Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Budgets Part 2: Creating A Realistic Budget

Once you have finished Part 1: Calculating Expenses, you can move on to creating a realistic budget.

Look at all your expenses. Start with what can't be changed - your rent / mortgage, debt payments, student loans, childcare costs, etc. Write down all your fixed expenses and tally them up. How much do you have left to work with?

Now look at semi-fixed expenses - utilities may vary a bit, but are they generally about the same each month? Phone, internet, cable, insurance - things that could be lowered just a bit. Can you get on a steady payment plan with your electric company where you pay an average (fixed) amount each month? Can your cell phone plan be changed to lower your bill? Do you really watch all those channels, or can you reduce your cable package? When was the last time you checked your insurance rates? Simply making a few phone calls or checking around online can reduce these expenses quite a bit.

Now comes the harder expenses. First, we will look at monthly variable expenses, then we'll explore those not-so-regular expenses, like gifts, that still come up, just not every month.

Monthly expenses. Food is often the biggest surprise when starting a budget. It's easy to spend more than expected at the grocery store, go out to eat a little more than planned, make those unexpected trips to the market and end up with a few extra things. Really analyze how much you spend in this category. Can you reduce how often you eat out? Can you buy less convenience foods? Could you plan out your meals better and buy only what you need? There are countless ways to save on groceries, from sales to coupons to meal planning. Set a reasonable goal and try to reduce it a bit each week. If you try to drastically change it all at once, you will surely fail. Start by trimming down $50 or even $25 each week and work your way up. Consider your schedule when doing this. If you know you have back to back soccer games on Saturdays or you always eat with the family after church, include that in your budget and planning. Food may be one of the most challenging areas, but it's also one of the easiest places to shave off a few dollars.

Other monthly expenses you could cut back on with little effort are fuel (plan your trips better, carpool, etc), babysitting (reduce how often you go out alone or consider taking the kids with you), entertainment (look for cheaper alternatives, have a movie night at home, check for coupons), and personal hygiene / grooming ( go a week longer between haircuts, try an at-home trim or dye, use coupons for products you buy regularly, make your own products at home). There are countless ways to trim a few dollars here and there, which can make a big difference overall.

Now for those irregular but inevitable expenses. Consider how much you spend at Christmas time (and how broke you are in January!). What if instead you put aside $25 every month, so when December rolls around you already have the cash. And if you set aside $20 every month for other gifts (and let it roll over each month it's not used), then Mother's Day, Father's Day, Valentine's Day, Easter, Anniversaries, and Birthdays won't be so hard on your budget. Car repairs and maintenance- you know you're going to need it, why not plan for it? If you budgeted for $30 a month for car maintenance, then when you need that new wiper blade, oil change, or brakes, you've already got the cash. The key here is to plan. You know they will eventually happen, even if it's not every month. Look at your expense list again, and pick out all the irregular expenses (clothing, gifts, repairs, home maintenance, school supplies, club dues, sporting equipment and fees, etc). You can combine some or keep them all separate and give them a line in the budget each month.

If you set up a Mint account in Part 1, it will help you with this part. You can create a budget category for every expense, and it gives you the option to rollover any unused portion - like for gifts and maintenance. Then you can easily see at any time how much you've spent in each category.

Go line by line and see if you can reduce each expense, even if it is only by a few dollars. Remember, every little bit helps and they can add up to a big difference. Make sure every expense you listed has a place in the budget, and make sure it is realistic for your family. If you've been spending $300 a month eating out, cutting it out completely won't work. Reduce it to $150, then when you are comfortable with that, cut back a little more. Every budget is a work in process and it's okay to tweak it each month. Be sure to include savings in your budget - both long and short term (eg: retirement and emergency fund), so life's little mishaps don't catch you off guard.

In Part 3 we will go over how to stick to the budget. Right now, just focus on creating a budget that works for you. No two budgets will be alike, you have to figure out what works best for your family. If you have athletic children, you'll probably spend more on sports equipment. If you are an artsy family, craft supplies may be a larger expense. The main points to remember are to account for every expense, and reduce everything you can.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Budgets Part 1: Calculating Expenses

I am about to get really personal with you. Budgets tend to be a taboo subject, but they shouldn't be. Perhaps if we were all more open to talking about budgets and finances, people wouldn't be in so much debt.

I'm going to show you my method of creating a budget, and tips for sticking to it.

