Tuesday, December 1, 2009

25 days of Christmas

Last year Mikie was deployed for 10 weeks from October through January. To help get the kids into the Christmas spirit I bought a new advent wreath. Each day is a little round box. I remove the lid and place a small treat, money or note in the box. Last year I filled them all at the same time. This year that won't work. They've already opened them all to see if there is anything in them yet. Last night before I went to bed I placed a note in the #1 box. It said Check Mom's Closet. They visited my closet this morning and found a new outfit for #1 and #4, a dress for #2 and reindeer sweater for #3.
They were excited about new outfits except that when they sing for the tree lighting tonight they are supposed to wear a Christmas outfit or red and green. Their new outfits aren't red and green and they don't think Christmas outfits should be blue or pink.
For the rest of the week they will receive a note of encouragement, couple of quarters, note about something special we will do that day, etc. Some days they won't receive, but will give. For example to Samaritan's Purse or a trip to the Nursing Home. Each Tuesday they will receive another gift like a music cd, movie, or pjs. We aren't doing much candy this year since we are eating healthier.
I have budgeted for these gifts in my Christmas budget so they don't cost me anymore than I would normally spend. Gifts are inexpensive. The girl's outfits I bought at Belk's on Valentine's Day for $.98. Yes, 98 cents each. The kids love getting and giving all year but the excitement builds during December.
I think their favorite day last year was our trip to the nursing home to sing Happy Birthday Jesus for the residents. They've already asked me if that will be one of their "gifts" this year.
You don't have to make your gifts expensive, just make them fun. A new journal for each child and you to write notes in to each other. It could be a simple spiral one subject notebook that they can decorate and a cool pen or pencil. A cheap $2.50 Christmas cd from Wal-mart. A $5.00 movie you can buy out of Red Box at Walgreens. A special lunch you packed them or a lunch suprise of you eating with them at school.
Think about your children and let your ideals come from them. It's not to late to start your 25 days of Christmas. Have fun with it and post your comments and let me know how it works.

Michelle

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Random Thoughts from the Looney Bin

Schools been in session one month and I'm still not in the swing of it. If mj2 wasn't so organized and focused we would be in worse shape than we were already. Between two meetings a week for church not to mention the regular Sunday and Wednesday activities and Mikie's classes two nights a week, one of us is not here at the kids bedtime every night. Tonight we both miss it and Aunt Randa gets to tuck them in.

It's gotten so bad that mj2 wore pink on red day, took boxes of scooby snacks instead of individual packs and we "tossed" four bags of stuff from the girls bedroom floor. No, I didn't throw it away not yet anyway. It is in hiding so that when I decide I will go through it, toss what I can, give back what they need and they will have to earn the rest of it back.

Last night as I waited for my 8pm meeting at church all four kids were arguing in the hallway, something they usually don't do at church, thank goodness. I made the comment to someone in passing that I was beginning to think I needed to be committed to the looney bin. At least it would be quiet there, right? Then I realized quiet isn't what I need. Organization and maybe a wooden spoon is what I need. If we were more organized at home like I am with my volunteer stuff we could find mj2's sandals, that LifeWay receipt from two weeks ago, and my sanity.

After all if momma ain't happy ain't nobody happy. So as I embark on the new me, organized, healthy, learning to say no, I went today and joined Weight Watchers. While I'm writing this blog I'm waiting on the Weight Watchers website to load so I can check it out. Counting points is going to be the easy part, exercise well let's not go there.

I was looking at my schedule the other day and thinking of all the things that I've committed myself to this school year. Here is a list: WMU director, preschool choir director, 1st-3rd grade handbell director, music minister search committee, mission's committee for new building project and that's just church. Then PTO board of directors member for the girls school, classes at Block in case I go back, teaching piano and mj1-3 have joined the local children's choir. Helping Mikie with his classes, not to mention keeping up a home, being a wife and mom to four. WOW, think I need a nap just writing it all down.

