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Category: Q&A Tuesday

Q&A Tuesday: Advice for a brand-new stay-at-home mom?

My husband and I are about to enter into parenthood in a month. Do you have any advice for how to prepare for a baby to come? I have all of his things, I am nearly done packing my hospital bag, and I am well on the way to having lots of meals frozen before his arrival. What I mean is this: how do I prepare for going from a 32-hour-a-week-worker to a mostly-stay-at-home-mom? -Paige

1. Realize That There Will Be Hard Days

Congratulations, Paige! Having a new baby is a wonderful thing. It will change your life in so many fantastic ways.

However, since I’m a realist, I’m going to tell you that there will be many days when it feels far from wonderful and fantastic. There will be crying and fussing and dirty diapers and spit-up. Later, there will be messes, whining, more messes, and more whining. And unless you’re a nurse by profession, you’ll probably be dealing with more bodily fluids on a daily basis than you’re used to. 🙂

2. Embrace Each Day

Motherhood is not for wimps. It’s one of the hardest professions on the face of the earth, but it’s also one of the most rewarding professions on the face of the earth. You’ll discover depths of love inside you that you never knew existed and your heart will forever be walking outside of your body.

Instead of focusing on the pile of dirty laundry, the exhaustion you’re experiencing because you only got three hours of interrupted sleep last night, or the just-changed shirt that is now has spit-up on it, choose to embrace today.

Soak up your precious baby. Don’t be too busy or harried to just sit and enjoy the little moments. They are fleeting!

3. Get a Good Routine Going

If you’re used to running a pretty tight ship when it comes to your work-outside-the-home schedule, making the transition to being a stay-at-home mom can be hard–especially because life with a newborn baby can be full of so much unpredictability. If you can, set up a basic routine for your day from the get-go. Read my advice to an overwhelmed mom of a baby here for more on setting up a basic routine.

4. Find Some Great Mom Friends

You need support in your new role. Find a small group of moms who understand you, who will encourage you on your hard days, and who will rejoice with you in your victories.

5. Don’t Let Yourself Go

It’s important to continue to take care of you. Don’t neglect to get some exercise and fresh air, make healthful eating choices, take a multi-vitamin, drink lots of water, try to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep every night (as much as is possible with a newborn!), and allow margin in your life for things that energize and refresh you. You’ll be a better wife and mom if you make your own health and sanity a priority!

There’s so much more I could share, but I’ll stop there and let the rest of you jump in in the comments. What advice and tips do you have for someone who is preparing to be a brand-new stay-at-home mom?

Ask Jesse: What should we consider when moving from irregular income to regular income?

I have been a stay-at-home mom since the beginning of 2011, but before then I worked hourly and my schedule constantly changed. My husband own his own small seasonal business, is in the ministry (he receives a housing allowance), and has worked any job that has come up for the past two years (always temporary, part-time, changing schedules).

He now has a job offer in another state that is a full-time position with a set salary and benefits. This would be the first time ever in our marriage of four years that we’ve had a full-time job like this. We are very excited, but we are quite nervous as to how to figure out what our budget changes might be.

What are some things that we should consider when looking at the job offer? Also, any tips on what to do when considering a change from one state to another and how to figure out the cost differences between states? – a reader

Making a move for a career change is a momentous event, even if you are not moving out of state. We have moved a number of times and have always had an irregular income, so proper budgeting is always key to making the transition a success.

First, I would make sure that you and your husband are where you are supposed to be, that you are on the same page, and that you both have complete peace about making the jump. These are the most important considerations to make and you can easily be overcome by the enticement of the regular paycheck. If you make this move prematurely, without family harmony, or for the wrong motives, that regular check will probably not go as far as the old irregular income–or at least there will probably be conflict and frustration attached with it.

Second, if you pass the first test, determine the lowest amount you could live on, add some wiggle room, and then create a budget based on that amount (provided it is still less than your set income). If you’ve never budgeted before, you’ll want to give yourself some breathing room as a cushion while you get settled into the new area and become more accustomed to budgeting.

After you get somewhat acclimated (usually somewhere around three to six months), reevaluate your budget and your financial priorities to see what areas need to be tweaked. Remember, a budget is a living document. It should be changed as your needs and priorities change.

Do keep in mind that just because you don’t use all of the money you budgeted in a category doesn’t necessarily mean you need to lower that category. I’d wait for at least six months to a year before deciding to significantly cut a budget category because many categories will fluctuate throughout the year. For instance, if we have money leftover in our utilities budget (a category that tends to fluctuate quite a bit based on the time of year), we always keep that budget “bucket” balance accumulating to make up the difference on months when our utility bills are higher.

