Sunday, February 28, 2010

Agreeing on Expenses in Marriage

Julianne and I have it pretty easy, we agree on almost all of our expenses, and the rest are small enough to fit into our personal allowances (see Giving Yourself an Allowance).

I know people who aren't so fortunate - who have large expenses that they can't agree on. When one spouse wants to make a large purchase that the other spouse does not support, this can result in major conflict - whether or not the money is spent. It can bring on feelings of martyrdom or of not being supported. The battleground over expenses can then quickly expand.

Here's an article discussing the importance of having similar financial goals, and ways to work out our differences when we don't: The Key to Wedded Bliss? Money Matters. One piece of advice that struck me as especially useful was to seek the help of mediators when necessary. And really, divorce is expensive, much more expensive than foregoing a few things you want, and letting your spouse get a few things you may think are unnecessary. Families are more important than finances, and letting money tear a marriage apart is foolish.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Potatoes, Carrots, and Onions

Last night we ate Potatoes, Carrots, and Onions for dinner. This dish is thoroughly unglamorous, the ingredients are simple, and we love to eat it. Add a side of beans or meat for protein.

Potatoes, Carrots, and Onions (Julianne's method)


1 1/2 Tbs Vegetable Oil
2-5 Potatoes
3-6 Carrots
1 Onion
Salt and Pepper to taste

Wash the potatoes; peel the carrots. Chop the onion. Put water on the stove to boil, enough to cover the potatoes and carrots.

While you wait for the water to boil, heat about a teaspoon of the oil in a skillet or frying pan over medium heat, add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is tender and translucent. Cut the potatoes and carrots into half-inch chunks.

When the water starts to boil, add the potatoes and carrots, boil about 9 minutes, or until the potatoes are just barely as soft as you like them.

Drain the potatoes and carrots. Add the rest of the oil to the frying pan, then add the potatoes and carrots. Turn the heat up to medium-high. Cook a few minutes more, stirring continuously, adding salt and pepper to taste, until the potatoes and carrots are brown around the edges.

Serve immediately, with ketchup.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Toy Cycling

Kids get bored with toys they see all of the time. For our kids (a preschooler and a toddler), that means they pull out all of the Legos, spread them across the floor, and then go get more toys. Very little playing goes on for the amount of mess they make. Luckily, we found a pretty decent solution. And we didn't have to buy them more toys!

My friend April introduced us to the concept of toy cycling. At their house, they go through toys every few months and put some of them in storage. Then, when they pull them out to put different toys in storage, the old toys are new and exciting.

At our house we do our own variation of toy cycling. We decided to put all of the toy sets with small pieces up high in the closet. The kids can play with whatever they want, but only one at a time. If they want a different toy set, they need to put away with the one they are already playing with.

This has done wonders for the mess level in our apartment, but it has also improved the way our kids play. Suddenly, they play with toys longer and more creatively. They like and care about their toys more. This is the solution we were looking for.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Overdraft "Protection"

A bunch of new laws are going into effect to try to regulate bank fees. One of the most important of these is requiring that people opt in to "overdraft protection." Overdraft protection is where the bank will kindly let you put charges on your debit card even when you don't have any money in your account. They then charge a very large fee for the "privilege." Banks point to the fact that you may need cash during an emergency, but I doubt that the $40 billion dollars a year they make from overdraft fees are all because of emergencies.

Without overdraft protection, your card will just be declined if you don't have cash left (which makes sense). Starting now, banks will be required to receive permission to allow overdraft protection for debit cards. Since this is a major source of revenue, they are likely to start sending lots of advertisements attempting to convince people to get this protection. I highly recommend ignoring the ads.

More information from the New York Times:

Banks Pressure Customers to Keep Fees Rolling In

Friday, February 19, 2010

Who is Responsible for the Family Budget?

For the greatest happiness and productivity in life, both husband and wife are needed. Their efforts interlock and are complementary. Each has individual traits that best fit the role the Lord has defined for happiness as a man or woman. When used as the Lord intends, those capacities allow a married couple to think, act, and rejoice as one[.]

