Toy Swap to Save on Christmas Gifts for the Kids

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So, every year my Mom’s side of the family gets together and we have a Christmas party.  And, every year we do a gift exchange for just the kids.  My Mom has 8 siblings and each of them have an average of 3 kids each.  Plus, there are the great grandkids, which would include my kids.  This year, I made a suggestion for all of the great grandkids.  Instead of buying new toys with money we don’t have, I suggested that each family go through old toys that their kids are bored with and just throw it in a box and bring it to the Christmas party.  Then, we stand in a circle and pass the box off to the family on our left (or right, whatever floats your boat.)  Kids, especially those under the age of 5, don’t care if the toys are brand spanking new.  They just know that it’s a toy they’ve never seen before and they’ll love it!  We’ll see how it goes this Christmas and maybe we’ll make it a tradition.

After searching online for a website that organizes basically the same thing, a toy swap, I found Toyswap.com.  I’ve never tried it, but it is intriguing.  If I didn’t have parents and in-laws that keep us well stocked on toys, I might try it myself.  If you are successful with that site, please share your experience with us. 

Happy Swapping!

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Apps that Help You Pay Off Debt and Save Money

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We love our ipod and ipad.  We use them literally every hour of the day.  Our ipad wakes us up in the morning by playing our favorite music, and then it informs us of incoming e-mails throughout the day.  The ipod is used by me mainly to check e-mail and track our finances through the free Mint.com app.  We can also use the ipod to make calls for free using Skype.  Since we use our ipod and ipad for almost everything, I thought it purely logical to add finances to the list of things to use them for. 

What’s for Dinner?

With the “What’s for Dinner” app, I can find recipes, plan out our meals for the week, and make my shopping list.  With my online banking app, I can check the balance in our accounts, make transfers, and pay bills.  I even have the Zillow Mortgage Marketplace app to keep track of current mortgage rates and calculate whether it makes sense to refinance or not.  The next app I hope to begin using is the debt free app which helps you pay off debt using the debt snowball method.  The debt snowball method is explained in Dave Ramsey’s books and is a proven way to pay off debt as quickly as possible.  Basically, you start with the lowest balance with the highest interest rate and pay that off first.  Once that is paid off, you take what used to be the monthly payment for that debt and put it toward the next debt on your list.  Every time you pay off a debt, you put those monthly payments toward the next debt to be paid off.  The app that I have right now is the free version of the Debt Free app and will allow you to enter a maximum of 2 debts.  The current price is 0.99 for the full version of Debt Free.

My husband and I have found these apps to be extremely useful in planning out ways to save, keeping track of our income and expenses, and planning for the future.  I hope you find them useful as well! 

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Retail Me Not!

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I just wanted to share this website that I use quite often.  Whenever I have to order vitamins, I get a coupon code from RetailMeNot.com.  You can get coupon codes for almost any website and save tons of money just by typing in a coupon code at the time of checkout.  You can also get printable coupons and grocery coupons.  It’s a great website that will help you save money.  Highly recommended. 

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Saving on Phone Bills with Magic Jack Plus

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So, we just started using Magic Jack Plus for our home phone to save money and it has been working great!  We’ve had Magic Jack for about a month now and have only experienced mild cutting in and out when our internet slows.  If you don’t know what Magic Jack is, it is a device that connects to your internet and phone allowing you to make unlimited local and long distance phone calls.  You only have to pay for the device, which is around $80.  Then, each year after that will be only $30 for an entire year.  Compared to $30 per month, I’d say that’s a great deal!  We just keep an emergency cell phone now that we will be converting to a prepaid phone shortly to save even more money.  I’m home the majority of the time, so this is a great way to save money for us.

Go to Magic Jack Plus for reviews, additional information, and purchasing options.

