Friday, September 30, 2011

Frugal Living Friday: Treat Yourself To A Meal

It is always difficult to stop when you start any kind of habit.  Drink a soda here or there, and all of a sudden, you can't live without it every day.  Pass by the vending machine at work during your breaks, and what was once an occasional candy bar has now become a daily "must have" snack twice a day.  Same goes for eating out.  Grab some fast food or have a nice dinner three times a week and before you know it, it has become a daily occurrence.  So, what do you do?  How do you break a habit that makes you feel good, makes you happy, and makes your family glow with excitement.  The answer, I'm afraid to say, is easier said then done:  go back to when it all started out as a treat.

The other day, my 5-year-old daughter was asking what we were having for dinner.  I told her that we were having pizza.  To that she asked, "In a restaurant?"  I began to explain to her that since we have food at home, I had made the pizza.  I also told her that we only eat at restaurants once in a while.  Just like when the kids have ice cream or cake, we consider eating out a treat.  

If you and your family are used to ordering in or picking up fast food at least every other day, I'm not going to say that it'll be easy as pie to quit.  But then again, no one ever said that getting out of debt will be smooth sailing either.  You'll hear complaints from your family, you'll get sly remarks from friends who are used to eating out with you, and even you will kick yourself in the bum for agreeing to make this lifestyle change, but you know what?  You won't regret it when you wake up one day and realize that you are no longer in a financial hole, and you can once again eat out, reach into your purse or wallet, pay for it in cash, and smile knowing that you've done good!

Chances are, however, that if you stop eating out, start eating at home (again), begin shopping for food that is organic, all natural, locally grown, has no added preservatives or hormones - you may stop eating out all together .  So then if you really think about it, grabbing lunch with your friends or taking your family out to dinner will actually then be a treat!  Now, that is something to look forward to and smile about.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Much Needed & Long Overdue...

...if only it was possible with a 5-year-old, a 3-year-old, and a newborn.

Do you have a Wordless Wednesday post to share? Link up!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Minimalist Monday: Getting Ready For The Holidays

As humans, we have grown accustomed to social media and TV advertisements swaying us to believe that living the good life means spending more, eating more, and having more.  We only have so much time to spend on ourselves, to share with our family and friends, and to divide up among the various activities in our lives (work, church, exercise, volunteer work) that sometimes there isn't any time for rest.  So if you think about it, when you have too much of anything, it'll take much more time to take care of them, clean them, repair them when they break down or need mending.  When you have too much "stuff," they start to consume you. 

With the holidays fast approaching, sales advertisements will be everywhere to motivate us to purchase more things that we probably already have and don't need.  Radio and TV commercials will try to convince us that it's the season to start shopping for loved ones, friends, and co-workers.  We'll be tempted to buy things online, order off catalogs, and put the latest and greatest toys and gadgets on layaway.  And we'll be enticed to get all the doo-dads to make our home look like Martha Stewart decorated it.  But before you get yourself into more debt and buy things that you will probably regret later, look through what you have already.  Scrummage through your holiday boxes and evaluate your finances.

This past weekend, my husband brought down our fall bins from the attic.  We had two containers filled with Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations.  I'm happy (and proud) to say that after going through everything, I was able to mark one of the bins "garage sale!"  I picked out the things that I thought would be worth keeping (at least through the fall season).  Who knows?  I might get rid of more things when I'm ready to pack them back up.

After I put up our fall decorations and had my kids squealing for joy as they played with trick-or-treat baskets from last year, I decided to take on the winter bins.  Convinced that I can get rid of at least a quarter of what we have already, if not more, I asked my husband to bring them down.  I remember that after Christmas last year, I had already gotten rid of quite a bit of things before putting the bins away.  But I am sure that we can still minimize more.  So that's my challenge for the week:  to take on all these bins.

