Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Winds of Change are Blowing

So almost 3 weeks ago Chip left for OCS after re-enlisting in the National Guard. After 4 days of torture, he returned home – the 10th person sent home in those 4 days. He wasn’t prepared. He wasn’t prepared physically and didn’t have the procedures down in his head that he should have. Add lack of sleep to that mix and you have a recipe for disaster.

But not all hope is lost. He can go back…and he is going to. I know he is perfectly capable of graduating from OCS, but just didn’t have the time to prepare. For goodness sake, he just got his military ID two weeks before leaving!

So the next round of OCS starts in January, but now Chip is considering a different option. Instead of an accelerated 8-week program, he is considering a 1 year plan that basically follows the 2-weeks a year and one weekend a month plan that the National Guard uses. His drills would just consist of OCS training rather than a traditional drill. He would start January 2012 and finish January 2013. The slower pace would allow for more time to study in between, no extra time away from our family, and postpone any chance of deployment for a year. This is not yet set in stone, but is a big consideration for him right now.

So we had to readjust our financial plan as well. As you know if you’ve been reading here for a while, our plan included using the commissioning bonus that Chip would receive upon graduating to repay a large chunk of our debt. That will still come, but not as soon as we initially hoped. So here are the changes that will take effect immediately:

  • We are pulling the kids out of daycare. They will stay at home with Chip during the day. This will last for Patrick until he starts kindergarten at the end of August. For Abigail, it will last until either January (if Chip does the accelerated OCS again then) or until next Fall when we have considered starting her in the 3K program at the Montessori program that Patrick will be attending. We will further evaluate that as the time draws near.

    Anyway…since we have been paying for Patrick and Abigail to both be in “summer camp” at the daycare this summer, this will saver us $1040.00 a month. Increased will be our food costs at home since they will be eating lunch and snacks at home, but decreased will be our gasoline costs of taking them daily.

  • We have dropped Chip’s private life insurance policy. He has one through the National Guard now that costs $45/month less and guarantees more coverage. Win-win.

  • We have dropped some excess subscription TV channels to the tune of $10/month.

  • We have registered his military status with Verizon, dropping our mobile phone costs $15/month.

  • We will be receiving a few hundred dollars a month now in drill pay from the National Guard. I’m not sure exactly how much yet, as Chip has not yet had a regular drill pay period yet. I will estimate $300.

So these changes will net us about $1410/month that will now be focused at debt repayment. So it won’t be as quick as we had anticipated, but these changes should move it quicker than it was moving before!

What would you do with an extra $1400 a month?

Monday, June 27, 2011

How to Keep Children's Birthday Party Costs Low

We just had a big birthday blowout event for our daughter’s 2nd birthday (I'll do pictures later this week). It was full of food, friends, and fun. And since we’re on a tight budget these days, we wanted to be able to pull it off without the expenses that typically come with a bash. Here are some suggestions that could help you do the same!

Bake the Cake Yourself
I know that not everyone is Betty Crocker, but the directions on the side of a boxed cake mix could not be any easier. Whether you want to do a layer cake, a sheet cake, or cupcakes, the instructions are all right there in front of you. There’s really nothing to it.

And if you want to get “fancy” and make something to go along with a theme, there are SO MANY tutorials and photo blogs on the web that surely you can find something that matches your ability level. Trust me…I’m no expert but over the years I’ve been able to pull off a Baby Einstein caterpillar, a train cupcake cake, a tank, some ninjas, a butterfly and a giant cupcake. I just look for something that is fun but has a skill level of easy. So far my kids have loved every cake they’ve had!

Don’t Serve a Meal
If you are hosting a party, pick times that will not overlap with meal time. For instance, we like to do 2:00 – 4:00 or 3:00 – 5:00. These times allow for all of the little ones to finish naps (we’re still at that age) but not require me to feed actual food to the guests. Cake, ice cream, chips, and snacks will do it. I are not obligated to feed these people!

Pick a free location
You can host it at your house, a public park, or anywhere that doesn’t cost money. We have done 4 at our house and 2 at public parks and all were absolutely free to use. The ones at the park didn’t even require me to do party games, as we had cake and then just let the children loose!

Keep the d├ęcor simple!
If you want to do a theme, that’s fine. But you don’t have to buy all matching partyware. For instance, we did a ninja theme for Patrick’s 5th birthday. The cupcake ninjas were black and white with some red accents. So the plates? They were black “dinner” plates for food and red “dessert” plates for the cake and ice cream. There was no reason to pay top dollar to have ninjas actually ON the plates. For Abigail’s party that we just had this past weekend, we did buy dinner plates with cupcakes on them but the napkins, cups, and dessert plates were all solid colors that matched the colors on the themed plates. Way cheaper than the coordinating pieces that I could have bought.

Accept Help
If you have a good friend that you don’t mind asking, request that their gift to the child be to do something special for the party. Maybe they bake the best brownies or are an awesome photographer. Maybe they can make balloon animals or can make crafty decorations. The child will likely get so many gifts that they won’t “miss” one from this friendly neighbor and you’ll keep your cost low!

Forego the Goody Bags
I know…in this day and age this seems a big outlandish, but why are we thanking children for celebrating our child? It’s not like they need to be bribed to come to a party or anything! Most of the items we get in goody bags are cheap paper and plastic crap that goes into the garbage within a week of the party’s end. If you want to send the child home with something, include a craft as part of the party activities. For instance, at Abigail’s cupcake themed party last weekend, at the end of the party, the kids got to decorate a cupcake all by themselves. Yes it was messy, but boy did they love it! I taped a plastic tablecloth to our garage floor and pulled out every tub of frosting and every type of sprinkle that we had in the house. You should have seen their creations! They had so much fun, as most of them (ages 3-6) aren’t used to that much independence with their snacks.

