Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Everybody Needs A Second Hand

Tips to Successful Second-Hand Shopping

1) Check with friends before buying sports equipment or costumes for kids. Borrowing a child size golf set for a week long camp is more effective than buying one. After you see if your child likes the sport and wants to stick with it, then fork out the dough.

2) High School and College Students need basic word programs and printers, possibly basic Internet. If they live at home and have access to the main home computer, they do not even need Internet for their personal computer. Check with local computer stores and pawnshops for used computers when the need arises. Younger kids can use even older computers.

3) Work with friends to match up sizes in hand-me-downs. One of our best friends has a son and daughter exactly the same age as our kids. They were an unlikely match up for hand-me-downs until we realized that our younger children couldn't fit in the jeans from our older children. Her oldest wore a regular and mine wore a slim while my youngest couldn't button up his brother’s slims and her youngest had too much room in her brother’s regulars. We started swapping jeans as soon as our oldest kids outgrew them so that our youngest kids could have the right size.

4) If you find a garage sale or a friend with kiddos one size older than your own, hand over your name and number with an offer to buy all hand-me-downs in the future. Lots of people do this to avoid the headache of garage-saling.

5) Know your local boutiques and work ‘em, girl friend. Sell what you don’t need and give the owner your phone number and list of sizes. I guarantee you, she’ll call when she gets a load of clothes in your size. Bonus: you get first pick.

6) When you’re redecorating or remodeling, go online and check the newspaper classifieds from the nearest city suburbs. Upper class people redecorate long before their refrigerator light goes out. Some sell their couches on a yearly basis.

7) We have as much fun putting together costumes on Halloween as we do Trick-Or-Treating Halloween night. We do it as a family and treat it like a scavenger hunt. We may hit two cities and four Goodwills, but we always have a great time. Also, check out the costumes after Halloween. You can buy them for pennies, load them up in a trunk, and give them as Christmas presents. Trust me, kids love dress up.

8) Babies grow out of clothes and equipment faster than you can say, “We’re having another baby!” They move through the development stages and then you are left with large boxes in your garage. Find a friend who just had a baby and borrow through the stages. When her four-month-old no longer needs the arc-de-toys-you-kick-at because he’s ready for the walker-de-toys-makin’-noise then borrow the arc and give it back when your baby is ready for the walker. Chances are her baby will have moved on to crawling and is in need of toys-you-gnaw-on. She’ll have everything back by the time she has baby number two. In the meantime, neither of you will have a garage full of toys your holding onto for the next baby. To pay her back for sharing, make sure you share a few of the items you get at baby-showers, even if you haven’t used them yet.

9) Children need to move through hobbies like salmon need to move upstream. Learn the trade routes your community has in place and stop by the pawnshop. Also check E-bay and classifieds from local cities. You really don’t want to pay four hundred dollars for a flute your child will use one year before dropping out of the school band to join the flag team. If she really shows a passion and devotion, then surprise her with the shiny open-holed Guggenheim with the extra B flat key. By then, she’ll know how to take care of it and won’t dent it pretending she’s already on the flag team.

10) When buying clothes, it is more important to buy clothes that fit and flatter, than buy labels that make you look fatter. Get the book “Trinny and Susannah What You Wear Can Change Your Life” to learn how to pick clothes that look great on you. You can always find great buys second hand that flatter. Use the money you save to buy good underwear. A great foundation looks better and gives you more confidence no matter what you cover over it.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Gifts That Never Stop Taking

Our lives continued to be cluttered for years. We moved into a smaller place to save on rent, but paid for a storage unit in the meantime. We bought a house with as much storage space as we could afford, albeit still way below what the bank said we could afford. We moved into our house with one child and we filled up our basement and attic. By the time our next child came along, we still had to ask, “Where will we put him?”

