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Disney Trip and a Not Frugal Weekend

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Happy Tuesday!

Today marks 2 days until we leave for Florida. We have cemented our plans to be as frugal as possible for the drive down. We grabbed a large cooler from GF’s mom , which we are going to fill with pasta salad, fruit salad, sandwiches and drinks. GF has been couponing like crazy the past couple weeks to stock up on all kinds of snacks- chips, pretzels, granola bars, etc. It’s only a 16 hour day, but we may have enough to last a week if we needed to, lol, which will be great to restock our pantry once we’re home. Thanks to Den for commenting on a post a couple weeks ago, we’re going to make a big batch of chili for dinner tomorrow and freeze the remainder for when we get home so we won’t have to worry about lunch and dinner for a day or so.

And here’s the thing about once we get to Disney, I don’t want to be frugal. We may be doing what we can to save money on the way down and when we come back home, but I don’t want to be counting pennies once I’m there. I’m not saying I’ll be throwing my money away and going way over budget either, just that I want to enjoy my vacation- I didn’t take this month off for nothing. What do you guys think?

Our house is finally all clean (after a pretty hectic week and a half) and due to GF couponing skills, we have a really stock of cleaning products, so the only items we needed to buy to accomplish this task was carpet cleaner solution and more Swiffer cleaning solution, coming in at a total of about $20.

Last Wednesday was the first paycheck I’ve ever received (after college) where I didn’t either have a bill due for some type of debt, or felt an obligation to pay down some debt. And it felt awesome. After I accounted for paying our utilities, gas, side grocery money, and my nephew’s ESA fund contribution, it felt like I had more money that I knew what to do with. That feeling didn’t last long, as I knew I wanted to buy myself some new clothes, sunglasses and sneakers. I had this planned since I revealed that I was going to take a month off from debt payments in May. I’m very, very happy that I spent as much as I did (over $550) as 1) The newest summer clothes I own are over 3 years old 2) it felt good to spend money on myself. I may have went a little aboard, but I tend to take pretty good care of my clothing, sneakers and accessories so that they last awhile. And I know I’m no bargain shopper as the clothes I tend to gravitate to are never on sale. How do you budget and shop for clothing?

With vacation starting on Thursday and going for a week and some days, I won’t have a post next week. So I hope everyone has a great couple of weeks, and I will update everyone once I get back.


Month in Review- June 2015

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Hey Everyone! I hope you’re all having a great week.

It’s July 2nd, so that means it’s time for a month in review. June went by in a flash, didn’t it? The summer months always seem to fly by so fast.

Since I didn’t post on Tuesday, I want to share a couple of items that happened over the weekend:

  • The same couple that I went out with earlier in June, invited me and GF out again; this time for dinner AND a movie (BTW- Jurassic World is AMAZING). I happily said “Yes!” but it also broke my “fun” budget for the month, which I carried $50. It wasn’t a big deal since my buddy asked me earlier in the week and I was able to budget for the dinner and movie out of my paycheck vs. having to dip into my emergency fund. I’m just really excited that I don’t have to say “No” to everything anymore.
  • I didn’t have a debt update to share since my last paycheck of the month is delegated to paying my mortgage and some other smaller bills. If I didn’t have any plans during this week, I could normally set aside $70-80 for a debt payment. Since I went out to dinner instead, I made no debt payment this week.

As for June, there was a lot that happened, so to review:

