Saturday, December 31, 2011

Finding My Faith: A Home Altar

So even though my blog is called Finding My Fertility and My Faith, I haven't blogged that much about my faith, except for a bit of history, and our recent life changes including NFP. Every now and then, I want to talk about other small things we are incorporating. I know that our faith will not stay as strong as it is now and, more importantly, continue to grow, unless we keep doing things to stay involved in it. I think I used to wait for faith to come to me, and that's just not how it works most of the time. Since we have actively sought it and made it a part of our daily lives, we have noticed so many changes. We are kinder people, we think less selfishly, and we have grown a lot closer to one another, and most importantly to God. Now we are of course still sinners. We are not perfect in the least, don't pretend to be, and are nowhere close to sainthood. We have far, far to go, but we will only get there by making sure our strong faith is an every day thing, not just a Sunday thing.

So this is actually the most recent change we made, but one I'm really excited about. I had seen on a few other blogs, mostly Catholic mommy blogs (love!!!) that people have home altars. At first the concept was really weird to me. I'm not sure why, but it took a bit of getting used to. Then I thought about how when I went to Mexico in the 7th grade, my dad showed me the plant there that he was working at on business trips. One thing that really struck me, even at that age, was a shrine/alter they had made for Mary. I remember being blown away by their faith after hearing that the workers would visit it and pray at it on their lunch breaks. I remember thinking how awesome it was that they could have that at their work with no one being freaked out by it, or saying that it had no place there! So the more I thought about how cool I remembered that concept being, and realized that a home altar is like what I saw there, it stopped making sense to not have a home altar. I'm not totally sure what people do with them honestly. Like, do you pray in front of it? I probably won't because I'm more of a "pray where you're at" kind of girl. We usually do it at the table and in bed daily, and then some spontaneous ones depending on what's happening during the day, and by myself it's generally in the car. So I don't see myself really hovering over this or kneeling by it to pray. I'm obviously new to this concept. But I had been thinking it would be nice to at least have a display of some things that would put me in a reverent mood and would be simple reminders of my faith.

Then Steven and I went to the Dollar Store to pick up some things and I saw their Mary/Jesus/Saint candles. After having a laughing fit at the Saintly Dead candle (have you ever seen this???? It says "Saintly Dead" with the creepiest picture you have ever seen of a dead 'person' on it...sorry but it was scary and hysterical) we looked at the other ones that were there. I was having a conversation in my brain that went like this:
"It would be awesome to have a Mary and Jesus candle at home! Oh look, they have an Our Lady of Guadalupe candle- my current favorite vision of Mary, and Sacred Heart of Jesus candle- fave as well since that's the name of our Cathedral! I want them! No... Steven would probably think it's weird. I'm sort of afraid to ask."
No sooner had that thought finished and I hear Steven say "I want a St. Michael candle!". I don't give that boy enough credit. Watching new Catholic faith is amazing. Anyway, I asked him if he was serious and he was, so out we went with our St. Michael, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and Sacred Heart candles. In the car I told Steven about the altar idea and he said sure, though he wasn't totally sure what it was. So I came home, gathered my items and arranged them on top of the bookshelf, which included removing my Nutcrackers to a different location.

So for the tour:
This is the whole thing. See our new candles? Can't beat them for a dollar and we can put our own cheap candles in the glass holders once they burn down. After Christmas, I might look for some affordable other things, like little statues or something since the nativity will be gone. I love our local Catholic store, In His Name, because they have pretty reasonable prices, and I try to buy from them versus online (unless the price is really different). I will have to check them out again and figure out what else I want to put there. Any suggestions if you have a home altar? 

I love, love, love this nativity. I got it from 10,000 Villages my first Christmas in Raleigh. If you have one, you MUST check it out. There are always sooo many things I want to buy and they are an ethical supplier of fair trade crafts. Each item says where it's from, though I forget where this is from off the top of my head. The cloth underneath it came from my dad's friend who had a baptism party for his son and his wife made these. My mom asked me if I wanted it and I snatched it right up. I am so in love with it!

The rosary I am currently using to pray isn't shown here but it is really pretty (murano glass I got in Rome with little flowers on each bead) and Steven's lego rosary I recently got him isn't pictured either. The blue/white and black ones we made in RCIA. The blue glass one I also got in Rome and the one in the box my sister got for me in France. I have two relics in the white box (one fell out into the box... eeek... how do I fix it?) and also a couple crucifixes for necklaces. I also have a few medals in there. Most of the stuff in this picture has been blessed by either Pope Benedict or JPII (I've been in audience of both which I'll have to write about sometime.).

I feel silly but I can't even remember when or where I got these coins. Maybe also in Rome? There is one for each pope (of my lifetime) and Mother Theresa. They have quotes on the back, which I love. 

Do you have a home altar? What kinds of things do you have on it? I'd love to see a picture! 

Friday, December 30, 2011

7 Quick Takes

--- 1 ---

I was going to write a whole blog on this, but you'll probably appreciate the super short version. My favorite thing I got for Christmas that I had asked for was Piggy Paint . It originally started out as non-toxic eco-friendly nail polish for kids. It's low odor and not made up of all the scary stuff normal nail polish is, so perfect for kids right? Well, hey, adults like that too! So luckily they made a line called "Refined" for women. My mom got it for me and so far I love it! I followed the directions to a T, which included using a blow dryer like 4 times, but I swear it didn't take that long and the polish is pretty, shiny, and holding up really well! I rarely paint my finger nails but love keeping my toe nails polished, so I'm excited to have this! I will definitely get the kiddy set one day in the future if I have a little girl! Crunchy yes, but frugal no so I'm glad I asked for it as a gift!

--- 2 ---
So I told Steven not to get me any candy this Christmas and asked my mom to get me a just a little bit. They both did well... but my future mother-in-law bought me two gigantic bags of Lindor Truffles (only my favorite candy ever and probably the most caloric!). It was really sweet of her but really bad for me who has alterations on the 7th! I am adding some intensity to my daily walking routine, but I am thinking the dress will be a smidge tight still since I won't really have had time to 'recover' from the holidays. It fit perfectly at Thanksgiving.... sigh.

--- 3 ---

My cat's favorite place to sleep is under the Christmas tree. This is my first year leaving decorations up until the Epiphany, and I think she is super happy about it. She curls up in a ball and snores loudly for hours. I'm going to feel really guilty when it's time to un-decorate!

--- 4 ---

I have 5 more days until I go back to work next Tuesday. Somehow the stay-cation part of being off has gotten crazy busy. Today we got home around 1pm and I cleaned the kitchen, unpacked our bags, and did laundry while Steven went to work. Left on the to do list? Get my oil changed, tires rotated, mail sent to my sister, send a fax, exchange a book that I got 2 of, exchange a pair of pants I bought a few weeks ago, finish and review a book for this blog, do the grocery shopping, go to the bank, and restock our freezer with cookies, muffins, and pizza pockets. I'm tired just thinking about it!

--- 5 ---

The greenway system in Raleigh is SO amazing. It's really long and it goes right behind our apartment complex. We are lucky because it branches off in like 6 different directions right where we live so there is SO much to explore. So far we've only gone on two of the 'branches' and not more than a mile each way probably. I can't wait to explore it more! I only turned around tonight because I was alone and it was getting really dark.

--- 6 ---

I wish I was one of those people who loved exercising. Even if I enjoy it while I'm doing it, or I'm glad I did it afterwards, I still dread it when I have it planned and generally put it off at least 30 minutes before I guilt myself into it. If I looked forward to it, it would make my life so much easier!

--- 7 ---
Steven is so sweet. He checked the clearance at his store to see if there were any nutcrackers left so he could add it to my collection (for a fraction of the original price- love his frugal nature!). There weren't any so he called a friend at another store who said his store also sold out, but that he was stopping by a 3rd store on the way home. Steven asked him to check and see if there were some there and he would pay him back. I woke up this morning to a new nutcracker, this one with a red jacket, crown with jewels, and playing the drum! Adding another Christmas decoration is helping me to remember that Christmas has only just begun!

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Rewriting Our Future

Welcome to the post I have been avoiding... mostly because I have no clue of how to say what I want to say or even the direction I want this post to take. Long story short (but rest assured, it will get long), Steven and I recently decided that I would be a stay at home mom and most likely home school the children. Now I say most likely because that is fully what I'm planning on doing now, unless for some reason we find at that time that it isn't the best fit for our children/one of our children. For example, if I had a child with some kind of disability who is better served at public school where they have specialists then I would of course submit to their best interestz and supplement what I could at home. Barring that type of situation, I am planning to homeschool.

