Saturday, November 21, 2009

This week Time Magazine published The Growing Backlash Against Overparenting. The article discusses the rampant "helicopter parenting" that has become the norm in our culture, and the growing movement away from it, towards what they termed "slow parenting." In recent years, the expectation has been that the 'good' parents will do everything possible to protect their children from getting hurt or failing, and will provide the child with a multitude of structured activities to give them the most educational and future career opportunities. I liked this article as it related to our lifestyle, because it has been a difficult balancing act for our family. I have wondered if our frugality would mean less opportunity for our children, and like any mother, I've felt the pressure to make sure that my children have every advantage.

Also, this weekend I finished up a book that I borrowed from the library called The Boy who Harnessed the Wind.

I heard the authors interviewed on NPR a few weeks ago and was intrigued by the story. The story is about William Kamkwamba, an African boy with what most would agree, were no opportunities at all. After enduring a famine which nearly killed him and his family, and being forced to withdraw from school due to a lack of money, he used the knowledge that he gained from library books on Physics and Energy, to build his own working windmill that brought electricity to his home. His story is inspiring and fascinating, and what I loved the most was how he took what most people would call garbage, and used it to fulfill a need and a dream that he had. I had to laugh when he would describe the process he went through to build and refine his invention. Throughout the book he says things like, "I needed washers, but I didn't have any. So I went down to the local drinking house and found old beer bottle-caps on the ground and I fashioned them into the washers that I needed." He didn't even have basic tools--wrenches, hammers, drills, things we all take for granted, but each step of the way he figured out how to solve the problem with what little he did have. Most people in our country would give up on a project until they could go to Home Depot to buy the exact thing that they needed! Here, it seems there is rarely any need to have that kind of creativity. It seems that now money can solve every problem that we once had to try to creatively figure out.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

$2.00 Kate Spade bag

Today I did a little Christmas shopping. I'm planning to try my hand at canning some yummy treats for Christmas, but I don't have canning supplies so I went over to Goodwill to see if they had anything. I didn't find canning supplies, so I decided to look around and see if they had anything else that would be great Christmas gifts. I found a brand new book for a family member, and then I found this:

Yep, a Kate Spade bag for $2. All purses and backpacks were half off today. It's got a little wear and tear, but it's still in really good shape. While I was there an auction was also going on. Maybe ten people were there actually bidding on stuff. A lady walked away with two Coach bags. She paid $26 total. I was soooo tempted, but I passed. I kicked myself later for passing up a set of 6 Dallas Cowboys collectors glasses for $6! Hubby would have liked that. I'll definitely know for next time though.

Sooooo, do I behave myself and give the purse as a gift, or do I keep it for myself? Decisions, decisions....

Friday, November 13, 2009

We did it!!!!

This morning I made a $986.19 payment to Sallie Mae and paid it off! So at this point we have paid off:

A loan from my brother-in-law
A loan from my grandparents
Capital One
Michael's Car Loan
American Express
and now Sallie Mae #1

We have one more Sallie Mae loan, and then our final debt is our large federal student loans. Those loans have been moved to a federal loan forgiveness program for public service workers, so they will be moved to BS6 on Dave Ramsey's plan. We plan to have Sallie Mae #2 paid off this Spring and move on to filling up our 3-6 months emergency fund and then saving up a 20% downpayment on a house!

I feel just a little bit lighter today :)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Maximizing oven energy (and Mom energy)

On Sunday I was trying to keep a four-year-old entertained, so we decided to bake banana muffins for breakfasts this week. Here is the recipe I like for banana muffins:

1-3/4 c. flour (wheat or white)
2-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 c. sugar (I always cut this down to 1/3)
1 large egg, beaten
1 c. mashed ripe banana (usually 2 medium-ish bananas)
1/2 c. milk
1/3 c. oil (vegetable, canola, coconut, they all work)

Mix the dry ingredients together. Mash the banana in a separate bowl and add the egg, milk, and oil. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, and stir just until moistened. Pour batter into greased muffin pan and bake at 400 until golden brown and toothpick comes out clean. Makes a dozen, depending on how big you want your muffins.

Since the oven was already hot, I turned the heat down to 300 and made crutons and bread crumbs. I had a full bag of bread in the freezer. I save the heels of the bread or other bread we won't eat before it goes bad. For the crutons, you just butter the bread, cut it into cubes, add seasonings if you want and dry them in the oven on a baking pan. You don't want your oven to be hotter than 300 or so. For the bread crumbs, I just dried the whole pieces of bread out, pulled them out, put them in a ziploc bad and crushed them with a rolling pin.

