Category: Day to Day

On Being Frugal and Eating Out

This post got me thinking about the changes that we have made over the last 11 years regarding our finances. We have gone from being very in debt spendthrifts who ate out constantly (it was our only “date” type activity other than movies) and bought all kinds of things when we wanted, and who bounced more than a few checks while living paycheck to paycheck them to having no credit card or car debt (and now no hospital debt), almost never eating out, buying all clothing items at the thrift shop, and slowly building up a “cushion”. We don’t use a budget, because neither of us work well with a budget (we naturally overspend when we have a budget) and budgeting doesn’t work well when you are trying to give freely without one hand knowing what the other hand is doing. God is blessing our lack of budget giving and our “keep a general idea how much money is spendable in the bank” attitude. We no longer stress about money and now both of us, together, balance the check book and hold each other accountable about where money is being spent.

That is not really the point of this post but it does explain where we came from and how we got here–a little anyway. So how did we go from obsessively eating out to NEVER eating out?

  • The easiest part is that food allergies make eating out more hassle than it is worth. When we discovered our food allergies it was too hard to find someplace everyone could eat. It helped break the habit. Quitting cold turkey for two years REALLY helped.
  • When we discovered food enzymes and were able to eat out again we had to be careful and analyze WHY we were eating out.
  • Once we understood WHY we could figure out how to replicate those aspects at home. In our case it was having a nice meal together, without a lot of fuss, of our favorite foods in a nice atmosphere. Replicating those aspects at home turned out to be easier (and cheaper) than expected.

Here is how we did it:

  • I figured out our favorite types of food then looked for quality, cheap alternatives at Aldi. The kids and I used ethnic foods as a homeschool project and got all kinds of kids ethnic food recipe books out and tried what looked good. We love Mexican, Italian, and Chinese foods which are all cheap and easy to make at home. Figure out what everyone’s favorite eating out foods are then figure out how best to replicate those at home. If it is something that has a special recipe a lot of websites have “secret recipe” copies that are awfully close (I have a GREAT imitation Krispie Kreme recipe if someone wants to try it.) The small amount of work making it is well worth the $20-$40 saved by NOT EATING OUT.
  • Changing the atmosphere in the kitchen helped as well. When we do an “eating out” meal we set the table extra nice and make sure the kitchen is really clean. A lot of it a matter of attitude–if you spend some time cleaning up so you can “eat out” at home you will feel great about doing it. Get the kids involved–they LOVE to help when they are thinking of it as “eating out”. (Getting out the Chinese bowls and chopsticks or setting the table like a fancy restaurant or even eating off paper plates changes the feel.
  • Make the food ahead. I keep some of our favorite “eating out foods” in the deep freeze for when we are in the mood to go out. Since convenience is part of why eating out is fun, having the foods ready to go makes it easy to switch gears and eat in. If you are into Chinese takeout, Aldi carries a great range of Chinese specialties that taste the same as the restaurant version and cost less than the price of a single meal to feed a family of 5. If you get the whole range they have available you can have a Chinese takeout meal made at home (with everything from egg rolls and stir fry, noodles or rice plus General Tso’s Chicken ) ready within 5-10 minutes with no driving for the price of a single meal of the same from the restaurant– plus have enough leftovers for two whole meals for your family of 5.
  • When I realize how much money we save just by staying home then I don’t look at the price of the foods the same–sure the foods are slightly higher priced than what I would normally pay for a homecooked meal–but when you consider that if you went out, by the time you pay for gas, tip, and the restaurant bill that same meal which cost $5 to prepare and 10 minutes time would cost 45 minutes time and $45. The same goes for fast food joints. Keep some quick meals of the sort you enjoy at home in the freezer for those times where you are tempted to go out.

