Monthly Archives: December 2015

2016 Goals

unnamed (12)Last year, I discussed my take on resolutions.  It wasn’t anything earth-shattering–the typical annual list of goals; you can see a few listed in the picture to the left.

I didn’t accomplish some of them to the extent that I’d hoped (we only had a few families over, versus the six stated in the resolution, for instance), but others (like the Mama Time-Out) were quite successful.

Since sharing my goals with others holds me accountable, here are a few of my 2016 resolutions.  Not all are directly related to stewardship, but the trend does seem to be in the directions of being more mindful with my time–something that I want to improve upon in the new year.

Make one extra mortgage payment.  This would obviously cut down on what we owe on our home.  Not sure how we will get to this point, so please send me any tips you may have!

Journal and devotions daily.  Next month, I will discuss an experiment on early rising I have undertaken.  I hope to devote more time to journaling and time in quiet reflection during these early morning hours.

Screen time to four times daily.  I find myself heading to my phone to do mindless browsing of social media and websites a ridiculous amount of times each day.  I’d like to limit this to four times a day, for a maximum amount of 1 hour.

Invite six families to supper.  Although we didn’t get this completely accomplished in 2015, it is a goal that is both reasonable and challenging, so I am keeping it for 2016.

What goals do you have for the new year?

Child Christmas Gifts for $6 Each

Every year one of the presents I give my niece is nephew is my reading them a book, recorded on CD. I’ve been reading Chronicles of Narnia for my niece, and Roald Dahl books for my nephew.

This year I decided to supplement those gifts with another homemade gift: personalized “Find Its.” This is the finished product:

Homemade Find Its

I used a couple of sites for information and inspiration: for the Find It and for dying rice. I’ve included the steps I used and my observations below.

1. Find and prepare a clear, plastic container. I used peanut jars, and removed the sticky residue after I removed their labels by rubbing them down with oil, then dish soap.

2. Gather the items to include. I was all about using existing material, but I really didn’t have enough small items that would be fun for almost-4-year-old Bean and 2-year-old Peanut. I asked my friends with kids to supplement the items, which they did very helpfully.

The smaller the item, the better. I initially had a few larger items (2″ or so) in them, but it kept everything else from being able to move around.

Here’s what I included:

Find It itemsFind It objectsThe only thing I bought was the foam letters.

3. Dye the rice. The rice will take a day or two to dry, so make sure you give yourself enough time. I included 10-20 drops of food coloring with a few tablespoons of vinegar, then mixed it in yogurt containers with the rice. I didn’t like the color of the purple, so I ended up replacing that rice with rice I dyed yellow.

Dyed rice in yogurt containers

To help them dry, I spread the rice out on paper plates.

dyed rice drying

4. Take a picture of the objects you’re including, if desired. I’m printing out the above pictures and laminating them.

5. Once the rice is fully dry and you’ve taken a picture of your items, combine the rice and items in your container. I used 2 different colors of rice in each container. It mixes together as shown above very quickly.

6. Super glue or hot glue the lid onto the container, so that nothing escapes.

For this project I spent:

$7.98 on rice and peanuts (I’m saving the peanuts for future trail mix, and just used the containers)
$1.52 on printing and laminating the pictures
$1.93 on foam letters
$11.46 total

At $5.73 a Find It, that’s 1/3 the price they would be at Walmart, plus you can personalize them to the kid’s interests.

Amanda’s Christmas Secret

69681668-3243-45d2-8de0-15cd197bc0dfI have a secret to share with you.

I went into this holiday season without a set budget for Christmas gifts.

So now that the big secret is out, let me explain.

I’m not proud of this tidbit.  Initially, I had a budget lined up (if little else), but that was before the recipient list widened considerably.

Due to many factors, there wound up being seventeen people on our Christmas list this year, and three December birthdays to plan for.  That is a whole lot of dough to spend, particularly if one is an “average” American.  Let’s just say we didn’t have several hundred dollars at our disposal.  (In that respect, I suppose our budget was, “As cheap as possible.”)

I briefly considered going the craft/homemade gift route, but realized I did not have the time necessary to create a thoughtful and creative gift.  Instead I opted to do one of four things for each recipient on our list.

We had family pictures taken and ordered prints. With a coupon coupled with an amazing online sale, this turned out to be a really great idea.  The recipients of this gift (grandparents, etc.) are always appreciative of a personal gift…especially where our kiddos are involved. Bonus:  we got family pictures for ourselves as well, which were long overdue.

We gave a donation.  Using points sites, we were able to give charitable donations in the gift recipient’s honor.  Bonus:  it made us feel like we were contributing to something greater than ourselves.

We gave an experience.  Nothing says “Happy Birthday” like taking someone out to eat at a favorite restaurant.  Bonus:  the restaurant is a favorite of all in attendance!

