Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Boxes and Boxes of Stuff

I just noticed it's been more than a week since I last posted.

a fraction of our many boxes

I've been busy sorting and then listing stuff on craigslist, and getting ready to list other things on ebay. It's definitely a process, and one that's taking longer than I would like, but I'm getting rid of clutter and making money from it. I'm trying not to overwhelm myself by trying to do too much at one time, but it does slow things down. However, if I wasn't going this slow it would be much more difficult to decide what to get rid of and I'd end up keeping too much stuff.

As I unpacked, the stuff that didn't have an immediate use/place to go got dumped in the library/guest room. It ended up very full of stuff. I've worked my way through most of it now, and am looking forward to finishing it.

Once I get rid of the things I listed on craigslist (and that are currently sitting in the front room and the play/craft room and library/guest room) we'll have room for the furniture that we're building.

Once the furniture is built I can organize the stuff we kept.

Once I feel organized, I can think about actually decorating. I've never really decorated any of the places we've lived- they were all rentals and our budget was way too tight to buy extras like decorations. We're still in a rental and we still have a tight budget, but I do at least have some creative juices back. Being gluten free has made a huge difference in the state of my brain- not having a perma-fog brain makes a huge difference in so many areas of my life- more creativity, more able to handle stress, more able to get things done.

I've already started a list of things I want to do, but I'm making myself wait till I get the sorting and purging done: further incentive to get it done quickly. I can't wait to get started making our house look like a home.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Thinking and living frugally

Lately I've been searching for more frugal blogs to read and inspire me. Some of them are local ones that have the local grocery deals, others aren't local but have other useful information.

As I read these blogs, I've been thinking more about couponing. I've been printing out some coupons, but the vast majority are for things I can't eat or for overly processed foods, or for toiletries or cleaners that I can't use because of the chemicals. The sales ads seem to be for a lot of the same things.

I find this a bit discouraging because I'd like to be able to coupon and buy on sale and get great deals. On the other hand, I'm not buying cheaply-made, full-of-preservatives food. We're spending our money on food with fewer ingredients, that's fresher, and tastes better. I haven't yet got our food budget where I want it to be, but I'm getting there. I still have to figure out who has the best prices on what (especially dairy and meats) and once I've done that I can work towards staying in our food budget.

I've been stressing a bit about budgeting and doing the grocery shopping and all, but I've decided I'll just do the best I can until I get eveything unpacked and feel less stressed (clutter, i.e. lots of boxes, makes me stressed). Once I've finished unpacking and sorting and feel that I can at least find everything again, then I'll focus on shopping lists, sales, coupons, and all that.

In the meantime, I'm going to the store as infrequently as possible, and trying to keep things as inexpensive as possible. I've discovered that for our family of 3, one crockpot dish can be used for 3 or 4 meals, which drastically reduces the cost of dinners. I did some barbecue chicken a couple weeks ago, the first night we served it with mashed potatoes, the second night we served it with cheese on a baked potato, the third night we used it in quesadillas, and the fourth night we used it in burritos. This week I cooked a roast in the crockpot and are doing similar things for dinner. This is a win-win for me: I stretch the meat out over 4 meals, which spreads out the cost as well, and I have minimal meal prep each day.

One of my recent  blog finds is Keeping Life Creative. The author has committed to using beans or rice every day for a year in order to remind herself about living frugally. Some of the meals she's prepared are normal, beans and rice, burritos, etc, but she's also snuck beans into mac & cheese and lentils into cake. I find this intriguing, and once I'm feeling more settled I plan on giving some of her recipes a try. I'll have to alter them to make them gluten free, but it shouldn't be too hard to do.

I've also been thinking about stopping my Melaleuca shipments- I like their products (they have really nice soy candles that don't bother me), but some of the cleaning products have started to bother me. I'm not convinced that it's worth the financial commitment to keep ordering from them (you're supposed to order a min. # of product points each month; with shipping this usually ends up being around $75 for me). It's a chunk of money I could be using for other things. I've found several coupons for Seventh Generation products, so I think I'll give them a try (they even go on sale, so I could get some pretty good deals), and if those give me problems I'll have to venture into making my own cleaners. I don't want to, since it seems like it would be a hassle, but if I can make cleaners that won't bother me, it would be worth it. And I'd be saving even more money.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Free entrance to National Parks

Did you know that April 17 through 25 you can get into more than 100 national parks for free?

We decided to take advantage of this, so after soccer this morning, we drove to Shenandoah NP and drove part of Skyline drive. The Appalachian Trail (the AT) crosses it many times, so we got to see the trail markers

and tree blazes.
We saw lots of beautiful trees and hills. I know they're called mountains out here, but after living near the Rockies and the Wasatch mountains, it's hard to call these mountains. And yes, I know they're older and more worn down, and all that, but it's still not the same. They're beautiful, and I love all the trees, but they feel like the foothills just before you get to the mountains. Mr. S thought that too.

