Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Fun With Thrifting

9. That is the number of people for whom I am in some way responsible to clothe and feed. Granted, several of my children are earning money, but now that we realize how expensive college is, we are asking them to sock away any extra money toward those expenses while we pay for day to day life. 

This large number in our home means that we need to be creative about how we provide for household needs. The list at times seems very long. Food, clothes, shoes, housewares and toiletries are all constantly being worn out, used up and otherwise consumed. 

Although consumption is a fact of life, since we care about living within our means and helping the poor, we don't want consumption to become our life. In order to live for more than just consuming more and new products, it is important that we make two principles a priority for how we meet our needs for stuff.

One principle is to evaluate every need. Do I need more home decor? Do I need more clothes? Do I need more dishes? Keeping my home and my people looking nice is important to me, but it is also important to do justice. 

With that in mind, we try to make do with what we have, whenever possible. Making my house pretty might involve cutting down some greenery from outside, or moving furniture around, or using paint on hand to refresh a room or a piece of furniture. 

Thrifted cups
My library table is one example of this. It was in a shed when we bought our property and I simply cut the legs down and repainted it with paint from a previous project, in order to dress up my library a bit.

Sometimes though, what you need will not be already in some random shed on your property. 

This brings us to the second principle, buy used. When what I need is not at hand, my next step is usually hitting up a thrift store. Although the smell of a thrift store can sometimes turn my stomach a bit, the treasures that are available are such fun to discover. 

Take my new boots for example. I had been wanting a pair of low heeled booties, and sadly, the man made material on my four year old Target specials had begun to peel. True, I could have just stuck with my other boots, but I really enjoy being creative with my wardrobe. 

Doing justice doesn't have to look dowdy

Enter a nice big thrift store in a neighboring town. I ran in there one afternoon with my younger children and discovered exactly the boots I had been looking for, in leather, no less. Along with the boots, I found a couple of good books and a beautiful cotton sweater to replace a worn and pilled acrylic sweater.

The new boots and sweater, but sheesh my head looks small for my body!
The other great find on that particular day were several soup bowls which matched the ones that my mother had handed down to me several years ago. My family is hard on dishes, it seems we break something at least once a week. This is just one more reason that I am thrilled to replace them for .59 each at a thrift store, instead of buying easily broken Ikea dishes or whatever Target is selling.

Thrifted, everything but the darling girl.

Whether your goal is to get out of debt, give more money to the poor, or avoid supporting unethically produced clothing; buying less and shopping at thrift stores are a few savvy strategies for accomplishing your goals.

For more ideas on living on a budget, check out my book, Bountiful Homeschooling on a Budget.
Bountiful Homeschooling on a Budget

For another great post on thrifted clothes, check out the lovely, Flower Patch Farmgirl

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Goal Setting For A New Year

I love Christmas, but as soon as the day is past, I am ready to get organized for the new year. In the past, I would wait until New Year's Day to put away the Christmas ornaments. This year, by the Monday following Christmas I had put away my decorations, organized the school baskets and painted a new-used table for our school area. 

The downside of all this productivity was that by New Year's Eve, instead of feeling all festive, I cuddled up in a cozy sweater, hardly bothered to apply makeup and showed up at a party for just a couple hours before heading back home to bed. I was even a little taken aback when I arrived at my fellow homeschool mom's house for the party and saw her looking beautiful and bedazzled, complete with lipstick and a sparkly sweater. I think the premature start on New Years productivity completely sapped my party spirit. Note to self, give yourself a little time for fun.

Goal setting and productivity is a form of recreation for me though, which is why I look forward to this day of evaluating the goals I set in the previous year, and setting new ones. As I look over last year's list, I see that many of the same goals will be recycled for this season. Partly because they are important, and partly because I really didn't make them into a habit last year.

I am still loving the system taught by Colleen Adams which you can find explained in detail here. The short story is that, instead of trying to make A, B and C goals, or just a big list of general goals for the year, Colleen's method has you break down your goal setting into eight different areas. Also, instead of making goals for the whole year, these goals are meant to be for a shorter time period, such as three months.

