Friday, February 19, 2010

A few of my favorite thing

I love parties. I love getting dressed up and fixing my home to appear perfect. I love spending days getting ready, and laying out all my favorite dishes, and inviting everyone I know and getting them all together to have a good time. I love fancy! I love friends and family nearby. The first big party I had was when I lived in a 4-plex apartment in South Minneapolis, and had over 60 people come over. I had musical performers, and a dj for dancing in the basement. I had an amazing spread of foods that I had prepared and purchased some great glass pieces for the occasion. It is now a party I have every year about the same time, and the collection of gowns I have from those events now fills my trunk and makes my nieces ask to play dress-up almost the minute they step into my house. It is one of the few occasions I wear make up. (The Olympic ice dancing was just on and I was wishing I had the funds to find something like the gorgeous red dress worn by one of the skaters.) The party has scaled down through the years, but besides the collection of gowns, I have photos, and menus, and lists, and...

I enjoy art. I like taking discovered objects and using them to create shapes. I like using windows or clothes instead of canvas. I love color, and variety, and making people think. I have a degree in graphic design, and I love interesting ads and printed work that makes me stop. Lately I have been all about photography. Except for the "quilt" I am painting for my husband and I to use in our room. I have stacks of artwork, and photos in boxes and bins and cupboards all over my home, and just a few on the walls. I also have bins of paints, and wires, and shiny objects, and...

I treasure physical memories. Those things that remind me of the event. The pamphlet from the play. A note I wrote to my hubby. The first suit and tie my baby boy wore for Easter. The sweetest shirt my baby girl wore her first summer. The school photos from my step son, his artwork, his event programs. Photos and cards received at Christmas and birthdays. Lists, colored sheets, ideas for someday, and...

As a family we love books, and movies, and music, and stuffed animals, and cars. When I tried sorting through the kids room, I came across things I did not want them to give up, and things they did not want to give up, not much actually left their room, or the book shelves, or the movie shelves, or...

Sorting through my home has brought all of these loves back to the front of my mind. I am reminded of what I once enjoyed most, and what I used to be, and who I try to be, and who I thought I would be. In it all I found a bin full of Animaniacs memorabilia and stuffed monkeys. I found a bag of rocks, next to a box of rocks, with a few other rocks nearby. I discovered several bins full of framed photos and several bins full of art and craft supplies. I even found bins that had unopened mail from the many times I needed the house to appear neat, and stuffed things in corners and cupboards and then never saw them again - until now. I have cupboards full of items I do not use, of things I had forgotten about. My china hutch was stuffed full of pretty things, most of which I had found at garage sales or thrift stores. Eclectic assortments of lovely shinny things that I really do not need, nor do I have any strong memory attached to them, but I still try to use them at parties...

There are two ideas I am currently trying to implement in my life. One idea - the simplicity of keeping only what you truly love and treasure - is fueled by a blog called "Simple Mom" and the other idea - debt freedom and financial stability - is from the Financial Peace University CDs with Dave Ramsey. I am implementing both right now. I am trying to make a little money by selling all the stuff that I really do not need or want in my life. Getting rid of things to make time for what I really love. I am trying to do this, but I keep being caught up in the past, and looking in these bins, I'm torn between wanting to remember, and wanting to have less. How many of these things will anyone care about besides me? Could these things be as easily categorized, and remembered with a journal or scrapbook page? I would love to have the time to pause and think these things over with every bin, but I really need to get most of the stuff out for this sale I am holding, this weekend - eeek.

It all leads to the overwhelming fact that I like things. I have so many things, that I have been tangled in the past these last few weeks, and unable to focus on the present.

I really was hoping for something more inspired to blog about the last two weeks. Something to make all of you come back again, but this is me after all. I attack with intensity and then pick up something new, and forget what the last thing was, until I discover it in a box, in the back of my closet.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

My month long pantry challenge

I first read about the pantry challenge at but discovered many other blogs that mentioned it, even one where she had enough in her pantry to live off of for a year - I am a little envious of that. In GettingAhead she seemed to be trying to lower inventory, and get to some of those bottom of the freezer items. I had in the past tried to "eat myself out of house and home" and have tried repeatedly to do that since marriage but hubby was not interested.

We had listened to the first three Dave Ramsey CDs and made our first real budget, and it did not balance of course. We were short by only $300. That amount was an amazing thing for me to see, because as we talked through the budget, we set up line items without setting the balance, we added items in that we'd never planned on before - like car repair, and a monthly amount for propane and Christmas, things we had purchased in the past. It was eye-opening to see on paper; the clear reason we were going deeper into debt each month. I started looking to see what we could cut. There really was not much that we should cut, but it was necessary. We figured we could live without buying clothes for awhile, that we could go a little longer without saving for Christmas. Between the large debt payment minimums and the huge amount I drive to work (1 hour each way, 5 days per week), there wasn't much space left. I cut and I cut and I cut until the only expenditures were absolutely required, and that left only $39 for groceries.

Yes, you saw that right, $39 for a month of groceries for a family of 4 (family of 5 every other weekend). On the Financial Peace cds, he talks about the 4-wall planning. You pay your shelter, food, utilities, and transportation first. I did this budget backwards. I really wanted to keep paying at least the minimum on the unsecured debts. I was not ready yet to give up on my bill paying habits.

Thus began my pantry challenge. We made it with help from many sources. We had donations from friends, we picked up our WIC items, we took home bread from church. Friends who were aware came over and brought us dinner (and leftovers). We made goat cheese from our goat, and bread. Turns out that while a person can not live on bread alone, it does fill in a lot of gaps. We had bread most nights for dinner, and since I have a huge supply in the pantry, canned beans and corn most nights too. Now, I have absolutely no problem eating what we have in the house, on the other hand the husband was frustrated. He's at home during the day while I'm at work. He takes care of and feeds our two children for breakfast & lunch. He has for years had a routine, for breakfast box cereal and milk and raisins, for lunch, bread, lunch meat, and cheese, and 1/2 an apple (or other fruit), and fruit snacks. So when I stopped buying lunch meat because it runs more than $2 per pound, he wasn't sure what to feed the kids any more.

While perhaps not always the most balanced of diets, and not always varied. We made it completely and entirely within the budget. Well, except the required car repair bill which was covered by the bounce protection transfer that occurred last month, so technically no new transfers occurred.

Things I learned. It's good to stock up on things when they are on sale. A whole turkey will last more than a week - and can be fixed a variety of ways so that you don't get bored. It is extremely important to not be too prideful to accept help. It was really hard to be able to say yes to everyone who offered, really hard.

At the same time I am learning to say yes to help, I am learning to say no to extra expenditures. I can now go into Walmart without buying the whole store. I am learning to make lists and stick to them. I am learning to write all our purchases down and rely only on what I have on paper, not on the banks idea of how much money there is. I did trick myself into saving a little money last month by starting my balance sheet over when a new paycheck came in, but also made a few unnecessary purchases.

Our budget is very tight again this month because we are determined to get out of debt. "A borrower is slave to the lender." We did agree to 4 additional budget cuts and rewrote the budget from the top: 4-walls first! Now our grocery budget is $130 for a month. We have been applying for some financial assistance, and food assistance so that we will be able, in the next couple months, to take some good steps forward on our new "financial plan". I guess it is reassuring to see that I really am at an income level which needs assistance. HOWEVER, if I really had just kept to a budget from the beginning, I would not need the assistance. We could make it on our own, I think.

Next steps, "sell so much stuff, the kids thing they are next."