Goal Setting: Is It Working?

A couple of weeks, I posted about trying to use goal-setting to push myself to get more done.

As usual, I’m getting mixed results. On the one hand, making a list of weekly goals does help move tasks that have been languishing on my long to-do list. I have, for instance, mended a purse that’s been on the list for months. On the other hand, making a list of tasks does not, by itself, create more hours in the day. What it does do is help select a task to fill a certain period of time. Right now, for instance, I am on hold with my health insurance company (current length of call, 54 minutes 25 seconds) and have already crossed a few small items off the list while waiting. The pre-curated list helps me just pick something.

This is my general procedure:

  1. I have a designated time every week (Monday afternoons; I tend to think of a week being Monday-Sunday) when I make up a new list of goals.
  2. I put 10-15 items on it in a mix of difficulty levels/time taken. Some are tiny, specific items, like signing up for CreditKarma, while others are more long-term, like how much money I’d like to make.
  3. I keep a master to-do list of items that I would like to get to eventually, and I draw my 10-15 items from that list.
  4. I never add to my weekly list after I’ve made it unless there is something truly time-sensitive; this week, for instance, I landed a job interview to prepare for. If necessary, I then take something else off the weekly list. If something comes up that’s not urgent–for instance, my aunt sent me a present this week and I need to write her a thank-you note–I add it to my master list.
  5. I never look at the master list except when I am preparing my weekly list. This forces me to concentrate on the items on my weekly list.
  6. I don’t put normal chores on the list. I know I need to make a grocery list and shop, no need to write it down.
  7. When I have several hours to work, I will sometimes make a mini-list of tasks to accomplish during those hours.

As I’ve been doing this for a few weeks, I’ve made a few refinements in how I allocate tasks. I’ve been separating them more. For instance, I wrote “write two blog entries” the first week, but I wrote just one. One goal failed, zero goals met. But if I make those two separate tasks, and write just one, then I have missed a goal but also met one.

I’m also changing how I make goals for earning money. I was setting just one lofty goal, and frankly I haven’t even gotten close. From now on, I’m going to make one low goal, say to earn $200 pr $225 depending on what else is going on that week, and a second goal, say to earn $250. Then if I earn $221, I’ve met one goal and failed at another. Otherwise, no matter how little I earn, I’ve only missed one goal. That should keep me motivated even if I know I won’t make my “top” goal.

Readers, any advice-setting goals for me? How do you keep yourself motivated to get things done?

Mending Roundup

I’ve been busy with needle and thread this week and last, getting some repairs out of the way and off my desk (where I have been carelessly piling them). And I mean a literal needle. While some of this (all?) would have been easier to do with a sewing machine, I don’t find it efficient to use mine for small jobs. For one thing, I can’t use it while watching my children for fear they will interfere with it somehow and get hurt and/or break something. For another, I have no good place to keep it set up, so I store it in my closet. In its original packaging. So setting it up is a minor pain. If, on the other hand, I sew by hand, I can take my sewing to the park with me.

So here’s what I’ve been up to:

Replacing camisole strap adjusters

61gmPf71gQS._SL1500_The strap adjusters broke on one of my sundresses, but it turns out you can buy replacements at any fabric store–I got these Dritz ones. I successfully repaired it, but made a couple of rookie mistakes that I’m going to share with you in hopes of saving you from making them, too:

  1. Not realizing I need both ends of the strap free. The strap needed to be re-sewn to the front of the dress, so I cleverly did that first… then realized I would need to cut it off again to replace the strap adjuster. Oops.
  2. Not replacing the circle part at the same time. As soon as I had finished the project, I realized that the little circle on the back (joining the strap to the much shorter strap attached to the back of the dress) was broken. So now I will have to cut the strap off again and start over. I don’t think I’ll have to cut if off the front of the dress, at least.

I found that I needed to look at an example to figure out how to thread it. Unfortunately, both sides had broken, so the dress itself had no working adjuster. I resorted to looking down the front of my shirt to study the adjuster on my bra. Had I worn my Genie Bra, I might have been thwarted altogether!

Sewing up a seam

Mr. FP scored a free T-shirt at a street fair, but a shoulder seam was not sewn all the way. I stitched it up for him. I have trouble working with knit fabrics on the machine anyway, so maybe it’s just as well I did this by hand.

