Monday, November 21, 2011

Surviving your budget during the Holiday Season: 101

I've been thinking a lot about saving money. It's always on my mind. We live on a pretty tight budget and depending on the month it's even tighter. Last week, my friend, Stephanie, over at Diapers and Divinity, was asking for advice about sticking to a grocery budget. (Advice? I'm great at advice... *20 points to the first person to name that movie quote!) Anyway, I flooded her comment feed with 3 or 4 long paragraphs about what I do to save money and still feed my kids.

I don't know if it helped anyone, but I was going through my budget this morning for the rest of the month and I noticed there is another thing I often do when money is tight. We had some "extra expenses" come up last week (Okay, Zeke and I were really naughty and went out to dinner on Friday and then, we bought some new snow sleds for the kids and a Christmas gift for Beck that I've been waiting to go on sale!) Anyway, now I need to "find" some more money for our Thanksgiving trip this week. I just felt like I should share this with all of you and hopefully it can help someone.

Our new sleds (the kids had so much fun on Saturday it was worth it):
Whenever this happens, whatever the unexpected expense may be: doctor co-pays, extra prescriptions, birthday gifts for your children's friends (Oi!), money to fix the siding on your house because your 13 year old didn't realize a lacrosse ball would damage it (Really?), etc. I look at the bills I have for that paycheck and see what I can MOVE to the next paycheck. You're thinking, what?! Maybe all of you already know this? Yeah, I know, I am no financial wizard and we are not wealthy in any way, but we are trying to live within our means, get out of debt, not use credit cards, and still pay our bills and have money for all of the expenses involved with raising four children, owning two cats, and one house and ALL that goes along with that! (Breathe!)
Before you swipe that credit card:
Here are some crazy ideas that just might work!

So, I have learned (by calling and feeling really dumb, but you never know until you ask) that several creditors and companies will let you skip a payment or move it up a few days until you get paid again to help you have the extra you need to make it until the next paycheck, sometimes with no late fees or penalties! Many companies have a GRACE period on your payment -- meaning if your payment is due on the 30th of the month, you might not actually have to pay until the 5th of the next month. They don't always tell you, but you can ask. Our car payment is like this.

Maybe all of these companies are going to get angry with me for publicly sharing their "secret", but I don't think they will. Everyone I have called to ask for help has been very nice. All they can do is say no, right? FYI: Credit card companies are not like this, they are not nice and not willing to help you. (That is just from my experience.) Credit card companies are EVIL.

But here are some places that have been great for us:
  • America First Credit Union
  • Allstate Insurance Company
  • Hospitals and Doctor's Offices
  • Gas and Utility Companies
  • Nelnet (student loans), Yes, it's true!
  • Green Tree

For example, this is what I did this morning: I adjusted my budget (I go over my budget EVERY day) and found that I needed another $100 or so to make it to the next paycheck. I don't think I could stretch our groceries that far this month, so I called Allstate to ask them if I could move our payment to next month and then, I would make a double payment. (*Now, you actually have to have enough from your next check to make this payment, so be careful before you promise that you'll pay them -- I don't think they would like you to CONTINUE to skip your payments.)

Anyway, they said SURE! (I knew they would, they've helped us before) That is $80 less I have to pay this check and $80 MORE in my pocket. I know I can squeeze at least $20 or so from the rest of my budget to make up the difference.

Also, we have our car payment through America First Credit Union (AFCU). I LOVE them! We have been with them since 1999. I'm sure other credit unions are just as great, I just haven't had any experience with them. Oh, ENT Federal Credit Union in Colorado was also great. Anyway, AFCU lets us waive one payment a year with no fee or penalty! Waive, as in SKIP completely and not have to pay double the next month! I know this isn't helping pay down our debt, but sometimes you have to deal with the here and now. This has been an absolute lifesaver during Christmas.

