products.

2. Watch the grocery ads that come out on Wednesday in our area. Since we do not get the Gazette, I have to find these online which is a little more work, but worth it to me in planning out what I will buy from a particular store that week and matching up coupons to sales for that shopping trip. I then plan out when I will hit each store. I try to consolidate a grocery stop with our other regular outings so I can go to my preferred King Soopers and Alberstons that are near the gym we go to. Safeway is closer to us, so I feel free to make an exclusive trip there.

3. Make a comprehensive and detailed grocery list based on the sale ad and coupon match-ups. So my list may have a section for Safeway, King Soopers, Target, Costco, Alberstons and Walgreens. I just go to half of these stores, or fewer, on any given week. I want to get good deals, but I want to make good use of time and gasoline, too, so I have to have more than a few items on a list for a particular store to make it worth a stop, in my opinion. From this list and what is already stockpiled in my pantry from previous sales, I make a loose menu plan and fill in the ingredient gaps on the grocery list (for example: Maybe I need dried black beans but don't see those advertised anywhere so I just put it on the list and will pick it up somewhere, even at full price. gasp!)

4. Shop with focus, but with my eyes open to the unexpected. If at all possible, except for a when I have a short list for a particular store, I try to shop without children...for all the obvious reasons. I always check out the reduced meat, dairy, produce and general merchandise sections and sometimes these turn out to be amazing savings, when coupled with my coupons. I find that most dairy products, except milk, will last at least 1-2 weeks past their best before dates without a problem.

5. Shop with care at warehouse clubs. We have a membership to Costco that we utilize, but we are quite careful with what we buy there. There are just too many convenience items that are too enticing: prepared entrees, specialty items (that might be great for parties, but don't fit within our normal grocery budget), or volume packaging that doesn't make sense for our family. The list of things I buy from Costco because they are consistently a good value and can't usually be matched with combining coupons and sales is:
- cheese
- honey
- bananas
- flour tortillas
- organic spinach and spring mix salad
- bags of fresh broccoli & cauliflower
- bags of frozen fruits and vegetables (I will generally only pay around $1/lb for frozen vegetables and a bit more for fruits.)
- large cans of tomato products - diced, sauce, ketchup
- large cans of fruit or applesauce
- big bag of tortilla chips
- white flour
- coffee beans - we've found a couple kinds we like there
- butter - if we need it and I can't find a better coupon/sale match-up that week
- Kirkland batteries, though we are thinking of moving to the rechargeable options
- gasoline - not food, but we'll fill up since we are there anyway

On occasion we also splurge on:
- a fresh prepared entree in lieu of going out to eat
- Einstein's bagels - still much cheaper than going to Einstein's to buy them
- a specialty item like pesto, fancier cheese, or fresh salsa
- convenience items that have current coupons in their coupon book that we get in the mail
- clothing that has been marked down (For example, I recently got a little girls velour princess warm-up suit for $6.00...which is being saved for Christmas.) These deals are not marked in any special way, but if you take a minute to look you may find them.
- a meal at the cafe at the front since the prices are quite reasonable for pizza, hot dogs or a huge cup of fat-free frozen yogurt

6. General tips
A. Be willing to try new brands. You may find that for some products you will be very brand loyal. In other areas, it may be worth it to you to go with the one that comes to you at the lowest cost.
B. Watch for coupon blinkie machines at the grocery store. These may have coupons for items you may want to buy anyway, or sweeten the price of the item on sale you were going to buy anyway. Or take a few coupons for another week when the item will be on sale.
C. Watch for coupon books in displays at the store. I have many times found good coupon books in the produce department of King Soopers that have included coupons for organic products.
D. Focus more on what you spent than on what you saved, according to your receipt. The savings number is states is rather relative because most often, I would never buy the items at their full price.
E. This is a personal choice, but I don't shop at Walmart except for a couple times a year, usually in the spring when I need gardening supplies. It is so big and I inevitably forget something on the other end of the store. And I get too enticed by all the things that don't fall into the category of groceries.
F. You will be able to get an even better value when you combine a store coupon and a manufacturers' coupon for the same product. These opportunities most often present themselves at Target or Safeway. Target has online coupons that you can print each week and occasionally mails you coupons in a booklet. Safeway often has coupons in its weekly ad (just pick it up at the front of the store if you don't get the paper) or in a mailer sent to you. I hear there are some mailers sent out by King Soopers, too, but we must live in the wrong zip code. You can't win them all. :)
G. You can also load eCoupons to your King Soopers and Safeway cards via the Proctor & Gamble eSaver and Shortcuts (for King Soopers only). Go to the grocery store websites to load these. Google it for more information on how these can work with manufacturers' coupons to essentially get a double discount on one product.
H. Only print online coupons that you will use for sure. These can be high value coupons, but if you print them and don't use them it is a real waste of ink and paper.
I. Watch for catalina coupons that print from a machine when your receipt is printed. These are often high value and can sweeten the deal on your future purchases.
J. Decide what items are truly a good value for your family and what items are worth the stockpiling space they will require until you use them. For me, having 10 bottles of toilet cleaner on hand taking up space in my closet doesn't make sense, even if they were free. My home is not a store, but a place for the things that make our life function well or add beauty or comfort to our lives! Ah, thrift and simplicity collide!
K. Use those $5 off $50 Safeway coupons in the back of the Entertainment and Gold C books kids sell each fall. In most situations, King Soopers will accept that as a competitor's coupon.
L. When you get a well-stocked pantry, feel free to take a week off and let your husband stop for that jug of milk to get you through until next week.
M. Accept that you will not be able to snatch up every good deal, so let that notion go.
N. Don't tie up your self-worth in how much you can save. If you are working within whatever budget your family has set and you have purchased the items your family needs, accept that as good enough. It is grocery shopping, not a report card on your value as a person or your resourcefulness. Don't compare to others who may have a different budget, different needs or a different situation.

