Friday, April 12, 2013

Working Mother

I recently read an article Moms: Making Working Outside The Home Worth It--7 Ways To Do It on my favorite financial blog site And Then We Saved.  (This site is how it all started with the idea to do our own Family Financial Fasting--click here to see how our journey started.)  A lot of "working mother" articles stereotypically assume that working mothers "have" to work, and give the impression that every female in America who has borne children longs to stay home if given the choice.  I'm here to say:  this is not the case for all of us.

This particular article about working mothers kind of struck me as a "this is my life" snapshot.  I've never really thought of our family working full-time, Bryan staying home a form of financial fasting.  But in reality, there are a lot of sacrifices we make in our family in order to make it work.  We know that we are still the rare couple--we have met a few stay-home-dads....but not a lot.  But we're essentially no different than a lot of households who have one income and the other parent stays home to focus on child-raising.  We just do it in the opposite roles.

Here's how we've made it work financially:

1.  We have been a one-car family for over six years.  Yes--there are times it's rather inconvenient.  But with a little creativity, and a lot of planning ahead, it can be done. 

2.  With the one-car strategy, comes additional decisions:  when we moved to a new town, we intentionally chose a neighborhood close to my work.  Then we found activities for the kids close to our house.  We do a lot of zig-zag driving back and forth with three kids and a working mom schedule; but everywhere we go is within a three mile circle.  It's just not worth it to have to drive across town--and back, and back again--and spend all that time in the car.

3.  Working relatively close to home (1.5 miles), I go home for lunch every day.  I see a number of my co-workers eating out on a regular basis.  Really?!  Let's say lunch costs $7--that's roughly $160 a month....and $1820 a year!

4.  The article above lists work-related savings:  the office betting pool, weekly happy hour, monthly employee-funded birthday parties.  My office recently did a March Madness pool--this was easy to pass on because I don't really care about sports!  But, I admit it was tempting to "join the club" and be involved with everyone else.....just to throw money away.  I've also discreetly passed on multiple requests for gifts for employees leaving the company, babies being born, surgeries/medical issues, birthdays.....and who knows what else.  If I participated in every one, it could have easily been $100 a month.  (Now some of you might disagree with this strategy--if you're one of the office gift-givers, go right ahead!)

5.  Weekly meal planning:  we make a menu for the entire week, try to use groceries/staples we already have, then make our grocery list according to the meal plan.  If our schedule has a night with busy events, we'll plan a time-bake casserole or a crock-pot meal.  We also try to keep a few homemade freezer meals stored, so if we have a "we don't have time" night, we can pop it into the oven or microwave.  In our pre-financial-fasting past--we had many nights of "I don't feel like cooking, let's go out".....not any more!

6.  As a supervisor, I do dress up somewhat for work--but that doesn't mean spending a lot of money on clothes.  One recent perk from my office is a yearly "Bag Lady Exchange" where we clean out our closets and bring those clothes we no longer want.  Then we all forage through everyone else's bags, and come home with new-to-you clothes.  I recently scored two weeks' worth of new clothes!  I'm also pretty selective when buying anything new--I absolutely refuse dry-clean-only, NO WAY!  And I rarely buy something at full price: 30% off or more is my goal--no 10% sale is worth it in my eyes!

There are lots of reasons mothers work: some out of necessity, some of us choose this lifestyle.  "Working mother" is not for everyone....."stay-home-dad" is not for everyone either.  But as for us....we wouldn't have it any other way.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Financial Fasting On Vacation many things in my life, I have this nice little plan to blog every week....and then, well, "stuff" gets in the way.  But--I'm back now!  And hopefully more faithful about financial updates.  Writing about our journey helps us to stay accountable and stick with the commitment.

When we made the initial decision for Family Fasting, one of the decisions we made was to cut out as many out-of-town trips and vacations as possible.  In our pre-financial-fasting past vacations, we would come home flabbergasted at how much spending--necessary and unnecessary--actually occurred.  Somehow it seemed money just disappeared....this is what happens when you're not watching.  We started fasting in October, and though it wasn't an easy decision by any means, we opted to forgo our out-of-town Thanksgiving with the extended family.  We calculated that this decision potentially saved us over $700--gas, football tickets, zoo-lights event, big city Christmas shopping, and other spending that likely would have occurred.  Christmas was another "do we or don't we" travel decision--then we found ourselves with a free timeshare (thank you mom-in-law!) and the opportunity to vacation after the actual holiday, therefore diminishing the need for ongoing gift spending.  Other than the cost of gas, we calculated this vacation would be almost next to nothing in actual spending.

