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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Managing Finances

THANKSGIVING: We had a wonderful Thanksgiving in the Seiler home. We had 17 people for dinner. My mom was staying with us from Monday through Friday of this week, so she got to be with us for Thanksgiving (my dad was hunting with my brother). I love having my mom here, and wish she was closer (she lives in Medford). We also had an elderly couple in the church for Thanksgiving - they lost all three of their sons, and have no nearby family. We had another family of four, friends of ours, and, of course, my husband's parents and sister. We just happened to have an inflatable in the driveway, so Pastor James blew that up for the kids, despite the drizzle. Hannah had just bought "Just Dance 3" for the Wii, so they played that some. The kids were very entertained. The men watched football, and when that was over, we watched "The Rockshow Comedy Tour," with Tim Hawkins. Laughter is one of God's greatest inventions! We are so blessed with family and friends and, even more than that, God's grace in our lives!


MANAGING FINANCES: I was raised in a very financially wise and conscientious family. My dad always managed the family's finances with precision, and his mom (my grandmother) was a very wise investor, saving up large amounts of money to pass on to her children and grandchildren, all the while, reusing paper plates and foil.
As soon as I got my first job as a teenager, I wanted to manage my own money. I even asked my parents to show me all the money they put out for me. I wanted to know how much it cost for me to live. What I could, I took over. I began to pay my insurance and gas and whatever I could afford.
I began working for the State of California when I was in my very early adulthood (like 19 or 20). I learned how to budget. I was a student of Larry Burkett, at the time, and his financial advice. He had a budget guide for single people that I used to create my own budget. Later, when Pastor James and I got married, I switched to his budget guide for young marrieds. We also took a Crown Financial Ministries course at our church. His advice was to budget on one income, especially if you plan to stay at home with your children. So we did. We tried very hard to live off of Pastor James's income alone. We didn't always make the wisest financial decisions in those early days, for sure. But after a year-and-a-half of marriage, when I became pregnant with our first child, we knew I would be leaving the State of California to stay at home with our daughter. It wasn't an enormous blow to our finances, as we'd set up our lives to live off of his income alone. We still had accumulated debt (house debt and car debt) that made it difficult, living paycheck to paycheck. We weren't as wise then as we are now about debt, and we are proud to live completely debt free now. But that took years to turn around because of some impulse decisions we made when we were first married.
Our budget has changed a lot over the years, but we still live by a budget. I have our budget typed up in Word so we can see the bottom line at any given time. Our budget has always been something we work on collectively as a couple. It includes all the categories that Crown Financial Concepts includes on their budget guide. We account for EVERYTHING that we know we will spend each month. Obviously, unexpected things come up, but to the best of our ability, we plan for them as well.
BUDGET: We live off the "10-10-80" principle. The first 10% of ALL our increase goes to the Lord who provides everything we have. It's His anyways. The next 10% goes into savings. We live off the remaining 80%. It hasn't always been easy, and if anything has suffered over the years, it's been our savings account. But we just try again the next month.
HOW WE WORK: We have always had just one account for the two of us (meaning, we don't have separate accounts). It's always been a joint effort by the two of us, despite the fact I do not provide any additional income. While my husband provides financial oversight in our family, and has the final say as to how we manage our finances, I've always managed the day-to-day. I put the budget into play. And as a stay-at-home mom, my mentality is that my contribution to our family's finances is how frugal I run the household. I am extremely frugal, and never stop learning and experimenting with how I can save a little here or there.
For as long as I can remember, I've used Quicken to manage our finances. Every Monday, I balance our account. I pull up our Quicken on my computer in one window, and pull up our bank account online in another window, and compare the two. Once I have checked off everything that has cleared and know what hasn't, I give Pastor James the bottom line: "Currently, we're at THIS, but THIS and THIS and THIS have yet to clear our account. When everything clears, we'll be at THIS. But don't forget THIS is still coming. In addition, we have THIS much in savings, so we're THIS far from our savings goal."
