Showing posts with label Money. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Money. Show all posts

Apr 11, 2016

How to Make a "From the Owners" Binder When Selling Your Home

Last week, when I shared my house showing checklists, I promised to share more information about my "From the Owners" binder. This is something our Realtor asked me to do, but even before we actively sought out an agent, I saw this idea online and had started working on it.* Basically, the binder consists of info on what you love about your home  - including some things Realtors aren't legally allowed to say. Buyers are looking at our "From the Owners" binder, too; I know because the edges of the papers are starting to look handled. And perhaps it contributed to the two offers we've received on our house, within three days of listing. (Hallelujah!)

Writing a "From the Sellers" Note

First, I kept the writing to one page and used lots of bullet points to make it easy to skim through or read quickly. (The example I originally saw was several pages, with each page having it's own title; for our modest home, I felt this was overkill. I also think buyers are more likely to read something that's short.)

I began with a little welcome, then noted our favorite "special features," including little conversational notes about them, where appropriate. For example, when I mentioned our large backyard, I noted that we'd had room for chickens, a veggie garden, a large play structure, a picnic table...and there was still room for the children to ride their bikes or run around.

I also made note that we have hardwood floors under the carpet - and I included some photos of them from when we tore out the old carpet.

Next, I talked a bit about the neighborhood. I mentioned the neighbors, saying they were quiet, and that there are many families with school aged children nearby. I also brought up the two parks and the public pool that are within easy walking distance.

Finally, my Realtor suggested I include information about our utilities, because she says "everyone asks about them." For our area, ours are low or reasonable, so I went ahead and added that info.

I also considered including photos of the yard at different times of year. This can be really helpful for buyers to see, especially if you're selling in fall and winter - and especially if your landscaping is pretty. I decided against this, since none of my photos showed the yard exactly as it is now. (I've removed some plants so I can take them with me.)

Putting It All Together

To make the photos and flyer more attractive and useful, I put them in plastic sheet protectors and then in a fresh, new binder. When there is a showing, I open the binder and place it on the kitchen table, which is near the front door and difficult to miss.

All in all, the "From the Owners" binder didn't take me long to create, yet it creates a feeling of openness and warmth while also giving potential buyers with some information they might not otherwise receive.

* I wish I could credit the source, but I just don't remember it.

Jan 26, 2016

How Many Hours Did You Work For That?

How Many Hours Did You Work for That
Back in the 90s, I read a life-altering book called Your Money or Your Life. One of the concepts in the book that I'd never heard before was learning what everything you buy truly costs. No, I don't mean in dollars. I mean in "blood, sweat, and tears." I mean in terms of being away from the people and things that really matter. I mean in LIFEtime. In other words: How long do you have to work to pay for whatever item you're considering buying?

This is a completely life-altering way to look at things. For example, now when I don't feel like cooking and I'm tempted to order pizza delivery, I consider how many hours I have to work to pay for that pizza...And ouch. Maybe pizza doesn't sound so great, after all.

Even if, as a Proverbs 31 woman, you don't work for money, you can consider how long your husband has to work to pay for an item. Let's say he earns $18 an hour after taxes and the cable plan you're looking into costs $65 a month (an average price, according to the FCC). How many hours of his life does he have to give away in order to pay for television programming each month? 3.6 hours.

Now let's say you want to buy a new tv to go along with that cable. When I search tvs on Amazon, the very first thing that comes up is a Samsung 32 inch LED for $166.97. That seems like a good price, so let's go with it. To buy this television, your husband would have to give away 9.3 hours of his life - assuming you pay cash and don't incur credit card interest, in which case he'll sacrifice more of his life to pay for that tv.

Now it's up to you (and your spouse) to decide if the true cost of those items is worth it.*

In 2016, I challenge you to adopt this way of thinking. If you're like the average American, I'm betting it will save you thousands! And if you teach it to your children, they will have a huge head start when it comes to managing their finances.

* And if you want an even more accurate look at things, first figure your true wage by subtracting all the expenses incurred in order to have the job - things like fuel, clothing, vehicle maintenance, etc.


Dec 29, 2015

Most Popular Posts 2015 - and All Time!

I've been blogging at Proverbs 31 Woman for six years (and have written over 1,140 posts!), but honestly, I never have any clue which posts are going to be the most talked about or viewed. They say the Lord works in mysterious ways, and judging by what posts are most popular here, I have to agree! It's always a pretty eclectic list. I hope you enjoy it!

