Stay-at-Home Mom: Finances

I didn’t write a SAHM post last week, mostly because I was contemplating whether to keep doing it or not.  Sometimes my fear of making someone mad or hurt holds me back from saying what’s in my heart.  The truth is, it shouldn’t. 

Today I had an interesting conversation with someone that got me thinking about this next post.  Finances is a big one when it comes to stay-at-home moms because it’s what holds a lot of women back.  The conversation I had today was with a mom who longs more than anything to be at home with her kids.  She told me about how she’s poured her heart’s desire out to God over-and-over, but at this point they just can’t make it work. 

It broke my heart to hear that.  I couldn’t imagine being in that position and, in a way, it made me feel terribly guilty.  I felt guilty because I couldn’t tell her that I was in the same predicament.  Once this little man is born, I’ll get to be home with him 24/7. 

Again, I want to emphasize that my purpose in this series is not to condemn or wound.  Who am I to point my finger at a woman, like the one I talked to, who’s doing what she must to make her family work?  The truth is, however, that not everyone is in the same position as this woman.

I feel that I have a very unique perspective living where I do, in a small, rural town.  The first thing I noticed upon moving here was that there was such a huge division of classes.  There were the rich and there were the poor, and there wasn’t much in between.

Good or bad, everybody in town knows our church as the “rich” church.  In truth, it makes sense.  A large majority of the wealthiest people, the business owners and high-paying job holders, go to our church.  Yet, 90% of the moms in our church still work outside of the home.  The real truth is, it’s not finances that keep most of these women in their jobs.  It’s culture, the way they were raised, a high standard of living, not liking being at home, loving their jobs, and more.  Still, many of them would probably place the “blame” on finances.  I don’t mean to say this as condemning of anyone at our church.  We are so, SO blessed to be a part of such a wonderful body of believers!  God is really working there.  Yet, I sometimes wonder what these moms are missing out on.  Honestly, I blame the culture.  First, for placing the pushing the idea that women can’t be fully happy or make a difference in this world if they don’t hold an outside job.  Second, for giving us such a high standard of living that, for many women, their not working just doesn’t seem feasible.  Sadly, this isn’t limited to just women inside our church or even our community.

So how do you go from finances being your excuse to making things work?  Let me start from the beginning:

Planning Ahead

If you want to be a stay-at-home mom, the sooner you start planning for it, the better.  For all the single girls out there, that means now.  You need to be planning, working, and saving towards that goal if that’s what you desire.  Trust me, it isn’t easy to achieve.  The more work you put in now, though, the better your chances will be later. (As a side note, be looking for a guy who would support you…both financially and emotionally.)

For those couples that are heading towards marriage: SAVE!  Again, this issue is all about money, and the larger your savings the better.  Make all your decisions with your ultimate goal in mind, even if you think kids are far down the road. 

To those married couples just starting out, this is a critical time for you.  Here are some tips:

Set goals.  Whether you plan on having kids right away or in a couple of years, you need to start setting financial goals (and, honestly, these goals should affect your timing of when to try to have a baby).  Your main financial goal should be living comfortably off one income.  Set smaller goals to help you achieve this!

Lower your expectations.  A lot of newly married couples make the mistake of thinking their standard of living should be just like their parents.  This simply isn’t realistic.  Remember, your parents spent years getting to where they are!  Additionally, the world portrays a certain standard of living as a “necessity”.  If you want to be a SAHM, you may not be able to buy new clothes all the time, or get your hair highlighted in a salon.  Chiropractors and manicures could be out too and :gasp: you may not even be able to have cable t.v.!  Start lowering your expectations of how you should live right now, and you’ll be better off in the long run.

Live off your husband’s income, if at all possible.  I know this isn’t always feasible for everyone, especially if your husband is in school or working towards a certain career.  However, getting as close to that as possible will really help you in the long run.  Not only will you learn to scrimp and save, and sometimes do without, but you’ll be able to sock away your income for later (or as much of it as you can).

