Guest Post: credit card charity donations

Just as I thought life was getting back to "normal" things were slightly derailed. Once I have a chance to mentally regroup I'll go into more details. In the meantime enjoy this great guest post by Michael D. from Credit Card Forum.

From past blog posts, I know Mr. and Mrs. NtJS aren’t exactly the biggest fans of credit cards to say the least. I actually run a credit card forum/blog myself, and as ironic as this may sound, I actually agree with most of their viewpoints on them! There are definitely quite a few problems that come about with using credit cards. Today I want to talk about one of those problems that most people don’t consider.

First, let’s rewind back to the 80’s and 90’s… do you remember how little credit cards were used? In the small town I lived in Michigan, I remember grocery stores only accepted cash or checks for payment. In fact back then, the only places that always took credit were department stores and the like. Nowadays it seems that almost everyone takes plastic… grocery stores, doctors’ offices, and even charities. That last one is what I want to talk about, let me give you an example…

A while back I read a book called the The Hole in Our Gospel: What does God expect of Us? It’s written by a man named Richard Stearns, previously a “jet set” CEO who ended up becoming President of the Christian charity World Vision, initially against his own will. In a nutshell, this raw and brutally honest story is a must-read for everyone and the message is so powerful that World Vision is now my favorite charity. But what does this have to do with credit cards? Let me explain…

Since reading the book, I’ve been sponsoring a child through World Vision. I have this amount automatically charged to my credit card every month. In addition, the bulk of my giving is made to their general fund, another amount which is charged to my card. Now this is a very efficient organization (a very important criteria for me when giving) and while reviewing their most recent annual report, here’s how the numbers break down:

For every dollar:

  • 89% goes directly to the programs
  • 7% for fund raising costs
  • 4% for administrative/management/general expenses
Now that’s pretty impressive… only 4 percent goes to actually running the organization. But what about that second number, the 7 percent? Make no mistake about it, that is an extremely low amount to pay for fund raising regardless, but what if everyone used checks instead of credit cards for their donations? How much lower would that fund raising number be? Because yes, unfortunately the credit card companies don’t even give charities a break… they still charge them those pesky processing fees.

Now I’m not an expert on credit card (interchange) fees, but according to Wikipedia the average is 1.79% in the United States. That means 1.79% of transactions goes to the credit card company. I’ve been using my Chase Freedom card, which is a rewards card, and those typically carry a fee that's even 0.30% or more higher. So according to those calculations, probably around 2.09% or more my giving to World Vision is being eaten up by Visa and Chase Bank. It may not sound like much, but if you take 2% of all their credit card donations, that ends up being a lot of money!

So what’s the lesson? I definitely need to use the check book from now on. If every one of their donors skipped credit cards, just imagine how many more people could be helped… with the same amount of money given! Of course at the same time, I do realize there is a “convenience factor” of credit card giving that may bring in some money from people who normally wouldn’t give because of the “hassle” of writing a check (and obviously a 98% donation is better than none at all!) but for everyone else, please don’t be lazy… use your checkbook and your money will go even further.

About the Author: Michael is a forum moderator and blogger at CreditCardForum.com, which is a website for credit card reviews and discussions. Although he’s fanatical about raking up his rewards, he does acknowledge that credit cards truly do have a lot of drawbacks, are definitely not suitable for everyone, and can lead to nightmares if a balance is carried.

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Adventures in Buying and Selling a Car

Buying and selling vehicles is not something new to us. We have done is several times however, this time around things have been very different. Quite the adventure really...

It all started around March. After complaining (again) about not being able to give a neighbor's kid a ride home from school I saw a tv commercial for a Chevy Traverse. I will whole heartily admit that the GM marketing team did a great job. They sold me. I could fit 8 people in a spacious vehicle, be able to tow a camper and get great mileage all while looking cool in the school car line (LOL). I was sold.

After doing some research I found out the Bluebook value of my car and then did some research on the best way for me to obtain a 3rd row SUV that was not a gas gussler. After a couple phone calls I was able to get connected with a family friend who has a used car dealership. He offered to buy me a vehicle at auction. I would pay the auction price, taxes, auction fee, gas to drive it home, and a $250 finder's fee. After going to a couple auctions he felt like he could get me a Traverse in my price range.

With the good news in hand Mr. Not the Jet Set was more then happy to help me sell our current car and upgrade big time. We just needed to finish saving up the difference between what we could get for our car and the cost of the new one. With lots of pennies pinched we made it happen by the end of April. Now, during this time I had not re-pulled the blue book value of my Pontiac Vibe. No, instead I watched the news and saw that Toyota was taking a good kicking from the media, government, and anyone else who didn't like them. Well, I guess I should have realized that I the market changes would effect us but it honestly didn't click.

We went to list our car for sale by owner at the beginning of May. I re-pulled the KBB value and was in tears. The value dropped big time. I had worked so hard to have it all taken away. We talked, prayed, and weighed out our options. The decision was to sell the car. By the end of the month the car was gone and we had the cash in hand. We were able to get slightly more then the blue book value but it was still about a $2k hit from what the value was pre-toyota recall.

The whole time our car's value was dropping like a rock the demand for the type of vehicles we wanted went way up. So far up that we decided in mid-July that none of the original things we wanted would be in our price range at this point in time without taking out a loan or dipping into our emergency fund. It was a horrible feeling of defeat, but looking at the auction stats the prices had steadily increased and were showing no signs of slowing down. Once again I cried, then we talked, prayed and weighed out our options. We made a short list of mid sized cars and wagons that would at least be slightly bigger then what we had before yet we could afford the auction prices based on the last month's post-auction sales lists.

I'm happy to say that after two month's of living with one car we now have a new vehicle in our lives. It might not have been the car I was dreaming of but it sure is nice and the best part is that I don't have any payments!

I will admit it was an extremely hard two months with sharing our one truck. The a/c quiet working about 2 weeks into it, the truck starting having issues starting two weeks ago and just last week we had to replace the wheels and tires. Not great things to have to deal with when you only have one vehicle and summer camps for the kids, along with a vacation road trip. Even through it all it was worth it. It also gave me a great appreciation for those how only have one car and do not live in places that have public transportation.

