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No Spend Month by Default

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Needless to say, with my job loss, we are tightening our belts financially…

  1. We’ve stopped our weekly fresh milk and organic food deliveries.  Returning to bulk purchases as much as possible.
  2. All entertainment is out  the window – no going out to eat, movies, etc.
  3. I’ve redeemed all my stockpiled points for items needed while I had the cash to supplement them and so I didn’t lose them.  Items purchased include: stockpile of toilet paper (remember when I ran out of toilet paper?) new winter jacket for one of the twins, ink for the printer, Brita pitchers (2) to cut down on buying water.
  4. Cutting back activities where we can to save on gas costs as all activities have been paid for, so just limiting them…so one robotics practice a week rather than two, etc.
  5. Lots of other little changes….

And that has led us to a No Spend Month!  I have paid all the bills for the month, stocked the cupboard with the help of a friend’s Costco membership (I cut our Sam’s Club renewal,) and have laid out the entire month financially based on what we have going on.  The ONLY extra this month will be Little Gymnast first meet which is up near DC so it will require a bit of extra gas money.

So here is our budget for this month (with all bills paid already:)

  • Gas – $150 (includes some extra for travel to the gymanstic’s meet)
  • Food – $50 (will have to restock eggs, milk and some fresh fruits/veggies towards the end probably but we’ll see, I’m going to try and push it but am prepared just in case)

When I first started reading blogs I followed a mom who did not spend months every year and I was always fascinated by the things she did…so here I am looking for tips on making the food stretch, finding meals I can make for days we are gone all day and looking for free activities we can do to entertain ourselves.

So here’s to November…our No Spend Month!  I’ll keep you posted on how it goes!


Cute New Shoes – For Free!!!

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I recently took a few old baby clothes to a resale shop nearby. I know you can get more money if you’re willing to sell on Facebook groups, but I don’t have the time to sell things off one-by-one, so I thought this was a good alternative.

After selling a few old baby garments, I had enough store credit to score these brand new, name brand, low-heel shoes that are cute and fun for work!

IMG_0590I was surprised to find brand new (literally – still had original tags) shoes at a consignment shop! I found a similar pair online (see here) for $25, so it’s not like they were Gucci or something. But still – can’t beat free!

So that was a fun little shopping “win” this week!

Hope your Monday is treating you right! Have a good week!

 


Gone Shopping!

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Not one week after happily exclaiming that I’m allowing myself to go shopping again….I get into some trouble!

Last weekend I went to the mall on a mission to find some black pants. It was over the Labor Day weekend and there were sales, galore! My first stop was Macy’s. I didn’t find any black pants I liked but I did find a beautiful dress that I just had to snag! It’s appropriate for both work and church and was marked down from over a hundred dollars down to just $9.99!!! Truly! I snapped a picture as proof!

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Happy with myself for my awesome deal of a find, I set out for Banana Republic. I’d scored an awesome deal on navy pants last time I was there and I was hoping for a big sale. Struck out. It’s okay, Express is right down the way and I love their Editor pants. I head in that direction hoping to find something black. But on the way I pass Bath and Body Works. They have a big 50% off sale sign up in the front of the store. I have not bought an item from B&BW in literal years – since before I started blogging here. I miss it. I LOVE their scented candles and nothing at the regular grocery store compares. They might smell good, but they aren’t as potent as B&BW candles. They smell nice if you’re in the immediate vicinity but they don’t make the whole house smell like B&BW candles do. And I’m also convinced they burn faster, too (is that possible? Like B&BW uses some additive that makes the candles slower-burning???). For the most part we just haven’t had candles at all. It’s a superfluous luxury we’ve just simply cut from our budget.

But I was on a shopping high, having just scored an awesome deal at Macys! I see the 50% off signs. And…I’m feeling indulgent.

About 15 minutes and 115 dollars later, I walk out of the store.

When she rung me up and I saw my total, I knew I’d messed up big time. I handed over my debit card and typed in my pin and silently walked out of the store as though I’d just seen a ghost. I wasn’t on the same shopping high I’d been on when I walked out of Macys. This time, I just felt sick.