Check out my husband’s company blog post on Magic Jack at http://www.nsrit.com

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Saving on Groceries

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I think if we had to cut back on anything, it would have to be groceries and restaurants.  As a family of 5, we can easily spend anywhere from $400-$600 a month on food.  During the summer, we did a little experiment with ALDI, the discounted grocery store in our area.  I believe they have locations all over the world, not just in the U.S.A.  We came up with a grocery list that I would use every week.  Basically, I would get the same boring stuff every single week.  It was nearly torture for me, since I love to go to our larger grocery store and take my time browsing through each isle for the best buy and get something new every week.  And, it was double torture since I was in my first trimester of pregnancy.  Although I was nauseous 24/7, I had cravings for different types of food every week.  But, I proceeded with our little experiment to see what we would save by doing this.

If you’ve ever been to an ALDI, you know that they only have one brand to choose from for nearly everything.  The pros of this would be that you don’t have to spend a whole lot of time looking for what you need and you know that you’re getting the lowest price on that particular purchase.  We ran this experiment through the summer from May through August.  Looking back, using Mint.com, I can see how much we saved.  We saved an average of $150/month!  Now, I have to admit that it was an eye opener.  And, the only reason we’ve gone back to our regular grocery store is because we got our new credit card that gives us 6% cash back on groceries!  I guess that’s not enough when you’re spending $150 more than you would by going to a store that doesn’t accept credit cards.  That’s definitely one of the cons of ALDI.  You have to pay with cash, check, or debit card. 

Yes, I absolutely love grocery shopping without any restrictions.  But, when it comes down to saving money or having the food I love, I’m going to have to go with saving money right now.  I know that until we are out of debt, we should be putting any extra money we have toward that debt.  So, my New Years resolution will be to make the switch back to ALDI and stay there until we are debt free.  We will take what we save and pay off our credit cards that much faster!  Just that thought will get me through the torture of having to get the same boring food every week.  Maybe it will force me to get creative in the kitchen.  I’ll have to, since my husband is gluten intolerant, which means he will get sick if he eats anything with wheat in it.  It’s so much easier to cook for a celiac when you have gluten free noodles on hand.  ALDI doesn’t have gluten free noodles, so I guess we’ll have to go back to all meat and potatoes.

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I Love My Credit Card!

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I have to admit, I love my credit card!  Credit cards aren’t bad.  I know that some financial advisors suggest cutting up all of your credit cards and paying cash when you’re trying to get out of debt.  Now, when I say that credit cards aren’t bad, it reminds me of 1 Timothy 6:10 which states that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil…”  Many people leave out the beginning of that verse and think that money is the problem, when the real problem is the person that has the money or is seeking financial gain.  So, my take on credit cards in light of that verse would be that it’s not the credit card that’s the problem but the person using it.

So, I suppose if you’ve incurred tons of debt because of your lack of self control or addiction to shopping, then cutting up your credit cards would be a good idea.  I would think you should also cut up your debit card so that you don’t overdraw your checking account.  Using only cash would be ideal in that situation, and that’s just my opinion.  And, as with any addiction, you should surround yourself with supportive people.

Anyone that feeds your shopping addiction, or encourages you to spend money when you don’t have the cash, should be avoided.

I’ve definitely known people that have had to do that very thing.  One of these people in particular has been successful in paying off all of her shopping binges, but not without much support and patience.  She didn’t just pay it off overnight.  She had to work hard maintaining her self control and put all of her extra income toward her credit card balances every month.  She was so happy to be free of that debt once it was all paid off.  She said it was like a weight being lifted off her shoulders.

I feel confident in saying that I don’t have a shopping addiction and can control my spending habits.  The debt that my husband and I have incurred has to do with two major decisions we made.

Mistake #1
The first one was definitely not the best decision we’ve made in our 7 years of marriage.  We needed a new car, so we decided to take the only $2000 we had and use it as a down payment on a practically new Honda Civic.  Again, I say this was not the best choice we’ve ever made.  That was 5 years ago and we’re still paying it off.  We’ve transferred the balance to a very low interest rate now, 1.99%.  But, we still have nearly $7000 left to be paid.

