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I May have Messed Up – Storm Prep

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Last week, the governor declared a state of emergency and our pantry was EMPTY!  We had been eating through our pantry prior to our trip to see my parents, so it was pretty bare around here.  With the imminent arrival of Joaquin predicted and our empty cupboard…I may have overspent on groceries, spending our entire monthly budget in one fell swoop. (I did not spend the weekly amount allotted for fresh, organic milk delivery.)

I wanted to be prepared for the storm.  (They compared the predicted results to a storm here in the Fall of 2003 when we lost power and clean water for almost 2 weeks.) I stocked up on gallons of water, batteries for flashlights and canned/non-refrigerated food.

And I wanted to fill our cupboards for our regular meals. So I restocked the freezer with frozen meats and veggies, brought fresh fruit and sandwich makings.  I realize this was counter-productive if we had faced significant power outages, but with grills and cooler and ice, this has worked for us in the past.

The food overwhelmed our tiny space and our counter tops are covered in cans and boxes.  It looks like the olden days when we had plenty of room to store food.

We are very thankful that the storm did not come ashore here, and that we kept power for the most part during the 6 days of solid rain.  And we are truly enjoying having a bounty of food to choose from during our days to cook the family meals (we rotate through the week based on our ever changing activity schedules.)

But I’m doubtful that the groceries will last the month, especially the fresh fruit.  I guess only time will tell, but for the first time in some months I may go over on a grocery budget by a pretty penny.

On the flip side…got a call about a potential job which means I may bring in some extra money this month.  Woot, woot!

 


Frugal Holiday Ideas

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I’m starting to think about the upcoming holidays. Last year we went out for our holiday meals due to our tiny kitchen and lack of dining table.  We are in the same predicament this year, but I’d really like the holidays to be more special somehow.

Here are the ideas I’ve come up with so far:

  1. Find a soup kitchen to serve and eat in for the holiday day itself.  *I’d really like to do this, but it must be somewhere we can all work which I haven’t had luck with in the past.
  2. Find a place to rent and have a kind of “displaced” family potluck inviting everyone we know, focusing on single moms, seniors, singles etc.  Might be able to tie it to some sort of fundraiser or food bank collection.  Make it an event which I think would be good for me emotionally but might also bless others.
  3. Take the kids to a hotel with a pool and just have a bunch of junk food.
  4. Do a fancy feast somewhere, dress up…

I don’t know, but I figure I should plan something now to budget and get something lined up.


Yogurt Date

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One of the joys of being more in control of my month, monthly expenditures and debt…is DATE time.  No, I am not dating…but I am definitely making a more concentrated effort to spend more one on one time with each of my kiddos.  Living in our tiny space have been stressful for us all, but especially as of late with the “hope” of being able to move and having that quashed multiple times.  (More on that another time.)

So I got to end my work day today with a yogurt date with Little Gymnast before dropping him off for his 5 HOURS of gymnastics training.  I love that I can schedule a DATE with him and not worry about spending the $10 for some fun without having a crushing weight over me, living paycheck to paycheck and wondering how to keep all the “balls in the air.”

So just a quick joy filled post about my wonderful mom/son date time today with yogurt…which I did use a $5 off coupon for – even better!


Giving Myself Some Grace

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When I wrote about my first week of work and the changes I was adjusting to (specifically the looooong days), I had several people comment to remind me to take care of myself and allow a couple weeks to get used to this huge adjustment in my life.

I’m definitely taking those comments to heart and although I don’t want to make long-term budget changes yet, there’s one in particular that I want to make at least for the short-term:

Increased grocery budget.

Prior to starting as a blogger here, I spent a TON of money each month on food. Between groceries and eating out (including $$$ drinks), we easily spent a thousand a month!

When I first started blogging, I set a grocery budget of $400/month for our family of 4, and a restaurant/eating out budget of $75/month (which I later increased to $100/month). So I’ve essentially cut our food spending in half!!!!

But it hasn’t been all daisies and roses! I have notoriously struggled with the grocery budget, in particular. I’ve written several times about how if I lose even a bit of focus that it comes out in my grocery spending. I’ll pick things up all willy-nilly at the grocery store just because it looks good or sounds good at the time. I’ll stray from my list and get random things that are really unnecessary or convenience foods I could make myself from scratch for cheaper. So it’s not like I’ve been operating at 100% this whole time but, in general, I’ve done a pretty good job of sticking to about $400/month in groceries for our family.

