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Family Photos


One thing we cut out of our family budget while in debt-reduction mode has been family photos. Last year for our holiday cards I used a photo I’d taken myself (see here). The last time we had professional photos taken (2 years ago), we’d used a groupon and went to the JC Penny Portrait Studio. But it was kind of a rip-off. The photos were just so-so, we felt rushed (had 15 minutes total), only a couple different poses, and then we were nickel and dimed for everything. I think we got to pick 2 prints and if we wanted more we had to pay extra. Plus the images we received were actual prints. If we wanted digital copies (for printing holiday cards), it cost extra. In all (portrait fee + prints + digital images) we paid $75 (I actually looked up our spending so this is a true figure). Apparently the price has gone up, because according to their website, a similar package (portraits + prints + digital images) will now run you $100-$150 depending on whether you use a coupon (See here).

Do we need new family photos?

No. Absolutely not. Professional photos are a want, not a need.

But toward the end of October (which happened to be a fantastic month financially for us; see budget update here), one of my good friends mentioned how her family was getting family photos, blah blah blah. Next thing you know, I was calling to schedule photos the same day/location, just an hour before my friend.


I am IN LOVE with the photos! The photographer did an amazing job, particularly since we had two sniffly/cold-striken toddlers (who, as I’m sure you can image, are not easy to work with).

But you know what I love just as much as the photos? The price.



We paid $150 for the photographer’s time, some prints (1 8×10, 2 5×7, 1 sheet of wallets), and access to ALL the digital images (over 100 images in total). Plus, we lucked out because my friend (who had referred us to the photographer) was late to her session. The package was only for 30 minutes of time, but when my friend was running late, the photographer just kept snapping away, in no hurry to be done with us. We ended up getting photographed for over an hour of her time!



And, I mean, LOOK at these!!! ((heart swoon))



Of course, as fate would have it, November is not shaping up to be nearly as lucrative financially as October was. So….dang.

Would I take back these photos?

Ehhhh, probably not. We’re a matter of months away from being consumer debt free. My heart longed for some real, professional quality family photos. And I’m blown away by these! I think a bi-annual family photography session seems pretty reasonable. Particularly in light of the fact that I don’t have any other great options for family photos (in the past people have suggested having a friend take our photo, but I’m not friends with any hobby photographers and my one friend that had a really nice quality camera moved away this summer).

So….yeah. I don’t mean for this to be somehow rubbing our fancy-pants photos in peoples’ faces. We’ve gone a long time without quality photos so this is certainly an exception rather than the norm for our family.

But I also didn’t want to lie or pretend like this never happened. I wasn’t sure how to categorize the spending of these photos (entertainment? Christmas spending?). I ended up using funds from our Christmas account since one of the primary purposes of the photos is to send out holiday cards. So you’ll see this in our November budget. Luckily, because we have a mini Capital One 360 savings account for Christmas-related spending, this expenditure shouldn’t have a big negative impact on our November budget.

Also, by reader request, here are a couple (very UNprofessional) photos of the girls in their $14 Costco Halloween costumes.


At a neighbor’s house. They had set up a Halloween-themed backdrop for photos!



Getting 2 toddlers to look at the camera at the same time = impossible. I have no idea how the professional photographer managed to do it!

Professional photos by E-Motions. Crappy iPhone camera photos by me. ; )

Happy Monday, y’all!

**Edited to add:

I mentioned getting family photos to my sister, who complained that she wanted new photos but couldn’t afford the cost. Her go-to photographer is $300/30-minute session (double the price of mine) and she said they’d easily spend another $200 on getting hair cut/colored and new clothes for the photos. At a whopping $500 cost, she couldn’t justify the expense in their family budget. 

But I totally disagree….it CAN be done, and for much cheaper than $500!

Our photographer was a steal. Hubs and I both wore clothes we already owned. I cut and colored my own hair, so no cost on any of that. The girls were wearing new tights and coats (I’d bought in October and mentioned in our budget post), but that’s because they needed new coats and tights (not specifically purchased for this photo). Everything else (boots, shoes, fluffy red skirts, shirts, etc.) were things they already owned. So, use what you have, go a cheaper route for hair care/maintenance, and shop around for a reasonably-priced photographer you like. If its important to you, it can be done on a budget. I promise!!!

Celebrating a Birthday after Job Loss


The twins’ birthday is next week.  I had already budgeted and saved some money for it.  And I had hoped to let them have a party of some sort, but now I’m struggling with that idea with the job loss.  The plan was family dinner out, presents and then a party of some sort with friends.

Now, I am struggling with the desire to really celebrate them and the desire to hoard all available cash.  Two legitimate desires in my book.

Yes, I know they are old enough to understand, but I said that last year and they did.  I feel horrible that we are here again.

So what would you do?

Alternative Wedding Gift


Have you ever been to a wedding where they have said “your presence is our present”? In other words, saying there is no need for gifts?

A couple months ago we got a wedding invite with that printed at the bottom of the invitation.