I hope all of you can get through the holidays debt-free and stress-free. I am all about SIMPLE everything. Look at what you can cut out. Last year, we didn't even do Christmas cards and I'm not sure if we will this year either. (Oh, the horror!!) I do love to spoil my kids, but I hope it's to a minimum where they are still excited and grateful about it, not just tossing another gift over their shoulder as they look for the next one to open. I truly believe it is possible to live within our means and still have all that we "need" (that is very subjective) and pay our bills so our credit score is still good.

I saw a really cool bumper sticker on a car the other day and I've decided I "need" one. It said: "Debt is normal. Be weird!" This is what we are working towards and hoping to achieve someday. I love it! People try to HAVE so much and DO so much -- I just want to have a BIG savings account and peace of mind AND when the time is right, Zeke and I want to go on a trip somewhere and pay for it with CASH!!

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot, THIS is what I really want for Christmas!! Thanks, Tawnya! Gosh, only $55? What a deal! Where in the WORLD would you wear those?! (Actually, don't answer that -- I don't really want to know.)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Simple Christmas Gifts: PART THREE

My friend, Becca, sent me an email with the rest of the list -- Thank you!!! :) Here it is: (*again, I did NOT make these up. Becca says her family calls them Corny Christmas Ideas and I would have to agree! I like some of them and I'm sure you'll like others -- it just depends on your degree of corny.:) Enjoy!
  • Wake up to a delicious Christmas! (pancake mix and syrup)
  • From our PAD to yours, Happy Holidays! (note pad or hot pads)
  • To a NOTE worthy teacher! (note pad) (*Attention Locals! Square One Printing has really cute note pads for $.20 each!)
  • May your holidays BUBBLE over with fun! (bubble bath or bubble gum)
  • By GUM, your great neighbors! (gum)
  • Don’t SNICKER, just be glad you got something! (Snickers candy bar)
  • MUGS and KISSES! (mug full of Kisses)
  • May your New Year be festive and FRUITful! (basket of fruit)
  • We just couldn’t reSTRAIN ourselves from wishing you a Merry Christmas! (strainer or colander)
  • We hope your holidays are PICTURE perfect. (frame)
  • You’ve been naughty, so here’s the scoop-All you get for Christmas is Snowman poop! (bag of marshmallows) (*I think my husband and 13 year old son made this one up -- seriously?!?!)
  • We get such a CHARGE out of Christmas, So we decided to shop acCORDingly. We don’t want to OVERLOAD your CIRCUITS, But this will light up your Christmas tree. We want to EXTEND to you our best wishes. We’ll put a good PLUG in for you. Have a holiday that’s simply ELECTRIC, and EXTEND good feelings the whole year thru. (extension cord)
  • A day or two ago, we thought we’d make a treat. Something really special, a Christmas gift to eat. But out schedules would not budge; Hence, here’s this year’s edition of our homemade CHRISTMAS FUDGE! (large chocolate candy bar)
  • A STAR appeared in the sky, that first Christmas night; When Jesus was born in a manger, the star shined its light. Everyone saw the star, Up in the sky above; it was bright, glowing and radiant, Sending light, joy and love. It also sent a message, To the world below; Remember Jesus, our Savior, And each day, let your light glow. You can be a star, SHINE BRIGHT! (star cookie cutter)
  • "Wise Men still seek HIM."(framed)
  • As you hold these candies in your hand and turn them you will see. The M becomes a W, an E, and then a 3. They tell the Christmas Story, it’s one I’m sure you know. It took place in a stable a long, long time ago. The E is for the East where the star shone oh so bright. The M is for the Manger, where the baby Jesus slept that night. The 3 is for the wise men, bearing gifts, that say they came. W is for Worship, Hallelujah, Praise His Name. So, as you eat these candies or share them with a friend. Remember the Spirit of Christmas, and never let it end. (M&M’s) (*Becca says her husband does this one for his Home Teaching families -- I like this one a lot!:)
  • It’s Christmas time at our house and we are putting up the tree. I wish I could find one simple way to remember Christ’s gift to me. Some little sign or symbol to show friends stopping by, the little babe was born one day, but he really came to die. A symbol of His nail-pierced hands the blood He shed for you and me…what if I hung a simple nail upon my Christmas tree? A crimson bow tied ‘round the nail as His blood flowed down so free to save each person from their sin, and redeem us for all eternity. I know it was His love for us that held him to that tree and when I see this simple nail I know he died for me. (red ribbon tied to a nail)