While our parents pestered us to get a bigger house, we kept working to rearrange. With every holiday, our adoring relatives packed more and more toys around our children. I spent more hours moving boxes from one location to another than I spent time playing with my children and working as a writer. I felt suffocated and depressed. I dreaded Christmas because I knew that I would spend January trying to figure out where I would put all the new presents. February, March, April and May would be spent getting ready for the massive garage sale. If I had spent that many hours working a part time job, I would have made a lot more money than I did at each garage sale.

Five years ago, when Extreme Home Makeover first came out, I sent in a tape. In looking over my audition tape and then watching the show weekly, I realized something poignant. I didn’t want my house razzed to the ground, I just wanted to come home and not have to move boxes from one place to another. The show crew left behind rooms that were open and simple in their elegance. The children’s rooms were geared toward one hobby or another, not every hobby known to mankind.

The night I came to this conclusion, I didn’t get up and bulldoze my basement, but something did change inside of me. I stopped making Christmas lists for one thing. If our moms pry it out of us at the last minute then that is eleven months out of the year they are not buying for us. I recently went so far as to limit the number of gifts to one at Christmas and one at birthdays. No more large presents at Valentines Day and baskets bigger than the Easter Bunny’s. No more carloads at Christmas and UPS boxes that fill up our porch.

I also found books and magazine articles on organization and clutter control. Slowly connections began forming in my brain about how our clutter affected our finances:
  1. We pined for a bigger house instead of using what we had.
  2. We ate out a lot because I spent so much time digging out instead of cleaning up.
  3. My time to make money was profoundly limited not by time spent with the kids but by time spent managing the kids’ stuff.
  4. Worst of all, we missed time together as a family DOING enjoyable activities because we were so busy OWNING things we never got around to DOING.
Diligently, we began to dig out. Hubby at first resisted, unwilling to spend the time getting rid of things, especially gifts or things that we might need. He gave in to my pestering because he feared losing me more than he feared losing his stuff. Later, he realized that the less we owned, the more time I had to spend my weekends with him.

This weekend my husband rearranged a set of shelves under our basement stairs and cleared out our last fortress of outright storage clutter. He looked around afterward, rightfully proud of a job well done and commented on how hard we’ve worked over the last year and a half to turn the basement into a place where living can happen. I had to agree but I think that the job started when we brought that first load from both sets of parents and began to merge not only our lives but also our stuff. After ten years of marriage, we’ve finally become one. I’m extremely proud that we’ve come so far and confident that we'll keep going, getting better.

If you’re interested in living instead of mere ownership management, here are a few of the books that helped me along the way.

Organizing From The Inside Out by Julie MorgensternIt’s All Too Much by Peter Walsh
Also, try out the Fly Lady.com

You can also Google "Clutter Services + Your Area" and find nearby professionals who can help you clear out.

Gifts That Keep On Giving -The Love List

Clutter costs money. The more stuff you have, the bigger the house. The bigger the house, the bigger the house payment, not to mention electric bill, storage facility fees, pest control, allergy medicine, crane operator... Here are a few tips for limiting what comes into your house through the various special occasions. These are also considerate gift ideas if you are shopping for friends or family who are cutting back.

1) When getting married, scan for what you really need at the moment, not what might look good in your future billiard’s room or your retirement condo. Furnish your kitchen and your bathroom sparcely. When you can afford a big house, then you can certainly afford to buy more items after you sign the deed. If you expect a lot of money doled upon you, set up an account with your bank or travel agency so that people can contribute to your college loans or your honeymoon fund or better yet, a down payment on your first house

2) When friends offer to throw a baby shower, ask for a diaper shower or gift certificates for formula. You could also ask people to contribute toward something big you’d like for the baby like a camcorder or nice camera. Babies do not need a room full of toys and certainly your friends can give you hand-me-downs instead of buying new..

