Monday, March 31, 2014

Lets get this show on the road...eating better

For awhile, we have been eating better. We do not eat out but once a week. However, this past week I must admit I ate out for lunch a few times. This made me swell up like a balloon, when combined with the warmer temperatures. So back to eating better for next week.

At the end of the month I work horribly long hours. On the first my company feed us and it is usually very fattening and high in carbs. I refuse to do that to my body again this month. I decided to make a big batch of chicken tortilla soup. Well, really it doesn't need the tortillas, it is that good. I plan to use this soup for lunches this week, for my hubby and I. Great way to have a healthy meal that tastes good too.

Since it is month end week (beginning of the month really), I have to have meals that hubby can make. This means it is Taco's, Spaghetti, crock pot things and left overs. He had a special request for Chili. So tomorrow I will make a batch of chili. Since I have the soup too, I will probably end up freezing half of the chili to eat at a later date.

You may look at the menu below and say, wow...those aren't particularly healthy food options. But when you compare home made tacos to Taco Bell. Or Chili instead of Mc Donald's, we are doing pretty good.

I do want to say that I am proud of us last week for one thing. Normally our eat out night is Friday. We ended up eating out on Thursday instead. The old me would have gone ahead and eaten out again on Friday, because after all it is Fast Food Friday. Nope. I did good. I put a batch of spaghetti sauce in the crock pot and it was ready for dinner that night. Now if only I hadn't eaten out three times last week for lunch, I would have been much better off.

Here is our menu plan for the week.

Menu for the week:
Sunday - Pork Ribs, fried potatoes, peas and corn.
Monday - Chili
Tuesday - Left overs
Wednesday - Taco's (normally Taco night is on Tuesday or Thursday. I work late Tuesday so we are doing it a day later)
Thursday - Spaghetti night - again a day later than normal
Friday - Home made pizzas!

Lunches - I made a big batch of chicken tortilla soup. I will post the recipe later. It is so easy and so very addicting. It is very health too.
Sarah will have sandwiches, apples and carrots.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

I tried and I failed, I must clip....

There are three different ways to coupon, along with a mixture of the three.

One: Clip the coupons every Sunday and put them in a binder to be used as needed. Some clip all of the coupons (just in case) and some clip only the coupons they know they will use.

Two: File the inserts by date and use couponing websites to tell you the best deals out there. Then when you go shopping, you pull the inserts and clip the coupons you need. You only clip the coupons you need.

Three: Print coupons from the web. You figure out what you need, search the internet for coupons and print what you can find.

I started out doing the first method. It takes about an hour once a week to clip the coupons. Then when you make your grocery list you peruse through them to see if you have any coupons for the items. Many carry their binder in their car and if they stop at the store unexpectedly, they have all of their coupons with them. It is also nice to have your binder with you in case there was an unadvertised sale. You can see if there is a matching coupon for even more savings.

After doing some research I found that a lot of experienced couponers use the second method. The best part of this is that it takes you two seconds to put the date on the flyer and file it in what ever method you choose. Some use expandable folders, others use file cabinets. It all depends on how many inserts you are going to use. I tried to switch from method number one, to this method. I ended up not knowing what I had in coupons and I had to rely on other people's research. This meant that someone else was deciding what a good deal was. I didn't like having to search through site to site to see what was a good deal. So after three weeks of trying it this way, I gave up and went back to my old way.

The third method can be used alone or with the first or second methods. If I see a great deal on cereal and I only got two inserts in the newspaper, I will go online and print more of them. This allows me to stock pile. I might buy enough cereal to last me the whole month. If I bought it when there was a great deal, I may have spent $1.50 a box. But if I bought it once a week, I could pay three to four times that amount. It is all about the planning.

For those of you getting into couponing, try out the various methods. See what works for you. Just because I like to clip my coupons, doesn't mean that the file method won't work better for you. I do think it is well worth it though. Good luck!

Marriage is not easy, you must work at it.

Marriage is hard. I see divorce all around me. I do not want that for myself or my children. I also realize that it is easy to forget why you got married, when you are going through so much. Life throws everything it has at you. The one thing that is supposed to make it easier, except for Faith in God, is your partner. The person you vowed to love, honor and cherish.

When you are in survival mode, you forget the important things. You need to nourish your marriage and you partner. You end up moving through the days, rarely seeing each other, except in passing. This is no way to foster your marriage. But that is what we have been doing.

As part of our journey to move out of survival mode, we are looking at ways to improve our marriage. To find love again. To find those things that seem to have been pushed so far down, that you forget they are there.

Dave Ramsey has recommended a book called "Boundaries", by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. They also have a book called "Boundaries in Marriage". This weekend I decided that I would like to read them, so off to Half-Price Books we went. I found the one for marriage, but they were out of the regular one. Hubby was pretty excited about the, books and is looking forward to reading them too. It just goes to show, that we both feel there is room for improvement. The key is, we both WANT to improve.

While at the book store, we picked up a few other books. "21 Days to a Great Marriage", also by Cloud/Townsend, and "More than Enough", by Dave Ramsey.

I will be doing weekly posts about what we are learning and what we are doing to revamp our marriage. I hope you take this time to reflect on what you could be doing better for yourself and your partner.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Buying a car versus getting it fixed...

We have older cars. Mine is a 1998 Ford Explorer with 160K miles on it. Hubby's is a 2004 Kia Optima (which used to be mine) with probably 120K miles. You might think that we need to get new cars, I think not.

Most people finance their cars for about 5 years (most are 6 years). I work in the car industry and handle deals all day, so this is an educated estimate. They pay on average $550 a month for those 5 years. Can you imagine walking into a car dealership and handing them $33,000 in cash? Nope, either can I. But we have no problem financing a $20,000 car for 5 years and paying that $33K.

Why? Because we want the best. We "deserve" the best. We don't want people to think we are broke. We think we are getting a more reliable vehicle. This isn't necessarily the case. I was a service adviser and I saw a ton of new cars come in for all sorts of reasons. Now that I am in accounting, I see repair orders every day at work. Our used versus new repairs are pretty even. I see new cars come in two weeks after it is sold with problems. Granted, the repairs are covered under warranty, but you are making a car payment. So you are paying for that warranty.

It took me hitting rock bottom that got me out of a car payment. I will never go back to having one. As you know my husband lost his job and was out of work over a year. I had a very difficult time making my car payments during this time. The bank took my beloved van back. After meeting with one of their financial counselors, it was decided it would not be a good idea for me to get the van back. I was devastated. Months later I am so very grateful this happened.

I was forced to gather what money I could and get a used cash car. I ended up with a 1998 Ford Explorer. The radio doesn't work. The control's on the door fall into the door at times. But it starts every time and I don't have a car payment putting me into an early grave every month.

Yes, we do have to pay for upkeep and the occasional repairs. The Kia has needed maintenance for awhile. We finally were able to take it in and get some work done. We need to do another $2500 worth of stuff, but then it will be like driving a new car. And better yet, instead of paying $6600 this year on car payments for it, we will have spent half that. Freeing up the rest of the money to go into sinking fund (see Dave Ramsey), to save up for a "newer" used car. You also have to realize that you do not have those repairs every year. If we had done it over time, it would have meant $1000 a year in maintenance.

More about that sinking fund. If we put $300 a month (for 2 years) into our sinking fund, we can have $7200 to put toward a newer vehicle. That is on top of what ever we get for our trade in. If we can make the car last for three more years, we will have over 10 grand. You can get a pretty nice used vehicle for that amount. One you own outright. You won't have to worry about losing your job and not being able to make car payments. You will have transportation to get you out and about to find another job. You won't have the fear of waking up to having your car gone, taken by the bank.

So please think twice about trading in your recently paid off car for a new one. If you can pay cash for a new car, do it. Though I recommend one that is a year or two old. Depreciation sucks big time. If you do only one thing that Dave Ramsey recommends, I would say do this. It will change your life. It will fee money up to do more things. You can do it.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

busy busy busy

Don't worry, I am still around. It is month end at my work, so I am working extra hours. We are doing something different this month. I usually go into work at my usual time, then get home at 8 or 9 at night. This month I am going into work early so that I get home before 7. That way I get to spend time with the family. Its all about balance and compromise.

Short, sweet and to the point. Until next week...

Parenting - when to let them grow up

I have failed as a parent. Well not failed, but I need to start pushing my 6 year old to do things. When I was her age I would run all over town and wasn't constantly monitored by my parents. In this world we have to be more aware of things like "stranger danger" and stuff like that. However, I have failed as a parent when it comes to teaching my daughter how to do things.

