Monthly Archives: March 2016

Everydollar.com Review

everydollar appIn the last month, I’ve gotten hooked on listening to Dave Ramsey again (this time in podcast form). I’ve  found his Total Money Makeover to be instrumental in my early forays into saving.

One thing that Ramsey’s team has done is create a free website and iPhone app to help people budget. His budgeting philosophy which I’ve followed for years is to give every dollar a name: you decide where each dollar will be used before you receive it. This website is aptly named EveryDollar.com.

I have been able to successfully create these “every dollar” budgets in Google Sheets. Still, I thought it would be interesting to check out the Every Dollar app to see if it would be more useful.

The first thing that struck me when I logged in to the site for the first time was how pretty it was. I can create graphs in Google Sheets (and sometimes do), but they would never be as pretty, easy or interactive as what you can see on everydollar.com. I just wish that you had graphs to compare month to month (though to be fair, this is my first month using it, so there may be some features that have not yet been unlocked for meeverydollar).

Another helpful feature is that you can create “funds.” I use these for my Freedom categories (like saving for my bi-annual insurance bill) and my various saving accounts. It did confuse me at first, but I quickly realized that I did not need to record actually putting money into these funds, just the expenses out of them. This can be a bit confusing if you’re like me, and fund them throughout the month as the money comes in, not at one time.

In addition to the budgeting features, the website tracks your progress through the baby steps. I’m on baby step 3b, which isn’t on there, but it would be really exciting to see progress through baby steps 1-3.

The biggest down-side is that because of the link to the baby steps, you can’t remove “debt” as a category. I worked hard to remove debt from my life…I don’t want it in my budget.

Still, that’s a minor impediment to a very slick and useful site. If you’re new to budgeting or just want to try something new, I’d definitely recommend checking it out. The beginning of a new month is the perfect time to do so.

I probably will continue to use my Google Sheets, if only to keep track where each paycheck is going, and not just where my money is going for the month as a whole.

2016 Goals Update

unnamed (12)Time for an update on how my 2016 goals are going!

Make one extra mortgage payment.  This hasn’t happened yet, but we are making great strides with skimming extra money off where we can (like with groceries).

To be honest, though, this goal is the one I am prioritizing last.  The bigger picture goal, of course, is to just pay off the mortgage and be completely debt-free.  Whether that happens via an extra mortgage payment per year, or in one lump sum, we will be thankful regardless.

Journal and devotions daily.  I have learned making this goal a reality really hinges on whether or not I get up early.  Peanut has been dealing with sickness of late, which makes for some irregular nights and challenging days, so I sleep when I can.  I try to give myself grace–if I can’t journal daily, that’s okay…I get up the next day and try again.

I have also begun to count family devotions as my own devotion time.  I appreciate the opportunity to delve into devotions privately, but also treasure the ability to share that time with my family too.

Screen time to four times daily.  I think I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this one.  We don’t have a landline, and as a stay-at-home-mom, my cell phone is my link to the outside world on many days–texting is how I communicate with many people, I call my father daily, taking pictures to send to the kids’ grandparents with my phone technically involves “screen time,” and things like emailing my daughter’s preschool teacher requires time with a screen.  My volunteer position also requires quite a bit of time in front of a screen lately.

Although I may not be able to scale back to four times daily (yet) for an hour a day (yet), it is still my goal.  For now, I keep my phone in one spot rather than carry it with me everywhere, which has actually proven quite helpful in eliminating unnecessary phone checks.

Invite six families to supper.  One down, one scheduled, four to go!  Making great strides with this one.

Posting my goal progress on here keeps me accountable.  How are your personal goals coming along?

How It Works: Grow Light Frame for Indoor Gardening

grow light frameAs I shared in my garden plan, I am growing tomatoes and peppers from seed this year. While I have a sunny living room, I knew the 3-4 hours of direct light would not be enough for my growing seedlings. I am supplementing natural light with grow lights.

When it came to deciding how to set up grow lights, I wanted a setup that would be:

  1. Economical
  2. Efficient
  3. Portable/flexible

I think I’ve found the setup that meets these criteria.

After research, I decided that a PVC light frame would be the best for my purposes. I mostly followed the tutorial I found on My Square Foot Garden. I made some adjustments, which you can find in my directions below.

