Shifting priorities

I’ve been struggling with this post in my head, for several weeks now. I’m still not sure I know exactly what I want to say, but I am going to give it a shot anyway…

It began when I stumbled across an article one day, written by another mother. She wrote very openly and honestly about the moment when she realized she couldn’t remember the last time she had been happy. And it felt like I was staring in a mirror, as I read her words. When was the last time I had been truly happy? When was the last time I could relax and live in the moment and enjoy that moment, without worrying about everything else that would come in the many moments to follow?

It felt like I had been going through the motions for so long. Trying to stay on top of it all, trying to get it all done, and moving from one to-do item to the next, to the next… I found myself rarely sitting down and playing with the boys, I was always having to tell them I couldn’t because I needed to do ______. Even when I did make the time, my focus wasn’t there. I would sit through a board game with my thoughts a million miles away, willing the game to go faster so it could just be done and I could get back to work. Even driving in the car I would find myself tuning out my children in favor of the thoughts running through my head. Once upon a time, the car was our ultimate learning and conversation time, but not these days…. I was failing my children. And I was constantly stressed out and oh, so tired.

I have tried for too long now to take on too much. Even when I tell myself I need to slow down, I have never been good at listening to that advice for long. But the truth is I have gotten to a point where it all becomes so overwhelming that I can’t focus to accomplish anything. As in nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. The anxiety takes over, and I shut down. The only thing that keeps going are those crazy, senseless thoughts running through my head: what I need to be doing, what I should be accomplishing, and why I am such a failure because I can’t get it done. It feels like a hamster wheel going on super drive in my brain, while my body is stuck in quick sand, unable to move…

I’m pretty sure I would have kept going in this miserable existence if not for the fact that it finally caught up to me in a way that caught my attention. I won’t go into details here, but it was a big wakeup call that the stress in my life was doing more damage than good. Something needed to change, and fast.

So I asked myself what my priorities truly are in life right now. And the answer is simple, my three beautiful boys. My role right now is to be their mother, their teacher, their caregiver, their foundation, their rock. Nothing else is important at this moment in time. They need me now, all of me. And they deserve all of me now, nothing less. I have been so worried about how we will build a financial future for them, that I was sacrificing the time NOW when we can create a solid foundation for their futures. Who cares if money is tight for a few more years until everyone is in school full time? Who cares if I don’t exactly know what I’m going to do with myself at that time? Why on Earth am I lying awake at night worrying about events that are 18 months away, when I am sabotaging the here and now as a result?

It is time to refocus my energy on what matters most, and let the other stuff go. My job right now is Mom, and it is a job I am truly blessed to hold. I don’t need any others. The other stuff can wait. My boys need me now. And I know there will come a day when they don’t need me anymore, so why squander this time now? I won’t.

A few months ago I felt that I was failing this blog, failing in my aspirations of building a future with writing. To compensate, I set a schedule for myself, a requirement to post weekly, in hopes that it would keep me writing regularly. Well, it backfired. All it did was make me resent my blog. And I would stress out when I couldn’t think of things to write, and become even more distracted as a result. Well, no more. I will write in this blog when I feel like it, and only when I feel like it. If months should pass between posts, then so be it. Again, not my priority RIGHT NOW.

I still have an uphill battle ahead. Bad habits are hard to break. And the stress I created has become a pretty bad habit. It’s going to take some time for me to let the other stuff completely go, mentally, and just focus on being present with my kids, my family. But it is what I want and what they need.

And who knows, by losing some of the stress, I might just find myself enjoying my life again, remembering what it feels like to be truly happy. Because I have it pretty damn good with three beautiful boys who I love so much it hurts, an amazing husband who is my soul mate and best friend, caring family and friends, a solid roof over our heads, and endless possibilities for that future we will build together. That’s what matters.

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When less is more

That crazy time of the year is upon us, holiday shopping! Black Friday is less than a week away, Cyber Monday only a little over a week, not to mention all of the other deals that will come along as businesses fight over our hard-earned dollars, promising the toy or gadget of the year that our loved ones simply cannot live without. Are you ready for it?

I’m not, but I’m getting there. I am doing something very different this year, but I will admit, it is something I probably should have been doing for the last several years. I have made a budget, and I plan to stick to it! In year’s past, I have done my best to shop sales and discounts for gifts for family and friends. Yet I never set a cap for myself, and that is something we always seem to pay for financially come January and February (when the credit card bill comes due). Not to mention the material excess we face from the holiday forward! When you have to actually take a break from gift opening because it is too much and too overwhelming for small children…. you may have gone too far. I admit it, it is a mistake we have made in the past. Not happening this year.