This became obvious when we had her Valentine's day party. The other girls were pouring their own drinks and eating whole pieces of pizza. We still pour all of our daughters drinks and more often than not it gets put into a cup with a lid. She has never used a knife (until today) and couldn't even open a bag of chips.

I decided this had to change. Yesterday I decided to take her to the store and teach her what it is like to go shopping. She helped read off the prices and let me know which one cost less. She read off the grocery list and helped find the items and even put them in the cart. I even showed her how to pick out the best produce (which bag of potatoes were best). She was so good. Usually she is running all over the place, asking for things she couldn't have and just being a handful. By having her become part of the process, she was a help instead of a hinder. When we got home, she crashed and slept for 3 hours.

Today she asked to help make her own lunch. I walked her through the process of making a sandwich. I gave her a butter knife and taught her how to cut off the crust. She didn't do it perfectly, but the point is, she is learning. I also had her get out the bag of carrots, open the bag and get out how many she wanted. She even helped make Bekah's sandwich. After they had their sandwiches and carrots, they wanted some chips. After Sarah asked me to open her chips, I realized she had never done it on her own before. I asked her who opens her chips at school. She said the teacher. WOW, eye opener. So I taught her how to open her chips.

I guess the moral of this post, is that when we try to protect our kids, we often keep them from growing up. We prevent them from learning to do things on their own so that they can make the right choices and be protected. I am taking this as an "Action Item" and will do better at teaching my kids how to do things on their own. Heck...tonight they will learn to put toothpaste on their own brush...yes...I am that mom.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

How to save money without couponing...

Lets face it, all of us do not want to sit down and clip coupons every week. We don't want to deal with the mess or time it takes. I have a few ideas for those of us who just want to go shopping.

1. Menu Plan. Make sure that you know what you are making for the week. This takes about 15 minutes tops. Open your refrigerator/freezer and see what you already have on hand. Make your menu around those things. Then fill in with things you need to get from the store. Plan simple meals using 5 - 6 ingredients. A meat, starch and veggie is all you really need. Or a meat and two veggies if you do not do starches. I have told you before that I simplify my planning by knowing that I have pork on Saturday, Beef on Sunday, Chicken on Monday, Left overs on Tuesday, Italian on Wednesday, and a frozen type dinner on Thursday. Friday's are our eat take out night.

2. If you do not want to cut coupons, there is an electronic alternative. I shop at Kroger for the majority of my grocery needs. They have most of the manufacturer coupons loaded on their site. If you register your Kroger Plus card online, you just select the ones you want to use and it loads onto your card. No cutting coupons and it takes a few minutes of work. I am also able to look at the current sales flyer while loading coupons, so I can get the best bang for my buck.

3. Do not be brand loyal. Don't get me wrong, there are some things that I really prefer. However, if you are trying to save money, you need to get in the mindset that you are feeding your family. Try different things and if you hate them, do not buy them again. But what is the harm in trying something new once.

For instance, this weekend I had Cheez-its (girls snack) and onion soup mix (for meatloaf) on my list. The name brand Cheez-its were 2.99 on sale, and you only got the sales price if you bought five items listed. The store brand (no difference in taste) were 2.19 regular price. Without a coupon it made sense to get the store brand. Now if I had couponed, I might have been able to get the name brand for a dollar a box, but again, this is about not doing traditional couponing.

I also needed onion soup mix for my meatloaf. I normally buy the Lipton brand that costs on average $1.69 a box. This week Kroger had the store brand 10 for $10. You do not have to buy ten to get the discount. So I picked up one box. I have never tried this brand before, so I am going to test it out today and see how it works. If I like it, I might just go back and stock up on it at the sale price.

4. Shop with cash. Go to the grocery store with the amount of money that you can spend. This takes a little bit of planning, but in the end it is well worth it to avoid impulse purchases. When I make my list, I put a dollar amount next to the item. This is the amount that, through an educated guess, I believe the item will cost. I then add up all the items, add tax and I have a good estimate of what I will be spending. If the amount is over what I have budgeted for the week, I review the list and get rid of things that I can do without.

5. Shop at a store that gives a discount on gas. There are several stores throughout the country that now offer a discount on gas depending on how much you spend. Most are $.05 off a gallon of gas with a $50 purchase at the grocery store. Some are $.10 off for $100 spent. This is a great way to bring your gas cost down.

6. Buy meat on sale. You might not need 5 pounds of ground beef, but if it goes on sale for $.99 per lb, I will buy it. I have a vacuum sealer and a digital food scale. When I get home from the store I separate it into 1 pound increments and seal it up. I squish it flat so that it fits really nice in my tiny freezer. I also buy chicken on sale or any other meat item. That way I might be able to buy a month's worth of chicken for $10. That way I don't have to buy meat every week. I only buy it when on sale and I buy a bunch of it. We are in fact saving to buy a freezer so that I can do more of this. One day I hope to be able to buy a half a cow and have meat for the year.

As you see, this isn't about sitting down for an hour every week couponing and price comparing between stores. This is about taking the store you shop at and finding ways to save money at that store. Stick to a list, don't be afraid to use a different brand and shop with cash. You can save money. I usually use these tricks AND coupon, but I can't always do both due to busy schedules or not feeling well. Know that every little bit helps. Despite not using traditional coupons, I was still able to feed a family of four (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks) this week for $70. Not a bad deal.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University

When I got the FPU class a year ago I listened to all the cd's and thought I had a handle on things. I was wrong. I was not in the right place at the time. Hubby was still out of work and to be honest we were in complete survival mode. I am not saying you cannot do the plan when you are in a bind, but you DO have to be in the right mind. 

Now that Hubby is working, we are retaking FPU to make sure we are optimizing our recovery. I learned a big lesson this past week. Despite providing the budget to hubby, he went ahead and paid a bill that needed to wait. It did not matter that we would have had to do without that "service" for a few days, it HAD to wait. We needed to pay for food, gas and necessities first. With him paying the bill, it threw the budget out the window and now we have to explain to daycare, why they cannot be paid. 

This was a huge eye opener for me. I realized that we had to retake the FPU course. We needed to come up with a better budgeting system and way to pay bills. So I am in the process of creating a monthly bill chart to hang up on our "family wall". There will also be a year long chart that lists every bill for every month. When the bill gets paid on time, we put a star sticker in the box. If we pay it but not on time, we just put a check mark. When it doesn't get paid that month at all, we get a big red frowny face.

I am also setting up a solution for our mail system. Right now, the bills get set on the counter and then after a few days they get put somewhere else and are never found again. We end up going online to pay the bills, or heaven for bid when the service is cancelled we pay over the phone. Yes. This has been our system. I have been trying to do better, but it has been so overwhelming. This is why I am creating a new system where Hubby and I can see right on the wall what the plan is. There is no excuse of, where did you put the budget I gave you. No more asking "Why in the world did you pay it when I told you what we were paying this week." Verbal DOES NOT work. Heck, email does not work. This system will be right there when you walk into the kitchen every day. There will be no excuse.

We have what is called our Family Wall. It has a bulletin board, a dry erase calendar, and two other dry erase boards for notes. I am hanging three clear bins on the wall next to our "family wall". When the mail comes into the house, it is sorted into two categories: garbage and needs to be addressed. Garbage like sales flyers go into the trash below the bins. Everything else goes in the top bin. 

On the weekends we will sit down in our financial committee meeting and go through everything in the top bin. Bills will be put in the second bin, after we log the amount and due date on our bill pay schedule. The bill pay schedule will be on a clip board that will hang on our "family wall", as well. Bills that get paid will be put into a paid file in our filing cabinet. We will keep one years worth of bills to help us come up with an accurate average and better budget for the next year.  

Another problem we have is keeping the kids papers organized. The bottom bin will be used for things to address for the kids. Picture forms, field trip forms, etc. Every day we will go through their take home folders and put the items in that bin, to be addressed. There will be another blog post about this subject.

Every Saturday we will have a financial committee meeting. It is here where bills will get paid. The budget will be created, reviewed and updated. We will discuss our goals and what things we are succeeding at and or struggling with. We will also discuss our FPU assignments and make sure we are on the same page. We are taking the FPU class online, since we do not have access to child care to go to a meeting. We paid for it a year ago and you can keep taking it forever, with that one payment.

That is the gist of what we are doing right now to get organized to get to a level of success. Next week I will do a post with pictures so you can see what our wall looks like. This weekend is all about organizing it and getting "re-started".

