I'm on Etsy!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Easy Thanksgiving Table Decorations

We had our Thanksgiving dinner early this year.

My table isn't usually decorated.

It usually has a basket full of vitamins that I forget to pass out to the kids.

Or food. Or crumbs.

Usually crumbs.

So I usually don't decorate it.

But I thought I'd put some dried beans, lentils, peas, and acorns into different sized cups and put some candles on top. It is Thanksgiving after all. And my family trusts me to do half of the cooking for it.

I borrowed some candles and Autumn things from other parts of my house.

I enlisted my entire family to gather acorns from my parents' yard in 32 degree weather. It's hard to find the ones that haven't been chewed on, and also still have their hats on. So this is all we have. But it's my favorite part.

Did you know the inside of a fresh acorn is orange?

 If I do this again, I will use votive candles with the metal casing around them for easier clean-up and exactly one fewer broken cups.

That little champagne glass did not stand up to having melted candle cleaned out of it. I might keep a piece of that glass in my finger to remember it by.

Excuse Me, Do you Have A Twenty-Foot Ladder?

How often do we decide that we need something, and we go out and buy it, even though we are really only going to use it once or twice a year? Maybe only once or twice ever. And then we have to find somewhere to store it. 

This is probably part of the reason our houses, our closets, and our garages are getting bigger and bigger.

If you have something that's not getting used, it's going to waste.

We could rent those once-a-year tools/items. Or we could walk over to the neighbor's house and ask if they have one we could borrow. You might get to know them. You might find out they're going through a difficult time, and there's something you can do to help them. You might make a friend.

I think most people are pretty happy to lend something to a neighbor. If they aren't, I guess you'll figure out not to ask that neighbor.

Always return things promptly and in better condition than when you got them.

Don't borrow things too often. That is no way to make friends.

If your neighbor has to come over and ask for his item back, your borrowing privileges will be revoked.

Go forth and meet thy neighbors. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

How I Lived on $1,400 a Month

Most people say it's uncouth to talk about how much money you make. I've never been very couth.

Once upon a time, I graduated from college with a degree in music education. It was my dream to be a band director. I later learned that it takes a special kind of person to be a band director, or any kind of teacher, and I wasn't actually that sort of special person. But before I learned that, I kept calling this particular Christian school about their band director position, and since they couldn't find anyone else, they eventually hired me. I started making more money than I'd ever seen before. I was taking home $1,400 a month. This was in 2004. In today's money, that is worth $1,732.67. So I think you can see that I was not rich. 

I keep all my old check registers. I wasn't using a cash system then, so now I can look back and see where I was spending my money and reconstruct my average budget for you.

Looking at an old checkbook is like reading through an old diary, but less embarrassing.

I was living in a town that was not very expensive to live in. I rented a two-bedroom apartment for $425. Some people might have thought it wasn't a very nice building, but I liked it. I actually liked that building for years before I even knew it was an apartment building. It was built in the '40's and had the charm that old buildings have. It had an impossibly narrow kitchen that was more like a very short hallway. It had a miniature stove, one drawer, maybe six cabinets, and no dishwasher. The bathroom had those black and white hexagon tiles on the floor and subway tiles on the walls. Quite charming.

I'm feeling nostalgic just thinking about it.

I didn't have a car payment because my parents had blessed me with a 12 year-old Saturn. They also blessed me with a washer and dryer that I put in the communal basement with the other washers and dryers. Let me tell you: In the 1940's, they knew how to build creepy basements. Sally Saturn. That car got great gas mileage. I realized that as I was looking back over my checkbook. Do you remember how cheap gas was in 2004? I could fill the tank for $15. I lived within five minutes of the school, my church, and almost every store I ever went to, so one month, I only put gas in the car once. My average gas budget was only $36. (Now we are spending $150): But that car had some problems. It didn't give a warning beep when you left the headlights on, so I had to have it jump-started a few times. The headliner was falling down. The mileometer had stopped turning at 182,000 miles. There was something weird stuck to the door that would not wash off. The roof leaked when it rained. It poured when you turned. It smelled mildewy and the inside of the windows would fog up because of this. It was a great car and we kept it until it was almost old enough to vote.

