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7 Dec 2010   ·   91
Money Saving Mom

Ask Jesse: How did you cover health care costs in law school?

During the law school years, how did you cover health care costs, particularly with having babies. Were you able to be on an insurance group plan somehow?

This subject has been weighing heavy on my mind as my husband lost his job a year ago, and I have only been able to find part-time work. Because of health histories, buying a private plan is out of the question, and our COBRA runs out in a few months. If we cannot obtain a full-time job that provides insurance, we are going to be in trouble.

Just wondering how you did it! -Tara

I think it ironic that they refer continued health care coverage after leaving a job with health benefits as “COBRA.” It is a monstrous plan with numerous exclusions that raises its head once a month when it takes a huge bite out of your monthly budget.

Needless to say, health insurance is one of the most hotly discussed topics today. It was not as much of a hot-button issue when I went to law school but it was a need that we definitely wanted to address in our budget.

When I was in undergrad, we took advantage of a low-cost major medical insurance plan offered to students of the university I attended. When I transitioned to law school, we went the same route, choosing to save a little each month towards paying for minor visits out of pocket.

Also, any doctor visits were to the university physician. We also made an effort to ask for samples when we were given prescriptions because it cut down on medication costs. And we just didn’t go to the dentist or eye doctor, aside from one time during law school, which we paid for out of pocket (we called around and found which dentist offered the best new patient special and went with that one).

At one period during law school, we even briefly considered doing away with with health insurance coverage completely for a short time and saving our premium because we did not use the insurance coverage much at all and funds were really tight. However, I knew it would be foolish to do, as one major medical event could land us in dire straights. So we stayed with the student plan.

We had Kathrynne during school and were blessed in that our student insurance plan did cover most of our maternity. We went to a free-standing birth center, which only charged around $4,000 for the entire birth and pre- and post-natal care, making our out-of-pocket costs very minimal.

A few years ago, I decided to get an individual plan for our family, as the group plan where I was working really stunk and was costly. We settled on an HSA (Health Savings Account) offered at our local bank, and purchased a qualifying high deductible health insurance plan with a major health insurance company.

This arrangement is similar to what we did during law school, as the plan is a major medical plan, but the plan now covers 100% after the deductible. Also, the savings no longer goes into a bucket in my budget but goes into an HSA, where the contributions are tax deductible and the growth and all withdrawals for health purposes are tax free. Nothing like a triple whammy! For the self employed, I believe this is one of the best ways to go. (By the way, many employers’ health plans also offer the HSA option.)

If another option comes along that is better than this, I will gladly consider it, but this seems to work for us for now.

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

7 Dec 2010   ·   82
Money Saving Mom

Time Management 101: Home Management (Part 2)


If you missed the first part of this series, be sure to read it here. You can see a video of my Homemaking Binder here.

4) Clear the Clutter

You know one surefire way to add more time to your life? Get rid of excess stuff. I truly believe that the less you have, the less time you have to spend on upkeep, maintenance and cleaning. Either you control the clutter or the clutter will control you.

If you feel overwhelmed with clutter, don’t throw your hands up in despair. Instead, create a realistic plan of attack. Take one room at a time and commit to working on it for 15 minutes five days each week until it is thoroughly gone through and then start on the next.

I’ve written quite a bit on this topic before, so I encourage you to go read my posts on Dealing With Toy Overload and Five Ways to Cut Down on Clutter.

5) Tame the Laundry Monster

While I might be pretty good at keeping on top of most of the clutter in our house, I struggle with keeping up with the laundry. In fact, after my third child was born, for a few months, there was almost always a massive pile of clean laundry in our room waiting to be folded.

I never seemed to have the time or energy to tackle it. So, truth be told, most of the time it didn’t get folded and put away; we just took the clothes straight out of the pile and wore them. (Does that make me Worst Homemaker of the Year?)

