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Retirement Planning

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Let’s be real, if it weren’t for the mandatory retirement required by my employer (we’re required to contribute 7%, which is matched dollar-for-dollar by my employer!), I’d probably be a ways off from any serious retirement discussion. I mean, we should all be doing it, but when you’re just trying to pay your monthly bills, you’re probably not super concerned about how you’ll be paying for your golden years.

But we should be! Especially with some hints of BIG changes on the horizon!

First, did you see the IRS’ announcement with 2018 pension plan and 401(k) contribution limits? If not, check it out here. For the time being, annual income limits are going UP for traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, and Saver’s Credit! That’s good news to those in the stage of life to be maxing out retirement contributions!

The reason I use the verbiage here (“for the time being”) is that, right on the heels of the IRS’ announcement, talk from the Whitehouse is suggesting steep reductions in the annual limits allowed for tax-deferred retirement accounts. Check out this piece from the New York Times with more info. Some of these (rumored) reductions would be seriously dramatic.

Where are you in the retirement savings spectrum? Are you actively putting away money for retirement or still in full-on get-out-of-debt mode? I have mixed feelings about my work situation. I like that I’m being compelled to save 7% (+ the 7% employer match!), but I do wish I had the freedom to drop down my retirement contributions in an effort to get out of debt quicker!!!

I sure do hope that by the time I’m able to fully focus 100% on retirement that the investment vehicles to do so still exist! My Dad (before being diagnosed with FTD) was a financial advisor all his life. He has cautioned us for years that he felt Roth IRAs would eventually be taken away in their entirety (note – this is just his gut – no special “inside info” here). He’s urged us for years to get our financial houses in order and be in a position where we can max out our Roths since, in his view, they could end up disappearing soon!

 


6 Reasons I Want to Cut Cable, Save Cash

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I’ll begin with addressing my own concern and letting you know that I have cable. I have U-Verse and wish that I didn’t. My cable bill in my previous house was $100+ for 3 cable boxes and internet as a bundle package. Yesterday, I searched for cable/internet packages for my new house-hack and was offered $165 for 4 tv boxes and internet. That’s more than my student loans, more than half of my car payment, and entirely, utterly ridiculous. I know that we can all also find tons we would do with our money if it weren’t tied up in a cable bill.

I have cable only because I am renting rooms in my home to other people and marketing housing that comes with Hulu Prime, rather than cable, would probably sound a bit odd to renters. If it weren’t for that reason, I would not enter a cable contract again. If you are considering ways to save larger amounts of money, here are my pros and cons about cable:

I need to save money

I don’t want to save money, I need to save it- which means that I need to make some sacrifices. The more intentional that I become about my finances, the more I understand the value of making larger monetary cuts. For example, cable can easily cost me, at the least, $1200 a year. I could significantly decrease my debt with $1200 a year, buy assets or make investments, or maybe even take a quality, week-long vacation abroad- all by eliminating cable. When I examine all of my expenses, cable gets chopped.

I don’t watch many channels

Confession: I think I watch what is considered bad TV. My TV is probably stuck on only a few stations, including Bravo TV for Real Housewives episodes, the Gameshow network for Family Feud, and FX since the American Horror Story season has started again. (Are there any other junk TV watchers out there 🙂 ). My TV screen pretty much never even sees any other stations. So I don’t need to pay for 250 channels, many of which are seldom viewed. Do you know about many channels you watch? If so, do you feel that the number of channels are worth the cost?

Don’t watch much live TV

I think that cable still has a major advantage over options such as HULU, Roku, and Amazon Stick because it offers consistent and quality live and local TV programs like the news and sports games. If you are a big sports fan, this may be something to consider and is what my boyfriend is still debating. Missing out on local programming does not bother me much because I opt out of watching the news and don’t need a play by play of sports games. My boyfriend has pulled up streaming for NFL games on our Amazon Stick, and I must admit that there was a noticeable difference in the quality. However, since I’m not the biggest sports fanatic, watching a sub-par football game without cable is worth the sacrifice.

Technology can frustrate me

If you substitute cable for an option like Amazon Stick, then you may spend some time programming the stick. My boyfriend programmed the amazon stick at his house and it took about 15 minutes. Although this is not necessarily a long time, the task seemed tedious and I did not want to do it. If technology like this can frustrate you as it can me, you may want to take this into consideration. (There are options of purchasing jail-broken Amazon sticks that already come programmed that I have seen on resale sites like Craigslist, but I cannot vouch for this as I have not done it).

