Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A New Knitting Skill

I always find it interesting how things play out.  How many times that a chance conversation or exposure to something ends up, down the road--possibly weeks or months or even years down the road, becoming part of my everyday life.  Some people say that is merely coincidence.  For me, it happens way too often, if I really think back, to be more than the random toss of the dice of life.

For years, I had off and on thoughts that I might want to try knitting.  I'd see something that was made by knitting, like it, and wish I had that ability.  But I had so many things on my plate all ready, and knitting seemed like a difficult skill to master, that I would push the idea aside.  Then, in the fall of 2012, DD1 mentioned to me that she thought she'd like to learn to knit.  Actually, I think the way she said it was "I wish I'd had great-grandma teach me to knit when she was still alive." You see, great-grandma had taught DD1 to crochet during her early middle school years, but they had never gotten around to tackling how to knit, and great-grandma died the summer before DD1 entered high school.

DD1's chance mention of her desire to knit reminded me that I, too, had a wish to be able to knit.  And, with Christmas coming up in a few months, my Possible Present Radar was active.  Knitting lessons went down on the mental list of items DD1 would enjoy receiving as Christmas gifts.  Which lead to not just DD1, but also DD2 and myself taking knitting lessons in January of 2013.  The girls enjoyed the lessons, but once knitting was somewhat demystified, for them it took a back seat to their school work and social lives.  For me, however, it turned into a passion.  I knit at least an hour every week, and have an ongoing list of knitted items I would like to make to give as gifts for future birthdays and holidays, as well as practical items for myself.  Socks, in particular, are my favorite things to knit.

Well, it just so happened that this winter, while I was finishing up a pair of socks to give someone else, I saw a picture of some entrelac socks posted on the internet.  Ooh, socks, my favorite!  And ooh, entrelac, it looks so cool.  And so difficult!  My brain simultaneously said "I want to make those" and "I don't think I am skillful enough to make those".  I bookmarked the pattern, but that was it. Entrelac was something I liked the look of, but was sure was terribly difficult to actually do.  Besides, spring was nearly here, and spring begins the busy planting season, and I wouldn't have time to learn something new and complicated like entrelac.  That was that.

About a month later, my local yarn shop (where DD1, DD2 and I had taken lessons in 2013) announced via Facebook, that it would be holding an Enterlac Knitting Class in mid-April.

Coincidence?  Maybe. When I looked at my calendar, there was nothing on it to prevent me from attending the class. The one afternoon of a busy week that didn't have anything slotted for about a three hour time span happened to be the exact day and time of the entrelac class. Still coincidence?  

So I went.  The instructor handed out patterns for a scarf (if we wanted to use 4 skeins of yarn) that could be shortened and made into a cowl (if we only wanted to use 2 skeins of yarn).  Then she had us choose our yarn, and get started following the step-by-step directions.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that entrelac is not hard.  It is really very easy.  It does require concentration, because there is a lot of turning and picking up of stitches to do, but it is not complicated at all. Straight forward knit and purl. I found entrelac to be very enjoyable, and I definitely appreciated all those socks I had previously knit; learning to turn heels and pick up gusset stitches was a skill that made learning entrelac a breeze.

The first full row done.

About 1/2 way,
loving the woven look of entrelac.

Two full skeins done;
another coincidence that it makes a cowl, because I had decided a few weeks before hearing of the entrelac class that I needed to learn to wear cowls (I'm not much for accessorizing).

So, now I know how to do entrelac.  I'm thinking that entrelac sock pattern I saw during the winter will now move up from the bookmarked realm of "I wish I could make this" to actually being on my project list this summer.  Maybe someone in the family will get a pair of entrelac socks for Christmas 2014.  And maybe next winter I'll be wearing an entrelac patterned sweater, handknit by me for me.  Meanwhile, I have a really cool cowl to learn how to wear. :0)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Coolest Mom in the World Feat #376

Today, I have once again performed a task that has given me the title of Coolest Mom in the World.

You see, last week, DD2 purchased a dress for Prom.  She bought it from a friend who had worn the dress a few years ago, was not planning to wear it again, and offered it to DD2 for a very good price.  DD2, being very confident in my sewing abilities, didn't blink an eye when the dress was about 2 sizes larger than what she normally wears.

"My mom can fix that," she confidently told the friend.  "She's really good at sewing stuff.  She altered my sister's prom dresses."

I, however, blinked both eyes when DD2 put the dress on for me to see where and how much it needed altering.  In fact, I think maybe my eyes started to tear, and then to glaze over in fear.  For you see, this is a strapless dress, with a sequined bodice, and boning.  I have never had to deal with boning before.  The alterations I made on DD1's prom dresses were much simpler.  They were of the type where you just pinch a half inch or so under the arms and fold it over to meet the seam.  No disassembly necessary.

That kind of stuff wasn't going to work on this dress DD2 was so excited about.  Partly because it wasn't the sides that needed to be taken in.  This was more along the lines of bust-shaping work and repositioning a few seams.   And we weren't talking about 1/2 an inch here or there.  No, when I started pinching and pinning to see how much tighter I needed to make the bodice so it would stay up at prom no matter how vigorously DD2 danced or if she raised her arms, it got a little scary.  In fact, I asked the height of her date and then suggested that DD2 needed to wear only 2.5" heels to make her as tall as her date, so no arm raising while slow dancing would be necessary (DH suggested just no slow dancing at all, and problem would be solved)!

Anyway, I estimated about 5" of changes needed to be made overall.

Did I mention that boning?  Yeah, that was in the way, which meant I would have to remove it, make the changes, and then replace it.

Did I mention the sequins?  I wasn't even sure what to do with the sequins; if my machine could sew through them or if I would be breaking needles left and right.

Did I mention 5"?  I needed to resew each bust seam so that the top of the dress came in about 2.5" on each side to be tight enough.  The lower rib cage was fine; it was just from mid-boob up that was loose.

Did I mention it looked like I was going to have to take the top half of the dress apart to accomplish these things?  My eyes definitely glazed over.

So I set the dress aside for about five days.  I was worried.  I didn't want to ruin a gorgeous dress, even if it did only cost $25. (Yep, you read that right, $25 for a floor length dress with sequined bodice and tons of tulle overlay on the skirt.)

Then I gritted my teeth, looked at the calendar (at that point, Prom was just six days away!), and did some searching of the internet for tutorials on how to alter the bodice of a strapless dress with boning and sequins.  It didn't look too bad.  Very time consuming, but at least not out of the realm of possibility.

Pretty much I needed to take the dress apart, from the top, down to the point where the bodice needed to come in.  Out came my seam ripper.  In went a deep breath and a "I can do this" pep talk.  Then I began to rip out stitches.

Off came the piping at the top of the bodice.  Now I had two parts to work with: the front fabric, and the lining.  Each had it's own seam that needed to be altered.

pin marking how far down to rip the seam

commence seam ripping on sequined front fabric

Out came the stitches holding the channel for the boning.  I pulled the boning out of the first seam, and marked the top with an "F" to indicate that was the side that went toward the front of the dress (the boning was curved to shape the bust outward) so that I would be sure to replace it exactly the way it had been in the dress.


Then those seams had to go, from the top down almost six inches.  Each layer had to be adjusted, pinned, and a new seam sewn.

sewing the new bust seam on front fabric

 The channel for the boning had to be remade, then the boning reinstalled facing the correct direction and the top of the channel sewn shut.  The front and lining layers had to be aligned, the piping placed just so on the top edge, and everything sewn back together.

