The Living Without Series

This is a series of posts that I wrote back in 2006 on living with less stuff. Check them out: liv011Living #2liv031liv04

Coal Creek Farm on Facebook

The Chicken Doctor


The Architect


Drought Week

This summer was hot and dry, dry and hot.  Thinking about it makes me want to drink water and apply a thick layer of chap stick.  We talked about the drought a lot because it affected our garden, yard and animals.  I was a little scared that our well would run dry.  This week, that fear came true.  We turned on the faucet and nothing came out, not even a sputter of liquid.

Crap.  Did the well run dry?

We called the repair man and he came out to take a look.  You can’t imagine the relief when he said, “You’ve got a busted pipe.  I’ll have it fixed today.”  Phew!  Dry well averted once again!

In celebration of our very close call to reverting back to an outhouse and schlepping buckets of water from the river, Clay and I have started Drought Week.

What is Drought Week?  It has nothing to do with water, unless you’re talking about purchasing a bottle of water.

We started Drought Week in an effort to survive through September, which is  heavy laden with large once-a-year payments like; school expenses, property taxes and our garbage pick-up.  Those bills hit us hard and then we don’t see them for another 12 months.  We can gauge the cost for most of it, but it’s still a very tight squeeze and rather painful to get through the month.  Now we’ve decided to try a few more drought weeks to help boost our debt payments.

So, here’s what we do, ready?  Get a pencil and jot this down.

We don’t spend any money for a week.

That’s it.

Many of you have probably experienced a self-induced money drought. It’s kind of fun and really makes you stop and think before you go do ANYTHING.  This means we eat the food that’s in the house which can get a bit tricky by the end of the week, but luckily we had stocked up on necessities the week before and our orchard is full of apples and pears.  I didn’t run out of milk or produce which are usually the first to go.

I’ve taken to keeping a snack bag in the van so nobody is tempted to stop and get something to eat.  I remind the boys that when those crackers/cookies/candy/muffins or whatever lovely treat are gone there is no more.  I’ve noticed that during drought weeks they will savor things much more than if they know that Mom will replenish the stock next time she goes to the store.

We have had to purchase gas, which was a bummer, but otherwise we would have been stranded on the highway.

I don’t read sale flyers during drought week, so I’m not tempted to go get that really great deal or feel remorse that I missed it.  A sale will come around again, it always does.

We almost ran out of grain for the pigs, so we relocated them into a moveable pen and started rotating them around our garden plot.  They are eating everything and tilling the garden area for me.  This made it possible for me to cut down on their grain rations and get through the week without purchasing more feed.

But, there are exceptions, because some things can’t be helped.  We had to repair the well and I had to make photocopies for a class.

I scrounged around the house for change to pay a parking meter and make photocopies.  So, technically I did spend money this week, but I didn’t go to the ATM and get any cash out of our account.  Give yourself a break is some emergencies pop up, just don’t make a craving for Starbucks an emergency.

Drought Week can help you build up an emergency fund if you don’t have one or if you’re needing to save for something.  Maybe you’re worried you won’t have any extra cash for Christmas, try a drought week in October and November to see if you can put aside a little shopping money.

Things to give up during a Drought Week

1. Eat at home and pack your lunch.  Use up all those cans of beans and soups that are just sitting in the cupboard.

2. Car Pool to work, or avoid extra trips that you can do the next week.

3. No entertainment.  No renting movies or partying with friends this week.  Go to the library and check out a book or movie.

4. No purchases of clothing.  Everyone can make do with what they have for a week.  If they need something for school (like the dreaded dress shoes that seem to be required for music concerts) ask around and see if they can borrow from a friend.

5. Get creative.  Use your brain to solve a problem and don’t panic.  There is usually a cheaper option to almost everything, so take a moment and figure out if you can solve the problem for free before you lay out your hard-earned cash.  I like to think of the people who lived through the depression as my role models.  They made do or did without.

Give your family plenty of warning that a drought week is coming so they know not to ask for anything during that week.  I heard my youngest say to his brother, “Don’t ask mom to take us out to eat!  This is Drought Week!” which made me swell with pride, because they get it.  They really do understand that we are working together to be successful.

Let me know if you’ve tried a Drought Week and what worked best for you and your family.



Family Birthday Budgets

We celebrate a lot of birthdays in September and October.  Ellen is nineteen.  I can’t believe my little girl is a young woman.