Is is just me, or are HBO and STARZ pretty bad?

I recently stayed with someone who had HBO and Starz and browsed these channels for a few days. I think that HBO showed that yawn-worthy horror movie “The Boy” 4 out of the 5 days that I turned to it. I would turn to Starz once a week for the show “Power”, but that’s about it. I seldom saw programming on these stations that piqued my interest and simply didn’t think its worth the extra payment in a cable package. (Plus, I believe that most of the movies and programs shown on these stations are on Amazon stick anyway.)

Weighing the value of my entertainment and time

I recently had some spare time, and one of my goals was the finish a new season of a show that I started watching (and now I’ve gotten hooked on the Good Doctor and have given myself a new addiction, great!). I say this to illustrate that I enjoy laying on my couch and watching TV and value this relaxing time. However, I’ve recently given thought to how much more productive I would be if I substituted some of my TV watching for other time fillers.

As a teacher, I firmly believe that we should never stop learning. Since I’m serious about my financial goals, I want to time reading books about finance rather than watching TV every afternoon. Since I want to invest in more real estate, I could spend time going to conferences rather than binge Mr. Mercedes all weekend long. I thought about taking a cooking class at one point, and could put the money saved from cable into my cooking class. So I don’t believe that $1200 a year is worth all of the other things that I could be doing with money and do not want to pay that much for this form of entertainment.

My verdict

There are several reasons why someone may or may not choose to have cable, as well as many alternatives. The amazon stick is the alternative that I am familiar with and would chose if I could eliminate cable. This could result in a difference of a $1200 cable bill per year or a 1-time $100 purchase fee and the yearly cost of WiFi which could be about $360 a year ($30 a month). The cost of cable does not support my financial goals and I would eliminate it if I could, as I think that an alternative would be best for me. Does anyone use any cable alternatives? How do you like them and how do they save you money?

 


Frugal Potluck Recipes

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Hi Friends!

I hope your weeks are going well!

I wanted to pop in today to crowd-source some frugal/budget-friendly potluck recipes! At our kids’ school, they’re having a teacher appreciation luncheon next week and I signed up to bring a dessert item. And in a couple weeks we have a family-friend’s BBQ that we’ll be attending. The friends are providing the main dish, but everyone is asked to bring a side or dessert.

In thinking about my normal “crowd favorites”, I realized that they all seem to have one thing in common…they’re not very frugal! They may be tasty and, in some cases, extremely easy to put together (I have a layered dip people rave about that is SO EASY!). BUT, there are so many different ingredients and/or the ingredients are expensive enough that I find a single dish to run upwards of $10-15. In looking at our new grocery budget ($150/week max, but I’m trying to stick to closer to $100/week), I really cannot justify spending up to $15 on a single dessert or side item. At home, I could scrape up an entire meal for our family of 4 on that amount! Why on earth would I spend that much on a single side dish?

So I thought I’d consult with the experts….YOU!!!

Do you have any frugal potluck recipes that you’d be willing to share in the comments (or link to recipes online)?

Just for fun, I want to share a link for a dessert people go crazy over! Part of it could be homemade instead of store-bought (e.g., dough), but if all store-bought, it tends to run me about $10 or so. It’s always a favorite, but not necessarily a very frugal one! (Picture credit from this website).


Cash Envelope System

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As you all know by now, one area where our spending has gotten out-of-control is in the realm of food (groceries and eating out). To try to combat the ever-increasing line item in our monthly budget, I decided to return to the cash envelope system. It’s been a loooooong time since I’ve done cash envelopes. But they helped me once, I know they can help me again.

To start, I’m using envelopes for eating out ($200/month) and groceries ($600/month). This represents a HUGE decrease compared to what we have been spending the past few months. Our groceries, for instance, have trended over $1,000/month the past several months. And our eating out/restaurant budget has trended in the $350-$500ish range. Just a disgusting amount of money spent on FOOD!

Reducing down to $800/month for all food (restaurants + eating out) is a big savings for us!

Here’s how I’ve figured it:

$600month/4 weeks = $150/week. Because I want to save a little money for mid-week perishables (we always run out of milk and fresh produce), my goal is to stick to $110-120ish for my big/initial grocery trip. That saves about $30ish for a smaller mid-week grocery run (and/or leaves some wiggle room for the last half week of the month).