Also, set aside a little for the money you save by NOT going out to purchase something you enjoy doing as a family. One of the best things we did was find something else we enjoyed doing as a family to replace going out–for us it is playing video games together or going to the park or walking around the mall (not buying stuff.) Considering that for us not going out saves enough money to buy one video game that will give the family hours of fun is a pretty good incentive to eat at home. When the kids start bugging to go out we point out that a trip to the Chinese restaurant is the same price as two DS games (which they can play together since they each saved up for a DS) or one computer game (which Daddy plays while they watch) or two purchased DVD’s or a month of free rentals at Netflix puts the going out into perspective. If you don’t like those think about what your family likes to do together, then use those things as an incentive to eat at home and use a little of the saved money to do a fun activity together. One of the cool benefits we found is that by doing this we changed the “feel good” aspect of eating out–if you train your children to associate feeling good and being a family with food you are setting them up for trouble when they are older. Move the focus of family away from food and food becomes just one more way to be together instead of way to feel like family.

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An Unschooling Homeschooling Giftlist

So many of the big sites have Christmas giftlists that are great, if you had all the money to buy the stuff and knew the exact people they are talking about, maybe. Geekparenting.com did a cool one of geeky stuff for babies and really all you need is to hand a geek a Tigerdirect or Thinkgeek catalog and have the perfect wishlist. But I was thinking, what about an unschooling family? What about a nontraditional homeschooling family? The following is a list of the cool educational/fun things I have been way too tempted to buy around the net.

Acrobotics: We have a set of these and the kids LOVE them. They are actually my husband’s and the kids often beg to play with them. They have used these not only to build strange towers with geometric magnets that I picked up on clearance at Saples but have learned all about how magnets worked, poles, repelling, and how various joints work. (I should mention that they learned all about 3-d shapes using the cheap plastic geometric shapes magnets I got at Staples. VEry cool.)

Tetris Magnets: These are just too cool. Plus what better way to learn spatial relationships (other than Blockus of course, which is almost as cool.)

Blokus: We LOVE Blokus. This is a game that is easy for even a 4 year old to grasp and which the whole family enjoys. It helps children develop problem solving skills and spatial relationships.

What better way to introduce kids to the periodic able than on a shower curtain. My kids LOVE to take baths and read EVERYTHING they see. Having a giant periodic table in a place they are likely to view it and spend a long time viewing it is perfect. If we had this it would go on the inside of our decorative curtain facing the tub. We had a giant aquarium one up that way and the kids took great delight in finding all the fish and turtles and figuring out what they were. Of course this is also cool.

Having killed off several ant farms in my life time I find this VERY cool. Especially great for families like ours who due to allergies cannot have pets. What a great way to study ants.

Giant plush microbes. Much better than beanie babies. 🙂 What kid wouldn’t love their own plushie E. Coli or Lice.

 

If you are not so sure about the microbes, what about a diy music box kit. I know my oldest who LOVES music boxes and always wants to take them apart would LOVE this.

Then there are the CRanium games. We LOVE Cranium games and still play Hullabaloo even though it is a bit young for all three kids it is great for listening skills. This one looks like a GREAT game for all. Since we have several ages playing and all three kids LOVE playing games we like to look for games that are good across the age ranges. This one looks awesome.

So many other things out there but that is good for now. 🙂 The point is that there are many books and activities out there that are fun AND educational. My son is getting The Dangerous Book for Boys which my husband and I perused before I wrapped it. There are so many cool things in it that remind me of the activities my brother and I did growing up. I think the girls are going to get as much out of it as he will. 🙂

A Day in the Life 3: Unschool vs Traditional School– a Reminder to Self

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This past few weeks have been a time of waffling in regards to various areas of our lives. Shamus and I both have been too easily tossed in the winds as far as our decisions have gone, making a decision we feel God pulling us towards only to second guess a day later. I long to work through them here but some of them I can’t because they are too personal or would border on gossip. The school question, however, I am willing to put out there although I know some will not understand and may even judge me because of it. Before I explain let me tell you that in all of these questions of decision we have been waffling internally yet God is keeping us head on–giving us instant reminders as soon as we begin to waffle. Today was just such a day.

As I have mentioned before, we have a classroom in the basement set up in the traditional classroom style. It is especially good for Rachel to know it is there–it is a reminder that we are responsible for her education and that we take it seriously–even if most of her learning does not occur there. In fact, we haven’t used it in a few months–other than as an art studio where they set up shop with oils and acrylics while I worked on an oil painting.

