A Few of My Favorite Things – February 2018

February is here, which means we are one month closer to spring. Overall, it hasn’t been a bad winter, but it has been a bit unpredictable. One day we wear all of our winter gear and have inches of snow, and then a few days later it’s muddy and feels like the first days of spring. It’s hard to adjust to the back and forth precipitation and temperatures.

We are ready for spring around our house, in fact, I’m so ready I skipped over decorating the house with snowmen this year.

To brighten things up around here in this dreary February (well at least for those of us living in the Midwest) I’m bringing a few of my favorite things.

Alright, so my first two are going demonstrate what a huge nerd I am.

Post-its

It’s true, I love Post-its. I’m not sure I could live without post-its in my life. I use them for everything including notes, to-do-lists, to mark pages I want to hold in books, and even as entertainment for the kids.

In my book, all post-its are great (small, big, with lines, without lines, fun shapes, tab post-its, etc.). When it comes to post-its, I am completely brand loyal. Post-it brand is by far superior, and I don’t even waste money on the other brands.

 

The post-it tabs are great for marking chapters in textbooks, or where you are in a bible study or journal.

One particularly long car ride with the girls Amelia was melting down. I don’t blame her, six hours in a carseat for a two year old can be pretty tough. There isn’t much to entertain them, and we don’t do movies in the car. One day at home, we had discovered her love of post-its. I had some post-its in my bag (doesn’t everyone have a variety of post-its on hand for an emergency?). I pulled out the little tab ones and handed them over. The cost for those was approximately $3, which was well worth the whole hour of quiet we got out of Amelia when she started playing with them. They were stuck all over the car and herself, but the best part – they are easy to take off and throw away.

Did you know that post-its were created in 1968 when a scientist failed at making a super strong adhesive? They were marketed as post-its in 1979. Proof that great things can come from failures.

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Simple Ways to Make Extra Money

Need a little extra money?

I know there are a million ways to make extra money, but these are a few of the ones we have done to get our debt snowball moving.  I’m usually on the lookout for more, but I have also discovered that time is money, and I have to consider the return on investment. Meaning: is the amount of time I invest worth the money I earn?

It would be easy for me to say that I should do everything that I come across that earns or saves money because we still have debt to pay. I’ll be honest, it is very difficult for me to say no to some money-making and money-saving ventures, but it is necessary. I am, just like all of you, given 24 hours in a day, and I cannot run myself ragged just to save a dollar. Our debt snowball is a marathon, not a sprint, and I need to treat it as such. My time is worth something, and therefore I carefully consider the money making and money saving ventures I partake in.

Below is a list of the things that I have done and am still doing to make extra money. Getting a smartphone changed my ability to deal shop. I think my deal shopping now will pay the additional price per month for my phone. I can’t believe I had a flip phone until December 2015, seriously even the Baby Boomers are more tech savvy than me.

Coupons:

This one ebbs and flows. It depends on how much time I have. We do a lot of grocery shopping at Aldi, which doesn’t take coupons, but prices are so good there you don’t even need them. For more information about how to organize your coupons check out Coupon Clipping for Ordinary Moms.  I do not spend much time organizing or cutting coupons at all, and I do NOT (usually) buy things we don’t need.

Ibotta:

This is super easy to use. Some items you have to scan the item and the receipt and for some items you just scan the receipt. Then once you earn $20 you need to send the money to your PayPal account. The more friends you have on your team, the better, plus you can earn referral bonuses. You refer a friend to save money, and you get money too. Win-Win.

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One Easy Way to Save Money on Diapers and Pull-ups

One of the single largest expenses you will have after welcoming a new baby into your home is diapers. You will find yourself wondering how in the world one little person can go through so many diapers in a single day.

You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to save money on diapers.

There were times that I looked at my daughters and told them (not that they understood a word I was saying) that I was going to take the 25 cents per diaper from their college fund. It was most frustrating when you had just changed them and they dirtied a new diaper before you even finished putting it on.

You will start by buying newborn (or preemie if your baby is born early or just small like Amelia) then onto size 1 and 2 and 3 or even larger. As they get bigger the price per diaper or pull-up increases.