The goals I set don't always turn into habits; I may have to keep rewording some of the ones that are the most difficult for me to become consistent in. Exercise, for instance, is just so easy to relegate to a low place after laundry and social media. That is why it keeps getting put back on the list. The upside is that bed making and closet organization are becoming consistent so that they can be dropped from the list.

Making goals and working towards them, while remaining flexible to the Holy Spirit, is one small step towards an orderly life and a civilized world.
As a starting point for your 2015 goal setting, I have included my goals for the first three months of the year, in each of eight areas.

1. Self Care
Exercise 5 days a week
Drink 6 glasses of water per day

2. Spiritual Life
Daily Bible copy-work
Spend first 30 minutes of the day in prayer and Bible study

3. Intellect/Emotions 
(for me right now, these are some goals with my kids)
Weekly nature walk and journaling
Teach chore consistency with children

4. Relationships
Weekly date with my honey
Work on eye contact with my children
(I do a lot of listening while working, but kids need eye contact)

5. Time Management
No phone/computer until priorities 1, 2 and 3 are done
Family Bible time by 8:30 a:m

6. Nest Management
Monthly deep cleaning
Library redo (tile, flooring, window)

7. Uniquely You
(This might mean weekly pedicures, or more time spent on self care, 
but those aren't my top priorities right now)
Weekly blog post
Improve photography

8. Financial Stewardship
Make a list of accounts
Make some money

God has plans and purposes for each one of us, and as we seek His face, He will give us inspiration about those priorities that He wants us to focus on. 

After you write down your purposes for the year, be sure and find some friends to share them with so that you can encourage each other to pursue the dreams that God has put in your hearts.

The steps of a good man are ordered of the Lord: and he delighteth in his way
Psalm 37:23

A few other resources for goal setting-

and linking up here for many more goal setting resources.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Bountiful Vacations on a Budget

Vacations with a large family can take some serious logistics, especially when you are trying to have fun on a budget. Many of our vacations involve camping, which is not as rustic as it sounds because we have a small travel trailer that we haul along with us, but there are a few months of the year when camping is not so comfortable.

Living on a small farm with a couple of little dogs has caused us to be strategic about getaways. It seems to work best for us to be gone for just a couple of days at a time, this also seems to work best with the varying work schedules in our home. 

With kids in college, we also are having to think about school schedules when planning vacations, something that was not an issue when all our children were homeschooled. With three of our students freshly finished with a semester of college, we took an opportunity for a short getaway. It always feels like it might be our last vacation as a family because our oldest is getting so close to being out of the home, so we are trying to make the most of these moments, and still stay on a budget.

Our recent getaway was planned a few months ago when the dates became available for Home School Days at the Monterey Aquarium. This is a fabulous program where the normally twenty-seven dollar tickets are free for the adults and students in our party. This makes a location that would normally be out of reach for us, suddenly affordable.

We also wanted to stay an extra day or so, so that we could explore our favorite tide pools in Pacific Grove, so we booked two nights at The Sea Breeze Inn.  This is an older hotel, but the linens have been upgraded and they have a family cottage that works fairly well for us, at a very affordable price. With our family size, we would normally have to rent two rooms and spend upwards of $200 a night, but this particular room was less than $150, and we were all able to squeeze into the available beds, I know some big families let kids sleep on hotel floors, but I can barely stand to see my children sit on a hotel floor, much less sleep on one.

We arrived at our hotel in the afternoon and then went straight to the beach. Unfortunately we had missed low tide, but the rocks were still beautiful for climbing on, and the salty waves and cool breezes were refreshing after the several hour car ride. 

After rock hopping along the shoreline, we went out for a pizza dinner. We had packed a few snacks for lunch, and I do mean just a few, so by the time our pizza arrived, we were like a pack of ravenous wolves. We ate at Gianni's, which was just okay. It is a cute little restaurant but we are used to ordering Mountain Mikes with a coupon or Little Caesars so the $27 dollar pizzas were a bit steep, if I was going to be spending that much, I would much rather have been eating at my sister's fabulous wood fired pizza restaurant. We ordered two extra large pizzas and had some leftovers which were promptly eaten for breakfast.