So, if they haven’t done their workbooks in a few weeks what are they doing with themselves all day? How can they possibly be learning if they aren’t taught? Shamus and I had this very discussion this morning because he occasionally likes them to bring him a workbook page so he can see what they are learning. He is very open to the new style of teaching I have taken on but is nervous because he hasn’t seen any evidence. I suggested he ask them what they are learning or listen to their conversations to see if they are learning anything new. He agreed and went in to have a chat with them. (Because I am under PA tutor law instead of traditional homeschool law I am considered their primary educator–it is because I have a teacher’s certification and 5 years of college that I can do this but it also means that Shamus is not considered their “teacher”. He recognizes this and holds me accountable instead of taking over teaching–though he will likely teach them programming and higher math as they show interest.)

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So what did he find out and what have they been doing?

They spent all of yesterday decorating their room for Christmas. I put up an artificial tree in their room with lights and Christmas balls and handed them reams of construction paper, glue, tape, and scissors. They spent hours cutting and pasting making tons of paper chains and other decorations and taping them around their room. While two were doing that the other one was playing Fate–a D&D type computer game with NO plot. If you have never played D&D and are a Christian you are probably nervous. Don’t be. Most of the game consists of trying to catch different types of fish, fighting evil creatures, and leveling up so you can get better stuff. You have to earn and save money, make wise spending decisions, choose different armor and other items based on percentage bonuses (yes, all three are reading what they need to do and understand percentages and how different percentages of different bonuses affect different functions of their character. Believe me this is tricky stuff that I can barely wrap my brain around–harder than figuring out percent off sales when shopping by a long run because you have to take in multiple affects.) They also had to keep track of how long each child had been on the game to decide who’s turn it was next and Rachel spent a long time helping Issac figure out the basic reading and how percentages work–this had him going around the house reading plenty of other things.

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They also wrote me a grocery list of the items they felt we needed based on what each child liked to eat. They looked in each of the cupboards for things that were missing or that we only had one of and helped me plan the list by making their own. They had to look up spellings or sound out those they were unsure of. And if they wanted it it had to be on the list. (I am talking my big monthly shopping list here–not even a once a week list.)

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We have also been reading about 4 chapters or so of the Elyon books per day–me reading aloud as they old laundry (we were a bit behind on the laundry and this has gotten us caught up.) Issac has also been helping me figure out the colors for a new painting and how they go on the paper. This goes far beyond “what color is this” and into “what color do I need to add to get this to the exact right shade of red.” Also, Rachel taught herself how to make pie crust by messing the first one up and then making the second one right because she didn’t follow the instructions the first time–she made a pie for herself and one for her brother and sister (small ones.) She also took on rice making and several other recipes because I was busy on a project I need to finish up.

Add to that them listening to old radio shows and my old records, playing board games (we played Where in the USA is Carman Sandiego yesterday which degraded into “how fast can you find the state”–I was amazed to see how many Issac knew.) They also watched “Mythbusters” online last night–Rachel just listened and we discussed their ideas of what would and should work and how they tested their theories. There have been many more goings on–including the girls playing Fate while Issac and I went shopping.

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Issac and I had a huge discussion about God’s love for us and whether He loves us even when He allows bad things to happen–for a 6 year old he has a better grasp of this than many Christians. He also helped me keep track of the grocery budget, decide how many of each item we needed to last us a month, and loaded and unloaded the cart. When we returned home the girls put away what we had and helped decide what items we just weren’t eating and those will go to the food cupboard. Putting a month’s worth of groceries away is a big deal (especially for a family of 5) and requires much ingenuity of stacking and storing. :)) We are now off to visit our final grocery store and my grandmother, dropping things off at the food cupboard and picking up some work for myself.

