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New part-time job

March 2nd, 2013 at 04:57 pm

It's been over a month since I've blogged on here! Our first 2 months of this year have been good, financially speaking. We've kept to our budget each month and socked away extra money to our mortgage. And two months straight of contributing to our kids' college funds, and 15% to DH's 401k.

The biggest change is that I started doing freelance writing part-time and discovered there is a lot of work out there. I'm not doing anything glamorous, just writing for websites. But I made over $1000 in January and over $600 in February! Of course I have to pay self-employment taxes on those earnings, which are higher than normal...but I'm still thrilled with the extra cash!

Potential Layoffs

January 24th, 2013 at 06:13 am

DH's company had a big meeting yesterday and the company announced that layoffs are coming. It's mostly going to be middle-level managers, which my DH is not. But, we are not panicked. For one thing, DH doesn't think he will be laid off since he's the only one that does his particular job.

But secondly, we feel prepared now for a layoff. We have our emergency fund in place. If DH were to get laid off, he would get about 4 months of severance pay on top of our 6 month emergency fund. Sure, money would be tight and it would suck, but we could probably make it 10 months without having to go into debt.

Two years ago, or even last year, I would have been more worried about potential layoffs. I highly recommend having an emergency fund, for peace of mind!

Keeping it frugal with the kids

January 23rd, 2013 at 07:40 pm

I was tempted to go to a train show this past weekend. Kids 12 and under were free, adults were $8.00. But when we read the flyer, it said there would be lots of booths with Thomas the Train stuff for sale, along with other train things. DH was the voice of reason and said we shouldn't go, because even though admission was only $16, the kids could pressure us into buying them things.

So we went to a park instead. And the kids had a lot of fun and never knew the difference, since I never told them we were thinking about a train show.

I do want my kids to experience things other than just parks...and they do. But really just for special occasions.

In less than 2 weeks we will be on our Disney Cruise...and that's a special occasion! I already pre-paid for our parking at the port and pre-paid our gratuities and a small amount for souvenirs in our onboard account. Our only expenses not yet covered will be gas to and from port, and some food for the drive.

Money saved/money earned

January 13th, 2013 at 06:25 pm

We decided to completely cancel Netflix today. I just did it online. We were only doing the 1-DVD-out-at-a-time plan for $7.99 plus tax, but we figured out we could do it cheaper through Redbox. At most, we watched one movie a week. Plus, Redbox texts me coupons and free movie codes a few times a month. So we figured with Redbox, we can have our movie entertainment for $5 or less each month. I know, not a huge savings, but it's something.

Yesterday I got my updated Discover card in the mail. I haven't used my Discover card in years, and it just expired so they sent me a new one. As an incentive to activate it, they sent me an offer for $75 in cashback bonus if I spent $1000 or more on the card between now and the end of March. Since we charge a lot of things on our credit card and pay it off at the end of the month, I decided it would be worth the $75 to move some stuff over to Discover to get the extra bonus. Between gas and groceries for the next 3 months, we should have no problem hitting the $1000 mark.

A humbling experience at the grocery store

January 7th, 2013 at 08:59 am

On Saturday I went grocery shopping at Aldi. It's a weekly habit, since the prices there are so cheap. If you've shopped there before you know that you have to pay with cash or a debit card only, as they don't accept credit cards.

I transferred some money from our main account to my checking account to cover my debit card transaction. Apparently I didn't transfer enough and my card was denied at the cash register. I took one thing out of the cart. A manager had to be called to void the item. It still wasn't enough. I had to take another thing out of my cart. Then it went through.

The line was building behind me and I felt like all eyes were on me. I was really embarrassed.

I wondered if people pitied me. We had the money, just not in the right account. But that got me thinking about people who don't have enough money and have to do this all the time. How do they feel? Do they feel embarrassed or shamed? Or are they used to it?

I certainly made me think.

College Funds for the Kids

January 3rd, 2013 at 02:41 pm

The grandparents gave us some money at Christmas to contribute to our kids' college funds. Sadly, the last time we contributed to their funds was last Christmas with money from their grandparents. In 2012 we made our emergency fund a priority. We are hoping to contribute a modest amount to each of our 3 kids' college funds monthly this year. Either $50 or $100 per kid each month, but it will depend on how DH's take-home pay shakes out when we see his first check of 2013 in a few weeks.

I should mention that both my parents and DH's parents helped pay for our college tuition. Both DH and I worked on campus during college, but the majority of our education was paid for by our parents without any student loans. We didn't realize at the time how lucky we were, but now as we see people struggle to repay student loans, we are so thankful for that gift from our parents. (We did each pay for our graduate school tuition years later--I took out a small loan but paid it off in a few years).

I really struggle with the kids' college funds for a few reasons. First, the calculators say that by the time my kids are college-aged, college will cost $150,000-$200,000 for an in-state school. For each kid. So we might be looking at $450,000-$600,000 total. Gulp. We have about $50,000 total saved so far, and over half of that has been from both sets of grandparents.

Second, all the experts say to prioritize saving for retirement. Which I totally agree with. Which is why this month we are back to 15% 401k contribution and extra principle payments on our mortgage, to put us in a good position when we retire.

I also feel like the cost of college is a huge guess at this point. I think at some point, if the costs keep rising at the rate they are, college won't be affordable for anyone. And maybe my kids will get scholarships, or go to community college for the first few years, which would cut the costs dramatically. The costs of college are just so unknown.

I did one of those online FAFSA guestimate calculators to see what our expected family contribution will be for college. It gave me an answer of $25,000 a year for my oldest. Which is basically the full cost of an in-state college with tuition and room and board.

I also struggle with just the balance of it all. Because sure, we could contribute more to their college funds if we didn't go on vacation ever again. But then we'd lose those experiences and memories, and our kids will never be this age again.

So I really hope that by prioritizing our retirement, paying off our mortgage early, but still having some fun memories along the way, we will free up some cash when our kids start college to help pay their tuition with current salary.

What are your thoughts on paying for college? Did your parents help you pay for college? Are you going to help your kids, and if so, how are you planning for it?

Changes for 2013

January 1st, 2013 at 07:56 pm

Woohoo, it's 2013!

