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.


Frugality- what is it really? Wednesday, Mar 3 2010 

Frugality often evokes images of deprivation. I think that if it’s done right it should evoke images of security. It’s not being miserly; it’s making good use of resources. It’s not doing without; it’s having enough that you can be generous. It’s not saying “no” to everything: it’s making sure you can say “yes” to the important things and that you have the money to make it happen.

If I buy ice cream at half price, I can buy twice as much and have friends over for sundaes.

If I don’t have debt, I can donate to the needy.

If my bills and taxes are all paid in full, I can sleep at night.

Frugality means security to me. Everything we own is paid for except for the mortgage. We live on less than we make. While that does mean saying no to some wants, it doesn’t mean we can’t have fun. It does mean our fun has to be cheap or free.

This is the snowiest winter in DC history. There’s lots of free fun in making snowmen, sledding and having the neighbor kids over. We have a fun tradition in our neighborhood. There’s an annual summer picnic which we go to, but we’re the hosts of the “every seven years blizzard party”. We’ve had 3 of them now, and they happen to occur every seven years. We call all the neighbors or send the kids out all bundled up carrying invitations. Everyone brings whatever they can put together and we have a pot luck dinner.  When we first moved out to the country it would be 2 to 3 days before a plow would show up, so we were truly snowed in. Now the road crew gets to us in one day but we still have the party. I spread towels all over the foyer floor for all the boots and people trudge over and follow the path we shoveled down the driveway.

More cheap winter fun is decorating a gingerbread house. Our gingerbread was free because the daughter who works at the bakeshop brought us their unneeded house parts after Christmas. You could buy kits on clearance at an import shop or “mart” (Wal Mart, K Mart, Target) after the season too. It wouldn’t be cheap to make gingerbread or icing, but if you get it on clearance and add candy you bought after halloween when it was 79 cents for a huge bag it’s pretty cheap fun. Graham crackers make good little houses too. Necessity may be the mother of invention but laziness leads to some pretty good inventions too! We’ve discovered that you can use hot glue to put your house together!  Do this for the kids so they don’t burn their fingers. It’s faster, easier, cheaper and stronger than icing. Since the house goes up faster, we get to the fun part faster….the candy!

More cheap fun at home is a movie. Taking our family to a theater would cost a week’s grocery money. Movie night and popcorn costs under $5 if you use the library, Redbox or a movie you already have. Sign up at Redbox for free movies the first Monday of every month. Keep a VCR machine around and you can get loads of movies at yard sales nearly free. That brings up the topic of staying just behind the technology curve which is a blog for another day.

Read aloud. It’s not just for bedtime stories, and it’s not just for little kids. We’re currently reading throught the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. Wonderful fun for everybody in the family.

If the power goes out and you’re forced into playing board games or telling stories, you remember how much fun it is. You can do it even if the power is working!

Keep your money, you need it for a bunch of un-fun stuff. Play and talk and laugh. Really be with the people in your lives. That’s real treasure.

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.

We’re Thriving Near the Poverty Line Tuesday, Jan 26 2010 


Ten years ago I wrote a book called “Get More For Your Money”. It was self-published and I remember coming home with cases of books thinking “it will be so embarassing if I die with these books still in my basement!” Fortunately, I sold them all. Unfortunately, I sold them all. Now there’s a financial crisis and masses of people are at last willing to learn how to be frugal. A reprint is in the works.

My family has been living on one income for 26 years. This year it is a low income. My husband works in home construction and had his income cut by a third. But underemployed is better than unemployed!  I like to say we’re “thriving near the poverty line”. The only way we can live well without much money is by spending it only where it counts and getting creative for all our “wants”.

I want to encourage anyone who is finding it hard to make ends meet.  Your clothing budget can be nearly zero. Your food budget can be about $2 per person per day, and I’m not talking white bread and kool-aid! If you cut spending drastically, your dollars are available for housing, utilities, insurance and other essentials. It is hard to be poor. It means you can’t just throw money at a problem and do it the easy way. Every event or need means a little extra thought, planning and work. But being debt free is better than doing things the easy way. For our family being frugal even when we had extra money meant that when our income was cut, we were OK. We just needed to keep doing what we knew….don’t spend money on anything that isn’t a bill.

How do we dress a large family nearly for free? Our church hosts a clothing exchange twice a year. Everyone brings clothing they no longer want. Volunteers sort it by size & gender during the five days of set-up and shop for free. On Saturday we are open to the public who come and take whatever they want, as much as they want. What doesn’t get taken is donated to charity.

If there’s no exchange in your area already, maybe you could host one. A church, garage, or community center would be a good location. You’ll want helpers. It could be a neighborhood, work or church project. You just need space, racks & hangars, tables and signs. You’ll find that people have nice things to donate. We’ve all got clothing that we’ve never worn and it’s great to share it at the exchange.

Next post….food, my favorite place to save money!