After getting all that done, I began to wonder if it would have been faster to just make a prom dress from scratch!  Truthfully, it only took about two and a half hours start to finish, including a few places that had to be handsewn.

reworked bodice, 
looks just like before I ripped it apart

Now I am Coolest Mom in the World.  At least until the next time DD2 gets upset with me. There's a pretty good chance that will happen between now and Prom this Saturday.  Afterall, we still have to figure out how she wants her hair styled and DH and I need to name her curfew time for that evening.  Most definitely going to lose my title then.  But I'll get a new one:  Strictest Mom in the World.  Won't be the first time I've swapped one for the other.  Or the last.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Saturday, In Pictures

I went to the auction again, and bought more straw.
I think I have about enough now to mulch the garden this season.

DH tilled the garden.

I started cleaning up the strawberry bed and mulching (with straw) between the rows.

Cascade hops (on the south side of the house) are up about a foot.  
Time to get in and thin them out. 
Darn things grow so fast; they weren't above ground yet on Monday!

First tulip to bloom for 2014.

Hyacinths turning their heads to the late afternoon sun.
(Doesn't that oak bark mulch look awesome in the flowerbed? Yes, I'm proud of all the weeding and mulching I did last weekend & on Monday)

The farmer came and turned the field today.

plowing. . . 

Front field (about 2 acres) all freshly plowed.

DH and I ate 1/2 of a homemade pizza for dinner. 
(Neither of the girls were home.)
Which means the other half will be a lunch or two next week.

After dinner, DH headed out to the woods with the tractor and chainsaw.
Got more wood to cut.  Haven't cleaned up all the blow downs yet.

The roses DD1 bought DD2 for opening night of the high school's spring play.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Challenge #16: More Spring Cleaning

It's not summer yet, so don't stop with the spring cleaning!  This week's challenge is inspired by the used love seat DD1 found on craigslist recently.  For a mere $20, she has a piece of furniture that is actually in very nice condition and should fit easily into her apartment come August when she transfers to a college on the west side of the state.

When her future mother-in-law (we pretty much refer to her as that; DD1 has been dating this woman's son for going on 3 years now, with a nebulous wedding date of 'after we finish college') heard about the bargain mini-couch, she offered DD1 the use of her steam vac to clean it with.

Which happened to be a happy coincidence, as I had been thinking we should probably rent a rug shampooer/steam vac for the same purpose.  Plus, it's been a few years (okay, ten--time gets away from me and I don't have any carpeting to clean) since I shampooed any of my own furniture.

So when this wonderful lady offered the use of her steam cleaning machine for no charge, we jumped at the chance.  DD1 thoroughly cleaned her newfound love seat, then I cleaned my couches while I had the opportunity.

After that, we cleaned the steam vac very well, and returned it to it's owner, along with a nice dessert we'd baked as a thank you.

This week, I challenge you to get a hold of a rug shampooer or a steam vac, whatever you call it, and clean your furniture.  If you have carpeted floors, do those too while you're at it.  You'll be amazed at how much dirt is hiding in your couch cushions.

Either wrack your brain to think of someone you know (a mother-in-law, perhaps?) that owns one and would be willing to loan it to you--free, or for a small fee, or even a cheesecake!  Or get online and see where you can rent one locally.  I had found several places within about 25 miles of this little place here that rent them for $25-$30 for a day (as you can see, homemade cheesecake was more frugal than renting, and continued to strengthen a good relationship).

Thursday, April 24, 2014

So, What Do You Do?

Picture this:

You are in a social setting, in a group of people you have never met before.  Your spouse knows some of them, as it is a reception being put on by his employer.  You are seated at a table with two other couples, and of course someone at the table looks over at you and politely asks:

"So, what do you do?"

Maybe this question is one you answer easily and the conversation smoothly carries on.  For me, however, it is a question that pretty much always strikes dread in my heart, an awkward pause, and me frantically trying to think up a short but intelligent answer.

I mean, how do you say "I'm a stay at home mom, sort of, who grows a lot of my family's food, and runs a horse farm owned  by someone else"?  That is not the answer they are looking for when they pose the question.  No, they are expecting something short and simple:

"I'm a nurse."
"I'm a teacher."
"I'm a speech therapist."
"I'm an engineer."

Those things they can understand.  One or two words that give them a clear mental picture of what you do during the work day.  Who you are.  What your title is.  Where you fit in.

But I can't seem to sum up my work day in a short, sweet phrase like that.  Because when I say "I don't work," I cringe inside because I do work, I work really hard, I just don't have a job title and a paycheck to verify my usefulness.  So I feel like I am lying if I say I don't work.  Yet, if I say "I am an at-home mom", the reactions usually range from smug looks that seem to insinuate I am inferior to the working corporate woman, to accusations of being spoiled because I "don't have to work" (and therefore I have no usefulness and eat bonbons all day?).

So, last night, when placed in the above scenario that wasn't really hypothetical at all, my answer to the question evolved depending on the person asking it, and how well I perceived they knew my husband.  One guy, who knows DH well and knows that I have no official job title to give, received the answer "Oh, well, I keep DH's underwear clean."  (In my defense, the bonbons had been mentioned very shortly before I was asked the dreaded question.)  He laughed and told me he knew that it must be a very difficult and time consuming task.

Another person, a very fashionable and lithe childless woman of professional standing, who mentioned she had 'rescued' two horses in the last few years got told that I "run a horse farm."  Which did lead to a nice--and very surprising--conversation about how the professional lady finds it enjoyable and relaxing to do 'dirty' things like grooming horses and cleaning their stalls!!

The first grade teacher, wife of one of DH's fellow engineers, received the answer of "Well, I have mostly been at-home with our kids." Her children are the same age as my daughters, so we were able to talk about raising teen girls.

And, as the night went on, one frequent traveler with DH was retelling a tale about an incident that happened on their most recent trip where the group unexpectedly had their hotel conference room mistakenly entered by a 'woman in the entertainment industry'.  While the group of engineers was trying to convince her she had the wrong room she got offended that they thought she was a prostitute and heatedly told them "I deserve some respect, I'm a dancer! I'm just trying to feed my kids, just like all you guys."

To which my husband says to the people currently at our table "I don't know about you guys, but I don't feed my family that way."  They laugh, nod, realize that I haven't been part of the conversation, turn to me and ask the "So what do you do (for a living)?" question.  Before my brain could stop it, my mouth said, "Feeding our family is my job."

Um, yes.  I did, unintentionally, tell a few people that, apparently, I am a stripper.  Try to back your way out of that one and explain that what you meant is that you grow a massive garden and from that garden your family is fed.

Now do you see why I find that "So what do you do?" question so scary?  I can somehow take myself from boring wife with no paycheck to an exotic dancer, all in the course of a two-hour social gathering.  This is why I stay home, far away from people!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

I Did My Earthy Stuff Yesterday

I did not plant anything today for Earth Day.  Instead, yesterday afternoon I finished weeding and mulching the flowerbeds to the west, north, and east of the house.  All that is left to do are the couple of beds on the south side.  But I am out of mulch.  The two yards or so I bought last fall got me farther than I thought it would, but wasn't quite enough to do every bed that needs mulching.  Guess I have rather a lot of footage in flower beds.

Here are pictures of just the east side and the larger of the west side beds.

east flower bed, about 2' wide and 28' long

2 of the 3 west flower beds, 
totaling about 45' long and roughly 5' wide

Currently, my crocus and Siberian squill are in bloom, as well as the daffodils in the south bed.  The daffodils in the east bed are starting to develop buds, but will be another week or so before they are in bloom.  I always find it interesting how the sides of my house are their own little micro climates.

Siberian squill

(in the bed that still needs cleaning and mulching)

There are a few hyacinth that have started to bloom, although most of them aren't ready yet.

