Friday, December 31, 2010

Frugal Friday: Repurposed Containers

We Americans buy containers to hold stuff in the kitchen, the bathroom, the living rooms and bedrooms, and have containers to hold stuff in the car. We even have containers to hold our containers! And the stuff doesn't come cheap. The container and organizing business is a HUGE multi-BILLION-dollar industry!

I love being organized, but I do not love purchasing all the little organizing containers at the store. They are just plastic boxes with price tags that no one will see! One day, it hit me that I had been throwing away containers that I had already paid for and were the size I needed to organize drawers. Here are some everyday containers I get in my groceries that I have re-purposed.

water jugs
I cut across to the height of whatever drawer I am using them. These are my favorite tools for organizing! I organize makeup, hair accessories, socks, kitchen gadgets, grocery trash bags. These last for years! But if they should ever get bent out of shape, they are easy to replace.

baby food containers
Gerber's Stage 1 baby food containers were the perfect size to help organize my toddler's hair accessory drawers.

mushroom packs
Mushrooms come in these sturdy plastic containers; I use them in several places in the house! Here, they are organizing baby bottle components, toddler sippy cup lids, and my round Pyrex lids.

prunes and raisins containers
The girls each get their own big cups with which to dump themselves with water! These big cups also come in handy when rinsing out the bathtubs after a good scrubbing.

tissue boxes
Shove grocery bags inside empty tissue boxes; keep a box wherever you need bags: kitchen, car, nursery (for stinky diapers).

Not from groceries, but they came with the shoes we had bought:
shoe boxes
I mainly use shoe boxes as drawer separators. I am so happy about the ones in my undergarment drawers but thought it would be best to not post photos of those.

What uses can you come up with for containers you already have?

“Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without.”

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Living on Two Pay Days

January is a couple days away. Eeek!
Is your money plan ready? You're starting a new and fresh budget, right?

Keep this in mind... For those of you who are paid bi-weekly, set your budgets up so you are living on two paychecks per month.

"Well, duh, Adhis."

Stay with me. For those of you who are paid bi-weekly, you have two months in the year in which you receive THREE checks. Most people don't plan for this in advance and the extra money somehow disappears with nary a nod welcoming it home. Or they treat it like play money without first setting themselves up for long-term success.

Here's the schedule:
* If your next pay day is tomorrow (December 31st), in the next year, you will receive you an "extra" paycheck in July and in December.

* If you get paid next week (January 7th), your "extra" check will come in April and in September.

The best way to set yourself up to take advantage of this "extra" money is by adjusting your lifestyle to two paychecks per month.

When you are living on two paychecks a month, the 3rd paycheck is a bonus to financial peace!
* If you don't yet have an emergency fund, this 3rd check provides your beginner emergency fund.
* If you have debts, it pays off a big chunk of debt.
* If you are already out of debt and are growing your 3-to-6-month emergency fund, one of the extra checks immediately adds at least ½ month to your fund! Throw both checks in, and you've got a full extra month in your emergency fund!
* If you are debt-free and have your big emergency fund in place, this money infuses your retirement funds!

Get the idea?

Decide now what you will do with these "extra" checks. If you are married, decide this with your spouse. Keep each other accountable. You can always change the plan when the money arrives, but for now, decide on the best course of action.

Make a plan for your money! Tell it to grow for you. Tell it to free you from bondage. Tell it where to go instead of wondering where it went. You've won the lottery. What wisdom will you bring in to play when the checks arrive?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Year-End Goods Donations

(I promise I don't always look this haggard or speak this fast, but I didn't want to go to bed without sharing a tax tip with you. See how much I love you?!)

If you are planning on itemizing deductions on your taxes this year, you've got a few days to get your donations in and help lower your tax bill!

1. Gather together clothes, toys, things being replaced by new Christmas gifts, kitchen gadgets, and knick-knacks to donate to a charity thrift store (such as Goodwill or Deseret Industries).

2. Gather books you are no longer interested in and donate them to the library, instead of the thrift store. You can write off a higher amount for the books if you give them to the library rather than giving them to a thrift store that re-sells them for $2.

3. Go through your pantry and pull out any foods you neglected to use through the year (dry beans, boxed foods, canned and jarred foods) and donate them to a local food bank.

4. Gather unused toiletries, hotel soaps and shampoos, laundry soap and blankets to donate to a homeless shelter or anywhere that allows people to come shower, clean up and launder their clothes, such as homeless outreach centers and women's shelters.

5. Donate your fabric scraps to a humanitarian center or anywhere that makes quilts and baby blankets.

As you put things in a box to donate to a specific place, write down what you are donating so you can estimate the value of each and take an accurate write-off. You don't want to underestimate and deny yourself a reasonable deduction; you don't want to overestimate and compromise your integrity (or possibly cause problems with the IRS).

Remember, you can only write off the "fair market value" of the item, not the retail price. For example:

You donate a pair of jeans to the Goodwill thrift store. Even though you paid $32 for the jeans when you bought them, Goodwill only resells jeans at $6. Therefore, the "fair market value" you claim for the jeans is $6.

Another option is to find out what similar items of similar quality and condition sell for on Notice I said "sell for" and not "are listed for."

Last, but certainly not least, when you drop off your donations, make sure to get receipts! Immediately, write down the total value of your donation on the receipt.

OK, there you go! This is an awesome opportunity to declutter your house and help lower your tax bill. Get ready, get set, go!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Frugal Friday: Free Christmas Music

Want something new to add to your classic Christmas carol collection? (You have my permission to use that phrase at your next Scattegories "C" throw-down.)

Amazon is offering one new free holiday song every day in December through Christmas Day. Lucky you, 24 songs have already been unveiled for your downloading pleasure!

Target is giving away 14 free original Christmas tunes.

Between these two sites, you have a variety of music styles to choose from, ranging from ultra-modern to traditional.

Update: Never before released Christmas organ music recorded at the Provo Tabernacle (which was recently destroyed by fire) has been made available.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Guest of Honor

My first-born daughter had her second birthday last spring. I had envisioned certain things and planned ahead, but when it came to the actual day, I found myself way behind schedule. My husband was running late from work, so I did not have the help I had been counting on. My sister arrived on time, saw I was stressed, and promptly went to work helping me set up.

By the time everyone else arrived, I was worn out. I was rushing things along, so I could rest later that evening. As the party went on, I noticed my daughter getting quieter and quieter. By the time it came time to gather around the birthday cake, she wanted nothing to do with it. We sang "Happy Birthday", and she did not want any of the cupcakes or treats. She was cranky.

That night, I lied in bed and realized that she had gotten lost in the shuffle of her own birthday. She just wanted to play with me, and I was too busy to play with her. I became very sad upon admitting I had not made her the focus of her own celebration.

This is much how I think we sometimes run our Christmas celebrations. We recognize the holiday is in honor of Christ's birth and all He does for us and means to us, but then we turn around and throw the party WE want while Christ kind of gets lost in the crowd.

All He wants is to spend time with us.

