Showing posts with label Homemaking 101. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Homemaking 101. Show all posts

Jul 18, 2012

Teaching Kids How to Budget

"No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.."
Now that you have your own finances under control (after keeping track of every cent for a time and then getting a budget on paper), the next step is to start thinking about how to teach your kids the much-necessary skills to handle their own finances.

Ideally, this training begins when your children are preschoolers. (If they are older than that, don't fret! All of this advice works for older kids, too.) Begin by getting your child a teaching piggy bank. For ideas on buying or making one, read this post - but generally what you're after is a visual way for children to divide money up into three basic categories: Save, Give, and Spend. Now whenever your child gets money as a gift, or earns a little something by doing chores above and beyond what he's expected to do, he has a perfect place to put his money.

At this tender age, don't worry about teaching your child about percentages. (For example, giving 10 percent to the church.) Just help your child divide the money up into each of the three categories in some simple fashion; for example, if you child has three quarters, she should put one into each of the three money categories. If she has a dollar bill, she can pick which category to put it in, remembering to put a future dollar into one of the other categories.

As your child gets older and begins learning about dividing and percentages in school, you can teach him a more precise method of dividing up his money.

Above all, discourage your child from going out and spending every cent as soon as it arrives in her hands. It's natural for children to be excited by the idea of having their own money to spend, but encourage your child to spend a small amount, instead of everything he has.

Another important step is to read what the Bible has to say about money. Some children's Bibles contain parables about money, and there are also children's books aiming to teach a biblical view of how to handle money. To encourage generosity in your children, have them give some of their own money in the offering at church, encourage them to put some of their own money in a Salvation Army box, and, if possible, have them contribute to a family fund to help the needy. (If your child regularly earns money, she'll be proud to contribute all such funds at least once a year.)

By the time your child is in middle school, you can begin introducing the concept of budgeting. Let your child look at your family's household budget, and explain how having one gives the family peace instead of chaos. Then help your child create his own budget. This can be much more simple than a household budget. Have broad categories like giving, food, entertainment, and savings. Help your child come up with estimates of how much he thinks he'll spend in each category, then write those figures down. Show him how to keep track of recipts or write down each expense in a small notebook, then review the results after a month. How can he improve his budgeting?

By high school, your child should know how to track every cent and create a truly workable budget of her own. She should have her own bank accounts - ideally both checking and savings. She should know how to write a check and balance her account. It's also a great idea to let your child deal with the family's budgeting and bills, with you double checking her work afterward.

By taking these few steps, you'll empower your child. Not only will he understand God's ideas about money, but he'll have the skills necessary to save himself from the endless debt that so plagues our society. Time to go off to college or move out on his own? It's going to be a lot less scary now because he knows exactly how to handle his finances. What a gift you've given!

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May 7, 2012

How to Create a Household Budget: Part II (Getting it On Paper)

“He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? "
NOTE: This is part II of the series. To read part I, click here.

 Once upon a time, every Proverbs 31 Woman had a household budget. To many modern women, however, that’s a foreign concept. Why would a private household need a budget? Well…a budget equals:

* Less stress.
* Real control of your finances.
* Always knowing there is enough money for all the month’s expenditures.
* Always knowing how much money is in the bank.
* Getting out of debt faster and easier.
* Easier savings.
* A better feeling about your abilities.

A household that’s run without a budget is one that’s stressful for anyone who pays bills or does shopping; it’s a household that wonders “where all the money goes;” it’s one where the income-earners are easily depressed, wondering why they work so hard; it’s one where debt is common and savings are rare.

The good news is, budgeting isn’t difficult – even if you’ve never created a budget for anything before. Trust me; I count my toes with a calculator, but I still manage to keep a reasonable budget.

Step One: Think Categories
Before you attempt to create a household budget, I highly recommend keeping track of every cent your family earns for at least one month. (Learn how, here.) 
Then you can look at your spending and see what categories it falls into. Write these categories down on a piece of paper.
First, think in terms of regular expenses. These could include:

* Tithes
* Rent/mortgage
* Water/sewer
* Electricity/gas
* Telephone/cell phone
* Internet connection
* Insurance premiums
* Garbage/dump fees
* Vehicle payments and other debts
* Groceries and dining out (they should be two separate categories)
* Toiletries and cleaning products
* Entertainment
* Savings

You will probably also want a category for “free spending” – usually cash you carry around for miscellaneous, smaller purchases.