Monthly Budget
Take home pay: $1,400
Church giving: $220
Savings: $150
Rent: $425
Electricity: $43
Car gas: $36
Groceries: $182
Dining out: $13
Clothing: $42
Student Loan: $51
Cell Phone: $75
Blow Money: $15
Home decor/kitchen stuff: $100
Miscellaneous: $48

I had to guess about some of these things based on what stores were in the checkbook. I was spending a lot on home decor and kitchen stuff because it was my first apartment and I felt the need for it to be pretty. I didn't have all the things I wanted to have, but I was certainly blessed with a lot of furniture passed along by family. My great aunt died a few months before I got my first real job, so I was given a lot of her furniture. My parents let me take the furniture from my childhood bedroom, and my grandparents gave me some side tables and a TV. That pink plaid couch was not my favorite, but I could sit on it.

I'm sure I would have spent more on restaurants, but I had young men lining up to buy me dinner. Well. It was a very short line.

After six months, I had about $900 in savings. I wasn't sure how long my car was going to last, and I wanted to get aggressive in saving for a used car. So I got a roommate, and I was able to save $200 more each month.

My student loan payment was $51 because my loan was only about $3,000 total. My parents worked really hard to pay for most of schooling, which I didn't know at the time, but it was such a blessing. Thanks Mom and Dad! I had a few small scholarships, and I was able to put a little money towards school, though I have should spent less on clothes and movies so I could have contributed more. I didn't know.

I kept paying minimum payments on my student loan until I got married. I put all my extra money into my car fund. At that time, student loan interest rates were around 3%. I knew if I had to get a car loan, it would have a much higher interest rate. When I got married, I used the car fund to pay off the student loan, since David brought his savings account to the marriage.

If I had had a car payment, a child, or big student loans when I was single, this budget never would have worked. If you have those things, I am not judging you. But I think you would admit that those things make your money situation much more difficult. Thirty percent of single mom families live in poverty. If you don't have kids, car payments, or student loans, then avoid them like leprosy. (Unclean! Unclean!) Except, obviously, feel free to have as many children as you can afford when you're married. Go forth and populate the earth. 

If you think this could make a difference to a young person, please share it.

If you could tell something to your 18 year old self, what would it be?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

How to Avoid Restaurants Like a Kid Avoids Naps

When you decide to cut back on your spending and start winning with money, one of the best things to cut back on is going to restaurants. If you aren't on a budget, I dare you to look at your checking account (or, God forbid, your credit card) and tabulate how much you are spending at restaurants. I bet it's more than you would have thought. 

Let's look at the reasons we go out to eat:

1. Date night. We always go out to eat on Friday so I can have a break from cooking.
2. I am so tired that I can not handle cooking right now.
3. We are running around town/taking the kids to cheer leading and it is getting late, and if I have to cook something when we get home, it will be after the children's bedtime when we eat it.
4. The kitchen is too messy for cooking in and the pots are not clean.
5. I didn't have time to pack a lunch.
6. Restaurant food tastes better.
7. There's no food in the house to cook.

I didn't know I could think of so many reasons to eat out!

Let's look at each of those reasons and see how we can kick them in the face:

1. Date night is super. I think it's great to go out to eat once a week. If you're on a really tight budget, or you want to get really far ahead, you can consider cutting back to just once or twice a month. And if you do that, eating out will be much more special. Much more enjoyable. Just because of its rarity.

2. Sometimes you will be too tired to cook. So keep something in your freezer that is so easy to cook the six year old could do it. This recipe is good for that.

3. If you find yourself going to restaurants because you are busy running errands, then plan ahead to be home for meal times. If this is a new idea for you, it might take some time to put it into practice, but after a while, you will be home like clockwork, just like Harvey was home in time watch his soap opera. If you find yourself running around because your kids are involved in too many activities, maybe it's time to cut back on those activities. Or, if you know that you'll be out late on Tuesday, cook twice as much on Monday and have leftovers.

4. I know it's harder for working moms to keep their kitchens in functional order. You might find it helpful to have a few small people in your house that you can teach to wash dishes. That is, I'm told, why my parents had me. I don't actually have any real ideas about this one other than to make it a habit to clean up right after dinner. Since I don't have a job, I'm guilty of waiting until the next day to wash the pans most of the time.

5. If you are eating out during your lunch break at work, try cooking extra food each night so you have leftovers to bring to work. When you are cleaning up after dinner, go ahead and put leftovers into individual serving size bowls so they are ready to go into your lunchbox in the morning. If you are worried that you, or more likely, your husband, will eat the extra food just because there is extra, go ahead and pack it into the fridge. Tell yourself it's off limits. (For some reason, I assume that everyone who reads the blog is a woman).

6. If restaurant food tastes better because you aren't a very good cook, take heart! Everyone can learn how to cook. Just follow the recipe. And practice, practice, practice. After a while, you won't need a recipe for everything and you will even be making up your own.

