Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Family Finances

Managing your family's finances can be a tough job. You have to know how much you make, how much you can spend, when and how to pay bills, and manage to save for a rainy day. But it's not as daunting as it may seem. Here's a quick financial plan for you, to help manage your finances better and keep your family afloat.

1. Create a budget. The simplest thing, yet most people never do it. Of those who do attempt a budget, it is rarely a COMPLETE budget. A budget is not a list of bills you pay every month. A budget is not a list of things you want to buy come payday. A budget is a blueprint for all of your finances. It should contain ALL expense, not just bills. Here is an example to help you get started. This worksheet is also included in the Household Notebook post.

2. Stick to the budget. This is the hard part. If your budget is not realistic, you will never stick to it. If you find you have trouble sticking to your budget, move to a cash-envelope system, in which you use cash for things like food, clothing, and all non-necessity bills. It's harder to hand over cash, and with a finite amount of cash in hand, you will closely watch your purchases.

3. Save, save, save! You have to be prepared for the future. You should have savings set aside for home repairs, car maintenance, new car purchase, clothing, and other big ticket expense (like Christmas shopping or a new baby). If you aren't prepared for big expenses, you will rely on credit and debt, starting a cycle of dependency. Save for purchases, save for the future.

4. Avoid debt. Pay in cash whenever possible. You will save hundreds and thousands of dollars in interest, avoid payments that can last for years, and actually OWN your stuff. When you finance a car, you don't own it, the finance company does. Should you stop making payments, they will take their car back. If you had paid cash for the car, there is no monthly payment or threat of having it repossessed. Start a savings fund for anything you plan to purchase that is considered "big ticket" in your household. This will vary depending on income level. Instead of going to a rent-to-own place or financing your new couch, make the payment to yourself for a few months and save up to pay in cash. This will reduce your monthly expenses, and should a major emergency come up, you'll be glad you have that $500 in savings instead of a nice leather sofa-and its payment.

5. Plan ahead. Invest, start a college fund for your child, add money to a retirement account, or funnel extra cash to your mortgage payment. The more you plan and prepare now, the less shocked, and broke, you will be in the future.

6. Seek help. If you or your spouse have a spending problem, too much debt, not enough income, or you'd just like to better manage your finances, seek help. Dave Ramsey is an excellent teacher, Suze Orman can show you a few things, and Robert Kiyosaki has several books out. You don't have to spend tons of money on a financial adviser, you can get free help right from your computer.

Once you have a working budget, then we can work to reduce your expenses. There are tons of ways to reduce your spending on everyday things like food, clothing, gifts, cell phone plans, utilities, and so much more! We'll explore these later, and help you get a handle on your family finances.

Household Notebook

As I mentioned earlier, a Household Notebook can be a life saver! It can contain everything from meal plans, to budgets, to chore lists, even calendars. It is your tool to keep your house running smoothly.  You can customize it to include whatever you would like, and toss the stuff that doesn't apply to you. I've included several printable and downloadable worksheets, several are the same form just in different format. So find what you like best. If you have suggestions for other forms not included on the list, feel free to share in the comments. I recommend, at the least, a Menu Planner, Chore Chart, Calendar, Budget, and Phone Number List. If you have babysitters on occasion, there are lists which include family information, routines, and emergency contact lists. If you are wanting to get your finances in order, there are several budget and tracking worksheets. If you would like to try meal planning or freezer cooking, or perhaps you regularly do both, there are lists to help with that as well. The important thing is to make it work for YOU. I keep a diet tracker in mine, to track allergic reactions with my kids when we can't quite narrow down the cause. I keep a list of websites and passwords, so my husband can quit calling me every ten minutes. I keep a Pricebook of my favorite stores, so when I do my meal planning and grocery list, I know exactly what it will cost. There are countless options, and it's always a work in progress. You can add it to it later. Pinterest has several ideas (of course!) for how to organize and decorate your household notebook. The possibilities are endless!