It was a beautiful day, we got to see more of the area we now live in, and we got to scope out whether it's worth getting an annual pass and coming back. An annual Shenandoah NP pass would be paid for in two trips, but I think we're going to get the interagency annual park pass so we can get into all national parks as well as national forests and sites managed by the BLM and other agencies. It's not that much more expensive, and we'll get our money's worth.

We're definitely going back and doing some hiking- I'd like to hike part of the AT. I have no desire to do the whole thing, but a day hike, and possibly an overnight trip, would be fun. There's many trails, so we could go every weekend and still not hit them all. Not that we will- we have too many other commitments. LMS was quite upset when we said we weren't going hiking today- she was all ready to go!

I also want to go back in the fall when the leaves change- it should be beautiful then- all those tree-covered hills changing colors.

Since we didn't have to pay the entrance fee, we only had the cost of the gas for the trip, and since it's not actually that far away it's something we can do again.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Frugal fun: 5 cent ice cream cones & Friday night movies

Today a local ice cream parlor had 5 cent ice cream cones all day. After Mr S got home from work we headed over, expecting to get a kid-size cone for our 5 cents. Nope! We got full size cones! 

So, for the cost of gas to drive the 4 or 5 miles from our house to the ice cream parlor plus 15 cents we each got a regular size soft serve cone (or cup, in my case). Yum!

We then came home and had homemade gluten free pizza while we watched a movie on Netflix.

Fun and inexpensive!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Handmade Furniture

We have very little actual furniture, for several reasons. The cheap stuff we could afford is... cheap. Cheap MDF crap that falls apart quickly, especially when you move every year or two like we do. The more expensive stuff we can't afford is nicer, and some of it is solid wood, but not all. I want solid wood furniture that will last but won't cost an arm and a leg.

Back in January I found a blog called Knock Off Wood that has plans that show you how to build your own furniture. She gives easy, clear instructions with lots of diagrams. Unfortunately, with the upcoming move that we were facing, I didn't want to start building then, so I had to put the idea on the back burner.

I have no problem building my own furniture. In junior high, when most of the other girls signed up for home ec, I signed up for shop class. I alreay knew how to cook and sew, and I wanted to learn how to use power tools!

A few years ago, Mr. M and I built a log bed and a log night stand. The bed turned out good, but the nightstand is a hulking monster that I need to figure out how to re-purpose into something prettier. Now that we're moved and getting settled, we can start building furniture. We have a lot of the tools we need, the rest we can find on sale and craigslist.

There's so many things I want to build:
  • bookcases for our boxes and boxes of books.
  • new nightstands for our room, as well as one for the guest room.
  • armoires (probably at least two) for storing all my craft and sewing supplies.
  • bookcases and storage systems for LMS's books and toys.
  • wood play kitchen.
  • entryway bench and storage cubbies.
  • coffee table and end tables.
We've started on the storage system for LMS's toys. After that will be the storage for my craft and sewing supplies. We've been selling stuff on craigslist, and we used that money to buy wood (and help pay for my dental work). It's nice to be decluttering, getting money for stuff we don't need, and using that money to build nice, hand-made furniture.

Right now we're on temporary hold on the furniture building since Mr. S tweaked his back (old injury) over the weekend, but as soon as he's fully mobile again, we'll get moving again. I'll post photos of the process, so stay tuned!

Has anyone else built their own furniture?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"Quick" Trips to the Store

Today I discovered how to minimize the damage when making a "quick" trip to the store: walk!

Ok, so you need to live close enough to walk to a grocery store for this to actually work, but there are some elements that you can use even if you don't.

We're still in the process of figuring out how often we need to go grocery shopping, how quickly we use each item (we're going through milk a lot faster than I expected), and deciding which items we actually need. It's been a week and a half since we last went shopping, and we used the last of the eggs and milk for breakfast today. It's also our turn to bring snacks for soccer today, and I hadn't bought them yet.

Since Mr. S takes the car to work and the grocery store is only about a mile away, I decided that our walk this morning would be to and from the grocery store. I loaded LMS into our trusty BOB jogger (love that thing! we got an awesome deal on it on craigslist and we've definitely gotten our money's worth out of it) and headed out. At the store I grabbed a basket, set it on top of the jogger, and filled it with the items I needed: milk, eggs, cheese, yogurt, carrots, and snacks for soccer. After I paid for it all, I stowed everything in the basket under the seat and walked back home.

What I learned: a basket's worth of food fits nicely in the basket of the jogger. If I'd bought anything more, it wouldn't have fit. This limits how much I can buy, meaning I think more about what I'm putting in the basket, and therefore spend less. I also got a better workout on the way home- a gallon of milk adds a significant amount of weight to the jogger.

