Friday, March 17, 2017

How to Conquer the Debt Monster

Over a year ago my husband and I decided we were tired of living under a mountain of debt.  We were always stressed, and felt like we were taking one step forward and two steps back a lot of the time.  Our reasons for our debt was partly out of our control, as well as some poor decisions on our part.

Right after Christmas of 2015 We decided we would not use credit cards anymore.  We never used them just to shop, but often we pulled them out for groceries or gas during a tough time fully intending to pay it off in the next few weeks to come.  But a few weeks would go by and all of a sudden there was no extra money for a credit card payment.  And thus, the cycle, for many years continued.

Not only did we stop using credit cards, but we worked harder to pay down our debt.  We managed to pay over 6000 dollars towards debt on top of saving 2200 dollars for a vacation out to Colorado.  On a low-income. While some may think it is foolish to pay for a vacation instead of putting that money to debt, for our family travelling is very important to me.  We travel on a budget when we go (we drove 40 hours to see the Colorado mountains and mostly camped and made our own meals!) and we decided that while we would pay down debt though we wouldn't buy fancy items for ourselves or our home, we wanted to continue making memories while travelling.  

Oh, did I mention that during this past year my husband spent 8 weeks away from full-time work so he could attend school as he works towards being certified as a Carpenter?

All this to say, while we are still working on our debt, I feel we have made good progress.  And so while we can't quite say "We're debt-free!" yet, we are taking the steps to get there.

Some of the ways we managed to pay so much and save for a trip as well:

1.  We stopped eating out frequently.  It became a treat, not a weekly thing.  

2.  We don't shop.  No, really, we don't go wandering the stores looking for new clothes or furniture or anything.  Basically, our clothes have to have holes in it before I'll buy a replacement (from the secondhand store) and even then I'll try to repair the hole before I buy a new item.

3.  We don't do elaborate birthday parties.  It's a thing now for kids these days - you either pay a lot to rent a space with entertainers of some sort, or you stay at home and rent a bouncy castle, have a menu fit for a king or queen, and the party bags and game prizes are no longer small, but over the top.  Seriously, for our birthday parties it's homemade pizza or hot dogs, homemade cake, some games and small prizes and that's it.

My daughter's birthday party. a friend came over to help me paint faces
 and we had homemade tie-dye cake, lemonade, some games, and lots of fun!

4.  Our kids do extra-curriculars that are easier on the budget.
 Soccer is a cheap sport, and churches offer tons of kids clubs.  My daughter did some horseback riding lessons but we saved in advance for the lessons and went to a place that did not require her to have a bunch of fancy equipment or to perform in shows.

5.  Christmas is simple.  We do 4 gifts for the kids - Something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read.  And we pick items that are affordable.  And while I am on the subject of Christmas, we only put up one Christmas tree.

6.  Extra money is not spend money.  Any extra money we get, whether it is a gift or some unexpected cheque we put towards the debt or savings fund.

7.  We are a one vehicle family.  Aside from the actual cost of what a vehicle costs, you have insurance and gas and maintenance to add to that.  Having only one vehicle lessens those expenses.

8.  We don't have a car payment.  We bought our van outright. Sure, it's 12 years old but it gets us from point A to point B.

9.  I don't go to the salon.  The last time I was at a salon to get my hair done was 3 years ago to fix my hair after taking my dreadlocks out.  If I want a new colour I dye it at home, and I let my hair grow instead of cutting it.  Doesn't mean I won't go to the salon again, but it just isn't a regular thing in my life.  

10.  I cut the boys' hair at home.  Last year I bought clippers to be able to cut my boys' and husband's hair at home.  It really isn't that hard if you can get them to sit still. :)

The bottom line is, to pay down debt or save up some cash you need to keep your living expenses low.  The lower you can keep them, the more leftover money there is to go towards those necessary places.  There are times you will feel frustrated at the process, but in the end it will be worth it.  Watching the numbers of your debt mountain go down will give you a high like no other!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

So You Want to be a Stay-at-Home Mom?