My next task will be to get in my strawberry patch now that the ground in the garden in dry enough to walk on.  I need to clean up last fall's runners, pull perennial weeds, then lay down newspapers with straw over top for mulch between the rows.  Hopefully that will keep the strawberry patch weed-free this season.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Monday Ramblings

We had a wonderful Easter at this little place here.  It started early, with church at 7:30 a.m.  Both DD2 and I sang in the choir; I am a soprano and she sings alto.  I'd been worried about one of the pieces the choir was to perform, as most of the soprano part was very high--A's and C's and even some G's.  So far in practice we still hadn't nailed it consistently, but the choir director director was certain that Easter morning would work magic with our voices.

And it did.  The song sounded wonderful, way better than it ever had in the eight weeks we've been practicing it!!  There was a second service, at 10:30 a.m. that the choir also sang in, and that one wasn't quite as flawless, our voices were a bit tired after nailing everything in the first service.  I'm glad I didn't squeak though; just a few of my high G's weren't quite G's, so I dropped the volume a tad on those and let the other sopranos who were hitting G drown out my attempted G that came out a C or an A.

Then it was home, through ever warming air, with sunny blue skies to finish getting the house and meal ready for company.  We had a nice dinner mid-afternoon with my parents, my brother and his girlfriend and their daughter (my only niece.)  DH and I both enjoyed taking the niece around outside, trying to make a country girl out of a toddler who has so far only known city. 

She loved running around trying to catch the chickens, who all stayed just a step ahead of her.  She also enjoyed petting Jane, our rabbit.  We had dyed eggs for her to hunt ("real" eggs, not the plastic ones she'd hunted at Grandma's house earlier), and also took her in the chicken house to see if the chickens had laid any new eggs.  It was so funny hearing her say "eww, chicken poop!" one minute, but the next insisting she wanted to go back out and "catch a chicken".  Before she went home, DH got out the tractor and took her for a ride.  We even convinced my brother to go for a short ride before they left for home--I think it may have been the first time he's been on a tractor in his life.  He wasn't too sure, so DD1 and DD2 said they'd go with him.

DH giving tractor rides;
my brother on the right, 
top of niece's head is barely visible between his shoulder and DD2's chin.

Both of my sons called also.  Neither one was able to make it home for Easter, being 10 hours and 14 hours away.  It was nice to talk to them and hear how their day had gone.  DS2 had put together an Easter dinner with his housemates; he said each of the six guys made something for the meal and it turned out "good, actually" (he sounded kind of surprised).  DS1 had taken his family to church (yay, DH and I have been trying to get them to find a church home and attend regularly with K3), then been taken to brunch by his in-laws.

This morning is another warm one, a bit humid with the air of a day where a thunderstorm is brewing.  Supposedly there is a 'chance' of rain this evening.  

Meanwhile, the neighbor across the road half a mile up burned off his field this morning, which he does annually.  I was glad to be home at the time, which gave me the chance to get a few pictures.  

the pine trees are about 20 feet tall, 
and yes, that is flames reaching above them.

He is very careful to burn safely, taking into account how dry everything is, the wind direction and speed, and plowing a fire break first, then setting his back burn before lighting the field.  It takes an hour or so for him to burn the roughly 10 acres that he does. 

While that was going on, I had several turkeys doing the mating dance in my own field.

It was tough to leave all that interesting stuff behind to go to work, but horses needed their stalls cleaned.  And, being so warm today, they also appreciated it when I took the shedding blade to them and relieved them of a layer of loose winter hair.  When I was done, the horses were much nicer looking than my gloves.

One of the mares enjoyed it so much, she wouldn't leave me alone after that.  Maybe she was just trying to say "thank you".

Friday, April 18, 2014

Challenge #15: Company Ready

The concept for this challenge has been in my head for a while, and I'm guessing (based on other women I've talked to on the subject), just may have been a goal of yours that maybe you haven't yet consciously realized you had.

Be Company Ready

To me, that means the first floor of my house--mainly where company would be--is decluttered and clean enough that I feel comfortable having someone drop by on short notice, or even no notice at all.

Now, for years and years this has gone against my grain.  I did not want anyone just showing up on my doorstep.  No way.  I wanted at least a day's advance warning, and preferably a week's notice!  To have someone just pop on by, that was not fun, that was stressful, and I have enough stress in my life, thank you very much.

Honestly, it got to the point where I didn't really even want to let my kids have their friends over.  All four of my children knew that if, at the end of the school day, they said to me "Mom, can So-and-So come over (right now), his/her mom said it would be okay", the answer would automatically be no.  If you want to have someone over, or--horrors-- someone spend the night, you had to ask Mom at least 24 hours in advance.  No spur of the moment guests.

Why?  Because, deep down, I was afraid my house wasn't good enough, wasn't clean enough, for other people to see.  I knew that the elementary and middle school aged guests wouldn't care, but what if they went home and said something to their parents that would then lead those parents to think "Boy, I don't want my kid associating with those people at this little place here; they're slobs".

Some of this was totally in my head.  But some of it, on the level of 'this is the gateway drug to slovenliness' was true.  Clutter.  Shoes kicked off and left in the walkway repeatedly.  Coats that fell off the coat rack and weren't picked back up.  Dishes that maybe didn't get washed the night before and still covered the kitchen counter.  Stacks of papers in the living room.  Recycling bin overflowing and in need of taking to the recycling center.  Dust being a protective coating on nearly every horizontal surface.  The mudroom floor spotted with, well, mud.  The kitchen floor similarly spotted, but with drips and drops of juice, tomato sauce, ketchup, jelly, crumbs of a crushed pretzel, a stray chocolate chip under the edge of the refrigerator. . .

Pretty much how life is when you have a houseful of kids and live on a farm. But, unfortunately, not how most people view things.  To those with no children, or only a child or two, and not living on a farm, well, our house in it's normal state of affairs was a bit unkempt.  And when it became even less kempt from not being properly cleaned or things not put away for a day or two, well, it looked rather bad.

In all honesty, I go through times of falling down on my daily housekeeping responsibilities as the at home spouse.  It is easy to do when the gardening/canning season was in full swing.  Or winter storms mean animal/outdoor chores take two or three times as long.  Or I'm in full out "finishing this handmade gift" mode with a looming birthday or Christmas or other gift-giving occasion just a few days away.  And once I get far enough behind--say after a month straight of canning just about every day, it takes way more than an hour a day to get things set back to rights.  I'm thinking (okay, hoping) that most readers can relate.

So what I decided, was that I needed to set a standard I refer to as Company Ready, and make sure that the house is up to that standard all the time.  So that I could relax a bit, and welcome company rather than dread the thought of someone walking in my door before I'd had at least 10 waking hours to make things good and clean enough.

Here's my definition of Company Ready for this little place here:

Downstairs bathroom:
  • toilet white inside (a daily swish with the toilet brush to prevent build up), 
  • toilet paper roll on the toilet paper roll holder, 
  • sink clean, 
  • counter clutter free, 
  • two dry hand towels neatly on the towel bar, 
  • trash can never more than 1/2 full, 
  • floor swept, 
  • mirror spot-free.