I debated for maybe 5 seconds whether to continue on to Express. I still hadn’t found the black pants I’d been searching for (the entire point of my trip to the mall to begin with). I decided against it. Clearly I wasn’t thinking straight. I was like an alcoholic who’d just had a drink after months of sobriety. I knew the options were (1) go home now, or (2) get drunk as a skunk go on a shopping bender. Thankfully I had my wits about me enough to know I needed to leave.

On my way home I’d already resolved that I needed to return much of my Bath and Body Works haul. I simply couldn’t allow myself to have spent that much money on candles and body spray. It was insane!

So the following day I convinced hubs to come back to the mall with me, kids in tow, to return a bunch of the items I’d purchased. I kept 3 candles and a wallflower plug for my office (which I’d already opened), but ALL of the lotions, body spray, and body wash would be returned.

It was tough, y’all. I’m terrible at returning things to begin with. I don’t like the hassle of it and I rarely follow-through. But this was just way too much money to miss out on.

I nearly cried when we approached the front of the store and I saw the signs! In addition to the 50% off sign they’d had the day before, they now also had a $12 3-wick candle one day sale going on! It took every ounce of strength and will power to walk straight to the cash register rather than raiding their candle table.

I waited patiently in line while staring straight ahead (afraid the pumpkin table would pull me away if I dared glance in its direction).  When I got to the front I set my giant bag on the table and explained that I’d gotten carried away and needed to return a bunch of items. I also asked about a price adjustment for one of the candles I’d bought (2 were already half-price, but 1 had been full price). I was told that the adjustment could only happen if I had the candle with me. I was disappointed but said okay and waited while the cashier processed my return.

Only…..while I was waiting, I glanced down and saw their own store policies, taped to the counter top. Right there in black and white, it read that price adjustments could be done only within 14 days of purchase and only with an original receipt. NOTHING about needing to physically have the product with you. I pointed to the policy and commented, “This policy only says I need the original receipt. Sooooo????” (the question just hung in the air). She was obviously annoyed, but I met both of the requirements listed (it was a very recent purchase and I had the receipt with me). She had no other option but to refund me with the difference in cost between the full-price candle and the price advertised during their one-day sale.

After the refund from the return of 6 items and price adjustment on the candle, the total amount I actually spent was $50. Still a lot of money for candles and a wallflower (a type of air freshener). But a price I was much more comfortable with and a level of indulgence that our budget could withstand.

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I still never got my black pants. I think I just need to take an ice shower to get over the “high” from the shopping and Labor Day sales. Or better yet, maybe I’ll reinstate use of actual cash (a throw back to when I did the envelope system) to eliminate the possibility of going on an unchecked shopping spree. It will be an easy way to control my spending and make sure I don’t veer off course as I start incorporating little shopping trips back into my budget after so long with very minimal shopping. I definitely don’t want another Bath and Body Works experience at any other stores, either! But I think this was a good little learning experience.  I am capable of sticking to a very strict budget (been doing it for 18 months!). But gradually adding shopping experiences back into the budget can be a tricky thing. It almost requires even more will-power than simply not shopping at all. This is because when you’re simply NOT shopping, then you aren’t even at the mall! There’s no in-your-face temptation like when you’re in the mall with the intention of spending money, and walking by all the stores seeing their big sale signs standing tall. At least for me, I’ve found that I’m an easy target for a well placed advertisement and a good sale price. I have to keep reminding myself what I’m really there for and to try to stick strictly to the shopping list.

Black pants, I’m on a mission to find you now! (just….maybe not until next weekend).

Have you ever had a shopping bender you’ve really regretted? How do you feel about returns (am I the only one who HATES returning things??)?


Dental Emergency: Blessing in Disguise???

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If you’re a long-term reader, I’ve discussed the issue of dental work ad nauseum (1, 2, 3, 4 times where I’ve dedicated an entire post to the topic; probably several more times where I’ve mentioned it in reference to monthly budgeting). Long story short, hubs’ has a lot of dental issues. A lot! I’ve now been blogging here 18 months and I think he’s had 2 or 3 emergency root canals during that time. He has lots of other dental needs, too, but he’s got some dental anxiety issues (not to mention it’s -ahem- challenging to get him to take a day off to go to the dentist. Gotta love him!). So he’s mostly been operating on an emergency dental situation basis. Very reactive instead of proactive.