If you can't walk to the store for a quick trip, when you get there you should still grab a basket. They're a pain if you need anything heavy (like a gallon of milk), but the size of the basket will limit what you can put in it, helping to avoid impulse purchases.

Any other good tips for avoiding over-spending on quick trips to the store?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Why Do We Need an Emergency Fund?

We recently had a good lesson in why an emergency fund is necessary.

While eating nuts one night, part of one of my teeth disintegrated. I thought the 3 pieces I found in my mouth were small rocks till I ran my tongue over my teeth and discovered a jagged edge on one of my upper molars.

Mirrors and a flashlight revealed that the corner of my tooth next to a filling was gone.

I brushed my teeth and put in my retainer, an invisalign type, to keep me from going crazy running my tongue over the jagged edge. I left in in while eating breakfast and lunch the next day, which was awkward, but it kept food from accumulating in the tooth or causing more problems.

First thing in the morning I called the dentist and got an appointment after lunch.

I figured I'd need a crown, which would probably run about $400 (when I got two teeth crowned three years ago, we paid about $750 out of pocket). I was really hoping costs hadn't gone up much in the meantime.

The x-ray showed decay in the area that remained, which wasn't surprising- it's been bothering me for awhile but I just thought it was a new cavity or the filling being stupid. Turns out that the crack and subsequent crumbling was caused by the amalgam filling expanding with nowhere to go. Stupid filling.

Anyway, the decay was close to the nerve, so there was also the possibility of a root canal. The dentist cleaned out the decay and the offending filling, then decided to just do a new ceramic filling and buildup the area that had crumbled. I was told to pay attention to how my tooth is feeling- if there's more problems, I'd have to go back in, do a root canal and put a crown on it. This won't be cheap, so I was hoping it wouldn't be necessary anytime soon.

While I was waiting for the numbing meds to take effect I was running through what money we had available to pay for the procedure. Last week we received some additional pay from Mr. S's trip to Japan in December, but it was supposed to be the start of our emergency fund. One crown would almost wipe it all out. A root canal... we'd need more. Luckily we only had to do a filling, and it only cost $40, leaving the beginnings of our emergency fund mostly intact.

It did emphasize the need for an emergency fund. We only pay 20% of the cost of a filling, which isn't too expensive to begin with, but crowns are only covered 50%- the other 50% is out of pocket. We'd have to pay 40% of the cost of a root canal, but since I don't know what they run I don't know how much our portion would be. In any case, having money in our emergency fund would mean we could get things like a crown or a root canal taken care of without having to put them off till money is available or pay for them with a credit card. Once we get our debts paid off we'll be able to add to our savings, expanding it beyond just a $1000 emergency fund, and allowing us to be able to pay cash for multiple emergencies. Like a root canal and work that had to be done on the car.

I went in for my regularly scheduled cleaning today and had them check the tooth. I haven't been able to chew on that side of my mouth for the last week and a half because of pressure sensitivity, and it's very sensitive to hot and cold as well. So I'm going in next week for a root canal and crown. Yay. Not.

I was hoping we'd have the money already saved so we don't have to use a credit card to pay for the procedure. Unfortunately, that's not going to be the case.

In the past I've considered dropping our dental insurance- we pay about $110 a month for the three of us, which I think is a bit steep if all we're doing is getting regularly scheduled cleanings and exams- we're paying more than $1300 a year for services that only run about $300-400.

If we saved that money specifically for times it was needed, would we be saving money? Like doctors, dentists will give a discount if you pay cash, so I think we would save money, even with the odd filling, crown, or root canal thrown in.

The key would be, of course, to actually save the money we would have spent on the insurance premiums and set it aside for this purpose.  I think we could do this, once we've got the credit cards paid off and are actively building our savings. Until then, we're keeping our dental insurance.

Has anyone tried paying cash for dental services instead of having insurance? How has it worked out?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Trains, Planes, and Automobiles

Go here to read about our train trip. We had a great time and I think it would be fun to do again.

The trip took two days, which is the same it would have taken if we had driven. The big bonus here was that I didn't have to drive. I don't mind driving long distances, but mile after mile of empty cornfields is just way too monotonous for me, and LMS doesn't really appreciate being strapped in a car seat for 13+ hours a day. Taking the train meant LMS and I could get up, walk around, go to the bathroom, sleep, eat, etc, all while still traveling. Doing those things while driving would have added a lot of time to the over-all trip length.

I don't know about the exact price comparisons, but if we had driven (assuming we had a vehicle to drive, which we didn't in this instance) we would have had gas, food, and lodging to pay for. Our train fare took care of all that. However, we were limited in what we could take with us. Two of the three trains we were on had checked baggage (two per person, no charge), but the third one didn't, so we had to pack accordingly. Driving our own vehicle would have allowed us to take a little bit more with us, though I don't know that that's really a good thing, since I tend to over-pack.

