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Monday, January 9, 2017

How I Make a 2 Week Menu

A couple of weeks ago we invited a family over for dinner.  I told them to pick the night, but I realize in hindsight that I should have mentioned the menu.  They chose Tuesday- soup night! Typically it would have been Mexican night, but my dear girl had been begging for my chicken noodle soup.  Now, don't think that I'm so rigid that I can't flip flop some nights around!  Truth be told, the produce I had bought for the soup was a week old and it was time for it to get in the pot! As the guests were heading out, I casually said "Come back when it's not soup night and I'll make you a proper meal!" This led to them asking about my meal planning and I couldn't believe their shock that I plan 2 weeks out...
"How do you manage that?"..... Well let me just tell you....

STEP 1: Get an idea of what you've got
  Since we just recently moved, my fridge, freezer, and pantries are not very stocked.  I finally have all of the basics (except cayenne-why do I keep forgetting to pick up the cayenne??) and am beginning to put away some meat in the freezer. Now, I know I have an opened (but barely used) bottle of wing sauce, and another of BBQ sauce, that I need to use before it goes bad.  I also opened some spaghetti sauce for lunches and didn't use it so there we go- 3 meals that fast!  Do you have any breads to use up? Produce?  Start with what you have so nothing is wasted, including your budget.

STEP 2: Check the ads
  This may be a deal breaker.  If you're a sold out, one store only kinda shopper than you might say, "Um, no." That's fine, you just may end up paying more out of your budget.  I sat down a couple of weeks ago, determined to buy my kids drinks for their lunches because they charge a ridiculous amount at school for a Gatorade.  The big store in town is comparable to Walmart's price- not bad! And I know I'm going to that store anyway because their chicken breast are $1.88 per pound and ground chuck is $1.99! But I see in their competitor's ad that if you buy 2 packs then you get 3 for free! that's a $21 savings! So now I know I'm going to these two stores and I build the rest of my menu around what is on sale. If neither has great sales, then I use the opportunity to try new recipes or old favorites.

STEP 3: Consider less conventional grocery sources
  Lately I have been really utilizing Amazon for my breakfast goods, paper goods, cosmetics, cleaning supplies, and some snacks.  I save a ton of money on "Subscribe & Save" and recently scored big thru Prime Pantry. If you're a Prime member, I encourage you to check them out. (And no, I'm not affiliated!😉) I also get our milk from the local dairy. It's a little more expensive, but still less than we were paying in Alabama, and I feel great supporting local business!

STEP 4: Set it out on paper
  I have yet to find my homemaking binder since the move. 😬  Just one more reminder that there are still boxes in the basement to unpack! In it, I keep blanks for my menus that I found online for free.  For a free printable, try here at www.batonrougemoms.com.  This is my favorite format- breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Since I make my shopping list straight from my menu, I don't forget anything!




STEP 5: Grocery shop and cook!
  My menu for 2 weeks, including lunches and snacks are made so all that is left is to make my grocery lists and hit the store.  Andy has taken to going with me, but admits that 2 week shopping takes longer, especially in new stores that you're learning the layout of.  We return to the store only for items we run out of unexpectedly or produce that won't last 2 weeks.  This alone has cut about $100 off our grocery budget each month!  No more roaming the store and coming home with incomplete meals and unneeded items multiple times a week/month!

Friday, January 6, 2017

10 Practical Ways to Begin Financially Adulting

I hate money.  Seriously.  Money and I just don't play nicely together.  Sometimes it's my master, and rarely am I its. Since our move, I have spent a lot of time examining our relationship.  I have decided it's time to start financially adulting.

Hopefully you are not uncomfortable with this level of transparency.  Hopefully you may glean wisdom, tools, even encouragement from what I am going to share here.  First off, in my 21 years of marriage, we have never had a budget.  GASP!  I know!  We have always just winged it- and done a fairly horrible job of it!  We have implemented a few changes, and I feel like we are on our way to financially adulting- but a lot of  what we are battling is old habits, so I don't expect this to be easy. And let me say, for the record, that this is not a New Year's resolution.  The changes being made are born from years of poor choices and require a life change.  Here are 5 ways we are taking action to adult in our finances and 5 ways we are sticking to it!

