To NEVER make a New Year’s resolution!!!
This has only been going on successfully for the last two years now, and I want to add that it is very easy to do!! Don’t get me wrong; I am not against self-improvement, that is far from the truth. I have just come across (for myself) a more effective technique that isn’t prompted by the new year’s advent to help and motivate me improve my ways. History reminds me of years and years where I would start the new year off with all these lofty goals, only to realize that after just a few weeks into January, I had already failed at almost every ambition I had. As noble an idea of making New Year’s Resolutions is, it just wasn’t ever coming to fruition for me; I knew that a better approach had to be found where I could actually follow through with and keep my goals for the year. The old familiar saying of ‘it takes 30 days to make a habit’ has always rang softly in the back of my mind. But it wasn’t until February of 2006 that I took a first stab at this tactic. That was the month Rob and I started going through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace class and when we were challenged to make some serious financial adjustments to our spending habits. After working for two months to get our monthly grocery spending down to $360, focusing all attention on ways to shave off expenses, I was pleased to see that we had actually attained a goal. And even better, because of having two months to get used to minor adjustments in shopping and food prep, I could see that sticking to this new grocery budget was a realistic lifestyle we could abide by for years and years to come. Being March, the 3rd month of the year, I had already blown all my new year’s resolutions I had set out to achieve starting in January (I wasn’t surprised). But, after seeing the success of setting a goal for a new grocery budget and sticking with it in such a short time frame, I started thinking I could apply a similar approach of goal setting to all areas of my life that I wanted to see improvement in. Rather than starting off the year with a bunch of grand plans that I would most likely lose sight of and fail at in a matter of weeks (e.g., spending less money, working on a better marriage, not hollering so much at Halle, reading more classics, reducing coke intake – all things that can’t really be quantified and were without a true plan of action), I came up with a new resolve. To change just one thing each month. I would have 30 days to work hard and stay focused on just one thing, so as to have it adopted into my daily/weekly routine come the end of the month. And then at the end of the year, I could feel a sense of accomplishment over 12 little somethings rather than failure from a bunch of ambitious nothings.
So for this blog, I thought it would be fun for me to see over the last couple of years the permanent changes and improvements I have made in life. Some were for budget purposes, others for health reasons, and of course bettering my marriage and parenting are in the mix too. Some were super simple and didn’t need a month, but I still allowed all those days so as to be sure the change was a done deal. Every now and then, I would record the past changes I had made from the prior months. That way I wouldn’t forget what I had been working on and would be able to keep up the motivation to continue on in this manner. Because I don’t write down at the start of the month what I would be working on, some things have been forgotten. But beginning back at the grocery budget change, these are the majority of them.
**$360 a month for groceries
Our grocery allowance included all food, drinks, diapers (for twin toddlers), toiletries, and household cleaning items. This indeed was a huge adjustment for us. And in the early months of trying to not over-spend with our money from our food related cash envelopes, we would have to forego our $40 monthly dining-out money because we needed it for groceries. The plan for meeting this budget has had a lot of work and adjustments to it. In the early months of trying to adjust to the spending, we would often have many meatless meals of pasta; or eggs and tortillas were a guaranteed weekly fare for dinner. But over time, with other changes to cooking habits, small adjustments here and there in the types of food we buy, and learning the tricks of pharmacy shopping (I’ll get to that later), I feel we live very comfortably on a $90 a week grocery budget. This even includes wine and beer! We did have to acquire a taste for boxed-wine to make this work and I do ration the bottles Rob can have in a week, but we wanted to make sure we didn’t forego those pleasures.
**buy dry beans rather than canned
Since beans already provided an inexpensive way to eat healthy and could be used as a meat substitute to save money, I learned I could get even more from our grocery budget by getting into a habit of buying the dry beans, soaking them over night and then cooking them all day in the crock pot the next morning. It became a common site to see the crock pot out of hiding with some form of legume soaking or cooking on the counter.
**make oatmeal from the canister of rolled oats – no more individual packages
We (the girls and I) would eat a lot of oatmeal and this was another area I found out I could save money. I would usually make up a big batch of it early in the week and then could heat up a little bit as needed for breakfast. Sweeten with brown sugar and butter and it tastes just fine.