Back at the hotel, we discovered that our heater was not working. We didn't feel like moving or having a workman in the room with our big crowd, so we cranked the heat up in the adjoining room and cuddled up to stay warm. Having this inconvenience somewhat dimmed our enjoyment of the hotel however, and with the added blessing of pouring rain, we decided to check out in the morning and head home the next night after our aquarium visit. Our vacation was supposed to have involved two nights in a hotel, but our beds at home are so comfortable, and our home feels so sanitary, compared to the hotel that we decided to switch gears and just spend one night away.

After a night of rest, albeit in a chilly room, we checked out of the hotel, with the manager trying very sweetly to get us to stay one more night. We headed to the aquarium and enjoyed a few hours of wandering through the exhibits. The older three children decided to skip the aquarium and walk around town, so we had the fun of exploring with just 6 of us. Although I missed my big kids, it was nice to be able to focus on enjoying the younger four. 

After exploring the watery exhibits we ate our packed lunch and then met the big kids at Starbucks for coffee and cocoa. It was cozy to hang our there while the rain poured down outside but finally we braved the elements to get back in our big van. My husband gave us a sweet tour of the lovely old homes in Pacific Grove, while each of us pointed out our favorites. Then after an hour or so of exploring we met up with friends at Phil's Fish House for some delicious fish and chips. 

With our tummies full, we headed home into the night and crawled into our own cozy beds, determined to treat the next day like a vacation as well. Although our trip was short, it was a sweet little time of reconnecting with each other, and exploring one of our favorite created places, the beautiful, rocky shoreline. Although, we have taken cheaper vacations involving our travel trailer, and our own trailer cooked food, when compared to a weekend at Disneyland, this vacation was very budget friendly.
For more tips on bountiful living on a budget, check out my book!

What are your best tips for vacations on a budget?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Hand Made Christmas

One way to save money at Christmas is to make gifts and decorations, especially if you make them with things you have on hand. We have not traditionally been big decorators in our home, but because we are hosting a few parties, we are going to be decking the halls a bit. In order to save money on decorations, we gleaned a bunch of greenery from the tree farm where we purchased our tree and then made wreaths

We made ours with a grapevine base and hot-glued floral tape, but the above tutorial uses wire and a wire base. Both would be a little more invisible, I just used what I had.

We used additional greenery over the tops of many of our surfaces including the piano, bookshelves and the mantel, as well as placing greenery stems in vases. We then interspersed it all with lights we had on hand.

Our history co-op is celebrating Colonial History this month and as part of that celebration, we will be having a White Elephant gift exchange with gifts that we have made. This colonial spirit motivated me to also make a few little gifts, both for the exchange and for friends. 

We started off with some lavender bath salts. I have lavender flowers which my gardener mother gave me and which I have been saving for this purpose. My daughter mixed a box of epsom salt with a teaspoon of lavender oil and 1/4 lavender flowers. This will make a lovely, relaxing soak. 

The next handmade gift we created was our Altoid tin dolls. These were made with scraps of fabric and stuffing. I first made a little pattern with a peaked hat and cut two pieces of fabric from that pattern.

Then I cut a little round hole for a face and on a small piece of white fabric, stitched on a simple mouth and eyes. I stitched the face into the hole to look like a baby in a bunting and then sewed right sides together. After turning and stuffing, I sewed the opening up and made a little blanket and mattress.

I made one as a gift for our Colonial Day, but my children were so delighted by them, that they asked for one as well. I also have a little ninja cut out and waiting to be sewn together in my basket. These can be purchased from the Milk and Violets shop on Etsy.

Making gifts with and for your children is not just a way to save money. It is also a lovely way to enjoy the quiet, cool days leading up to Christmas.

For more ideas on Bountiful Living on a Budget, check out my book.

For many more lovely ideas on having a wonderful Christmas with your children, check out the Wonder Bundle from Wild and Free, a beautiful homeschool community. An article featuring our Prairie Christmas Party, as well as many other tutorials, gift ideas and handmade craft and food recipes are included.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Christmas Shopping on a Budget

"Something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read."