You’ll play the game of how much longer do I have to buy diapers. Okay, I’m going to stock up one last time and then I’m sure they will be fully potty-trained and I won’t need anymore, right?!?

Wrong.

As my girls got older I tried to rationalize with them.

They needed to be potty trained so that we could stop buying diapers and save money for our next vacation. It never worked.

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Debt Snowball Progress- January 2018

This month I learned something that just might be a game changer for realizing our financial goals. We need to treat them like one big game. That helps to bring out our competitive side.

If it’s a game, we will find every which way, without cheating, to win.

We Gerkens, don’t like to lose!

Remember we’re a gamer family, so friendly competition is our thing.

Mid-January I entered receipts from our Sunday basket and was surprised to see the amount of money we had left in our food category (eating out and groceries). It’s no secret that I have a serious love/hate relationship with menu planning. I hate to do it, but I love how much money, time, and headache it saves us at dinner time.

I knew we could come in under or at budget for the food category if we seriously buckled down.

This meant sitting down to figure out what we were going to eat for dinner for the remaining 12 days in January. After deciding on a menu plan, I made my grocery list and figured out what stores would have the best prices.

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13 Fun and Free Activities To Do with Kids When You’re Stuck Inside

It’s cold, it’s dreary, and the days are short. You may be wondering if winter will ever end. Some people like winter; I’m not one of those people.

I don’t hate winter, but I’d be fine if winter only lasted one month. And in that month we enjoyed sunny skies, temperatures not below 30 degrees, the roads were clear for driving, but the fields and hills were covered in perfect white snow that could be used for sledding and building snowmen. It could happen, right?

Alright, so winter in the Midwest is never going to be like that, and with kids underfoot we need to find something to do to entertain them for the long, dreary, and cold days.

Don’t break the bank and make memories to last a lifetime the next time you are stuck inside. Your kids may even be begging to stay inside and play.

13 Fun, Free Indoor Winter Activities for Kids.

Bake or Cook

Have your kids join you in making a special treat or a fancy dinner for the whole family to enjoy. Look through recipe books or search Pinterest together to find something everyone is interested in eating.

Build a tent city

You can do this even if you don’t have kids’ pop-up tents or tunnels. Grab some sheets and chairs and get to work putting them up. It works best if you pick the largest room in the house and create multiple tents. Clothespins or clips of any kind work great for holding the sheets up. If you don’t have those, use heavy books  The bigger the sheet, the better. My kids created an entire room of tents, and the fun lasted a whole week. It only ended because I wanted my living room back.  You’ll be the coolest parent ever if you let them sleep in the tent too! (more…)

5 Biggest Challenges to Decluttering and How to Solve Them

You’ve decided to declutter and organize the hardest room in your house. Maybe it’s your basement, maybe it’s your storage closet. For me, it’s the office. This is the room in the house where paperwork goes to die — I mean be filed. Sometimes it feels like the challenges to decluttering outweigh the benefits, but I have solutions.

challenges to decluttering

It’s no secret I love to organize, but that doesn’t mean that everything I have is organized or that all of my spaces are organized. It simply means I love the process of organizing and even more so I LOVE the feeling of being organized.

Ever since I made the move to work from home I knew that our office needed to be organized so that I could be more productive. Hence my 2018 SMART goal.

Now the time has come to begin and I am overwhelmed just like so many of you. In fact, I am having complete paralysis of where to start. I want to help all of us overcome this paralysis and get started on our biggest clutter challenges.

If you, like me, are struggling with where and how to start, it’s okay. You are not alone, even lovers of organization struggle sometimes.

the office: a declutter challenge

How to Overcome the Challenges to Decluttering:

Challenge: I don’t have enough time to devote to complete the project.

Solution: You are not alone. Most of us cannot dedicate an entire weekend to one organization project, and even if you could, you may not want to. The solution is to devote just 15 minutes a day to the project. I know it doesn’t seem like you can get much done in 15 minutes, but you’ll be surprised. Set a timer, turn on some music, and get to work. Stop after 15 minutes and you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.