The first step- write it all down! Not just bills that you pay every month, but every expense you have. Don't worry about numbers right now, just write down everything you spend money on during the month. For example:

Rent / Mortgage
Homeowners / Renters Insurance
Cell Phone
Car Payment
Car Insurance
Health Insurance
Eating Out
Credit Card Payments
Children's Allowance
Church Tithings / Offerings
School Supplies
Household Items
Laundry Expenses
Home Maintenance
Retirement Accounts
College Savings
Student Loans
Children's Needs
Personal Hygiene / Grooming
Pet Expenses
Emergency Savings
Club Dues
School Expenses
Charity / Donations

If you've spent money on it in the last 90 days, write it down. I'm sure you will forget something, and that's okay. This is just a starting point.

Next Step- List your net income. If you have a variable income, take an average of the last three months and use that. We will discuss later how to handle a budget with variable income.

Now comes the fun part- finding out how much you really spend on each item. Most people are genuinely surprised by the results and grossly underestimate how much they spend every month. There are a few ways to do this. You can go back through bank and credit card statements for the past 90 days and write down / tally each expense. This can be cumbersome if you have multiple accounts, but is the best way to get an accurate total. If you would like a slightly simpler approach, I suggest using Mint. You can use it from your computer or download the app to any smart phone or tablet. I use the website when I'm at home, but have the app on my tablet for when I'm out and want to track a purchase. The first time you use it will take a few extra minutes as you set it up, but it is well worth the time and energy. I have used Mint for years and it is the best budget tool for starting out and staying on track. You will set up your account, and link all your bank and credit card accounts. I promise, it's secure, and you don't have to type in all the account numbers. Mint will automatically track and categorize every purchase you make. You can set up budgets, savings goals, and track debt payoff too. For now, you just want to track your expenses.

Feeling nervous? Realizing how much you actually spent on food last month? It can be very eye-opening to see everything in one place, but you can't fix a problem if you don't know what it is.

Now you need to combine everything. You can use a spreadsheet, computer program, or good ole pen and paper. I prefer to write it all out by hand, it ensures I don't miss anything and really makes it sink in. Take your list of expenses you created earlier, and add the amount spent. If you find an expense you forgot about, just add it to the list. Be honest with yourself, or this will never work. Don't try to fudge the numbers, don't brush it off as "a one time expense"- if you spent money on it, write it down. This budget is just between you and your partner, there is no need to lie or be embarrassed. I can't guarantee an argument won't ensue over how much you spent on groceries or how much he ate out at work last week. But I can promise you it will all be worth it in the end.
Tally up all your income, and deduct all your expenses. Are you in the hole, just barely breaking even, or are you the rare bird with plenty of money left at the end of the month? Did you rely on credit cards to make purchases? Right now we are only focused on getting everything out in the open- don't stress over how to fix it just yet. Knowledge is power, and you need to know everything before you can move on. Take some time to get everything together, include every expense, and talk with your partner about it. If there were cash withdrawals, be sure to account for where that money went as well. Once you have everything ready, you can move on to setting up a realistic budget.

Part 2: Setting Up A Realistic Budget

Friday, June 26, 2015

Feature Friday: XO Mrs. Slem

Crock-Pot Fiesta Chicken

My awesome mom sent me this recipe that she made last week. I changed it a little bit and added taco seasoning. I think next time I might add some jalapeƱos to add a little bit more of a kick! So, thanks mom for the delicious easy dinner recipe! Love you!!


4-5 frozen boneless chicken breasts15oz. can of corn1 15.5oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed1 16oz. jar of salsa1 packet of taco seasoning1 pkg. of cream cheese


  1. 1. Place chicken breasts into the slow cooker. Add the salsa, corn, black beans & taco seasoning.
  2. 2. Cook on low for about 4-5 hours or until chicken is done. Shred the chicken. 
  3. 3. Add the cream cheese to the slow cooker and let it sit on top for about 30 minutes. Once the cream cheese is soft stir it into the chicken mixture thoroughly.
  4. 4. Serve over rice, in warm flour tortillas or with tortilla chips!


xo, Mrs. Slem

about me

 newlywed to an amazing man, 8.16.14.

daughter, sister, cousin of a huge family.

photographer of the world around me. 

licensed certified social worker clinical.

thankful for my daily blessings.

practicing Catholic.

lover of travel.

Thanks for stopping by! Grab a mug of tea, a cup of coffee, 
a glass of wine, or a bottle of beer 
and stay awhile! 

