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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

To Parents Considering Buying Their Kids "Technology"....

I posted this on my facebook status yesterday in an effort to transparently reach out to parents on the cusp of this life-changing decision.  No, that is not an exaggeration.  Consider this an invitation to an open discussion.

For what it's worth....
  To anyone considering buying their kids "technology"....
  Buying my kids smart phones was the worst parenting mistake I have ever made. I can't blame ALL of my parental woes on that one decision- but it sent us careening down the slipperiest slope of family distruction that I never saw coming.  Sure, we had "talks" with the kids, made rules, supervised- but once caught in the independent mode of "shut out", coupled with the difficulty of a cross country move, it seems almost impossible to win them both back. The phones were just the beginning and I recently added to the chaos by buying my son an Xbox in October so that he could "keep his friends back home" by playing with them online. Right. Apparently, I never learn. I'm being completely transparent when I tell you that every day is a struggle in our relationship now.
  Please please please- be sure that you are sure when you give your kids that first smart phone, kindle, iPad, gaming console. Once you realize how difficult parenting through it is, it is too late to undo some (not necessarily all) of the damage. And to those of you who have had no struggle at all, I wish I were as strong and wise as you.


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!