Married to the Empire

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Cake Balls

I wanted to try making cake balls, which I found on this website. I initially bought a red velvet cake mix, per the original instructions. But before making the cake, I read the ingredients. Cocoa. That gives me migraines. Dang. So I went out and bought a strawberry cake mix. I don't even want to think about what's in that! The ingredient list is scary! This is why I never buy boxed cake mix.

I made the cake, let it cool, then crumbled it in with a mixture of cream cheese and powdered sugar. (Made more sense to me to make the icing than to buy it. Probably should have done the same with the cake, but I was being lazy.) I had to bite back my gag reflex because crumbled cake mixed with icing looks nasty. Once mixed, I rolled a bunch of little balls, then stuck them in the fridge overnight.

Because I can't eat chocolate, I bought a bag of Wilson's candy melts for a sort of white chocolate covering. I used the double boiler method because I prefer that to microwaving.

I don't think the candy melts were the right choice because it was a little too thick. There was no drizzling with this stuff. It didn't coat the balls very nicely, so my cake balls are quite unattractive.

They do taste good, though. Crazy sweet. One ball is more than enough. I found myself running for a salty something after eating one just to cut the sweet. I had to put half the balls into the freezer because one bag of those candy melts wasn't enough for all of them. When I get around to coating the rest of them, I'll try something else, like actual white chocolate chips. I do have almond bark, which would work, but I don't like the flavor.

I'd originally thought that these could make nice truffle-like small gifts or favors, but they turned out so ugly that there is no way! Maybe with a different coating...

Friday, August 29, 2008

Latest Decorated Composition Book

I have a friend who has been having a tough time lately, so I decided to send her a surprise. I boxed up a couple of books that I thought she'd enjoy reading, then I decided she might also like a journal. I'm really enjoying doctoring up those ugly composition books that are always so cheap this time of year! (Click on the pictures if you'd like to see them larger.)

This also gave me an opportunity to finally use the vintage Star Wars ewok stickers I have. This friend is someone I've known online for several years. While she knows my real name, I'm far more recognizable as Ewokgirl. Of course, I didn't want to hand the postman a package with Ewokgirl listed as the sender, so in case she doesn't recognize my actual name immediately, the little female ewok sticker should give her a clue!

I hope the package cheers her up a bit!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Birthday Surprise

I've said here before that the stormtroopers don't do birthday parties. They're kept busy with charity events and various other things, and they haven't the time nor the will to act as birthday clowns, especially as they aren't allowed to accept payment for appearances. This weekend, though, Steven made an exception.

We have a friend whose daughter is a HUGE Star Wars fan. He said it would absolutely make her day to have a stormtrooper show up at her party. Because we like this guy so much, Steven agreed to come.

I have to say that seeing her face when she saw a real live stormtrooper walk in was priceless. She was so excited, and all the kids wanted their pictures taken with him.

She even wanted him to stand next to her while everyone sang "Happy Birthday" and she blew out her candles. Our friend was elevated to Best Dad EVER that day!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Because I Haven't Said Much about Doogie Lately

The cat who recoils in abject horror at the sight/smell of commercial cat treats would happily eat packing tape every day if we let him. I always forget to check boxes for stray bits of tape before setting them down. It never takes Doogie long to find them.

WFMW: What to Do with Excess Chili Peppers

When I have to buy a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, invariably, I'm left with most of the can after measuring out the portion I need for a recipe. It's too much to simply toss, especially as those tiny cans are expensive ($3 for only 7 ounces!).

I put the leftovers in my mini food processor, chop them up, then spoon them into an ice cube tray that has been sprayed with cooking oil. Each cube holds a tablespoon, so it makes measuring for future recipes easy.

I wrap the tray in foil (important to keep the odor of the peppers from invading other foods), then stick it in the freezer. Once frozen, the pepper cubes can be popped out and stored in a freezer bag. It works for me!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Servant's Heart

I have a raging case of PMS right now, complete with mood swings, exhaustion, and migraine. I held it together enough to make dinner last night, but once we were seated, I just didn't feel like getting back up. Additionally, I was trying to muster up the energy for a music rehearsal that I just didn't feel like going to.

After dinner Steven took my plate into the kitchen for me, and I heard him making some noise in there. When I went in later to put my glass away, I found this:

I know it's not a huge thing, but given my current state, to walk in and find the food put away and dishes rinsed and stacked felt like being handed a million dollars. Having a loving husband is a great thing, but having a loving husband with a servant's heart is even better!

As an aside, he also thrilled me by telling me that he bragged about me to one of his coworkers, who was complaining about the cost of groceries lately. He told me that he was so proud to tell this guy about my shopping strategies for keeping our costs down. It's always nice to know that my work is appreciated!