I’ve been doing the cash envelope system for a month now (I started at the beginning of September) and so far, so good. My only “wrench” this month is that I really need to hit Costco to stock up on some bulk items. Does anyone else find it impossible to get out of Costco for under $100?!

 

Source

Because of our need for some bulk items, I’m actually going to try to limit our grocery store budget to closer to $100-110/week so I can save the excess for two weeks to have a solid $80-ish bucks or so for a Costco trip. This way, I’ll be able to get my bulk stuff but still be sticking to our overall grocery budget!

Do you have a Costco (or Sam’s Club) membership? How do you manage to save while buying in bulk?


No Spend Week Final Wrap-Up

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Success! Today is pay day! We made it to the end of our No Spend Week, only spending the $13 I had planned for fresh produce and milk (though we ended up just making do and didn’t buy additional milk, the money got spent on produce, juice, and children’s medicine).

Thankfully, the girls were well enough to go to school today. It’s so odd because I was pretty worried about them on Wednesday afternoon/evening (they’d been sent home from school on Wednesday). They each had fevers of just over 102 degrees F!!! Super high! So I was quite surprised when they woke up Thursday morning acting totally normally! I had to keep them home because the rule is they must stay home until they are fever-free for 24-hours. But by lunchtime on Thursday they were running around acting totally wild. I was glad they weren’t feeling icky, but it made for an interesting day since I was trying to force them to rest and they were just bouncing off the walls with endless energy. Wish I could bottle up their energy and insert it into myself! Ha! I guess that’s what my homemade pumpkin spice latte is for, lol.

Anyway, I did get paid today (so I’ve got money!!!!) and that was my original goal of the No Spend Week – just make it until payday! But I’m going to try to make it a couple more days. I don’t want to spend any more money on groceries this month, so I’m going to wait until Sunday (October 1st) to do the weekly grocery trip. We still have plenty of food in our pantries and freezer and with hubs out of town and each child only eating the equivalent of ½ an adult portion (less food, overall), I think we’ll be able to make it just fine. I must admit I’d like to eat out just for convenience’s sake, but I’ll put on my big girl panties and hold out 2 more days until the new month begins.

I know I still haven’t really addressed the big elephant in the room: what caused us to take on more debt and put us in this situation to begin with. To that, I just ask you to be patient with me. I applaud Hope for putting herself out there, talking about the car (and the wreck!), etc. It’s tough to put yourself out there like that to the entire blog-world, especially when you know you’ve messed up (or instead of using the general “you” I’ll take ownership and say I. I have messed up.). I do have a post in the works with more information about all our over-spending, but I’m not ready to share it all yet. Bear with me. I promise I’ll share soon – when I’m ready.

In the meantime, I’ve been zeroing in on some areas where our spending has really become inflated. One big one is with FOOD! This week was such an eye-opener for me. Being able to get by just on food we already had on-hand (especially given that the no-spend-week was totally spontaneous and unplanned!). It’s been tough in terms of commitment. I have so many excuses (I’m tired, I don’t want to cook, The dinner I planned doesn’t sound good, etc. etc. etc.), but ultimately, when faced with the reality that WE HAVE NO MONEY, there’s really nothing to do other than zip my lip and figure it out. And it was surprisingly much easier than I’d expected.

I mentioned before I’ve started doing the cash envelope system again. I’ll write a whole post dedicated to that. I know my posts this week have been very food-heavy (given that it was all about what we’ve eaten during our No Spend Week). I’ll try to have more balance but I think there are probably a LOT of families out there like mine. Spending WAY too much money on food. Like…..over a thousand a month!!! EEEK!!! Can you imagine?! (< that figure was just from groceries, too – it doesn’t even include eating out!). The month of September I was determined to slash that number and I’ve done quite well with it so I’m proud. With any luck, next month will be just as successful!

 

How much do you budget for groceries in your family (and how many people do you feed)? When I first started blogging we were able to get our grocery bill to $100/week (but our kids were young toddlers, so the $100/week was really only feeding 2 adults). Now I’m aiming for $150/week, which is a HUGE decrease from our previous level of spending over the last year-ish. The $150/week is for 2 adults and 2 school-age children, and includes everything from the grocery store including non-food items (e.g., toilet paper, over the counter medicine, face cream/cosmetics, etc.)