When are you putting up your fall decorations?  Or have you done it already?  Did you get rid of anything that made you think, "We don't really need that?"  Have you found yourself starting to have the holiday shopping itch?  Before you do, let me ask you these questions:  Do you really need to buy more things?  Can your money be spent for something more important, or can you put it into your savings account instead?  Can you spend your time making memories with family and friends rather than shopping?  Before you get taken in by the holiday bug, take a deep breath, look around your home, and be content with what you already have. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Save Our Planet Saturday: How Our Small Actions Can Make a World of Difference

Many people think that it takes a lot of time and energy to live a more green, more eco lifestyle.  But the truth is, it takes more time and energy not to.  A few years ago, I was all about convenience:  eating fast foods, grabbing a napkin or paper towel to clean up a spill, using disposable diapers and wipes on my children, throwing EVERYTHING in the trash, driving around 3-4 times a week for errands - we did whatever made our lives easier.  We knew that deep down, we weren't doing ourselves, let alone our planet, a favor, but we just couldn't break our habits.  We knew that we were being careless with our way of life.  But no one we knew was doing anything to be green, so we didn't see the point in us being pro active either.  Then, as if it happened almost overnight, my husband and I had a revelation:  It doesn't matter if no one else is doing anything to help our planet.  It only matters that we do. 

As mentioned on previous posts, we have made little but significant changes that have become our new habits.  What once seemed like a nuisance to try is now a normal part of our lives.  We strive to pass on to our children the lessons we are learning from the things we do on a daily basis to help minimize our ecological footprints.  All that we are doing now is for them, and we can only hope that they continue to live this same lifestyle and pass it on to their children. 

If you are reading this and don't know where to begin to do your part, just having the desire to help make a change is a good start.  Just knowing that no matter how small or big a change you will make in your life, you are already contributing to your community and to the planet.  If everyone on Earth did one little thing to change how they lived, imagine what kind of difference that would make on our ecological footprint as a whole.  The following is a graph depicting how much of our country's natural resources we have used during a 45-year span in comparison to how much we actually had. 

It's a tunnel effect:  we demand and consume more than the supply we are given.  Sadly, this graph is no different for the rest of the world.  As a planet, we all use up more than we have to begin with.  But imagine what this graph would look like if we all made one small change in our lives:  recycling, composting, purchasing foods locally, giving up bottled water, or shopping with reusable bags.  We don't all have to do everything...just one little thing will help improve the state our world is in.  You'd be amazed at how your contribution will effect our environment so that the generations we leave behind may continue to have cleaner and healthier lives.

As you go about your way this weekend, look around you and see what you feel comfortable changing or improving.  Remember:  act locally, impact globally!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Frugal Living Friday: Getting Out Of Debt and Staying Out

When was the last time you paid for a big ticket item in cash?  When was the last time you went on vacation and not put your airline ticket(s), hotel stay, food, etc. on a credit card?  When was the last time you had to purchase something you needed for your home, your car, your family, or for your self and didn't say, "Well, maybe next month.  It's not in our budget right now?"  Maybe a better question is:  When was the last time you had to pay for gas or groceries and didn't go straight for a credit card in your wallet?  For most of us, these questions are very relatable.  We live paycheck to paycheck, trying to dig ourselves out of a hole we created back in college or not shortly after (or sadly, maybe even before that).  It seems like no matter how close we get to the end of the tunnel, something happens in our lives - be it unexpected medical bills, unforeseen house or car problems, unplanned trips to visit a dying family member.  Something always pull us back, and once again, we find ourselves wondering how we got into so much debt.

In today's economy, millions of Americans find themselves coming home to a credit card bill in the mail or receiving a phone call from a collection agency during dinner time.  It's not unusual to hear financial problems in the workplace lunch room from people who just came back from picking up a value meal from McDonald's or Burger King for the 3rd time in a week.  It's common for someone to be grumbling about their credit card bills while standing in line at Starbucks waiting to order their daily grande caramel frap with an extra shot of caramel.  It is the norm for couples or families to go to Cancun or NYC to get away from their financial misery only to regret it later realizing that they just added more to their burden.

