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


Our Debt Diet Update Part $$$

Making a ruffle for some throw pillows in her room. We bought pillows from Goodwill, washed them to recover.


This is a continuation of a series of posts.

Our Debt Diet Part $

Our Debt Diet Part $$

Paying Their Way

We made the very difficult decision that our children would have to pay their own way through college.  This is something we’ve been telling them since they entered high school.  We’ve had many, many, many conversations/lectures with them about how grades really do matter if you want to get some help with your college tuition.  All those lectures didn’t seem to become real for Ellen until the summer before her senior year and then we saw her start to realize that she was going to have to work really hard to come up with the cash.  Ellen is a good student, but didn’t get on the honor roll until her sophomore year in high school.  I know when kids are young that four years seems like a life-time, but if they screw up one semester it’s pretty hard to recover.  We’re having the same conversations with Seth now,  and again, it just hasn’t sunk in, but watching his sister is helping drive home the point of doing well in school and working hard for what you want.

Many years ago we fully intended to pay for all their expenses, but as we got closer to the deadline and after we took Damn Ramsey’s courses , we came to the realization that paying for their education past high school was not something we could do.  Gulp. Talk about feeling guilty.  My parents paid for the bulk of my education and bought me a beautiful new car before I went to college.  When I ran out of the money they had put in my savings account I had to start working three part-time jobs to cover all my expenses and eventually drop out of school to work.  I am very grateful for the financial help my parents gave me, but I was missing a lot of tools that could have helped me make better decisions about jobs, money and living expenses.  Clay also had help from his dad, but it was all borrowed money.  We spent ten years paying off his school loans and mine from when I had gone back to school after we were married.  It sucked.

I am very thankful that our daughter is not the type of child who feels she is entitled to anything.  Therefore, she knew if she couldn’t get scholarships she would need to get a job.  And that’s what she did.  She started working the summer before her senior year and continued through the school year.  She played sports and was involved in a lot of senior class fund-raising and church activities, she was a very busy girl with little free time.  By the time basketball season rolled around she had saved enough money to buy an old car which was another expense and responsibility that we had to pass along to our children.  We helped her find the car and talk the seller down on the price, but she is the sole owner and caretaker of the vehicle.  We give her a little gas money every month by either transferring the money to her account or giving her a gift card to the gas station.  We have also committed to pay for the car insurance until she it out of school.  So, driving her own car still costs us some money and those expenses had to be added into our budget. Since she’s had her car she has had to put two new tires on it and pay for some minor repairs.  Hopefully, this car will make it through most of her college career.

She  managed to save enough money to pay for all her college expenses by working full-time this summer.  She chose to attend a junior college which is 1/3 the cost of the university.  She wanted to live at home which was fine with us, but I still want her to go do her laundry elsewhere.  That is the one thing that she is NOT very happy about, but if we are going to live happily ever after….she’s got to go.  I told her the stockpile is open to her and she can use coins from the coin jar.  I think she’s hoping I’ll forget about it.

I’m really over the top proud of Ellen and the way she is figuring out her expenses and her ability to live frugally.  She is buying some of her own clothes at re-sale shops or Goodwill.  She knows how to use coupons and is a great bargain shopper and she’s really good at living contentedly without a lot of stuff.

Clay sat down with Ellen and helped her plan a budget.  They worked out a couple of scenarios about how much she will have to make in order to pay for college for the next four years.  When we took her to pay for her books and tuition I was very relieved to hear her say how painful it was to let go of that much money and then the parenting cherry-on-top was when she said, “When it’s my money I want to do even better otherwise I have just thrown away all that hard work.”  She is determined to do it.  I’m excited to see how this year goes for her.

Oh, and just to brag a bit more, she did well enough in high jumping this year that the college invited her to walk on the track team.  If she does well she could get a scholarship as soon as next semester.  The level of determination in that girl increased 10 fold when she heard that.  I really hope she gets some level of scholarship, but mostly I hope she enjoys it.   What I know for certain is that she will not be in debt while she pursues her education.

My Personal Advice for College Students and Parents

1. As soon as they are able, help your kid get a job.  Ellen’s first job was at a fast food restaurant.  She hated it, but loved the pay check.  That job was a stepping stone to a better job. Seth is working at a horse ranch this summer.  It has required us to drive him to and from the ranch, but it’s worth it for the pay check and the responsibility he has learned.  It’s hard in this town for a young teenager to find a job, so I had to drive them around to fill out applications and suggest different businesses.  If you just tell your kid to go get a job, they might not know where to look, so give them a hand.

