Monday, October 14, 2013

How I Am Able To Stay At Home (and YOU can too!)

I've wanted to write this blog for quite a while. This is for all you momma's out there who have it in your heart to be a stay at home mom but don't know if you can afford it or where to even start. Or if you are just curious on how we make it off one income, feel free to read on! I feel very strongly about this topic, as it has done great things for our family. I also know that there are moms out there that have no desire to stay at home and those moms who simply cannot. To those women, rock on! But, this blog post is not for you...

When my husband and I first decided that I would stay at home with the kids, it was mostly because it was cheaper for me to stay at home. I was working a part time job paying minimum wage. While I loved that job, it wasn't practical to waste the gas to get to work, then only work a few hours and drive back home, all while paying a babysitter to watch my daughter (she was two years old and I was about to have baby number two!) I was not making enough money to cover my gas each week, let alone pay a sitter. So, as a family, we decided it would be best for me to stay home. After that, things changed very fast in our life. Things were harder, we now had to adjust to having another baby in the house, but everything started falling into place.

Here are a few things we do that saves us money:

  • Quit Smoking and Drinking- These were the very first things we did for ourselves to save money (and our health!) We were tired of being slaves to the tobacco companies; always NEEDING a cigarette drove us both nuts! Any one thing you absolutely cannot live without, is probably taking over your life and you should probably evaluate that thing that is controlling you. Not to mention, we were paying for it! When we stopped smoking, cigarettes were about $5 a pack. We smoked a pack and a half a day. Combined, that is $15 a DAY! That calculates to about  $465 a month! That doesn't include the smoking we did at parties or when we were really stressed out. Plus we were drinking on top of that! If you calculate our weekly bottles ($15 per bottle per week = $60 per month) not including the occasional beers my husband would buy. Add it all together, we were paying over $525 a month for recreational hazards that had a greater control over us than we did of them! That was our house payment! Now, I don't know what your situation is personally, but if these things are stopping you from being the person you want to be and being at home with your children, I would highly suggest getting help to stop using these products. 
  • Cable/ Internet/ Cell Phones- This is a harder area to address for most younger people. For most of us, we grew up with cable, had the internet (when it came out LOL) and have always had cell phones (again when they came out.) So most young people just cannot imagine living without these things. I am here to tell you, you can live with out them or at least get a cheaper plan. We have been without cable for years and honestly, I never miss it! If we have the t.v. on, its usually on P.B.S. kids and I couldn't be happier. No commercials begging for my kids attention! Plus, for the most part, it is educational. At night, we leave the t.v. off and read books! We do have the internet because my husband goes to school online for his degree but we have the lower speed internet and works just fine for our needs. We are also currently shopping around for a new cell phone plan because the one we have makes us feel like slaves to the giant cell phone company. We have found plenty of cheaper options through companies who aren't quite as big.
  • Fast Food and Restaurants- I will admit this one is very difficult for me personally because I HATE to cook! I know, surprising, but I do. Actually, the only enjoyment I get out of it is seeing my husband happy to come home to a warm meal and the quietness of my children joyfully eating a home-cooked meal! But I must say, now that we live out in the country, we are not as tempted to buy quick meals like we were when we lived in town. Things that help this momma out when I really don't want to cook, is to make frozen meals in advance. These are meals that can be thrown in the crockpot and left by itself. See previous blog post here for some ideas and a link for recipes. Also, being able to stay at home has allowed me the time to prepare meals everyday. Don't get me wrong, we still eat out on occasion (which is like heaven to me) but try to eat in most of the time. I can feed this family of five a whole week on what it would cost us one night out to a simple restaurant like Applebees.
  • Brand Name Clothes- For us, we mostly shop bargains in this area. I usually only buy things that are on sale for any of us. We will do about once a year where the kids will get a few new outfits but most of the play clothes the kids get are from garage sales. That way when they play in them, I am never worried about them getting ripped or stained. For myself, I stick with basics. I have a ton of plain white shirts and plain black shirts. I always have a couple of favorite jeans and a hand full of comfy yoga pants. When you are a stay at home mom, there isn't the greatest need to dress to impress! I love and hate this part because on the days I do want to dress up, I only have a few options but this never bothers me enough that I want to go back to work. Spending an endless amount of money on clothes has never appealed me. Do I like to look nice? Yes. Do I need to spend a bunch of money on clothes to make myself feel good? No. This may be harder for others in this area than it is for me. 
  • Mani's/ Pedi's/ Hair Cuts/ Tanning- While I like a good pampering just like the next gal, I truly think regular manicures/ pedicures are simply wasteful. You can accomplish similar results with little effort at home. Buy a few good nail polishes and invest in some good clippers and files. Hair cuts are another thing I try to limit myself on. I have long hair with a natural color to maintain as little maintenance as possible. While I splurge every once and a while with a cute cut and color, I limit it to about once or twice a year. Tanning is probably the biggest waste of money I can imagine for a young mom who is trying to stay at home with her kiddos. Not only is it horrible for your health but it wastes time and gas. Invest in a good bronzing lotion or makeup if you want glowing skin. Or you can rock out the pale look, like I do! Your skin will thank you in about 20 years! This all being said, gift certificates for these services make great presents to the stay at home mommas for the occasional pampering we DO deserve! 
  • In Home Date Nights- Dates are very important for healthy relationships of all types, especially for parents! You don't have to spend a lot of money on dates, though! My husband and I do a lot of stay at home date nights and we usually have a better time because we know we are saving money! We plan a movie night together and load up on the ice cream and popcorn. Or we simply stay up late talking to one another about things going on in our lives. These dates really help us stay connected to one another! We try and come up with new ideas, like picnic's in the living room. It doesn't always turn out how we think it will but just being together is fine with us! We really hate spending a ton of money on a babysitter, and on an expensive dinner, and all the extras that come with going to a movie. *Grandparents are great for helping watch our kids occasionally but we really don't like to depend on them just to save ourselves money. So I don't recommend using them unless they offer to keep from abusing them. Remember, they are a couple and need their own date nights, too!*
  • Plan Your Gas Usage- I try to plan out my in town trips. This saves us a ton of gas! We try to do our shopping all on one day or make the least amount of trips needed. Plan out a route of places that are all in the same area. I also do a ton of online shopping, especially around the holidays. You can usually find some great deals with free shipping!
  • Keep Debt Down- I first want to say, we by no means are debt free, however, we try and keep our debts low. If you don't have a credit card, I advise not to get one! Don't buy anything you don't have money for. If you already have debt, like most of us, I recommend seriously looking into Dave Ramsey's debt snowball plan. You can find it here. Also recommend his book that helps you get on the right track. We are still learning in this area, but have made great strides! 
The last thing I can say about saving money would be, let things go that aren't absolutely necessary. It is easy in our society to think we NEED certain things in our life to be happy. I have to ask myself often if I can live without it. One thing that I really like doing is decorating but we do a lot of homemade things when it comes to decorating our home. This also works great for gifts as well. Get crafty! And if you aren't naturally crafty, ask a friend to help! You would be surprised by all that you can do with what you already have!