(P.S. Want to see more popular posts from Proverbs 31 Woman? Check out the Pinterest page "Most Popular Posts at Proverbs 31 Woman.")

Most Popular Posts from 2015:

1. Why I Don't Watch HGTV (And Maye You Shouldn't Either)

2. Free Art History Curriculum: Edgar Degas (this whole series is popular, but this is the most popular post from the series)

3. How to Kill E.Coli on Vegetables and Fruits

4. No Fail Healthy Pie Crust Recipe

5. Keeping the House Cool in Summer (With and Without AC)

6. 12 Old Fashioned Birthday Party Games for Kids

7. How to Make a SCOBY for Kombucha

8. "I Am..." A Self Worth Craft for Kids

Most Popular Posts of All Time:

1. How to Train Chickens (and Get Them to Do What You Want Them to Do)

2. Best Free Apron Patterns on the Net

3. 6 Ways to Teach Kids the Books of the Bible

4. Best Ideas for Upcycling Jeans

5. How to Clean a REALLY Dirty Stove

6. How to EASILY Clean Ceilings and Walls - Even in a Greasy Kitchen

7. Canning Pickled Green Beans (Dilly Beans)

8. Easy Refrigerator Pickled Beets

9. Freezing Apple Pie Filling

Dec 15, 2015

Why I Don't Watch HGTV (And Maybe You Shoudn't Either)

I've known for a year now that we were going to sell our house in the suburbs and move into our little house (motor home) in the big woods. And as the daughter of a former Realtor, I knew we'd have to spruce up our place before getting it on the market - if we wanted a reasonably quick sale in this economy, anyway.
Why I Don't Watch HGTV and maybe you shouldn't either

So I started watching shows about staging and fixing up properties. Because we don't have cable and I only have access to shows through our Roku, the offerings were somewhat limited. Mostly, I watched "Sell This House" on A&E. Then Netflix starting offering HGTV shows like "Property Brothers" and "Fixer Upper." I enjoyed these shows, and first.

Then I started to find myself feeling discontented with our home...and I had grand plans - too grand - for our next one. Finally, someone told me our house was a good "starter home" - and I, not easily offended, was offended. After all, my parents were successful, middle class people, and nearly every house they ever lived in was about the same level of quality as the one my husband and I currently live in. Growing up, we always felt our homes were nice. Certainly nobody ever called them "starter homes," as if they were something we should strive to outgrow.
Kitchen, 1910s.

When my husband and I moved into our house 15 years ago, I was delighted with it. No, it didn't have granite, marble, or quartz counters - they were practical Formica. No, it didn't have a custom kitchen - it had "builder's grade" cabinets that we thought were quite attractive. Nope, there was no tile in the bathrooms and no engineered hardwood flooring throughout the house; there was fresh carpet and vinyl throughout. But it was still a beautiful home.

So why suddenly do home buyers insist properties should be filled with luxury finishes? (And, no doubt about it, they are luxury.) Why do modern magazines showcase the homes of the rich when they used to feature the homes of the solidly middle class? Why do HGTV shows take (sometimes) perfectly acceptable homes and turn their interiors into mansions? Why do we feel the need to put marble in our homes when other, less expensive materials are actually more practical?
Kitchen, 1930s.

It all leaves a very bitter taste in my mouth. And as I see middle class people going into great debt to buy luxury homes, my heart asks: How can you fill your home with luxuries when the world is in such need? If Jesus were with you as you picked out those granite counter tops, high end appliances, and rainfall shower heads, how would he feel?

Now, none of this is to say that Proverbs 31 Women shouldn't strive to make their homes as relaxing, peaceful, and beautiful as possible. We definitely should - because our homes should be havens from the world. The problem is the world's idea of a "comfortable home" has gone haywire in the last few decades. HGTV and Pinterest have so many of us thinking we must always be "upgrading" our homes that we've forgotten that what we really need to do is upgrade our hearts. Because a loving heart doesn't splurge on itself. Instead, it gives to others.
Kitchen, 1970s.

How many Americans have bought homes they couldn't afford, which therefore kept them from giving to those in need? How many are so "house rich and pocket poor" they feel they are the ones in need? How many are so in debt from buying things they "deserve," that they completely ignore those who deserve enough food to eat and a warm place to sleep?

Now when I watch a show like "Property Brothers," I'm uncomfortable. The couples always spend their max budget, and usually get pretty demanding about what luxuries their "dream home" must have. I always wonder if they managed to hang on to their homes, or were foreclosed on due to the downward economy. And I wonder, if their tastes had been more practical, how could they have helped change the world?
Kitchen, 2015, Houzz.