Daily To Do List

Master To Do List
Daily Planner
Weekly Planner
Daily Do-It Checklist

Daily Cleaning List
Shopping List

Weekly Menu Planner
Weekly Menu Planner with List
Monthly Menu Planner
Post-It Planner

Freezer Inventory
Pantry Inventory
Recipes to Try

Daily Diet Tracker
First Aid Checklist
Pre-Travel Checklist

Birthday Calendar
Emergency Information
Family Yellow Pages
Important Phone Numbers
Restaurant Directory

Budget Worksheet
Monthly Spending Worksheet
Yearly Spending Worksheet
Debt Load Worksheet
Financial Goals Worksheet
Net Worth Worksheet
One Income Worksheet

Stockpile List
Master Pantry List
Home Inventory
Home Maintenance Checklist
Car Maintenance Checklist

Chore Chart 1
Chore Chart 2
Chore Chart 3
Chore Chart 4
Chore Chart 5
Chore Chart 6
Chore Chart 7

Holiday Spending Worksheet
Holiday Gift Worksheet
Babysitter Checklist 1

Child Chore Pack
Freezer Cooking Pack
Full Menu Planner Pack

Babysitter Checklist 2
Babysitter Checklist 3
Babysitter Checklist 4

Part 2: Keeping it Clean!

Part 2: Keeping it Clean!

It’s a daily struggle for moms everywhere. You work your tail off to clean the house, and in a few hours it’s messy again. Here is a list of odd tips to keep you from spending all day cleaning the same things you cleaned yesterday.

Daily Bathroom Cleanup
-Keep a box of baking soda and a toothbrush in the shower. When you put your conditioner in your hair, let it sit for two minutes. This will help your conditioner work better, and give you two minutes to work. Sprinkle the baking soda on the edges of the shower or tub, and scrub with the toothbrush. This keeps mildew and mold from building up, and only takes a minute. You don’t have to do it every day, but a few times a week will save you from a scrub-a-thon later. On the days you don’t do it, use that 2 minutes to shave your legs or use a good exfoliating treatment on your skin. The baking soda will get into tiny crevices, rinses clean, and will help remove odors.

-Let the kids make bathtub volcanoes. My kids love doing this, and it cuts down on my cleaning time. Give them a small bowl of baking soda and a spray bottle of vinegar. If it finds its way into little mouths, it won’t hurt them. Have them sprinkle the baking soda all over the tub surface, then let them spray it all down with vinegar and watch the bubbling action. This will clean out textured surfaces and superficial scratches, leave a sparkling clean, and the vinegar will disinfect it. This is a good time to squeeze in a science lesson, teach cause and effect, or just sit back while they do the dirty work. Rinse with warm water and you’re done!

-If your kids are like mine, getting them to put dirty laundry and wet towels in the hamper is a daily battle. If you give them each their own basket, they are more likely to put clothes where they belong. We have baskets lined up in the hallway, each with a child’s name on it. If it doesn’t go in the basket, it doesn’t get washed. For older kids, they understand if their favorite shirt didn’t get washed, they can’t wear it. For toddlers, teaching them early is key to a lifetime a good habits. Show them where their things go (they can usually recognize their name on the basket, even if they can’t “read”) and let them help with the washing when the time comes. This also saves you from sorting through laundry later.

Kitchen Clean Up
-Keep a mop bucket under the sink, a stack of wash rags or dish cloths, and a spray bottle of vinegar. Any time there is a small spill or mess to clean up, everything you need is right at your fingertips! When you are done, the wet rags go in the bucket. This will save you from hunting down dish rags, and when the bucket fills up you can dump the entire thing in the washer at once. Every night after dinner, my kids grab a spray bottle and a rag and we work together to clean up. One wipes off the table, another gets the stove, one gets splatters off the walls and windows…. it’s a family event. Cleanup is done in ten minutes, they enjoy helping, and they know if they make a mess, they have to clean it up.

-Have a Swiffer race! When it comes to children, competition breeds productivity. I have two Swiffers, so they can race each other. Sometimes we see who can get it done the fastest, sometimes we see who can get their cloth the dirtiest, and sometimes we divide the room and see who can get the floor the cleanest. We do this with dry cloths in the family room and wet cloths in the kitchen. (Side Tip: You don’t have to buy expensive Swiffer cloths. A rag fits nicely around the base and can be reused)

-If you don’t have a dishwasher, or you have a large family and your dishwasher just can’t hold it all, keep a Rubbermaid tote under the sink, in the pantry, or stashed in a nearby cabinet. Fill with soap and water, and drop in dishes you don’t have time to clean right away. This is especially great if you have company coming over. The dishes are no longer piled in the sink, which leaves the kitchen looking cleaner, and lets the dishes soak so food isn’t dried on.