If you like my blog posts, go to Facebook and like my page (Stoop Surviving, Start Succeeding). Share with your friends. Also, please leave comments of support, questions or anything you would like to say below. I want to hear from you.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

MINI POST ABOUT GOALS

I have been working on our budget to attain certain goals this year. I thought I would share them with you and when we hope to attain them.

Financial Goals
Short term goals:
1. Get current on all bills - June 2014
2. Reach baby step one of $1000 emergency fund - October 2014
3. Move into a rental house - October 2014 (First and last months along with $800 toward moving expenses)
4. After that 1/2 of our "extra money" a month will go toward a car fund to replace my 16 year old truck and Nolen's 10 year old car. We will still buy used, but will upgrade a little.
5. The other half will go toward debt repayment (getting student loans paid off as fast as we can)

Long term goals:
1. Have my student loans paid off in two and a half years.
2. Pay off Nolen's school loans in 5 years.
3. Save for a house using the principals of Dave Ramsey. 20% down and no more than 25% of our take home pay, and a 15 year mortgage. Prefer to buy in three to four years.

Health Goals

1. Lose 5 pounds a month. I have PCOS and it is very difficult to lose weight. I am trying to be realistic here. With all the stress of our financial goals, I would love to lose 5 pounds a month. I think it is very doable and yet would work toward accomplishing my end goal.

2. Work out: I will start out going to the gym once a week for two weeks. Then two times a week for three weeks. Then three times a week for four weeks. I will work my way up to 5 times a week. I was having a problem starting right out and doing 3-5 times a week, while working so hard on acclimating to Nolen working again. We need to get our home routine worked out first.

3. Eat home cooked/made meals all but one meal a week. This one we are doing for the most part. It was a hard transition, but one that I feel really good about. The slow cooker has helped a ton!

Family Goals

1. Do one family oriented "date" a month. This can be as simple as having a picnic at the lake. If we have a little splurge money we could go to the zoo. Anything that gets us out of the house to do something that is not related to shopping or errands. We have been through so much, we need to come together as a family. I would love to go camping.

2. Have one date night with Hubby. We have become zombies and doing what needed to be done. We need to rekindle the part of our relationships that is in desperate need of attention.

3. Have a Sunday Dinner once a month with the grandparents (my parents)

4. Go to see Nolen's Dad/step mom once a month.

It seems like a lot, but if we divide it up we will be doing one family goal a week. That isn't too bad.

So there you have it! our goals so far.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Finding out what you really owe...

I sat down today and found out what I really owe in debt. It was scary at first, but then it gave me a sense of relief. I think we avoid things, hoping that it will be easier. In the end knowing gives you a sense of power. This weekend I will take that information and combine it with hubby's, to come up with a goal length of time to becoming debt free.

In the mean time, I went ahead and did our budget through the summer. I wanted a budget based on when we get paid and not just monthly. I love Mint.com for letting us know how we are sticking to our budget. You select what amounts you have in your budget to pay that month and it tracks your expenditures for you. I just needed to come up with the budget itself.

I love spreadsheets. I work in them everyday and I am really good at formula's and doing all the pretty stuff. In the end I had a spreadsheet that allowed me to see what gets paid each week and how much I need to keep in reserve to pay the next weeks bill. I know that Dave Ramsey teaches the zero balance monthly budget. However, when you are behind, you need to get a little creative. For example, with rent. While we are getting caught up we have to pay rent using the last paycheck of the month and the first paycheck of the next month. After reviewing the numbers, I have us becoming current with all bills by June. This is huge for us.

We have known for awhile that we need to move to a cheaper place to keep our end goal of becoming debt free. In order to do that we have to save up money for the move. You may say that it will be cheaper to just stay where you are. But when our lease is up, we will have to pay about $2500 in deposit and moving expenses. Moving into a rental house that is $400 a month less, we will be able to break even in less than 6 months. We plan to live in the new place for about 3 years, so that is well worth the expense now.

In order to save enough money to move in September, we are having to cut our budget a little more. We will cut our Friday takeout to twice a month instead of every Friday. I will have to make sure I get a certain amount of hours on each paycheck. ALL non-necessities will have to wait until after we move. Or at least until we have saved up the deposit and movers fund. I am going to get even more creative with meal planning. Groceries will be cut to bare minimum. I know we can do this!

I will also be going through the house and selling what ever I can part with. I know I need to go through the baby clothes and stuff, but that is so hard. I hate getting rid of it...but that is for another blog.

I will keep you updated on our progress. Love and prayers to all of you.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Getting your kids to eat right...

Kids follow your example. Plain and simple. If you eat a lot of snacks after dinner, they will do the same. If you hide food, they will sneak food. If you eat a lot of fast food, they will eat a lot of fast food.

We are very fortunate to have two girls that eat very well. One is our veggie girl and the other our meat girl. But they will both eat a wide array of foods. Our oldest will want an apple for her "treat". In fact we once caught her eating carrots in the middle of the night. Our youngest has more of a sweet tooth. For my birthday she had two pieces of cake.

As you know, for awhile we were eating out pretty much every day. The girls ate it for awhile, but then we noticed that they weren't eating the nuggets or hamburgers we got for them. Once we started our new plan of eating at home all but one day meal, they have started eating again. Now when we have the occasional treat, they will eat it up.

There was a time when my husband would buy a bag of candy bars on the way home from picking the girls up from school. The girls were constantly buzzing on candy. They expected to have it every day. When we put a ban on it, there was a bit of complaining and culture shock. Now they are used to it being a special treat every now and then.

One thing we have to work on is soda. Growing up, Sarah never had soda. She didn't have her first sip until she was about 5. We would let her have some when we went to the movies. But that was it. If we had a soda sitting on the side table, she wouldn't ask for it or touch it at all.

Bekah is, of course, a different story. She was at home (versus Sarah in daycare) most of her life. Daddy drinks a lot of soda. She would see this and once she was able, she would steal his soda. Once she started stealing the soda, her sister started expecting it too. This is where we have a huge problem. We went from the one child having no soda, to them both drinking way too much for my liking.

I have tried to kick the soda habit. I have never lasted more than a few weeks. Hubby only lasts a day or two. I can limit myself to one a day, but hubby has a major addiction. Sometimes he will have 6 cans in a day. This is where I have a problem.

I have tried not buying soda. But then hubby will buy 20 oz bottles at $1.50 a piece. To save money I end up buying the cans in a 12 or 24 pack on sale. I have a conflict between saving money and trying to limit our soda intake. I don't want my kids drinking soda except once in awhile as a treat. I want my husband to cut down his soda intake, but he is an adult and its his thing. I also end up drinking more thank I should.

I made a decision today. To heck with the past failures. The soda that we have left (a few cans) is all that I am going to buy. We are not going to have it in the house unless we get it as part of our "fast food/pizza" night. It is expensive and it is contributing to our weight gain. Hubby can have his coke, but it has to be purchased with his spending cash. It cannot come into the house, so he can have it at work or while out and about. Same thing goes for me.

The health of our family is way too important.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Getting off my butt...Tackling housework

This past year I have relied a lot on my husband to do housework. He did what he could, but basically a lot of stuff just didn't get done regularly. He had his hands full looking for work and taking care of our wild child Bekah. I was working so many hours that I was exhausted when I was home and really just wanted to spend time relaxing and cuddling my kids.

Now that Hubby is back at work, we both have to share the responsibilities of keeping the house clean and chores done. It has been difficult finding that rhythm. We have been passing around the same cold and plagued by allergies. So things just haven't been getting done. But I just cannot take it anymore. I grew up in a very clean and organized house. I should say both houses as my parents are divorced. I am not used to living in chaos and in fact it adds to my panic disorder.

To get back on track, my goal was to get one big chore done a week. Organize the kitchen, the linen closet, etc. I have gotten a few things done, but the weekly cleaning is where we have a problem. I came up with a plan and emailed it to hubby so he had a copy of the list. He loves lists. However, there was a misunderstanding in who was to do what. I took for granted that he read the email. I thought that when I told him I emailed him the list that it was going to get done. But, with all that has been going on it just didn't get done.

Today (my 39th birthday) I decided that I needed to start off on the right foot and get the house cleaned. Hubby watched and I gave him the evil eye, wishing he would get off his butt and do his part. Granted he has been suffering from allergies, so he really wasn't feeling well. He took the cue that I was upset and got up and tried a few things. He was acting like each step he took was like he was pulling a pyramid behind him. So I told him to just sit down.