7. If you don't have any food in the house to cook, you need to start sitting down to plan your meals for the week. Make a list that looks something like this: (My list only includes dinner because breakfast is usually cereal or bagels, and lunch is leftovers or sandwiches). 

Sunday: spaghetti
Monday: stir fry
Tuesday: tacos
Wednesday: eggs
Thursday: hummus
Friday: eat out
Saturday: pizza

Then check against your pantry to see what you need to buy and make a list. This wasn't a very detailed list because I know in my head each ingredient that goes with each of those meals. Rest assured that each and every lunch and dinner contained a fruit or a vegetable.

If you don't find these suggestion helpful to keep you out of restaurants, maybe you should obtain a two or three year old that is too wild and embarrassing to take out.

A friend of mine is blogging about her weight loss journey, and she has a great blog about saving money by eating healthier.

Does anyone want to share how much you are spending on restaurants each month?

Our budget is $80, but for some reason, we seem to have spent $183.46. Oh well. We'll do better next month.

P.S. When you do eat out, try splitting a meal. Restaurant portions are usually much bigger than what you need.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Mediocre Homemade Potpourri

Don't oranges smell like the Holidays? (By "Holidays", I mean Thanksgiving and Christmas, of course. But my personal code of ethics says it's too early to be celebrating Christmas. Nevertheless, oranges don't exactly smell like Thanksgiving. So anyway).

I just know you were wondering what to do with all those orange peels. I'm not sure why you haven't just been throwing them away like a normal person.

So why not toss them in a pot with some water and that cinnamon stick that's been in your cabinet for six years? Bring it to a boil, then let it simmer. It smells pretty good. And you will look sooo domestic.

If you were a tad more domestic than me, you could cut the peels in nice little strips. That will probably look much prettier.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Money Question Monday: A Totally Real Question, Not At All Made Up By Me Because No One Asked Any Questions This Week. Because They Did.There Were Tons of Questions.

Every Monday, I'm going to answer your money questions. Email your questions to charlottewoodwind at gmail dot com, and I'll change your name to something unusual so no one knows who you are. David will help out when there is a disagreement/discussion between spouses about how to manage or spend money. Email me your questions, or I will be forced to make some up! 

Charlotte, Did you hear about what is happening in the Philippines? 


What do you think?

I think it's terrible! A tragedy! And I wish I could be right there, handing out food and water.

Doesn't the bible say there will be more storms and stuff in the end times?

Probably, but I'm not an expert. You should totally listen to this, though, if that sort of thing interests you.

Charlotte, aren't you glad this is America and nothing like that will happen here?

Well, I don't want to freak you out or anything, but things happen that we have no control over. I won't talk about what could happen during an electromagnet pulse, because I won't sleep well. If you don't like to sleep well, you could read One Second After

But natural disasters do happen: hurricanes, earthquakes, blizzards. Have you thought about what you would do if water stopped coming out of your faucet, and you couldn't get to the store to buy more food? 

 I recommend that you keep a stock of canned food and/or dried food like rice and beans, and one of these giant water bottles. You can buy an empty bottle like this for about $7. Fill it up at home. Because for one thing, it's super heavy. That's why I didn't bother taking it out of the cabinet for the picture. (Don't I have lovely cabinets?) Replace the water once a year, so it doesn't go bad. If we all have about a week's worth of food and water, America will be doing a lot better during a natural disaster. 

Charlotte, Are you aware, that during a situation like what you mentioned, you won't be able to use your stove to cook rice?

Why yes, I am. Stay tuned for a Pinterest-worthy backyard cooking fire with a pot rigged up using an old swing set and some wire.

P.S. I noticed that your question is not actually about money.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Important Things

My sweet husband took me last night to see Dave Ramsey live. I love Dave Ramsey. He taught me everything I know about money. You should listen to his show.

I think my life would actually be significantly different if I had not heard Dave.

I woke up this morning feeling like I should do something big. Something important. What am I doing day in and day out.? I take care of my kids. I wash clothes. I cook dinner. I do dishes. I occasionally write a blog that not too many people read. Maybe some people would argue that some of those things are important, but they don't feel important. I should be starting my own business that will make us rich so we can become philanthropists. I should be working to topple the dictator of North Korea, or at least smuggling people out.

I couldn't think of anything big or important that I could do today. But I made some cookies. And I made two surprise deliveries of said cookies. And maybe that was a tiny bit more important than sitting at home.