  • Firstly, now that most of my smaller debts are paid off (with only one more to go below $10,000) I had an internal struggle (The Hard Wins) on how to deal with the the fact that the payoffs are going to be few and far between now.
  • The day after my “Hard Wins” post, I increased my 401k contribution from 4% to 10% (which I mentioned in the comments of that same post). Update: I think this was a wise decision. For one- I haven’t noticed much of a difference in my take home pay. It ended up being about a $60 difference, but it’s definitely not hurting my ability to pay my bills. Plus, it’s awesome to see my retirement account grow so much faster!
  • In the following post (Time Off), I decided to use the month of July as a vacation from paying off debt to both enjoy my vacation to Disney and clear my head so I can hit August refreshed and ready to go. Update: vacation is only 7 days away (yay!) and this Wednesday’s paycheck marks the first paycheck in a LONG time (if ever) where I didn’t have to make a debt payment. I’m using all the extra  money to buy myself some new clothes and to stock up on supplies (more on this on Tuesday)
  • I went out for dinner and drinks with a with an awesome couple, in which my “fun” fund came in really handy (here) and was most definitely worth it.
  • In this post (Birthday Party), I went to a good friend’s son’s 1st birthday party. Since I started an ESA account, I figured I give the gift of some cash for my buddy to start one of his own for his son.
  • In the same post, we began our planning for Disney. Since we are driving down, a lot of you had some great ideas our how to make our trip as fun and as frugal as we can. We’ve incorporated many of the ideas into our plan as we want to spend as little money as we have to on our drive down and then back up.
  • Lastly, we had a little Father’s Day celebration (Father’s Day) where GF did some amazing little things for me, as I am the father to our kids (lol, they’re dogs). We also started cementing our Disney plans and GF used her couponing skills to get us a whole bunch of goodies on the cheap.

As for my debt paydown, no big milestones met this month, but I still paid off $1,592.21. Down to a balance of $48,466.83. Not my best month, but not my worst, either.

Hope everyone has a great holiday!


Something’s Come Up

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I’ve written this post several times in my head but have had a difficult time putting it down on paper. First, because it’s a difficult subject to discuss. And second, because while I have tried to be as open and honest with y’all as much as possible in many regards (you all know more about my financial life than just about anyone in my real life except my husband!), I don’t think it’s fair for me to bare all the details about other people’s business.

And so with that being said, I’ll tell you now…something has come up.

A very close family member is experiencing pretty debilitating health issues, the full extent of which has yet to be determined. This was a semi-gradual thing, as I started noticing warning signs and symptoms over a year ago. But in the past few months things have reached the next level.

I don’t know what will happen next in terms of this person’s health (though I hope for the best, my fear is that the incident that brought this all to light is really only the beginning of a long road ahead). But I can tell you, in terms of my finances, that I’ll be incurring some additional expenses I hadn’t previously anticipated.

To be more specific, hubs and I have decided that we are going to be making a trip this summer that was previously unanticipated. In the big scheme of things, this won’t be too costly. We went on a trip this past summer and again over Christmas time. So from that perspective, it falls directly in line with last year’s spending habits. It’s just the fact that we hadn’t thought about or planned to take a trip this summer so its money that would otherwise have gone directly toward debt (not to mention the no-income month of May).

I will also say, with the limited medical information I have at this time (hopefully I’ll learn more soon), I think this could have future financial implications as well. I won’t dive into “what ifs” until more is known, but there is a possibility of future trips as well (not just the one this summer).

Our time is so fleeting here on Earth. Remember back when we had 4 new bloggers and we were doing a weekly Q&A series? One of the questions asked, “What is the hardest sacrifice you’ve made to get out of debt?”

We never did get around to answering that question as a group, but even at that time I absolutely knew my answer: Not living near family. THAT is my biggest sacrifice.

When I was in graduate school my #1 goal in life was to graduate and immediately move back by family. When we had kids (during my last year of grad school), that feeling only intensified. But things change in life. Husband’s business was growing and by the time I graduated in 2013 we really weren’t in a financial position to pick up and move. It just didn’t make sense to leave husband’s income and move to a place where he had none. What would we do? Move back in with parents? That wasn’t a desirable option for either of us. The much more reasonable and undoubtedly financially sound decision was to stay put. Husband keeps working his job, I keep working mine, and we keep chipping away at our debt.

But it was a tough pill to swallow.

