Posts Tagged ‘Budget’

Does Your Safety Net Look Worn Out?

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

I have always tried to keep money in an emergency fund for the unexpected because, frankly, the unexpected seems to happen a lot in our family. About five years ago, we faced an unexpected time of unemployment for my husband’s job. Without that emergency fund strongly in place, I truly believe that we could have ended up in bankruptcy. Trying to be dedicated savers, we had put all of our money into a savings account to prepare for those rainy days.

Well, that rainy day came in our house. And it rained. And it poured. And it thundered. And it… well, you get the picture. He went almost a year without finding a job and I tried to help with the finances by working full-time until he found something. Even though we were drawing an unemployment check and I was doing my part working full-time, we were just covering my husband’s pay and we were missing our additional income. We had a new baby, a new mortgage, and a huge amount of student debt.

What we had to be thankful for was a fat savings account that would ride us through the storm. We had saved up around $15,000, after purchasing our home, for those rainy days that were ahead. During that time of unemployment, we managed to eat through all of that saved money and then accumulated more debt on top of that.

Now we are better money-managers, but we are working with only one income. I feel very privileged to be home with my children, but I miss being able to jump right in with my own income in these emergency situations. That safety net just isn’t what it used to be. In fact, my net looks a little threadbare and it often scares me. I have found because I have faced uncertain times in my financial past, that it is rare for me to feel true certainty when it comes to my finances. What I mean to say is that I can’t seem to put my finger on a magical number that would be right for my emergency fund so that I could feel at peace with an unemployment situation happening again. Gosh, $15,000 seemed like a magical number at the time and yet…it wasn’t magical enough.

Now with each paycheck I am trying to sock money away into an emergency fund for our family. The big question is…what is more important- building up your emergency fund OR paying down your debt?

An emergency fund trumps debt, at least it does in my family. We are steadily paying down our debt, but we are also putting our nickels and dimes away in our emergency fund too. If given a choice between putting money towards my credit card or putting my money towards my emergency fund…I would lean towards saving. The reason is, if something unexpected should happen, I would need that money from my emergency fund a whole lot more than looking at my extra $25 payment that got absorbed into my credit card.

I am wondering what the scenario is in your homes. Do you have any emergency fund? Is your emergency fund in a savings account or do you keep your money elsewhere? What is your magical number/equation you use for deciding how much to put in your accounts?

Worth Its Weight in Gold

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

Last week I went to a local market to stock up on meat for the month. I have been really disappointed in the quality of the meat at our supermarkets in town so I decided to go to another town to stock up on meat there based on some great recommendations from my mom’s group. I ended up getting some really excellent deals for my money and the meat was a much better quality too.

I brought home ten pounds of chicken, ten pounds of ground beef, and two whole chickens. I broke out my FoodSaver, purchased from the thrift store, and one of my favorite kitchen tools…my postal scale.

I got my postal scale off of eBay and I use it often for shipping purposes. It has saved me a lot of time and hassle at the post office, but it also has been such a useful tool for me to weigh ingredients when cooking in bulk.

I divide my meat into one pound portions because that is the amount we typically use in a meal and it also thaws a lot quicker when it is in these smaller portions. Each one pound portion was vacuum-sealed and labeled for the freezer.

The whole chickens were rubbed with my Sticky Chicken dry rub and are all ready to go for a yummy meal one night. The chicken breasts were cleaned and trimmed, and then cubed for the various dishes I will be using them for.

With the grocery prices rising, this is one easy way that I can save my family money during the month.

Sound Off: Do you buy your meat in bulk or do you have store that you usually find good meat sales at? What would be a good price on meat in your area?

Five Positive Financial Goals For the New Year (Part One)

Tuesday, January 1st, 2008

As the year draws to an end, we all begin to focus on the things that we would like to change for the new year. It is a great time to be reflective and see what didn’t work for us and also to find our opportunity to make positive changes for the upcoming year. Isn’t renewal great? A chance to start fresh and to begin the year on good footing. That is the best part for me about starting a new year. Sure, I am a year older…but I am also a year wiser too! Another year to draw experience from and to begin our reflective thinking on how we can be BETTER! How amazing is that?

Here are some great ideas for making a positive change in your finances this year:

1. The Power of Positive Thinking- One way you can begin the year on good footing is to begin the year by thinking positively and trying to carry that positive thinking with you throughout the year. This is one thing that I am really going to be working on and I believe that it will improve my outlook greatly.