This is a long way from where we were a year ago, or even a few months ago. We have always said that we would both work. I remember one conversation where we both said we wanted me to work; him because he didn't like the thoughts of him being the sole earner and me because I think I was just scared of losing myself if I didn't work. Also, I have a large student loan to pay off and can get over half of it forgiven in a 10 year forgiveness option if I continue working in public agencies/non profits full time for 10 years. All along, this had been our plan. He was going to find a job outside of his current grocery store job (customer service manager) to get a 9-5, conducive to family life type job, and I was going to continue working as a social worker. Well, little by little I began to get that tug on my heart that I really wanted to be home with my kids. I had felt that for a long time when I was younger, but it had gone away when I decided to pursue grad school. Now that it was back, I brought it up for discussion a few months ago. We decided that our only option was for me to go part time or stay at home after my 10 years are up for the loan forgiveness. Now, with a loose plan, that would mean my oldest child would be 5-7 years old when my loan was forgiven and I could quit working full time. It seemed kind of silly, even if there were another child or two that are younger, that I would quit working/go part time when one was school aged and one was very close to school aged. But that was where we were at for a while because we just couldn't find another option.

It's amazing how obvious God can make a vocation be when you are dense enough to try and plan around it as I was trying to do. It nagged at me more and more and more until I couldn't keep telling myself that there wasn't really any other way. I kept praying about it and last week it hit me; Steven has been applying for a non retail job for almost a year (in Jan/Feb it will have been a year) and nothing besides a few dead end interviews have come of it. Well, maybe there is a reason for that. The more I thought about his current job, which I have even used the word "hate" to describe, I realized how perfect that job is for a homeschooling family. Now this whole year he has made it clear to his boss that he doesn't want to move up in the company, because we knew he wanted out. But the more I thought about his schedule (ranging from 6am-2/3pm, 11-7pm, and 4pm to midnight shifts 5 out of 7 days of the week) the more I thought about how that schedule only matters to a family where the wife is working 9-5 and the children are in school all day. What a mess... the husband and wife sometimes don't even cross paths in the day, the dad is almost always working when the kids have extracurriculars/events at the school/fun things on the weekend. But then I thought about the stay at home mom/homeschooling family. No matter when dad is working, the wife and kids are always at home when he is off. So if he has two weekdays off and we want to go on a two day trip, we can. If he is working on the weekend and we slacked off playing when he was home two days during the week, nothing is stopping us from doing some homeschooling on the weekend. It doesn't really matter when he is working because his is the only firm schedule if the rest of us are home. Discovering that was so freeing.

The next step was bringing it up to him. We had always said I would work, so this was a huge change. It's all a blur now, but I think I sort of brought it up over a few days, throwing out my thoughts and ideas. He asked if I would be ok being a SAHM, if I would be ok not using my degree. I told him some things I would need (him to continue helping around the house, at least a bit, so I'm not working sun up to sun down while he is done in 8-10 hours, I want to do something to keep myself professionally relevant for when the kids move out like get on a board of directors, etc). I asked him if he would be ok knowing that we lose my loan forgiveness and will now be paying on that for 25 years, if he would respect what I would be doing in the home, and if he was ok with a future at his current company since he had been looking forward to the change. He totally respects it and understands the value, which means so much to me. He doesn't like the loan thing any more than I do, but it is what it is at this point. You know what? So far in all our conversations, it has all worked out. We have decided that it is the best decision for our family, so yes, there are some things we sacrifice, but we will get so much more back than what we are giving up.  A year ago, six months even, it only made sense that he would get out of his current line of work and find something else. Now, it only makes sense that he would continue so that he can be promoted and we can afford for me to stay home. He brought it up to his boss last week who said that, if he works hard, he could possibly have his own store one year after he becomes assistant manager. He told Steven that they would get together after the wedding (yeah, no changes beforehand please!) and make a plan of action. After that he will become assistant store manager, when the position opens up somewhere, and then  a year or so after, get his own store. He will be working like a dog while he is assistant manager, which will also coincide with our first year of marriage. We know it will be tough, but it will get him to the position he wants, and it will allow me to follow my vocation. After he is a store manager for a while, we can decide if we want that life for ourselves forever or if we want to see what corporate would have to offer, as corporate jobs are an option after he has 2 years of store manager experience. It's comforting to both of us that he will have those two options, so we can do whatever fits our family best.

There are lots of details to iron out obviously. And we have to know in the back of our heads that it may take me a LONG time to conceive, and we may feel like we are doing this for nothing if that happens, but it is what we feel led to do right now and makes the most sense for us right now, so we are going after it. I'm sure it will be the hardest, most rewarding thing we ever do. It's sort of ironic because Steven could have had the assistant manager job about 3 weeks ago when it was open at his store but told his boss he wasn't interested since we were still thinking he would hopefully be leaving there soon. He commented on that today and the more I've thought about it, the more I know that was God's timing and not ours. Had we decided 3 weeks ago, we would have gone after it. But who needs the (good) stress of an upcoming wedding coupled with the stress of a new position that carries 10 more hours of work a week with it? Not us for sure. Once we are married, we can go after that. God knows I like to pile things on because, once I know what I want to do, it's hard for me to be patient. But patient I must be and for the health of our relationship!

I have lots more to talk about, like why homeschooling over public school, how we will do this financially (because we will never be high wage earners), and how my family reacted when it accidentally came out over Christmas (let's just say I had a ranting post about my brother written but made myself save it instead of posting, and I'm glad I did because it didn't need to be posted).

And no, I'm not quitting work any time soon, and probably won't until I need to give my notice shortly before a future baby is born. Just in case you were wondering!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Frugal Gifting

So, I couldn't post this before Christmas since people receiving the gifts may or may not read this blog. Plus, the blogosphere is so saturated with Christmas posts that I figured no one would notice one less gift idea post. But now you will have this for the future in case you ever want to gift it or try it for yourself. When you see 4 of each gift in the pictures.... that's because I made them for 3 people and then one for myself. Hey, I gotta try my own goods :).

First up, from Fun With the Fullwoods, I made lip scrub. I'm not big into crafting blogs (let's face it, I hardly have enough time for my PCOS and Catholic blogs! Oh and the mommy blogs I stalk as I plan my own future motherhood.) but I really like hers. She is super creative, though if I made sweets as often as she does I would be morbidly obese! So I stick with her crafty ideas and not her cookie ideas, as tempting as they sound and look. This gift was super affordable. I got the jars for $5 at Bed Bath and Beyond and could have used a 20% off coupon if I had any sense about me before leaving the house that morning. I mean really, who leaves that coupon behind??? Anyway, I did and had already been on a massive hunt for the perfect size jar, so I wasn't leaving the store without them once they were in my hot little hand. But $4 would have been even better! I already had the honey, which is local, and used a combo of wildflower honey and clover honey since I ran out of one in the middle of making them. I also already had the olive oil, which comes in a massive bottle at Trader Joe's for an awesome price (and is cold pressed which is important), as well as the brown sugar, which is organic, but of course still somewhat processed (less than regular brown sugar at least). I know it's just going on people's lips, but they may or may not be tempted to eat it right from the jar with how delicious it smells ;) so I try to make sure it meets my quality standars. Since I had everything but the jars on hand, these were ridiculously cheap gifts. I embellished them with things I already had in my craft box that I had gotten on clearance a while ago. Tip for you, and for me when/if I do it again. I actually had to add more brown sugar because there was too much liquid on top for my liking once it settled. I would also gift it with something to get the spread out of the jar so people don't have to use their fingers, because it does require quite the hand washing. I discovered that too late for this year though.