Because why on earth should it? Is that what Christmas and Chanukah are all about? Who gets the most presents? Or is it about family and love and togetherness? And celebrating births and battles won, and all that great historical stuff too?? It is a beautiful time of the year, and I think the boys are old enough now to realize it is about more than lighting candles, Santa coming, and tons of gifts. There is more to these holidays than that. So let’s focus on that for a change, not making sure they have a ton of gifts under the tree.

But don’t get me wrong, I still think there is very much a place for gifts, and treating our loved ones to something special! That is still going to happen, just maybe not in as much full-force. We don’t tend to buy the boys presents unless it is their birthdays or this time of year, so I am still very much going to enjoy that process, and getting to buy gifts for all of our family and close friends. But I won’t go overboard.

This year I set an overall dollar amount, and I set it pretty low. Then I divided that amount by the people on our list. And to be honest, I came up with a VERY LOW number to spend on each person. Granted, there is a little wiggle room in there, which is why I started so low, so that going over by a few dollars won’t totally break the bank. But that low amount is going to force me to get much more creative this year. In addition to shopping sales like crazy, I also have to sit back and think…. what do people really want? What do they really need? Is this gift something useful that will be appreciated? Or is it just something nice that may or may not add to the clutter and junk we all seem to struggle with. Because why would I want to add to that for others, when I have a hard enough time dealing with my own clutter and junk???

So that’s the plan. I have a few people figured out already, and have a few gifts already purchased. But I still have quite a few more to go… I guess I will be spending the next few days scouring Black Friday ads for more inspiration and ideas. By the way, did you know some stores will start their Black Friday on Thanksgiving ONLINE???? Yup, I will be taking advantage of that, from the comfort of my home, in my pajamas and a warm cup of coffee by my side. Knock it out first thing in the morning so I can spend the rest of the holiday being thankful with those I love most in the world. Because that is what I want to focus on most.

And in case I am too busy planning to post again beforehand, I wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you get to enjoy a beautiful day filled with yummy food, love, and laughter with those who mean the most to you!!!

Cutting the cable…

When we first moved into our house, the only reliable Internet service around was Comcast. We were running a business from home, so fast and reliable Internet was a must. And we threw in cable TV too, just because. Our monthly bill was… well, pretty high.

When we started looking at finances ahead of the arrival of Ben and Alex, we still were afraid to change our Internet to anybody else. We were more than happy to get rid of cable TV, except the crazy thing was, it was actually cheaper to keep the most basic of cable channels and get a deal by bundling two services. So we went that route. We lost all the good television channels, but at least our monthly bill had gone down a bit. And let’s face it, it’s not like we had that much time for watching TV anyway.

Well I recently sat down to review our budget, and while I will spare you the details, it was ugly. If you ever wonder whether annual raises really do keep up with inflation, I challenge you to compare spending over the last few years. The numbers will frighten you….

Okay, we needed some dramatic cuts to our spending, and fast. It was time to revisit with good old Comcast. I called and asked them what they could do for me. Then I went searching for alternatives. It turns out Century Link has been busy expanding in our area over the past few years. And while they cannot offer Internet speeds as fast as Comcast, we took a close look at our usage and found we didn’t need the faster speed. So after carefully comparing services and rates, we took the plunge and cut the cord, both figuratively and literally.

Best move ever.

Our upload speeds are a bit slower, but it’s nothing we can’t live with. We no longer have basic cable that can barely pass for cable. Instead, we have a nice little $10 digital antenna sitting on our entertainment center. Since we brought our monthly bill down from roughly $85 to $30, we decided it was worth the $8 a month to subscribe to Netflix, and now we have access to a ton of movies and television shows, which we can watch on the computer or our smartphones. In order to get Netflix on the TV, we bought a Roku streaming stick, which basically hooks the TV up to our Internet connection. After coupons, that was just $40 out of pocket. So if I break down the cost of the antenna and Roku over a one-year time frame, our monthly media costs have dropped to $43, half of what we were paying before.