This past week, we just paid off our last credit card bill!  It was a relief to send off the last payment and mark it off our list of "Things To Do" this month.  It feels good to know that we will no longer be receiving a bill for it next month rather a letter saying that it's been paid off.  Sadly, we're not finished paying off our debts.  We still have a loan that we took out a few months ago for an emergency and hospital bills for when my son was born two months ago.  We hope that if we stick with our plan, we'll have these paid off by February 2012, if not sooner.  We have been in debt for as long as we have been married.  7 years!  We can't remember the last time we went on a vacation by ourselves or with our kids.  We have missed weddings, funerals, births and baptisms.  We have been ridiculed and belittled by family because we chose to miss important family gatherings in order to get ourselves out of the financial mess that has consumed our lives.  We eat out once every two weeks, if at all, or on special occasions, and usually we have purchased a deal for that meal from Groupon or Living Social.  We don't go to the movies often, unless it's for one of our kids' birthdays, and only if it's before noon when the price is much less expensive.  We shop for clothes off-season during sale weekends or holidays, usually combined with coupons.  We do almost everything ourselves - home renovations or fix-ups, car maintenance, gardening and landscaping, income taxes, electronic gadgets and home appliances repairs.  If we can do it without calling on an expert, we'll do it.  I forgo manicures and pedicures, while my hubby gives himself his own haircut (he actually just shaves his head).  We have just recently discovered that we are actually a bit capable of giving our kids' haircuts as well.  Although with our first two children, we were fans of Pampers disposable diapers and wipes, we have evolved to using cloth diapers with our newborn.  By next month, we hope to begin using cloth wipes and bid farewell to disposables.  A few months ago, we stopped using paper towels and invested in a large pack of cloth wipes from a wholesale club for about $12.  Talk about the tremendous savings we have accrued from making that one little change.  The list of little things we have done to cut down on costs many people would find crazy and couldn't imagine themselves doing.  Yet, it can be done!  

But first thing's must come to the realization, no matter how painful it may be, that you ARE in debt, that you ARE living beyond your means, that you ARE in denial of being financially irresponsible, that you ARE possibly continuing this downward spiral in order to hide a deeper problem in your life, and that you ARE afraid to admit any of this.

Now, if and when you can do that, come back to this post, scroll all the way to this section and tell yourself:  I CAN admit that I am in debt.  Knowing that, I CAN get out of debt.  I CAN make the necessary changes and sacrifices that need to be done to get out of debt.  I CAN stop running away from my financial problems and face them head on.  I CAN provide for myself (and to those who depend on me) while getting out of debt.  I CAN still have a life while getting out debt, and in the long run, I will live simpler, healthier, and happier.

When you start to make those little changes that turn into bigger ones, and those closest to you call you "crazy" or shake their heads in disbelief or indifference, that's when you know you are doing something right.  When you feel the anxiety and anguish of not being able to do what you want when you want to in order to one day get back to that kind of life(style), you are definitely doing something right.  And when you find yourself surprised by the small, but significant dollar amounts you have saved from fighting the urge to call someone to do something you learned to do yourself, forgoing your guilty pleasures, or simply saying "no" to your friends when asked to go to your weekly happy hours, you are on the right track to living debt-free.  As my favorite financial guru, Dave Ramsey, always says, "Live like no one else (now) so that later you can live like no one else."  Let's get out of debt together and stay out!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Minimalist Monday: An Organized Home + A Clear Mind = A New Life(style)