Next up was vanilla extract from my fave blog 100 Days of Real Food. This one wasn't quite as frugal, but still came out to be cheap. I didn't have any of the ingredients on hand (glass jars/bottles, vodka, vanilla beans) so that's why it cost a little more. I got the cheapest brand of vodka, since I read numerous places that it wouldn't affect the quality, so that cost me $5. I got the little jars at Michael's for 99cents each. I never did find what I wanted, which would have been something more like what she had in her picture. I wanted something tall and skinny, but after 4 stores I gave up and went back to Michael's for those round ones. They were glass, which was important to me since I much prefer glass to plastic, and were small enough for my liking. The vanilla beans were expensive, at least to me who had no clue how much they cost. I bought 4 vanilla beans and they cost just over $8! Now in the scheme of the gift, they were still pretty affordable. The beans smelled SO GOOD when I opened them. I have read that once you use this vanilla extract, you will never go back. That's saying a lot since just this year I began buying real Madagascar vanilla extract instead of the imitation stuff, and am soooo in love. I can't wait to use it, but I read most places to wait 3-6 months, even though her blog suggests a month. These are only a couple days old and you can already tell that it's darkening! When I first put the beans in, I arranged them so they were pretty, but you are supposed to swirl/swish it every few days so they all moved. I smelled these the day before Christmas and they smell soooo vanilly and good!

I want to get much more into handmade gifts next year. This year was sort of a test to see how it would go, if I enjoyed it, and if it was actually in fact frugal. It went well except the brown sugar scrub has a shelf life (well, so said other websites I found on it) so I didn't make it til the night before I headed to South Carolina. I really, really enjoyed the process- finding what I wanted to make, researching it elsewhere for tips, and actually making everything, especially picking out ribbons and stickers to go on them (again, all from my craft box so 'free'). The shopping part wasn't as fun, but that's because I don't like stores in December. I am claustrophobic about 10 minutes into the experience. And, most importantly, it was really frugal! For people who are receiving both, I spent $5.50 per person and obviously even less for the people just receiving one (though the people receiving one are receiving them as a supplementary gift). I love that I can give something that cost more time and effort than cash. Now that I have a whole year to come up with some other handmade stuff, I'm already excited about next Christmas!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Any words of wisdom?

I want to attend the Extraordinary Form as a way to continue increasing my faith, and I'm thinking about doing it on Jan 1st since the Cathedral only does it on the 1st Sunday of the month. It will depend on Steven's work schedule since I want to go together, but regardless I want to go the first time that we can. I am even thinking about buying a head covering for it, but I might wait until after the first time I go in case I decide to always just attend the ordinary form. Anyway, I've never been before and don't really know what to expect. I know some things like it will be in Latin and they will face the tabernacle and altar, but beyond that... how do our parts change? Do I need to take something with me to know the Latin responses? I only know the few that we sometimes do in mass. Are we still sitting/standing/kneeling at the same times? I will read up a little online as well, but wondering for those who attend if there is anything you think I should know going into it. Thanks!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Mini Vent

I'm venting here so that I can let it go and be joyful. At mass at my dad's church tonight there was not only clapping on three different occasions, but the priest sang, and had the congregation follow, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. Yes, he gave a good homily, but it was hard to get past the fact that he started it with a Santa Claus song. Eeeek. So that I'm not coming off as completely critical, he is so full of energy and has the most beautiful voice. It's refreshing to see a priest be SO excited about mass. But... I really, really wish there was no clapping in mass! And I really, really wish there was no mention of Santa at mass!

Ahh, now I can push that out of my brain and think of baby Jesus in the manger!  Merry Christmas!!!!

My mom's cat deconstructing the present I put under the tree for my sister-in-law. Yes, she is IN it.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

7 Quick Takes- Christmas Edition

--- 1 ---

I love my agency. We close for at least a week at Christmas, depending on where the days fall. This year, we are closed from the 23rd to the 3rd. I still have to take my day time calls on certain days (it's confusing.... all the other people who do my job besides me and my coworker Mike technically work for a different agency so they are only off a few days... when they are off, our phones can be off since there is a person on call during the day... when they are working and we are off, we still have to leave our phones on for emergencies since there is no one on call during the day- confused yet?) but I only deal with emergencies, which are usually few and far between. So long story not short, it's really nice to have a week+ to unwind and gear up for another year of semi-craziness. Four weeks of vacation a year makes me a happy girl.

--- 2 ---

This is the first year my sister won't be home at Christmas. Sad face! We are still sort of like 5 year olds when it comes to Christmas morning (though she isn't happy when I try to wake her up early for presents, but I've calmed down slightly over the years). So it will be sad to not have her there to be like a big kid with me. My brother and his family won't come over til the afternoon so it will be very different with just my parents and myself. I know we will still have a ton of fun, but it won't be quite the same. My mom was going to cut out stockings this year, and then decided not to. I was really happy because not having my sister AND not having my stocking is a bit too much to handle.

The "children" last year. 

--- 3 ---

Now that I know that the bishop presides over midnight mass and all the priests of the parish are also there, it makes me really want to go sometime! I have always been anti-midnight mass only because I value going to sleep at 10:30-11 and get pretty grumpy otherwise. I didn't think the best way to ring in Christmas was by being grumpy to those around me, so I've always stuck with the Christmas Eve mass. Also because I always go with my dad and I don't see either of us lasting until, and past, midnight. I told him that I want to go someday and he suggested that they could come to Raleigh one Christmas after we have a baby, and my mom could sleep/stay home with the baby while the 3 of us went to mass. I was so excited that he would even consider it! So now I'm definitely planning on checking it out one of these years!

--- 4 ---
I'm excited that Steven and I won't ever have to spend another Christmas apart. Well, we don't "have" to this year, but we are both really attached to going to our own parents' houses for Christmas and figured we'll work it out for next year, and just enjoy a last Christmas as a 'single' person this year. As much as it feels right to be at my parents' house for major holidays, it feels equally wrong to not be with Steven. We did Easter on our own last year which was really fun and is a gentle breaking in of creating our own holiday traditions. I think we agreed that next year he will come home with me for Christmas and then I will go with him that following year. I am giving him two year's notice that there will be tears shed. I'm a mommy/daddy's girl!

My sweet parents visiting me around Christmas time in 2009. Love em like crazy!

They are the best Christmas decoraters ever- my mom especially! When I walk into their house, it's like a Christmas wonderland. For years like this where the weather makes it hard to feel like it's Christmas, a couple hours at her house does the trick!

--- 5 ---
Is it strange that I feel really guilty about leaving my cat alone for Christmas? I used to pack her up and take her on the 4 hour car ride (1.5 hour car ride while in college) and then open her stocking with her on Christmas morning. She has a stocking this year that Steven will open with her on Christmas evening when he gets back to the apartment. But... but... I'm her mommy and I won't be here. Don't even get me started on the fact that her 10th birthday is while we are on our honeymoon. Had I known it ahead of time, we might have had a 4 day trip to the beach as our honeymoon so I could be back in time.

Helping Buttercup open her stocking in 2008. Ahem, yes that is a shirt you see on her. It was Christmas themed (along with the jingle bell collar). She no longer wears clothes.

--- 6 ---

Steven is coming to Spartanburg (where my parents live in SC) the day after Christmas. He is taking a train from Raleigh so we can drive back together (plus it's about the same cost as gas to get there!). I am so, so, so excited!!! He has been there once, but hasn't been back since his work schedule doesn't usually allow for much planning. My parents come here a ton and sometimes I feel bad that we don't go there more, so I'm really glad this worked out. His train gets in at 10something am on Monday and we head back early Wednesday morning, but we will pack a lot of fun into the visit!

--- 7 ---
I love board games. I mean I really, REALLY love board games. My family is kind of so-so on them. They have a lot of fun when we play, but need a lot of encouragement (read: force from me) to get started. I love Christmas because I can always talk them into a game or two!
Playing Apples to Apples in 2007... I was going to post some other 2007 Christmas pictures, but I got severely depressed at how much thinner I was back then lol. 

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


I'm a posting fool lately! Don't get used to it; my goal is 2-3 posts per week and only if I actually have something to say. Ok, something worthwhile.

Here's another recipe to share. It's another of my faves because it keeps me full all the way through bed time. Normally at 9 I begin foaming at the mouth looking for a snack, but not after this meal! The word recipe should actually read "recipe" because it's sooo simple. Steven, who needed my help to boil water at the beginning of our relationship (I kid you not) can make this perfectly. The secret? You can pretty much put whatever you want in it and it doesn't involve (much) cooking. And by cooking I mean heating up beans. We have made it multiple times and have made it different each time. It's kind of fun to try out new ingredients or combinations! It's cheap to make and healthy to boot! My blood sugar doesn't spike and dip after this meal, which I love because that feeling sucks. It feels sort of like hunger, only different enough that I know it's not true hunger, but it doesn't make me want to satisfy it any less. So I (and my ovaries) love meals that don't require my pancreas to go on overdrive.