Yes, this is a terrible way of handling things.

Yes, it’s more expensive this way.

Yes, dental health is extremely important and can influence health in other ways, too.

He knows all this, but is a grown man and cannot be forced into something against his will. I know, I’ve tried. ; )

Anywho….we’ve got our latest dental emergency, folks!

A few nights ago at dinner hubs bit into something; his eyes got wide and his face grew pale. My first guess was that a crown had fallen out (he’s had that happen before).

Nope.

His tooth fell out. But not his whole tooth. The majority-but not all-of a tooth. A back molar he’d had a root canal and crown put on about 4 years ago. The one that was repaired in Mexico (I’ve mentioned it here). So there’s no way he can go back and make the dentist fix it. No warranties or anything like that.

Now, while this is enough to ruin anyone’s day, I am choosing to look at this as a blessing in disguise. I’ve had a terrible time trying to get hubby back to the dentist. This little issue (ahem – having a tooth fall out!!!) has forced him back to the dentist. Only, now we’ve got dental insurance (YAYAYAYAYAY for the new job!) Hubs has already gone to a new in-network dentist and had x-rays done (something he’s been opposed to in the past) and had a plan drawn up for how to handle his dental issues. The dentist will work in quadrants in his mouth and we’ve already pre-paid for his first quadrant (which will include filling 2 cavities, 2 extractions – one for this tooth and one for a wisdom tooth he’d never had removed, and completing a bone graft for a future tooth implant). Total cost out of pocket is $665. For a little comparison, when I paid to get a filling last year (before insurance), I paid $171. Through insurance, our cost for a filling is only $26 per tooth! Wahoo! What a savings!

Our dental insurance does have an annual per-person maximum that they’ll cover so we’re trying to be strategic about things. But, luckily, they go by calendar year (not actual year; like, July through July since that’s when we got the insurance). So we’ll likely max out their coverage on hubs by December and then be able to start over again in 2016.

Ultimately, this is going to cost us a lot of money. Thousands of dollars. BUT we’ll FINALLY be getting ahead of hubs’ dental problems. Instead of always operating on a reactionary basis (aka:  getting a root canal once a cavity has gone untreated for so long that the whole thing is rotting away), we’ll be able to start rectifying hubs’ many dental issues and getting on top of them before they turn into major catastrophic dental emergencies!

And, fortunately, we had $700 in our dental/health/vision savings account. I just wrote a check for $665 to pre-pay this first quadrant of work. But at least it was money we already had earmarked specifically for this purpose (so it does NOT impact this month’s budget). But instead of saving only a hundred bucks a month or so toward dental, we’ll certainly need to increase those savings on the short-term. Hopefully this means much better oral and overall health on the long-term!

Do you have a partner whose stubborn about going to the dentist? What have you done to help ease their anxiety?


Ashley’s August 2015 Budget Update

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Awww, September! As much as I love August I welcome September like a breath of fresh air after the wicked heat of summer. Here in Tucson it’s still HOT (so don’t get me wrong). But we start to notice a cool down particularly in mornings and evenings and it becomes beautiful to hang out outside after dinner, letting the girls run around, enjoying a slight breeze, and chatting with hubs. Good times to look forward to as I welcome Fall weather with open arms!

In the meantime, here’s how our budget from August ended up shaping out:

Place Amount Spent
Rent 1200
Electricity 245
Water 53
Natural gas 17
Cell Phones (2 lines) 150
Cable/Internet 40
Car Insurance 118
Trash 35
Preschool 1116
Gift-Giving 85
Personal Maintenance 12
Restaurants 88
Groceries 566
Gasoline 86
Household Goods 93
Clothing 102
Toddler purchases 30
Rainy Day Savings 300
Savings Goals 600
Debt Payments 2204
Total Budgeted $7140

 

Things to note:

  • Increased rent: I wrote here about how our rent increased. This was our first month at the new rate.
  • Electricity: Still high as the sky, but in-line with last year’s August budget (August 2014’s electricity was $251, so this year we were slightly lower). We can just gear up for a high September electric bill, too, because its going to happen.
  • Cell phones: This category is a bit of a mess that will hopefully be straightened out in the coming months. Remember that we switched to T-Mobile from Sprint earlier this month to save some money (and it also came with a few additional perks, mentioned here). Well we got a ridiculously high Sprint bill after we cut our service ($250!!!) T-Mobile is supposed to credit our account for the equivalent amount so, in theory, we will have no cell phone bill for a few months until the credit has been run down. So I “cheated” a bit here. The full amount we paid was $250, but I put $150 in August and $100 in September to try to spread out the pain a little. It should work out since we’ll have no bill in September. This is something I’ll continue to monitor to make sure everything worked out in the wake of our switch.
  • Cable/Internet: This was a bit of a mess, too! Generally our bill is about $110/month. In August I received a bill for nearly 50% more than what I’d expected. When I called to ask about it I was told we’d been in some promotional package for years and it had finally expired so our bill would increase. I was not willing to pay a 50% increase so I tried to work with them to get us into a better package. Long story short, I had to make 3-4 calls and physically go into a Comcast store to have everything fully resolved. We should now be back in a plan that costs $100/month (probably closer to $110 when taxes are factored in), and we were given credits in August for all the hassle and headache. So this is a temporarily low bill and hopefully in September things should be back to normal in this category.
  • Preschool: This category is also a little lower than is normal. This is the amount we pay for the regular Monday-Friday preschool, but the normal day ends at 3:00pm. We pay extra to have the girls stay longer (hubs usually gets them at 4:00pm), but so far we have NOT been charged for the extra time they’re in school. This was the first month of preschool so I’m not sure what the billing cycle is yet for the extra time, but I know it’s charged separately from the regular bill so I anticipate it coming sometime soon.
  • Household Goods: This included a Costco haul with some paper products (e.g., toilet paper, tissues) and some cleaning supplies at the regular grocery store.
  • Clothing: I discussed how I was budgeting $100/month for new work appropriate attire. This month I got new shoes from DSW and a new bra from Victoria’s Secret (the last bra I bought was from when I was immediately post-partum/still breastfeeding, so I was in sore need of a new bra!)
  • Toddler Purchases: This is just from their Halloween costumes (I wrote about the great deals at Costco and they still have tons of costumes in my area.)
  • Rainy Day Savings: I put $300 toward different rainy day savings categories. This includes:  $75 (car repairs), $50 (travel/Christmas), $75 (health/dental/vision), $75 (annual fees), and $25 (Girls’ college savings). HOWEVER, I should also mention that I withdrew $307 from different savings funds (I keep all my savings in Capital One 360 due to their higher interest rate <refer a friend link). I withdrew $100 from health/dental/vision to pay for my contacts, like an idiot (because now I have insurance!!! I’m going to try to submit the receipt and see if I can be reimbursed). I also withdrew $207 from my annual fees fund to pay for my annual premium of life insurance.
  • Savings Goals: This is $100 for a Roth IRA and $500 for Cruise 2016.
  • Debt Payments: Still chugging right along with debt payments. This is slightly more than last month, but still right around our typical debt payment size.

Related to debt payments, I’ve made the executive decision to cheat a little bit on our “living on last month’s income” ideal. We’re still living on last month’s income, BUT September is the first month where I’ll earn double-income (from my part-time job in addition to my full-time job. Remember, I wasn’t paid from my part-time job in August due to regular schedule of payment).

Soooo, I’ve decided to allocate my regular full-time paycheck toward living on last month’s income (so it will go toward expenses incurred in October). BUT I’m going to keep my part-time paycheck for use during September to help speed up debt payments. I’m just REALLY itching to make some higher debt payments and it’s been a real bummer to have started this job nearly 2 months ago and not have made any really killer debt payments yet! Rather than waiting and putting that off until October, I’m going to dive in THIS MONTH with some higher debt payments by putting a portion of my part-time pay toward debt in September. Right now I’m thinking I may allocate 50% toward September and keep 50% allocated toward October. But I want to discuss it further with hubs to make a final decision. I just know that I’m itching to make some big debt payments and I can’t wait until October. Some of it is going down SOON!!!!

So that’s how August shaped up and some plans for how I plan to handle September’s debt.

 

Where are you in your debt repayment? How was your monthly budget in August?