I am hugely blessed to be able to stay at home with my children every day.  But contrary to popular belief, it has not come without sacrifices.  I've heard many comments from people along the lines of, "Well, it must be so nice to have the luxury to do that." HA!  There is no luxury living here.  We live off of a small income. And though I know not everyone can stay at home with their kids, I believe that many people who want to transition to staying at home with their children can, as long as they make adjustments.  Sometimes painful adjustments, but in the end I feel it can be worth it.

Before I list some of the ways you can begin that transition, let me first say that this is not an article saying staying at home is the way every family should do things.  I have no desire to get into a debate on which is better because I truly believe what works for one family is not necessarily right for another family.  This article is just for people who are wanting to leave the workforce to stay at home with their children, to help them see that it CAN be possible.

So, with that in mind, here we go.  Here are some of the ways we make it possible for me to stay at home and live off of one income.

1.  We have a smaller house.  Have you considered downsizing to reduce housing costs? Not only is a bigger home a larger mortgage, it takes more money to heat and keep the electricity going.  All those housing costs really add up.  Can I let you in on a little secret? It is a well-known fact that Ontario has outrageous hydro costs.  But for us, our bill is pretty low.  Aside from the obvious energy saving tips we use, I am sure a big part of the reason is because we have a smaller home.  Downsizing may seem impossible and out of the question, but consider this:  I have seen families live in all different living spaces - from RVs on the road fulltime, to families of 7 in 900 square foot homes.  You don't necessarily have to go that extreme, but if you have a 3000 square foot home, maybe you could downsize to 1800 square feet?

2.  We drive one vehicle.  Most families are two vehicle families.  It definitely makes it easier with so much going on with families these days.  But for us to afford one income, we drive one vehicle.  It means that during the day while my husband is at work I do not have wheels.  If I need them for something I will drive him to work, but most of the time try to work around his schedule.  Not always convenient, but we are so used to it that it rarely bothers me.  I should also mention that we drive an OLD 2005 minivan.  And we drive our vehicles into the ground.

3.  Buy as much as possible secondhand.  Clothes, furniture, toys - you name it, we buy it secondhand.

4.  Cut back on eating out.  I feel like restaurants just keep getting more and more expensive.  For our family of 5 we can easily spend close to 70 dollars for a sitdown restaurant once meals, drinks, and a tip is added up.  We keep our restaurant excursions to a minimum, and when we do go we often get something cheap like pizza.  We still go out once in awhile, but it's a special treat now, not a weekly thing.

5.  Cut back on cell phone service.  I know this one is going to be controversial.  Cell phones have become a way of life, so I get it.  My husband has a cell phone as he is out every day and works at different locations so it is my only way to reach him.  I use his OLD cell phone, but it actually does not have any cell service on it.  I use it for wifi, and I have a free texting app on it that requires wifi to use.  I know the argument is safety on this one, an of course every situation is different, but for me I feel that we managed for so many years without cell phones, I should be able to leave my house without access to a phone at all times.

6.  Cut the cable or satellite. We have netflix and that is pretty much where we watch all our tv shows.  We have lived without cable or satellite for most of our marriage and have lived to tell about it.  The internet gives us so much access to just about anything these days.  If you have internet, you are set.

There is no question about it, if you decide to transition from working full-time to staying at home it is not going to be easy.  It will be an adjustment for your whole family.  But in my opinion if you really want to do it, I feel that it is worth it.  If the jump from full-time to staying at home seems too scary, you can always try to go from full-time to part-time first.  But if you really, really want to make that jump I encourage you to do it.  I do believe it is not something you will ever regret.

Monday, March 13, 2017

How to Raise Happy Kids on a Small Income

One of the most common things I hear about people worried about living on a small income is that they are worried it will somehow damage their kids.  People are concerned that their kids may feel left out, and not succeed in life because of lack of opportunities. I totally get this - sometimes those fears get the best of me as well.  But overall, my kids are pretty happy kids. They don't feel like they are missing out, and enjoy the fun we do have on our budget.

So, how do we raise happy kids on a small income?  Here are just some of the ways we are doing it.