Tackling the Family Room
-Get a storage ottoman (we got two smaller ones at Target for about $20 each). This is a great place to stash stray toys, extra pillows and blankets. Once or twice a week, I haul it upstairs and dump all the toys back into the toy box. This keeps the living room picked up and looking nice. If the kids want to watch a movie or play a game, they have to get all the toys put in the ottomans first. Suddenly cleaning up isn’t so hard, and it’s done in just a few minutes. It’s also easy to pick u during nap time without disturbing them.

-Make a game out of cleaning. See who can get their dust rag the dirtiest with Dust Bunny Battle. Race to clean off the coffee table and bookshelves in Dirty Rag Race. Or label where everything should go and test their reading skills. We have tiny stickers placed on the shelves and bins labeling where everything goes (remote, books, toys, phone, etc). For a less permanent option, scotch tape labeled flash cards to each surface, and you can quickly peel them off when you expect company.

-Velcro remotes, phones, video game controllers and baskets to their respective homes. A roll of Velcro stripping costs about $2 at any craft store, dollar store or big-box store like Wal-Mart and Target. Place a small strip on the remote or other item, and the opposite side of the Velcro strip to its home. The remote will never be lost again!

Organizing the Home
-Bins, baskets, buckets and boxes. These are your new best friend. You can get canvas bins at the Dollar Store, or nicer looking baskets at home improvement stores like Lowe’s. When everything has a place, it’s easier to clean up. Baskets look nice on a shelf to hold odds and ends, like playing cards or game pieces. This also teaches kids to sort and properly put away their things. A large pink box can hold baby dolls and accessories, an under-the-bed basket can house thousands of Legos, and decorative bins can store small blankets and extra bedding for quick midnight changes and more drawer and closet space. My closets are filled with bins of every color and size. From first aid kits, to each child’s medicines, to hair accessories, they keep things organized, and everyone has their own place. This is great for large families or families with large age gaps in children. Infant medicine goes in one bin, children’s medicine in another, and adult medicine in a third. So when a child is sick in the middle of the night, there’s no hunting for the right bottle and dose. (Side Tip: Highlight on the bottle your child’s dose, and draw a line on the syringe or medicine cup where the dose is. This helps at 3am dosings and when Daddy is in charge. If the child’s age/dose changes, the medicine is likely expired and should be properly disposed of.)

-Chore schedules and charts can be a life saver. You can do one large chore chart, color coded for each person, or individual charts for each child. We have a little of both. My oldest kids have their own chore charts and my youngest ones are included in the family chart. I have a list of ten chores, with five every day, simple tasks (bathe, do homework, clean room, brush teeth, comb hair) and five household chores (sweep the kitchen, take out the trash, unload the dishwasher, clear the dinner table, and help someone else). These can be printed out, written on a dry erase board, or a poster board with stickers. There are numerous ways to approach this: drawing chores from a hat, rotating weekly chores, even rotating which room in the house to clean up. No matter how you approach it, it’s important to teach kids to help, and to start them early.

-A household notebook is a helpful way to keep track of everything. We’ll go into more detail on this later, but keeping household information in one place is an easy way to remember what’s going on and quickly access the information needed.
-Laundry schedules can help you tackle Laundry Mountain. You can divvy up laundry in whatever way works best for you. Monday, Child A; Tuesday, Child B; Wednesday, Child C; Thursday, Mommy; Friday, Daddy; Saturday, all bedding; Sunday, towels. Or you can do lights, darks, whites, etc. If you don’t have daily access to a washing machine, or perhaps do all of your laundry on the weekend, you can do it by time frame (morning, Mommy; afternoon, baby; etc.)Having a laundry schedule can help you keep up with whose clothes are in the dryer and help get them sorted and put away. Older kids can put away their own laundry.

     Cleaning doesn’t have to be a once a week marathon, nor does it need to be a daily battle to keep things looking neat and tidy. Many hands make light work, so get the kids involved whenever you can. Break up large chores over several days, and have a schedule to keep you on track.