How many times have you heard someone say "Ugh, I hate Christmas" or "Christmas is so stressful"? How would you feel if someone said that about you or your birthday? "I hate your birthday. I can't believe it is coming up again!" Surely, you would not say that to your kid about their special day!

Jesus calls himself our Friend. He does not want us to stress out or go into debt for his birthday or resent his birthday. Like a good friend, He want us to be happy, enjoy good company, and have a good time on His special day. What would Christmas look like if we treated Him as the guest of honor? What would you give for Christ?

The night I lied in bed regretting missing out on my daughter on her own birthday, I vowed to never let my children get lost in the planning or execution of their special days. The next day, my daughter and I went outside and drew with sidewalk chalk. It was exactly what she wanted.

photo from


1. Cards- handmade, kid-made, digital greetings emailed to friends
2. Wreath- out of paper, pinecones, leaves; shape a wire hanger into a circle and tie on fabric scraps or even grocery or frosted plastic sandwich bags
3. Tree trimmings- popcorn, dried fruit or fresh cranberries threaded on string, cinnamon ornaments
4. Neighbor gifts- saved food containers or paper tubes decorated with holiday paper or kid drawings, fill with scriptures or inexpensive candies; cinnamon ornaments, little knick-knacks you no longer need
5. Charitable giving- look through your house for unopened items or things in good condition. Leave groceries for a neighbor. Sing carols at a nursing home or hospital ward. Shovel snow for a new mom, older neighbor, or busy single guy.
6. Holiday party- call people over to get together to watch classic Christmas movies, make holiday cards, or just chat over hot cocoa. Or combine this idea with #5: have everyone bring a few food items or token gifts, put them in one box and leave it at the door of someone else in need.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Looking for Comfort On All the Wrong Shelves

My grocery budget has been a little tight since giving birth nearly 8 months ago. A perfect storm of emotional chaos had been brewing and picked up speed for our little family mere weeks before giving birth to my sweet, not-so-little baby. My family of origin went through a divorce, mental dysfunction, and stressed familial relationships. My body went through a rollercoaster labor and a surprise C-section (partnered with surprise medical costs). Added to the mix were the inherent adjustments that accompany the addition of a little person; I had a lot of excuses to run desperately into the arms of comfort food.

Ahh... comfort foods. I think most of us have had our moments. This time around, it was chocolate pudding for me. Swiss Miss Chocolate Vanilla Swirl pudding.

The kids are crying non-stop? Chocolate pudding, take me away.

The baby is sick and wants to be held all day? Chocolate pudding, come to mama.

Having trouble coming up with a lesson idea? Chocolate pudding.

The toddler poops all over her bedroom carpet? Tortilla chips and salsa. (Pudding just does not seem as appealing at this point. Are you nuts?) (Mmm... nuts...)

I had recently added a traveling spouse and the winter doldrums to my list of "Comfort Foods Excuses." This week though, I noticed I had turned to comfort foods daily. Daily! Do you know what happens when I eat comfort foods each day? My clothes become un-comfort-able. My body becomes un-comfort-able. The grocery budget becomes un-comfort-able. Unable to be of comfort. Huh- those foods hadn't brought comfort after all; I should have called them pacifiers. They pacified me for a moment, until the binky fell out or wore out and needed replacing.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Two nights ago, I woke up at 3 a.m. thinking and praying about the control I had given away earlier this year; I admitted to God and myself about how shackled I had become by this pacifying-by-food habit. And the thought came to me that I kept going to foods for comfort instead of going to the Lord for the Comforter. Yes, sometimes, I would like to enjoy a slice of pumpkin pie for dessert. But most of the time, I just want comfort.

The Lord promised me (and you):
Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:13-14)

I believe Him.

So, here's the deal: When I am feeling frazzled, or nervous, or angry, I will partake first of his comfort, praying for peace to wash over me. Isn't that what I truly want in my moments of chaos? In the beginning, I might still desire some delicious confection after my prayer, but I have faith, and His promise, as I continue this needed supplication, my body and my spirit will begin to be full and truly satiated.

And as a side benefit, I will stop spending so much money on pacifiers.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Frugal Friday: Christmas Cards and Family Photos

I LOVE getting Christmas cards! I am saddened that this tradition seems to be slowly dying. (Or am I just being deleted from friends' Christmas card lists??)

The best time to buy greeting cards for Christmas is the day AFTER Christmas when everything has been marked down 50-75%. Every other year, I head out to the store and buy a few of the pretty boxed card sets the day after Christmas for 20¢ per card (or WAY less).

If you like sending family photos, here is a low-key option for including a photo in your Christmas card that doesn't make the recipient feel guilty about throwing it away when the holiday decorations start coming down. (You do know most people throw the photos away, right?)

* Measure the space available for a photo inside your Christmas cards.

* Crop or resize a photo on your computer. (Relax about choosing the photo. I've used everything from posed photos to casual shots snapped on vacation to outtakes from a camera with a timer on a tripod.)

* Print the photos on regular paper. (I usually print 12-16 per page. I've done black-and-white and in color. I recommend a laser printer over inkjet to prevent smearing. If you don't have a laser printer, ask around. My husband's supervisor is nice enough to let us use the office printers.)

* Cut out the photos and glue to the inside of the cards.

* Write a nice message.

Jingle jangle! You've got an inexpensive family photo card!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The 8 Weeks of Christmas

Holy reindeer! We still have 9 days until the blessed day, but it feels like Christmas has been going on for weeks! (I suppose it has been if you started counting from the day stores put Christmas trees for sale next to the discounted Halloween candy.)

Christmas music has been playing in our house for way too long. And yet... I. can't. stop. I made the mistake of thinking the radio station we usually play in the house would be playing regular music November 1st. My bad. I won't make that mistake next year.

Another sign of the times is that grocery shopping takes 50% longer than it used to on account of consistent crowds at the store shopping shopping shopping. How are your wallets faring?

Let me tell you, I'm not usually a sucker for holiday consumerism, but the longer the Christmas season is, the harder it is to shrug off tugs from retailers everywhere. Christmas shopping used to be a short sprint. It has over the years become an 8-week marathon, and maintaining financial composure for that long is definitely an event of endurance.

I've avoided the stores by grocery shopping every two weeks, but considering I usually have two little ones with me, this still leaves me at least an hour and a half of walking through the retail battlezone and fighting off the onslaught of "DEALS!" "SALES!" and "BARGAINS!"

And this year, oh this year, I've had too many instances where I needed a police negotiator to talk me off the "Complete Order" ledge of my online shopping cart. I am so happy I do not get the newspaper right now or have a television. I don't think I can deal with the extra advertising.

How am I fighting the festive BUY BUY BUY temptation? Try these basics.

1) I mentioned creating a holiday shopping plan here.

2) Create your holiday budget envelope. Can I tell you I am even more in love with my holiday budget envelope? OK- I am even more in love with my holiday budget envelope! It has been fantastic for our family! Are you using this tool?

3) Stay focused on YOUR holiday celebrations instead of letting advertisers tell you how you "should" celebrate Christmas.

