Thursday, January 30, 2014

Moving on the Cheap

First off, to my readers, I apologize.
I know its bad form to start correspondence with an apology, but I feel I should just throw it out there right away so you know I haven't forgotten you. I have found that I often wonder about the blogability of a moment frequently throughout the days, yet I never actually blog about them. For that, I am sorry. Not that I want my blog to become a minute by minute update of everything that's happening in my life (there are plenty of ways to do that these days... ahem FacebookTwitterLinkedInInstagrametc...) but I still want to share my ideas with you and hear your feedback.
I haven't posted I the last few weeks because we have been moving. And I'll tell ya what, moving with a 1 year old ain't easy. Fortunately (also unfortunately) he takes long naps so I have lots of time in the house to pack\unpack (and not much time to do out-of-house errands). Besides that challenge, no matter how cheaply you try to move, it always ends up being really expensive. Here's how we did it as cheaply as possible.
We moved everything ourselves with our truck and trailer. Granted this takes a lot of time and late nights, so if you're on a strict schedule this may not work for you, but if you can swing it, the cost of gas for an in-city move is considerably less expensive than renting a truck, albeit more inconvenient. So far we have used one extra tank of gas, costing us $60.
We got free boxes and packing materials. I searched Craigslist for a day or two until I found a big enough bunch of boxes for free, with packing paper and wardrobe boxes to boot.
We enlisted friends for help. Not many people like to actually help you move, but I got several days of free childcare and we are storing a few things in a friend's extra garage. I also swapped childcare with another friend and in return she helped me clean my old apartment. Be creative when asking your friends for help.
We traded furniture we were going to sell for carpet cleaning. That worked out wonderfully, I had a futon couch and a kitchen table I was going to sell, but the family who runs the carpet cleaning business said their couch AND table had broken recently and they were looking for replacements! The original bid was $233, but after some talking and trading, my carpets got cleaned for only $75! I also sold my other couch and bought a much nicer futon for the same price, so I still have an extra bed and a couch AND its way more comfortable than the last one.
Sell off your excess. I was hoping to have this mostly done by the time we moved, but sadly I still have a mountain of stuff to sell. Since the move, I have sold 4 things netting about $40.
If you need to purchase something, shop sales. We needed storage bins for the things we're storing off site, and since it's the first of the year, storage and organization items are on really good sales. I got 14 sturdy bins for $90, about 45% off. Turns out we really did need that many! Unfortunately the curtains I needed were not on sale, so that was a whopping $150 out the window. Literally. Though in reality, because its an old house with single pane windows and its January in Montana, the curtains were a necessity. I'll probably save that much on my heating bills throughout the rest of the winter so it was really worth it.
Plan for the unexpected. I know this is a tough one, because what could possibly go wrong... Well, a flat tire on the truck (could be $400 for new tires), the previous tenant cut the pipes to the washer ($15 per trip to the laundromat), both cars needed new batteries since we no longer have covered parking ($230), none of the plugs are grounded ($15 for adapters), the aforementioned previously unnecessary curtains ($150), we got a new kitchen table since the last one didn't fit ($50), disposable diapers and wipes for convenience ($25), cleaning supplies ($15), eating out ($25ish), the list could go on, but I'll stop there.
So you can see that while moving on the cheap is possible, my advice would be to budget twice as much as you're expecting to spend because you never know. For instance, we were planning to move for about $300, and it turned out to be almost double if you don't count the replacement tires since that is bound to happen anyways.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Simple: Christmas

My family Christmases have always been pretty simple, family focused affairs. When I married my husband, it was a little more tricky. We now had two families to visit... but since everyone was pretty close, we made it work fairly easy. Then we moved to Montana which is two states away. If that wasn't enough, we had our first child on Christmas day last year. Needless to say, our Christmases have gotten quite a bit more complicated.
Oh, and did I mention my extended family lives in Florida? Yeah, I just kicked that up a notch.

This year is the first year we're trying to figure out a long-distance Christmas/birthday.
We're going home for two weeks over Christmas and New Year’s Day, so we will have plenty of time to spend with family and see some friends. Also, we're bringing our dog, just to make it that much more complicated.