Rising Rent

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We’re just beginning our third year of living in our little rental house. I still love it just as much as ever (though I’d also love a teeeeny bit more space – maybe a designated office), and especially the location. We’re outside Tucson city limits, but still a short drive away. We are in the suburbs: lots of family-friendly activities, parks, hike and bike trails, etc. And when we do finally buy a home, I’d love for it to be in our same general area.

So although we’ve started talking about the idea of buying a home (not now, but probably within about a year), we know we need to stay put for now in our current rental.

Our landlord is really great. We live in the landlords’ previous residence. It’s not managed by some big property management company. The owner takes care of all the repairs and maintenance. He’s very kind. We’ve made friends with his family. So I think we’ve gotten a deal with the rent, particularly considering it hasn’t increased at all since we’ve lived in the place….

…until this year. When we approached the landlord to say that we wanted to renew our lease for another year, he seemed happy to have us stay. Of course it’s less work for him (advertising, showing the house, finding a tenant, doing make-ready cleanup, etc.). But then we got the email with the lease attached…and an increased price tag to go along with it.

We negotiated a bit back-and-forth (side note: does anyone else ever try to negotiate rent? When we were living in Florida they tried to increase our rent by a whopping $300/month at the end of a year, but we were able to negotiate down to a $100/month increase). Finally we settled (and signed) for our new increased rental rate. Instead of $1055/month, we’ll now be paying $1200/month.

I still feel like it’s a fair rate. I’ve seen what other houses in our neighborhood rent for and we’re still on the low side of rent, even though our house has a lot of nice, upgraded features compared to other properties in the area. That, coupled with the fact that we didn’t have an increase last year, makes me feel like this really is a fair rate. If we were to try to move, we’d be unlikely to find someplace comparable that we like as much for $1200 or less.

So, I guess that’s life. One of the big benefits of buying, of course, is that you get to lock-in your housing rate (assuming you get a fixed rate mortgage). My hope right now is that this will be our LAST year as renters. That by next summer we’ll be looking for a place all our own. That by August of next year we won’t be signing a rental agreement; we’ll be signing our very first ever mortgage!

That’s the dream, now off to work so we can make it a reality!


New Phone Network

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Hi all! First, I just wanted to say thank you for all your kind comments about my Dad! I’ll let you know when I know more about what the future may look like in that regard. In the meantime, I’ve got a few more financially-oriented posts planned for today. I hope you all have a great Monday!

Similar to Hope’s recent post about saving money on her cell phone, we just made a change, too!

For years and years we had T-Mobile (loved their customer service), but as an Apple family, the iphone lured me away and we switched to Sprint 2 years ago (this was before T-Mobile picked up the iphone).

Well, our 2-year contract is up and although we aren’t dissatisfied with Sprint in any way, I’ve been looking to make a change in the name of saving a buck.

At first I thought about trying to go with one of the super cheap wireless networks (like Ting or Republic Wireless), but we wouldn’t get to keep our iphones, and given that we take long road-trips through remote areas at least twice a year (during which time cell service would be spotty), we decided not to make the switch at this time. It was tempting….but ultimately we decided its not for us at this time.

Then a couple weeks ago a T-Mobile rep called to try to win us back. They offered us new, upgraded phones, more data (which really matters for me because I’ve been having to really carefully ration my data with Sprint so I wouldn’t run out every month), AND free personal hotspots (which doesn’t matter for me as much, but hubs uses it with a tablet he takes to customer’s homes so he can do immediate estimates and have invoices signed on-site). All that, plus unlimited talk + text and the determining factor for both of us….it’s a little bit cheaper!

We weren’t able to save a hundred bucks a month or anything, but our regular Sprint bill has been $115/month. With taxes and fees and everything included, our new T-Mobile bill should cost us $100/month. It’s just a bonus that we’ll be returning to a provider that we’ve previously had good experiences with (seriously, they have fantastic customer service!)

We just received our new fancy-pants upgraded phones in the mail and I’m already obsessed! I have a little bit of blog money I haven’t touched, so I told hubs I’d splurge to buy us both new cases so we can (hopefully) avoid broken phones or shattered screens (I’ve shattered my iphone screen TWICE since I’ve been blogging here and the replacement screens are not cheap!)

It may only be a savings of $15/month, but that’s $180/year! Every little bit helps!

Have you saved money on your monthly bills recently? 


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