1) We are limiting eating out.  This has always been a major stumbling block to our finances.  For a family of 4 (adult eaters) to eat out is >$35!  That's when I MAKE everyone order water! (Did you know we add $13 to our order just by flippantly ordering a Coke when we sit down at a restaurant?) In the past, we ate out as much as 5 meals a week! I shudder when I do the math on that one. For the past month, we have reduced that to one meal a week! I'll let you do the math there!

2) We budget monthly.  We have only lived here two months so I don't have a great feel for what our monthly bills are yet. We will re-evaluate and pick a system that works for us when we have a better idea of what is going out each month.

3) I menu plan and grocery shop every two weeks. Oh my gracious!  I just can't believe how much this saves us!  I budget $130 per week and arm myself with a meal plan that includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  I have come in $30 UNDER budget for the last month!  I DO NOT let my kids buy lunch at school.  $3.00 for one slice of Dominoes pizza is ridiculous, unhealthy, and not going to fill my boy up in the slightest!  $2.00 for a Gatorade? I better not get started.....

4) Organize financial files.  Moving produces an unbelievable amount of paperwork!  Warranties, account set-up info, .....so very important to saving money- not to mention time- if you can get your hands on it when the need arises.  Part of choosing to adult financially is the care and tracking of ALL of our finances, including the hidden financial aspects of insurance policies, those warranties, and records of deposits for utilities.  This is what I'll be tackling in the next few days! Gathering supplies like a file box, hanging files, Manila folders, tabs, etc....

5) We are big BIG fans of using a flexspend (cafeteria) plan. For those unaware, this is where pre-tax dollars are drawn from your pay and deposited into a medical "savings account".  These funds are available for everything from ER visits to orthodontia!  Funds are generally available the first of the year- for the whole year!  I never miss the money because it comes straight out of Andy's paycheck so it never hits our account.  If you want to learn more about this, try going here research.

There!  Practical, simple ways to get started! Now here's how we're sticking to our guns...

1) Be accountable.  Not only are we accountable to each other, but I try to have that "one" friend who gets it- maybe is trying to adult in her own finances as well, or has already had a struggle and come out on the other side.  In a world where it is TABOO to talk about your money-find a person who could care less how much your credit debt is and that you feel like won't judge you!

2) Celebrate achievements!  Today I'm celebrating that we are breaking the eating out cycle! It is so thrilling to feel victorious in an area that has been such a struggle! Let your accomplishments empower you to take that next step! (Here I come, financial filing and organization!)

3) We dream vacation and virtual window shop!  Whenever I feel wanderlust tugging at me, I go onto VRBO and look at rentals in the place I'm dreaming of going to.  (Right now it's the Adirondacks or Maine!)  This helps me in 2 ways- I see a bit of a new place and it helps me to get an idea of how much I'll need to save to make the trip happen.  I also like to shop. (😬Not great for financial adulting!) This is where Pinterest, Amazon, Wayfair, etc come in.  I pin things so when I have the available funds, I can go buy the things needed for that DIY project...or I add things to my carts on the other sites and "save it for later" so I can keep an eye on the price and wait for it to go down before I make my purchase.

4) Remind ourselves!  Remember how it felt to not go on vacation last summer because you didn't have the money, Marla?  OUCH! How were those 5 meals you ate out every week last month that would have covered a cabin for 5 or 6 nights?

5) Are we being good financial role models for our kids?  Our answer for the last 15 years would be no!  Now our daughter only has 3 more years with us and we have to undo all of the financial irresponsibility we have shown her! Definitely time to make some good habits and choices and bring her into those conversations.

So, I'm sorry it's so lengthy- but there's our game plan moving forward for you.  I have been overwhelmed and put off by many "budgeting plans" out there and just needed some very practical places to get started.  Are you making the same changes in your life?  Please share your road/tips/encouragement/frustrations in the comments!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Rochester's Thornfield

                                                    

I said in my last post that I would announce the name of the new home in the next post...so....without further ado......

Rochester's Thornfield

I fought a great struggle with my heart over this one.  In the midst of considering his name (yes, this one is a he!), my niece texted and asked if I could help name her old beauty.  I let her know that naming a home is a terribly personal thing and that I would have to ask her many questions.  Him? Her?  From classic literature? What did she love most about her home? Sweet Niecling said that she loved its tall ceilings and woodwork but mostly that it is a place where people can gather. ❤️ My response was that I immediately thought of the house in the country that Bingley takes in Pride & Prejudice, Netherfield.  I began playing with her last name, Merrillfield? She liked using their last name and wanted to make another play on it...how about Merrily?  PERFECT! I suggested Merrily Hill, since her home sits above her street, and so it is!  My dear girl's first home is Merrily Hill!