Fixing a leather purse

Mr. FP bought me this leather purse from a street vendor in Rome, but one of the straps popped out of the little pocket holding it. The lady at

I glued this strap back into its socket. But will the glue hold? Stay tuned.

I glued this strap back into its socket. But will the glue hold? Stay tuned.

Jo- Ann recommended a glue called E6000, which seemed to do the trick.

Ironing on patches

This was not successful. I didn’t expect an iron-on patch to last forever, but… two washes? I liked the way it looked (I out a brown corduroy patch on khaki toddler pants to cover a whole in the knee), so I suppose I will just sew it on. I probably will need to get the sewing machine out for that one. Sigh.

What are you fixing this week? Or have you given up on something and thrown it out?

Lazy Mom’s Overnight Oatmeal

Perhaps you’ve wondered, “Why doesn’t the Frugal Paragon post recipes like other mommy/frugal living bloggers?” The answer is that while I have many talents, I am not a particularly good cook.

And the recipe I’m about to share with you isn’t even something I eat personally. It seems like of slimy to me. But it is super-easy and cheap and my toddlers love it.

The basic premise of overnight oatmeal is that you soak it instead of cooking it. So in the evening, I mix together a cup of yogurt, a little jam, three ounces of milk, and three-quarters cup of rolled oats. It looks like this:

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Isn’t your mouth watering already? I put it in the fridge overnight and by morning, it looks like this:

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Other recipes often call for Greek yogurt, but frankly I find that too expensive to feed the boys. They also usually call for less yogurt and less oatmeal, say a six-ounce yogurt container and half a cup of oatmeal, to make two servings. But my kids are big eaters of anything in the yogurt and oatmeal families, so I had to up the quantities. This will feed two very hungry preschoolers, or three who eat like birds. I usually serve with a banana on the side and, if I’m feeling particularly ambitious, some chopped walnuts or pecans.

Frugal Paragon Overnight Oatmeal

Serves 2-3

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • spoonful of jam, honey, or other sweetener, to taste
  • 3/4 cup rolled oats
  • 3 ounces milk (1/4 cup plus two tablespoons). Double the milk if using Greek yogurt.
  • Nuts or other mix-ins (optional)

Combine the first four ingredients and mix well. Refrigerate overnight. Spoon into bowls and serve. Top with nuts, chocolate chips, etc. if desired.

September Goals

Yesterday I assessed my August goals and got mixed results. Now that the school year has started in earnest (Mr. FP is a teacher, so we still run our lives on the academic calendar), I’m going to try setting some more serious goals and see where that gets me.

Income: Earn $400 more than I spend on childcare, whatever that may be. (I am toying with the idea of pulling the boys out of their preschool as I’m not sure I’m happy with it.)

Spending: Limit grocery spending to $500. Mr. FP has been doing our shopping, but he is very busy with the school year now.

Lifestyle: Reduce Little Brother’s dependence on Pull-Ups. Use them only for trips to the Y and overnight; by the end of the month, try to have him sleeping in two pairs of training pants with plastic cover instead of Pull-Ups.

Other: Get life insurance. Read three books. Make weekly to-do lists for chores and household tasks.

I’m serious about that last one. A couple of bloggers I admire, most notably the Frugal Girl and the Prudent Homemaker, always blow me away with their to-do lists and lists of tasks accomplished. I keep a general to-do list, but have been inconsistent about assigning tasks to particular weeks or days, and things languish. The idea is that if I make a weekly list, maybe I can do a better job of enforcing myself. Here’s this week’s list:

  • Find pediatrician and make appointments for boys
  • Follow-up on speech therapy for Big Brother
  • Go to Jo-Ann’s for supplies; hem jeans. Sewing machine maintenance. Mend 2 pairs pants and 2 dresses.
  • Find a life insurance broker
  • Take old clothes/shoes to donation box
  • Get fingerprints done for job application
  • Goals blog post (done!)
  • Order bike lights (done!)
  • Earn $275
  • Look into fixing broken leather purse
  • Inventory boys’ winter clothes
  • Mop (done!)

It’s am ambitious list by my standards–if I can’t do it all, then I’ll know to put less on next week’s list. What are you up to this week?