Let me paint a picture for you:  for awhile now, you have been throwing around the idea of making a fresh start for yourself.  You want to get rid of unwanted and unnecessary things in your house - be it clothes that don't fit you anymore or have been in your closet since you bought them a few years ago and are now no longer in fashion; decorations that never made it out of the bins or boxes in the attic or don't seem to match what the rest of your house has got going on right now; electronic devices or gadgets that are out of date or broken; shoes that are killing your feet and are no longer made for walking, running, dancing, working; toys the kids have outgrown or have received duplicates of; multiple kitchen appliances and cookbooks that are collecting dust and cobwebs; love/hate letters from junior high or high school that still make you wonder, "What the heck was I thinking?;" gardening tools that you're probably never going to use but thought that at the time of purchase was going to motivate you to be active in your yard; books and magazines that line the shelves but have not been cracked open in months or even years; pens that have run out of ink, food and medicine that have expired, jewelries and watches that are no longer your taste, a bike you don't ride anymore and barely did in the first place, and so on and so on.  The list is endless.  Then you tell yourself, "Who has time to do all of this decluttering when you are busy with work, school assignments, soccer games, scout meetings, dance recitals, weddings or baptisms or birthdays?"  Should I keep going?  So, in the midst of family stuff and the normal upkeep of your home, when do you have time to actually declutter it so that you can have a peace of mind?

As I was working on this post, my 5-year-old daughter is seated nearby coloring away, and I hear her talk about how she wants to be a princess when she grows up.  My 3-year-old son is in the living room playing with his train table making "choochoo" sounds.  And my husband is laying on the sofa with our 8-week-old son.  Not too long after, I hear his usual "Mommy, I'm hungry" noises.  Trying to console his little cries, my husband starts pacing around the room.  Unfortunately, my son's whimpering turns into wailing, so I figure anytime is good as any to take a break from blogging to put the food I had prepared earlier into the oven.  As I'm moving around to get myself situated to nurse my son, I tell my husband, "You know, I'm blogging about what people can get rid of in their homes to simplify their lives.  And here I am looking around our house, and we need to do the same thing.  But when can I possibly do that when half the time I'm running around after the kids like a chicken with my head cut off?  But see, if we didn't have all this extra stuff in the first place, I wouldn't be talking about it and telling other people to do the same thing." 

So now I am even more determined to declutter our home.  We have actually been trying to live a minimalist lifestyle since the beginning of the year, and to be honest, I think we have done pretty well.  But in the last few months, we have started to uncover things that are once again just taking up space in our home, namely toys and such that the kids have not played with in awhile due to the new ones they received for their birthdays, arts and crafts supplies that are begging to be opened and used, and clothes that our newborn has quickly outgrown.  With all these things just "hanging" out in our house, I am feeling anxious about getting rid of them or passing them down.  Unfortunately, like I mentioned in my post last week, I'm terrible with time management.  So needless to say, I can't seem to find the time to do all this stuff. 

Does that sound at all familiar to you?  Can you relate to any of this?  I know that if I can just take that first step to decluttering my home, it'll leave me with more time to just relax and enjoy my day with my family.  Taking 15 minutes here and there to get rid of extra "anything" in the living room or kitchen or the kids' rooms means that I won't have to do that ever again.  (Okay, at least not for awhile.)  I know being proactive and actually doing this will help put my mind at ease, which means in the long run makes for a better life to live.  And who wouldn't want that?  Who wouldn't want a daily life filled with nothing but carefree moments in a clutter-free home?  No clutter in our homes means no clutter in our minds.  No junk in our minds means no trash that we don't want in our lives.  And who knows what this new simple life could lead to?!  Perhaps in the long run, this could mean better relationships with our significant others and our children, better work days with colleagues and co-workers, better understanding with our family and friends.  I know I want that.  Perhaps you do, too.

So this week, think it over.  Look at your home and see what you can do to minimize your space.  Then look at your life and see if you could do anything to improve upon how you manage your time.  And when you're done doing that, ask yourself if doing any of this could possibly make an impact in any other areas of your life.  Chances are, doing one little something and finding out that it has made a difference is better than doing nothing at all and expecting your life to change all on its own.  It just takes one step towards the right direction.  Besides, what do you have lose...except maybe stuff you didn't need in the first place.  And who wouldn't want that?!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Introducing The Green House Weekly Posts

I spend a lot of my day reading blogs, magazines, books, emails, etc. And when I do that, the same question always comes up, "How and when do people find the time to write?" Well, it could be that while I'm reading, they're brainstorming and writing their first draft. It could be that while I'm homeschooling and running around after my 3 and 5-year-old's and bonding with my 2-month-old son, they're blogging. It could be that when I'm catching up on whatever sleep I can, they're posting photos, recipes, comments, and whatever else you can put up on the Internet. Or it could be that when I'm just doing absolutely nothing at all but trying to catch my breath, they're replying to emails, redesigning their websites, e-commerc-ing, marketing, and everything else under the sun. Whatever the case may be, I'm obviously not managing my time well.

