12/31/2008

2008 Year In Review


2008 was a big year for us here at the NtJS ranch. We saw the birth of our second daughter as well as the birth of this blog - both had their ups and downs. We experienced adversity and extravagance. Most of all, we shared a bit of our lives with, well... more of you than we expected - which is pretty cool. Some posts did well, and some really well. Some were barely noticed. Below, you'll find a bit of each - our posts with the most hits, our posts that got lost in the ether, and our overall favorites.

Cheers to all, and we'll see you on the flip-side.


Top Traffic Earners for 2008
  1. Re-Use It! T-Shirt Bags [Very popular with the Stumble crowd, more hits than the main page]
  2. Re-Use It! Rice Packs [Damn that Mrs. and her Re-Use It! posts, she got the top two spots!]
  3. Dumpster Diving Etiquette [MSN Moneyblog and Stumble love]
  4. How To: Build a Low-Cost Rain Barrel [Instructions that don't suck, for building a barrel that doesn't suck]
  5. Lunch Out VS. The Brown Bag [Not hatin' on eating out, just sayin' ...]
  6. How To: Water Your Garden For Free [Who wouldn't?!]
  7. Review: FreshAire Choice No-VOC Paint [Totally unbiased, see how it faired]
  8. Rainwater Collection Roundup [Can't go wrong with rainwater]
  9. A Dirty, Frugal Job: Cloth Diapering [Everything you ever wanted to know, and some that you didn't]
  10. Our Cash Envelope System [Not nearly as difficult as some make it out to be]
Top Traffic Evaders for 2008
  1. The HDTV Challenge [You'd never heard of this blog when this one posted]
  2. So What's It Really Worth [A noble idea, short on material and readers]
  3. Buying the Presidency [Seems that many were not quite as intrigued by presidential politics as I]
  4. What Do You Think? [We asked about advertising, few of you responded, most don't care]
  5. Show Your Colors [What is it that you don't like about our logo coffee mug?!]
  6. Thrifty Christmas Part 11 [Yes, we did get to part 11, you didn't notice?]
  7. The Price of Money is Up - WAY Up [You see, it costs money to make money and the materials and processes to do so is now out weighing the value of.... oh forget it]
  8. A World Without Toys and Cloth Diapers [How did you miss this? Seriously, this is important]
  9. The Outlaw Henry Paulson?! [Ahhhh, see I told you this guy was shifty, but you didn't read the article, so....]
  10. The CR Money Paradox [Maybe I should have spelled out Consumer Reports in the title...]
Our Favorite Posts for 2008 (intentionally unordered)

Top Referral Blogs for 2008 (Much love)
Ok, enough lists. Cheers to all. Here's to me and mine wishing you and yours a blessed and prosperous new year.

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12/29/2008

Our Anniversary Vacation - Jet Set or Not?


The Mrs. and I took advantage of an opportunity and got away for our wedding anniversary this year. Destination: Chicago. We had a great time, despite missing the kids. While there, I began to ponder, "just how 'not the jet set' is this vacation?"

In some ways, it easily qualified. Other had me feeling decidedly jet-set. I thought it best to do a rundown of our vacation and decide it point by point.



((Mind the giant gap, not sure what happened))
















































Jet Set
Vacation Scorecard

Not Jet Set
-Travel - Driving? Flying? Nah. We took the train. We left the driving to Amtak and were actually one of the few that made it into town due to the crazy winter weather. Each leg cost about $22 per person.+1
+1Hotel - This is a tough one as we stayed at the Dana hotel and Spa - brand new and quite swank. But we got a great deal on the rate through Expedia. Total cost for 3 nights was $534 after tax, title, and license.+1
+2Dining - This is an easy one. High on the hog doesn't begin to cover it. Our anniversary dinner was in the car payment range. Not to mention the excellent French brasserie and the Chicago pizzeria we ate at the other two nights. Our total food bill rivaled what we spent on the hotel! Was worth every penny.-
-Transportation - Once we got to town, we took cab to and from the hotel, but other than that, we hoofed it. We did take the bus once to get us to the Art Institute. But even in the -30* wind chill weather, we walked. $30 for two cab rides and $4 for the bus ride.
+1
+1Shopping - We shopped at the finest stores on the Magnificent mile. Shopped, but didn't buy much. The Mrs. did well at Nordstrom Rack (deep discount). I, on the other hand, did buy some nice things from Crate and Barrel and Macy's. Next time, we'll skip Michigan Ave, and stay on State St. I doubt that we spent more than $250 in total.
+1
-Child Care - The in-laws not only watched the kids for us, but they even picked them up (a 2-1/2 hour drive). Definitely a sweet deal and dare I say, the best anniversary gift parents can get.+1
-Entertainment - Entertainment was fairly limited. Most of which was provided by the in-room cable tv - quite a treat for us. The one bit of entertainment extravagance came from the the show we saw on Michigan Avenue - Quantum of Solace. 21 bones.+1
4
Advantage: Not Jet Set

6


Was close at first, but in the end, the frugal prevailed. You couldn't tell it on the surface, but this vacation was decidedly not jet set. Really we splurged where it really counted. The Bible says that your treasure is where your heart is. In our case, it's likely closer to our stomachs!

Where do you splurge on vacations? Where do you skimp?


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12/26/2008

The Fringe Benefits of Debt Diet

Everyone always talks about the fringe benefits of dieting like extra energy, sleep better, etc. Well what about the fringe benefits of a debt diet? After having our own debt diet and helping lots of other family does the same we have found that there are lots of fringe benefits.

Some are easy to assume others came as a surprise. Here are some of those great fringe benefits you can expect to see:


  • Lose Weight- If you first thought is that I'm saying to starve yourself you are wrong. We found that by not eating out we saved more then money, we saved on calories as well.
  • Better Marriage- There is something magical about agreeing on a budget it. It some how makes life with your spouse so much easier. Maybe it's magic, maybe it has to do with agreeing to your spending in advance. You can make your own decision.
  • Peace- There is a peace that you feel when you take control of your own life. There is nothing peaceful about uncontrolled spending. In fact, it steals your peace and sense of security.
  • More Time- With less stress, less fighting, less eating you, less time shopping something else wonderful happens. You get your life back! You manage to find the time to do the things that are important to you.
  • Give More- It's a great feeling to give. To give your time, your talent, and your treasure. It's a lot easier to do that without the extra weight of debt.
  • Cleaner House- After you get done selling everything you don't need to help pay off your debt you have a whole lot less to clean. And trust me, you will not miss the mess!

Not every family will experience all of these but you should expect to have a few of these benefits. So what are you waiting for? Don't wait until January 1st to start your debt diet. Start it today!


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12/23/2008

A world without toys and cloth diapers...

That is what I'm afraid some houses will look like thanks to the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). A quick summary of this act is that it will force all items made for children 12 years and younger to be sold in the USA to meet a set of standards. This is a good thing, except that they are making the makers pay for all the testing. This will likely put all small and medium sized companies out of business, except for the large companies that make cheap plastic stuff in countries like China. Why? They have a larger profit margin to work with and produce mass quanities of the same toys and disposible diapers.

For people like us it means we will not have a Christmas tree with wooden toys underneath. Our kids will not have the safe toys made by a dad in Texas in his own little "Santa's workshop". It means that I can no longer buy my favorite cloth diapers made by a stay a home mom in her sewing room. This is not the world I want to raise my kids in.

I've signed the petition and sent the letters. I'm asking you to do the same. Please help to save future Christmas for the next generation. For more information please visit the Homemade Toy Alliance's website. They have great details, sample letter, and the petition to sign.