I constantly felt guilty about this and overwhelmed by laundry. It just seemed I could never come close to staying on top of it. And finally, I decided enough is a enough. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life overloaded by laundry. So I devised a plan (with my husband’s help!):

::Do a load of laundry from start to finish every day. My goal is that there is never a clean laundry pile of any sort in our room. This isn’t always the case, but if I aim to do a load every day from start to finish (wash, dry, fold put away), I usually stay mostly on top of the laundry.

::Get help. I mentioned before that, after our third child was born and I was struggling with postpartum depression, we hired a girl from church to start coming over once a week and helping out. One of the tasks she often helps with is doing a few loads of laundry.

It is such a huge relief and blessing to know that, if I get behind on laundry, someone else is going to help me get caught back up so I don’t fall hopelessly behind and we resort back to piles of laundry in our room again. I’m also teaching the children to help with laundry and we have a time block in our schedule where we all help fold and put away the laundry.

Maybe these solutions won’t work for you (or quite possibly, you don’t struggle with staying on top of the laundry like I do!), but I encourage you to evaluate areas in your homemaking which you struggle with and work on coming up with possible solutions. It might take you a few tries to find a solution, but you’ll likely hit on something which works well in the process — or which at least helps you see some noticeable improvement!

6) Simplify Meals

You know my mantra is “Keep it simple.” There’s no need to over-complicate life any more than it already is.

If you love making six-course gourmet dinners and you have time to do so, than go for it! But if you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed with life, can I encourage you to give yourself freedom to keep meals simple?

In fact, if your family is okay with it, you might find it helpful to just have two weeks’ worth of go-to quick and easy meals that you rotate. Or, you might consider taking one day a month to prepare most of the food for your main dishes for the next month to stick in the freezer.

We stick with really basic meals around here and it works well for us at this season of our lives. Breakfasts are cereal or oatmeal, lunches are leftovers, sandwiches, salads or macaroni and cheese, dinners are some type of meat (fish, chicken or beef), some type of carb (bread, rice or potatoes) and a veggie. Most meals can be put together in 15 minutes or less, with pretty minimal clean up, too.

Having this simple plan and giving myself the grace to not feel like I needed to be making more than this (unless I was inspired and had time!) has really provided me a lot of freedom from guilt — and it’s saved me a lot of time and energy, too!

7) Let Go of the Myth of a Perfect Balance

I’ve shared a lot of thoughts and tips on time management in this series, but I want to reiterate to you that, while things are so much better in our lives and my priorities are in order much of the time now, please don’t get the impression that I have found a perfect balance in my life. There are still those days when I don’t get enough sleep, the house looks like a tornado came through, I stay in my pajamas all day and Jesse brings home dinner.

As I’ve given myself grace and sought to put the “big rocks” in first, I’ve realized that it’s okay if everything isn’t perfect or even close to perfect. Life is full of disruptions, messes and curveballs.

At different times in your life, you’re going to need to put more energy and effort into some things while other things are going to slide or be put on the back burner for the time being. Something’s always going to be somewhat out of balance… and I believe that is perfectly okay!

True balance is not spending exactly equal amounts of time on every facet of your life, but it’s making sure that, over the course of a few months, you are giving focused attention to each important area in your life and that the unimportant things aren’t creeping in and crowding out what really matters.

Beginning on Wednesday, I’ll be sharing some excellent guest posts on time management from readers who are in much different seasons and situations of life than me. I think you’ll be blessed and encouraged

5 Dec 2010   ·   30
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday: Organic bread for $0.99 per loaf!

I scored big time at the health food store this week! They had a cart full of Rudi’s Organic Baker bread and buns marked down to $0.99. I picked up ten loaves/bags and filled up our freezer with enough bread to last at least a month! I also picked up my free bag of Food Should Taste Good chips.

And I stopped by Hallmark this afternoon and used my $5/$5 coupon. They have wrapping paper on sale for Buy One at $4.99, Get a Second Roll for $0.99. So I bought two rolls, used my $5/$5 coupon and got both rolls for $0.99 plus tax.

