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Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Sweat the Small Stuff

I've been asked now and again what blogs I read, and I have mentioned a few of them, who happen to be military spouses themselves (such as this one and that one, and this one over here); but I have never gotten around to doing a blogroll, which is just a list of other blogs on the side of your own blog that you can, uh, roll.

(Since it seems that most of my friends and many of my family had never heard of a blog before I told them I started one, and a good number of them feel it is a major undertaking to successfully maneuver the commenting technique, yes, I feel compelled to explain these things. Just in case.)(Not dissing anyone here, honest. Just trying to help you along, give you a little boost, like.)

If I didn't spend some of my time reading blogs (and more time simply writing one) perhaps I would devote a little more time to actually maintaining this blog here. But no matter. For now, at least, I wanted to share another blog that, fittingly, was the first one that I ever really went to. My mom, of all people, introduced me to it because she thought it was so funny. The blogger is funny, but so is the idea of how my mother came across her? Because she's not exactly a blog-reading type, whatever that means. (Except for my blog, of course. But that's understandable considering the photos of her grandkids that I regularly post.)

So I was introduced to Notes from the Trenches before I started a blog of my own, and long before I realized there was this Big Blog World that had erupted out there during our time overseas -- this was about nine months ago or so when we were still living in Italy and the internet service at our house, at least, was veeerrrryyyy sssslooooowww and I didn't have the time between changing diapers and washing dishes by hand (oh, the horrors) to wait 20 minutes for a web site to load. Though Lord knows I tried.

The writer of this blog is a mother of seven who practices common sense parenting skills while also homeschooling said children and still managing to be witty on any number of freelance writing projects that no doubt help keep them in heating oil in their old New England home that she has slowly renovated to resemble something out of Pottery Barn. If that weren't enough to keep me coming back for more, the ages of my children are similar to hers. Well, to three of hers, anyway. And she takes great pictures of them (and of her Pottery Barn home) for all the world to see. (She has just a few more readers than I do. Ahem.)

She recently posted about her family's New Year's Resolution to cut out impulse buying, and all purchases that are not really really necessary: specifically, she sites shopping at Target. This is something that has become dearer and dearer to my heart -- eradicating unnecessary holes in the pocket, that is, not necessarily avoiding Target. (Which is a money-draining pit, to be sure, and is best avoided unless walking in only with cash for the specific item you originally walked in for. Period and Amen.)(Maybe I should try that sometime.)

It really is the comments that make a blog so enjoyable to go back to almost as much as the blog itself, and on this blog in particular the commenters are pretty good about asking questions and even handing out ideas that contribute to the topic. This post was no exception, and I found myself reading the comments and nodding my head, "Yea, don't even go into the store! No more stores except the grocery store! Yea! Kids use their allowance even for drinks after the soccer game! Yea! That's the ticket!"

Because just before I'd gotten on to peruse her site to see what I'd missed the last few weeks, John and I had sat down and assessed our accounts to see what the final damage was from Christmas. (This was just before John went back to base to take his "sleep test" hee-hee.) And it would appear that already, on this Second Day of Our January, we have allocated the whole of our money for the entire month. Woo-hoo! We are talented, people!

I already do a pretty good job of staying out of stores -- more to avoid the torture of shopping with preschoolers than anything else, truth be told. (Ix-nay on the family eating out for the same reason.) But on the rare occasion that we do go shopping, "just for a few things", it does feel like such an uncommon occurrence that I inevitably give in and get "just a little something" for the little ones. Little somethings that get added to the extra somethings that were on the clearance aisle and on sale and were "such a good deal!" that I can't even remember what they were now.

Her post just really got me to thinking about stuff and how we Americans are so good at accumulating it, and how much we take it for granted and how much my kids take it for granted. And how I'll even catch myself feeling like we don't have that much stuff, but then I'm reminded that I'm looking at it from a cultural point of view that thinks if your kids are sharing a bed then you must be poor. Never mind that the bed is in a house between solid floors and a solid roof and probably central air throughout. Not to mention that there's a bed to begin with.