4) Distract yourself with charity. The more we become attuned to the needs around us, the less hungry we become for stuff. The challenging part for me in this arena is realizing there are SO MANY NEEDS; it's hard for me to choose just one or two.

5) Choose activities consciously. This kind of goes with #3 and #1. If your holiday budget includes paid events and venues, choose carefully which are most meaningful. If your holiday budget does not include events, fun is still available. Having fun this season doesn't mean you have to spend money! Find a hill and sled down. Visit the community creche with your family and talk about the Christmas story. Make Christmas cards with friends. Invite neighbors over for hot cocoa and have everyone bring their own mugs.

There are also LOTS of Christmas activities available for free in your community if you will ask around. Some of the things we have done so far are:
  • Instead of paying to see holiday trees, we went to Temple Square (first time for me EVER) to see their twinkle-light-decked-out grounds and listen to live music. Free! (If you don't count the parking ticket.) (heh)
  • We were surprised to learn our membership to a local family attraction was offering free events for members. I took my little daughters for a drive through their light festival. We will also get to visit with Santa and get a photo with him.
  • Free for everyone, this same local attraction has live reindeer out at night you can come visit and feed.
  • A nationwide clothing store recently sent out $10 gift cards in the mail to get people in their doors. I took my little girls with me and chose a $6 toy. I have found a lot of stores have been doing this. You can either use the credit to get a gift for someone on your list, or get a gift to donate.
  • One of our local malls hosts free mid-day mini-concerts featuring various recording artists.
Whatever your holiday budget, let yourself enjoy this season designed to celebrate joy, peace, and eternal life!

What are some fun things you are doing this year while also maintaining financial peace?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Missing the King?

Got my Ensign today. (OK. Got it a few days ago, but TODAY I peeled off the plastic.) The presidency message this month is delivered by our favorite German pilot, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf.

"We are entering another wonderful Christmas season filled with music and lights, parties and presents. But of all people, we as members of the church that bears the Savior's name need to look beyond the facade of the season and see the sublime truth and beauty of this time of year.

"I wonder how many in Bethlehem knew that right there, close to them, the Savior had been born? The Son of God, the long-awaited and promised Messiah-- He was in their midst!"

Why didn't more know about the Christ's birth? And later on, why didn't more people follow the star? If you remember, at the time of Christ's birth, Bethlehem was being bombarded with out-of-towners because of a decree by Caesar Augustus that all the world must be taxed. There were so many people the inns were filled to capacity and then some. (Luke 2:1-7)

Busy with their lists and minds filled with other business (much of it probably important), not everyone was in the mindset to receive any more things to do. Who was? Outside of the hustle and bustle, shepherds silently watching their sheep were visited by an angel delivering a message of joy and of peace. (Luke 2:8-15)

Not a thing has changed since that first Christmas. The majority of the world celebrating Christmas is a-buzz with parties and shopping and travel. So many cannot be derailed to do anything outside of their Christmas to-do list. As a result, some may delight in the success of their well-planned parties. Some may feel burned-out right before or right after the holiday. Others might conclude their celebrations needed a little more Christ and a little less "mas" (Spanish for more). Meanwhile, the few and quiet of mind will be washed over with peace, a result of leaving themselves available to receive continual impressions from the Holy Ghost's message that the Lord's life and resurrection brings good tidings to us all.

What were the shepherds doing that first Christmas night? They were caring for their flocks. We can each take note from the shepherds' examples; the best way to ensure we are open to heavenly messages and see Christ this Christmas and throughout the years is by caring for His flocks.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Peace in this Life

For the past few days, I had been ignoring on my local news site a story about a tragic car accident occurring on Thanksgiving Day. I have been avoiding reading bad news in general. Imagine my shock to learn the accident involved people I know!

Today, I received an email from one of my personal finance class graduates who was writing from the hospital. The horrible news stories were about her family! Her husband and one of their daughters were killed in this terrible accident. This student was herself seriously injured and two other children were hurt, one critically and still in intensive care clinging to life.

I thought I was misreading the words in her email, but, no, they were clear. Every time I read that one sentence, it meant her husband was not alive. It is so difficult to emotionally comprehend that the student with the bright blue eyes, big smile, and mind whirling in vibrant thought could be gone already. That's how I will always remember Stu. He often looked like his world was being lit up and expanded.

In the first couple classes of the personal finance course, Trudy sat with her head in her hands, obviously wondering if any of this material was going to help considering the hole they found themselves in. Stuart listened quietly, looking like he was just waiting, expecting, hoping that if they hung in there, something was going to click and catapult them.

Trudy and Stu became some of my favorite people. In our three months together, they came a long way in their financial journey, from hopelessness to peace. Their changed countenances were evident to everyone in class. My heart leapt in my chest every time I heard them share victories. Trudy exclaimed in several of our later classes, "We are for the first time in our marriage on the same page! I have peace, financial peace!"

I am tearful thinking of their progress, and I have mixed feelings. Separated just when they have reached a place of increased unity? Or, YES! They got to enjoy another level of unity and awareness before being separated for a time! It is in the perspective, isn't it? (Isn't everything?)

A measure of comfort to me comes in the joy of playing a part in some of their peace, some of their hope, and some of their healing. My heart aches and my eyes weep, but I am also humbled to have witnessed a handful of the wonderful growth moments Stu and Trudy shared together.

The reason I do this work is to bring peace and hope into the lives of families. This is part of my God-given mission. Life is too meaningful to let the distractions of money problems dull family relations and experiences on this earth. While I know there are many types of assaults on the family unit today, I feel a duty in arming families against at least one of the fiery darts of the adversary.

May you and I keep moving forward on our journey of peace in this life.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Frugal Friday: Give You

Right now, most of you are sleeping. The rest of you crazy people are standing in line somewhere in the freezing darkness of way-too-early morning with mental maps of your Black Friday bargain routes. Here is an idea that leaves you feeling warm inside and out.

Giving and receiving things is fun, but sometimes, I find what I really want is more experiences with the people I love. For a frugal and meaningful gift alternative, give you for Christmas. Not only is it light on the wallet and heavy on the sentiment, but it is symbolic of Christ's gift-giving. How is it that the most loved person in the history of the earth gained a following without giving out a single free Wii? He simply gave of himself.

Some of my very most favorite gifts have been acts of service or tokens of love from my husband. On our first Christmas Eve, he forbade me from going into the laundry room of our tiny apartment. He disappeared into the windowless room, and all I heard for nearly an hour was the sound of a drill. The next morning, I unwrapped a little wooden stool he put together from a kit bought at the local thrift store. He explained it was a kissing stool to help make up the difference in our heights. I was so touched by the thought he put into this simple gift (and, of course, by the promise of many sweet kisses)! I was in such a good mood the following day as I painted the words "KISSING STOOL" on that stool.

Another gift my husband gave me that Christmas (and a few times since on different holidays) was a short note expressing his love for me and excitement starting out our journey together. I learned that first Christmas as husband and wife that I really love these types of gifts more than I enjoy stuff.

