Sunday, July 29, 2012

When Bigger Is Not Better and Free Is Expensive

So my husband and I had this great idea to take our kids to the Bronx Zoo as a part of our staycation this year.  It was the first trip for all of us so I was really excited.  Being on a budget, I thought it was great that Wednesdays are free days, well better known as suggested donation day for those that have more wiggle room in their budgets than we do.  Unfortunately, to see many of the exhibits we wanted to see we had to pay extra for the "ultimate experience."  So for this we shelled out a little over $50, which sadly is a bargain compared to what they normally charge.

Well it was an experience alright.  Now I truly understand where the expression "that place was a zoo" came from.  There were literally more people than animals and I hate to say it but there was far too little use of deodorant for such a hot July afternoon.  My need for personal space and fresh air made me feel very claustrophobic at times.  We waited through lines at many free exhibits only to find no animals that were willing to venture into public view.  Maybe the heat and smell were getting to them as well.

We spent hours walking around lost and desperate to cover the vast expanse of park that separated the exhibits.  We missed a lot but did managed to make it to about 3 of the 6 total experience exhibits we had paid for.  The gorillas were cool and my kids did get a kick out of the 4D Dora movie we waited half an hour to see.  My kids had a good time, but I think the hubby and I will look for a zoo a little smaller and closer to home next time.  We had an experience that was ok, but definitely not the "ultimate experience" we paid big bucks for.  It goes to show you that sometimes bigger is not better and "free" is anything but.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Making The Most of What I Have

A few months ago I wanted a bigger house in a "better" area.  The grass was greener and I wanted it.  Now I'm staying at home, raising my kids in a single income family and I'm learning to want exactly what I have.  Most people forget what they chose and why they chose it, so they move on to the next want and it keeps going on into forever.  So staying at home means cutting costs and choosing to remember and appreciate what I have.

My husband and I bought our 1,800 square foot townhouse when we were 25 and 24 respectively with no help from anyone- something I'm still proud of.  Do I wish we had 3 bedrooms instead of 2 of course, but I know there is a whole finished basement with full bath that could easily be an enormous master beenroom with the addition of a closet.

I live in a beautiful mountain town with absolutly bupkiss in the way of big business so the nearest shopping center is like 45 minutes away.  Good thing I've discovered tactic #1 Shopping at Home

No I'm not talking about shopping online.  I'm talking about looking around the house for those items I need before I have to go out and buy it.  People have been super generous with hand me downs so when the kids need clothes or shoes I shop through my reserves in their bedroom and nearly all the time I find I don't have to buy a single thing.  So now I use that rule when it comes to almost everything.  Out of handsoap, well I have dishsoap, I have bodywash I don't particularly like, problem solved.  I keep small reserves of personal hygiene items I get super cheap because I combine sales with coupons.  Out of bodywash, check the cabinet, no need to drive to the store.  We're going to the beach this weekend, sure beach toys are cheap at the dollar store but in 10 minutes of looking outside and through their toys I found several beach toys we already bought our kids and beyond saving a few bucks I won't be adding more clutter to my house, which brings me to my next money saving tactic -

#2 Organize your home.  Since I find myself with the time, I try to make it my mission to organize one section of my house at a time.  I hunted down all the medicine from various locations around my house - on top of my fridge, and under two bathroom counters and organized it in one location and you know what I found, multiples of all types of medicines.  It seems like every time someone gets sick the first thing we do is run to the store to get medicine.  We would have saved a ton of money if we knew what we actually had at home first.  With everything in one spot we know we only have one place to look for medicine and can use up what we have before spending any money on more.  So I'm working on organizing more sections of my house.  Next up and a bit scary is the junk drawer.  The catch all of all lost and miscellaneous items.

If I don't have something and can't borrow it, I employ tactic #3 Figure Out How to Get It For Less.  This doesn't just mean clipping coupons, it means only using a coupon when it's an item you'll actually use in the next few months and the item is on sale for a good price and stocking up with enough till it goes on sale again.  This is how I never pay more than $1.50 for a bottle of laundry detergent and never pay anything for toothpaste.  Then when we use up a bottle or a tube there's another one waiting and I don't have to pay full price.  I'm not talking crazy stockpiles just what you can actually use in the next few months.  I'm finding that with a little searching you can find coupons for most anything.  I even found a coupon for my birth control.  Beyond coupons there is always borrowing, bartering, and buying used.  Craigslist and Ebay have saved our family money and sometimes we've been able to get new items in the box for half what they cost in the store.