During 2009-2010 (our early years in Arizona, before we had kids), my grandfather suffered from a series of health issues. He had 3 strokes – each worse than the one before. He had to have multiple surgeries. He ended up living on-and-off in different rehabilitation clinics so he could regain strength and motor ability following each of his health set-backs. Being so far away during that time crushed me. Not only did I hate not being there for my Grandpa, but I hated not being there for everyone else, too. You see, a major health issue like this affects the ENTIRE family, not just the afflicted individual. My poor mother was killing herself to try to be at my grandfather’s beck and call (mind you, the woman still works a full-time job, too). My sister had to run errands, buy groceries, cook food, and help with his meds. My brother went over to mow the grass, check the mail, and walk the dog. And on and on and on. You know who didn’t do anything? ME.

Granted, not for lack of caring. Of course I’d like to share in the burden and help my family! But the distance is extremely difficult. I’d call and chat and try to lift spirits a bit. We visited a couple times a year. But I was unable to help in any of the day-to-day duties that ended up piled on my other family members’ shoulders. That type of guilt is a difficult thing to overcome.

And so here we are again. A different situation, granted – different person, different health issues, different treatment and prognosis.

This type of storm would be so much easier to weather if we were debt free. Absolutely! It’s a big motivator to get out of debt.

But at the same time, it’s a big reminder that life does not wait until after the debt is gone. You can’t just push “pause” and hope everything remains the same for multiple years until the debt-monster has been eradicated.

So I will try to take a balanced approach. Nothing in my debt plan of action will change – I will continue on as usual (paying $500/month toward my balance transfer loan, as much as possible toward my car loan, and all else will be minimums), but I may end up traveling a bit more than anticipated, which means we may have a little less to put toward debt during those months than during others.

All we can do at this time is wait and see what happens. Visit more doctors. Gather more information. Come up with a health plan-of-action. And hope for the best.

What’s the hardest sacrifice you’ve made to get out of debt?


Stupid Auto-Renewals!

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One of the things that has continued to get me are auto-renewal payments or even monthly subscriptions.  As I mentioned previously I really fell off the wagon with record keeping some time ago and am really just getting back into Quicken to track and plan things…and that has been really slow going.  So without that, and the historic data with say dates things are going to renew, I am often surprised when a renewal comes out and I’m not expecting it.

Many times, these are business expenses so not something I address here on the blog, but there have been a couple lately that got me.  First, Sea Cadet’s Christmas present from my dad was a subscription to Loot Crate *affiliate link for my son.  My dad sends me the money, I put it on my card…but it auto-renewed this past week for $55!!  No way.  I emailed their support team and as one time courtesy, they cancelled it and refunded me the money (you are supposed to cancel 3 days prior to renewal, but they don’t send out a warning that it’s going to renew.)

Then the same week…I get a charge for $81.  Ugh!  What is going on here?  And this was for our Invisible Fence at our old house (not an affiliate link but a product I highly recommend if you are like me and love your animals AND your wide open spaces.)  What?!?  I haven’t had time to call them yet.  But really?  This is one that I definitely did not sign up for and the only thing I can think is that they have somehow put us on a subscription for batteries for the collars, which we are no longer using.

So the point of the story is, that 1) I really have to get my act together and get all these auto-renewal dates down and into my records and 2) making those phone calls does help especially if you weren’t planning to renew.

For my monthly subscriptions and expected renewals, I have designated one of my credit cards (the only one I’m keeping after pay off) to take those charges.  This will serve two purposes: 1) keep me from being surprised out of my main cash account which is how things have been up until now and 2) continue to earn points for travel for when we can resume that.

The same card will be used for business and personal, I just want to make things easy for myself and keep it all in one place.  Charges that reoccur are Personal: Netflix, Insurance, milk delivery, pet food delivery, EZPass for toll roads (mostly used when transporting Sea Cadet) and Business: subscriptions for business tools, cloud service for storage, domain name and hosting fees, etc.

How do you handle those pesky renewals and subscription charges?


