Friday, May 31, 2013

Happy 3rd Birthday, Joseph!

My family was all about simple birthdays. We had cake, ice cream, and a few gifts. Since James's family did the same, we've continued the tradition of both of our families. I'm not much of a party planner anyway, but that doesn't mean I'll never have a "big" party for my kids. Right now, they are too young (and shy!).

I saw something on Pinterest that I really liked. For a child's birthday (or Christmas), give him/her

Something they want
Something they need
Something to wear
Something to read

(Bad grammar, but I didn't write it.)

I think this is a pretty good philosophy. Since yesterday was Joseph's birthday, here's a breakdown of what he got this year from us:

Want: a pet. We found a fish bowl at D.I. for $2 and let Joseph pick out a fish at Walmart. He chose a betta for $4. Food and rocks were $2 each.

Need: something creative. I got sidewalk chalk at Walmart for $1 and a bubble wand for $1.

Wear: a pair of summer shoes. I searched yard sales and D.I. but had no luck finding something that would fit him. However, Walmart had sandals for $3. (It was either that or water shoes, which I didn't want!)

Read: I first check out the library book sale, and if there's anything good, I buy it. They have books for only 10 cents apiece! I found a New Testament Stories book that only needed a little hot glue on the spine. At yard sales, I found 2 books for $1 each. Both were in great condition.

The goal is to spend less than $25 on gifts. That doesn't always happen, but it allows for a good amount of gifts, I think. (That doesn't include additional money/gifts from relatives. They are very generous.)

Other stuff

Birthday food: The birthday boy/girl gets to choose a favorite meal. When I asked Joseph what he wanted, he chose toast. No joke. I think he eats more toast than the average 10 people. I chose homemade chicken nuggets and fries for him since I knew he'd like them. I made him a simple cake with a train (wooden, not edible) and tracks (made from Twizzlers and cookie strips). (By the way, if you've never made homemade frosting, you're missing out. It's delicious, and so is homemade cake!)

Decorations: This is where I get lazy. I just don't decorate for holidays except Christmas. I guess I don't care enough, and I'd just have to take them down the next day. However, if I were to buy some, I'd get them at D.I. or the dollar store. We got a bag of balloons and some silly hats from Dollar Tree for Joseph since he's been reading a book about Thomas the Train's birthday that had balloons and silly hats. :)

Wrapping paper: For my immediate family, I use newspaper. Again, I'm lazy, and it just gets ripped up anyway. The fun part is seeing what's inside, right? If I'm giving a gift to a friend, I tend to reuse gift bags and ribbon from gifts I've received. (I don't reuse actual wrapping paper, but I've heard of people doing that too. I think it just takes the fun out of ripping the paper off a present.)

Cards: I make my own. I don't mean fancy ones either with stamps and ribbons, though I do think those are really cute. I have some plain cards leftover from our wedding (!) that I put personalized notes on. If I need a specific card, I print one off the computer and fold it up. They're fun to make and don't cost much, just one piece of paper and some ink.

What do you think is the most important part of celebrating someone's birthday? (For me, it's the food! Since I love to cook and eat, it's win-win.)

the train cake

Jonah, our new fish

blowing out the candles...or at least giving it a good shot!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Exciting News

I can hardly believe it. School is out for the summer, so James has a big load off his chest: first year of teaching, done! He starts working concrete with a guy in the ward tomorrow, but we've been enjoying the past few days off.

Friday we went to look at a few more houses. I think that brought us up to 8. We loved one that was in Maeser, but our agent said it already had an offer on it and was in counteroffer. On the way to see one last house, we said a quick prayer if making an offer was the right thing to do, because that house seemed perfect. We felt good about it, so we made an offer, not really thinking it would go through. It did! We actually found out on Saturday. It's a huge step to buy a house, but it's not as hard as I thought it would be. A quick description of the house: 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, located 5 miles out of town. We can probably move in at the end of June, and we couldn't be more excited. I will write more about it later when I can show some pictures. :)

Saturday I was feeling really tired, so we lazed around and didn't do much (aside from buying groceries). It was a good day. Yesterday we cooked foil dinners in a nice spot we found about 30 minutes from here. It was gorgeous, and the dinners were delicious. We shot the BB gun a little while we were waiting. I forgot how much I love foil dinners! We also had some roasted corn on the cob. The boys got filthy from playing in the dirt, but they had a great time.