                                                   xo, Mrs. Slem

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Signs Your Child May Be Sick

As parents, we are always looking out for our kids. When they don't feel well, the signs are usually obvious. Fever, stomach ache, and crying are dead giveaways that something isn't quite right. But what about those little hints that only the keen eyes of parenthood can see?

Here are my Top Six Signs My Children Are Sick

6. They refuse to eat. My kids are big eaters, so when they turn down every bit of junk food I inevitably offer them in a feeble attempt to make them feel better, I know something is up.

5. They are still for more than two minutes. If my kids aren't eating or sleeping, they are running, jumping, dancing and playing. If they ever stop, it's safe to assume I will soon see the digested remains of their last meal.

4. They are quiet. See # 5. If their mouths are somehow closed for 30 seconds, they are holding something back. Give them a bucket and stand back.

3. The dog won't leave their side. Normally, my dog is smart enough to keep a safe distance between herself and the heathens. But when they are sick, she becomes the loving, nurturing caregiver. She cuddles them and follows them around until the feel up to torturing her again.

2. They don't want to watch Frozen. This pretty much tied with # 1. My kids, especially my daughter, never turn down a chance to see their favorite Ice Princess. So when they opt to nap instead of singing Let It Go at the top of their lungs, they are either sick or I'm having a really great dream.

1. They ask to sleep. This never happens. Again, this is more my daughter than my boys. She hates sleep! Avoids it all cost! Thinks it's the worst thing ever! Laughs in the face of melatonin! You get the point. So if she ever asks to go to sleep, I assume she has come down with a deadly disease.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Organizing Tupperware Containers

Does your collection of food storage look a little rough? Can you just never find what you need? And you have no matching lids, but plenty of lids in the cabinet? I found a solution! Or, at least one that helps me out. And you don't have to spend a dime to buy a new system or matching containers.

Start by pulling out ALL of your containers.

 Next, match what you can. I just created different piles of lids and containers. Don't try to match the lid to the container yet, just get all like pieces together.

Once you have everything sorted, match lids to containers. It will be much easier now that you can see everything at once and you won't try the same container 5 times. 

Once you have everything matched up, set aside anything odd pieces and leftovers. Now, taking one pile at a time, label matching containers and lids. I used the alphabet, but you could number them too. All my bowls of this size got marked with an "A" on the bottom, and the matching lids got "A" on the top. I just used a permanent marker, and it hasn't come off in the dishwasher yet!

 Every container and matching lid got a letter.

Once everything was labeled, they all stacked neatly and nested within each other.

Which made my cabinet look a lot better.

 Once they were all nested, they became much easier to store. I put my small containers for leftovers in the kitchen drawers, my medium containers for individual meals in one of the cabinets, and my large containers for freezer meals I moved out of the kitchen entirely- they are stacked on a shelf next to the deep freezer in the garage. This has saved me a ton of kitchen space, but also a ton of time. With the containers and matching lids all labeled, there's no longer a fight to find what I need. You could even store all your lids in a bin standing up, and just thumb through the corners to find the letter you need. There are several possibilities, so just find a system that works for you.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Mom Next Door Said "Freakin"

I'm a young mom. I had my third child just after my 21st birthday. Because of my age, I tend to doubt my parenting abilities. I know I've made plenty of mistakes, and thanks to a combination of DNA and my inability to cope with normal situations, I'm fairly certain my children will need massive amounts of therapy later in life. But I do my best, I try to follow my heart and go with my instincts. Still, some days it just doesn't feel enough.

I see all these other moms who have it all together. Their children are well behaved, always nicely dressed, and their house is forever spotless. I gave up long ago trying to be that perfect mother, it's just not going to happen. But it doesn't stop me from wondering how they mange to do it. My neighbor is a prime example of this. She has twins about my oldest son's age, and an adorable 3 year old. They are so well behaved! The first week we moved here, the oldest boy came over and introduced himself, then asked if my son could come play. He had impeccable manners, and I just couldn't get over it. The 3 year old will play outside and never cross the invisible line of his property. They have several dogs and a busy lifestyle and their house is where all the neighborhood children seem to flock to. I watch in awe from my front porch as this mother handles it all so gracefully.

Why can't that be me?

So today, I sneaked out to the porch for a little quiet time. I could hear my children inside arguing, playing, doing anything but the chores they were assigned. I watched this mother across the street as she cleaned out her garage. She was purging everything in sight, the kids were helping, the dogs were quietly watching. I envied her. I have a hard time purging, and an even harder time getting my family to help. And I can't think of a single time my dog has ever sat outside, quietly observing the action.