1. I measured my space to determine what size frame I wanted. I did not alter the original directions in this respect as it was just the right size for my living room.

2. I gathered my materials. I ended up going with 3/4″ PVC pipe and fittings as they didn’t have everything I needed in 1″ size. I bought one 10′ pipe and cut it into the four 5″ pieces, two 24″ pieces and one 52″ pieces that were recommended.  Home Depot had a cutting station with a hacksaw I could use to measure and cut easily. It was also much easier to haul the pieces home than a 10′ pipe.

In addition to the pipe pieces, you will need 2 Ts, 2 90-degree elbows and 4 caps.

IMG_2588

3. I snapped everything together. This took me less than 10 minutes. No need to use glue: it will stay all together. Plus, this makes it easy to take down and store when I don’t need it.

PVC light frame

How much this setup cost me:

3/4″ PVC and fittings to make the  frame: $7.34
2 LED grow lights: $22.99 each
2 clamp lamps: $9.49 each
Total: $72.30

tomato seedlings
My tomato seedlings are starting to really grow. This is 4 weeks after planting.

This setup definitely reaches my goals I outlined above. The LED lights provides just the wavelengths that the plants can use. At 12 watts each, it would cost me $1.50/month to run these full time. Totally reasonable.

Since they’re LED, they also will last a long time: over 5 years of continuous use. I’m sure I’ll add more lights to it in the future, but for now sliding my two lamps from side to side helps me ensure my seedlings get 12-18 hours of light a day.

The bonus of starting so much from seed this year is that I get to enjoy gardening for a larger part of the year.

Joint Book Review: Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

51KRmbqxakL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Arguably one of the most important books on environmentalism, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was a driving force in eliminating the use of the pesticide DDT, and was critical in spurring other environmental reforms.

Amanda’s Take

Having first read this book in a biology class in college over  decade ago, I was glad to have the opportunity to revisit this text.

Once again, I was struck by how relevant her words (written over fifty years ago) are to us still in 2016.  While DDT is no longer in use, a great many other abuses are done to the environment (both chemical and otherwise).  The need to solve problems in a sustainable fashion rings just as true now as it did in the mid-twentieth century.

What I appreciate most about this text is the fact that Carson backed up her poetic assertions with proof; she doesn’t just “allege.” I also appreciate that, because of this work, enough people began to question what they had been told, and so change became inevitable.  Why can’t change be spurred the same way, in 2016?

Silent Spring is a must-read for anyone with an investment in the environment…which, I would argue, is all of us.

Ronnica’s Take

I was so glad when Amanda suggested we read Silent Spring. I love to read books that have made an impact on history, and of course this one fits the bill. I’m really not sure why I had never read it before.

For this being a foundational book in the environmentalism movement, I expected that it would be more broad. However, it makes sense that a book about a specific problem with hard numbers and targeted examples. After all, it’s much easier to get people to demand action when you make it very clear to them what it will cost them if they do not.

I’m thankful for Carson and the work she did raising awareness about DDT. Her work isn’t done: we all have a part to play in leaving this world as better place than when we arrived.

Learning from Inconveniences

Sometimes things don’t go according to plan.

That’s a bit of an understatement, isn’t it? Of course things don’t go according to our plans; we’re far from omnipotent. No matter how many times I experience this, I still think somehow I’m able to mold my day-to-day life exactly how I want it.

sink full of dishesA couple of weeks ago I was running my dishwasher with the last remaining dirty dishes in my kitchen. I was feeling pretty good about how tidy everything was…then my dishwasher stopped running. With little warning (though I suppose its loud creaking over the last couple of months should have been a sign), I was without a dishwasher…and with a dishwasher full of dishes that needed to be washed.

Thankfully I rent so I didn’t have any additional expenses. However, I did have to wait until maintenance could replace it, which ended up being 4 days later.

No matter how much I work to make things a certain way, I’m not in control.

After getting this lesson on a Monday, I got it again on that Saturday. I had hoped to spend the day finally catching up on dishes with my new dishwasher and get some things done around the apartment. I was enjoying the sounds of the much quieter replacement dishwasher, when they quickly stopped. This time it wasn’t the dishwasher’s fault, but the power company’s. The electricity remained out for the next 8 hours, entirely changing my day. I was able to get some things done that did not require electricity, but that was it for that day’s to-do list.