August Review

I got all vacation-y in August. Some of my goals I blew out of the water; others wound up in the “fail” column.  Here’s how it breaks down:

Income

Goal: $670

Actual: $479.62. Ouch! I still made more than I spent sending the boys to preschool, but just barely. Too many “work” days got eaten up with errands and so on.

Spending

I did stay out of Costco all month. Mr. FP used up all the gas and bought more (sigh), but now that he has settled into the school year a bit, he will be biking to work more often. With the boys and me being on vacation for twelve days, we easily kept the grocery bill under $400.

An unexpected expense arose: I had to spend over $200 on a Flovent prescription as my asthma was quite bad. I was puffing on my albuterol three to five times a day, which, if you know anything about asthma, is dangerous and irresponsible. We have only catastrophic health insurance right now (but many plans have a prescription deductible anyway), so I had to cough up for the full amount. Flovent is a pricey one, but it’s a lot cheaper than wheezing myself into the ER!

Budgeting

Successfully tracked spending, including cash gifts and expenditures. Haven’t actually put that into a budget yet.

Lifestyle Adjustments

It would be a stretch to define Little Brother as “potty trained,” but he’s making good progress and is wearing cloth training pants during the day. We’ve been using Pull-Ups for nighttime and things like going to the Y, so the goal for this month will be to reduce that sharply.

Other

I arranged for a library volunteer position and have already gone in once. Sold the baby monitor; nothing on the gate yet. Read a whopping nine books. Yes, nine!  Admittedly, many of them were “genre fiction” (i.e., Agatha Christie novels and trashy romances) that I read on beach vacation while the kids made sand castles and my sister served me a daiquiri, but by no means all of them! Some of them were “real” books.

Stay tuned tomorrow for fresh goals, as one of my goals is to, well, set more goals. How was your August?

Cold-Brewed Coffee, No Equipment Needed

I love coffee. I usually have only one cup a day, two at the outside, but it’s my absolute favorite time of day. I am drinking it right now during the after-lunch viewing of Sesame Street that has replaced naptime at our house. Yet despite my extreme affection for this nectar of the gods, I’ve never used a coffee pot, and we’ve never owned one.*

Instead, we cold brew. If you haven’t heard of this method, it’s just what it sounds like–you mix together water and coffee grounds and let them sit at room temperature for a long time, then strain. The result is ideal for iced coffee, of course, but is also good heated. Much less acid than other methods, and it keeps in the fridge for two weeks! That way, you can have the exact amount you want, no wasting half a pot that you didn’t want. It is also very strong, more like coffee concentrate. We dilute it 50/50 with milk or water. (I am particularly partial to unsweetened vanilla almond milk with a spoonful of Ovaltine. Please don’t judge me.)

Now, you can buy a special machine, like the Toddy, to make your cold brewed coffee in, but we manage without. Besides the initial expense, the Toddy requires special filters and stoppers that wear out and have to be replaced. Our equipment involves an old round pitcher, a small colander that fits snugly in the top, and a coffee filter. Another advantage is that we can use regular ground coffee from the grocery store; the Toddy requires a coarse grind, meaning you probably need to own a coffee grinder, too!

Our coffee brewing equipment--all items that we've owned for years.

Our coffee brewing equipment–all items that we’ve owned for years.

Here’s our simple routine: Mix two cups ground coffee with eight cups water. (We use the liner of an ice bucket for this step.) Let sit 16-18 hours. (I generally mix it up at 2 or 3 in the afternoon and strain the next morning.) Strain it through the coffee-filter-lined colander.  Refrigerate! Now, the straining is the step that’s a bit of a pain because you have to wait for it to filter through and change the filter a few times, but I just do it in between steps of my morning routine.

I love the minimalist aspect of our routine. We don’t have to make coffee every day, don’t own any special equipment, and don’t have to devote counter space to a coffee-making machine. You probably have something in your house that would work. If not, try Goodwill. Last time I was in ours, I saw several of these round pitchers. So if you’ve had your eye on a Toddy, take it off your list!

What’s your favorite frugal way to make coffee?

*Except for a year or so when we owned one for my mother’s convenience when she visited.

August Goals

This is my last post for a couple of weeks–the boys and I are headed off on a family vacation.