Looking back in the year, you can maybe see things that you didn’t do correctly. Maybe you used your credit card? Maybe you had enormous medical bills for the year? Maybe you strayed from your budget?

While you can look back on your year and kick yourself for all of your stupid financial mistakes, the simple fact is that it won’t change anything about what you did wrong….But, what you can do is look at those stupid experiences and say, “Here is how I am going to change that this year.”

The pure and simple fact is that I have made dumb financial mistakes. I took out a lot of student loans and didn’t finish school. I got a gym membership that ruined my credit history and caused me to take out high interest loans for my schooling. I borrowed against our credit cards when we had no money coming in for almost a year. My life is paved with some really stupid financial moves.

BUT! I am pulling myself up by my boot straps and I am working my tail off to make things right. I have put pen to paper and made financial goals for my family and we are working to meet those goals. I am wiser with my money now and I am making positive changes in our budget to reach the goals that we need to reach. We are beginning to see light at the end of our tunnel and it feels GOOD!

Focus on these things- not the bad! That is a goal for me this year!

2. Get Organized- I have been flipping through this month’s magazines and am beginning to see a theme into what people are looking for. This is the time of the year where we say that we want to get organized. But how does organization relate to the financial situation? To me, finances and organization go hand in hand. Without organization, my finances would be a wreck and that is why it is a continual goal for me to get my stuff in order.

Organization in your life will lead to lots of positive changes and your finances can change right along with that.

Are your bills late? Are you always losing those receipts for your reimbursements for your medical expenses? Did you misplace important tax paperwork and won’t be able to use for your deductions?

Those scenarios can be sickening, especially if those are positive amounts that could be made into your account or you are suffering from fees and higher interest rates because you can’t get your stuff in order.

Figure out how you can get things in order so that you can make these scenarios work. For your medical expenses, a three ring binder divided by months can be great for keeping track of receipts and your Explanation of Benefits. Use this to keep track of what has/has not been paid. Then if the company calls and says they never received your payment, you have your written proof that payment was sent or reimbursements weren’t made.

Start keeping a calendar with dates for important account activities or send yourself email reminders from the company for your payments. Better yet, set up automatic deductions so you don’t have to stress about whether or not your bill has been paid.

There is so much that I plan to organize this year and the magazines are proving that I am not the only one looking for answers. Getting my life in order is top priority.

3. Get Healthy- Getting healthy and losing weight are top on everyone’s priority list right now. Getting healthy is important to me and it is not only important to me because I want to feel good, but being healthy is top on my financial priorities list too.

If I can make positive changes in my activities and I can get my health issues in order, I can save myself a ton of money. I will be making less trips to the doctor, purchasing fewer prescription drugs, and I will have more energy to help with our family finances.

Getting healthy, to me, will not require spending money. I will probably be discussing this more in a future article, but I really did want to say that. When people say that they want to lose weight or get healthy, many times these scenarios involve spending money. I don’t like to spend money, so I am trying to do this through cheaper means.

This means that I will get exercise through walking or jogging outside (during the warmer months) and renting free exercise videos from the library for the cooler months. No gym memberships for me because I can get exercise for free from home.

Drinking more water is also tops on my priority list and, lucky for me, this is free!

I also did make the switch to herbal medications and have seen so many positive changes from switching to these instead of my prescriptions. These are saving me tons of money and I feel a hundred times better. While this option might not be for everyone, I am saving hundreds of dollars for our family by seeking alternative medications.

4. Relieve Stress- Stress can do a number on our bodies and my stomach is living proof of why stress is so bad for you. I am trying to reduce the amount of stress in my life and this is an important goal for me.

How does stress relate the finances? Well, if I am constantly stressed out, I find that I am in stomach pain or I don’t feel good. If I am stressed out then I find myself going out to dinner because I am too stressed/tired to cook. Maybe my stress causes depression for me or it puts a strain on my family? These scenarios are not good for a family and they aren’t good for my finances.

I find myself stressed often and the thing about it is…I put it on myself. I volunteer for everything because I want people to like me. I am a people-pleaser. I am a bend-over-and-take-it-because-everyone-needs-me kind of person, when I should be more of a, “Sorry, I can’t help you this week!” kind of person.

