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Christmas Time is Here

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Disclaimer: This post does contain a couple of affiliate links.  I wanted to share these ideas with you and decided there was no harm if I let you know up front that they were affiliate links.

Having a frugal Christmas is not hard for me.  Okay, I take that back because of course I want to see the look of complete and utter joy and shock on my kiddos faces when they open presents.  But let’s face it…One, we really don’t NEED a single thing; Two, there are so many other things I NEED to do with my money right now (ie debt;) Three, we don’t have ANY free space.

Therefore, my temptation to “shop til you drop” is extremely limited and my desires for my kids Christmas gifts are pretty limited as well.  Over the last few years, I have really steered clear of “stuff” and focused instead on making sure that each child got one thing from each of these categories:

  • Something to wear – this is one that kids would normally frown at, at least in my mind, but since my twins buy their own clothes, they love when mom kicks in and helps them out.  We are not a name brand kind of family but this gift is either something they really need or something they really want, so sometimes socks and underwear and sometimes a new pair of tennis shoes.
  • Something that makes them happy – my kids submit lists to me every year and over the years they know that mom is not going to be trendy toys or anything she would consider “junk.”  (I stopped buying video games, system two years ago so they don’t put those on their list at all.) I encourage them to put things on their list that they will really enjoy having and calling their own.  So to give you an example of this years lists, here are a couple of things that they listed: Loot Crate subscription, a $50 bill, a bottle of grape juice all to myself, art supplies and the best one in my book “a baby duck that I can imprint on.”  Go figure!
  • Something they need – let’s face it, we can always find things our kids need, and in our case, with homeschooling there are always things that are needs that can be made a bit special by making them a gift.  Most years they twins get a box full of personal hygiene stuff.  At first it was because they lost it so often and now it’s because I know they would rather spend their money on other things, so if they are responsible and keep up with the stuff, it frees up their personal money for other things throughout the year.  Sometimes it’s art supplies, gift card to a specific place for an upcoming event, etc.
  • An experience – my kids have never been “toy” players.  Anything they got, when the novelty wore off 5 minutes later, the toy was literally just a waste, so we stopped toys probably 4-5 years ago.  Instead they get experiences…camp money (summer camp,) classes or something associated with that (sewing machine and patterns,) girls day out (hand written gift certificate for lunch out, window shopping and pedicures.)  Whatever it is, this is typically their favorite gift.  And I’ve found, especially with summer camps that if you register at this time of year, you typically get a “double discount.”  My dad is paying the deposit for each child to attend a week of summer camp this year as a Christmas gift for them so not only do I get the double discount, but I don’t have to pay the registration fee which is applied to their tuition and gives me months to pay for camp (line item Kids Activities.)

Because we are so limited in space this year which has really affected our crafting and science space I was struggling to find that “wow” gift for the little ones, and then after hearing from my oldest that he would like the Loot Crate subscription (second year he’s asked for that) I began thinking there might be something like this for the littles.  Here’s what I came up with:

  • Tinker subscriptions – they describe it as a “Laboratory for Hands-on experiments delivered every month.”  How cool is that!  This is our first year trying it, but since Little Gymnast LOVES science I though this was the perfect way to surprise him and it’s the gift that keeps on giving since he will get one every month.  (We started with a three month subscription to try it out.)
  • Doodle subscriptions – they describe it as “Ready, Set, Make – fresh new DIY projects to make stuff that you’ll love.”  What a perfect gift for the budding DIY’er or artist.  Princess is getting a 3 month subscription to this which I hope will complement her current obsession with nail art and marker drawings.

This year I will round out the gifts with a magazine subscription for each child, cheap and educational – woohoo and probably a gift card to some entertainment…movie theatre or trampoline playground.  Great for winter entertainment when we just need a break from the apartment.

In the meantime, we have put up a six foot plastic crafting table in our living room and Santa’s Workshop is in full affect.  They have purchased supplies with their own money and are sculpting and painting, screwing together and hiding as they make their gifts for each other and our extended family.  Little Gymnast even bought a gingerbread house kit and has finally mastered putting them together…well, until he ran out of frosting from licking it off his fingers.

It truly is a wonderful time of the year!  Do you have any frugal gift ideas to share or a way you kept your family Christmas reasonable?


Barter Win – Homeschool Tuition

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Sorry, I was MIA last week.  I woke up last Wednesday just simply overwhelmed at the amount of work I/we still had to get done and facing working both jobs plus approximately 3 hours in the car with kid chauffeuring duties.  I made an executive decision and called in to my part time job and then got all the kids up super early and got down to business.  That day turned the corner for me in terms of this move and now I’m in a much better place mentally!  There is definitely something to be said for “mental health” days, that’s for sure.