Save for a baby.  In case you didn’t already know this, babies cost money…a lot of it.  Start saving now for the time when your little one comes into this world, even if it’s a just a little each month.  Your pocket book will thank you.

Avoid debt.  In talking to other young moms or moms-to-be, I’ve discovered that debt plays a huge role in their ability to or not to be a stay-at-home mom.  While you probably can’t avoid all debt, the less you have the better.  Think twice before taking out that student loan or buying that nice car.  Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.  Remember, those things become bills later…bills that eat away at your income.

Looking back, I’ve realized that a huge part of Andy’s and my ability to live off his income only is good planning.  Honestly, we have our parents to thank for that.  They not only taught us the value of a SAHM, but they also taught us how to budget and save and plan ahead. 

What if you didn’t plan ahead, or didn’t think that you’d want to be a stay-at-home mom?  Thankfully, there’s hope for you!  Stay tuned for next time when I share about how to become a SAHM if you’re not financially prepared for it.

Making ‘Cent’s’ of It: Eating Whole on a Budget

Eating the healthiest, freshest foods is important to me, as it is to a growing number of Americans.  The only problem is, it’s costly.

Often I’m ashamed to admit what our food budget is each month, not because it’s high, but because I see so many young couples with much lower food budgets.  $25 a week for two people?!  You’re kidding me, right?! 

The fact of the matter is, these people are probably eating fairly healthy.  Fruits and veggies don’t cost too much if you buy them on sale, right?  But what about those of us that are interested in organic foods, or whose husband’s are big “meat” eaters? 

I recently saw someone calculate what they spent on a specific meal that contained eggs.  The calculated that for 3 eggs they spent 33 cents.  I immediately knew they were buying the cheapest eggs at the store, something I used to do.  You couldn’t buy organic egg, free-range eggs for that much.  For what I spend on them, the cost would be more like 86 cents.  Not huge, no, but those things add up. 

If I wanted to buy everything organic, I would be spending a lot.  Not to mention those options are limited in my area.  I typically buy all my groceries at Walmart, and the closest Whole Food’s market is 2 hours away.  Not to mention their prices are really high.  What’s a girl to do?

My answer is to do what you can, but don’t go crazy.  I probably won’t be decreasing my food budget anytime soon.  Simply put, as soon as I learn to save money on one item, I replace that cost with something organic.  Here are my tips for buying whole, organic foods without breaking the bank.

1.) Don’t expect to be able to change everything overnight.  Just as learning to save money takes time, so does finding ways to eat organically within your budget.  Like I said, I don’t buy everything organic…far from it.  But I’m working towards it.  And some of that takes more than finding “deals” at the grocery store.  Yes, I’d love to be able to buy all organic, grass-fed, hormone-free meat.  But I can’t pay $8/lb for it.  My goal in the future?  Buy a share in a cow or, better yet, raise my own cow…something that’s very feasible in my area.  I’m also looking into raising my own chickens, and I’m pressuring my man to bring me home a deer this weekend. 🙂

Other goals I have for the future are to grow and can as much as possible (making organic a possibility and saving money), plan trips to Little Rock better so I can visit the Whole Foods market, and finding ways to make more things from scratch.

2.) Spend Money Based on What’s Most Valuable to YouTo me, buying hormone-free, high quality dairy products and eggs is important to me, so that’s where I spend my money.  Even my husband would tell you how easy it is to tell the difference between organic, free-range eggs and the plain, cheap kind.  You can tell just looking at them!

I also buy produce based on this as well.  My mom gave me a little card listing which produce contains the most pesticides and which don’t, and I always keep this handy.  I’m more likely to spend extra money buying organic celery, because regular celery usually contains so many pesticides.  I don’t, buy organic onions or sweet potatoes, unless they’re on-sale, because they typically contain fewer pesticides.