1.  Don't complain about money in front of them.  Many times kids grow up in a low-income house and do not even realize their parents struggled with money until much later in life.  Their parents made a point to not dwell on the fact that they had a small income, and the kids enjoyed their life so much they never had time to notice the financial struggles.

2.  When you do talk about money in front or with the kids, be sure to point out the blessings.  At a particularly tight time when my husband was in school we would sit down at the dinner table and I would make a point to say to the kids, "See?  Look how our God provides for us.  We are so blessed to have a roof over our head, clothes on our back, and food on our table."  Soon enough the kids chimed in on how thankful they were, too.

3.  Do fun activities that are free or cheap with them.  More than anything, kids just want their parents to spend time with them.  Go hiking, to the park, the library, do a craft, bake some cookies,  or watch a movie you already own together.  Just spend time with them.

Baking with my daughter
4.  Instead of saying "we can't afford it" say "we have chosen to use our money for other priorities."  Whenever my kids are struggling with not keeping up with their friends in the toy or electronic department, I try to explain to them that if we chose to use our money for that item, we would have to take something else off our list - a camping trip, visiting the zoo, etc.  Most of the time they decide what they really want is not the toy, but the trips with the family instead.

5.  Get the kids involved in extra-curriculars that are low-cost or offer subsidy.  My son plays soccer which is a very cheap sport to be involved in.  My kids take swimming lessons which I was able to get subsidy for through the YMCA.  The kids are also involved in kids clubs offered through a local church for a small fee.  You may have to pass on the more expensive activities but it doesn't mean you have to say no to all extra-curriculars.  Do some research to see what options there are in your local community.

Raising kids on a low income doesn't have to feel overwhelming and discouraging.  You can raise beautiful, happy, well-rounded kids no matter what paycheque your family brings in.  Remember, more than anything kids just want to be loved and accepted.  And that is something anyone can offer for free.

Friday, March 10, 2017

How to Afford a Family Vacation

I love to travel.  And while in my own personal opinion I feel that I don't get to do it enough, I really can't complain as I have had some awesome trips with my family.  This past Summer we drove to Colorado from Ontario.  All in all it was a 40 hour drive, but for us that is part of the adventure!  4 years ago we drove out to BC.  two Christmases ago we went to Myrtle Beach.  And in between all those trips we've had weekend camping adventures, day trips to Toronto or Ottawa, and occasional overnight hotel stays in nearby cities.

SO how do we do it?  A family of 5 on a low-income, this is some of the ways we afford a family vacation.

-We don't have a lot of nice stuff.  No, seriously.  Our furniture is old and second-hand, our vehicles get driven into the ground,  We have more than enough, We have all we need, but it isn't going to win any home decor or beauty contests.  We prefer to save for a trip, rather than new furniture.

-  When we travel, we drive.  It would be too costly to take a plane every time we wanted to go on a trip.  Maybe one day we will be able to take a plane as a family, but for now, driving is what we can afford.  We always include that as part of the adventure though, as there are always a lot of things to see on the way.

-  We cook our own meals while vacationing.  We are foodies at heart, and love to eat out, but to keep the budget down we make most of our meals ourselves.  We always go out to eat a time or two or three on a trip depending on the length we are away for as that is a special treat for us, but for the most part we make our own meals and pack our own snacks.

-  We usually camp.  Whenever possible we camp on our trips.  When we went to Colorado and BC we spent the majority of time sleeping in a tent or tent trailer.  This also allows us a place to cook our own meals.

- We make adjustments if needed.  Last year we went to Colorado which was amazing!  But it turns out, we also ended up travelling there during monsoon season (which I did not even know they had!)  Because of some crazy storms we spent a couple nights in a hotel, and spent more money on fast food than we had hoped to because the crazy winds and downpours made it impossible to cook outside while camping.  Because we had saved our butts off for the trip we knew we did not want to use our credit cards for any of it.  We decided to come home early instead of going above budget.  Sure, we were disappointed, but we enjoyed our time there and were thankful to have it fully paid for.

