Thursday, December 27, 2007

Random Acts of Kindness

I'm not sure if it's because I just had a baby, I look crazed when I am out with the two little ones and trying to get them to the car or people have just felt in the Christmas spirit, but i have noticed an extra kindness from many people I don't even know or barely know lately.

Last week, a woman at our playgroup walked my son up the stairs because he kept running off when it was time to go and I was trying to get the baby, diaper bag and the treats we brought to share with everyone for the Christmas party.

I was at the grocery store and two women in the car next to me offered to put our cart away on a cold, rainy night so I didn't have to run it over there with the kids in the car.

Another person offered us her place in line so we could get out of the store when my son was at his breaking point.

All those little things made my week before Christmas a little easier and reminded me how the little things, that often take little effort can make someone's day.

Mission Accomplished!

So we successfully saved for and bought an entertainment armoire last weekend. Most of the money came from selling items we no longer needed on eBay and craigslist, but we did receive a little from my mom as a family Christmas present to help us reach our goal.

We are enjoying keeping everything out of the little one's hands and getting rid of our $14 bookcase I bought in 1991 and our $14 cart I bought in 2000 that were adorning our family room.

We got it for 60 percent off at a going-out-of business sale up the road from us at Levitz furniture. It felt so good to go in and buy something we had waited for and saved for. It feels like we are making progress in changing our spending habits, which is positive as well.

Thrifty Thursdays: Returns On Printer Cartridges

I don't know about you, but we go through a ridiculous number of printer cartridges. A great way to not only recycle them, but get instant savings is to save them and bring them into an office supply store the next time you need to buy some.

Most stores like Office Depot and Office Max can refill them or give you a store credit toward additional ones. I have five on my desk.

At OfficeMax you can get $3 off your purchase for each one you bring in (up to five per day). At Office Depot, you receive a $3 coupon for a future purchase.

For me, that is a free cartridge usually every few months. That means I can use the $15 for something fun, like going out to lunch, or something we need, like paying more toward our debt.

The little things add up. Take a look at this story my dad sent me this week. This guy bought a truck in cash with money he had saved up since he last bought a car 13 years ago... how awesome is that!

Focaccia - Yummy!

I have a lot of posts written in my head but have been unable to take five minutes to post them so several of them should be posted in the next few days.

I got a panini grill for Christmas and am trying out new sandwiches. In order to aid with the experimentation, I am also trying various breads. Today I made my first loaves of focaccia bread. It was surprisingly easy and very tasty. There is only a photo of one because by the time I went to take the photo, one was already devoured by my son and husband.

I got my recipe off of and just added rosemary, Italian seasoning and garlic powder. I may have been a bit more creative, but my son got sick so I quickly baked it so we could head to the doctor....oh fun:).

You can get the recipe here.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Thrifty Thursdays: Dreaded Credit Card Debt

So my hubby and I are tackling our credit card debt with efforts to eliminate it in the next few years entirely. This is no easy task and neither of us are too proud of having it, but there are ways to reduce how much you will pay everyone with credit card debt should at least investigate. You can often reduce your interest rate with just a phone call.

I have had this on my list of things to do forever and am embarrassed I didn't do it sooner. We have debt from our years in school and unexpected medical bills and it has added up for too long.

We have three major credit cards and we realized two of the cards had interest rates higher than 10.5 percent. Since we know our credit scores and know we have pretty high ones, we also know we are in a low-risk category to creditors. We always pay our bills on time and haven't missed a payment, which really helps us.

I called the company we've have two of our cards with primarily because the other card we have with them is the one we've had the longest time (10 years now). I simply asked if we could reduce our interest rate on our card so we can focus on paying it off quicker. We were also looking at consolidating our cards so one way or another, we were going to be getting a better rate.

The rate we had was 15.99 percent on that card and the other one we were paying at an interest rate of 22.74 percent, way above what we should. The fist card offered me a rate of 12.99 percent or a rate of 9.99 percent if I transferred the other balance (the one at 22.74 percent) and a promotional rate of 3.99 percent on the transfer amount until July. There are fees involved (make sure you always ask). The fees, however, add up to what we would pay in interest on our second card in two months.

I ran some calculations and realized, if we continued to pay the same amount we were paying on the two cards toward the one card with the one balance instead, we would save at least $1000 in the next year that could go toward paying off the cards quicker. That is even after subtracting the fee and adding up the savings from the different interest rates with the two cards,

Make sure you spend the time to know the conditions and terms of any credit card agreement though. I spent a total of 39 minutes on the phone to put this together and felt great when I got off because I worked at reducing our debt by negotiating the terms on our credit cards.

I do recommend to check your rates often because they can go up for a number of reasons and a lot of times you may not even realize it. Credit card companies are anxious to keep you in any way though because they make money off of you. Plus if you pay your bill son time, they don't want to lose your money.

Of course it is better not to get into credit card debt in any form, but it is too easy to just feel like you can never get out of it when you are in it. The reality is, with a little planning and tightening the spending in other areas, you can make your way toward paying them off.

We had eight cards altogether (including a medical one and a few department store ones) and are now down four, which is a great feeling. Another two will be gone in the next few months and then we have two. Those ones are the larger debt, but we are putting all the extra money toward them and they will be on the way toward elimination. They are also the ones with the lowest interest rates.