3) When you send out birthday party invitations, ask for disposable gifts. Crayons, bathtub paints, sidewalk chalk, movie tickets . . . all these gifts will be used up within a certain amount of time. They won’t have to be sold three months later at a garage sale. My mother-in-law once gave the boys window markers. It was one of the funnest gifts we ever received along these lines. The boys stood at the window to draw for hours and I did not have to store one single piece of paper before or after.

4) Ask for activity gifts. If grandparents want to shower their grandchildren with something, have them shower them with time spent somewhere fun like the Zoo, Children’s Museum, a train trip . . . You know, all those expensive activities they want you to do with them but expect you to pay your family’s own way. By the way, grandparents, I can tell you that my kids can tell you everything they’ve DONE with their grandparents, but they can’t walk into their room, pick up a toy and tell you who gave it to them. If you want to buy love, buy a ticket to Six Flags.

5) When Christmas rolls around and people want to know what you, the adult, want for Christmas, ask for something you really need or want to do. Over the last several years, I’ve asked my parents for and received Lowe’s Gift Certificates. With my Christmas money, I’ve replaced our toilet, planted spring flowerbeds, painted my room, put a fence in back of the house, stained said fence, replaced our outside water spigot, and put insulation on the water pipes in my basement. Many people don’t like to buy gifts to fulfill a need, but I can tell you that fulfilling a need creates a feeling of relief. I end up more grateful. I’ve also asked for clothes and movie tickets because I love date night with my husband. My mother-in-law and cousins do a great job picking out clothes for me. So far, no movie tickets, but I’ll keep asking.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Gifts That Never Stop Taking

When we registered for our wedding, Hubby and I used the scanner like a magic finger. . .

I want that, that, and that.

That would be nice to have.

I’ve always wanted one of these.

POOF! Be careful what you wish for.

We never really thought about what we would do with all the presents if we actually got everything we asked for. When we arrived home from our honeymoon, we opened a whole room full of presents from everyone in our lives that loved us enough to buy off our outlandish registry. We opened china place setting and iced tea makers, crystal saltshakers and Dremmel tools. Of course we didn’t actually have any place to put any of it. For the next several months we created cubbyholes to stow away wedding gifts that we rarely used.

At the same time that we opened every small appliance known to mankind, we didn’t open flatware, plates, and glasses. The same couple that went snap happy with the scanner (that would be us) had to wait for more holidays before our parents were able to fill in those gaps. The fault certainly didn’t lie with all our relatives who dutifully bought off our registry. The fault lay with us and we slept in that bed. You know the bed. All our fine china was stowed under it.

In addition to the wedding presents, we also cleared out all our stuff from our parents’ homes: all the stuff we saved from childhood, the dining room set Boyd’s parents no longer used, all our dressers and an extra queen sized bed in case we had company. Our first apartment was a nice two bedroom, two bath. We had a kitchen bigger than our present house. Somehow, within a matter of months, we only had walkways. Our living room furniture was crammed into the dining area and our big dining room set filled the living room. So did the upright piano neither of us could play and the eight Ramada chairs I bought when the hotel remodeled. You couldn’t actually walk around the table to sit down. Company climbed from one chair to the next to get to their seats. And I can’t forget to mention our bikes. With nowhere left to hang them, we hung them over the piano and the dining room set. “Watch your head as you climb to your seat . . .”

We were not paying for a place to live at that time. We were paying for a place to store our stuff for our future. We just happened to sleep in our storage facility. In September, after marrying in July, we found out (surprise!) we were going to have a baby. Our first thought was not one of joy. Our first thought was, “Where are we going to put it?”

In the coming months, the same relatives who loved us enough to buy from our wedding registry also loved us enough to shower us with baby gifts. We stacked them up on top of everything and hung them from our bikes on the ceiling. We moved some of our dressers until we could squeeze a crib at the foot of our bed. I spent the same amount of hours moving our belongings from one place to another that most people spend working a second job. I didn’t feel like a “messy” person, because everything was orderly and clean, but I did feel exhausted and depressed. I felt useless, like my entire life was being wasted moving boxes from one place to another the way a child moves the puzzle pieces from one square to the next until suddenly a smiley face takes shape. I never saw the smiley face.