So those were my best bargains of the week. Can you believe that I actually ended up not buying anything on Black Friday or Cyber Monday? I was planning on possibly getting a few things, but when I took inventory of our home and children’s clothes, there wasn’t anything we needed. Plus, I already have almost all of our Christmas gifts purchased, so I just kept my money.

But I sort of felt like I bought stuff since I had fun finding and posting deals for you. I guess that gave me the same thrill of shopping — without any money leaving my bank account or wallet! 🙂

_____________

Did you snag any great deals or bargains this week or save money in other ways? If so, be sure to post about them on your blog and leave your link below. Please remember that this weekly round-up is to share deals you personally got and/or money you were able to save this week. In order to keep this weekly round-up focused on helping and inspiring others in their efforts to save money, links which have little-to-no content other than promoting affiliate links, etc. will be deleted. Also, to make it easy for everyone to navigate quickly through the links, your link must link directly to your Super Savings Saturday post.

3 Dec 2010   ·   14
Money Saving Mom

We Paid Cash! :: Our Home Renovation

We paid cash!

A testimony from Courtney

After looking for our dream home for several months, we quickly realized that what we had in mind as the home to raise our family didn’t exist on a police officer’s salary. I was working too, as a teacher, but only for another year or so before I quit to become a stay-at-home mom.

We decided to get used to living on one income early by purchasing a home based on my husband’s salary and using my salary to build our savings.

The Background

Finding a home under our budget and fit all our requirements was a difficult and sometimes frustrating process.

We realized if we were going to find a home we could live in for the long-term it would not come without some flaws. We were careful though, and knew we had to find a home at the low- to mid-range end of our budget so we wouldn’t be financially stressed to complete the renovations.

We also decided that we didn’t want to buy a home that needed a kitchen remodel since those can tend to be more expensive.

Having these things decided, we found a home we loved and fit our budget, but needed some cosmetic changes. The kitchen had been remodeled eight years earlier and was in great condition. We just changed the handles on the doors to update it a bit. New hardware for the cabinets and drawers cost us around $60.

What We Did

  • New carpet throughout
  • The hardwood floors in the kitchen sanded, sealed and extended
  • New interior doors
  • New paint throughout

We budgeted $5,000 to get this done and were successful.

We Paid Cash TV RoomWe Paid Cash TV Room After

How We Did It

  • It was hard to be patient when we wanted a new, beautiful house right now, but we saved carefully and did projects as we had the money to — not charging anything.
  • We shopped around and had several businesses gives us estimates on supplies to ensure we were getting the best price.
  • We did much of the labor ourselves. We ripped out the carpet and pads, pulled carpet staples and prepped all the floors. Removing the carpet, combined with a 10% discount my husband gets through his work at a home improvement store, we were able to save almost $2,000 on our carpet, compared to some bids we received.
  • We borrowed supplies and labor from friends, co-workers and neighbors. Professional paint equipment was offered by a co-worker who used to own his own business; my husband’s parents had drills, saws, and sanders we used, and countless friends offered their labor to get the jobs done.
  • Carpet was the only thing we had professionally installed.

We Paid Cash RenovationsWe Paid Cash Renovations 2

It was a long, time-consuming process but definitely worth it to see the finished product and know that we improved the value of our home without going into debt. It’s also a good feeling to know we didn’t finance our renovations with our mortgage so we aren’t paying interest on it either.

Courtney and Blake have been married for seven years and have a two-year-old daughter. They reside in Utah where Blake is a police officer and Courtney teaches seventh grade. They love spending time as a family and doing things outdoors.

Have you saved up and paid cash for something — large or small? Submit your story for possible publication here.

3 Dec 2010   ·   23
Money Saving Mom

Do-It-Yourself: Make a gift bow from a magazine page

Did you know you can skip buying bows and instead use magazines pages (or any paper of your choice) to make your own gift bows?

If you’d like a different look, Oh Amanda gives a tutorial for using wrapping paper to make a bow.