3.) Vary Your Eating Based on What’s On-Sale.  I love apples.  Like I said, however, apples, however, also are one of the top pesticide-laden produce.  Thus, I don’t eat apples all the time.  On occasion when I want to make an apple pie, I’ll buy the cheap ones, but usually I wait until the organic apples go on-sale and then stock up.  The same goes for anything else I buy.  Many things I just can’t afford to buy all the time, so they become a special treat when they are on sale.  Typically, you can find organic produce on-sale when they’re in-season, so that’s the time to stock up and store what you can.  Other than that, focus on the fruits and vegetables that contain the least amount of pesticides and buy them.  You can always supplement a few foods, despite their being expensive, such as organic spinach.  Again, that goes with what you value.

4.) Take the Time to Search High-and-Low.  Sometimes finding places to buy good food inexpensively just takes time.  Don’t be afraid to ask people or look in unique stores.  For instance, at our local farmer’s market in the summer there’s a vendor that sells local raw honey for a much cheaper price then you’d buy it at a store.  So, I stocked up and bought enough to last me through the winter. 

There’s also an Amish country store in town that sells freshly milled wheat flour, fresh-ground peanut butter, quinoa, raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar, and many other things for very good prices.  If you don’t have resources like this, look online or ask fellow health-food enthusiasts where they buy items.  Search online for coupons on organic foods and produce.  In the different produce seasons, check out the local newspaper to find farms where you can buy produce in bulk.  If you know any older people in the area, ask them where to find wild berries.  Just don’t be afraid to take the time!  It’s an initial investment of time, but it saves so much time and money later!

5.) Learn to Make/Grow Your Own Foods. Milling organic wheat to make bread is still much cheaper than buying pre-made bread that’s filled with junk you don’t need.  Sometimes eating the healthy way just takes a little extra time and effort, instead of extra money.  Personally, I would prefer to spend time rather than money, and often it doesn’t take that much extra effort.

For instance, I cook my own dried beans to replace canned beans.  This way, I can control what beans I’m using, avoid chemicals leached into my food from cans, and save a lot of money.  Dried beans are dirt cheap.  And really, once you get the hang of it, they don’t take too much time.  Soak them, cook them, and you’re done.  Take a Saturday to make a big batch and freeze portions.  It’s great!

If you’re on a budget, don’t give up on eating whole, organic foods.  Let me tell you, you can do it and still be on a budget.  Just don’t obsess about it.  If buying all organic or grass-fed isn’t in your budget, then don’t do it.  Creating stress and stretching the budget just to eat the best you can isn’t worth it.  Do what you can and no more.  Your efforts alone will make a big difference in your family’s health…I promise!

Making ‘Cents’ of It: Your Best Friend

If you want to save money in your budget, then you should meet your new best friend: the slow cooker.  You may think that you don’t have the money for one or the place to store it, but if you somehow missed out on getting a crock pot as a wedding present, then you need to rush out and get one.  Seriously.  This little beauty will save you so much time and money that the upfront investment is more than worth it.

The first reason I love my slow cooker is that it can turn the toughest, cheapest piece of meat into tender mush.  Meat prices are typically depended on the tenderness of the cut.  The more tender the cut, the more expensive it is per pound.  Nobody wants to eat a tough piece of meat, so spending the extra money may seem worth it.  But meat’s expensive.  It adds up quickly.  If you want to save a huge chunk of your grocery budget, buy the cheapest piece of meat that’s on sale, and stick it in your crock pot.  At the end of the day you’ll have enough good meat to use for several meals.  Extra slow cooked meat is great for tacos, sandwiches, and almost anything that calls for cooked meat.  You’ll save a bundle!

Second, my crock pot keeps my eating out costs down.  If you find yourself exhausted at the end of the day, with no energy to cook, then you’re probably tempted to get pizza or eat out pretty often.  But what if you come home and there’s a nice warm meal all ready to eat just sitting in your slow cooker?  When I put the effort in at the beginning of the day to throw something in the crockpot, then I’m always rewarded by a good meal without much cost.  The best part is most crockpot meals can be made quickly, or even ahead. 