Once you've done your part post here!

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12/22/2008

It Must Be Bad Out There

For the most part, we've been numb to the mortgage meltdown / credit crunch / economic down-turn. Being debt-free, having an emergency fund, and living on a budget has left us... well, mostly unaffected. Now that's not to say that our retirement accounts haven't taken a hit - everyone's has. And it doesn't mean that we haven't been watching this unfold in great disgust - because we have.

It just means, that it hasn't caused us to drastically alter our lifestyle. We drove less this summer - who didn't? But the overall plan hasn't changed and we're still tracking pretty well. So all the reports on the evening news about this supposed recession have been mostly surreal to us. But then I saw something that really opened my eyes - a bank commercial!

I thought at first it might have been co-sponsored by Dave Ramsey as they were nearly outlining his advice! "In these tough economic times, it's important to get your finances in order. Pay down your debt, cut back your spending...."

Wait, this is a bank!?!

I guess, sooner or later, the truth comes out. A year from now, they'll be back to pushing 1% cash back rates on thier credit lines.

Here's how we brave the sorm:




The Budget - The budget is like our snowblower. A little front-end preparation will ensure that it is ready when you need it. And you will need it. When the stom comes, the budget will hep youclear away the mess you're in, and give you a clear path to follow.

The Emergency Fund - Maybe yours is only partially funded so you've got a towrope or a bag of salt in the trunk. But the real e-fund is that 4x4 pickup in the driveway (purchased used, of course). When things get really bad, when all else fails, it's there for you and can walk you through as though nothing happened.

Being Debt-Free - The unexpected benefit here is that you have the time and energy to deal with it all. To not be so stressed out and making decisions indespiration is invaluable. To have peace about your finances causes you to look at purchases and situations differently than you would have if you still had outstanding liabilities.

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12/19/2008

Paid How Much?!? ((Updated))


I was shocked the other evening when I caught a little snip-it of the evening news. They were talking about the auto bailout failing. They said that the union did not agree to the terms. That was not the shocking part. The shocking part was that next they said that the average UAW member makes $75 an hour! I was truly shocked. This dollar amount does include benefits but even if you take it out (or add in benefits to other hourly rates) it is still way above what I would assume a blue collar job would pay.


In fact, I did the math and that is a lot higher then what the Mr. makes and what I made when I left my career. This is very disappointing since he has an engineering degree and my job required a master's degree. Don't get me wrong. I don't mind if we others make more then us. However, if it is a position that only requires a high school education and is on a factory line I don't feel like they should be earning more then other professional positions.

What really bothers me even more then that is that it seems like the UAW is not willing to cut back wages and/or benefits. Is it really wise to make everyone lose their jobs rather then to cut back your income to, say, what a teacher makes? What if they had the same benefits as a teacher? When the factory closes over the holidays do the workers not get paid like teachers?

Why do UAW members deserve more then teachers? Do you think that the UAW was being selfish for not working with the other groups to get a bailout approved?

***Update***
The White House has brought Christmas early for 2 of the Big 3 - to the tune of 17.4 millio dollars. But there are strings attached, one of which requires them to bring labor costs in-line with that of their competitors. This is something that Ron Gettlefinger and the UAW take issue with. Heck, this is the exact stipulation that caused them to kill the Senate bailout package.

Would it be so terrible to make a rasonable wage with reasonable benefits?

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Thrifty Christmas - Part 12

Today I'm posting the last of our Thrifty Christmas series. I have been having a lot of fun writing these posts and revisiting some of my fondest memories. I've also seen lots of great ideas on the web. That is why I've decided to make this last post a round up post.

What were my favorite online finds?

  • The Toby Show had a wonderful post on Stocking Stuffers. These ideas didn't break the bank and were good for the environment.

  • Paula's Ponderings has a great post on how to make a Christmas ornament out shaped like a tree out of paper. These look like a fun project!

  • Green Mesh had a neat short video clip about showing a govern's mansion being decorated for Christmas on a budget. I liked the idea of using natural items to decorate.

  • MaryAnne from Thrifty Crafty Mama posted a great idea for a kid's craft project. What grandma wouldn't love to have this tree hanging on their fridge?

These were just four of my favorite Christmas posts from this year. What are your favorites? Feel free to leave links to your favorite posts.

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12/18/2008

Thrifty Christmas - Part 11

Earlier today I was thinking about all the fun things we did in our family for Christmas. Some of them were thrifty some of them not so much. But either way, we did have a lot of fun during the Christmas season.

Here are some of the fun things I remember doing as a child that did not cost a lot of money.

  • We would sting popcorn for our tree.
  • We would all help with making and decorating the cookies.
  • Christmas Eve we would watch holiday movies, play games and eat lots of homemade goodies until it was time to leave for Midnight Mass.
  • Play in the snow (a lot) with our cousins.
  • Help wrap gifts.
  • Go ice skating.
  • Read lots of Christmas themed books while eating popcorn.
  • Cuddling by the fire.

I hope that some of these ideas help to give your family the same warm memories I have from my childhood.

What are some of the traditions that you hope to carry on with your own kids, grandchildren or nieces/nephews?

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12/17/2008

Thrifty Christmas - Part 10

Did you like the last tip but don't have the time or the money? If that's the case then this next thrifty Christmas idea might be for you!

The best gift I have ever received was the cutest homemade gift certificates from my husband and daughter. This is a great idea for a cheap gift for your spouse. It can be as practical or romantic as you would like it to be. There is nothing better then redeeming a gift card for a foot massage or a week free of laundry duty.

What are your favorite free gifts?

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12/16/2008

Thrifty Christmas - Part 9

I have a bright idea to share today! Everyone loves to share the Christmas cheer. Some people, like my husband, love to share the cheer through outside Christmas lights. While that might not sound to frugal to some we do try to make it as frugal as possible.

Mr. NtJS uses outside timers to help save on the electric bill. He sets the timer so that the lights kick on at 6pm and then turn off at 10pm. Having the lights on for 4 hours a night will not break the bank while spreading a little holiday cheer.

Do you do anything special with your lights?

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12/15/2008

Thrifty Christmas - Part 8

Christmas is less then 2 weeks away! Where has all the time gone? It feels like just yesterday we were enjoying summer weather. If you need a kids gift fast but don't have a lot of money to spend I've come up with a great gift idea that seems to be a hit every time no mater the age. The best part is they are made in the USA!

I came up with this idea earlier this year when my daughter was invited to a last minute birthday party for a boy in her class. I'd did not have any of my usual premade gifts stashed away so I was trying to find something quick.

What I came up with was a personalized art kit. I was able to find art supplies at local stores that were made here in the USA. They were Crayola, Kodak, and other brands. HOWEVER, you have to read the packaging because each brand only carries a few items made here. I was even able to find small spiral bound skitch pad diaries made in the USA using wind power.

I put crayons, colored pencils and paint dotters in a pencil pouch or pencil hard case. Then I took the skitch pad and added a sheet of colored paper to it and add their name using left over foam letters from another project. You instantly have a nice sized traveling art kit with the child's name on it for under $15.

Do you have any other in a pinch premade gift ideas that are good for the enviroment and/or made in the USA?

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12/12/2008

Thrifty Christmas - Part 7

Do you have your stocking hung by the fire with care? We do! As a child I think that one of my favorite thing were our stockings. I remember always rushing downstairs on Christmas morning to see what little goodies had been tucked into my stocking.