I also want to tell you a few positives I have noticed out of our family since staying home.
One of the first things I noticed, was a division of duties in our house. Before, we would fight over who did what in the house. Since we both worked, we both felt like we needed a break and the other should do more work around the house. There was always tension and chaos. Nothing would get done and if it did, the person who completed the task felt like they needed a big ol pat on the back for doing the job. Since staying home, my husband and I agreed that I would do most of the house work while home. Seems like a fair trade to me. He goes to work 12 hours a day, and I keep the house clean (as clean as one can with three kids running around destroying it!) I rarely complain about dirty socks on the floor and dirty dishes in the sink. I simply pick them up and clean it because I consider it my responsibility. This has taken a huge load off of my husband. I no longer bug him to clean (although he is a great help when I really do need help with it.) I also get a huge amount of appreciation when he comes home from work and sees a nice, warm meal on the table waiting for him! No more fighting over who has to cook or who goes to pick up food! Everyone is happy when the bellies are full!

Another huge positive thing for our family is knowing where our children are during the day. We couldn't stand the thought of them being with someone else for the majority of the day. While there is nothing wrong with having trusted family and friends watching your kids, we just decided that the only way to ensure that the right things were being established in our kids, was taking that responsibility upon ourselves. That way, if they are misbehaving, the only people to look at for correction would be ourselves. This has proven to be successful so far. We get a lot of compliments on how well behaved our children are! Toot, toot! (Yes, I am tooting my own horn!)

Since I am at home now, another huge, positive impact on our family has been in our choice to follow Christ. This has allowed me to be active at our church. I am able to be on the women's ministry team and help plan out event's at our church. I have been able to go to bible study every week to really dive into the bible! I have been able to meet other young, christian moms who believe in the same things we believe in. They have made a huge impact on our lives! They are there for us with encouragement and they even have been there when I needed a shoulder to cry on. They have brought us meals in times of need. They even have helped us paint our kitchen to help us sell our old house! Having our church family has enriched our lives beyond anything we could imagine! I have also had the confidence, through them, to homeschool my children! This was a huge choice for us that could only be accomplished by me being able to stay home. I love being my daughter's teacher and provider. I love watching her grow and learn. I love seeing her question our faith and being able to work through those questions together. I love being that person for her!