A dishwasher and even electricity are not rights. While I will gladly enjoy their use while I have them, I have to remember that they (and many other conveniences) can be quickly taken away. I’m blessed to have such reliable electric service, a well-insulated home, healthy living conditions and an income to support it all.

May I not take these things for granted.

How it Works: Family Meals

10538295175_1440a7fcac_zTake a moment and consider what gifts you have in your life.

I would be willing to bet that, for many of you, family and friends top the list of gifts in your life.  The question then becomes:  How can we nurture that gift of relationships?

In our house, one of the ways we seek to nurture the gift of family (and friends) is through family meals.  Studies have proven time and again the benefit of regular family dinners; one would be hard-pressed to find proof that family dinners are a waste of time.

We have incorporated family meals into our life for quite some time now.  With that in mind, here are a few key traits of our family meal experience.  Note:  While I reference “family” dinners, I see no reason why friends cannot be considered family too.  If you have no family nearby, why not consider a friend dinner?

1.  It isn’t always dinner.  Since various times of the year are very busy in Riley’s line of work, there are times when supper as family mealtime simply isn’t feasible because he isn’t home until long after the kids are in bed.  The solution:  family breakfasts.

I haven’t seen a study yet that says family meals have to be supper to be beneficial.  We still get the connection and conversation that is essential to nurturing family relationships–we just get it at 7 a.m. instead of in the evening. Tasty, filling breakfasts are also a special way to begin the day!

2.  No toys (electronic or otherwise) at the table.  Because distractions come in many forms.  This rule applies to adults and kids alike–no TV, no phones, no computers, no stuffed animals…just you and your family.

3.  Teachable moments are many.  We have been able to use family mealtimes to teach our kids basic manners–both the “how” and the “why” of table manners are important!  We have started small (sitting on our bottoms for a few minutes) and worked our way up to more complex manners (passing condiments, chewing with mouths closed, etc.).

4.  Everyone gets a chance to chime in.  Usually we start meals with a prayer, and then each person is asked how their day was, and what their favorite part of the day was.  Questions should not be limited to just these, however–this site has some great conversation starters.

Family mealtime is one aspect of our life that I aim to continue as our family matures.  It’s a special time that is treasured by all of us, and one I cannot recommend highly enough!

Photo by Didriks

Freedom of the To-Do List

to-do listI’ve always been a list person. In high school, I loved the agendas that we were given to record all our homework, tests and activities in. In seminary, I would re-write my list in particularly dry classes to help me stay awake.

When I graduated for the last time in 2008, I stopped writing regular to-do lists for my personal life. I just didn’t have enough things that I would forget what I needed to do.

Since then, the only to-do lists I write are on the weekend to keep track of the chores that I want to do. These were always written on whatever scratch piece of paper I had on hand.

Shortly after the new year, I decided that I wanted to keep a more formal list each day of the things I wanted to accomplish that day. I realized that while I could keep track of everything I wanted to do each day, I had to devote a good bit of brain power to remember these things. By writing them down instead, I was freeing my brain for other concerns.

I’ve also found that by writing my to-do items down, I don’t worry about them. Whether I get to this or that on any given day, I don’t have to worry. I simply do my list from most important to least important, and while not everything gets done, the most important things will get done.

If I had realized in December that I wanted to write these to-do lists, I would have invested in a planner. But since I decided to start in the middle of my Buy Little month, I decided to make use of a free notebook I had received at work, which works just fine.

Do you find your to-do list freeing or debilitating?

How it Works: Gratitude Journal

From time to time, it can be all too easy for me to forget just how many gifts I have been given.  This goes beyond the basic needs of living, such as shelter, food and clothing–I find that I am apt to take for granted all of the other amazing people and things in my life.

Take, for instance, a recent post in my gratitude journal.  It had been a rather rough day, and a cursory overview of my day did not yield much to be thankful for…initially.  (Some days are like that, you know?)  But after further reflection, it occurred to me that, if not for my amazing neighbors, I would not have made it through the day as unscathed as I did.

Using my gratitude journal to reflect reminded me once again of the gifts I have been given.