Mistake #2

The second choice we made that lead to more debt was to make home improvements.  This has been our most recent headache.  Our family is growing and my husband needs an office at home, since he works from home twice a week.  So, we decided to make our basement into usable space.  My husband used to work as a carpenter under his father, who is a master carpenter.  They restored the house that my in-laws are currently living in, so my husband knew what had to be done with our basement.  He decided that we would have to get the basement completely waterproofed before doing anything else.  We knew it had to get done now if we hoped to start finishing the basement soon.  We also consulted a trusted and experienced real estate agent about what needed to be done to sell our home.  Getting the basement dry was one of the number one things needed.  With our fourth child on the way, we knew we would be running out of room fast since my husband had to move his office into the family room after we had our third child.  So, we decided to put the project on 0% interest credit cards and pay them off with our tax return next year.  Although I’m confident that we will be able to pay off the $9000 balance before the introductory rate expires, seeing our debt increase that much has increased stress within the household.  And, since we used up all of our savings in addition to that $9000 just to waterproof the basement, we are now living paycheck to paycheck.  Doesn’t that suck?

I know that we could be in a much worse situation financially, but I know that if we had made wiser decision and been more strict with our basement budget, we would be better off right now.  When you’re living paycheck to paycheck, the anxiety can be overwhelming at times.  But, I know that we have a plan to pay off the majority of our credit card debt by the end of 2012 and I believe that we can do that.  We are no longer putting money into the basement at this time.  We’ve decided that we can live with the space we have as long as we can use the basement for storage.  So, we’re happy to have the basement dry and usable for storage.

Now, back to why I love my credit card.  Right now, we have one credit card that we use for all of our expenses each month.  Then, we pay it off when our statement comes each month.  We’ve had our American Express card for years, but we just recently upgraded (per Mint.com recommendation) to the preferred card.  Although it is $75/yr, it really makes sense for us.  We get 6% cash back on groceries, 3% cash back on gas, 3% on department stores, and 1% on all other purchases.  Monthly, this adds up to about $35/month cash back.  So, we pay back the $75 fee in just about 2 months!  The rest goes toward our monthly expenses so that we can have extra at the end of the month to start paying down debt.  That’s why I love my credit card!  It actually helps us pay down our debt!

If you’re unable to pay off the balance each month, I don’t recommend using a credit card.  Many people find it difficult to stay within their budget when they’re using a credit card.  I think it has been easier for us since we started using Mint.com.  We see what we’re spending every day on our ipod.  It’s a great resource that I highly recommend.

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Stop Spending During the Holidays? Are You Kidding Me?

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Thanksgiving is next week and I’m starting to think about how much we normally spend around the holidays. With all of the parties and gift exchanges, we can easily go over our budget for the month by hundreds of dollars. We have three children, with our fourth due in a few weeks. We would love to get each one of them a special gift. But, this year, I think we will have to let the grandparents be the ones to make them smile. We’ve tried to teach our kids that giving is much better than receiving, but we still love to see them light up when they get exactly what they ask for, which usually is not much. Even still, we have a goal to reach that I know will benefit them much more than a toy they’ll only play with a few times. I also know that our friends and family won’t mind if we opt out of the gift exchanges and the white elephant games. I’ll be happy not to have to lug all of those gifts to each holiday gathering this year!

Thanksgiving is about being thankful for what we have. It’s not about gearing up for getting more. So, have a Happy Thanksgiving and be thankful in ALL things.

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Learn from the Experts in Personal Finance

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There is a wealth of information out there, but how do you sift through the good and the bad?  I’ve learned over the years that the experts are always the ones who have been through it and have come out the other side a success.  I’m not going to take financial advice from someone that is in debt and hasn’t come to that place of success, being debt free.  That’s why I won’t be giving out financial advice.  I will only be sharing my journey as my husband and I struggle out of debt and into the promised land.  I know this could take months, if not years.  There’s always a first step that needs to be taken, though.

Our first step came when we decided to start reading Dave Ramsey’s books.  I actually got two of his books from a second-hand store for $1.  They sat on our bookshelf for years before I finally cracked the first one, Financial Peace, open. We’re well on our way to financial peace with this gem.