So back to my struggle.  It wasn't as easy to name our Pittsford home as it was to name my niece's home.  I had Cainberly for fifteen years- in which time she grew to be such an unequivocal piece of our story that bringing her along to New York almost seemed sacrilege. He is so very different from her...a different age, a different style, a different culture, region, state, history.  I kept getting the feeling that I needed to let her go.  Meanwhile, what of Rochester's house? I noticed that I kept calling him that...Rochester's house. (I should note that, technically, he is not in Rochester but a suburb, Pittsford) And then, of course!  Rochester's house was Thornfield Hall! Oh how I love Jane Eyre! 

 Now please understand, I am not comparing this home to the ill-fated home of Edward Rochester! On the contrary, I expect light and love and happiness in our new life and home!  We are already so blessed by Thornfield. He brings such peace with room to breath, more than one bathroom, and a whole wall to the natural world where we have sat and watched birds, squirrels, deer, and even a fox! If you follow me on Pinterest and you see my "Thornfield" board, now you know that it's ideas for my new home!  Thornfield's doors are always open, won't you drop by sometime?

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Thoughts on New York After 6 Weeks

Its been a while since a post.  I cringe when I look at the dates, but making a new life is tough work!  Here are some top, and transparent, thoughts after 6 weeks in:
1) No matter what we're led to believe in the South, New Yorkers are super nice people.
2) Making new friends is tough no matter if you're 12, 14, 42, or 48!
3) New York drivers are WAY better than Alabama drivers.....especially in snow.
4) Snow.  I could spend all day on this. It's cold, wet, and requires a lot of physical labor.  It's also serene, beautiful, and makes even an undecorated home cozy and inviting.
5) IT IS SO LOVELY HERE! So much natural beauty! Waterfalls, lakes, mountains- gorgeous!
6) They mean it when they say they want six points of identification AND your social security card to get a driver's license. This is non-negotiable.
7) Home is my new favorite place. Have I mentioned that I've named him? Next post!😉
8) Public school lunch is a huge rip-off and if I knew how to protest I would! 2 pieces of Dominoes pizza for $6???!!! No 12 year old boy gets enough from one slice! I digress.
9) I adore my husband. This move has reminded me of that a thousand different times.❤️
10) I had the most amazing church and church family EVER.  I will never be able, in word or deed, to express the amount of gratitude and love I have and will ALWAYS have for them.

I was going to limit myself to 10 thoughts, but I have this one last that I MUST share...

11) I would never have made it through the last 9 months alone. Texts, calls, drop ins, gift cards, meals, coffees......💕

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Homeschoolers No More: Part 2

After much thought and prayer, I was finally able to admit that my children needed more than I alone was able to give them at home.  The opportunity came for my children to attend a very rigorous classical co-op.  I felt very strongly that was the direction we needed to take for 5th and 8th grade- not so much because I agreed with the philosophy of teaching, but because my kids needed to be pushed hard so they could experience what they were truly capable of. Also, they needed to be accountable to someone else for their lessons. Abby and Ben had adopted the idea that I was "just Mom"- that I didn't need their very best and that grace would always abound.

That was the most difficult year of our lives. We spent many nights schooling until 10 or 11 at night and we spent many days shedding tears with each other. Not only was school difficult, but Andy's job of 15 years took a turn towards an uncertain future. Come April, with a light shining at the end of the school year tunnel, Andy was laid off.  We finished the year strong.  I was so proud of those kids! They did things they just didn't believe they could do!  They were challenged and they met their challenges with strength and determination, never giving up.

We fixed up Cainberly and put her on the market, sure that God would bring a job and a buyer in record time. Six months later, no job.  The house had sold and, I'm not even kidding, the DAY before the movers came to empty her Andy got a job offer in Rochester, NY. (This was a huge answer to prayers of its own, but that's a post for another day!) We had already begun homeschooling for the year because we had no idea where or when we'd be moving so with so much transition it seemed the easiest thing to do.  Turns out, my friends, that the suburbs of Rochester host some of the top ranked school systems IN THE NATION! God blessed us with an amazing house in an amazing neighborhood in an amazing school district!