2. Talk budget with your kids and have them make a plan for saving and spending.  We have our kids save the bulk of their paycheck for a car and school.  They keep a little bit for fun money because we don’t give them an allowance, so if they want to go out with their friends, they spend their money to do so and if they want a trinket or something then they buy it.  This has caused both of them to invite friends over for movie night more than go to the movies and to pass on a lot of “things”.

3. Don’t set your kids up to fail with a need for high-priced designer clothing or they will find themselves discontent and paying for things they can’t afford.  We have NEVER been name brand shoppers.  Ellen still doesn’t know many designer labels.  Seth is pretty big on wearing a certain type of shoes.  The last time we went shopping for shoes he insisted on having a certain brand and style.  I told him I would pay the amount I had in the budget and he would have to cover the rest.  It was worth it to him.  Ellen would rather wear her shoes until they are falling off her feet than use her own money to pay for a name brand.  Both of them are okay shopping at consignment stores.  Ellen thinks paying $5 for a shirt is terrible where as Seth thinks a $12 shirt is a good deal.  As you can see, we have some work to do on the boy.

4. Help your kids be a part of the financial responsibility of their education.  If you have saved up enough to cover their tuition then have them pay for their books or their housing.  When it’s their money that education means so much more to them.

5. When picking a college be realistic. Can you and your kid afford the big university?  If not, then look for a junior college in your area or find a community college to enroll in online courses.  Chances are the classroom size will be much smaller, the teachers will be professional,  and the tuition will be significantly less.  And the best part?  All those credits should transfer to the university.

6. If the only way your kid is going to get to college is with loans then they shouldn’t go until they have the money saved.   I know that sounds hard, but what you are doing is putting your kid and yourself in financial distress.  It’s not worth it.  Do you want your kid to be saddled with $50,000 of debt before they ever have a career?  NO!!!  Should be your answer.  Do you want to carry that debt or would you like to retire and enjoy your grandchildren?  GRANDCHILDREN! Should be your answer. Don’t train your kid that if they want to do something that it’s okay to go into debt doing it.  That’s NOT OKAY.

Okay, I’m sure I’m forgetting something.  Feel free to chime in or ask questions.  I know this one is tough as some of you may already be carrying educational debt.  I heard this story on NPR the other day, it made me sad to think that this mother is so deeply intrenched in college debt all because she said to her kid, “Dream Big! We’ll find a way to pay for it.”  How about we start saying, “Dream Big! Work hard to save for it.”



Our Debt Diet Part $$

This is a continuation from Part $ of our Debt Update.

The Imaginary Vacation Home

If you have read the About April  page of this blog you know about the business loan we took out for Clay to be an owner in his firm.  It was a HUGE, HUGE, HUGE business loan that was a lot like owning a vacation home.  Unfortunately, it was a vacation home that we only got to visit in our dreams.   This summer we sold out of the stock and Clay has moved on to another firm.  That loan was a wild monkey on our backs.  Although it allowed us to share in the profits of the company, there were years where we lost money due to the payments being more than the profits.  We were constantly wringing our hands when it came time for profit disbursements.  Would it be enough to cover the loan?  Would it be enough to cover this big expense or that big expense? Would we even GET a disbursement.  There was a lot of poor communication on behalf of the business to the owners and it was very frustrating and stressful for us.  Clay came to the decision that it was time for him to move on to a different firm for many reasons, but the loan was a big part of him resigning, it just wasn’t worth the financial risk to move up in the company.

The biggest disappointment was this spring when an expected disbursement didn’t come and we had pegged it to gift Ellen money to help for college.  We still gave her some cash, but it wasn’t nearly as much as we’d hoped to give her. We hadn’t promised Ellen anything, so she wasn’t disappointed by the small gift.  We also aren’t paying for her college, so any cash she receives from us to help with school is viewed as a bonus.  I’ll talk more about that later.

Now that huge loan is gone, we don’t have to worry about the payments and it is a great sense of freedom.  We will never buy into another company without having the cash in hand.  Lesson learned.

I think we’ll start seeing the affects of the job change and income in the next few months.  For now, I’m just pretending we still have no wiggle room and reducing debt is once again, a huge priority and possibility.

Our Debt Diet Update Part $

It’s way past time for me to update you all on our financial freedom quest.

The past year I think can be described as, steady.  No big ups, no big downs.  We didn’t pay off anything major, we didn’t really go into more debt.  We just stayed steady.  We also didn’t try very hard.  Getting out of debt is something that has to be at the forefront of our priorities if we want to get it done and it wasn’t.  I have a big list of excuses that include work, kids, and laundry, but really we just let it slide under the rug.  Don’t worry we didn’t go crazy on anything and we are still very frugal.  I think our biggest money sin is and always has been eating out.  When we get busy with basketball season we eat out a lot.  I try to pack snacks for everyone, but I don’t always get it done.  We also eat out on Sunday after church, nothing elaborate, but it’s a habit we need to break that would save us a nice chunk of change.