Now I know that you really don't care what all I have on my plate. If you're reading this blog in the first place I am thankful but you are probably like me and need to get a life. A life that is more exciting on most days and that is worth the time you spend on it during your waking days.

I thought the other night as I laid in bed about telling mj4 that she has to wait another year to play or cheer for Upward Sports. As a three year old it's hard to understand. But then I got to thinking about all the things we have to wait for in life and how frustrating it is to wait. Then I realized God has waited on me so many times. Especially since I became a Christian in eighth grade. He waited on me to ask Him into my heart. He waits on me to ask forgiveness everyday. When I don't show up to spend time with Him, He waits. I wonder if He ever gets tired of waiting. No, probably not, He waits on me to realize that I can't "do" life without Him. Although I know He should be first in everything I do, He waits until I make Him first at the moment. And He's there. He listens and if I would stop long enough to listen He would talk back. He's there no matter where I am or how crazy it is at home. He just waits and then blesses me with what I really don't deserve. I'm just thankful He knows more than I do.

Thank you Lord, for waiting on me. Help me Lord to priortize and put you first each day so that the rest of my day isn't so crazy. Thank you for the crazy times though and for seeing me through. Amen.

Gotta go, pick up at PDO and school and the crazy continues.

Michelle

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

(In)Courage

I've found an awesome new website which is part of DaySpring. There are a lot of great bloggers on this site. They will (in)courage you greatly. Hope you like them. Here is the link. Check it out.


http://www.incourage.me/

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Maggie's Bull Frog

During Vacation Bible School I taught the 2 year old class. I always have a kiddie pool full of sand outside the fellowship hall for the kids to play in. This year was no different. I covered it with cardboard each afternoon. That particular week in June found us under tornado watches and warnings three afternoons. By Wednesday the pool was full of water on top of the sand and the kids couldn't play in it. Friday afternoon during clean up it was still full and I couldn't lift it to empty it. This past week, 6 weeks after VBS, Mikie and our family friend Mark, went to empty the pool. When Mark tipped it to pour this weeks worth of rain out something jumped out at him. I wasn't there but would have loved to have seen Mikie and Mark's faces. What jumped out was a large bullfrog and a smaller one.

Mikie hollered for Maggie to come see what they had found. He picked up the larger frog, the little one hopped away, and handed it to Maggie. She carried it through the parking lot to the pavillion before she headed to the playground to show off her frog. The kids on the playground were terrified of the frog. They were running around and screaming, trying to get away from her. She pretended to kiss it. She was so close that if it had moved she would have kissed it.

Maggie got in the car, Slimy the frog in hand, and we rode home. I told her, "If you let that frog go we won't make it home." I just knew she would let go, Slimy would jump across the seats onto my shoulder or lap, I would panic and we would wreck. Well, fifteen minutes later we unloaded at the house, Slimy still in hand. Everyone of our kids held it. Mattie pretended to kiss it too.
Maggie carried Slimy around to the patio and placed in the plastic pool. It had just a little water and lots of bugs. Frog paradise? So we thought.

The next morning before we went to register Mattie for second grade we went to check on Slimy. Maggie couldn't find him. One side of the pool had fallen over, she lifted it. "Slimy shrunk," she yelled. Out hopped a smaller, bumpy frog. Definetly not Slimy. The look on her face was priceless. She really believed that he had shrunk during the night. She couldn't catch him. So while my eggs burned on the stove I chased Sparkles around the patio. Finally she was back in the pool. We fixed the pool in hopes that Sparkles would not escape. Off to registration to meet Mattie and Maggie's teachers.

When we returned home Sparkles had jumped over the side of the pool and was gone also. Maggie was sad and looked all over the yard for Slimy and Sparkles but neither could be found. An exciting evening and morning, a new pet gone. A little girls heartbroken but ready for another adventure.