Below are some ways you can give of yourself.
  1. Photos - group photo, romantic or humorous photo stories printed from your computer, personalized calendar
  2. Journal - compilation of stories or interesting facts about the receiver, or a recap of the giver's year or life
  3. A letter of appreciation or love - include a meaningful memory or a shared hope
  4. Frozen meals - from a working woman to a stay-at-home mom, who doesn't appreciate not having to cook every so often?
  5. Family video - a recap of the year, or a skit, or a collection of talents. This is a great gift for far-away relatives or friends
  6. Cookies accompanied with recipe - YUM! 'Nuff said.
  7. A jogging partner - The frequency is up to you!
  8. Massage - Yes, please!
  9. Facial - My husband actually enjoys when I take care of him and apply treatments to his face.
  10. Music mix - a CD of music that is funny/meaningful/uplifting to the receiver with personalized liner notes
  11. An hour of housekeeping - Isn't it nice to get a helping hand?
  12. Free babysitting - Need I say more?
  13. Schedule of Girls' Nights Out - Sometimes, all you need to get through the month is looking forward to a fun night with friends!
  14. Staycation - there are interesting things to see right where you live; set up a tour to go with your friend or relative
  15. Movie and picnic in the living room - no crowds, no traffic, no over-priced popcorn
  16. Computer tech help - If you're the guy or gal with the skills, there are lots of people who would enthusiastically receive your gifts and talents.
  17. Song or poem - If you can write these, create a short one for someone on your list.
  18. Art - I have on my walls some art created and given to me by people I know (kids and adults)
Stuff is fun, and I really appreciate some of the great stuff I have received over the years, but I find it easier to remember the tokens and service I have received because of the emotions they triggered for me. I feel really special when I know someone has been thinking of me beyond scratching my name off a list.

The Kissing Stool is still being used in our kitchen today, 10 years later.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


I love giving gifts! Sometimes, I go overboard with projects and details, but I thoroughly enjoy thinking of and creating or finding gifts for people I love!


Every year, without fail, I have some relatives who take the joy out of giving by expressing various forms of ingratitude at the time of receiving my gifts. Most often, they do it simply by minimizing gift-giving and the holidays in general. They do not know how much thought I put into choosing a gift that fits their lives and our budget. They are likely unaware how happy I am while I wrap their gifts, excited to hand them over to their new owners. Whatever their consciousness, my glee balloon is annually deflated a little when I am with them. They are not gracious receivers, and they take the fun out of celebration.

I've lately been tempted to stop giving them anything. Fortunately, my sweet husband reminds me we should continue being who we are despite how other people react. However, even he no longer puts as much thought into the gifts we give these people.

This holiday season, as I was looking at their names on our Christmas list, the thought came to me that I am ungrateful for some of the gifts Heavenly Father has given me. I give my obligatory "thanks" in prayer and in conversation but then complain about some feature that is not to my liking. Take for example, my husband's job. My husband LOVES his job, which puts him in a great mood. (If you have ever had a husband who greatly dislikes their work environment, you know what a blessing it is to have a husband who comes home happy.) My husband's job pays well, has excellent benefits, has made travel possible for us at the price of "almost free", is extremely flexible in that my husband can come home midday for a few hours if I need him, gives him plenty of sick and vacation days, is located close to home, gives my husband a bonus and a raise every year, and places great value on his contributions. My husband's job is an amazing gift in our lives!

Imagine Heavenly Father picking this gift out for me and weighing all its great features and thinking how much we will love all those bells and whistles of this package. When he gives it to us, I say "thanks, we appreciate a job to help provide for us." But do you know what friends hear most from me about this job? "They send him on too many work trips!" I complain, I tantrum, and I pout. (And I pout some more.) Man, what a spoiled brat!

I wonder... What other things do I minimize? Does Heavenly Father sometimes feel like not giving me another gift because I always complain it's not "just right"? Does He feel like giving up much thought in His next gift until I buck up with some sincere thank-you's? I do not know exactly His thoughts, but I do know from experience that *I* am much more excited and put more energy into gifts for people who receive them with kindness, grace, or enthusiasm.
"Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things. ...

"And in nothing doth man offend God, or against non is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments.

(Doctrine & Covenants 59:7, 21)

This is one of the things I know for sure: We become immediately richer when we are grateful. Ingratitude is an insatiable creature that is appeased only for a moment before being again convinced it is wanting and incomplete.

When I feel unhappy about some circumstance in my life, there are some basic things I have become accustomed to pulling to the forefront of my mind that immediately change my state to contentment:
  • Indoor plumbing. I can take a shower any day I want. Indoors! With warm water! Also, I can turn a faucet and - SHAZAM! - there is water to brush my teeth and fill a pot for cooking. I have not one, not two, but three toilets I can choose from to have waste instantly whisked far, far away! It is amazing.
  • Temperature-controlled home. There's a working furnace to keep my home warm and windows and walls to keep the snow and wind outside. It is 6°F outside right now and yet, I'm comfortably sitting in my house wearing no socks or shoes on my feet!
  • Washer and dryer. I can set my clothes to wash or to dry while I am occupied in some other task or doing nothing at all. No beating shirts on a rock in an icy river for me!
  • Soap. I am grateful for soap, to wash my body, my dishes, my clothes. I even have a different "soap" for my hair, another for my face, and yet another for my teeth! How many types of soap can a person have? I am thankful I get a choice.
  • Internet. I am grateful for internet that helps me keep in touch with far-away people, have access to resources I would not otherwise even know about, and find desired information in a few clicks and searches. How do you think I know it is 6°F outside?
  • Shoes. I have so many shoes! Shoes for walking, for running, for relaxing, and many more for just looking pretty. They all have intact soles, and they are all in my correct size.
  • Safety. I live in a safe neighborhood with great neighbors and beautiful surroundings. I am blessed to live in a safe country. Hooray for The United States of America!
  • The Priesthood. I tap into this power so often it sometimes drives my husband batty. There is comfort in knowing I can ask for a priesthood blessing whenever I need calming and direction. During a blessing, I always feel like I am a little daughter sitting on Heavenly Father's lap receiving the parenting I need.

Now, that I have made time to reflect on it, I am also grateful for the instances of ingratitude I have encountered because they have helped me pause and recommit to giving thanks daily. I hope, too, your Thanksgiving Day is a renewal in counting your blessings day by day.


"Thus shall my thanks be thanks indeed." (Hymns, no. 219, "Because I Have Been Given Much")

Friday, November 19, 2010

Frugal Friday: Squeeze Bottle

Here's another tip I came up with when we were foster parents.

Our new kids had not ever eaten salad. They freaked out when we told them to eat leaves. After a two weeks though, they were begging for seconds on salad. One of the tricks was to let them pour their own salad dressing. Unfortunately, we all know that the holes in store-bought salad dressing bottles are big enough to fit a cucumber; the kids were using up a LOT of dressing per meal. (And heaven help you if you don't notice when that plastic top gets stuck in the screw lid; you'll inadvertently be serving yourself Salad Dressing Soup.)

Enter the condiment squeeze bottle.