So moving past that I wanted to tell about a recent financial win.  As I have mentioned I barter for almost all of my kids activities.  But one thing I’ve never been able to to barter for was our homeschool co op tuition, and this year with four kids going it was over $2000.  Ugh!  This is the first year that I’ve had all four homeschooling year round so the first time for this large of a bill.  Not to mention the older two are taking more advanced, thus more expensive courses.

Typically my little one’s dad comes up with at least 1/2 of theirs, but this year he is in a transition phase and is short on money.  He did help but nearly so much as he normally does.  (Note: We do not have a formal financial arrangement of any kind.  I tell him when the kids need things and if he can, and most of the time he can, he helps out.  I have no complaints at all about his contribution and while it is not viewed as the traditional child support arrangement it works for us and takes the financial stress out of an already stressful relationship.)

So I was facing a really large bill at an already stressful time.  (This tuition is lumped into the monthly line item of my budget of Kid’s Activities in case you were wondering.)  Ok, so what to do.  Well, as you know, we are minimizing like no body’s business over here.  Our garage sale was an overwhelming success and I have been advertising on Facebook and Craigslist, etc.  So my win…

One of the teachers who teaches three of my children year long just so happened to need a couple of pieces of furniture that I had…and voila, like that a barter deal was worked out, my furniture for a full years tuition for 3 children, 1 class each…SCORE!  For those who want numbers this equates to about $600 in tuition.  SCORE!


Our Trash May be Someone’s Treasure!

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Won’t have a ton of posts today, this past week we have been working crazily to continue the purge.  The deadline is Friday morning when our garage sale opens!

I never considered myself a hoarder until last night when we started getting to the last nooks and crannies of places in the house.  OMG…I have not 1, not 2, not 3, but 7 sets of oil pastels.  And no, I am not an art teacher nor trained as an artist and we rarely use those types of art supplies in school  Why in the world do I have 7 almost never touched sets.  And that’s just one of the many things like that!

I was telling someone that if I received tax deductions on the WEIGHT of what I donate, I would be rolling in it, wouldn’t need to pay taxes for decades probably.  And despite all the donating, trashing and garage stuffed with things for the sale, our house is still full.  Just shows me how much more I have to go and truly how much “stuff” we have.  I’ve really enjoyed the blogs people have recommended regarding the minimalist lifestyle.  My daughter and I are going to try the Project333 route with our clothing.

So just a brief money update…want guess how much we’ve made thus far with selling stuff?  Okay, I won’t make you wait.

$735

And that’s without the garage sale monies that we will hopefully earn this weekend.  Woohoo!  Just a reminder, these monies are being split between debt pay off and savings for replacement items that will happen once we find a new permanent living space, estimated at a year plus down the road.

I am so grateful for the all the garage sale hints.  Just by starting the advertising with pictures this week on our local Craigslist, Facebook groups and my personal page, we’ve got people picking things up tonight and shopping early tomorrow evening as we set up.  I am so excited for this stuff to be gone as we move closer to this new phase of our lives….T-Minus 3 weeks to move day.


Found a Cheat!

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As of yesterday we are a book free house…at least temporarily.  We gathered every single book in the house and sorted them into four piles…

  1. Goes to the apartment – mostly schoolbooks but a few personal books
  2. Goes to donation
  3. Schoolbooks to sell – homeschoolers have lots of sites they sell/trade used curriculum so I’ll try that route with my old stuff before just giving it away
  4. Book Exchange (this is a link to their Facebook page in case you wanted to check them out and maybe find one near you.  It is NOT an affiliate link of any kind.)

The fourth one is my new cheat…I knew there were used bookstores, but I’m such a fan of the library that I rarely buy books.  But over the years we have amassed quite a collection between gifts, etc.  So a few weeks ago as we headed into this transition I drove by this place and thought to give them a call.  They will take our books and based on their inventory and the condition of the book, will give us store credit for the books.  That way, down the road and as a treat, we can go in and “shop” without actually spending any money. (When I dropped them off, they even offered to donate the books they didn’t want to keep for me so I didn’t have to do that…score!)

We dropped off four huge boxes of books to them yesterday…dropped two more at the local thrift store and put four more boxes into storage so it’s ready for the apartment without being in the way.  Our house is now book free. (Ok, the schoolbooks to sell are still here, but they will be gone soon and are neatly stacked out of the way.)

