laid off and learning to love it… my journey from corporate sprinter to life marathoner

stockpile II: what’s in it 06/30/2009

Filed under: Organization,Saving Money,Stockpile — ccatet @ 6:41 am

now you know what a stockpile is… but what goes in it?

this question is challenging to answer because all grocery & household purchases are personal. what you put in your stockpile is based on a number of factors, including (but certainly not limited to) the number and ages of persons in your household, what food preferences they have and what meals they typically eat.

with that in mind, i put together some categories that may help guide your thoughts when trying to figure out what goes in YOUR stockpile.

  1. Canned Goods: fruit & veggies, soups, broths, sauces, condensed milk, etc
  2. Jarred Goods: applesauce, spaghetti sauce, etc
  3. Condiments: all kinds – especially ketchup, salad dressings, marinades, soy sauce, mustard, hot sauce, mayo… anything you cook with or eat a lot of!
  4. Drinks: juice boxes, soda, sports drinks, bottled water, coffee, tea, etc.
  5. Dry Foods: cereal, crackers, pancake mix, oatmeal, rice, noodles, cake & muffin mixes, snack foods (i.e. granola bars, pretzels, chips, etc)
  6. Household Soap: laundry, dishwasher & dish detergent, hand-soap, household cleaners, sponges
  7. Household Paper/Plastic: plates, bowls, cups, paper towels, toilet paper, garbage bags, ziplocs
  8. Personal Hygiene: shampoo/conditioner, toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, soap, feminine products, shaving cream, razors, q-tips
  9. Vitamins & OTC Medicines
  10. Batteries & Light bulbs

numbers 6-10 can be stockpiled endlessly since they never expire! however, keep a closer eye on anything from numbers 1-5 since there are expiration dates on most of these items… albeit many months/years away. my goal is to grab the best deals while not risking waste.

as a point of reference (and perhaps a little entertainment), here are some photos of our current stockpile:

basement stockpile

basement stockpile

i confess… i am not allowed to buy any more peanut butter (i think there are +10 jars in these pictures alone, not including what’s in our kitchen cupboard), cereal, crackers, salad dressing or bbq sauce until we get closer to running out. don’t tease me – i am just efficient!

hall closet door stockpile

hall closet door stockpile

regardless, hopefully you get the point here. we have a few months worth of laundry detergent, bleach, diapers, toilet paper, cleaner, paper towels, cereal, and a few other random things that are hard to see in these pictures.

what these images do not show is the stockpile of toiletries under the master bathroom sink. if you’re wondering, i am also on a shopping hiatus for all personal hygiene items!

my recommendation for those of you building your stockpile would be to start by thinking about your typical weekly or monthly meal plan. then make a list of the non-perishable foods that fall in the menu and put these items on your watch list for coupons and promotions. do the same thing for your typical household items used in a month, specifically cleaners.

one last thought… you should eventually use everything in your stockpile so i don’t recommend stockpiling a new product that has not been fully vetted by the household! even if it’s free, it will end up costing you down the road if you can’t eat it and you’re forced to make pb&j sandwiches for dinner. but if you need any peanut butter, give me a call.


stockpile I: what is it 06/29/2009

Filed under: Organization,Saving Money,Stockpile — ccatet @ 11:02 pm

i write about my stockpile a lot… some of you may wonder what i am actually speaking about when i refer to my stockpile. i wish it were a stockpile of cash – alas, it is not.

stockpile (noun) – something kept in back or saved for future use or a special purpose (source: freedictionary.com)

the stockpile i regularly refer to is the stash of household & grocery items that we have in surplus for the family stored in our home. this stockpile was built up when i was first laid off and realized i needed to capitalize on great deals today in order to realize future savings. as time has gone on, i have maintained the stockpile – depleting, replenishing, etc.

the concept is simple: you have fantastic coupons plus a sale which allow you to purchase items for very little or perhaps even at no cost. do you buy many of them? YES! these items make up your stockpile.

if you’re thinking of building up your own stockpile, i recommend allocating specific real estate for these items. we have a shelf in the basement, storage under the master bathroom sink, and 50% of a small hall closet devoted to the storage of the stockpile. maybe one day we’ll get a deep freezer. however, any more storage than this and the surplus would feel too excessive to me!

