Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Turkey Day Wishes

From all of us here at the Full House Blog, and from the Lotsofkids.com Family...



Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sticker Shock

It's been lean times in these parts. Like many, we are struggling to survive in the wake of a wounded economy. Large families, in general, are weathering this time better, simply because they are used to having to be frugal and economize, even during times of plenty. Still, everyone I know is hurting in some way or the other.

There are a lot of times people will ask me what my best cost-saving tips are. Thing is, it isn't that easy to rattle a few off the top of my head. Not that I don't economize, but the fact that it's not really one thing, but a series of things that help me stay afloat budget-wise. Many of the things have become almost second nature...I don't really think about them and it doesn't *feel* like I'm doing anything extraordinary.

The same applies when it comes to groceries. I'm usually on autopilot. I know which store has the best price for meat, and that store might not be the same place I can get my toiletries at bargain prices. It's not uncommon for me to frequent 2-3 different stores during a shopping trip to maximize my savings. There's nothing wrong with that. However, when you do things like that for so long, you tend to lose sight of how it is on the other side. Meaning, most people don't live (or shop) like that. I have to admit, I'd forgotten quite a bit about the non-frugal lifestyle, until a few days ago.

Since we don't have a lot of money, our donations to local charities have been minimal This is a terrible side-effect of our economic crisis. At a time when more people need charity more than ever, donations are at an all-time low in our area. People just don't have the extra funds to give when they barely have enough to cover their own expenses. So, when our local church mentioned they were participating in a grocery store share program, I was excited at the prospect. Basically, we would do our shopping at a particular store and part of our purchase would be donated to the church. Now, the store was not one I shop at regularly since they are not very competitively priced. Still, I felt this was an easy and important way to give, and decided to do our bi-weekly "big" shopping trip there.

All I can say is...WOW! And that's not a good "wow", if you were wondering. As I went through the store, getting the items off my list, I almost felt sick. There were some items that were twice what I would pay at another store. Most items were 20-30% more expensive. I do frequent this store on occasion, to get a few things here and there. But because I never really bought my standard groceries there, I never really stopped to look at the different prices; I never realized just how much their normal pricing was. Granted, because of the holiday, there were a few really good deals (and these are the types of things I would normally grab and stock-up on). However, any savings were more than eaten up through the cost of regular-priced items.

What shocked me is the fact that I know many people who shop there. They never think twice about prices. If they get something on sale, it's a bonus. However, they like shopping at a "higher-end store" and wouldn't dream of stepping into an Aldi. Thing is, while I never had anything against discount grocers, before I had a large family I *did* shop at this store regularly. How things had changed--not so much in the store, but in my own spending mentality.

In the end, I wound up $40 over budget. Utilizing my regular multi-store routine, I would have walked away with change. I realize now, I probably could have just given that overage amount in the donation basket and saved myself the aggravation. But I think overall the percentage of what we spent will still end being more for the church, so it was worth it. Not to mention, I got to learn, or rather re-learn, a valuable lesson. I often grumble on my grocery trips, as we hit one store for this and then another for that. Most of our shopping takes several hours as we make 3-4 stops. I come home exhausted, not wanting to face the extra hour it will take to put up the groceries. I sometimes do wonder if it's worth it. But, as I looked at that bloated register tape, I was reminded that the extra time, the extra aggravation, and even the extra gas (when prices were high), are a small price to pay to keep our grocery budget in check...and to allow us to survive.

Honestly, if I hit the lottery tomorrow, I just don't see myself going back to that kind of spending. I don't see myself being able to justify paying all of that money when I know there are alternatives out there. Granted, I would love not to have to watch every penny, but I don't think I could feel okay knowing I am paying double for something I can get down the street for far cheaper. The frugal lifestyle may be a necessity, but, for me, it's also just make good sense.

Large Family Laundry

Just wanted to post a link to a good post about one large-family mom's take on laundry. It's over on the 4 or More blog, and you can check it out HERE. Be sure to click through and check out the pictures of her family closet.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Dishwashers and Gift Bags

It's not what you think. It would take a pretty big giftbag to fit a dishwasher in! I just wanted to point out a couple of new articles that I put up on the LOK site.

While laundry is the #1 scourge of most large families, the dishwasher is the appliance that actually gets used the most often. I did a lot of research recently and wrote an article on ways you can save money using this appliance. There are recipes for homemade detergent, as well as tips on keeping the unit running well, in addition to tricks on how to get your dishes their cleanest. You can read it HERE.

Another article I did was on a project that I took up 3 years ago. It's for making fabric drawstring bags to wrap your holiday gifts in. Now, this is not a project for the rushed and harried. It takes quite a while to make enough bags for a whole family. But it is far worth it. Last year was the first year we exclusive went cloth, and I cannot tell you how happy I was. Wrapping was a cinch, and I felt so glad not having to run out and buy paper and tape--or fear running out of either in the middle of wrapping. To read more about this, you can check out the article HERE.