And with that in mind, I have decided to not do as much reading (and wondering about other people's time) and schedule my own time in for more writing. Seeing as I have a few reviews and giveaways I will be hosting in the coming weeks, I need to manage my time better anyway. So starting next week, I will begin a weekly schedule of posts titled Minimalist Monday, Frugal Living Friday, and Saving The Earth Saturday, in addition to my regularly scheduled Wordless Wednesday.

Minimalist Monday will include suggestions and examples on how you can live more with less. I will show you that with just a little bit of effort here and there, you (and I) can live our own lives and not like the Joneses. I will give you tips on how organizing your time and space will improve yourself and your relationship with others.

Wordless Wednesday will continue to have a photo or collage of photos that paint a thousand little words or just one gigantic exclamation!  It's my fun day in the middle of a busy and always crazy week.

Frugal Living Friday is pretty self explanatory. We all want to live debt-free, or if you already live that way, continue living frugally without envying others who are living beyond their means to get what they want but not necessarily need. It is difficult to take that first step to financial freedom, but believe you me, it will all be worth it in the end.

Save Our Planet Saturday will round up the week with small, but profound actions you can do in your home, your work, and your community that will make the difference between living selfishly with indecorum and living selflessly with grace.

So there you have it.  I hope you will look forward to my posts as much as I look forward to writing them for you.  Have a great rest of the week and an even better weekend!

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

"Don't Mess With Texas," Or Does That Not Mean Anything Anymore?

I have lived in North Texas almost all my life. Before that, my family and I lived briefly in Los Angeles, where it was common for us to see litter on the highways, roads, streets...pretty much everywhere. Back in the late 1980's, Texas started a campaign called "Don't Mess With Texas." It became a national advertisement to help reduce litter on Texas highways. I remember sitting in the back of our car and hearing my parents talk about how clean Texas was in comparison to California. They used to brag to our families from out of state about how beautiful Texas was. Growing up, I thought the same thing. I guess things must have changed since then, because these days, I no longer think that.

The other day, the kids and I were headed to the grocery store on one of the busier highways in Dallas. My kids are big on talking in the car and love to mention everything they see out the windows. Usually I don't pay attention to their conversation, as they are always mentioning the same things - bridge, tunnel, overpass, bulldozer, etc. But this time, they kept talking about the railroad track that was running parallel to the highway, and I couldn't help but look at what they were talking about, knowing that I was going to see the same railroad track that has always been there during previous car rides.  But instead of looking over at the tracks, I was instantly drawn to the many wastes and trash that lined the highway. Plastic grocery bags, paper, clothes, soda cans, water bottles, you name it - they were everywhere. I thought to myself, "Maybe it's just this one section of the highway. Maybe they fell out of the back of someone's truck." But as I continued to drive down another mile, then two, I realized it was a reoccurring theme. Litter was everywhere! I don't know what happened after that. I just remember all of a sudden feeling anger and disgust at how bad the city has become, and how it seems like people would rather litter out of convenience rather than disposing of their garbage correctly or recycling what they can. It seems to be too much of a bother for a lot of people, and it's disheartening to realize that when my children see litter in our neighborhood or on the street, they ask if they can pick them up. On that busy highway that day, if it weren't for the fact that it was 100 degrees outside, and I had two young children and a newborn with me, I most certainly would have gotten out of the car and picked up the trash myself.

I don't know what has happened to this great state and to the motto "Don't Mess With Texas," but people have certainly done just that, and what was once a place that I could brag about to family and friends has become a dumping ground for the careless who themselves will one day wonder what has happened to our green Earth.

Wordless Wednesday: Their Smiles Say It All

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