As a child my stocking was machine knitted and had our names on them in a very early 80's style. As an adult I wanted to have a more timeless look to our stockings. I also wanted them to look a little more upscale. Of course, I didn't really have any money to spend on this picky project.

Want to know what I did? I'm sure you have lots of great guess but you will have to keep reading to find out.


I was lucky enough to score several boxes of home decor fabric samples from freecycle. I made a lot of different items from the fabric but hands down my favorite is our stockings. I used the fabric samples to quilt together very elegant looking stockings. I also embroidered our names on them for that personal touch. This project cost me nothing since I had all the stuff to make them already.

In fact, I would say that they made me money! I had lots of people comment on how nice they were. Some of them even asked me to sew them stockings. So I did make about a dozen of them some extra Christmas cash one year.

This is an easy project and you can use any fabric you already own. I think that it would be great to take some of your daughter's past Christmas dresses and make them into the stockings. It would have so much meaning.

Did you make your family's stockings? How did you do it?

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12/11/2008

Is It Raining At Your House?


It seems like when it rains, it pours. At least at house that is always the case. In fact, at this very moment I'm really paranoid that the other shoe (or in this case the 4th shoe) will drop. Let me explain.



We started a major remodeling project in our only full bathroom over Labor Day weekend that was not planned but forced on us by the house (ie. a bad leak). It's still not complete because everything that could go wrong has. Everything in the bathroom has been complicated by the custom everything in it from the 60's. The Mr. has been putting in some very long days and even weekends at work because of deadlines and less staff after the layoff. And every time we turn around something else is happening. For example in the last 7 days we found water in the basement because of our sump pump breaking. Of course that happened on the weekend so we had to pay extra for that job. Then on Tuesday night, actually make that Wednesday morning 1 am when the Mr. got home from working late, the only toilet we have in our house broke. Of yes, 1am. In the morning with a about 3 hours of sleep we realized that it could not be fixed because it was the "guts" of the toilet that broke and it is the orginal toilet to the house. So we were forced into buying a new toilet and installing it ourselves that night as soon as the Mr. came home. All these unexpected expenses are adding up fast.

Am I writing this to complain? I'm only partially venting. I'm really writting this for another reason. To remind everyone why it is important to have an emergancy fund that is easily accessible. Just last night I told the Mr. that I was really sad about blowing $645 on emergancy house repairs this week because I was going to have to not buy the kids some of the things I was planning on buying for Christmas and I was also going to wipe clean my new deep freezer fund to pay for these bills. He just looked at me and said "Don't do that. You shouldn't have to start over we can just use our emergancy funds for this stuff". As sweet as the statement was (and it really was). In my mind I could not justify dipping into the EF with the uncertain future of the job market. However, if we didn't have the extra savings for other items I would have been transferring funds from our EF savings account into our checking account yesterday afternoon so that I could buy that new toilet.

Do you have an emergancy fund in place? Have you talked to your spouse about what you would consider an emergancy? If not, start today! If you are dragging your feet just watch the news tonight and maybe that will motivate you to start saving for that rainy day.

And one last question for you. Is it raining at your house? If so tell us about. I'd love to have others join me in this little pitty party today!

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Thrifty Christmas - Part 6

After reading about my family's Christmas gift of giving do you think we are nuts? Well, if so you are not alone. We had proposed this idea to the Mr.'s side of the family since it worked so well for my side. To say that it was meet with resistance is the understatement of the year. Some family members felt very strongly about NOT giving to the poor and that we HAVE to have presents under the tree for the adults. Of course, sticking my neck out there like I've been know to do. I offered to instead of giving it to the poor we could pick a different charity and just give the cash. That went over as well as a lead balloon.

I realized really fast that we were not going to be able to change his family's opinion on what a Christmas gift should look like. However, I was not going to go out and drop a lot of money on an item that they really don't need and will likely not be used. The Mr. and I had some work to do but we came up with some great gifts to give. Some of them might have been a little shock to the system.

Want to hear what we gave?



The year of the "no giving to the needy" episode we really hard on us. Of course my first instinct was to give them a piece of coal and tell them to stick it. But that would be to nice and expensive. So instead we bought Dave Ramsey's book "The Total Money Makeover" in bulk and wrote a personal note explaining how getting out of debt and living within our means had changed out lives. I can only image the conversations on the drive home. But that's alright. They should have been grateful that the Mr. had talked me out of the many not so nice gifts that came to mind first.

Then the next year I had more time to come up with a good gift. The gift of food. Everyone loves home made food and most people don't have the time and patience for it. All summer long while I was canning for my own family I would can some extra to give away. Then I picked up baskets at garage sales to put all the jars in. By the time Christmas came around it was so easy to just go down to the basement and pull it all together. We had jars of apple pie filling, apple sauce, apple butter, peach syrup, peach butter and more. I also made homemade chocolates and the Mr. made his famous sun-dried tomato bread and hot and spicy chex-mix.

Everyone was happy to get the yummy food. We even had several people return the jars so that I could reuse them for next years gift. Hint, Hint... The gift went over well and we felt like it helped to keep our budget in check while thinking "green".

For now we will stick with this gift. Maybe in a few years we will try something different but for now homemade preserves and baked goods seem to be the best way to go with the Mr.'s side of the family.

Do you give any home made goodies as gifts? What do you make to give?

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12/10/2008

Thrifty Christmas- Part 5

I'm glad to see you have braved the snow today! Come on in and make yourself at home. Are you having problems finding gifts for some of your family and friends? It is so hard to shop for someone who has everything they need. Well, over the past few years we have come up with a couple ideas that seem to be working.

Have a seat while I get you some hot chocolate. Then we can visit.



Every year it seems to be getting hard to find gifts for our siblings, parents and grandparents. We ended up finding solutions for all of them but it was NOT one size fits all. My mom worked for Headstart as a teacher until she retired. Before that she worked at a daycare for mentally and physically disabled children (4-5 yr. old room). My sister works for a county agency in what is kind of a social worker/ educator position. She helps families who have or are expecting a baby with a disabilty or premature baby to a teen. During my college years I work for the local Salvation Army in their office but spent my holiday breaks volunteering to help them hand out or deliver items to those in need while crashing on the Caption and his wife's couch at night (dorms were closed over break). I also went on a couple missonary trips to Haiti during those same years. For my family we have seen people in try need first hand. The best gift we could give each, is NOTHING. We just want to enjoy our time together.

So what do we do? We decided as family that we would adopt a family in the county we grew up in for Christmas. My mom is still friend's with the local social worker. She always has a family that has fallen through the cracks and was not able to get help through the normal channels. She gives us the needed info (age, sex, clothing size, etc). We intern find a day we can all go shopping together as family. We make it a fun outing and spend the amount of money we would have other wise spent on ourselves. By the end of the day we have a car load of gifts for the kids and food for the pantry. All of us wish we could be a fly on the wall when those kids open their gifts to see their expressions. But just knowing that we made what could have been a very sad Christmas into a day of joy and thanksgiving is priceless. For our family we look forward to doing this every year.

On Christmas morning at my parent's house there are only a few presents for each of the grandkids. And that is it. Everyone is happy and know one misses the gifts that could have been. We just greatful for the opportunity to spent time together and give to those in need.

Do you give the gift of giving? Have you ever given to a charity in a friend or family's name for Christmas? How did they like or dislike the gift?

Well, it's getting late and baby needs to go to bed. I'll have to visit with you tomorrow about what we do for my husband's side of the family. Be safe on your way home!