  • floor swept, 
  • mud washed off floor once a week (during muddy seasons), 
  • shoes lined up along wall, 
  • coats/jackets hung neatly, 
  • bench free for sitting on (versus piled with off cast hats, gloves, backpacks, etc)
  • dishes washed and put away every night,
  • counters wiped off nightly (no drips, crumbs, or dust!), 
  • floor swept,  
  • nothing not food related in the kitchen (ie no stacks of mail, kid's school notices, etc)
  • floor mopped when it has more than a few drips on it
Dining Room (we eat all meals in the dining room, since our kitchen is all work space, not the eat-in kind with room for a table):
  • floor swept
  • table free of clutter
  • table washed/wiped after every meal
  • nothing not eating related on counter (one child has a bad habit of leaving her mail, phone, textbooks, binders bobby pins, earrings, etc, etc on the dining room counter.  For weeks or months if not hounded to remove them to the proper locations.)
Living room:
  • dusted once a week (including tv screen and all photos/pictures on walls), 
  • couch cushions and throw pillows aligned properly (NOT on floor!!),
  • afghans folded neatly in half and draped over backs of couches, 
  • end tables free of empty glasses (or beer cans/bottles!) and anything other than the TV remote or a coaster, 
  • curtains tied back (for some reason, the inhabitants of this little place here--other than me, of course--like to close the curtains pretty much every day during sunny weather, and then not open them back up when they leave the room), 
  • floor swept.
Front door area:
  • no stacks of anything near door or in walkway from front door to living room
  • floor swept
  • bench by front door empty (for guests to sit down on and remove shoes)
This is my definition of Company Ready.  With those items checked off my list, I feel comfortable with the idea of having people visit at any time.  Which makes life a whole lot more enjoyable than constantly worrying about 'what if' and feeling like I am a horrible housekeeper.

If you have young children, you will need to decide what to do about toys--are they allowed in the living room where company would be sure to go?  Or are toys banned from the living room and have to be played with and stored in some other area of your home?  For me, since the occupants of this little place here don't play with those sorts of toys any longer, I don't have to worry about this on a day to day basis.

What I have established, however, for those times when we have company with small children, is my old wooden toy box in the living room as a sort of table to hold framed photos.  Inside the toy box is an assortment of  toys that I have kept, and when we have young guests, the framed photos are removed to another room and the lid of the toy box is opened so the guests can enjoy the toys (right there in the sight of their parents, so we don't have to worry about what a child is doing off in some other area of the house that might not be kept company ready).  Then when the young guests go back home, the toys go back in the box, the lid goes down, and the framed photos go back on top.  Until the next time.

toy box, 
ready for small guests

toy box as a table, 
displaying photos and breakables 
 when we don't have small guests

So I challenge you, even if it takes a whole weekend or even a whole week to get your house on track, to become Company Ready.  Make a list of what areas of your house you most often allow guests, and then come up with a bulleted list that describes what the key points are for each room.  Then just whiz through your list a few minutes every day.  If you get bogged down in your daily chores--say during an illness or canning season, or whatever comes up--make the Company Ready list a priority, and let the other areas of your house slack for a little while, until you can get back on track.

Then, next time someone knocks on your door unexpectedly, you will be able to welcome them in with a smile, instead of wondering whether they know you are home, or if you can just be very quiet and hide out of sight until they go away.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Living on One Income, Part Six

You must be made of pretty tough stuff if you're still with me by now.  Which is a very good thing, because being resilient, and being open to admitting you need to make some changes, are key traits in keeping your marriage afloat while being a one income family.  It is super easy to get discouraged and then start playing the blame game, which usually disintegrates to spouses who don't appreciate what the other does to keep the family humming along with one parent at home full time.

There are tons and tons of little things that can be tweaked to save some money.  Those are, by and large, my department at this little place here.  DH doesn't want to be bothered with pennies, he wants to concentrate on the items that save benjies.  It's hard to have benjies, though, if you are tossing pennies out the window left and right.  A ten-cent per pound savings on ten pounds of burger (what the local meat market offers if I buy a 10 pound bag) adds up when you go through about 100 pounds of hamburger in a year for a family.  If I make my own hamburger buns for roughly 50 cents per package instead of buying the cheapy ones that turn to mush for $1.50 on sale, there's some more savings.  If I never buy tomatoes to put on our hamburgers, but instead only have tomato slices with our burgers during the months that we have fresh tomatoes from our garden, I save even more money.  If I make my own hamburger dills out of the cucumbers, garlic, and dill I grow, there's a few more pennies.

I think you can see where I'm going with this.  By saving in little ways all through the year, before the year is up I've saved almost $100 just by changing how I acquire the components of our hamburger dinners.

Do you need to get a soft drink out of the cooler, and a candy bar off the shelf every time you go to the gas station to fill up your car? Rather than spending $1.29 for the soda and 80 cents for the candy bar each week times 52 weeks in a year, by waiting until you get home to have a drink and a snack you have saved yourself $108.68!  What could you better spend that on?  Maybe one month's worth of electricity?  Or a few month's worth of car insurance on a paid off older vehicle you have PLPD insurance coverage on?  Or a week's worth of groceries for the family?

The point I'm trying to make is to look at every thing, not just the big ones that you have trouble covering, when you are searching for ways to cut your family's expenditures.  Be the person that sees a penny on the ground and picks it up, instead of the one who walks on by because "it's just a penny; you can't buy anything with that".

A few years ago, I did a whole series of posts on different areas to save money.  Look up my Frugal February posts if you want to read about some of the little ways to trim your budget.

One more parting thought, though.  This one is really important, especially if you are a young couple just starting out.  One of the spouses must have a degree or a certification that enables them to get a good full time job with benefits.  To try to raise a family on the sorts of careers you get with just a high school diploma and then have one spouse not work, well, honestly, I don't think you will have much at all.  You will be struggling to keep the basics: food, shelter, clothing, utilities (utilities being heat and electricity, not cable tv and smart phones).  Make the sacrifice, and the commitment, of time and money (if you need to take out a student loan) and struggle now to get through college or learn those skilled trades, so that the rest of your life won't be so difficult.  DH and I decided decades ago that we would much rather work our behinds off in our twenties and thirties to set ourselves up where we are now in our forties, than to be in our seventies and eighties and still slaving away to keep a roof over our heads and the lights on.  This is what we have preached to our children also.  Work hard when you are young, so you don't have to work so hard when you are old (not to mention how much more difficult work is when you are old).

I wish you the best of luck in your frugal endeavors.  May you reach your goal of being a family who lives happily on one income, where the kids know two parents who love each other and work together as a team, good home cooking, simple joys, a good work ethic, and spend most of their childhood hours with a parent rather than a paid caregiver.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Living on One Income, Part Five

After housing and auto expenses, the next biggie (since we have all ready talked about childcare in Parts One and Two) is food.  We all need food, perhaps even more than we need cars and houses.

Food, however, is a much more flexible category on the expenditure side of your budget than houses and cars are.  How much you spend on food is greatly dependent on how willing you are to get your hands dirty.  If your hands never touch your food, other than to lift burger, fries, or pizza to your mouth, you are going about eating in a way that is more expensive than necessary.  If you touch a spoon to mix ingredients from boxes and cans you are doing better.  If you actually wash, peel, cut and/or measure then cook the ingredients in the meals you eat, you are well on your way to fiscally responsible nutrition.  And if your fingertips have a definite darker tint to them during the growing season for your area (as in, you have dirt stains and plant juice stains on your skin from gardening and preserving), well, food can't get much cheaper than that!

I readily confess to being somewhat of a cooking-from-scratch Nazi.  It is the cheapest way to eat healthy food.  Notice I didn't say the cheapest way to eat, period, because if you play the coupon game right, I hear you can get all kinds of crap for free or nearly so.  But it is crap, in my book, not real food.  And real food is cheaper in the long run because if you fuel your body with junk, it isn't going to run right, or run as long, as if you fuel it with nutritious stuff.  You wouldn't fill your car's gas tank with the garden hose just because water is cheaper than gas, would you?  No.  Because you know water in the fuel line and engine is not good for the car.  Empty calories and tons of chemicals and preservatives are not good for your body. Don't substitute protein with carbs and chemicals. Eat real food, or don't eat at all.

'Nuff said on that subject.

So, now that you know where I stand on what kind of food to eat, let's look at how to go about cooking it.