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Writing it all down is a wonderful reminder of how much they are learning and growing and living. (And don’t worry about the video game–they will be sick of it in a few days and have some other project they are working on–they always do. I write this up to them having the freedom to play for long periods of time without someone complaining about it–when you are free to do something as long as you like you get thoroughly sick of it. Believe me, I know. :))

Finally–you may be wondering how God reminded me that the kids are growing and learning a lot? After our discussion this morning I went out. When I got home I suddenly had a slew of unschooling sites in my feed reader with posts about the benefits, including one that linked back to my previous “unschooling” post.

Oh yeah, I forgot.

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*The photos are all from this year–I haven’t had time to take pictures this week but these all reflect things the kids have done this week. 🙂

A Day in the Life 2: Getting Geeky and Learning to Play

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Today I set up two computers, with the help of my son. One is missing a sound card and a monitor but otherwise works–the other is all good. Yeah!!! We were suffering without a computer for the kids, and once we get a monitor (getting some through Freecycle–our extra is also on the blink) and I pick up a sound card we will have two computers for three kids, which is much better odds.

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When I realized that the first computer was missing a sound card and why (we had cannibalized it for another computer) I began searching our boxes of old computer stuff–I knew we had an old shrink wrapped Soundblaster card somewhere. I was thrilled when I found it. A brand new Soundblaster sound card–an oldy but goodie. However I was shocked when I checked the specs–Windows 3.1 with floppy disks. Hmmm. Shamus thought it would probably work so I opened it anyway.

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When I looked in the computer I realized we had a bit of a problem. This card was older than we thought–it had an Xt-bus instead of an ISA or PCI like the computer had. For those who have no clue what I am talking about–imagine trying to fit an old floppy disk in a cd rom drive or a European plug into an American outlet–no worky . This thing was OLD–an antique. Anyway from a geek point of view it was cool–awfully tempting to keep just because it was that old–from the late 80’s in fact. Instead I handed it to the kids and let them play with it. Yes, I let my kids play with an old Soundblaster card–they spent an hour pretending it was the map of a city and pretending that there were cars driving on it, etc. What is really funny is that someone is trying to sell one right now on Ebay for $135. It is nearly useless because it is such old technology (it cost nearly $100 new–no we didn’t buy it, it was given to us when a business was going to throw the old stuff out.) The kids had fun with it though and learned quite a bit about how and why it wouldn’t work with this computer.

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Now all I have to do is pick up the monitors from Freecycle, see if the guy with the monitors has any newer old sound cards lying around (all geeky people do–if not I will ask my dad, I know he has a few), and set the second computer up! I had considered making a monitor out of our old dead laptop but think the components to make it work would be too expensive for right now–think I will save that for a cool school project.

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The last leaves standing.

The kids had another geeky thing going on today. Aside from taking walks, playing board games, and reading aloud they made up a new game. It is based on the Zelda game but involved real children playing the characters and trying to sneak by while one child plays the guard. If you have never played a Zelda game this involves one person turning very slowly looking only forward as she turns and the other people trying to sneak around her and stay out of her line of site. I am sure it has some useful application–like if you are every trying to stay out of a searchlight, or um, well something. Anyway they had fun doing it and even made level cards to say what level the players had made it to. 🙂 It was interesting to watch.

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Our yellow fall.

This was especially interesting since Rachel and I had a huge conversation about gaining responsibility, God’s kingdom and His view of maturity, and play. She thought there was some written rule that adults couldn’t play anymore–she got this impression from the way all the girls at Sunday School were sure that it was NOT okay to play with dolls once you reached a certain age.

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After a long conversation she began to understand that play changes as you grow and that children’s play is preparation from growing up–practicing adult behaviors, imagining solutions to various problems, and developing interests. This shocked her so much that she wanted to call all her friends and tell them–“someone has to tell them, Mom!”

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Farm near our house.

After talking a bit more she understood that as adults we still play, it just changes because we are no longer practicing for adult things. The good thing is that suddenly she wasn’t afraid of growing up anymore since she knew that we didn’t mind her playing dolls and such for as long as she liked. The down side is that later in the day she fought with her sister because she was playing “baby games” on the computer and Rachel was offended because she found them boring to watch. Sigh.

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Sheep on the hill.