I send him something to that effect in an email, so he can visually see it. One thing I love about Quicken is that you can enter transactions that will happen in the future. For instance, if you want to make sure there will be enough money in your account for a trip you will be taking in two weeks, you go ahead and enter the trip into Quicken with a future date. Then you ensure that money doesn't get touched.
ANOTHER SMALL TIP: In our younger days, we frequently bounced checks. It was an awful way to live. One year, when we received a tax return, we decided to put a $500 cushion in our checking account. It's entered into Quicken like a year ago, but Quicken accounts for it being there. So we continue functioning and forget it exists, but we ensure that we will never bounce a check again. When Quicken says we're getting low, we know to make some adjustments. It doesn't matter what the bank says we have. We live off of what Quicken says we have.
PAYDAY: When payday arrives, I sit at my laptop and begin paying bills. I write our first check to the church. I can transfer money into savings right from my computer. I pay every bill I can online, and write checks for the one or two that I can't pay online. Because we only get paid once a month, I pay the bills all at once. I find that easier than keeping track of due dates. We have used the envelope system for many years. For items like groceries and gas and our little bit of play money each month, I take them out of the account in cash and give Pastor James whatever he needs for the month. We just find its easier to see the money go when we have the cash in our hands.When the money is gone, the money is gone.
CHILDREN AND SAVING: Our children each have their own savings account at the bank. For the older ones, I hand them their statement when it comes. I have given them the "shpeal" about the importance of saving, and how many years away from driving age they are, and that they'll want a car. Or how many years away from college or marriage they are, and how much those things cost. They understand they have a lot of saving to do. My children are required to give 10% of all their increase to the Lord and put a minimum of 20% in savings (they don't have living expenses, so this shouldn't be hard). A few of them choose to put more in savings, because they are goal-oriented in their personalities. I have another child who always seems to be saving for something they want to buy. Either way, it's important to me that they are giving to God and saving. They love to compare the amounts in their savings accounts when the statements arrive. For the little ones, I try to put money they receive into savings, as they don't need anything, and they don't know what to do with money they get.
TAX RETURNS AND BONUSES: In the spring, we get a large tax return and Pastor James receives a bonus from PG&E. We immediately tithe on all that increase. Then we save the rest. It's how we pay for irregular items that come up throughout the year, like sports, vacations, etc. Last year, we had to buy a new washer and dryer, and we used this money to help with that.
OUR MONEY PHILOSOPHY: A while ago, we took a DVD course by Jim Sammons, a financial adviser. One of the principles he taught that really stuck for us is this: God will provide for everything He wants you to have. If there is something you want, but don't have the money for, perhaps it is not God's will that you have it. If He wants you to have something, He will provide the means for you to obtain it, (and that DOESN'T include borrowing, as the Bible tells us not to borrow or get into debt). In addition, he taught that many of us gripe that we don't have enough to pay our bills. However, we have chosen to tie up much of our money in debt and other things that perhaps were not what God intended for us to do with our money. God says, "I provided all that you needed to meet your NEEDS, but you didn't spend it like you should have. You spent it on other things." So while we're blaming God for our tight finances, we actually brought it upon ourselves by disobedience.
With this thought in mind, we no longer worry about how we will pay for this or that. If God wants us to do something, He will give us the means to do it.
I think I've covered everything in regards to how the Seilers manage finances. If you have any questions, you can always comment below or email me privately at chris@marshillgalt.com. Happy saving!!!!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Seiler Kids' Chores

I was raised to work hard. My parents did not care whether I felt like helping out or not. There was work to be done, and we all had to help to get it done. I FIRMLY believe that contributed to my ability to work very hard as an adult. I don't have a lazy bone in my body. And I refuse to raise lazy children.
In a large family, there's plenty of work to do, but there's also plenty of helpers. Even if I had just two children, I would still raise my children to help significantly with the daily household management.
The Bible has PLENTY to say about hard work vs. laziness. Just Google it, and you will get a long list. For instance, Proverbs 13:4 says, “The soul of the lazy man desires and has nothing; but the soul of the diligent shall be made rich.” Because it's important to God, in the Seiler home, everyone must work, everyday. The only exception is Sundays, our day of rest, but even feeding animals still has to be done on Sundays.