Another thing you should consider in analyzing this job opportunity are tax law changes. I once worked in a city other than where we lived that imposed a municipal income tax. We had to make sure we included that in savings just in case the employer withholding was insufficient to cover it.

Finally, the last consideration would be housing. I know that there are a lot of people adamant that you need to buy buy buy, especially in this economy. But, if you are moving to another area, my recommendation would be to rent, especially in this economy, and definitely if you are moving to another state.

Before buying a home, not only do you want to make sure you have a good down payment saved up and know that you’ll be living in an area for longer than a year or two, but it’s also helpful to have a better feel for the areas of town you’d want to live. You’d much rather rent for six month or a year and scout out your home and location options, than to just run ahead and buy something when you’re really unfamiliar with the area.

For those of you who have made a similar jump, I would love to see your other recommendations and considerations in the comments.

Jesse Paine is a licensed attorney who owns his own law firm. He’s married to Crystal and is the numbers nerd of the team! If you have a question you’d like him to answer in a future column, you can submit it here.

The content of this column intended for informational use only and is not to be construed as providing legal, investing, accounting, or other professional advice. Your situation is factually specific and you should accordingly seek qualified professional counsel concerning your specific legal, investing or accounting needs.

Q&A Tuesday: How do you keep your kitchen countertops cleaned off?

I am decluttering our house like a crazy woman because I believe, like you, that less is more. But I still struggle in the kitchen. I see your kitchen photo when you do your freezer cooking and I can’t believe you have only crock pot on your counter. How do you do it? -Nami

Growing up, my mom never liked to have anything on the kitchen countertops, so I’m pretty sure that’s where my love of clean countertops originated. I try to have mine completely clean and cleared off as much as possible. Sometimes, when we’re in the middle of homeschooling around the kitchen table, things will pile up. That’s life–and I’m okay with it.

However, I try to make sure the countertops are clutter-free every night before dinner and then again before bed. At least in our home, I’ve found that if I purposefully clean everything off the countertops and put it away at least twice per day, they never pile up beyond control.

To give you a little peek into my kitchen, here’s how I try to have it look every afternoon and evening (try being the key word there, believe me, it doesn’t always happen!)

And here’s a view from the other direction (don’t ask me why the lighting is so bad; I still have a hundred thousand things to learn about photography–as is very apparent from all the pictures I post!):

I keep our weekly menu on the side of the refrigerator. Having it there has been working so well for us to stay organized and to remind me of what I had planned to fix! I just print off the menu I format for my blog post each week and then cross things off as we make the meals:

I don’t keep a lot of cookbooks, since many of the recipes I make are online (thank you, Pinterest!). However, I do have a few favorites that stay on the shelf. And then I have a few others that are kept in one of the cupboards.

This house is the first we’ve lived in that has an actual pantry! It’s taken some shuffling and re-shuffling for me to determine what works best to keep in the pantry. Here’s how it looks now:

Our Busy Bags are on the top shelf in separate tubs. Jesse’s protein stuff and vitamins are on the second shelf. The third shelf holds the crock pot and lunch bags that we use when we take a field trip or have a picnic. The fourth shelf has my bread machine and a canister of oatmeal on it. The floor has the juicer, food processor, and some bulk items.

Since we do much of our homeschooling around the kitchen table, I wanted to have some place handy to keep all our current school books and notebooks, but I didn’t want it to take over our kitchen/dining room. I finally decided upon these storage tubs:

They don’t match our kitchen, but I got them free and they are fun and functional. We store the rest of our homeschooling items on the shelves in our school room/exercise room down in the basement and I just bring up what we need each week. I’ll probably need to revisit and revamp this system as our children grow and our schoolwork/books multiply, but this is working well for us right now.

We do keep a tea kettle out on the stove at all times since I use it often. But other than that (and the knife set you see in another picture above), all other appliances are stowed away when not in use. The built-in Lazy Susan serves as a perfect place for the Vita-Mix, toaster, grain mill, popcorn popper, and a few other items

It might seem like a lot of work to put appliances away when you aren’t using them, but I honestly have found that the extra seconds it takes are worth the clutter-free look it brings to our kitchen. This system might not work for others, but it works well for us. An added benefit is that I have a lot more countertop space to use when working in the kitchen!

Q&A Tuesday: How do I develop patience while waiting for something I really want?

