When you have money, you save money Saturday, Mar 12 2011 

I’ve never been so happy to spend money on something I didn’t need yet.

In late August, I called my natural gas company to get their advice on locking in the winter’s fuel price. I had no idea whether to choose a rate lock, a pre-pay or a budget plan.

I learned that if I topped off my tank  in August, the price would be $2.74 a gallon. If I pre-paid my winter’s fuel I’d pay $3.09 a gallon, the sign-up fee would be waived and there would be no delivery fees all winter. Or I could do a rate lock where I’d pay a fee for the lock (about $100) and a delivery fee each time they came out plus the cost would be $3.19 a gallon. A budget plan would spread the cost over the entire year, not just the heating season.

So many choices! I talked it over with the nice gas company rep. Since I had money in the bank, I decided to spend now to save money. I pinch pennies all the time to have them pile up to dollars. Having done that, I got to make my dollars save us hundreds more over the winter. Now that gas prices are soaring I’m even more thankful that I could spend money to save money. If I didn’t have any money it would spiral the other way. You don’t have money in reserve, so you choose to let go of the least amount possible today. You choose the greater cost per gallon and a payment that comes later. If you don’t have the money when it comes due, you pay late fees. There is an upward spiral and a downward one. If I say no to lots of little expenses like a new DVD, fast food and clothes, I can get on the upward spiral.

All it took was about 10 minutes on the phone to save over $300. There’s a benefit of being a stay at home mom! You can be the family’s financial gate keeper. Your input into the family is felt in many ways and finances IS one of them.

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Investing in our home instead of a wedding venue Sunday, Mar 6 2011 

Friday we attended a wedding that was at a lovely manor house. I checked their website and saw that Friday was less expensive, saving the family $800. Still, it cost $2000 and that’s not uncommon as a venue price.  We can’t pay that much.We’ve got seven more daughters and two sons to marry off, so we’re thinking hard about how to minimize the pain to our wallet. We’ve thought about wedding locations since they are one of the big three expenses along with food and photography. Why not build equity by doing improvements around our home instead of renting wedding spaces?

If for each child we invested even a thousand dollars, we could add a patio, fountain, gazebo and landscaping and still have money for renting a party tent and buying dishes, glasses and table linens. We could clean and paint as needed to make everything nice for the ceremony and the money we spend would be seen around us instead of passed on to a business. For a wedding at home, it helps that we have a beautiful piece of land in a country setting, but even if we didn’t I’d try to find a pretty venue that wasn’t expensive. Maybe a park, flower garden, community center, church or open field.

We could use the church we attend for free, but there’s a problem. The stage/pulpit area is ugly. There again we could spend money and energy on what’s “ours”.  As members we could invest in the facility we use by donating wood paneling and moulding as well as our labor to make the church more beautiful. We could make speaker stands so that instead of being a prominent eyesore the speakers would visually disappear. We could also move the antique church pulpit we use as a hall table from our foyer to the church and bring in large flower arrangements. Several bolts of tulle and lots of twinkle lights might help out with the fellowship hall. I happened to get those bolts of tulle free when I helped at a wedding and the hosts didn’t want to store them. We’ll have to get a creative genius to give us advice and then get to work. Yeah, more work. When you don’t have money, you usually have to invest time and effort to get what you want; but it’s better to pay as you go and have no debt.

Free Clothes, Part 2 Thursday, Feb 4 2010 

I look at my current outfit and realize I spent $1 on the new cashmere blend socks, maybe $12 on the shoes, and about $15 on the bra & panties. Microfiber blazer-zero, courduroys-zero, long sleeved tee #1-zero, longsleeved tee #2-zero. Some days the socks, shoes and undies are also free and my entire outfit cost me under $10. Some items come from clothing exchanges and others are hand me overs. I’m not a jeans and sweatshirt kind of dresser either. I want to look nice and I wear clothes that would exceed some people’s idea of business casual for my career as a stay at home mom.

I dress my whole family in other people’s cast-offs and I’m delighted with it! For one thing I have friends and neighbors with good taste and ample budgets, so it’s not junk. The other reason I’m delighted is that I’m over the pride thing. If there’s a perfectly good item of clothing my neighbor no longer wants, what could prevent me from accepting it? Nothing!