Are you doing anything important? I would like to know if you have any ideas. Especially if it's something you can do with an almost three-year-old in tow.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Gift Inspiration. Giftspiration.

 I was at Lowe's this morning, gathering supplies for a super secret project, and I decided to pop on over to the Christmas section and see what inspires me. 

We often take on a project each year of making something in large quantities to give to several people on our gift list. Some years it turns it pretty awesome, like when I made aprons for all the ladies, and sometimes it is not so awesome like when we made chimes from the old leaky copper pipes that were pulled out of our crawl space.


I like these little ornaments.

I could make that.

You could make that, and even add some candy canes.

The beauty of this is that you could make about eight of these from a quarter yard of fabric, a little stuffing, some thread. It would be a super cheap project that people would appreciate because you took the time to make them. You could make each one a little bit different.

Or you could go to Lowe's and buy them for $3 or $4 and cut the tags off and pretend that you made them. Why not include some Keebler cookies that you took out of the package and put into some pretty cellophane wrap?

Is this a present you would like to receive? You know, from a coworker or lesser cousin.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Thanks, Walmart!

Have I mentioned that I despise unnecessary packaging?

Especially these things that can give you cuts as you stab into them:

I scorn packaging that makes a product look much larger than it really is. I reject containers that are full of air. I cast aside cartons with unnecessary layers of plastic safeguards. I'm not an environmentalist, but I don't like waste, and I don't like the thought of all that plastic going into the ground. (This paragraph was brought to you by my thesaurus).

So I was glad when I saw this:

"Same amount of cheese, less packaging."
Thanks, Walmart. Thanks for treating us like intelligent consumers who can read a label.

Here's 9 ounces of Walmart meat in a smaller package than 7 ounces of other meat.

Have you noticed this bottle? It is wide and tall, so it looks pretty big. But it's not. It's a waste of packaging.

So read labels, and let's buy from companies who keep costs down and keep trash down by making smaller packages.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Money Question Monday: Saving for College

Every Monday, I'm going to answer your money questions. Email your questions to charlottewoodwind at gmail dot com, and I'll change your name to something unusual so no one knows who you are. David will help out when there is a disagreement/discussion between spouses about how to manage or spend money. Email me your questions, or I will be forced to make some up!

Charlotte, for your blog: I don't really have a specific question, but I'd like to hear your thoughts/suggestions/recommendations on saving for college. Thanks! ~Americus

Americus: I'm not an expert on investing. You should talk to a fee-only financial adviser to talk specifics. 

What I can tell you is to start as soon as possible. Look at the beauty of compound interest: If you start contributing $150 a month when your baby is born, if you can get 12% interest, you will contribute $32,400, but you will get $82,000 in interest for a total of $114,000. Of course, you're not guaranteed to get 12% interest. You might get 20% one year, and 1% another year.

If you wait until your child is 13 and contribute $150 at 12% interest, you will only get $3,300 in interest for a total of $12,300. Use this calculator to put in your own numbers.

Start as soon as possible, but make sure you have things taken care of in the right order. These are Dave Ramsey's baby steps
1. Save $1,000 for an emergency fund.
2. Pay off all debts except for you house.
3. Save 3-6 months of expenses for your emergency fund.
4. Start saving for retirement.
5. Then start saving for your kid's college funds.

It's more important to save for your retirement because you can't get a loan to pay for your golden years, but your kids can get a loan for college if they have to.
The reason to pay off your debts first is because of compound interest working against you in the reverse. In the same way you get $82,000 in interest when you save, you can be paying that much in interest when you borrow.
Should you save enough to pay for your kid's entire education? I don't think so. They should be getting a job when they're old enough so they can help pay for it. If they aren't paying for it, they won't feel ownership in it, and they won't work as hard in their classes.

Another thing to think about: Is college the best way to get an education? I'm not so sure that it is. I don't know about you, but I wasn't necessarily that interested in learning when I was in school. I passed my classes, but I did not have a thirst for knowledge, and I only did what I had to in order to maintain a B average. (Of course, I didn't go to the most academic of colleges). Since I've graduated, I realized that I want to know as much as possible, and I think I've learned a lot more through reading books than I ever did through taking classes. With college costs always on the rise, I think we are going to be seeing more alternatives to college. I think we'll be seeing things like apprenticeships on the rise. I think that a mix of on-the-job training and online classes will be the way of the future.

I just had the best time in college. I hate for anyone to miss out on that.

Do you feel like you learned a lot in college?

Do you have any ideas for an alternative education?