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12/09/2008

Thrifty Christmas - Part 4


Can you believe how fast time flies? Saturday was the feast day of Saint Nicholas! I'm sure most of you are scratching your heads right now going "huh?". Well, for those of you who have not figured it out yet, we are Catholic. I don't want to spend to much time explaining our faith and the Churches doctorine so if you have questions feel free to email us or do a google search (but please only read creditable sources). But the world's beloved Santa Claus is actually a true saint, Saint Nicholas.

The Church celebrates the feast day of St. Nicholas on December 6th. St. Nicholas was a wonderful man who did countless good deeds. Two of the things he was most know for was giving the poor money and protecting children. Centries later we have spinned the truth so much that we have ended up with a Santa who seems to have different motives on a different day.

Our house is different.



We have started a new tradition to combate the comercialization and greediness surrounding gift giving. Every year we celebrate St. Nick's feast day in a big way. We start be reading the kids stories of the saint's good deads. We have a few activities like coloring pictures. Then we bake our Christmas cookies for the year. And we bake a lot of them! What do we do with them? Do we keep them all for ourselves? No way, in fact we barely keep any of them. I usually keep one or two dozen, but the rest we give away.

Where do they all go? To the people that St. Nicholas would want to have them. We take them to our elderly neighbors (5 couples) who are basically shut-ins during the winter because of all the snow and ice we get. Then we take the rest of them to true shut-ins. I call our Church office in advance (or that morning) and get a list of people along with addresses and phone numbers. Everyone is so excited to see to see a young kids at their day with fresh baked cookies. Of course they are more excited to have companionship during the cold months. If you do this, please allow enough time at each stop. Most people would like for you to stay 30 minutes or more. They really are lonely and love to watch the kids play.

This is a great chance for kids to see what the true meaning of Christmas is. Our goal is for our children to understand that it is okay to only get a few small gifts. It's really about what you GIVE not recieve. Last year our daughter meet a lady who was excited to see us and was talking about how lonely she was since her husband died. She didn't have any family left in the area and could not get out because it was to cold. After we left my daughter had a lot of questions about the lady and her husband. Even though some of those questions I would rather avoid, it was a great learning experience for her. She felt good that she made the lady happy that day.

This is one the most important days of the holiday in our home. It is a tradition that our children will remember. It is also a tradition that only takes some flour, a little gas, and your time. The spiritual and emotional benefits are countless and down playing of recieving gifts is priceless.

Some of you might be thinking that this is a great idea, if I was Catholic. You don't have to be Catholic to explain the real Santa to your kids. If you would rather not, that is okay to. Just pick a day before Christmas to explain the giving part of the season and then do just that with your kids, grandkids, neices or nephews, or even the neighbor kids.

Did you celebrate St. Nicholas's feast day on Saturday? If so what did you do?


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12/08/2008

Thrifty Christmas Ideas -part 3

Are you ready for some more hot chocolate? I sure am! Just looking out the window at the snow this evening is making me cold.

What have you been up to today? I've been busy working on putting together Christmas present's while my oldest was at school. Why don't you sit right there and I want to show you how I reused some of my Christmas cards from last year. Hold on while I go grab the box...




Being the thrifty green mom that I am, I save every card, gift bag, box, tissue paper, and sometimes even wrapping paper. This project is one of my favorites. I took a nice shirt box that came from a store and I cover the advertising on it with a reused Christmas card. Here is one that I made for a friend.

Wonder what is going in the box? Some homemade T-shirt bags from Relay for Life shirts I found at a garage sale. My friend's dad had cancer and she is a big supporter of Relay for Life (and a fellow green mom) so I thought that she would enjoy the message while saving the planet one shopping bag at a time.

I have so many other crafty ways to reuse Christmas cards! I just wish it was not getting so late. Why don't you come on back tomorrow to visit some more.

See you soon!

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12/06/2008

Thrifty Christmas - Part 2

So glad to see you again! Of course you can have hot chocolate. Doesn't the fire smell good tonight? We have to make sure not to start the fire until after the baby's in bed. Now that she is crawling and trying to walk we can not keep her out of anything! That reminds me of another thrifty thing we are doing this year...



With the baby getting into everything this year we made a tough decision. We are NOT putting up our big Christmas tree. This could have been a devastating blow to our 5 yr. old daughter, but we had another plan up our sleeve. In stead of the normal Christmas tree we are doing a traditional Jesse Tree that sits up high out of the baby's reach. Our daughter colored and cut out all the ornaments for the tree herself. Every night we read from the bible as a family and discuss what we read before she hangs the ornament that goes with that day's reading. It's a great way for us to teach her biblical heritage that leads up to Jesus. It's also a frugal way to avoid the big tree. All's you need is a tree limb and some paper really.

With the current financial crunch some families are feeling this year I'm sure that an expensive real tree is going to be a budget buster. There is nothing wrong with going this route instead. The point of Christmas is not the big fancy tree with high electric bill to go with it. Christmas can still be celebrated with traditions that go back farther then the "traditional" Christmas tree.

I'm glad you liked my daughter's ornaments. She worked really hard on them and is proud to put them on the tree ever night. She really does look forward to it. Do you have a tradition tree? If not what do you do instead? Have you ever used a Jesse tree?

I've enjoyed our visit this evening. I just hope I didn't keep you up to late!

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Why We Need the Big 3


CEOs of the Big 3 returned to Washington this week to make their final plea for financial bailout. And while they are quite short of cash, one thing we don't seem to be short on is opinions. Some quite strong.

For decades, this group has all but locked us into internal combustion engies, squashing new technology and seemingly colluding with the oil industry. At the same time, quality suffered - likely due to an unbalanced focus on cost reduction instead of quality or design or efficiancy. Their actions have been no secret to the public either. Films like 'Who Killed The Electric Car' illustrated how one group in GM was supporting and promoting the EV1, while at the same time there was a group inside working to kill it.

In fact, if you took a poll today, you would likely find that the two most hated industries in this nation are automotive and oil. And they've earned it.

This may help to explain the odd phenominon that has had the Mrs. and I baffled for weeks. Wall Street, big banks, and mortgage lenders come to Washington looking for a handout and get it - with nearly no strings attached. Despite many of them being responsible for the current state of the housing industry! The very issue at the core of our nation's current financial crisis. 300? 400? No, no, lets line up 700 billion dollars (that we don't have) to do.... whatever to get the nation's fat cats fat again. But when Detroit is having issues, and facing bankruptcy, it's nothing but spite and anger. Now we're going to get in a twist about $34B?

I can't say that I supported the bank bailout. But it is done. What I cannot grasp is the line being drawn here.


The other day, a collegue and I were on a road trip for a meeting. He asked me, "Ok, you're in charge. Do you bail them out or not?" I was torn. At the time at least the real issue seemed to be about labor. Bankruptcy would allow management to nullify union contracts - essentially ending their stranglehold on the purse strings. On the other hand, bankruptcy brings a lack of confidence and a lack of control. My answer was to bail them out. Here is why:

Independence from foreign oil.

Yeah, I know I just described these guys as being in bed with big oil. And they probably are - more than we'll ever know. But much like the banking bailout, this can give Washington some control. Now before you say 'socialist', consider this: The incoming administration has the intent of freeing us from foreign oil and has even expressed interest in subsidizing retooling efforts to make the Big 3 more competitive as well as leading us to greener more sustainable energy sources. I can only see this bailout as the opportunity the Obama Administration needs to make energy independence a reality.

We need the Big 3. We need a partner in moving our nation forward, and here, we could get three - and $34 billion might be worth it.

Place your bets: Will Congress bail out Detroit? Will they decide that the airlines and banks are worth , but automotive, not so much?