Birthday on a Budget

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Shhh, this is a secret post.  You’ll remember a month or so back I mentioned that I was going to find a way to throw together a birthday party for the littles since they so graciously gave it up last year.  Well, we started exploring and talking about it…and I started pricing things.  The bowling alley ($15-17 per child,) the trampoline park ($250+,) and so on and so forth.  And frankly, in my frugal state of mind, I was just flabbergasted.  So I’ve come up with a fabulous, frugal plan and the kids no nothing about it.

Prepare for a Surprise Pool Party!!!  And it’s next week.  I went to our apartment management and asked how much it would be to rent the clubhouse and pool for a party.  My thoughts were since school was still in session we might could get a pretty good deal doing it during the week.  Well, they wouldn’t rent them to me.  The clubhouse is never available for rent, but as long as I kept the guess list to less than a dozen…I could use the pool for FREE!!!!

So next Thursday, we are having a SURPRISE pool birthday party for the littles.  I have invited all their homeschool friends via text message (free,) ordered a birthday cookie cake (discounted because one of the twins works there,) will order pizzas for lunch (discounted because of the twins work there,) and will have a cooler full of drinks.

And the icing on the cake is that our best family friends, who also homeschool, are going to come in town the day before and spend a long weekend with us so they can celebrate with us!  (The littles know they are coming, but not about the party.)

I am so excited about this surprise for the kids, so now I’m just praying the weather cooperates!  (I will post the numbers after it’s all said and done, but am anticipating less than $100 for the whole thing and that includes feeds 5 other families lunch and cake – woot, woot!)  Another plus side to living in our wonderful apartment complex!


Cruise 2016 Update

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Remember when I first told you all about my plan to set sail in February 2016 on a cruise with my family in celebration of my Mom’s 60th birthday? Well I’ve got some updates….

Initially, the plan was for this cruise to be a 100% surprise for my Mom. The entire family was in on it and the loose plan was for my stepdad to tell my Mom that he was going to take her on a trip (she would surely assume they were going to San Antonio, as they regularly do), and then drive down to Galveston where the cruise ships dock. The rest of us would surprise her there on the dock. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MOM!!!!!!

Well, the more planning we were doing, the less likely it seemed that this would stay a surprise. There were so many logistics involved (e.g., making sure she had enough time off work, making sure she packed appropriate clothing and swimwear, etc.) AND some of you commenters planted little seeds of doubt in my mind. You mentioned that maybe she’d prefer her dream cruise vacation to Alaska ALONE with my stepdad. And then I had a conversation with my Mom where she mentioned that since she’s gotten older she much prefers the MOUNTAINS over the beach (since when, Mom?!?!) The point is…I started second-guessing myself.

So after a LOT of phone calls with my sister, internal wrestling, and careful thought and consideration we came up with a plan. My sister was having my Mom and Stepdad over on Mother’s Day and made a little craft to present my Mom. First, the card:

Your 59th was pretty crappy.

All we want is for YOU to be happy!

So your 60th is all about you.

And now its your turn to choose.

Then my sister presented her with three envelopes. Inside each envelope was a different vacation: a ship to represent the family cruise, a mountain to represent a mountain-oriented family vacation, and a picture of Alaskan wildlife to represent the Alaska vacation.

My sister explained what each picture meant and what the vacation would entail (we did a lot of research on each of the trips so sister presented all the information of where we would stay, what we could/would do, ports of call for the cruises, etc. etc. etc.). My mom was shocked and surprised and didn’t know what to think. She said she needed some time to think it over and let us know by that same afternoon that her choice was the same one we’d originally made: Family Cruise 2016!!! So it’s on.

Skipping forward….

One of the BIG things about this vacation, to me, is that it be paid with 100% cash. I am very excited and working very hard to make it a complete debt-free vacation.

Another thing is that this gives me a really concrete goal: have all consumer debt paid in full by the time we set sail! I’ll still have student loans to contend with, but it will feel so satisfying to be able to make the trip down to Galveston in a newly paid-off car!!!