Deep Cleaning for Dummies

Deep Cleaning: We've all been there, trying to clean the house, when you see something needs to be done, but you don't quite know how to do it. Stain on the couch? Spill on the carpet? Kitchen smells a little funny? So you call your mom, post on Facebook, or do a little Googling. You get twenty different answers, and you're not sure what to try! This is a list of tried-and-true methods for tackling those odd jobs, and without buying expensive cleaners.

Baseboards: Take a Swiffer (wet or dry) and run it along the baseboards. Not just the bottom edge by the floor, but the top (by the wall) and the entire side. You don’t have to spend hours on your hands and knees scrubbing, they usually need only light dusting.

Blinds: For vinyl and plastic blinds, you can soak them in the tub. Just pull off at the top and drop in the tub as is. A little bleach will whiten them up, but a simple vinegar-water mix will disinfect and clean without leaving a residue. For heavy stains or grease (such as windows above a stove or sink), a simple wipe down with a rag after soaking should do the trick. To rinse, just drain the tub and turn on the shower. Lay on a towel to pat dry, then rehang. Do only one room at a time, so you know where they go and don’t end up with a house full of bare windows.

Carpets: For general cleaning, vacuuming usually will suffice. If a spill occurs, clean it as soon as possible. Blot it, don’t wipe, to avoid spreading the stain. For spills that leave a stain, mix 1 tbsp. mild laundry detergent, 1 tbsp. vinegar, and 1 quart of warm water.  Use a clean towel, blow on the spot, working from the outside in (again, to avoid spreading the stain).

Copper Bottom Pots and Pans
: Take ½ a lemon, sprinkle with salt, and scrub gently to remove tarnish without damaging the finish.
Silver Candlesticks: To remove melted on candle wax without ruining the finish, freeze the candlesticks and gently peel off the wax. If you cannot get the edge to peel, cover a wooden craft stick or cuticle remover with a soft cloth and scrape the wax off.

Metal Faucet: Have buildup on your faucet? Rub with a lemon to remove any tarnish, water spots and other buildup.
Silver: to gently polish silver, rub with toothpaste. Be sure to the old fashioned white paste, not gel.
Rusty Sink: To remove rust and tarnish from sinks, brass, copper, and stainless steel, mix lemon juice and salt to form a paste. Scrub it on and rinse off.
Mineral Deposits: For sinks and faucets with mineral deposits, sponge on lemon juice, let it soak, then scrub off.
Garbage Disposal: To remove unpleasant odors from lingering in the garbage disposal, toss in a lemon and grind it.
Dishwasher: To remove soap buildup, rub chrome with a lemon. To disinfect and remove soap buildup from the internal parts, run a hot cycle with vinegar in the soap dispenser.
Stove Top and Oven Spills: Mix lemon juice, water and baking soda to form a paste. Apply to spills and let it soak for 15 minutes. Scrub off and rinse.
Windows: To clean and disinfect windows (doggy slobber and toddler nose prints are common), mix 2 tbsp. lemon juice, ½ cup white vinegar, 1 quart of warm water and clean as usual.
Homemade Air Freshener: Boil several pieces of lemon or oranges, add 1 teaspoon each of whole cloves and rosemary leaves.

Kitchen Air: To clean air in the kitchen (burnt popcorn, last night’s fish), heat the oven to 300*F. Place whole lemon on center rack. “Cook” for 15 minutes, with oven door slightly ajar. (Be sure to keep a close eye on children and pets in the area)

Wooden Cutting Board: Rub with lemon after normal cleaning to remove onion, garlic and fish smells.

Microwave: Fill a glass bowl with warm water and piece of orange or lemon. Cook for 2-3 minutes. This will not only remove the smells from the microwave, but also loosens any burnt on food. Simply wipe with a damp towel to remove baked on crud inside.

Vinyl/Linoleum: To remove scuff marks, rub on toothpaste and wipe with a damp cloth. Add baking soda for more scrubbing power. (Again, use the old fashioned white paste, not the gel toothpaste)
Potty Stains: Anybody with pets and toddlers will occasionally get a potty stain on the carpet. Work shaving cream into the stain, rinse, and blot dry. Also helps remove odors.
Vinyl Furniture: Remove water marks by applying toothpaste with a damp cloth.
Dusting Grooves: For hard to clean grooves, such as details in a table leg, dip a Q-tip in furniture polish.
Glass Tables: For superficial scratches on glass, apply toothpaste, let it dry, then wipe with a soft, dry cloth.
Piano Keys: To remove stains from piano keys, apply toothpaste with a soft toothbrush, and wipe clean with a damp cloth.