I went ahead and did my chores. He would get up occasionally and try to help me. Finally I asked him why he was trying to help me when he had his own stuff to do. This is where I found out that he had no idea that I split up the chores so things were as even as possible. Once I explained to him the plan, he started doing stuff and rocked out his part of the chore list.

One reason why I split up the chore list is because we both get so overwhelmed by knowing the whole house needs to be cleaned. We end up not doing it. If you know you only have to do half, you aren't so weighed down. We don't have to do it all in one day, just throughout the week when we have time we can tackle a chore. I wanted to get it done today though, as it was bothering me really bad. We have all been sick and I just wanted to get things clean so we would stop passing things around.

Here is how I spit up the chores.

Nolen:
Clean up, dust and vacuum dining room, living room, girls rooms.
Change sheets in girls bedrooms
Scoop the litter box every day and take out the garbage.
Help with cooking when needed
Unload dishwasher
He is mostly the one to pick up the girls and drop them off at school.

Me:
Clean both bathrooms and kitchen.
Mop floors in both bathrooms and kitchen
Change sheets and pick up master bedroom.
Clean up and dust/vacuum master bedroom
Menu plan, grocery shop, do most of cooking.

I hope that we can keep up with this plan. I called a family meeting at lunch today to make sure we were all on the same page. We are all part of this family and we all need to do what needs to get done. Just like we are all members of society and we all have our parts in it.

Wish us luck that we can stay on track.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Saving and Debt Repayment - Inspired

I admit it. I am struggling. Nolen has been back to work a little over a month now. It is HARD paying for daycare. I mean really HARD. I have been doing what I can with couponing, but I spent more than I should have trying to get stockpiled. I got a TON of stuff and saved even more. That doesn't help us pay bills though. I know it will be a lot easier going forward, but it was a very difficult month.

So what am I going to do about it?

This weekend I am going to sit down and do a new budget. I know, I know...I did one this month. Well, with everyone getting sick. Getting used to paying for daycare, and the expenses of two working parents has been quite the adjustment. So I need to redo our budget and I need it to be realistic and doable.

I will be working the envelope system one way or another. I have tried it in the past and always made it a day or two. What I am doing now is not working, so I am going to do what works for thousands of people. I just need to make sure hubby is on the same page too. One thing is for sure, I need to be accountable.

Here is my plan:

1. Research how much exactly we have paid for in each of our utilities the past year and find a monthly average. No guessing. I want actual totals.

2. I will figure out an accurate total for our take home pay (without overtime included). Working a 15-16 hour day once a month is required, but the overtime associated with it is not a guarantee. If that day happens to fall during that week, its not overtime, just extra hours. If I end up getting sick the same week, I won't get overtime either. So I cannot count on it. This has been the cause of past budgeting problems.

3. I will then figure out our "HAVE TO SPEND" items. This will be Rent, Electric, Food, Gas, car insurance, etc.

4. Next I will come up with a list of "Other" items. This will be clothing, entertainment, and such.

With this information I will create a budget based on goals for the remaining of the year. Not just month to month. I will have main envelopes for those expenses that will be paid by cash. On the 10th of every month I will get out the money for those envelopes and divide it up accordingly. I will then set up automatic payments for the utilities to come out of my check on the 25th.

Nolen's pay will cover Rent and Daycare. He gets paid weekly. I will take our monthly rent, multiply by 12, then divide by 52. Each Friday when Nolen gets paid, I will have that amount automatically moved into my savings account dedicated for Rent. Then on the first I will have all the money ready, transfer it back, and pay it. I will also pay daycare Friday afternoon for the following week. No more having the money in the bank to be "accidentally" spent over the weekend.

Once we get to our Baby Step One (see Dave Ramsey FPU), I will go into more detail on debt repayment. For right now we must focus on doing the right things financially. Paying bills on time. Living on budget and being ADULTS. I feel that we have made so many mistakes. I want to do what has to be done to help alleviate the stress of it all. We make decent money, its time we take care of it.

That about sums it up. I will be checking back each week to let you know how it is going. Please pray for me...I know this isn't going to be easy.

How to be charitable, when you feel you have nothing left to give...

With all the things that have happened this past year or two, I do not feel that have anything left to give. But this is the time when I NEED to give. Giving helps feed the sole. So I am going to make a goal to do one charitable thing a month. I cannot afford to give my own money, but that doesn't mean that I cannot take an hour a week to give my time. Sometimes that one hour will make a huge difference.

Here are some things that I would like to do over the next few months/years:

Donate time at my local food pantry. They have been a source of food for us in our hardest times. I would like to give back to them. Once I get really good at couponing, I would like to donate those extra items that I get for free or really cheap to them. I will continue to do my yearly North Texas Food Bank donation at work. Some of you do not realize that the smaller pantries get their food from local sources as well as the NTFB. By the time a little local food bank like the Lake Dallas Food Pantry gets their cut, it often doesn't have much to give. I will give more information in next week's post about how to give to food pantries/banks.

Offer my time at the local pet shelter. They need help with cleaning cages, walking dogs, helping people fill out paperwork. They also need food and other pet items. I hope to use my new found love of couponing to help donate items. It is common to find coupons and match up with sales for things like cat food, dog food, litter. Since my kitties are somewhat picky about their soft food (I can donate the ones I get for free). Again, there will be another blog post about this specific charity.

A bigger thing that I would like to do is to gather items for "care baskets" for a women's shelter. Giving care baskets with makeup, shampoo, etc., would go a long way to helping them "feel" like women. I would also like to see about finding new bras and underwear (of good quality) on clearance to donate to the shelter. It may seem like they could use more useful things, but being broke for so long, you should see my bras. I would give anything for someone to give me a new bra for free. This is really something I would like to do in the next year.

As you see, I have some ideas of what I want to do. I am still focusing on trying to move out of survival mode, but once I do I want to give to people. I can start with the food pantry NOW, then move onto the other things. 

Please comment below about the things that you do for charity. I would love to hear your stories.

For those of you who are able to give financially, please check out the following link. It will give you some resources to find a reliable charity. There is nothing worse than trying to do good and have someone take advantage of you.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Parenting - Coping Tips

I hear from a lot of my mommy friends that they have days where they just want to run away. I have these days too. If I had a really hard day at work, the last thing I want to do is have a challenging evening at home with the kids. Here are some coping mechanisms to get through those days.

When the kids are acting out and fighting with each other, its a sure sign:

1. The poor kiddo's are tired.
Do not use this time to clean the house or do a detail oriented chore. Sit down with your kids on the couch and rest with them. Another option is to give them a calming bath. I know that some kids out there hate baths, but ours love them. It never fails to get them out of that overtired mode and into one of heading toward sleep.
It is important to read the signs. I know that the dishes need to be done. But often if you take a moment now, you can get the things you need to get done a lot easier, later. One night Nolen was doing the dishes and Bekah was having a fit. Kicking him. Screaming. Pulling on him. I tried to calm her but she would have none of it. He didn't realize that she was trying to tell him that she wanted to go to bed. I usually put Sarah to bed and he puts Bekah to bed. Bekah wanted to go to bed and she ended up falling asleep at his feet.

2. They want your attention.
Those moments that we want to be alone are almost always the moments when our kids need us the most. I have tried to fight it and try to redirect them into something else. It always ends up in tears on both parts. I have discovered that if I take a few minutes to cuddle, it helps me feel better and gives them what they want.

When ever I see one of my kids doing things they KNOW they shouldn't be doing, it is most likely attention seeking. I try to call them over, ask them what is wrong. If they don't respond to that, I use this trick.
"Hey Sarah, Mommy is feeling tired and out of sorts. Will you please come give me a hug to make me feel better?" This instantly puts her in a great mood. She feels like she is helping me (in fact she really is) and it gives her what she wants (attention). So by taking the emotion I see in her, and turning it on myself, she learns it is OK to feel that way.

3. They need stability
Kids need a schedule. We have not been good about schedules in the past. With the year of instability we have had, I am working hard to get the family back into a rhythm. We are eating dinner together on a regular basis. We have a standard bed time, where you have to be in bed by this 8 pm. You can then read for a bit or watch the kindle, but you have to be in bed for quiet time. Lights are out at 8:30.

Nolen and I have always had different views on this next part. I feel that Monday through Thursday evenings need to be structured. I do not like doing a lot of activities these nights. The kids need to have homework time, dinner, family time, baths, then bed. Going to a function once in a while is fine. But having something all the time makes both parent and child exhausted. If you are going to do "extras", I feel you should do them as a family on the weekends. As the kids get older, this can change. But when you have kids under 10, I think that this is a good practice.