Monday, August 25, 2008

You Know...

You know you've visited the vet's office way too often when you walk in to pick up some prescription wet food, and the people at the front desk don't even have to ask your name. The girl just typed a bunch of stuff into the computer, asked, "Which cat?" typed some some, then sold me a case of expensive cat food.

The boys positively dived into their bowls when I opened a new can. Calvin was quite angry this weekend that we'd run out. Aren't their little bowls cute? Both were bought at Asian grocery stores.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Ewok Bobble Head

I think bobble heads are a little creepy, but I couldn't help but like this little guy:

When it looked like Monday was Fuzzy's last day on earth, her owners bought her a Happy Meal. That cat loves McDonald's French fries! Her Happy Meal came with an ewok, so when I brought dinner to them, they gave me Fuzzy's toy from her meal. It's not like the cat was going to do anything with it!

I have to say that I think McDonald's is either brilliant or evil with this latest marketing scheme. All the Star Wars-loving kids out there will have to eat eighteen Happy Meals in order to collect all the bobble heads. And there are some really creepy ones in the collection!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

New Craft Supplies

We've had youth-group events all week, as it's their last week of summer before school starts. Wednesday morning was a youth breakfast and bible study, and on the way home from that, I decided to stop in at Tuesday Morning.

I was actually looking for butter bells, which I didn't find. However, I did find a fantastic assortment of craft supplies at really low prices. I picked up 3 packages of Fiskars texture plates--4 textures to a package--for only $1.99 each. I already own the texturing tool, so this was a great find.

I also found 6 packages of ribbons all sold as a set. That wound up being 30 different ribbons, including one package of nothing but cat-related ribbons. Total cost: $3.99.

And for a mere $9.99, I found a distressing kit. I've always liked the look of distressed notecards and scrapbook pages, but I didn't have any of the tools for doing it. This kit has everything, including inks.

I even found some crafting supplies for my craft-loving niece who turns 9 soon. I won't say more because I don't know if my nieces check out my blog or not.

Now I just need to clean off my desk in my craft room so I can get started on some new projects!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Kitty Meat Denial

Poor Calvin. His new renal diet for his kidney disease means no more meat treats. We used to give him tiny bits of meat when making sandwiches or cooking dinner. No more. He doesn't understand why everything has changed, and it hurts me to hear him screaming in frustration because he can smell our food, but isn't allowed to have any of it.

Tonight he sat in a chair at the table while we ate our dinner. He stared pointedly at Steven, who was always the culprit in sharing food with the cat, so Steven offered him something he could have: a snap pea.

Naturally, our little carnivore had no interest in peas. He was so funny as he resignedly rested his chin on the table next to that pea. I ran to get the camera, and Steven piled more vegetables in front of the cat.

Then it got weird; Calvin started rubbing his face all over that little pile of vegetables.

He may be missing meat, but he sure is offering us loads of entertainment! (And don't worry; we're not mean. He gets a special wet food now every day. He thinks he's in kitty heaven when his little bowl comes out each day. He's not completely deprived.)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

In Times of Trouble

We so often turn to food in times of trouble. Our dear friends Dan and Karen let us all know yesterday that they were going to take their sweet cat Fuzzy in for her final vet appointment. I was crying just thinking about it. I emailed them and offered to bring them dinner, as I knew they probably wouldn't eat, otherwise. They took me up on that offer.

Fuzzy wound up rallying enough that her "parents" decided it wasn't time yet, so they cancelled her appointment. I still brought them dinner as they'd had a very rough day.

I'd bought a Japanese eggplant at the Asian grocery last weekend, so I decided to make pizza using this recipe. I modified things by adding mushrooms and replacing the parmesan, which gives me migraines, with mozzarella. The crust was a breeze to whip up. My pizza dough recipe, which makes 2 regular-crust pizzas or 4 thin-crust or individual pizzas:

2 envelopes active dry yeast (I used just over a tablespoon of bulk yeast)
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
2 cups warm water
5 cups all-purpose flour
olive oil (I just drizzle in enough to make the dough easier to work with, probably a tablespoon or so)

Combine the yeast, salt, sugar, and warm water in a bowl. Cover and leave in a warm place for 10 minutes, or until foamy. Place flour in a bowl. Make a well in the center, add the yeast mixture and olive oil, and mix well.

Knead the dough on a floured surface for 5 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. For 2 thick-crust pizzas, divide in half, then roll each portion out to a 14-inch round. For 4 thin-crust pizzas, divide in 4, then roll each portion out.

Sprinkle a pizza pan with cornmeal. Place the dough onto the pan. Top and cook according to recipe.