A lot is riding on a lame duck congres.

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12/05/2008

Everybody Panic! It's a Recession!!!

It's official, I guess.... kinda. The National Bureau of Economic Research says that we've been in a recession all year. Finally, someone backs up our alarmist news media. Now would you people finally panic so we can get some really juicy news bites!?

Did you panic when you heard this news? Wall Street did. Then again, the Dow plunges 100 point whenever someone on the trading floor rips a loud fart. No, don't be fooled by their name - there is nothing official about the NBER. No magic powers. Nope. Just a bunch of guys.

In fact, a recession, by definition, still cannot be declared.

Why I'm smarter than this group of award-winning economists after the jump.


Maybe they fell asleep during Econ 101, or maybe they think that they get to write their own definition for the word. They can call it a downturn. A slowdown. Markers for a possible recession. But a recession it is not.

A recession, as defined in economic terms, is:

a period of two quarters of negative GDP growth.
Ok, ok, maybe they know this. Maybe it's the application that is giving them issues. If you look at the numbers, and maybe they should, you'd see that economic growth has been slow. No one will dispute that, but we haven't yet had those two consecutive quarters of negative growth.

Q1 07: +0.1%
Q2 07: +4.8%
Q3 07: +4.8%
Q4 07: -0.2%

Q1 08: +0.9%
Q2 08: +2.8%
Q3 08: -0.3%
Q4 08: ?

No, actually, the problem is that the NBER chose to re-define the word to suit their liking.
"a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in real GDP growth, real personal income, employment (non-farm payrolls), industrial production, and wholesale-retail sales."
So I guess maybe they've been waiting for a real recession to happen and just grew impatient, choosing to apply their definition. Sorry guys, still no recession. Don't feel bad though, even the jokers in my link got it wrong.

Feel free to panic about something else.

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12/04/2008

And A Thrifty Christmas To All!

As we count down the days to Christmas let's not lose count of our budget. May the only red we see be joyful and not on our bank statements.

The Not the Jet Set family would like to give you a special gift this year. One of creativity, thriftiness and green. We will be starting our Thrifty Christmas series starting today and will go through the season. During the coming weeks we invite you to follow along with our family and see the way we celebrate Christ's birth while being good Stewards.

Come on in and take off your boots. Have a seat and get comfy while I get you a cup of hot chocolate to warm you up. It's cold outside today isn't it? While you sip your hot chocolate and get warmed up let's talk about our first Thrifty Christmas idea.


Homemade Advent Wreath

For to many years I tried to buy an Advent Wreath after Advent had started hoping for a good deal. Every year I found the same thing. They had sold out of the wreathes before the season even started. After my daughter gave me a wonderful gift last year the search is over! Her teacher helped them make the advent wreathes using their hand prints and construction paper. Then she cut sticky backed circle velcro tabs in half for the flames to be added. She also laminated them so that they will last longer. I love it and we will continue to use it every year. If you are going to make one for your family trying adding everyone's hand print to make it a true family project.

This project will help save you some green while staying focused on the true meaning of Christmas. It saved our family around $40 and gave this mom an extra warm fuzzy feeling.

What does your family use for an Advent wreath?

Well, it was nice chatting! You should come back soon and we can talk about some of our other Thrifty Christmas ideas while you enjoy some more hot chocolate. I was wanting to talk to you about our Christmas tree and show you some of the wrapped presents.

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NtJS Household Budget - Dec 08

Honestly, the month of November was a blur! It has not been the easiest month personally because my grandfather has cancer and any day will be his last. I've been making lots of trips back and forth to "home" with the baby in tow. It's a three hour drive each way but worth every minute of it to see my grandfather and be there for my mom and grandma as they live through this experience on a daily basis taking care of him in his own house.

On to the budget... November's funds were kind of crazy. We started out by blowing through all but a couple hundred in the first week and half! But then we had almost one hundred left at the end of the month. Weird huh?


November's Budget Recap:

  • Food - bulk food and meat for two months bought at the beginning of the month meant we had about $20-$25 to fill in the gaps for the month (ie. milk and yogurt)
  • Cell Phone Bill- We always have lots of extra minutes at the end of the month, but this month with all the calls to home (and received from home) we blew through the minutes and then some. We were WAY over budget on that bill.
  • We were under budget on gas because we planned for prices to go up.
  • Had to cut Mr's new jeans out of the budget.
  • Used the date night funds and beer funds as intended. It was a nice treat!
Overall we did good this month. After the first week we did have to re adjust sightly but after that we stayed right on track.

December's Budget:
Here is what we are doing in December.
  • Add line item for daughter's commissions (aka, chore money)
  • Added extra for the gifts for the 5 family member's with birthday's this month
  • Adding some extra towards Christmas gifts
  • Surprise Doctor Bill- Why a surprise? Because we maxed out our out of pocket expense portion back in March. One of the three doctors our baby saw last month at the special clinic doesn't take our insurance so it was considered out-of-network. We were not expecting this since all the other doctors were covered by insurance. That ate up just shy of $100 of this month's funds.

'08 Budget Goals:
  • Fully fund retirement- partially funded via work 401k, not adding to Roth until after the new roof funds are fully saved
  • Fund college savings again. - adding this month
  • Save for new roof- continuing and should be have enough funds by spring

How well does your budget work? What are your problem areas?

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12/02/2008

What If...


Do you ever play the what if game? Sometimes there will be an event that triggers those what if thoughts for me. Last week my mom told me that a guy from the small town I grew up in won $250k from a lotto ticket. Right away I had thoughts of what he would do with it. Things that would waste the money and be bad for one's health. All things that made me cringe.

So then I thought what would I do if it was me. Of course I don't play the lotto or gamble in any form so I would never actually have that kind of a windfall. But it is fun to pretend!


$100k to taxes (this is just a rough guess as to what the taxes would actually be)
$25k tithe (10% off the top for our tithe, God ALWAYS comes first)
$20k metal roof (our roof is 30+ years old and is starting to leak)
$5k house repairs (our old house has lots of little repairs that are needed)
$95k pay off house (nothing like the security of a paid off house in a bad economy)
$5k car fund (both are vehicles have over 83k miles and we need to start saving for new ones)

WOW!!!! That money went fast. I can see why so many people who win large sums of lotto money file bankruptcy. When you hear quarter million dollars it sounds like a lot. But as you see, it really doesn't go that far once you take out for taxes. In fact, after taxes and tithing half the money was gone. You actually only have $125k to spend. The one nice thing would be the paid off house which would add an additional $875 a month to our budget.

Do you want to play along? Tell us what you would do with the money!


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12/01/2008

Black Friday, Red Budget?

Black Friday has come and gone. Cyber Monday is upon us. The shopping frenzy continues. At Thanksgiving, my aunt was talking about catching a couple of hours of sleep and then packing up at midnight to head to the mall. A little crazy? Sure. But it's all in good fun.

The real question is:

Did you budget for it?


Is your little outburst of shopping frenzy putting you in the red? People really go nuts over this stuff. I don't think it is as bad as it used to be, but I also don't think that the deals are as good, nor the products as high-quality as they used to be.

The Mrs. hit the Black Friday sales at JoAnn's (surprised?) and spent around $60. Since my paycheck had hit, it came out of December's budget. We'd talked about budgeting some for Black Friday shopping, but without knowing what would be on sale, we hesitated. Even still, our budget remains in the black.

What did you spend on shopping this year? Did you bust the budget? Let us know in the comments, and consider watching What Would Jesus Buy:)

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11/27/2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a great time to reflect on you life and all that you have to be thankful for. But we're not listing those here.