So there are some tips on keeping children’s birthday parties on the cheap.

What have you done to keep costs low for your festivities?

Photo credit: mzacha

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sometimes You Have to Reboot...

So what do you do when life just doesn’t turn out the way you expected?

I mean, we had a good plan to pay off our debt. By August we had planned that Chip would be through OCS and be an officer in the National Guard and his commissioning bonus would pay off my largest headache of a credit card. In the meantime, the money he would make would knock a large chunk out of our other card. We would be well on our way to being debt free.

But sometimes…you know where the road to good intentions leads…

Chip was not ready for OCS. He was dismissed early and will not get to complete it at this time. He does get to go back if he so chooses. And I’ve let him know that I fully support him and believe him to be capable. The problem this time? He wasn’t prepared. No one else there just cleared MEPS three weeks ago. No one else there just got their (new) military ID two weeks ago. No, the others there have been regularly drilling with a real unit for months…many of them years. They had time to study their manual. Chip has spent the last three weeks putting together paperwork and running around trying to gather all of the uniforms and gear he would need for OCS.

He just wasn’t ready this time.

And so much happened just before he left that tried to keep him from going. He pushed through it all and made it (against seemingly all odds).

This makes me believe that maybe this was not his time to be at OCS. Maybe there is a reason he needs to be at home right now. Maybe that is why so many roadblocks came up in the first place. Maybe God was trying to keep him home. And once he got there, maybe God said something to the effect of, “Holy cow, what will it take to get through to him?!” and made sure he came home.

Maybe not.

But we’ve got to make a new plan now.

We’ve got to re-evaluate our plan.

While Chip has been unemployed over the last few months, all of our monthly overages have been coming out of our accelerated emergency fund that was built out of our tax refund. That money is almost gone now. And I was okay with that because soon we were going to be a dual income family again and our debt was going to be drastically reduced, making it easier to knock out those finals bills.

But now that can’t happen.

So what do you do?

What do you do when you go to get an oil change and end up dropping $400 on other repairs that are needed (and totally legitimate)?

What do you do when he spends $1000 buying items that are necessary to go to OCS and then doesn’t get the chance to get that money back in salary?

You re-plan.

And that’s what we’re doing.

Wish us luck!

Have you ever had to back up and start again things just didn’t go as planned?

Photo credit: allenp

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - Packing Up

Tuesday evening this is what our den looked like.

I know it's only for 2 months, but I'm going to miss him.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

WFMW - Mom...I'm BORED!

Now that summer has arrived, many households that were once full of kids so excited for the end of school will be filled with the sounds of “I’m bored.” There are plenty of toys and activities about that you could use to fill their time that would also empty your pockets, but in keeping with the theme of my blog, I’m going to suggest a few ideas for some money-savings boredom busters!
  1. Library – You see it time and time again on frugal blogs – the library. But seriously…you wouldn’t see it if it didn’t work for so many people! Our library provides books, story time, summer activities like camps and story times with dogs, videos, magazines, and even study material. That’s right…at our library you can borrow for up to 3 weeks a package of “science” or “math” or “spelling” (and others) material for a particular age range. It may not sound fun to the kids, but it will keep them on their toes during the summer and they might discover some fun games!
  2. Bring out the hose – You might waste some water, so this isn’t the most frugal idea, but a great way to keep cool if you don’t have a pool. Better yet – get the kids to wash your car and pay them for it. They get to earn some summer money, you get a (semi-) clean car, they get to play with the hose, and you get an hour or so without hearing “I’m bored!”
  3. Geocaching and Letterboxing – What a great way to spend time together as a family. It only costs you whatever gasoline you need (although most of this will be walking). Most people either have a GPS for their car or on their phones these days, so this would be a great opportunity to explore your local landscape and teach your children about GPS/compass reading. Also you could do the “nature walk” thing while your hunting down your treasures!
  4. Volunteering – This will only cost you your time and energy but the rewards will be priceless. Spend time together as a family working with some local organization that needs your help. You and your children will learn more about giving and serving as well as get to help out others in need. Contact your local Habitat for Humanity, shelters, soup kitchens, churches, or animal shelters.
  5. Cards/Board Games – One of my all time favorites – we are a board game family! I grew up playing various card games (there are dozens of versions of solitaire and you don’t even need a computer to play them!) as well as board games. I was so “deprived” that I played Sorry, Monopoly, Life, etc by myself. I know…sounds pitiful, but there is a lot to be said for a child learning to entertain themselves rather than depending on someone else to do so!
  6. Puzzles – Whether it is the jigsaw variety or the crossword type, puzzles can pass hours, keep your brain working, and sometimes give kids something to do together!
  7. Lemonade Stand – This age-old first business is a great way to keep kids occupied while teaching them some business sense. One great twist here in the deep south is sweet tea stands. Children in our neighborhood sell sweet tea right about the time neighbors are arriving home from work. The tea isn’t always very good, but it is a great way to support the kids and it puts a smile on my face when I am getting home in the afternoon.

So none of these are original, but all pass the time, teach kids something, and/or get them out of your hair (at least for a little while!).

What boredom busters do you have?

If you want to see other people’s great ideas, hop over to We Are THAT Family and check out Works for Me Wednesday!

Photo credit: matchstick