I present to you.... Mexican Melt. Which is really just a deconstructed burrito, but I feel I get to name it since it isn't in burrito form. Oh, also? I'm not sure if Mexican Melt is offensive to anyone, but I was looking for two words that both started with the same letter and salsa made it feel like Mexican food.

Tonight's version:
Super delicious whole grain flour tortillas... it has flax seeds in it which I love. For those of you who are scared off by flax seeds, I don't notice them in the tortilla in this recipe. You can see them but not taste them.
Ridiculously delicious 3 cheese blend, both from Trader Joe's (I swear their cheese is a million times better than regular grocery store stuff)

If you are wondering about those cute little glass bottles with ribbons around them in the background, well, you will just have to wonder until after Christmas ;). 

Kidney beans- last time we used black eyed peas... I think... I don't know my southernish bean type veggies really well. I google image searched black eyed peas and, as you might imagine, found no pictures of  the vegetable. Anyway, I liked those a little better, but the kidney beans added awesome color.
Corn- this was a first and I probably wouldn't add it next time. Unnecessary starch and, as much as I reeallllly like corn, the sweetness threw me off. I think I prefer it by itself more. But some people love corn in stuff like this.

Salsa- mild because I'm a wuss.
Brown rice- yum. Quinoa is even healthier and better for you, but I'm a bit afraid to try it in this recipe. Maybe one day, but for now I'll stick with brown rice! If you are afraid of brown rice, this recipe is a good way to break yourself in gently.

Other variations:
Ground beef- the first time we made it, we put some ground beef in it. Just a little; don't go crazy! I like it equally both ways, but try not to eat a lot of meat and cutting that out automatically makes it more frugal.
Herbs- I think it'd be awesome to put some herbs in there. Maybe cilantro or something?
Scrambled egg- I <3 eggs in stuff (like in salad) but the idea may make you queasy. If you used a starchy veggie, this would kick up the protein a little.
Shredded lettuce- Another thing I love, and I think I've finally talked Steven into letting us add it to Mexican Melt next time.
Sour cream- A big no thank you in my opinion, but to each her own!
Diced tomatoes- A no-no for Steven (the boy just doesn't love veggies mixed in to meals) but I think it sounds delish!
Refried beans- we get the fat free ones as a treat sometime and they are sooooo good.

So, rip up your tortilla on the plate, and then layer everything on there just how you like it.

 I put it all in the microwave for about 45 seconds, including the salsa which I prefer to be warm versus cold. When the cheese gets melty, you are good to go!
Some people have reservations about using the microwave, so you could always heat it up in the stove if you have a super awesome plate like this one which is stove safe. We don't use the microwave much (anymore) so it doesn't bother me to use every now and again.

Probably at least a few of you are sitting there staring at your computer screens like "Whaaaa? Just roll it up in a burrito! What is wrong with this girl?!". Ah, but I have an answer for you! In the interest of being healthy, we got the regular sized tortillas instead of the big ones you actually use to make burritos. This means that if you lay the tortilla down, put all this in there, and roll it up, it breaks and falls out all over the place. Ask me how I know. That's how Mexican Melt was born. The next time around, we just shredded the tortilla up. If you wanted to cut some calories out, you could leave the tortilla out all together, but I'm a girl after whole grains! We bought the pack and freezed them, so now we just pull some out any time we are craving this (quite often).

I have a tortilla press and tortilla warmer on my wedding registry. Me thinks we will be eating this ALL. THE. TIME. once I am homemaking our tortillas!

Monday, December 19, 2011

YAY #2 for the day!

Annnnnd this day just got better! My NFP practitioner recommended that I go ahead and try to schedule an appointment with a doctor who knows Creighton and is becoming NaPro certified since we know I'll probably have some issues. She said that when she has recommended her before, there has been a waiting list or she just isn't accepting new patients, so I was prepared to give a sob story if needed lol! But I just called and got an appointment for February, so I am so excited!!!!! I am so glad to not have to go back to my regular obgyn who, while she is very nice, is all about using the pill for PCOS and I was already guessing she'd roll her eyes at me going off the pill and using NFP. It will be so nice to not have to explain Creighton to the doctor as I've read many people have had to do. Sooo glad she takes my insurance and is accepting new patients! For any of you local ladies, her name is Dr. Amy Bruton at Raleigh OBGYN Centre.

Eeeeek! YAY!

Does my title scream excitement? It should! I did my very first guest post at NFP And Me and she posted it today! Click here to check it out. Feel free to stay awhile because Katie's got a great blog! I liked her right away for calling herself a 'crazy dog lady' since I'm pretty much at crazy cat lady status. Then I got lost in her reading and now I'm one of her 'regulars'! I'm SO glad she's doing a series of guest posts on NFP, because I love hearing the stories of others and find a lot of encouragement in reading them, since I don't have 'real life' friends (yet!) who use NFP.

Saving Series Part Four: A Frugal Future

Welcome to the last post in the Savings Series. I've had a lot of fun doing a series on a topic, so I think I'll do some more of that in the future on some of the other topics my blog focuses on.

I think a huge part of being frugal is having some plans as to how that will play into your future. If you don't do that, you will find yourself suddenly in the future, in a phase of life that may be new to you and no plan means that you will probably go into survival mode. Usually frugality gets pushed by the way side in survival mode because you're just trying to keep your head above water. You don't have time to clip grocery and other coupons. Sometimes that means that convenience is more important than being frugal, and we all know convenience is usually pricey!

The one that applies to me is preparing for having children. Even though it's a little bit of a ways off, I want to have put a good amount of thought into everything possible so I'm not left with a ton of questions, or just finding the most convenient option because I have a crazy busy life and new baby, and now don't have the time to figure it out. For example, I want my babies to play mostly with wooden toys. We also want our baby to have Catholic toys. In a lot of cases, these types of toys are more expensive. Since we don't make a lot of money, and we will be scraping to make ends meet if I stay home, we have to plan ahead so we don't give up on (what we feel is ) quality and/or important because the baby needs toys and we can't afford the ones we were planning on using. Catholic Deals is an awesome website that I will definitely be paying attention to because she posts deals on children's toys (she posted the Melissa and Doug deal I was drooling over). She also posts all kinds of non-children deals FYI. Anyway, we decided to start collecting baby/children's toys at some point after we get married but are not trying to conceive so that we have a decent collection when we do start a family. This way we have the luxury of slowly shopping, finding good deals, and only buying the things we really want our children playing with. As you can probably imagine, I'm super excited to start doing that!

We have lots of 'maybes' or 'we'll see how it goes' when it comes to parenting ideals but the one above and the one following are definites- so that makes it easy for me to plan for. We want to make our own baby food. This is mostly a health reason, as we want to feed our children locally grown, in season produce and stay meat free until they are a couple years old. But making baby food is SO much cheaper than buying it. My friend Jennifer made her son's baby food and I was always really impressed. Some items are really easy and others take a bit more time, but I think the pay off (both health and savings) are totally worth it. We've done only the brainstorming part of the planning so far because that's all that's necessary right now. When we're pregnant, we'll plan ahead to get the few things we need for that on our registry (yay free stuff!).

Ok so obviously baby stuff is on the brain for me. Another thing I've looked into lately is churches for after we have a baby. We are guessing that at some point attending the cathedral might not be practical. There is no cry room, nowhere indoors to take your baby if they are fussy/crying (which would be bad during really cold or rainy weather), no nursery if we wanted to use that at some point, etc. Who knows- maybe it will all work out, which I love, but the main thing that sometimes makes me think we will want more is because, besides faith formation, there aren't a lot of family oriented groups. There are lots of things for just adults, but that seems to be it. I think it's because our parish is downtown and serves such a different make up of people than most of the other Catholic churches in the area. But there is another Catholic church about the same distance away (with only a sliver of the beauty that the cathedral has) that offers all these awesome things for families like various groups, babysitting swaps, etc. The babysitting swap was what really caught my eye because I doubt we will have money for a babysitter. When the baby is old enough, we will definitely want a little couple time to focus on us, and rather than shelling out $30 to a babysitter so we can go out to dinner (and eat off the $1 menu at McD's because we could barely afford the babysitter) I think it would be a good plan for us to join a church like that which offers babysitting swaps.