There's lots of healthy, frugal dishes one can prepare for family gatherings - large and small. But you're not getting those either.

We're out. Unplugged. Logged off. You should be too.

Ok, ok, one bit of advice

  1. Stay out of the stores on Black Friday - you're better off sleeping in. The real deals are on Cyber Monday anyways. Relax. It's a holiday.

I said one.

Ok, seriously, we're very thankful for our readers and the opportunity to reach out to people this way. Won't be long and we will have been doing this for 1 year. Blows my mind.

Now get outta here - turkey is getting cold.

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11/26/2008

Seeing Green This Winter



Even though I always get the winter time blues, this year my goal is to save some green while being green this winter. I'm thinking of not just the usual home energy costs, but beyond as well. There are so many wasteful things we do every winter so here is my list of ways to save.

  • Thermostat- Our house does not have programmable thermostats and I miss them. This year we will be getting new ones to help cut back on our heating cost.
  • Down a Notch- Our first winter up north after moving from the far south was a tough one. I was freezing if the house temp dropped below 72 degrees. As our family's bodies have adapted to the climate we have slowly dropped the winter temp in our house. Every degree lower does (obviously) save you money. We have also turned off the heaters in the bathrooms and the kitchen. If you have an unused room you might want to also consider not heating it as well. Every bit counts.


  • Caulk- I think Mr. NtJS is starting to despise caulking. It is so important to make sure your windows are not drafty but also check your attic to make sure that all places for air to escape have been properly sealed.
  • Curtains- If you have an older, draftier home consider making some heavy full bodied curtains. When the sun is shining on a window open the curtains to let the sun warm the house. When it's not sunny leave them closed to help keep the warmth from escaping. Going one step further. If you live in a really, really old and drafty house the cold air could be coming through the walls. We had that growing up. When I would wake up on really cold days, there would be frost on the walls in my bedroom. Now that is cold! To help with that problem you can hang large "decorative" quilts and blankets on your walls. This will help keep the draft down as well.
  • Boiler- Our boiler is the original 1964 model - a classic! It still works but it is on it's last leg. Even though a new boiler would be a lot more efficient saving us money on the heating bill, it would cost us a LOT upfront. After discussing it with our boiler repairman last year when one of the water pumps went out, we decided it would be best to wait until the boiler started leaking or died a "natural" death. When the day comes, we do have money saved up that can be put towards the boiler and it will pay for itself in the long run as long as we live in the same house for many years.
  • Netflix- save time, gas, and money by not going to the movie theater or the video store.
  • Gifts- This is a big drain on our budget. Not only do I plan ahead for the usual people but I also plain on four "extra" gifts. It seems like there is always a person who I feel like I need a gift for at the last minute.
  • De-clutter- While trapped inside it's a great time to start going through your house room by room and setting aside garage sale items for the spring and freecycling your other unloved items.
  • Gardening- Sound weird? The best time to start your garden is in the winter. Well, actually it is the best time to start planning your garden. What you are going to plant where. It's also a great time to start seedlings indoors.
  • Soup- Nothing feels better on a cold winter day then a hot bowl of soup. Soup also makes my wallet feel better. Soups and stews are great ways to make your food dollars stretch.
  • Preventative Care- The best way to save money when hit with the winter bugs is to not get them. I'm willing to spend the money up front on healthy foods and supplements to avoid having kids miss school.
  • Freezing- If you have put up a lot of frozen fruits and veggies over the summer you will notice your freezer will start to empty fairly fast if you are anything like our family. The more open space in your freezer the more it costs to cool it. My solution is to make extra casseroles and other meals to freeze. This warms up my kitchen keeping my heating bill a little lower, fills my freezer, and then when I use them in the summer it helps keep my kitchen a little cooler taking less energy to keep us cool on a hot day.
  • Christmas lights- Mr. NtJS spends a little too much time and gets a little too much enjoyment out of programming the timer each year for the Christmas lights. Then again, it is a rather complex product with too few buttons. Anyways, I do appreciate the effort each year when I see the neighbor's over-the-top display left on all hours of the night. Ours only come on after dark, off again at bed time. Sometimes, just for fun, they'll kick on for an hour in the morning when it's time to go to work and school. Like I said, a little too much enjoyment in the programming.
  • Bartering- Our neighbor has a plow blade and some time on his hands in the winter. We have loads of delicious home-canned goods in the basement. For a few jars of of our home-made apple pie filling, some peach butter, and some pear preserves, we get our abnormally long driveway plowed after every snow. Not a bad deal, eh?
  • Junk in the trunk- This may not be what you think. A few hundred pounds of ballast over the rear axle of your rear-wheel-drive car or truck will increase your grip and keep those wheels from spinning so much. Try a few bags of softener salt (if you have a softener) or rock salt. Add as needed. I like to use rock salt as if all else fails, a handful can melt that ice or snow and get me in contact with the pavement again. Spinning your wheels wastes a lot of gas.
This list will not make you rich but it should help you make some cheap or free changes to your life that will keep you from going broke - and maybe out of the ditch - this winter.

What "green" things do you do in the winter to save some green money?

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11/25/2008

Review: What Would Jesus Buy?


Netflix brought us another gem this month. I'd placed this one in the queue a while ago, only to have it bumped down repeatedly. We both enjoy a good documentary, but' you've gotta space them out a bit - you can't be serious all the time.

What Would Jesus Buy follows the Reverend Billy and his Church of Stop Shopping on their crusade to get their message out - something Billy struggles with a bit. No, he's not really a Reverend, and no they are not really a church. But you wouldn't know it.

Billy preaches to his congregation, as well as to real churches, about the evils of shopping - the social, moral, and economic irresponsibilities of the current consumerism. Micky Mouse, for example, is his anti-Christ. Products produced by slave labor, they have drawn his ire.


His protests - part performance, part real - have a delightfully comedic element. They attempt to exercise the demons out of cash registers, go caroling door-to-door to sign their versions of Christmas songs, and torment retailers in choir robes, marching and singing all the while.ONe quite memorable scene showed the group protesting outside a strip mall. While being escorted (poorly) off the grounds, Billy calls out through his megephone, "What would Jesus buy?!", in full character. "I'm pretty sure he wouldn't buy anything at Staples!" Classic.

The movie itself gets a B. The message gets an A.

Morgan Spurlock's flick is good, but not great. It lacked... something. I'm not sure what, but it certainly wasn't there. This was also somewhat true of Super Size Me. Maybe just a bit anti-climactic. It dropped off at the end, and lacked closure.

Rev. Billy is spot on. Jesus wouldn't buy this crap and he wouldn't buy it from Wal-Mart. He wouldn't support these working conditions. He wouldn't pass buy the local merchants to shop at a super-store. Billy has taken extreme measures here for a noble cause. I'm just not sure how effective his methods are. I'm sure it has quite the impact if you were to see him in person. It also seems like his demonstrations are rather short lived as he is constantly being led away by security.

Have you seen this movie? What did you think?

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11/24/2008

We Are a Nation of Consumers


I missed The Office this week. One of the few shows that I really look forward too and will actually plan things around. Wanna get together on Thursdays? Sure, so long as we're watching The Office! Despite my best efforts, no Office for me this week. Fortunately, NBC has heard of this thing called the "web", and posts full episodes the next day. It would have to do.

Episode was great, btw - New lows for Michael and Dwight.

Commercials were interesting as well - New lows for Discover Card.

The ad starts out with "We are a nation of consumers... and that's OK".