Lesson: all it took was a phone call and 39 minutes. I think saving the $1000 makes it worth my time.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Open Minds

I'm a sucker for good quotes and when I find ones I really like, I like to share them. I get a quote of the day on my google home page from C.S. Lewis and Albert Einstein. This one appeared today and I just loved it. What a great distinction he makes.

An open mind, in questions that are not ultimate, is useful. But an open mind about the ultimate foundations either of Theoretical or of Practical Reason is idiocy.
~ C.S. Lewis

Or as my dad always put it "Keep an open mind in life, but don't let your mind be so open your brain leaks out." I don't really want my brain leaking out so I think about that one on a regular basis (Yes dad, I did listen once in awhile when you gave advice;).

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Go Home And Love Your Family

I find it rather ironic and sad that those we love the most often see the worst sides of us. I heard a comment on the radio to that effect the other day and was reminded to examine myself and see what my family sees.

I think about all the times I am so stressed out or frustrated or in a fight and then the phone rings and the caller on the other end has no idea anything is even wrong because my voice changes, my tone changes and suddenly nothing is wrong.

When I have a friend or acquaintance do something that really frustrates me, I rarely say anything, but if it is my husband, all too often I am quick to get more frustrated than the situation warrants.

I know I am not the only one who does this. I do feel like you need to be able to have off moments. Let's face it - everyone does. But sometimes when I am in a funk it seems my husband and kids get more off moments than good moments. Granted we do get to know all the little idiosincracies living with another person and there are going to be things that drive you nuts. Then I think of the movie Good Will Hunting where Robin Williams is describing how he remembers his wife farting in bed in her sleep. He says:

Ah...! But Will, she’s been dead for 2 years, and that's the stuff I remember: wonderful stuff you know? Little things like that. Those are the things I miss the most. The little idiosyncrasies that only I know about: that's what made her my wife. Oh she had the goods on me too, she knew all my little peccadilloes. People call these things imperfections, but there not. Ah, that's the good stuff.
It's then that I have to sit down and think about why I get so worked up. My family means more to me than any other people in the world and this is how I show it. Usually when I examine what is happening, I quickly realize the "problems" that seem to put me in such a bad mood really are not too bad. They may still drive me nuts, but I just have to get over them.

My challenge for myself this Advent season is to really act with love toward those I do love. Life is too short and you never know how much time you really have left. I'm sure if I died tomorrow I would not regret not getting upset more often, but I may think about the missed opportunities to show love and compassion toward those who mean so much to me and the times I didn't show forgiveness when it really needed to be shown.

When Mother Teresa received her Nobel Prize she was asked, 'What can we do to help promote world peace?' Her answer; 'Go home and love your family.'
Amen! Let's do that!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Thoughts To Ponder About Serving Others

So I was reading more of the "Mustard Seeds" book and I came across this thought:

Over coffee a man said, "Our role as Christians is to serve. Serving is not about ability, it is about availability."
How true is that? I know often I have missed opportunities to serve and help others because I think I have nothing I can truly offer them. I think my ability is not where i need it to be to be the best servant.

The truth is if we make ourselves available, God will use our willingness to be open to serve others in the ways He needs.

Several times I almost didn't take photos for various non-profit groups because I thought, "Who wants me to take photos for them? It's not like I'm famous. I haven't even been working out of college for long and don't have any prestigious awards to my name."

Often though I have decided to help out, mostly because the group really needs a photog. Oftentimes, the photos are better than what they expect and the organizations use them for many purposes in the following years.

Let us not pass us opportunities to serve because we're too worried about fine-tuning our abilities. Instead let us focus on seizing the opportunities we're presented with to serve and help others. We can let God worry about fine tuning our abilities to fit the needs of those we serve. All we have to do is say yes.

Thrifty Thursday: The Public Library

It's so easy to forget that for our taxes, we actually should expect some things in return. Ones of these amenities is the public library. For years I stopped going to the public libraries until I graduated college. I thought they were boring, I was cooler than that, yada, yada.... However, after we moved to the Chicagoland area as a newly married couple making very little money we rediscovered how many resources were available at the libraries.

Not only are there books, but now many libraries carry many movies (on VHS and DVD), offer training for computer programs, have free Internet access, a ton of magazines and often host many community programs and events. When we move now, one of the first things I do is get a library card. When I have extra time, I go and check out DVDs, books and magazines that I am interested in. I especially like the magazines because I thoroughly enjoy reading magazines, but can't justify the cost to subscribe to most of them.

Most libraries also have online reservation systems, so it is very easy to look online to see if they carry a book you're looking for and then put a hold on it. Our library is connected with 20 or so other area libraries and if any of them carry the book, you can get it sent to your library and pick it up when it arrives.

So even though they fall into the "old-fashioned" amenities, they are a great way to save money. I know many books I would like to read are not necessarily ones I have the money to buy. The library gives me access to so many more items than I would have without it.

Oh yeah, and as a mom they often offer events like weekly story times that cost *gasp* NO MONEY. Imagine that, something your kids can participate in and really enjoy that is free. Hard to find, especially on the East coast.

So that's my plug for the local libraries - hooray for reading!

About Me

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I'm a mommy, wife and educated woman with an inquisitive mind. I am always looking in ways to challenge and grow in my faith. Many wise people I have known have reminded me if I am not growing, I am going in the wrong direction.