I love Christmas. We actually went through several years where we questioned whether Christmas was even okay for us as Christians to celebrate, and even in those quiet years, I still managed to sneak in some kind of gift giving and stocking filling for my children.

What I don't love however, is getting into debt, buying stuff we don't need, and neglecting the poor.

The desire to live within our means so that we can be free to give defines our Christmas gift giving.

I want Christmas to feel extravagant for our children, but I don't want to spend extravagantly. With this goal in mind, there are a few strategies that I use each Christmas.

1. Keep Expectations Low- Every year I tell the children that it will be a small Christmas and they won't receive many gifts. I do spend a morning asking them what they would like for Christmas and writing it down, I love hearing what they are dreaming of, but I make it clear that they will not get everything on their list.

2. Use A Formula- I love the phrase, "Something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read". I found it in a blog post by Jen Hatmaker on simple Christmas, although it has also been attributed to Ann Voskamp. It is a very good guideline for me on gift purchasing. With seven children, I need a framework to keep the gift purchasing simple.

3. Start Early- Throughout the year, I am constantly on the lookout for good books at thrift stores. These are stored in my closet where I will then divide them up between the children for their Christmas gifts. There is nothing quite like a new book with a holiday to enjoy reading it. This is a good principle for all gift giving, while being careful not to overbuy or overspend.

4. Wrap Everything- I use Christmas as an opportunity to give my children things that they already need. Socks, underwear, toothbrushes and toothpaste. I may spend a little extra to get day of the week undies, or a character toothbrush, but even necessities should not be taken for granted, and giving them as gifts helps my children recognize that fact. I also wrap small things like crayons and drawing pads which were purchased for a few dollars back in August.


5. Keep Relationship as the Priority- Throughout the holiday season we try to keep relationships at the forefront. Making time to read through an advent devotional, sing songs, build a puzzle, and reach out to the needy are what the holiday should be defined by. If all my time is spent shopping, the memories will be bitter for everyone.

Christmas can be a wonderful time, free of debt and stress, it just might take a little more thought and planning.

For more ideas on a simple, thoughtful Christmas, check out The December subscription, Wonder, is full of beautiful ideas for Christmas celebrations that keep Jesus as the center while making special memories with your children. Our recent Little House on the Prairie Christmas Party, along with recipes and a craft is one of many lovely resources included.

This post contains affiliate links.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Toys on a Budget

Christmas is coming and we are days away from the biggest shopping day of the year. I sat down with the children to make a list of what they would want for Christmas and am trying now to remember where I put it. 

As I plan what I will get as gifts for my children, several trains of thought chug through my mind. One prominent conflict about what toys I will purchase for my children is the endless time which seems to get spent picking up and organizing those same toys. 

They seemed like a great idea in the store and they brought a lot of excitement when they were opened but within a short time, they are shoved under a bed or left out in the yard. 

Toys, no matter how much they cost, rarely retain their value to your children. While there may be some exceptions, a special doll or stuffed animal would be a perfect example, many of the toys we buy, lose their sparkle rapidly.

Another problem that I have with too many toys is the way they stifle creativity. My children seem to have more fun making toys or playing imaginative games than they do sitting down and playing with store-bought toys. Again, there are some exceptions, the toy kitchen that we made from an Ikea cabinet 15 years ago is still played with, as are the Legos which the boys have collected throughout the years. 

As I process these thoughts, they bring to mind some of the fun we have recently had which did not involve store bought toys.

Playing "Where Oh Where Is The Big Black Bear"-This scary game involves turning off all the lights while the bear goes and hides. The rest of us then tread carefully through the house until the bear jumps out and scares the living daylights out of us. Play at your own risk, I almost broke my nose in a dark hallway collision.

Making Homemade Superhero Gear-If your children are given the freedom to create, they will not care if it looks exactly real, their imaginations are bright enough to make up the difference between fact and fiction.

Reading Books and Acting Out Stories-This goes the same for movies, where else would they have gotten the idea for the Captain America gear? Stories are great for sparking imaginative play.