After some financial difficulties, my husband and I are back on track in our lives. I am at home with the children and he is working very hard. I do clean a condo on the weekend for some extra money.

Since we are on a tight budget, saving for a home of our own is going to take some time, maybe even several years. I know you were once in this situation. How did you stay patient? I find myself dreaming of cottages and looking at the real estate listings. I don’t want to feel like I am “just passing time” until we reach our goal.

How did you find the patience when “waiting” for a home? You always seemed so at ease and calm during that time. -Dawn

First off, I will tell you that I’m not naturally a patient person. I’m a get ‘er done and get ‘er done now type of gal.

However, God has taught me a lot about patience in the last nine years of my life. Over and over, things haven’t worked out in the timing or way I would have chosen. There have been unexpected job losses, there have been multiple times when we didn’t know what we were going to do for employment or where we would be living the next month, there have been business failures, and there have been many other setbacks.

It’s been hard, but oh-so-good for me to have to learn to wait and to learn to embrace less-than-ideal situations because that was pretty much the only choice I had. And looking back, I can truly see that God’s timing has always been much better than my own timing.

I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I wouldn’t be writing this blog, I wouldn’t be writing a book, and my husband wouldn’t be running a successful law practice if it weren’t for the hard lessons we learned through times of waiting. So be encouraged; waiting can be a wonderful thing!

Here’s my advice for you:

1) Set Big Goals and Break Them Down Into Bite-Sized Pieces

Where do you hope to be in three to five years from now? Sit down with your husband and map out some specific written goals of where you want to be at the end of three to five years.

Then, break these down into small monthly and weekly goals. For instance, if you hope to have $15,000 saved in three years to use as a down payment on a home, you’ll need to save $5,000 per year. This translates to $417 you need to save per month, or around $105 you need to save each week. If, after reviewing your budget, you realize this is just not feasible, either revamp your goal, extend the timeframe, or find some areas in your budget to cut.

This specific weekly figure gives you parameters to work with. You now know exactly how much you need to save each week to hit your goal on target. You may not be able to hit the $105 figure each week, but proactively aiming for it will give you much greater momentum in actually achieving your goal.

2) Don’t Look At What You Can’t Have

You can’t afford a house right now, so don’t even look. Window shopping almost always evokes discontentment.

Avoid real estate listings, don’t stop at any open houses, and don’t shop for future furniture online. Just block all of it out of your mind right now–except to let it propel you towards your weekly and monthly goals.

3) Make the Most of What You Do Have

Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, seek to embrace and make the most of what you do have right now. Maybe you are crammed into a crackerbox apartment. Rather than waking up and going through your day grumbling about the lack of space, let it motivate you to pare down, get creative with organization, and be thankful that a smaller home means less to clean and more time to spend doing things you enjoy.

4) Remember That You Are Richer Than Almost Everyone Else in the Whole World

According to statistics on “Over three billion people — more than half the world population as of 2010 — live on less than $2.50 US Dollars (USD) a day. More than 80% of the population lives on less than $10 USD per day.”

Most of us know nothing about true poverty. Times might be tough, finances might be tight, and you may be worried about how you are going to stretch your paycheck to cover all the expenses you have, but most of us cannot imagine what it would be like to live without a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs, shoes to wear, food to eat, running water, a working toilet, and so many other things things we consider necessities that many in the world would deem to be luxuries.

If you didn’t have to rummage in the garbage to scrounge up something to eat for lunch today, if you didn’t sleep on a cardboard box under a bridge last night, and if you own more clothes than you are currently wearing, you have much to be thankful for.

I’d love to hear from the rest of you: what helps you to be patient while waiting for something you really want?

Q&A Tuesday: What do you buy at Aldi?

I have a question. I noticed you do a lot of shopping at Aldi. We have one where I live, but for some reason I am hesitant to shop there. I was wondering if you could go over what you do and do not buy there, or if it does not matter at all. -Chelsea

Before I got married, I’d never been inside an Aldi store before. And I was hesitant to do so as I’d always had this impression that it was a dirty store with low quality food. However, since my husband and I had such a meager budget in the early years of our marriage, I quickly decided to get over my inhibitions and just go check out the store to see what I thought.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover Aldi wasn’t anything like I thought it would be. Sure, it doesn’t have the bells and whistles that a traditional grocery store has, but I’ll gladly give those up for the money I save by shopping there.