With this new job, however, I’m already finding it challenging to have the time to make all the from-scratch foods I like to make. I’ve tried to help myself by doing rollover meals (example: one night I made ground beef tacos and I browned some extra beef so the next night I could make a beef casserole dish), and I’ve done food prep once a week where I wash and cut up fruits and veggies so they’re ready-to-go. But I’m still finding it to be a bit of a challenge.

So I’d like to start buying a few prepared/frozen foods that I can just pull from the freezer, heat, and eat – especially on those days I’m feeling particularly drained. I don’t want to eat this way all the time (I still prefer fresh foods, myself), but I can see how the convenience is worth a little extra money at the grocery store – especially when the other option I’m considering is take-out. Frozen, prepared grocery store foods are still cheaper than take-out! So I think maybe 1-2 grocery store convenience meals per week might be a new thing for the next couple weeks.

I’m also going to try to beef up my own freezer stash. For example, in regard to the beef casserole I mentioned above, I made enough for 2 meals and froze half of it so we can eat at a later date. But until I’m fully stocked on my own homemade freezer meals and while I’m still trying to transition to my new roles both at home and the office, I want to offer myself a little grace in the form of an increased grocery budget. I don’t know what exact numbers will look like long-term, but for right now I’m thinking an extra $25/week (extra $100 per month) will really help ease the burden a bit during the evening rush to make food and feed the kids before other evening chores set in.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear some of your favorite work-night recipes, websites, or blogs that you frequent for quick, healthy meal ideas and kid-friendly foods!


Summer Book Club Review: Complete Guide To Money

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It’s time for our first summer book club review!

Did you read Dave Ramsey’s Complete Guide to Money with me?

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If not, no worries! I’ll be announcing the next book club read at the end of the post! And read my review anyway – maybe you’ll get something from it even without reading the whole book.

Let’s get started….

My general thoughts are that the book basically rehashes a lot of his other books that I’ve read (I’ve read Total Money Makeover and EntreLeadership). Even so, his writing is fun and engaging. He’s definitely a charismatic speaker and it comes through in his books, too. There are a lot of repeat stories that I’ve heard before on the radio (and/or read in previous books), but there are certainly some new ones too. Also, he’s pretty honest and open about the fact that the book covers all the same stuff he talks about on a regular basis. So you go into it almost expecting a bit of a review (at least that’s the case if you’re a regular Ramsey reader or radio show listener).

One of the things I enjoy is that Ramsey includes “We Did It” stories throughout the book as a motivating tool to read about real life people who applied his principles to reach their financial goals. I also like that he pulls in Twitter and Facebook posts as an added connection to readers.

Here are some quotations (some are direct quotes some are paraphrased) of things that jumped out at me as I read through the book:

  • If you start at age 16 and never have a car payment, but instead invest the difference, you’d retire a multi-millionaire just by avoiding car payments. Why not teach THAT in school?
  • Debt is a product. It’s the most successfully marketed product in all of history.
  • Dave’s grandma always said: “There’s a great place to go when you’re broke….. To Work!” (<<<my personal favorite quote from the book!)
  • Most families going through Financial Peace University program are debt free except their house in 18 months!!!
  • How would it feel to have absolutely no debt hanging over you?
  • How much of your income is currently going out in the form of payments every month (e.g., credit cards, home equity loan, mortgage, car loan, student loan, etc.)? What could you do if you actually got to keep that money?

While reading the book I also jotted down a couple of my own personal stories that related to things Dave mentioned in his book.