Happy Holidays!! Thanks again, Becca. Now, enough procrastinating... I have to work on my talk for church on Sunday. This is most definitely not my forte` -- AND to make it harder, I'm speaking in the Spanish-speaking ward in our stake -- AND I'm crazy enough to try and do it IN Spanish. Zeke speaks Spanish and he has helped me translate my talk. I'm practicing reading and trying to know enough of what I'm saying so I can use voice inflections on the right words so I don't sound like a total first grade robot. Yo no se que soy!!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Simple Christmas Gifts: Part TWO

Here are some more fun ideas for Christmas gifts... if you know any more (Sandra! :) Please share:

  • Wishing you joy beyond MEASURE! (measuring cups, spoons, ruler, or measuring tape)
  • You have been a LIFESAVER! (Lifesavers candy or Christmas Storybook)
  • We're NUTS about you! Merry Christmas! (can of nuts)
  • Gift idea: Have your child make a bookmark with picture and list of favorite books or favorite things about teacher. (*This, my friends, is called brown-nosing. Would I do it? OH yeah!)
  • May your days be Merry and BRIGHT! (magic markers, highlighters, or dry erase markers)
  • Sending WARM Christmas wishes to my favorite teacher! (one serving sized package of hot chocolate, apple cider, or dry soup mix)
  • JELLY is like love. You can't spread it around without getting some on yourself! Merry Christmas! (jar of jelly)
  • Hoping you have a holiday JAM-packed with Christmas cheer! (jar of jam) (*Please DON'T confuse jam for jelly or vice versa -- your little poem would be for naught!! oh, the horror!)
  • Have a holly JOLLY Christmas! (jolly ranchers)
  • Have a BERRY nice holiday season! (jar of jam)
  • We're ROOTing for you to have a Happy Holiday Season and a Wonderful New Year! (root beer)
  • Hope a Merry HO-HO-HO fills your heart the whole year through! (Hostess Ho-Hos) (*don't know why, this one just cracks me up... and yes, I love Ho-Ho's!)
  • Remember Santa CHEX his list twice to see who's been naughty or nice... so be good for goodness sake! (Chex mix)
  • Hoping your Holiday TURNS out great! (pancake turner)
  • We just couldn't PASTA up the chance to say Happy Holidays! (holiday shaped pasta)
  • Have a PASTAtively Happy Holiday! (holiday shaped pasta)
  • We wanted to SPREAD some Christmas cheer! (spatula)
  • For being there when you were KNEADED, for RISING to the occasion, large or small. For never LOAFING on the job, for helping others to HEEL with care. No matter how you SLICE it, you do a terrific job loving others. Merry Christmas! (loaf of bread)
  • Warm up to a wonderful holiday season TOPPED with Christmas cheer! (pizza)
  • You're getting MUFFIN for Christmas! (muffin mix or pan) (*Thanks, Sandra!)
  • SEASONED with love! (packet of seasoning or spices)
  • Keep Christmas in your heart the whole year through. Merry Christmas! (calendar) (*little side note: this only works if the company you order your calendar from sends you a calendar for the NEXT year!!! Oi!)
  • May your Christmas be SPRINKLED with laughter and love. (cinnamon sugar or candy sprinkles)
  • If friends were FLOWERS, we'd pick you! (seeds, potted flowers, or silk flower on a pen or barrette clip)
  • You make friendship BLOOM all year round! (flower items like those above)
  • May your days be happy, your heart be LIGHT, your Christmas be merry, and your New Year BRIGHT! (candle) (*maybe not light bulbs?)
  • SCENTS we are such good friends, we wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas (candle or potpourri)

