Friday, April 29, 2011

Working on the Weekend is a No-No

Everyone knows that a mom's job never ends, you're working 24/7  365 days a year. What's a girl to do when we never get a day off? I've now declared myself your boss and I'm instructing you to take the weekend off, every weekend in fact, so go let your family know. Did they panic? They'll get over it. Don't take me too literally, your kids still need to eat and your husband will still need help finding his socks/wallet/phone/keys/etc. but we can make a few changes to get the most relaxation and enjoyment out of our weekend.

Friday and Monday are my two big cleaning days. Friday I try to get the house as clean as possible before we destroy it on Saturday, and Monday is spent figuring out how we ended up with golf balls in our bath tub and keys in the bottom of the cereal box (literally). I do absolutely no cleaning, except for some dishes, on the weekend unless we are having guests over. Let it go, no one cares I promise you--least of all your other family members who would probably not even notice living in squalor everyday.  I also do very little cooking on the weekends, we prepare simple meals, order take out (Chinese lunch specials are usually a great price and are enough for 2 meals) or my husband will grill up some food for us. If you love to cook (or if your husband hates cooking), this could be a completely different decision for you. Maybe you hate yard work/gardening/house projects (I love them) and so you cut back there and work on those during the week while still cooking on the weekend. In that case, send the kids with their dad and put on some of your own music so it's a little more enjoyable than usual. Lastly, try to schedule a fun activity every weekend. This doesn't mean you have to make a big trip or spend a lot of money, just pick something that your family can enjoy together and you can look forward to all week.

Now get cleaning/cooking/planning today so you can sit on your butt tomorrow and enjoy the weekend as it was meant to be! You officially have my permission, and if your husband doesn't believe you don't worry he will forget all about it in a few minutes when he needs your help finding the remote.

PS-I should note that I have a wonderfully supportive husband who rarely asks where something is (he just waits for it to turn up at some point) and not only does he love cooking, he's much better at it than I am. It's usually the moms who feel they need to keep going on the weekends or it will all fall apart. Please give yourself permission to put your feet up and ignore the laundry-it's not going anywhere, it never does...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Mommy Wars, No One Wins

Parenting is full of personal choices. We set out to do the very best we can, and though we fall short sometimes, we are all doing what we believe is in the best interest of our children. If our kids were born with instruction manuals it would make things much easier, but that is not the case. All children and families are different, and so it is absurd to think the same thing will work for everyone.

Some women cannot or choose not to breastfeed, and there is nothing wrong with that. Some moms earn a paycheck, and some don't. Some moms have the patience of a saint, and some don't (me!). Some moms are tolerant of running, screaming craziness in their house and some need peace and quiet with complete order, and both are fine choices. Some moms clean once a day, some once a month. Some moms require their children to call adults ma'am and sir, some give chores, some serve only organic food, some co-sleep, some cry-it-out, some spank, some use time-outs, some have only one child, some have eight children, some have adopted children, some have special needs children, some send their kids to public school, some to preschool, some homeschool and some attend public school. The choices are endless.

I don't know where your identity lies, but I can tell you it's probably not in your role as a mother. My identity is based on being a child of God and having a relationship with Jesus. That is who I am and it should influence all the other areas and roles in my life, including how I view another mother's choices-no matter how different they are from my own.

We have to stop running the mommy race and realize that we're in this together instead of in competition. We need to support each other and respect the decisions we have all made. I have never met a mom who wanted anything less than the best for her kids and I'm lucky to have learned every bit of valuable knowledge I have from my mommy friends. You are all doing a fabulous job! Give yourself and everyone else a break, after all there isn't a trophy for the winner (or chocolate).

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Less Is More

A few months ago, I attacked our house with the vigor of a pregnant woman nesting (although I am not pregnant!) and started purging out our extra "stuff". Garbage bags full of clothes, books, baby items and kitchen gadgets I never used all got the marching orders to leave. When I was finally finished I looked around and felt great...for about five seconds. Then I realized how much MORE I still need to get rid of.

In most houses the 20/80 rule applies, you use 20% of your stuff 80% of the time. I always realize this when we go on vacation and are able live with a suitcase full of items. Do I really want that item I still use once a year, and feel that I "need", taking up space in our house and lives? Not really. We have plenty of garage storage for the holiday items that can be packed up and brought out at the right times, but we're low on inside storage space-so I've decided unless I use it at least once a month, it's out.

My plan is to first give away the items I know friends can use, then sell what I can on craigslist and hold a garage sale. Whatever remains will then be donated  to our church, the pregnancy crisis center or a family in need. In the past I have dropped car loads off at Goodwill, and while I do think it's a good organization, I don't like that they charge people $5 for a shirt. A ridiculous amount for someone who is in need, I would much rather give it away.

So I am issuing a "Take the Weight Off" challenge for all of my readers, not only will you feel fantastic after emptying your house and simplifying your life, you will likely help out many people with things you don't even "need".