These are just a few ways I have learned to cope on those days when it feels the world is coming down around you and the kids are adding to it. We are parents. We brought these beautiful kids into the world. It is OUR job to nourish them. Teach them. Love them. Give them discipline. They are NOT an inconvenience. They are not something that we can push aside when we just don't want to deal with them.

If you have kids, take this moment to tell them you love them and give them a good cuddle.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Finding Work/Life Balance - What about your dreams?

How does finding your dream, following your dream, and living your dream go along with finding a work/life balance?

Since I can remember I have wanted to be a mom. I wanted to have a huge family (I have 4 siblings, two more that I "claim" as siblings.)  I have two beautiful girls. I am so very lucky to have them.It took a long time to have this small family of mine, but they are all mine. I wish that it could have come easier and I had that huge family, but I am so very grateful for having my girls, when so many people aren't able to have even one.

Another of my dreams was to be an actress/singer. In fact, I earned an acting scholarship my freshman year of college. My step-dad always told me that I should either be an actress or a lawyer. He was probably right. Every time I see a great acting or signing performance, I am brought to tears. I am in awe of their talent and also because they are getting to fulfill that dream. It is always in the back of my mind that I should join a local acting group. I would love to find balance in my work/life so that I could do so.

Along with the previous two dreams, I wanted to be a teacher. I changed my major from acting to teaching, hoping I could combine the two. Alas, life got the best of me and I ended up getting my degree in History and Anthropology. My intention was to go back and get a Master's in Education. I ended up spending most of my time and money trying to accomplish goal number 1. As far as becoming a teacher, I am a "corporate" trainer. It took me a long time to get there, but I am teaching in a way. I love my job, but I would much rather be teaching children than adults. Because of this, I want so badly to be able to go back to school and become certified to teach. This also cannot happen, until I am able to get my life back on track.

I will not give up on my dreams. I don't want you to give up on yours. Just because you aren't able to do what you want NOW, doesn't mean that it will NEVER happen.

I hope you share your dreams and what you have done to move toward them. I would love to hear from you.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Exercise - Different options when it just doesn't come together at the gym.

Last week Bekah was sick, hubby followed and now I am sneezing up a storm. This is not a good state to be going to the gym and spreading germs.

I thought I would give some opinions of different dvd's that I have used and had success with in the past.

Leslie Sansone 
This system is fantastic for those just starting out, but also has some that will give you a good challenge, aerobically. My husband finds them entertaining and he enjoys doing them.
Since I am having a hard time getting to the gym lately, I think I am going to start doing these a few days a week. Then if I have time to go to water aerobics, that is a plus.

Jillian Michaels
The 30 Day Shred is a favorite with a few friends of mine. They do it a few times a year to jump start their workouts, when things have gotten away from them. It is a progressive workout that gets harder as the weeks increase. Great workout, but you will be very sore. But it is a good kind of sore.

Weight Watchers Punch series
http://www.weightwatchers.com/
I LOVE THIS SERIES. The set comes with some hand weight gloves that may feel like they won't add anything to the workout, but by the end you are feeling great. If you want to try out a boxing type workout, this is a great starter series. I always feel so empowered when I have finished.

I hope this has given you a few options to use when you are not able to get to the gym. Once I get this crud out of my system, I am going to dig them out and start using them again.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Adventures in Cooking - first meal in new Slow Cooker

For my birthday I wanted a new crock pot. I ended up getting a really cool Cuisinart Slow Cooker. It browns, saut├ęs, has a temperature gauge, timer, all the bells and whistles. I thought I would post my first recipe. It is based off of one I found on Martha Stewart's webpage: http://www.marthastewart.com/344923/slow-cooker-brisket-and-onions

Ingredients:
1 onion (.10 cents)
1 tablespoon chopped garlic (.05 cents)
1/2 can of chicken broth (.25 cents)
3 lb beef brisket ($12.62)
8 oz package button mushrooms (.89 cents)
salt and pepper to taste (nominal
olive oil (about .20 cents
butter (about .10 cents)

Sides:
Mashed potatoes - potatoes 2.5 pounds that was on sale (.50); butter (.20); milk (.50), salt, pepper
Broccoli (.50)
Can of peas (.50)
Gravy (.10 for a packet to mix with the juices of the brisket)

8 servings for 16.51 or 2.06 per meal. Not too shabby.


 

My brisket was frozen, so I put it in the microwave to defrost based on its size, on the defrost setting. While this was defrosting, I set to browning the mushrooms and onions. I feel it adds extra flavor.

Heat the slow cooker to 400 degrees. Put in a 1/2 tablespoon butter and a 1/2 tablespoon olive oil into the slow cooker. Add cleaned and sliced button mushrooms (8 oz) with a sprinkling of pepper. Do not add salt as it will withdraw the moisture and they will not brown. Once browned, remove to a bowl.


Add in a little oil if needed. Add one sliced onion and a tablespoon of chopped garlic. Cook until slightly brown. Do not let the garlic brown as it will become bitter. If you wish, you can add the garlic in half way through browning the onions. Remove from slow cooker and set aside.



Once the brisket is defrosted, wipe with paper towel and season with salt and pepper. Add a 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil to the slow cooker and place brisket in to brown. It takes about 5 minutes on each side. Remove brisket and set aside.
 

 

 

 

 
 Add onions on the bottom, cover with the brisket, top with the mushrooms, followed by a half can of chicken broth. Refrigerate the remaining broth for another recipe. You can also freeze the remaining chicken broth in ice cube trays.




 
Cover the slow cooker and set at low for 6 to 8 hours. I like to be able to slice my brisket, some like to have theirs fall apart. Cook longer if you like yours falling apart.



I hope you try it and enjoy. I know we will. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Couponing - It is all about being prepared.

Repeat after me, DO NOT GO TO THE STORE WITHOUT BEING ORGANIZED.

I had to go to Target to get a new litter box and a few other items. I went with my general list of what I needed this week. However, I did not have time to do my normal thing. That thing being, have a list specific to that store with the coupons listed out and organized. I went with the hope that I could wing it.

No, I cannot wing it. I end up spending an hour and a half after work, when I wanted to spend 20 minutes tops. I kept flipping between coupon pages in my binder, my Cartwheel App and the coupons on my phone. I got a few items on the list, but I should have been able to do better. I know that I didn't save all that I could, and I still have 3/4 of my list that I need to get.

This past week I was busy that I didn't have time to do my normal thing and it cost me money. I usually do my organization on Sunday. I do an Excel spreadsheet listing the different sales specials for each store and match up coupons. Then based on my list, I figure out where I am going shopping.

Instead of taking the day to rest on the couch and coupon, I ended up spending most of the day cleaning and organizing the house. This had to be done. We have lived in such disarray the past year, that I had enough.

I would normally go ahead and do it on Monday, if I was too busy on the weekend. This was month end week at work, so I worked a 15 hour day. I got to work at 9am and didn't get home until midnight. We only get a 1/2hour break with the rest of the time working, working and more working. So no couponing for me.

Tuesday I went to work and ended up leaving early to take care of a sick child. Both kids were wired and cranky and very demanding. So no couponing for me.

Wednesday, my youngest was still sick, so I stayed home with her. I should have sat and organized my stuff, but ended up cleaning the carpets and finishing laundry. I knew that my mom would have to come and watch my youngest for me the next day. There was no way I was going to let her see my living room carpets. Holy post party stains, Batman. I thought that I could lay down for a few minutes during her nap to rest, then get organized for my shopping. She had other plans which involved only taking a 45 minute nap. Then it was time to pick up her sister from school. Day over.

So there I was Thursday night at Target. Flailing around like a fish out of water. Jumping from aisle to aisle. I should have just gotten the one cat box and been on my way. I should not have attempted to get anything else. Next time, I will make sure to go with a plan. Have my list with the coupons organized and know what I am doing.

This week was a fail, but that you learn from your mistakes and do better next time. We are not perfect.

Added:

I stayed up after the family had gone to bed Friday night. I refused to give up on this weeks great deals. So here is what I was able to do with some planning:

Grocery shopping and household shopping done. I spent $190.19. I had a savings of (not including sales prices) 83.28.