Now think about your irregular expenses. These might include:

* Charity
* Gifts
* Parties
* Christmas
* Vehicle maintenance
* Household repairs

Once you have a budget in place, these expenses will actually become regular expenses, because you’ll set aside a specified amount for them each month - ideally depositing the amount into a different bank account.
As you create categories, avoid one called “Miscellaneous.” The whole idea of having a budget is to make yourself perfectly aware of your finances. But if you have a “Miscellaneous” category, it’s too easy for money to slip through your fingers.

Step Two: Put it on Paper
There are several ways to get your budget on paper. One is to use graph paper and a pencil. Another is to use a table in Word or Excel. Another is to use an online tool. (I hear Pear Budget is very user friendly.)
To begin, I suggest using either pencil and paper or a program you already have on your computer.

There’s no sense in spending money on budgeting if one of these methods works well for you.

The basic format of a budget is simple and straight forward:

1. The top row should have one rectangle labeled with each one of these: “Category,” “Budgeted Amount,” “Actual Amount,” and “Difference.” It is possible to use just “Category” and “Budgeted Amount,” but I think you’ll find it’s helpful to write down exactly how much you spent each month – and to know what money is left over (if any).

2. Along the side, first write any appropriate categories for income. (For example: “Hubby’s salary,” “Ebay Income,” and “Garage Sale Income.”)

3. Next, write the categories for your regular expenditures, such as tithing and utilities.

4. Finally, add the categories for your “irregular” spending.

(If you're having trouble visualizing this, the last section of this post contains links to examples.)

Figuring the Figures
All this may seem obvious to some of you, but you may wonder (as I did for many years), just how you’re supposed to accurately project how much you’ll need spend in each category.

That’s why you’ve tracked every cent of your income for at least one (and preferably two or three) month(s). From this list of expenditures, you can come up with figures that will actually work in your budget.
For example, let’s say I want to try to figure out how much to budget for our water bill. I’d look to my booklet where I track every cent of our spending, noting how much I paid for water each month. I’d use the highest figure for my budget.

It’s true that some expenses vary throughout the year. For example, my water bill is always highest in the summer because there is little rain when my vegetable garden is in full swing. So I’d use whatever my highest bill was as my budget for water, knowing that most months I’ll spend less than that. (If you’re not sure what the top figure might be for some categories, just use your best guess. And continue writing down every cent you spend; trust me, it really helps!)

For your “irregular” categories, such as “Christmas,” decide how much you’ll want to spend, then divide that figure by 12. For example, if I wanted to spend $300 for Christmas gifts, my monthly budget in that category would be $25 a month. I could actually spend that $25 a month on gifts and squirrel them away, but I think it works better to stash that cash in a separate bank account each month.

There may be some irregular expenses that you can’t predict, like vehicle maintenance. So just estimate what you think you may spend in a year’s time, and divide that number by 12. Sometimes expenses like these are determined by what’s left over from the paycheck at the end of the month. The trick then is to make sure those left over funds go into a separate bank account and are set aside for specific purposes.

It Isn’t Perfect
You may be sensing that a budget isn’t set in stone. And you’re right. You should not expect your first budget to pan out perfectly. But with time, as you adjust your figures to your actual expenditures, you’ll find that it’s accurate most of the time.

Left Overs
Hopefully, you’ll have some money left over at the end of every month, even if you don’t have a “Savings” category.

I like to completely zero out my budget at the end of every month – otherwise, I always find a way to spend that left over money on inconsequential things. So once all the bills are paid, transfer any left over money into one of three places:

* Your separate bank account, where you stash money for “irregular” expenditures, or
* A savings account/investment, or
* Put the money toward a debt

If There’s Not Enough Money
With a budget, you will quickly learn if you are spending more than you are making. (Actually, keeping track of every cent spent should show you that, too.) If this is the case, drastic action is needed:

* Cut all “fun but unnecessary” expenses. We can all learn to entertain ourselves for next to nothing, money-wise. And if you get your budget under control and get out of debt, you can always begin giving yourself a “fun” allowance again.

* Cut back on bills. This can be tough, but it’s possible. For example, if you pay for cable, try Netflix instead. If you have a high speed Internet connection, go for a slower speed (and shop around for a better deal). Get rid of your land line (or dump your cell). Consider moving to a smaller and less expensive home. Stop using your air conditioner. Et cetera.

* Cut back on other spending. Learn to shop more frugally for groceries. Learn to use fewer beauty supplies. Use coupons. Make your coffee instead of buying it at Starbucks. Use energy and water frugally.