Maggie will catch something else one of these days. She's afraid of nothing. For the time being we will keep Green Eyes the cat, and an aquarium of fish and snails. But come Knoxville Fair time we hope to bring home a huge bunny. And to answer Uncle Buddy's repeating question, "Why can't you get those kids a normal pet, like a dog?" Dogs are fun but catching your pets is more fun. I figure I'm going to be catching that bunny a lot in the next few weeks.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

How Much Money Should I Spend in each Category?

Working on a magazine article this week I realized I had never put a budget percentage guide on here. The guide is just that. Your budget may not fit all the suggested categories exactly. The point is to equal 100%.


Suggested Guidelines from several sources.
Charitable Giving 10-15%
Housing 25-35%
Utilities 5-10%
Food 5-15%
Transportation 10-15%
Medical 5-10%
Clothing 2-7%
Insurance 5-7%
Debt Payments 5-10%
Invest/Save 5-10%
School/Childcare 5-7%
Misc. (personal, recreation, vacation, gifts) 5-10%


Our typical monthly percentages for a family of 6 :
Tithe/Charitable Giving 15%
Housing (no mortgage) 6%
Utilities 10%
Food 11%
Transportation (no car payments, mostly gas) 14%
Medical 5%
Clothing 1%
Insurance 3% (medical ins through work)
Debt Payments 0%
Invest/Save/College 15% (pay debts first, then retirement, then kids college)
School/Childcare 7%
Misc. (personal, recreation, vacation, gifts) 13% If you have debt this should be your lowest category.

Remember when budgeting to follow these steps:
1. Track your spending. Write down everything.
2. Priortize your money. What can you cut?
3. Categorize your budget.
4. Make your budget work for you.
5. Don't give up. It will take several months before it starts to work and you will have to tweak it often. But don't give up.

I know it is overwhelming. We tried budgeting off and on for over 3 years before we finally stuck to it. But it is the best thing we could have done for our family. Please leave questions and comments. I know what I'm trying to get across and sometimes I leave things out. Have a great Memorial Day weekend.
Michelle

Thursday, May 7, 2009

e-mealz link

Here is the link for e-mealz if you want to check it out. This link is through their referral program so I get a credit if you sign up and it doesn't cost you any extra.
Thanks,
Michelle