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Dollar Store Deals

Dollar Stores can be hit or miss, sometimes it's all junk and sometimes it's full of treasures. Here are some recent good buys I've found:

*Wrapping paper
*Gift bags
*Tissue paper
*Large planting pots
*Rechargable solar garden lights
*Cutting board mats
*Greeting cards 2/$1
*Balloons (the mylar ones that are safer for children)
*Rubber hair bands (packs of 500, the kind kids can't pull out)
*Sargento cheese

For the most part the kids toys are cheaply made and won't last over time, but are a good option when you just need a few distractions like on a road trip. My son loves puzzles, but my daughter is always stealing (and chewing up) his pieces, so I buy a bunch since we go through about a puzzle a week. Our dollar store has a good-sized cold food section, almost all of it is name brand food. Stock up and freeze some for later!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Negotiate With Your Doctor

After hearing that I don't negotiate at yard sales, you're likely surprised already. I'm no expert on health care, but here are a few things I've learned over the past few years.

*Most bills are negotiable, especially if you are seeing a specialist or dealing with a hospital (for example, surgery or the ER). Just today I took my daughter to yet another ENT appointment, where at the end they asked if I would like to pay my balance. Thinking about our tax refund, I asked if we could pay it at our next appointment. She said sure, but if I would like to pay today she would take 20% off. No brainer. If you get a bill in the mail call and ask if you can get a discount for paying it faster, we got a pretty large discount by paying for my daughter's surgery right away instead of waiting until the bill was due.

*Save money on prescription medication by asking for generic substitutes when possible, and also asking for available discounts. You won't find too many discounts if you have a co-pay or if you are going to a chain pharmacy. When I was getting my daughter's acid reflux medication at a local pharmacy and it wasn't covered by our insurance, the $120/mo bill was not a fun one, all I did was ask if we had any other options and the woman said "sure how does $15/mo sound?". Again, no brainer.

*Shop drug stores for over the counter medication, and take advantage of sales combined with coupons and rebates. Honestly, I have an entire drug store of medication in our bathroom upstairs and have gotten it all for free. The best part is having the medicine on hand when you get sick, that's the last time you feel like running out to the store.

*If you need to see a doctor on the weekend and your physician isn't open, try a CVS clinic. We have been several times and were happy with the service. It was a $60 flat fee for us, you can get a prescription right there and the wait time is very short. This also works great for sports physicals and flu shots, but they do not see children under 18 months I believe.

*Transfer a prescription medication. Both Rite Aid and CVS offer $25 gift certificates if you transfer a prescription medication to their pharmacy (you can get up to 2, so $50 total). All you have to do is call and tell them where the prescription is currently located and they will take care of the rest. Look for the coupons in the Sunday ads for each store.

*Everyone knows this, but in case you don't Publix has free antibiotics. The pharmacy sometimes has a long wait, but if you have several sickies in your household, this one can add up quickly.

Have a tip to share? Please comment below!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

I Don't Want to Give Until it Hurts, I Want to Give Until it Doesn't Hurt Anymore

Toddlers are selfish, they want it all, they want it now and they don't want to share. Teaching generosity is a wonderful thing to do for any family, but especially when you have the "extra" time as a stay at home mom. I wish I had started sooner, but it just never occurred to me that they would understand that concept at a young age. For everyday situations we expect our kids to share ALL of their toys with each other and with friends, the only item they don't have to share is their lovey but they are usually pretty good about comforting each other with them anyway. We also try to give one child the food/toys/items and tell them one is for them and the other is for their sibling. Even my 18 month old will carry two bowls of fruit and give one to her brother, which makes her feel very proud of herself and helpful. I'm a type A who likes to get things done, but I know that putting in the time now will pay off later, if only I could remember it more often!

My sister-in-law does a great job of consistently talking to her children about other peoples' needs, feelings and perspectives. Both of her children are very considerate of others and have positive attitudes, as well as are productive contributors even at their young ages of three and five. I like to think about them when I'm wanting to hurry up and take the short cut.

Our kids have an insane amount of toys and books, maybe not compared to some children but definitely relative to most kids in the world. There is no way they can play with them all everyday or even every week, and instead of storing the toys in cycles and bringing in some at a time, we have decided we'd like our kids to learn to share them by giving them away. Now each week when we go to church we pick out a toy or book to bring and donate to the nursery for all the kids to enjoy. When we first brought this up with our son he was distraught and crying, which actually made me realize even more that we needed to do this. When the time came to pick a toy, I suggested one that he's a little old for now, but was a favorite when he was younger. I was nervous we'd have a complete meltdown at church, but he surprised us by carrying it inside and placing it down in the nursery where it was happily explored by the other children immediately. No tears, no fuss and on the way home we talked about how it feels good to give to others. So now our children are "tithing" too.