It would have been great if they actually gave us cash for our books, but I think this is a great alternative to that and will be a neat treat down the road when we have the “shopping” itch!

As the principal, administrator and only teacher in our homeschool, I made the executive decision that we will delay starting our new school routine until after the move.  Since we school year round and I believe that the kids will learn many lessons from this move, I am certain it will not affect the overall scheme of things and it takes a lot of pressure off both me and the kids as we have daily tasks pertaining to the move.  It also made putting all our books in storage for this last month a possibility.

 


The house is in chaos…

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…but the kids are all joyful and full engaged.  We have all settled down around the idea of our impending move and jumped on board the “get ready” train.   I don’t want this blog to turn into the “Hope’s Moving” blog for the next month, but perhaps small updates on the financial impact of the move and moving frugally would be alright?  Let me know your thoughts.

Over the past week, since the bombshell of our move was dropped…we have gotten busy!  I have been in constant purging mode for four years now, but now we are in Get Rid of Everything that is Not a Necessity mode.  Going from 1800 sq ft to 900 sq ft, I know it’s going to be tight, and while the kids can’t visualize it, I am trying to make them aware of the reality of how having less “stuff” will make apartment living that much better for us.  So with that being said, here’s what I/we have done:

  1. I took inventory of every room in our home including furniture, stand alone technology, storage tubs, etc. including the garage and outdoor space.
  2. I sat down with each child and we worked through their room list asking them what was imperative that they have at the end of this move (meaning when we get into a new permanent home, not just the apartment.)  I thought it was important that I get their feedback so they would feel fully involved in this move.
  3. I then went through everything else and marked it’s importance in three categories…A = Needed in Apartment, B = Needed in Permanent Home and P = Take a Picture of it and sell it!
  4. Based on that list, we moving furniture/items marked P to the garage, cleaning them out and off and taking pictures of them.
  5. And now they are all listed for sale and some going like hot cakes, and some are not.

In addition, I got a small storage unit and moved all our bikes and some of the items we must keep but don’t need for this month.  Let me explain that as I know you’d say, if you don’t need them this month why keep them… 1) there are just a few pieces that are solely being kept for sentimental value and really are not usable.  While I am very proud of how brutal I have been in this purge, there are somethings I just can’t get rid of.  2) Some items are smaller and currently not used, but after I purge the larger items that are serving their purpose, they will be used in the apartment.  Make sense?  My end goal is to purge so much that I don’t need the storage unit, but that will require two things happening 1) my van will have to sell as they extra seats/custom bed must be stored when not in use and 2) I have to figure out where we can store our bikes at our apartment and that probably won’t happen until after the move.

Now as I was going over my progress with my dad he asked if some of this would need to be replaced when we move to a new permanent home.  Yes, it will.  We’ve sold our only dining room/kitchen table, we’re selling 3 of the kids bed frames (their choice,) etc.  However, two things 1) we simply cannot fit all our stuff into our apartment and 2) the cost to store our stuff vs replacing much of it through freecycle/garage sales and even some new balances out.

Last point on this….the money!  We are making a decent amount on many of the items especially since much of it is either handmade, refurbished or we got free.  I have decided to save 1/2 the money towards new furniture when that time comes and put 1/2 toward debt.  Knowing that we have at least a year before any replacements would be needed I am comfortable with pushing forward with debt pay off first before thinking about new furniture.

Side note: many readers noted that I would be ready for a garage sale soon…you are so right!  However, I must get approval of my HOA Board (full disclosure I’m on the board, but certainly cannot give myself approval.)  Tonight is the Board meeting where I will 1) request permission and hope that we will have a community yard sale and 2) have to resign from the Board on when I’ve served for over 3 years.  This move is affecting a lot more then just the place we live and it’s sad and hard, but I just know, and the kids are realizing as well, that there will be lots of new joys and adventures in our new place.


It Isn’t All About Income

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Yesterday I read something over at Budgets Are Sexy that really resonated with me.  J. Money read an article from Mr. Money Mustache (a pretty famous blog that I follow).  In this article MMM said:

“The most important thing to note is that cutting your spending rate is much more powerful than increasing your income.  The reason is that every permanent drop in your spending has a double effect:  it increases the amount of money you have left over to save each month, and it permanently decreases the amount you’ll need every month for the rest of your life.”  

I still stick to my guns in saying the easiest way to make fifty dollars is to save fifty dollars.  I had this mantra since I began my coupon journey about five years ago.  This was a time when I went from a single man living alone to having a built in family.  Feeding three people was an eye opener to say the least, especially when you were allotting yourself about $100 per month for food before.  Remember I was in the food industry, and usually always fed myself at work.

