Posts Tagged ‘despot’

Despot Tools: Pinterest and Google Reader


Pinterest.com has become my new thing.  I love it!  It’s helped me learn how to install wood trim, paint boxes on the nursery room wall, paint an old dresser, discover new recipes, think of ways to encourage neighbors and co-workers, design postcards and announcements, quilting and sewing projects.  All of those things make my job as a despot easier and just plain more fun!  Things that I’ve actually done or made, inspired by pinterest.  The list of things that I want to do is much larger!

1. Lasagna Soup from a Farm Girl’s Dabbles
2. French Onion Soup Burgers from Campbells
3. Baked Cream Cheese Spaghetti from Plain Chicken
4. Pumpkin Spice Cake from Family Bites
5. Peanut Butter Pretzel Bites from Two Tiny Kitchens
6. Chocolate Cheesecake Chocolate Cake from Little House on the Prairie Living
7. Easy Cheesy Garlic Bread from Nancy Creative
8. Christmas Candy Bar Goodie Bags from Crystal & Co.
9. Icy Holiday Punch from Taste of Home
10. How to Paint Laminate Furniture from Centsational Girl
11. Nursery Design from Oodeedoh
12. Magnetic Spike Rack for the Frig from Instructables

Google Reader

Where do most of the good ideas on Pinterest come from?  Blogs!  There are quite a few blogs that I’ve followed for a while and I’ve used Google Reader to keep track of them.  Otherwise, your alternative is to go to each one of those blogs and see what’s new.  This way, I go to one webpage and see all the new stuff that’s there.

To make Google Reader usable for me, I put blogs into categories.  When I’m short on time, I just check those categories that are the most meaningful to me.  Other categories, I’ll read at my leisure.  When I see something I like and want to remember, I’ll go to pinterest.com and pin it.  If it’s a recipe, I print it out to try later.  If I like the recipe, it’ll go into the recipe binder.

(click to view a larger image)

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Despot Tools: Financial Matters

Making Bills Easy

There are a few things that I use to make paying bills easy easier.

  • If I can set something up on an auto-pay, I will.  I prefer the ones where it’s my bank doing the pushing to the other company, but I do have some companies that pull money from our accounts. This is even the way that we tithe to our church and support missionaries.  (I know some recommend actually physically writing the tithe check each month as an act of worship, but this is how we do it).  I’ve been doing auto-pay going on 10 years and they’ve never once missed a payment.
  • If I can set something up on a level payment plan, I will.  Our utilities are on those – regardless of how much heat and water and gas we use in a month, we pay the same amount.  Once a year, they figure out the difference and we’ll either get a refund, a payment amount adjustment or we’ll need to make an additional payment.  Yeah, I pay more some months than I need to, but some months I pay less than I used.
  • If something isn’t naturally a fixed amount, I figure out what the max is likely to be and pay that amount. Examples: our cell phone plan is usually $73.00/month, but it’s varied before if I call 411 or someone sends us a text message.  So, each month, I have an auto payment set up for $75.00.  Yes, it means that I’m overpaying, on average, by $2.00 each month.  That’s not a big deal to me – they just credit our account.

Keeping all these payments fixed and regular means that it’s really, really unlikely that I’ll miss a payment.  It also helps our budget because the number rarely changes.  When the bill comes each month, I just open it up, make sure that the amount isn’t wrong or changed, that the due date didn’t change, and then I throw it in the “to shred” pile.  I’ve already got the plans to pay for it – no need to keep looking at it.

Set a budget and honor it

Jeff and I have a budget that we target each month.  When we first got it set up, it took a few months to get it ‘right’, but now it rarely changes from month to month.  Each month, I import our transactions into Quicken, it prints out a report of the spending we did in each category and I enter those into an Excel spreadsheet.  As long as Jeff and I don’t need to talk about anything, I’ll just email him the Quicken transaction report and our spreadsheet.  That way, he always has a copy.  We did just do a bunch of updates to the amounts, but that was because it’s a new year, we have a baby on the way, just moved into a house and we have more information on our habits than we did when newly married.