Our emergency fund is in place. We paid all of our house taxes/HOA fees in December. We have paid off our February 2013 vacation. We have a small slush fund, car fund, and a vacation savings for the summer.

Our big goal this year is to pay extra principle on our mortgage. We are trying to pay off our mortgage early so that we can free up some cash to help our kids through college. Our plan is to pay off our mortgage in 8 years. It seems overwhelming and like it will take a long time. We have a goal of paying an extra $8244 in principle this year.

We already paid an extra $1000 from a bonus received in December. We will take $1000 from our tax return later this Spring and put it towards the mortgage. We already pay an extra $150/month with our bi-weekly automatic withdrawals. I will add another $300/month on top of that. Starting in September, I will have another $200/month on top of that because we will go a year without any preschool tuition payments. I'm cancelling our lawn service and I'll be doing it myself. Hopefully those changes will enable us to reach our goal.

Today, DH adjusted his 401k contributions back to 15% (we had lowered it to 7% in the back half of 2012 so that we could get our emergency fund in place).

We are also going to begin contributing to our kids' college funds, $100 each per month.

In December, I started a part-time job doing freelance writing online. I earned $400 in December (before taxes). I hope to earn $500 a month with that this year. Not much, but it's something!

Here's hoping for a great year! Good luck everyone on achieving your financial goals!

First big extra payment to the mortgage

December 14th, 2012 at 08:10 am

The bonus check came last week. We paid off our Disney cruise and mailed a check for $1000 to our mortgage company for extra principle. Since we refinanced earlier this year, we've been rounding up our automatic payment and therefore already putting an extra $150/month towards the mortgage. But writing that check for $1000 was a little harder than I thought!

I think it was hard because we have such a long road to paying off our mortgage. Our plan is to pay it off in about 8 years. I've worked up a schedule by month to get us there. Sure, if we have any "extra" money floating around we might make it there faster. But I don't want to get too obsessed with paying it off early because I'm afraid I will start going too extreme on penny pinching and regret it. We also need to pay off the rest of our car loan (1.9% interest) and save up for another car.

I'm going to figure out what our 2013 extra principle goal is and have that to shoot for. Because otherwise it's just too overwhelming!

Yesterday I mailed off checks for our HOA dues and property taxes. So this is the first year that we've ended the year with all our bills paid (including our vacation pre-paid) and money in our emergency fund. Yay!

I Find It Odd....

November 6th, 2012 at 11:32 am

Ok, I realize that everyone has their own philosophy on personal finance. And different degrees of financial responsibility. And I know that I am not perfect and have certainly made a lot of mistakes with my finances.


I find it odd that when most people want something they can't afford, their first inclination seems to be to either go into debt for it, or ask other people for money. My perception is that those are frequently the first 2 choices, rather than try to earn extra money, or spend less money on something else that isn't a necessity in order to afford the new thing.

Several times a year we receive e-mails from friends/acquaintances for fundraisers for their personal things (adoptions, medical bills, summer camps). As we have 2 adopted kiddos and we know how expensive all the travel can be, we want to be supportive of others. But I find it odd that someone can be fundraising for something at the same time they are posting pictures of themselves on a big vacation, or consistently going out to eat, etc. Or posting on Facebook about the awesome cute outfit they just bought their child for $50 through Smockadot Kids while asking us for $10 to support their fundraiser. It just seems odd to me! (By the way, I'm talking about personal fundraisers for a family expense, not school fundraisers or mission trip fundraisers, etc.)

I feel like as a society we have become accustomed to think that certain things are necessities instead of luxuries, and many people don't even think about cutting back on those things in order to afford something else that might be more important.

I'm talking about things like vacations, smart phones, pre-school or Mom's Day Out programs for kids with a stay-at-home parent, designer clothes, dining out in restaurants, Starbucks runs....while those things might be nice to have, and maybe are a priority to people over something else, they are not necessities.

A friend just confided to me they might lose their house because they are behind on the payments. And just a few weeks ago I was looking through their wonderful vacation photos. Now I love a vacation as much or more than anyone else, but I can tell you that if we were in any danger of losing our house, the first thing we would do is cancel our vacation.

I just find it odd.

October wrap-up and Home Insurance

November 5th, 2012 at 12:02 pm

First the good news: I earned $102.21 on mturk.com during the month of October. That will be used as cash spending money while we are in Cozumel in February (Disney Cruise).

We are on track with our savings to have enough for our property taxes. With the Nov 15th paycheck we should be able to pay our property tax. Our HOA dues are due in January, so we will use some December savings to pay for that.

Now the bad news: We were about $160 over our October spending budget. And it's because my DH went to the dentist for his cleaning and they found a cavity. We have dental insurance, which completely covers cleanings every 6 months, but cavity fillings are not covered nearly as well. I'm looking forward to having our "slush fund" up and running by the end of this year so that it can cover these unexpected expenses.

At the end of December, we should have our emergency fund fully funded and a small slush fund. At that time, we will increase DH's 401k contribution to 15%. And we will start our new budget (which will include putting money aside each month for our property taxes/insurance and $100/month for each kiddo's 529 plan). In January we will also be starting extra principle payments on our house. It will be a tight budget, I hope we can do it!

Switching gears:
Today I called our home insurance company. Our premium has increased by $684 over the past 2 years. When we bought this house, the premium was $1060. Then a year later I switched insurance companies from AllState to Progressive (switched both auto and home policies). The net of the 2 was a savings of about $600 a year. But our auto was substantially lower and our home insurance increased. Then the next year, our home insurance increased a few hundred more dollars. And now it's at $1744.

I've been going through the paperwork and I noticed that our dwelling coverage seemed overstated, so I called Progressive to ask about lowering that. They told me it was an algorithm that could not be changed, but they went through all the facts about our house and lo and behold the dwelling number was high. So that change brought my insurance down for the year by $146. They are going to pro-rate the difference and send us a check for $75 since we are half-way through our policy.

But, I've done some online quotes from other insurance companies and those quotes are still coming in closer to the $1100 a year. I know if we switch our homeowners policy, our auto insurance policy will go up since we a discount for having both together. I guess I need to price out what the net difference would be in switching. I think our home insurance is still about $500 higher than it could be.