My pizzas don't always come out into perfect circles, but that's okay:

Those cheap foil pans come in handy when taking food to people. I made up 2 of those disposable pans with individual-sized pizzas and brought them over with baking instructions attached. This was a very simple meal to make up and bring to my friends who were having a very difficult day. It's such an easy thing to do that can mean so much to someone.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Crazy Week

Last week was kind of crazy around here. I had the pleasure of creating my first-ever blog series: One Income 101, and I was overwhelmed by the positive response to it! For those of you who visited for that, thank you!

Additionally, I had the unexpected experience of having a nationally-syndicated talk show call me to ask me to be on their show. They were having the book author quoted in that CNN article about stay-at-home wives on their show, and they wanted me on with him. They said they wanted me to talk about how our marriage has been strengthened by having me at home. I declined. I don't want to be the national poster child for stay-at-home wives.

I did some clothes shopping last week, which I rarely do. I had a couple of $10-off-any-$10-or-more purchase cards, so I decided to spend them. How is this for only 79 cents out-of-pocket (original price: $36)?

I wore it all day yesterday and received a ton of compliments. I also took advantage of Texas' tax-free weekend and purchased a new pair of jeans and some undies.

The other interesting shopping I did was to drag my long-suffering hubby with me on Saturday to an Asian grocer. That was quite the fascinating experience! I came home with a few interesting new veggies to try, some staples, and a few convenience-type items. Dumplings, anyone?

My final interesting event of the week was that I battled my cat. Doogie had to go to the vet's for his annual checkup. He's hard to get into his carrier. I posted once about how I get him in, but he's now on to that trick. We had quite the fight on Friday with me trying to shove him in his carrier and him resisting mightily. I prevailed, but not before he'd ripped my shirt. We arrived at the vet's office quite angry with each other. For being only 11 pounds, he sure is scrappy!

While interesting is always a nice change, I really don't mind the mundane ordinariness of the average week! Here's to hoping for some normality this week.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

One Income 101: Contingency Plans

Life isn't perfect, and sometimes, bad things happen. Many of the people who commented over at CNN about the SAHW article seemed to assume that my husband and I would eventually divorce; he'd cheat on me with a far more fascinating woman who has a job, I'd hose him for alimony, and then I'd be left helpless because I surely have no job skills. (There are some seriously sad people out there with a very jaded view of marriage!) As Christians, we don't consider divorce an option for our lives (besides, why marry if you think you might split up eventually?), but we do know that something could happen that would prevent Steven from working. What would we do then?

First, there's insurance. Steven carries both life and disability insurance. Unfortunately, his life insurance isn't nearly as much as it should be because he has kidney disease. Apparently, that is the Big Black Mark in the insurance industry, and no one wants to insure him because he might die. (Which is pretty much the idea behind life insurance, but that's probably too logical.) While his life insurance isn't enough to keep me for life, it is plenty to tide me over for more than a year. Believe me; that's plenty. Because he could wind up needing a kidney transplant someday, we also have disability insurance on him.

Second, I'm a certified teacher with experience. My teaching certificate is valid in the state of Texas for life. I have the classroom experience to back me up on my resume. Experienced teachers are always in demand, and I can easily go back to teaching should something happen to my husband.

Third, I have kept up professionally. I'm on the substitute-teacher list in my local school district. I don't sub much, but I do it enough that I can keep it on my resume. Additionally, I've tutored the past 2 spring semesters at a local middle school to prepare struggling 7th graders for the reading portion of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test. I've had an extremely high success rate with my students, which has kept me in demand.

Fourth, I'm a published writer. Granted, it's a single story in Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover's Soul, but it's the only thing I've ever submitted for publication, and it was accepted. For money. If I really get to it, I'm fairly confident that I could do more of the same. A little freelancing could bring in some extra cash, if necessary. And even if I'm never published again, it's still something for my resume. An English teacher who can actually do what she teaches is a good thing!

I'm a big believer in having a backup plan. The plan will be individual to each family, but there should be one. I've heard of Christian wives just assuming that the church will step up and take care of their families since the bible says that we are to care for widows and orphans; however, it is unreasonable for an able-bodied person to assume that their congregation will take care of them forever. That's a pretty unrealistic assumption to make, so have a concrete plan in place! Plan for the worst but hope for the best. None of us is promised tomorrow.

Friday, August 15, 2008

One Income 101: What I Don't Do

I'll be the first to confess that I'm not frugal in all things. I do my best to manage our money to the best of my ability, but there are a few things that I don't do.

I don't garden. Growing our own veggies sounds great in theory, and I know it's a great money saver, but I just don't enjoy gardening. Couple a lack of interest with a definite black thumb, and it's just easier and cheaper to buy our veggies. In fact, while looking over my latest attempt at food growing (which meant a whole bunch of dead plants), my husband said, "Please. Don't buy any more plants."