Automate Savings

I also use our bank’s Auto Pay feature each month to transfer money from checking to our various savings accounts.  We have 4 different accounts:

Account #1: Future expenses savings.  Each month, this account has a fixed amount transferred to it, say $300.  My bank is set up to just transfer the money on the 20th of the month. It represents the amount we need to set aside for future bills like auto insurance, car title and registration, vacations, future car purchases and my life insurance – based upon our budget. If I have an expenditure in those areas in a given month, I just transfer the money back to the checking account.  A simple spreadsheet tells me, of the given balance in that account, how much is allocated to each category.  I made a pretend spreadsheet with some made up numbers to show you how this would work:

Things to note in this example:

  • Each month, we’re putting in $90 into our auto insurance fund.  But in November, the balance went down.  Why?  We paid the insurance bill.  The same thing will happen this month (January 2012) to our Auto: License/Taxes account as my plates need to be renewed.
  • In October, the Auto Maintenance budget didn’t go up the full budgeted amount.  Why?  We had some maintenance expenses.  Looks like it was probably for $54.76 ($150 that it should have gone up minus the $95.24 that it did go up).  Looking at the Quicken transaction report would tell me for sure.
  • We haven’t spent any vacation money nor paid my life insurance (since it’s paid yearly each July) during those 4 months, so those accounts are accumulating as they should.

Account #2: House savings.  This account is a separate savings account for our mortgage company to pull our monthly payment from.  Each month, our bank is set up to transfer our house payment from checking to this savings accounts, then our mortgage company pulls from there.  Again, it guarantees that we have the money available for a payment and it prevents the mortgage company from messing with our checking account.  They can’t do that much damage to us even if they tried.  Considering that I’ve had 4 different mortgage companies over the life of my 1 loan (10 years old), that peace of mind is nice!

Account #3: Car replacement & emergency fund savings.  Each month, we transfer our car replacement money to this account.  Our plan is a “replace one of our cars every 5 years” plan.  Since we just got a new-to-us vehicle in early 2011, we don’t think we’ll need to touch that money until 2016.  Our cars are in good shape.  In fact, I hope to outgrow my car before we outlast the car!

Our emergency fund is fully funded, so we don’t put any more money into this account for that purpose. But if we were in the process of building it up, we would be moving money there.

Why seperate savings accounts?  The reason that the emergency fund and car fund is in a seperate savings account from the future expenses account is because:

1) This isn’t money we think we’ll touch any time soon.

2) This account is the highest interest rate account we could find (without moving banks each month) – which isn’t much these days.

But really, they could be all in one account and it wouldn’t bother me.  For the other savings accounts, we don’t really care what the interest rate is.  The car replacement and emergency fund money isn’t immediately accessible and it doesn’t need to be.  It’s the other savings accounts that we’d tap into first if bad stuff happened.

Account #4: Checking account. This is the account that feeds all others.  Our paychecks are deposited here.  Any other income is deposited here.  Our bills are paid from here.  We transfer money from here to their various savings accounts.  Doing our savings this way basically means that our checking account grows each month with the funds that we haven’t spent, don’t need to dedicate to future spending and aren’t related to the mortgage.

Paying off the mortgage early

Our big financial goal right now is paying off our mortgage as quickly as possible.  So, when we have extra money, I send that extra to the mortgage company.  How we do that: when we get to a certain balance in our checking account, I’ve been paying the extra to the principal on our mortgage.  I know others that always pay extra each and every month on their mortgage (say an extra $50), which I’ve done before, but this is the easiest way for us to do it now since we’re hitting that threshhold every other month or so.

Example (made up numbers): Based upon our spending, I feel comfortable having a $3,000 minimum balance in the checking account at any one time.  That’s enough to pay for any bills that will pull from there through the month with some buffer for unplanned things like auto repair.  (Any huge emergency expense, we’d transfer money from the emergency fund to cover.) But once we end a month with a $5,000 balance, then I’ll make an additional payment for $2,000 to the mortgage company to get back to the $3,000 minimum that I’m comfortable with.

Note: Every person will have a different threshold that they’re comfortable with. (Besides, every number I gave is a made up number). 

That’s how we manage our finances.  It’s not super simple with the different accounts and spreadsheets, but it works for us and it’s evolved that way over time.  You could make it even simpler by having 1 savings account and keeping more in cash envelopes.  This is what we’ve evolved to.

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This was supposed to be the last post in my “Despot of the Oikos” series, but instead I’m turning the one post I had planned into many.  Otherwise, the post just got too long! So, the next couple posts will be on some of the tools that I use to make being the despot of my home easier.  Some of these might work for you.  Some of these might not.  These aren’t in any particular order of usefulness.  And they certainly aren’t all going to be things that work for you.  Do you have a better way?  Teach me!