I filled one with Ranch dressing and the kids were able to pour their own salad dressing without squeezing cupfuls onto their plates. Even when they squeezed hard, all that came out was a thin pipe of dressing. I found that we didn't run out of dressing nearly as fast as we used to. As an adult, I liked this too because I could evenly spread dressing goodness over my entire salad without using a lot of the fatty stuff.

The kids have long moved on, but I still use this tip and expanded the idea to my other condiments as well.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

"New Found Money" FINAL UPDATE

Tah-Dah! End of the challenge!

The challenge was to see how much money I could bring in with consistent weekly action and without crazed effort.

The rules were:

  • For 10 weeks, from September 13th until November 20th
  • List something for sale or offer a service every week
  • Minimum of two items or services per week
  • Once a week, update results
Technically, the experiment was set to end this Saturday, but mid-challenge, I decided to post updates on Thursdays.

I thought I would run out of things to sell, so I did offer housekeeping services in the last two weeks, though no takers on that.

I also confirmed that when selling things, one needs to predetermine whether they are selling them to bring in as much money as possible or selling them to get clutter out of the house. This will help prevent confusion when entertaining offers from potential buyers. During this challenge, I found myself just wanting to get rid of things I no longer wanted even though I thought I would have wanted to get as much money as possible to end with a big grand total at the end of the challenge. Holding out for larger dollars means being patient, holding on to items longer, and waiting for the right buyer. Putting items on eBay helped me get rid of things within 3-5 days but the fees shrunk profits big time! I go through phases when it comes to how long I am willing to have an item listed, and it is OK if you do, too. The purpose of this experiment was to highlight the results of consistent action.

Guess what? I did not run out of things to sell. As I cleaned different parts of my house or went through different drawers, I randomly found one or two things at a time that I no longer wanted or needed. To me, they had no value, but apparently to someone else, they were worth something, like the broken cell phones listed below. Who knew? Never ever discount your ability to exchange things for money.

Week November 11th - November 18th
  • cheek cell samples for birth defects study $20
  • broken cell phone $8.35
  • another broken cell phone $2.39
  • potty-training pants $5.50

Sub-total this week: $36.24
Grand total: $361.61

That's an extra $36 per week by casually selling things from my house! An extra $144 a month would help a lot of families cover unforeseen events.

Here is a complete list of items sold in the last 10 weeks. Notice that most of the money came from little things. Except for seven line items averaging at $30.65, everything else was sold at an average of $5.88.

cheek cell samples for birth defects study $20
broken cell phone $8.35
another broken cell phone $2.39
potty-training pants $5.50
coupons $26.55
coupon $7.87
baby sling $9.94
coupons $1.87
Christmas ornaments $6
kid's boombox- $25
cloth napkins $1.25
two bowls $1.25
dress $3
two Christmas outdoor lights timers $8
can of oven cleaner $0
baby formula $5
marble cutting board $13.09
baby supplies coupons 1.34
collective figurines $7.79
candle lanterns $10.28
formula coupons $7.03
publications rolling case $10
diaper coupons $1.11
baby bottles $20
picnic basket $5
set of goblets $8
Christmas tree $35
received coupons for free diapers which saved me $48
watch $10
file cabinet $8
quote tile $5
postpartum interview for study about birth defects $40

Something else I noticed during the challenge was that because my mindset was in selling things I already had, I recognized coupons in the mail as a source of money. How many times have you thrown away coupons delivered in your mailbox because they were not for items or services you were interested in?

After tithes, all of this new money goes to my retirement account. Remember when I first mentioned compound interest? If I put my after-tithe "challenge" money into a retirement account and added NOTHING ELSE, compound interest (calculated at 10% interest) would in 30 years make that lump of money into $5,678.91! Let's bypass the wait and go ahead and say that's my total now from the 10-week challenge. (Kidding!) (Sort of.)

What could you do with money you "found" each week? What can you sell now to contribute to your goals?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Repentant Steward


Right now, yes, RIGHT THIS MOMENT, I am going over my checking account and realizing I have gone a little overboard with after-Halloween sales and a local company's "going out of business" sale. Fortunately, we have the money to cover my impulses, but looking now, I would rather the money had gone to something else. I feel like a BLAH steward.

Yes, I make mistakes still. (Gasp!) Am I still learning? Thankfully, yes. Would I rather be perfect? Yes. Will you make mistakes, too? Yep. Knowing this, we are also learning to be nicer to ourselves when we goof.

Every once in a while, someone in the personal finance class I teach gets a little frustrated that their budget still reveals kinks after 3 months. More than once, I've said "this class will not make you perfect." Sure, it's an awesome resource and provides great tools, but it will not overcome all human tendencies in one session. We all want to do better and think that a big enough desire is sufficient to erase all possibilities of future mistakes. The truth is practice-practice-practice is what grows our muscles, spiritual, physical, financial, and all else.

Hmm... I suppose it is times like these that shed light on how far we have come. I am grateful that because we have made such strides in our financial journey, we can afford a larger learning curve. My overspending will not rob us of food or get our lights shut off.

I hope you feel grateful, too:
Gratitude that you are now in a situation with a larger buffer against you and impulsiveness.
Gratitude that you are learning things now to help you create a better financial picture than yesterday's.
Gratitude to start again with the power of experiences.

But when we're in the middle of a blunder, is it OK to get mad at yourself? I say, sure! Right now, I feel kind of sucky.




OK. Time to get back up and move along.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Frugal Friday: Soup and Rice

We're entering hot soup weather!

Easy tip to stretch most soups is to add brown rice. Brown rice also creates a full stomach effect because the fiber expands inside the belly, which means you need less food to feel satisfied. (Be careful if you are a fast eater or you will have a very full effect!)

I even throw brown rice into canned soups. When I have procrastinated on making lunch and the girlie and the husband are hungry NOW, I pull out a can of chunky soup from the pantry and a portion of frozen brown rice from my freezer. (Hm. Did I mention the frozen rice before? It's a great timesaver!)

I thaw the rice for a minute or two in the microwave and then throw it into a saucepan with the soup and warm as usual, stirring occasionally. Throw a nice simple salad on the side (or just some select veggies and a dipping sauce) and it's a tide-over lunch for three!

Now, isn't this kinder on your wallet, your time, and your hiney than picking up something "to go" on the road?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

"New Found Money" update #8

Almost at the end of the challenge! Only 11 days left!

The further I get into this experiment, the more challenges enter my family. Is Heavenly Father showing me just how hectic it gets for some of my sisters out there? Me thinks that's not a bad strategy. (insert tired laugh)

Week November 4th - November 10th

coupons $26.55

Sub-total this week: $26.55
Running total: $325.37

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

This blog will return to its scheduled programming

... as soon as the kids are over their illnesses.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Frugal Friday: Groceries Auction

I have friends and neighbors who are awesome coupon queens. They can come home with $100 worth of stuff for a whopping 43¢ or some other ridiculously low bottom line. While I use some coupons in my shopping, becoming a coupon queen is a whole other ball game, one that I know is a part-time job on its own.