Kroger: 112.83 total saved 28.20 or 20%
rotisserie chicken, bag of Frito Lay Chips (12 ct?), 2 loaves bread, 3.29lbs grapes, 3lb bag organic gala apples, 5 HUGE potatoes, 3/4 boars head salami from deli, blueberries, lettuce, celery, 2.33lb bananas, 4 cans del monte diced tom's, daisy sour cream (8oz), 40 oz bisquick, sunbelt granola bars, 5 pk Kraft mac n cheese, large can bush's baked beans, 2 containers Hillshire farms lunchmeat, 2 cans peas, 4 cans tuna, 2 chicken breast on bone, 4 leg/thigh quarters, 2 pkg jimmy dean Italian sausages, full rack pork ribs, Oscar Meyer center cut bacon, chuck roast, 1/2 gallon organic milk.

Walgreens: 41.57 total saved 30.64 plus earned 5000 bonus reward and $2 register rewards.
three boxes cereal, two jugs of Tide,
Mucinex night time 20ct
3 bags of easter candy
small dawn
6 county bounty paper towels
6 count Charmin double roll


target: 35.79 saved 24.74
2 pledge allergen relief 9.07 oz
cascade platinum 42 ct
bounty 12 count select a size
downy (140 load)
bottled water 24 count

What do you think?

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Saving Money and Debt Repayment - Start small

One thing I have learned over this past year, is that its often the small things that make the biggest difference.

When saving money, do not get discouraged if you are only able to save $10 a week. Heck, $5 going toward savings is better than spending more than you have. We are working the Dave Ramsey FPU plan. The first "baby step" is to save $1000 as an emergency cushion. He also says that in order to start saving, you must be caught up on all of your "bills" such as rent/mortgage, utilities, car payments. Once caught up, you move onto your $1000 beginner emergency cushion.

I am a planner. I need to know exactly how we are going to get things caught up and how we are going to save money. I have come up with this plan (through a lot of research and just gut instinct) and this is what we are working on doing.

Step One: (Beginning of Month 1)
Take $25 and open a savings account at the bank. DO NOT have it linked to your checking or available on your debit card through the ATM. This will be where you put your savings through all the little snowball things you will be doing. Do not have your baby step one in a jar at the house. It is way to easy to use.

Step Two: (End of Month 1)
Get a jar, put all of your loose change in it. Once a month take it to the bank and have them deposit it into your savings account. Make sure that the people in your family aren't raiding it for soda money every day. Come together as a family and agree that this is your starter savings. Continue to do this every month of the plan until you have reached your "baby step one" of $1000.

Step Three: (Beginning of Month 2)
Have 3% of your check direct deposited into this account. If you make $400 a week, that is only $12 per week. You may think that this percentage is not worth it. However, when you are going from not being able to pay your bills, to trying to develop a savings, its things like this that will get you moving in the right direction. The important thing is to have it automatic, so you stop "missing" it. Every month, raise this percentage until you get to 10%.

Step Four: (During Month 2)
Find stuff around the house that you can sell. Maybe mow a few lawns. Watch a few of the neighbor's kids. Do something to make some extra money. Put this directly into the savings account you opened in month one. You may not think you have anything to sell, or time to do extra work. There is always something you can do. ALWAYS.

Continue to do steps two through four until you reach your goal. Move onto baby step 2 (debt repayment), funneling all of the money you were putting toward your baby step one, into paying off debt. My next post on this topic will include specifics on that plan.

One thing I want to add is that once you have reached your $1000 goal, I like the idea of using the change jar for family fun. At the end of every month, cash in your jar and decide as a family, one fun thing you want to do. Go to the Zoo, the movies, save it for another month to do something bigger.

Everyone get saving. Start small. Don't get discouraged. We will do this!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Charity and Giving Back - Tell me about it!

I want this part of my blog to be a place to share stories about those people in our lives that give and give without expecting anything in return. Send me your stories. I would love to interview them either by phone or email. I want to spread the word about people and giving back.

For now, here are some way's to make someone's day:

While in the drive through line, pay for the person behind you in line.
When you see someone in the grocery store line with kids, offer them to go in front of you.
If you see someone counting pennies to pay for a gallon of milk, hand them a "fiver".
Donate your time at a food kitchen.
Offer to watch someone's kids for free, so that they can have a night off.
Bring dinner to a new mom/dad.
Leave a really big tip for that server who rocked it, despite being in charge of two sections.

Organize a food or toy drive. I personally started a food drive 5 years ago. We started out the first year donating 400 lbs. of food. This year we were up to 10K pounds of food donated to the North Texas Food Bank.

Here are some things that people have done for me:

We were really tight on money and we had to buy Sarah her school supplies. We miscalculated the cost and our debit card was declined. Two ladies in line behind us gave paid for her supplies.
We have since done the same kind of things to other's. You can tell when someone really needs some help. So do something about it. What you get back is worth more than any amount of money you gave.

One week, we had no idea how we were going to pay for daycare and keep the lights on and feed us all. A friend of ours floated us the money for a few weeks until we could get back on track.

One thing that you might not thing was "giving" at the time, but was the best thing that could have ever happened to me: Having the bank NOT give me my van back, despite having the current past due amount to give them. It was a huge lesson that you must look past what you have now, to the future and be realistic. Plan for the future.

Take the challenge I set forth today, do something for someone today. Seek someone out and make their day. Let them go in front of you in line. Send expired coupons to military families overseas. there is so much you can do. Share those stores in the comments below.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Parenting -Adventures in Childcare

I have always wanted to be a stay at home mom. I wanted to be there for them when they came home from school. Go on field trips with them. I wanted to be MOM. Unfortunately, we have not been able to make that happen. First off, it took a long time to become a mom. Lots of doctor's visits, shots, praying, in the end we ended up with two beautiful girls.

We put our oldest into daycare at 6 weeks old. I wanted to stay out 12 weeks, but we could only afford for me to be out of work as long as short term disability would cover. We looked at a few places and then I fell in love with this one center. It was a great place filled with people who doted on our little girl. It also came with a price tag that destroyed us.

When she was three, we asked my mother if she could watch Sarah for a few months while we saved up to move closer to my parents. The original intent was for my mother to watch her and pay her something, since she had been laid off. During this transitional time it was a lot of meeting up in the Steak n' Shake parking lot. Not the most convenient of options, but it got us through a really hard time.

Once we moved, my mom was lucky to get a temp to perm job. This meant we needed to find a reasonable place to put Sarah. We tried to save money by enrolling her into a home daycare. This was very traumatic for her. She would scream going there and scream coming home. The woman who ran the daycare said that she just wasn't happy. So after one month of trying, we decided to enroll her in the same "center" that she grew up in, just the location where we had moved.

We went from paying 230 a week, to 150 a week, back up to 230 a week. It once again killed us financially, to have a safe place to watch our precious girl.

My mom's job didn't work out, but we kept her in the center to avoid the back and forth of it all. After discussions with my parents, they agreed that if we had another baby, they would help us out and watch him/her. A year later (after four years of trying and 5 attempts at IUI's) we were blessed with our second baby girl. This time I was able to stay home the full 12 weeks. My mother generously agreed to watch her during the day, as well as pick up our other daughter at school.

This worked great until my mom's own life went upside down and she was no longer able to watch the girls. Back to daycare they went. For $380 a week we put them into the child care center that we loved and trusted. We struggled and went deeply into debt. We had to borrow from friends, family, and robbed Peter to pay Paul. It was a huge mess. You must also remember this was before I learned about Dave Ramsey. We were horribly irresponsible. We fell apart.

After 4 months of having the girls in daycare, Nolen was laid off. My mom agreed to watch the girls while he job hunted. It was a lot of my mom watching the girls and a lot of Nolen watching the girls. Six months later he found work, then three months later was out of work again. It was a huge mess.

Over a year after his original layoff, Nolen found a job. My parents moved a distance away that made it not very practical for them to watch the girls on a long term basis. However, my mom said she would watch them for two weeks (until Nolen got his first check). We could not have done it without her! Thank you MOM!

During these two weeks we went on the search for a reasonably priced daycare. We could not justify (or we thought) paying the amount at the old center. They were truly a daycare, not a school. They "pride" themselves on teaching the children, but Sarah went into primary school not knowing what she needed to know. We felt comfortable with the center, but we decided that it just wasn't worth the money in the end.

Nolen and I searched and searched. Daycare after daycare was worse than the one before. Finally I ran the budget to see what we really could afford and have money left to save. We discovered that with my new salary (I had gotten a promotion), reducing our health care premiums, Nolen's higher pay in his new job, Dave Ramsey, that we could in fact afford what we were paying before.

The question was, did we really want them to go there. We did some research on Montessori schools, as Bekah is a brilliant little girl and we wanted to give her the best. We also wanted a school that would help Sarah with her homework after school. This lead us to the girls current school.

