Posted in $$$$$

Decluttering for Profit

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This fall I made $600 cleaning out my house. Yep, you read that right – $600.

I have been slowly decluttering our house for a couple of years now, learning the fine line of Enough vs. Too Much.

Finding the balance that is right for my family of four – so that no one feels deprived but there is room for creativity and new ideas and hospitality in our home.

Figuring out what my three men plus me can live without, what we can keep, and what we can treasure. Some items are just too precious, and we’ve meticulously narrowed it down and gone through every unopened box from the moves through the years.

I’ve had to be understanding of all our different personalities, and the mix of living with people who may be more attached to certain items than I am 😉

And I think we’ve done it – for now.

To be honest, if it was just me I’d be setting up shop in a tiny house, off the grid, living off the land, with only a few creature comforts (like movies – I love movies).

But I’m very glad that it’s not just me, so a bigger house it is, and trips to the grocery store, and paying utility bills – for now.

I’ll be discovering ways to incorporate my frugal, minimalist, and pioneer ways into our lives in the near future – but for now it is good to feel like we’ve arrive at Enough.

Of course, Enough for us is excessive when compared to other parts of the world, and I feel this every day – and I am forever learning how to share the blessing of More Than Enough. But that’s a post for another day 🙂

Let me break down this idea of decluttering for profit – this might come in useful over the next few weeks as Christmas approaches…

  • What works best for you? Decluttering in one big swoop or working through individual rooms/closets/cupboards? Figuring out your decluttering style is essential for this process, since getting overwhelmed will only hinder any progress you make. I did a mix of both – I decluttered in layers and categories. One room at a time, obvious non-essential items first (anything we hadn’t used for a few months, or outgrown, or broken, etc.) Then items that we didn’t like once we took a good look at them (clothing, accessories, linens, home decor, etc.). Then items that were excessive (ask yourself if you’re REALLY going to need that or use that in the near future). Then came the slower process of minimizing items with memories attached – this will take the longest – sometimes you will have to relive the memory again and heal from it or celebrate it one more time, or share the memory as you are passing the items along to another home. No matter how many times I try and pass along my Cabbage Patch doll (even to a child in Dominican!) I simply cannot seem to do it 🙂
  • As you declutter you’ll find there are three categories – just like on the reality TV shows – Trash, Donate, Keep. But I’m going to add /Sell to Donate – this is where the profit may come in 😉 Unusable items go in the Trash pile. Usable items that you no longer want to use go in the Donate/Sell pile, and treasures or usable items that you still want to use go in the Keep pile. You may need a designated room for your Donate/Sell pile – depending how much decluttering is going on!
  • Take the Trash pile out of the house, never to return – you are well on your way to ridding your home of clutter – congratulations!
  • Put the items from the Keep pile back in the rightful place in your home, ready to be used by your family. Treasures in the Keep pile need to find a spot in your home that keeps the area easy to clean when needed, or special memory boxes (we’ve got 2 big totes – one for Josh & I and one for the boys) kept in a small storage area of your home where they can be easily accessed if needed or wanted.
  • Now we get to the Donate/Sell pile – this is the money-maker 🙂 Decide which items you may not want profit from – this will be different for everyone, just go with your gut feelings. Move those out of the house as soon as possible – arrange for delivery or pick up within a few days if possible. The key is getting items out of the house. What’s left is For Sale.
  • You have a couple of options before you – yard sale or online sale. My husband banned yard sales a few years ago, he just couldn’t do it anymore. I get it, it’s not for everyone, so I started selling on Kijiji. I realize Kijiji is not the best option for everyone, but it works for me and I always make sure transactions occur on my front porch/driveway if my guys are not around. But usually I set meeting times for when I won’t be home alone. Or I bring/send one or two of my guys to deliver items to buyers.
  • If you sell on Kijiji, make sure you get at least a couple of good photos of each item – you’ll soon discover what sells and what doesn’t in your area. I sold many items from home renovation materials (used glass blocks, used medicine cabinet, extra roofing supplies) to clothing to toys/games to my digital piano (that was a hard one but I finally admitted to myself that I’d much rather sing than sit down at a piano – though I am SO GLAD I know how to play). Kijiji sales also require you are available most of the time to answer emails/texts and set up meetings. It’s like a part-time job for the duration of your sale. So I limit the sales to twice per year decluttering and one month of storing possible sales items. If they haven’t sold in a month, they’ve had their chance and they get donated. The key is getting items out of the house 🙂

And that’s how I made an extra $600 in about one month – decluttering for profit.