* Get out of debt as soon as possible. Sadly, many of us could live quite comfortably if it weren’t for credit card and other debt. Figure out how much you’d have to pay each month to get out from under your highest interest-rate debt, then make it happen by budgeting in that figure and paying it each month. When that debt is paid off, scrape together every extra cent to pay off the next highest interest-rate debt. If it’s not possible to spend more than the bare minimum payment on your debts, you really need to find another way to bring money in to pay those debts off.

Hopefully, these steps will leave you with at least a little bit left over at the end of each month. If you’re in debt, dedicate that money to paying off those debts. Even an extra $5 in a credit card payment, made whenever there is extra money, will get you out of debt faster.

And one final tip for those who are spending more than they bring in: Arrange your monthly budget so that the most important items are at the top and the least important are on the bottom. For example, aside from tithing, your mortgage payment or rent is your most vital bill, so put it first on your budget. Groceries is right up there, too, as is a source of heat, like electricity or gas. In the middle, you'd put other utilities. The last things on your list would be things like entertainment, cable television, and an Internet connection (unless you need one for work). Now pay your bills in this order; this way, if you can't pay all the bills, you'll at least get the most important ones covered and you'll easily see what things you can chop off your budget.

See a Sample Budget
There are many, many examples of household budgets on the Internet, so I didn't create yet another one. Here are a few to check out:

* Sample layout, plus a free Excel download to get started on your own.

* Sample layout with figures - just remember, these figures may or may not be realistic for your household.

* Free. PDF offering a basic layout for a household budget.

* Another free downloadable layout, plus other helpful money related worksheets.

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."

Apr 14, 2012

Making a Mama Chore Chart

Your kids probably shouldn’t be the only ones in the house with a chore chart. In fact, by keeping what I called a "Mama Chore Chart," your house will likely be cleaner and neater and you will reduce stress and chaos in your life - and your family’s life. Although it may take a little time to establish a truly useful chore chart for Mama, I think you’ll find it makes your life as homekeeper considerably easier.

The trickiest part of having a Mama’s Chore Chart is that some household jobs might happen seasonally, others just once in a while, others weekly, and still others daily. But with a little patience and time, you can come up with a chart that really works well for you. (Although I'll let you take a peek at my chore chart, I'm not offering a free printable for this one. That's because every household is different, and a Mama Chore Chart that works for me may not work at all well for you.)

Making a list of daily chores is probably the easiest part of coming up with a Mama’s Chore Chart. Just jot down the household chores you do every day. Post that list on your refrigerator, and as you go about your day, add more chores as you think of them. Here are some things that might go on that list:

* Wash dishes.
* Clean kitchen counters.
* Clean the stove top.
* Clean the dining or kitchen table.
* Laundry.
* Vacuum or sweep floor.
* Empty trash.
* Make beds.
* Tidy each room.

Next, think in terms of chores that don’t need doing daily, but must be done at least once a week. These could include:
* Vacuum and mop.
* Dust.
* Clean the oven.
* Clean the fridge.
* Thoroughly clean one room.
* Clean the bathroom.
* Change the linens.
* Clean doorknobs and switch plates.
* Clean mirrors.

Now think of jobs that really only need doing about once a month. These could include:

* Vacuum ceilings, woodwork, lamp shades, couches, etc.
* Wash curtains.
* Clean ceiling lamps and fans.
* Turn mattresses.
* Clean baseboards and woodwork.
* Polish furniture or floors.

Finally, think in terms of seasoning cleaning. In some households, this might translate to “spring cleaning.” In other homes, you might do this sort of cleaning once in the spring and once in the fall. If you’re super-fastidious, you might do these chores with every change of season. These jobs might include:

* Clean all windows, inside and out.
* Clean screens on windows and doors.
* Dry clean draperies, wash curtains, clean Venetian blinds.
* Wash walls and ceilings.
* Shampoo carpet.
* Shampoo or clean upholstery.
* Clean out/declutter/reorganize closets and cabinets.
* Sort through clothes and stash what’s out of season.

I cannot stress enough that what you put on your Mama Chore Chart depends upon your family’s habits (Do you take off your shoes right away? Are your kids messy or neat?), where you live (Is it a dusty area? Is there a lot of rain and mud?), what kind of heating system you use (Do you have dust-producing wood heat?), and your personal preferences.