Unlike the daycares we looked at before, the kids at this school, were orderly and quiet. But you could still see they were having a great time. They offered homework help, a private kindergarten, quarterly assessments, sign language and Spanish. It was all we ever wanted.

Is it expensive? Not when you break it down to the hourly rate. I looked for a nanny and the cheapest was $10 an hour. The school the girls are attending is about $5 an hour. They get the benefit of being with other kids, learning and I feel secure that they are safe. In fact, it is $5 a week cheaper than the previous childcare center.

Two weeks in and we are in love. The girls come home happy. There isn't any arguing over homework with Sarah. Bekah is getting her first real cold (isn't that always the case) due to being with other kids. All in all we are very happy. We just have to stick to our budget. Plan accordingly and we will be alright.

So that is our journey in finding childcare for our girls. Do I still want to be a stay at home mom? HELL YES. I hope to one day be a work from home mom. Maybe as an author/blogger/tutor. You never know. For now, we are working toward our goals and we feel good about our decision.

Please comment below your struggles and successes in finding appropriate childcare for your child. Tell me your story about being a stay at home mom. You never know, we could help each other in some way.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Work Life Balance - Tag Your In

The past year my husband has been the Dad, Mom, and everything to our girls. I have been working copious amount of hours. With hubby back at work, I am finally able to spend some time with the family.

When you are distanced from your kids, all you want is to be with them. You miss them and each minute is precious. You have lots of hugs and kisses when you are around. You get to spend special time reading with them, taking them to a movie, in general be the fun parent. All you want to do is be with them.

The parent who is home with them is WITH them all the time. They are the ones to change their poopy diapers. They have to deal with your 6 year old who thinks she is a teenager. The 2 year old runs the parent ragged, getting into everything including things you didn't know you had.

Since we are both working now, we are trying to find a balance between who does what and how to balance it with working. When one of the children is sick, it is no longer a given that the stay at home parent will be able to watch them. You have to bargain and weigh which person will be least affected by having to stay home.

Nolen stayed home yesterday since the schools were closed due to ice. I went to work because it was the one day a month I HAD to be there. We now have a sick child, so tomorrow I have to stay home while he goes to work. This throws a wrench into our finances, as now I won't get paid overtime for my long day on Monday. But Nolen cannot miss work again, since he is new at this job and does not get PTO (Paid Time Off).

Balance. It sucks sometimes. But you do what you do and move on.

I do have to say, over the past year I have hated going to work when one of my kids was sick. I wanted to be the mommy and cuddle and take care of them. Now I get that chance. You cannot have it all...but what you do have can be pretty darn sweet.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Exercise - You do what you can...

Last night I worked until midnight (a 15 hour day). The plan was for me to go into work today and leave by 4:00 so that I could get in a workout before heading home for dinner with the family. I would miss my normal 6:00 aqua fit class, but I figured I could swim some laps. Today was a lesson that we need to be flexible with our schedules, as we know anything can and will happen.

Yesterday we had an ice storm that closed the schools, so Nolen had to stay home with the girls. I HAD to go into work since it was the one day a month where you have to be dead to miss. Today we were back at work and had our plan. Or so we thought. I was in the groove, doing work that I love when I get a phone call from Nolen saying that Bekah is sick and she needs to be picked up from school.

Since he missed work yesterday, I had to be the one to go pick her up.No workout for me. Why is it that when ever I start to get back into a rhythm, something blows it into smithereens? I assume it happens to everyone. You get going on a diet, then your work has an impromptu Potluck. You work a really long day and hope to have overtime, then the next day your child gets sick and you have to keep her home. You work hard to train for a marathon and you break your leg.

The moral of the story is to be flexible. Don't give up because of one set back. These setbacks are there for a reason. They teach you that nothing is perfect. There is no RIGHT time to lose weight, move across country, have a baby. You just do it and pray for the best.

What did I do to help get some exercise in? I did some laundry. Picked up the house a bit. Most of all, I will not feel like a failure. I will get back into the gym on Thursday. I will not let this set me back.

Comment on this post, things that have set you back. What have you done to get past it? Do you need some motivation to get back to working toward your goals? Let me know.

Come Exercise with Me

I am extremely overweight at the moment. It is difficult to walk. Barely possible to tie my shoes. The stress of the past year has made me become a hermit who doesn't want to do anything. One of my goals to succeeding in life, is to get physically fit.

I love Aqua Fit. My instructor is fantastic. She is tough, but also compassionate. Last week I went back to class after 9 months and she remembered me and welcomed me back by name. I don't want you to think the class is full of old ladies. Granted, most of them are my age or older, but dang these ladies can move. Aqua fit is tough. We have had guys come in and do the class and they leave huffing and puffing. I love it!

Did I say that I love it?

So why did I stop going for nearly 9 months. I was working so much that I couldn't get to the classes on time. Saturday's I was so tired that I would sleep until noon  to catch up from so little sleep the week before. The gym was my last priority.

No longer! I went into my boss at work and told her that I needed to leave at 5:00 every day. This will allow me to eat with my family three nights a week (not including weekends) and go to the gym on Tuesday and Thursday nights (along with Saturday mornings). The nights I do Aqua Fit I will get home before bed time, so I can still read the girls a book and cuddle.

Guilt.

One other "excuse" to not go to the gym was guilt. I felt bad that I would be having "me" time when hubby didn't. I came up with a great plan this weekend. I will go to the gym for my me time three times a week. He will get every other Saturday to go "Gaming" with his friends for the day. Its a great solution for us to have some fun but not feel guilty about it.

No more excuses. No more guilt. Aqua fit here I come!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Eating Right and Menu Planning - I NEED HELP!

I am trying to lose the 70 pounds that I have gained this past year. Eating a ton of fast food and shoving my mouth with candy has done a number on my body. These post's will focus on my struggles to eat right and what I am doing to fix the problem and succeed.

I am a stress eater. I need sweet. Salty. Fruity. Chocolate. You name it. I will eat all day long, then eat regular meals on top of it. THIS HAS TO STOP!!!! Since going off of my anxiety meds, I have gone back to food as my crutch. This has added to my weight gain.

I have learned that being prepared is the most important thing that you can do. I can buy all the healthy food in the world, but if I don't have a plan for it, I will not eat it. So this Sunday I am going to pack up healthy snacks to bring to work every day. Every night I will put what we had for dinner in container's to bring for lunch the next day. Those combined with the already prepared snacks, will hopefully keep me in line.

Due to having a vending machine at work, I will make sure that I will have a combination of healthy snacks to sooth those cravings. This is a mine field that I know I will continue to have to navigate.

Menu planning

I used to get so overwhelmed menu planning. Now that I use a system of a meat for each day of the week, it is easier to plan. This week's menu includes:

Saturday: Pork loin, rice, veggies
Sunday: Beef brisket in the slow cooker, with mashed potatoes and veggies
Monday: Left over's
Tuesday: Chicken in the crock pot (looking for a good recipe)
Wednesday: Spaghetti
Thursday: Fish sticks with mac n cheese
Friday: Home made pizza

For days that we don't have left overs for lunch the next day, we will supplement with sandwiches or frozen dinner's.

My goals this week:
Bring my lunch every day this week.
Drink a ton of water (I am retaining so much that its hard to walk)
Prepare healthy snacks in snack bags (on Sunday) for the week.

Nolen's goal this week:
Do not drink so much Coke
Help keep the girls from snacking so much before and after dinner.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Couponing - What is involved?

Couponing can get away from you really quickly. Once you discover how much you can save, you tend to fall into a cycle where it is all you do. Every day, all day you become sucked into watching videos, searching for coupons and checking those matching websites.

The thrill of saving 50% to 90% is so thrilling, its like a drug. One month into couponing, I have saved us about $300 on items that we use. Nolen was really the one that got me started. He said he wanted to do it and I promptly took it away from him and ran with it. I think he is still a little bitter about that one. Hee Hee.

Basics of what I do:
On Sunday's Nolen goes and gets the double issue Sunday paper for $5.
Sunday's are my day of rest. I just want to sit on the couch and relax. So sitting and cutting coupons is a great way to still feel productive. I then sort them and put them in my binder. After that, I look through the sales flyers and see if there is anything that is a really good deal. I pay extra attention to the meat sales. When I find a good deal on meat I try to stock up. I can't wait until we get our freezer, so I can do this more effectively.

Once I look through the sales flyers I see if I have coupons for items that are on sale. I have a fancy spreadsheet that I put the different stores and the items on sale. I will do a video in the future, showing you this process.

