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.