Actually, no - I'm pretty sure it's not OK.


You see, Discover, we've become a nation of consumers. We used to be a nation of producers. This is a big part of the overall economic collapse we are currently facing. If foreign oil is the largest transfer of wealth in human history, then foreign plastic crap must be close behind. But keep on telling your target market that it is 'OK' - apparently some folks believe your advertising.

What's worse is their claim that you don't need to stop your spending on stupid stuff (as depicted in the ad by the people obviously confused with their shiny new toys). Just spend it on their card. Yeah, it's magic powers will somehow bring you 'prosperity' while you keep on buying 'lot's of cool stuff'.

Well. As long as it's cool...

This ad is an effort to tout the new features of the card. New online tools to show you how to pay your balance off in less than 30 years. Go ahead and add that to the long list of faux features - expense tracking (didn't know where your money was going, but now you can see who has your money) and spending pie charts (who doesn't like pie?). Because they care. Because they want to help you. Because they know that no matter what color the credit card is, you're very likely going to go out and charge it up, only to look for a magic pill later on.

This is not it.

No credit card has ever, or will ever lead anyone to financial prosperity.


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11/23/2008

Can Kids Comprehend Value - At Age 5?


Ashley at Wide Open Wallet posed the question a week or so ago - How do you teach value? I was a bit stumped. We'd tried explaining, at various times, why something was or was not worth it's cost. I never felt like any of it really hit home.

In reading Ashley's post, I thought about our oldest - age 5. She definitely didn't have this. But it's not for a lack of trying. These decisions are still very binary - I have enough money or I don't have enough money. I'm not sure, at this age, she could comprehend a concept like value. But it is something to work toward.

As always, we'll lead by example. We'll try to explain why we make the purchases that we do. We'll try and guide her she wants to buy something. But there has to be something more. Some way to harmlessly let her make purchases. Someway to get insight into her decision making.

Maybe... Monopoly?


She has a Junior version of Monopoly and we've been playing it together for about a year now. At first, she bought every property that she landed on. Kid in a candy store, right? Why wouldn't she by everything??? The more she plays it, the more sophisticated she's gotten. She doesn't buy everyone that she lands on now. Why? I'm not sure. Working on that one.

Monopoly has some properties with good 'value' in that they aren't that expensive, but can yield a descent payoff. Others hardly worth buying, and some you'll go broke just buying them. Trouble is, her 'buy everything' strategy works pretty well. She either kicks our butts or gives us a very good run for our money.

Maybe we'll just chill on this one for now.

In the meantime, here is a link to a detailed property analysis and Monopoly strategy. Looks like he has more time than I. Good stuff.

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11/22/2008

Do You Dread Christmas?

Please don't get me wrong, I LOVE to celebrate the birth of Christ and truly enjoy the religious aspect of the holiday. However, the rest of it is just goes against my values to much for me to truly enjoy.

Let me explain.

Mr. NtJS and I had set a limit of three gifts per child and one stocking for Christmas. The gifts do not have to be large either. We work hard to make sure that the items under our tree are of good quality (made in the USA and environmentally friendly when possible). We also de-emphasize Santa Claus (or Saint Nicholas as we call him) but instead focus on each week of Advent and the story behind Christ's birth. We would prefer to sleep in on Christmas morning (going to Mass the night before) and then spend the day in our PJ's having fun with the girls. Enjoy a nicely cooked meal at whatever time we get to it and munch on cookies all day.


What REALLY happens at our house? We spend from early October through Christmas Eve trying to convince our family that our children do NOT need tons and tons of plastic crap made in China. They do not need 5 new expensive dressy outfits each. Then we have the joy of spending out Christmas away from home. We grew up in neighboring towns so we have to go to everyone's Christmas gathering. Dragging food, gifts, and kids all over creation for two to three days. Then we have to rush home before it's time for the Mr. to get back to work. We are all tired, the house is trashed, the tree we didn't get to enjoy has to come down, I have to box up a ton of the girl's toys and clothes to make room for the new ones since their room is stuffed full from their birthdays and the previous Christmas's stuff. I'll spend the next couple months giving away the toys and the brand new stuff I don't feel we should have in our house.

Where is the joy? Where is the fun? Why do I have to compromise my values for the holidays?

I'm I just a stick in the mud? I'm I the only one who dread's Christmas because of these issues?
What do you do to avoid these negative Christmas feelings?


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11/20/2008

Made in the USA= Jobs in the USA: Cleaning Products

What is under your sink? Toxic petroleum based products produced overseas? If you look under my sink that's not what you find. You will find some of the most environmentally friendly cleaners made in the USA, some even mixed in my own home.

What are some good ones? Check out my list!

Bi-O-Kleen- I personally go through the bottles of Bac-Out fast. I use them on nasty (cloth) diapers. It takes the stains right out. They also care a variety of other cleaning products as well.

Borax- What would we do without Borax? I make most of my own cleaners and Borax is a staple in cleaning recipes. I was happy to see on my box that it is made in the USA. I'm not sure what I would do if it wasn't!


Charlie Soap- Like many cloth diapering mom's I use Charlie soap and love it! We wash all our laundry in it as well. Once my diapering days are done I think that I will continue to use it since it does a great job.

Dr. Bronner- Dr. Bronner is know for their soaps. They also have a special forumla for housework soap.

Environmentally Friendly Products- This company is best know for Ecos, their laundry detergent. Along with the laundry soap they produce a large variety of cleaners to fill all your cleaning supply needs.
Seventh Generation- This is the statement I found on their website:
"We manufacture our products at co-packers who use our unique formulas, and meet our stringent quality control specifications. These facilities are primarily located in North America to minimize our carbon footprint caused by transportation. Some of our products are made in Canada and in Europe.

Since we do not own our own facilities, we benefit from the state of the art equipment and manufacturing flexibility that our manufacturing partners can provide."

So do check their packaging before purchasing. They make a wide variety of products including toilet paper, paper towel, napkins, diapers, wipes, dishwasher soap, etc. I could list the items all day long! We personally use their paper towel and dishwashing powder.


Are there others that make their products in the USA? If you know of one that I missed that is both made in the USA and environmentally friendly please chime in.

Is there a specific product catergory you are wondering about? Please let us what other items you want us to write about. There are countless catergories to cover in our Made in the USA series so speak up to get your topics bummed to the top of the list!


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11/19/2008

What's Your Food Budget?


The national economy is in the dumps. The local economy is no exception. In fact it has been hit pretty hard. So it didn't surprise me when I saw that the local news had a running segment coming up about feeding your family on a tight budget. Made sense to me.

What did surprise me was the amount.

"We'll teach you to feed a family of four on $100 per week."


My suspicions were confirmed when I checked the budget. Our monthly food budget is $400, roughly translating into 100 dollars per week. So they were going to teach me to be myself?

No. I know that many would consider this amount to be scant. I also know that our kids are quite young, though at times, our 5-year old can put away as much as we do. Still four mouths to feed.

I also know that we've gotten by on less - a lot less. I can recall, during my SAHD days, having to explain just how we could possibly be spending only $250 per month on groceries. I had to be wrong - it just couldn't be possible. Though the person in such disbelief was spending $700 + per month on a family of the same size, and our kids were the same age. I would have been in shock too.

So I put it to you, dear readers -
What is your monthly food budget? And how many are you feeding with it?