As for me, I'm happy with my Formica counter tops and builder's grade cabinets. I'm glad my children are living in a home that's not luxurious, that will make them expect their grown up homes should look like something out of a slick magazine. And I'm glad that because we aren't always striving for more, better, richer, more luxurious, we have a little more to give.

"I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing...In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ Acts 20:33-35
"Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'" Hebrews 13:5

Nov 7, 2012

A Cure for End of the Month, No Money Blues

If you've ever had more month than money, you know how easy it is to get overdrawn, get into debt, or just plain suffer without until the next paycheck. But as the economy worsens, more and more of us are learning that with just a little planning, the End of the Month, No Money Blues don't have to strike. Here are three simple steps I take to help prevent end-of-the-month squeezes:

1. Have extra food on hand. But be organized about it. Don't just buy random, miscellaneous things, or you'll end up serving Ramen noodles with Saltine crackers for your family's dinner. Instead, pick a few meals everyone likes and stock up on the ingredients for them. You should be able to make these meals without fresh ingredients because you n eedto be able to store those ingredients for at least a few months. The best choices are meals that can be made with canned or dried food, like my Heart "Dump It" meal.

How many extra meals you keep on hand is up to you. At the very least, you should have a few days worth of food. I suggest maintaining at least enough food to last you a week or two, should you really feel a financial end-of-month crunch (or should a natural disaster strike).

Now, I don't expect you to buy all this food in one fell swoop, thus ensuring you'll have the End of the Month, No Money blues this month. Instead, buy a little at a time, when it is on sale. And don't touch your extra food unless you really need to.

2. Always have one extra in the cupboard. When it comes to other necessities, like toilet paper, toothpaste, or laundry soap, buy one extra (ideally when its on sale). As soon as you use up one tube of toothpaste, you may open the extra you have stored away - but be sure to replace it next time you go shopping.

3. Learn to use less. If you consistently don't have enough money at the end of the month, first you need to carefully whittle away at your budget. (What? Don't have a budget? That may be your whole problem! Learn how to start one here.) But another way to ensure you have enough every month is simply to use less. For example, learn to use washable dish cloths instead of always using paper towels; switch to reusable, cloth menstrual pads instead of disposable ones; and learn to use less laundry detergent.

For more ideas on making your money last until the end of the month, check out these posts:

10 Expensive Food Habits That are Killing Your Budget 

Bill Lowering Sites

10 Wasteful Practices

Grocery Price Books Make Good Cents

7 Ways to Lower Your Grocery Bill

Saving $ on Electricity

Upcycling & Remaking Clothes

DIY Haircuts

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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."

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.

Nov 18, 2011

Teaching Kids Generosity

"Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’"

Mathew 25: 34-40

Do you ever look around the world and think: What selfish, self-centered people! You're not alone.

It's natural for young children to thinking selfishly, but it's our job as parents to lead them away from this behavior toward generosity, compassion, and biblical servitude.

One way to do this is to help our kids focus on giving. Any time of year is the right time to give, but with Thanksgiving and Christmas just around the corner - and, often, gluttony along with them - fall and winter are ideal times to focus on generosity.

* Together, read and memorize Bible verses on generosity. (Ideas include the parable of the sheep and goats, Acts 20:35, Prov. 19:17, 2 Cor. 9:6-7, 1 John 3:17, Prov. 14:31, and Luke 12:233-34.)

* Teach your children about those with less. We are extraordinarily wealthy in the United States - so much so, we often loose track of just how much more we have than so many others around the world. An easy way to show your children what life is like elsewhere is to do a few Google image searches. For example, you could search "third world children" and come up with a wealth of images of undernourished kids, children doing back breaking work, and extremely modest housing and clothing. Print out the images and help your child stick them into a purse-sized photo album or turn them into a lapbook project. Then start discussing the images: "Do you think that house is warm or cold? Do those children have lots of toys? What do you think it's like for a child to go to work each day?"

* If a disaster takes place, share it with your child. You may not want to share a news report with young children, but you can still show them carefully selected images of a recent earthquake, flood, or other disaster. Ask questions like, "Where do you think that man will live now that his home is ruined? How long do you think he might have to work to earn money to replace it? Do you think he has enough food?"

* Allow your kids to see your generosity. If you give a homeless man a meal, your kids will notice and learn.

Link * Take care of others together. Volunteer - as a family - at the local homeless shelter, or get involved in a group that visits the elderly.