Ready for a little non-baby talk? Yeah, Steven is too. :) As my NFP practitioner says, "Any man who does the charting will be a good father". I totally agree, but I know I have been talking his ear off about baby stuff lately, especially as it relates to our financial future.

We have other future plans such as keeping my car until Steven's payment is done in 3 years. By the way, Happy 10th birthday to Hallie Honda who I've had since she was 4 miles old. She is now over 130,000 miles old. Once his car is paid off, mine still might have life in her, but we don't want to get used to having that 'extra' money each month so we will go ahead and get me a mommy car, since both of our cars are compact. Hallie should get us an ok trade in and we will buy used to save money. This will mean we'll never be stranded because my car died beyond repair and sign to purchase a car that is probably out of our price range because we are emotional/stressed.

Retirement... this is a very scary word for us right now. Even though we have both begun to save for retirement, we have saved very little. In fact, I did a calculator on the Bank of America website and said that I'd save $100/mo until I retire and invest somewhat riskily, somewhat conservatively. It estimated that, if I retire at 65, I'd have enough to last me 1 year. Yeah, ONE stinkin' year. And I thought $100 a month was good! And... I'm not even doing that right now because we have so much else going on. Then I think about if I do stay home with our kids, how will we ever have money to put away for retirement??? So this is one area that obviously needs a LOT of working on for us. I don't want to find ourselves 65 or 70 and we are Walmart greeters to make ends meet in a time of our lives where we should be relaxing and playing with our grandkids. I have dreams of joining one of those senior centers where you go on field trips and do crafts. Heck, I'd join now if I could. So we've got a lot of work to do on that.

How about you? What are areas of the future where you have already made some plans to help yourself financially? Have you thought about, or begun saving for, retirement?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Breakfast of the Peanut Butter Lovin' Champions (PCOS friendly!)

Do you often get hungry in between breakfast and lunch? I do ALL THE TIME. I find myself staring at the clock at work from about 10:30 on when the hunger starts. Around 11:15 I feel dramatic and want to roll on the floor wailing "I'm huuuuuungry!" and by 11:45 I generally give in and eat lunch even though I have a self made rule not to eat lunch until noon.

I eat breakfast at about 7:30 or 7:45, and that can't really change. I've changed up what I eat a lot and still am really hungry around the same time. Sometimes the process may start at 11 instead but then is really bad by about 11:30... still too early for my liking as I'd prefer just get those slight hunger pains for 15-20 minutes before lunch so I don't spend my morning watching the minutes tick by instead of filling/typing/calling or the other million things I could be doing. I have mostly given up cereal, because that one is the worst for me. If I do have cereal, I try to choose one that has more substance to it like the TJ's version of raisin bran. It definitely does better than the 'fun cereals' where my blood sugar crashes at 9:30 and I feel hungry again. I was doing cottage cheese and fruit for a while, but I'm supposed to stay away from dairy for the most part and Steven won't eat cottage cheese so it goes bad before I can finish it. Eggs do the job but I'm a little weird with eggs and can only have them every so often.

Anyways, I have found the answer to my (our) woes. Chocolate chip, peanut butter waffles! The peanut butter gets all melty on the warm waffles and I feel like I'm having something really naughty, like dessert for breakfast! Doesn't sound healthy, though, right?
It depends on the amount you use and what you use. Even though they are definitely a little pricey, I've been using Kashi's all natural 7 grain waffles (I think it has 24g of whole grains) because I haven't found anything cheaper that is as healthy. Suggestions welcome! The nutri-grain ones don't make the cut and TJ's waffles don't either, surprisingly. Anyway, I only eat two. This may be a normal concept for most people, but not for me. All my life I would have had 3 or 4. That not only puts on the pounds but makes the box use up really fast! I would know... Anyway, next up is natural peanut butter. You can see the brand I use below, but I'd actually like to get more natural than that some day. We are weaning ourselves slowly from the regular stuff, to this, and one day to something with only one ingredient. It's a work in progress. Again, you can't slather it on there. 2 tbsp is already fairly high calorie/high fat. I spread it on and make sure I can still see the square ridges underneath and a couple empty/almost empty squares as well. A thin layer is actually more than enough since it gets melty. The good knews for PCOS people is that nuts are one of the best things we can eat (though we still need to be mindful of the portion) because protein is so important for us, and it has healthy fat. We should be eating one serving of nuts per day. When you have regular peanut butter, the sugar content sort of cancels out the benefit, so try something more natural. Last up, dark chocolate chip morsels. I use mini because you can use the same amount but it spreads farther and sometimes I have to play mind tricks on myself! If I had regular sized morsels, I'd be tempted to use just as many pieces, so I go mini. Dark chocolate in very small amounts is also good for you.

Add a piece of fruit and you are good to go. So there you have it. My favorite breakfast that actually does the job and keeps me satisfied until lunch! PCOS friendly and filling is the best of both worlds!

Friday, December 16, 2011

I am feeling the love!

I got a shout out over at The Catholic Couponer and totally feel not worthy lol. Anyway, go check out her blog, the others she is featuring in her quick takes, and her description of my blog. The awesome part of her post? I have added more blogs to my blog favorites folder to read each morning. The not so awesome part? I was 10 minutes late to work today because I already have too many blogs in my blogroll and have the need to check them all before I leave in the morning. I need a blog patch to get me through the work day.

7 Quick Takes

This is a savings themed quick takes to go along with my recent (and upcoming) posts. Or in other words, the things I forgot to include in the posts.

--- 1 ---
We don't drink anything but water in the house. It started for me as a cost saving measure a long time ago, then I got back into it when I met my previously-soda-addicted-fiance. When I gave it up again, it was for health, as people with PCOS are supposed to limit both sugar and artificial sweeteners. It was also to set a good example for Steven because he drank sooo much of it. After a come to Jesus moment with the dentist, he gave it up too. I'm sort of ambivalent about it. I don't really miss it that much, but I'm not singing the praises of giving it up. Steven on the other hand is the #1 promoter of giving up soda. He noticed a lot of physical differences for the better after giving it up. Oh but back to the point. Water is super cheap. We have sodas only at restaurants as a treat (and always diet). Not purchasing soda, juice, etc. gives us a bit more money to buy the stuff that we can't use coupons on.

--- 2 ---

Who doesn't love holiday decorations? I grew up in a house that looked like each holiday threw up in it and I. LOVED. IT. Still do. But I learned quickly that making your house look festive for each holiday gets pricey very fast. So now I buy one or two decorations following various holidays on major discount or clearance. This way I can buy quality things that won't fall apart (like one of the nutcrackers in my collection whose facial hair is falling off and hot glue is showing everywhere) and be excited each year to add another new thing. I have a pretty good collection of Christmas decor so I need to work on the other holidays. Thrift stores are a great way to get decor for cheap, too and usually you can find it all year round as people donate random stuff throughout the year.

--- 3 ---

Make your household cleaners. Did I already mention this one? I haven't tried it yet because, oh for shame, I had such a stock of cleaners that I haven't had to buy anything in forever. Most of them are made with natural products, but a homemade recipe put into one of those bottles is just as good, if not better, AND is so cheap! AND if you have a sensitive nose like me, you can add whatever essential oil scent you want to it and enjoy not having the typical cleaner smells. I can't wait to try it!

--- 4 ---
Eat by candlelight! Advent is a great excuse to do it, if you need one. The other excuse is that you can have all the lights off in your house to save a bit of electricity. It actually felt so nice to have candelight versus bright light bulbs during dinner. And it's romantic (well, if romance isn't thrown off by Hulk and Spiderman drinking glasses which I wouldn't allow in the picture). Side note: I broke my rule of colorful meals. Paprika chicken, red skinned mashed potatoes and applesauce with nutmeg are pretty much all the same color.

--- 5 ---
Eat the serving size. I know, sounds obvious, right? But many people, myself included, struggle with portion control. Even people who don't actually struggle with it often times just pour/eat an amount of something without even looking to see what the serving size is. Since we have been eating the serving size for health reasons, we've realized how cost efficient that is, too. It's really exciting when a box of cereal lasts you twice as long as it normally does.