**buy only block cheese instead of pre-grated or pre-sliced
It has become so second nature to me now to get out our 2lb blocks of cheese and either grate them or use the cheese slicer for our meals. So much cheeper!!! I have found that monterey jack cheese is the best for being one of those cheeses that you can use across the board in all types of recipes (ones that call for mozzarella and cheddar)
**No more cokes
I was consuming way too much of those carbonated beverages a day! I knew complete elimination would be good for both health and budget. It was a tricky thing of daily resisting the urge, but by remembering all the health hazards of soda when I wanted a can of coke AND the money we would save by not purchasing them, my mission was accomplished. I can now say that since August of 2006, I have not had a coke or any other of its fellow soft drink buddies. Know that this will not be a decision I will ever make with wine. And although a ban on purchasing merlots, cabernets… may have serious benefits in the budget area, I will not give up the other benefits I appreciate from “mommy’s medicine.” Even if the medical world were to stop publishing studies on how it profits the heart, I would still hold out my Scriptural reasoning of heart benefits with words from Psalm 104:5 making it known that God makes ‘wine that gladdens the heart of man” : )
**No more items that are marketed as “reduced fat”
Any fat-free, reduced-fat, low sugar items in our house are only those that come that way naturally. Thanks to Rob’s sister who has her ND (a Naturopathic doctorate) I have become more and more educated in the area of nutrition. She introduced this book to me called “Nourishing Traditions” – The cookbook that challenges politically correct nutrition and the diet dictocrats. It states that “The premise of this book is that modern food choices and preparation techniques constitute a radical change from the way man has nourished himself for thousands of years and, from the perspective of history, represent a fad that not only has severely compromised his health and vitality but may well destroy him” Ouch! The basic theory is that our bodies were designed to recognize whole foods, and in the last century we have modified our food supply so dramatically that our bodies cannot recognize and therefore utilize much of the “nutrition” added to foods, or the nutrition found in genetically or otherwise engineered foods. With all the refining processes to make foods less fattening, the vitamins and nutrition are not as readily absorbed as their full fat counter parts. Now I must say that I was COMPLETELY overwhelmed when I read this book; I thought ‘I can’t eat anything ever again!’ But that is where the baby steps come in, one change at a time will add up for a healthier lifestyle over time.
**buy only organic whole milk
The book above also opened my eyes to a sickening reality when it comes to dairy products because of the hormones given to cows. I wont go into the details (it is pretty gross), but I am never buying non-organic milk again. I will eventually switch all dairy to organic. But this will be a gradual change and adjustment in grocery shopping (because it is so darn expensive). Milk just seemed the first place to start.
**no sugar substitutes
I wanted to reduce sugar intake, but not in an engineered way. No splenda, no aspartame, no Sweet’N Low, no NutraSweet. It was tricky at first to actually find items like juice, jelly, and applesauce that were low in sugar (only because they didn’t add it and not because of artificial sweeteners) but now I know what to buy and it is not much of an effort anymore.
**only serve home-made salad dressing
For budget and health reasons (and I discovered even taste reasons are an added bonus too). I have been able to find great recipes for all sorts of dressing types.
**Spend every weekday going through a chapter of the book ‘Teach your child to read in 100 easy lessons’ at nap time with Halle until we are through
We started this in April of 2007 when Halle was 4 and life has never been the same since!!! Halle reads better than Rob and her nose is almost always in a book. I have to say that I know this book isn’t what afforded Halle to ability to read at such a young age. I think she just had that gift in her and this book provided the necessary tools to get her started. I KNOW FOR CERTAIN that Dee and Gracie will not be reading fluently at age 4 or 5 (or maybe even 6 or 7), but I will go through the same process with them, just without expecting the same results. An added benefit of going through that book was this. The little bit of discipline in spending scheduled educational time with Halle made the idea of home-schooling our girls seem much more doable. Once we finished the book, this was changed to getting Halle to read everyday (which is now even more important to her than eating).
**Serve Rob a glass of water each night, before I go to bed
I wanted something fairly easy that I knew I could always do for Rob each night, something that would be a constant reminder of my desire to work on our marriage. It seemed that getting a glass of water would be a simple enough act of kindness for me to carry out. Even if I was tired or slightly peeved, this was a small and selfless task that I could follow through with daily to help keep a proper focus. I didn’t tell Rob what I was up to and it went on for two months before he ever saw me putting water by his bed (I am still not sure why he never wondered how the full glass of water WITH ICE he was drinking at his bed-side got there????) Anyways, when Rob finally did take notice of my nightly ritual, I had to dispel his thoughts on the WHY I was doing it and share with him the real reasons (a funny story I’ll be glad to share non-publicly for those who might be curious and ask).
**make all our bread we eat at home
More than two years ago, I had a lesson in bread making from a friend and have never bought another loaf since. Once every two weeks, we make 3 loaves of bread. I bake one and throw the other two into the freezer to be pulled out later, either for another loaf of bread or for pizza dough. The whole house smells wonderful and I know we are eating healthier bread. The next step will be acquiring a grain mill. Then we can grind our own wheat!
**change my style of panties
Surprisingly, this came from several of my girlfriends that were very adamant that I make change in this area. Granny-styles could not be good for a marriage – that is what they argued. I won’t elaborate much more on this, but it honestly took more than a month FOR ME to get used to the change they insisted I make (the other person who would be effected by the change had no trouble adjusting…don’t think too hard on that one!)