As soon as a child is old enough to make a mess, that child is old enough to be taught to clean it up. One motto in our house is, "If you make a mess, you clean it up." When my children were toddlers, it would start with me sitting on the floor with them and singing Barney's clean-up song. I would take their hands and physically make them pick up a toy (with my hand over the top) and then we'd put it away together. We'd keep singing until it was all done. Over time, they were required to do it without mom's help. No fail, every child will resist clean-up time at one point or another. If a child refuses to obey my direction to clean-up, consequences must be administered. My children have cleaned-up while crying many times, but they must be taught at an early age to force themselves to do what they don't feel like doing - to have the ability to overrule themselves. That's just life! We, as adults, must do that all the time.
My older children love to have the younger children be their chore buddy. This is great, because not only do they bond, but the younger children are learning how to do chores from their older siblings. They learn teamwork.
At preschool age, my children's chores are mainly self-care and picking up toys. I have two preschoolers currently: Noah is 4 1/2, and Nathan is 3 1/2.
Once they hit about age five, they can graduate into bigger responsibilities, such as sorting laundry, unloading the dishwasher, and feeding animals. Right now, Luke, my 6 1/2 year old, is at this stage.
By age eight or so, you should really begin to feel the difference in your workload. When my older children spend the night somewhere else, I can feel the weight of their help at chore-time, when I have to pick up their slack. My older children are a significant help in the running of our house - there's no doubt! Joshua is my 8 1/2 year-old.
By age 10-12, you should feel confident that, if you were to be sick for a long time or in some way debilitated, your child could fill in for you with no problem. Maybe meals won't taste as great as yours after your many years of experience, but they could prepare SOMETHING! They could do laundry, dishes, clean bathrooms, care for pets, etc. with little-to-no guidance from you. I am confident that, if something were to happen to me, Hannah, my 12-year-old could run the show, and even care for her younger siblings, with no problem.
SO, HOW DO YOU ASSIGN CHORES? Just like with menu planning, I've utilized many different methods in the past. One of my favorite resources is Teri Maxwell's "Manager of Their Chores." http://www.titus2.com/ecommerce/products/prod_listing.php/1150
In this resources, Teri shows how to assess the needs of your house. You must start by creating a master list of everything that needs to be done, and how often. From there, I simply count up the items on the list and divide it by the number of people helping (which, in our house, is everyone but Dad, because he works). Then, I choose that number of chores for each person. I try to assign chores to the youngest child who is capable of doing them, and move up from there. I take into account how much each age can handle. It must be do-able. I want them to feel successful and the pride of contributing to our home.
HOW LONG DO CHORES TAKE? Hannah is quite efficient in completing her chores. She's also my only girl. Boys, I have found, are very easily distracted during chore time. In my opinion, it should not take more than 30 minutes. If I find a child is being sluggish in completing their chores, I set a timer. They hate that, because they know if they do not beat the timer, there will be consequences. But I tell them that slow work is disobedient. I ask them, "If you were hired to work for someone and you did this kind of work, do you think you deserve to be paid?" I do not tolerate slow work. I also don't tolerate being in the wrong place when you're supposed to be working. I have a few different consequences for not beating the timer. For some, that might be extra chores. For others, it might be another form of Biblical consequences. It just depends on the situation and the child. Incidentally, any child who is mean to a sibling, especially during chore time, is often given the consequence to complete that sibling's chores for them.
HOW OFTEN DO YOU DO CHORES? Because all six of us are home all day together, our home gets un-tidy pretty fast. We do chores twice a day, in addition to a quick tidy before bed. So we have morning chores, which must be completed before 9:00am, when we start school. We also do chores again at 1:00pm, because the house is often un-tidy by then, and the dogs need more water, and there's dishes piled in the sink, and laundry to be rotated.