Richard G. Scott, The Joy of Living the Great Plan of Happiness

In the family where I grew up, my father did the finances. In Jeremy's family, his mother did them. So, naturally, when we got married each of us hoped the other would do them.

It took us a long time to figure out who would be responsible for our money.

In the meantime, we had a budget, but we didn't follow it well or keep detailed records. Bills got paid on time, usually, but we spent more and saved less than we should have.

Fortunately, Jeremy stepped up and decided we needed to put together a better system. Every family is different, but here is what works for us:

1. Jeremy set up budgeting software and makes sure it is working correctly.

2. I go through our expenses every week online and label them with the proper budget category.

3. Jeremy pays online bills.

4. I pay bills that require writing a check.

5. Together, we discuss the budget and make changes as needed.

6. Jeremy files taxes.

7. I deposit most checks.

8. Jeremy manages our investments and keeps me informed.

9. Both of us are responsible for staying within budget.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Necessary Skills

This month's visiting teaching message is titled
"Managing Resources Wisely and Staying Out of Debt."

Each of the church leaders quoted in the message talks about skills we need to take care of our families and avoid debt, among these are cooking, learning "emotional resiliency," saving money, and having faith.

Trying Not to Spend

My cousin (who is a lot smarter than me) once told me that she used to think she would not have to budget as long as she didn't spend very much. She had since discovered that a budget was a necessity.

It took me a few years to figure out she was right.

Why doesn't the try-not-to-spend-too-much method work? I think there are a couple of reasons. First, without a budget we have no reason to prioritize. It is easier for us to justify purchases as something we need or deserve, and we have nothing to curtail us but a vague sense that we have spent too much. Second, we forget. I never feel like I have spent much, but the record we keep of our expenses tells me otherwise. It's a good reminder to count the extras I have and be grateful.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Delicious, Less Costly Recipe for Pesto

I love it when I find out I can replace an expensive ingredient with something more practical. We just tried out a this recipe for pesto, which calls for pistachios ($4 a pound) instead of pine nuts ($20 a pound). It was delicious. Life is good.

Feel free to leave out the Kalamata olives if you don't like them or don't feel like buying some. You can also replace part of the olive oil with water to make a reduced fat version.

Creamy Pistachio Pesto over Whole Wheat Pasta

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Growing Up

God sent us to Earth to learn things we could not in His presence. To put it simply, we are here to grow up. This idea has been on my mind a lot lately. I am glad I don't have to have everything figured out yet, but I know I need to keep working on it my whole life.

The February issue of the Ensign has two separate articles about growing up. The first, "Grow Up unto the Lord" focuses on spiritual things. The second, "That They May Grow Up in Thee" is about the practical skills we need as adults.

We are in charge of our own lives, and that is both thrilling and intimidating. I know I'll need the Lord's help.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Variations on Split Pea Soup

We ate this soup last night for dinner. It is warm, comforting, and cheap. The potato pieces in it add nice texture, and it's a prettier green than most split pea soups! I added some extra butter (I guess that makes it vegetarian and not vegan), salt, and lemon to get the flavor just right, and I cooked it half an hour less on the final step. You can find the recipe here: Vegan Split Pea Soup

Here is the other recipe I use for split pea soup. This one has ham in it. It has a different flavor and texture, but it's still yummy and inexpensive. Incredible Split Pea Soup

Monday, February 8, 2010

Go to the Movies Instead?

The stock market can be really fun. Of course, I've also heard that Vegas can be really fun. The New York Times' Bucks Blog suggests that you should go see a movie instead - it's fun with a much lower probability of ruining your life:

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Buying Store Brand, Love It

Buying store-brand when the price is right is one good way to free up money in your grocery budget. And you may be surprised how high the quality can be. Check out
Store-Brand Foods That Save You Money Without Sacrificing Taste