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Reflecting on Past Pregnancies

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As of right now, we are weeks from welcoming our fourth child into this world.  It has been a relatively easy pregnancy up until this point.  My first three pregnancies were all a little different.  With my first, Abigail, everything was new and exciting.  I was working as a teller for a local bank, had little stress, and was eating very well.   Although I was nauseous off and on during my first trimester, I only threw up my breakfast once.  And, as long as I was eating small protein snacks every hour or two, I was fine.  Toward the end of my pregnancy, we moved to TN from our home in WI.  We felt that God was leading us there in order for Jesse to pursue a Christian music career.  We were very much at peace about everything, so stress was still minimal throughout most of my pregnancy.  However, in the end, she came about a week past my due date.  At the time, Jesse had no job and we were running low on rent money.  So, needless to say, I was a little stressed.  My labor progressed after drinking castor oil, which was the most vile thing I’ve ever tasted.  Even after mixing it with strawberry sherbet, it was still very gross.  But, I would still recommend it if your labor is not progressing.  Once the contractions started coming consistently, it was only a few hours before Abigail was born.

With our second child, Eliza, we were back in WI living above Jesse’s parents in a duplex.  Again, I was working as a teller at the same bank.  And, again, I remember throwing up only once.  I experienced quite a bit of nausea, however.  One of the things that actually curbed my nausea was sucking on sour patch kids.  I know, this wasn’t very healthy, but it helped me get through work each day.  Eliza was our surprise baby, since she came a week early.  With each of our children, we’ve chosen to have a midwife deliver.  Unfortunately, the mid-wife did not make it to the birth of Eliza.  My husband, Jesse, was forced to take on the responsibility of handing her to me after she was born.  It was an amazing experience for both of us and we could feel the Lord’s presence throughout the entire process.  Our midwife did arrive shortly after she was born, and Eliza was just fine.  She was a healthy baby girl that immediately slept through the night.

My third pregnancy was different in almost every way.  My first trimester was agonizing.  I was nauseous almost continuously and it was more difficult to find time to sit, relax, and have a snack.  At the time, I was working second shift as a loss mitigation expert for a large bank.  It was a stressful job and I wouldn’t get home until 11:30pm most nights.  I was sick with the flu and had bad colds throughout the pregnancy.  About 5 weeks before my due date, Ethan dropped really low and it was difficult to continue going to work.  I had to take it easy.  Everyone, including my midwife, thought he was going to arrive early for sure.  After 5 weeks, he still hadn’t arrived.  Thankfully, he did decide to come two days later and we had a healthy baby boy.

I’ve learned after going through these three pregnancies, that each time is a bit different and the baby comes when he/she is ready.  I can also see after reflecting on my experiences, that stress can cause unwanted physical reactions whether you’re pregnant or not.  My fourth pregnancy, which isn’t over yet, has been similar to the third.  At the beginning, I was just starting childcare for two couples and we had just gotten a dog.  It was a stressful time yet again.  The nausea was actually worse, although I was eating almost constantly.  Oddly enough, I never threw up.  I was just really nauseous all the time.  My second trimester was much easier and I felt that I had more energy.  Now, 4 weeks until my due date, Timmy has dropped low and I’m having difficulty moving around, bending over, and sleeping some nights.  Since he is so low, any small movement can stop me dead in my tracks.  I’m praying that Timmy comes a little early, unlike Ethan.

 

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Homeschooling A to Z

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Always plan ahead

Be willing to sacrifice

Clean up with your child(ren) at the end of each day

Desire growth

Everything works together for good to those that love the Lord

Fun educational games should be played often

Give incentives for a job well done

Have Patience

Inspire through God’s Word and real life examples

Join a support group

Keep track of progress for your and your child(ren)s benefit

Laugh often

Make time for discussion

Never discourage or put down your child(ren)

Own an iPad

Pray without ceasing

Quiet time for naps and/or reading should be scheduled every day

Resist the urge to do the work for them and choose to guide them instead

Spend time discussing creative teaching methods with your spouse/children

Take a breath and trust God

Understand what you’re teaching

View yourself through the eyes of your child(ren)

Work along side your child(ren) so they may learn by example

eXtra credit should be given weekly

You can only control your own actions

Zebras are black with white stripes, just in case you were wondering

 

 

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