Upholstery: To remove stains from upholstery, spray on a small amount of shaving cream, work in with fingers or soft brush, sponge off excess and blot dry.
Jagged Wicker: To polish and soften jagged wicker edges, apply clear nail polish.
Dirty Vases: To clean inside impossibly thin vases, fill with warm water and drop in two antacid tablets.
Toilet Bowl: Vinegar can remove and prevent stains, as well as disinfects. Add baking soda to scrub tough stains
Oven Vents: Apply vinegar with a small toothbrush to remove grease and odors.

Cleaning Part 1: Tackling the Chore

Cleaning doesn’t have to be an everyday battle, nor does it need to be a weekend cleaning spree with no time to relax. Cleaning is an unavoidable part of life and managing a family home. Here are a few ways to simplify the job.

Tip #1: Make it a group effort. Nobody likes to clean alone, and many hands make light work. Get the kids involved, even the toddlers. Give them a rag and a spray bottle of water, and they will scrub everything in sight! Vinegar is perfectly safe for small children and cleans glass streak-free.

Tip #2: Make a list. I can’t do anything without making a list (just ask my husband!). Write down everything that needs to be done. This can help you prioritize everything that needs to be done, and gives you a finite goal, rather than “clean house”, you have a list to follow: “take out trash”, “Vacuum bedroom”, etc.

Tip #3: Turn on the tunes! Cleaning is a boring chore for everyone but Monica Gellar, so turn on some music to sing along to and make the chore easier. Dancing while cleaning is also a great way to burn extra calories!

Tip #4: Delegate! Assign everyone in the family, including the kids, tasks from the list you made. You can divide them up according to time or difficulty, and split the work up equally.

Tip #5: Work over a week. Cleaning doesn’t have to be done all at once. Split it up by room. Monday do the master bedroom, Tuesday do the living room, Wednesday the kitchen, etc. This allows you to focus on one room at a time and do a thorough job, instead of doing just a little bit in every room and seemingly making no progress.

Tip #6: Just as the professionals do, work from the top to the bottom. There’s no point in sweeping the floor first, only to drop more crumbs while cleaning off the table. Start at the top, dusting ceiling fans and windows, and work your way to the floor. Then after you mop or vacuum, you are done. No more walking back over the clean floor!

Tip #7: Make it a game. My kids won’t do anything unless it’s fun. You can play basketball, trying to wrangle all the socks in the baskets. Or give each kid a broom and see who can sweep up the most crumbs. My boys especially love to see who can get the most dust/dirt on their rags while cleaning.

Tip #8: Set realistic goals. Your house won’t go from disaster to fabulous in a matter of hours. Go through it once to get all the clutter picked up, laundry put away, and trash taken out. Then go back through another day and give it a deep clean- scrubbing baseboards, washing curtains, and scrubbing counters.

Tip #9
: Reward yourself! After a long day of cleaning, go out to a movie or treat the family for dinner. Enjoy some relaxation, and come home to a clean house.

Tip #10
: Know your limits, and hire help. While I don’t recommend spending money you don’t have on a maid service every week, hiring help is sometimes needed. Whether it be a first time deep cleaning for you to maintain, or a professional handyman to move furniture, paint, or take care of necessary repairs, you can’t always do it yourself. When time or physical ability severely limits you, don’t be ashamed to get help where needed.

Cleaning: Tips for the real world

      With kids, cleaning can be a challenge. Add in work, church, pets, family events, or a husband, and cleaning (let alone keeping it clean!) is darn near impossible.  But there are a few ways to make the chore a little bit easier, and manage to keep it clean for more than an hour.

      In the real world, kids are messy. Families on TV always have perfectly clean houses, empty laundry rooms, and never a dust bunny in sight. For the unperfect family, fighting to get things clean, and keeping them that way, is a daily struggle. We argue over who should take the trash out, whose turn it is to wash dishes, and who is on bathroom duty. But we’re going to fix that. While your house may never be spotless and run like a well-oiled machine, it will at least be functional and clutter-free.

      In Part 1, we will tackle getting the job done. Part 2 we will explore ways to keep it clean.