**use honey as a sweetener when I would normally use a teaspoon of sugar
This was mainly for the girls. Even though it is more expensive to buy honey, it is a natural sweetener and I wanted to make more effort at reducing their sugar intake. We don’t say ‘no’ to sugar and this wasn’t an adjustment to baking desserts. We just now avoid it (at our house) as a sweetener for the kids. Plain yogurt and oatmeal are sweetened only with honey. Cinnamon toast, one of Halle’s favorites, is now made with honey, butter, and cinnamon. Like I said, this applies mainly to the girls. Because it may be well noted (and observed) that my daily coffee has several teaspoons of sugar AND loads of creamer (the full-fattening kind with all kinds of engineered unhealthy crap in it). Maybe someday I’ll make a change in that area. Maybe…
**figure out CVS shopping
Oh my!!! We have ONLY paid LESS THAN $20 out of pocket since March on all our diapers, toiletries, and household products by learning about Extra Care Bucks at CVS. Check out the money saving mom website for the how tos by reading ‘CVS 101’ it is so amazing how this works!!!
**buy only one carton of yogurt a month, make the rest on my own
We go through a lot of yogurt in this house, so the intent was to save money by making our own. But I was using the oven light to do this (the light creates just the right amount of heat for the yogurt process to take place) then Rob pointed out that to replace an oven light was very expensive and would not save us any money if I burned it out. But there are many other methods out there to making your own yogurt. I just have to find one that I will adopt into our schedule. I think that will be this February’s new goal… I did keep it up for 5 months though when I did think we were saving money.
**no more using plastic in the microwave
With all the talk on the dangers of plastic these days, apart from buying all new bowls and storage containers, this was one thing I could realistically do. It was an adjustment in getting used to taking contents out of leftover plastic containers and putting them in/on something glass before heating them up, but I am used to this now and don’t even notice the extra step anymore.
**give up JIF and only buy peanut butter that doesn’t have hydrogenated oil
Taste and budget definitely suffered : ( but I know we weren’t profiting anything with the junk that was being put into our old favorite. We are slowly but surely getting used to the taste and consistency of peanut butter that has well, just peanuts in it. And even though I am not tempted to scoop out spoonfuls to snack on like I used to, I am finding that when served with apples or as a PB&J sandwich, you don’t really notice.
**Read from a Bible to the girls everyday at breakfast
We were already reading from the Jesus Storybook Bible fairly regularly for many many months at this point, but I wanted a ritual of “daily bread” to go along with our morning meal. This has been nothing but a joy to me!!! Dee and Gracie will often throw out the fact that “we’ve already read this one.” Well, we’ve already eaten cereal before too haven’t we? That is what I reply back with and then add the next few lines. But we still do it every day, right?, because our bodies need it. The same is true with the Bible. Now I think they make their comments regularly just to be silly and to hear me compare other daily tasks we do over and over again to the need for reading Scripture over and over again.
** have one-on-one time with each daughter before their nap time
I do have to confess that I was getting selfish with the downtime-for-mommy I was afforded by the girls’ daily nap time. I would hurry to get the them all down so that I could have some alone time. But in exchange, I realized I was missing an opportunity for some great (never to be received again) quality time with each of my girls. So I started spending just a little bit of time with them, individually, before they would go down for a nap. I usually start with Gracie (who naps in the guest room) and read her a book. Then I go to Dee in her room and do likewise. Halle is last and it is sad that it seems she is the one making the sacrifice, because in reality it is SHE that lets me read to her (she would much rather me skip the whole process so she can get on with her own reading). But I assure her this time is special and she humors me while I read several pages from a chapter book to her. Right now, we are halfway through ‘The Princess Bride’. It will take us awhile to get through because she says I can only read two or three pages at a time. But sometimes I am able to sneak in several more pages… it is just so good!
**only buy Fair trade coffee
This was decided at Christmas time. With all the coffee we drink, it just seems like the least we can do. And I am surprised that it is not so readily available. It even took me searching at several stores before I could find a whole bean decaf variety. But this is a change I want to make – and if you are interested, you can read more about our reasoning for wanting to buy more fair trade products here
So that is my list! This isn’t all I have accomplished in the last two years (at least I hope not!). But these are for sure the changes that I have stuck with and not gone back on (except the yogurt – but I just needed a new method). I share all these only to give encouragement to any others out there who (like myself) were never successful with keeping goals. This method might work for you too! Slow and steady. Just think how many lasting things can be yours to claim when you are 50, 60, 70!!! On a side note, I should probably add ‘flossing everyday’ (or even once a week) to this list SOON; that way my teeth will last as long as I do! And I have been wanting to officially add ‘**no more products with high fructose corn syrup’ But until I can find ice cream (and the good flavors flavors like peppermint and key-lime pie), I can not commit to this! Oh and I can’t find lime-aid (for making margaritas) that is free of this either. So apart from those two items, all other food items we buy do not have this ingredient in it.
at this point my word count is above 3330 and I am wondering how many blog-skimmers there are who just glanced over the words in bold and then hit ‘mark as read’ on their google reader page. I’m ok with that! I know I am wordy and long- winded; so kudos to those who actually read everything, you’re a good listener as I ramble on!!