Although we may not have all the things that we could if I worked, I wouldn't trade it for the happiness and peace our family has now. The things we have now, far surpass the materials things we don't. For some, it takes a lot of sacrificing but I am here to assure you, it is worth it! Cut back on a few things and you might be surprised what you can make happen! 

Seriously though, when I am having a rough day and think that getting a job to earn extra money would be the answer to all my problems, I like to think about the future. When I am 60 years old and my kids have all grown up and are out of the house, will I miss the cable t.v. that I didn't get to watch? Or will I miss all the clothes I never owned? Will I be thinking about that awesome car I could have had, that now is worth nothing? I really don't believe I will. I think I will look back and be glad to say I was able to spend as much time with my kids as I could, while I could. (Hopefully I won't remember all the dirty clothes and dishes though!) Hahaha! 

I pray this post has been an encouragement to those of you who are thinking about becoming a stay at home mom!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Children of the World Choir Tour Part Two

Continued from previous post...

The next day, we headed to the Children's Zoo here in town. We were all very excited because we had not been able to go at all this year! It is also a really fun time to visit the zoo because they decorate it with all kinds of pumpkins and gourds!

Woah! That's a lot of pumpkins!!

It was exciting to see the kids get excited, too! They decided, of course, that they wanted to visit "Africa" first. The kids already knew the lions were my favorite and Jemimah said it was her favorite as well! It turned out to be a perfect day to visit the animals because it was kind of chilly in the morning and was a little overcast, so most of the animals were out and about!

Our very first stop was a the sky safari ride! This ride takes you up in the air on a ski lift up and over the animals through out the exhibit. Sounds really exciting to me, but alas, we have always had a child too little to ride and mommy always gets to stay with the baby. So, my husband took our two girls up on the ride! They looked like they had a blast!

So, we continued on down the African exhibit and found our way in and out of the hyena's den and ventured to the lion's den. We were able to see the lion up close! The kids really got a kick out of that! (Okay, maybe I did too!) Next on our list was the giraffes! I was able to catch this awesome picture of Jemimah right in front of them!

They all were so close to us! I thought one might snatch up my camera!

Next up, was the Indonesian Rain-forest section. The kids were actually able to touch a hedgehog and got to see the really cool snakes and the komodo dragon!

While in the Indonesian area, we were able to see the orangutans! They were out and eating some lunch. They seemed to be very happy and active!

We continued through the forest area and headed out, as our bellies started to rumble! We made it all the way to the Australian exhibit for lunch! The kids all had wonderfully packed lunches for the day and was pretty awesome to see them eat all the different varieties of food that was in there! Some kids liked the whole pea pods, others liked the apples. My kids, of course, ate all of it! Hahah!

We had spent nearly the whole day at the zoo, and were just starting to get tired when we found out we would be taking a ride on the train! Instantly we were all in a better mood! It was also the first train ride for my handsome little boy and he did so well sitting in the seat like a big boy! He got so excited that he didn't want to get off when it was time!

After the train, we all had time for one more group shot and took off for home. My youngest desperately needed a nap and mommy needed a break too! My husband took us home and dropped us off while he took the girls back up to the park for a little more play time! He is such a saint for letting me rest when I need it. Always taking on extra so I don't get too exhausted. I am so thankful for that!

We only were able to rest for a few hours though because the kids had to be back at the church for sound check and dinner before there performance. It was a long night after a long day but finally we were able to see the kids perform! Let me tell you, it was awesome! They were all dressed up in their native costumes and danced and sang their hearts out! It was adorable and heartbreaking at the same time. We were able to see a few videos on the conditions of their homes before they come into the choir.

The videos were the hardest to watch because we were able to get to know these kids all day long and then we were able to see what life was really like for them back home. Most of the kids did not have mothers or fathers and were on their own from an early age. Another video showed us a man and his ministry of saving babies from starvation and death in the mountains of Guatemala. What really made me cry was my oldest leaned over and hugged me saying, "Mommy, this is so sad. This is about babies dying." Then at the end of the video we were given the opportunity to give towards helping save the babies and she said, "Oh I get it. We are supposed to help those babies!" Wow! What a profound thing for a 6 year old to say! Sounds to me like she was really "getting it" and will be a great help in the future for ministries such as this!