If you feel like you are paying too much for services that aren’t worth it, I highly recommend you take a much closer look at your options. Do your research, ask your friends what they use, don’t be afraid to shop around. We are now saving ourselves about $500 a year by making this change… almost enough to pay for a year’s worth of diapers… almost.

 

Clear the clutter, make some cash

The New Year arrived, and with it, some pretty lofty goals of mine. I don’t make resolutions because nobody ever keeps them, myself included. But I do like to plan out a few goals for the year ahead. And as of January 1st, I had those goals in mind and was ready and excited to begin.

Then January 2nd came, and with it a letter in the mail from the good old IRS, notifying us of a mistake our tax preparer made several years ago. That mistake was now going to cost us $600, and our wonderful federal government felt it necessary to collect this debt immediately; we had until the end of the month to pay. Our family budget is tight enough as it is, but just coming off of the holidays, we really didn’t have the money to spare. Suddenly I found myself forced to put almost all of my other goals on hold, and come up with a new goal: make $600 extra by the end of January. When you are a stay at home mom of three without a great deal of spare time, that is a lofty challenge. But it needed to happen, so I set my mind to improving our cash flow.

Fortunately, my plan fell in line with one of my other goals for 2014: clearing out some of the clutter in our house. We have a fairly small house that falls desperately short on storage space, and I will freely admit to being a bit of a pack rat. But lately, the never-ending clutter has been driving me crazy. The boys are getting older and their needs are changing, and we are out of room. So for a while now, I’ve been wanting to start clearing things out; old clothes we will never wear again, duplicate housewares we have been holding on to since our “single” days, electronics we have upgraded but never got rid of the older model… so many items that have been doing nothing more than taking up space we don’t have. It was time for them to go.

I had been contemplating a garage sale this Spring or Summer, but let’s face it, a garage sale requires a great deal of time and planning, neither of which I have. Plus, I needed the money immediately, it couldn’t wait until the weather cooperated. So instead I turned to eBay, Craigslist, Facebook resale pages, anywhere I could advertise our former treasures to try and find them a new home. It is tedious work: taking pictures, creating listings, communicating with potential buyers, shipping if necessary or arranging to meet someone locally…. But I am happy to say that this endeavor has been worth the time and effort. As of yesterday, the last day in the month of January, I have made an additional $450 for our family, with half a dozen other sales still pending. No, I didn’t hit my original $600 goal, but I am still pleased that I was able to come up with some extra money to offset a big expenditure we weren’t expecting or planning for. Every little bit helps!

More importantly, I have found some new and successful avenues for resale, and I plan to continue this process, time permitting, until I feel our home is fully purged of the unnecessary items. I have a garage, office and shed that all need serious reorganizing, and there is plenty of junk that needs to go. It will take some time, but if I can earn a little extra money for our family while clearing out all the clutter, then it is a win-win situation.

The resale business can be a little overwhelming at first. If you are like me and you need to clear the clutter but aren’t sure where to start, I hope you will contact me. I am more than happy to share the tips and tricks I have learned along the way.

My adventures in Black Friday shopping

Well, I did it. I shopped Black Friday. In fact I shopped Gray Thursday too, after the kids went to bed. I debated it for weeks, but after doing extensive research, I came across some deals on items I wanted, that needed to be purchased in store. Normally I would rather avoid the craziness and just shop online, but this year it seemed worth it to head out into the chaos.

My primary objective was a virtually free item at Kohls. I have been wanting to give Alan a new electric griddle for months, it just hasn’t been in the budget. We received an amazing griddle as a wedding present, but sadly it wore out a while back. I knew Alan wanted a new one, so that was high on my gift-giving list. I initially found one at JC Penney last month, through a door-buster sale for $19.99. I thought that was a good deal, so I snatched it up. Then I found a better deal, and the first one was returned to the store.

For Black Friday, Kohls offered up a comparable griddle, with even better reviews. Its list price was $39.99, but it was marked down to $19.99. Add to that a $12 mail-in rebate. Add to that a $5 off coupon and a 15% off coupon that could be used in store Thursday or Friday. My final price for Alan’s griddle? Seventy-four cents! I also found two other kitchen appliances we were in need of, on sale at Kohls. With the same coupons and rebates, I was able to get them for $7.50 each. Not too shabby….