I don't skimp on our healthcare. We are well insured, we see various specialists, we fill and take all prescriptions, and we see doctors whenever necessary. In fact, I don't even scope out the pharmacy where I can get our drugs the cheapest. I stick with our local pharmacy where they know me on sight. Good customer service is worth more to me than lower prices. Yes, it can be expensive, but it's far more expensive to ignore health problems, then treat them as emergencies later.

I don't skimp on the care of our pets. Our cats, prior to having to switch to a vet-prescribed kidney diet, always ate premium cat food. Cheap pet food is like feeding a human child fast food every day. The long-term health effects could wind up being more costly than the cost of a good quality food over the lifetime of the pet. Also, we take them to the vet whenever something is amiss. We made a commitment to take care of them when we adopted them, and we intend to follow through on that.

I don't ignore our cars. We drive a 1996 Honda Civic and a 2000 Honda CRV. Our cars have given us very little trouble in the 12 and 8 years I've owned them. The reason for that is regular maintenance. We have a fabulous mechanic who specializes in Hondas, and we take our cars to him for all regularly-scheduled maintenance. We also use an expensive synthetic oil in the engines. Don't ignore your vehicles until something is really wrong. Treat your cars well, and they'll give you years of service.

I don't apply for many freebies, buy things I don't need for the ECBs at CVS, or even buy products just because I can get them super cheap. I find dealing with tiny little sample bottles to be tedious, and they rarely net enough product to be worth the hassle. What's more, I have products/brands I like, and I generally stick with them. I find it's less expensive for me to just buy what we like than to try new things because they're cheap, then dislike them. Also, even though I know that I can get things for almost no money out-of-pocket if I really work CVS's extra-care program, I can't be bothered. I don't want to deal with a bunch of unnecessary glucose monitors, diapers, or other things we don't need or use. I'll leave those products on the shelves for those who actually need them.

Final installment: Contingency Plans

One Income 101: Gifts

I love to give gifts, but living on one income means that we can't afford to be as extravagant with our gift giving as I might like to be. A little time and creativity solves that problem, however.

My best advice to anyone wanting/needing to cut back on expenses, but not on gift giving, is to play up your talents and think creatively.

I love to cook, so food is one of the ways I give gifts to people. Because people are so inundated at Christmas with sweets, I do something different; I bake bread. My bread is always greeted enthusiastically. I've also done this as thank-you gifts for my husband's co-workers when they went above and beyond to help him on a project. Lovely packaging always helps with the presentation.

Another consumable gift I enjoy giving is spices. We have a fabulous spice store in Fort Worth called Pendery's World of Spices. I am in love with their stuff, especially their fajita seasoning. Their selection of chili powders is vast. Local spices make great gifts for people far away, but also for locals who are unfamiliar with this store. Bags of spices are fairly inexpensive, and they're always well received.

I've been honing my sewing skills over the past year. I'm still very much a beginner, but I sew well enough to make a few gifts. Recently, I gave wedding gifts of homemade dishtowels that I packaged up with a cookbook and a nice wooden spoon. I made a stuffed cat for my youngest niece for Christmas. Both projects were minimal in cost, but did take time to make.

I enjoy paper crafts, so my homemade notecards make lovely gifts for the women in my life. Lately, I've been enjoying doctoring up composition books, and I'm thinking that prayer journals might make for some nice gifts.

Even homemade ornaments can make nice small gifts for people.

We work with the youth at our church, so we receive a lot of graduation announcements. Multiple graduation gifts can become costly, but this year I found a creative and inexpensive solution with a lot of meaning behind it. The girls we gave them to loved them.

Need a creative birthday gift for the person who has everything? Try a magazine from the month and year of his or her birth. I've done this a few times, and the recipients have told me how much they enjoyed looking through them and seeing what was popular or of importance when they were born. Make sure the magazine's general topic is of interest to the recipient. You can find old magazines on Ebay or at used book stores for very little money.

Don't be afraid to give gifts that you bought on sale or clearance. The recipient never has to know just how little money you spent on something! Just make sure that the gift is something the recipient will actually like, not just something cheap so you'll have a gift in hand. It's my belief that it's better to give nothing, than to give a thoughtless gift.

Your talents may be vastly different from mine. The key is to figure out what you're good at, what the recipients would like, and be creative. And remember, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had it right when he said:

Give what you have. To someone, it may be better than you dare to think.

Later Today: What I Don't Do

Thursday, August 14, 2008

One Income 101: Hobbies and Entertainment

I think that people often assume that if you live on one income, your life is dull and lifeless without any money to do anything fun. The truth is, there are plenty of fun things to do that cost little. You just have to be willing to find them.