James and I took a little breakfast date this morning. It was 10:00, so I was famished. He still ended up finishing my plate. We then went to the ultrasound where we found out that we're having a GIRL! We have a couple of names floating around but aren't totally sure yet. That means it's yard sale time for me. I'm going every single week until I have everything I need for baby girl, because so far I have no clothes for her. Girl clothes are really easy to find, though, and I can't wait to start stocking up this weekend. :)

My garden is growing! There are little green sprouts in 3 of 5 buckets. I don't remember what they are, but I think the tomatoes probably haven't sprouted yet but the cucumbers, squash, and peas have. I guess I'll have to wait and see. Thankfully, the neighbor boy has left them alone. That punk.
playing in the "spaceship"

fun in the dirt

throwing rocks in the water

Look at those grimy feet!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Toys: Less is More

*Not all of my frugal posts will be about kids, but these are things I'm dealing with right now! I thought it would be fun to go by themes, so "kids" will be my theme for a couple more weeks.*

Raise your hand if you love picking up toys.

Okay, me neither.

If you look in my apartment, you won't generally know that it's been overrun by boys. Cleanup of toys at night takes us five minutes each day, even with having things neat and organized. Going along with the theme of a bare bones nursery, we try to keep the amount of toys we own at a bare minimum.

I've been wracking my brain trying to figure out what Joseph would like for his upcoming birthday when it comes to toys. He's already got a good collection for a little boy (and he sometimes shares these with his brother).

Joseph's Favorite Toys (ranked by most loved)

1. Duplos and Duplo table (built by Grandpa) - gift
2. Duplo Thomas train tracks set - $4 from a thrift store
3. Car tracks set and Matchbox cars - $7, plus $3 of cars
4. Nerf guns - gifts, old ones from James
5. Light sabers - old one from James, $1 from D.I.
6. Wooden puzzles - gift
7. Stuffed animals - gift

Aside from a few assorted small toys (kept mostly because of sentiment), this kid loves all of his toys and has fun with them every day. What else could he possibly need?

We have a pretty good system for making sure that toys don't take over our house.

1. Clean up all toys 1-2X a day (nap time, at night before bed.) Joseph and Kenny both help.
2. Keep some of the less popular toys in the closet and rotate them.
3. Organize the toys and teach your child to  organize as well. Joseph knows that Duplos, cars, trains, and all other toys have separate places to go. Kenny is already learning the system too.
4. Get rid of toys once in a while. What I listed before is what we have.
5. Wash & repair well-loved toys (especially lovies), but toss broken toys that can't be fixed. Don't give them to D.I. We've gotten broken stuff before, and it stinks.
6. Don't buy toys that get on your nerves, i.e. toys that make obnoxious sounds.
7. Keep big toys to a minimum (rocking horses, kid chairs, etc.) You will trip over them all the time if you don't.
8. Babies don't really need toys. For under age one, a few soft toys with rings to hang them somewhere is all you'll need. From crawling age - 18 mos., toys will be made from boxes, crinkly paper, and anything the baby can pull off shelves.

I make no claim to never stepping on Duplos, but my day definitely doesn't revolve around picking up toys. I love seeing Joseph use his imagination to build things with tracks and Duplos. He has a lot of fun with the toys has has, they didn't break the bank, aren't annoying and flashy, and don't take over the house because of sheer volume.

What is your child's favorite toy? What are the most loved toys for girls?
the toy box, trains, and Duplo table

where they sleep, their dresser/changing table

a few decorations...all made by me!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

To Everyone

If you are reading this, then thank you.

My greatest fears come to light again and again while I'm pregnant and emotional. (Those two go hand in hand sometimes.) Though I do not struggle with depression, I hit lows about once a week that make me question everything about my purpose in life. Why does anyone need me? Why do my kids have me when they could have a much better mom? Etc.