What this article did for me was realize that it really isn’t my income that is a problem here.  I have been making it work, and know full well that we could live on the income we do have.  It is really all about eliminating all the unnecessary monthly expenses.  

The biggest being DEBT.

Now I am not saying that I won’t challenge the other expenses, but debt is the biggest.  I have been paying anywhere from $800 to $1,000 every month for the last four and a half years, just on debt!  

What if I was using this amount to put away for savings and retirement?  I would be in a totally different situation than I am today.  

This is also not saying that I will not be looking for opportunities to increase my income.  Because let’s be honest the two go hand in hand.  If I increase my income it will be a much faster route to get out of debt and start becoming the provider that my family knows I am.  

So for the month of July I will be reviewing more of my expenses and seeing ways to cut them out of my life.  Who’s with me?


I couldn’t wait!!!

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I broke my cardinal rule. I counted my proverbial chickens before the eggs have hatched. And I’m taking a bit of a risk to do this, but…..

I JUST PAID OFF MY WELLS FARGO CREDIT CARD!!!!!!

(*cue the herald angels singing and imagine my euphoric screams here*)

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This was a big – HUGE – deal.

Starting to write here has changed my life (I know this sounds cliche and silly given that it’s been 2 months, but I’m for real). I swear, if I had continued just as a reader (not contributing), there is NO WAY I would be here right now. These past couple months we’ve done pretty well with pay. So we’d be sporting flashy new clothes, or perhaps taking a fun summer vacation. We would put a little extra toward debt, too, but we certainly wouldn’t be throwing every single penny possible toward debt payments and, thus, be in our current position.

You don’t know how happy this makes me! Since I’ve started here: I paid off my Capital One credit card (once maxed out at $7500, balance when I started blogging in March = $413). Next, I paid off my Wells Fargo credit card (once maxed out at over $10,000, balance when I started blogging in March = $7700). Next on my radar is my last credit card, Bank of America. With “only” a balance of $2200, it should be gone within a month.

How did I do this?

First, we’ve been cutting back (I have a whole money-saving tricks series!).

But let’s not kid ourselves, this has primarily been due to increased income (well above our “average”). And every extra cent has been thrown toward debt.

How else did I do this?

Well…..I cheated the system a little. I couldn’t help it. For those with variable incomes, this is a “do what I say, not what I do” moment…..

I have mentioned before that we have a budget (for all of our minimum expenses and debt obligations). We wait until the month is completely over to determine how much “extra” is leftover, and we apply that money toward debt in the following month (as a one-time snowflake payment).

Wellllllll…….I didn’t do that this month. It was driving me CRAZY to see my checking account balance high enough to pay off the WF CC and I didn’t want to wait until May was over to apply the funds! So, this messes up my budget a little but I ended up doing two things I would generally advise AGAINST for anyone with variable incomes (1) I spent money that will hopefully be in surplus from this month (May) to apply toward the WF balance (even though we don’t know yet exactly how much surplus we will have), and (2) I used some logic to assume that, should our surplus not be as much as I’m guesstimating….then I can “borrow” the money from myself. Our current monthly payment to WF is $900, so basically I’m using the June money and applying it toward our balance NOW instead of waiting a week until June is officially here.

I was able to do this because we currently have these funds in my checking account. If something were to go wrong (i.e., husband has work problems/doesn’t have jobs the rest of the month/terrible problem that costs money instead of making money), then it is still “okay” because I had this money available in my Capital One 360 Savings (I talked about all my assets in this first post…we don’t have a ton, but we do have some liquid cash in a money market account + CapOne 360 savings).

This is definitely “counting my chickens before the eggs have hatched” because the month isn’t over yet….so I have no way of knowing whether our income will truly be high enough to justify a huge (almost $3500) payment toward this bill.

But I did it anyway.

So hopefully when the dust settles from May I’ll discover that I made a good decision (meaning, we had enough “extra” money to cover this expense). If not, then that just means that our savings has decreased a little and – oh well. I think it was worth it to get out from under the 13.65% APR credit card debt (side note:  Now all of our remaining debts are under a 10% APR. For some reason, this feels like a big threshold to cross – even though I won’t be satisfied until we have NO debts and aren’t paying ANY interest!)

Oh happy day!!!!

I am smiling from ear to ear! Bank of America….you’re next! Mwhahahaha!!!!! (<<<< I love my evil debt-paying laugh! Feels so good! ) : )

Thanks for all of your advice, suggestions, and support along the way!!!


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