She requested a cheesecake for her birthday.  Clay likes to bake, so he made her not one, but two cheesecakes.  This one we took to her cousin’s house to share and then the next day Clay made her another one because she declared, “I didn’t want to share my cake. They ate it all!”  Yeah, there’s still a bit of a toddler in that girl.  Her daddy is wrapped just tight enough around her little finger to say, “Oh, I’ll make you another one.”  And that’s just what he did.  Clay would be exhausted if we had more than one daughter.

Ellen’s Outfit came from Plato’s Closet– belt, jeggins, shirt total $12 (This was not part of her birthday shopping trip, I just thought I’d share the details.)

Every penny is budgeted in our household, including gifts.  Each month we try to get all those unexpected and expected expenses in the budget.  Before we headed out I told Ellen how much we had to spend on her and we brainstormed about what she wanted to get.  She even spent a couple days finding cute outfit ideas on Pintrest.

We decided to head to Kansas City and shop at The Legends outlets.  I printed off a voucher from their website and then turned it in for a coupon book.  We saved $30 with the coupons and were able to get more clothing than she expected.  She focused on clothes that would be better for school and work.  She even added some fun items like a scarf and jewelry.  I was very proud of her as I listened to her talk through her choices and the reason she would buy one item over the next.  We brainstormed how she could mix and match the items with clothing she already owned.

It’s more work to plan a shopping trip, but the amount of money we saved was well worth it.


One week later we celebrated Levi’s 8th birthday.  He loves to help me cook and watch what I’m making in the kitchen.  This year he wanted a robot cake. He helped bake his cake and then decorate it.  This is such a departure from what I used to do for my older two kids.  I would bake their cake the night before and spend an absurd amount of time decorating it to perfection.  After having four kids, the reality set in that they really didn’t care as much as I did about how the cake looked.  They just wanted to eat it.

I purchased all the supplies with coupons and used items we already had, the cost of this cake was around $5.  I re-use candles on birthday cakes until they are spent which irritates some people, but my kids are used to it because I’ve done it forever.

I turned over decorating to the boys this year and they had a lot of fun making what we called Robot Hulkenstein.  While they were decorating the rest of the family was making one of his favorite dinners of homemade chicken strips.

Levi wanted a really hard Lego set with ‘destructions’, that’s what he says instead of instructions.  We bought him The Avengers set and then we rented the movie from Redbox.  Later in the evening he said, “This was the best birthday EVER!”  I have to remind myself that quality time and fun mean a lot to a child.  Much more than the quantity of gifts and elaborate parties.  Clay, Seth, Isaac and Levi all helped build the Lego set.  I love it when all of them work on something together.

Ellen gave Levi some candy which he then poured into four bowls and passed around to his siblings during the movie.  We had a a great night together.

My humble advice for parents that are just starting to budget:

1. Talk to your kids about the budget.  Especially your older kids.  Let them know exactly how much you have budgeted for their clothes, birthday, entertainment, etc.  So they can help decide how they want to spend that money.  Ellen could have bought one pair of super great shoes for her birthday and that would have been fine, but she decided to stretch that money as far as she could to get as much clothing as possible.

2. When your kids want to purchase something tell them to find the price and then have a mini math lesson.  I teach my kids to add 10% for sales tax, this way they will be over the price and not come up short.  I had to teach this to my kids so they would learn that if an item is $1 and they have exactly $1 in their pocket that they will also need to pay the sales tax on top of that.

3. Teach and learn contentment.  This is difficult if you are a person that likes a lot of gifts or likes to give a lot of gifts.  Help your children find joy in the real things in life and in turn teach yourself to be content with less.  Most gifts don’t last more than a moment, but family is forever.  They will remember the time they spent with you, but they will forget about the mound of plastic you bought them.  Sometimes, I learn more from my kids than they do from me.  I never wanted to share my candy with anyone….ever.

4. Look at your budget as a fun challenge, not a burden.  Don’t let a birthday or surprise gift purchase make you stumble with your budget.  You know those things will happen, so think ahead when you’re planning your budget to include those gifts or get creative and make a gift.

I’m sure a lot of you have great ideas for budgeting birthdays and spending less.  Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments.

Our Debt Diet Part $$$$

This is a continuation of a series of posts.

Our Debt Diet Part $ couponing and saving at the store

Our Debt Diet Part $$  changing jobs, getting rid of the monkey on our backs

Our Debt Diet Part $$$  college expenses

I quit my job.  What?!  Yes, I had to step down.  The last three years I’ve worked at my children’s school as one of the development directors.  I planned a lot of events and organized volunteers.  It was a lot of fun, but it was a big toll on my family.  When I would need extra people to help set up or do some job I always recruited my kids and Clay.  They were troopers too.  Clay especially was very helpful, and I couldn’t have done the job last year without his help.