The idea of a gratitude journal is  not a new one; in fact, they have been around for quite some time.  And they certainly don’t have to be anything elaborate or fancy.  One need look no further than my own gratitude journal to see how informal they can be (mine is a plain black notebook that also doubles as a “journal” journal):

a54cb553-8afa-409c-8d16-62df4fbbf820

I first became acquainted with the idea of “gratitude journals” in high school, but nothing about them actually stuck until much later…like Fall 2015 later.  It was around that time that I began to hear more and more about the benefits of cultivating a spirit of gratitude, and how a gratitude journal (that is, making an actual list of things one is grateful for on a regular basis) assists in changing one’s perspective to a perspective of gratefulness and positive outlook.

What started out as a periodic mental list of things to be grateful for has now become  something a little more–I find myself jotting down things I am grateful for fairly regularly (like four to five times a week).

The fact that I, a recovering realist/pessimist, gave this a shot, and am still working on it, says a lot about this practice, and it is something I recommend trying, even if (especially if!) you are going through a challenging time.  It is a tangible reminder of all we have been given.

What are you grateful for today?

Free of “Free”

For the month of February, I decided to keep track of everything that I brought into or out of my apartment. I had hoped to get a sense of the things that tend to become clutter.

To be honest, this project wasn’t eye-opening, like I hoped. There just weren’t any revelations or areas of improvement identified. Still, I think it was good to do this exercise as it is always good to take some time to focus on a specific area.

Though the results didn’t yield much, I was on the right track: after all, everything that is currently in my apartment got there because someone brought it in. Instead of keeping a formal list, I think the best thing is to mindfully consider each piece as I consider accepting it or buying it.

Obviously, buying less will limit what you bring in, but I think “free” things are more of a problem. Somehow, we think that if we don’t pay for it monetarily, there is no downside.

People look at you funny when you turn down free things. My dental hygienist keeps trying to force a bag of goodies into my hand upon each dental visit, but I have to say no.

As a general rule, I say “no” to free items, just as I do to items that I could buy. I don’t mind saying “yes” if:

  1. It is something that I need.Bose speaker
  2. It is something that I have already identified a home for in my apartment.
  3. It will meet a want or need, at least for right now.

For example, I recently got a lot of swag for work. A lot of it was completely worthless to me and ended up in the give away pile. But I did decide to keep a wireless Bluetooth speaker because it could be more useful than the Bluetooth stereo I already had. While it wasn’t something that I would spend money on, I can still benefit from it and the money I can get by selling my stereo (now I just need to take the time to do it!).

I don’t always follow my own rules, but it has helped me not feel guilty about saying “no” to free.

Where do you stand when it comes to “free” things?

The B-Word

3053649344_2c6dcf254a_mWell, it has happened.

One of my children just uttered the words, “I’m bored.”

Growing up, my mother’s response when my brother or I would make that gripe was always, “It (boredom) is an attitude.”  At the time, of course, we would covertly roll our eyes, and think she didn’t ‘understand’ us.

As is often the way these parenting things work, I found myself sounding like my mother in response to this complaint, with some elaboration–something to the effect of, “It’s an attitude; find something to do, or I will find something for you to do, and you probably won’t like it.”

The truth is, my child’s comment really bothered me, because not only do our kids have plenty (and I do mean plenty) of things to do and toys to play with, but also because time is a gift; we have plenty of time to do the things that need to be done, and certainly plenty of constructive things to fill up that time.

But I also realize that my children are small and it is my responsibility to teach them.  I wasn’t quite sure how to go about teaching time management to a four year old and a two year old, especially since that is an area that I also struggle in.

I also did not want to be their sole source of entertainment–I will not always be around, and so they need to learn to entertain themselves. While I love playing with them, they also need to know how to comfortably play without a constant adult presence two feet away.

So in true Striving Stewardess fashion, I thought about it and brainstormed some ideas for helping my kids help themselves prevent boredom. The two biggies:

I make sure they have plenty of “open-ended” toys at their disposal.  These include toys that encourage imagination and creativity, including art supplies, books, and blocks.  It’s amazing what kids will create with some paper and crayons!

You are your child’s first and best teacher.  I have begun to speak my thought process aloud as I model how I address daily tasks.  For example:  “Since I have finished my to-do list, I could read a book or start in on tomorrow’s list.”  I feel like this demonstrates how an adult addresses potential boredom.

How do you address the issue of boredom and time management in your household?

Photo courtesy of mao_lini.