Do you have a fun and frugal Christmas DIY idea to share? I’d love to hear about it! Read the submission guidelines and submit it here.

2 Dec 2010   ·   170
Money Saving Mom

A Shiny New Car is Not Always All It’s Cracked Up to Be

As most of you know, we finally replaced Old Blue Van and paid cash for a new-to-us car recently. We’ve never had a car with less than 60,000 miles on it (most of ours have been purchased at closer to 100,000 miles!) so buying a less-than-three-year-old car was a pretty monumental purchase for us.

When Jesse brought the car home, we were so excited for him to have reliable transportation. But I have to admit that we both were excited about more than the reliability of the transportation: we liked having such a beautiful car in impeccable condition.

A few nights later, we drove it to an event and when we parked and got out, a random stranger hollered from a few parking stalls over, “Nice car, man!” I looked over at my husband and said with a huge grin, “I bet that’s the first time someone’s ever said that about your car, isn’t it?”

However, our big bubble of pride was just about ready to be burst.

A couple of weeks ago, I heard Jesse pull into the garage but he didn’t come in the house like usual. Instead, he called my phone.

“This is weird,” I thought. “Why not just walk in and tell me instead of calling me from the garage?”

After answering the phone, I heard him say in very upset tones, “I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it!

I started getting worried at how frustrated he seemed. It’s very rare for him to get upset and he was really worked up about something.

But my heart went up into my throat when he said, “I just shut the garage door down on the back of the car!”

It was my turn to be upset now. “You what? How could you have done that?? Please tell me the car’s not ruined!” I exclaimed in harsh tones without waiting for him to answer.

The car’s back bumper was no longer in impeccable condition. Instead, it had an indentation and gash from our garage door imprinted on it.

I was angry at my husband. He was angry at himself. And we were both sick that our beautiful car was now marred.

After 30 minutes of huffing and puffing over it, we both finally stepped back and realized how stupid we were being. Here we were all upset over a dent on a vehicle when people all over the world are wondering where their next meal is going to come from or how they are going to pay the medical bills for their child with cancer. A dent in our shiny new car is very microscopic in comparison and it’s certainly not worth having a fight over or losing sleep over.

This incident has taught us a very important lesson: when you buy nicer things, it’s easier to become more attached to them. If we had shut the garage door down on Old Blue Van, we would have laughed and let it go because it would have just been one more flaw to add to the van’s character.

But our reaction was completely different when it came to our new car — and it made us realize how we’ve wrongly become too attached to this car. Three months ago, we were content to drive a clunker. But, after buying a new car, we were all of a sudden getting angry over a dent in the bumper!

It was just the reality check we needed to jolt us out of our selfishness and pride and remind us that things are just things. We can’t take them with us and they are all God’s anyway.

We likely can get the dent fixed on the car, but at this point, I’m not so sure we will. It’s serving as a constant reminder to us that it’s just a car. There are much more important things in life than driving a shiny new car in impeccable condition.

1 Dec 2010   ·   75
Money Saving Mom

Enter to win my favorite Grain Mill!

If you’ve been a regular reader here for awhile, you know that I buy my wheat in bulk and grind it myself. There are so may advantages to doing so — and it saves us a lot of money, too!

So, for my Christmas Gift Guide post this week, I’m giving away my very favorite Grain Mill so that one of you can also enjoy the benefits of milling your own flour, too. Go enter to win it!

1 Dec 2010   ·   81
Money Saving Mom

Vlog: My Very Simple Homemaking Binder

I was first introduced to the concept of a “Homemaking Binder” when I first started reading blogs almost seven years ago. I read about all these incredible and massively-detailed binders other women had put together and thought, this is it! This is going to solve my homemaking issues and help me have a beautifully organized home and life.

So I tried to make up an elaborate system but quickly discovered there was one major problem: The system wouldn’t work unless I worked the system! And because I had bitten off more than I could chew and was trying to make someone else’s system work for me, it left me more frustrated than ever. To be honest, I even felt like a failure when I just couldn’t make a Homemaking Binder work for me and it seemed it worked flawlessly for everyone else.