This is an area where I think it is okay to responsibly spend a little money now in equipment (frugally, as always!  Watch for sales, don't be afraid to buy used, and make your choices wisely--don't get every gadget on the market.) in order to save money on food in the long run.  If you don't have a crock pot, you should get one. Especially if you are still a family with two working spouses who are trying to save enough money to pay off enough bills so that one of the spouses can leave their job to be at home full time.  You also need, of course, a working stove and oven.  These do not have to be brand new!!  I would rather you bought used of good quality than brand new of an inferior model that will just need repairs in a few years.  A griddle is a nice tool, and a freezer can be your money saving best friend (again, get a good deal; our first freezer was $20 at an estate sale in 1993. . . avocado green, and probably made in the same year I was, but you know what?  It still runs 21 years after we bought it used.)

Now that you have a stove and oven, a crock pot, a griddle, and a freezer, make sure to use them.  They aren't doing you any good sitting around collecting dust while you eat out night after night after night.

If the idea of cooking your own meals scares you, and you are sure you are going to starve to death without eating out or buying zap and heat food from the store anymore, relax.  You need to approach this with the right frame of mind.  When you were a kid, and you wanted to learn to ride a bike, you took the falls and the scary moments and kept trying.  When you wanted to master a new video game you kept restarting every time you got killed off, didn't you?  You kept at it, kept trying, learning from the oopses along the way until you accomplished your goal.

Think of cooking this way; your goal is to learn to cook, and there might be some skinned knees or you might figuratively die a few times during the journey, but if you keep at it, you will master it.  Geez, if cavemen could figure out how to cook food, surely you can, right?

Goulash is a good, quick and easy meal to start out with: a pound of burger, cooked til brown, a box of noodles (your choice of shape!) boiled until tender, a can of tomato sauce and whatever spices you want to put in it.  Some shredded cheese, too, if you wish.  Throw them all together, and voila, you just cooked dinner!  (Meat, veggie--tomato sauce, grain--pasta, and dairy if you added cheese.  Balanced meal.)

If you need me to give you another kick in the pants, here it is:

Do you want to eat like a baby all your life, only being able to put in your mouth what someone else has prepared for you?  Or do you want to be a self-sufficient grown up, who can eat whatever strikes your fancy because you can whip it up in the kitchen any time you want?

Okay, enough tough love.  Get yourself a few recipes with words you know (so, probably not anything that says 'braise' or 'until centers are set' or anything foreign like that), and give them a try.  It's okay to use a can of soup or sauce and a box of noodles for now, as long as you are combining and heating them.  You can branch out once your cooking bicycle isn't so wobbly.

Along with saving money by cooking comes learning to trim your grocery budget.  Cost compare when you are at the store; sometimes the brand on sale is not cheaper than the other brand which is not on sale this week.  Sometimes two of the smaller size are actually cheaper than one of the larger size (go figure, this defies logic, to me, but I find it from time to time while shopping).  Cut the chips, cookies, alcoholic beverages and sodas.  Really.  You don't have to go cold turkey. Unless you have a teeny tiny amount of cash to feed your family this week, in which case, yes, you do have to forego these things for now.  Case in point:  when we had a grocery budget of $45 a week to feed 5 people during a tough financial time (the one where I went back to work), DH did not get to drink beer.  Once things looked better money-wise and we could pay all our bills, nourish the kids and still have enough for a six-pack, then DH could enjoy a brewski again.

(On a side note, it really burns me to no end when I see families who insist they cannot afford to feed their children, yet the adults in the family are running around puffing on cigarettes and drinking beers.  For crying out loud, people, feed your children before you indulge yourself!)

Anyway, this post could get astronomically long if I went through every single way to save money on food.  Check out my posts with the tags 'frugal', 'recipes', and 'gardening' if you want more ideas.  And let me point out, before I end for now, that cooking and grocery shopping are things men can do just as well as women.  So any at home guys out there, you should be taking notes.  ;0)

To Be Continued. . . 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Warm Weekend

This past weekend was amazingly warm at this little place here.  I believe we hit 70 degrees both Saturday and Sunday, the field was dry enough to drive the tractor through, the rain held off until night time, and DH and I just went bonkers getting outdoor work done.

On Friday afternoon, I pulled taps from the maple trees.  Sap had not run since last Monday, and the trees are too budded for me to wait until the cold snap that is forecasted to hit later today might possibly bring a little sap flow.  Most of the trees gave up their taps easily, but a few had healed around the tap quite a bit, requiring me to do some serious tugging to free the tap from the woody grip of the tree.

my awesome artistic rendering of me pulling a tap the tree didn't want to let go of

On Saturday morning, I was up early, loaded my oldest group of hens into the dog cage that I had put into the back of the pick up truck, and headed down the road to the local weekly hay, straw, and small animal auction.  Culling time in the chicken coop; got to get rid of the less productive hens and make room for this year's batch of pullets (to arrive in May).

While there, I also bid on some lots of straw.  The plan being to use it to mulch as much of my garden as possible this year.  Straw has just gone up and up in cost in the last several years, for a number of reasons (newer varieties of wheat have shorter stalks, thus needing more straw to make a bale; dairy people are chopping it and feeding it to their cows; some of the grain farmers have a setting on their combines that chops it during threshing and leaves it on the field as trash rather than leaving it whole, wind-rowing it and having to come back later with baler and wagons).  I was hoping, that by going to the auction, I could get it for less per bale than I see straw listed for on Craigslist.

I ended up with 26 bales of ugly straw at $2.20 a bale.  It was straw that was discolored and probably had been rained on in storage, so nobody looking for feed or bedding was all that interested in it.  Me, I'm just going to spread it on the garden and let it rot, so ugly was fine.  And much better than paying the $2.70 to $3.60 per bale that the pretty straw went for at auction that day.

another superb drawing: me loading straw after the auction

After the auction, I came home, unloaded the straw (getting my workout!), then proceeded to load 34 bales of hay from the loft and drive it down to the horse farm, where I unloaded and stacked it so my horses have something to eat for about the next month.

By the time I got done with all that, it was about noon, and DH had headed out to the woods with the tractor and the chainsaw.  He spent about six hours cutting up deadfall from last fall and winter's storms.  While he was doing that, I boiled off sap, made three dozen deviled eggs for Sunday's potluck after church, washed three loads of laundry, and weeded and mulched one and a third of my flower beds.

Phew!  Needless to say, I slept darn good on Saturday night!  

Getting out of bed on Sunday was rather a challenge though, as my body was a bit stiff after all that bending and lifting and tossing and stacking and shoveling I had done Saturday.  DH wasn't any too limber himself after his many hours of cutting and stacking wood.

So, after church and after the potluck, we came home and pretty much did it all over again, minus the hay and the straw and the laundry and the sap boiling.  And the deviled eggs, although I did make a batch of mayonnaise and used it in the potato salad I prepared to go with the venison loin that I was grilling for dinner.

In other words, DH spent about four hours cutting and stacking wood (there are lots and lots of downed trees out there), and I used up roughly the same amount of time doing more weeding and mulching of flowerbeds.

DH in the woods with his chainsaw

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Living On One Income, Part Four

Still with me?  Got some gears turning on how to make your housing expense a little lower?  Now let's focus on another biggie for the budget.

Next to housing, autos are usually one of the next biggest expenses.  It's actually not unheard of for people to pay almost as much on their auto loans as they are on their housing.  So let's take a look at how to cut your car/truck/SUV expenses.

Number one, be happy with less.  Do you really need the super cool model with all the gadgets?  Do you know how to drive a stick shift?  A vehicle with a manual transmission, while becoming more difficult to find as less and less people know how to drive them, is cheaper right off the bat than an automatic.  If you are shopping for a brand new ride, ask the dealer what the price is on the same make and model with a manual transmission.  Most likely they won't have one in stock, but if the manufacturer makes that option, it can be ordered for you if you are willing to wait a little bit and not drive your brand new vehicle home tomorrow.