what goes in your stockpile really requires further discussion… more on that tomorrow. 🙂


sahm: ramping down…to a strict budget 06/26/2009

Filed under: Saving Money — ccatet @ 1:59 pm

when i was first laid off and attempting to cut our grocery bills, i realized very quickly that you can’t go from 100MPH to 5MPH in just one month. in other words, it can be challenging to reduce the rate of spending rapidly and dramatically – and then expect to sustain that reduced budget over time.

for the first 2 months of our new budget, i missed my mark. yes, i was reducing my overall spend from pre-budget days, but i couldn’t hit the budgeted dollar number i set for the total month. i was really frustrated. i only had one more month to figure it out before there was no more wiggle room.

i talked to a few friends and my husband and realized that building my stockpile was slowing my performance. however, i knew that in order to sustain a reduced grocery and household budget, i had to build up a stockpile of certain goods. by purchasing (at very low prices) and stockpiling the core non-perishable foods and household goods that your family needs, you can reduce your future spending significantly since you never have to run out and buy these items at full price.

if you want to save money, specifically on groceries and household items, it can be easy… you just have to know what you’re getting into. i wish i had been better prepared for the challenge of cutting back, but i am also glad i took the time (and money) to build our stockpile as it is one of the reasons i am able to be home with my kids now.

here is how i ramped down: at first, i was buying our “need to have” items and stockpiling as much as possible through promotions, price-matching, sales and coupons. each week, the amount i needed to stockpile was declining. after 2 months, we FINALLY had enough in all categories that i am now in stockpile maintenance mode and only add to my stockpile with a fantastic deal.

in terms of actual numbers and time to goal: i spent only 10% less compared to when i was working. the second month, i was down 32%. the third month was the clincher… i was down 55%. when the baby goes off a formula in 7.5 weeks (yes, i am counting the days), i am hoping to get us over the 60% mark.

i found there was a bit of a mental challenge to learning to live on a budget. if you haven’t done it before, you can “convince” yourself that you should have certain things… things you don’t truly need. i encountered this early on and have been able to get myself out of that mindset. if i need a sounding board, i run it by my husband who is also quite frugal – and he keeps me on track.

if you’re in the first few weeks/months of trying to reduce your spending and not having the successes you were hoping for, stay positive and stay focused. it may take a few months, but the diligence will pay off and it’s so worth it.


sahm: don’t take it personally 06/24/2009

Filed under: Laid Off — ccatet @ 11:01 pm

you’ve just learned you have lost your job and yet all you hear is how to not take it personally. i wish the people delivering the message could hear themselves say it. unfortunately, the humor and the irony is lost in the moment…

at first, i didn’t take it personally. i believed what everyone told me when i was being briefed on my departure. during that meeting, i was elated to be free of the shackles!

however, within days, i felt rejected and unloved and as though my 4 years of undergrad and 2 years of grad school were a complete waste. i really wanted to enjoy the fact that i was now free to be home with the kids, but my ego had taken a major hit. there was bit of denial: surely they would call and want me back! ok… so that didn’t happen.

my next emotion was anger. i was extremely ticked off. it takes a lot to make me mad and i got very mad. they decided i was no longer valuable to the organization after i played by all the rules, fairly and appropriately. how can you not take being laid off personally? i was so angry at myself that i had invested all of that time plus emotional and mental energy – and THEY were the ones to tell ME to leave? i vowed to never give so much of myself to anything outside of my family ever, ever again.

i have heard it all: to be laid off is a badge of honor, a rite of passage, and of course – been there, done that. but you know what? it still stinks like a 3 day old diaper. i am glad it’s behind me.

it took about a month for me to nurture my ego and pull myself together. i had to grieve for the loss of my job and the majority of the relationships i had cultivated over 9 years. it helps that i have a great family and great friends who rallied around me daily. most of them were glad i was home, visibly more relaxed and available to play more. genuinely though, i think they just wanted me to be happy which they could see i was not – at first.

i am very aware now that i was missing some of the best parts of life by being cooped up in that office every day. i love spending my days in a swimsuit, loving on my kids, getting sprayed with a hose, going to parks, breathing the fresh air… you really can’t beat it. i may not get paid, but the joy is deep.