HTML code: E-MEALZ EASY AND DELICIOUS DINNER RECIPES

Lowering your Grocery Bill

Everyone is tightening their budgets these days, even those of us who have been pretty tight in the first place. One way that I’ve tightened our budget is in the food department. For our family of six the food budget includes not only food ate at home but also fast food, sit down restaurants, school lunch, cleaning supplies, beauty, hygiene, paper products and anything else that I can’t toss into another category.
I try to use coupons when I have them. Although I find that most of the coupons in the Sunday paper are for items that we don’t use in the first place. Food City is the only grocery store in town and that makes shopping a little tricky also. I’m stuck with purchasing there or going 20 minutes to Wal-Mart where I spend way too much money on things I really don’t need. I try to bypass Wal-Mart unless I have no other choice. If you use coupons you should ask the store if they will let you use their store coupons as well as manufacturers. If your regular grocery store provides an item by aisle list use it to make your shopping list. It will keep you from wandering the aisles and picking up items you don’t really need. Check with the grocery store and find out when they mark down meats and produce. You can usually get a really good deal if you just know when to shop. And by all means shop on double and triple coupon days.
I’ve come across several other ways to cut the food budget. Many of you may use these already. The ideals I’ve wrote about today aren’t new, just ones that I’ve come across lately. They may spark another ideal in you. I’ve noticed that Target has printable coupons in their emails. Although I only get to Target once a month at most I check those coupons out to see if there are any I will need. Kroger will let you load your coupons on to your Kroger card through their website. Check it out if you shop there a lot.
You could share meals with other families. Join with a friend who has the same number in their family as yours. You each could cook enough food for three days. Double those three days recipes and swap the extra. If you do this on Saturday or Sunday afternoon, swap on Monday, then you have your three meals you’ve cooked plus your friends three she gave you. Voila, a weeks worth of food and you don’t have to cook the rest of the week. Not only will you save money but time also. Don’t forget you may need to freeze some of those meals for the end of the week.
If you’re up to cooking all in one day, plan and cook the next weeks or several weeks meals before you need them. Or cook once a month and make several favorite recipes and freeze them for a quick meal. If you can go home and just warm and serve you won’t be as likely to pull through the drive-thru.
Speaking of planning, make your meal plan out for the next week when you get the grocery ad for your favorite grocery store. You’ll know what you’re eating when and can plan around the items that are on sale. Or if you really want to save time and money and you can join a new online service I am now taking advantage of. It does cost $15 for three months but I’ve found it has saved me a lot of money and time.
It’s called e-mealz and is run by two moms. When you subscribe you choose a meal plan based on the grocery store or diet you use. After you purchase your plan you will log on each week and download your meal plan for the week along with your detailed shopping list. We’ve been using these meal plans for the last six weeks. We’ve not had any meals that weren’t good. Some we’ve liked better than others but none have been bad. By using the detailed shopping list I’ve saved money and more importantly for me right now I’ve saved time. The first week I spent $51 on the menu plan plus another $60 on breakfast, lunch, toiletries and laundry detergent. I also had not been to the grocery store in three weeks either. On average we are now spending $12-$15 per day to feed our family three meals and snacks each day. Some days it’s even cheaper. I know what we’re eating before supper time rolls around and most of the recipes are quick and easy.
I’m sure some of you have money saving techniques too. Please comment and share with the rest of us.
The link for e-mealz is www.e-mealz.com. Hope everyone has a great rest of the week. If you have a budget or money question let me know and I will do my best to answer it for you.
If you are just now starting to track your spending and use a budget go back and read some of my past blogs for ideals.s

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Go figure.

After I posted all the knoxmoms blogs on here I realized you need to read them from the bottom up for them to make sense. But after you read these the next one will be right.

Envelope system blog for knoxmoms

I’ve mentioned that our family lives on cash by using the envelope system. I’ll explain our system then you can put your system together in a way that best benefits your family.
My husband’s paycheck is direct deposited every other week into our checking account, which runs statement wise, the 21st through 20th of the month. our monthly budget runs this way too. Since his paychecks are the same each pay period we budget for the whole month, cash a check for the amount needed to fill the envelopes and fill them.
We have a fireproof safe that we keep our envelopes in. I’ve purchased a plastic, medium sized accordion file with 13 pockets. I divided the categories up into the following: auto, house, food, entertainment and recreation, clothing, childcare, medical, property taxes and car tags, insurance and the last one is gifts. In the last two pockets I keep envelopes and index cards. Mike and I get a small amount for blow money each month. There is no envelope for that. It goes straight into our wallets.
In another accordion file, same size but different color, I have categories for charity and church offerings (separate from our tithes), retirement, college savings and we each have a pocket for our spending money and finally a bank pocket. If we write a check we take the money out of the corresponding envelope and put in the bank envelope for deposit.
Within each category there are several envelopes. For example house includes electric, water and maintenance. The phone bill and Internet are taken straight out of the bank by the company. Auto includes gas and oil, maintenance and AAA. Entertainment and recreation has vacation, books, activities, hobbies, magazines and the local newspaper. All except the vacation envelope are filled on an as needed basis. The vacation envelope is filled every month.
As I fill each envelope I label the outside to identify it. I then date the index card and put the amount of money that is in the envelope on that day. This helps me in two ways. I can pull it quickly to see how much is in it. Then the next month when I’m half way through filling envelopes and I have to stop to break up an argument (which happens every month at the exact time I fill envelopes) I can look at the amount already in there and figure out if I’ve filled it already. I try to check the category off as I fill it but it doesn’t always happen that way.
I carry the Dave Ramsey Deluxe Envelope System for my wallet. They come in several colors and styles. My envelopes in my wallet are food, gas, gifts, blow money, church and miscellaneous. I keep $20 in the food envelope at all times. My blow money is always in there as long as it last. When I go shopping I put more money in food and gifts. If I’m buying items for the preschool/children’s department at a place the church doesn’t have an account I take cash to pay for those items. Miscellaneous can carry anything else. I write the date on the misc. envelope, where it is for and the amount of money in the envelope. When I need gas of course I fill that one too.
When the cash runs out in my wallet it is time to go home. If we run out at home its time to eat what is in the pantry and stay home.
If you have a monthly budget the envelope system is a great tool for helping you stick to your budget. It’s not hard to set up or follow. You just have to be willing. If you have any questions or I need to clarify anything let me know. Have a great weekend and keep budgeting.