Okay, so if you get one of these from me.... just act surprised, okay? I have two more pages... I know you just can't wait! :)

*I didn't read back through this one yet, so let me know if there's any typos.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Simple Christmas Gift Ideas for Neighbors, Teachers, and Friends: PART ONE

I was reading my friend Stephanie's blog, Diapers and Divinity, and she asked what are some good ideas for inexpensive and easy neighbor gifts for Christmas. I got this list from a Relief Society activity last year and I told Stephanie I would put it on my blog. Some of the ideas are kinda cheesy, but there are LOTS of ideas for any budget. Most of the items you could get at the dollar store. Each of these ideas has a cute little saying with the gift that goes with it in parentheses.

I love giving gifts at Christmas! Only 38 days left....

  • Hope your Christmas SHAPES up to be just right! (cookie cutter)
  • Here's a little extra DOUGH for Christmas! (cookie dough)
  • ROLLING out a batch of Christmas cheer for someone we think is very dear! (sugar cookie dough, cookie cutters, or a rolling pin)
  • DIP into a wonderful holiday season and a HEALTHY New Year! (veggies and dip) (*BOO!*just kidding, that's me talking)
  • Hope your Christmas holiday is just SOUPer! (soup or soup mix in a jar)
  • We give you this gift for a very good reason: instead of dirty DISHES, relax and enjoy the season! (Paper plates)
  • May the JOY you give to others come back to you too! (Almond Joy or Joy dish detergent)
  • Have a COOL yule! (Ice Cream)
  • Have a BEARY sweet Christmas! (honey bear or teddy bear or even gummy bears)
  • ORANGE you glad I'm your friend/student/neighbor! I'm glad you're my teacher/neighbor! Happy Holidays! (Oranges or a chocolate orange)
  • Wishing you a season filled with SWEETNESS! (anything sweet)
  • Have a BRIGHT and RADIANT Christmas! (light bulbs) (*Really?!?)
  • We SCRAPED together what cash we could find, although our assets are mostly FROZEN -- We really like you, you're such an ICE friend, and we hope you like this gift we've chosen! (ICE SCRAPER)
  • You've got the right STUFF to be a great friend! SEASONED greetings! (stuffing mix)
  • Seasons READINGS! (a favorite book/holiday book)
  • We DUST wanted to say: "Thanks for being great friends!" (feather duster or dust pan)
  • May the joy and LOVE you give away, come back to you on Christmas Day! (heart ornament)
  • Just POPPIN' by with a warm Christmas Hi! (popcorn or caramel corn)
  • Hoping you have a BALL this holiday season! (popcorn balls or puffed rice balls)
  • We have to adMITT, you're great! Merry Christmas! (oven mitt or mittens)
  • May your Christmas be Merry and SPRITE! (Sprite)
  • Tis the season to be GRATEFUL! You're a GRATE neighbor! (cheese grater)
  • We WHISK you a Merry Christmas! (wire whisk)
  • No one can MEASURE up to you. Happy Holidays! (measuring cups or spoons, ruler, measuring tape)
  • We wish you a full MEASURE of holiday cheer. May your CUP overflow with joy and peace. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! (measuring cups)

Okay, that is page 1 of 4... I'll post more later... (I can't scan it in and convert it to a usable file because the copy I have is in a fancy scripted font with symbols and pictures)

Friday, November 11, 2011

All Finished!

I finally finished all 60 quilt squares. On Monday, I'm sending 20 to Dedra and 20 to Kate! I'm so excited to get their squares and put them all together.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

It's happening...

My kids are growing up...

No more diapers in the house, no playpens, no strollers, no baby monitors...