and one thing i know for sure… the best is yet to come.


sahm: organized-ish… lovin’ my google calendar 06/23/2009

Filed under: Organization,SAHM Choice — ccatet @ 1:47 pm

for the first few days i was home after being laid off, i felt directionless… when was the next family birthday? when were the kids’ next dr appts? when was my next haircut? i had no idea! i was getting behind on household chores, missing dates with friends and personal appointments, and was overall confused in the calendar department. i should have seen this coming… the company took my laptop including my access to an organized calendar system. jerks.

in meeting other SAHMs, many of them claimed that they did not get on the computer let alone use any kind of calendar tool other than pen and paper. what – i thought to myself? no way, this gig is not for me. the realization that there may not be time for email or the internet was just another reason i hedged in committing to the SAHM role.

for years, we have had a family wall calendar in the kitchen. it’s a big dry-erase board calendar and everyone gets a color for their events and we use black for events that we all attend or participate in. the calendar maps out the next 5 weeks of our lives which helps for the short term planning.  here is a picture of our current calendar:

family wall calendar

family wall calendar

as awesome as this calendar is to keep our daily lives smooth, i was missing a longer term planning tool and the ability to build in future events and recurring events/tasks. my husband suggested google. i was already behind on EVERYTHING in the house, when was i going to find time to get set up on google’s calendar?

being the super fantastic husband that he is, he did the start-up for me! he showed me how to add events, create a recurring task and set up separate calendars for everyone in the family (in different color text). all 4 calendars merge onto one view…just like our house calendar only online (and you can plan things out months in advance or with no end date)! Woo-Hoo!

here is a screen shot of my current google calendar:

google calendar view

google calendar view

if you like the look, click here to learn more about the google calendar.

my 3 favorite things about this calendar:

1 – if you already have a gmail account, it’s super easy to set up. also, you can use the top navigation links to quickly view the calendar while checking email.

2 – you can configure the settings to receive a daily email at 5am with all the scheduled activities for the day.

3 – if my husband wants to know what is going on for a particular date, he has access to the calendar so he can view and make plans without having to check with me.

after appointments and playdates for the kids, my husband and myself, i added all household chores/maintenance as recurrences which has saved me tons of brain energy. i can easily forget the last time a particular household task was completed so i really love the reminders. also, we added in the weather (3-4 day outlook) and holiday applications – good thing because i am lucky to know what day of the week it is!

it took only about an hour to add all items and the google calendar immediately made a world of difference in our lives. we still use our house calendar for the short term view, but all events go onto the google calendar for current and long term planning.

i admit it, i like systems. they are not for everyone, but they work for me and my family. in many ways, i actually feel more organized about our lives now that i am home compared to when i was working.

if you stay home (or work) and have found a cool way to keep your family organized, please write a comment and tell me about it! i know i have much to learn. i am secretly hoping to figure out how to have laundry clean itself … one can dream, can’t they? 🙂


sahm: price matching 101 06/22/2009

Filed under: Saving Money — ccatet @ 9:00 am

if i had a clue about price matching when i was still working, it would have saved me significant time and dollars every week. if you’re still working but trying to save money, pay close attention! if you’re home and looking to reduce your store trips each week, you will probably like this too.

in columbus, meijer offers price matching yet i imagine at least one grocery store in every area offers the same guarantee. read the fine print on your store ads and ask around, my guess is you’ll figure it out. not surprisingly, meijer’s price match guarantee is not noted anywhere on the website. however, the price match guarantee logo is typically located on the lower back cover of their weekly ad. signage is also posted in the store but seriously, who reads that stuff?

anyways, in layman’s terms, meijer will match the price of most items posted in the store circulars of most competitors. let me give a little more to chew on for those italicized terms. first, meijier will not match prices on meat, produce and store branded items. second, meijer will match prices against kroger, cvs, walgreens, target and marc’s to name a few. i was told they will not match prices against a “discount” grocer. not sure who that would be, but ok, i will take their word for it.

price matching is perfect when you find great prices on a few items at a few different stores however you only have time to hit one store that week. also, if you have a coupon that can be doubled at the price matching store, it can increase your savings by getting a price match in combination with a doubled coupon.

now you know what price matching is… let’s put it into action.

first, let’s talk the science of price matching. it’s sunday and you’re looking at store ads. first, find the items you need and make sure to look through ALL of the ads. let’s say CVS has 12 oz Kraft BBQ sauce on sale for $1.00. you need bbq sauce, you like kraft and you have a $.50 coupon. would you go to cvs and buy it or do you price match?  PRICE MATCH! CVS does not double coupons, meijer does – which would make this item FREE at meijer after the price match and the double coupon. it may only be $.50, but over the course of many items and many shopping trips, this adds up.

in short, utilizing this widely unknown guarantee can save you money and reduce the number of grocery trips you make every week.

there is an art to price matching as well. how do you communicate the match with the cashier so they don’t hate your guts when you come through their line? to make matters worse, if you already have 30 coupons, they will hate you on sight. my solution: be as organized as possible when checking out. first, make sure to take all of the ads to the store and flag the items you’re planning to match (i use post-its…this saves me lots of flipping around time in the store). second, a friend taught me to hold all price matches to the end of transaction and lay the competitor ad on top of the related item. if i am loading bags or get distracted, it reminds me to point out the advertised price and allows them to quickly override the price as they scan. they will shoot daggars at you if you make them scroll back through the entire transaction to find the items you want to price match. it will slow them down, it will slow you down and the end result is that nobody is happy.

is there ever a time when price matching is not the preferred option? sure. i don’t price match when the original store is offering rewards, a free item or a gift card for the purchase and/or when the coupon won’t double and create additional savings (meijer will not double coupons over $.99). outside of these scenarios, price matching wins.

i hope this helps someone out there save a few bucks and if not, maybe just get a little more thoughtful about shopping trips. i will admit that this budget-driven life is not for everyone, but i think it may just be for me.


sahm: thank you, facebook (and husband) 06/21/2009

Filed under: SAHM Choice — ccatet @ 7:15 am

last fall, around the time i was back at work after my daughter’s birth, i *caught* my husband on facebook. i was so mad i could barely see straight – and when mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

i think it was a fair response given we were behind on everything around the house. on top of it, we were rushing into the holidays with no gifts, no plan, no toilet paper in the house… you get the point. and here he was, facebooking. i could have killed him. i remember my exact response was something along the lines of, “if you have time for facebook, i have plenty of things that you can do around here.” looking back, not my finest hour. i was cracking under the pressure and not wearing my nice wife hat.

unfortunately, this exchange launched my perception of facebook off on the wrong foot. i initially viewed it as a waste of time and a useless tool for people who were bored and certainly not for people who had two kids under 2. i could not even conceptualize getting on to facebook.

after that, my husband spent a fair amount of time on there (after always checking what could be done around the house first – he is a quick study!) anyways, i got curious… and in mid-february, took the leap and created a profile. i was very overwhelmed. i consider myself to be reasonably private and every part of me was screaming to deactivate the account. i decided to take some time off from the tool and not let it unnerve me. still, i was bombarded by friend requests every day from names i had not seen in over a decade, friends from college and grad school, former work colleagues, neighbors… you name it. they were all on facebook.

i was digesting all of this when i was laid off.

something interesting happened when i was home though – i got lonely. i had my kids, including my 2.5 year old who is a great little conversationalist, but it was not enough on some days. i cried to my husband that i felt isolated, something i am sure a lot of SAHMs feel from time to time.

with a little bit more free time on my hands, i went into oberserver mode and tried to learn how facebook worked. even more so, i was trying to figure out what i could use it for that kept me in my comfort zone.

i am here to say that i truly have come to appreciate facebook for so many things, including a feeling of connectedness to the world, reduced loneliness, and especially the ability to learn and share in the full life picture for *almost* everyone i have ever known.

a nice girl i knew in high school shared the following newsweek blog/article about facebook on facebook recently and the subject truly resonates with me. click here to read it.

based on our ridiculously social weekend thus far, i know facebook has not replaced my social life. however, it certainly does round me out – especially on those days when my social interactions are limited to people under 40 inches. reading posts from friends makes me laugh, cry, and generally feel normal.

as a nod to him this father’s day, i hope my husband knows how much i appreciate him turning me onto new technology. for this alone, i shall wear my nice wife hat — all day long.