The problem is we were NOT able to be present (as the wedding was being held in Austin at a time when we could not return). Also, these are relatives of ours that gave us a very generous wedding gift when we were wed 5 years ago. Not that everything has to be tit-for-tat, but we definitely wanted to do something for the couple, especially given that we were unable to be there personally to support them on their big day.

Also, the main reason (in my opinion) why they said no gifts were necessary is because they have been together for nearly a decade, living together for the past 7 years. So most of the newly married type gifts (kitchen accessories, household items, etc.) were unnecessary since they already have a fully furnished home they own together. Why did they not get married years ago? Well, without turning this into a political thing, it’s a gay couple so they were legally unable to be wed until the new law passed. My point is that they don’t want/need the traditional wedding type gifts. But that doesn’t mean their marriage shouldn’t be recognized!

The wedding was actually about a month ago, but according to Emily Post (the go-to name on etiquette), wedding gifts can be sent within 3 months of a wedding. (side note: good thing I’m still within that time frame! I’d thought etiquette was within a YEAR of the wedding!)  Soooo, I finally got around to getting a wedding gift figured out.

First, I bought a card for $3. This is a splurge for me because I typically buy cards from the Dollar Tree, 2 for $1, so getting a $3 card is certainly an exception (not my norm). Next, I checked out what kinds of points I’ve got available on my credit card. If you recall, I still use a credit card for set withdrawals (not for everyday purchases, but for big expenses like preschool). I had enough points to order a $25 Amazon gift card totally free! And, because I felt like that wasn’t quite enough, I made a $25 donation to the Human Rights Campaign in the couple’s honor.

In all I spent $28 (that’s a $3 card and $25 donation), but I was able to gift $50 worth of gifts:  a $25 Amazon gift card for their use, and a $25 donation to an organization the couple supports.

I just dropped the card in the mail, but I wrote a nice letter to the couple and included the Amazon gift card and the email print-up about the donation made in their honor.  I’m sure they’ll be happily surprised when they open their mailbox to discover a little something for them and a little something for the Human Rights Campaign. I realize it’s not a lot of money for either source (the gift card or the organization), but I think the gift shows thought and consideration and I hope it is appreciated.

Have you ever made a donation in someone else’s name in lieu of buying the person a gift?

Ashley’s August 2015 Budget Update


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?

And We’re Shopping…


Remember our Garage Sale when we were in purge mode last year.  And all the other stuff we sold.  Well, we’ve broken down and decided to spend some of it.  I had hoped to be in a permanent home before we did that, but circumstances require some shopping!

We are going to buy a TABLE for our tiny dining room.  It’s got to be the right size and shape to work for the space, and I’m hoping it will leave enough room to put some sort of storage in their too as our kitchen is just unpleasant with all the clutter.

To do this and make the best use of our money, I am watching the local online sale sites and we are regularly visiting the ReStore. We are all pretty excited about making better use of the space and having somewhere to 1) eat together as a family that is not balancing plates on our knees in chairs and 2) spread out school and project work when needed.

SIDE NOTE: We originally had almost $5000 from all our downsizing and sales, but I dipped into that to help pay for our “new to us” car.  (Yes, I know you want a post on that, and I will get to it.)  So we have about $1800 left.  But I think a table will run $130 or less for what we are looking for and we can get a few chairs at $20 or less each.

Killer Cooling Costs


How is it that every summer I’m completely thrown off guard by our ridiculously high electric bill? Given Tucson’s heat, our A/C is running constantly – even with our thermostat set to 80 degrees during the day and 76 degrees at night!

I thought last month’s electric bill was bad ($209) but since we were gone for a full week at the beginning of July, I’d half-expected this month’s bill to be lower. LOL at that! Wishful thinking, I guess!

I felt like I’d been hit in the gut when I opened our bill and faced the music – to the tune of $245!!! In fact, I was so shocked by the higher bill (given what I’d thought was a lower usage compared to last month), that I pulled up my old Excel spreadsheet from last year (we now use YNAB) to check out how this year’s bill compared to last year’s bill. And, wouldn’t you know, this month’s bill was actually a little LOWER compared to last couple year’s bills!

August 2013:  $261

August 2014:  $251

August 2015: $245

Judging from the past two years’ September bills, next month won’t be that much better (September 2013 = $230; September 2014 = $245). So I guess I’ll just have to plan ahead for having these super high electric bills!

If nothing else, at least I feel a bit better knowing that this month’s bill isn’t out of line with previous years’ usage (even though a nearly two hundred fifty dollar bill still causes me to feel like I’ve had the wind knocked out of me).

What are your cooling costs like over the summer? Before moving to our current rental house (in 2013), we lived in places without A/C. We just has swamp coolers/evaporative cooling. According to my Excel spreadsheet, our electric bill  in August 2012 was $136. I’d LOVE a $136 electric bill now, but I NEVER want to go back to having no A/C, so I guess I’ll take the higher bill and the comfort of having central air conditioning!