I did show John the post -- he's heard me regale him with her funny stories over the months -- but we didn't really have time to discuss it to my satisfaction. After all, he's the one who runs out to "just get some milk" and comes back $20 later with a couple bags worth of stuff ... Ha! it's my blog and I'll pick on him if I want to, but truth be told I do that, too -- you know, the "while I'm here I'm might as well" syndrome. He's just the one usually sent on the "stop by" errands nowadays, what with small children and all this fluffy white stuff covering the snowtire-less Fam Van.

But it really hit home and got me to thinking, and to evaluating -- what is important? Just because it's a good deal, does that mean I need it? (Yes, this goes for the Thrift Store, too *gasp*.) And where can we stop spending money? Because John and I -- years ago -- actually kept a running tally of every single penny for an entire month to try to identify our "Latte Factor", and we came up with ... nothin'.

Now, it really is true that the more you make the more you spend. Otherwise we would have, like, a million dollars stored away somewhere because way back in the day we had no money and that, simply put, meant that we spent no money. But about all we have to show for it now is an excellent credit rating, because we sure seemed to get used to spending the money John has since earned over the years. (I earned some, too, once upon a time. But really, that was eons ago by now.)

The best we could come up with on the spur of the moment (before John had to go take a test on sleeping -- did I mention that?) is that we like to enjoy a beer of an evening. And because we are self-attested beer snobs who will only drink imported beer in a bottle (a good German weizen is best) that can add up a bit differently than, say, your usual colored water in a can. So as much as it hurts (though Grandma would be glad to hear) we are going to try not buying beer for awhile -- in addition to disciplining our "stop by" errands.

And we'll need every dollar we can save to put toward, among other things, our many ambitious home improvement projects. We were reminded today, just for instance, that new windows are a must priority when John discovered frost on the inside of the pane. Hmm.

So don't mind me as I go savor my last beer and ponder other areas of sacrifice, and feel free to throw out any other consumerism-saving ideas you might have off the top of your head, whether they have worked for you or not.


Carmen said...

I just went to Notes for the Trenches. How funny is she! I was laughing outloud immediately! I want to read it all but I would never get anything done! Where do I go to see her remodeling pics or are they just scattered throughout?

Tam said...

OO this was a great post. I enjoyed it! Yes we are going over the budget and we need to be thrifty so I will be checking back here to see if you come up with anything else!!

Anonymous said...

Giving up beer????? You crazy woman, you!!

Jolyn said...

Is she too funny or what?! Yes, the piks of her house are just scattered throughout, as are her comments on whatever current project she's on.
I was hoping to get some ideas from some comments! But, alas.
Yes, we are very, very crazy. That is a temporary sacrifice, however.

Cherilyn said...

My latest attempt to reduce my single largest budget item - the grocery bill! - is to make double batches of whatever I'm making and put half in the freezer. The pace of our lives right now has us doing way too much eating out or grabbing this or that on the way home for supper instead of eating what is in the house. I have been trying this for a whole week now and I'm sure, based on my vast historical research, that it is accomplishing exactly what I intended. Even if it isn't saving money, (which I really do think it will) it is saving my sanity because I can have something in the oven thawing all day and then the oven timer starts it cooking so it's done when I get home on the days I work. My husband feels completely pampered since he isn't having to call me at work and ask, "Did you have anything in mind for supper?" only to hear my standard answer, "Nope, not a thing. Go for it!"

I also have started shopping at Sam's Club more and I really think it is going to help as well. The produce is at least half what I would pay in the grocery store and we eat so much of that it is worth the membership cost. I've also found some really good deals on hormone free chicken breasts, less than $2/pound.

I'm determined to get a handle on this and get serious about getting debt free so if you figure out any great tips, let me know!

Another tip - start a savings account for Christmas and put money in it every pay period. Preferably through a recurring transfer on online banking or direct deposit so it "just happens." When Christmas comes, that's what you have to spend. Period. It's great to know Christmas is paid for and more fun to buy when you know there is money there.