Monthly Archives: November 2008

A Job is a Job

I mentioned earlier that I am a child care provider (ccp).  I really enjoy what I do and I am blessed with good families.  I don’t intend for this to become a post about the virtues of childcare vs. the virtues of having your children at home. Nor do I plan to mention the daycare goings on more than how it impacts my budget and home keeping.  I discuss this as a matter of fact in my life…just as my years as a bookkeeper were a matter of fact that impacted how my house ran at that time.

While I have limitations in how much I can leave in search of the great deals…Friday garage sales are out of the question.  Being a ccp is not all limitations.

Of course when my children were of childcare age ( my son still is at 8 years old) I certainly saved money on childcare.  My daughter did go to childcare until she was almost 3, during my bookkeeper years.  But I didn’t really budget then and it wasn’t a huge factor.  Where I see benefit in the bottom line is with the time it allows me to spend my home; cooking from scratch,  planning menus plan and make good grocery lists.  All of this saves me money.

On the simplicity side of things, being a ccp helps our family have more peaceful nights.  Supper is started when snack is being served to the children.  My own children come home from school and often have homework well on the way to completion by 5:00.  Our evenings can be a little slower.  There isn’t a bunch of laundry needing my attention at 7 pm.  Thank goodness for nap time.  I can catch up on some mending while the kids have their free play time in the morning.  I have many helpers in the kitchen to make banana bread or stir up a casserole or pot of soup.  And while this rosy picture isn’t the case 100% of the time, when I’m conscious of how I’m spending my time it is.

I find that sometimes I forget that my job is just a job.  I get wrapped up in all of that work related stuff, sometimes to the detriment of my family/home life.  My focus can get a little off.

I would bet this is the case for all of us.  Whether we work outside the home or inside the home…we have hurdles to overcome and blessings to behold.  The trick is keeping it in perspective.  A job is a job, but the life we make around it is what is important.

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My Own Path

As I’ve mentioned before, my path to frugality coincided with my move to SmallTown.  I was reading household tip books, personal finance and frugal living blogs, whatever I could find.  The books were generally helpful but I found some problems with the pf blogs and frugal living blogs.  I could get some motivation there, and some of the tips were good, but much of it didn’t really seem workable for me and my surroundings.

Shopping the deals at popular drugstores isn’t even remotely an option. Chain grocery stores?  Not a chance.  SmallTown poses shopping limitations.  My job poses more.  Together the two made my quest to emulate the on-line frugal community seem unlikely.

My solution was to take bits and pieces of tips from here and there and rework them into my own system.  I try to summon the spirit of early homemakers, from Ma Ingalls to my grandma.  And so, the past two years I have found my way to many systems that work for me.

I’ve touched on the limitations of SmallTown before.  It is a rural area in Minnesota, a half hour drive from Walmart and at least an hour from any other big stores.  We are a tourist area and it is beautiful here.  If you want gift shops, golfing or day spas you are all set.  Being new to the area and knowing no one, it was hard to get clued in to the deals for “locals” and find our shopping groove.  I like to think I’ve made great strides in this area in the three years we’ve been here.  I have a growing network of friends that have been here for years and years, if not their whole lives.  Another day I’ll expand on just how this has blessed us.

The other limitation I encounter has to do with my job.  I doubt I’ll discuss it much here, do to confidentiality mostly, but in broad terms it matters a lot when it comes to shopping and time management.  I am a family child care provider.  Yep, a daycare lady.  I prefer child care provider (ccp) though.  A decade into this job I never envisioned for myself, and I still find it rewarding.  To be honest it can make creating a simple home a bit more challenging.  I like to joke that there is a revolving door for a front door, but it is true that the parade of families starts at 7:15 and doesn’t end for 10 hours.  By 5:15 I am typically putting away the last of the toys and hoping to take a short break before our evening starts.  In addition to the comings and goings of so many people, the sheer volume of stuff associated with providing care to at least half a dozen kids ranging in age from infant to 10 can be overwhelming.  And in the past it has overwhelmed us.

So with no time, not even a lunch hour, to run errands in search of saving money, and with a demanding job that racks up at least 55 hours a week, and a busy family, I had to create my own methods of savings.  I hope some of them can help someone else that doesn’t feel they fit into the typical SAHM or WAHM or working mom molds.  At the very least I have a place to remind myself that even tough it isn’t always easy to be thrifty, I’ve come a long way taking it one week at a time.

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SmallTown Savings: Cash

The third part of my savings, discovered after moving to SmallTown, is to stick to CASH.  I never had cash when I lived in HomeTown.  I really don’t know why.  I had a definite aversion to it.  Did I worry that I would lose it?  Did I worry I would spend it too quickly?  Was I too worried that I would need it in my account?  Was I just lazy?  I’m not sure, but I never understood why people would have a lot of cash on hand.  Come to think of it, I don’t think I knew anyone who had much cash at any given time.  It was all checkbooks and credit cards.  Sure people I knew carried a few bucks for incidentals, but not for bigger expenses like weekly groceries.

When we got serious about our budget, that changed.  It was about two years ago when we moved to cash.  Our house in HomeTown had finally sold.  I had a better income and had read several books on personal finance and frugal living.  I really saw a need to take control and start digging out of our debt faster.  Our first budget system was a mix of Dave Ramsey and Mary Hunt.  We used cash envelopes for groceries/household/pets combined and for gas money and family fun.  Our other categories like clothing, medical, gifts and the like, were set up in a freedom account much the way Mary Hunt describes in her books.  We certainly became much more accountable.  And that was the point.