Some of my friends have suggested I subscribe to the Sunday paper with all of its coupon inserts, but since offers for items I already use or eat come out rarely in that format, I have not done it. But I have found a way I can, at almost anytime of the year, find the coupons for items I already do use. I go to and bid on the coupon-clipping other women do!

Last month, I went onto eBay looking for coupons for my baby's brand of formula and found 16 coupons for FREE baby formula canisters. I messaged the seller and settled on a price of $84 for her services. That came out to $5.25 for each canister (regularly $13).

The eBay auction website is a good place to not only find multiples of specific coupons found in your Sunday paper but high-value coupons you may not have access to at all. (Just to clarify, you are actually purchasing or bidding on the seller's clipping and collecting of these coupons.) Almost at any time, I find coupons for diapers, toiletries, baby formula, groceries, paper goods, hygiene items, cleaners, frozen foods, organics, and produce listed for purchase or up for auction.

Browse through eBay to decide if this is a way you can lower your monthly grocery and non-foods bills. To get an idea of what types of coupons you may find, type "coupons" in the search box. To look for specific coupons, type "coupons" and whatever item or brand you are looking for (i.e. "diaper coupons" or "Gillette coupons"). Play around with the search box. What else do you spend money on to care for yourself and your family?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

"New Found Money" update #7

I brought in $7.87 this week. Look at me rake it in!

Do you ever feel like you're not making much progress? Sometimes, we belittle our baby steps. Or we panic when results aren't as great as past victories. There is a time for every thing and every speed. Like the seasons on the earth, everything is cyclical and has a pattern. Even when things are "slow," I rather make a little progress than no progress.

What can we do with $7? Let's explore.

1) $7 can buy a couple loaves of bread, some tuna cans, and a big bunch of bananas to cover a few meals.
2) Or $7 can rent a few DVDs to entertain a family on the cheap for a month.
3) $7 can buy a toddler an outfit from the clearance bin.
4) What about putting $7 into a cookie jar each month for a year? That's $49 bucks to get a 30-minute massage on your birthday.
5) Depositing $7 into the cookie jar every month for 30 years would get us $2520. You could plan a nice anniversary party with your sweetheart!
6) What if instead of a cookie jar, we put that same $7 each month for 30 years into a retirement account? In that same 30 years, we'd have $14,054.79*! That's the power of compound interest, baby!

Whatever your financial goal at this time, whether it is food on the table or a savings account or a nest egg for your golden years, be wise. Be grateful for every grain in your silo. Every dollar counts. Let's go find some more!

(*Calculated at 10% interest for 30 years with interest compounded only once a year)

Week October 28th - November 3rd

coupon $7.87

Sub-total this week: $7.87
Running total: $298.82

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Driving Our Money, 2

I asked for some time to be alone with Tima. (Yes, the car had a name.) (Yes, I know.) I said I needed another month. (Sick, isn't it? It was just a car!) (Right?) During that month, every time I drove Tima, I stroked her steering wheel, looked at her shiny hood, and relaxed in her perfect, contoured seat as I allowed thoughts of her impending departure. Eventually, the voice in my heart took me to the point that I knew we had to sell this car ASAP. Why make payments just to look nice while I drove? Tima and I had enough goodbye time.

"OK," I sighed to my husband, "I'm ready to sell it."

After calling several dealerships in search for a buyer and being told that dealerships were no longer purchasing vehicles from private parties, we found one willing to take our full asking price. The buyer at the dealership happened to be a man who was present when we bought this silver car at a different dealership! He remembered us and said that this was a good car and he trusted his gut in purchasing from us. Coincidence? I don't believe in coincidence.

We replaced that car with a 1996 Mitsubishi bought from my mother for $800. Really, it was in good condition and could have sold for 5 times our purchase price back then, but it was still a bit of a culture shock (for me) going back to a very visibly used car. My teenage brothers had driven it and had done who-knows-what to it (the large bumps and dents on the hood alone were evidence of rowdy times hanging out with friends).

I still drive this car today. Between it and the one David drives (the first car I ever bought by myself, a 1997 Nissan bearing scars from multiple rear-endings), we have learned a lot of lessons on withstanding the natural tendency to buy to impress.

We have been teased by friends, and I have seen how strangers and acquaintances look or don't look at our cars. I can sense when someone is using our cars help create their judgment about our money situation. This used to bother me some in the beginning because I felt the need to prove my financial standing and, when I dissected the core of the matter, my earthly worth.

Referencing Matthew 6:21, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Of the Seventy wrote,
"Each of us has a lifetime—although no one knows the length of that span—to determine where our real treasure is. It may be money, clothes, jewels, recognition, self-gratification, or a multitude of other things we seek throughout our lives. The only treasure worth seeking—the only one we can keep eternally—is righteousness.

"... our pursuit of perfection must be a constant endeavor if we are to overcome the forces seeking to turn our values toward earthly things."
Certainly, it is perfectly fine to have beautiful things (my patriarchal blessing even makes mention of this), but they must not be in exchange of better things. In our case, the commitment to a financed car was robbing us of a healthy emergency fund. Keeping our family uninsured from "rainy days" in order to look good on the road was a selfish desire.

A few months after sending off the shiny car, I began feeling free in my new old car. I don't know exactly when it happened, but I remember finding myself smiling while driving in my $800 car thinking about how wealthy we were becoming. The money that was previously tied up in a depreciating item was going towards things that grow in value. (Before you think me a saintly woman, know that it still took me about a year to become fully confident in my car.)

Today, this baptism by rusty car is where I mark the beginning of my happy, bumpy journey to "weird and at peace." I don't mind looking "broke" to other people because I know that David and I are good stewards of the blessings showered upon us. I am not living to the visual expectations of my peers. I am secure enough to drive a rusty tin can. Though it wasn't easy at first, I now enjoy being weird and free from societal expectations.

You, too, can experience that kind of fresh and rejuvenating freedom.

I won't always drive a 14-year-old car. When we purchase pretty cars in the future, they will be a joy and a blessing because we will have bought them in sound financial order. All good things must be done in order. I trust the order of peace and truth.

"The real measure of our wealth is how much we would be worth if we lost all of our money. That worth depends on how we live, not on what we have."

(LeGrand R. Curtis, “Perfection: A Daily Process,” Ensign, Jul 1995, 30)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Driving Our Money, 1

In 2006, we had been living for two years in our newly-built home in a new development. Though we had been certified as foster parents and had been waiting for children to be placed in our home, we were caught off-guard when suddenly, in the course of a few hours, we received a sibling group of three young kids into our home. Immediately, being a one-car family did not work. In a panic, we went out and bought a nearly-new silver car. This particular body design was still new to the market, so a couple of neighbors who saw our car only in passing called to ask if we had just bought a new BMW (though it was not). I found I liked the case of mistaken identity.

I liked driving that car. EVERYTHING. FELT. RIGHT. It was beautiful. It was quiet. The steering wheel's girth was just right. The cabin was spacious and the trunk large. I fell in LOVE with that car!

