frugal living

Down With Debt Mid-November Update

I’ve gotten so behind on posting updates about our finances, but I wanted to at least do a quick check in.  So far, November has been more kind to us, in regards to surprise medical bills and unexpected car repairs.

 

indexOur cat recently started peeing outside the liter box and the other day we noticed blood in his urine.  I called the vet and scheduled an appointment, and $233 later, we’ve got two prescriptions that I can’t get him to take.  Because I didn’t have a budget for vet bills, it was put on our credit card…AUGH!  I was quite shocked when I saw the bill and realized that $40 was charged FOR THE PHONE CALL I made to schedule the appointment.  Don’t think I’ll be calling them again.  We’ll just have to show up, ha ha.

 

Other than that, things have gone about as expected.  Our pet food bill will be going up, as we’re supposed to put our cat on a wet food-only diet to help with the crystals forming in his bladder.  I just bought a pet water fountain on Amazon to try and help encourage more water drinking, but that didn’t cost anything because I had earned enough Amazon.com gift cards with Swagbucks.  I also have a Prime account, so the shipping is free, and I’ll get it in 2 days!  I hope it’ll help.

 

Another expense that we don’t have monthly occurred (it happens every 3 months):  enrolling my daughter in gymnastics ($180).  It’s the one thing I will NOT sacrifice.  She’s waited so long to start, and when I finally bit the bullet earlier this year, she was the 11-year old girl in a class with 6-year olds.  She stuck with it and has advanced every single term, and, starting December 1, she’ll be enrolled in the highest level they offer before competitions!  She’s finally learning with girls her own age, and it’s been a dream come true for her.  I’m so happy she’s found her passion.

So far we’ve been able to pay $864.63 on our debt.  Using the YNAB budgeting software has been SO helpful in helping me to know exactly how much I can put to our debt.  I anticipate that as we keep using it, we’ll be able to pay a little more each month to debt, simply as we find little extra bits of money here and there.  Of course, it’ll help to avoid some of the financial “surprises” we had in the previous 2 months!  Fingers crossed. :)

 

 

 

 

Down With Debt – October’s Monthly Finance Report

Well, well, well.

indexIt’s already time – another month has passed.  October turned out to be fairly full of medical bills and car repairs – although not as full as September was (thank goodness!).  Let me show you the numbers, with comments:

 

Income:

Total (net) income from both our jobs for the month of October:  $2,798.89

Online Income (surveys, etc):  $74.66

Total Income:  $2,873.55

Expenses:

Mortgage:  $1,035

Utilities (phone, internet, gas, electric, etc):  $247.71 – I have a sinking suspicion that this will be our last low gas bill month, with the cold weather arriving!

Insurances (life and car):  $105.85

Tithing, charity:  $300

Debt repayment:  $211.91

School (fundraisers, pictures, lunch):  $69.25

Medical Bills:  $182.74

Grocery: $280

Gas Money:  $164.48

Car Repairs and yearly Registration:  $251.61

Emergency Fund:  $25

Total Spent:  $2,873.55

 

I love that I was able to find a spot for EVERY PENNY we made.  I used to estimate and get close, but with me wanting to get more serious about our budget, it’s important to me that I find a home for EVERY dollar, and yes, EVERY penny!  I have the YNAB budgeting software to thank for that.  Now that I’m using it, I feel more confident that my numbers will continue going in the right direction.

 

So…you know, it wasn’t an overly impressive debt repayment month, but we kept our heads above water.  We’ve started building our emergency fund again as well.  I’ve made a few changes that will save us an additional $100+ each month, so November will be even better.  I’ll be sharing what I did later this week!

 

Budgeting – The Basics

Okay, so most of us are familiar with the term “budget.”  If it’s something that is fairly new to you, let me give a very simple overview and explanation:

What Exactly is a Budget?  The Basics:A good builder uses a set of building plans to build a house. If he didn’t, the kitchen might get overlooked completely.  That’s how important a plan is.

Yet most of us handle our finances without any plan at all.

Not very clever of us, is it?

Without a money plan, we will travel on our financial sea without a direction and end up shipwrecked on the island of financial grief.

A money plan is called a budget.  A budget is the ultimate financial management tool and it is crucial for us if we are to get to our desired financial goals.  Budgeting is simply having a plan or guideline showing how your money will be allocated or spent during a particular period.  I usually build my budget for a month’s time, although you can certainly do it for a week instead, if that works for you.

The main objective of budgeting is to produce a spending list that is equal to or less than your income.  Being aware of how you spend money is the most critical step in financial freedom.  Budgeting is one of the hardest financial disciplines to keep (not the actual making of the budget; that’s fairly easy to do. It’s sticking to the budget that is difficult)!  And that’s okay. It’s a work in progress, after all.

The best way to make a budget that you can stick to in the long term is to make it realistic. Never (and I repeat never) make it a financial starvation plan. Instead make reasonable allocations for all your necessities, entertainment and savings as well as the occasional luxury item.

Why should you even bother with budgeting?

You will be shocked at ‘non-necessaries’ you spend money on.  If we can get control of the expenses that really don’t matter in the grand scheme of our lives, we can enjoy financial freedom eventually.  And that is what we all want, isn’t it?

 

 

How Low Do You Turn Your Thermostat?

So, I’m curious.  How low do YOU turn your thermostat in the winter?  How low will you go? :)

 

 

Turning-down-domestic-hea-001

Over here we turn the heat off at night completely and use rice bags to keep warm.  However, if it ever gets below 55 degrees F, I will usually give in and turn it on.  We have it set at 60 degrees F overnight for those really cold nights when it gets much colder.  During the day I keep it off while we’re at school/work, and then keep it at 64 when we’re home.  On special occasions like Christmas, I say, “forget it!” and turn it all the way up to 70… ha ha.

 

How low do you go?

Frugal Dating: 8 Frugal and Easy Date Ideas

If you are like the average couple, your dates seem to revolve around the usual, tried and tested same old movie and dinner dates.
Could it be because you can’t think of other creative date ideas?  Or you think anything outside a movie and dinner date will dent your budget?

No way!

There are so many more fun, creative and affordable things you could do on a date!  It just takes a little creativity and thinking ‘outside the box’.

These 8 ideas below are fun, frugal and far-reaching. They should help get your dating creative juices flowing:

8 Frugal Date Ideas

 

 

  • Have a blindfold guess – our – location drive!  Go for a drive together with your partner blindfolded. Drive for a few minutes and have them guess where you are. They get points for guessing right or almost right. Do this in turns.

  • Go for a walk around town on a Friday or Saturday night. Soak in the atmosphere.

  • Challenge each other to a contest. It could be anything at all! The sillier, the more fun!

  • Have Theme night (or day) date. Pick a theme and do everything in line with the theme. Example, Time Travel.  Go back to the first date you had.  What were the top movies from that year, to your favorite food at that time.  Rent or borrow a movie from the year you first started dating, pop some popcorn, make your (past) favorite meal, and enjoy a night in!

  • Get 2 painting canvas and each paint an original art picture for your wall together.

  • Bubble bath and massage. Settle in for a night of pampering at home. Run a bubble bath and then treat each other to full-body massages.

  • indexGo to a thrift store and give each other a budget, say $5 or $10 each.  You have 10 minutes to shop for the “perfect” gift for your partner at the store, using the budget set.  OR, you can go to a thrift store and buy each other outfits.  Each is required to wear the outfit the other picked out for them for the rest of the evening.

  • Pick a new recipe for a food you’ve never made, but always wanted to try.  Work together putting together, and later enjoying the food.

    You don’t have to stick to the conventional date to have fun.

    An assortment of creativity and frugality can give you the amazing and memorable dates you always dreamed of.

What are some of YOUR favorite frugal date ideas?  Leave a comment below!

Final August Grocery Update

Yeah, I’m late.  What of it?? :)

Sorry about that, y’all.  I’m so far behind on everything – it’s pathetic!  One of these days I’ll be on top of it.

That day will be the day this world implodes.

In the meantime, let me share this very late update on our final August shopping trip.  Did we stay under budget??  Let’s see:

 

IMG_20140819_102338

We paid a visit to Winco, which I LOVE for their bulk foods section (as you can see).  They also mark their meat down in the mornings, every morning, but in all honesty, I don’t often take advantage, since I can usually find meat on sale for less.  We were running pretty dang low on our proteins, however, so I picked up the best deals I could find.  I didn’t write down the number of lbs I got, so I don’t know the exact price-per-pound, but I know that I spent less than $2.50/lb on each:

  • Boneless Pork Loin, $5.82

  • Beef Sirloin, $6.91

  • Fresh Ground Pork, $3.77

  • Jennie-O Ground Turkey, $4.74

  • 2 frozen Burritos, $0.38 each, $0.76 total

  • 2 Airheads (the kids behaved, what can I say?), $0.30 total

  • 1.86 lbs Fresh Ground Peanut Butter, $3.68 total

  • 3.55 lbs of Quinoa, $17.71 total (OUCH!)

  • 4.5 lbs of Brown Rice, $2.80 total

  • 2.6 lbs of Dry Garbanzo Beans, $2.66 total

  • 2.3 lbs of Buckwheat Groats, $2.20 total

  • 2.9 oz Ground Cumin, $0.59 total

  • 1.6 oz Dried Oregano, $0.39 total

  • 5 oz Chicken Soup Base, $1.08 total

  • 5.1 oz Ground Cinnamon, $0.86 total

  • 1.1 lbs Unsalted Peanuts, $1.75 total

The total plus tax for this trip was $57.70.  That brings the our total for the month of August to $228.46.

 

Our total grocery budget for the month of August was $220, so we did NOT make it under budget.  We overspent by $8.46.  Aw, man!

September is Case Lot sales, baby, so I get to budget more money for the month.  This makes me happy. :)

 

Debt Payoff Plan – Sept 1st Update

Love happy surprises!

Love happy surprises!

Since August 15, we’ve made a few small changes in the hopes to start saving more money and paying down debt.  We also had a couple of happy financial surprises, that although small, were definitely welcome.

  • Our mortgage company was switched on us, which usually doesn’t change anything.  However, every year since we’ve owned the house, we’ve had an escrow surplus.  Our mortgage companies in the past have just applied it to the following year’s escrow account, but this new company we’re with sent us a check for the extra amount, resulting in a surprise $128 extra.

  • I was accepted to do a 2-day (30 min each day) study, which paid me with a $75 visa card.  We’ll be using this Visa to buy gas for the first half of September, so it’ll save up some cash for other things.

  • There for you on a rainy day? :)

    There for you on a rainy day? :)

    We switched our auto insurance, and updated our homeowner’s insurance policy.  For 30 minutes or so of work, we saved ourselves $36/month on auto, and $200/year on home.  The home isn’t something we’ll see, but that extra $36/month will be awesome.  It’s not a ton, but it’s more we can sock away to debt!

 

 

Now for confession time.  In my Debt Payoff Plan Introduction post, I mentioned that we have far too little in savings right now:  only $102.  The first priority in the last 2 weeks should have been to build that up.  I have to admit, I was so horrified by our debt total ($8,445.86) that I chose to focus more on that.  I know, Dave Ramsey would not be happy.  I’ll try to do better in September!

 

 

The Numbers:

On August 15, our total debt was $8,445.86.  Today, our total debt is $8,073.91.

Total paid off so far:  $371.95

On August 15, our total savings was $102.  Today, our total savings is $137.

Total saved:  $35

 

Sweet!  We’re getting there, slowly but surely!

 

 

 

 

15 Healthy Snacks on a Budget

indexIt’s 11 O’clock and you still have one hour before your lunch break.

 

You find yourself rummaging in your drawer (or office fridge) looking for something to snack on. Ah!  There’s a bag of potato chips and with a sigh of satisfaction; you happily munch your chips.

 

But wait a minute…….

 

That snack you are happily munching contains about 200 calories that you don’t really need!

 

No, don’t spit it out!
Nutritionists have confirmed that snacking helps fight weight gain and also keeps your metabolism stable.

 

imagesSnacking is great as long as it is healthy and within your budget.  Don’t worry. There are loads of budget friendly healthy and tasty snacks that you can reach for when that snack craving hits you.

Healthy and budget snacks together?

Is that possible?

Definitely!

Below is a list of 15 health budget snacks that you can treat yourself to:

• Air-Popped Popcorn

• Hard-boiled eggs

• Apples

Bananas

• A serving of nuts (raw almonds are my personal favorite, though I eat them in moderation – they can be pricey!)

• Yogurts (make sure they aren’t filled with sugar!)

• Pickled vegetables

• Crackers and cheese

• Carrots (buy the big ones and slice them yourself – no need to pay extra for baby carrots)

5012685818_4bdc2e74baSo…..

 

Be rest assured that you are not alone in your craving for snacks.

 

But next time the craving creeps up on you, try to choose one of the healthy snacks above instead of reaching for that bag of potato chips.  Your body will thank you!  (No really, it will!)

 

Do you have a favorite frugal and healthy snack? Please share in the comments box below.

 

*Linked up at Frugal Friday

Back to School Shopping Complete!! (August Budget Challenge Update)

IMG_20140814_111913I’m happy to say that we have completed our back-to-school shopping.  What a blast we had, too!
 
I am monitoring our spending very closely this month for the August Budget Challenge, and doing everything I can think of to save.
 
We took advantage of the Savers Club Member clearance day….50% off all summer clothing, and 50% off all silver tagged items.  Being a thrift store, Savers is already nice and cheap – to add an additional 50% discount makes me one happy lady!
 
Here’s how we did (these are the totals for ALL of our school/work shopping, not just this last trip):

  •  ALL of my purchases (thrift stores and yard sales) included 3 pairs of pants, 14 tops, 1 skirt, 1 belt, and 2 bras.  My entire total:  $42.19.

  • My husband in total purchased 6 shirts, 1 (new with tag) pair of pants, and 2 shoes.  His entire total:  $12.82.

  • IMG_20140815_145251Munchkin got 2 pairs of shorts, 4 pairs of pants, 9 tops, 4 pairs of shoes/boots, 1 bed sheet, 1 hair straightener, 4 bottles of lotion, a pack of underwear and socks, 2 pairs earrings, 3 bras, 2 dresses, 1 coat, a backpack, and school accessories (pencils, erasers, folders, notebooks, crayons, etc).   She also went shopping with her grandma and bought 1 pair of shoes, 2 shirts, a pack of underwear and 1 pair of pants.  Her entire total is:  $62.48.

  • IMG_20140815_144222Buddy Boy got 4 pairs of pants/shorts, 11 tops, 2 pairs of shoes, 1 backpack, 1 robe, 1 coat, 1 bed sheet, and 1 nightshirt.  He also went shopping with his grandma and bought 2 pairs pants, 2 shirts and a pack of underwear.  His total:  $45.92.

We also used some of this budgeted money to buy other things at the yard sales:  ribbon, Christmas decor, kitchen supplies, etc.  We spent another $35 on those.

 

We originally budgeted $300 to go towards our back to school shopping.  Our actual total ended up being $198.41.  Gasp:  We made it under budget!!  YAY! 

The $101 we did NOT spend that was budgeted is being divided between groceries for next month and our emergency fund.  September is usually the month that money is the most tight, as it is the 3rd and final month that we are living on just my husband’s income (I work at a school and don’t get paid in the summer).  It’ll be nice to have a head start on the grocery budget.

 
 

Are you done with your back-to-school shopping already?  Or do you wait until the last minute like me? ;)

 

How to Save Money: You’ve Seen These Tips – Do You DO Them?

 

Is it just me, or do you ever find a blog title:  Save $$ in these 10 simple steps!”, or “How we saved $20,000 in one year!”, or even “12 ways to save money that you never thought of!”

indexI always take the bait and head to the sites that make those claims.  A lot of the time, I leave disappointed, either because I already do all of the things suggested, or because the tips don’t apply.

 

I suppose that’s part of life, right?  All of our experiences are SO vastly different, it’s impossible to provide answers for everyone in every situation.  I suppose that’s why we bloggers share what works for US, whether it’s a common piece of advice or not….in the hopes that someone, not everyone, but SOMEONE will be able to take at least ONE thing away from the advice and be able to apply it.  And so with that in mind, I wanted to share some of my own personal tips.

These tips are some of the most common ones I see:

  • Take your own lunch to work. 
  • Use the library for your media.
  • Switch to Netflix.  Well, I don’t know, but if you’re using the library, I don’t think you even need Netflix.
  • Cancel your gym membership.  I’ve NEVER had a gym membership – this is one of those tips that don’t apply to me.
  • Get your nails/hair/massages done less often; trim your own hair.
  • Stop drinking bottled water.

 

 

index1

Just in case, I’ll share a few other things that we in my household do, although it is by no means an exhaustive list, and hey, maybe there will be something that is new for YOU.  Maybe none of them will be new, and you’ll be disappointed.   I’ll apologize in advance if that’s the case:

  1. Create a price book.  The idea is that you’ll have better knowledge by doing this, and you’ll be able to KNOW when a good deal is to be found.  I started doing this again recently as I’ve begun changing my diet.  It’s been quite helpful!  See how to make one HERE,  Or use this FREE printable.
  2. Buy our milk in bulk when on sale, and freeze.  Those little indentations on the sides of the gallons?  They are there in case of expansion.  So don’t be afraid to freeze your milk.  My husband doesn’t trust that there is enough space in the bottles, so he takes a drink out of each gallon before freezing it, lol.
  3. Have breakfast for dinner once a week.  Eggs and potatoes.  Cheap.  I found a 5 dozen package of eggs on sale for $3.99 last week.  That’s 7 cents per egg!  Make your own hashbrowns (out of REAL potatoes, not a frozen mix) and holy cow, you’ve hardly spent a thing for your dinner.
  4. Use “fillers” with our meats.  When making meatloaf or tacos, I always add a little something extra, just to stretch it.  You can add rice, oats, or even pureed beans.  Don’t go crazy if your family will hate it, but hey, every little bit helps, right?
  5. Bike or walk to work.  I know, for some people this is a “yeah, right” kinda thing.  I don’t live far from my work, so I walk.  It’s my daily exercise most days as well, so I don’t feel too guilty about the extra time I’m using “commuting”.
  6. Make our own homemade cleaners.  Homemade laundry detergent is actually kind of fun to make.  If it’s too much hassle, just use vinegar and water more for cleaning things.  Or baking soda.  If you’re feeling adventurous, try this all-purpose cleaner recipe, or this mattress stain remover.
  7. We keep the thermostat, like they suggest, at 78 degrees or higher in the summer.  I’m usually able to let it get to 80 before the kids start complaining.  We use a swamp cooler, which is less costly than central air, although admittedly, less effective.  In the winter, I keep the heat off while we’re at work/school, and then at 64 degrees when we’re home.  At night we lower it to 60 or so.  This isn’t something that I enjoy doing, but whenever I get our heating bill, I am suddenly re-motivated.  We wear sweaters and socks. :)
  8. Buy in the bulk sections.  If you have a Winco or health food stores near you, take advantage of the items in the bulk sections.  It’s awesome to be able to buy 2 oz of onion powder for $0.38 instead of having to buy a full package of the stuff for $1-$4.
  9. Buy thrift.  This is one we do a LOT of, not only because it’s cheaper, but because I feel like it’s helpful to the environment.  We actually just finished our back to school shopping today at Savers because they were having a 50% off sale!  It was so much fun and the kids are stoked.
  10. Drop the landline.  My husband works for a cell-phone provider, and so he gets a 50% discount on his cell phone(s).  Since we have cell phones, we dropped the landline that we weren’t using a whole lot anyway.
  11. Find and USE resources.  Does your mom have a peach tree?  Dang, then get over there and pick some peaches!  Got a neighbor who can’t keep up with her zucchini and is begging people to take it?  Well then, help her out and make yourself some zucchini bread!  Don’t be afraid to accept help when it’s offered, and don’t be unwilling to GIVE help when you are able either.    We are our own best resources.
  12. Learn a new skill.  My sewing machine sucks.  It knots every time I use it, blast.  So…I’ve been doing a lot of “hand” sewing.  My black slacks that have a hole in the thigh?  I’ve done a nice little (crappy) job of sewing them up.  They’ll last a little longer now. :) Maybe you can learn to bake bread.  Or to garden more efficiently.  There are thousands of online resources to help us learn more.
  13. Buy dry beans instead of canned.  Cook them in the slow cooker:   throw in a cup or two of dry beans, and then add 3 times the amount of water (1 cup beans + 3 cups water; 2 cups beans + 6 cups water).  Cook it on low for 8 hours, or on high for 4-5 hours.  Season as you like.
  14. Participate in the occasional “pantry eating” challenge.  Pick a month and try to eat food from your pantry the entire month.  If you don’t have much food there, feel free to do it for a week.  Try to only buy fresh foods during that time.  Or set up a spending challenge:  No going out to eat for XX number of days.  Whatever you like; it helps keep things more fun.
  15. Save those coins!  We have our little coin jar and always, ALWAYS immediately after going shopping (because we generally shop with cash) we drop the change into the jar.  Every few months I’ll roll those coins up to see where we’re at.  Great for saving for a trip or to cash in if you’re low on money, or even to save for Christmas stocking stuffers.
  16. Pick up odd jobs.  This year was the first that Munchkin had the opportunity to make some real money.  She had 3 pet-sitting jobs, 2 for neighbors, and 1 that she shared with her brother for her grandma.  That girl made $90 this summer!  Doing odd jobs can be fun, simply because they’re not the norm.  My mom was looking for someone she could pay to mow her lawn this summer, and we volunteered to do it for her (for free, but she insisted on paying us.)  I just finished being part of an online study that will pay me $75 for 1 total hour of participation.  Those jobs may be far and few between, but take them when you can get ‘em!
  17. Update the auto & homeowners insurance policies.  This was something I never thought to do until this summer, because the home insurance comes out of our mortgage so it’s not on our minds, and well, I figured since we’d never had an accident, we already had the best auto rate.  Not so.  Last month I called and looked into things, and we were able to shave $40/month off our auto and $200/year off our homeowners.  Every few years, get yourself a quote.  You may just end up pleasantly surprised.

 

Do YOU have any frugal tips that you don’t see posted everywhere?  Share them in the comments, because friends, I NEED new ideas! :D