As I was writing this post it was getting really long, so I’m breaking it up in parts.  I’m not sure how many as I’m still working on it.  So here’s part I

Coupons and Stock Piling

Last year about this time I dove deep into couponing.  Clay built me shelves in our basement to store product and I filled them with shampoo, conditioner, feminine products, body wash, toothpaste, tooth brushes, toilet paper, deodorant, cleaning supplies, laundry soaps,  school supplies and food.  Every week I went out and spent my grocery budget on the big sale items at Walgreens, CVS and my local Kroger store.  I did this until about the end of September when I got too busy with work and school.  Then I dropped the Walgreens and CVS shopping and just concentrated my weekly shopping at the grocery store which is huge, and has just about everything we need except clothes.  I even get my gasoline at the grocery store station.

Here’s the big shocker; all the stock piling I did last summer has lasted us over a year.  Occasionally, I would pick up more items if there was a really good sale and I had a coupon, but the bulk of my stock piling was from the summer.  I love not running out of bathroom supplies or dish soap or tampons or LAUNDRY DETERGENT.  It’s the greatest feeling to have those items on hand.  It’s also great for company that forgets a toothbrush.

I’ll keep couponing  this year the same way, waiting for a good sale to use a coupon to add to the stock pile and focusing mostly on food items.  I’ve learned a lot this past year about what I should pay for items and what I would NEVER pay.  I also don’t buy something just because it’s free.  If the coupon is for something I would never use I don’t save it, I’ve learned it’s just not worth it to me to do that.  However, I do buy a lot of things that I would NEVER buy if I didn’t have a coupon.  So, my view of name brand products has completely changed.

I have noticed food prices increase and the coupons are not as good as they were a year ago.  My grocery budget which includes all household items is $1000 per month.  I have about $300 left to spend this month and I did a huge grocery hall last night.  I’m hoping I can cut our budget down to $800, but it might be difficult as I foresee food prices increasing again, so for now I’m leaving it.  Last night I save almost 50% on my groceries.  I usually don’t do that well, but man was I ever pumped walking out of the store.  I had the right coupons for that sale.  It was AWESOME!!  I keep glancing over my receipt and doing fist pumps.  Yes, I am a competitive couponer and I currently hold the self-proclaimed title of Awesome Shopper.

A few pointers on coupons:

1. Do your homework.  Visit websites that tell you how to get organized before you shop.  There are a lot of websites out there that are very helpful.  Spend some time browsing them and pick a few that make sense to you and help you match up sale items with available coupons.  After a few months you’ll get the hang of it.

2. Get organized before you shop.  I use a giant 5 star binder to organize my coupons before I go to the store.  I buy anywhere from 3-10 Sunday newspapers.  Then I staple, cut and organize by category.  This takes me about an hour.  I also subscribe to several coupon sites where I can clip and print coupons.  I don’t do this every week because it’s more time-consuming and I have to print the coupons, but this week I did because my store was having such a great sale on items that we use and I wanted as many coupons to match those sale items as possible.

3. Get your family on board.  I couldn’t coupon if my family wasn’t supportive of this habit.  The newspapers take over the family room when I’m sorting an it takes time to get organized. The shopping trips are long and if the kids are with me they have to be patient.  Clay loves that I do this especially when he see how much I’ve saved.

4. Avoid getting sucked into a super great deal on things you don’t need/want/use.  I’ve done this a few times and then realized that just because that thing was free doesn’t mean we’ll use it.  I bought several toilet bowl cleaners and the fact is, I don’t use them and they smell terrible.  I also bought some medicine that I thought we might use.  But, I think it will expire before we ever need it.  I don’t buy dog or cat treats, room deodorizers or hamburger helper.  Those items always have coupons.  So, now I don’t even bother clipping those coupons.  Ignore the stuff you know your family doesn’t need and don’t buy it just because it’s a great deal.  Some couponers may think differently on this than I do because they donate a lot of those items, which is great.  Some day I may get to the point where I can do that as well, but for now I’ve got to keep it simple.

5. Keep your coupon binder in the car.  I bring mine in to add new coupons and then it goes right back out to the van.  It is such a bummer to forget it at home and pay extra for the items that you KNOW have a coupon in your binder….at home, ugh!

Please fill free to leave links to your favorite coupon sites or tips on your shopping habits.  I’ve learned a lot from all of you over the years.