Link * Give your children a way to help on their own. Give your child opportunities to earn money - give them extra chores, for example, or help him gather and turn in soda cans - then teach him how to set some aside for charity. Help him choose a cause for that money to go to; for small children, offer only two or three choices, to make the selection less daunting. Try to make sure your child knows exactly what her money or donation is going toward. Some ideas include a local Christmas giving tree for children, a care package for children living in poverty, or Blanket and a Bible.

How do you help your children learn thankfulness and generosity?

Jun 29, 2011

Learning Servanthood

As I think about the most important things I can help my children learn, right near the top - just under learning to love and obey God - is servanthood. Servanthood isn't easy to learn in a world that's increasingly self-centered, but I'm working hard to make serving others a priority in our home - because, without a true heart for servanthood, we can never serve God.

"Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many." Mark 10:42-45

"After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, 'Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them." John 13:12-17

But just how can we help our children learn this important lesson? Here are some ideas:

* Read stories of Jesus' servanthood. Point out that his mission here on earth was to be the ultimate servant - sacrificing himself for others.

* Be a servant yourself. If you grumble while doing for others, your kids will learn to grumble while serving others, too. So next time you're tempted to grump because (for example) your child wants something from you when you're busy doing something else, bite your tongue.

* Whenever you help friends, family, or strangers, say "Off we go to be God's hands!" Young children will enjoy tracing their hands on paper, cutting the shapes out, and decorating them as a reminder. Ask your children to think about times they've seen God's hands when others served them.

* Encourage your children to think about how others feel. Empathy is an important step toward true servant-hood.

* Encourage a good work ethic in your children. When we're lazy, we don't want to lift a hand to help others. Make sure each child has a list of family chores they must accomplish each day.

* Be sure your kids understand where money comes from: God. Then give (or make) each child a piggy bank that makes visualizing money for charity easier. When your children are moved by images of a disaster or people living in poverty, encourage them to give. There's also no reason they shouldn't give in church.

* Be an example of discerning servanthood. Is it better to give the man begging on the street cash or food? Read more on this topic over at Focus on the Family.

* Teach your kids to pray for others. Finger prayers are a good way for young children to learn this (more info here), or teach your children to pray through the alphabet. (For each letter, the child thinks of a person's name starting with that letter, and prays for that person's needs as specifically as possible.)

How do you help your children learn a love for serving others?

Sep 14, 2010

Why I (Almost) Never Use Coupons

I know some women who spend hours each week clipping coupons, then brag about how much they've saved on their grocery bill. Here are four reasons I (almost) never use coupons:

1. Coupons are mostly offered for high-cost convenience foods that are highly processed (and therefore not all that nutritious).

2. Websites featuring coupons almost always put adware and tracking software onto user's computers - even if the user doesn't download anything on purpose.

3. I rarely can get the special coupon-printing software required at many of these sites to work with my computer. (And if you think you're just downloading special printing software, see #2.)

4. I don't think spending hours looking for coupons is a good investment of my time. (Knowing which stores sell things at the lowest prices is a better investment of my time; I'll be typing more about this soon.)

All that said, I do use coupons for a few things. For example, my kids seem to do best with a particular type of disposible diaper. Before their due date, I signed up with the manufacturer to recieve coupons for those diapers through the mail. They often mail me coupons for $1 to $3 off. And if I happen to come across coupons for things like toiletries, cleaning supplies, freezer bags, or toilet paper, I'll use those, too. But I don't go out of my way to find them.

Do you use coupons? What sort of things do you mostly buy with coupons?

Aug 25, 2010

Getting Library Books In On Time

I've seen a rash of posts on other blogs about the woes of overdue book fees. Personally, this has never been a problem for me - unless I check out DVDs, which I can never seem to get back in the 3 days they are due. In such cases, I've always considered my late fee a mini-donation to the library.

However, there's something to be said for teaching children responsibility with library books, and surely part of this is getting books back on time.

Here are some ideas:

* Designate one day a week as "library day." If you have young children, make this the same day as library story time.

* Limit the number of books each person may check out. A little trial and error will tell you how many books your kids can go through in a week's time. If they have to ask for book renewals, then cut back on how many books they're checking out.

* If possible, let you children have their own library card. At my library, we can just give our phone number and name and the librarian does the rest. My 5 year old is at the age when she needs to know our phone number, anyway, so soon she'll be able to check out her own books.

* As soon as you bring library books home, put them in their special place. For us, this is a basket in the living room, beside the couch where we usually read. In your home, it could be a special shelf. The idea is simply to have a location where the library books always go when they aren't being read. That way, you'll never have to turn the house upside down looking for a lost library book.