First, I have to stress that you need a budget. Really. I pull out a certain amount of cash each pay period, and that's what we have to spend on our entertainment. We each also get a certain amount for our personal spending money. Entertainment is generally a joint thing; hobbies generally come out of our personal spending money. Having a budget not only keeps you accountable, but it can also be a great motivator to find savings on everything.

Seeing movies can be expensive. Full-price evening tickets can cost a small fortune. For that reason alone, we rarely go to the movie theater. It has to be something we're really looking forward to in order to pay full price. Instead, we either go to a matinee, find a theater with less-expensive tickets, wait for it to come to the dollar theater, or wait for the DVD. We actually seem to enjoy the movie-going experience more because we don't do it frequently. Funny how that works.

When it comes to DVDs, I've discovered that the local library is a fantastic source. If you go to your library and never seem to find any of the new movies out, it could be because they're always checked out! Put the name of whatever movie you'd like to see into the search engine, and you might just discover that you can check it out for free! I rarely rent movies anymore because I get almost everything I want to watch at the library. The only drawback to this is that you might have to wait a few weeks after putting it on hold. The more popular the movie, the longer the wait.

Steven loves Star Wars, which I'm sure is evident simply from my blog header and title! He's a collector, and we used to make late-night runs to various Targets and Wal-Marts looking for the latest action figures. That was a lot of fun when we did that. Honestly, the fun was in the search, and we were spending time together doing something we both enjoyed. These days his searches are pretty much confined to Ebay, which is where he finds vintage figures.

Steven's stormtrooper stuff isn't cheap. He's poured a few thousand dollars into his costume, props, and upgrades. That sounds like a budget breaker, but he's found ways to fund his hobby that pulls very little from our family budget. First, when he wanted a stormtrooper costume, he wound up selling another costume he'd made on Ebay. He lucked out in that it sold for an obscene amount, which more than funded his new costume, along with some upgrades like the ROM-FX and some more movie-accurate details. Because he's so into screen accuracy, he figured out a way to make better buttons for his costume. Then he made a bunch more and sold them to other stormtroopers. That helped fund his ridiculously-expensive rubber guns that I didn't get excited about, but the other stormtroopers did. (I don't always get his hobby.)

Having a stormtrooper for a husband has allowed us all sorts of amazing opportunities. We've seen free movies, been to multiple celebrity events, attended all the good stuff that most people couldn't get into at Celebration III, gotten into museum exhibits for free, been on TV, and we even had a personal tour of Elstree Studios in London, which is where some of the original Star Wars trilogy was filmed.

My own hobbies involve reading, writing, singing, some crafting, and cooking. A good part of what I'm interested in can be taken care of through the library. I love to check out cookbooks to find new recipes, audio books, regular fiction books, informative books on new craft techniques, and even the occasional CD. Part of the fun is in the learning.

I've recently taken up sewing, and I've found it to be a fairly inexpensive hobby. Fabric can be found on sale, and most craft stores in my area have regular coupons that I can use on full-price items. I also use those coupons and watch sales for the supplies for my card-making and other craft ventures. The best part is that once I have what I need, I'm at home working on projects. When I was busily sewing dish towels a few weeks ago, I barely left home, which is always good for the budget.

We do enjoy eating out. We can't do it as often as we did when we both worked, but we're still able to enjoy it quite a bit. It helps to have coupons. (I'm big on coupons.) When I find coupons for our favorite restaurants, I put them in my purse. We also have an Entertainment Book, and a while back, we were spending Saturday afternoons trying new restaurants with buy-one-entree-get-one-free coupons. Lunch is always less expensive than dinner, so that never cost us much to do.

We have a Wii, which can be a lot of fun. Games can be expensive, though. If we're unsure about a new game, we rent it first. When buying, we search out best deals through Ebay,, etc. Sometimes buying used is the way to go. We also trade games with friends.

Speaking of friends, one of the best ways to have a fun evening is simply to invite people over for dinner. We're fortunate to have a great group of friends we hang out with regularly. We do potlucks at times, and other times, the host house provides all the food. We might watch a movie together, have Wii tournaments, play other games, or just sit around and gab. Keeping up friendships doesn't have to cost a thing.

Find inexpensive fun around your house. For example, we have a park a mere two blocks from home, and it has a disc golf course. A few dollars spent on various discs, and we have entertainment and exercise all rolled into one. It's free to use the course, and it's fun to go together or with other people. Steven has recently taken to having the boys in the youth group over on Wednesday nights to play disc golf together. It's a great way for them to bond.

One drawback to the one-income lifestyle is that we don't travel as often as we would like. We do not take an annual vacation. We have been very fortunate, though, in that the trips we have taken have been inexpensive. Some of that has been through whom we know. My parents sometimes give us their timeshare in Vail, CO, friends had a great deal on a condo at Disney World, my parents gave us the airfare and hotel in London as a gift. When we haven't had fabulous opportunites dropped into our laps, we've simply searched out the best deals online.