January 20th knoxmoms blog

As I hinted in last Thursday’s blog, today I’ll give you some ideas that are free or cheap and fun. These are ideas I’ve picked up from friends, magazines, books, television and my kids. We have tried all of these. I’ll just list them so they are easier to read.

C Cheap- Making homemade playdoh. I’ve got at least 10 different recipes for homemade playdoh. It’s cheap and you probably already have all the ingredients you need. Here’s one to try: 2 cups flour, 1 cup salt, 2 cups water, food coloring or 1 pkg of koolaid, 2 tbsp cream of tarter, 4 tbsp of oil; stir together and cook, it will take about 5 minutes to form a glob, knead, take out of pot and knead again as it cools, add food coloring, separate for several colors, store in airtight containers. There are other recipes that don’t call for cream of tarter. Google homemade playdoh and you will find a recipe you like. Use cookie cutters and rolling pins to play with it.

C Free- Family game night. You don’t have to buy games, make up your own. Our kids love to take a pack of cards or colored paper and make up their own games. Our favorite board game is Monopoly. We often play volleyball in the den with a soft rubber ball, $1 at the dollar store. Think of your favorite childhood game and teach it to your children.

C Cheap- You have to eat. Let the kids decide the menu from something you already have in the house. They can help you cook it, set the table, and be the servers. This of course depends on the age of your kids. Mine are still little and think this is great fun. Teenagers may not agree. Of course you could always tip your server. Give them the change from your pocket, 15 minutes extra staying up time, an extra story before bed. You could have an indoor picnic, spread a tablecloth on the floor and eat.

C Free- It’s freezing outside as I write this, literally. But the afternoons warm up a little bit. Bundle up and go to a park to play, or let the kids play outside at home. I don’t suggest playing at the mall if you are trying not to spend money. It’s just too tempting.

C Free- Clean out the toys. Kids can pack away toys they haven’t played with in a long time. If you think they may play with them at a later time keep them and pull them out when they are bored with the others. I know the kids won’t think this is much fun, but you will when you see a cleaner, less cluttered toy room. Offer them a reward like staying up late on the weekend.

C Free- Knoxmoms.com- Check out the datebook here on knoxmoms for free and cheap activities. We all know knoxmoms is a great resource.

These are just a few of the things we like to do. If you have other ideals please post them as a comment here or as another post. With four children, three of them at home all day we are always looking for new things to do. And I’m sure others are too.
Have a great week,

Michelle

january 15th knoxmoms blog

Happy New Year’s! I apologize for the length of time since I last wrote. I hope that everyone has met as a family and set their family goals for the year. As the economy continues to get worse and more people are being laid off families have to learn to be tighter with their money. Depending on your need and willingness to make ends meet it can be done. It may be really, really hard and it may require a lot of sacrifices. It may take several months to see a difference. It may also require asking for help, don’t be ashamed. There are a lot of places you can contact and get the name of someone who can help you with your budget. Below is a few things that may help you tighten your budget.