* If there's any reason you might miss a regularly scheduled library visit (a vacation, a hectic week, etc.), write the books' due date on the calendar to help you remember to drop them off.

* If you like technical gadgets, try Elf, a service that sends email alerts before your books are due. The service is free for up to 6 notifications.

* Allow even small children to return their own library books, and teach them to tell the librarian if a book needs repair.

* If a book ends up overdue, anyway, the child who checked it out is responsible. That child may either pay the overdue fee from her piggy bank or work off the fee by doing special chores. Next time the child is far more likely to make sure her book gets back to the library on time.

May 27, 2010

Teaching Kids What God Thinks About Money

In a country on the verge of personal and national financial collapse, I don't think we can begin teaching our kids about money at too early an age. Most experts advise giving kids their own piggy bank at about age 5, but some 4 year olds are ready to learn about money, too.

That's one reason I was so pleased to find a great little book called The ABCs of Handling Money God's Way by Howard and Bev Dayton. My 4 1/2 year old really likes this book, and I've already noticed differences in her behavior regarding money. For example, she's more willing to work hard, and she's saving money she earns from extra chores for a toy she wants.

Although the book does teach a tiny bit about different types of coins, the main focus is on a biblical perspective of money, including giving, saving, honesty, staying out of debt, working hard, and good stewardship. You can read my full-length review of the book over at Christian Children's Book Review. I really can't recommend this book enough; in my opinion, it belongs in every Christian household with children 4 - 7.

If your kids are a bit older, about 8 - 12, you might also consider Howard and Bev Dayton's The Secret of Handling Money God's Way. I've not read it myself, but my friend Tanya Dennis, who has great taste in kids' books, highly recommends it.

Feb 5, 2010

False Economy

Today as I baked bread with measuring spoons that kept bending, then mopped with a mop whose wringing mechanism wasn't working right, I was reminded how buying cheap often leads to false economy. Although it's important to consider price when shopping for your home, it's also vital to look at quality.

For example, I could buy eating utensils at the Dollar Tree and within a month, they begin breaking and I must buy new ones. Or I could spend $40 or $50 at Target or Wal-Mart for stainless steel utensils and never need to buy new ones. Even though it costs more initially to buy the utensils for $50, in the long run, I'll spend less.

Not all shopping decisions are this easy, of course, so here are a few tips:

* For larger items be sure to check out consumer reviews. I long ago lost faith in Consumer Reports (they don't recommend many of my favorite household tools), but I do take the time to read reviews at Amazon and Epinions. Look at the big picture first: Do most consumers seem to like the product, or not? Then look at details. Why are some people dissing the product? Are their concerns similar to yours? For example, if you're buying a blender and some reviewers give a low ranking to a particular blender because it won't fit under the counter, consider whether this feature is a big deal to you. If it's not, you can disregard those poor reviews.

* Consider materials. Some materials simply last longer than others, or work better than others for certain applications. For example, I'd never buy anything other than a nonstick pan for cooking eggs, because they just work so much better for cooking that particular item. I also make sure my household work horses (like measuring cups) are made of materials that should last my lifetime.

* Know what the going price is. If you shop around (either online or off) and see that, say, stainless steel measuring cups generally sell for $20 to $30, you'll know to be skeptical when you see some for $10. (I almost guarantee they'll be too flimsy to be useful.) You'll also know to take note of more expensive products; what makes them cost more than the competition? Sometimes there is a good reason that can make a real difference in your home, making the more expensive product a better deal - in the long run - than the cheaper one.

* Check small items for quality while in the store. Items not in packages are easiest to look over. For example check utensils for bend-ability; if you can flex them too easily, they won't last. Some items should bend easily (like plastic spatulas) so check they aren't too stiff. See how things are put together; if there are screws, they will come loose and need re-tightening, for example. If items are in boxes and there's no display model, ask a sales clerk to remove one from a box so you can examine it. Avoid items in plastic wrap that can't be opened and examined.

* Look for warranty information. Look for products that offer a complete guarantee. How many times have you purchased a product only to have it break right after the warranty ends? So look for products with the longest guarantees you can find. (Then be sure to file away warranty info - including a receipt - in case you need them later.)