Menu Planning

Each weekend, usually Saturday mornings, I plan what meals I’m going to cook that week.  I base my menu on these things:

  • What leftovers do we need to use up?  Will I use those as my lunches or will those be dinners for us?
  • What’s our schedule this week?  What meals are we eating at home?
  • What ingredients do I have on hand that I should use up before they go bad?
  • What do we feel like eating?  Do I have a hankering for soup?  Is there a new recipe that I’ve eager to try?
  • What’s on sale at the grocery store?

Then I’ll make a menu and a grocery list and go shopping.

Organizing Recipes

I put all my “keeper” recipes in a 3-ring binder.  I put all my recipes on a sheet of normal sized copy paper, place them in a page protector and place them in a binder.  If the recipe is from a magazine or a side of a cereal box or handed down on a recipe card, it doesn’t matter. I just tape all recipes to a piece of paper and stick that in a page protector.  If I try a recipe and it’s a “keeper”, then it goes in there.  I don’t rely on being able to find that webpage or note card again.  Some of my pages are ripped from magazines.  Some are typed up from the internet.  Some are just the recipe index card taped on the page.  It does mean that all my recipes don’t look the same, but I don’t much care.  They’re all in one place and that’s what matters!

My binder is organized into categories (appetizers/sides, main dishes, desserts), so when it comes time to plan my menu for the week or look up a recipe or even cook something, I just pull out my binder, look for that page and remove just that page.  It’s water & spill proof and easy to maintain.  Are there cuter ways of doing this?  Yup.  Faster ways? Maybe.  More electronic ways?  For sure.  But this works great for me.

Grocery Shopping

I keep a grocery list on the fridge.  Just one of those long stationary type things that have a magnet on the back.  Throughout the week, if Jeff and I discover we’re running low on something, we just write it on the list.  And in general for our family: you need to write it on the list BEFORE it runs out.  So, when toilet paper or deodorant or paper towels are getting low-ish, it goes on the list.  Next time I’m out shopping, I’ll pick some up.

I’m not a super shopper.  I clip coupons, but only for things that I routinely buy.  I don’t look for coupons online or buy them on the internet.  I just haven’t gotten to that level yet.  I put all my coupons into a coupon organizer that fits into my purse.  I don’t use too many of them – to be honest – but I do use some – especially if there’s an item that’s on sale AND it has a coupon that I can use with it.

Lately, I’ve been going to No Frills grocery store because they match prices that other stores have on sale. Just bring in the other store’s ad and they’ll give you that price.  They don’t match on produce.  It’s great because I just peruse the ads of the other stores, find out what’s being sold for rock bottom prices and just buy it all at No Frills.  Super price on flour at Hy-Vee?  Great sale on Dr. Pepper at Bakers?  No problem – No Frills will match it.

It does get to be a little bit of a hassle when shopping – what do I have matching ads for?  So, I just put a note on my grocery list for things that I have an ad match for.  Then when I go to pick up that item, I double check to make sure I got the right thing in the right size.  When I put one of those ad match items into my cart, I put them all together.  I’ll have the cashier ring those up either first or last, so that I can pay attention.  It helps us both out.

I will stock up on groceries that won’t perish or can be frozen, but only if they’re great, rock star prices.  Right now, I have enough butter in the freezer to last me months as well as enough flour and sugar.  I won’t need to buy those for quite a while.  If there’s a fantastic sale on beef or chicken, I’ll buy at least a month’s worth.  We do eat meat at most meals, but there’s only 2 of us.  So a few pounds of hamburger and chicken last us a while.

I try to go shopping when it’s not busy and give myself plenty of time.  When I don’t have time to look at the prices, compare the item in the ad to the one I’m getting, use my coupons, talk to the cashier, then I get stressed, make mistakes and impulse buy.  It’s not like shopping takes me an hour to do, but I want to give myself plenty of room to do it well.

That’s how I do it. I guarantee that there are others who do it better, save more money, or faster.  What’s your system?

Edited: See here for some of my meal planning tips when you’re just cooking for 2.

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Despot: It’s not boring!

Last one in the Despot series!

Responsibility doesn’t mean boredom

A home will be managed.  Maybe it won’t be managed well.  Maybe it won’t be managed intentionally.  Maybe it won’t be managed the way you want it to, but it will be managed.  Things will get on the schedule.  Food will be ate.  Things will be cleaned (or not!).  The grass will grow. Or die.  Money will be spent.  Or saved.

I consider it a privilege and a hugely important task to be able to manage my home!  Sure, sometimes, I just see it as cleaning a toilet or putting food into the pantry, but when I take a step back and look at the bigger picture, I get happy and proud.  My home is being run the way that it is because I take it seriously. I like the way my house is decorated.  I like the foods I make.  I’m not embarrassed to have people over.  I love the fact that I’ve made my husband’s load easier.