Over time, I’ve learned that it’s okay to do what works for me — even if it’s much different than what works for other people. So instead of trying to conform myself to another person’s system, I’ve set out to create my own.

This video tutorial walks you through what I’ve been using for the past four months. It’s working really well for us right now, though I can’t promise that it will be what I use for the rest of my life. I’m learning that tweaking and overhauling things as seasons and needs change is what works best.

But I share this in hopes it might inspire some of you. Please don’t copy mine — because it likely won’t work for you! — but I’m hopeful maybe those of you who are struggling with home management might be able to glean a few ideas from it.

By the way, all of the pages I use in my binder can be downloaded for free here. You can also read more details about our daily schedule here.

Do you use a homemaking binder or another system to keep your home and life in order? I’ve love to hear what works for you!

Next Monday, I’ll share the final installment of the Time Management series and then I’ll be posting at least 10 incredible guest posts on time management from readers here who are in different seasons and situations of life than me.

30 Nov 2010   ·   19
Money Saving Mom

Ask Jesse: Should We Use Our Emergency Fund to Start a Business?

There have been a lot of questions coming in recently which I don’t feel qualified to answer as they involve topics which aren’t my areas of expertise. So I’m so excited that my husband, Jesse, has kindly offered to occasionally tackle these questions in my place on Tuesdays! -Crystal

We have been thinking of making the transition to my husband becoming self-employed for a while and are currently looking at all the ins and outs of that. We have no debt, a paid-for car and house, the capital needed to start up the business he is thinking of and an emergency fund which will last us 5-6 months of living expenses.

Part of me thinks that this choice to transition to self employment, isn’t really an emergency, and so we should build up another fund to allow for that transition to happen rather than using our emergency fund. On the other hand, that is going to take us literally years at our current savings rate and the potential to rebuild our emergency fund (or top up whatever we have used from it) when my husband is self-employed is greater.

What is your perspective? What should (and shouldn’t) emergency funds be used for? -Karen

Starting a business from the ground up is always an exciting and daunting prospect at the beginning. You have the thrill of realizing you can work for yourself and make your dream into a reality, accompanied by fear of the unknown and of providing for your family. How will it all work?

Well, I certainly don’t know all the answers, but what we have learned from our experience and observation, the key to starting any business is to start small. And grow when you can afford it.

Granted, this is not the make money hand-over-fist, get rich quick answer, but it is what will create staying power in this economy. We have started three businesses with $2000 each, with each succeeding business stretching that money farther each time.

Bear in mind, also, that, unless you have created a market for your business to succeed, you will probably not make a living wage after expenses and for a couple of years. This is why it is generally a better idea to start the business on the side while being employed full-time.

I know one man who did this for 10 years before jumping out on his own. He worked several nights a week and on Saturday mornings until the business was at a place where it could support his family and any new employees who needed to be hired in the transition. If your husband can at all squeeze even an hour at night or a few on the weekends and put that time into starting a business, you will be in a much better position administratively and financially to jump onto the self-employment band-wagon a few years (or months!) down the road.

As far as using your emergency fund is concerned, I would not touch it if I were in your shoes. The emergency fund is a necessary cornerstone of any financial plan, one that should not be lightly moved or reduced.

You are in a great position right now as you are debt free and have a steady, full-time income and a good cushion in savings. If you were to remove that cushion to finance the business and remove the steady income, you will have added stress and unnecessary risk that will potentially put your paid-for assets on the chopping block should the business not take off.

If you cannot run a small portion of the business on the side in the wee hours, I would suggest taking the next year to save up as much money as you can in addition to your emergency fund. If you have enough saved up so you do not have to touch that money, and can reasonably foresee being able to get the business off the ground (with a lot of sweat equity, mind you) and taking advantage of today’s technology and free internet tools, then come and jump on in. The water is nice!

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