It seems like such a pain to keep pricing our insurance...does anyone do this every few years? Or do you stick with the insurance you have?

Visitors stress me out

October 26th, 2012 at 06:07 am

We don't have many overnight visitors, but sometimes when we do it really stresses me out!

My family recently visited us. The thing about my family is that when they come they don't just like to hang out. They always have to be doing multiple touristy things each day. And we don't live in a real touristy city (like Orlando or New York) so it's really hard to please them.

When they are here we end up spending SO much money!

I think the issue is that this year we have been in our own little bubble--our budget bubble. We go out to eat about once a month, we mostly do free activities with the kids (with the exception of some major splurges like our vacation)...our home life is very simple and frugal. But then when we have visitors come and we are forced to conform to their way of living, even for just a few days, it totally throws us off.

We asked my family in advance what they were planning on doing and they told us 2 activities. We looked up the prices and the cost for my family was about $130. Not a big deal, we could plan for that by cutting back earlier in the month.

But the bigger thing is that they always want to go out to eat. Like they insist on it. So we went out to eat for most meals while they were here and spent around $150-$200. I made one meal at home for everyone and would have done more but they don't like hanging out at home.

When we go to these touristy places, their kids raid the gift shops and their parents buy them at least one thing from every gift shop we encounter. And then my kids are like hey, we want something too (when we are by ourselves they don't expect something from every place we go).

I have a friend from college coming to visit me in a few weeks. She is single, no kids, and leads a totally different lifestyle. She travels all the time, is very social, and is just the total opposite of our frugal family lifestyle. She is already making suggestions on stuff we can do while she is here and I'm hoping to reach a compromise. Like instead of all 5 of us going places with her, maybe just I can go. She will be here on a Sunday and Monday (and I already warned her about weekdays not being a good time for me, with 3 kids and school and their activities). So I guess the whole upcoming visit is stressing me out.

I realize as I write this that I probably sound like an old fuddy-duddy set in my ways. I am thankful that we have people that want to visit us, I really am. I just get stressed out about the money part and feeling like I have to keep people entertained.

Anybody else go through the same things with visitors?

Bonus and Borrowing

October 13th, 2012 at 07:22 pm

Ok, it's been almost 2 weeks since I've blogged and it's time to catch up.

The biggest news is...we found out we are getting a bonus (unexpected) in December and it will be about $7500 after taxes. Woohoo!

We've been trying to decide where to put our small windfall and after having changed our minds a bunch of times, I think we've reached a conclusion.

First, we are going to take $5000 and put it into savings as a "slush fund". Our emergency fund balance is where we want it to be for 6 months of living expenses, but on top of that we want a cushion to pay for things like car repairs, car registration, unexpected vet bills or medical bills, etc. So, boring as that sounds, that's where it's going.

Now the next part is a little more exciting...we are taking $1900 and going on a Disney Cruise in February! Can't remember if I mentioned this or not, but last summer we went on our first Disney Cruise. It was probably our favorite vacation, ever. The kids had a blast and DH and I got some alone time. It was hugely expensive, though, and we had to save up a long time for that. We had planned on going on another cruise in 2014.

Well, that was until Disney decided to offer some big discounts on their cruises that sail out of Galveston (about 6 hours from where we live). I saw those sale prices online from our travel agent, and I called DH out of the blue and said, "Hey, don't think I'm crazy....but there are some really good prices on Disney Cruises coming up in early 2013!" I thought he would say I'm crazy, but he was more for the idea than I was! So we booked a cruise. We will have to pull our oldest son out of school for 4 days, but I believe that as long as he's doing well in school and he's young enough, it's no big deal (we did it last year too).

So now, we are no longer going to San Antonio in the Spring, we will do the cruise instead. So my mturk earnings will go towards spending money on the cruise. My goal is to earn $200 before February.

We also got $200 in onboard credit from our travel agent and from using our Disney Visa, so almost all of our tips are paid for. And we're using DH's hotel points to stay closer to Galveston the night before.

We haven't told the kids yet--I think we will surprise them at Christmas. I still can't believe that we are going on another Disney cruise so soon after our last one--but the price is less than half of our cruise last summer!

We will take the rest of the bonus and divvy it up to some charitable causes.

Which sort of leads me to talk about another "charitable" cause we are dealing with...friends who keep asking to borrow money. They are actually the reason I started this anonymous blog, because blogging about us trying to save up for an emergency fund made me uncomfortable with them asking us for money.

These friends are going through a hard time--they've asked us twice to borrow money and they asked us for a 3rd time today. We gave them $100 the first time--I guess it was more like a gift than a loan. I'm sure we will never get it back.

The second time, we said no, but we bought them some things to help out their household. Another $100+ of stuff.

And now they've asked us again for this latest emergency--one of their cars was towed away for nonpayment and they have to pay to get it out of impound plus the amount they are overdue on.

My mother-in-law told us that once you give someone money, they will keep coming back to you and asking you again and again. She was right.

The thing is, this couple has made some horrible financial decisions. They are both college educated and had good jobs (one was laid off). I'm trying to stay out of the situation completely. But part of me would like to tell them some practical things they could do instead of asking everyone around them for money--like sell their iPads and Kindles. Get rid of their smart phones. Do some work on mturk or anywhere to get some extra money. Have a garage sale. But I think suggesting any of those things would just piss them off.

So we've decided we just can't give them any more money. Because there will always be the next "emergency" and although I feel bad for their kids, they have got to learn how to get themselves together.

Anyone have friends like this? Do they ask you to borrow money? How do you respond?

My new mturk.com earnings goal

October 2nd, 2012 at 06:40 pm

So over the past 2 months I've earned approximately $150 from doing survey work on mturk.com. I've used that money to buy birthday gifts for 2 of my kids at Amazon.com.

In order for me to stay motivated to do survey work a few hours a week, I need to set another earnings goal and a target of what I want to spend it on. Since our Christmas fund is doing well, I decided I'd like to earn $300 on mturk.com for tickets to Sea World/Aquatica in San Antonio.