There just might be gold in them there closets, and cupboards, and spare rooms, and basements, and garages… 🙂

Posted in $$$$$, Life

How I Made a Queen-Size Quilt for About $30 in About 10 Hours

 

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I love quilts.

The look of them, the coziness of them, the warmth of them.

When I was 18 I started a new hobby of making blankets.

A small plastic loom had caught my eye when I was in Michael’s one day, and I bought it on the spot.

It was one of those weaving looms that came with rings of stretchy material to make pot holders and such.

I didn’t like that material. And I didn’t want to make pot holders.

So I figured chunky yarn might work. And I figured blankets would be nice to make.

It did, and they were!

I started buying up chunky yarn at the Woolco (now Walmart) in town, and discovered the therapeutic, relaxing habit of drafting blanket patterns for family & friends, weaving together squares of chunky yarn, and sewing the squares together.

My mom still has the first one I made 🙂

The most recent one I made was for Elijah. It’s special because the middle section was his crib blanket, and the large beige squares in the middle of those were inherited from my grandmother’s stash of yarn. Lots of memories “woven” into this cozy blanket already…

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After Josiah was born, I learned to sew so I could make wedding veils for my sister’s bridal store – the perfect job from home.

Combine the love of blanket-making with the skill of sewing, and voila – QUILTS!

I made my first quilt for Josiah a few years ago – I wanted to find a way to save the piece of his favourite blanket that wasn’t shredded and incorporate it into a new blanket. A quilt was the solution.

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A fellow blogger posted about her simple technique for making quilts from scrap fabric, and suddenly I saw the possibilities 🙂

Since then I’ve made warm weather and cold weather quilts for all us Sklars for the living room, and now I’m finishing up quilts for our beds. I still have one to go for Elijah’s room 🙂

Then it’ll be back to the chunky yarn weaving of squares to make heavier blankets for our beds for the really cold weather that is coming to our Northern Ontario home.

Josh made me a large wooden loom a couple of years ago – this loom cuts makes the process more efficient by far – I can weave 1 large square that is the same size as 4 smaller squares made on my old plastic loom. Yes, I was still using it more than 20 years later 😉

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Now back to my most recent creation – a queen-size quilt for about $30 in about 10 hours…

  • I had alot of scrap fabric from old pillow cases and pieces I found at Value Village through the years.
  • I went to Value Village and bought about $20 of linen to round out my quilt stash (including half of a duvet cover for the back of the quilt as shown below)

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  • I found a GREAT deal on quilt batting on Amazon – about $10
  • I inherited a bunch of thread from my grandmother and I love that I got to use it in this quilt

That’s where the $30 comes into play.

And here’s how the 10 hours comes into play…

  • I mapped out a pattern with the fabric I bought or had on hand (this was my first attempt at quilting with small squares and I loved the result)
  • I sewed the pattern together in lines of squares

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  • I pinned the back piece & batting & patterned front piece together
  • I sewed the 3 layers together using a zig-zag stitch along the front pattern lines – Josh once again saved the day by making me an extension for my sewing machine. He pieced together pieces of wood and plexiglass he found in his workshop and suddenly the always-frustrating task of sewing the quilt lines into one big piece was more a joy than a trial.

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  • I finished the edges off with an easy quilt binding method (simply make either the bottom or top layer about 3″ larger all around, and fold the edges over like a hem onto the smaller layer)

Then I spread the quilt out on my bed, crawled under it, and enjoyed my creation 🙂

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All for about $30 and about 10 hours. Not bad at all.

Posted in $$$$$

Budgeting – Fixed and Variable Spending

Budget is not a comforting word for some families.  Some might feel trapped or stressed or even afraid of that word.  Maybe it’s been a while since you took a serious look at your finances. Maybe you have tried to create a budget and stick to it many times in the past, and maybe you failed many times too! Discouragement may have settled in a long time ago.

I’ve been there, I’m still there sometimes. Living in a budget can be challenging, but it is definitely worth it. The hard part is to keep trying – believe me, I get that. And unless frugality is a lifestyle for you, building a budget is key to the financial success of your family. Continue reading “Budgeting – Fixed and Variable Spending”

Posted in $$$$$

Budgeting

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When I shared with you our financial story to date, I mentioned that after one year of marriage (even with spending less than $4000 on our wedding/honeymoon) we realized we were $38,500 in debt. This was student loans, car loan, and credit card debt. We were 26, Josh was making $28,000 per year as a youth pastor, and I was working part-time for a mission in the city. Not long after gaining true perspective on our financial situation and consolidating all our bills into one place, we discovered we were pregnant with our first son.