Anyway, I think the night was just awesome! Our church had provided food for the night as well, and it included meals from all over the world! A lot of people had joined us for the night, so I would say it was a success!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Children of the World Choir visit Part One

Part One

Hello, again! It is finally my favorite month of the year, October! And we have already had a very busy month! Last week, as some of you may know, we hosted two little girls from the Children of the World Choir. I would like to share a little bit of my experience with all of you who are interested.

It all started at bible study a few weeks back. I got a note from our creative arts director to come see him in his office. If any of you have ever received a note asking you to come to anyone's office, you can probably guess as to how I was feeling. Of course, I was nervous to see what he wanted from me and was hesitant to enter his office. He greeted me with a friendly hello and proceeded to ask me if I knew anything about the upcoming choir visit. Feeling relieved that I was not in any sort of trouble, replied with a sort of, not really kind of answer. He then asked me if my husband and I would be interested in hosting two kids for a few nights in our home while the choir visited our church. A new twinge hit my stomach. Doubt flooded my mind as I thought of taking in two children from somewhere around the world into my home. My husband was at home sleeping at the time, so I was unable to give an answer right at that moment. I did need to give him an answer by that day, though, so I did not have much time to pray about the decision to be made. As I drove home from bible study, I prayed for the right thing to do and almost immediately felt the nudge I needed.

Of course we would take in these kids! How could we not? We were offered two little girls who would be right around the age of our oldest daughter and knew we should jump at the chance to do this. Little did we know just how big of an impact these precious children would have on our hearts.

So, last week was the big week! We were to pick them up Tuesday night and feed them dinner. I had prepared all day for their arrival. I had packed up all three kids to go grocery shopping, made some wise choices on meals for the week, and cleaned the house to get ready for them. Normally when someone comes to visit, I get very anxious and the house is usually chaotic before the event. Knowing this would probably happen, I prayed. I prayed for peace as I prepared my home for such little guests. And I can honestly say, I DID have peace that day! Normally going to the store with three kids and a mountain of groceries is so overwhelming for me I don't dare attempt it without my husband, but this day went rather smooth and I was excited! So were my kids! It was all they could talk about! In fact, they were quite the helpers that day.

I was even more nervous as the time got closer to picking them up because my husband was going to be working up until the time I brought them home. But once again, I packed all three kids up, made sure to grab the stroller and headed out. All the host families gathered in our huge "gym/auditorium" and awaited instruction. There we got to meet one of the directors, Auntie Ashley. She prepared us for what was to come, gave us our schedule for the week, and let us ask questions we had regarding the children. I then found out my girls' names: Jenny (from the Philippines) and Jemimah (from Uganda) and saw their little faces jump up to greet us! We quickly said hello, then were instructed to grab suitcases and head for the doors. They were so efficient. They knew exactly which luggage was theirs (they were all standard black suitcases) and was soon trailing quickly behind me to our van, all with huge grins on their faces. We loaded up the van and headed for home.

My husband had made it home just in time to meet the girls before dinner. They were instructed to call us "Auntie and Uncle" during their visit because they visit so many families during their tour. When I introduced "Uncle Dustin" they thought that was so funny because the director's husband's name had been Dustin as well. (This was something they cracked up over all week.) I had made homemade chicken noodle soup for our dinner because I had no idea what they were used to eating and didn't want to make anything that would be too harsh on their stomachs. Boy, that was a huge hit! Each and everyone of us finished our bowls in record time! I asked them if they had liked it, to which they replied yes. I learned that Jenny's favorite food in the Philippines was chicken and rice and Jemimah stated her favorite food was pizza. I figured I was off to a good start!

After dinner, I let the kids get to know each other a little better and let them loose in the yard to play. They ran to our little red wagon and insisted that everyone took turns going up and down the driveway while they pulled. This held their attention until it was dark outside. It was so awesome to see two little pale, redheads running around giggling and laughing with these girls that only knew just enough English. They all seemed to get along great together and I knew the week would be one to remember.

I hurried the kids inside to get washed up for bed. Each girl took their sweet time in the bathroom washing up and getting ready for bed. I think they enjoyed the little time to themselves while in the bathroom. Once everyone was washed and ready for bed, we laid our queen sized air mattress on the floor next to our daughter's bed. I tucked them all in and was told by Jemimah what order we would pray in before bed. I leaned in, as close as I could, to hear the sweet prayers of these girls but still could not catch it all. I closed in prayer and was surprised with big hugs from them both.....