Once you have a fairly complete list of chores for your chart, type them up or write them neatly. Put the daily chores on one page, the weekly ones on another, the monthly chores on still another, and the seasonal chores on yet another. Stick these lists inside page protectors, then either tape them to the inside of some cupboard you frequently use, or keep them in a homekeeper’s binder. As you begin using your lists, add chores as needed – and feel free to remove chores or move them to a different page. (For example, you might move mopping from a daily to a weekly chore.)

Finally, you'll need to decide how you will fit weekly, monthly, and seasonal chores into your daily schedule. For most of us, the easiest way to do this is divide the number of extra chores into 6 days (leaving one day free for the Sabbath). Then add them to your to do list. (For a free, printable to do list, click here.) For example, let's say I have 6 weekly chores, in addition to my daily chores. I would then add 1 extra chore per day during the week, so I didn't have to do all the weekly chores in one fell swoop.

Of course, some of you may enjoy doing all the weekly, monthly, or seasonal chores in one day or on the weekend. If that works for you, that's fine, too.

Now, refer to your Mama Chore Chart regularly! I like to use a dry erase pen to put a check mark next to each chore as I complete it. If you like, you may also indicate chores you’ve passed on to other members of the family. For example, you might have your teenager do the monthly dusting - so write his initials next to that chore using a dry erase pen. Next month, should you both wish it, you might assign him a different chore - so erase his initials from "dust" and instead write them next to “shampoo the carpet.”

Once you have your chore charts handy, I'm certain you'll be thankful you took the time to make them! You can see mine in this .PDF file. If you want to use mine as a template for your own, try downloading it in Word format.

Mar 19, 2012

Creating a Household Budget: Part I (Tracking Every Cent)

Budgeting is an essential part of any well run household. Without it, we easily fall into debt, feel stressed, never know if we will run out of money before the end of the month, have trouble saving, and so many other negative things.

Sadly, very few people were ever taught how to budget household expenses. I think this is, in part, why so many families today are struggling with debt. It's also why keeping the household books was such an important part of the homemaker's education in days gone by - and why the Proverbs 31 Woman was praised for being a good steward of the family finances.

Possibly the biggest obstacle people face when trying to create a budget is that they have no idea where their money is currently going. If you don't know that, there's no possible way to create a budget you can actually stick to.

So the first step in creating a work-able budget is to keep track of every single cent that goes in and out of your life. You don't necessarily have to do this forever (although doing so will give you absolute knowledge of your fiances), but you do need to do it for at least two or three months.

Why every cent? Because until you do this, you really have no idea how much you truly spend on coffee each month, or household cleaners, or library late fees...In other words, lots of "mysterious" things eat up your money. Seeing these figures in black and white helps us become better stewards of our money, while at the same time making it possible to estimate accurately for budgeting purposes.

So grab yourself a small notebook - small enough to easily fit in your purse - and a pen or pencil to attach to it. On the first page, write the month, top and center. Drop a line or two and write, on the far right hand side of the page, "In" and - a few spaces to the right "Out."

Now every time anyone in the family spends money (whether it be cash, debit card, check, or credit card), write down the date, what was purchased, and (in the "Out" column) the exact amount it cost. If you like, you may also make an abbreviated notation as to how you paid for the item. (For example, you could put "cc" by the item a credit card was used.)

It's important to be as specific as possible in your notations, so if for example you go to Target or Walmart and buy groceries, beauty supplies, and cleaning supplies, you need to take the time to add those items up separately. For example, you might note that you spend $52.10 on groceries, $9.99 on beauty items, and $24.99 on cleaning supplies.

I recommend making these notations as soon as you get in your vehicle. If you wait until you get home, you may loose your receipt and are unlikely to remember exact figures. You'll also have to remind your husband and children to bring home receipts for anything they purchase; I recommend sitting down every night with these receipts to add them to your book. If you put this task off, you're likely to forget items - and therefore won't get an accurate picture of where your money is going.

The final part of this process is to make a record every time money comes into your life, putting it in the "In" column.

At the end of each month, sit down and total your columns.

"And the Lord said, 'Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions."

Luke 12: 42-44

Read Part II of this series.

Mar 9, 2012

Paying Bills in a Paperless World

As more and more businesses insist on sending bills electronically, I find myself less and less sure of actually receiving a bill. That's why I created a simple chart to keep track of all our regular household bills and when they are due. Other reasons to keep such a chart include:

* To avoid missing due dates
* To keep track of online bill paying passwords
* To always have contact information for bill paying, in case you loose access to the Internet

Whether it's because the power goes out or because you forgot (again!) to pay that electric or Internet bill, it makes sense to have all the information on hand to pay your bills without a computer. And with a bill paying chart on hand, you have complete knowledge of when bills are due and how to pay them.