The other day I found a nice chuck roast on sale at the grocery store.  I cut up whatever vegetables I had…potatoes, carrots, celery, even squash…whatever I had on hand.  I threw the vegetables in the bottom and then laid the roast right on top of them.  Then I combined beef stock (or water with beef bouillon), thyme, salt and pepper and poured it over the roast.  Then I set the crockpot to low until the beef was warm and tender.  It took about 8 hours for the roast to be done, and when I got home I had a nice delicious meal waiting for me.

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Experiment with ingredients and flavors.  Almost anything can be made in a crock pot. 

Don’t have a slow cooker?  Buy one today…it will be well worth it.

Making ‘Cents’ of It: Nickels and Dimes

You buy a few items at the store.  With tax, the total comes to $9.99.  You only have a ten dollar bill, so you get one penny back.  As you stare at the pitiful little penny in your hand you wonder, Why even give me this measly little thing?

When managing our money and trying to save it, it’s easy to loose sight of the ultimate goal in favor of “big” changes.  What, after all, are a few nickels and dimes and pennies but pocket change?  Yet it is these little pieces that add up to complete the big picture.  A few nickels and dimes, and even a measly penny, do count…if you add them together!

My husband comes home every evening and empties his pockets out onto the dresser.  Usually, there are a few quarters or nickels lying around.  I used to complain about them, but now I relish them.  You see, when my husband leaves change lying around nowadays, I scoop it up and put it into our “change box”.  There, all the misplaced little coins unite.  Sometimes the box gets looted for quarters to pay for car washes, but usually it sits there undisturbed, gradually growing heavier. 

Then comes the end of the month, when I carry every last cent down to the bank, where they cash it in for me.  Then, we use the money for something fun and special…an end of the month treat.  And that treat is usually more than two dollar ice cream cones.  Currently, our box is holding right around $25!  With $25 a month you could have a date night.  Or how about saving it for your next vacation?  Twelve months of $25 makes $300, after all.

Last week I carried a bag of change that my dear husband had been lugging around forever to the bank.  It all fit into a sandwich-sized ziploc bag, but it amounted to over $50! 

So, before you write off all that change you have lying around, consider keeping it in one place and saving it.  After all, it only takes ten little dimes to make a dollar.  And a dollar goes a long way.

What Living in the Boondocks Has Taught Me About Entitlement

I just wanted to say a few things in response to my article last week about entitlement and stay-at-home moms.  I got a few comments about making assumptions and pre-judging.  Let me be clear, I wasn’t intending to condemn anybody or point fingers.  I just wanted to put out some food for thoughts.  Yes, I believe what I write, but you may not agree with me in every area.  That’s okay!  I believe that thinking through and discussing what we believe is an incredibly important part of being firm in our beliefs.

That said, my sister-in-law brought up a good point on Facebook (you can only see her great insight if you’re friends with me on there, unfortunately).  She brought up the point that it seems that materialism and the feeling of entitlement is rampant across the board, not just involving moms.  I feel this too.  In fact, I see it in my own life.  Smartphones, blu-ray players, high speed internet, new clothes…all these things entice me as “necessities”.  Don’t we all feel their pull in some ways? I just wanted to bring up how this plays into our everyday lives…and many moms’ decision of whether to stay-at-home or not.

Maybe it’s the way I was raised.  Both my mom and my mother-in-law worked when their oldest kids were babies.  And both realized how much they were missing and made the big decision to quit work and stay home with their kids.  I was raised that way, and I value the sacrifices that my mom and dad made.  Many of my friends’ moms stayed at home too.

But my view about stay-at-home moms and entitlement comes from much more than that…especially since moving to the boondocks.  I was raised in a western university town of about 60,000.  People there liked to call it a “small town”, but now that I actually live in a small town, I know better.  No town is small if it has three McDonalds. 🙂

Growing up, and eventually going to college there, things were easily accessible.  Going to the movies on Friday night, the mall on Saturday, and Starbucks on Sunday afternoon were all very doable things.  And that’s what everybody did.  In college, I attended an on-campus Christian group.  Every week, they would encourage us “poor college students” to just give a dollar to the offering.  And then we’d all retire to Starbucks, buy $4 lattes, and talk until 3 am while wearing our brand new boots and jeans.  It was just the way things were.  These things were necessities, right?