We do splurge on occasion. When my favorite musical, Cats, came to town, I bought tickets. We once dropped an obnoxious amount of money on tickets to see Sting in concert. There's nothing saying we can't do these things; it's just a matter of making room in the budget for them.

There is plenty of fun to be had; creativity is the key to finding it inexpensively.

Next up: Gifts

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

One Income 101: What Do I Do All Day?

While I don't receive the question much anymore, when I first became a SAHW, people often asked, "What do you do all day?" The question only bothered me when it was accompanied by a venomous tone, but for the honestly curious, I never really minded being asked. I realize that stay-at-home moms have a huge portion of their days simply filled by childcare, so it seems as if a woman without children wouldn't have much to do at home. That's not the case at all. For those who claim it's boring, I say they simply need to be more creative.

First, I have The Schedule. I like having specific tasks assigned to certain days. It keeps me accountable, and it gives me the structure that my personality craves.

Because I am at home, I am responsible for tasks that we might otherwise assign to outside help or pay extra for convenience. For example, in taking care of the laundry, I've found ways to extend the life of our clothes, while also trimming the electric bill. I do all of our ironing. Admittedly, I hate to iron, but if pop in a DVD and watch while I iron, it's not so bad.

When I worked, we ate out a lot. Being with students all day, then having piles of essays to grade and lessons to plan left me with little energy for making meals. Staying home has afforded me the time to get creative in the kitchen, and I've discovered that I really like to cook. I make dinner most nights, then Steven and I eat the leftovers for lunch or on the weekends. Steven's taking leftovers to work with him saves us a ton of money on his lunches, in addition to the money we save by eating dinner at home.

Other ways I save in the kitchen is to buy things in bulk or on sale, then cooking and freezing them. I've done this with such things as meats, breads, even beans. Sometimes I make large meals, then freeze half of it for later use. This especially comes in handy when I'm sick or just really tired. Buying fruits and veggies in whole form, then cutting them up myself is a huge savings, too.

Oh, and I have a little trick for making kitchen tasks always enjoyable: audio books. I turn on a book, then set about my work. I can work hours in the kitchen when I'm listening to a good book!

Having a spouse at home is helpful when it comes to repairs that have to be made. Granted, I don't do them myself, but someone has to be here to let service people in. If you've been reading here for a while, you are aware of the unbelievable number of repairs we've had to make on our house in the past several months. That would have been a lot of time off from work for us if I weren't at home!

Because I'm at home and have the time, I spend time learning. My latest stack of informational and inspirational library books:

I learn new ways to do things, new craft techniques (very handy for making gifts, home decor, and practical items!), and even the occasional do-it-yourself task. When I needed something for the dining room, I bought a cheap, ugly dresser at a thrift store, then read up on how to refinish it. For a bit of time and effort, I had a beautiful new piece of furniture. I've even taken to washing my own wool items.

Being at home also allows me to handle all errands, taking the cars in for maintenance, finances (contrary to popular belief, being at home doesn't mean the hubby hands me an allowance--I set the budget!), scheduling of appointments, taking the cats to the vet (which I've done a lot of lately since Calvin's diagnosis), cooking, cleaning, etc. As a result of all this, Steven can focus on his career, and we both can relax together in the evenings. It also frees up more of our time for being with our youth group or indulging in hobbies, such as Steven's stormtrooper stuff.

Believe me, I'm never bored or without things to do!

Next: Hobbies and Entertainment

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

One Income 101: Shopping Strategies

The budget has to be trimmed in order to keep one spouse at home. Bargain shopping is part of the game. How this is done will be different for every family, as there are several factors to consider. For example, I live in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, and we have a plethora of stores from which to choose. Those in more rural areas will likely have a harder time finding bargains and may have to figure out other money-saving strategies from what I'll present here.

Here is what works well for me:

My #1 tool for bargain hunting is my subscription to The Dallas Morning News. Seriously. In addition to the news and comics, it's filled with ads and coupons. I'm alerted to sales and can often find coupons for percentages off total purchases. This came in very handy last year when we needed to get a new suit for Steven. Sometimes there are special offers in the newspaper bag, such as the recent coupons for a free Starbucks iced coffee and a buy-one-entree-get-one-free card for Peiwei.

Speaking of coupons, I cut them out and squirrel them away. I keep an envelope full of coupons in my purse so I always have them on hand when out and about.

Match coupons to sales. I sit down with the grocery fliers that come in the newspaper every Wednesday, circle what we need, then match coupons to sale items. It's especially effective if the store doubles and triples the coupons.