WHAT DO YOUR CHORE LISTS LOOK LIKE? Currently, I have distributed our chores by rooms or major groups. For instance, one child may be in charge of keeping the living room tidy, which includes straightening the books on the bookshelves, and putting away DVDs and Wii games that get left out. Another child may have kitchen, which includes dishes, but also wiping counter-tops and the dining table, and putting away stray toys that end up on the kitchen floor. It does not matter who made the mess. If that room is your jurisdiction, you clean it. My children know they are to never say, "But I didn't make this mess!" I tell them, "I have to clean up many messes I do not create. That is not important." Children with the laundry chore round up all the laundry in the house each morning and sort it in the floor of the laundry room. If they are old enough, they start the first load. In our house, we have so much laundry, I help in a big way get the laundry done. Not even Hannah can keep a handle on all of it all by herself. Every child has personal chores, which include getting dressed, brushing teeth and hair, making bed, tidying their bedroom EVERY MORNING, and spending time with Jesus. On our chore list, non-reading children are given pictures, which I get from Google Images, so they can read their chore list without my assistance. Here is our chore list for this month that I just prepared this week: https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=explorer&chrome=true&srcid=0ByxyI9jtA1nJMzVkNTE0OTYtYTZhNC00MTY4LThlYTUtYjRjOTY1ZjJmYjhi&hl=en_US
HOW LONG DO CHILDREN HAVE THE SAME CHORES? Right now, I rotate the chores monthly between the three older children. Noah & Nathan's chores never change at this point. Noah turns 5 in May, so he will graduate into greater responsibilities at that time.
DO YOU PAY THEM FOR THEIR CHORES? We do not pay for chores. In our opinion, as long as you live in this house, you must contribute to the house. We do, however, occasionally have extra tasks that need done, and we may give money for that. For instance, reorganizing the DVD drawers, making sure the right DVDs are in their cases, or maybe cleaning out the junk drawer, or whatever odd jobs need to be done. When odd jobs are piling up, I make a list on the white board, and write next to them how much I will pay a child to do that task. Then my older children come along and write their initials next to a job they promise to do, and they earn the extra money. (A side note, they are required to give the first 10% of all their earned money to God.)
WHAT ARE MY EXPECTATIONS FOR QUALITY OF CHORES? I do not expect my children to be able to do chores as well as I would do them. In fact, I'm pretty confident in many instances it would be easier to do some chores myself. However, that doesn't teach my children anything. So although it can be more work for me, especially in the beginning when a child is learning a new skill, it will pay off later. When a child receives a new chore, it is only fair that that child is trained how to do it, and what my expectations are. I expect that they give excellence in everything they do, as if they were doing it for God Himself. You know what your child is capable of, but we must push them slightly past what they think they can do. If I review chores (which I do just about every morning and afternoon) to see the quality of work done, and I feel a child didn't do their best, I bring them back to do it again. If I feel they need further training of my expectations, I bring them back to teach them. For instance, one of my boys, for some reason, believes a room is clean if the floor has nothing on it. However, he fails to look ABOVE the floor, on the tables, or couches, desks, dressers, beds, to pick up items out-of-place. So I call him back. I say, "The floor looks very tidy. Way to go! But do you think this room looks really tidy yet? What is still out-of-place?"
So that's how our home is ran like a well-oiled machine. I have people tell me all the time, "Your house is always so neat. With all these kids, how is that possible? I can't even keep my house clean, and I only have one." Now you know my secret. It's called "TEAMWORK!"
A NOTE FOR MOMS OF LITTLE ONES: I know it's a lot of work all on you right now. But trust me, your time will come when your children are old enough to participate. Hang in there! There's light at the end of the tunnel.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Family Menu for December 2011

I learned a long time ago that, the more people you add to your household, the more organized you have to be. I study other large families like ours to see what works for them. I read books, I look up organizational tools online, whatever I can do to run my home as smooth as possible.
When it comes to feeding our family, I find that, for me, having a plan saves me time, money, and calories. I do not function well "on the fly," making up what I'm going to prepare. If I'm tired, it's too easy to just go out and buy food at a restaurant or fast food place, or cook something super fast, but not necessarily well-balanced. Having a plan takes out the daily guesswork and ensures we're eating healthy.