Then it happened. She sent her son in for a marker as she continued to work. He came back several times asking where to look, what kind she wanted, why did he have to do it....he was sounding more and more like my own children. Clearly, she had enough of it.

"Just bring me a freakin marker!" she shouted from the driveway. My jaw hit the floor. This perfect mother whom I had admired from a distance for the past three years suddenly sounded just like me! She became frustrated at her child and she lost it for a moment! It was the most glorious thing I'd ever witnessed!

Perhaps she wasn't the perfect mother I thought she was. Perhaps she was just just like the rest of us, doing her best and occasionally losing it a bit. Perhaps I wasn't alone. Perhaps we are all battling this job of motherhood the only way we know how.

She went back to work, laughing with her children, none the wiser of my silent revelation across the street. But I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders. The weight of all those perfect TV moms. The weight of a permanently clean house. The weight of perfect children.

I don't know about you, but I think my children are pretty darn perfect just the way they are. And at the end of the day, it doesn't matter if I dusted the ceiling fans or washed all the windows. What my children will remember is what we played together, how we laughed together, and the time spent cuddling together. I don't have to always have it together. My children are happy, healthy, well fed and cared for. And above all else, they are loved more than they will ever know.

So thank you, neighbor lady, for yelling "freakin" in a moment of weakness. It made my failures and moments of weakness seem so much more normal.

Do you ever feel like the worst mom ever? Do you envy those moms who have it all together? Could you possibly BE one of those moms? Or are you just another unperfect family like the rest of us?

Friday, June 19, 2015

Feature Friday: Tiara's Way

Wow.. It's been a long time since I have actually enough time to sit behind the screen and write, about what's been going on in our lives. It's nice but at the same time it's sad.. as I look at the title "weekend recap" I realize.. we are coming up on our last weekend in Japan. It's been a crazy month with packing out, trying to get last minute adventures in between appointments, packing suitcases and planning our trip.

As I write this post, I look back at all the adventures my husband have done and how much we are truly going to miss this beautiful country. We are so beyond bless to have spent the last three years in this home, together, with our two boys. Our new adventure is calling our names and we'll be on our way in less than two weeks. We'll have a whole new home, a whole new "family" of friends, a new job, new car, new everything. It's like a do-over, in a way. We get to start brand new, make new adventures and build more in our marriage. Who knows? We might even start our family on this new adventure.

Let's get into the weekend recap!

Friday: 12 June 2015

I dreaded Friday, why? It was my LAST official day working.. It meant that I would no longer be able to visit my work place and see all my students again, which broke my heart. I have been teaching in this school and company for over 2 years. It was like ripping a piece of my heart out of my body seeing all their sad faces. Some of my little ones even started to cry. The thing with Japanese kids, is that they are very shy. It is always hard to find a new teacher because they are very picky and it takes them a long time to open up. It took me nearly 3 months after my friend left, for the students to warm up to me. Now, it's time for me to give them to their new teacher and wish for the best.

After my goodbyes, to the students, I went to eat lunch with my older co-workers from my first job in Japan, Subway. My supervisor Yumi and my great friend Sachi. (If you haven't been able to tell, I am in love with my Japanese family). As the only American working in Subway, it was always a great time for me, because they always wanted to learn English and I could pick up on their language pretty fast as well. They were the first ones to ever teach me Japanese and all about Japanese culture. They helped me find the English jobs I was looking for and even volunteered me to "model" in Japan, plenty of times. They always invited me to BBQ's down at the river and to meet their families. They always bought me gifts and just the friendship we had, was amazing. It was never co-worker to co-worker but always felt more like a family!


My husband had work on Friday, so after lunch (3 hours, of girl talk), I just went home for the rest of the day, and cleaned up a little more so we can prepare for our final inspection! Oh, let's not forget it was the day that ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK came out, so after my husband got off, we had to binge watch!

Saturday: 13 June 2015

My friend Yukari and her husband Mark, asked me to shoot their wedding for them. So of course, since I am building my portfolio, a wedding would be an amazing opportunity for me. The wedding was suppose to be from 3:00pm - 5:00 pm, and then the reception until 8:00 pm. She asked me to come at 1:45pm, to get some shots of her bridesmaids and her, but due to some things, they were really late and the whole day was pushed back by about an hour.

Now usually when shooting a wedding, there is always at least two photographers, why? One is to make sure they get the details, also because you want to be able to capture the wedding from all angles. However Yukari and Mark didn't hire two photographers, they had only hired me and wanted nobody else. So you can say it was a long and tiring day. After the wedding, I couldn't wait to get off my feet and EAT! My husband took me to my favorite restaurant, Yakiniku. (it's a place where you grill all your own food).