Also cheaper is a one year old model versus a brand new one.  They can be sitting side by side on the lot, and most likely look pretty identical (being an auto engineer's wife, I've learned a few things over the years--big huge changes don't usually happen from one year to the next in car design or performance) but the one from 'last year' is going to cost less.

If you can get it out of your head that you have to drive a new car, and just be happy with new-to-you (a nice way of saying "used"), the savings is even greater.  And if you can be patient, and save up the money for a vehicle so you can pay cash instead of getting a loan, you will save more.  I do realize most people cannot save up that much cash.  Let's be mean again, though, and say with brutal honesty: most people want to drive a fancier, newer car than they could ever pay cash for.  Once you are willing to change your thought patterns, a whole new world of options opens up.

When DH first got hired directly with his employer, after working for them for over three years via a contract engineering firm, we were excited about his new ability to purchase brand new vehicles with an employee discount.  In fact, the first time a big repair loomed on our 14 year old, 200,000+ mile vehicle that he'd been driving, that was a great excuse to go buy a brand new, custom ordered (because he went with a manual transmission!) small pick-up truck and use his employee discount. Woo wee!  Weren't we cool!  Brand new truck for several thousand less than MSRP.  Except that brand new truck that we 'saved' so much money on with his employee discount came with an interest rate from our credit union, who'd given us the loan to purchase that truck with, and a big insurance bill for full coverage (as required by terms of the loan) on a brand new vehicle.  Ummm, not such a savings after all.

We made notes to not do that again.  So when the next vehicle needed replacing (hard to fit 4 kids in the backseat of a car; with baby #4 on the way, it was time for a minivan. . .) we went a slightly different route.  Instead of buying brand new with employee discount, we tried company used through a program where DH's employer uses a vehicle as part of their fleet (perk for the VIPS and upper level engineers) for six months or so, then sells it.  It qualifies as a brand new vehicle as far as loan purposes go, but you get a discount based on how many miles are on the odometer plus you get to use your employee discount.  We bought the next two vehicles this way, before we realized that not having to take out a car loan at all would be the smartest thing to do in the future.

So that is how we've done it in the last five years.  If we needed a vehicle, we looked at how much money we had on hand (or might be coming in--tax refund!), and started scouring the used car sites for the makes and models with the options and price range we were looking for.

Back to the brand new/company used vehicles for a minute.  We realized, after purchasing (and going into debt) for them, that the smartest thing to do would be drive them to death.  In other words, not sell them off or trade them in after two or three years for even newer ones, not even to sell them after they were paid off (in four or five years).  But to keep them and drive them until they could no longer be kept running.  Hence our string of vehicles that we drove to over 200,000 miles before replacing.  Currently our family truckster, the Suburban, sports 186,000 miles.  It is our youngest vehicle (the last one we bought on a loan, company used) at 9 years old.  We should be able to get at least five more years, and about 64,000 more miles out of it before it becomes a judgement call between repairing whatever goes wrong at that point (based on life expectancy after the repair) or replacing it.

An option I have absolutely no experience with, because our research revealed that with the amount of miles we usually drive, plus hauling four kids around (and incurring all the spills, stains, dents and dings that kids put in a vehicle), is leasing.  Some people say leasing is a good deal, because when the lease is up they just turn the car in and no longer have to deal with an aging vehicle.  Like I said, we never tried it, because when we ran the facts and figures for our wear and tear on a car, leasing was a losing proposition for our family (we definitely would have owed money at the end of the lease for the extra miles or the 'damage').  That is a decision you will have to make for your family, and if it does save you money both now and a few years down the road when it's time to turn the car in, go for it!

After cost to purchase a vehicle, there are two other areas to look at for vehicle expenses: insurance, and maintenance.  If you have a loan on your car, you don't have much leeway in how you insure.  The company who issued to loan wants their risk covered, and therefore requires you keep full coverage insurance on the vehicle.  Once the loan is paid off however, or if you managed to pay cash in the first place, you have more options.  You can insure it fully, or just for collisions with other vehicles, or just for things like deer hitting your car or trees falling on it, or with the bare minimum required by the laws of your state in order to drive it on the road.

As for maintenance, in some ways that has become a lost art.  So much computerization of cars has made it harder to be a home mechanic.  Harder, but not impossible.  You can still learn how to check fluid levels (or at least where the ports are for when the readout on the dash says your oil level is low, or you need more washer fluid!)  and then add the necessary fluid.  You can air up and rotate your own tires.  You can learn to do the repairs that don't require highly technical tools. In fact, for almost ten years, our basic car repairs were done by our teenage sons.  If a 13 year old boy can do simple repairs with a few wrenches, so can you!

And for the repairs that are beyond your scope--or your tool box--you can find a good local mechanic, often a small sole proprietorship, to do the repairs for you instead of a chain place or dealership.  Anything that DH can't fix, since our boys grew up and left home (boy, does he really miss then when the vehicles break down!), goes to the small shop in the village owned by a family who lives nearby.  Their prices are lower than the dealerships, and they are always willing to take a look same day as you call.  When their ability to put food on the table for their family depends on word of mouth advertising and satisfied customers who come back time and time again, they will do good quality work.

To Be Continued. . . 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Living on One Income, Part Three

I assume, if you are reading this, that I did not totally piss you off in Part Two.  I'm a little afraid it might have come across as preachy, but from what I've experienced over the years, it is what a lot of people need to hear.  Because if they can't take a little straight talk about how this whole marriage, family, and living on one income thing has to work, then for the sake of their marriage, and their family, they probably shouldn't even try it.

In reality, what you are doing when you quit your job to stay home, is going back to traditional roles: the man works, the wife stays home and does the cooking, cleaning, and child rearing.  That is a tough thing for today's woman to swallow.  And the ones who swallow it willingly are guaranteed to get negative feedback from the women around them.  You are setting back the whole female race!  You are defying the feminist movement!  Yadda yadda yadda.  Truthfully, there will be a whole lot of jealous women in the ones who spout that rhetoric at you.

Guys who stay home, I can only imagine the crap you get from other men. I'm guessing more than a few jibes about your lack of machismo by having your wife be the breadwinner.  I suspect, as with the negative women who make rude comments to hide their jealousy, a lot of smack talking men secretly wish they too could stay home all day and have a wife who toiled at the office for the family's money.

When you decide that one spouse should stay home, you both need to really be open to ways to save money.  The less money that goes out, the more that needs to come in in the first place, and the more likely it is that you can be a married, one income family.  That means gathering as many money saving ideas as you can and implementing all that apply to you.  This is not a one-time thing, but should become an on-going habit, as some tips might not be possible now (or just be inapplicable to your current life), but be very helpful in the future.

I am always on the look out for tips that I can put to use in my family's dollar stretching lifestyle. I read a new book this past winter that was about cutting expenses from your budget.  The title of the book looked somewhat promising; the gist of it was that the author looked for ways to cut his family's costs, and came up with, over the course of a year (I think), a savings of $1000 per month.  Which is a huge amount of money for me, and, I think, for most people.  Unfortunately, I came away from the book with no new ideas, having adopted all of them little by little in years past, and shaking my head over how much money the author had previously been unwittingly hemorrhaging. I also came away with a niggling feeling that most Americans, while probably not quite as well off as the author-- and thus probably not going to find $1000 a month to cut from their budgets (unless you are totally erasing the need for childcare on multiple children!)--are also unknowingly spending a whole lot more money than they should or want to.