We live about 6 hours away from San Antonio (driving distance) and DH and I have been a few times as a couple before having kids. It's a great city with lots of fun stuff to do. We went to Sea World there (I've also been to the Sea Worlds in Florida and California) and we love it. We've never taken our kids to San Antonio, though. Not on purpose, we've just been to other destinations with them and figured we could do San Antonio/Sea World "any time" since it's such a close destination.

DH has enough Marriott points (earned through work travel) for us to stay in one of the hotels nearby for 3 nights (for free!) So I'd like to earn approximately $300 to buy tickets for us for 2 days at Sea World and the new Aquatica water park. If I can earn money for those tickets through my survey work, and our hotel is free, we pretty much just need to pay for gas and food for the weekend.

I've got approximately 6 months to earn this money. The kids have a 3-day weekend off school in April. I think it will be a good time to go. My youngest will be 2 1/2 years old and there is a new Sesame Street Bay of Play area at Sea World.

Today I earned $6 doing surveys for an hour while my daughter was napping. This will be a slow process. Wish me luck!

Big Christmas Purchases

October 2nd, 2012 at 09:00 am

One of the things I love about having a separate Christmas fund is that when I see a good price on something on our kid's list, I can just snatch it up with our Christmas cash!

Yesterday I did just that. We live near a Lego store. It's a wonderful thing if you have kids that love Legos. I've done a lot of price comparisons on Legos, and have found that Legos are usually the cheapest at the Lego store. Toys R Us has Legos on sale all the time, but they start out at a higher price so getting them on sale is usually just like getting them at regular price at Target or the Lego Store.

Anyway, my oldest son really wants this Lego Ninjago dragon set. It's $119. Yes, expensive! But this is his #1 wish and it will be his main present. During the month of October, the Lego store is offering double VIP points. So instead of getting $5 off for every $100 spent, it's now $10 off. I already had some points in our account, and I bought my other kids a small set each, then got $5 off plus I earned another $10 off through buying the big dragon set. So essentially $15 off. Woohoo!

I love Christmas shopping!

September mturk earnings

September 30th, 2012 at 07:15 am

I earned $50.17 this month doing surveys on mturk.com.

In August I started doing some survey work on mturk.com after about an 8 month hiatus. I discovered this site last year and in the months leading up to Christmas 2011 I earned about $150 that I used on Amazon.com to order Christmas presents.

I really hadn't been on the site all year until August. I found that without a goal to shoot for, without a prize pictured in my head, it was very hard for me to stay motivated to log in to the site and find work. The survey work is really quite easy, it's just the hourly wage I earn on there is anywhere from $3-$8 and I can only work about an hour at a time before running out of work. So then I have to come back the next day or in a few days and repeat.

But in August I decided to pick it back up again. Actually I started at the end of July, and by the end of August I had earned over $100! Going in to that month I decided to earmark all of my August earning to buy my daughter a birthday present. I had my eye on this pink Radio Flyer tricycle on Amazon that was around $65 with tax. So originally $65 was my goal. With my total mturk earnings of over $100 (plus $5 from Swagbucks) I was able to get her the tricycle and a helmet, a purse, a Lego set and a DVD. I was ecstatic!

I decided to keep going with mturk and dedicate the entire month of September to earning money for my son's birthday. I was hoping to earn close to the same as August, but it just didn't happen. My husband was traveling for 2 weeks in the month and during those weeks I was not able to get on the site nearly as much. In fact, I went almost a full week without logging on at all. But, still, $50 aint bad. I just ordered him a Dream Lites Pillow Pet and a Wii game for his birthday. I'll pick him up a few more things out of our normal paycheck budget before his big day.

I like mturk because, unlike other survey sites, you know upfront if you will qualify for the survey or not. I've tried other sites but found I spent so much time on the pre-survey part seeing if I qualify and having most of them end up not panning out. There are a lot of surveys from graduate students at universities on here, as well as political surveys. I sort my search results to get things that pay at least 35 cents or more. And I only do surveys on there--not some of the other stuff like writing articles or setting up a dating profile for a new site.

I also like working on the site because it's totally flexible--you can work on there any time of day or night for as long as you want. I only work on the site at night after my kids have gone to bed, or occasionally during the day when 2 of my kids are at school and my 3rd one is napping.

Of course the downside is the hourly wage ends up being very small...so for me I have to pick a dollar goal and a spending purpose for that goal in order to stay motivated to keep up with it.

I have new goal for October...I guess I'll save that for tomorrow's blog post!

Looking ahead to our big picture goals

September 27th, 2012 at 11:34 am

I'm so excited because this is going to be the year, that we FINALLY achieve our goal of having an emergency fund! I know we technically have our desired number in the bank right now, but I'm not going to count it as official until we also have enough cash to pay our house property taxes in December. But, barring any more "emergencies", we are on track to make that and possibly have a little beyond that for a slush fund.

I'm excited to get this emergency fund set up because that will lead us to getting back on track to our bigger picture goals. DH and I decided that we'd like to pay off our house early, before our oldest son enters college in 10 years. We'd like to be completely debt-free at that point (no mortgage, no car loans, etc.) so that we will be set up to retire without depending on our kids, and so that we can help pay for whatever remains of our kids' college expenses.

Earlier this year we re-financed our home loan to a 20-year note. When January rolls around and our Emergency fund and taxes are all paid for, we are going to make several changes:

* Increase DH's 401k contribution to 15%

* Continue to have less taxes taken out of DH's paycheck so that we don't get a huge refund at the end of the year. Put $500/month into savings so that we can pay for our property taxes at the end of the year.

* Contribute $100/month per kid into their college funds (3 kids = $300 total)

* Contribute additional principle to our home loan every month. I actually have an amortization spreadsheet that I can play with. To start with, we are going to contribute an extra $300/month. Starting next Fall, we will have 9 months where I have no kids in pre-school, so we will roll that extra money over to the mortgage as well. When my youngest enters kindergarten in 4 years, my plan is to start some part-time work that will go towards the mortgage as well. With these extra payments, we are showing that we could actually pay off our home in 8 years. But I'm giving ourselves a 10-year-goal.

* Eventually, after our car is paid off in 3 years, I'd like to set up a separate car savings account and roll over our current car payment amount into that every month. Then we will be all set to buy our next car with cash.