What did we get?

We bought a 2008 Volvo V50 wagon with around 80k miles for a grand total (after all taxes and fees) for $12,105.60. That price alone made it worth the wait for us.

Have you had similar experiences with buying or selling your cars lately? I'd love to hear your car transaction stories!

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We Are Alive.... Really We Are!

I would like to start by apologizing to all our faithful readers out there. Thank you to all of you who have emailed or commented asking about our well-being. We truly appreciate the concern. The past few months have been crazy (almost insane) at our house. I'm really not sure were to start so what I'm going to do is just list out some of the crazy stuff with a few photos.

  • Mammoth garage sale
  • Sold car and have not bought another one yet (going on 2 months with one truck!)
  • Painted house
  • Built a fence

  • Cut down a tree
  • Went on a much needed vacation

  • Tending my enormous garden and added more landscaping
  • Grandfather's health is not good so lots of trips home
  • Canning lots of goodies
  • Daughter broke our camera (at least she dropped it while waiting in line instead of from 100 ft. in the air)
  • Worked to help get legislation passed to help promote local foods
  • Working on potty training and trying to stay sane with my 2 1/2 yr old
  • Running the 6 yr old to summer camps (with the one truck)
  • Be there for a friend who's baby will die shortly after birth (anencephaly) early this fall
  • Restore a vintage Gibson guitar

  • Mr. Not the Jet Set has had an injured hand/wrist all summer
  • And last but not least, trying to act like it's summer break!

As you can see a lot has been happening. Things have started to slow down a bit so I'm going to try to expand on some of the fun projects that have been going on. I've also had a few money and stewardship posts that I'd like to write in the near future.

So now that we have you all caught up on our summer, how is your summer going?

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Tragedy in the Chicken Coop

Last night was not a good night for our poor chickens. We believe that a mink got into the coop. The two eggs that I had left in the nesting box were gone without a trace and one of our chickens was murdered. It is a sad day in our house. Even though we know that these chickens are animals and not "pets" we treat them with love and care. Of course the Mr. is out of town this week for work so I'm left to deal with the mess and the kids. We will all survive and until we come up with a good plan the chickens are going to be on lock down at night. I hate to fence in our chickens in a small area, but I'm not sure if letting them roam in our fenced in backyard/ravine is safe. We see a coyote on a weekly basis, hawks circle daily, raccoons live in the trees, and now minks have moved into the area as well. I hate to take their freedom and happiness away to save their lives but I'm not sure what else to do.

Anyone else struggle with nature preying on your chickens?

May you rest in peace my egg laying friend...

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You Can be Everything God Wants You to Be - Max Lucado

Have you ever wondering what you are supposed to be doing with your life? Do you feel like your current job is not satisfying? Still trying to figure out what to go to college for? Are you really called to be at home with your kids? Did you miss God's calling? If you answered yes to any of these questions you need to get this book!

Max Lucado does a great job exploring God's word while helping you to personally self explore your true talents and callings. He continually reminds the reader that God had a unique plan for all of us. No two are a like. I personally found that I needed to stop and reflect at the end of each section. Lucado pushes you to reflect on your past to help you find yourself in the future. This book helped me to have a better understanding of the way I'm wired and brought more peace to my life decisions.

This book is a great read for any christian. I don't think that you can be to young or to old gain some wonderful insight into the God's will for you.

This book was provided by BookSneeze.com in exchange for the review. No other compensation was received and the opinion stated above is my own.

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Spring Break Priorities

Maybe your family was like ours this spring break. We dreamed of taking the kids some place warm, fun and south. The reality is that our priorities dictate how we spend our money. Our big dreams will have to wait one more year. Instead we drove north about 5 hours to Boyne Mountain and spent several days having fun at the indoor water park, eating dinner at restaurants, and enjoying a great view of the greened up ski slopes out our window. In the end we all had a great time and enjoyed our vacation. I would have to guess that the kids didn't even realize that they had missed anything since there was tears shed when we had to leave the resort. All of this was done on less then $650 including all our meals, gas, tips, etc. I'm sure that was just a fraction of what our dream vacation would have cost.

As we got back to normal life this week I was happy with what we had done with our vacation time and money. In fact, I'm still very much at peace with the decision as I write this. However, I wonder how many people feel the same after they get back from their more expensive vacations. They might not verbalize it and maybe it really just doesn't click in their minds that they just set their priorities by how they spend their money.

Here is what I mean. Since being back in town and having kids back in school I've been able to hear about a what everyone did for their spring breaks. After hearing the first 5 I started to notice a trend. A really sad trend. Here are my observations.

The Big Vacation Families~

  • Have larger incomes
  • Live in the high end neighborhoods
  • Kids are in tons of sports, lessons, etc
  • Always wearing brand new name brand clothes
  • Newer high end cars
  • Have pulled their kids out of the Catholic school or are planning on doing it in the coming years because of the expense
  • More likely to be doing the high exposure volunteer work and monetary donations, less likely to be fully tithing

The Small to No Vacation Families~
  • Modest income
  • Living in lower middle class neighborhoods
  • Kids are each in one or two less expensive activities
  • Kids usually have second hand clothes that are not name brands
  • Older vehicles
  • They have made it clear that they will send their kids to the Catholic school no matter the cost because they believe it's the best thing they could ever do for their kids
  • Less likely to do the showy volunteer work and monetary donations, more likely to be fully tithing
I find it interesting to look over these two lists and see the differences. It really shows you that no matter how much you make YOU need to set your own values and priorities. YOU need to make a written plan and stick to it. MONEY is not what stops you from reaching your goal, YOU are what's stopping YOU from reaching your goal.

If you feel it's important for your children to receive a non-public school education then you have to sacrifice other wants. If you want to stay at home full-time with your little ones you have to sacrifice other "stuff" to reach that goal. In either situation your goals are obtainable no matter what your income. It is a matter of self control and stopping the desire to keep up with the Joneses. Let me tell you, they are broke and their kids are spoiled brats. That's not what you want for your family is it?

Don't get me wrong, I'm okay with you taking a nice vacation with your family. We have done it before and we will do it again when we can pay for it in cash that doesn't come our of our kid's tuition savings. The point is that you can't tell me that the private school tuition (which is really not that much) is too expensive when you make more then double what our household makes. Instead of telling people a lie, tell them the truth. You set your families priorities and you decided that sending your kids to the Catholic school was not a top priority.

Sorry if I offended anyone, but I really do get sick of hearing about grand vacations over every break just to have the same people pull their kids from the school or complain about the tuition. As I stated above, there are always a few exceptions and these are just my personal observations. And before you say this in the comments, no I'm not jealous because there is nothing to be jealous about.

Has anyone else noticed this? Is it just me?

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FICO + Suze Orman = Higher Healthcare Bills?

Here at the Not the Jet Set ranch, we're big fans of The Biggest Loser. Besides being downright entertaining, it's also a pretty positive show - one of the few on after 8pm that the kids could watch (though some of those gym scenes do get pretty heated!). I was excited to see that the Season 8 winner, Danny, was going to make a guest appearance on last Tuesday. Not so excited to see who was also on - NBC's default talking head for all things money, Suze Orman. Knowing her propensity for making bone-head statements, we kept watching.

She started out by gloating about being the "go-to" financial adviser and then moved on to actually talking to the contestants - about the similarity of the burdens of the extra pounds and the burdens of money. Mostly harmless statements, some of which were actually on-point. But really, that's not why she's here. She's here to pitch for FICO. After a few pithy statements, Suze proceeds to throw it in everyone's face that she picked the season 8 winner, Danny. How did she do that?

  • Did she follow the show closely that season?

  • Did she look at contestants record of weight loss and potential for continued loss and analyze it like she would company stock?

  • Did she look at the contestant's psychological state and compare it with that of people successful in gaining control of their finances?
No, no, and no.

NBC apparently collected the contestants financial information to which they made the Suze privy to. By her own account, she reviewed "their finances and their FICO scores". That's it. And, yes, she specifically said "FICO" scores - not credit scores, not credit reports, not even generically lumped as 'credit', but "FICO scores" - so yes, she was pitching for FICO by being on the show.

So what is she here to do today? Help the contestants with budgeting? Give them a primer on financial fitness? Naahhhhh... she's here to strut her stuff and make her prediction for the Season 9 winner. Too bad she totally botched it. You see, based on her sophisticated analysis - again, finances and their FICO scores - her prediction was for Koli to be the winner. Unfortunately for ol' Suze, Koli had just admitted that he wasn't counting his calories as he should be for the show. You know, something actually relevant to the process of weight loss on the Biggest Loser. In light of that, she had to back pedal and revert to her second choice, which was Sunshine. Now of course, they didn't reveal any details as to the contestants finances, but here is an interesting detail - Sunshine, her new pick for season 9, is 24 years old. Maybe her more preferred credit and finances is due to her youth? No mortgage, limited other debt, maybe lives at home? I don't really know, just guessing.

So here's my issues with Suze, this time.

1> Suze is using a terrible method. As noted above: She's not analyzing the contestants like they were stocks and mutual funds which would require looking at relevant information. She's not comparing them to folks shedding debt and likening those successful behaviors to those shedding weight. What she is doing is auto-underwriting as if they were applying for a mortgage - a process that is under heavy scrutiny right now since it bears much of the blame for so many of the inappropriate loans that brought about the housing crisis. Even beyond that, her declarations go directly against one of the basic tenants of the show: She's saying that you are a number - this number defines you. This number says who you are and who you'll ever be. This number so accurately says who you are as a person, that it can be used to predict your future success or failure. Only that number is not their weight - that number is their FICO score. I'd be interested to hear what Jillian's take would be on that.

2> Suze is opening Pandora's box. And she's likely too dumb to know it. Maybe, that's too harsh.... Likely it was at the request of her puppeteers at Fair Isaac to which she more than willingly complied once she got done counting the zeros on the check. You see, it was some years ago that the auto insurance industry decided to draw the conclusion that low FICO scores indicate a higher likelihood of filing a claim. Many have labeled this practice as an inappropriate use of FICO scores and unfair to the consumer. For now, it's reality, and Fair Isaac reaps the rewards for the uptick in FICO score requests. Now Suze is opening the door for the health insurance industry to do the same. Does a low FICO score indicate a higher likelihood of poor health? Obesity? Diabetes? Of course not. But this is Suze's message. And in turn, a higher FICO score gives a person a higher likelihood of overcoming obesity. Again, I don't think she realizes what she is implying with her random-crazy-Suze method. But that is exactly what she is saying. And with the recent health care reform bill passing, I would guess that health insurance providers will be looking for any reason to charge you more seeing as pre-existing conditions and other practices were just taken away from them. Scary stuff - Thanks, Suze!

My Conclusion:

  • FICO is meaningless when it comes to your money. I could inherit one million dollars tomorrow and my score wouldn't change one point.

  • FICO is meaningless when it comes to your driving. I could be foreclosed on and it wouldn't affect my driving habits one bit.

  • FICO is meaningless when it comes to your health. I could stop exercising and start consuming a liter of high fructose corn syrup per day and FICO wouldn't have a clue.
Can you make observations and see correlations between FICO scores and driving records, FICO scores and obesity? Sure. Drawing conclusions? No - that's bad science and a blatant attempt to rip-off the consumer.

Stay tuned for our continuing coverage of Suze's path of destruction.

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Help Reform FICO

We have made it no secret that we are not fans of the current FICO scoring process. But what do you do about it? How can you change the industry standard? Well ladies and gentlemen, this might be our one chance to make a difference. Here is my plan and how it came about.

I live in Michigan and have been know to write letters via email to my elected officials. Even if I'm confident it will land on deaf ears at least I know that I tried my best. These emails have added me to all of my reps. mass emailing lists so I get to hear what issues they are working on. Today I received an update email from Senator Levin discussing the Financial Crisis investigation hearings he is helping to conduct. In the email he talks about the next three hearings. One of them is for the credit rating agencies.

This got me thinking. What if Senator Levin's office received lots of emails and phone calls from Americans who felt that the current FICO score was inherently bad? Would it make a difference? Would it shed some light on the problem? Well, there is only one way to find out.

Let's do it!

Let's let his office know that we are sick of the FICO score games. We want to be judged fairly and accurately. Below is a copy of the email I sent Senator Levin's office today. Feel free to use my text or to create your own message. To contact Senator Levin click on this link. Then select "position on an issue" followed by "economy/taxes". If you happen to have a senator from your state on this subcommittee please send the same message to your senator.

Dear Senator Levin,

I received your email entitled "My Hearings Investigating the Financial Crisis‏". I found both your email and your statement very insightful. I was also glad to see that there are three more hearings in which you will look at others who had a role in the Crisis, especially the credit rating agencies.

The current FICO scoring criteria forces consumers into making poor financial decisions if they want to maintain a high FICO score. This is extremely dangerous for families and our country’s economy. The reason it is so dangerous is that it does not take into account four key factors: income, savings, investments, and net worth. How could you honestly say that someone is able to pay back a car loan, mortgage or monthly rent if you don't take into account these four factors. Instead the score is solely based on 5 debt factors. This forces consumers to stay in enough debt that it keeps them from ever being able to live beyond paycheck to paycheck.

Senator Levin, I strongly urge you to consider the ramifications of allowing the credit rating industry to continue to abuse the American people. The formulas that they use to judge one's ability to pay their bills are in need of reform. They need to be based on the person’s entire financial picture not just their current debt load. If properly restructured it would encourage Americans to be wiser with their money. This would help to prevent another financial crisis.

Thank you for taking my opinion into account.

Mrs. Not the Jet Set

I would also welcome other bloggers to link back to this post and non-bloggers to feel free to email this to like minded people. Let's make a difference!

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Changing to a One Income Family

Life is full of scary things. Even as an adult there are just somethings that seem scary. One of the biggest ones for me was taking the plunge to stay home full time with my kids. Just the thought brought so many scary ideas to my head. What if the Mr. lost his job? What if we can't live on less then half our current income? What if I want to go back to work but can't because I've been out of my field to long? Even with all those scary thoughts running through my mind all's I could think about is how different life would be if I could just stay home with my babies. If I could just be there for when they needed me. If I didn't have to miss all of their firsts. Needless to say, my motherly instinct kicked in and I kicked my fears to the curb.

We have successfully lived on my husbands income for over 3 years now. It has been one of the best decisions that we ever made. However, if we had not carefully planned it out it could have been the nightmare I feared.

Here are ten steps to take the fear out of living on one income.
  1. Plan ahead of time- Like most things in life it takes time to work out all the kinks in the plan. On average it takes 6 to 12 months to fully implement the changes and take the plunge.
  2. Unified Dream- The most important key to making this dream happen for your family it to make sure that you and your spouse are both on the same page. It truly takes a team effort to cut the expenses and make such a drastic lifestyle change. If you spouse is not on board then it's not going to work no matter how hard you try.
  3. Evaluate- Take a hard look at why you want to stay home. Is it because you want to be there for your kids 24/7 or is it because you really just don't want to be at work. If your reasoning is more on the job side then you might just need to find a new job or career.
  4. Make the cuts- This is the toughest step. It's time to sit down and make the cuts. Looking at your budget together as a couple you need to decide what stays and what goes. Vacations, kids sports, new clothing, and eating out are the main things that go when you start to make the harsh cuts. It's important to do some practice budgets on paper to make sure that the math will add up.
  5. Have a plan- What are you going to do at home all day? LOL, It's never boring around our house but I have friends who could not handle the "isolation" of staying at home. Make sure you have a plan for your time. Think about what you can do at home to save your family money (coupon clipping, sewing, gardening, garage saling, etc) as well as ways to get out of the house with your kids (story hour and play groups) during the day.
  6. Support Network- This might sound odd to some people, but its a sad fact of life. Not all working moms will want to continue your friendship. Everyone has their own reasons, but a lot of times your working friends will fade away or you will want them to because of their criticism. Make sure that you start to surround yourself with people who support your decision. It will make your life much easier once you take the plunge.
  7. Check into the Details- Double check things like health insurance, taxes, investments. All of them will change as your jobs and income levels change. Make sure to include these changes in your practice budget.
  8. Debt Free- Some people are going to say that this is not required but in my book it is. It's hard enough to work your way out of debt with two incomes, do you really want to try to do it on half the amount you were living on? Unless you did the math and you were losing money by working, focus on getting out of debt so that you can realize your true dream. It will help you to become gazelle intense when you realize that the debt is keeping you from your kids.
  9. Emergency Fund- Before you turn in your notice at work make sure that you have a fully funded emergency fund. It will help you to enjoy being home with the kids. If you don't have one you will be constantly worried about things like hubby losing his job, a major car breakdown or a house fire.
  10. Trial Run- You have done it. You have walked through the first 9 steps and now it's time to give it a try. Minus childcare expenses and other expenses that you are incurring solely because you work sock away the rest of your income in a savings account. Test it out to see if you can really life on just one income for 3+ months while saving the rest. If you can do it then you are ready to make the switch. If not, then you need to take a hard look at why it's not working for you and make some adjustments to the plan.
These ten steps might seem tough but they will pay off big time in the long run. The day you get to stay home with your kids will be pure joy without fear weighing you down.

Does your family live on one income? What advise do you have for a family thinking about taking the scary plunge?

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Quarterly 2010 Goals Update

It's hard to believe that the first quarter of the year just came to an end. Time flies at our house. We try hard to run out house like a well oiled corporation so along with setting annual goals and monthly budgets we also do reviews of each at the end of every month/quarter. How did we do with our goals during this quarter? Our 2010 goals are well on track!

Here is how we are doing on our goals for 2010.

Goal 1: Spend more time as a family. Check! Some weeks we have more then others but over all we are spending a lot more quality time with the girls and it shows. Everyone is happier as we bond as a family. I'm sure that the dividends from the time spent with them will continue to pay off as they get older and more independent.

Goal 2:
Eat healthy, organic, and local. Check! We have been mostly living off our freezers and canning shelves full of preserved local foods. We even took a cheesemaking class and tapped our own maple trees this quarter! Just a couple days ago I started planting some early spring crops in the garden. I'm hoping that our garden will be able to help us stay on budget will staying healthy, organic, and local.

Goal 3:
Save for a car. Check! We were able to start funding the car fund this quarter. It's exciting to think that we will be able to get a newer vehicle (specifically an SUV w/3 rows) in the near future. So far we have apx. $4k saved. Which is great since the car we are replacing rolled past 100k miles this quarter.

Goal 4:
Have some fun money. No Check. I hate to say this but we have not been able to add the fun back into the budget yet. We have a couple large projects that need to be funded this summer like painting our house and some other smaller projects are that "have" to be completed during our short Michigan summer. Maybe by the third quarter we can have some slush money.

So that's our update. How are things going for you? Are you sticking to your 2010 goals? Is life a little crazy at your house or are things smooth sailing?

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The Art of Borrowing

My number one tip for keeping your house clutter free and saving money is not to buy stuff. I do understand that there are times when you need (or really want) something temporarily. That is when you call on your friends, neighbors and family.

There is a right and a wrong way to borrow. If done right you will be able to continue to borrow from your friend. If done wrong you have not only lost a source for borrowing items but you could potentially damage your relationship.

Here are some guidelines for successful borrowing.

  • Ask Nicely~ When you call the person to ask to borrow the item let them know what you are going to do with it, when you need it and when you will return it. And yes, do say please and thank you.
  • Set Return Time~It's important to let them know how long you will borrow the item for. This helps to re-assure them that you will in fact return the borrowed item.
  • Return Condition~ To help show your appreciation return the item in better condition if possible. Wash it, fill it with fuel, or what ever you can do to help maintain the item.
  • Keep Your Word~ Just do as you said you would. Return the item on time or ask to keep it longer with an explanation as to why you need it longer.
  • Say Thanks~ Depending on the items value it could be a simple thank you email or a homemade pie.
  • Limits~ If you find you keep borrowing the same thing from the same person you might want to consider buying it. It might end up being a wise investment instead of more unused clutter.
  • Return the Favor~ Let them know that they are welcome to borrow items from you as well.
With these six simple rules you will master the art of borrowing.

How often do you borrow from your friends and neighbors?

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My Baptism Book

I'm excited to be my baby nephews Godmother. In just a couple weeks we will be so blessed to be able to take part in his baptism. I wanted to give him something special for the occasion but struggled about what to give him. I wanted something useful, not clutter. It also had to be related to his baptism in some way since that was what the gift was for.

Then it happened. I received the Catholic Company's catalog in the mail. Of course they had the perfect solution! The My Baptism Book.

Sophie Piper and Dubravka Kolanovic did a wonderful job creating a book that is filled to the brim with spirit filled poems, short stories and quotes from scripture. The illustrations are so adorable that any child would love them. I can see my sister reading the little stories to him at bedtime.

If you are in need of Baptism gift for under $20 this is it. This book does not appear to be for Catholic's only. There are no Catholic specific writings in the book from what I could see.

No one sponsored this book review. If you are interested in having a book review done by either myself or Mr. NtJS please contact us. We are always looking for good books!

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Who Are We Really?

Can you really define the Mr. and I in just one or two words? This evening we were trying to figure out what word best describes our lifestyle. In the end we really were not sure what word describes us the best.

So we are asking our loyal readers for help. Please tell us what you think. It's driving me nuts. What am I?!?!?

Am I an environmentalist, a homesteader, thrifty, a minimalist or did I miss the boat all together?

If you are new to the blog here are some pointers to help you answer the question.

  • We live debt free (minus a small mortgage) on one modest income
  • Catholic/Christian
  • Cloth diapers
  • Cloth napkins
  • Grow most of our food
  • Backyard chickens
  • DIY's to the max (using greenest materials we can afford)
  • and much more as you can tell by our blog
I can't wait to hear from you!

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Saving some Green this Easter

In general Easter is not that expensive of a holiday but we always to try to keep expenses as low as we can. If you are looking for ideas for how to save money this Easter check out what will be gracing our girls' Easter baskets.

  • Books- Each girl will have two books and one coloring book. They all cost between $1- $1.35 each.
  • Homemade Dress- I made each girl a dress from vintage fabric that I already had in fabric stash (received fabric for free). Cost was zero.
  • Tutu- I made a tutu for each girl. The fabric cost about $5 each and had the ribbon and other supplies.
  • Chocolate Chicken- Chocolate bunnies don't fly at our house. Our Max and Ruby fans love their Chocolate Chickens. So each year I make one Chocolate chicken for each of them. That's the only candy they get in their basket. The grandparent's give them plenty for Easter! Cost is maybe $2 each at the most.

That's it! Each girl's basket will be filled to the brim with things they will love and will not add to clutter and cavities. The total cost per basket is $10. Not bad for such great stuff!

What's filling your frugal baskets this Easter?

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Lies the government told you by Judge Napolitano

Did I just get your attention? We normally did not get into our political views on our blog but when I saw this title I know I could not pass up this book review opportunity.

Lies the Government Told You by Judge Andrew P. Napolitano is jam packed with facts not personal opinion. He covers every political issue from guns and drugs to government bail outs. There is no issue that he doesn't dive into. For each topic he includes lots of information from court rulings, the constitution, and current amendments. In fact, there are so many facts that the notes section is 22 pages of fine print! This might sound like a tough read but it was actually very easy to read and understand. He doesn't hold back in this book as he points out the lies told by both Democrats and Republicans alike.

I really liked this book a lot. In fact I found it extremely hard to put down! Some of the information that is presented I already new a little about but it was extremely helpful to learn the full story and go into details of the different topics he covers. He made topics that are typically hard to understand very easy to follow and grasp. I liked the book so much that I think that everyone should read it. The information is not the "perfect" history that is taught in our public schools today. It covers the not so nice truths and helps you to get a better understanding of our government. I truly believe that I will be able to make better decisions the next time I vote for an elected official.

So no matter what your political affiliation is, as an American, you should read this eye opening book. It will help you to understand the constitution and what the founding fathers of our country meant by freedom.

Have you read this book? If so what are your thoughts on it?

This book was provided by BookSneeze.com in exchange for the review. No other compensation was received and the opinion stated above is my own.

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Shampooless Adventure

Over the past year I've been reading about other mom's trials and errors with going without shampoo. Now, I know that this might sound gross to some of you, but it really is not as bad as it might initially sound. What most people do is use either baking soda or apple cider vinegar instead of chemical filled shampoo.

We have been using all natural shampoo for about 4 years so I'm not worried about what I'm putting in my hair, but I'm concerned about the cost of the shampoo that we use. To help save a little more money I thought that it would be worth giving "poo free" a try.

I just completed my first week of using baking soda water in place of shampoo. So far, so good! I've actually been surprised by how well my hair feels and the amount I need to use to obtain a good cleaning. If you are wondering, I personally diluted 5 tablespoons of baking soda in 4 cups of water. Then I let it set for 2 weeks. I refilled my empty shampoo bottles with the solution.

One week down, many more to go. I'll keep you posted as my body adjusts and the seasons change. It's great to feel like you can buy one less product and save some money too.

Have you tried to go shampoo free? How did it go?

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Sharing Your Faith

As a Catholic mom I feel like it is important for me to make sure my children understand their faith. Sending them to a Catholic school and having them attend Mass every weekend is not enough. They need to be learning everyday what it means to be a Catholic. To help accomplish this I was looking for just the right resource to help me with this learning process during the upcoming summer break.

I found just the right book for the job! The Treasure of My Catholic Faith 1 by Circle Press Scholastic is at the right level for my first grader. It is full of colorful pictures and worksheets that will help to open the discussion of several different topics. This book is the first in a series of 6 books. It covers all the basics from creation, Jesus's birth to his death. One of the lessons that I will actually do before this summer is lesson 5 in chapter 2, I am a Child of God. This lesson covers Baptism. It walks the child through what takes place during the sacrament along with discussion about the specific day they personally were baptized. In just a few weeks her cousin will be baptized. This lesson will help her to have a better understanding of what is going on during the ceremony.

By the end of the book your child should have a good understanding of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit along with the basics of the Catholic faith that are age appropriate. The only thing that I do not like about the book is that the pages are not perforated. I personally like to be able to take out just the pages we are working on at the time and not give my daughter the whole book since she likes to try to work ahead. Overall I would recommend this book to any other parents looking for a good Catholic educational resource. You can purchase this book here.

This review was sponsored by Tiber River. I receive free product samples as compensation for writing reviews for Tiber River.

I wrote this review of The Treasure of My Catholic Faith - Book 1 for the Tiber River Blogger Review program, created by Aquinas and More Catholic Goods, your source for First Communion Gifts. For more information and to purchase, please visit Aquinas and More Catholic Goods.

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Penny Pinching Clothes

There are lots of ways to save money and blow money. Clothing is probably the easiest way to blow money without even trying. However, it doesn't take a master's degree to save money on clothing either. Here are some of the ways that we save money on clothing at our house.

  • Garage Sales- The bulk of our clothes comes from garage sales. There is nothing like buying almost brand new Hanna A. clothes for $3 a piece. Not all garage sales are good so take your time and set a spending limit.
  • Friends and Family- If you are one of the lucky ones, take advantage of your friends and family's leftovers. It never hurts to ask to borrow their kids outgrown clothes. This is a great way to keep your kids dressed without costing you a dime.
  • Remake It- I realize that not all of you reading this can sew and that's fine. BUT, if you can sew use it to your advantage. Take your kids out grown clothes and make it last a little longer. Take your husband's t-shirt and make a dress for your toddler. There are countless ways to take clothes you don't wear and make it into clothes you love.
  • Uniform Sale- Our kids have to wear uniforms to school. If we had to buy all new uniforms every year it would break the bank for us. Instead I try to be one of the first moms at the school's annual used uniform sale. It always feels great buying a $55 jumper for five bucks!
  • End of Season Sales- Every season must come to an end. Retails usually have some steeply discounted items at the end of the season. If you can guess what size your kids will be in a year from now take advantage of the great deals on the hard to find used items.
  • Gifts- Don't be ashamed to ask for clothing as a gift. If your family or friends ask you what you (or your kids) would like for your birthday tell them the truth. I would really like a sweater, a gift card for T.J. Maxx to buy a new dress, Timmy needs gym shoes, etc. I would rather give a gift that would be used then another plastic toy that will be broken and unloved.
  • Pass on the Trends- As much as I'm drawn to the trendy items in the store I remind myself that it will be out of style in just a short amount of time. I try to buy clothing that will not be out of style when my youngest daughter wears it 4 years after her big sister.
  • Needs vs. Wants- This is the biggest one really. Only buy what you need. It keeps your closets and drawers from being over stuffed and you save a ton of money. It's sometimes hard to pass up a good deal at a garage sale on clothes, but really, how many pairs of jeans can I really wear?
So those are my secrets for affordable clothing. What do you do to keep your clothing budget in check?

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Sap to Syrup

We took the plunge this past weekend! Ever since we moved to Michigan we wanted to try tapping our maple trees and making our own syrup. Since it takes 40-50 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of syrup it seemed a little daunting, well, along with the whole sugar shack or sugaring kettle thing.

This year we decided to set our fears aside and give it a try. I have to admit that it was a lot easier then I thought. The season lasts four to six weeks and are only 5 days into it so we will see if we make it the whole season. Even if we don't we still had a lot of fun and will enjoy the several quarts of homemade maple syrup that we did get.

Here are some photos of the process.

Has anyone else tried it?

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Eggs anyone?

This winter was our first winter having chickens. I was sure that our 4 laying hens would slow down the number of eggs they laid. Boy was I surprised!

They didn't slow down at all. Unless it was below zero they were outside most of the day. They even got around in the snow really well. It was neat to see how well the chickens adjusted to the winter weather. The interesting thing they did do, was hide their eggs. They found some interesting locations to start laying. One of them was in a window well that had a hole in the cover. It made it into a nice warm little spa area for them. Our "independent" chicken who always gets out of the backyard decided to start using the cat house as a nesting box. I found that quite humorous personally.

And yes, this is what it looks like when you finally find the nesting spot! Tons of eggs. Two chickens had been laying in that spot for about 2-3 weeks.

Despite where they laid the eggs we got one egg per chicken every day accept for when they molted. Four eggs a day is a lot for our family to go through so we have been selling the extra to friends. The money I make from selling the extra eggs is being put in a separate envelope. I'll use those funds to buy feed and other items the chickens need. It's nice having a pet that makes you more money then they cost!

How did your chickens do this winter?

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How To: Build Raised Garden Beds

The Mrs. loves to garden. Rating slightly above her garden is the delicious organic vegetables that come from it. So why was her garden such a source of stress in her life in past years? Let me count the ways:

  1. Weeds - This garden sat unused for 2 years before we bought the house. During that time, the weeds took over and it has been a battle ever since.
  2. Moles and other varmints - The sections of the garden that were weed-free, were riddled with mole tunnels. Root crops were hit hard. Our outside-cat helps, but she can only eat so many.
  3. Invasive blackberries - The blackberry bushes were well established and produced great berries. But they spread as fast as the weeds and are twice as difficult to deal with.
  4. Mosquitoes - Those blackberry bushes became a haven for them, and God help you once you had them stirred up.
  5. Deer - We had been marginally successful in fending them off last year. Then we thought a 10-day vacation might be a good idea mid-summer. We returned to find that they had eaten all the pepper plants and all 45 tomato plants.
  6. Hornets - Late summer, a couple swarms of hornets took up residence in our garden - one in the long-term compost, and one the dirt just inside the grass line. We had plans to eradicate them, but the risk of being stung just wasn't worth it. Knowing that they would die off come winter, we waited them out.
  7. Baby - We love her, but having an infant is not so conducive to garden work. Naps don't last long enough and slings too uncomfortable (for baby) for all the bending, reaching, digging, picking, planting and hauling.
Late in the summer, she gave up. I couldn't blame her. I still would dart in to harvest the unstoppable zucchini and squash plants - dodging hornets, and swatting mosquitoes. But that was about it. This year, the top three items are coming off of the list with the addition of raised garden beds. Here is how we built ours.

The Mrs. divvied up the space we had to work with. A few measurements one evening and a bit of graph paper work yielded a plan.
  • 9 beds - each 4 feet wide and 18 feet long.
  • 4-foot wide walking paths on all sides.
  • A fence of some sort
  • A 3-foot wide boarder around the entire plot filled with deer repellent plants.
  • Some space on one end for compost and our chickens

For this project, we used:

  • Power miter saw
  • Cordless drill - with spare battery
  • 4-lb sledge
  • Tape measure
  • Spirit level
  • Tin snips
  • Pliers
  • Lumber - we used red cedar
  • 3" Stainless Steel screws
  • Mending plates - if your beds are longer than your lumber
  • Short screws
  • Poultry staples
  • 1/2" mesh hardware cloth
  • Zip ties
  • 3' painted steel garden stakes
The beds were quite easy to build. We bought 2x6 red cedar boards from a guy on Craigslist. Well below retail, but a fair price to the seller who had no use for them. First I prepped all the lumber and cut them to length.

Lumber typically doesn't come in 18-foot lengths, so I used mending plates to join them. The claw hammer wasn't much help here.

3" self-tapping, stainless steel screws hold them together at the corners with no pre-drilling.

In our garden, we have two types of beds - normal, and root vegetable. The normal beds were easy. Once the box was built, we simply flipped it over and tacked on the hardware cloth using the staples. We used rolls 48" wide, 50 feet long, in the 1/2" hole size. These were the biggest rolls we could find, and we needed 3 of them and then some.

The hardware cloth will keep the digging varmints out while allowing moisture, worms, and roots to pass through. It's galvanized so it won't rust and should last a long time. Initially we placed cardboard under the beds as a weed block. very few go through, if any.

The root veggie beds were a bit tougher.

Wanting these to be deeper, we first dug out the beds to be 8-10" deep. After leveling and squaring up the corners, we laid the 48" wide cloth into the bed to form the bottom, leaving extra to fold up at each end.

We then split a roll of 24" wide cloth to give us 2 strips of 12". Those became the long sides in the trench. The sides were attached to the bottom with plastic zip ties. Then, the wood box was slipped over the ends of the cloth sticking out of the ground and tacked on with poultry netting staples.

For all beds - Mark location, place, double check location, level, and hammer in stakes. Then all that dirt you dug out - has to go back in.

We also added a provision to certain beds for trellises. Totally optional. I'm not sure at this point if this was the best way to do it, so feel free to devise your own plan here.

Beds in place and filled with soil mix. (note: number 9 already had potatoes and onions in it, and had to wait)

a few months later - now with mulch and cardboard down for the paths and vegetables going nuts.

A few tips after building 9 of these:
  1. Survey your area. It's worth a little extra effort to spend a little time making sure the beds will be square with the world around it.
  2. Tin snips work great for cutting hardware cloth.
  3. A 4-lb sledge is a good way to hammer in mending plates, as well as a great work out.
  4. Stainless steel screws, while rust resistant, shear-off fairly easily. Apply firm pressure to your screw gun.
  5. Hardware cloth is a bit like fencing and you can use some of the same techniques when working with it. If you get bubbles, use pliers to shrink. Best part is this doesn't have to be pretty as it will be covered in dirt.
  6. Cedar is a great choice for this project. It's naturally rot resistant, light weight, and is easy on your tools. It also smells nice with working with it.
  7. If you garden is massive like ours, you'll need a lot of mulch and soil. Many home improvement stores discount open bags.
Built beds before? Have pictures or tips to share?

Join us on DIY Day at ASPTL.

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Stress-Proof Your Marriage

When I saw that the Catholic Company had a book called "Stress-Proof Your Marriage" and it was a 30-Minute Read my first thought was 'How can you go wrong?'. Thirty minutes of time and 61 pages later I knew I would not be out much if the book was a waste.

Let me start by saying that I feel like I have a wonderful marriage. Like all marriages it has its ups and downs but we work hard to keep it strong at all times. We don't have any "issues" or major stresses right now. However, you always need to work on your marriage even when everything is going good.

This book is a great read for when you are in either a good place or just need a little fine tuning. It helped remind me of the basic things that keep a marriage strong. Sometimes its the little things that make a big difference. Since this is a Catholic book it did a great job focusing on God, prayer and worship as a centerpiece to a healthy marriage. Always important to remember!

You can read this book either separately or together. Don't feel like you have to read it as a couple if you spouse is not a big reader or it's hard to find the time to read together. The book is broken up into chapters like Talk, touch, share, etc. This helped me personally fit it into my schedule. I just tucked this small book into my purse/diaper bag. When I was waiting in the car line at school I could pull it out and read it.

I give this book two thumbs up!

My disclaimer about the book: IF you and your spouse need more then a little fine tuning this book is NOT for you! Personally I would recommend going to a Marriage Encounter weekend (excellent experience) or if you are considering divorce attend Retrovaille.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book Reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Stress-Proof Your Marriage.

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Life at the Not the Jet Set House

If you were wondering, life at the NtJS house has been busy but good lately. We have decided to move the blog down on our priority list and we are glad we made that decision. It has been amazing how many projects we have been able to get done while spending more time with our kids then we did before. Yes, we are sticking to our 2010 goals!

Here is how we are doing on our goals for 2010.

Goal 1: Spend more time as a family. Check! We have really been enjoying our time with the girls. We have made Saturday night, game night at our house. We have a lot of fun playing games (or play dough) from dinner time til bedtime. Over the past week we have been enjoying staying up later with our oldest daughter to watch the Olympics with her. Our youngest daughter is potty training right now so I've been spending tons of "quality" time with her in the bathroom.

Goal 2:
Eat healthy, organic, and local. Check! We have been mostly living off our freezers and canning shelves full of preserved local foods. Over Valentines day weekend we took a cheesemaking class. It was a lot of fun learning how to make cheese at home. I have a feeling we will be making more of our own cheeses in the future from our local milk. I have also been looking into more local sources for other foods that we don't grow ourselves.

Goal 3:
Save for a car. Check! Just this month we started saving money for a new car.

Goal 4:
Have some fun money. No Check. We are hoping to add this to the budget after the Mr.'s annual review, if they decide to stop the pay freeze. Keep your fingers crossed!!!

So that's our update. How are things going for you? Are you sticking to your 2010 goals? Is life a little crazy at your house or are things smooth sailing?

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Hot off the Presses! The Eco-nomical Baby Guide

I love being one of the first people to read a book. It makes you feel so "in the know". It's even better when it's a great book like the one I just received from Joy and Rebecca over at the Green Baby Guide. Their new book called "The Eco-nomical Baby Guide" is being released at the beginning of March. I was one of the lucky ones who received an advanced copy to review.

The book was packed with great information that was very practical. I love how they demonstrate that being green does not mean buying all new stuff. In fact, buying second hand is better! They walk you through what you need and don't need. They also talk about every aspect of raising a baby. They cover topics like baby gear, breastfeeding, baby food, diapers and more.

Want to know what makes it even better? There is even a quote from me, yes, me! Okay, it really doesn't make it that much better and even without it I still like the book. Joy and Rebecca did a great job.

Way to go ladies!

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Bringing Peace to Your Home

I'm sure I'm not the only person who finds that a cluttered home creates stress. There is no peace for me or the Mister if our house is trashed. Even the kids get stressed. It's not easy to keep a house spotless all the time, but the less you have, the less there is to be left out, on the floor, to be stepped on.

It's not easy to keep from adding to your home in our culture. We are taught from a young age to be consumers. Stopping this behavior can be hard. Here are some helpful tips to help you keep stuff from coming into your house to begin with.

  • Set your priority's with your budget and stick to the budget. If you don't budget for clothes you don't need, then you don't have the funds to buy the unnecessary impulse clothes.

  • Ask yourself three questions before bringing home an item. Do I need this item? Does it add true beauty and inspiration to my home? Do I have a place to store, hang, or otherwise keep this item?

  • If an item makes it into your home find an item that can be purged right away, added to the garage sale pile or send to a charity.

  • Politely let your family and friends know that you don't need stuff.

  • Just say "No". If someone offers you something for free you don't need, just say no thanks.

Here are some inspirational quotes to motivate one to live a simply life.

"Live simply so that overs might simply live." -Ghandi

"Less is More" - (lots of people take credit for this one, not sure who was the first one)

"...everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions can not be my disciple." -Luke 14:33

"...excessive availability of every kind of material goods for the benefit of certain social groups, easily makes people slaves of "possessions" and of immediate gratification with no other horizon than the multiplication of continual replacement of the things already owned with others still better." -Pope John Paul II, encyclical, On Social Concern (excellent read)

"The simplest things are often times the truest." -Richard Bach

"As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness." -Henry David Thoreau

"Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." -William Morris

Pick your favorite quote and place it in a spot in your house that will help you to stay on track with creating a simple and peaceful home.

What are your strategies for keeping the "stuff" from even getting through the door at your house?

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Trash to Treasure

It seems like the moment the kids walk in the door their coats are flung to the floor as they run off to play. If I ask them to put them away correctly they just set them on a chair! As frustrating as it is for me, as a mom I can understand why. Our coat closet is on the other side of the house and they are both to short to reach the hangers anyways. My solution was to get hooks to put on the wall by the door. However, I'm not going to spend the money right now on a want. What do to do? Start thinking outside the box, or in this case, inside the closet!

When we moved into our house we removed the rods that were in all the bedroom closets and put nice metal closet organizer systems in them instead. For almost three years these wood sections with hooks have been laying around in the "stock pile" in the basement workshop area. While looking for paint supplies I found them. I just added one hook off of one of the other pieces of wood and painted it black.

Now we have a great looking coat rack that cost me nothing. The girls love it because their coats are toasty warm in the morning because I hung it low (close to the heater) for them to be able to reach.

What re-purposed solutions have you come up with lately?

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