We made the very hard decision to bring our two little boys home to educate them last year.  Levi struggled through Kindergarten and wasn’t ready to go into first grade, but his teacher didn’t recommend him repeating Kindergarten.  So, I was stuck with what to do for him.  He has an auditory learning issue, that we’re still trying to figure out.  We have a tutor that works with him twice a week as well as with Isaac who is dyslexic.  Isaac was doing fine in school (with the exception of spelling…good Lord I’ll be so happy when he can use a computer and spell check everything), but since both boys utilize the private tutor and they are best buddies, we brought them both home for school last year.  And the year was okay…not good, not horrible, just okay.

By the end of November I was pooped beyond pooping.  I was spread so thin between the job, my older two kids and keeping on top of the two little boys’ school work.  I knew going into the year it wasn’t going to be a lot of fun, but I stuck it out til the end.  So, we decided to bring all the boys home this year since my income covered their tuition and Seth needed a switch in his Science that wasn’t offered at the school this year.  We gave Seth the option of whether he wanted to attend a public school, but he wasn’t interested in changing schools and he wanted to continue to play basketball with his current team (they allow homeschool kids to participate). This allowed us to tailor his schedule to benefit him the most.  Seth is enrolled in one online college course with the junior college and he’s finishing his junior year with a combination of curriculum that I’ve put together for him that I think he will either LOVE or HATE.  Having him home this year also allows him to be in a theater group.  He’s my actor, in case you didn’t know.  He’s auditioning for a musical this week and he doesn’t really sing, so we’ll see how that goes.  He will be attending the same junior college as Ellen after he graduates and hopefully will enter college with 12-15 credits completed from his high school years.

Seth is working this summer at a local horse ranch and is saving up money for his own vehicle.  He likes expensive toys and is a car nut.  I’m thinking he might have a harder time purchasing an old vehicle than Ellen, who was not concerned with the age of her car.  I’m looking forward to this school year.  Having the boys at home will be a fun challenge.  They are looking forward to the new schedule and they get excited whenever another new book comes in the mail.

But, how is this saving us money?  Let me tell ya just the big three that are making a difference.

Transportation– The savings in gas alone is huge. I used to drive a minimum of forty miles a day just for school.  This also took away over an hour of my time.

Supplies- I purchased very few school supplies this year and what I did purchase, I used a coupon.  I also picked up items at our local Goodwill.  Not having to fill out the school supply list is a HUGE savings.  I remember one year I spent $60 per kid on the specific items they had to have for school and that was with me being as frugal as I could, making them re-use anything they could and purchasing the cheapest items.   Most of those supplies never came back home to re-use.  I also didn’t buy any back to school clothing or uniforms.  Hooray!!

Food– Seth, was such a perpetrator of charging lunches at school last year.  I let the kids have the hot lunch at school maybe once a week, but it was so much cheaper for them to pack their lunches.  Seth would forget and then charge a lunch.  After way too many of these infractions Seth had to start buying his own dang lunch.  Then he started to remember to pack his lunch only slightly better…..or he mooched off his friends.  Anyway, I don’t have to keep certain items in the pantry for those packed lunches.  I can focus on making a good lunch at home using the food we have or even utilizing left overs.  I’ve already noticed how that has changed my shopping trips.

There are some other minor things that will save us as well, but these are the biggest savings that will be noticeable.

But, what about the expense of Homeschooling?  Homeschooling is not free.  We budgeted the cost of school for the three boys and it’s considerably lower than last year. There are some very cheap options out there right now though.  Our area has a virtual public school that costs $99 per student and that includes a computer and books.  That’s pretty amazing.  I’ve got a lot of free and low-cost sources I use for materials that include other home educators who share or sell their materials at a low-costs.  I don’t look for the cheapest items to teach my kids, I look for the best materials to suit their learning.  So, sometimes I’ll spend a bit more on something that I know will benefit them or I’ll search high and low for that item at a discount. I spent a lot of time this summer putting together their curriculum and searching for the items I needed that were the best value.

If you are purchasing books, I found this website to have an incredible amount of the books I needed for very little.  I also utilized eBay and used curriculum sites to fill out our school needs this year.  I have a lot of materials from the years I homeschooled my older two, so I haven’t had to purchase many items for my younger boys.

With all the changes we’ve made with jobs and schooling, we are still ahead of our spending from what we were last year.  We’ll see how the year goes, but I’m much more excited going into this semester than I was last year.   I know this post may not be helpful for many of you that are choosing other options for schooling your kiddos, but I thought I’d share what we’re doing this year.  I’m all ears if you have great ideas about how you’re saving on your kids’ school items.