For spring break, we discussed how far we had come in our financial fasting and allowed a little pat on our backs that we are finally ahead of the money target, instead of constantly behind.  BUT....we wanted to stay ahead, and not fall back into old patterns, so we discussed at length what our family vacation options might look like.  We used the free time share again (why sure, we'll help you out with those unused extra points you have! ) and planned a simple family vacation with a few of the extended family.  My family likes the fact that my husband is the family chef, so Bryan and I do all the meal-planning ahead of time, buy the groceries when we get there, then we all split the cost.  In reality, the cost of groceries is a wash--we plan inexpensive meals that cost roughly the same as what our weekly groceries would have cost if we had stayed home.  Since we were going to a little Bavarian tourist town, we planned for one out-to-eat meal.  We also decided ahead of time how much spending money we would allow ourselves--so we used the cash from the family grocery reimbursement as our target.

Strategy 1--map out the driving distance and estimate the real cost of gas to get there and back home.  Decide ahead of time whether on-site driving will be part of the vacation, and if so, how much gas for that too.  You can't control the price of gas, but you can budget for it ahead of time.

Strategy 2--plan menus, and eat in rather than eat out.  This takes a little bit of strategizing because you won't have all those little staples from home--do you buy butter or do you plan butter-less meals?  Are flour, sugar, spices required?--probably better re-think the menu.  Plan a flexible menu that can include leftovers on the last day so you're not wasting all that grocery money if there's extra food.  If there's room, take a cooler and bring items you already have at home that would otherwise go to waste while you're gone.  And don't forget to plan an easy meal for the return home night, after traveling.

Strategy 3--set a spending money goal, and use cash.  It's much easier to keep track of how much is being spent--and how much is still left--when you have actual paper money.  Debit cards are too easy to let spending accumulate and then the receipts get totaled (gasp!) once you get home.

Strategy 4--give the kids a spending allowance:  the parents set the amount, but the kids are allowed to choose what they spend it on.  In our case, we allowed each kid $10 and encouraged them to not make a decision until we had visited all the stores.  We also taught them lessons on price-comparing amongst the various shops--we found the same item in three stores at three different prices.

One little side note on #2--we did plan a back-home meal, which we made prior to vacation and put in the freezer.  But we didn't account for getting back home right at dinner time.....and we'd still have to un-thaw the meal (which was in an aluminum container = no microwave thawing).  So we ended up going to Costco fast-food counter.  As a cost comparison:  our one out-to-eat meal was a modest but not over-spent meal for $60 for our family of five; our after-vacation Costco meal for a family of five was.....$16.  We might decide to keep that Costco membership after all!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

4 Months In

We've been doing financial fasting for almost four months now.  So how has the first few months been for our family?  Just like any kind of fasting experience, or diet, or lifestyle change, or culture shock--the first part is always the hardest.  The first month involved selling some things on our "want" list and decreasing some of our "thought we needed it but not really" list.  After purging a lot of financial burdens, the next month we were able to pay off almost all of our remaining debt.  Then the focus of the third month was on getting past Christmas and the usual spending frenzy.  Now this month we've started settling into our "new normal", and guess what?  I kind of like it!
  • Items sold: RV trailer, two bicycles via craigslist; storing other items for future garage sale
  • Monthly bills eliminated: cable, two pet insurances, RV loan, decreased auto insurance, decreased life insurance
  • Debt paid:  appliance credit card, emergency credit card, RV loan
  • Total financial gains: $9615 debt paid + $572 monthly (which will keep multiplying every month) = $10, just four months!