There are so many ways to make family vacations affordable.  Even if it takes you two years to save for a vacation, if you start today you will be grateful you did it when two years rolls around!  We have thoroughly enjoyed making amazing memories on our trips.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

5 Frugal Meals to Serve to Guests

One of the things I often let get away from me is inviting people over for a meal.  Or at all, really.  We don't have a big house, and I worry that people won't want to come over to a house so small.  Which is really silly when you think about it, because if someone turns down an offer to come to our house based on the size, well, I guess they weren't really good friends to begin with.  And if I was honest with myself I don't really believe there is a long list of people who would turn down an offer to enjoy a time of food and conversation, no matter what the size of our or anyone's house is.

That being said, extending hospitality can feel stressful on a tight budget.  But it really doesn't have to be.  Yes, you may have had a chance to be blessed by eating steak when you were invited over to your friend's house last time, but it doesn't mean you have to serve steak as well!  There are so many yummy options that can fit your budget.  Here are 5 frugal meals to serve to guests.

1.  Loaded Potato Soup, homemade bread, and a side salad.  If you can't impress your guests with steak, pull out the homemade bread. :)  Few people can resist a slice of freshly made homemade bread slathered with butter.

2.  Spaghetti, homemade bread, and a side salad.  Spaghetti might seem too casual to serve to guests, but when you add some hamburger to the sauce and pair it with some bread and salad, it is anything but casual.  

3.  Chili, homemade bread, and a side salad.  I know I sound like a broken record with the bread and side salad, but it really completes many meals.  Chili is also a crowd pleaser, easily made in the crockpot, and so delicious.

4.  Homemade pizza, and a side salad or cut veggies and dip.  I love making this meal when we have families with a lot of kids over.  I usually make some cheese pizza for the many kids who don't want any other toppings, and then I will make a pizza with a lot more toppings for the adults.

5.  Hot dogs/hamburgers and a side or potato salad.  Fire up the bbq and enjoy the outdoors next time you invite guests over.  When we invite families over kids often prefer hot dogs over hamburgers which are cheaper anyways.  We will cook both hot dogs and hamburgers and everyone can have their pick.  Enjoy a homemade potato salad, or garden salad on the side.

Also, when someone asks what they can bring, always respond with a yes.  We will often suggest someone bring a salad or dessert if they offer.

What are some frugal meals you serve to guests coming over that aren't in the above list? Does cost scare you away from inviting people over for a meal?  

Monday, March 6, 2017

Frugal Snacks to Feed Your Constantly Hungry Children

Every day the conversation in my house is the same:

Child #1:  Mommy, can I have a snack?

Me:  No, you had breakfast 10 minutes ago.

3 minutes go by.

Child #2:  Can I have a snack?

Me:  It's not snack time yet.

4 more minutes pass.

Child # 3:  Mommy, can I have a snack?

No word of a lie.  These kids live and breathe to eat.  And don't think that they aren't having full, filling meals in between these snacks.  They are.  My youngest child, ever since he could talk he would ask for snacks almost every 15 minutes for awhile.  I used to give them snacks whenever they seemed hungry, but after the last child was born and seemed to not be able to think of anything else but food I had to put an end to the "snack anytime" idea.  Now my kids have a mid-morning snack and a mid-afternoon snack around the same time every day.  As you see by the above conversation it hasn't put a total end to the endless asking for snacks, but it has lessened it.

Sometimes in between snack time and meal time if they ask for a snack I'll tell them they can have an apple.  If they chose not to eat the apple then they must not have been very hungry in my opinion.  

Anyways, all that to say, feeding these three kids can quickly add up.  So what's a frugal mom to do?  Well, stick to the frugal snacks that fit our budget of course!  Here's a list of frugal snacks to feed your constantly hungry children - please tell me it's not just my children who are always looking for a snack!

Popcorn - buy the popcorn you can make on the stove or in your air popper.

Homemade Granola Bars - so much cheaper than storebought.  Check out the recipe I like over at Living on a Dime.