And then....(you thought I was done using my oven, didn't you?), I made yogurt. I have one burner on my stove that gets really hot when the oven is the point where it will simmer liquid. I use that burner first whenever the oven is on, so I used it to heat the milk for the yogurt. I turned the oven off and used the warm oven to incubate the yogurt.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

R.I.P. loyal friend

On Friday, I had to say goodbye to a loyal and true friend who has been with us a long time. After five years of service, my coffee grinder finally died. I had often wondered when the day that I would have to say goodbye would be here. With multiple daily uses, it far exceeded anyone's expectations.

But seriously, of all months for my coffee grinder to die--it had to be THIS one?! This leads me to admit one of my shamefully non-frugal addictions--good coffee. Yes, I am a coffee snob. I only drink coffee made in a french coffee press with freshly ground beans. And I don't buy just whatever brand. This is the one thing where I am brand loyal. I know this goes against everything I stand for, but I guess we all have our vices. Anyway, When the coffee grinder met its end, I was making coffee for company that we had over. I heard this awful crunch, and immediately my husband rushed to remedy the situation. "It's okay", he said, "tomorrow morning after your run, just go by Target and get another one." He was already foreseeing what the next morning of a coffee-less wife would mean for him. Initially, I panicked, thinking that we had no money for a new grinder! I was already hatching a plan to find somewhere to grind my beans, but knowing that it would not be the same as freshly ground beans. Then I remembered that we both still had $10 in spending money for the month. All day that day, I had been craving junk food, and I was very tempted to stop at Whataburger for lunch, and after I picked up Ethan from school I contemplated stopping at Sonic for some ice cream. But since I only had $10 for the whole month, and I had a long run on Saturday which would not be made any easier by junk food the previous day, I thought better of it. My darling husband also contributed his spending money to the coffee grinder fund. He says that a happy wife is worth it.

But for crying out loud, I'm starting to run out of ideas to avoid Murphy's attempts to sabatoge our giant November snowball! We are out of school supply/lunches money, we have $5 in the grocery envelope for the next seven days (but a well stocked kitchen at the moment), and we are both now out of spending money for the rest of the month. Our car maintenance envelope probably is also in short supply, and will not be enough to cover more than $100 repair. But we're just going to try to keep on truckin'. 22 days left!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Most people who read my blog probably know that our older son has mild autism. He is mainstreamed in school and after a really rough kindergarten year, so far 1st grade has been wonderful! He is doing really, really well in the school's new Spanish Immersion program. Everyday a folder gets sent home, and in it is Ethan's behavior chart. They can earn green, yellow, or red for the day. Well, on the third week of school or so, Ethan started bringing home a few yellows. I really did not want to see this behavior become a habit, so I started trying to think of incentives for him to get green everyday. I decided that for every five consecutive days of greens, he would earn some kind of reward. We hardly ever eat at restaurants or fast food joints, so for the first one I told him we would go to McDonald's after school to get an ice cream cone and play in the play area. That got him VERY motivated to be on his best behavior in school. Something like that is a real treat for my kiddos. It took some yellows before he worked the kinks out, and I don't think I'll ever forget the proud look on his face when he got in the car and he had his 5th green to show me :)

Since then we've gone to McDonald's two more times, and his behavior has really stayed consistently good. I'm so proud of him! For this month, though, I don't have money for McDonald's. I also didn't want that treat to become so common that he didn't appreciate it anymore. I thought and thought about something free that might be as motivational as our trips to McDonald's. And then I remembered this park that Ethan loves. We go to parks a lot (free!), but this one is farther from our house and I don't like its set-up very much (harder to keep track of both of them), but Ethan LOVES it. With autism, kids can have some strange obsessions, and one of Ethan's is apartment buildings and homes with more than one story. This park has a play structure that is three stories tall, and he's always said it's like an apartment. So he was more than happy for a trip to that park to be his reward.

We went yesterday after school and had a nice time. He got to play apartment to his heart's content. So one more problem solved without money!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Finally found the stupid pencil box at Fiesta of all places. Almost $3, which is all we had left in the school supplies and lunches envelope. Ethan was happy to have a new pencil box, and didn't make a big deal out of having to give up his one day a week of "lunch on a tray."

Unfortunately, last night my husband sat on my glasses. It was my fault really. I set them down on top of my book in our bed, and he rolled over on them. They didn't completely break, but the frames are a bit bent and need to be repaired. Surprise, surprise, there isn't any money to repair glasses this month! I still have the current pair of contacts I'm wearing, so for the rest of November I'll get my pick of bent glasses or a pair of disposable contacts that should probably be disposed of.

26 days left!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I just spent the last half hour going to multiple stores trying to find a pencil box for Ethan. Walmart had one left--a pink one. I seriously considered it, since it was less than $1, but Ethan already has enough things that make him a target for being picked on! I checked Target, and then to Office Max which wasn't open yet. He usually buys his lunch once a week, but I told him that we wouldn't be buying lunch in November, because we need to use that money for a new pencil box. He was okay with that.