This doesn’t mean I am saying no to everything, but this will mean that I am going to say no. This is a really hard one for me, but I am kicking myself six days out of the week because I s
aid yes to something that I shouldn’t have.

I am going to use that time to refocus my life AND my spirit. I am trying to renew hobbies that I am missing out of my life. For example, I love to read and I never had time to do that. I want to make that time for me because reading helps relieve stress and feeds my need to connect with myself.

Other things I would like to pick back up- doing Suduko, doing yoga, and reading things that feed my spirit.

5. Reach My Financial Goals- If you haven’t sat down and wrote out your financial goals for the year, there is no time like the present. Sit down and really think about what you hope to accomplish this year.

This year, my goal is to pay off the credit card. We have been working towards this goal for almost four years now and we are now under $2K. I will pay this off this year and we will be credit card free.

As we snowball our debt, we will move our credit card payment to the cars and get those paid off next. We are not that far away from owning them, but we do have some auto repairs that will need to be done this year. Our hope is to get these taken care of so that we can enjoy our first year (next year) car payment free.

These are just a few positive financial moves that we hope to make this year. I will be sharing five more positive goals you can make, in the upcoming week, and I hope that it will inspire you for making your resolutions and goals for 2008.

When Do You Let Your Car Go?

Friday, December 28th, 2007

When do you decide to let your vehicle die? At what point does the fork in the road become clear? I was hopeful it would be clear after I finished paying my car off, but now I am not even hopeful that we can even make it that far. This is the closest I have ever been to owning a car, and now I am just hoping that it lasts until my last payment is over.

I have heard some squeaking going on for a long time, and we had decided it was most likely the brakes. But then we had just replaced the front brakes, so this theory wasn’t making any sense at all. I was still hopeful it was just the brakes so we figured we would replace these after the holiday season.

Then we started to hear a sound like something was dragging under the car. Ryan assured me it was probably packed ice underneath, from all of our snow, so we decided to go with that theory. After all, it was the cheapest!

My car sat in the garage for three days after the packed ice theory, melting our theory in a puddle on the garage floor. Oh no, these things can’t be quite that simple.

Our theory came to a grinding (pardon the pun!) halt that day, as the dragging sound persisted. Ryan and I rarely made eye contact. He would start to talk about it and I would look out the window. “It’s Christmas. It’s the end of the month. This isn’t the right time.”

But when are these scenarios ever the right time? When is a good time to hear a dragging sound under you car?

I took it into the shop yesterday and got a twenty minute rundown of everything wrong with the car from their technician, just an hour later. The rear brakes were shot, but worse, the calipers were cracked and broken. The cost- $575. That would have to be done today.

The car is due for its 100K tune-up ($340), the car is leaking oil and requires a new timing belt ($1,200), the front brakes have 20% left on them ($240). All of these scenarios need to be happening within the next six months in order to keep my car running smoothly.

According to my calculations though, I just need the car to run another six years so that we can pay down all of our debts. Six years seems like twenty now that I receive the estimate.

I agree to the rear brakes and then wonder what is the next best step to take. Do I ditch the car (a ’99 Subaru Outback) or do I pay up and trudge on with my goals in mind?

Despite the bleakness of this, here is what I was thankful for:

1. It is the end of the month and Ryan is only paid once a month. This is a very lean time for us, and we were able to pay for this repair out of our account without putting it on the credit card. Although I felt sick as I handed my debit card over, I knew that we had that money.

2. Here is why we had the money…I have this site. No, I don’t make enough for a full-time income, no I am not rolling in it (by any means- see above for car description for further clarification) but I am a contributer to this household. A little pipe dream paid for my beat-up Subaru to have a little surgery. That made me feel really good. I realize my husband pays for everything else, but when it comes to emergency situations like these, my paycheck is the one that pays the bills.

So we ponied up the money and I have my car back and now we are faced with the decision on how to proceed. We sat down and decided that Ryan could definitely fix the front brakes, but a new timing belt and small oil leak would need to be done by the pros. And a 100K tune-up…well, don’t all cars need that?

With ten more payments to go, do I pay up or start hunting for something else? Sound off!