No matter what we say, our children will do what we do so it's important to model the behaviors we want to see in them (I should post that little statement all over my house-maybe it would prevent me from yelling). I do recommend selling items on craigslist or eBay when you are finished with them, but it is also great to give your stuff away. I know I would much rather give something to a friend than make a few dollars, and we have been the recipients of many friends' generosity--it's a wonderful feeling to give as well as receive! I think the important part is sharing with our children what we are doing, bring them along when you drop off a carload at the thrift store, let them put the money in the offering basket at church or talk about the organizations you are donating to and how that money will change peoples' lives.

You might be thinking you're just not in the position to give away much right now, it will happen later, but there are plenty of ways to get creative about giving. When we were going through a layoff and unemployment we donated our time each week to deliver lunches for a meals on wheels program in Atlanta with our son. We also organized a yard sale where all of the money was donated to Food For The Hungry to send vaccines and medical supplies overseas to third world countries. Since we didn't have much to sell, we got the word out to friends and neighbors and were given more than we could even fit! My husband and I talk about how even if we won the lottery we could never spend a lot of money on cars, clothes, etc. and I would still probably be clipping coupons! You can be thrifty and generous at the same time, in fact the more you save the more you'll have to give away!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Yard Sales

When it comes to yard sales, it seems like people either love them or can't stand them. I definitely fall into the love category, and have found some great stuff this way. Saturday was my son's birthday and of course it was celebrated with a small mountain of presents, but wouldn't you know his favorite toy was the one I found for 25 cents at a yard sale on our way home from the zoo! My "loot" from Saturday included 4 toys/board games, 2 adorable girls aprons, a cute lamp for my daughter's room, 7-8 books and a lined curtain that completely blocks the sun-all for $3, what a way to start the season!

There are some great tips and articles out there for shopping yard sales if you've never done it, here are the top 10 things I've learned from experience and do (or will do this year):

1. GO EARLY! The really great items like tools and furniture are usually gone in the first hour. But don't show up before the sale is scheduled to start, nothing is more annoying as an owner than people who show up early while you're still setting up.

2. Clean out your car. You never know when you'll find that beautiful vintage dresser or road bike, so make sure you have the space to pick it up. Bring rope in case it's too big-or you will be like me the time I found a bike trailer and ended up strapping it to the roof of my car with jumper cables...true story.

3. Don't haggle with good prices. Actually I don't negotiate at all. There have been a few times I've really wanted something and thought they were asking way too much so I made an offer, but as a general rule I don't negotiate. It seems people either really over-value their stuff and I won't even bother, or they have great prices and it would be distasteful to haggle. Also, if I'm paying less than I think the items are worth, than I'm happy paying more for something I think would normally be "overpriced" since it all evens out.

4. Take a list. You never know what you'll find at a yard sale and if something is a great deal and you'll use it you should get it even if it isn't on your list. But having a list will help you know what to look for and keep you moving through the sales and getting in-and-out quickly.

5. Recruit others. If you have a big neighborhood sale where there will be more houses than you can reasonably hit alone (ahem, Lake Carolina this Saturday anyone?) then enlist the help of 3-4 other people. Each of you can put together a list of the top five items you are looking for and an estimate of what you'd like to spend (include a description if you are looking for a certain brand or model). Share the lists and have each person start in a different section of the neighborhood, then call each other if you find a possible winner. Meet up at the end and exchange items and $. This will save time as well as net you some goods that would have been taken in the early hours.

6. Don't feel guilty. When I first started yard saling, and sometimes I still do this, I would often come upon a sale that was at first sight either full of junk or just items that were not applicable to me. I wouldn't want to hurt the owner's feelings so I would linger and pretend to be interested or buy something I really didn't want. If it's hard for you to glance and walk away because you feel like it's rude, just say something like you're looking for baby clothes or tools or something else they obviously don't have-it's the wimpy way out but it's easier for me.

7. Bring lots of cash in small bills. Some people just aren't prepared with a lot of change, so it helps to have exact change on you or at least bills that are easy to break. Since you never know if you'll find one great item or fifty, it helps to carry a good amount. Nothing is worse than not bringing enough and having to run to an ATM, which I'm too lazy to do and would just skip it.

8. This tip was from my friend Vivien and I thought it was a great idea. If you know of a family or organization in need of items and you find a good deal, load up and donate them. If you mention to the owner that you will be donating the items they will probably offer you an even better deal.

9. Make a round two stop. This is a great tip from my sister-in-law, although I've always been too tired or burned out to try it. If you see some sales with lots of great items you would like, check back at the end of the sale and ask if they'll give you a discount on a bulk purchase. Most people donate whatever is left, so it's very likely they'll give you a great deal-I've even heard of people getting everything left for free since it would save the owners from having to drive it to the thrift store.

10. Pack a lunch. OK not really a lunch, but do bring a drink and snacks so you don't have to head home early because your tummy is rumbling. You will usually see kids selling snacks and drinks (and if you do please buy from at least one of them, it will be your kids one day) but in case you don't it's nice to have a back up.

Have any tips I've missed? Please share in the comments below!