Creating this chart shouldn't take long. I created mine as I paid my bills one month. I made up the chart in Word, since I feel more comfortable with that program than Excel, but you should use whatever is comfortable for you - even if it's just old fashioned pen and paper.

On the paper, list the name of company, when the bill is due, your usual method of payment (for example, you could list the company's internet address where you normally pay the bill), alternative methods of payment (like a snail mail address), customer service contact phone number, and (if desired) your password to pay online.

In your list, you may also wish to include contact information for your bank.

For your convenience, you may download a copy of my simple template in Word or .PDF format.

I should note that ideally you won't have to write your passwords down anywhere. If you really can't remember them, try writing down a hint instead, or just part of the password. To come up with passwords that you don't need to write down, I know of two methods:

1. Think of a sentence that's easy to remember, like "My hubby's birthday is January 1, 1970." Then remove all but the first letters of that sentence: MhbiJ170. Next add characters like " ? * and !. Example: !$MhbiJ170)

2. Use the same method as above, except substitute misspellings, numbers, and symbols. For example: Mi#u66is6rthdiz11970.

3. Use the same method, but add the first two letters of the website - for example, a password for the City Electric Company might be !$MhbiJ170)Ci

All passwords should be at least 8 characters long, have upper and lower case letters, special characters, and numbers. It's best to have slightly different passwords for every website; that way if someone manages to get your password, they won't have access to all your sites and accounts.

You can test the strength of your password at Password Meter.

Feb 24, 2012

The Power of a To-Do List - and a FREE printable

Recently, I've re-introduced the daily to-do list into my life - and I've been amazed how much more productive I've become!

Pre-child, I frequently used a to-do list, but somehow when babies came along, I rarely wrote one. Now I'm so very glad I'm using a list again. Not only am I finding it easier to do the really important things in life (like read my Bible, pray, and make special time to play with the children), but my house is tidier, too! I also feel far more encouraged about my home making skills.

I think there are several tricks to making a to-do list work. First, it has to be realistic. You can't just make a list of everything you need to do and hang it up on the refrigerator where it will mostly serve to discourage you. Instead, write down only things you can truly accomplish in a day. You might have to experiment with this until you discover how many to-do activities fit into your daily life. For example, I've found that more than 10 on a given day is completely impractical for me. I'm better off with perhaps 8 - but if I'm homeschooling that day, even that is too much and I'd better aim for a few less.

It's also important to realize that sometimes life gets in the way of your to-dos; there's no need to beat yourself up if you have a day or two where your list is largely ignored. What you don't want, however, is for this to become a habit - which is why writing down a realistic number of to-dos is vital.

In addition, it's helpful to prioritize your top three most important things to do each day. I put these at the top of my to-do list, in their own special spot.

If you struggle with things like getting down on the floor and playing with your children, or finding time to read the Bible, don't neglect to put these on your to-do list, too.

Be sure to break down large tasks into individual steps. Instead of putting "clean the house" on your list, write "dust," then "vacuum," then "mop," and so on.

Finally, check off items as you accomplish them. It will give you a feeling of satisfaction, and will encourage you to accomplish more. And if I end up doing additional items not on my list, I always add them to my list. Then, at the end of the day, I can have a realistic look at all I've done. (As an aside, seeing my completed to-do lists has helped my husband appreciate what I do even more.)

I've created a simple template for my to-do list (incpired by TshOxenreider's Organized Simplicity). It includes the date, an area for marking down what's for dinner that night, a place to write my top three priorities, check offs for my to-dos, and a section at the bottom where I can make notes - often about home keeping projects I want to add to my to-do list in the near future. I print (and fill out) a fresh template every evening so I can look back on old lists and feel encouraged. But you might slip yours into a page protector and use a dry erase pen to create a new list every day.

You can download my template in Word format or .PDF format. I hope it helps!

Feb 13, 2012

Why Homemaking Matters

When I was a girl in the midst of the feminist 1970s and 80s, my mother put down homemaking. She kept a reasonably tidy house, but she was forever in a hurry to get the house cleaning done so she could do "important things" - like her job or her art work. She never had me do chores - I rarely even pick up my own room until I reached my teens. She didn't see any value in home keeping and wanted "better" things for me.