We all have things that we’re excited about.  Some women love the decorating aspect of being a despot.  Other women?  Not so much.  Some women are excited by new recipes. Other women have 7 recipes and they make those 7 recipes each week.  Take joy in the things that you are excited about.  Endure the things that you aren’t excited about.  Tubs need to be cleaned and food prepared, but put your best time and energy and excitement into the things that give you joy.  You don’t have to be the Diva of Decorating if that’s not your thing. Keep to the basics.

Could I do better at being a despot?  Sure.  Could I do things faster?  Sure.  And I’m learning what those better and faster ways are. It’s a trial and error thing at times.  The skills that I’ll have at 60 years of age aren’t the same skills that I have today – I get to spend the next 30 years building my homemaking resume.  But I’m proud that it’s something that I get to do and I’m generally happy with the results.

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Despot: how, others and 24/7

Continuing on with the Despot posts…

Responsibility doesn’t dictate how

The cool thing about being the despot of your oikos is that nothing dictates how I carry out these responsibilities.  Good or bad, that’s something that I figure out myself.  Nothing dictates how or when I cook or clean.  Nothing dictates when I balance Quicken.  Nothing dictates how full I let our schedules get.  Nothing dictates how the house is decorated.  I get to decide.  Sometimes, that makes decisions harder. But, in general, I think it makes things more fun! My living room is decorated that way because I made decisions. My kitchen is stocked with that food because I decided what to cook.  I can dream of how to make my vision for a relaxing bathroom and functional back door entryway a reality because I am the home manager!

Responsibility doesn’t ignore others

Being responsible for all these things doesn’t mean that I get to make whatever decision is good for me, regardless of how bad it is for other people.  In all things, I should consider the needs and wants of the persons I’m doing these things for.  What helps my home feel like “home” to my husband?  To children?  What calendar method helps my husband and I be on the same page?  What food does he like to eat?  What helps my home and meals feel welcoming to guests?

Responsibility doesn’t always take 24/7

Being the despot of my oikos when single didn’t take me very much time throughout the week.  Same with being newly married.  I have no idea what it will take when kiddos come.  Or when more of them come.  Or when they’re school aged.  Or when they’ve left the nest.  Or if we had a different house.  Just like the way I manage my house changes throughout the different stages, the time required to do so changes.  It seems logical to me that with every new transition, there’s an adjustment period.  A time of figuring out “what does this mean to me?” kind of thing.

Right now, I have a full time, in Corporate America kind of job.  An 8-to-5 job.  It takes up 40 hours a week.  And that’s okay.  I can handle that in this stage of my life.  But that might not always be the case.  It might be that 1 kid is enough to send me into a tailspin.  Or it could take a couple.  And what I can handle might not be what another house can handle.  It depends on so many factors – the wife, the husband, the kids, the house that I won’t ever be able to judge that for myself before I get into that stage, much less for you.  If was at home full time right now, I don’t know how I’d spend my time.  I’m sure I’d figure it out, but working really seems to be the best way to spend my time right now.

But I do know this: It does take time. And the time isn’t always small. Meals don’t happen by accident. Houses aren’t cleaned by elves. Schedules aren’t organized or communicated by osmosis. Women should recognize that it takes time and give themselves plenty of time to do it well. I am called to be the keeper of my home.  It’s a command.  It’s an expectation. I might not answer to God if I used too much black and white in my decorating, but I believe that I’ll have to answer to how well I kept my home.  If I can’t carry out my tasks well, then I will look at what’s preventing me from doing it well.  Is it my organization skills?  Is it the budget?  Is it my job?  Is it because I’m not sure what Jeff would prefer?  Whatever it is, we’ll see if we can’t eliminate those obstacles.  If I can’t eliminate them, I’ll try to figure out a way to work around them.  But not managing my home is not an option.  It is mine to manage.

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Despot: help, joys and gifts

Earlier, I introduced the concept of being the despot of the oikos – where women are called to be the home managers.  Today, I’ll expand on that in a couple of areas.

Responsibility doesn’t mean exclusivity

I consider myself responsible for the things I mentioned, but that doesn’t mean that I have to see to all of them myself, every time. The Proverbs 31 woman had servant girls that helped her in her responsibilities and I think we’d all consider her the despot of her home. I don’t have any servant girls, but it wouldn’t be wrong if I did.