And then I got married and moved to a tiny little town in rural Arkansas.  At first, it was quite shocking to find that we had to drive a minimum of 45 minutes to a movie theatre, and hour to bowling, and 2 hours to any real shopping.  There was no Starbucks, no Kohls, or nice Italian pizzeria.  Cell phone service, television, and internet were all limited.  And you know what?  I learned to make do!  I learned that I don’t need a Chai latte every week (and neither does my body), that I don’t have to see every new movie that comes out in theatres, and I don’t even have to have high-speed internet in the home.  Living in an area where you don’t have access to everything, you start to appreciate things a lot more.  Getting to drive to Little Rock and go to Olive Garden becomes a very special treat.  And that Chai latte is so refreshing the couple of times I year I get one now (although, surprisingly, not as good as I remember).
And yet, I believe that the the percentage of working moms here where I live is much higher than it was in liberal-saturated Flagstaff.  In fact, I can probably count the number of stay-at-home moms I know here on my fingers and have some left over.  I’ve even heard some of the working mothers claim that the stay-at-home moms are “lazy” because they aren’t working.  And yet, while there are a lot of poor people in my area, many of the working moms I see really don’t have to work.  They live in nice houses, drive nice cars, go on nice vacations, wear nice clothes, and get their hair done once a month.  They spend money on nice manicures, tanning beds, and eating out several times a week.  And all I can think is, “Why are they working?”  Yes, if they quit working they’d probably have to give up a lot of those things, but I think they’d be a lot happier.  They’d probably get more sleep, be less stressed, and have more time for their families.  The fact is that all these things we feel entitled to today won’t make us happy.   

As modern Americans, do we feel entitled to things?  You better believe it.  But maybe our lives would be a whole lot happier if we let go of all these things we feel entitled to, and just started living.  It’s a challenge I want to strive for.

Making ‘Cents’ of It: Recyclebank

There are many great reward opportunities on the internet, such as Swagbucks or Inbox Dollars.  One I’ve found to be very rewarding is Recylebank.  Recylebank is all about learning how to live green and it offers some excellent opportunities for earning rewards.  By viewing videos or playing games, you can quickly earn points and then redeem them for gift cards, coupons, magazine subscriptions, or other items.

So far, I redeemed a few points for a coupon for $2 off on 2 Earthbound farms organic produce and a free one year magazine subscription.  Yesterday I went to Walmart and was pleased to find that the 1 lb bags of Earthbound farms organic carrots are only 88 cents right now.  So I got two bags, used the coupon, and not only got them for free but earned 24 cents!  Yippee!

It’s free and easy to sign up, so check it out here.

Making ‘Cents’ of It: All About Price Matching

Typically I do all of my shopping at our Walmart Supercenter.  The other two grocery stores in town simply do not carry enough, nor are their prices good enough, to justify shopping there much.  However, I still find great deals and sales in their weekly circulars.  I just don’t want to waste the time and gas money to drive all over town to get a few things.
Now, Walmart doesn’t double coupons, but they do do something even better…they price match.  That means that if you find something for a better price at another store, they will match that price for you.  For instance, Wilson’s Town & Country is one of the little groceries we have in town.  Their produce prices are often the best in town.  Yet, instead of driving there to get them, I just take their weekly ad into Walmart and ask them to match Wilson’s prices.
The best part is Walmart will price match almost anything, even if the ad is for a store that’s not in your town.  Usually I just price match my produce, but you can find toiletries and other items on sale at another store and get Walmart to match that price for you. 
So, here’s how a typical grocery trip would work:  I check out Wilson’s weekly ad and see what they have on sale.  Say that have green bell peppers for 59 cents a piece.  That’s a good price, so I make a note of it and bring the ad with me to Walmart.  Walmart’s green bell peppers are 99 cents each, but they will match Wilson’s price, so I just save 40 cents  a pepper.  Pretty good, if I must say so! 
Keep an eye on other store’s sales…you just might find an incredible deal.  The best part is you can get that deal without even entering their store!