Learn to stockpile. Learn prices of the things you use, then buy when prices hit rock bottom. I have a big shelf in our garage where I keep our extras. Stockpiling means going from store-to-store, which takes time, but it's so worth it!

Get on store mailing lists. This often nets me free gift cards/coupons. I will often use the $10-off-any-$10-or-more-purchase cards that come in the mail towards gifts or practical items we need like socks and underwear. Or sometimes I just use them for something frivolous. It's free money, so why not?

I also use craft-store coupons like mad. I rarely pay full price for any of my crafting supplies.

Check clearance or bargain sections of stores. I've found amazing deals and many gifts for people by doing this. Bookstores are especially great for this, I've found.

Shop outlets. I'm a preppy girl, and I like expensive clothes. I'm very fortunate to have a Talbot's outlet in my town. I rarely pay more than $10 or $15 for any article of clothing. Often, it's $7.50 or less. You'd never know how cheap thrifty I am by looking at my wardrobe!

Buy in bulk or in whole form, then divide or cut up and store yourself. I often buy meat in bulk, then divide it into smaller portions for freezing. I buy vegetables in their whole form (think carrots, celery, etc.), then cut them up myself. A bag of whole carrots is much cheaper than a bag of baby carrots. The extra work involved in prepping them myself is minimal.

Learn to use CVS and Walgreens. If you're not familiar with their savings programs, Money Saving Mom has great tutorials. I've never actually used Walgreens, but I love CVS. Many people who shop there work the system so that they constantly generate Extra Care Bucks and never pay much for anything. Personally, I buy only what we need and use. Choose the strategy that works best for your family.

Use credit and/or debit cards with rewards programs. This is a strategy that may not work for all families. If you use a cash-only system, this isn't for you. However, I like the ease of using cards. We get points with both our credit and debit cards, which can be turned around for gift cards or cash back. We put our recent roof and gutter repairs on our credit card, then paid it all off with the insurance money. We netted a lot of points with that, and I've already cashed some of them in for some gift cards.

Try thrift stores and garage sales. Admittedly, I don't do this one enough. But the few times I have, I've netted some amazing bargains. Meredith's blog is a great source of inspiration for this particular category.

Try Ebay. Great prices on new and used items. Plus, auctions are kind of fun, as long as you don't get carried away.

Know when to spend money. Sometimes bargains aren't always the way to go. For example, we use a very expensive synthetic oil in our cars. I never find it on sale, and it makes oil changes pretty pricey. However, the big picture is that it keeps our cars' engines cleaner and more efficient. Spending the money on this makes our cars less expensive to maintain in the long run.

Next up: What I Do All Day.

Monday, August 11, 2008

One Income 101: Starting Out

Living on one income is not an impossibility for the less-than-wealthy as long as you are willing to get off the consumer track and live on a budget. If your goal in life is to have the biggest house, most luxurious cars, and latest technology, then you might not be able to pull it off. But if you're content with less and are willing to live more modestly, then I believe one-income living is a possibility for most people.

A few things to consider if you are wanting to have a spouse at home:

1. Evaluate your expenses. Analyze both your fixed and variable expenses. Housing is probably the most important fixed expense, and this is the one that can determine your ability to stay home or not. You can't pull it off if you buy more house than you can reasonably afford on one income. When Steven and I were house hunting years ago, we were both working, so we qualified for much larger mortgages than the one we wound up with. We knew, though, that I wanted to be at home, so we looked only at houses that we knew we could pay for on one income. Our house is smaller than that of most of our friends, but it's never been a problem to pay our monthly mortgage.

2. Evaluate your debts. We were fortunate not to have any student loans, car payments, or consumer debt, so admittedly, this was not an issue for us. If you have any debt, you'll need to figure out if you can afford to pay it down in a timely manner on only one income. If your debt is very large, it may make more sense for both spouses to continue working for a while.

3. Determine what to keep and what to chuck. I'm talking about variable expenses here. What is so important to you that you want to keep it in the budget? What are you willing to give up? One expense that Steven and I got rid of was cable TV. We like TV, but it wasn't that important to us. What was important was the newspaper. We changed our newspaper subscription from weekends only to daily delivery. That was a worthwhile expense for us, yet still much cheaper than cable TV. Can you pare down your food expenses by cooking more and eating out less? Can you lower your utility bills somehow? Can you give up the weekly mani/pedi and do your own nails? Are you willing to give less extravagant gifts to family and friends? What are you able and willing to do to lower your expenses?

4. Make a budget, then use it. Try living on only the income that you intend to keep. Put the second income into a savings account. This allows you to see if you can successfully live with a smaller budget, and it builds up the all-important savings account.