The most significant savings came from using cash for our groceries/household/pet items.  It still does. The GHP envelope receives it’s set budget amount in cash every Friday and that is that.  At first I actually took to adding my items on a calculator as I put them in the cart.  I really didn’t want to be that lady at the checkout having to put things back because I couldn’t afford them.  I purposely didn’t carry a backup form of payment to bail me out.  I still don’t.

I won’t lie and say it was easy right away.  It wasn’t.  I resented it some weeks.  So I tried to focus on the challenge of it.  I made it a game.  Using cash has likely been the biggest part of my savings during the last two years.  It doesn’t always go as smoothly as I’d like.  When life is rushed and crazy I sometimes slip up, but I know it is still important for me to stick to cash.  On the rare weeks where I don’t get the cash before I need to go to the store I’ve used my debit card.  And I’ve gone over budget.  It is generally only a few dollars over…but over a year that can matter.  So I’ll be shopping like my grandma did, with a cash envelope.

I remember my grandma’s cash grocery budget from the times I would be at her house when she was planning her shopping list or planning a ladies luncheon.  As the oldest grandchild, and living less than 5 miles from my grandparents, I was recruited to waitress these ladies luncheons and card parties.  Anyway, when it really struck me that grandma used only cash for the groceries and household expenses was when she would have enough saved up to buy a new piece of furniture.  She explained once that when she and grandpa were first married in the 30’s, he gave her a cash allowance for all that daily stuff she was responsible for.  The deal was, whatever she didn’t spend was hers to keep and do with what she liked.  Two things that stand out in my memory are an oak tea cart she bought and a pretty little oval oak coffee table that sat in front of my grandpa’s couch until a few months ago when he passed away at 94 years old.  I long for the days when I’ll have enough extra in my cash envelope to buy something extra like that.  For now, I’ll remain content just staying within my budget and paying down debt.  I bet that is how she started too, except for the debt part.

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SmallTown Savings: Two Lists

Another way I save, and my way of stocking my working pantry at the lowest cost, is to have two lists. One list is a list of things that I need NOW…this week’s shopping trip.  The second list is how I save money.

List two has the things that will need restocked soon. Usually within the next month or so. Down to two light bulbs? It goes on the Long Term List. How does this help? Two distinct ways.

First, I have time to work it in my cash budget. Since I use a cash envelope for all groceries, household products and pet supplies, I sometimes have to spread out purchases. I know I can’t buy our groceries, paper products, shampoo, and food for both pets in one week. If I know I need cat food in a couple of weeks and have a little extra in my cash this week, I’ll add the cat food. It helps me to plan some lower cost meals knowing that there are things stacking up on the long term list. I like being able to spread it out over a little longer time period. This way my budget stays more consistent. I don’t go over budget one week, hoping to be under to balance it out the next week.

The second way that I save with the Long Term List, is by watching for sales. I can always buy items at full price. With things sitting out on the second list, I tend to look harder for sales on those items. If we get down to where the item will run out, it gets moved to the weekly shopping list.

This has worked really well for me.  In fact I sometimes find that things on the Long Term List never get purchased.  It turns out what seemed to be a good idea when I wrote it on the list may no longer hold its appeal by the time I’m ready to buy it.  I may have found an alternative or possibly just decided I was happy doing without that item.  When I quit rushing out to buy things the same week I needed them, I had time to realize I didn’t really need some of them at all.

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SmallTown Savings: A Working Pantry

One of the ways I save is with a working pantry.  I mean “pantry” in a general sense, to include freezer, medicine cabinet…all those places where we keep “extras”.  Years ago I used a lot of coupons and stockpiled some items.  I didn’t feel very efficient at it sometimes.  Occasionally I had to throw things away that were way past their expiration or I ran out of staples and had to replace them at full price.

When we moved to SmallTown I discovered the Tightwad Gazette.  As I was reading every home tip book that could save me some money, I fell in love with Amy D.  I’ve read the Complete Tightwad Gazette cover-to-cover more than once , and other sections many more times.  It is there that I learned to create a “working” pantry.  The idea that sales occur in cycles and that all one really needs to do is stock up enough to get to the next sale, was a weight off my shoulders.  I was never particularly comfortable with buying a LOT of something just because it was really cheap.  I didn’t want to tie up money and space in 30 tubes of toothpaste when we only use 8-10 tubes a year.

Averaging how much of a staple we use in a month or two seemed easier.  I know we eat baked beans fairly frequently so during the summer, especially  the summer holidays, I stock up on several months worth of baked beans.  I know I won’t get that price in the winter, and since we eat beans year round, it is a good choice to go into fall with more than a dozen cans.  Same with ketchup.  Cream Soup.  Oatmeal.

With toiletries and personal products I plan to buy more when the last one from the cupboard is opened.  That way if it doesn’t fit in the budget immediately it should within a couple of weeks, plenty of time to restock without running out.  And time to wait for a sale.

By planning a bit more I’ve reduced the waste in my pantry and I rarely have to buy most items at full price.  Especially here in SmallTown I’ve learned the importance of having a working pantry.  When the hopes of buying cough medicine are nil after 9pm and at that it is EXPENSIVE, it is easy to realize the savings of having some items on hand.

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