I’m not a very consistent blogger. The last time I posted goals, it was for April. (I met them, too, so yay me.)

But it’s time to make some again, I think. We’ve been busy exploring Denver, getting settled into our new city, and getting used to shopping for and cooking all our own food now that we no longer live on a boarding school campus with dining hall access; now that we’ve been here two months, I think we can be a little more systematic.

So here’s what I have in mind for August:

Income: Earn $250 more than I will be paying for part-time daycare, or $670 total. That’s a low month for me, but I’ll be on vacation for almost two weeks.

Spending: Make the Costco food and the tank of gas last the whole month. I miscalculated some of our staples and wound up at Costco twice in July and the result was a whopping $730 grocery bill for the month! (But also a freezer full of cheese, beef, etc., so August’s food bill should be very low indeed.)

Budgeting: Continue to track our spending with the goal of developing a realistic budget for our new life in Denver.

Lifestyle Adjustments: Potty-train Little Brother. This will save on the disposable diapers he wears to daycare and the electricity to run the washer and dryer. (90 minutes every other day! Yikes!)

Other: Read four books, arrange for a volunteer position at the public library, and sell our spare baby gate and monitor for spare cash.

What are you up to this last month of summer?

Lifestyle Inflation: Potty Training Edition

This post contains affiliate links.

I’m certainly not the first person to note that the “middle class” lifestyle is a lot fancier than it used to be. I was a pretty lucky teenager. I had a telephone in my very own room! I had both a Walkman and a Discman, and–the height of sophistication–I even had my own TV and VCR! Whereas nowadays, your average “middle class” teenager has approximately 1,312 electronic gadgets, half of them with data plans. And you need only meander the stroller section of Babies R Us to realize that lifestyle inflation has reached the younger set.

But I came across lifestyle inflation one place I wasn’t looking for it: potty training manuals. Last year, I read Toilet Training in Less Than a Day, the classic Azrin and Foxx work dating back to the mid-1970s. (It’s worth a read for the illustrations alone.) But my new library doesn’t have it, so this year, I checked out Teri Crane’s updated version of the same idea, Potty Train Your Child in Just One Day: Proven Secrets of the Potty Pro. Both use the same general idea of having a one-day “potty party” to get the tot out of diapers.

Book cover, Potty Train Your Child in Just One Day.

Seriously, this book is useless unless you really want advice about throwing a party with a farm theme.


I expected that the more recent one would address the proper use of Pull-Ups (it does) and wasn’t surprised that it suggests starting later (more like two and a half than newly two). What surprised me was the difference in swag. Crane’s book has you start the day by giving your child a wrapped doll (the kind that pees, of course) as a present to open. The underpants are also a wrapped present, and the child receives several more wrapped presents at the sort of graduation party that ends the day. The party should have a theme–which the underpants should match–expressed through decorations, stickers, sticker charts, etc.

Book Cover, Toilet Training in Less Than a Day by Azrin and Fox.

Take the time to hunt down the classic to take a less swag-filled approach.


The 1970s  Azrin and Foxx version (and remember my library didn’t have it, so I’m working from memory) also involves a doll, training pants, treats, and so on. But there is no party theme. And in their extended example, the peeing doll is borrowed from Big Sister and the training pants used to be Big Brother’s. There are no stickers, no wrapped presents, and no giant party at Chuck E. Cheese to round out the day. It also discusses the technical part of training in much more detail than Crane’s book, which skimps on the technicalities in order to make room for whole chapters about decorations.

I guess you know which model I will be attempting next month with Little Brother, armed with hand-me-down undies (actually, Big Brother still often likes to wear the padded Gerber ones, so I hope he will share), some treats from the bulk aisle at Sprouts, and the Potty Scotty doll my clever mother found for us at a consignment sale ($8!). Wish us luck!

July 2014 Net Worth Check: Artificially Inflated

Three months ago, I predicted that we would be more or less out of cash by now. That turns out not to be even remotely true, for two main reasons: Mr. FP’s old job paid out his last three months of paychecks in one lump sum, which we are currently living off of; and generous relatives sent us gifts, unsolicited but accepted with love and gratitude, totaling $3000 to “help with your moving costs.”