As a large family there’s an assumption that we are open to hand me overs, but I make sure that people are comfortable calling me when they’re cleaning out closets by opening the conversation, offering to share what I have with them. Here’s an example. My first son came after 5 girls. We were delighted and so were our friends who were generous with clothing. By the time he was in first grade I had 6 big black bags of clothing for a small boy and my next  three children were girls. Letting good stuff stagnate in my house bothers me so I gave the six bags to the lady next door who had 2 small boys. My thinking was that if God sent another son, that would be the miracle and I could totally count on Him to sent the clothes too!

Naturally when we had our second son (and 10th child), God sent the clothes by way of the neighbor across the street who after years of infertility had a son 9 months before mine. He was a large boy who grew rapidly and his family is well off. I have not had to buy my son 5 items of clothing in his six years of life. Hand me downs are often lovely or brand new. I’m glad I have a network of neighbors who help meet each other’s needs. We talk and share toys and tools, take meals to the sick or grieving among us, and clothe each other. Yes, I’ve lost my pride about being able to buy everything my family needs. I’ve gained so much more.

Homeschooling on a Shoestring Friday, Jan 29 2010 

HOMESCHOOLING ON A SHOESTRING

Now that we have graduated four students, we have a set of books for every subject through high school. So, our future investment will be very low. At first we spent $500 on textbooks, teacher’s guides, computer software, and supplies each year, now it’s under $50. I’m teaching 6 students, from high school to first grade.

I realized early on that with the money I spent on preschool I could have bought a computer and a ton of art supplies. My change of plans was influenced by the mindset of keeping our money in the house. I’d rather go to free activities with my preschoolers and trade babysitting with a friend to get some free time than to spend money on preschool. Paying for preschool was especially ironic when you consider that I was a Child Development major in college.

The same thinking applies in upper grades. While I am aiming to give my children a quality education, that doesn’t mean I have to spend a lot of money.   How do I keep my homeschool budget low? I use the public library extensively, use a homeschool support group library, borrow science equipment, buy used musical instruments, and buy used books. Some of our text books were free. They were samples offered to the private school where my sister-in-law worked. She passed them on to us. They include a student text, a teacher text and some goodies like cassette tapes, overheads, tests and fun supplemental exercises. I’ve also benefitted from the hand-me-downs of friends who try a curriculum and then move on.  One way I’ve saved money is to not curriculum hop. The first grade readers that my 26 year old used are now being used by my 6 year old. Guess what, they still work. My supplies may not be so fun or modern, but they offer a sound academic education.

If you’re known as people who aren’t proud and will take what’s offered, you can get a lot of stuff free. We’ve gotten loads of paper, envelopes and notebooks from offices that were closing because we let people know that we are willing to use what’s given to us. We’ve also been given computer programs, older video gaming systems and lots of books.

Sticking to the basics can save you a lot of money.  Like what? A Bible for you to read! If you don’t have God’s direction and strength, you can just hang it up now. You’ll need a Bible for each student with age appropriate text. A good dictionary, encyclopedia on CD Rom, a computer. Lots of paper and pencils, good math text books, good grammar textbooks. Then you need lots of time playing with building materials (legos, lincoln logs, erector set), looking at leaves and bugs, writing and rewriting about anything and everything, and reading about history, science and current events. Visit museums and ask for study guides. Take vacations at historical locations. Go to the zoo, then look up your favorite animal when you get home for an extended study. You don’t have to buy packaged curriculum or spend a lot of money. You can learn as you live and collect materials wherever you go. Life is full of learning opportunities.

Literature is a foundation of our school.  It’s great inspiration to foster a love of playing with the language, feeding the imagination, and broadening the mind with stories of heroes, villians, hardship and triumph. About half of my students are avid readers. The other half is dyslexic. Literature is important to all of them though. For those who find reading a chore, we skip it for a long time. They listen to our literature reading at noon and they check out audio classics in different formats from the library. I call it going in the back door. If reading (going in the front door) is something the student hates, don’t do it.  If they love great stories, which is what classic literature is, then go around to the back door and go in through the ears instead of the eyes. The important thing is to get the material into the brain. Use whatever method is peaceful for you and your student. Now that we’ve been homeschooling for 20 years I can say that my fondest times are the times I’ve spent reading classic literature after lunch as we linger at the table. Cost, nothing….investment in our lives, priceless.