$ Credit Cards- If you already owe on them you can try to negotiate with the company for a lower percentage rate. If you have the money, pay more than the minimum each month. If you don’t have the money to pay it when it comes due, don’t use it. I’m not sure if you are aware or not but if you negotiate a payoff with the credit card company it can effect your tax return. Depending on the company you may receive a letter or form stating that you paid off a certain amount. The difference in that amount and the amount you still owe may need to be added as income on your tax return. Most credit card companies including store credit cards will turn the difference in as a loss. And you are responsible for turning in the income that they consider you made. Check with your tax professional and get advice on how to handle the situation.

$ Electric Bills- I don’t know about you but my electric bill alone this month was $300. That is pretty average for December and January though. But yet I still only budgeted $125 this month. Why? I called my electric company and asked them if I paid the same amount all year what amount do I need to pay? They looked at my bills for the last 12 months and my average was $125. I could pay that amount every month to the electric company and then at the end of the year if I owed more I would pay the difference. If I had paid too much they would credit my account for the next month or two. Since we use the envelope system and I like having that money at my disposal just in case, I budget that amount every month. We did dip into it the month that gas was $5 a gallon. But I put it back in over the next couple of months as we had leftover money in the gas envelope.

$ Not life sustaining needs- Ok, I know I’m going to catch flack here from some of you. But I would not sleep well if I didn’t remind you what you already know. Satellite, cable television, Internet, cell phones, movie rentals, movie theaters, etc, are not life sustaining needs. Yes, they make life a little happier but they are also very expensive. If you don’t need it get rid of it. We have an antennae with a converter box. No, I’ve never seen Jon and Kate plus 8 except in Today’s Christian Woman magazine; which was a Christmas gift. Yes, we do have Internet and cell phones but it has been in our budget for a long time. And we don’t have to have them so we could get rid of them if need be. The last movie we rented was The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe when it came out. The last movie we saw at the theater was The Pink Panther. Only because we chaperoned our youth group trip to the movies.

I know not everyone is willing or can be as frugal with their money. But think about something that you don’t really need or use that cost you every month. And do something about it. I don’t think the economy is going to turn around anytime soon. So we all have to learn to live a little tighter and be willing to help others.
I have another blog ready to go. I will post it at the beginning of next week. It has some free, cheap and fun ideals for family time. Have a great weekend.

Michelle

Answers to my 10 questions

So I realized that I hadn't posted my answers to my 10 questions from my starting the new year goals. I thought you might be interested in what they were. If you missed the post here are the questions again with my answers. If you and your family haven't answered them yet now is a good time to do that.

1.List the three most important things to you today.
my kids, my husband and God (I know they're not suppose to be in that order. Therefore I am working on that as one of my goals.)

2. If money was no problem, list three things that you couldn’t live without.
a maid, wireless Internet, a maid

3. List three things that money can’t buy, that you can’t live without.
God, my husband and my kids

4. What is your view of money? Your husbands? Your kids?
my view: security, food on the table, clothes on our backs, gas in the car
his view: a tool or responsibility that can be used to provide good (when used properly) or harm (when used selfishly)
kids view: just starting to understand what money is, how it works, think they need it all the time, but end up putting it in the offering plate on Sunday

5. How much money in the bank would make you content?
I'd like to have at least a years worth of living expenses, but am content with just having something.

6. What is your ideal financial situation in 5, 10, 15 years?
5 years: living tightly like we do know but able to splurge a little more often
10 years: still living tightly but able to give even more than we do now
15 years: working just for fun, not needing the money to live on, giving it to those who do

7. If you had $1000, what would you do with it? (This will help you see where your priorities are.) Honestly I would want to blow it all on me but that wouldn't happen. So I'd tithe to the regular budget my 10%, give $50 to a charity of choice, give each of us $25 to blow, $100 per child for ESA's, $200 for retirement and $100 for a fun day out

8. What could you do without if you suddenly found yourself in a financial crisis?
We don't have cable or satelite and live pretty light already. So I would have to say the cell phone, money in retirement each month, Parent's Day Out, Wednesday night dinners at church, buying gifts for everyone just because we like to give.

9. Are you willing to track your spending and work on a budget? Already do.

10. Are your marriage and kids worth it? YES!