* I'm also going to start a separate vacation savings account in January. Even with our goal of paying off our house early, vacations are still a big priority. Our kids will only be young once. Two of our kids are adopted from Russia, and we'd like to take them back there to visit before our oldest turns 17 (they are still Russian citizens and they can be conscripted if they visit between the ages of 18-26). So that trip will cost a bundle and we will definitely need to save for that. DH and I would also like to take a kid-less trip to the Olympics in Rio in 2016. Plus we'd like to take one more Disney Cruise and go to Disney World in an off-season time before our oldest leaves elementary school. Washington DC, Seattle and New York City are also on our wish-list for family trips.

So that's where we're headed. I'll admit that paying off the house sure seems like a daunting task. Our mortgage is about $140,000 right now. I just think the feeling of being debt-free by the time we are 50 is going to be great! We just need to have the discipline to stick to our plan.

Saying No to Too Much Halloween

September 25th, 2012 at 12:40 pm

When I was a kid, my memories of Halloween were mainly of one thing: trick-or-treating on actual Halloween night.

We may have gone to one other Halloween-related event (like a school dance or a random Halloween party), but I just remember Halloween as being a simple, one-day event.

Now I don't know if it's where I live, or if it's a sign of the times, but Halloween is like a 6-week long party & event fest here. And I've discovered that it's so easy for me to get carried away with activities and overspend our entertainment budget, based on all the activities available and the peer pressure from other people to do all those things.

Where we live, here are some of the things that happen around Halloween:

* School parties (free, we usually volunteer to bring something)

* Neighborhood HOA party (free, or rather included with our HOA dues, but usually a nice festival with bounce houses, etc.)

* Neighborhood Mom's Club party (free except for candy we buy to hand out)

* City activity (trick or treating downtown, pumpkin patch, other activities)

* Fire department Halloween festival for kids (free, we've never made it to this one)

* Mall trick-or-treating in the afternoon

* Arboretum Halloween event ($10 plus $5 parking)

* Church Fall Festivals (most of them around here have one)

* Several museums have Halloween events (varies, around $10)

* Boo at the Zoo (3 local zoos do this, included with cost of admission)

* Pumpkin Farms (we have 5+ that are close to us; admission ranges from $8-$12 a person)

* Lowe's Build & Grow Halloween event (free)

* Haunted trolley rides, ghost walk tours, haunted houses (varying admission prices)

I'm sure I haven't even captured all of the local events above.

The list of events seriously overwhelms me. Two years ago I tried to do it all. Well, not all, but more than I should have. I think we went to 3 pumpkin farms (1 as a family, 1 with a mom's group, then my son went to one on a school field trip). The cost added up! Not to mention the overwhelming amount of candy my kids accumulated from all of these events.

And it's not just about the cost of all these events X 5 people in our family...it's about the stress of trying to keep up with the Jones' and constantly being on the go. Last year, we decided to do just one pumpkin farm. One. And it was totally fine. We still did the school parties, the neighborhood party, the Mom's Club party, and I think that was it. And of course the actual Halloween trick-or-treating.

I've already turned down 3 invites to events this year--2 pumpkin farms and 1 museum. We're going to try to keep it simple again this year.

I know we're lucky that we live in an area with all of these activities (many of them free) and it's nice we can pick and choose where to go.

Do you get overwhelmed by activities around Halloween or other holidays? (Am I the only one?) How do you decide what to do?

DH in charge of dinner tonight

September 23rd, 2012 at 04:08 pm

I think I've mentioned this before---I quit my job to be a SAHM 3 years ago. And about a year and a half ago we cut back drastically on eating out--we only eat out about once a month now. DH's job (until recently) put him on call 24/7 and he was frequently working during dinner time and in the evenings. Therefore, cooking meals was solely my responsibility.

Which is fine, except I found that I get really burnt out on cooking. I search online for recipes, read reviews, make a meal plan, make a grocery store list based on that plan...every. single. week. It just gets tiring and my once-a-month break (when we go out to eat) just wasn't cutting it.

So a few weeks ago I asked DH if he would consider taking over one meal a week (on a Saturday or Sunday). And by that I meant he can research what to make, make me a list of what to get at the store when I do my normal grocery shopping, and he can cook the dinner. And it has to be under $10. (Most of the meals I make are under $5, and the few times DH has cooked he buys expensive pre-cooked ribs or something else pre-made and I didn't want our food budget going up by that amount every week).

So this was his first week doing it, and tonight was the night. He made beef fajitas. I bought some beef skirt steak, he researched seasonings to put on top...tortillas, cheese, onions, beans. The beef was about $5 but the whole meal was under $10. And it was good. And the best part was, I got to sit down and just wait for it to be ready!

Who does the cooking/meal planning at your house? Do you trade off? Any tips for saving time or not getting burnt out?

Added $225 to our Christmas Fund

September 23rd, 2012 at 12:07 pm

DH just got reimbursed for some mileage from a work trip, so we were able to add $225 more to our Christmas fund. So now we've got $700 in there, our goal is $1000. Yippee!

I'm so glad I won't be stressing in January when we see our credit card bills from November/December, like we've done for so many years in the past.

Our Frugal Saturday

September 22nd, 2012 at 07:01 pm

This morning we took the kids to the Lowe's Build & Grow clinic. Have you been to these before? They have them twice a month, they are free but you have to register in advance. This month they were building little fire trucks.

They also had a fire safety thing going on at the same time, and they had bean bag toss games with prizes, a face painter, and some fireman picture spots. And it was all free!

Tonight we stayed in for another family movie night with our Netflix DVD. We watched We Bought a Zoo. It was too long for the kids but it seemed like a sweet story.

Friday Savings and Spending

September 21st, 2012 at 09:34 am

So...some of you may know from my previous entries that my daughter broke her leg last week. I decided to look on our insurance site to see how the charges are looking.

I'm not sure if all the charges are there yet, I sure hope so, because right now the total is $6039.71. That includes one ER visit, with x-rays, one pediatrician visit, and another doctor's visit at the Children's Hospital with more x-rays and a cast.