I've really been trying to include the boys in this process. We've started talking a little bit about what debt is, and that Mommy hopes that they will never get into debt because it will make your life much harder. We've also been telling them that we have to be careful with our money because we want to save money to buy a house where they can ride bikes on the sidwalk and have a nice backyard. They really like that idea :)

At times Michael has been less than enthusiastic about all of this, so I got a chuckle last night when I was making dinner. I was roasting a chicken and decided to use the oven heat to make some banana muffins for breakfast. Ethan asked me why I was making the muffins now if we couldn't eat them now and Michael said, "Because Mommy is using the heat from the oven already being on to save energy and save money. And Mommy really loves that Daddy knows that that's why she's doing that." Sigh. What a guy. :)

28 More Days of crazy-tight budget!!

Monday, November 2, 2009

November 1-15 Meal Plans

Spaghetti Carbonara and Caesar Salad
Lemon, garlic, and herb roasted chicken, roasted vegetables, asparagus
Chicken and corn chili, cornbread
Rice with cheese and tomatoes, greens
Homestyle Hamburger Helper, green beans
Manicotti alla Romana (subbing cottage cheese for ricotta--it is much cheaper), caesar salad, and garlic toast (we have company that night)
Grilled chicken legs, baked potatoes, skillet cabbage
Pork steaks on the grill, pumpkin carrot rice, greens
Bubble-n-squeak (with leftover pork), steamed cauliflower
Slow-cooker chicken tortilla soup
Falafel with Avacado Spread, baked french fries
Navy beans with bacon, cornbread
Italian vegetable soup
Torta pascualina, salad
Leftovers/Breakfast for Dinner
I got an email from Michael a little while ago saying that due to changes in payroll, that $20 he will make from working the extra after-school shift today, will not be deposited until the first of December. We're just gonna roll with it. I'm going to drop the November Christmas budget by $20, and add that amount to December's Christmas budget.

Also, this morning I remembered that Ethan's teacher told me on Friday that the top broke off of his pencil box. I have no intention of not paying off Sallie Mae because of a pencil box, so I may have to pull it out of the grocery envelope or something. I still have $12 left over after shopping yesterday, which should be going for buying extra produce next week. I'm going to send her an email and ask her if it can wait a couple of weeks, if not, I'll pull it out of that envelope.

Only 29 more days of the super-crazy tight budget!!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

I think I can, I think I can

Currently on the chopping block is the first of two private Sallie Mae student loans. We've been whittling away at the original $7,000 balance since February. The current balance is $990. We had about a $650 snowball to throw at it in November, and figured it would be paid off by December or January at the latest. I sat down to do the budget and realized just how close we really were to paying it off. I usually think of our budget as pretty bare-bones, so I really didn't think we could come up with $300+ to pay it off this month. But out of sheer curiosity, I decided to just see what would happen if I cut $10 out of this category, and $20 out of that category, without really getting radical. Suddenly, the amount that we needed started to look feasible. So I got a little bit more radical. I cut out all of our spending money, cut the grocery budget down, etc.

I dropped:
$10 off my YMCA dues (I had upgraded a while back so I could take group ex classes at other branches, but I've only used the upgrade once in a month)

$20 for clothing (leaving $0 for this month--we should be fine with what we've got)
$15 for haircuts (Michael just got one, and I can do without)
$40 for all of my spending money
$20 for half of Michael's spending money
$50 from car maintenance (leaving $50)
$15 from school supplies/lunches (we should already have enough in the envelope to cover November, but if not, ds can skip the one day a week that he buys lunch and take his lunch that day)
$30 from Christmas sinking fund
$20 from Thanksgiving dinner budget (leaving $60)
$55 off of a big purchase that the husband is making this month that he over-budgeted for
$30 off the grocery budget

And all of a sudden we only needed about $60 to pay it off in November!

So I cleaned out my couch coushions, change jar, car, and a couple of old purses and found $12.50. Michael did jury duty and netted $5 after parking/lunch. So now I only needed $47.50. I did a pinecone survey and was down to $44.50. I realized we had come in under budget on our November electric bill by $10, so now I only needed $34.50. I asked Michael if he could pick up another after school shift, which he was able to do, and now we were down to $14.50. I finalized the budget for October and saw that we were underbudget for gas by $15.94, and we were there!!

Now, that is a bare-bones budget! No money for clothing, spending money, haircuts, school supplies/lunches, or any extras. I dropped the grocery budget to $140 for each half of the month, but I found out that my life insurance application was approved, so we may have another $15 bill to add to the budget in a couple of weeks. That may have to come from the grocery budget. We're still going to be saving $120 for Christmas.

It will be a huge challenge to stay totally focused and disciplined in order to pay this debt off in November! If all goes as planned, I'll send off that payment on/around November 15.