This is all not rocket science, but it does take time and effort to find your groove. And I by no means have "arrived". I read some blogs where people are spending just $40 a week to feed their families, but I honestly don't want to go that low unless I had to. Some weeks I can, but that is not the norm or even my goal. Good food is one of life's simple pleasures, in my opinion. And since we eat at home for almost every meal I don't want to skimp too far.

If you want insight from the real pros, visit Money Saving Mom or Springs Bargains. Money Saving Mom also has a Walgreens tutorial on the right sidebar, entitled Walgreens 101 that may help you in understanding how to make shopping there work to your advantage.

Wishing you many happy returns on your bargain hunting efforts!

The Joy of Staying Home & a Song for My Children

I love that I am able to stay home with my kids to meet their needs, to teach them and to enjoy the unique people God has created them to be! Yes, there are moments when I am weary and frustrated, discouraged, and longing for a break, but overall, I love just being with them.

Maybe it is just me, but it seems I like to sing things to my kids, especially little songs I make up. I would likely be embarrassed if anyone outside our family heard these little songs, but I'll share this one that I came up with several months ago which seems to have stuck as a family song I sing to the kids each night as I tuck them in. It may seem cheesy, but it is ours.

I'll see you in the morning, morning
I'll see you at the noonday, too
I'll see you in the evening, treasure
And I will always love you!

And when I finish I silently thank God that he has allowed me this privilege to really be present with them throughout the whole day.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Why I Became a Bargain Hunter

Why have I become a bargain hunter? Is it for the thrill of the hunt? Not usually. Is it for the excitement of bringing home bags of stuff for very little money? Sometimes. Is it for the fun of clipping coupons and shopping at multiple stores? Um, no. Is it so our family can survive and inch toward our goals? Absolutely!

When we made plans for me to stay at home fulltime when I was expecting our firstborn we were hit with the reality that things were going to be pretty tight financially. In fact, very tight. For the first time in our marriage, we were taking a really close look at our finances and starting to think about being very intentional with our budget. Some of the areas which needed significant trimming were groceries and dining out. For the dining out category, there was a simple solution...stop eating out so much. The grocery category was not so easy since if you are not dining out, you are cooking at home and cooking at home is going to take ingredients.

So about 7 years ago the I started on the learning curve of bargain grocery shopping that continues to this day. We have needed to raise our grocery & household supplies budget a few times due to our growing family, but still keep it close to a regular $300 a month. To some this may seem high and to others this may seem rather low, but that is where we are for now. Sometimes I wonder if it is all worth it and if it would be better for our family just to add another $100 a month to shop at one store, once a week for every item we need that week. But right now that $100 a month means more to us in other categories. For this season couponing, shopping based on what is on sale, selective purchases at Costco and cooking largely from scratch help us keep to this budget. I know I could do better if I had to, but for now I try to find a good balance between spending time and money.

Keeping the grocery budget modest helps make it possible for me to be with my kids day in and day out and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Welcoming Spring

I had big hopes of welcoming spring with lots of fun activities with the kids, like flying kites, going on a picnic, planting seeds and giving them fun treat baskets (in lieu of doing that at Easter), but things didn't quite work out that way this time. But on the first weekend of spring we did get lots of seeds started indoors so we can plant lots of vegetables and flowers when outdoor temps are suitable. I found tons of seed packets for 10 cents each last fall, so even if they all don't work out, we won't be out much.

See the excitement?!
Our method:
1. Fill a paper cup with good soil. In this case, Miracle-Gro vegetable and flower soil my husband picked up. I wanted to use peat pots, but Lowe's was out of them and I couldn't bring myself to go to Walmart on a Saturday. Paper cups were in our cupboard, were cheap, and will hopefully be a good enough substitute.
2. Plant seeds.
3. Put cups of planted seeds, labelled with a Sharpie in cardboard flats (thanks, Costco) lined with opened up cereal bags (we are out of waxed paper). I figured the cereal bags would keep the moisture in and keep the boxes from getting soggy when we drip while watering.
4. Water well.
5. Set in a sunny window, in an area not likely to be tipped by the activity of young children, watering every day or two to keep moist.
6. Wait.
7. Savor the joy of hearing your children be delighted when a week later they see the first shoots popping up!

So far we are trying to grow two kinds of tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, watermelon, sunflowers, zinnias, and lavender. I did buy more seeds and a couple dozen peat pots, so in the coming week or two, we will plant another round.
Next step: planning and preparing places for all these plants to go when it is time to transplant them!
We live in a tough climate for gardening, but we will keep trying!