A year later, when the foster children were moved to a new home, it became apparent we did not need this car and its accompanying car payment. We prayed over our finances and immediately knew the car was not in alignment with God's plan for us. We were just keeping the shiny thing because it was "nice". David and I talked and talked about the prophets' guidance to remain free from debt and discussed what would be a wiser use of our money. But guess who could not let go of that wonderful car?

Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said in General Conference of November 2007:
"Most of us have more things expected of us than we can possibly do. As breadwinners, as parents, as Church workers and members, we face many choices on what we will do with our time and other resources...

"We should begin by recognizing the reality that just because something is good is not a sufficient reason for doing it. The number of good things we can do far exceeds the time available to accomplish them. Some things are better than good, and these are the things that should command priority attention in our lives. "
I felt great in that car. It was roomy enough to fit future children, safe, reliable, and was reputable for holding its value. I could have easily rationalized keeping this car. It was a good car.

Why is it sometimes hard to give up good things for better things?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Frugal Friday: Flavored Water

For much of her infancy, my toddler was a "stopped up" little baby. I was so relieved when she was old enough to drink one ounce of prune juice a day, but being a petite miss, it didn't take much prune juice to get her going again. In fact, it got her going a little too much. We decided to give her a half ounce of juice diluted by another half ounce of purified water. This was just right for her. Still to this day at 2.5 years old, we serve her diluted juice, and she likes it!

As you know, most juices on the market today have way too much sugar. What if you add a little water to each serving? You and your kids would get as much of the refreshing sweetness you want without loading up on excess sugar and also making your juice supply last longer.

With my toddler, I can get away with 1/3 juice, 2/3 water. Sometimes, I can get away with 1/4 juice. I've diluted juice for myself, usually about half and half, and have been pleased with the taste. (I've even done this when serving juice at parties. Shh!) Try different ratios to see what works with your family.

This idea works great with most juices (we've tried prune, cranberry, pomegranate, blueberry, and apple) and makes them not to sweet. This does NOT, however, work for orange juice. At all. (Blech!)

If you still aren't convinced, consider this:

Last week, I was in the store buying a blueberry/pomegranate juice and was considering purchasing the "light" version of the same brand because it contained less sugar. I looked at the nutrition label, and everything seemed to reflect the lower sugar count. Then, something caught my eye.

Where it usually says "100% juice":

It said "50% juice".

Hm. I looked at the ingredients lists. Sure enough, where the 100% juice lists reconstituted vegetable juice and reconstituted fruit juice first and second, the "light" juice lists filtered water. The two bottles were the same size, the same price, but for the "light," one was paying for half a bottle of water! Why not buy the full-flavored option and dilute it yourself at home? That is like getting two bottles (or three) of the "light" stuff for the price of one!

There ya go: a frugal tip inspired by one backed-up little infant.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

"New Found Money" update #6

Whew! Man, has it been a crazy three weeks! (Haven't I said something like this recently? Or did I simply think it?) Just when I thought things were slowing down, the husband got called out of town. (Again.) Thank goodness that's over! (For now.)

Success! I found a few more belongings I no longer want and will put up for sale. Staying true to this experiment, I will not go hog-wild in listing. I've got to remember the point is to see what happens when I casually put up a few things for sale each week. Adhis, remember, calm consistent baby steps...

How are you doing? Are you finding things to trade for an emergency fund? Are you ready to pick the lock of the shackles of debt?

Week October 21st - October 27th

baby sling $9.94
coupons $1.87
Christmas ornaments $6

Sub-total this week: $17.81
Running total: $290.95

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Simple Way to Track Holiday Spending

Several years ago, I ran a business doing home parties for a new clothing company. Because of the uniqueness of the product at the time, it wasn't long before I had more clients than I knew how to keep tabs on. Though I was excited about this explosion in my business, I had difficulty keeping my paperwork from becoming one big pile.

After talking with some of the other women in the company, I got an idea that saved my sanity and helped me keep up with the explosive growth. When I received a new client, I immediately created a file for her. Sounds fancy, huh?

The file consisted of a clasp envelope with a sheet of paper affixed to the front with tape. On the sheet, I wrote the client's contact info, a party date, and a checklist of things to do before that date. Later, I added the party's order total, my profit, an order ship date and other information to help me follow-up with customers. Inside the envelope, I kept copies of all orders placed at the party and a sheet that revealed my profit margin in detail. I kept all of these envelopes in a file drawer by order of party dates. Having all of this information in one place completely freed my mind, and I was able to come up with other ways to grow my business! This system was stupidly simple, terribly un-exciting, and incredibly reliable!

What does this have to do with tracking your holiday spending? There are certainly many ways to do it, but the simplest way is usually the best way. This is the easiest way for me.

Grab a clasp envelope:

Stick a piece of paper on the front of it with glue or tape. This will be where you write all of your holiday spending activities. If you will have a large Christmas budget with lots of activity, then use two envelopes. Maybe one for family and one for "everyone else" (acquaintances and co-workers). Or create one for girls and one for boys.

What will you write on that sheet? Here are some things you will want to track.

(click to enlarge)

  • Include to whom or what you will be dedicating part of your money.
  • Break down your total allotment in each of the categories for "planned expenses".
  • Record exactly what happened in your "actual expenses" at the end of each day in which you spend any of that money.
  • Always keep your receipts in the envelope. (This also helps when you need to return something!)
  • It's up to you if you want to write specifically what you bought. If so, you better keep that envelope well-hidden from curious eyes!
  • You may also want to include a column to check off when the gift has been wrapped. (Or where it has been hidden!)
Deciding on a dollar amount and what is most meaningful to your holiday celebration will make your holiday shopping less crazy and much more focused. You will also find yourself having more fun! It is easier to let yourself go in the magic and joy of the season when you aren't feeling the stress of hectic confusion.

You are the steward of your finances; tell your money what to do for you! When you create a simple way for your holiday budget to succeed, you feel a whole lot merrier a whole lot longer.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Ho-ho- OH!

"I tell you these things because of your prayers;
wherefore, treasure up wisdom in your bosoms...
if ye are prepared ye shall not fear."
Doctrine & Covenants 38:30

Did you know Christmas Day is exactly 2 months away from today?

Please, stop screaming. You will wake up my babies.

The average American charges everything during the holidays while mentally keeping tabs and figuring they will pay off the credit card come January. January indeed arrives, but the total on the credit card statement is inevitably higher than the mental tally. Happy New Year.

The surprise balance is usually made up of "ohmygosh, I forgot to include the sugar cookies I made for the neighbors" with some "doh- I forgot about stamps to mail out the cards" punctuated with "shoot, I still have to stuff the stockings."

What are your plans to pay for your Christmas celebrations?

Normally, this is how I recommend budgeting for the holiday: Take the total you will spend for Christmas (foods, decorations, charitable contributions, gifts) and divide it by 12. This way, you will painlessly save for Christmas the whole year long.