And a final update – the cruise is booked! There was a $1,000 deposit, so I wanted to wait until we had that saved up in cash. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that cruises can book up so far in advance. We were originally going to cruise in February 2016 (I thought 9 months in advance was plenty of time to book), but we’ve had to push it back to April 2016 to get the accommodations we wanted (two absolute must-haves were 1. adjoining rooms for sister & I so we could let kids nap in one room and have adults in the other, and 2. A 6:00pm dining time, since the kids are already asleep before the 8:30pm dining time and they need to EAT before bed!) Apparently, those two things go fast so we pushed back the sail date a couple months to make these things happen.

All in all, I’m super excited. I’d wanted this to be a big surprise for my Mom, but I think it’s better this way since she’s now been part of the planning process, has been able to voice her opinion of what matters to her (e.g., she wants an upgraded larger room), and has time to adequately prepare (basically diets all around for every one of us, lol).

So there’s the update.

We’re now officially booked (paying all cash, thankyouverymuch), and I’ve now got extreme motivation to be consumer debt-free by April 2016.

I know some of you were interested in the exact costs associated with this vacation. To give some additional information, we will be sailing on Royal Caribbean cruiseline. Our itinerary is an 8-day/7-night trip to visit 3 different countries (set sail from Galveston, docks in Roatan, Honduras; Belize City, Belize; and Cozumel, Mexico). We are paying for four people (no, kids aren’t free), but are all staying in a single room. We chose an interior room (I’d really wanted an exterior for the extra square footage, but settled on the interior since it was cheaper and we could be adjoining with my sister’s family). The total cost including taxes, port fees, and pre-paid gratuities is $2496. This cost includes all food on the ship (there are options to pay for dining at certain on-board restaurants, but the free options are already delicious, gourmet, and FREE, so we won’t pay extra for food). We will, however, budget additional money to pay for any miscellaneous expenses that come up, including souvenirs, possible excursions (e.g., they charge money to go to the beach at the different ports of call), and any food we eat while visiting the different countries we’ll be visiting. In total I’ve planned to set aside $4,000 for the trip, which should be MORE than enough. I’d rather have extra money set aside and end up being able to make a debt payment with leftover money after-the-fact rather than come up short on cash. So that remains the plan.

I know the whole idea of a cruise while still in a mountain of student loan debt is controversial so I won’t be bringing it back up a lot. But I stand by my thoughts in this post where I described how and why we came to this decision. I’ve also had a couple commenters ask if we plan to do any type of celebration once we pay off all consumer debt. I think the cruise is celebration a-plenty. Yes, it’s technically for my Mom. But it will be fabulous to pay for the cruise all cash and know that – for my family – the trip also marks an important milestone in terms of being committed to NEVER acquiring additional debt in our lives (big exception: we still plan to buy a home at some point!) Sooooo…..consumer-debt free by early 2016! That means we’ve got some serious work to do on our car loan! Better get to it! ; )

What do your 1-year financial goals entail?


Cheap Mother-in-law Birthday Gift

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In keeping with the cheap gift ideas of late, here’s another one to add to the mix.

My mother-in-law’s birthday was last Thursday. She’s actually flying into town today for the long weekend (yay!), so we’ll be taking her out to dinner one night while she’s here. But we also wanted to do something on her actual birthday, so I had the girls make another super cheap craft that we mailed to her last week.

This was actually an idea I saw when I was in Michael’s craft store for something totally unrelated. This was right before Mother’s Day and they had a whole display of crafts for kids to do for/with their Moms. One of the crafts was a coffee mug/paint set. They were on sale 2 more $3, which seemed like an excellent deal (came with the mug and the ceramic paints). I bought two and had the girls make 1 for me to keep and 1 for my MIL’s birthday.

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We (heart) You!

If I were to do it again, I probably would have done the palms at the bottom, overlapping, and done fingers up (we had a hard time keeping the thumb tucked in, so the heart has some little “wings” hanging off the side). But the imperfection just makes it that much more special and precious. Maybe not worthy of any fine art awards, but definitely worthy of a grandma’s love! <3

 
Hope you all have a great weekend! A good long weekend to those in the states! Be safe and have fun and let’s remember what the holiday is really all about : )