We gave gift cards and cookies, or traditional gifts.  Although these were among the more expensive gifts on our list, for these recipients, gift cards were preferred gifts, and the cookies added a personal touch, as well as something to “unwrap.” We were able to choose our denomination for the gift cards, which helped keep costs down.

Our kids (and Riley) are the primary recipients of the traditional gifts.  To keep things simple, I adhered to the, “Something you want, something to read, something to wear, and something you need” gift-giving philosophy, so each kiddo is getting just four small gifts from us.  Bonus:  We get to see their little faces light up when they see their gifts. (Although they are very easy to please.  Peanut, for example, would be thrilled with just the wrapping paper.)

Each recipient has either already received their gift, or knows of it, or (as in the case of our kids) can’t read yet, so this post should not spoil anyone’s surprises. But I do want to share one more thing.

We spent around $250 total.

While certainly far below the national average, that is still a lot of money to spend in the span of just a few weeks, and I blame going into it without a Christmas budget.  Note:  there are a couple of gifts under the tree for me from Riley and the kids, and those are not factored into the total…because I have no idea what was spent (though Riley and I are on the same page as far as family finances are concerned, so I doubt it is a huge sum!).

Bonus:  now we know just how important budgeting is.  And this has also served as a great reminder of the true meaning of the season…and reminded me how important simplifying the holidays is.

Birthday Thoughts

33Today is my 33rd birthday. I hope never to be embarrassed to tell others how old I am…why should I be?

Officially being a year older makes me consider how I’ve grown in the last year…and where I still have work to do.

Probably my greatest area of growth in the last year was financially. Which makes sense, as it was an area of emphasis. In the past year I’ve doubled my retirement and emergency savings as well as paid off $9,000 in student loan debt. I’ve tried to track what I’ve spent this year so I have a baseline for future years as well (more about that in January). Instituting my first “Buy Little” months this year were helpful to show myself that I can indeed live on less. It’s a habit I will continue.

As far simplifying, I’ve done better than previously, but not as well as I wish. I still have too much clutter in my life, though I’ve taken a lot less in than I ever have. I want to keep working through the Marie Kondo zones to tackle the clutter. I think I need to really work on reestablishing my habit of cleaning for 10-15 minutes every day to get a handle on things better. Inevitably, if I’m able to continue to get rid of things faster than I get new things, I’ll get there.

There are other areas, too, that I’m evaluating my life, but I won’t discuss them here as they are outside the scope of this blog.

What milestones have you accomplished this year? What do you wish to work on in the next year?

Photo by Stephan Mosel

Kid Dates

Snuggling as a "Kid Date."
Snuggling as a “Kid Date.”

One of the activities I really enjoy as a mother is what I like to call, “Kid Dates.”  Put simply, this is a time when I take each kid out to do something special–just the two of us (the other kiddo stays with Daddy and has some quality time with him too).  Getting to focus my undivided attention on one child is an amazing opportunity, and a great way to nurture our relationship (one of the many gifts I have been given!).

I don’t do this as often as I would like, but have aimed for twice a year, per child, thus far.  The last time I did this was on Mother’s Day weekend, and I thought December/January would be a good time to arrange more Kid Dates.

The problem I keep running into is…how do I create a fun Kid Date without breaking the bank?

Fortunately, my kids don’t seem to care that we aren’t doing an expensive excursion; they just want to spend time with Mama.  But I do try to make it a memorable experience, even without spending much (if any) money.

I have found an area community calendar that is tailored to families with children to be an invaluable resource.  Local libraries also are a wealth of such information!

For example, it was through this calendar that I found a theater doing a kid-friendly showing of one of Bean’s favorite children’s books, and it was very reasonably priced; for less than $20, we were treated to a fabulous performance and made a great memory.

Not everything requires a calendar though.  Peanut would never have been still long enough to do a play, but I knew he would enjoy some ice cream at the neighborhood park.  It was a perfect kid date!

What are some ways you nurture your relationship with your children?

Things Ronnica Doesn’t Splurge On

I’m busy working on Christmas gifts (more on that coming in a couple of weeks), so I don’t have a lot of creative energy left. So why not copycat another of Amanda’s blog ideas?

A few months ago, I shared what I splurge on. Today, I’ll talk about what I don’t splurge on.

My physical appearance

I have reduced my personal hygiene products down to about a half dozen, and I’m trying to use the last of some others so I can get rid of them, too. I don’t necessarily look the best I could be, but who am I trying to impress, anyway? I just don’t see where this falls in my priorities.

Eating out

I used to eat outside of the home daily as much from laziness as anything. I slowly got that under control as I saved for my move to Denver and then was unemployed when I first got there. Since then, I simply haven’t developed the habits of eating out.