Luckily (?) we have already met our $4500 deductible this year, so I think our out-of-pocket cost will be 10% of our total bills, so around $600.

Wow, what do people with no insurance do? It's crazy. I'm very thankful we have health insurance and we can absorb the cost of this with our emergency fund.

Anyways....today is Friday and my 4-year-old doesn't have school and my 1-year-old is also home with me. My husband usually works from home but I suggested he go into the office today so that I don't have to work so hard at keeping the kids quiet while he's working.

I've realized, now that my daughter is in a cast and can't swim or go to parks, how much time I usually spend with my kids doing those 2 activities and how much I miss doing those things! Going to parks, being outside riding bikes, etc. are my go-to activities for cheap entertainment with my kids. Because typically on a Friday with the 2 younger ones we'd be at a park right now.

So instead, our big outing today was going to Petco. I needed to get some pill pockets for my cat (he's 17 1/2 years old, has stomach cancer, but is still holding on!). A trip to Petco with my kids is very entertaining because we stop and look at all the animals. Ferrets, birds, mice/gerbils/rats/hamsters/guinea pigs, frogs, turtles, snakes, lizards...and of course all the fish. It's like a mini-zoo trip. And we can easily stay for 30 minutes checking out all the animals. Does anyone else do this with their kids?

Other somewhat frugal things I'm doing today:

I saw that the Disney Channel has Return to Neverland on this afternoon, so I'm recording it for a future family movie night at home.

I got an e-mail from Groupon this morning for $5 off any deal. And they have a Studio Movie Grill deal for $5 for a movie and a drink. So I bought 3 movie/drink tickets for a total of $10 (that's $3.33 a movie ticket, not bad). I should preface this by saying that we rarely go to the movies. I think my kids have been to a movie theater once so far this year. So my plan is to take my 2 boys to see that Hotel Transylvania movie sometime in the next few weeks. Since this is one of those theatres with tables and real food, I'm going to try to keep it frugal and go at an off-eating time (like a mid-afternoon show) and just order one thing of food to split. Like popcorn, or french fries.

Our spending splurge:

We decided, last minute, to sign up for another Parents' Night Out that is tonight. We usually try to have a date night once a month, and there is a local church that does a Parents' Night Out childcare for a reasonable amount of money. We already had our date night 2 weeks ago, but there is another local church that is now doing this for slightly cheaper (it costs a total of $24 for our 3 kids combined and that includes pizza for them for 3 1/2 hours). So we decided to splurge and have a second date night this month. DH and I are just going to go out to eat at our favorite Mexican restaurant.

How's your Friday going?

What I Will and Will Not Do to Save Money

September 17th, 2012 at 08:32 am

Yesterday afternoon I was outside putting pre-emergent weed control fertilizer on our lawn. Earlier in the year we decided to fire our pest control and lawn control services (which we were paying over $700 a year for combined) and do those things ourselves. I bought the supplies for the pest control applications, and then this summer I went to a local nursery and got a full detailed list of what product to use and when to use them to keep our yard bug-free and weed-free.

So yesterday as I was outside putting the herbicide on our lawn I was thinking, Yes, this isn't that hard and totally worth it to save some money to put towards more important things.

And that got me thinking about what I will do to save money, and what I will not do to save money.

I know this is a very personal topic--I guess that's why they call it "personal" finance. If there aren't too many things we're willing to give up or cut back on to save money, then obviously we won't be able to save much.

When I was a kid, I thought we were the poorest family in the neighborhood. I mean, I thought we were dirt poor. Compared to my friends, I didn't have nice clothes, didn't have as many toys, didn't go out to eat or to the movies nearly as much, etc. But also my parents were always very tight-lipped about money and never told us how much we had/how much we spent, etc.

Fast forward to about 6th grade, I remember being in Orlando for a family vacation to Disney World and we went to a timeshare presentation. The salesman was really trying hard to get my parents to buy a timeshare and asked them how much their monthly mortgage payment was. They said we didn't have a mortgage because it was paid off, and the salesman was shocked! I didn't really fully understand what that meant at the time.

My parents also never took out loans to buy cars. And when me and my siblings were older, and we got the chance to go on big trips with a high school class or group, they insisted that we go and they paid for it. We each went to London with our Advanced Placement English class our senior year, and I remember being shocked that we could afford it and some of my friends' parents, who I always thought were so rich, could not. I also got to travel to Spain with my Spanish class.

Now my parents are in their 70s and are comfortably retired. They own a modest condo but they are able to afford to travel at least once a year. They've been to Europe 4 times since they've retired.

I think for me the key to saving money is finding a good balance. Which is hard to do. I don't want to cut back so much that my kids are embarrassed of their clothes. I do want to talk to my kids about why we make the decisions we do when it comes to money and spending. I want them to understand that when we skip out on something, we put that money towards something that we value higher.

OK, so here are some things I'm willing to do to save money:

1. Cut back on my cell phone.

When I quit my job to become a SAHM, I switched to a pre-paid cell phone. I think the first year I bought $100 in minutes, but when I bought that highest minute package it enabled me to achieve gold status and from then on all of my minutes would roll over. I think now I spend between $25-$50 a year on my cell phone. I don't have a data plan on it and I only use it for emergencies. Sometimes I am tempted to get a cheap monthly plan with data, but I know that if I go to that, there will be no turning back.

2. Cut back on going out to eat.

This is a big one. I remember while I was still working, and after we adopted our first son, my hours were very hectic. We used to go out to eat for almost every meal on the weekends and get take-out frequently during the week. I remember I added it up one month and we had spent almost $1000 on going out to eat. In one month. It was crazy! So now we go out to eat about once a month. And it's a big deal. Usually DH and I go out to eat during a Parents' Night Out (while the kids are at church) and we will also take the kids out to a "fun" place (like McDonalds or somewhere with a playground) once a month. This has made my SAHM job harder since obviously I now have to plan meals for the week. The worst thing is to be unprepared with a meal and feel like we "have" to go out to eat. We've wasted so much money on that in years past. Sometimes we will pass by a McDonalds or Sonic and my kids will ask if we can eat there. If we've already done that for the month, I'll tell them no but explain that we are using that money to save up for our next vacation. And I think they are starting to understand.