Apples -  Good for them, and cheap.

In Season Fruit - Always by fruit -or any produce for that matter - that is in season.  You will pay less.

Saltine Crackers - Peanut butter, jam, honey, or whatever else you think of to top these crackers.  Tell me you don't remember eating hundreds of these as a kid?

Yogurt - Make your own, or buy the store brand for a low-cost snack.

Pretzels -  We buy the store brand at $1.27 a bag.

Smoothies -  I can make a smoothie big enough for all of us with a banana, a cup of frozen fruit, some yogurt or kefir, spinach, and water.  It's full of nutrition and stretches far.  Make it without the yogurt or kefir for a cheaper or dairy-free option.

Muffins - Bake your own.  I often use up bananas that are going bad to whip up a batch.

Cinnamon Toast -  Toast topped with butter, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar make for a delicious treat.

Ants on a Log -  Top celery with peanut butter and raisins.

If you are looking for cheap ideas to feed your growing children, hopefully this list will help you.  Happy Snacking! :)

Friday, March 3, 2017

7 Convenience Foods to Make Yourself

One of the quickest ways to grow your grocery bill is to buy convenience foods.  Not only are many convenience foods expensive, they are often unhealthy for you, full of preservatives and ingredients that we cannot even pronounce.  Listen, guys...if you can't figure out how to say the name of the ingredient, chances are we're better off not eating it.

When you make a dry mix to store in your pantry, be sure to put the recipe on the jar.  This way you won't forget what ingredients you need to add into the  mix to turn it into something yummy!

Below are 7 convenience foods to make yourself to save you money!

1.  Granola bars.  I never understood why a granola bar contained about 6 bars, 8 if we're really lucky.  I have three kids.  That means after two snacks of granola bars we've emptied the box.  Click HERE to find my favorite recipe over at Living on a Dime.  Also, I should mention it makes 24 bars.  24 compared to 6?  yes, please.

2.  Chicken stock.  Soup stock is SO easy to make.  Especially if you have a crockpot.  All you need to do is take the carcass of a whole chicken, throw it in your crockpot with some veggies and spices and water, and you have homemade, HEALTHY stock.  For more detailed instructions,check out my youtube video on the process HERE.

3.  Pancake mix.  When you buy a box of pancake mix, you still have to add a couple ingredients usually, like eggs and water or milk.  Making your own mix is really just a couple more ingredients to add yourself.  Try THIS recipe over at Recipe Tin Eats.  Don't forget to make a BIG batch of the mix to store in your pantry.

4.  Homemade lunchables.  Those prepackaged lunchables are so expensive!  A simpler, cheaper option is to wash out the containers that came with the last one you bought, and fill it with crackers, cheese, and meat that you cut yourself at home. Or put the meat, cheese, and crackers in a cute reusable lunch container. Your kids will still feel like they are getting a treat, and you can pocket the money you saved.

5.  Broccoli soup.  I was already making most of my soups from scratch, but I was still hanging on to the canned broccoli soup.  For some reason the thought of making my own seemed complicated.  That was until I came across a youtube video by an off-grid homesteader, Starry Hilder, who took her viewers through the VERY EASY steps on how to make it yourself.  I added cheese, vidalia onions, and cream to her recipe and let me tell you, it was delicious comfort in a bowl.  Watch that video HERE.  As a side note, try to not love Starry's bubbly personality in her video.

6.  Granola.  If you can make granola bars, you can make granola.  We love granola, but again, very costly to by at the grocery store, which to me is crazy as it is a very frugal item to make at home.  I use THIS recipe over at The Kitchen is my Playground.  I make the microwave version because I have a habit of burning granola in the oven. :)

7.  Taco seasoning.  Who doesn't like tacos? (2 out of 3 of my kids, that's who.  I'll never understand why.)  The Humbled Homemaker shares here recipe HERE.

The more items you make from scratch at home, the more you will save on your grocery bill.  Some bills you have absolutely no control over, but groceries is one area you can often find ways to cut back.  So now you have 7 convenience foods to make yourself to help lower that bill!