Oh, and while I'm at it, I'll also mention that we have a new article on inexpensive holiday gifts which you can see HERE.

Happy reading!

House Blog Cleaning

We've been tidying up around the LOK blogs! We've been updating our sidebars so that our readers can more easily find what they are looking for. We've also added some new functionality like subscribing to our feed, as well as a translator so our friends from abroad can have an easier time reading.

In addition, we are still looking for bloggers to join our group here. If you have a large family and would like to share your stories, tips, and tricks on running a large-family household, drop us a line for more information at lotsofkids123[at]aol.com.

Thank you everyone for your support!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

40 (or so) Days of Christmas

I was reading the forum over at our sister-site, Tons of Kids, and there was a discussion on how to do a non-gift Christmas. As I mentioned in my previous post, this is a big consideration for a lot of families as they struggle with limited finances due to the bad economy. There was a post from a woman who was planning to do this but with a little twist. I thought the idea was so good, I'm sharing part of the post here (and will be adding this idea to an article I'm working on for the Lotsofkids site):

"We decided to do a no gift Christmas this year. Our children were so appallingly selfish last year. It was a real wake up call as to how my husband and I were failing in teaching our children the real reason for the season. Instead we are giving them the one thing they really want; more time together as a family. Starting November 22 and ending December 31 we are having what we call "40 days of Christmas". We have one family activity planned for every day and at least twice a week the activity has to focus on Jesus. And since we are also dealing with a small budget all activities are low cost/no cost. Some of the things we are doing are: game night, sledding, making a snowman (huge sacrifice on my part since I hate snow), making a thermos of hot chocolate and driving around looking at Christmas lights, decorating an outdoor tree for the wildlife (bag of cranberries, bowl of popcorn, and some string), candlelight dinner, snow ice cream, scavenger hunt, watching Christmas classics, I'm having the children make the Christmas cards this year instead of buying them, making cookies for teachers/neighbors/friends instead of buying gifts (we are making Belgian cookies, which costs about $20 a batch but makes 90 gazillion cookies-I love them!), we are also shopping for the local food shelf and the angel tree.

The kids were disappointed when we told them that we weren't giving them presents this year but once we explained what we were doing instead they really got on board. We also let the kids help with the planning and they were able to choose activities that they've always wanted to do but my husband and I weren't willing to do. I'm really looking forward to the holidays this year and I hope that this ends up being the best Christmas your family has ever had."

Of course, a family could do any variation of this. The 12 Days of Christmas, 21 days, whatever works with your schedule. Of course, you could do this as expensive, or inexpensively, as you like. What a wonderful way to bring the true meaning of the holiday to your family.

A special thanks to "Janelle" for this great idea!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Frugal Holiday

We've cancelled Christmas.

Okay, not really. In actuality, because of unemployment and the struggling economy, our Christmas is going to be pretty meager. What's funny is the fact that last year during the holidays my husband was out of work too. We thought that holiday season was tight, but this one is turning out to be even more a challenge.

I have to admit to feeling bad. We are not really the ones to overindulge our kids, whether during the holidays or during the year. Even still, our kids have plenty. They have video games, and dvds, and other fun stuff. Sadly, they haven't gotten any *new* stuff in a long while. That has happened in the past as well, but there is always that thought that you'll make it up to them during the holidays. Not this year.

I think the biggest thing I am having trouble getting over is MY feelings about it. The end-of-the-year holidays are very special to me. They really are the time where you focus on family. Gift-giving is an extension of that for me. It's the magic of the season. I love seeing the kids happily opening presents on Christmas morning. I love thinking of meaningful gifts for them...even if that turns out to be a much-requested video game. I know deep down they will be okay without a ton around the tree. I'm sure we'll managed a few small things, not to mention we're pulling out the power tools and sewing machine for homemade gifts. Still, it just doesn't feel the same.

Thing is, I have to get over it. As much as they may want the newest gadget, chances are it will be collecting dust in a few months. The simple gifts are always the best. I'm trying to look back and remember the things I loved, and to remember only a few things really stand out in my mind. It's usually the little things, too.

As if in answer to that, just the other day we came home from the grocery store. There were quite a few items we hadn't had a chance to put up. They went to good use:





Simple boxes turned into blocks, creating buildings and terrains. The kids improvising. I'm sure this was much like what children did in the past, in the days before we had all these fancy gizmos. I guess they don't say that a cardboard box is a child's favorite toy for nothing.

I'll admit, my older kids are not going to take much solace in mac&cheese building blocks. They want more sophisticated things. Still, they have learned some lessons. Their wish lists are much smaller this year, and focused on the things they *really* want. It was heartening to hear my son tell me, "I found this game I want and it's only $5!" Maybe the holidays won't be so bad afterall.

Over the next month or so, we'll be focusing on having a Frugal Holiday Season. You'll be able to find lots of tips and tricks, as well as general musings here, on the LOK Cooking blog, and our general blogs. (You can get to them all by clicking on the Lotsofkids Blogging Home button on the sidebar.