3. DIY home care.

As I mentioned above, we are now doing our own pest control and weed control. We'd also like to start mowing our own yard beginning next Spring (we don't have lawn equipment now, we are going to ask for some for Christmas and/or buy some used equipment on Craig's List). We spend almost $1000 a year paying someone to mow our yard, so combined with our savings on pest/weed control this will save us $1700 a year.

4. Buy used kids clothes.

This isn't something I could do too much with my boys, since there aren't many boys' clothes available at consignment shops, but I've saved a bundle by shopping at resale shops for my daughter. And online. And they are cute and look good.

5. Drive across town for the cheaper grocery store.

Yes, I will drive across town to shop at Aldi. It saves me a ton of money every week, without clipping coupons. I find it is cheaper than even the generic brands at regular grocery stores. It's only a 20 minute drive, I have to bring a quarter for the shopping cart and bring my own bags. But totally worth it.

6. Skimp on clothes and makeup for myself.

Ok, some women probably are not willing to do this. I don't wear makeup every day. Especially my foundation, it is expensive and I've tried cheaper brands and they just aren't the same. So some days I just don't wear makeup. I don't have a lot of new/trendy outfits. I can live with that. I don't look like a slob.

7. Cut back on family entertainment expenses.

We rarely go to a movie theater. Usually we wait for the movie to come out on Netflix or I go to Redbox and get it for $1 or less with a coupon. I record movies on our DVR that are played on regular TV and have a family movie night on Friday nights. I buy a big bag of popcorn kernels and make home-made microwave popcorn in a lunch bag. Or I'll even buy a small bag of candy at the store for a treat for these family movie nights. So at most they cost us around $2. We go to parks a lot on the weekends, we go outside and ride bikes, go to the library, and attend many of the other "free" events in our neighborhood and city. We don't do expensive things every weekend like the movie theatre, zoos, museums, etc. Not to say we don't ever do those things...we just do them rarely and as a special treat.

OK, I'm sure there are many more things I could write about what I'm willing to do to save money, but those are the big ones.

And now for what I will not do to save money:

1. Cut back on family vacations.

This is a big priority for our family. Growing up, we always took a family vacation every year. Now we might not have always stayed in a fancy hotel, and most of the time we packed everyone in the station wagon and drove, but I hang onto those memories as an adult. And I really want my kids to see places and treasure memories from our vacations. So we do go on a "big" one every year and maybe 1 or 2 local weekend getaways. I do spend a lot of time trying to save us money on the vacations we take. For example, when we went to Disney World in 2010 we rented a timeshare condo and shared it with extended family. We used airline points for our plane tickets. We ate breakfast and dinner in our condo and only spent money on lunch in the parks. Honestly, having groceries and cooking in a condo save a huge chunk on any vacation! I figure the kids are only young once, and we sacrifice our normal weekend entertainment in order to do some bigger things a few times a year.

2. Buy stuff that's on sale just because it's cheaper.

What I'm mostly talking about are birthday and Christmas presents. I don't want to get caught up in buying things just because they're a good deal, if it's not something my kids really want or would enjoy. I also will not get them socks and underwear for Christmas. Again, this stems from my memories as a child.

Ok, this is getting really long so I guess I'll just stop here. What are you willing to do or not willing to do to save money? Has it changed over the years?

Mid-September Financial Update & Zulily Purchase

September 15th, 2012 at 12:44 pm

Well, since DH got paid today I was able to move some funds and allocate things to the necessary places.

(Remember, we cut back on DH's 401k contribution, now down to 7%, and we are claiming more exemptions on his W4 in order to get to our emergency fund goal and get our property taxes/HOA fees before the end of the year).

So, the good news is we now have our $20k emergency fund! Yippee! I'm not as excited as I should be, though, because if you saw my last post you will know that we expect some big medical bills to roll in from our daughter's accident. I have no idea how much those bills will be, not a clue. That's the thing about medical bills....there are never any prices posted anywhere, of course the prices are different for each insurance company, and then there's the percent covered....who knows. I'm hoping it's not more than $1000 out of pocket. We have already met our $4500 deductible for this year, so our expenses are now just a straight 10%.

We also now have some money set aside for our property taxes and our HOA fees that are due toward the end of the year. $1712 set aside, and we need $5000.

More good news--we came in $100 under our September credit card budget, so when it comes time to pay that card in October I will take $100 and put into our Christmas fund.

I have money in our budget this month to buy our kids some things--light jackets and Halloween costumes. In October I was planning on buying winter jackets. I've been out looking at resale shops and online for a good deal on jackets, and today I got an e-mail from Zulily and saw they have the puffy winter jackets for $20 each. With Disney and Marvel characters on them. So I pulled my oldest son into the office and asked if he liked any of them (he's 8 and the pickiest about what he wears) and he picked out one. I bought one for each of my kids, and went online to search out a promo code, so with shipping I got 3 winter jackets for around $62. Not too shabby!

Have any of you bought clothes from Zulily before? (I guess it's kind of like a Groupon site for kids' clothes?)

A big dip into the emergency fund

September 13th, 2012 at 03:02 pm

Well, it's been a crazy week. My daughter had an accident on the playground and broke her leg! She is 23 months old. This happened on Monday, I took her to the ER that afternoon, they said it wasn't broken and to wait a few days since it was probably a sprain. The next day she still couldn't stand on it or walk.

I then took her to our pediatrician, who I totally trust. She examined her and the x-rays and was pretty sure her tibia was broken.

So...the next day we were able to get in to the pediatric orthopedist at our local children's hospital, he confirmed it was broken, and now she is in a cast.

And of course during all of this, my husband has been out of town.

The positives: At least it's only a broken leg! And thank goodness we have health insurance and a partial emergency fund so that we don't have to charge these medical bills to a credit card. And it's the end of summer so the temps will be going down here and she won't be sweltering in the cast.

The negatives: She broke her leg! 5 weeks in a cast. 5 weeks without getting wet. Even with insurance I'd be surprised if this whole ordeal costs less than $1000 out of our pocket. She is fussy and learning how to deal with her cast. I can't put her in the shopping cart with her cast so I'll need to fit my grocery shopping in some time when my husband can watch the kids.