I worry that my life has too small of an impact to really matter. I do lead a quiet life. We are a one-car family. I stay at home with my children, doing my best every day to raise them right and not lose my head. I'm not perfect at it. No one is, but I forget that and beat myself up for my failures.

This little blog (and my other two) are a great outlet for me, my way of connecting to the world. I'm grateful to make a difference, even a small one. I've read blogs of others (even people I don't know) that have touched my life when I most desperately needed it.

To everyone who reads my blog(s), thank you. If you make comments, thank you again! Those words of encouragement have often come in times of need.

To everyone who keeps a blog, thank you. I love reading them. I'm glad that we get to stay connected, even though we don't live anywhere near each other.

Modern technology is amazing. I don't know how I could possibly have lived in any other era. My life at times feels like my container garden right now. It's been tipped over, but I fixed it the best I could. I've planted the seeds, put them in a sunny place in good dirt, and water them every day. I know they will grow, but I'm still waiting. I don't mean to say that my life isn't happening yet, but certain aspects of it (like things I blog about) are still in "seed" stage, and that's okay.

Thank you again for helping me along the way. Blogging is more rewarding than I ever thought it would be, so I definitely plan to continue it until the Internet goes out of style. (If that ever happens, though, I think I will die!)

Friday, May 17, 2013

Little Mouths, Big Expense?

I mentioned in last Friday's post that I spent about $10 a month to make baby food for my kids. I'd never thought of making my own until I received a little food mill as a baby shower gift, which got me thinking. Further research into the topic of homemade baby food helped me realize that cute little jars, brightly colored packages, and stamps of nutritional approval on baby food at the grocery store is only a ploy  to get me to pay a lot more than I need to to feed my little guys.

I started giving my kids purees at 6 months, skipping over rice cereal since neither of them liked it. (I can't blame them. It tastes like wet paper.) Truthfully, they weren't fans of purees for a very long time. I used as my guide, but purees fell out of favor for finger foods by 8 months. I ended up with some leftover purees that I sneaked into our regular food. (Don't tell my husband!) At 8 months, I started giving my kids whatever they could chew with 4-6 teeth, and they loved it. My kids now love eating any fruit, bread, cheese, eggs, green smoothies, and more. They're healthy and happy, and I never saw my grocery bill go up significantly enough to give me a heart attack. At age one, I buy a few extra gallons of milk, and we're set. I don't buy anything that I haven't been buying already. As much as I love Goldfish, we stick to saltines since they cost 1/3 as much.

Feeding little people costs just that - a little, and it only takes a little bit of time. Within one hour, you can make enough baby food to last a week, and it doesn't take any special cooking skills.
If you give a little boy ice cream... have to clean up a great big mess!

Have you ever made your own baby food? Why or why not?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

All Tired Out

Yup, that's me this week. James hasn't been home at all due to a school play, elders quorum meeting, and helping the youth with baptisms at the temple. Today I have a doctor's appointment, which means I get to schedule my ultrasound for the week after next! The anticipation is killing me right now.

We've finally had some beautiful weather. I no longer freeze without socks on in the house. We went shooting as a family last Saturday, and it was nice to have the range to ourselves. 

I recently gave my boys haircuts (Kenny's very first) and finally got pictures uploaded.

Mostly, I am tired because I haven't been sleeping as well. I fall asleep all right, but I wake up a couple of times during the night and have a little trouble going back to sleep. Making sure I get in MORE exercise during the afternoon helps, but I feel so lazy! I just want to sit on the couch! :)

For Mother's Day, I got some chocolates and some buckets and dirt for starting my container garden. It's time to get planting soon, but I don't have plants/seeds yet. Hopefully today!

My main project aside from extra blogging is transcribing some recorded tapes of my Grandma Phenix. It's great to listen to her voice. If I spend an hour of naptime (which is usually at least 2 hours), I can get through an hour of talking in 4 days. No, I am not the world's fastest typist, but I'm enjoying hearing her voice. 2 tapes down, 3 to go!