Sunday: 14 June 2015

Sunday morning, my husband and I decided to go our enlisted club for Sunday brunch. Is it the best food in the world? No, but I definitely did not feel like cooking breakfast after Saturday. After brunch we had made plans to go to a local temple area and see Jurassic World. However, after brunch we went by the movie theatre on base and the movie was sold out! BOO! So, we headed out to the temple.
When we arrived to the temple area, it was almost 4:00pm and the temple closed at 4:30pm. I didn't realize how big the area was, so I didn't plan accordingly. We walked around and checked out as much as we could without interrupting all the people closing their little vending shops. It was so beautiful and we plan on going back, seeing how it's so close to our base. 

While driving back home my husband decided that he wanted to go to the mall. It was giving us something to do, so I didn't argue. Our home is so boring now that all of our stuff is gone, so anything to get us out the house! At the mall, we did some shopping, at H&M. We are planning to surprise my husband's mom by driving to his hometown the day of her birthday and take her out to some fancy dinner. We will also be spending our first fourth with his family and friends, so we just got some patriotic outfits for the fourth! 
After H&M, we went up to the Japanese theatre to see if maybe they were playing any good movies, but they weren't so we decided to go to to the arcade! At the Arcade, we won 3 items from the "crane" machine. I gave the stuffed rabbit to my niece and kept the chicken! I have won several times, all from luck and after spending a few bucks ;)
From there, we went to eat dinner. My husband got some ramen from the food court, and I got Pepper lunch. The food courts in Japanese malls are their style "fast food". There is no BK, or anything like that. They have a Hawaiian pancake place, several ramen & gyoza shops and my favorite Pepper lunch. Pepper lunch is a place where you order your food and they give it to you on a hot plate to cook yourself at your table. Your rice is done, but your meat has to be cooked. I usually get the same one, beef and rice with a coke. It is so good! 
Now, one of my readers was asking me what a Japanese bathroom looks like, and I got some pictures for you, while I was at the mall. The Japanese bathrooms are not all "squat pots". They have buttons next to the seat where you can play music while you use the restroom. They also have buttons that "rinses" you after you have used the bathroom. They have seat cleaners to clean the toilet seat before sitting and of course a little toilet seat for you ladies with babies! They also have a sink next to the toilet. Oh, did I mention the seats heat up when you sit on them? PERFECT! I have never really liked using public bathrooms because I always think they're dirty and smelly, but Japan has some of the cleanest restrooms I have ever been in! 
Overall, we had a pretty relaxing weekend to take our minds off this upcoming week (being our last week in our home). How was your weekend? 
More About Tiara's Way:
A military brat, transitioning to a military wife, living in Tokyo, Japan with her handsome airmen and two fur boys! Join us on our journey, as we explore the beautiful country! On our blog you'll be able to find travel experiences, our military lifestyle and recipes that we LOVE! You can read more about the girl behind the screen here!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Organizing Craft Supplies

Craft supplies. We all have them, to varying degrees. I am currently working on a new craft table, but until that gets finished and I can get all my supplies in one place, I'm working on one section at a time.

Since I've been painting a lot lately, I decided to get all my paint supplies organized first. I had a lot of fun browsing Pinterest for ideas and scouring my house for containers I could use instead of spending money on new ones. Of course, my number one goal was to get everything sorted and labeled.

I started with my brushed. Using a few clear jars and a handful of river rocks, I sorted my brushes by type.

Next, I needed to corral my paints. I couldn't find a system I liked as I use mostly small tubes of acrylic paint rather than the larger bottles of craft paint. I was looking at my make-up storage and realized my lipstick holder would be perfect! I moved my lipsticks to another container and grabbed my paints. They all stand up perfectly so I can see them, and it didn't cost a dime.

Next, I had a few paint pens I use for detailing and writing, and wanted to keep them together. This was an easy fix, I just grabbed a small zipper pouch and stuck a label on it.

Then, I had to deal with my odds and ends. A few sponges, some painter's tape, a handful of paint bottles...nothing really seemed to fit my needs. So I decided to keep them together in one container. Sorry, I still can't get my pictures to rotate.

 I stacked my craft paints on the bottom, put my painter's tape in the middle, and my sponges on top. I may very well move everything to their own containers once I get my craft table all set up, but for now this keeps everything neat and organized.

And here it is all together: