Let's Volunteer Together

I'm going to be quite honest here:  I've had a really hard time with the idea of volunteering my time and services due to the lack of "spare" money in our household.  But I came to a realization recently: even though we many not have a lot of extra money to give, we still have the time. 

Volunteering isn't just about giving money to a charity, it's also about donating your time and energy to a project or person.  So with that being said, I have a new goal.  I want to volunteer my time more often.  At least once a month. 
So why volunteer?  It's about giving your time and energy to something other than yourself. Seeing the other side of the coin, persay.  It's a truly unique experience each and every time!!  Plus, everyone can use a little sprucing up of the resume, don't forget the added perk!

A couple years ago on Thanksgiving my husband and I volunteered at a shelter close to our home in Nashville (at the time).  It was such an AWESOME experience!  We decided that there was no reason to spend the extra money on food we didn't need, or stuff ourselves when there were so many others out there that barely had the opportunity to eat at all.  Once at the shelter we helped prepare and serve the food.  Josh also got the opportunity to talk with the people coming in about their experience coming to the shelter and many of them expressed how they got to the point of "homelessness."  It's truly humbling and I was honored to serve so many wonderful people.  It's so unfortuante the situations some people find themselves in with the economy the way it is today.  So many of us judge others because we see they have no money, no home, use drugs etc.  But how many of them have sold drugs as a means to keep food on the table for their family?  No, not ideal, but sometimes that's the only way for some, especially with the lack of jobs in this economy and lack of education of many.  Obviously, this experience taught me more than just giving my time, but it also taught me not to judge others because I haven't walked in their shoes. 

I look forward to my upcoming volunteer experiences, along with those who would like to join me.  I will definitely take suggestions for places that are great places to volunteer around the Champaign-Urbana area.  Where do you guys like to volunteer?


Table Top Garden

I know you have all been wondering what the big news and project is, well it's finally time for you to find out!  As the title suggests, we built our own tabletop garden.  Since we live in an apartment, actually planting the garden in the ground was out of the question.

After 2 hours at our local Home Depot, $100, and a bit of muscle, we now have our garden box and herbs ready to go!  Now it's just a matter of time to be able to plant everything.

The original idea for the table top garden came from Frugal Dad, one of my favorite blogs to follow.

The Garden
Step 1: Building the Box
We read someplace that cedar is the best wood to use, since it's untreated and will last the longest compared to other woods.  We built at 4x2 box -- we figured it's best to start small so it's easier to move whenever we move from this apartment.

Materials needed to build box:
-2 6x8 pieces of cedar cut size
-4x2 piece of plywood for the bottom
-8 - 1 1/2 inch screws (2 for each corner)
-12 or so 3/4 screws for screwing the plywood to the top.
-6 L brackets for additional support on the corners and middle of the box

Step 2: Tweaking the Box
Once the box was built, we had to drill drainage holes in the bottom.  We also added a garbage bag liner in order to "protect" the plywood, in hopes of it lasting longer.  This we also added holes to.  After adding the liner, we added some All Purpose Stone, to help with drainage as well.  We are not going to let our veggies get moldy!!!  

Step 3: Fill with Soil
We purchased Miracle Grow soil specific for veggies and plants.  It stated on the bag for "in ground" use only, however we had multiple people from Home Depot tell us it should be fine.  We will be dividing it up in eight 12" squares and plan on putting some dividers and labels.  That will be coming in the next update once everything is planted and labeled.

Step 4: Plant Foods
We haven't planted most of the plants yet since it's not quite time.  Since this is the first year for our garden, we decided to go with starter plants rather than seeds.  This is a bit more expensive, but figured it was the best option for starting out the first time.

Here are the things we plan on planting:
We've also planted a pot of marigolds, as they keep the pests away. 

The Herbs
For the Herbs we purchased plain terracotta pots and painted them ourselves to add a bit of spice (pun intended), for just under $3 each --- the painted pots at the store are over $5.  Again, since this is our first year with a garden and herbs, we decided to go small on the herbs too.  We purchased 3 different herbs: Mint, Basil and Cilantro (for making homemade salsa!!)

I will keep everyone posted as we get everything planted, as well as the progress on our FIRST GARDEN EVER!!  Has anyone else made or used a table top garden??  If you guys have any tips, let us know, as I'm sure we could use them. 

BIG Project Is Coming!!!

***Big Project This Weekend****

Stay tuned for more info and pictures...

Here is a little sneak peek at what's to come! :)


Going Paperless

We have officially gone paperless!!! 

I decided I wanted to get rid of all the clutter and papers around the house, so my resolution to the clutter --- going paperless with all our bills.  I now have almost all of our bills coming with the paperless option, with the exception of our rent and water bill since they don't have that option.  This is such a great money saving option, because not only do the bills come in my email, but I also pay them all online, which saves money on stamps and checks.  Plus, it's much better for the environment since we aren't printing a bunch of bills.  AND the bills come a lot faster, which I really love!!

I was very hesitant to switch over to online billing, as I had many concerns; many of which I'm sure several of you have.  I was super worried that I would forget to pay a bill since I wouldn't have it sitting in front of me when I went to pay bills.  I worried I wouldn't be able to track the payments.  I worried that I would end up wasting more money because I'd be printing the bills so I could still have a paper copy.  However, none of these fears actually surfaced once I actually went paperless.

For me, baby steps were key to be sure I didn't miss a due date or get overwhelmed with switching over.  First, I started with our cell phone bill and starting receiving that as an online bill.  I've been paying it online for quite some time, so at least I have been saving the time and money, since I haven't been mailing it.  Eventually, I switched the rest of my bills to paperless and began my new filing system.

Originally, I used to file my bills by due date, then pay as necessary.  Now that they're all paperless, I have a calendar with all the due dates on it (ok, so I'm not 100% paperless quite yet).  I have to be able to visualize the bills and when they're due comparatively to our pay dates.  I also keep a digital calendar through Google Calendars, which syncs with my iPhone.  Their calendar is AWESOME (more to come later on that)!!  With Google Calendar, I have reminders that go off a week or 2 in advance, just depending on the bill, to be sure they've been paid.  Basically, I just use it as a way to double-check myself. 

Now that all my bills are paperless and I receive the notifications in my email, I save a copy of the bill in it's specific folder with the bill due date.  I recommend naming folders very specifically.  The folders I have named on my computer are Apartment, Credit Cards, Student Loans etc.  Then each folder has a sub-folder with each company, i.e. Ameren, Discover, etc. Once the bill is paid, I then update the name with the paid date, so I can always track it.  For example, Ameren Due 010511 Paid 121410.

I've learned quite a bit about online billing.  It's really a great feature that I love to use now!  I love that I can always go back to view, print or save my previous bills.  Some companies even have an archive system that goes back years, if I ever need it.  So is it really necessary to save them?  I'm not sure yet.  My main reasoning for doing it is for the tracking of the due/paid dates.  Plus, if the website is ever down and I need to view my bill, I have it readily available.  Who knows, I'm sure I'll end up with an excel sheet to better document my dates and bills.  I just love Excel!!

Does anyone have any other suggestions for organizing online bills?  What other ways do you organize your bills?