Then came the whirlwind of moving to a new city for a new job, Josh becoming the sole provider after Josiah was born (he was now making $40,000, but we were living in a much more expensive neighbourhood and our dream of home ownership flew out the window!), finding out we were pregnant with our second son when Josiah was 12 months old, moving into a new place in town, Josh getting laid off due to budget constraints at the church, losing our Caleb to stillbirth, jobs not panning out for Josh even after at least 20 interviews all over North America, moving 4 times in the next year for whatever jobs we could find, and settling on living in our current Northern Ontario city. We were completely broke, Josh was working part-time at the hospital in food services, and I was a stay-at-home mom. We knew that even more changes were needed to give our growing family the future we hoped for.

It was time to make a budget.

I’ve always leaned towards frugality by nature, and Josh always leaned far away from it! Josh loves to tell the story of how one night, early in our marriage, he suggested we go out to dinner and a movie. I proceeded to quickly inform him that it was not cheap ticket Tuesday, so it was impossible to go to the movies that evening. He told me it was going to be OK. When I asked him where he wanted to go for dinner, he mentioned places like Montana’s or Casey’s or Milestones. I proceeded to tell him he was off his rocker, and that I really appreciated the Super-Value menu at Wendy’s. We comprised (as we’ve done many times since!) and settled on Wendy’s and a full-price movie. If it was Tuesday, we could have done this whole evening out for under $20 – that’s my kind of date! Instead we spent about $30 – I can live with that!

So here we were, with two different extremes in looking at finances, but knowing it was time to figure out our spending and create a budget.

I did some research, and learned so much about what our family should be spending on household expenses. I discovered so many ways to save money in the areas in which we were currently over-spending. Step by step we came up with a budget that was reasonable for us.

I’d love to walk you through those steps in hopes that somewhere along the way I can help you gain confidence in your household budget.

More to come next week – the first step is tracking your fixed and variable expenses – stay tuned…

Posted in $$$$$

Wedding on a Budget

The beginning… our wedding…. we managed to get the job done for under $4000 – that’s including a reception for 250 guests, a 10-day honeymoon at a farmhouse, my second-hand dress, etc! Here’s our story of how we pulled it off…

When Josh and I were getting married, he was a youth pastor making $28,000 a year, and I was volunteering full-time for my sister’s new business.

We had ZERO money.

And we didn’t have alot of time to plan the wedding, either.

We were 25, we were in love, and we were absolutely sure about this whole marriage idea.

We had known each other for a couple of years as acquaintances, the friendship had developed a few months before our first date, and my volunteering with the youth group had started about the same time as the friendship.

The time period between our first date and our “I do” was seven months.

Yep, we were absolutely sure.

So, with lots of stars in our eyes, lots of love in our hearts, and not alot of money in our pockets, we got married on November 20, 1999.

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And from the receipts I kept and the list of expenses we made after all was said and done…

We spent just under $4000 on our wedding – that’s honeymoon, dress, reception and all!

We were given about $3000 cash at the reception, so that really helped to pay off the credit cards, and we were truly blessed by generous people who gave freely of their time and talents to help with our special day.

Here’s a few tips and tricks for how to do a wedding on a budget...