Now for pictures.

little man's first haircut

Joseph and Daddy shooting

Kenny throwing rocks onto the ground, the perfect way to keep him occupied!

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Real Cost of Having a Baby (Bare Bones Style)

Before Joseph was born, I stumbled upon a baby cost calculator on Babycenter. You can find it here. At first glance with everything filled in, it appears that having a baby will cost over $10,000 in the first year, not including the actual having! I was floored, but I knew it couldn't be true. I decided to buy as little as possible for Joseph, and if I ended up needing more, I'd get it later. I realize that preference has a lot to do with what you buy for your baby, but this is how it all worked out for me. A few numbers are estimates, and I did receive many generous gifts. However, my total is much smaller than $10,000! I put FREE for items I received as gifts but would've bought anyway because I consider them essentials.

Bare Essentials

Diapers and wipes - $40 per month X 12 = $480. I completely disagree with their estimate of $92 a month. I've been tracking what I pay for diapers, and this is actually my average for BOTH children together (currently), neither newborns. I'll leave it at $40 because my kids don't require lots of diapers per day, but I still think this is a HIGH estimate for 1 child's first year. I buy Walmart's diapers, and they work fine.

Food - $0 on formula, about $60 on solids ($10 X 6 months). I make my own baby food, but my kids don't like purees for very long. After that, it's bits of bread, fruit, veggies, and cereal, maybe a few eggs - hardly a big cost.

Medicine - $20. This covers one antibiotic, one bottle of ibuprofen, and one bottle of acetaminophen. I haven't used anything else, and I still have the same bottles from a few years ago.

Clothing - $100 (probably less, but I can't remember). I received lots of clothes for Joseph. This figure represents about half of a first year's wardrobe, a few things bought new, but most from a thrift store.

Feeding Supplies

Bottles - $3 from Walmart. I will always buy new ones for each child. They don't last forever.

High chair - $4 from a yard sale.

Spoons, cups - $3 from Dollar Tree (Set of 12 spoons for only $1 and cups $1 each.)

Burp cloths - FREE. All received as gifts. I don't use them very often since my kids don't spit up a lot.

Bottle brush - $3 from Walmart. Nothing else will get a bottle clean!

Bibs - FREE. Got them as gifts, and I'm too lazy to use them most of the time.

Nursing bras & pads - $75. Bought new. I still have the pads but the bras wore out after 2 years.

Nursing pillow - $25, bought new at Walmart. My arm would be very sore without it.


Baby bath - $2. We still have the same bottle almost 3 years later. I only wash my boys' hair once a week.

Hooded towel - FREE. Received a couple as gifts. If I didn't, I probably would've made one from an existing towel.

Brush, comb, clippers set - $8 at Walmart

Large Items

Car seat and stroller - $60. Bought used.

Pack 'N' Play (used as crib, and has a bassinet attachment) - $10 from D.I.

Diaper bag (I use a duffel bag.) - FREE

Changing table - FREE (a fold down shelf on a dresser that was given to us).

Chair - FREE. It was a gift from D.I., though it cost the giver $30.

Blankets - FREE. I received about 15 as gifts! Some are hand-me-downs.

Dresser - $5. Bought from students moving out.


Toys - $10. He didn't need many at first, and he got some as gifts. He didn't really start needing toys until after a year.

Childproofing set - $10 at Walmart. This set has both outlet and doorknob covers, and I recommend having both!

Pacifiers - $5 for a pack of 3, Walmart

Baby book - $5 from Walmart

Pictures - $10. I did 100 prints of Joseph's first year for 9 cents a print from Shipping was only a dollar or two.

Total cost: $898, about 9% of the estimated cost according to Babycenter!

Don't get me wrong; having a baby still isn't cheap, but it doesn't have to cost 10,000 to provide for that baby for a year. As I made the list, I realized that it's still a pretty long one. My babies definitely get everything they need, and it's quite nice not to be tripping over big things like walkers, swings, or a million toys. Simple is good, and my kids are happy and healthy.