5. Make sure that you're still able to save if you have only one income. If you spend every penny you make on your regular expenses, you'll be in serious trouble when bad stuff happens. And the hard times will come. Things break, people get sick, layoffs happen. (All 3 of those have happened to us in the 9 years I've been at home.) You'll need savings to get you through those things. Also, you need to save for retirement. If you're unable to live on one income and put money away, then it's a bad idea to give up the second income.

6. Charitable giving. Steven and I are Christians, so we believe that everything we have is from the Lord. It is our responsibility to give back to Him. I realize that not all of my readers are Christians, so this is a category in which you need to do whatever you feel is best for your family. Maybe it's just some weird psychological thing, but we actually feel more rich because we do give a portion of our income away. I'm not one to say that the Lord will give to us materially if we just give to him (we don't follow the health-and-wealth version of Christianity), and I will admit that at times it does hurt to give, but we've never been without when we really needed something. Somehow, the money does manage to be there when we need it.

I don't claim to be a financial expert or anything, but these are the basic first steps that can help you to move towards the goal of having one spouse at home.

Tomorrow: Shopping strategies for saving money.

I'm Back with an Announcement

I had an interesting week while I was taking my blogging break. I finished Breaking Dawn, as planned, although I didn't get much additional reading done, as I'd hoped. Instead, I was left reeling from the backlash of a certain CNN article that came out last week about stay-at-home wives.

I discovered that there are a lot of misconceptions out there about living on one income. Some assume that a couple has to be wealthy to be able to afford it. Others think that SAHWs are moochers, lazy, and just sitting at home watching television all day or off on extravagant shopping sprees. Others are convinced that a woman who doesn't work outside the home is vapid and uninteresting, and her husband will wind up cheating on her with a woman with a job. (I fail to see how working 9-5 in an office makes someone automatically more fascinating, but that's one of the many misconceptions out there.)

In response, I've decided to do a blog series this week on how to live on one income. Steven and I have been doing it for 9 years now, so I feel somewhat qualified to give some advice on this particular issue. My hope is to dispel some of the false assumptions, while giving practical tips for families who are wanting to have one spouse stay at home. Stay tuned!

For all posts on this series, click here.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Short Blogging Break

I've decided to take the rest of the week off from blogging. Breaking Dawn arrived on my doorstep yesterday, and I'm indulging in the sort of reading session that is usually reserved only for Harry Potter. My husband is already prepared to be a Twilight widower this week. The planned meals are easy and take little time for me to prepare. The blog will suffer neglect, too.

I don't expect to be reading all week, but I'd like to work on some projects, also, and I find that the computer takes up a little too much of my time. So, I'll take a break and come back next week. See you then!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Weekend Stuff

We had a really busy weekend. The main event was a wedding. Two of our former youth group kids got married. Their wedding was absolutely beautiful, and most of our church was there to witness it. I can honestly say that of all the kids who have passed through our doors over the years, this is the only young couple that I actually thought would get married. We tend to expect young high-school couples to break up, and they usually do. This one was different, though, so we weren't surprised when they announced their engagement a few months ago.

Don't they make a beautiful couple?

I still remember the weekend they met. We took the youth to a Student Life conference. He was the new kid who only had eyes for her. She had a boyfriend. She didn't do anything to attract his attention other than be herself. The boyfriend was soon dumped, and the rest is history.

Can I just say, though, that Steven and I officially felt Really Old?

Here's a picture of us at the wedding. See, my husband is capable of wearing things other than a stormtrooper costume!

Our friend Sandy made the wedding cake. Didn't she do a fabulous job? It tasted as good as it looked!

In other weekend news, our youth minister announced that he and his wife will be leaving next month to church plant in California. That is exciting for them, but very disappointing for us. He's been a fantastic youth minister: a breeze to work with, very organized and prepared, the kids love him, and he teaches the plain truth of the Gospel to our students. Fortunately, the youth leaders are very experienced at running the group in the absence of youth minister. Unfortunately, that's because we've had to do it often.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Stormtrooper Helmet on Ebay

Just thought I'd mention here for the Star Wars fans that my hubby's old helmet is up for bid on Ebay right now.

He got a new, smaller helmet, so he's finally decided to part with his old one. Just letting y'all know in case someone is just really wanting a stormtrooper helmet. What's more, it's the same helmet that he wore in Wired Magazine. So that helmet is famous. ;-)

In case there's any confusion, the helmeted stormtrooper is my husband. The other guy is Ernie Cline, the writer of Fan Boys. You can go here to see the photo shoot for the magazine.


You know the heat is bad when everyone is parking under whatever shade they can find, rather than parking closest to the door of the store.

We're used to high temps down here in Texas, but this week is especially bad. It's not even noon, and we're already up to 95. Expected high: 104. Sunday and Monday: 108. Thank God for air conditioning and ceiling fans!