Our holidays will look somewhat like this:

Christmas Eve morning/day spent with my parents. Call/Skype my family in Florida.
Christmas Eve evening spent with my husband's extended family.
Christmas Day morning spent with my in-laws.
Christmas Day dinner at 2pm with my parents and my in-laws.
Nels' birthday celebration with cake & presents after Christmas dinner.
New Year’s Eve is up for grabs, we'll wait to see what other people are doing and decide how we'd like to participate. We kicked it low-key with our friends while the babies slept in the back room. It was just my kind of celebrating.

In addition to the celebrations, I am also making and sending gifts to my extended family, making gifts for several of my friends' kids and for a few of my closest girlfriends. In all, I have 10 kid gifts, 3 gifts for friends, gifts for my parents, my in-laws, my brother and sister-in-law, my husband's sister and her husband (I just settled with sending them a baby gift since they are expecting early next year), my husbands second sister (who loves books), and a box of homemade goodies and a photo book for my Florida family. And most all of it will be homemade.

Seems complicated, right? It's getting more so every year. These are a few things I do to simplify.
I wrap all my gifts with brown package paper (I bought a large roll off Amazon for $8 three years ago and I still have enough left for this year and part of next year) and I buy one multi-pack of ribbon (for about $5) to embellish. I don't use tags, I just write who it's to on the wrapping paper with a marker. My only supplies for wrapping gifts is one roll of paper, one spool of ribbon, scissors, a marker and tape.

I use Amazon wish lists, especially for my sisters-in-law and brother. I don't get really hung up on surprising people. I know they like to get gifts, and most of the time it doesn't really matter if it's a surprise or not. Call me cruel, but I often don't buy my husband a gift. He is really hard to buy for and if I can't find something he'll really use or love, I just write him a really nice (aka sexy) card and call it good. Disclaimer: I forgot the card this year… Sorry, babe.

I make gifts for my friends' kids, mostly. This year I'm making caramel corn to give to my adult friends in a pretty canister (aka recycled formula can wrapped and tied with a bow). My best friend and I agreed to give each other an experience instead of a gift. I'd like to do this a lot more next year. We ended up making sugar cookies with her two year old while the younger babies slept. It was really fun and I felt really special being a part of her long time family tradition.

I let other people cook for me. I'm fortunate that I have two mothers willing to cook amazing dinners and I don't have to lift a finger if I don't want to. Of course I always try to help with cleanup, but even that's optional. I cooked Thanksgiving dinner last year, just because I had never before cooked a holiday dinner and it seemed the thing to do on our first major holiday away from family. I don't know what I was thinking cooking for 6 hours while 8 months pregnant and severe nerve pain in my hips. I did most of the cooking from a computer chair. It turned out delicious anyways.
And now, for the big shocking plot twist: I don't decorate my house for the holidays. I have one stocking that I bought for Nels hanging on the coat closet door, but that's it, folks. No tinsel, no lights. Not even a Christmas tree. I do kind of want to decorate, but the reality is we'll be gone for Christmas so I would just have a lot more work to do when we got home. And if I want Christmas cheer, I go to my friends' beautifully decorated houses. I have to say this is the biggest stress saver for me. It won't be this way every year, so don't fear little elves, but for now this is just the way it is going to be.

And lastly, I always remind myself why we're celebrating in the first place. If your focus is on perfectly decorating the house and perfectly wrapping the perfect gifts, you are way off the mark. Even if you settle for imperfect decorations and imperfect gifts. That is not what this holiday is about. We are celebrating the birth of the most important man in the history of history. The birth of our Savior, the beginning of the greatest story ever told. Don't lose sight of the importance of the birth of Christ. All the presents and Christmas trees and Christmas hams and Polar Expresses in the world don't add up to a single drop in the ocean of His sacrifice and love and He deserves a lot more of our attention than we give Him.
Be generous. Spend a good part of your holiday this year praising the one who gave his life for you. Make a meal for someone else's family who can't afford it, or better yet, invite them to your house to share in your bounty. There is more than enough food on most tables to serve twice the people than are in attendance.
Be radical. Give all your gifts to a family who really needs some cheer in their holiday. Spend your whole Christmas budget on people who need to witness the love of Christ on this earth in a tangible way. Remember Christ came not to call the righteous, but to save sinners (Luke 5:32).

Be in prayer. Never forget we have a direct line of communication to Jesus, anytime, anywhere. You don't even have to bow your head or close your eyes. He loves to hear us and He's always listening.

What do you do to simplify the holidays?