Basically, you have to start with the big things. Like housing.  Look at how much you are paying for where you live, be it an apartment, a house you rent, or a house you own.  If you rent, is it possible for you to move somewhere cheaper but just as sufficient.  I'm not saying give up safety, but quite often I see people, especially young people, renting places that look eerily on par with the nice houses their parents live in.  What they are missing is the fact that it took years upon years for their parents to work up to places like that.  Too many people skip the 'starter home' and go right for the middle aged owner type of house.  The one with the nice carpeting and trendy color scheme, and manicured lawn in a suburban neighborhood.  Not the "I'm a poor twenty-something figuring out how this whole life on my own thing works" type of dwelling they can actually afford.

This downsizing concept isn't just for renters or young couples who started out a little higher on the housing niceness scale than they should have. If you own your own home, and the house payment is really squeezing blood out of your budget, could you get by with a smaller or less new home? Might you be able to sell your current home fairly quickly without taking a loss on it? Even if you don't want to change school districts, it might be possible to buy a less expensive home and save a whole lot of money each month in mortgage payments.  It is often worth taking the time to check into.

If you are renting, and plan to live in that area for a long time, have you ever looked into prices of starter homes?  When DH and I bought our first house, the mortgage was actually $100 a month cheaper than what we'd been paying in rent. That $100 a month covered the property taxes easily, with money to spare for house insurance. Sure, the house was a little smaller, but it also was quite a bit newer, and cheaper to heat in the winter time than the old house we'd been renting. Plus, by being owners instead of renters, now we were earning equity (which we used, six years in the future, to make a down payment on this little place here) instead of just having this budgetary black hole in the housing expense category.

If you own your home, and don't want to sell it to downsize to a different home,  what are the terms of your mortgage?  What are the current interest rates for mortgages?  Could you possibly refinance for a lower rate, thus lowering your payment and saving you money either now in a lower payment each month or in the long run by not having to pay as much in interest over the life of the loan?  Several years ago DH and I did refinance our house at this little place here, even though we'd only held the mortgage on it for slightly more than a handful of years.  On the original mortgage we had 24 years to go before it was scheduled to be paid off.  With our refi, we rolled that 24 yrs into a 15-year mortgage for 2.75% less interest and the same monthly payment. It didn't save us any money up front, on a month by month basis because our payment stayed the same (well, actually I think it fell by $40, but we have continued to make the same payment as the original mortgage, with the extra $40 each month paying off the principle a little faster). In the long run, we are saving ourselves a boatload in interest.  And we can pinpoint a retirement date for DH a whole lot sooner: 9 years sooner, if we keep our finances on track to have him retire once the house is paid off.

One spouse at home, and the other one looking at a retirement date earlier than the day they can start drawing Social Security?  Sounds like it might be worth making a few adjustments for.  Maybe not having the magazine spread dream home isn't such a bad thing. . .

To Be Continued. . . 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Challenge #14 : Read The Little House Books

In January, I decided that I really wanted to reread the Little House books.  You know, the ones with Ma and Pa and Mary and Laura. . . The ones by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

I had read the whole series in my elementary years, and read them again, aloud to my kids, when my kids were young.  Which means it has now been at least a dozen years or so since I last read them.

So, I made it a personal goal to reread the entire Little House series in 2014.  So far, I have finished the first five.

This time through I am not only enjoying the stories those books contain, but I am finding fascination in the details of life back in the 1870s/1880s.  The work ethic people had.  The expectations for how children should behave. Or, really, how anyone should behave.  The emphasis on considering others, on how children were taught to be respectful and to give some thought to how their actions might impact the other people around them. How people faced adversity with determination rather than sitting back and expecting someone else to bail them out of a tough situation.  How people creatively made do with the resources they had at hand.  How much pleasure they got out of simple things.

It is a very interesting contrast to modern day life.

So, I challenge you, too, to read these books.  Even if you did a long time ago as a child, read them again now.  At least two or three of them.  As you are reading, concentrate on the details.  On the underlying outlook on life.

If you are following my Living on One Income series of posts, also think about how content the Ingalls family (and their peers) were with the small amount of material items they had.  Notice their frugality, and also their willingness to do whatever it took to get by.  Those are key factors to being a one-income family in this day and age.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Living on One Income, Part Two

Part Two, for those whom I didn't completely alienate with Part One.

If you are still with me, I assume you are serious in your desire to figure out how to live on one income.

Let's review the important points:
  1. You and your spouse need to be in total agreement on this, because it takes sacrifice and willingness to buck the trend.  You will probably encounter questions and maybe even hostility from others about your decision to have one spouse be at home. You need to approach this as a team, or it won't work.
  2. You must have a budget; you have to know how much money comes in, how much goes out, and where it goes to.
  3. You need to think outside the box, and not be a trend follower.  Just because all the other moms at Little Billy's school have highlighted hair in the style of the month and fingernails made of petroleum products doesn't mean you have to.  Just because all the other guys in the office have wives that work full time doesn't mean your wife needs to do that just so you can fly to Vegas once or twice a year like they do (or take cruises, or whatever the 'must do' vacation activity is in your social circle).
Okay, now to more how-to from personal experience!

When deciding if it is feasible for your family to go from two incomes to one, you also need to figure in the savings that can only happen when one parent stays home full time.  The biggest savings is usually in the form of childcare; or rather, the lack of a need to pay a babysitter or daycare to mind your child during the workday.  If you are staying at home to be with the kids,then be with the kids! Don't hire a babysitter so you can go off shopping, or to lunch with a friend, or to get your hair done!!  That kind of defeats the whole "I want to quit work so I can be home with my darling babies" thing, and it doesn't save you money on daycare (or other areas of the budget such as food, personal care, clothing, etc)!

Anyway. . .

Once upon a time, DH and I only had three children.  And we'd had a financial setback (full disclosure: DH got laid off and his unemployment barely covered our rent, let alone keep a family of five afloat) which required that I go to work part-time.  Or, more truthfully, it required I go to work and I could not find full time employment in a reasonable amount of time (overdue notices were piling up from our creditors) so I took a part time job instead.  Once we got over our financial hump (ie paid off overdue bills, and even paid off some small debts even though they had low monthly payments), we looked at how much money I really earned after paying for daycare on three kids each week--one of whom was in school six hours each day.

I'd been bringing home, after taxes and daycare, a whopping $50 per week.  Wow.  For all that time spent away from my kids (roughly 30 hours: 25 of work, and 1 hour of commuting to work each day), I got to contribute $50 to the household budget.  My babysitting bill was about four times that much each week.  So, when it got close to summer time, when the eldest of the three kids would no longer be in school and thus requiring three kids to be in day care the entire time I worked instead of two during the day plus one just for after school, DH and I decided we'd be further ahead if I quit my job and stayed home.

On the surface, it looked like we'd be cutting ourselves off from $250 a week in income by my no longer working. $1000 a month is nothing to disregard casually. On closer look, based on the babysitting bill, we would have only 'lost' that $50 I made after paying the babysitter. $200 a month is something you probably can adapt for by adjusting your budget (and how many money-savings activities you are willing to spend your time in).  In reality, by my working all summer there would be some weeks I'd pay the babysitter more than what I actually made at my job (I had a fluctuating schedule which sometimes was 4 weekdays plus Saturday, and sometimes 5 weekdays with Saturday off--those 5 weekdays would have meant 5 days of babysitting times 3 kids equals I'm digging myself into a financial hole with the babysitter bill), and the other weeks--the ones where we only needed a babysitter 4 days because my 5th workday was Saturday and DH would be home to mind the kids-- I'd only be pocketing about $10.  For a month's worth of working outside the home.  Ridiculous.  Not worth the sacrifice my family had to make (remember now, our bills were caught up.  If we were still in a delinquent situation on rent, student loans, etc, that $10 would not have been as easily given up.  Especially considering it was only 3 months--the summer break from school--that I'd be making so little, and once school started again I would still have a job and my take-home pay after babysitting expenses would rebound.)