Well, life is full of surprises!

Another deposit into the Christmas Fund

September 6th, 2012 at 07:25 pm

We have a budget of $1000 to spend on Christmas gifts. We have 3 kids (we spend about $150 on each child) and 4 nieces/nephews, plus parents/siblings, etc. And we have 5 kid birthdays around the holidays which we loop into the same fund. Until I sat down with pencil and paper last year and detailed all the people we bought gifts for, I never knew we spent so much around the holidays!

So now we plan way ahead for it. We can no longer afford to charge $1000 of gifts in one month and expect to be able to pay off our credit card in full in January.

Last year was the first year we saved up our Christmas money before Christmas. I started in July and by the end of November we had squirreled away all $1000. We had a garage sale, sold some stuff on Craigs List, put aside health care reimbursement money, and I did some survey work on mturk.com.

This year we've done some of the same. Minus the garage sale (not so many things to sell this year). I just deposited some of hubby's work travel reimbursement money into our Christmas fund. We now have saved $475.25. And I've spent some of it already. Got a great deal on some Little People toys at Toys R Us last month.

And I took $200 of the fund and bought Amazon.com gift cards, since our grocery store is offering 4X fuel rewards for gift cards. We usually order quite a bit of our Christmas presents form Amazon, so this way we also get a discount on gas.

I actually LOVE saving for Christmas and trying to find the best prices on the things I'm looking for. I comparison shop for toys every week through the ads. Many people think I'm nuts for shopping this early, but I really enjoy it.

Have you started thinking about Christmas?

So proud of my hubby!

September 5th, 2012 at 06:55 pm

My husband is a cyclist. It's a rather expensive hobby--who knew that bike stuff could cost so much?

Anyway....he needs something new for his bike because it's not working up to snuff. Don't ask me what it's called...I don't speak the cycling language. It costs $70.

In our old lifestyle, hubby would have just gone to the bike shop immediately and purchased the part.

In the past year, he probably would have mentioned he needs it and asked if we could squeeze it into this month's budget instead of just immediately buying it.

But yesterday, wow, did he ever surprise me. He told me that he decided to sell some stuff on Ebay in order to come up with the money.

Wow, really???

Yes, he already sold 3 things and made about $38. He's looking for more stuff to sell. And this was totally his idea.

Now that's progress!

Our 3-Year Transition from 2 Incomes to 1 Income

September 3rd, 2012 at 02:18 pm

Since I am new here, I thought I'd give a little more background on our situation.

Approximately 3 years ago, I quit my full-time job to be a stay-at-home mom. We had just adopted our second son and my job was not very family friendly. I was really looking forward to my new role and since we had about $15-$20k in the bank and had done a budget on paper, I thought we would be ok.

And let me just say that is has taken us 3 years to adjust to living on one income and we are almost to the point of rebuilding our $20k emergency fund.

Why has it been so hard? I guess when we were both working, we had a budget but we had a rather large amount at our disposal for entertainment and buying miscellaneous stuff. That bucket totally shrank with one income but in the beginning we spent money like we had on 2 incomes.

When we had 2 incomes, we could absorb large expenditures in one month. The kids needed clothes for going back to school? I could buy them all in one month. Not anymore.

We were also blessed with an additional child--unexpected, and we made some major changes to accommodate our bigger family. We bought a minivan and took on a car loan, and moved into a bigger house in a different suburb. Major changes!

I had this vision of all the things I would do as a stay-at-home mom. Take the kids to museums, jump house places...you know, fun things every day. However, the reality is that those places all cost a lot of money! Now I still take the kids places, but they are mostly free places--the neighborhood pool, parks, the library, etc.

For the past 3 years we had this pattern of over-spending our budget every month, and then sneaking some money out of our savings account into our checking account so that we wouldn't carry a balance on our credit cards. And we also had the maximum amount of taxes pulled our of my husband's check so that we'd get a big tax refund. So we had this mentality that even if we dipped into our savings, we'd replenish it back with our tax refund.

And we repeated that. For 3 years. Every year we'd drain our savings down to almost zero, then replenish it with a big tax refund. Repeat.

So we maybe had our "emergency fund" for a month or two out of the year.

Last year we had a goal of getting our emergency fund up to snuff and keeping it there. But then we had some major pet health expenditures (like surgery and other treatments) and we got derailed.

This year, we have done much better. Of course, things happen to dig into our savings like they always will (both cars needed new tires). But, we have been sticking to our monthly budget. We are also not taking the maximum amount of taxes out of my husband's paycheck and using part of that to live on so that we won't have to wait on that money until tax refund time.

Overall, we are doing more planning ahead so that we're not caught off-guard during the month. I spread out the kids' school clothing purchases over many months. In July I bought backpacks and jeans. August was socks and underwear. September will be light jackets and long-sleeved shirts. October will be heavy jackets.

We have been putting aside money in a Christmas fund. I'm also spending it as I find things that the kids want when they are on sale.

Mid-year we decided to take Dave Ramsey's advice and cut back on our 401k contributions until we have our emergency fund in place. So we are down to a 7% contribution until the end of the year when we have enough money in our emergency fund and enough to pay our property taxes. Then we'll go back to 15%.

Anyways...it's been a tough road transitioning from 2 incomes down to 1 income and I feel like we are finally on our way to living smartly on the money we have.

Can anyone out there relate to this? Has the transition from 2 incomes to 1 income been tough for you?

My first blog entry on here....

September 2nd, 2012 at 02:09 pm

Hi, I'm new here. I found this website a few weeks ago and have read without signing up. I just signed up and am starting a blog so that I can blog about my finances anonymously.

The whole "anonymously" part is important to me because I have my own "saving money" blog on blogger. I love writing in it and I post my entries on Facebook. I've written about all the ways we are trying to save money so that we can save up for an emergency fund in case my husband loses my job. I've never mentioned what our goal amount is, though. (It's $20k).

However, I think because of my other blog, we've had people ask us to borrow money. And that has made me VERY uncomfortable.

I love writing about financial goals and struggles, so I thought maybe this would be a more appropriate forum for my thoughts.

Have you ever had friends ask to borrow money from you? How do you respond?