Monday, January 27, 2014

Projects Done ... Well, Almost

In my recent Out With the Old and In With the New post I mentioned that I had not finished all the projects I had on my "to do" list during our Christmas break.  While ET, my babysitting charge,  was vacationing out of town at his grandparents and this past weekend I completed my project "to do" list.  What did I accomplish?

You've already see this photo, but I'll tell you about it anyway.  During ET's vacation I spent 3 1/2 days emptying the pantry, adding three additional shelving units, restocking and re-organizing all our winter food stores and Christmas décor.

This past weekend I turned this hallway closet into a ....

... Sewing Nook!
 We added 4 cubby units which gives me 24 cubbies to store and organize my fabric, yarns, and notions.
The drawer unit, tucked into a dormer nook, stores and my patterns, embroidery supplies and miscellaneous items.

I used tension rods above the drawer unit, thank you Pinterest, to store felting and crochet threads.

Since Grandpa is returning for a visit, I now have until Thursday to re-claim our guest room by finding a new place to store all the boxes I removed from the closet.

Monday, January 20, 2014

2014: Frugal Lifestyle

I've been reading economic news, again.  Despite general reports released by the U.S. government indicating reductions in unemployment rates thus, an improvement in our national economy, all other economic news reads that those reports are vastly misleading.  In short, those reports reflect only the active numbers of citizens collecting unemployment benefits.  Those numbers and reports do not reflect the grossly low numbers of labor force participation rates. Labor force participation rates are the numbers of eligible and available workers.  The disabled and retired are not included in these estimates.  Depending on the report, author, and annalist I've recently read the current labor participation rate in the U.S. is between 62 and 68 percent.  With that in mind, 32%-38%  of the U.S. is being supported through taxpayer dollars in the form of unemployment, or welfare benefits.
The current economic news brings me cause to feel very blessed and thankful that Mr.B continues to be well employed.  This news also motivates me to be more resolved in cutting our expenses, saving and paying off our mortgage to bring us back into a 100% debt free lifestyle.  We are blessed in that through careful management of our resources our mortgage is the only debt we have at the start of this new year.   Although Mr.B is gainfully employed, a 62-68% labor participation rate indicates that in the event of a job loss he may be out of work for quite some time.  These numbers indicate that good paying jobs are still hard to come by.
 I've said it before, I am so grateful to have grown up very, very poor.  Poverty is not a station I enjoy, but it is a station I know how to do.  It taught me to be very frugal in ALL aspects of our lifestyle.  Over the past 30 years frugality has purchased us a very comfortable lifestyle. Although it was not always so,  I am currently blessed to be a full-time stay-at-home, homeschool mother & wife.  If it weren't for frugality, working outside our home would be a financial necessity.  Our children enjoy 4-H, sports, and a host of other social activities.  If it weren't for frugality, we could not afford these luxuries.  Our family enjoys a variety of good and healthy foods which in turn, helps to provide us with excellent health.  If it weren't for frugality, we certainly would not eat well.  When our weather turns bitterly cold (27 degrees below zero) we enjoy the comfort of a well heated home.  If it weren't for frugality, we would not be able to afford our heating costs.
Financial stewardship is a lifestyle.  It is a lifestyle that one must work at daily.  If you fail one day or in one area, you must find the resolve to correct your failings and continue on the next day.  Through consistency and changed habits you will one day wake up and find that frugality as purchased you more comfort and security than you ever imagined.
One of the social activities OG participates in every spring is the Daughter of the King banquet and seminar.  It is a formal banquet and seminar hosted by an area church for home educated girls and another female guests of their choice living in eastern Montana.  A formal banquet requires formal attire.  Formal attire is very expensive, even for those family's who enjoy a middle class or above income.  Since we know in advance that OG will be attending this formal social engagement, just like publically educated girls who attend prom and homecoming dances, we begin looking for her formal well in advance.  Because of our frugal lifestyle, we peruse re-sales shops and thrift stores months in advance to find a formal that OG will enjoy wearing.  Sometimes we find one right away and other times we search for a month or two.  We've never spent more than $50 for a formal, nor do we plan to.  As all little girls do, OG already dreams of her perfect wedding gown.  HOWEVER, she is dreaming of a used one or a rental.  She realizes that, although her future wedding day will be the most spectacular day of her young life, she is also practical in that her wedding gown will only be worn once.  She is realistically confident none of her future daughters or daughters-in-law will want to wear her gown, just as she has no desire to wear or alter mine (which was purchased on clearance for about $45).  With all that said, here are a few photos of OG's formals AND the costs. 

2014 full-length formal - $15

2014 full-length formal close up of bodice
2013 formal - $45 (dress $10 / alterations $35)

2012 full-length formal - $20

With each dress OG has worn, and plans to wear again this year, the same pair of satin peep toe sling back shoes.  She borrows them from mom (me).  We practice frugality in all areas of our lifestyle - even the special occasions.
Any one who reads this blog on a regular basis knows that frugality in the kitchen is an essential aspect of our lifestyle.  Cooking from scratch, gardening and preserving our harvests are the cornerstones of kitchen frugality for our family.  Below are photos of our storage pantry.  We store our non-perishable foods, canning supplies and Christmas décor in the pantry.  When we were planning to move from Texas to Montana 2 1/2 years ago, for 9 months we reduced our grocery bill to less than $75.00 per month by consuming our food stores.  We didn't want to pack or pay to move a mountain of food.  It has taken me 2 1/2 years to re-stock our food stores.  In my opinion the effort and diligence are worth it.
When meal planning I "grocery shop" from our pantry and freezers.  Now that our pantry and freezers are fully stocked, our monthly grocery budget is allocated to re-stocking.  I think it is important to note that although many families have a separate budget for personal hygiene items, our grocery budget is inclusive of personal hygiene items - I personally find it easier to group the two expenses into one category.