  • When I was a kid (not even 18 yet), I got a membership to Columbia House. They send you a bunch of free DVDs, but then start mailing you random DVDs every couple weeks which they bill you for in-full until you send notice to cancel your membership. I’d gotten caught up in the program and hadn’t canceled in time and owed money that I never paid and, eventually, it went on my credit. Again…we’re talking about something from nearly 15 years ago. The debt was small (under a hundred dollars), but it stayed on my credit forever – well past the 7 year mark – because creditors can do an account inquiry, which counts as account activity. Eventually I just paid the debt off so it would go away, but I was shocked to find out that the whole “it drops off your credit in 7 years” myth is NOT always the case. Columbia House showed me that by hanging around probably 12 years or so.
  • Ramsey talks a lot about how debt collectors have all kinds of terrible techniques to get you to pay THEM before any of your other bills. After my grandfather’s death, my maternal grandmother (who now lives in assisted living funded for by my mother) didn’t have a lot of income. She got behind on her bills and had credit card debt collectors calling her relentlessly. They convinced her to pay her credit card bill before her own mortgage and utility payments (which my mom was forced to step in and cover to keep the lights on). Obviously you shouldn’t be taking on debt you can’t afford to pay back. But you should also make sure you have a roof over your head and food in your fridge (and electricity to power the fridge) before paying back scummy credit card companies! No debt is the way to go!
  • Ramsey talked a lot about the power of marketing on buying decisions. I saw this come to light the most when I was planning our wedding 5 years ago. I swear, everything is marked up 10x just because its associated with a wedding. An identical product intended for a birthday party (instead of wedding) is so much cheaper! There’s something about weddings, specifically, that make people feel obligated to spend. I remember joking with friends at the time…. “if you truly love each other, you’ll order the specialty cocktail napkins with your personalized monogram! If you don’t upgrade but opt to stick with the regular napkins, you’re surely destined for divorce!!!” No, no one literally said those words to me. But that’s certainly how it felt!!!

Overall, I’d give the book 3.5 out of 5 stars. It never drew me in to where I just couldn’t put the book down. But its a quick and engaging read and has lots of helpful info, even if much of it is review.

What did you think?

What would you do with your extra money if you didn’t have any debts to pay?

And….drumroll please……..

Our next summer book club selection is:

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Your Money or Your Live:  9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence.

So pick it up from your local library. This will be our selection for the month of July. If you have another (financially-oriented) book you’d like to read, leave a comment with your opinion and I’ll select another one for August!

 


Weekly Debt Update #18- A Birthday Party and Disney Planning

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Hey everybody! I hope you all had a great weekend.

With not much to discuss this week- I want to touch on a couple of items. Firstly, a very good friend of mine and his wife had a birthday party for his son who just turned 1, on Saturday. The party was in Ohio, a couple hours away from where we live. I drove down and spent a majority of day celebrating with them and their family. Instead of getting them a new toy, since I figured everybody else would be doing that, I gave them $25 in cash to start an ESA account for their son. Once the present opening began, I realized my suspicions were right- they had more toys and clothes than I think they knew what to do with. I told my buddy how to quickly set up an account (much like I did for my nephew) that will allow the money to grow for the next 17 years.

Secondly- the money saving planning for Disney has begun. So far, we know of 2 ways that are going to save us a ton. 1) We’ve been talking to GF’s mother, who lives only a couple miles away, to watch the dogs for us while we’re gone. She agreed to come over, let them outside, and play with them a couple of times each day and we’re going to give her $200. When I was looking into having the dogs boarded for the week, the prices ranged form $350-$450 depending on how much activity we wanted the dogs to get. Besides the financial aspects, I don’t really feel comfortable keeping our dogs in a kennel where they have limited space. I feel that keeping them in our house, where they can roam anywhere and play with all their toys, is a much more inviting scenario. 2) Since we’re driving to and from Disney (16+ hours away) we’re going to pack as much as we can for the drive. GF has already started couponing and buying foods that we can eat on the way that won’t go bad. The day before we leave, we plan on making pasta salads, normal salads and fruit salads- food that we can eat straight from the cooler, are healthy, filling and will give us plenty of energy for the drive. This will certainly keep us from hitting the gas station food when we stop for gas, at least on the way down. We haven’t yet figured out what we are going to do for the trip back up.

For anyone interested in my current debt totals, here they are:

Loan NameInterest RateOriginal Balance- May '09Current BalanceTotal Paid OffPaid Since Last Week
Sallie Mae 015.25$27,837.24$23,896.61$3,940.63$0.00
Sallie Mae 024.75$22,197.02$18,750.50$3,449.52$0.00
Sallie Mae 037.75$20,692.10$0.00
$20,692.10$0.00
Sallie Mae 045.75$10,350.18$6,271.63$4,078.55$305.85
Sallie Mae 055.25$6,096.03$0.00$6,096.03$0.00
Sallie Mae 06 and 074.75$6,415.09$0.00$6,415.09$0.00
Sallie Mae- DOE 015.25$5,000.00$0.00$5,000.00$0.00
Sallie Mae- DOE 025.25$3,000.00$0.00$3,000.00$0.00
AES6.8$9,000.00$0.00$9,000.00$0.00
TOTALS$110,587.66$48,918.66$61.669.00$305.85

I hope everyone has a great week!


May 2015 Budget Update

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I have been dreading this post. Like – dreading it!