* Choose your store wisely. When it comes to many household tools, it makes sense to buy commercial grade. For example, if you need new kitchen gadgets, be sure to check out the local restaurant supply store. Generally, commercial items last far longer than products made for consumers because they withstand much harder use

* Finally, don't continue to use products that don't work well. For example, by continuing to use a mop that doesn't work right, I waste time (because it takes me longer to do the job) and gain a lot of frustration. It's better economy for me to purchase a new mop than to continue using a mop that costs me so much.

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Dec 9, 2009


The idea of sustaining your own family as much as possible, without the need to rely on goods from stores, is the latest trend. Although I have dreams of homestead living in the country with a small orchard, a good-sized vegetable garden, chickens, goats, and a few other animals, I know that probably isn’t going to happen any time soon. In the meantime, like many of my neighbors, I’m interested in living that dream as much as I can in the suburbs. (Why? Because I think it’s great for the kids and I like the idea of knowing exactly what goes into my food.)

So I was excited to see Abigail R. Gehring’s new book Homesteading and was surprised to find how comprehensive it really is.

The first section covers gardening, focusing not just on vegetables but on ornamentals, too. You’ll find details on choosing the best location for a garden, testing and amending your soil, companion planting (what plants may grow best next to each other), making compost, irrigation (including how to make your own rain barrel – although the author neglects to mention that, crazy as it may seem, some cities and counties do not allow citizens to collect rain water), planting and caring for trees (a section oddly absent of information on fruit and nut trees), growing in containers, and rooftop gardens. There are even sections on growing plants without soil, attracting beneficial insects to your garden, and starting community and school garden. Beginners may find the wealth of information here a bit overwhelming, but it’s nice to know you have all the details you’ll need to start your own garden all in one location.

The next section covers the pantry, with information on choosing locally grown food, joining or starting a co-op, and a pretty extensive section on canning (including many recipes). There’s a shorter section on drying and freezing, which includes a simple design for making a food dryer that hangs over a wood stove, plus a few pages on edible wild plants. This last section, while interesting and accompanied by photographs of each plant, isn’t detailed enough, in my opinion. Great care must be taken when eating wild plants; if you misidentify something, you could poison yourself or someone you love. I don’t feel the author stresses this enough, and if you’re interested in eating wild plants, I suggest you find an excellent field guide for your area. (It should have detailed descriptions of the plants as well as color photographs of them, and must include information on which parts of the plants are edible and how they should be prepared.)

The author also offers great information on making your own butter (in a jar), yogurt, ice cream (in a coffee can), beer, wine, and cheese. There are even basic instructions for making a cheese press for hard cheeses – and the author makes it all look so easy, I think I’ll have to give it a go. I also appreciate the mention of the Plant a Row for the Hungry Program (PAR) and how you can help feed those less fortunate with bounty from your own garden.

The next section is titled “The Backyard Farm” and includes all the basics about the space, time, and energy required to raise animals like chickens, ducks, turkeys, bees, goats, and llamas. The author also offers additional info on such things as building a beehive and milking a goat. Everything you need to determine whether small farm animals are right for you is included, and then some.

This is followed by a section on structures, which offers general information on building fences and gates, dog kennels, birdhouses, stables, hen- and duck houses, foot bridges, sheds, smokehouses, root callers, tree houses, trellises, and weather vanes. At least a little experience working with wood is best before delving into this chapter.

There’s also a chapter on alternative energy. Unfortunately, for most folks the ideas here are either too spendy or will provide only a small amount of energy – but even supplementing your standard energy can be a boon. Topics covered include solar power, wind energy, hydropower, and geothermal power. There’s also information on composting toilets (ideal for locations where it’s impractical or expensive to put in sewer lines) and using grey water. (Again, be careful. Although the author doesn’t note it, in many parts of the country it’s illegal or requires a permit to use grey water.)

There’s also a mish mash of crafts included in this book – some practical (like candle and soap making) and others not (like making potpourri and jewelry). You can learn a bit about pottery, knitting, making paper and bookbinding, trying knots, making kites, and basket weaving, too.

The final sections of the book give the very basics of herbal remedies, listing common plants, what ailments they are sometimes used to treat (exactly how to use and dose the herbs is rarely included), preparing for natural disasters, first aid, stenciling, making your own wall paper, and more.

There are certainly some sections of this book I will never refer to (for example, Feng shui and living in “international communities," i.e. communes). And there are some that, to my way of thinking, stretch the meaning of homesteading, especially as applied to the backyard. However, the sections on raising and caring for animals are more complete than other homesteading books, the canning information is thorough, and there are also great how–to details on gardening, co-ops, and many odds and ends of sustainable living. If you’re interested in being more self sufficient, this book will be a good addition to your bookshelf.

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