Collecting in Nature- My children will often make flower fairies out of nails and flowers, they don't last long, but then they didn't cost much either so the loss is pretty small. They also make boats out of walnut shells, play food and money out of leaves and weeds, and houses out of trees.

Making Paper Dolls and Other Homemade Toys-Paper dolls are quick and easy to create, but what about sewing a simple cloth doll or cape from scraps of cloth that you have on hand?

We have found some special toys through the years and we are so glad to have them, but when we inundate our children with toys, we often kill creativity instead of inspiring it, as well as potentially causing us as parents more frustration as we struggle to pay for, and clean up after, this over abundance of toys.

This Christmas, see if buying one less toy for your children could be freeing. It may be that it frees up money to help someone in need, time to read with your children, and space in your home to enjoy each other more.
For more ideas on Bountiful Living on a Budget, simply subscribe to get them delivered to your inbox. You can also buy the book, Bountiful Homeschooling on a Budget to get page after page of money saving and life enhancing advice.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Bountiful Recreation on a Budget

Living on a budget often conjures up images of scarcity and lack. You imagine yourself watching the world pass you by while you count pennies in a dark room. However, the thing that you are truly unlikely to be doing is cooking rice over an open fire for your children, or scrounging the garbage heap looking for food for them. If you are reading this post, chances are you have a roof over your head and at least a little food in your pantry, unlike much of the developing world. Your are just looking for ideas on how to make your resources go a little farther.
We have lived frugally for so long that perhaps our taste for fun is a little tainted. However, we really do have fun on a budget, and in so doing free up resources to do meaningful things such as packing up boxes for Operation Christmas Child or sending a loved one to a marriage conference.

Today, Sunday, felt very fun, although it required very little financial outlay. We spent a leisurely morning drinking coffee and reading in bed. After preparing ourselves and a salad offering for the church potluck, we scrambled out the door for the short drive to our local fellowship. We worshipped and listened to the Word for a while, and then ate a yummy soup and bread potluck lunch while visiting with church friends.
Later we headed the short distance home where we split into smaller groups to find our own afternoon leisure. My husband had to run the carpet cleaner we had rented back to the grocery store so I hitched a ride with him so we could have a spontaneous date. When our children were younger, babysitting costs would have made this opportunity a little less feasible but with several older children at home, we can sneak out for a quick break together weekly. After dropping the carpet cleaner off at the grocery store we picked up two for one coffees at our local Starbucks. While sipping our steaming mochas, we strolled the downtown area, admiring front porches and discussing plans for an upcoming marriage retreat that we are hosting.

Shortly after we returned home a few of the younger children and I went on a stroll down our country road, admiring the leaves and savoring the cool autumn air. Upon our return we set up a colorful vignette on our picnic table and spent a few minutes doing crayon rubbings and leaf sketches. 
While we were doing our nature study, my oldest son reminded me that I had promised to read an essay that he was assigned in his English class. I scanned it and then went to find and visit with the other children who I had not yet connected with. One of these was returning from a run, so her and I went on a quick walk in the darkening twilight while she cooled down and talked.

When I returned to the house, I was ready for a few minutes to myself, so I instructed another child to heat up leftover soup on the stove and I stole away to my closet to check Instagram, eat chocolate and put away clean clothes, not exactly simultaneously. A few of the middle kids were wanting to watch an action movie that was available on Amazon and were very motivated to tidy up the house so we could watch it together. 
While I had my strange mix of relaxation in the closet, they tidied up the house and got the movie going. As it started I popped popcorn, put on a g-rated movie for the youngest two in my bedroom, and then finally joined them.We sat on the edge of our seats through the movie, spent some time praying afterwards, and then headed off to bed for the night.
Total cost for a fun filled day of investing in relationships?
Leftovers, popcorn, and gas >$5
And the return on the investment is impossible to put a price on.
Family fun is completely within reach on a budget. It might take a little more work or preparation, but the returns are great as we teach our children to love simple pleasures, and demonstrate to them the principle of storing up treasure in heaven instead of squandering it here on earth.