How to Balance Your Checkbook

Whether or not you run a balanced budget, there’s nothing more important than keeping a balanced checkbook. Some of you might use computer software to do this, which is great, but we prefer the old-fashioned pen and ledger method. The key is to track every dollar that passes in and out of your life in your checkbook ledger, whether or not it went through your checking account.

If you do this correctly, at any given moment you should be able to instantly know your net worth. The upside here is that if your net worth teeters on zero or is perpetually in the negative, you can curb spending that would lead to further debt.

In these trying economic times, we thought now was a great time to share our fool-proof method for balancing the family budget with a checkbook ledger.

Always know your net worth, even if it's negative.

Always know your net worth, even if it

Step One: Write every expense in your checkbook ledger no matter how you paid for it.

In the first column of your checkbook ledger, indicate how you paid for an expense. If it was a check, write the check number. If it was your Visa card, write Visa. If you have three Visa cards, come up with nicknames for each one. We use the following notations:

123 – Check Number
ATM – For cash withdrawl/deposit
Visa – Credit Card 1
Elec – Electronic payments/deposits
Bank – In-person bank transactions

Step Two: Track the status of each expense/deposit with symbols.

Not every item in your checkbook needs to be a completed transaction. In fact, tracking upcoming transactions or those that are still unpaid is the most important part of keeping a balanced budget. Here’s why. Let’s say you have $1,000 in your checking account and you don’t get paid again for two weeks. If you have to pay $800 worth of bills to pay next week, writing that down ahead of time will prevent you from spending it this week on clothes or trips to Target.

Circle – A transaction that has not yet occurred. We use a circle for credit card purchases or upcoming transactions.
Circle with a dot next to it – A credit card transaction that hasn’t been paid off but shows up on your credit card statement. This helps you keep your credit card statement in check.
Circle with one line through it – When you pay off a credit card, but it hasn’t yet shown up in your checking account.
X – A completed transaction

Step Three: Your balance doesn’t have to be positive.

For those of you who live pay check to pay check, your balance will often fall into negative territory. That’s just a fact of life for many of us. This doesn’t mean that your next check is going to bounce or that you’ve overdrafted from your account. It means you’re carrying debt in your credit card account. Having a negative balance is a great motivator to not overspend.

Any questions?

We’re buying….online

I know the economy stinks right now. The stock market is down, unemployment is up, and tent cities are staging a serious comeback for the first time since, oh, the Great Depression. In times like this, I do what I can to support the economy. In times like this, I shop. Herewith are a few recent purchases. All online. And judging from the amount of FedEx and UPS trucks buzzing around my neighborhood, I am not alone.

 

These boots are vegan!  Cruelty-free.

These boots are vegan! Cruelty-free.

I saw these boots in the recent issue of Yoga Journal and they looked cute. Since they are not made of leather, they are affordable and it’s nice to know you’re not wearing a dead animal around. 

 

Nina and Maddie are sure to have fun with this.

Nina and Maddie are sure to have fun with this.

I always admired this toy whenever we played at Satchel’s house. It’s very interactive, and since Nina and Maddie are actually playing together now, it should be a hit (it hasn’t arrived yet). The upside of Nina and Maddie playing together is I get more stuff done around the house. The downside is, it already ends in someone crying. Maddie is only 8 months old but has mastered the most vicious tactic in the art of sisterly war: the hair pull.

We get a monthly shipment.  Three pounds, and we always run out a few days early.

We get a monthly shipment. Three pounds, and we always run out a few days early.

Whenever we discuss cutting back on expenses, we always threaten to cancel our standing monthly Peet’s order, or our storage unit. For some reason, neither gets the axe. Even though they now sell Peet’s right on the shelves at my most-frequented local supermarket, Big Y, we still get ours delivered. As for the storage unit, well…if I can’t stop shopping online, we might be moving in there someday. Probably a lot less smelly than those tent cities.

-Mrs. Weekndr

Weeknd Project: Add-a-Swing

Do you still call it a swing set if there’s only one swing? I had to ask myself that question as I was describing to my coworkers the swing-supporting structure I built in our front yard this weekend.

Tacked on to the side of our previously mentioned lean-to woodshed, I put the swing together mostly with recycled materials. The ladder support and top beam came from an old post-and-beam fence section that I removed from our property a few years ago. And the bolts and screws came from that endless bucket of fasteners in the basement. I spent about 60 bucks on some good solid hardware and a playground worthy swing

Maybe the first ever woodshed swing set. Made from recycled fence posts and internet-bought hardware.

Maybe the first ever woodshed swing set. Made from recycled fence posts and internet-bought hardware.

After a few hours of swing time under our belt, we’ve come to the conclusion that swinging is much more fun when you can do it in your own yard. After-dinner swing session? No problem. All you have to do is walk out the front door! We’re looking forward to winter so we can take turns leaping off the swing into a pile of snow.

Weeknd Project: Build a Woodshed

The Weekndr Woodshed. Built from scratch (an no plans).

The Weekndr Woodshed. Built from scratch.

Our neighbor up the road asked me if I had plans for the cedar woodshed I built for our yard last year. In a slightly accusatory tone I quickly replied: “Plans? What do you mean, plans?”

You see, like most of the projects I build, there were no plans involved. I started with a sketch on a napkin and let the details take shape as I cut the parts. To determine the height, I held a board upright and marked a point that looked high enough. Same with the length and width. Then each successive piece was cut to fit the one before it until, voila, a shed appeared.

Cedar shake, siding and trim add some appeal to this simple lean-to shed design.

Cedar shake, siding and trim add some appeal to this simple lean-to shed design.

Working to a plan is almost as hard as drawing one. When building a project to written dimensions each cut has to be extremely precise. If everything is square and accurate then it will go together just fine. But if not, well then, everything doesn’t go together just fine.

With my approach, each part is cut to fit, so who cares if the measurement is precise as long as it fits.

In the spirit of helping out a neighbor, this weekend was devoted to drawing up a plan for what I have now dubbed the Weekndr Woodshed.

The measured drawing mainly features construction details, not actual dimensions since you’ll likely want to define your own dimensions to fit your space. But you will be able to deduct how to assemble the 2×4 and 4×4 framing of the walls and the rafters, the cedar plank siding, the application of the pine firring strips, the cedar shake roof, and the trim.

For example, the diagram in the top right of the illustration shows how to gang-cut a birdsmouth notch in the 2×4 rafters. Clamp the 2x4s together, mark the cut lines on the top, front and back, and then cut with a circular saw. Just below that, you see how the rafters attach to the top plate on the back wall with the birdsmouth notch.

You can open a slightly larger version of the above plan and print it out. Or, if you’re Mr. moneybags, you can support Weekndr.com and BUY THE MEASURED DRAWING in the weekndr store. No pressure, we’re just trying to make a little dough to keep the lights on.

Rustic DIY. My no-plans approach resulted in a rustic look for my cedar wood shed.

Rustic DIY. My no-plans approach resulted in a rustic look for my cedar wood shed. P.S. Adding doors to this lean-to shed would mean paying town taxes for an enclosed structure. The roof overhang seems to keep the weather out.

I read a great article on FineHomebuilding.com that described how to layout and install the cedar shake roof.

I read a great article on FineHomebuilding.com that described how to layout and install the cedar shake roof using 1x3 pine firring strips. The pine strips are equally spaced so each row of shingles can be nailed down. Here's another fun trick: Don't measure the distance between each rafter. Instead, cut up a few 2x4s into 13-in.-long pieces and use them as spacers. That will ensure each rafter is equidistant from the next.

Clamp a board or draw a chalk line before nailing on the rows of cedar shake to get a better result than my eyeballed approach. Plus, make sure to use galvanized nails or the rust from the steel will stain your cedar black.

Learn from my mistakes. Clamp a board or draw a chalk line before nailing on the rows of cedar shake to get a better result than my eyeballed approach. Plus, make sure to use galvanized nails to prevent the rusty steel nails from staining your cedar black, which is why you see black streaks on the shingles in this photo.

MORE: Learn how to build a Classic Colonial Shed with proper framing, siding, roofing, and a solid foundation for all climates. Watch the video series How to Build a Shed, on FineHomebuilding.com.

Super Baby Food: Live the Book

Frozen Baby Food Cubes. Yellow squash (center) flanked by bartlett pears.

Frozen Baby Food Cubes. Yellow squash (center) flanked by bartlett pears.

It turns out making your own baby food is really easy. A blender, a few ice cube trays, fresh ingredients like fruits, veggies and organic meats – that’s all it takes to avoid those little glass jars entirely. 

We got our inspiration for homemade baby food from the book Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron. My sister-in-law first introduced me to it and the book is nothing less than the bible of baby food making. Ruth is amazing, her advice complete and well-researched, and the book answers any question I’ve ever had about feeding my babies. 

The process is more simple than you might think. Blend your ingredients into a puree, pour the puree into ice cube trays, and store them in the freezer. When your baby is hungry, just take one out of the freezer, pop it in the microwave for 30 seconds, and serve.

It Just Makes Sense
Making your own baby food costs less than buying the stuff in jars. And since I’m always cooking family meals anyway, making baby food takes just a few extra minutes. It’s healthier because you know exactly what ingredients were used. And most importantly, it tastes better. We have tasted jarred baby food, and it’s not very good. Babies are smarter than most people think, and they know when food tastes good! If you’ve ever seen the look of sheer disgust on a baby’s face when trying something gross – say, jars of baby food peas – you know what I mean. 

You can also be adventurous with your baby food making, coming up with your own combos like the Weekndr family favorite: chicken, brown rice and sweet potatoes puree. Or you can take a portion of the dinner you just cooked (we recently did this with whole wheat penne with meat sauce and parmesan), put it in the blender and whip it up until it’s an oatmeal-like consistency. Maddie gobbled it up. 

Here are some baby-tested favorites:

Sweet Potato Chicken Puree
Steam one organic, free-range chicken breast. Pop a few sweet potatoes into the microwave (6 to 8 minutes). Combine the steamed chicken in the blender with the yummy sweet potatoes (which you can pop right out of their skins after microwaving – so easy), add a little water and puree.  

Fresh Fruit Baby Smoothie
Bananas, avocados and pears are even easier to turn into baby food since no cooking is required.  Just mash or blend your fresh fruit of choice, pour into ice cube trays and defrost individual food cubes as needed.  You can add blueberries, rice cereal, or ground flax seed to most of the fruits for extra flavor and nutrition.

Labor Day, Literally

Sometimes even the weekndrs have to take a break from it all for a clean-up-the-house, empty-the-trash, balance-the-checkbook, dust-the-shelves, mop-the-floor kind of weekend. So we decided get some work done for the holiday.

Our primary job was setting up the girls with new sleeping quarters. That mostly involved assembling this bunk bed from Ikea and decking it out with flair and other kid delights.

But before we move on let’s pause for a moment and talk about Ikea. Has there ever been a more innovative consumer goods producer since Henry Ford and his production line? The company’s roll-up-your-sleeves approach reduces the cost of manufacturing, shipping, storage, assembly, and material. The result is lower costs for the consumer in exchange for a little extra effort. (And this and their meatballs are good, too!)

This is all possible thanks to amazing engineering that relies on precision joinery with metal mechanical fasteners, and an inventory of parts that fits in a tightly packed box for easy transport and assembly by even the most average of joes. 

By contrast, take the other project Matt was finishing up this weekend, a handmade oak bookcase to be featured on future episodes of his woodworking how-to video series. The woodwork and joinery for the bookcase takes about 25 hours to complete and the rough oak lumber will set you back about $150.

So here’s the punchline: To earn $25 an hour on the bookcase, it would have to sell for about $1100. Meanwhile, the bunk bed from Ikea goes for $199.

Our labors also included arts and crafts with the kids…

… and a cooking session where we whipped up from scratch a Margherita pizza. The whole wheat dough came from a healthy recipe featured on one of Mary’s favorite mommy blogs.  

Fresh Ingredients = Yummy Slice