--- 6 ---

Give up that gym membership and get outside. Studies (which I'm entirely too lazy to look up and link to here) have shown that walking outside is much better for you psychologically. I believe it. When I go to the apartment gym, which I rarely do, I can't stand being there and the minutes drag by. I've had plenty of 10 minute 'work outs' because I despise it that much. When I go walking, especially when I vary my routes, the time goes a lot faster because there are always things to look at. I am a creeper and love looking in people's windows so I wait for it to be just a little dark when I know their lights are on and I can see in. I promise I just looove seeing the inside of houses; I'm not actually looking at the people. Rainy or too cold? Go to a mall and walk around there. We have found that "too cold" doesn't matter after about 5 minutes. It was in the low 40's one day recently and we actually got warm in our layers and had to carry our jackets on the way back. After about 3 minutes of shocking cold, you'll feel pretty good (gloves and a hat are important since ears and fingers stay cold!). Free exercise beats paying for exercise any day!

--- 7 ---
Because I'm out of things to say about saving, I thought I'd give an NFP update. For those of you who use Creighton, I had 7 white baby days, followed by (what we lovingly call) 3 alien baby days, and now today I'm back to a white baby day. Boo. Not what I was hoping to see. For non Creighton users, after alien baby days, you should have 9-17 green days and then get your period. Since I had another white baby day, it might mean that I didn't actually ovulate (common for PCOS) and that my body is trying again. Poor little body. I'm holding out shreds of hope that this is pill related since I'm only a month out from being off of it, but I have a feeling PCOS is rearing it's ugly head. I'm going to be proactive when I go back to my NFP practitioner on Saturday and see if I can get an appt with the NaPro doctor in our area since my annual appt is coming up in Feb/March, just in case.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Savings Series Part Three: Getting Used To a New Way of Life!

Welcome to part 3 where I talk about bringing a guy who has a drastically different concept of money into my frugal world!

I won't get too much into Steven's theories on money pre-me, past spending habits etc, because a guy's gotta have some privacy, right? Oh, and also because he might read this and be like "That's not nice" which is what he usually says when I say something truthful that he doesn't like. Love you dear! Back to my point. We had drastically different ideas on spending and saving... everything from credit cards, to how often to eat out, to when shopping on a sale is actually a deal. (It is not a deal if you buy a product on sale that you normally wouldn't buy!)

The longer we were together and the more I could tell he was the one, the more I started trying to gently (and sometimes not so gently-oops) teach him better ways of doing things. I had good intentions... many divorces happen over money, which is also tied in with communication, so I wanted to be sure we could communicate about money before we thought about the M word. I had major issues with a "my way is the right way, what do you not understand" attitude. I wouldn't recommend it. Even though my way obviously made more sense for us, you can't expect someone to keep their defenses down when you approach it that way. So it definitely took us a while. I had to let him just continue on his path for a little bit and back down from being a Money Monster to him, and he had to get comfortable with seeing my way of doing things and seeing the benefits that came from it. He made small changes here and there, like eating out less so we could eat more healthily and also save money. He slowly paid off credit cards and quit using them. Once I got him using coupons, he actually really starting enjoying the challenge of seeing how much he could save. A man after my own heart! So my biggest advice if you have someone that you are trying to bring over to the frugal side is to show them more than you tell them, and to encourage and explain, don't direct and demand. When they see your bank account continue to build, see the fun you have with finding ways to save, and see that you are happy without keeping up with the Jones', I sincerely believe they will want that too. The real challenge is keeping them on the road to getting there, because it can be a major life change in the beginning and they might give up before they start feeling the benefits. I handled this by almost constantly pointing out the benefits, before Steven was at a place that he could see/feel them himself. So when I could tell he was stressed about what he felt was depriving himself, I would point out his bank account balance that was a little higher than usual. Encouragement goes a long way.

 Then came the big change, which was when we developed budgets and decided to be really hardcore about them. That was actually hard for both of us. As well as I do with money, it was hard to account for every single little thing and sometimes hard to make everything fit in my budget! Since I have 'extra padding', I was frequently spending more than I earned, but it didn't feel like a big deal because my account was never super low. It took me a few months, but now I'm spending less than what I earn and it feels SO rewarding. Also, it definitely helped me see where my money was going, what changes I needed to make, and what my priorities needed to be versus what they were. Steven sometimes resents budgeting; since we are saving so much for the wedding right now he feels like if he doesn't budget he will be ok because we can't afford to do much past paying bills, buying groceries etc. But with some encouragement on my part he has continued so that it will never feel restrictive again the way it always does in the beginning when you start keeping a budget. We'll be glad after we get married and have more 'fun money' so we aren't wasting it, versus saving some for vacations or things like that.

Have you ever helped someone become frugal? Do you have any creative budgeting tips?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Blessings of Blogging

This whole entry might come off super cheesy, but I'm ok with that (I think). I started this blog because I wanted a new venue and a new blogging style. I wasn't even sure if anyone besides my sister would read it! I never imagined how much I would get out of it in just the first month of having it! So far I have been invited to join two super awesome facebook groups. They are both closed groups which means you can really be yourself without fear of coworkers, acquaintances, etc. seeing the deepest parts of you. One is mostly made up of other Catholic bloggers and one is mostly Catholic women using NFP. I have 'met' two bloggers who live in Raleigh. This is pretty awesome considering I only have about 10 Catholic blogs that I really keep up with...and two of them live in the same city! I'm hoping for a get together at some point :). I have learned soooo many new things about the faith and have gotten some really good ideas and (unknown to them!) encouragement from reading other blogs with like minded authors. I have already been approved to review a book (SOOO EXCITED! just came in the mail today!) and am working on a guest post for another blog. In my 8 years of my "this is what I did today..." type blog, I don't know that I ever felt a blessing or opportunity from it. I mean, it all makes sense, but I'm just so excited for where God is taking me through this!

*Back to the regular non-cheesy blogging tomorrow*

Monday, December 12, 2011

Saving Series Part Two: Non Food Purchases

Welcome to part two of my saving series :). These are some of the ways we try to save when it comes to everything BUT food.

We are also frugal in our forms of entertainment. We got to the $2 theater almost every Tuesday because they have Stimulus Tuesday where you get a $1 drink and $1 popcorn. Our date night costs $8! Steven may go to a few first run movies in the summer (he loves the comic book based movies), but we generally wait to see everything in the cheap theater. I can't tell you the last time I saw a first run movie at actual cost, and I don't feel deprived because, not only do I get to still see them, I can also afford a treat when I go! Speaking of first run movies, I am signed up with which periodically offers us free screenings to yet-to-be-released movies. We've probably gone to about 5 of those (and there are at least 10 more I've been offered but we couldn't go or weren't interested), so I still occasionally get to enjoy stadium seating and a super clean theater.

This is our cheap date theater, which I lovingly referred to as "The Dollar Fifty" until about a month ago when we went on a Saturday, after having just been that Tuesday, and the prices had raised to $2 per show. I almost made Steven turn the car around. Then I realized that $2 was still better than $10+ and swallowed my pride. The line on Tuesdays can sometimes be twice as long! 

A big way we are frugal but still sufficiently entertained is that we take full advantage of the free things our city has to offer us. We are lucky to live somewhere with free museums (city museum, art, history, and natural science) and LOTS of free festivals. I would say every other month or so there is something going on downtown. Of course you can go and spend a lot of money, but you can also go and browse, enjoy free music, people watch, and enjoy the weather. We rarely buy anything when we go and have a blast. We also spend time checking out the parks in our area, which is good for exercise too! Obviously we don't do as much of that in the winter!

We don't pay for cable, but this apartment gives it to us for free. When I didn't used to have cable, I was plenty entertained by my dvd collection and netflix. I don't ever see buying cable again. It seems like a huge money sink for us, since we watch more netflix now than cable when it's free. We internet shop for the cheapest rates. I'm not above changing every year if we are saving lots of money. We're currently getting AT&T DSL (I think the 2nd to best one) for $20 a month. Can't beat it! We will probably only ever have a wall phone for 911 purposes but not an actual calling plan to call people since we have cell phones.

This is an area I have to work on, but I try not to buy super affordable household items. You might be thinking that goes against being frugal BUT I would get sucked in so quickly and be buying lots of affordable (read: cheap, low quality, will fall apart) household items. So for now I'm resisting and either we save up for something that is good quality and we'll get many years from or we buy it secondhand (that's not always an option, say if we were buying a mattress). For now, we have some nice stuff and some cheap stuff. After the wedding, I think I want my first project to be nice bookshelves, instead of the two pressed board, crappy ones we have. But I will avoid my urge to go out and buy something right away (and spending lots of money on something nice or not much money on something that will fall apart in a year) by going to thrift shops every now and again to see if there's something I like.