Cost of our second baby (of the same gender)?

We've bought diapers, obviously, and a few clothes, probably $20 worth to replace a few worn-out ones. Food : $60, bottles: $3, an additional Pack 'N' Play: $10, pacifiers: $5, double stroller: $20. Total: $598. Remember that $480 of that is diapers/wipes, so it's not a big up-front cost.

If our next baby is a girl, what will she need? I'll spend the same on diapers and a few new things (bottles, pacis, but no need for another stroller or Pack 'N' Play!). All I'll need to buy her is an entire wardrobe. (No big deal!) Here's to hoping that I can do it. Since there is no Kid-to-Kid type store in town, I'll rely on yard sales and carefully track what I spend on this whole wardrobe. That's a post in itself...coming later!

What's you favorite way to save on baby items? Is there anything you bought and wished you hadn't? Or, is there anything you wish your baby had but you didn't want to spend the money on it?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Rent Rant

I've mentioned before that I don't like this apartment very much. I think I should clarify why I'm so pessimistic about this place.

First, it's the most expensive place we've ever lived in. It costs us $805 a month, but don't be fooled. That's a very low rent for a 3-bedroom in Vernal, because most cost $1200-1400. This apartment is old, something we've dealt with before, but it's never been updated, unlike the other old places we've lived in.

The kitchen floor looks about 50 years old. Mopping doesn't improve its appearance.

The carpet smells bad because of recent flooding, despite our keeping a fan running on it. We couldn't open the windows due to rain the last few days, which didn't help.

The windows are moldy. Nothing I do helps keep it away.

The toilet runs.

We don't have screens on any of our windows, and management says they don't provide them.

No dishwasher.

No gas, meaning electricity heating everything.

Most kitchen drawers are broken.

The water heater provides only 10 minutes of hot water at a time.

Ceiling heat (horrible idea!) cost us $200 in January, and we didn't even keep the place warm or heat the office at all.

Our neighbors are very loud and throw cigarette butts and trash in the yard (not really a yard, but a patch of grass outside my window).

Management is hard to get a hold of, and they never fix ANYTHING.

I could go on, but those are the worst things.

I've made the best of this apartment for long enough. I can make no further improvements, and I've done my best to keep it clean and well-maintained, considering I'm only a renter.

I'm done!

We're house hunting, just started the process for getting a loan. I guess even with loans from last year, we don't have a lot of credit, so that means getting lots of documentation. I spent an hour on the phone today, but hey, it's all worth it. :)

Friday, May 3, 2013

Budgets: Just Big Babies

While I was washing dishes and trying not to lose my mind after lunch today, I realized that having a budget is a lot like having small children around, both for the good and the frustrating. Even if you don't have your own (kids, that is), I think everyone's been around enough little people to see the similarities.

The Frustrating

1. They take time. The first budget I ever made as a married person took a lot of work. I had to figure out all our categories of expenses, many of which were new to us as a couple; create (actually steal a template) for a spreadsheet to keep track of everything; and then plug in a whole bunch of numbers. I currently update our finances once a week, but it does take a little planning. I do it during naptime so I can focus.

2. They are unpredictable. I made our first 'real' budget last September when James started his first 'real' job. I thought everything would stay the same and that I'd predicted all expenses exactly so I'd never have to change anything. I was wrong. I am often wrong about my children's needs as well. Something can work perfectly for a while (say, a specific nap time), but then it changes and I have to figure it all out again. My greatest moments of stress come during these times of change.

3. They get more expensive over time. Everything in your budget gets more expensive with time, and so do kids when they start getting bigger. I know it, because I obsessively track prices on almost everything. If your pay hasn't gone up, you'll have to shuffle things around in the budget. It doesn't mean that you've failed to have a good budget in the first place. I had to pinch myself a little when my grocery bill had to increase, but I'm not the one drinking the extra milk - the baby is, and he's not an almost-free baby anymore.

4. You can't compare to anyone else's. I used to pore over lots of money-saving blogs and beat myself up for not spending less on my groceries. I should be feeding my family for $200 a month, because so-and-so in Pennsylvania does! Then I stopped and thought about it. I don't live in Pennsylvania. I live in a small, isolated Utah town. If I just compare to metro Utah, I have to pay 30% more on lots of things. Is it fair? Maybe not, but I can't hold myself to the same standard as some lady in Pennsylvania - or Salt Lake City. It just won't work. Stick to good principles and don't worry about numbers. Only get worried if you spend more than you earn, and that job is what you're supposed to be living on for the rest of your lives. (I won't even get in to comparing kids, but I've done plenty of that and made myself feel terrible. :))

The Good

1. They bring peace. In making and sticking to a budget, I know that I'm doing everything I can to keep my family's finances in order. My children ultimately bring me peace at the end of the day (ha!) because they are my greatest work. Both budgets and children are challenging, but rewarding. There is no doubt about it.

2. They provide a happy future. Learning to discipline spending now is what secures our future. We will never have to live in a cardboard box because we ran out of money. It doesn't mean that there won't be hard times, but we'll be prepared.

3. Having no money doesn't mean you shouldn't (or can't) have one. I don't say this lightly. We had children and a budget when we had no money because it was the right thing for us to do. Since there wasn't much money coming in and it was unpredictable, I simply recorded everything we spent and tried to cut back where we could. Since we can live on one teacher salary and have me stay home, I think our lean years of frugality were a success.

4. Sacrifice. I put this as a good thing because giving up one thing for something better is hardly a bad thing at all. The main sacrifice I make to save us money is with my time. It takes longer to make food from scratch, fix things than to buy new ones, and find suitable clothes at yard sales. It's a whole lot easier to eat out and not do dishes (especially with no dishwasher). However, I've been to learn a whole lot about homemaking that I never thought I'd be able to do. I wouldn't trade what I currently do for anything!

Keeping our home running makes me happy. I'm glad to be at home with my kids, even though they drive me nuts sometimes. (Whining? Please, no!) I worry sometimes that they will feel deprived of new clothes or restaurant experiences, but at the end of the day, they care more that they get to spend time with me. Some parts of being frugal do stink at times. Not everything I do turns out great, but I always have God's help to make up for where I fail. For that, I am especially grateful.

What's been your greatest challenge at keeping a budget? Is it harder than you thought it'd be?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Against the Odds: Lessons From Living on One Teacher Salary

James and I have been married now for almost 4 years, and we've been through some pretty low points financially. Through those tough times, I got used to spending as little as possible with the exception of having 2 babies. Yes, having children will not save you any money. :) As of last September, we found ourselves in a financially stable situation: James got his first paycheck as a real teacher! I'd anticipated this day for years, the day that I could finally sit down, make a budget, and stick to it because I'd finally know how much money we'd have.

I drafted a budget based on our spending averages over the past year. I was surprised to see that we wouldn't be saving as much as I'd hoped since we moved to a more expensive small town. I felt guilty at first. Why did we have to go into debt in 2012? Could we have done more to save in the past? Why does this blogger family only spend X a month on Y when I'm spending so much more?

I'm trying not to worry about any of those things anymore. I've pored over money-saving blogs, books, and the like and I think I'm at a comfortable level of sacrifice. Yes, we could always save more. Anybody could, but there is no family on earth who does everything possible to save money. It just isn't possible.

I was recently browsing through The Complete Tightwad Gazette, a book that I feel defines my way of life more than anything except for the scriptures. I don't remember what I was looking for, but I felt a sense of peace that I'm doing all that I can for my family. We live comfortably within our means. True, our savings isn't building up quickly, but we have a modest emergency fund while still eating well, wearing pretty good clothes, and having fun.

I want to talk more about our lifestyle on this blog. I know that not a lot of people read it, but I love sharing/exchanging ideas about things. Sites like Pinterest have been a great blessing just for the number of ideas that I can get from them, even though I don't come close to using all of them. It's inspiration (pinspiration?) that keeps me going some days.

I'm thinking I'll do one post a week on the topic of frugality. I hope to hear your ideas in the comments! :)