Unbeknownst to her, this was a great disservice to me. When I was a teen and she wanted me to start caring more for myself and my things, I didn't know how. No one ever taught me. Housekeeping was apparently something so ridiculously simple, I was supposed to just know how to do it.

Later, when I had a home of my own, I was still unprepared. Like my mother, I generally saw home keeping as a chore to get out of the way as soon as possible so I could do "more important" things. By then, I'd figured out - the hard way, through experimentation - how to do things like wash the dishes and vacuum reasonably well. But I still had a great deal to learn. All this came to a head when I had children. That added responsibility is what tipped the scales of my life into chaos. I didn't understand the foundations of home keeping, so I couldn't control my household.

I saw immediate negative effects. My house was a mess. The dirt and disorganization made me feel depressed. My husband - ever gentle when it came to criticizing me - began to complain some. Being in the house was stressful for him - and for me. And what was I teaching my children?

It was then I realized the old ideas of home keeping - that it was a respected and important job - were correct. The feminists were wrong. There was a reason the Bible held high the good home keeper - the Proverbs 31 woman. Her work - her job - made it possible for her and her family to thrive.

A Few Benefits of Good Home Keeping:
* A restful home
* Less stress for everyone in the household
* A more peaceful family
* More money to spare for charities, savings, vacations, etc.
* The home maker learns useful business skills
* Saves times
* Makes it much easier to entertain
* Is one way to show our family we care about them

A Few Side Effects of Bad Home Keeping:
* More stress for everyone in the household
* Less money to spare
* Inability to find things - and the frustration that accompanies that
* Time is easily wasted
* Makes it difficult and stressful to entertain
* Feels embarrassing and can lead to feelings of resentment in family members

In short, a woman who wants a restful home, a peaceful household, and more money to spend as she likes will take home keeping seriously. And while there are many things to learn about good housekeeping, it's far from true that the good homemaker must wear herself out or spend all her time cooking and cleaning. In fact, one of the joys of keeping house well is that the home keeper will have more time for her family, her friends, charity, and her passions. than the disorganized and unsure woman.

Because there are many, many women today who are like me - who weren't adequately taught home keeping, but see the advantages of it - I'll be posting more about the fundamentals of housekeeping. These posts will fall under a new category: Homemaking 101.

And for those of you who are looking for ways to teach your children - boys and girls - about keeping a home, I encourage you to use these posts as lesson plans. Just remember that merely reading about home keeping - or watching you in action - is not enough for children to really learn homemaking skills. That's why it's so important to have children do every day chores (more on that topic here, here, and here), as well as special tasks they periodically help with. Its also why each Homemaking 101 post will include practical ideas on teaching these skills to your kids.

May 17, 2010

Vacuums Are a Girl's Best Friend

I hope you don't use your vacuum only to clean the carpet. There are so many other uses for vacuums that not only justify the machine's place in your household, but also makes cleaning a lot easier and quicker. Here are a few ideas:

I usually begin by extending the hose on my vacuum. Then I:

* "sweep" the front porch and door mat,
* clean the front door jam.

Next, I start at the top of the interior, again using the extended hose, and I:

* remove spider webs around the ceiling.

I then add a brush or dusting attachment and:

* "dust" light fixtures, the tops of tall bookshelves, and the top of door jams.
* "dust" picture frames and mirrors,
* "dust" lamp shades,
* "dust" just about any surface (from tabletops and pianos) that isn't cluttered.

I then sometimes put the upholstery attachment on the hose and:

* remove dust and pet hair from furniture.

Sometimes I use the hose without an attachment (or I put the crevice attachment in place) to:

* clean the crevices between the floorboards and the floor,
* clean under the floor under the cabinets or other furniture, where the vacuum roller won't reach.

Next, I put my vacuum on the bare floor mode and:

* vacuum the vinyl and wood floors (I've never understood why anyone uses a broom any more),
* vacuum throw rugs.

Finally, I put the vacuum on carpet mode and vacuum the carpet.

In addition, I use the vacuum to:

* clean filters (like the air conditioner filter and the house's air filter),
* vacuum under the refrigerator,
* vacuum out stubborn lint from the clothes dryer,
* clean and dust the inside of drawers or cabinets,
* vacuum curtains or draperies (if your vacuum has a low-suction setting),
* vacuum under the high chair (instead of wiping or hand picking up; for this I use this excellent hand held vac, which is superb for picking up all manner of dry spills)

Bear in mind, I don't do all these things every time I vacuum. (Far from it!) But taking full advantage of my vacuum's capabilities does make keeping my house cleaner a lot easier.