Some caveats that came out of the above debate:

  • Our food budget is just that - food, for us. Not some, "we buy it all at the same store, so it's the same money" fund.
  • We buy our dog food elsewhere, but it likely comes out of the same pot.
  • Eating out is not included in this number as it is a separate line item called "Eating out"
  • Even on our $400 / mo., we are buying organic milk and eggs, all natural beef, chicken, pork, and turkey, and many other organic products. No Kraft nothin'.
So let's hear it. Bust out your budget and pony up!

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11/18/2008

Made in the USA = Jobs in the USA: Bath and Body


I never really thought about where my bath and body products were made. I was just concerned about what was in the bottle. Well, much to my surprise everything we use is made in the USA! For this category I reviewed some of the top all natural/organic brands since I feel strongly about the harsh chemicals used in traditional products. I was actually blown away by the great variety of USA made products I found.

Check it out for yourself!


Aveda- The response I received from Aveda was that the "bulk" of their products are made in the USA, but not all of them are. They never did give me an answer as to which ones where made here so you will have to look at the packaging to answer that question.

Burt's Bees- Who doesn't know Burt's Bees? Most large retailers carrier their products. Personally, I love their lip balm!

California Baby-
I love CB's products! I've been using them on my girls for over a year and would not use anything else.

Dr. Bronner's- Dr. Bronner's has been making their soap in the USA since 1858. I have friend's who swear by their 18-in-1 castile soap.

Earth Mama- After having our youngest daughter I used their products for myself. I really did enjoy them and hope to give them as apart of baby shower gifts.

EO- EO has many wonderful products. Mr. NtJS uses their shaving cream and we both like it...

Giovanni- The Giovanni products we use are made in the USA. I'm not sure if all are since never did respond to my email requests. The packaging does say where the product was made.

Jason- I contacted them via their website and never recieved a response. I can tell you that at least some of their products are made in the USA, if not all. Check the container before buying.

Kiss My Face- I love the name of this company. This well known brand is still a small USA business. We have used a variety of their products and have liked them all.

Nature's Gate- Nature's Gate makes all of their products in the USA, except their organic deodorants (which are made in Canada). We use their tea tree shampoo and conditioner and really like it.


Are your bath and body products made in the USA? If so, tell us what you like or don't like! We want to hear YOUR recommendations for USA made made products.

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11/17/2008

Money for Nothin' - My Experience with Scrappin'


Scrappers and scrapping have taken on negative connotations in the recent years. It was bad enough to see the headlines night after night of another home owner, church, or business becoming a victim of this brainless, thieving crime. What was worse, was when a family member was hit.

I've seen graveyards stripped of brass vases. Churches relieved of copper gutters and A/C units - despite the A/C units being locked down in chain-link cages. Thousands of dollars of electrical cables cut down - while hot!

Then one day it hit me. Maybe these guys ain't dumb...


I realized that the reason they have such sticky fingers with metals is not from the jacket that they just melted off of those electrical lines (still dumb, btw). They are doing this because metal prices are (or at least were) up - bigtime. Maybe I was the dumb guy for having a box of random scraps as well as several copper cut-offs just laying around. It doesn't have to be such a sinister act. Besides, you're recycling! It was time I cashed in on the scrappin' gravy train.

I started consolidating my scraps and realized that I had more than I thought. I had replaced two junky aluminum storm doors with much nicer, all glass ones last Fall. Yeah, two aluminum doors + the trim pieces, just laying around. Copper cut-offs I had mentioned before, but also some brass joints and valves that were replaced.

As the dollar signs were rolling in my head, I looked forward to a few looming DIY projects - the kitchen remodel (including the cast-iron sink and crummy old faucet), the bathroom shower remodel (lots of copper pipe and brass castings), and the electrical system upgrade from fuses to breakers (big, heavy, steel box). My scrap run would have to wait. In the meantime, I found myself giving lots of things a good hard look, thinking, "hrrmm, I wonder what it weighs?".

It gets to you, so watch yourself, and stop eying the neighbor's old swingset.

A few weeks later I prepared my cache. Not all scraps are taken at the same rate despite being like materials. High dollar materials, like brass and copper, will be split between at least two grades each. A grade 1 piece pretty well like new. No solder on the copper, no steel screws in the aluminum - pure samples. Everything else is grade 2 or lower, though my recycler of choice had just 2 grades. Grade 1 scraps will of course fetch the best price, with grade 2 being half-rate, sometimes less.

Here is how I came out:

  • The aluminum trim from those storm doors? Grade 1. They were little more than cut-off aluminum extrusions. I had about 5 pounds of trim (grade 1) and 30+ pounds of doors (grade 2). Would have been worth my time to look at reducing those doors down to parts to get more into the grade 1 bin. $15 in Aluminum
  • Brass adds up fast. I had a relatively small box of brass, but it sure is dense and pricey. 11lbs of yellow brass netted me $15.40
  • Copper on the other hand is fairly light and usually thin-walled. So while it pays well, you likely don't have as much as you think. 6lbs of grade 2 copper came out to $12
  • Tin sucks. Steel, cast-iron and the like gets payed by the ton, not the pound. Meaning I had to weigh in, drive around back and unload it myself onto the giant pile of twisted steel scrap, and then weigh out. Not worth your time unless you have a large load. Here, the heaviest pieces of my haul brought in very little. This would explain the S-10s and Chevettes I saw - loaded to the hilt - weighing in and out. The scrap looked to rival the weight of the car! For their sake, I hope it did. 180lbs brought in just $14.40
All in, I walked out with $56 and some change. Not bad. I kept it out of the landfill, and made some money. All I was out was my time - pretty close to money for nothin', chicks (on the other hand) still aren't free. Speaking of my time, I made the mistake of going over lunch, so I had to wait. And wait. And wait. This ate up the majority of my lunch hour. All the more reason to take a portion of my cash and by myself lunch. I called the Mrs. and told her how I just made 51 dollars :)

Any veteran scrappers out there with advice for the noobs? Do you bother to call around for prices?

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11/13/2008

Made in USA = Jobs in USA: Toys


Last Christmas I asked our parents to only buy the girls toys made in the USA. One set listened... one set did not. The mom that did not listen still believes that you can not find USA made toys. However, I have found that there are still a huge variety of toys made in the USA. In fact, do a Google search for yourself and see what you find. I was amazed by the results.

Here is a very small section of what I found in the way of toys.


Down To Earth- Has a great selection of natural toys for baby through preschooler. They offer $4.95 flat rate shipping.

Fat Brain Toys- This online toy store has a special section for the over 500 USA made toys. The search function is great for narrowing down the selection. Fat Brain offers free shipping on orders of $75 or more.

Lehman's- Last year we bought a lot of toys for our daughter through their online store. She still loves playing with the tractors and building wooden cabins. Nothing beats those classic toys.

Little Tikes- I was surprised to see a large selection of their products are still made in the USA. I guess I need to have more faith in some of these larger companies.

NMCToys.com-
NMC Toys has a great selection of toys made in the USA and Europe. Each toy listing does list the county it is made in so that it is easy to tell. Through the end of 2008 they are offering the coupon code of SAVE8 to save 8% off your purchase price.

River Birch Creations- This website ONLY carries toys that made here in the USA. Along with having a great selection they are currently offering a 10% discount if you buy two or more toys. The discount applies to the shipping as well.


This Christmas, give more then just a toy, give an American the opportunity to keep their job. Buy USA Made!

What other shops do you buy USA made toys?


I have not bought items from all of these sources, so I'm not giving my opinion on the quality of the products. I would suggest doing a search for reviews before buying any product sight unseen. If you work for any of these companies and would like for us to do a product review please feel free to contact us. I would love to review US made products and help consumers buy quality US made items.


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