 

Challenge: I don’t have the space to empty everything out of the room to get started.

Solution: You don’t have to. Yes, it does seem ideal to empty out the room and slowly put only the items that you need and/or want back in. However, that’s just not feasible for most of us. Instead, you need to declutter first, which will make it look much messier at first. Then, reassemble the room in sections. Be sure you have your donation station set-up to make this process even easier.

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Teach kids to save, even if you’re still learning

Kids learn more from what we do than what we say. This is no different when it comes to money management. Teaching kids to save money can be as simple as modeling good money saving in your own life.

It seems that in our world of instant gratification, no one has to wait for anything. Patience is something that adults and children alike don’t get much practice with. You don’t have to wait for commercials on television. You can buy something and have it delivered in a day thanks to Amazon Prime. We are shocked when someone doesn’t respond immediately to our communication since email showed up on phones and text messaging became a thing.

Why in this world of instant gratification would we be shocked that kids are having a hard time learning to save money?

I want my kids to understand money management and I want them to know how to save money.

teach kids to save

There are definitely money decisions I wish I had made differently years ago, but there are far more things that I am thankful I did know about and did wisely.

Even if you are struggling with money management yourself, you can still help your children learn good money management skills.

In fact, watching you learn how to save and pay down debt can be a great lesson for your kids. Our debt snowball started after we had kids and our oldest, Cassidy understands our goal on a basic level. She knows that sometimes we say no to things because we are working on paying down debt. She also knows that nearly 10 years after her dad finished law school we are paying off the money it cost for him to go.

This is and will forever be a lesson in how student loans and student loan interest can impact your life for years to come. His student loan is older than she is!

cassidy counts her money

How to teach kids to save money:

Be open and honest.

Share some of your financial goals – age appropriate. I do not advocate for sharing all of your financial information with your children. It is okay to tell your kids they can’t have something at the store, because you don’t have extra money for it. However, you don’t want to share so much that your kids are worried that you don’t have enough money to live. In our family we talk openly about our debt snowball and how we are paying off a student loan. If you can’t afford a family vacation now, but it is a financial goal- share that information.

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2017 Budget Recap & 2018 Financial Goals

financial goals

Happy New Year! This is going to be a great year.

You have to believe it to achieve it, right?

I love the newness and opportunity for a fresh start that a new year brings.

I’m excited for 2018, especially when it comes to our financial goals.

I get a little too excited to do our year in review financial statement. Yes, I know that makes me a huge nerd, but I’m okay with it. If you haven’t done one before be sure to check how and why to do a budget recap every year.

Last year was the first year we recapped our year in this format and also the first year we publicly stated our financial goals.

Our financial goals for 2017 were the following:

  1. Pay $20,000 towards student loan debt  (we paid $8,206)
  2. Average $650 spending or less on food every month (average was $796/month)
  3. Average spending on home supplies and improvement at $75 or less a month. (instead our average was $298/month)

Well we didn’t do so well on those, but it was our first year with such specific financial goals. One thing I will do differently in 2018 is to input the monthly income and expenses on the yearly spreadsheet at the end of each month. This will help us to monitor how we are doing throughout the year rather than just at the end of the year. Similar to how we track our monthly expenses on our everydollar budget throughout the month, rather than just at month’s end.

Annual budget recap sample

Sample year in review budget form. All you have to do is change the expense and income categories to the same ones you use from Everydollar or whatever budgeting system you use.

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To The Person Struggling with Depression

struggling with depression

To the person struggling with depression,

Let me first say it loud and proud, “YOU ARE NOT ALONE.” No matter what you think, you are not alone. There are other people who struggle just like you and there are people to support you. Please, if you take nothing else away from my letter take this: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

I know it feels lonely. Trust me, I know. The hardest thing you may have to do is to admit that you are struggling and ask for help. Depending on the depths of your depression, you may just need to communicate to a close friend or significant other that you need help and extra understanding. If it is just a minor holiday/winter blah funk, that is sufficient. If your depression is more than that, you should seek the additional support of a professional counselor.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Strong people ask for help. You may feel weak right now, but you are not. The strongest people I know are the ones who admit they need help and ask for it. It took me a long time to realize this and accept it as fact in my own life.