Since my husband gets paid on the 23rd of every month, I spend the week before payday preparing our family menu for an entire month. I've been planning monthly menus for almost three years now, so I have many stored on my computer, and can always refer to past menus as a reference. But I sometimes like to mix things up, and our lives and schedules change, which plays into my menu as well. Here's how I do it:
1. I start by creating a blank chart to work from (see sample in the link below). I fill in the dates for that particular month. I also fill in anything on our calendar that may affect our meal schedule. Then I print it out.
2. I then start filling in meals. I've done this many different ways over the years, but two methods are my favorite. One, I like to assign each day of the week a different theme, such as Monday is chicken, Tuesday is fish, Wednesday is meatless, and so on. I often like to do crock-pot meals for Sundays, since we're so busy and we like to relax on Sunday afternoons. I put in dinner before I leave for church, and it's ready when I return. My second method of meal planning is to plan two whole weeks of meals, and then repeat them, so you eat them twice in one month. This sometimes can cut down on the variety of foods you have to buy at the grocery store, as well as the time you spend planning meals, and just makes things simple.
WHY ARE THERE SO MANY MEALS EACH DAY ON YOUR MENU? Because I am trying to lose weight and be healthier, I have solicited the counsel of a dear friend of mind, Kati. Kati suggested I eat six mini meals, at approximately 300 calories each, hence the six meals on the menu below. I had to do my homework for a while, counting calories, and was quite shocked at what I discovered. I really ate way too much. After counting calories for about a month, I don't have to anymore. I have a good handle on what makes 300 calories. In a restaurant, I shoot for anything under 500 calories. Every restaurant should be able to provide their calories if you ask them.
3. Once I have my entire month filled in, I translate that into my grocery list. A long time ago, I developed a staple list that I save on my computer. You can see it on page three and four of the link below. With few exceptions, this list doesn't change much month-to-month. It includes not only just staples, but things we don't want to run out of in our house. I have found that, if I have everything on my staple list in my house, I can pretty much make any recipe I want. Each month, after I've planned my menu, I make sure every ingredient I need for that menu is on the grocery list somewhere.
4. Now that my grocery list is completed, I do inventory. Once a month, I go through my food supply and check off my grocery list what I do NOT need to buy. I get a feel for how low I'm getting on things. Because I do not operate in the urgent ("Oh no, I don't have such-and-such!"), I save money, because I get the best buy on each item, rather than having to run to the nearest grocery store and spending too much because I need it NOW.
5. OK, so I have my menu typed out, printed, and hung with a magnet on my refrigerator. I have my grocery list with items crossed out that I do not need to buy. I wait for payday, and when it happens, I'm off! I shop for the entire grocery list all at one time. I shop at two stores, and here's how they were chosen. Several years ago, I took the time to price out EVERY item on my grocery list to compare prices between many stores. I priced them out by unit (for instance, how much per ounce), and wrote those prices on my grocery list. From there, I could see where I would get the best buy. It's possible that one particular item may be cheaper at the Dollar Store, but I'm not going to add a third store to my shopping day just to get a better buy on one item. Gas must be factored in as well. But for the most part, I am confident that I will get the best buy by shopping at Costco and Winco. There are some items, such as canned goods, that are a far better buy at Winco. Other items are equivalent, such as eggs and milk, so it really doesn't matter which of the two stores I get those at. And still other items, such as cereal, are better buys in bulk at Costco. You can often see the price per unit on the label at the store in smaller print. NOW, BIG DISCLAIMER HERE: I told you I did these price comparisons a long time ago. Prices have changed DRAMATICALLY since then, and I haven't had the time to update my list accordingly. However, I now have a pretty good feel for what I prefer to buy where. If you look at my grocery list below, you will see a "C" next to the items I like to purchase at Costco, and a "W" next to the things I like to buy at Winco. On shopping day, I usually start at Costco, just in case there is something I meant to buy there that they ended up not having, then I can pick it up at Winco next. I take my 12-passenger van, and remove the back seat. The entire shopping takes me about 3-4 hours (depending on if I have little ones with me). Then I'm done for the month!!!! I stay out of the store the rest of the month, other than maybe a replenishment of milk.