Personal care items are something that I have room to grow in. I don't use regular toothpaste because I get canker sores SO easily from the sodium lauryl sulfate in it (also working to avoid this in other bath products- so far I have a SLS free body wash and will eventually work to avoid it in my hair products as well... welcome to the 'crunchy' part of my blog :). I have to buy a more expensive brand that doesn't have SLS or fluoride, but it lasts me quite a while, about 2-3 times as long as a regular tube of toothpaste so the expense doesn't bother me much. But where someone could get a tube of toothpaste for free, or almost, I won't ever be able to do that since there aren't yet coupons for some of the natural products. I usually luck out with razors that there's a coupon and a buy 2 get 1 free or buy 2 get a $5 gift card all at once, and then I stock up big time. I go through make up very infrequently as I wear just a little bit, and usually either use coupons or buy on sale (I need to work to do both at once, though). Obviously this isn't an all inclusive list of toiletry items, but it gives you an idea. Again, this is an area that can definitely use improvement on my part.
If I could have a toiletry for a best friend, this just might be it! A light taste, fresh feeling, and no more wanting to die when I eat/talk/laugh/drink/move! It's a good thing it can't be my best friend, because I may be disloyal on my next purchase if I find something cheaper that meets the same criteria. 

Vacations are a bit tricky because, let's face it, they are expensive. I forsee a lifetime of sharing vacation expenses by my family going to the beach with my parents. We can split wherever we are staying, which would be more affordable than us doing it on our own. Plus, what an awesome time to spend with our parents/kids' grandparents every year! I can't wait for those memories to be made! When Steven and I vacation, we stay in places that some people might turn their nose up at. For example, last summer we stayed at a Mom n Pop type place one block from the beach. It was clean, but old. You know what, we saved SO much money by staying there, and we could still walk to the beach in under 5 minutes. AND we were supporting a married couple, not a huge corporation. When I first saw it, I thought "Oh gosh, what did we do?" and by the end we were talking about coming back there next year! We also pack meals for long road trips. When we went to my sister's wedding in CT this summer, we packed everything we'd eat for the whole way up and snacks for the way back, so the only thing we purchased was lunch and dinner on the way back (since we didn't trust those two meals surviving in a cooler in August for 4 days). It made it much cheaper than buying meals/snacks all the way up and back. We also avoided tolls on our GPS which saved us hours on our travel time AND money!

I buy a lot of things online to save money. I'm a big fan of Amazon. Sometimes I feel guilty for these purchases but I do try to do my part by also purchasing from Etsy, support Catholic talent, local stores, etc. But I'm not perfect and never will claim to be so yeah, I neglect my local bookstore sometimes and order from Amazon when it's $5 cheaper. Well, actually, I wait for books to be given to me as gifts and only buy when the yearly library sale comes around, but you get the point! Also, I search for coupon codes on google before I place ANY online order. It pays off about 70% of the time. It's a really fun challenge to me to find them. I almost never pay shipping for anything, because then I could have gone out and gotten it (unless it's an item, like my wedding shoes, that couldn't be purchased at any local store). We use groupon and living social but try to only use them for things we'd already be doing or for special occasions like anniversaries- otherwise you aren't really saving money.

For clothing, I only buy on sale or clearance, and I like JC Penney because they always give me a coupon to use so it makes stuff sooo cheap. I love getting shirts I can wear to work for like $6-8!  It's easy these days to find that as even the department stores have huge sections of clearance; I just have to go in a good mood or I will get frustrated easily by sifting through racks. I also layer in the winter so I can wear my spring/summer clothes all year long. This is partially due to the fact that I'm weird about shirt sleeves. Long sleeve shirts give me the heebie jeebies (but jackets/cardigans don't... I'm weird). So I wear my short sleeve shirts all year round and just have a couple 3/4 length and full length cardigans/sweaters to mix and match the shirts with, rather than an entire new wardrobe. I also wear alot of my summer work shoes (not sandals) in the winter with a pair of knee highs underneath instead of buying actual winter shoes. Living in NC, I can do this for the most part. I did break down this year and buy one pair of cheap boots for those super cold days. Yes, I was a boot virgin until about 2 months ago.

So on to the last part of today's post.... the budget! I won't divulge every single line item and amount because then you'd know exactly how poor I am how much I make and what my expenses are which seems a bit creepy, no? But for an example, here are some of my expenditures. I give myself $100 for gas. I actually use more than that because I use my car for work, but I get 50 cents a mile, so if I get an extra tank, I know I'm getting paid back. My student loan, car insurance, cell phone, and rent always stay the same so they are sort of moot (though I'll be glad when my car insurance goes back down from a wreck a year and a half ago... it went up by 50% and that hurt the budget!). I give myself $40 for the cat's needs which usually I don't spend that much and can use for another area where I've gone over, which is usually petty cash ($129). I have to buy Buttercup a certain type of dry food because, like her mommy, she is super high maintenance and has tummy issues. I used to feed her Trader Joe's cat food which is SO high quality, yet affordable, but now I have to feed her Science Diet for sensitive stomach. It has less than pleasing ingredients, but it's the only thing I've found that doesn't leave me scrubbing the carpets for days and having to give her medicine every night! Her canned food I only buy with coupons, and I wait until they go on sale PLUS you get gift card for stocking up, which I'd do anyway. Win win!

Petty cash is sometimes used for fun but, more often, used for unseen expenses like Christmas gifts, household items that didn't fit in the budget that month, a prescription or dr copay- those types of things. I give myself a $125 budget for groceries, but haven't been spending that much, which is nice (because Steven also has a separate budget for groceries and we split them). I have $60 allotted for eating out, which I sometimes use all of and sometimes don't. We usually get 4 meals out off of that (sometimes 5), which I think is pretty good since, when I pay, I'm feeding two people! I put *cringe* $430 a month into our wedding fund (which will turn into a house fund after the wedding). That's what makes our budget so tight now, but it's awesome when I think about it because,  before I was strict on a budget, I felt tight on money without having that much go into savings every month. It feels good to feel the same way (that money is a bit tight) but I'm saving that much! That means we can save somewhat less after the wedding and breathe a lot easier if we are still strict on the budget. Steven is also doing $430 but we are thinking of putting a combined $700 in savings a month to give us a little more wiggle room money wise. I give myself $50 for car maintenance which sometimes I use, sometimes not. When I don't, it's usually used up by some other category that went over. I also try to save it when I can so that if I have a $300 repair, the money is already there. So that's not my whole budget, but a glimpse into some of my categories, amounts, and how it's done.

I forgot to mention in the last post that I don't use credit cards. I will sometimes buy something on credit, but only something big that we need and that we've already done the math on and know we can afford to pay off while it's interest free (such as the washer and dryer we bought in October). I won't ever pay interest on anything because then it cancels out any savings you might have had on the item. If we don't have the cash for it, we don't buy it, for the most part. This is why my savings is so important to me and my checking account 'padding'- where some people might just use their credit card in an emergency, I would be using that money. I don't own a credit card (and want to keep it that way) so it's not an option for me. As much as the Duggars get razzed on, one thing I have always admired about them is that they have a 21 person family and they buy NOTHING on credit, nor use credit cards. I know that, if we are smart and have self control, we can do that on a family of say 5 if they can do it for their family!

What are some of your cost saving tips for the areas covered today? Is there anything I'm obviously missing?

Do you check online for any current Promotional Codes before you go out?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Savings Series Part One: History and Food Purchases

Beth Anne from The Catholic Couponer expressed interest in hearing more about my frugal side. Admittedly, I have had a post in the works for a few weeks, but NFP sort of took over for a bit so it got neglected. She gave me the push I needed to work on a series.

Because I'm long winded, I'm going to break the topic into 4 different posts. Part one is why I'm frugal and how that translates to food purchases. Part two will cover things that aren't food related and somewhat of a budget breakdown (I'm a budget nazi but it pays off), followed by part three which is how it affects our lives and Steven's feelings on it since he sort of got thrown in head first when he met me. Part four will be beneficial to me because I'm going to have sort of a brainstorm post about how I plan on being frugal in the future.