  • Buy a used wedding dress or borrow a dress from family or friends. My dress was $300 from a consignment store, and I bought the first one I tried on!  I knew exactly what I was looking for, and I found it right away!
  • Make your own wedding favours or have someone who loves you and is crafty make them for you. We made heart-shaped wood pieces and attached three different-sized candle holders to them. Then we bought candles to match our wedding colours (blue, green and white) and glued tiny ribbons and flowers to the candle holders as well. Hubby loves to work with wood, and I love candles – perfect!
  • Shop around for a low price on a hall for the reception. Visit many places to find somewhere you feel welcome and comfortable, without breaking the bank. We were married just before Y2K, so the options were very limited for us (everything was booked with millenium parties!). We ended up going with a community centre near my parent’s house at a cost of $330 for the day.
  • Decorate the church and reception hall yourself, with the help of any willing friends and family.  Simple ideas like strings of lights wrapped in coloured tulle, steamers, and balloons – these can make a room look amazing with some tasteful decorating. Also, we bought kraft paper and pencil crayons for each table and used the kraft paper as a tablecloth. We had so much fun looking at what people had written or drawn – I still have the drawing of one of my artist friends – it’s laminated and hanging in my bedroom – it’s a beautiful capturing of Josh and I as we were saying our vows.
  • Make your own decorations – I really enjoyed collecting pine branches and pinecones from my parent’s yard and attaching them to huge pieces of white ribbon for the pew bows. They smelled wonderful as well!
  • We bought my engagement ring at a pawn shop. I wanted something old, with character, and we made a fun day out of shopping for the ring together in downtown Toronto.  I really appreciated that Hubby let me pick the ring I would be wearing for the rest of my life. And I still love the ring. The cost was about $200 for the beautiful ring, and another $20 to have it resized.
  • Wedding bands can be very inexpensive as well – we visited a local jeweler and found simple gold bands for under $200. Mine cost much less than Josh’s, simply because I needed a much smaller size than him!
  • Keep your invitations simple and print them yourself. We went to Staples and bought packages of invites that we printed out at the church.  Yes, it did help that Josh was working for a generous church who didn’t mind us printing out wedding invites for free.
  • And we also got the church and the minister for free – I realize this can be a big expense in planning a wedding. Currently, our church charges $500 for the use of the church and a minister for the wedding.  Again, it helped that Josh was working for a church!
  • Gifts for the bridal party and groomsmen can be well-thought-out and inexpensive at the same time. I gave out jewelry sets for each of my 5 bridesmaids to wear for the wedding, and Josh gave knives to his 5 groomsmen. We spent about $300 on them and enjoyed picking out their gifts.
  • Make your own bouquets. I ordered the flowers beforehand, to be picked up the day before the wedding. Simple ribbons in our wedding colours were added to the corsages and single white roses for my bridesmaids. My bouquet was a simple bunch of white roses (white roses were our thing when we were dating…)
  • When people offer their talents and abilities to help with your wedding – say YES!  We had friends who offered to make our wedding cake for free, and other friends who offered to DJ the reception for free.  This helped so much with keeping costs down.
  • Do you know anyone in the food services industry? A friend of ours had a daughter who worked for a big food services company and was able to get the food for our reception at hugely discounted prices.  We got all the food we needed for about 250 people for $1000.
  • Do you know have family and friends who are fantastic in the kitchen?  Our church family offered to cook the buffet-style meal for us at the hall. We also had all our desserts donated by some of the wonderful women at church.
  • I don’t recommend making your own wine unless you have had lots of practice before the wedding. We decided to have some fun by making our own wine, but it tasted truly awful (we didn’t taste it before the reception, so our guests had the first sip!) and it cost $225. A big expense for something that didn’t work out.
  • Shop around for a simple honeymoon. We didn’t opt for a tropical get-away for our honeymoon (we enjoyed a last-minute all-inclusive deal a few months before our first child arrived instead), and instead chose a spot about 2 hours away from home. We stayed at a country farmhouse for a week for about $700. We had the whole place to ourselves, and we enjoyed the slow pace, the small town feel, and a chance to relax and unwind after our 7-month whirlwind romance adventure!

I’ve probably left out a few important details, but this list is a good start to thinking about the big wedding items and how you can keep the costs low with a little creativity, a little fun, and a little letting go. Your day doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does have to be special. Gather your community together to have fun planning this with you. Listen to the ideas of others, chat with your fiancee about what you both want, and then do your best to match it all up with what is easy, fun and simple.

Most of all – ENJOY YOUR WEDDING DAY!

It is the first day of something truly unique, truly special, and truly important – your marriage.

Posted in $$$$$

Our $$$$$ Story

 

 

Josh and I started out our married life at 25 years old with much love in our hearts and little money in the bank accounts. He was a youth pastor, I was a volunteer with my sister’s new clothing business. He made $28,000 per year, I made $0. We paid for our wedding ourselves. We bought a used car.

One year into our marriage we wondered why we never seemed to get ahead of the bills. I had taken on part-time work, and we had cut back drastically on our expenses. Our financial advisor friend asked us to collect all the information for our loans and credit cards, and bring them with us for an appointment with him. After rounding up all the numbers, we watched the smoke clear on $22,000 in student loans between the two of us, $10,000 in credit card debt, and $6,500 in a car loan. That’s right – a grand total of $38,500! Wow, we had some changes to make!

We consolidated all our bills into one place, and set our sights on a debt-free life. We had many “conversations” about how to spend our money, and we found some common ground in learning to spend less. But we were 26 and we didn’t plan too far into the future. We were a couple who enjoyed living in the moments, and we found ourselves pregnant with Baby #1 less than two years after we were married. As parenthood drew nearer we made many more changes – we began to think about saving more and opened up a small RRSP account, we started to look for our first home, and we found a new job for Josh since I would be home with the baby very soon. We even had $5,000 in the savings account, and the debts were decreasing in wonderful ways.

The new job in the new city was not what we had hoped, but parenthood brought us more joy than we could imagine. Who needed to spend money on anything? We had this beautiful baby boy to fill our days with new life, constant entertainment, and fresh purpose. Houses were much more expensive in our new neighbourhood, so we continued to rent an apartment for the time being. We took another step into saving more for the future and opened an RESP for our first child. Then Baby #2 appeared on the pregnancy test, and more changes soon followed.

The next year of our lives was less than stellar (to put it mildly) in just about all areas – including finances. Baby #2 was stillborn at almost 37 weeks (read about that in my 1st book Discovering Hope), our savings were depleted from living in a more expensive city, Josh was let go from his new job due to budget constraints, and after many interviews both near and far there was no new job on the horizon. But we still had each other and Baby #1. And our debts had continued to decrease to $22,500 – down $16,000 in just over 2 years!

At the close of 2003, four years after we were married, we felt like we were starting fresh. We found a new city to live in, followed by a new job, and a few months later we purchased our first home. A better-suited job for Josh, once again a pastor in the church,  soon followed and Baby #3 was on the way as well. Things were definitely looking up!

From a financial point of view, debts were even higher than before from the years of loss and unemployment. And we needed a newer vehicle, so we took out a car loan again (the biggest one we’ve ever carried!). We were now at $40,000 in loans and credit, with another $70,000 in mortgage/closing costs/RRSP withdrawal for down payment. The good news was we were on the right track – we bought the most run-down house on a very nice street for $67,000. We knew we could fix it up when time and money allowed. And it was a duplex, so we lived mortgage-free for the first four years of home ownership!

We still live in that house, we spent 3 years and $80,000 tearing it apart and putting it back together into a single-family dwelling, and we are raising two wonderful boys. I have worked off and on through the years, but mostly stayed home with the children and volunteered with our church and the public school my boys attend. We have always aimed to live on one income, and consider anything else as “gravy”. I have gone on to finally finish my undergraduate degree, and Josh has completed a graduate degree. We have been able to take our boys on a couple of bigger vacations to Disney and an all-inclusive to Dominican Republic. Most of the time we hang out with family or go camping during our time off work.

An opportunity came our way a couple of years ago to become landlords once again, and we use that income for the extras like home repair and used vehicles when necessary. We are also able to give away a good sum every year to those who need it most around the world. And my love for writing has grown and developed into self-publishing and freelance work.

Our net worth has grown in amazing ways during the past decade, and we have been able to put away education savings for both our boys. This should give them a head start at a life that is debt-free. We have taught them what we know about personal finance and they seem to grasp the basics very well.

I can’t believe all the amazing things we’ve learned about finances during our 15 years of marriage. It has been an often-uphill battle, but we just keep fighting the good fight. Our focus is constantly on debt-free living and maintaining a simple life. Our strategies always include spending less, saving more, and paying it forward.

Posted in $$$$$, Helping Others

Another Reason I Love Thrift Stores

Did I mention I love thrift stores?

I think I might have mentioned that before…

There is one more reason I haven’t mentioned, though.

It’s this – when I buy a used item, I know that no further child  or slave labour has occurred in the world.

It may definitely have occurred when the item first appeared in the world, but not when I bought it.

I know there are all kinds of issues surrounding child and slave labour, and that’s not what this post is about.

It’s just about having a little peace of mind, and easing the consumerism that fuels the global issues.

Can I tell you about a recent Thrift Store trip?  MmHmm… love it!

I had a 30% off coupon to use for this trip, so I grabbed my long list of things we needed and headed out to the thrift store a couple of weeks ago.

  1. $7 – double bed sheet set (flat, fitted, 2 pillow cases)
  2. $15 – lots more bedding that I will cut up to make summer quilts
  3. $14- TWO Roots messenger-style purses in like-new condition – one canvas for the summer, and one black leather for the winter
  4. $5 – 4-slice toaster
  5. $10 – leather boots and long top for an elf costume – my mum is having a Shire Garden Party next month (looking forward to it!)
  6. $8 – various household needs like a stapler, coupon holder, small shelf for office, electric pencil sharpener, tons of plastic coat hangers

For a grand total of about $67!

Just can’t beat that…

Posted in $$$$$

How Much Can I Make By NOT Having a Full-Time Job?

What a strange question, right?

I’ve been struggling with this one for years.

Feeling like I should be out there, holding down a full-time job, contributing to society (not to mention our chequing account!), etc.

This is what I’m told I’m supposed to be doing – especially once my kids are both in school – this is the norm in my world.

But I’ve tried it, tried just a part-time job, tried applying for job after job that might just work with our family schedule.

Only to realize it just doesn’t work for us.

Not if we want to keep our priorities in their current order.

So that’s it.  Even with my newly-attained Bachelor’s Degree.

And it’s very frustrating at times.