Last week my kids became homeschoolers no more.  Ben was dropped first, eager and excited.  Abby was dropped, nauseous and terrified.  After 3 days Ben hit his wall and Abby let me know that, perhaps, we hadn't made such a bad decision about schooling after all! Ben finished out his week strong, but I think PE may be his personal nemesis for a bit! Abby talks about lots of new friends and how much she loves her Military History class.

So why am I sharing all of this? I think I have learned a few lessons in my ten years of homeschooling and this may be the most important......life and people change.  Homeschooling my children was the perfect choice for them and for our family.  Choosing to discontinue homeschooling was, also, the very best choice for them and for our family.  At the onset of our homeschooling journey, I was convinced that everyone should homeschool and that once begun, you only ended with graduation-That there was shame in "quitting" and that it would signify some lack of love for Abby and Ben.  Since then, I have learned much more about grace- and about my kids in particular.  I've learned that God's plan for us may not look the same as everyone else's and that I should perhaps listen more to Him instead.  He holds my children's hearts, and their futures, and He loves them so much more than even I.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Homeschoolers No More: Part I

For ten years.  For ten years we have spent day in and day out together.  We have sipped hot tea and read amazing stories.  We've made salt dough maps and gone to the grocery store any time that we pleased.  We cried in frustration and we've cried in comical hysterics.  We have each grown and changed and learned.  Homeschooling is who we were.

If I were honest I'd say that we began homeschooling because we had no other choice.  We lived in an urban neighborhood with an inner city school system that did not inspire the confidence to convince us to send our children everyday.  Oh how thankful I am that we chose to homeschool.  If you've never done it, please let me share this with you.......teaching someone to read is simply the most fulfilling experience I have ever known.  Add to that the fact the students are your own children and, well, it's epic.

Our days and weeks and months and years were constantly evolving.  My goal was always to customize our curriculum and plans around the kids and their learning styles.  That worked perfectly for the elementary years.  Past that, I began to find planning difficult, and the children's love of learning began to ebb.  Suddenly my voracious readers became lazy learners, not finding the interest and passion in our time together as they once did.  Still living in the same place and situation, I felt trapped in homeschooling.  Not just in the act of homeschooling, but in the pride of homeschooling.

What do I mean "..in the pride of homeschooling"?  Homeschooling became my idol.  I was a martyr to the act of homeschooling.  I had sacrificed myself on the altar of my children's education.  What would people think of me if I quit?  What would people think of my children?  What would my identity be if not as a homeschooling mom?  Haven't I been told that my children would only suffer if they weren't home with me?

I began to comprehend that my children WERE suffering........with me! And I began to realize a change was in order........so I began to pray.

Stay tuned for Part 2......my prayers are answered!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Naming of a House

Exterior of Home

You can't very well name something that doesn't belong to you.  Patience is, to me, the hardest to learn of virtues and I find myself being a student of her always. Waiting. Just waiting. Less than a month.

It really and truly seems like a dream.  I pray every day that come November 3rd the papers are signed, the keys are handed to us, and just as a snap of the fingers, quick and sharp, our lives are changed forever. Do we really become owners of this beautiful home? Do we really get to live in New York? Do our children really get to partake of all these wonderful opportunities? DO WE REALLY HAVE ACCESS TO THREE TOILETS UNDER OUR ROOF????😉😊

I almost feel like naming her would be a jinx, but I know that our God does not work like that.  Still, you can't very well name something that doesn't belong to you.

Naming Cainberly was so easy.  One whimsical day I decided, undoubtably whilst reading Austen, that our home needed a name.  After all, I thought, she is full of care and personality and deserves to be called so much more than "home". Though that little four letter word be packed with so much more than location, it just didn't evoke the feeling in my heart at the thought of her.  What house was charm and grace and love and wisdom and beauty personified? Well, Pemberly of course! And one step away was Cainberly and, thus, naming perfection!

My family thinks it ridiculous.  They always thought it ridiculous.

As we prepared to move, friends began asking "What of Cainberly? Will you name the next house? Will it be Cainberly too?"  I really didn't realize it had become quite the"thing"! I answered vaguely, guaranteeing it would not be decided upon until we owned our next home.  Here we are on the cusp of owning the next home and I'm startled by how much I find myself thinking of this very thing! But I have questions......
Do you name each house individually?
Is it the idea of home that I've given a name to?
If the above is true, she goes with us everywhere we go together so why would I rename her?
Longbourne, Netherfield, Mistlethwaite Manor.....where do I begin for this house?

You can't very well name something that doesn't belong to you.  I will be patient.....and look to you for inspiration,