Day #2: No Spend Week Diary

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Today is Day #2 of our No Spend Week challenge. So far, so good. We’re out of milk now, but have managed to not go by the grocery store yet. I’m trying to hold off until at least Wednesday to spend our $13 on milk and fresh produce. I do have some almond milk (that’s what I use for my coffee), and the kids will use it with cereal when in a pinch, though it’s not their favorite. We’re soldiering on for now. 🙂

Day #2  Notes:

I made PB&J sandwiches for the girls’ lunches; only 2 slices of bread left after today’s sandwiches.

Fresh fruit and vegetable supply count:   nectarines, 4 strawberries, couple chopped pieces of celery (for dipping in PB as snack tomorrow), half spinach bunch, couple of carrots. Supplies are definitely dwindling!

My meals:

Breakfast:  Coffee (meant to make another smoothie since we still have frozen fruit, but ran out of time getting to work!

Lunch:  Chicken & green beans (Sunday leftovers) with white rice. Getting pretty old by now, the 3rd day in-a-row. Still have more chicken to eat up (that was a big chicken!), but the green beans are now gone.

Dinner (cooking now):  Pork roast (from freezer) with carrots cooked in crockpot (win!); canned corn on the side from pantry. I’m mad at myself for forgetting to pull dough out of the freezer before leaving for work. I’d intended to have rolls on the side but by the time I get home, dinner will be ready (thank you, crockpot!) and we won’t have time to let the dough rise. I’ll have to remember to do that for later this week, because I’d been looking forward to some yummy, doughy goodness! (I love breads and cheeses, what can I say?) 😉

 

I still have plenty of ideas for dinners we can make from foods we’ve got on-hand. Our freezer still includes a lot of meat (different cuts of beef, boneless chicken breasts) and bagged stuff that’s easy to throw in the oven (from Costco we have packages of Orange Chicken, Fish Sticks, and Coconut Butterflied Shrimp). Lots of possibilities for the rest of the week! Other than being bored with my chicken-and-rice leftovers, we’re doing good! I’m confident we’ll make it through the week no problem!

 

Whats on the menu at your house tonight? If you’re participating in the No Spend Week challenge, what types of meals have you planned out from food in your pantry and fridge/freezer?


No Spend Week Diary – Day 1

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Today marks Day #1 of our No Spend Week challenge (see here for why we’re doing an unplanned No Spend Week). I wanted to give a bit of baseline for where we’re at and what we have planned in terms of meals. I started by taking a good inventory of our fridge/freezer and pantry. We have plenty of meat, lots of boxed/jarred/canned goods, and a little bit of fresh produce, milk, etc. I came up with a whole list of possible meal ideas based around foods that we already have! I’m more excited about some than others, but I’m confident we’ll have plenty of food to get us through the week, especially if I get a little creative in the kitchen. 🙂

It’s still early in the day here in Tucson (we’re currently on Pacific time zone), but I brought my lunch with me to work today so I know breakfast and lunch and I’ve already got dinner planned as well.

Day #1 Notes:

I used the last of milk for girls’ with breakfast. <yikes! That will have to be replaced likely tomorrow or Wednesday, coming out of my $13 cash that I’ve still got in my wallet!

Husband ate the last of our homemade Instant Pot yogurt and an apple as his breakfast. No more yogurt is going to be a bummer, and it’s not likely to be something we replace mid-week. I’m going to save the $13 for milk and fresh fruits & veggies, as needed.

Fresh fruit and vegetable supply count:  2 nectarines, 10-12 strawberries, half a celery stock, half spinach bunch, plenty of carrots

 

My meals:

Protein smoothie with frozen fruit, protein powder, & spinach

Chicken & green beans (Sunday leftovers) with white rice <I made a big batch of white rice so I can use it throughout the week. Saves time and money!

Chicken (Sunday leftovers) with cooked pasta and jarred pasta sauce from pantry. < this is one of my favorite ways to “make over” a previous meal! I’ll take leftover cooked protein (usually either chicken or ground beef) and add some type of pasta sauce (e.g., Alfredo or creamy sun-dried tomato with chicken; usually a marinara/tomato-based sauce with beef). I boil up some noodles since we always have plenty of boxes of noodles on hand. BAM! A leftover/made-over meal in 15 minutes or less! Not too shabby for a manic Monday night! 😉

 

For those of you joining along, tell me whats on the menu at your house today! What are some meals you’ve got planned for the week? I did a big rotisserie chicken over the weekend, so we’ll likely be having it a couple of different ways in the coming days as we try to eat it up and conserve our money!!!


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