Giving up Diet Dr Pepper has further removed temptation to eat out. I used to allow myself the treat of a meal from Chick-fil-a or Sonic, but it was always about the drink.

DVDs from the library play as well as the ones I used to own.
DVDs from the library play as well as the ones I used to own.

Entertainment

I don’t buy movies or music. Apart from the rare event or game I go to, I don’t pay for event tickets, either. I most certainly don’t go to the movies…I can wait 6 months and watch a borrowed DVD from the library. (Every year or two there is an exception: the latest installment of Star Wars is one of them.)

Because I get super-cheap cable at work, I don’t even use Netflix, Hulu Plus or Amazon Prime very regularly.

What do you choose not to splurge on?

Health Care and Finances

6722544475_524a721154_bA few weeks ago, Riley and I sat down to discuss his company’s annual open enrollment–the time of year when employees pick and choose what insurance and other benefits they would like for the coming year.

While we didn’t change much as far as plans are concerned, this and other events of the last few months got me to thinking about health care and finances.

Do you know how incredibly easy it is to go into debt because of medical expenses?  I feel like not a day goes by that I don’t read or hear something about the increasing costs of health care.  Even with insurance, things are expensive.  Insurance itself can be expensive.  What’s more, not every procedure or expense is “optional”–for some, it is life-altering or life-saving, and therefore absolutely necessary.

If going into debt is not the greatest option out there, but the alternative is to not receive the medical care one needs…then what options are left?

Obviously this is a difficult question that far too many people struggle to answer.  Each case is unique, and each family comes with their own set of priorities, so I’m not going to pretend to hold an answer on this.  I will, however, share a few things that have proven helpful to our family as we navigate the often-complicated world of healthcare and finances.

1.  Prevention is key.  No-brainer here.  Eating a healthy diet, exercising, and reducing stress are emphasized as preventative measures everyone should take in order to stay healthy.  But what if the medical issue at hand is not preventable?  What if the person in question is experiencing issues outside their control–a congenital condition, accident, etc.?  The next tip may be helpful in such instances.

2.  Look into insurance plans and a Health Savings Account.  While many plans can be expensive, they also tend to be cheaper than paying out of pocket medical expenses.  There are many options for choosing insurance; check out what may be available to you.

Also helpful are Health Savings Accounts (HSAs).  These tax-free accounts can aid in paying for deductibles, co-pays, and many other medical costs.  Many employers will contribute funds to them, too.

3.  Get on the phone.  This isn’t a fun option for most, but it is so vital to get a price check on potentially costly procedures, so you can make sure you have an idea of what you may be facing, financially-speaking.  Oftentimes this starts with a call to your health provider to get the medical codes for the procedure or exam in question, and then you call your insurance provider with those codes to see what exactly is going to be covered.

If you find the procedure or exam to be out of your financial realm, then that brings us to the next tip…

4.  See what may be free or negotiable.  There are a wealth of services that may be available to you (see this post for a sampling) at little or no charge.  It also is helpful to contact the financial services department of your health provider to see if there is any assistance that may be available–for example, some hospitals may provide a discount to those who pay in cash, or others have funds for those who are under-insured.  Still others are willing to work with patients in various ways if funds are limited.

Although these tips have proven helpful for us, this is certainly not an exhaustive list, and since each situation is different these tips may not apply to you.  What tips would you add?

Photo by 401kcalculator.org

Avoiding Upgrades

I love new gadgets as much as anyone. My first taste of being on the leading edge of technology came when I was 10, and I was excited to be the first among my friends to get a Discman.

Technology has come a long way since then.

Just now I tried to count the number of cell phones I’ve had since I got my first one in late 2001. As far as I can remember, I’ve had 8 cell phones, which means they have had an average lifespan of less than 2 years.

Why do we feel the need to go through items through quickly like the good consumers that corporations want us to be?

I know that products aren’t built to last or be repaired by average joes like they used to be. But they still last longer than we usually allow them.

My laptop may be 7 years old, but it still does what I need to do: let's me surf the internet and write this blog.
My laptop may be 7 years old, but it still does what I need to do:  surf the internet and write this blog.

In the last year, I’ve changed my thinking about electronics. Yes, I would like all the bells and whistles that come with the latest gadgets. But are they worth it? I’ve come to value the money in my savings account more highly.

I’ve decided that my rule for replacing something is when it stops doing what I need it to do and I’m no longer able to repair it back to that point.

When I frame it that way, it takes a lot of pressure off not to feel I have to have the latest. If it weren’t for my job, I probably wouldn’t have any idea what the latest is.

I don’t know when my phone or laptop while stop working. Hopefully I can still use them for some time to come. But I’m saving up for my next devices, anyway, so that I will have the money for them when the  time comes.

If more of us reject throw-away culture, more corporations will be motivated to cater to our buying desires, creating products that are made to last.