But.....I'm afraid there have been a couple of set backs which did not end up benefiting our financial plan.  In our quest to eliminate cable, we ended up paying out more up front than originally planned.  Despite my extensive research into various money saving options--we ended up having to pay an unexpected "buy out" of our current cable contract.  Of course this was not mentioned AT ALL when I closed our account.  They just sent us a bill thankyouverymuch.  And they were not willing to budge when I called to complain.  So we ended up paying two months worth of cable, plus the initial cost of buying a laptop.....this financial choice will take almost eight months to actually save us money.  But--it will eventually be an ongoing savings after that.  Very frustrating!

We also did not make any financial gains with our natural gas bill.  Bryan is the person home during the day, so he turns the heat down--enough that when I come home for lunch I complain that it's cold and leave my coat or sweatshirt on....but he is saving us money!  Also when we went on vacation for a week, we turned it down even further.  And then our gas bill came three times higher than last month!  WHAT?!  The nice man at the gas company explained that the average temperature this December was a full five degrees lower than last December--and that five degrees makes a huge difference.  He also explained that while turning the heat down while on vacation is a good idea, the "usual" day-to-day things that normally contribute a small amount of heat--such as body heat, toasters, ovens, computers, etc--are not happening on vacation, so the thermostat has to work harder.  And while it initially saves energy while the heat is going down, once it gets to the set level it still has to run in order to stay at that level.  Moral of the story: decreasing the heat really does not pay off.  Very frustrating!

However.....there have also been plenty of unexpected blessings.  Shortly after we made the decision toward financial fasting, we received some unexpected checks--I got a raise at work, we received some money gifts for Christmas and birthdays, a series of gift cards found in various places.  We also were able to schedule some family vacation time--for free!--courtesy of my lovely mother-in-law who had too many timeshare points and she was at risk of losing them.  Well alrighty then, we'd be happy to take those points off your hands for you!  While on vacation, I had coffee dates with several different friends--every one of them paid for my latte before I could even unzip my purse!

So where are we now?  We now have ZERO debt other than our house mortgage.  We actually had money left over after Christmas (um, this has never happened!)  January bills have been paid and we have almost an entire paycheck still leftover.  We aren't in our usual how-soon-until-our-tax-refund desperation at the first of the year.  We have returned to regular tithing--something we should have prioritized even in our worst of times.  Our goals are now on building our savings account, and focusing on specific areas God might want us to give more.

I'm reminded of our theme verse for this period of financial fasting:  "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the Lord Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it." Malachi 3:10

the whole tithe
test me in this
throw open the floodgates
so much blessing
not enough room to store it

amen. amen.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Christmas--How Did We Do?

Before you read this blog, do two things first:  1--if you're just joining, click here to read how it all began and why we're doing a financial fast.  2--if this journey interests you, enter your email to the right of this post to get a notification sent to you whenever there's a new posting.

This Christmas we made a conscious decision that we were no longer going to break the bank in a 25-day frenzy.  So we made some strategic decisions:  we would start shopping in October in order to spread it out over three months instead of three weeks.  We also set a goal for $10 per gift--flexing a little if something was really perfect, but a max goal of $20.  And we set out to make homemade gifts for a number of friends.  We also saved a ton of money on Christmas cards using a pre-made website instead of our own photos and letters.

Last year gift total: $476.33
This year gift total: $333.13
    total saved:  $143.20

So how did we do it?  The goal of $10 per gift was a significant factor--though some gifts did end up slightly more, the highest single gift was $19.99.  This may sound cheap, but if you really look hard you can indeed find nice, well-made, thoughtful gifts for approximately $10.  Bryan and I also decided not to get each other gifts this year.  Unromantic?  Maybe.  But we'd both rather spend our money and efforts on quality time together, rather than gifts.  And at this stage in our 22+ year relationship, there ain't a whole lot left to buy that we haven't already done in the past.

So what DID we spend it on?

Bryan's gifts from the kids: $38 (3 gifts = $12.67 each)  He cheated slightly and picked out his own gifts but promised to practice his surprise face.  And now he tells me that in the past the kids and I have gotten him "weird" gifts that he didn't really like in the first place!  Saving money + picking out self gifts = happy dad.  In the past, our goal would be somewhere around $20 per kid plus $50 from wife = $110.  Potential money saved on just one person = $72.

Jill's gifts from the kids:  $41 (3 gifts = $13.67 each)  I admit, I too cheated but in a slightly different way--I set out the newspaper ad in the living room, circled in big black marker what I wanted, and printed the coupon online.  Saving money + picking out self gifts = happy mom.  Past goals would have been the same as for dad, so potential money saved = another $72.