Gabe is almost 14 and Zoe will be 11 in just 3 weeks...
WHERE has the time gone?

The little dimples on their knuckles are LONG gone...
only Beck's remain and only just.
As I'm hanging up laundry,
I suddenly realize their clothes need "big-people" hangers.

I noticed I don't trim their nails anymore... they've already trimmed them...
when did this happen?

When they feel sad and cry or get hurt, they don't come running into my arms anymore or sit on my lap... I can't just scoop them up in my arms like I used to.

They don't want to go trick or treating with us anymore...

I was feeling sorry for myself on Halloween when Gabe just couldn't eat dinner fast enough so he could go be with his friends and Zoe got all ready with us to go trick-or-treating, only to announce she was planning to go with a friend and her family. Aren't we cool enough anymore?
(Don't answer that! Just let Kaia and Beck keep thinking it for a little while longer, please!)
I feel like I just woke up out of a thick fog and suddenly realized I have four children and they are growing up right before my eyes whether I like it or not.
I have to let them go, let them be, let them choose what they want to do and find out who they are... it's really hard and it makes me sad, but in a way, I'm excited for them too. What a wonderful and fun time of their lives.

I'm scared for them, the world is a crazy place, but I just want them to hold my hand a little longer -- maybe more for me than for them. They are okay. I love them so much and I want so much for them. In this craziness called Motherhood, somewhere along the way in the last almost 14 years, I have given birth to four amazing, beautiful, and not-so-little people.

Suddenly, the diapers and sleepless nights are gone and I'm here with a 13, 10, 7, and 3 year old and they're all about to have a birthday here within 6 months. Wow. I've heard so many other mothers tell me to enjoy it when they're little because the time will go so fast. I always thought those mothers were wrong, I thought they were so nostalgic and sappy and pathetic and lonely even. I couldn't wait for my kids to sleep through the night and be potty-trained and dress themselves and be big enough to do all of these things... and now, it's already here and passing and I think I've missed something along the way. It's so hard when you're in the middle of it. I'm grateful to feel (good and bad) this wake-up call and realize MY time with them is slipping away.

I told my mother on the phone today that I'm just the "chef" or "taxi" or "housekeeper" or "backpack finder" or whatever and sometimes they don't even notice me or what I want or feel. Sometimes my kids unknowingly make me feel like chopped liver! My Mom listened quietly and sighed deeply before she replied, "Yes, sometimes your kids will make you feel like chopped liver and I hate to say it, but sometimes they still do." My sweet little mother who I completely adore... is she sad and lonely and feeling this yuckiest twinge of regret I'm feeling in the pit of my stomach and in the deepest part of my heart? Does she wish she could go back? Have I made her feel like chopped liver? I'm sure! Especially when I was between the ages of 12-18. Let's not go there...Oh man! I was awful. I'm only beginning to realize how truly hard it is to be a Mom.
I just need to enjoy every minute I have with them. I've been praying about it and I need to find something for each child at the specific age and phase they are in right now to enjoy them and make them feel special and let me feel close to them.

Gabe and I like to watch "Mythbusters", Zoe and I like to bake cookies and paint her nails, Kaia and I like to read books and draw pictures, Beck and I like to play with his Legos and Hot Wheels. I'm going to soak it all in and have fun!

I know it is SO hard when your kids are little and your days (and nights) are CRAZY and chaotic and even depressing sometimes. Guess what? I've become that weird old lady like your mother or some old woman in your church that tells you "They grow up so fast, don't waste it, enjoy it!" I'm going to enjoy every minute of it! Grumpy teenagers and preschool tantrums and my little brown-eyed drama queens and everything that goes with it. (famous last words...)

While writing this post, I was listening to "Give it Away" from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and it was quite fitting for how I was feeling:

My Mom I love her cuz she love me
Long gone are the times when she scrub me!

Yes, even Anthony Kiedis was a little boy once and THAT, my friends, is a scary thought!! HA!
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