Who would have thought?  A person frustrated because they AREN’T holding down a full-time job…

Odd… isn’t it?

I do feel odd about it most days.

I am not the norm.

But I suppose it goes with the flow in my life – there are many things in our life that aren’t the norm.

And I really want to start choosing to see the good in it all, instead of constantly comparing myself to others or to society as a whole.

We all make our choices.

Josh and I have made ours.

I want to feel GREAT about them, not odd.

So here goes… a change in perspective is long-overdue.

A crazy change is needed in another area of life.

A “transform”ing and “renew”ing of my mind (as per Romans 12:2 – my verse for this year).

Instead of worrying about how much money I am missing out on by holding down a full-time job, I’m going to change it up in a crazy way and ponder on all the money I make (or save) by NOT having a full-time job.

Huh…

Ya…

I like that angle.

So… a little breakdown to get started…

  • Save at least $600 per month by running only one vehicle in our household ($300 car payment, $100 insurance, $200 gas)
  • Save at least $200 per month by not eating out very much (one meal for us WITH COUPONS is starting to cost about $25)
  • Save at least $50 per month for professional clothing (guessing here…)
  • Save at least $250 per month in after-school daycare and busing fees for the boys (then add some for PA days, school breaks, especially in the summer months, Christmas, March break – then it would cost WAY more for childcare)

Already I’m at about $1100 and I’m probably missing a bunch of things.

Taking the bus would cut the cost of vehicle way down to the price of a bus pass as well.

How much could I make if I was to work?  Probably about $12/hour for an entry level position.

$12 x 160 (approx. full-time hours in a month) = $1920 – minus taxes, etc.

Leaves… not much.

So if I can’t make much by working a full-time job, then how much can I make by NOT having a full-time job (or a part-time job at this point)?

I have been learning the ropes of couponing, browsing the flyers, figuring out which stores have the best prices for different items.

Then there’s Value Village, Kijiji and different places to find what we need for less.

And things like volunteering at the YMCA and local children’s camps helps with having fun for less.

A strong family support line allows us to have time away for the price of gas to get there.

There are a few people who greatly bless us with the use of cottages, etc.

We are great with maximizing the potential with rewards programs like Aeroplan (Josh was able to get to his Master’s courses at Wheaton in Chicago through Aeroplan, plus all 4 Team Sklar members were able to attend his graduation for the cost of flight taxes – $600!!), Shopper’s Drug Mart (this year alone we gotten a laptop, TV, and awesome camera for minimal cost), PC Plus and Airmiles at Metro (free groceries).

And we price match and shop the sales, and buy whatever else we need at Food Basics, Costco, and Dollarama.

We’ve learned lots from the decade I stayed home while both boys were ready to go to school.

I look back and see how we managed to renovate our old house and keep a low mortgage, pay for a chunk of the Arrow Leadership and Masters of Leadership and Evangelism courses Josh completed, as well as my Bachelor’s Degree – with no outstanding debt to carry.

We run our vehicles until they drop, which keeps those expenses low.

We try to model a lifestyle of contentment and living within our means to our sons, which causes less problems in the “I want!” department – they really are amazing at not asking for much.  And we work together to find good deals on the things they do want – I never want them to feel poor – we are not poor. I’ve seen poor. We are rich. Maybe not by North American standards, but compared to most of the people in the world, we are gushing with money, resources, food, entertainment, etc.

Sorry, no rants, I’m trying to stay focused…

So I tallied up what I saved on my last shopping trip – I try not to shop too much – plus I sort of hate it – that helps!  (Again, not the norm, am I?)

This is just what I think I saved from shopping sales, etc. and using coupons on my shopping day this week:

  • $75.00 saved from browsing flyers and reading the “deals” shopping list from MrsJanuary.com
  • $47.00 saved from shopping at Costco
  • $11.00 saved from using coupons
  • $27.00 earned from using PC Plus and Shopper’s Optimum rewards programs (plus some Air Miles – can’t remember how much)
  • $20.00 earned in mail-in rebates

Grant total = $182

That kind of take-home is about what I would be making at a full-time job at this point in my life.

Doing the math and writing it all out really helps me sort through things.

Thanks for sorting through this with me.

Now… as for the issue of contributing to society, etc. – NOT working allows me the time to do some freelance writing, help in church ministry, volunteer at the school, be available for the boys (for example, Elijah was sick and home from school most of the last two weeks!), and keep the household running as smooth as I can.

These are the jobs I love.

These are the jobs I want to be doing.

Looks like it’s still feasible to keep on doing them.

For now.

It’s good to re-evaluate every few months and see where it’s at.

I LOVED figuring out how much I can make by doing what I’m already doing.