Since we didn't have a vehicle to drive, our only other option besides the train was flying. It would have been a lot quicker to fly, but it would have been a long day of flying. I don't know how LMS would have done with that. We could have checked two bags each, but most airlines charge for each bag now, and that adds up quickly. And I'm getting real tired of all the hoops they make you jump through these days. It's not so bad if you're by yourself, but once you add a baby or toddler into the mix, it really becomes an issue. We could have flown Southwest, which doesn't charge for checked baggage, but the closest airport we could have flown into is 2 1/2 hours away, which means Mr S would have had to take off work to pick us up. Less time worked equals less money earned.

Again, I don't remember the exact prices, but once you add on 3 checked suitcases (which is what we took on the train), I think the plane tickets would have come close to the cost of the train tickets. Not having to hassle with all the crap at the airport and on the plane (food would have been a big issue for me since I can't eat at most fast food places that I would find in a terminal) and having a fun, new adventure was totally worth whatever extra we spent. Sometimes you just gotta balance it all out- cheapest isn't always best.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Strawberry Shortcake

Last night I made gluten free pound cake (using the recipe I found here). The recipe called for a bundt pan, but I don't have one, so I used a bread pan and the 6 mini springform pans I found at Target at the after Easter sale.
Cute little pans

The texture wasn't quite the same as regular pound cake, but it still tasted good.


Mr. S made the comment that these springform pans would be good for making hamburger buns too- they're just the right size. And I can make cheesecake in them. And little birthday cakes. And brownies. So many options. At half off, I think I made a good investment.

I didn't find anything else at Target at the after Easter sales, but that's because I wasn't in the market for leftover candy, Easter baskets or stuffed animals. I wasn't even sure the pans were half off, but they were in the Easter section, so I did a price check and sure enough, they were half off. I had similar luck after Valentine's day- finding baking stuff half off. Guess you never can tell what you'll find.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Applying "Simplicity Parenting" to Our Lives

I've got most of the boxes unpacked now, just a few non-book-filled boxes left, so now it's on to all the bins.  I've moved boxes, bins, and furniture back and forth across the screened-in porch, trying to sort and organize everything. Slowly making progress.

I've unpacked most of the pieces-parts (hardware, random pieces that got separated and packed in a different box, etc), so I've started listing a bunch of stuff on craigslist. I really hope it all sells quickly- I want an uncluttered space, and the money that will come in as a result (hello new camera for me!).

I've been reading Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne, and it is quite interesting. I haven't had a chance to finish it yet, I've been too busy with the unpacking and organizing to do much reading lately. The author has worked with families and children for many years and makes a strong argument for "Less is More".

I've been wanting to de-clutter and simplify for quite awhile now. Two and a half years of not being able to find anything because it's buried in the pile of boxes out in storage or it's in a basket somewhere in our room but everything's so closely packed that I can't remember where I put it took a toll on me. Before we moved everything into storage I always tried to keep everything put away and clutter free. Now, I'm very committed to finding a place for everything and making sure we don't have more "stuff" than we need. No more hanging onto things because we "might use it someday". Mr. S and I both inherited that gene from our parents, and while it can be useful, it can also lead to a lot of clutter.

Once I finish unpacking and sorting all our stuff, my next move will be to divide LMS's toys. Right now, they're all unpacked and stacked on her side of the room that will be her toy room and my work room (sewing, crafting, etc). There's too many toys to have out all at once- she only ever plays with a fraction of them at one time anyway, so we'll be doing what so many others do: rotating toys.

I'll also be making time to finish Simplicity Parenting. I'd like to find out what else the author has to say simplifying our lives.

Has anyone else read this book? What did you think of it?

Friday, April 2, 2010

I'm still here...

Ok, so we've moved into our house and our internet finally got connected today, so I can start blogging again.

We ended up filling 5 Relocubes when we loaded everything up for the move. Two were delivered last Friday afternoon and we unloaded them Saturday morning (our first day in the house). The next two were delivered Monday afternoon and we unloaded them that evening. The last one was delivered Wednesday afternoon but we didn't unload it till last night since LMS has soccer practice (!) on Wednesdays.
that's her in the purple shirt

So all our stuff is in the house now, and I've started the daunting task of unpacking everything. Ok, that's not as daunting as the sorting- as I unpack I have to decide if we're keeping, chucking, or selling/donating it. We have way too much stuff, and now is the perfect time to scale back and simplify. I've made good progress, but it'll take at least a week to get through everything.

Once the unpacking and sorting is finished (and the listing on craigslist), we'll start building bookshelves and such to organize the things we are keeping.