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Homemade Gift Giving

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We haven’t bought a single thing yet for Christmas. I mentioned before, but both sets of Grandparents are kind of going all-out for Christmas this year. The girls are going to be spoiled rotten as-is. So, we’re planning to go pretty minimal for them and just stick to basic needs (e.g., some new school clothes, socks and undies, etc.)

We originally said we were NOT going to get anything for each other. But in thinking and talking about it more, we decided we’d do a homemade gift exchange. We set the limit at $10 for any supplies or materials that need to be purchased. Anything we already own is fair game to be used (we have a decent amount of crafting materials already due to our kiddos).

I’m looking for some good homemade gift giving ideas!

We’ve been broke for a long time, so I’ve already done some of the more popular cheap/free craft ideas. I’ve done a scrapbook, 52 Reasons I love you (similar to this), coupon books, etc.

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I need something new. Something more creative and innovative….but not too challenging for someone who doesn’t have a lot of talent when it comes to arts-and-crafts.

Any ideas? Does anyone else exchange homemade gifts with significant others?


Plan #2: Change to My Savings

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As previously mentioned, I have been adamant in my savings since I started my new W2 job back in March. I have saved 10% of any money that has come in with the ultimate goal of $10,000 in savings. Now that this goal is in sight, it is time to turn my focus to my debt and cut down on my savings.

Where I’m at Now

I’ve recently posted my Monthly Budget and my overall Debt Load. Then I took a cut in works hours and added a new sport. I am LOVING the freedom of working less hours per week.  I get home and get to sit down with the kids without feeling like a weight is on my shoulders to get back to work. I get to spend some of my “down time” when the kids are at practice reading a book for fun rather than focusing on work projects all the time.

However, I do need to look and see where the money is going to come from for Princess volleyball. I do not want this new expense to adversely affect my Debt Payoff Plan. I’ve spent about an hour a day reviewing my budget line by line to see what I can cut or move some money around.

Cut My Savings

Two things stand out as the places to cut…kids’ activities and related costs AND savings.  I think most everything else is pretty bare bones; although, I am looking at that too. But for now, I have decided to change my savings plan.

Instead of saving 10% of all income, I am now going to save 10% of my W2 income only. This cuts this line item almost in half and makes up some of the deficit.

This savings in coupled with my 401K deducted automatically from my W2 income and my Self Lender account where I save $97 per month. I’m looking for a few more cuts before I finalize my new budget.

Thoughts?


Cheap Halloween Kids’ Craft

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After a rocky start to the school year (and a teacher who was replaced a month into the year), we LOVE our new teacher. But I was a little nervous when she texted the class parents at 4:30pm yesterday to say she needed 5 volunteers for a Halloween party today. The volunteers would also need to bring an activity to do for the whole class, supplies and all. Yikes!

I wanted to volunteer because I was planning to work from home today anyway and one of the perks of my job is its flexibility to do things like this! I wish I’d had a little more notice so I could’ve planned a really cool activity, but I set to the interwebs ASAP to find a kids’ craft that is: 1) age appropriate for 5-year-olds, 2) quick, & 3) cheap! Since I’d be providing the supplies I couldn’t get crazy with anything too elaborate or pricey!

Luckily, I found some cute little q-tip skeletons that fit all 3 criteria.

I was able to raid our craft bin for the glue bottles, scissors, and construction paper. I found a free printable for skeleton heads (see here) and printed enough for the whole class. I already had some q-tips on hand, but not enough for the whole class, so I did a quick Target run and bough the cheap store-brand q-tips for a whopping $2.77 (for a 500-count). Can’t get much cheaper than that!

I had so much fun getting to go volunteer in the class! It’s my first time of the school year and I had an absolute blast getting to hang out with my kiddos and meet many of their friends. The kids had several different craft options to choose from, but our skeletons were a big hit (truth be told: I think the kids just wanted to play with the glue bottles because they’re typically only allowed to use glue sticks. lol)

Here’s my kiddo working on her skeleton! Very focused! Oh yeah, costumes were allowed today too. 🙂

Happy Halloween!


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!

 


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?!

 

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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.)


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