Here are a few tips for successfully shopping at Aldi:

1. Shop in a Nicer Section of Town

If possible, find an Aldi nearby that is in a nicer section of town. The Aldi stores in more run-down areas tend to be less clean and the food does seem to be poorer quality (it might just be my imagination–or the fact that it’s a lot more picked over many times!).

2. Shop With an Open Mind

Go to Aldi with an open mind (and a strict cash budget) and start carefully looking over all they have to offer. Right away, you’ll probably find some things you wouldn’t buy there, but you’ll probably be surprised at how similar other items look to things you usually buy at the grocery store.

Buy a few items to try and take them home and see what you and your family think. You’ll probably find some things you don’t care for, but you’ll probably also discover that you actually like some of their products better than the name brand products at the grocery store (for instance, we think their canned green beans are better than name brand green beans!).

The one thing I’ve found that varies the most at Aldi is their produce. At times, their produce will be great. Other times, it’s downright awful. You can always price-match their weekly deals at Walmart, so don’t feel like you need to buy produce there if it looks less than ideal. Stick with what looks fresh and high quality and skip the rest–no matter how inexpensive the price.

3. Stick With Staple Ingredients

In most cases, you’ll save the most at Aldi if you buy primarily staple ingredients there. Many of their processed foods aren’t much less than you’d pay at the grocery store (they can actually cost more than what you’d pay when combining a coupon with a sale!).

However, their every day prices on baking supplies, canned goods, frozen fruit and vegetables, peanut butter, oatmeal, eggs, milk, and butter will be at least 20% less than you’d pay at the grocery store. Plus, while you’re family might be able to tell a difference in ketchup brands, they probably won’t be able to tell if you use Aldi baking soda!

Do you shop at Aldi? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what is best to buy there and what items you won’t buy there.

Q&A Tuesday: Advice for becoming a stay-at-home wife?

Any advice you can share on becoming a stay-at-home wife would be greatly appreciated. My fiance and I are getting married in two weeks, and we’re thinking about having me stay at home. I’m a little nervous as we live in LA (high cost of living area), and he works freelance in the entertainment industry.

We’ve prayed a great deal about it, but as I don’t know any stay-at-home wives, I’m having a difficult time seeing how this works in “real life” not just how I think it’s going to work out. -Rhiannon

Congratulations on your upcoming marriage, Rhiannon! What an exciting time in your lives! Everyone’s situation is different, so it’s hard to give clear-cut principles that will apply to everyone, but here are some suggestions I thought of for you:

1) Be on the same page as your husband.

I made this point in last week’s Q&A post, and it bears repeating again here: if you are not in complete agreement with your husband on decisions like whether you stay at home or work, it can cause serious friction in your marriage. This decision must be made mutually, with both of you realizing the sacrifices it will mean if you choose to stay home.

2) Get on a strict written budget.

I believe that if God calls you to something, He will also provide a way to financially pull it off–even if it doesn’t always work out on paper. However, it’s important to put feet to your faith. Thus, you need a clear plan of action.

Sit down with your soon-to-be-husband and make a detailed, written budget that includes every single category. There are free downloadable budgeting forms available here if you need help getting started.

Commit together to live on this written budget no matter what. If you are going to be a one-income family and you want to avoid debt, a budget is imperative.

3) Hold regular Budget Accountability Meetings.

Not only is a budget a must, but you need to regularly review your budget and see where you stand. This is why I heartily recommend monthly Budget Accountability Meetings. Schedule these on your calendar and make them a priority.

During these meetings, you’ll go over your budget categories and make sure you both stayed within them during the past month. If you didn’t, or you struggled to stick to them, discuss why and what changes can be made to help you adhere to the budget during the next month.

This is also the time to talk about tweaking, eliminating, reducing, and/or raising budget categories. Remember, a good budget isn’t set in stone; it will change somewhat as your priorities and situation in life changes. The ebb and flow is healthy, so long as it’s something you’ve both planned and communicated about.

4) Make sacrifices to achieve your goals.

If your desire is for you to stay home, it’s going to require sacrifices. In the early years of our marriage, it meant that we went for months at a time without buying anything but the bare necessities. It meant making most all of our food from scratch, planning our menus based upon what was on rock-bottom prices at the store, not eating much meat, being a one-car family for three years, shopping at thrift stores, not buying gifts for Christmas or birthdays for a number of years, and looking for any possible way that we could earn additional income on the side.

I won’t tell you that it’s always been easy, but I feel beyond blessed to be a work-at-home mom. Our mutual decision for me to quit working outside the home when I was pregnant with my first is a decision we’ve never regretted.