$300 ÷ 12 = $25 per month

This would be line item "Christmas Fund" on your budget. The easiest thing is to have it automatically transferred to a savings account specifically dedicated to Christmas. My savings account is called "Holiday Gifts," though sometimes I rename it with the dollar amount I want to save up, for example "Christmas300." The name reminds me that when I reach the balance of $300 I can reroute the automatic deposits elsewhere.

A few weeks ago, I was asked "What about if I'm just starting to budget for it? There are only 2 months left until Christmas." There are several options available (none of them being "put it on the credit card"), but the following is my favorite.

How about you decide how much you will spend for Christmas this year rather than letting your shopping list decide how much Christmas will cost?

Think on that for a bit.

If you can only set aside $150 total for Christmas in these two short months, then, work with $150. No big deal. Be honest with whomever must know. Simply tell your family "this is what we're working with this year." Next year, you can begin saving for Christmas starting in January.

How do you make Christmas work on $150 or whatever number you have? Much like the basic budget, you set your priorities.

First, what are Christmas "essentials" to you? For some people it's gifts for the family. For other people, it's throwing a party. For others, it's traveling to see relatives. For others, it's doing Sub4Santa. What is it for you? Maybe it's a live Christmas tree. Write it down. And, no, everything cannot be an "essential."

Second, what is last on your holiday priority list? Determine this because you will likely throw it out of your celebrations this year. Is it mailing out holiday cards? Is it the family photo in matching outfits? Gifts for your mail carrier and hairstylist and kids' teachers?

Third, pay for Christmas with CASH, otherwise, you will find yourself mentally rounding down receipt totals and rationalizing your overspending with holiday cheer.

Fourth, keep a record of your spending. A big clasp envelope where you can write on the outside and stash receipts inside works well.

If your budget this year is a lot lower than last year, you will be thinking and working creatively. If you feel you are not creative, then think logically. Ask friends for ideas. Give service instead of goods. Google "creative christmas gifts" or "gifts on a budget" or "homemade gifts" or whatever combination of search words fits your personality. You know the drill.

1. Choose how much money you will use for Christmas. These are your parameters to work within.
2. Decide what aspect of Christmas is most important to you (and your family). This sets your values.
3. Decide what aspect of Christmas is least important to you (and your family). This clears out distractions.
4. Pay with cash. This is your silent accountability partner.
5. Keep a record. This is your accountant.
6. Get creative. This will help create your plan.

How smart of you to get prepared for Christmas in advance! But, please, abstain from playing the Christmas tunes until after Thanksgiving.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

"New Found Money" update #5

My friend was nice enough to let me throw some of my stuff in her yard sale, but due to a meeting and my produce co-op pick-up time being changed, I was hardly at the yard sale to help (wo)man it! She was so gracious and collected money for my stuff while I was gone. Thanks, Carrie!

Alright, people. I am getting a little nervous about this challenge. I am running out of stuff that I'm ready to let go and people are willing to pay for, and I have FOUR WEEKS left! Sure, I could sell my husband's stuff (ha!) but I'd like to give him the blessing of letting things go. (See how much I love you, sweetie?)

Hm. I may need to get creative.

Week October 14th - October 20th

  • kid's boombox- $25
  • cloth napkins $1.25
  • two bowls $1.25
  • dress $3
  • 2 Christmas outdoor lights timers $8
  • can of oven cleaner $0 (yes, free)

Sub-total this week: $38.50
Running total: $273.14

Friday, October 15, 2010

Frugal Friday: Fruit Flip-Flop

(If ever you roll an 'F' in Scattegories and the category is "blog post titles", you have my permission to score some awesome points using the title above!)

Don't you hate it when you buy strawberries only to find three days later they are mushy or covered in mold? It's almost like you buy them just to give your kitchen trash can a treat.

To dramatically extend the life of your fresh berries, try this:

Turn the package upside-down.

When you bring berries home from the store, check that there are no spoiled fruits in the package. (Remember to also WAIT on washing your berries until right before using them to keep them fresh and unbruised.) Then, put the package upside-down in your fridge crisper. This allows the berries that have been on the bottom of the bunch to breathe and resist spoilage and mold growth.

Each day, when you use some of the berries, put the package back into the fridge in the OPPOSITE direction it was in when you pulled it out. This keeps moisture from collecting in one spot and promoting spoilage.

A couple times this past summer, I unexpectedly acquired multiple packages of strawberries and was able to extended their fresh deliciousness one to two weeks doing this simple flip. That's a berry good thing.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

"New Found Money" update #4

Whew! Won't this be quick to add up!

I sold nothing this week. I received some email inquiries about a few items but no serious buyers. It actually worked out great! Between teaching a toddler the wonders of indoor plumbing and finishing up my term on the board of my homeowners' association, I've had a little extra on my delicious platter of responsibilities.

One of my neighbors is holding a yard sale this weekend, and I may throw in some of my stuff just to unload it quicker. Here's to a beautiful Saturday with the right visitors!

What would you feel if you had no visible result during your work to build a savings account or pay down debt? Would it slow down your enthusiasm? Would it pep it up?

Week October 7th - October 13th

* nothing

Sub-total this week: $0
Running total: $234.64

Monday, October 11, 2010


I've been thinking about why I am coming across so "sterile" in this blog compared to my personal blog.

I am not LDS enough.

That's not true, but that was the feeling I found when I peeled the onion layers. I am WAY LDS, but I do not conduct myself as the typical LDS woman, and I was trying to conform to the idea of what someone else thought "LDS" means in case a stranger found this blog by accident. I didn't do this filtering consciously, but that's what I discovered at the core when talking with my husband the other night.

On some subconscious level, I imagined a sweet little older lady taking a break from family history research, coming to this blog to be uplifted, reading my stuff, and then exclaiming aloud into the quiet potpourried air of her little home office decked out in Thomas Kincade paintings "THIS woman is LDS??" Then, in shock, placing her little wrinkled hand on her chest, calling Harold in from the other room. (Bishop Harold, that is.)

So, yeah.

I have lots of personal finance information in this brain, and I am hating that I have for the most part been posting it on this blog like a poorly-edited textbook. Talking one-on-one about your finances and asking questions to help you find your own answer is my preferred method. Obviously, a blog is not the best forum for that, so I will do better to share more real-life experiences.

I am a Latter-day Saint and a very committed one at that. Know though that while I accept a journey of refinement and smoothing out of rough edges, God sent me to Earth in this personality: foot-in-mouth, jabber-y, imperfect, and lovely.

You have been warned.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Frugal Friday: Jack-no-lantern

I love Autumn! And I love Halloween!

By the look of things in my neighborhood, I'm not the only one. Lots of people have decorated already and have their pumpkins carved.

Sure, right now those orange orbs may look like this:

But Halloween being more than 3 weeks away means trick-or-treaters will be greeted by this:

(Or by something worse that I can't bring myself to post images of.)

Let's learn from this:

If you're excited to get your Jack-o-lantern a-spookin', try this:

And do this:

Or this:

You can have Jack gracing your front step without the rot. Then, the week before Halloween, carve out the black pattern. You'll get longer use from your pumpkin without triggering your visitors' gag reflexes!