Looking back, the tragedy was not that we were in debt and got pregnant sooner than we planned. The tragedy was that we were holding so tight to our future that we forgot to enjoy what life brought us: a beautiful child, full of smiles and kisses, bright eyes and big hugs. We didn’t even have time to play with him because we were so busy moving boxes from one place to another.

To be continued . . .

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Baggy Budget 101

I kid you not, our first big fight came a week after we got married. I decided to buy tampons bulk at Sam’s Club. Hubby had no idea tampons cost so much money. A few days later, Hubby pulled into a gas station just to buy a soda and a candy bar. How dare he tell me I couldn’t save money on bulk tampons and then waste money on soda at a gas station? How dare he!! Did he not care about me at all?!?!?!?

The truth? We both had basic needs, but had no idea about the other's basic needs and the costs associated with those needs. I never mentioned the cost of tampons while we dated. I never considered that the cost of tampons would be paramount to happily ever after.

We had to get our needs on paper for the other to see. When we saw them on paper and the associated cost, they no longer threw us for a loop. I could see his concern that three months worth of tampons might mean he couldn’t get the oil changed the next day, (but once the oil was changed, hey, why not buy soda and candy?) Once basic needs landed on both radar screens, fights ended before they began. This system of putting needs on paper and knowing where and when your money needs to be spent is called a budget. People have apparently been using it for millennia. We just happened to catch on right after we got married.

We also both came into the marriage with a set of wants and dreams. I love expensive ice cream. He loves good running shoes. We both love adventure travel. Our wants needed to be put on paper, too- all of them. We couldn’t afford them, but they still needed to be on paper. Once we could see them all, we could prioritize our wants and decide what to save for and what to sacrifice. We decided to make deep cuts in our spending, but we also decided to save for the ski vacation we took two years later. As we sacrificed individually, personal pity parties ended when we looked at the other's wants and what they were willing to sacrifice. Yes, I may be eating bargain vanilla, but he’s wearing no-name running shoes. How do you say, “I love you?” Thank each other for sacrifices made.

After we had all of our basic necessities and frivolities on paper, we divided our money into purchase categories. Money was alloted to each category. For instance, tampons came from the "Toiletries" category. Zip Lock baggies came from the "Household Maintenance" category since they were about to help us maintain our new household.

In order for us to wrap our minds around spending money in certain categories and tracking our spending, we had to make our budget into a baggy budget. At payday, we paid tithe, rent, electric, and debts with big checks. Then we divided our remaining money into Zip-Lock baggies, literally. We had so much money in each bag for food, eating out, clothing, toiletries, etc. The money went out and the receipt for the purchase went right back in. We had to make the money in each bag cover our needs in that category until the next payday. If I wanted tampons bulk, I could buy tampons bulk, but I’d have to wait and buy make-up the next month. Hubby knew he had money in the bag for oil changes and brake fluid. If he pulled into a gas station for soda and a candy bar, I knew that the money came from our “Eating Out” baggy and not my “Toiletries” baggy. Eventually, he stopped pulling into the gas station for soda because he wanted to save the "Eating Out" money for someplace more enjoyable.

After a year of the Baggy Budget, we learned to trust each other and spend based on the categories. Now we no longer need the baggies because we have spending habits in place. We’ve gone back to a check book and keep it balanced. All of our reciepts are still tracked on paper, however, down to the last penny.

FOr more info on budgets, check out our get out of debt Guru, the wise one, Dave Ramsey:


Also check out:

How To Manage Your Money By Larry Burkett

The Catholic Answer's Guide To Family Finances by Phillip Lenahan

The Budget Kit by Judy Lawrence

The Personal Budgeting Kit by Silvia S. Lim

The Everything Budgeting Book By Tere Drenth