So, each morning, when I awake, I look over the menu for the day, and see what needs to be thawed for dinner or put in a crock-pot or whatever. It's smooth sailing from there.
WHAT ABOUT PRODUCE? I used to go weekly and purchase my produce, so I'd set aside some money from my entire grocery budget for this. I liked Henry's Farmers Market in Elk Grove, and even the Galt flea market. However, recently, I joined "It's Organic." They deliver boxes of seasonal organic produce right to my door every Thursday. I was paying about $50 a week in produce, if I went to Raley's (which I hate doing, but sometimes had to). I pay It's Organic $30 for one box (2-4 people) or $60 for two, and I don't have to go to the store. It tastes FABULOUS - so much better than store produce! You can get a fruit only box, a vegetable only box, or a mixed box. You can even add organic pastas and grains and cage-free eggs, for an extra charge. Every Monday or Tuesday, I go on their website to see what they will be delivering that week, and if I don't like something, I fill out a form that says, "Don't send me that. Give me extra of this item in its place." I have been VERY pleased with this service! Check them out at www.itsorganicdelivery.com, and if you sign up, mention my name as your referral.
WHERE DO YOU STORE IT ALL? In my last home, which was 1360 square feet, I didn't have very much pantry space at all. I bought a few "monkey racks" for the garage, and I would store extra food out there that I didn't have room for inside. I set up the racks sort of like my own grocery store. I also had an upright refrigerator/freezer in my garage for extra cold things. We now live in a home that has floor-to-ceiling cabinets in the laundry room. That is my new overflow pantry. I also keep all my cleaning products in there. I have added a small deep freezer to my garage, and I freeze my bread, tortillas, extra cheese, and just about ANYTHING so it will last a month. This deep freezer only cost me like $250 at Costco a few years ago, and it's been a lifesaver! I love my deep freezer! So in my kitchen cabinets, the only food I store is that which is already opened. Any unopened food, I keep in the laundry room pantry or my fridge or freezer in the garage.
DO YOU USE COUPONS? I don't use very many coupons, and this is why: I try, in most cases, to buy the store brand, because it's so much cheaper, even with coupons. The only exception is when it tastes significantly worse, such as with saltine crackers or graham crackers. In addition, I buy so much in bulk quantities because it saves money when you compare the per-unit price, and there aren't coupons for that. I do, however, use the coupons I get in the mail from my Costco membership ad, but only if that item is on my grocery list for that month.
WHY COSTCO AND NOT SAM'S CLUB? Comparing the two, their prices aren't very different. So it then became a matter of preference. I have had very poor experience with the customer service at our local Sam's Club, so I chose Costco instead.
BUT I DON'T HAVE A LARGE FAMILY: I see no reason at all why this organizational method cannot be used for ANY family. The only difference is the quantity, but even for smaller families, non-perishables are a better buy in bulk, and anything you can freeze. Any woman would benefit from working from a plan, eliminating unnecessary trips to the grocery store, and saving time and money.

OK, I think I covered everything I wanted to share with you about my menu planning. If you think of any questions you have, please write them in the comments and we can start a dialogue. Here's my menu for this coming month, which I completed this week:
https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=explorer&chrome=true&srcid=0ByxyI9jtA1nJY2MyZGVjMTktYWFkZi00MzVhLThkZWQtY2FkOTAyZDY2YzM3&hl=en_US

Friday, November 18, 2011

Welcome to My New Blog!

I'd like to welcome you all to my new blog! I'm so excited you are checking it out! I have so much I'd love to share with you! My heart is for this blog to become a place where we can share ideas and information with each other - iron sharpening iron - so we can all become better women of God, wives, mothers, homemakers, or gals preparing for their future as wives, moms, and homemakers. I also want this blog to be a glimpse for you inside the lives of the Seiler family. I will transparently share with you what's happening in our home, what plans I'm making in managing my home, what parenting challenges we're working on, how Pastor James and I navigate through everyday life, homeschooling tips, and what God is speaking to me in different seasons of my life. I look forward to dialoguing with you on so many things! Feel free to share your questions and comments so we can help each other!
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