The way I see it if you work hard for your money then you should work just as hard if not harder to keep it.  I also believe that if we spend more time wanting what we have then we won't spend money on the next want because it's a treadmill you can't slow down so I've decided that I'm just going to walk my neighborhood instead.

Adventures In Staying Home

So I've been staying at home with my kids for the last two months and it has taught me a LOT about myself.  After working for the past ten years and simultaneously raising kids, I suddenly found myself unemployed, well for pay anyhow.  With the cost of childcare for two kids and the high cost of gas, it seemed to make more sense to stay at home with my kids and put my frugal nature to the ultimate test.

I find myself simultaneously fighting guilt and enjoying my life in a way I really haven't before.  I feel a bit guilty that my husband is now the sole provider for our family, even though I wasn't making all that much before.  It's hard to change the mentality of a worker, that feeling that a paycheck is the one and only culmination and validation for work.  When people suggest this job or that to me, I feel that stab of guilt all over again.  I find myself feeling the way I did right after my daughter was born, the impending sense of doom that I will have to find daycare and lose precious time with my child (now children).  Let me tell you something -  the guilt that attaches itself to the role of motherhood is a LOT stronger than the guilt I feel for not bringing home my meager paycheck anymore.

Instead being home has given me this amazing sense of peace I didn't have before. I thought I was going to be stir crazy for sure, but there is always something to do.  I'm no Donna Reed don't get me wrong.  I don't spend my day scouring and cleaning and then beautify myself so my husband comes home to a wife in heels and lipstick.  But I think that I'm beginning to redefine work for myself.  My job now is to raise my amazing kids to the best of my ability.  My house is far from perfect but also far tidier than it was while I was working outside the home.  I'm also now fully in charge of all our household bills so I have the unique opportunity to see where every penny of our income is going. 

The first week I was home I set up family budget and over the course of my two months at home I have cut a little more than $1,000 from our monthly spending.  I've consolidated some of our debt and I'm working hard to push forward with the refinancing of our home which will save us a few hundred dollars a month.  Part of this new stay at home gig means that though I'm not bringing in any income it's my job to utilize the income we have in the best possible way.  In my next post I'll talk about some of the ways I'm working on that.  I am thinking of doing some babysitting and freelance writing if I can to bring in some extra income.  Now that I'm home I also see a house just full of stuff we don't use anymore that can be sold for a little extra money.

My daughter starts school in a few short months.  I'm looking forward to being able to take her to school her first day and reassure her if she feels nervous.  I find myself now reaching out to other stay at home moms for the same type of reassurance.  It's a new adventure I'm on as well.  Though it is not without sacrifices, our entertainment budget was the first category that went up on the chopping block, my heart tells me that I'm where I'm supposed to be.

Occasionally I still  look up jobs online and I try to weigh what they would probably pay me versus the cost of working.  Beyond the actual cost of daycare for two kids, gas, work clothes, lunches, eating out or buying convenience foods for dinner because I'm too drained to cook, there is an unspoken price I just cannot bear to pay.  My children are still little, 4 and 2 years old, and I know I will blink and their childhoods will slip away.  Time is what I can't get back.  I lost my dad at 14.  I would give anything for one more day.  I would pay anything for a do-over.  For the time that was wasted, taken for granted and then lost forever.  Time with my kids is not something I'm willing to exchange for a paycheck, one that will most likely be used to buy things that I don't need to cover guilt I cannot bury.

A word of advice for those that would like to make a stay at home mom feel like she isn't "really" working- when I ask you for money then and only then can you chip in your two cents about my choice.  Until then, my bills are paid, my children are loved, my husband has a wife that doesn't want to murder him for not helping me with the housework and instead appreciates him and supports him, and I am more relaxed than I have been in.. well my whole life.  Not that my worrying nature has or ever will go away, but I have made a lot of things happen for myself that I never would have imagined before and my children gave me that gift.  They gave me the undying motivation to make it happen, whatever it is that I need to do to make happiness a reality.