So yes, I stood in line in near-freezing temperatures Thursday night. I got to the store about a half hour before it was scheduled to open, the line was already forming. I was probably about the 100th person in line. Over the next half hour, I watched the line grow and grow, wrapping completely around the building and out of sight. Even though it was cold, I was impressed with the mood of my fellow shoppers. We exchanged small talk, everyone eager for sales but polite and in good spirits. It helped to pass the time.

When the doors opened, I quickly but calmly got down to business. I knew if I got stuck waiting in line to check out, I would be there all night. But I had a plan. Earlier in the week, the boys and I visited the store on a reconnaissance mission. I knew exactly where to find exactly what I was looking for. I got in and got out, checked out and was back in my car less than 20 minutes after the store had opened.

I visited a total of six different stores between Thanksgiving night and bedtime Friday, planning my trips around the kids’ sleep and nap schedules so that I wouldn’t have to be away from them for long. I spent a total of approximately $275 on three kitchen appliances, a bicycle for Connor (shhh, it’s a present from Santa!), a helmet, a movie for each of the kids and one for Alan, five pairs of blue jeans, two shirts, two kid pajama sets, two adult pajama bottoms, and a few grocery odds and ends.

The key to my success was careful research and planning. I did not enter any store without knowing exactly what I was looking for, the price I expected to pay, and where to find it. I put lists on my phone and went through them as I shopped, to stay organized. I moved quickly and methodically, so as not to get slowed down by the crowds. Would I shop Black Friday again? Possibly. If I can find as many good deals, if the store openings do not interfere with my family and holiday time (they did not this year, thankfully), and if I have the energy! Because here I am the day after, and I am still exhausted… satisfied, but exhausted.

Couponing is a full-time sport

For a long time, I have prided myself in being a bargain hunter of sorts. I don’t like to pay full price for anything, and I am always on the watch for sales. This little hobby of mine only became that much more essential when we grew to a five-person family while simultaneously shrinking to a one-income family. Our budget is tight, so the more places I can find to cut back and save, the better. It is certainly something that requires planning, like shopping off-season for discounts and sales. For example, a few weeks ago I bought Connor a new bathing suit for next summer. It was on clearance at Old Navy for $3.97, a price I know I won’t find anywhere come April or May. I’m only bummed that I couldn’t find two for that price, in that size, that I liked. Because whenever I can, I buy things for Connor in double to have it ready for Ben and Alex down the road.

While I excel at finding bargains, I can’t say the same for couponing. It is hard, time consuming, frustrating. Half the time I will end up throwing out most of my coupons, simply because I forgot I had them and they expired. But every once in a while, I get the couponing thing figured out, and I score big. And you have to bear with me while I take a moment to brag about one of these most recent scores. It was on diapers, which as you can imagine, eat up a great deal of our monthly budget. I typically buy Target brand diapers because they are the cheapest I have found that still work well. But every once in a while, enough coupons and deals come along to make the name brand ones an even better deal.

The example I am going to share with you is for Huggies diapers. During a recent shopping trip to Target (seriously my favorite store for all things baby), I bought two big boxes of Huggies diapers, one in size 3, one in size 4 (stocking up since we will be there soon). The thing about diapers is that the bigger the size, the more they cost. Each box costs the same amount, but you get fewer diapers the bigger the size is. Here is what I got.

Box of 112 Size 3 diapers at the cost of $22.49. That’s $0.20 per diaper.
Box of 98 Size 4 diapers at the cost of $22.49. That’s $0.23 per diaper.

Now here’s where the fun part (for me at least) comes in. For this particular shopping trip, I had manufacturer’s coupons, store coupons, and several Ibotta offers that could all be combined:
$1.50 manufacturer’s coupon
5% off with Target’s cartwheel program ($1.12)
5% off with my Target RedCard ($1.07)
$10 free Target giftcard for buying two qualifying diaper items
$1.50 offer from Ibotta
$4 in bonus offers from Ibotta. (Please note, these bonuses included other household products that I purchased as well, so I broke everything down per item to calculate this figure.)
Total is savings and discounts for both boxes: $19.19

My new totals:
Box of 112 Size 3 diapers at the cost of $12.90. $0.12 per diaper.
Box of 98 Size 4 diapers at the cost of $12.90. $0.13 per diaper.
I would typically buy these sizes of diapers through the Target brand at $0.14 per diaper and $0.16 per diaper, respectively. So not too bad for name brand! And yes, when you change as many diapers as I do each day, those pennies do add up!