I have loads of peace of mind now.

And lots more to share with you…

Another day.

Posted in $$$$$

10 Nifty Ideas to Help with the Grocery Budget

I have struggled and wrestled with my grocery budget for years.  It has defeated me time and again.  But no more.  I will not back down.

My past bank statements would argue this, but research has shown me that it is absolutely possible for My House to live within our $460 budget for the month – that includes food, hygiene, paper products, household items, and the like.

This budget is in place for a reason – we have goals and dreams that go beyond mere survival.  We hope to donate money to charities that are important to us, pay down our mortgage faster, stay out of debt as much as possible, build up a savings account that allows for emergencies, and especially be a positive example to our children as they grow up.

That being said, here’s a few ideas to help with the grocery budget in your house:

  1. Develop a Budget if you don’t already have one – Crown Financial Canada has some wonderful tools – I love this Budget Percentage Guide that shows how much you should be spending on what, depending on your annual household income.
  2. Shop Your Local Flyers.  This is where you will find some amazing deals.  Make a list and check it twice!
  3. Learn the Best Prices for groceries and other household items, then only buy those things when they are on a super-good deal.  Mrs. January has some extremely helpful tools for budgeting – including a Stock-Up Price List!  (Scroll down the page until you find this pdf to print out.)
  4. Stock Up when items are on for a can’t-be-beat price.  For example – I took the plunge this fall, and stocked up on toilet paper, paper towels, Kleenex and napkins when they went on sale for a lower-than-low price (plus I had great coupons to go with them!) and now there is a small area in my basement that contains enough of these products to last about a year.  At first mention, it sounds crazy, and it felt a little weird to buy that much at once, but as I got in line, there were others like me who knew a good deal when they saw one, and took the same plunge as myself.  Paper products never expire, so why not?
  5. Use Coupons!!!  I used to use coupons occasionally, if I  had one, and if I remembered to put it in my purse.  Since the summer I have been taking couponing a lot more seriously, and now I save quite a bit every month.  Once you get the hang of it – printing out coupons, ordering them, collecting them from booklets, noticing the tear-off coupon pads in stores – it can actually be really fun!  And when there’s a sale PLUS I have a coupon, it’s a great feeling to get items for free or next to nothing.  The trick for me has been in learning what items I really NEED, instead of what I have a coupon for.  I’m much more selective in the coupons I use now than when I first started a few months ago.  Plus couponing has encouraged me to sometimes try new items, which leads to new recipes, which is a win-win at My House.  Search the web for great places to find Canadian coupons – just to name a few, I love Proctor and GambelGoCouponswebsaver, save.ca,  SmartSource.
  6. Subscribe to Blogs that read the flyers, browse the coupon sites, and match up the two for you!  Mrs. January publishes her Coupon Match-Ups, and Save Big Live Better publishes their Weekly Matchups.
  7. Reduced Racks – don’t be bashful about looking on the reduced racks at the stores.  Produce, bakery, meat, and lots of other items can be found here.  Some meats or breads may expire soon, so they’ll need to go in the freezer as soon as you get home and pulled out when you’re ready to eat them.  Vegetables and fruit might need to be chopped and frozen when you get home, and then used when you’re ready.  You can save quite a bit and get items that are very tasty.
  8. Bakery Outlets – we never pay full price for our bread products (unless we’re in a squeeze!).  Our local Weston’s bakery outlet has bread, hotdog/hamburger/sausage/sub buns, bagels, croissants, kaisers, tortilla wraps, and more on for less than half the price of the grocery stores.
  9. Talk to Your House about your efforts, share the joy of finding good deals, treat everyone to something special occasionally (with a coupon!).  Make it exciting to live within a budget!
  10. Accountability – connect with others who are on the same journey of living in the budget.  I found this wonderful community at Canadian Budget Binder who participate in this Grocery Game Challenge every week.  It has been really eye-opening for me to jot down every single grocery/household item I purchase in a week and see where the money really goes.  In such a short time I have been able to see what habits need to go and what can stay.  I have gained a lot of confidence in knowing I am not alone in this journey, and the accountability has been a wonderful asset for me.  Yes, it takes a few extra minutes that I thought I didn’t have in my days, but it is well worth the effort.
Posted in $$$$$

Creating A Budget

Part 1:  Variable Expenses

Budget is not a comforting word for some families.  Some might feel trapped or stressed or even afraid of that word.  Maybe it’s been a while since you took a serious look at your finances, or maybe you’ve tried a budget many times and failed many times.  Discouragement may have settled in a long time ago.

There is always hope.  The hard part is to keep trying – believe me, I get that.  Over the next few months we’ll be looking at building a budget because it is so key to financial success for your family.