Don’t try to make sense out of your feelings, there may be none. Perhaps you have a great life with a wonderful family and no major worries to speak of. It doesn’t matter – you can still be depressed. It’s a funny thing depression. It’s not just an ailment for people who are struggling with finances, health crises or death of loved ones, though that is what many non-sufferers think. I don’t care how amazing your life is, you can still be depressed. Stop trying to convince yourself you shouldn’t be depressed because of how blessed and fortunate you are.  It will just make you beat yourself up more.

I have learned a few things about depression from my own experiences. Maybe they will help you, maybe they won’t. It never hurts to get ideas though. Please note that if you are suffering from depression beyond the normal “funk” you MUST see a professional. I won’t lie, that first phone call will not be easy, but you are STRONG. Asking for help is being strong, not weak! You are important and people need you to feel better.

One observation I have made is that there is a very important role in our lives that a “funk” fills. You cannot live life without some ups and downs. While I don’t love the feeling of being down and depressed, I do love the perspective it provides me afterwards.

I have found that after having a down, I appreciate the ups even more. It is typically after a bought of depression that I appreciate the happy feelings, the everyday joys of life and the simple things even more. I’m not sure that I would appreciate the beauty around me and the simple laugh of my daughters as much if I hadn’t struggled to find joy. Yes, I would appreciate them, but there is something to be said for the richness of those things after depression.

Also depression has allowed me to open up more to those around me about my truest feelings and insecurities. I don’t often admit openly that I don’t have it all together, but when depression hits I must. I have to ask for help, which is not (understatement of the year) easy for me. You must ask for help too. Trust me it does get easier.  I’m starting to get better at asking for help even in times when I’m not depressed.

I know there are people and circumstances where you still pretend to have it all together even when you don’t. I get it, we all do that and it’s okay. Not everyone needs to know that you’re having a rough time, but those closest to you do.

If you have kids or a pet, someone that relies on you, they can be the best helper for fighting depression.  Guess what, they don’t care if you are depressed. In my case I still have to be a mom. I still have to get up and get them ready for school. I still have to make food and buy groceries and read them stories at night. These might be the absolute last things I want to do, but I don’t have a choice. I really want to curl up in my pajamas and sit in a chair and wallow, but I can’t.

A great suggestion from my counselor was to do the opposite of what I want to do. She said if your body is telling you to sit and do nothing, you need to get up and go on a walk. It will make you feel better. If your body is telling you not to eat, you need to make yourself eat a nutritious meal. If your body is telling you to binge on cookies, you should eat a healthy snack instead. Continuing to do this will help to fight the depressing thoughts and feelings.

The things you want to do least during depression are the things you need to do most. Eat nutritious meals, exercise, and get enough, but not too much, sleep. You also need to make sure you are getting enough Vitamin D- this probably means a supplement during the winter months. If you can get out for a walk during the sunniest part of the day, that will help.

I know right now in the midst of this depression it feels like it will never get better, but it will. I promise there will be a day that you smile again without pretending. You will laugh again and appreciate the simple beauty all around you. In the meantime take care of yourself and be forgiving. Remember it’s okay to say “NO” and take things off your to-do list.

Remember you are NOT alone and you are strong.

 

Sincerely,

Someone who has been there and cares about you

 

How to Completely Organize Your Home in One Year, and not feel overwhelmed

There is no end to organizing.

I know it’s not what you wanted to hear, but it’s the truth.

Just like there is no end to cleaning or laundry or making meals. As long as you live there will always be more to do.

You will find more peace in your life the sooner you accept this as a fact.

While there is no end, it doesn’t mean we can’t strive for more organization in our lives. Says the woman who loves to organize.

organized home in 12 months

For 2018, I have decided to try a new tactic for my organizing so that I don’t feel overwhelmed. I am going to tackle one room/area each month. Some are going to take a lot less time than others, so I will plan those accordingly.

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