By having me quit my job when summer came and staying home, not only did we cut out the cost of child care from the budget, but we also reduced the cost of fuel for the car I had to drive to and from work (stopping at the babysitter's house both on the way to work, and again on the way home).  And I no longer needed a work wardrobe.  More money savings.  Also no more mandatory office gatherings where occasionally I had to participate in a  group dinner out (where each employee paid for their own meal), or a gift exchange I would rather have not been a part of.  Which, again, saved my family money.

So, now I'm at home, and some of our spending has been cut.  Break out the bonbons and the soaps, right?  I get to be a lady of leisure.

Uh, no.  That's not the way it works, and if you are a woman contemplating staying home because you think then you can just take it easy all day while your husband slaves away to make the cash to pay the bills, it's time for your comeuppance.  Your marriage will not last with an attitude like that.

If you are not working to make the money, you need to be working to stretch the money.  We've all ready addressed the hair and nails thing in Part One, as well as the cutting of the entertainment portion of your budget down to pretty much nothing.  Now it's time to talk about the work you are going to do at home, for your family.  

You need to clean.  I'm sorry, but if you are home 40 hours a week instead of working 40 hours a week, you don't get a housekeeper.  You are the housekeeper.  Get out the broom, the vacuum, and the toilet scrub brush.  Wield them like a pro.  You just traded an 8-hour day of working for a company for about an hour a day of household cleaning for your family.  So what are you complaining about?  A measly hour of housework is nothing for your freedom from the rat race.  Because the seven hours after that are yours to use.  And you can do your one hour a day whenever it best suits you each day. Not to mention how much more supportive your spouse will be in this having you at home concept if you show a clean house every evening when he walks in the door after work.

Actually, guys who might be in the minority of stay at home spouses, this goes for you too.  Just because you are the man at home while your wife works for the bread money doesn't mean you don't have to clean.  Or do any of the following bold faced items either.  You do.  Otherwise there is going to be a lot of tension in your marriage.

You need to cook.  Uh-huh.  Get to know that thing in your kitchen with the circles on top and the box in the bottom that heat up.  It can help you create all kinds of magical concoctions, while enabling you to snip some more money off your budget.  So what if cooking takes another hour from your day?  You still have only 'worked' two compared to when you used to work eight and still needed to eat afterward.

You should pack a lunch for your spouse.  I'm sure some women are wanting to mapquest where I live and come over and lynch me right about now.  Let me explain.  Brown bagging lunch is another way to cut money out of your budget.  Money that makes it possible for you to stay home.  And your spouse really will appreciate it if you send them off to work with their lunch all ready packed instead of having to pack it themself.  Ladies, let me tell you a little secret: packing your hubby's lunch gives you some control over what he eats (and what he spends).  Want him to eat healthier?  Pack his lunch.  Wish he spent less money on lunches out (maybe that little less will help make it possible for you to quit your job)?  Pack his lunch.  I don't know too many men that will complain that their wife packed them a lunch.  Really.  They are kind of like kids, opening that lunch at the designated lunch time, wondering what kind of yummy surprise is in store for them today.  Just don't go too overboard on the health food stuff; granola and yogurt and a turkey sandwich and sliced veggies is too overwhelming for a guy.  Stick a couple cookies in there too, or at least a container with a bunch of ranch dressing for him to dredge those veggies through.  Maybe even a baggie of chips once in a while.

Now if you are an at-home hubby, your wife will absolutely love it if you pack her a super healthy lunch.  She will think it is so awesome that you are helping her in her endeavors to lose (or at least not gain) weight.  I have not met a single woman in my life who wasn't at least somewhat concerned about her physique and had never tried watching what she ate.  If your wife opened up a lunch box with appropriately portioned fresh healthy foods in it that you packed, well that is big brownie points in your favor.  And if you throw in a small brownie (or piece of dark chocolate--that's the "healthy" chocolate) once in a while, she'll be even happier.

You need to be home, not driving all over creation creating a bigger fuel expense.  Your goal was to stay home, remember?  Don't swap being gone all day at work for being gone all day shopping and socializing and otherwise spending time and money on something other than the essentials for your family.  I'm not saying you can't get out of the house once in a while. But if you are gone most of every weekday, that's too much.  That kind of defeats the purpose of being able to not work so you can stay home.  Also included in this is play dates for your kids.  They don't need to be taken to a play date--or lesson, or sport, or even playground--on a daily basis.

You need to be actively involved with your kids. I repeat, this doesn't mean driving them all over the place.  No, it means you are spending a good portion of your day interacting with them.  Wasn't that another part of why you didn't want to have to work?  So your kids didn't have to spend so much time in daycare instead of with at least one of their parents?  Don't swap the babysitter for an endless list of lessons and sports ($$$ spent) or group activities, and hours of plunking them in front of the tv or computer.  Do things with them.  Teach them to do the housework.  It will get done faster, they will enjoy doing things with you, and you'll be training them how to take care of their own homes when the day comes that they are grown up and ready to leave the family nest.  Have them help you with the cooking.  Take some time to go on walks or draw pictures with them.  Do crafts with them; it will help not only them, but give you some creative outlet too.

Your hobbies should have some usefulness.  I recognize the need for you to have some personal enjoyment and not just be cooking, cleaning, and dealing with kids all the time.  You do need hobbies.  What helps in your endeavor to afford to stay home is having useful hobbies.  Things like baking help shrink the budget.  So does sewing, if you are willing to sew at least some of your kids' clothes (or your own) and are careful not to spend more on fabric for an item than that same item would cost ready made at the store.  Knitting and crocheting are also useful hobbies.  So is gardening.  Or maybe you have a hobby that others would pay you to do; for instance, there is a local small business that does scrapbooks for those who like the idea of scrapbooking but never seem to have the time or interest to actually put the pages together themselves.

Guys, this one, again, applies to you too.  If you could align your hobbies to be somewhat of the handyman type, rather than the accumulating sports stats (while your house crumbles around you) variety, that saves you a whole lot of money in your budget.  Have you priced home repairs lately?  Most of them you can easily learn (heck, a lot of them I can do, and I'm a woman!)

If you want to stay home, if you truly want this one income family thing to work for your family, you are going to have to put a lot of effort into making it happen.  Your spouse's part of the deal is to go to work, deal with all the work-day garbage at the office, and bring home the money (direct deposit is the greatest thing!).  Your part of the deal is to do everything else.  The kids, the food, the shopping (and frugally, please!), the cleaning, the organizing.  A spouse who comes home from an eight or ten or twelve hour workday to a messy house, no food on the table, kids who weren't hardly at all with Mom, and a wife (or husband, guys) complaining about how there isn't enough money to pay the bills, is not going to be a happy camper, nor a willing partner in living the one income life.  I say this from experience.  And from knowing several women who petitioned to stay home, proceeded to do whatever they wanted and contribute very little to the family once they did stay home, and then were befuddled when their marriages went south.

I'll say it again: You need to approach this as a team, or it won't work.

Don't we all hate it when we are assigned group work, and then one or more members of the group don't pull their share?  If you are staying home, your share is all the work at home.  You don't want to have to work full time for someone else, and then come home and work a bunch more while the rest of the family lolls around, do you?  Neither does your spouse.

Don't you also hate it when you are having to do work as a group, and a bunch of work gets dumped on you against your will by the other members of the group?  This is why you and your spouse need to be a team, and to have some serious discussions about living on one income and what that will mean for your family; what budgetary items will be sacrificed, and what duties each spouse will then have, before you voluntarily go from one income to two.

To Be Continued. . .