Kids' gifts to each other: $48 (6 gifts = $8 each)  They had fun not only shopping for thrifty choices, but also sneaking the gifts into the cart while their sibling was still in the store!  Mom and Dad usually take the "divide and conquer" approach with dad-brother at one end of the store and mom-sisters at the other end.  This was particularly challenging at the craft fair when Kaela decided to get Graeson a PVC-pipe homemade bow and arrow.....large, specific shape, and near-impossible to hide.  But she put it in a garbage sack and filled it with air, set it right next to him in the back of the car and said "it's a gift for my friend."  Then she wrapped it in an oversize bicycle bag from the dollar store, stuffed it with newspaper, and put it under the tree.  TOTAL SUCCESS!  Our past goal would have been $15 per gift = $90.  Potential money saved on three siblings = $42

Parents' gifts to kids:  $150 (4 gifts each kid plus 3 stockings = $10 each)  This sounds like a high figure at the end, but if you break it down it looks like this:  each kid got three gift cards for $10 each, one creativity book (drawing, legos, stickers) for $10, and stocking stuffers at the dollar store for $10 each stocking (that's 30 stocking stuffers!)  They love gift cards because they get to spend their own "money" at specific stores, and mom loves that it results in sneaky little math lessons along the journey.  And our school uses the scrip program which gives money to the schools for ordering gift cards through them.  Our past goals would have been $100 each kid, plus stocking stuffers for who-knows-how-much = $350 or more.  Potential money saved on three kids = $200.

All in all, we are very happy with our financial fasting through Christmas this year!  Our annual family tradition is to go out to eat on Christmas Eve--we considered forgoing this tradition in order to honor our fasting, but since this was our first Christmas in a new town, and because we had saved a lot of money thus far, we agreed to splurge.  I won't mention how much it costs for a family of five to have a nice dinner, but even though it was a big chunk, the kids were very excited.....and all of us were very full and very happy.  Together.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

An Excuse to Spend?

Couldn't resist....

According to the Mayans, this means we can forget about financial fasting and just go out and SPEND and rack up credit cards, right?

They will throw their money in the streets, tossing it out like worthless trash.  Their silver and gold won't save them on that day of the Lord's anger.  It will neither satisfy nor feed them, for their greed can only trip them up......Therefore I will make all their wealth disgusting to them. 
Ezekiel 7:19-20

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Other DIY Gifts

In the search for our DIY inspiration, I came across some other ideas.....maybe we'll implement these throughout the year for birthdays, Mother's Day, and other occasions too!

Four different kinds of hot chocolate in a jar.....from Sunset

Classic Cocoa

Mexican Cocoa

Mocha Cocoa

Peppermint Cocoa

Cookies in a jar from Make It Do

Cookies For Santa

This is a great DIY gift from Style Me Pretty and I'm totally doing this next year!  Just have to plan ahead about three months to get it started in September.

Homemade Vanilla

I love this way cool idea from The Gunny Sack .....Pampering in a Jar, Energy in a Jar, Refreshment in a Jar.  Click on the link and scroll to the bottom for even more "Everything in a Jar" ideas!

And a fun little pampering idea from Deliciously Organized
Summer Sugar Scrub

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Do It Yourself Christmas Gifts

Our money saving plan for Christmas this year involved creating DIY gifts--so I did some web-research and came up with a great family-friendly idea.  The kids and I made "Chocolate Christmas Gifts" and they plan to give them to their teachers, friends, and family too!  I feared DIY gifts would be fun but not necessarily cheaper in the long run.  So my cost-comparison standard was a hot chocolate pre-made gift package in the Walmart aisle for $10.  If I could make them at home for less than that, then we would in fact be saving.  All ingredients purchased (with a few I already had in stock at home) was a total of about $28.  Divided into 8 gifts, that totals about $3.50 per gift!  And they're not only yummy, but super cute too!  (Yes--we tested out the yummy part....)

Hot Cocoa Mix

Chocolate-Nutella Spoons

Chocolate Marshmallow Sticks

Chocolate Candy Canes

all in a cute Christmas mug package