This month has not been great in terms of our budgeting. I’ll show you the numbers in a second and I know they’re higher than our average numbers, but I also don’t feel like we went crazy or anything.

In basically all categories, our overspending was due to known expenses that I had failed to plan for. Basically – no big surprises came up (no crap river or emergency dental visits). Instead it was stuff like needing to buy the girls new swimsuits for their free swim lessons (they grow too fast! I tried to put them in last year’s swimsuits and the resulting atomic wedgies indicated it was NOT going to happen). Also, I mentioned that my mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law visited for four days. While here we paid to take them out to dinner one night in celebration of MIL’s birthday (and to thank them for their visit). That single dinner blew our entire month’s eating out budget. I should have increased it for the month since I knew this visit was coming up. Same thing happened with groceries. Aside from the one big dinner out, we did most of our eating at home and I hadn’t adequately planned by increasing our grocery budget.

At the month’s end we were over budget by nearly $400.

This is where YNAB comes into play and – again – why I have loved it so much (see my full review here). Going into the software I was easily able to move some monies around. I’d originally planned to put some money toward savings for dental/vision and annual fees but I re-allocated that money to different categories. Additionally, I had to tap into some of my Capital One 360 savings accounts. I didn’t want to pull all the money from my Emergency Fund (more on that in a minute), so I pulled about half from the EF and the other half from my semi-annual fees account. This move was partly psychological and partly strategic. It didn’t feel like as big of a “hit” when I spread the money out (instead of taking solely from my EF). That’s the psychological part. How was this move also strategic?

Sigh…

Here’s the part I’ve REALLY dreaded of this post. I have to tell you guys that this month did not go well for husband’s business. In the past when we’ve had lower income months I’ve gotten all introspective about it and been very public with what I think our mistakes were and how to correct them. But in the interest of keeping some things just between hubs and I, I’m not going to go into reasons this month (though he and I have discussed them endlessly, so its not for lack of analysis).

Long story short, Hubs’ business came up empty-handed this month. Completely. This isn’t the first time, though it’s the first time in a looooooong time (first time since I’ve been blogging). In the early days of his business some 4+ years ago this happened more frequently. There were even some months where he’d lose money! (Yes. As in, we’d have to take money from our personal checking/savings to cover his business losses). On the overall, his business’ trend has been upward. But this is life owning a small business. Some months are awesome! And some months you may not make anything. You hope the awesome months are more frequent and the crappy months are few and far between (and, in general, that’s the trend his business has been taking). But this month was a crappy one.

So how will we survive?

Well, fortunately, I still get paid from my job! And with the shortage we’ll be forced to raid our EF. However, we’ve also been trying to sell things to minimize our losses. Husband has sold some of his shoes (it’s funny, but he has a larger shoe collection than I do!), and has sold a nice watch he owns. Our regular pay will still be business as usual (being saved for the following month since we live on last month’s income). But with any side-money we receive from selling things, we’ll use it to supplement the current month (June) to minimize the amount we have to take from our EF to survive the month.

So there you have it. Last month’s overages and the plan for next month.

Now, onto the actual numbers.

 

Place Amount Spent
Rent 1055
Electricity 127
Water 61
Natural gas 18
Sprint (2 lines) 119
Cable/Internet 99
Car Insurance 58
Health Insurance 394
Trash 35
Preschool 1024
Gift-Giving 29
Restaurants 162
Entertainment 10
Groceries 550
Gasoline 71
Medical 11
Household Goods 100
Clothing 20
Toddler purchases 60
Work Purchases 47
Rainy Day Savings 130
Savings Goals 500
Debt Payments 1708
Total 6388

I hope your May was more fruitful than ours! Here’s to hoping we knock it out of the park in June!

Do you/have you ever had a variable income? How do you handle the fluctuations? Our variable income is one of the main reasons I loved YNAB’s idea of living on last month’s income. It’s also one of the main reasons we have a larger emergency fund than the $1,000 beginner EF recommended by Dave Ramsey. That’s way too low for my comfort level given the sometimes unexpectedly low income months we have on occasion.

 

Note: My YNAB and CapitalOne360 links are refer a friend links. If you join it doesn’t cost you anything extra but I do get a small compensation for the referral. All opinions are 100% my own and I joined paying my own money so this is not a sponsored post and I received no discount or anything for mentioning them. Particularly for YNAB, I’m just giving them a shout out because their budgeting system really has made a HUGE impact on getting our financial house in order!


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