It’s also not wrong when Jeff helps me do things. Just because I’m responsible for seeing that things get done, I’ll still let him vacuum or scoop snow or mow a yard or change a light bulb or order Godfathers for dinner.  Some of those things he even likes to do!  I just don’t expect him to do those things.  But because we’ve clarified my role, I don’t get bitter when he doesn’t help me.  And I’m really grateful when he does.

It’s a lot like a business.  My boss is responsible for a certain area of the company.  And yet, she passes some of that responsibility to me.  I make decisions all day long.  I do work all day long.  I check in with her on some things – when I’m uncertain how a decision should be made or when I’m doing something new or when a financially impacting situation comes up.  But for the most part, I execute on a lot of the things that come my way.  I’ve been put in charge of them.  Occasionally, she’ll take a project off my plate or pull together a meeting for me, but it’s done on my behalf – for my benefit.

Now, lest you think it means that I determine how our money is spent, that’s not the case at all.  Jeff and I set a budget together, but I execute on it.  I’m responsible for seeing it happen.  Since we use the cash envelope system, I write the check to the bank for cash twice a month to ‘pay ourselves’.  I update Quicken with transactions and prepare a report each month of what we budgeted vs. what we spent and why the difference.  I make sure the bills are paid (love Auto Pay through our bank!).  I make sure we’re on track on the spending I’m responsible for (my entertainment spending, gifts, clothing, groceries, etc).  He certainly has responsibility too – he can’t be going out buying all kinds of things otherwise that would ruin the budget.  But when he does spend money, he lets me know.  Why?  Partly because I’m his wife, but mostly so that I’ll know how to track it in our budget.

Responsibility doesn’t ignore gifts or joys

Being responsible for the things in a home doesn’t ignore the gifts that I and my husband may or may not have.  My husband knows electrical engineering stuff, so when our microwave stopped working a month ago, he was able to fix it.  I was responsible for making sure it got fixed, but he was the way I saw it get fixed.  In a different situation, I might have called a repair guy or bought a new one or lived without.

It also doesn’t ignore the joys that someone has.  Maybe a husband really likes yard work.  I know a gal who got married, thought it was her job to mow the yard, but her husband loved doing it.  To him, it was relaxing and a source of pride.  So, he mows the yard.  If a husband really enjoyed spreadsheets and managing finances, I could see how he’d take that over.  My grandfather did most of the cooking in their house – he was trained as a chef and loved doing it.  I think that’s great!

Each home is different because each member of the home is different.

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Despot of my oikos!

I am the despot of my oikos!

I’ve referred to this before, but I am the despot of my oikos.  Say what!?  It’s a phrase found in Titus 2:3-5 when the Bible says that women should be workers at home or home makers or home managers (depending on your translation).  I’ve been thinking about this role a lot lately because I think how the role gets executed changes throughout the course of life.

  • What it looked like when I was single is different than…
  • It looks like now as a newly married woman, which is different than…
  • It will look like with a new baby, which is different than…
  • It will look like with more kids, which is different than…
  • It will look like with an empty nest.

So the next couple of blog posts or more will be me “thinking out loud” on my thoughts surrounding being the despot of the oikos.

What’s being the despot mean in general?

In general, I take the Bible to mean 2 things:
1) That it’s women, not men, who are to be the ones to manage their homes. (Unless, you know he’s a single man who lives alone, then he’ll need to do it!)

2) That it isn’t really optional that women do it.

What is a home?

I haven’t found a definitive list of what the home encompasses.  Is it:

  • Just the physical structure of the place you live?
  • The yard the house is on?
  • All the items found in the home?
  • Organizing the schedules of the people in the home?
  • The cooking and cleaning that goes on in the home?
  • The child rearing?
  • The family budget?

To me, I define it as pretty much all of that – except for the child rearing.  Child rearing is definitely done by mothers, but I believe child rearing to be the duty of both parents, not exclusively the wives and mothers.  I don’t consider that as something a wife does because she’s the despot.  For me, being the despot of my oikos means that I am responsible for:

  • Cooking and cleaning
  • Organizing the home
  • Maintaining the home (yes, even yard work and snow removal and changing light bulbs and furnace filters and staining floors and installing trim)
  • Our schedules
  • The budget

That seems like a lot, doesn’t it?  And maybe to some of you, that seems really boring.  Maybe it seems like you’re a slave given a fancy name like ‘wife’.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  It isn’t meant to be that way.  I’ll explain more this week on what it does mean (to me).  Your opinion might very be different from mine – and that’s okay!

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