Because we have a well stocked pantry and freezer, I can wait for the 12-16 weeks sales cycle rotation before having to purchase items.  Since our Montana winter weather is bitterly cold, I am able to avoid venturing out in the cold, snow and ice.  Fewer trips to town also reduces our transportation costs, which is significant when you live as far from a grocer as we do (90 miles round-trip).

Living on the Montana prairie has made me more aware of energy costs than ever before.  Although we have central air conditioning in our home we do not use it.  Montana's mild summers and prairie breezes allow us to open the windows and turn on a fan for summertime comfort.  Our summertime cooling bills are minimal. 

Winter on the Montana prairie is were climate control costs can skyrocket if one is not careful.  Since moving here I've began exercising two principals that have reduced our winter heating costs by an average of $75 per month which adds up to about $450 per cold weather season.

During the day, we keep our thermostat set at 68 degrees Fahrenheit.  Our southern friends would find this bone chilling.  But I always tell them - one has to wear clothes up here in the winter.  Long handles, fleece lined tights, undershirts and wool socks are worn everyday during winter months.  If by chance 68 begins to feel chilly, we just step outside for a few minutes.  Stepping back inside feels like stepping into a furnace.

From 9:00 PM to 6:00 AM our sleeping temperature is reduced to 60 degrees Fahrenheit.  We wear flannel or fleece pajamas and sleep under flannel sheets, a wool blanket and a quilt.  If we are away from home for 2 hours or more, we also reduce our thermostats to 60 degrees until we return.

Since we are fortunate to own our home, we believe it is important that we frugally use our property to work for us.  Many folks may wonder what that means.  When we lived in Texas our home sat on a 1/4 acre lot.  That lot provided us with a summer and fall garden, eggs and meat from our chickens and rabbits.  Up here in Montana, we have more acreage thus, we currently have two garden plots and chickens which provide eggs and meat.  Last year the children raised lambs and are planning to add a couple hogs this year.  Mr.B misses the rabbits and would like to acquire some more.  We also have plans for a future goat farm.  The goat farming is a long term venture planned to provide additional retirement income.  When living a frugal lifestyle we believe it is important to utilize all the resources one has available.  We have agricultural land, so we feel it is important to maximize that blessing.  My sister, Mrs.A, lives on a small lot located in a sub-division. Despite being limited by deed restrictions and HOA rules, she has found a way to utilize what she has through "Square Foot Gardening" and "Edible Landscaping" techniques in a small backyard plot and her flower beds.  Frugal living is not about acquiring a large quantity of belongings for pennies on the dollar.  Frugal living is about being a good steward of the resources one has available to them.

I believe a frugal lifestyle is an important practice for everyone, regardless of socio-economic status.  For the poor it can literally be the difference between housing or homelessness.  For the wealthy, frugality not only preserves their wealth, but it enables them to abundantly bless the less fortunate and non-profit organizations beyond their imaginations.

P.S. - 1/24/14    In addition to carefully regulating our thermostats  to help reduce our heating costs, we also close off any unused areas of our home such as ...
* ... the guest room.  We open the room 2 hours prior to the scheduled arrival of house guests.
* ... the basement den.  We turn the heat on only when we are using the den.
* ... closets.  It makes no sense in my mind to heat a closet.
* ... the baby's nursery.  When my little babysitting charge goes home for evenings and weekends, I close off his empty room.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Out with the Old ... In with the New

We are five days into 2014 ... I have accomplished only the two smallest things on my list of four that I wanted to complete before my babysitting charge returns tomorrow from his Christmas / New Year break.  He will, again, be on vacation with his Grammy later this month.  Maybe I will get to cross off another task at that time.  Will our family's world end or will our family suffer great loss if I don't get these two things accomplished?  No, they are just some organizing chores I wanted to tackle.  Doing them brings a better sense of organization to my world.  Organization is not important to Mr.B and the children.  In all my efforts I can not conceive why they would not be as obsessive enthusiastic as I am about organization.  I've surmised that they don't have to be organized because they have me to efficiently manage the home and all the details that encompasses.  I shudder to imagine what our home would be like if I didn't live here.  Actually, since I visited Mr.B's apartment two times prior to our marriage, I have an idea (shudder) ... and that's all I'll say.
So, what did I accomplish?   I tossed a huge stack of Christmas catalogues (I remember when Sears & Roebuck and J.C. Penny were the only catalogues we received) and ...

... have been very happy to receive a few seed / gardening catalogues in the mail. I'll need to begin my garden planning in a few weeks.  I will collect / save these until summer ends.

I also crocheted an infinity scarf!  My dear sister, Mrs.A crocheted a gorgeous plum one for me for Christmas and I LOVE it.  I was so inspired by her gift, I attempted to make one.  I've been told that infinity scarves are a very popular fashion accessory this season for city folks.  It has been months and months since I've crocheted and I am so glad I took the time to indulge in this project.

I've perused many blogs that have shared excitement about putting 2013 behind and embarking on 2014.  I am so very thankful that although 2013 was not a bed of thornless roses for our family, we did not suffer any great losses or tragedies as others have.  I sincerely pray that those who are praying for a better 2014 are abundantly blessed with answered prayers.