I create my shopping list for the week for our groceries and items we NEED. Then I create a list of MUST have stock up items from the sales flyers. If I feel motivated I will go out grocery shopping and make a run to the drug store. Its best to get to the store the first day of the sale, because a lot of people will clear the shelves if its a great deal on something.

I also carry my binder in the truck at all times. You never know when your hubby will call up and say we are out of something. I would much rather use a coupon than pay full price.

Here are some topics that we will cover on future posts:

Where to find your coupons?
How do you organize your coupons?
Where do you find the best deals?
How not to get carried away?
Stock Piles, what are they?
And more!

I hope to have guest couponer's to share what they do. I will also post my favorite sites and videos. Come one people, welcome to the dark side.

Saving - Where do you begin

When you are in survival mode and struggling just to keep the roof over your head, the last thing you want to think about is saving. The minute you get out of the situation you were in, you tend to blow every cent you get on things that you weren't able to buy before or to pay off debt. I have been there and done that. I do not want to be there again.

When Nolen got his new job the first thing I did was take half of his first check and put it in a jar to start our baby step one (See Dave Ramsey) of saving $1000. This money is meant to cover those small emergencies that happen. The car will break down, someone will get sick, you will break the oven. The money in this small emergency fund is meant to cover those things.

Dave says that this is often the hardest step. To set aside money when you want to put it all toward paying off debt, feels so wrong. But think about it, if you are putting all of your money into paying off debt, you will have to go further into debt to handle those emergencies.

My husband is not a natural saver at all. If he has money, he will spend it. It doesn't matter if that money is meant for a bill. It will be gone. I need to change the "tense" on those statements. I am so proud of him. He now thinks before he spends. When I told him I planned to save the money, he looked at me like I was crazy. But after a week of it being there, I showed him it was still there and he said, "Quick, put it back in the jar in the safe!" WTG Nolen!

We are 40% to our goal for our first emergency savings. Then we will move onto debt repayment.
This month we are going to be tight because we have some car repairs (that we have budgeted for) and extra daycare for Sarah due to spring break. This month we know we will not be able to add to that savings. The key is, we don't spend it! We know that after this month, we will have an additional $600 a month to put toward savings and debt repayment. That is HUGE for us.

If you haven't gotten started on your plan, make one. Stop struggling paycheck to paycheck. There is always a way. Work extra hours. Coupon. I wasn't a believer. I had huge arguments with my family because they felt I could do more. I was in denial. I spent money I didn't have. I am now a believer. Nolen is now a believer. Its not easy, but dang it, it is worth it.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The day has been very productive and fun.

Nolen really wanted to go do something today, but I felt uncomfortable going out and spending one cent, without going over the budget. So that is what I did while he took a shower. I am using a new template and it worked out great. So much easier to use than the old one. (I am using one of the templates on windows 8 in excel.)

I then had a quick financial meeting with hubby to make some tweaks to it. You cannot be successful without being on the same page. We reviewed the amount we have in our baby step one emergency fund and it is so exciting to be 40% there. Once we knew for sure we could afford to go out, we were off.

We decided to go to Steak n' Shake, as we had coupons and it was a sit down place that is still child friendly. I was dying for a shake so we used the coupon to buy one and we got the other one free. What is better than a shake? A free shake. We walked out the door tax and tip for under $23. Not bad for a family of four. We did tip high as our server was very nice and attentive.

Off to the mall we went. Sarah had her allowance and she wanted to get a toy. I also wanted to see what prices were on crock pots. Nolen wanted to look in Sears to price out freezers.

Crock Pots / Slow Cookers

My goal was to get a programmable crock pot/slow cooker. The one I priced on Amazon was $49.99. It had a lid closure, was able to be set for how long to cook, then it went to warm. Basic, yet a lot better than my 20 year old, high/low/off one.

We started our hunt in Sears, they didn't carry any. But I did get some speakers for my iPod as my car radio doesn't work. I have been using a transistor radio that uses batteries. This way I can recharge the speakers while at work or home. No batteries.

After Sears, we went to JC Penny's. They did not have the crock pot I wanted in stock, so off to Dillard's we went. They had the exact one I "thought" I wanted. After looking at the one a step up ($129.99) I realized that that it was really the one I wanted. It had the locking lid feature, the warming feature, but it also had a specific temperature feature. You could also steam, brown and do the normal cook thing.

Nolen and I hemmed and hawed. Since this was a birthday gift for me, Nolen had a budget of $70 that he was willing to spend. This was way over that budget. He mentioned how the higher priced one, was really the one we needed to help us make sure we got good meals on the table with our busy schedules. So we compromised. I used my "allowance", he used his budgeted birthday amount as well as another $10 of his allowance. I walked out with the crock pot of my dreams.

Lesson to be had: Do your research, but be flexible to get what you really NEED. Getting something cheaper isn't always the best thing when you are trying to save money. I will be able to do more things with the Crock Pot I got, therefor we will eat home more and save us more money in the long run.

Freezers

Nolen and I want to get a freezer. There is a compact freezer for $189.99 at Sears that we want. It will go a long way for me to be able to buy meat and veggies on sale for future use. I will also be able to do freezer crock pot cooking too. We know the size we want and in fact my parents got the same one for their house. We both have very small freezers and wanted one you could plug into a regular outlet.

We of course did not buy the freezer, but we do have an estimated amount now, that we can start putting money away for. So we have now added that as a savings line on our budget. In a few months, we should be able to have enough to pay cash for it. When it comes time to buy it, we will check out the scratch and dent portion of sears and see if we can get it for even cheaper. I will also be on the lookout for coupons too. You never know what you will find.

Now we are all home. Its nap time. It is Pork night, so I will be making Greek Pork Loin for dinner. Yum.

The Balance Beam of Work and Home - Getting home under control - grocery shopping

Note: Yesterday I posted a bit on how I am trying to get out of this bad cycle. Read here how I got there.

Over the past year I have ben working a ton of hours in order to make ends meet, (not very successfully). During this time my house fell apart around me. I would come home to dishes piled up in the sink. The girls were still wearing their pajamas or the clothes from the day before. Toys were scattered throughout the house. It is the last thing that I wanted to come home to after a 10-12 hour shift. I would rant and rave and develop a full fledged panic attack. I would go straight to bed and avoid the mess my life had turned into.

The next day, I would go into work and be overwhelmed with the amount of work there. The whole time I would feel guilty about not doing all I needed to do at home. It was a constant struggle. I would want to quit my job every day so that I could be home with the girls. To do what needed to be done for my family at home. I couldn't though because I was the wage earner for the family. I cursed women's libbers every day (still do). I wanted to be a mom and I felt like a failure at it.

Every night Nolen would call and ask me what was for dinner. I knew that I couldn't be home to cook, let alone go to the store to get what was needed. As you read with my other post, this was our time of eating out most nights. Then one day when Nolen asked his usual question, I responded with, "Why should it be up to me, you are at home all day, you figure it out." I stopped giving him money to go out to eat. I told him to eat what we had in the house.

For about a week, we ate sandwiches, eggs, cereal. Once Nolen got sick of that he asked if he could go to the grocery store and start learning how to cook. The first few times, he would call me from the store and ask me about every little thing. It bothered me, because I felt like he should be able to use logic to figure it out. This coming from a trainer/teacher. I guess I gave all I had at work, that I didn't feel like giving it to my husband when I got home. This was NOT fair to him at all.

One day I came home and Nolen said that he was going to start couponing. I stood there staring at him with a look of amusement and disbelief. Then I listened to what he had to say. After a few times of going to the store, he realized just how expensive food was. He realized just how much money we had been wasting. So he went online and searched couponing sites. He started buying a Sunday paper and clipping coupons. Watching him got me motivated to get back into couponing as well.

I decided to sit down with him and teach him to read the sale flyers and match them up with coupons. It was also at this time that I helped him menu plan based on these flyers. In another post I have shown how I have simplified menu planning.

In the month of couponing we have saved a ton of money. We are still learning how to do it within reason and not "overdoing it", like most newbies to couponing.  Future posts will show our successes and failures. We have also gone from eating out 6-7 nights a week to once a week. I don't buy anything without thinking about it, getting a coupon, and price comparing between stores.

You may be saying that it all seems like a lot of work. It is at first. But when you go from spending $200 on a weeks worth of groceries, to spending between $50 and $75 it is well worth it. I can coupon when watching TV. Sarah helps cut out the coupons and I organize them.

A future post will deal with the specifics of couponing and some great websites/blogs to look at. I will also have another post on how I am struggling with finding balance at work. That one will be a doozy.