I have one more great savings trick I must pass along, after our trip to Staples today. If you are not a Staples Rewards member, you should be. It doesn’t cost anything, and from time to time, they offer deals where you can combine a coupon and rebate to get an item free. Typically that item is something small, but today I scored a case of 10 reams of printer paper, for free!!!! The case cost $49.99. I had a coupon to take $21.99 off the price at the register. I will then submit an online rebate to get $28 back. The only thing I end up paying is sales tax… so $2.07 for 10 reams of paper, pretty sweet deal!

Honestly, this kind of shopping is not just good on our bank account, it is also fun for me. It’s a bit of a game, to get all the right puzzle pieces in place. If you have any good couponing/ bargain hunting/ money saving tips, please feel free to share them. Also, if you would like to better understand how Ibotta works and how to combine it with coupons, let me know.

And the Survey Says…

It is our goal that I not return to full-time employment until the kids are in school; we do not want to have to put the boys in daycare if we can help it. That being said, I still have to do whatever I can to help us make ends meet in these trying economic times. One of the easiest money-making opportunities I’ve found, particularly something I can do with limited time and energy, is to complete online surveys. I’ve signed up with several market research companies, and while the payouts are nothing astronomical, it does help to put a few extra dollars towards the diaper fund each and every month.

I decided I wanted to share some of the resources I found on my blog, for two reasons. One being that if anyone else, like me, is trying to find easy ways to earn a little extra cash, maybe this will work for you. The second, and I say this in full disclosure, if I can get any of you to sign up through my referral, I will get credit! So yes, I am putting this out there in hopes of it helping my own bottom line, I want to say that up front. If you are still interested, here are a few companies I have found that I like…

Opinion Outpost:
This is a great company because they are very flexible. You can log in and take surveys anytime you want. If you start a survey and end up not qualifying, they give you the option to donate to charity, so if you’re at all philanthropic, it’s a win-win. Once you get enough points, you can redeem them for cash straight to your Paypal account or for gift cards. I always take the Paypal route, because it is secure, and then I can just transfer the money to our bank account. This one doesn’t give me the option to refer new users, so if you’d like to sign up, just log onto http://www.opinionoutpost.com/ and register.

Mindfield Online:
When you sign up for this company, you complete a series of profiles. They will then contact you via email when there is a study you qualify for, they do all the work for you. Most of their surveys start with a very quick questionnaire that you get credited for, then you will get additional payments if they decide to send you follow-up questionnaires. So this could potentially be a high money-maker. If you would like to try Mindfield, please use my referral code http://mindfieldonline.com/referral/b277cc37, I will get credit when you sign up.

Vindale Research:
The vast majority or their studies pay rather well, so this one is particularly inticing. But they have the highest cash-out threshold I’ve seen, at $50. Still, I guess that’s okay if you’re not in too terrible of a hurry to get your funds. Vindale also offers regular contests where they will randomly give away money, never a bad thing. And they have something called reward mail, where literally all you have to do is confirm that you received the email, and they credit 10-cents to your account. Not too shabby for something that takes 1.5 seconds to do (since you’re checking email anyway). A word of caution about this site: they call their surveys “studies”.. those are zero-obligation. You will find they also have “surveys,” where you will be asked to pay something upfront. I’ve never done these, I don’t want to do them, you don’t have to do them.

If you decide to give Vindale a try, please use my referral code when you sign up. It’s http://tryvindale.com/VdfbMY7D. If you sign up and complete at least one survey or study, I get a credit on my account.

Inbox Dollars:
This site has surveys but a great deal more too. You can get paid for searching the Internet, watching videos, reading and confirming emails, completing FREE offers, completing simple tasks, etc. Most of these tasks only pay a few cents at a time, but trust me, it adds up pretty fast. And when you think about it, it only takes a second or two to click on an email, you’re going to search the Internet anyway, etc. I just got my first check from them, and I’m about ready to cash out for my next one, so I am a huge fan. Inbox Dollars will also pay me to refer people, so I would really love to have you sign up through me. My referral code is http://www.inboxdollars.com/?r=ref13484385.



It’s not my intention to offer these companies free advertising (though I realize that is a by-product); I sincerely hope that this post might be able to help someone out, who is in need of a little extra income here and there. And if you do sign up through one of my referrals, I will greatly appreciate it, it truly will help us out. So thank you in advance! (And let me know that you did, so I can thank you in person too!!!)

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