So the numbers are artificially high this month as we are spending down that last lump-sum paycheck. That said, it’s nice to see that we still have some cash reserves, even after paying off our last loan, and that the number is rising. Here’s how it looks this quarter:

Cash: $7638.35 (after paychecks start coming in from the new job, we’ll see what’s left here and invest most of the leftovers)

Investments: $55,102.25 (This is up about 10%  even without money going in. Apparently the market is doing well?)

  • Mr. FP’s 403(b): $30,432.31
  • Mrs. FP’s rollover IRA: $17,181.63
  • Mrs. FP’s Roth IRA: $7487.56

Property: $2000 (1999 Honda Accord)*

Credit Cards: -$1514.73

Net Worth: $63,225.87!

Wow, that’s up a lot–almost 17%! I don’t expect that kind of gain in the next few months, but I think we can maintain modest growth even after spending down these last paychecks. I didn’t realize how well our investments were doing or how much money we had until I sat down and added it up–which is, after all, the point of this exercise, to force myself to look at numbers and see our whole picture. What about you, readers? Has it been a good second quarter for you as well, or are you hoping for better luck the rest of the year?

*I re-checked the car’s value and took $1000 off. Mint offered to track it for me, but I try to use a more realistic number than you get from websites.

 

Goodwill Is the Best Place I’ve Ever Bought Jeans

Our old town in Pennsylvania didn’t have a Goodwill store. It had some other, lesser, small-town thrift store funding some other cause that I wasn’t sure if I supported or not. Now, there’s one in easy biking distance from our house, and you’ll have to excuse me if I’m really excited about it. Belt for $2? Toddler bike helmet for $4? Awesome!

So when I wanted some jeans to wear for a camping trip and the boys were all out for the afternoon, I headed over there. (Earlier I blogged about trying to repair my favorite jeans, but eventually they split anyway. Next time I’ll try an interior patch before it gets that bad.)

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I have neither the flexibility or desire to take a picture of my backside, so you’ll have to take my word for it that these $6 Goodwill jeans flatter it as well as my last full-price new pair.

The title says it all–it was the best place I’ve ever shopped for jeans, and not just because they were only $6. Here’s what was awesome about shopping for jeans at Goodwill:

  1. Convenience. Obviously depends on location, but Goodwill stores are generally located in strip malls, and you might very well be closer to one than to a proper mall. Mine is easy to bike to.
  2. Selection. They had maybe eight to twelve pairs in each size, all a different brand. So there were a lot to choose from–more than you usually find in an one mall store. I tried on six, liked three, and bought the best one.
  3. Ease of use. Mall stores generally arrange the jeans by brand, style, and color, and only then by size–if you’re lucky. You find something that looks cute, then have to hunt through a whole stack of folded pants looking for your size, which they may or may not have. Repeat with next stack. Repeat with pants on hangers. Goodwill, on the other hand, arranges the jeans by size, period. So you just find your size section and see what’s in it. Now, if you wear a nonstandard length, you’ll find it more challenging–there weren’t many petites or talls, and they were all mixed in. I’m actually freakishly short, so short that petite doesn’t do me any good as I have to hem them anyway, so in straight-leg jeans I just get regular length.
  4. Quality. Many of the pairs were in like-new condition and some were name brands.
  5. Less Freighted Expectations. If I spend $30 or $40 on a pair of jeans, there’s all this pressure on them to be The Perfect Jeans. But these? If they don’t work out, I’ll just bike them around the side of the store and re-donate them, mentally writing off the $6 as a donation to helping homeless people get jobs.
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Little Brother will be psyched the next time we walk to his preschool and he gets to carry his own diapers in his awesome Elmo bag.

With #5 particularly in mind, I decided to try some pull-on jeans. They’re pretty tricky to wiggle into, but my hope is that it will preserve my knit shirts from these tiny holes they keep getting. As a bonus, I found this awesome tiny Elmo backpack, $2, for Little Brother; he’s been wanting to carry his own things to his new preschool (two blocks away). Absolutely the only “con” to my shopping experience was that I wasn’t the only person who thinks Goodwill is an awesome place to shop, and I had to wait a few minutes for a dressing room.

I made sure to “like” them on Facebook so I’ll get notifications of all their 50% sale days, and I don’t care who sees it in my news feed!

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