So first, my frugality might be different from what is typical. Some people might not even view it as frugal, but I'm living it and it FEELS frugal! I also usually get the results I desire from it, which is having money in the bank for emergencies/necessities, a sense of self control (I control my money now where it used to control me), and the knowledge that there is SO much more to life than having the newest of this or that. Oh, and did I mention it's sort of fun? I view it as a challenge rather than an evil necessary which helps a lot. I won't say there aren't days where we are down because of our financial picture. There are most definitely those days... but I have to remind myself how much worse it could be if we weren't focused on being frugal, and then point out to myself all the amazing things as a result of us living this lifestyle. For example, I never would have been SO into festivals and discovered the awesomeness of free, outdoor fun right in the middle of downtown if I didn't need to find some entertainment that didn't cost $50 for an afternoon like most things (movies, Frankie's Fun Park, etc.) do. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

 I grew up in a family where we sort of got what we wanted. I mean, we weren't living in a mansion or driving BMW's, but we had plenty of toys, very big Christmases and birthdays, went on nice family vacations, and enjoyed new things. It caught up with us eventually and I specifically remember the period in our lives where we had to become (cue scary music) FRUGAL! My dad took on a part time job in addition to his full time job and my mom began working part time (she stayed at home with us until then) when I was in late middle school/ early high school. I remember things tightening up for everyone. I remember being afraid that my parents wouldn't be able to pay the bills. Around the same time, I was working my own part time job, and my dad put a rule in place that I had to save half of everything I made for college. I hated it and was often angry when I would get my paycheck and immediately have to put some in savings, while my friends would blow through theirs. Come one, things are tightening up financially at home AND I can't even spend all MY money!?!?

It was the best thing that ever happened to me. I'm pretty sure I've told my dad once or twice (I should probably do it again) and I know I tell Steven all the time- that time in my life really shaped who I am in relation to money and, in my opinion, for the positive. And my mom was a good example of managing money on the domestic side. I remember every week my whole life (and to this day she still does it) she would get the sale ad and match them up with her coupons. It took her some time, but it was worth it to save money. Some of the things all this influenced are:

  • I call myself poor when I don't have $1,000 in my checking account. To me, that 1k doesn't 'count'. I might as well have $0. That's so I never get to the point where I only have $100 and then I'm REALLY poor. I won't say I've always maintained that (especially during wedding planning!) but that's my goal and it means I'm never truly broke. This last year has really tested it and there are times when I get down near to the $100 or $200 mark, but being uncomfortable until I reach the $1,000 mark means that I have something to work towards instead of just feeling scared and down about how much I do or don't have.
  • I also don't like to have less than $3,000 in my savings. I worked really, really hard to build that up through college part time jobs and my current job. I'm a social worker; I work really hard for very little. And it's not quite there right now because I had to have a $600 car repair that I couldn't afford out of my checking at that time, due to the fact that we're putting a huge chunk of money in a wedding account each month. But again, it's a safety net for me. Life isn't over if I don't have that much in there, but it certainly makes me nervous because I know in the blink of an eye one of us could be jobless and need that money to float us through, or have some huge medical issue, etc. I never would have felt the need for a safety net if I hadn't seen what crunch time looked like in my family when we didn't have money and I never would have known how to save if my dad hadn't made me do it for the 3 years I worked while in high school. I never had that typical college/early career lifestyle where you don't really worry about money; you just sort of spent what you had and waited for more to come in. I was always, sometimes painfully, aware of my financial picture but again, I think it's helped me as an adult tremendously. 
  • I use a coupon almost any time we go out to eat; certainly we have a coupon at any 'real' restaurant. Now this one took some warming up to. I remember being very embarrassed by my dad's use of coupons at restaurants. I'm not sure why it bothered me so much, but of course my view point changed when it was my turn to foot the bill! Now we don't go to a sit down restaurant without a coupon, gift card, or both. Right now, it's simply not in the budget. After the wedding, it will be, but I don't see the point. We can get a week's worth of groceries for $30-40.... so it's hard for me to spend that on just one meal! With our coupons we usually come out spending about $15 which lets me enjoy the treat of being served and not having to make the meal, without the guilt of the money we spent. This means we only go out to eat once a month or every other month, but we do have usually either Chickfila (we can eat for $12 and it's DELICIOUS) or Subway (we eat for about $15) once per week as a treat. We try to never eat out more than once a week, which hasn't been hard since we're used to it but did take some getting used to in the beginning.
So those are the things I learned from my upbringing and have applied to my adult life, but there are also things I had to learn and discover on my own. The hardest thing for me, for a while, was being frugal but recognizing that grocery coupons don't really fit our lifestyle. Now, I'll be the first one in line with toilet paper, kleenex, and paper towel coupons. But really, there aren't many more I can use. Now that we have gone to more of a 'whole foods' or 'real food' lifestyle, coupons aren't helpful because we don't eat 95% of what coupons cover. Canned foods are now being shown to have BPA in them (our bodies register it as estrogen, which is bad enough but worse when you already have hormonal issues) and less nutrition, so for anything we don't buy fresh, we buy frozen. Yes, there are some coupons out there, but more specifically we buy fruits veggies with no sauce, flavoring, etc. We also buy all our frozen fruit/veggies now from Trader Joe's because we can get organic (pesticides are another thing that wreck our endocrine system and I need all the help I can get keeping mine in check) and there are no coupons for TJ's. We don't eat much cereal anymore, though we do sometimes, and no freezer meals whatsoever for similar health reasons. We also don't eat boxed meals as we can control the ingredients when we cook or bake from scratch. So as much as one can save with grocery coupons, they are only helpful if you eat the things commonly bought with them, which we don't. 

So as far as groceries go, my frugality is a bit different. We shop about 95% at Trader Joe's, which we are blessed beyond belief to have. If all we had was Earth Fare, Whole Foods, and Fresh Market (we have all of those here), we wouldn't be able to eat the way we do. We simply can't afford those stores. But Trader Joe's has 95% of the foods we eat and at such affordable prices. Ok, maybe it costs more than buying a similar product at Walmart, but I also believe in shopping by morals, and I know my money spent at TJ's is a more moral purchase than buying something at Walmart. Please don't take this as an "I'm better than you because...." statement, as I don't mean it that way at all. I don't judge someone who shops/eats differently than I do, but these are the things I know to be right for me and my situation. Anyways, we are able to purchase our groceries for 2 people for 19-20 meals per week for about $35 per week. This includes a $25-30 purchase at TJ's and a $5-10 purchase at the Farmer's Market, which is where we get all of our fresh produce. Through the fall, we pretty much only get apples and sweet potatoes. In the spring/summer we will buy less frozen and fruit cups (by the way, fruit cups are in the 5% of things we have to buy at a 'regular' grocery store and do use coupons on), and put that money towards a bigger Farmer's Market purchase. I super love the FM and we've made it a tradition to go to both the FM and TJ's after church each Sunday. It's one of my favorite parts of the week! 

We are lucky to live only about 10 minutes from the state farmer's market which is open 7 days a week, 365 days a year. It's about 5 minutes from church, so it's a great Sunday outing. I'd never seen a farmer's market so big before moving here!

Now there are some times where our grocery budget goes a bit over. Like last week, we stocked up on chicken and beef at TJ's. We don't eat a lot of meat, but like to keep it on hand for a few meals a week. We also were out of honey, which we bought at the FM (yay local!). So last week we probably spent about $60 which made our eyes bulge a bit. But we'll both be gone for a few days for Christmas so we are counting on staying in budget by not having to buy groceries that week. If we did have to buy groceries that week, we'd certainly be buying less because we have some staples at home. That would be a good week to choose to eat some of the things in our freezer (pizza pockets we haven't run out of yet) or make a pasta dish.

As far as cooking from scratch though, it can often be very frugal and that's what I count on since I don't use many coupons. When we made our pizza pockets (basically a calzone) and calculated the cost, I don't remember the exact cost but it came to far under $1 per serving and those things keep me so full until the next meal- no snack needed! When I bake muffins for breakfast, we have one each per day (plus a piece of fruit) and it turns out to cost less than a box of cereal. These are the ways I can keep us eating healthy but shave a little off of typical grocery costs. 

Our farmer's market is SO awesome. This building is really long and lined with vendors on both sides, plus there's another indoor building which is almost as big. The produce always looks so pretty! 

If you keep a tight budget, what do you do to save money? If you aren't a big couponer, what are other ways you  stay on budget? 

Stay tuned for parts 2, 3, and 4 of the Saving Series!