The first step is to start tracking and listing your variable expenses – those that seem to change all the time – food, gas, clothing,  entertainment, etc.  Keep all your receipts and start making a list of what you’re spending each month.  Also keep totals for things like utilities, gasoline and car maintenance.

For our family’s variable expenses, I simply keep a hand-written list going.  (See the list included at the end of this article.)  After I’ve done some shopping, I grab the calculator and update the totals.  Sometimes I have to break down the receipts into different totals because I’ve bought food items and presents and hygiene items all at the same store.  Tracking receipts gets easier with practice!

You might learn a lot about your spending habits.  The point is to become aware of where your money is going and communicate openly and honestly about your spending within the family.

Next month we’ll look at fixed expenses, and I’ll share with you how my husband saved us $700 a year in one afternoon.  Together we will slowly but surely learn the basics of  budgeting.  Then we’ll build a budget that will help your family accomplish goals and realize dreams.

Our family’s variable expenses:

  • Utilities
  • Presents
  • Long Distance
  • Entertainment
  • Cell Phone
  • Kid’s Activities
  • Food
  • Postage
  • Gasoline
  • Books, Magazines
  • Car Maintenance
  • Office/School Supplies
  • Household Items
  • Dental
  • Haircuts
  • Hygiene
  • Clothing /Shoes
  • Medical
  • Dry-cleaning

Part 2: Fixed Expenses

I know it can be hard to find the time and motivation to focus on a family budget if you’ve never done it before, but believe me, it is well worth the effort!

This month we’re looking at fixed expenses – things like mortgage, phone, insurance, etc.  The amounts for these expenses don’t fluctuate much from month to month.  (See a list of our fixed expenses in the right column.)

Write down your fixed expenses and the amount you spend on them every month.  If any are prepaid write down what day they are deducted from your bank account or credit card.

Now it’s time to play a game.  Pick one of your fixed expenses (for example – car insurance) and see how much you can lower it by shopping around a little.  My husband saved us $700 per year in one afternoon last fall.  He took our car insurance contract to a few local insurance companies and gathered quotes.  We picked the one with the same coverage but lower payments.

And by taking the leap to cancel cable and switch phone/internet service providers, we enjoy a savings of $65 per month.  That   savings alone more than covers a week at Family Camp next summer!

Prioritize.  Sort out what you really need and what you can live without.  Turn the money you save into family memories.

Next month we’ll look at tracking your income and making sure the money going out is less than the money coming in.

Our family’s fixed expenses:

Tithe

Mortgage

Water Heater

Phone

Insurance – Car

Insurance – Home

Insurance – Life

Internet

Allowances

RRSP

RESP

Part 3: Income

So far we’ve listed all the money that is going out of our households – our variable and fixed expenses.

Maybe that was a bad-news-first scenario for you, or maybe you are doing better than you thought.  Either way, you should have a good estimate of how much money is going out every month.  Be encouraged that you are taking some great steps in developing a solid plan for money usage in your family.

Now let’s keep going with the momentum and figure out how much money is coming in every month.  Hopefully this will be good news for you!

Write down all the income that comes into your household and the dates the money comes in.

Record your net income (take-home pay after taxes).  Also record any baby bonuses or other supplemental income.

Be as accurate as you can.

If you have automatic deductions from your paycheques, double-check you have recorded those amounts and the dates they are deducted in your expenses.  Then make sure you add them to your income totals so you know exactly how much money your family is making.

You need a really accurate picture of your money situation in order to gain confidence, realize any areas that are out of balance, and bring a budget together that will be a blessing to your family.

Part 4: % Allocations

Let’s wrap up our Creating A Budget series and move on to living out the budget!

We’ve mapped out our variable and fixed expenses and the dates they are deducted from our accounts. We’ve calculated our income and when we are paid each month.

Now we need to figure out what percentage of our income should be allocated towards what expenses. You will find that some of your expenses are definitely out of whack in terms of what percentages are recommended. You can bring your budget in line over time, or choose what you will sacrifice from one category so that you can have more room in another category.

Here’s the breakdown for a $45,000 income household according to Crown Financial – this is a GREAT resource!

Tithe 10%

Housing 32%

Food 13%

Auto 13%

Insurance 5%

Debts 5%

Entertainment/Recreation 6%

Clothing 5%

Savings 5%

Medical/Dental 4%

Miscellaneous 7%

Investments 5%

Click here to see % for other income levels.

Your task is to calculate how the current amounts in your budget categories line up with the recommended amounts.

Here is a blank budget worksheet to record everything we’ve been talking about in this series: