Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Smarty Pants: The Bailout

Why is it easier to remember which Hollywood starlet recently had a baby that it is to remember the names of world leaders?

Because news is boring, right?  Wrong.  
Be a smarty pants.  It's fun.

Since Smarty Pants is about current events, and I'm currently writing about budgeting, it seems natural for my first post to address the SKY is FALLING financial events of late (otherwise known as the Bailout Plan).  

I spent a great deal of time yesterday reading about the bailout plan, including the actual plan itself (okay, so maybe I didn't get through the entire 107 page document...even I'm not that ambitious!), and my feelings for it are, well, a bit muddled.  I mean, far be it for me to promote inaction and have the bottom drop out of the economy like they ("they" being a variety of economists and pundits) say it will.  On the other hand, it is an awful lot of money, and it does give the Secretary of Treasury an awful lot of power, and we're not even sure if it will work.

So what's a girl to think?
Well, I'm no expert, but here are my considerations as of late:
1.  our economic system is sick.  And contrary to popular political rhetoric, it's not just sick because of so-and-so's poor political judgement.  Our economy is sick because it is based on the premise that health and stability = exceeding our means.  In other words, it feeds too much on debt (aka "credit").  
2.  this bailout plan, regardless of its merits, does not intend to fix this debt-addiction.  In fact, it aims to do just the opposite.
3.  However, fixing the debt-addiction all at once would likely collapse the system
4.  And therefore the bailout plan might be a necessarily evil  

Finally, economic responsibility starts at home.  Or, at least that is the only area where we (we being the average consumer) can exercise any substantial control.  I've been forced to ask myself some tough questions lately, like how tempted am I to use debt to "get ahead"?  And how often do I spend when I should be saving?  

Granted, no amount of personal responsibility and heart-to-hearts will stop this national (really, global) drama from unfolding without pain.  And it would be trite to suggest otherwise.  But part of understanding current events is knowing how they can impact the decisions we make at the family level.  And I know my decisions need to change.

To read more about the plan:

Introduction to Smarty Pants

For quite some time now I've been nursing along a blog on current events which I affectionately titled "Cigars in the Parlour." The inspiration behind the blog, and the accompanying title, was to encourage women to get smart about current events--to crash the boys' "parlour," where they used to smoke cigars and drink whiskey and discuss politics and foreign affairs....without the ladies present, of course.

Needless to say, as much as I loved dear Cigars in the Parlour, a girl really can have too many blogs. And so I've laid it to rest. Still convicted about the importance of knowledge, though, I'm reviving the theme with a new feature here on Deviantly Domesticated called Smarty Pants.

Smarty Pants posts will be peppered throughout the week here on DD, and will mainly include my thoughts on current events happening in our times, as well as tools/tips I use to keep up-to-date on what is going on in the wide world beyond my tiny upstairs office. And of course I'll be frequently sharing my passion for the many benefits of being well-informed ladies.

And while being a "smarty pants" doesn't have much to do with being domesticated per se, it has everything to do with being strong female leaders in our times. And who isn't excited about that?!

So stick around later today for my first Smarty Pants post!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Marketplace Maven: Emily Spivack & Shop Well with You

Welcome to Marketplace Mavens!  In this weekly series I hope to inspire you with stories of women who are taking on the challenge of being creative leaders in the economy.  They are talented entrepreneurs who are expressing their passions through their work, often in ways that are distinctly female.

This week I'd like to highlight Shop Well With You, a non-profit organization that provides clothing resources and tips to women who are undergoing cancer treatments.

Shop Well With You was founded by Emily Spivack when she was in her early twenties.  After watching her mother fight and gain victory through four bouts of cancer, and witnessing the unique body image and comfort needs during those battles, Emily had an idea.  She decided to merge her passion for fashion design and her desire to help women like her mother into a non-profit organization.  Thus Shop Well with You was conceived.

The result is a successful organization with an awesome mission.  As women we all know how important body-image is to how we feel from day to day.  And this is no more true than during difficult times.  Furthermore, Emily is a fantastic example of a Maven because she applied creativity and heart by combining two seemingly unconnected issues: cancer and fashion.  And she's a great role model for those of us wanting to be both leaders and servants to others through our business ideas.

For more information, you can find Shop Well with You online by clicking here.  I particularly liked the downloadable guide to "Body-Image and Cancer" (shown right), as well as all of the very useful fashion tips and tools.

Please read more about Emily's story by clicking here, and also read about the press coverage that Shop Well with You has received (like the 2004 Real Simple article which is where I originally heard of it).  

Finally, follow up by forwarding the Shop to a friend or relative who might be struggling with cancer, or consider sending Emily and staff an encouraging note or donation.  

To read more about Marketplace Mavens, click here.  And stay tuned for next week's Maven, Heather Davis of Pink and White Designs!

My Backwards Budget and Financial Plan (no pie charts included)

I know I've been talking a lot about mindfulness lately, which is more about financial Philosophy than it is about Strategy.  And as fun as philosophy is, sometimes you just need to buckle down and do some work.  Budgeting work, that is.

So, I've had some more time to tinker with mint.com, and to think about my financial goals and how to accomplish them.  I know a few things about myself already.  One is that I'm not big on budgeting.  I know people who love to categorize their spending and fiddle with charts and graphs and manage multiple accounts for different things.  I am not that person.  Still, I know that keeping a budget can be useful.  So I've created a budget to fit my personality.  Call it the "I-couldn't-care-less-about-pie-charts-and-categories" financial plan.  It looks like this:

*  I have two budget categories.  That's right--just two.  The first is bills (things I have to pay) and the second I'll call "household spending" (aka everything else).  Since the first category doesn't fluctuate much, I basically leave it alone.  The second category, then, is where spending less can equal saving more or paying off debt.  
*  I have a debt-reduction plan.  It goes like this: pay extra on monthly loan/credit payments.  My current goal is to pay off my mortgage, so I'm adding additional principal payments every month.  I've just decided to increase that amount, which means (you guessed it) trimming the fat in my spending.  
*  I have a savings plan.  I make it automatic, meaning that I set up a transfer from my checking to my savings account monthly.  To increase my savings I just add more, which means (you guessed again) spending less.
*  I have an allowance.  This is money I can spend on what I want.  This is also where my budget wanders into a gray area full of temptation.  Should home improvements fall under allowance?  Should gifts for others?  I don't always have the answers, but I'm working on it...

As you can see, my "budget" is less about spending categories capped with set amounts as it is about setting specific goals and investing in them.  Forcing myself to pay extra for savings and debt automatically decreases the amount I have to spend every month, which (naturally) forces me to spend less.  It is kind of like a backwards budget.  It is more of a "where can I spend more to decrease debt and increase savings?" plan than a "how can I spend less on dining and entertainment?" plan.  

Of course, this is just my plan.  It wouldn't work for everyone.  It barely works for me.  But one of the keys, I've decided, to financial success is to take the time to figure out the plan that does work for you.  

On that note, click to read a good article on the "12 Steps to Financial Fitness," which I found on mint's blog.  It's less about budgeting and more about the bigger financial picture, which (of course) fits me better than an article on pie charts.  Enjoy!

Share your plan with me!  Email me at shillberry@comcast.net.

Also, stick around for Monday's Marketplace Maven, posting soon.  Be inspired by entrepreneurial women!  Click here to learn more.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Saturday Sussie: Knitting Mania!

Every year when the weather starts to get cooler I'm suddenly overcome with the urge to pull out my knitting needles.  This year I hit the local craft store, flipped through the pages of Vogue Knitting's Fall 2008 issue, and started working.
My favorite design is #18, which is a drop collar cardigan (although admittedly I'm modifying it a bit to make it easier...) and I'm happily on my way.  

Since knitting is on my 
brain, I've run across a couple sites worth 
passing on for those of you who might like to pick up the needles from time to time, or know someone who does.

First, check out  Year of the Goat on etsy.com, a store from fibers designer, Melissa 
Havlorson.  I like her funky style (and I love leg warmers), and she spins all of her yarn, which is even more special.  She even has some pattern pdf's that you can download for a few bucks.

Also check out Ravelry.com, which is a super fun knitting/crocheting site.  Once you sign up for a membership (which is free, although you might have to wait on a waiting list for a few days) you get access to tons of patterns, and, of course, other knitting friends.

Happy Knitting!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Take it From Me: what to avoid when trying to spend less

By now you may have recognized that perhaps I do not always exercise the most common sense when it comes to spending less.  Take it from me, here are five tips about what to avoid, all gleaned from some of my recent posts:

1.  Do not stop by Barnes and Noble because it's "on your way home" and then proceed to wander the aisles for half an hour. You will be tempted by a thousand wonderful books.  You will spend money.

2.  Do not watch infomercials at 1:00 a.m. because "there is nothing else on."  Of course there is something else on.  Watch National Geographic or CSPAN.  Then you will not be tempted by celebrity testimonials for overpriced and yet fabulous beauty products promising miracles.  And you will avoid any extraneous "member of the month club" subscriptions that you will forget to cancel later, thus resulting in an unexpected charge to your credit card.

3.  Do not--I repeat--Do not review any catalogs mailed to you by your favorite retailers.  They will suck you in and you might be tempted to drop whatever it is that you are doing to rush out to the store and purchase the latest and greatest mass-produced discount item.  Just throw those cleverly designed printed delights away and never look back.

4.  Do not eat Snickers and string cheese for lunch.  (I know...it's not a financial pitfall.  But still--take it from me: don't do it.)

5.  Do not log onto Mint.com and discover that you are in fact spending just a little less than the average person living in your state and thereby decide that it wouldn't be so bad after all to buy those new shoes you've been thinking of, and then proceed to use that reasoning with your husband.  He will not appreciate your logic, and will start paying close attention to your footwear.

Consider yourself warned.  

Send me your "take it from me" tips to avoiding impulsive spending by emailing me at shillberry@comcast.net!  

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Capitalists Lament! How I discovered that I Like my Hair as it is...

You know how you never paid attention to how many red Volvos were on the road until your best friend started driving one?  And now you see them everywhere?  Well, that's kind of how I feel now that I'm practicing more mindfulness in my spending.  Suddenly I'm paying more attention to my impulses, and I'm realizing how much they really do drive my spending.  

Take this past weekend, for instance.  I was up late trying to finish a knitting project, and watching infomercials (because there was nothing else on--not because I like watching them.  Okay, maybe I like watching them a little).  A commercial came on advertising a hair-care product that seemed intriguing to me.  In true informercial style, there were lots of testimonials and before and after pictures.  And there was the typical introductory price complete with extra bonus gifts if you ordered today.  

Because I'm paying more attention, I immediately recognized my impulse spending urge creeping in.  I mean, who doesn't want fabulously silky flowing locks?  So the next day I headed to my computer to hunt down the product.  But before I placed my order, I decided to practice my new mindfulness.  Here's how:

First, I decided to do some research (research = mindfulness), and so I searched for product reviews online.  What I learned was that some people Loved the product, and others Hated it.  I also learned that the "introductory 30-day sample" was really only 12 oz. and wouldn't last a full month.  Good to know!

Since the reviews dampened my impulse a bit, I had some time to consider what I already own (using what you have first = mindfulness), which, incidentally, is plenty of hair products, some I haven't even used yet.  Did I really need to buy more when I clearly had a lot already?

This led me to think about my hair.  Was I really unsatisfied with it? (asking "do I need it?" = mindfulness)  Well...actually I never think that much about my hair.  It is healthy and easy to style, and for the most part I like it.  In fact, until I watched that infomercial, I was perfectly content with my hair.  And content with the products I'm using on it.  Products that cost A Lot Less than the one advertised.

Hmmmm.  I suddenly recognized that in less than half an hour I went from clicking my way through the online checkout to deciding I don't need a new hair care product after all.  Capitalists lament!  

Anyway, the point is, multiply this little process by about 50 times per day, and that is what I'm currently dealing with in my mindlessness vs. mindfulness consumer battle.  I figure that the more I practice, the better I'll get at replacing impulse with real intention.  

Share your mindless vs. mindful story with me!  Email me at shillberry@comcast.net.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ahead of the Curve--going into the Holidays prepared

I've decided that one of the side benefits of tackling this financial "issue" of mine during the fall is that I get a head start on everyone else.  Normally as a culture we don't clean house financially until a) we make New Year's resolutions and set our budget for the next year, or b) tax season rolls around forcing us to dust off our ledgers and get to business.  I kind like the idea of doing it before that and going into the New Year with some good habits in place (after all, who sticks to resolutions or likes taxes anyway?).

Another benefit to this plan is that we are rapidly heading toward the MOTHER of all BUDGET BUSTERS, aka the holiday season.  Talk about ripe opportunity to practice mindfulness!  After last year's holiday spending hangover, my husband and I made a promise that we weren't going to repeat more of the same this time around.

Since this is a post on budgeting and not on mindful holiday spending, I won't dive into the latter (maybe later this year...).  I just think that now, before the holidays, before tax season, before the end of year, is a good time to set some goals.  Kind of like starting a wellness plan for diet and exercise before the Christmas parties kick in rather than after the pounds pile on.

I've already shared one of my goals, which is to be more mindful generally.  Another one is to pay off our debt (including our mortgage) as quickly as is reasonably possible.  This means paying extra on payments, which incidentally means paying less on faux leather bomber jackets from Target, no matter how cute.  (I know, easier for me to say that now that I have the jacket!)

It also means saving for the future.  We do pretty well with our retirement accounts (meaning that we fund them, not that they're actually doing well.  Stupid housing crash.).  But what we could really improve on is saving for other things, like that car we're going to have to buy when ours eventually dies.  And the kids we'd like to have sometime soon.  And the hardwood flooring I want when our carpet finally gets too gross to handle.  This is where mindfulness might really pay off.

That said, having a strategy in place, with some goals prior to the holidays (when we all spend the bulk of our money for the year) sounds like a pretty smart idea.  I'm glad I thought of it.  We'll see come January if it helped!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Spending Journals and Mint.com

They say that if you are trying to lose weight, the first thing you need to do is get a clear picture of what you are actually eating from day to day.  And the best way to do that is to keep a food journal.

So it doesn't surprise me that the same advice is given to those of us who are trying to get in shape financially.  The first step is usually to find out where you're spending your money.  I might argue that the first step is to figure out why you're spending, but that's a debate for another day...

Taking this advice, then, I decided to try out mint.com, the free online service that gathers information from your accounts and shows you where you're spending.  I signed up for this last week, so I'm still tinkering with it.  But this is what I have observed so far...

*  As a household we're spending less than we make.  Yay!  This is a good sign.
*  I spend the most on bills and utilities, which is to be expected.
*  The bulk of the rest of my money goes toward "shopping."  This, my friends, is where the rubber meets the road.  It is "mindless vs. mindful" territory.  I need a plan!

I have also learned that regardless of the program I am using, managing money takes time and can feel like a chore.  Even spiffy programs like mint.com, that make certain things easy, require an investment of energy.  For instance, I still have to figure out how to divide my "groceries/cosmetics/magazines/home goods" receipt from WalMart into discernible and helpful categories.

I suppose that the next step is to focus in on that "shopping" category, and apply some mindful practices to my habits.  I should probably see the numbers go down a little.  I might also have to come up with some creative ways to classify how I spend (because sometimes being mindful doesn't mean spending less).

I'll fill you in as I go!

Incidentally, another type of budget conversation is happening in our national headlines.  I write about it on my current event blog, Cigars in the Parlour.  Read more by clicking here.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Marketplace Mavens: featuring Amanda Blake Soule of Soule Mama

Welcome to my first Marketplace Maven post! In this weekly series I hope to inspire you with stories of women who are taking on the challenge of being creative leaders in the economy. They are talented entrepreneurs who are expressing their passions through their work, often in ways that are distinctly "female" (like emphasizing relationships and flexibility).

For our first Maven I want to highlight Amanda Blake Soule of the popular blog, Soule Mama, and author
of The Creative Family. Amanda is the mother of three (soon to be four) living in the far Northeast. Her talent? Taking creative parenting to the marketplace and setting an example through her day-to-day living.

Find her work at:
Soule Mama: a popular blog read by scores of dedicated followers, Soule Mama brings daily tales of the creative life of the Soule family. Read about Amanda's latest knitting project, or about her children's latest creative ventures in "unschooling." Or enjoy her photography. There's lots to see!

The Creative Family: her most recent book. While skimming an excerpt on Amazon you'll learn that Amanda values creativity as a "job responsibility" for parents, and her book is chock full of ideas to nurture that creativity. Ideas like turning off the tv and turning on nature. A great find for parents (and aspiring parents like myself).

Handmade Home: her next book, coming in 2009. I can't wait!

Amanda Soule.com: her website, where you can learn more about her book and read interviews and press coverage.

Amanda shows us all that passion for simple living can go a long way in a marketplace that often favors flashy. Way to go Soule Mama!

Join me again next Monday for another inspiring Marketplace Maven story! To read more, visit www.stephaniehillberry.com.

Getting to the Root of my Money Problems

Ahhh, another week begins.  Another week of my back to the basics challenge.  For those of you new to the blog, this is a challenge where I attempt to get into domestic shape in the hopes that it will help me to accomplish my other professional and community-related goals.  Week three of the challenge has me contemplating my finances since money management is a BIG piece of keeping an organized home.

Now normally when it comes to good money management, the basics are the focus.  Like saving money and keeping a budget and getting out of debt.  And certainly I agree that those things are important.  It's just that after writing last week, I realized that the root of my rather loose management issues wasn't necessarily the absence of those basics, but more a problem of mindlessness.  Mindlessness as in impulsively spending on stuff I fancy, and not paying attention to my receipts, and not being intentional about saving.

The opposite of mindlessness, I suppose, would be mindfulness.  And that is really what I need to work on.  Yes, I can clip coupons and make lists and set budgets.  Yes, I can do all the right things.  But if they don't help me to be more mindful, then I'm essentially treating the symptoms and not the root problem.  

So I guess I'm changing my financial goal.  I no longer want to be a "good money manager."  I want to be a "mindful" one.  The tactics, I suppose, are relatively similar, but the end result is different.

In sum, it is interesting to me that the way we manage our money--which is essentially just a basic domestic chore--probably says more about us than anything else we do.  More than our jobs.  More than our clothes.  More than our talents.  I guess that for me what that means is that I want my money to say that I'm mindful.

That said, I think it's time for some experimenting!  

Don't go far!  Stay tuned later today for my first ever Marketplace Maven, featuring Amanda Blake Soule of Soule Mama!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Saturday Sussie: Crewel

In my ever continuing search for blogs on domestic life, I stumbled across Domicile by blogger, author and business diva, Emira Mears.  I found lots of fun stuff on the blog, but wanted to draw your attention to a book she highlighted in her most recent post: The New Crewel, by Katherine Shaughnessy.

Now I've never heard of crewel prior to reading this post, but I was instantly attracted to the design on the cover of the book.  Incidentally, while wandering the aisles of Barnes and Noble (probably something I shouldn't do too often given my impulse-spending tendencies), I found myself in the craft section (of course) and saw none other than The New Crewel.  

I took the opportunity to thumb through, and loved what I saw.  The book has definitely been added to my Christmas list (or my "reward for good behavior" list)!  The stitching designs are so fun--modern in a bit of an old-fashioned way (if there is such a thing)--and it looks like it would be a great hobby.  Sign me up!

I also like the author's mission to introduce an old craft (crewel has been around for a long time) to a new generation.  Something about preserving our craft and artisan traditions, especially in our era of modern technology, appeals to me.  

Craft away!

On another topic, Mears is the co-author of a book I'm anxious to get my hands on called The Boss of You.  More blog fodder to come on that!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Tips for Cooling my Spending Impulses

I figured I should follow up yesterday's compulsive shopper confession with my ideas for cooling my spending impulses (especially good for going into the shopper-friendly weekend).  They are as follows:

*  be a list fanatic.  I need to create lists before I head into the store and stick to them.  No list?  No store.  Should be simple enough, right?  (that is, of course, assuming I don't scratch out "bomber jacket, lip gloss, and sweater like Jennifer Aniston's" onto a sticky as I dash out the door after watching 5 minutes of E!).
*  avoid catalogs and magazines.  This one is hard for me.  I love the glossies, but they do make me want stuff...
*  take a day off from shopping.  I actually started doing this awhile ago, and it helps.  Opting out of the consumer wheel for even a day provides a surprising amount of perspective.
*  spend cash.  I've heard from others that for some reason handing off cold hard cash is more difficult to do than swiping the ole' plastic.  I suppose I could try it...
*  allow for a cooling period.  If there is something I really want (but don't really need), I could force myself to wait a week before I buy it and see if my desire wanes.
*  make stuff on my own.  I'm a big fan of handmade items, and love crafty hobbies, so this one might be easier for me.  Besides, making something is not instant gratification, so it encourages more mindful consumption.  (On the other hand, it is definitely not always cheaper.)
* borrow from and share with friends.  A strategy that could satisfy my impulse without hitting my checkbook.  Definitely worth looking into...

Have any more clever ideas for me?  Email them to me at shillberry@comcast.net.  Or share your story about spending, saving and managing money.  I'd love to hear it!

Also, see how my finances and budgeting are going to help me decipher this year's political tax debate by visiting my current event blog, Cigars in the Parlour.  

Happy Friday!  

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Faux Leather Bomber Jackets: my tale of impulse shopping

Let me tell you a story about what happened to me late last week.  I had been working all day in my office and needed a break and some fresh air.  Deciding that a walk to the mailbox would do the trick, I headed out.  I returned with a stack of mail, including a seasonal catalog from Target showcasing their newest design arrivals.  

Now, I love Target even though they are part of the evil box-store empire, so of course I had to take a peek.  Several pages in, my eyes landed on a faux leather bomber jacket that looked oh so cute on the model.  Incidentally, I had just watched a movie that previous weekend with a bomber-clad actress that caught my attention (the jacket, not the actress).

Call it the spark of a serendipitous occasion, or my low blood sugar from skipping lunch, but I suddenly felt with the greatest conviction that I needed that jacket from Target immediately.  I began to panic.  What if they sell out?  How many other people have received this ad?  Surely they would be having the same reaction I was.  I had to go now!

I headed to the hallway for my purse and keys before realizing that I couldn't leave without feeding my dogs.  Starving them for faux leather just didn't seem right.  So I went out back to coax them into the house.  While waiting for one of them to finish grazing the lawn, it occurred to me that maybe I was behaving rather rashly.  I mean, this was exactly the kind of impulsive behavior that the Target marketers were hoping for when they sent out that catalog.  Did I really want to be duped that easily into making a purchase?  Didn't I know better than that?

Yes, I conceded, I did know better.  A bit ashamed of myself, I put down my purse and gathered my composure.  What an easy target (pun intended) I had become.  I am what is wrong with our consumerist culture, I concluded.  What does it say about me that I can't even wait for 24 hours before rushing out to buy something I want?  Something I certainly don't need?

I bring this up because I'm trying to get my act together financially.  And habits like this don't help.  Being level headed and intentional about my spending would help.  So that is what I'm going to work on this fall.

Incidentally, I did eventually purchase that jacket.  And it looks fabulous.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Clean Sheets are Fine and Well, But..

As I mentioned yesterday, I am fairly terrible at managing money.  I just don't like to do it.  It's boring to me, and I hate to be bored.  I have a rather...um....relaxed philosophy about it.  Too relaxed.   My one saving grace is that I'm naturally pretty frugal.  For instance, one time my husband told me I should go out and purchase some new office furniture and I came home with a used sewing table from Goodwill for $30.00 and two cans of spray paint.  (The table looks great, by the way, and was just what I needed).

Anyway, it is precisely because I'm a poor manager that I decided early on in my marriage that I would tackle the responsibility of paying bills and balanced the checkbook.  I figured that if I didn't force myself to be involved, I'd really be ignorant.  And ignorance, my friends, is just about the worst thing with money.  And so I have faithfully done my job, and other than one late payment (sorry husband...), and a stack of unreconciled statements, I've managed pretty well over the years.

I get just enough regular exposure to our household finances through this job to develop a vision for the kind of money manager I'd like to be.  The kind I think I should be.  The kind who is intentional about her spending and savings goals, rather than a consumer drone on autopilot.

So, to improve my current quasi-drone-like status, I thought I would try a few things this fall.  One is to utilize a budgeting program and report back to you all on how it helped (or didn't.).  Another is to experiment with the timeless question: cash or charge?  And another is to dabble in existential thoughts on the role of debt and consumption in our culture today in a witty and yet provocative style (that last one is a bit of a stretch, so we'll see...).

Of course I'm doing all of this because managing finances is probably the most important element of keeping a healthy home base.  Clean sinks and fresh linens are fine and well, but well-managed finances are even better.  

See you tomorrow!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Marketplace Mavens Coming Soon!

I'd like to introduce you all to a new feature I'm adding to the blog called "Marketplace Mavens."  In this feature I'll be showcasing weekly (on Mondays) a female entrepreneur that impresses me with her creativity and business savvy.  

I'm starting the showcase because:
a) there are a lot of very inspiring women out there! and,
b) I believe that we women have tons of potential to be economic leaders in these times
So how does entrepreneurialism fit into being domestic?  Glad you asked, because it really doesn't.  Or at least not directly.  It does fit, however, into my goals to become a leader in my home, the community, AND the marketplace.  And since this blog is about "deviant" leadership as much as it is about domestic life, I think it will work out just fine.

Stay tuned, then, for Marketplace Mavens on Mondays here on Deviantly Domesticated.  Or catch a sneak peak on www.stephaniehillberry.com (click on "marketplace").

The Money Challenge--Breaking my Bad Habits

I woke up this morning, like everyone else, to news of turmoil in the financial world.  The words "crisis" and "disaster" were being tossed around by most of the news outlets, with fears of more to come.  

Given this news, it seemed fitting for me to start writing about another big part of my domestic experiment this fall--managing the household finances.  Now, I certainly won't use the words "crisis" or "disaster" to describe my finances, but I will say that the first part of my back to basics challenge--cleaning, cooking, etc.--is a lot easier for me than the money part.  I'd rather scrub a sink than balance my checkbook any day.  

Case in point:
*  months of bank statements are piled up waiting for me to reconcile them.  It will take me hours. 
*  the elaborate household budget I set up at the start of the year has been shamefully ignored.
*  even though I intend to, I rarely check my receipts to make sure they are correct.
*  I have no idea how much money I spend during an average month.
*  I do tend to shop when I'm feeling down and need a pick me up.  And I am a sucker for well placed advertisements enticing me to buy things I don't need.
*  and I buy all the wrong things on sale (practicing the art of "spaving") and rarely the right things

What I know is that these habits are not great, and that with a little strategy and some discipline I could clean up my act.  Fortunately, I do have some things going for me, namely that I'm not a big spender and I hate debt.  Unfortunately, my bad habits are keeping me from being a good steward of my resources (there's that stewardship issue again....).  

Obviously I have my work cut out for me!  Stayed tuned to hear more....

Also, check out what I have to say about the latest financial headlines on my current events blog, Cigars in the Parlour.

Monday, September 15, 2008

My Weakness for Laminated Routines...

I mentioned a week or two ago that I had this tendency when I was first married to get a little carried away with my domestic schedules (recall the laminated cleaning program...).  Well, I still find that I'm tempted to over-organize my routine, and then am doomed to never follow through!  The cycle goes like this:

Ah, this article about cleaning a little everyday sounds great!  Imagine how much simpler my life would be if I just did a bit here and there throughout the week!  Hmmmm...let me think it out.  I could dust the bedroom and living room after my shower and before my makeup.  I could run a quick broom over the kitchen floor while my coffee perks.  Certainly I could squeeze in some vacuuming here and there throughout the evening, maybe while I'm cooking dinner.  Let me just write this down...

Pretty soon I'm laminating again, and the rest is history.

The truth is that I don't love to clean (ironic, I know, since I write a blog about domestic life).  I'd rather be doing a million other things.  Like organize a flow chart about cleaning, for instance.  Also, I don't want to sweep the kitchen while my coffee perks.  I want to stand there and stare blankly into the foggy haze that is my morning before coffee.

So, after years of falling prey to this cycle, I've learned to step out of the laminated, over-routinized scheduled and just do these things regularly:
1.  Keep the kitchen sink clear of dishes.  It's amazing how much this helps.  I can see why the Fly Lady has the domestically desperate start with a clean kitchen sink.  It works wonders for sanity.
2.  Keep clutter contained.  I have accumulated a ton of baskets through the years and use them as my dumping ground for loose mail, magazines, my dogs' toys, laundry, etc.  Clutter stays off the floor and counters and in baskets.  Probably not the best long term strategy, but who cares?
3.  Make my bed.  Every day. (well, maybe not every day.  I'm not aiming for perfection!)

And that's about it.  No lamination required.  It's just enough to keep me focused on my work, and not distracted by my house.  And that, after all, is the whole point of this back to basics experiment--to do just enough with "home base" to equip me to reach my personal professional goals.

Friday, September 12, 2008

10-Step Plan to Being Well-Stocked (including "why do I have 6 cans of chipotle peppers and no Pepto?")

If project #1 in my back to basics challenge is meal planning, then project #2 is stocking up on supplies.  Pantry supplies, toiletry supplies, hosting supplies, emergency supplies.  In other words, I want to be well-supplied.

My intended purpose behind stocking up is to a) make it easy on myself and b) be prepared for the unexpected.  So...

Step #1: make a list of the supplies I need.  Try deliberately not to add "new red pumps" and "olive green leather handbag" to the list.  Also scratch chocolate and wine.
Step #2: add chocolate and wine back to the list.  Who was I kidding?  Of course they're necessary supplies!
Step #3: stare blankly into my pantry and closets and realize that I have a) no room, and b) a mountain of things I haven't looked at in months.
Step #4: put my list on hold because it's crazy to shop before taking an inventory of what I already have.
Step #5: contemplate deeply why I have six cans of french-style green beans in my pantry even though I don't like them.  Also, meditate on why I have twelve tubes of antibacterial gel and only one tampon.  
Step #6: start eating the chocolate and drinking the wine.
Step #7: get back to business and finally weed out all of the unused and unnecessary items.  Donate the good stuff to the food bank, charities, etc.  Pitch the rest.  
Step #8: start a new list of supplies because I've misplaced the previous one.  
Step #9: go shopping for supplies.  Resist handbag aisle.  In fact, resist all clothing, cosmetics, magazine, and housewares aisles.  
Step #10: place supplies neatly into newly cleaned pantries and closets.  Smile and celebrate my accomplishments with chocolate and a glass of wine.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Manifesto to Domesticity

After writing yesterday's post, I got to thinking more about the whole "being a good steward of my resources" thing.  I think that most of us recognize that we're pretty lucky when it comes to resources (I'm assuming that if you're reading this on a computer--and have the time to read blogs for leisure--that you live a reasonably affluent life).  The very fact that I own my own home with clean water and a refrigerator to keep my food fresh sets me apart from a lot of people in the world.

Additionally, I think that most of us will acknowledge on some level that we aren't as mindful as we could be with the stuff we have.  I know I waste a lot.  And I feel uncomfortable with that.  

Truthfully I think it is this discomfort that leads me to pursue better "domestic fitness" in my life.  After all, before domesticity was negatively associated with the suburban housewife, household chores used to be all about resourcefulness.  Women would get up early and tend to the home all day in an effort to maximize their resources.  They canned their produce to extend its life through the winter.  They cleaned their homes to keep out diseases that might threaten their livelihood and cost them money.  They planned their meals WAY in advance (take that! husband), ordering supplies in bulk and rationing them through the seasons.  Their domestic activities were directly related to their stewardship.

We, of course, live in different times.  But sometimes I worry that I've gotten too far away from those practices.  The truth is that when I am too busy to take care of the basics--cleaning, preparing food, budgeting--I waste more.  Quite a lot more, in fact.  I can't, in good conscience, ignore that and continue in my ways.

So call it a "manifesto to domesticity" if you will, but I think this little "back to the basics" experiment of mine might actually have more depth than I originally thought.  

Any thoughts?  Share them with me!  Comment here or email me at shillberry@comcast.net

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Flunking Home "Work"

So I told my husband the other day about my yearly meal plan idea.  He said I was a weirdo.  That was his exact word: weirdo.  Apparently saving meal plans seems silly to him.  Of course, eating a diet of tortillas and cheese seems silly to me.  But I digress...

After a week and a half of trying to get into domestic shape, I have to confess that I am doing fairly badly.  I procrastinated my grocery shopping, thus resulting in Taco Bell and cupcakes for dinner.  My bathroom sink is covered in toothpaste goo.  And there's an unattractive smell coming from my garbage disposal.

Part of me thinks, who cares?  So what if my house is dirty and we had Taco Bell.  Domestic perfection is an antiquated goal--not for someone with a college degree and her own business.  Modern girls can't be bothered with the petty housekeeping standards of the 1950's.  We've been liberated from all of that!

And of course I'd be right.  Our culture doesn't measure successfulness based on shiny bathroom sinks and meal plans, nor should we.  

But...(you knew I'd throw in a "but") there are a few negative consequences from my recent days of domestic malaise.  One is that I spent a lot more money than I would have if I just made and stuck to a plan.  How? you ask.  Well, running out to grab fast food every day is probably the most financially wasteful way we can eat.  Plus it's really bad for you.  Also, my sink is just gross. 

In other words, not having a plan (or not sticking to one) on the homefront makes me feel like a pretty bad steward of my resources.  Kind of wasteful and unappreciative with what I have.  So the truth is that while I don't feel convicted about my domestic shortcomings because I'm striving for some arbitrary household perfection, I do feel convicted for being a bad steward.  

Kind of makes me want to try harder.

P.S. Just for fun, check out this link, "shiny sinks 101" by the Fly Lady.  Perhaps I should heed her advice and stage an intervention in my bathroom.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Project #1: Meal Planning

Yesterday I mentioned my two-part strategy for getting into domestic shape this fall.  Well, for my first project I decided to set aside some time and plan out dinners and grocery lists for the next 6 weeks.  Ambitious, I know.  It's just that I hate working all day (I know...I work from home, but it still counts), and then opening the fridge only to find the sad remnants of meals gone by.  Then my husband walks into the room, and the conversation goes like this:

him: so, what's for dinner?
me: well, I'm not sure.  what are you in the mood for?
him:  I don't care.  whatever.
me:  that doesn't help.
him: I can just microwave a tortilla with cheese.
me: but you had that last night.
him: so?
me (concerned by this point for his nutritional health, but still unmotivated to cook): alright.  what's on tv?

The thing that bugs me the most about this scene is that I know better.  I know that homemade meals tend to be more well-balanced and healthy.  I know that cooking makes me feel better.  I know that the food I prepare tastes better than take-out (okay, maybe not all of the time).  And I know that it costs less.

I also know from experience that planning menus ahead of time, with accompanying grocery lists, greatly increases our chances of eating real food (contrary to popular opinion, tortillas and cheese do not count).

My most recent epiphany in this on-going challenge is to create menus ahead of time, and then keep them on file for the next year.  Normally I just throw them away, along with the grocery lists once the week is over.  But I'm going to try to start a "menu notebook" and see how it goes.  I figure that if I liked it this year, chances are good I'll like it next year too.  Perhaps I'll get into a food rut, and the plan will backfire.  But if it has even the potential of saving me time, money and that damn tortilla conversation, it's worth it!

Incidentally, there is always a ton of resources online for grocery shopping and menu planning.  Check out this link to Good Housekeeping on saving money in the grocery store, as well as my go-to place for recipes, MyRecipes.com.

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Plan to Plan

As I launch into this week of "domestic challenges," I can't help but think about my first year of marriage.  Up until that point I hadn't really had full domestic reign, and I therefore had no idea how I'd do at managing my own household (I know...I married young).  Incidentally, right around that time Real Simple started becoming a popular magazine, and I snagged a two-year subscription.

If ever there was a bible for home organization, it would be Real Simple.  I distinctly remember creating some kind of over-the-top flow chart detailing my daily, weekly and monthly cleaning activities based on the advice of the Real Simple gurus.  Of course I never actually implemented the plan, but it made me feel good having it.

The magazine just made everything look so simple.  Sure I could set aside an afternoon and photo copy the contents of my wallet in case it ever gets stolen (six years later I still haven't done it).  Sure I could plan out my meals for a month, complete with a laminated pantry checklist and a perfectly aligned tupperware system (do lime Tostidos count as dinner?).  Sure I could set aside a small box with party supplies in case I unexpectedly need to throw a part (which has never happened, by the way).  It all seemed so reasonable, so doable.

Since then I've decided that reality lies somewhere between the enchantment that is Real Simple and the disaster that is the back of my pantry.  My goal is to find that reality this fall.

I have a two-part strategy.  Part on is to spend some time planning.  Meal planning, most specifically, but also planning ahead for the holidays and parties and emergencies.  Part two is to actually follow up on my plans.  Obviously this is the more difficult step.  I'll let you know how it goes.

For those of you who are glutton for organizational punishment, Real Simple is still faithfully churning out lists.  Here's the link to their "worksheets and checklists," where you'll find everything you need to eat seafood, plan a wedding, prep for Thanksgiving, and grocery shop like a pro.  Just beware of the flow charts in "everyday cleaning."  They can be tricky...

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