A Few Words About Convenience Foods

Monday, November 19th, 2007

Convenience foods can ruin anyone’s grocery budget. When my husband and I were first married, I shudder to think how many of my own grocery dollars were wasted on foods like these. We would load our cart with tons of convenience foods… and these were for the nights that we were “saving money” by dining in.

Now you will find very few convenience foods in our home and as I become more familiar with the kitchen, I am beginning to discover all of the things that I am able to make myself.

But, let’s face it, convenience foods are called convenience foods for a reason. They are wonderful to have on hand for the times in your life where you don’t feel like cooking and they are great when mommy isn’t home.

There are things that I have been trying to do to keep convenient food in our house without going over our grocery budget. Here are a few of the things that we have tried in our house:

1. I try to individually wrap items for our family. Items like homemade granola bars, homemade fruit & cereal bars, muffins (any variety will do), and even slices of homemade breads can be wrapped in single-serving portions. These are great to throw into lunch boxes or for a quick snack as you are walking out the door. And if you have big eaters in your family, like I do in mine, then it also can help with portion control.

2. I try to take snacks for the kids in my purse, but just wrapping them in a small piece of foil or plastic wrap offers no protection from the destruction that can occur with my purse. It is easy to smash snacks when you are dragging one kid with one arm and have a little one slung on the same hip as your purse. In such cases, it is nice to have small containers that can fit inside your purse. Our dollar store has a set of four of five for $1 which fit perfectly for these kind of occasions. I like to put our snacks in these or make up a batch of trail mix for the kids for when they get hungry while we are out and about. These are helpful for when the grocery stores have not been so helpful and have put lots of goodies by the cash register for your children to throw tantrums over.

3. I try to make time to make snacks for our family. Since we have been going way over on our grocery budget, I am making even more of an effort to do this. My commitment to scheduling a baking day is working out well for us and it puts an emphasis on staying home with the family, spending time with my children in the kitchen, and staying out of the stores. You will probably find me baking on Black Friday- this will not only help our budget, but it will also help us to be home on one of the craziest days of the year.

4. Preparation is a necessity if you want to attempt making your own “convenient” food. For example, a well-stocked freezer or items that can be throw into a slow cooker can be awfully convenient when you don’t feel like cooking.

5. And then, there are just those times where having convenience foods around could still do your budget some justice. For example, we have all been down and out with colds and tonight would be a great night for some good ol’ Spaghetti-O’s (or equally convenient food). This convenient food would still be cheaper than grabbing some junk food at the drive thru. Giving myself permission to take a night off could come from grabbing one or two items for these kinds of nights.

Sound Off: Do you buy convenience foods? How do you make food “convenient” in your home?

Going Without Prescription Coverage: A Self-Discovery

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

I debated a long time about whether or not to post this, but I figured it might help someone else out there so I thought I would share my experience.

When my husband started his new job, we started a ninety day lapse in insurance coverage. We have purchased a temporary policy with a high deductible, but we are going without some of the perks that we had with our old policy. One of those perks was a reimbursement program on my prescription drugs.

I do want to begin by saying that the medication I was on was not working for me. I have IBS and I have depression and the drugs that my family physician had me on were not helping me at all. If there was a side effect listed with the medication, I had it. I am one of those people who experiences terrible side effects, which makes me hesitant to ever fool around with a good thing when it comes to my medicine. Unfortunately, since I have had Emily, I have not found that magical sweet spot where I have felt good and we have been bouncing me around on all sorts of medicines and no relief from either ailment. When my stomach medication was pulled by the FDA due to people dying from complications, I threw my hands up in the air and knew that I needed to make a change.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, so I talked with a girlfriend who is a firm believer in homeopathic remedies. My feelings towards these types of treatments have always been disbelief. I will admit it, I have always considered many of these remedies a waste of money. Her sister-in-law has three homeopathic practices and a long line of happy clients, so she said she could ask her some of the things that I could take after I explained everything that I was looking for, what wasn’t working, and so on. I remember thinking that if it sounded too “weird” or “out there” that I would not take them.

Another important element to me was that I was not paying more for my treatment than I was for the prescription drugs. Always the frugal girl, I wanted my treatment to be affordable, but also to feel better.

My friend gave me a list of what she had suggested and none of it was strange or unheard of. For my stomach, one of her recommendations was a cup of hot water with lemon before bed (how frugal is that?) She also had a substitute for my anti-depressant and a few items that would boost my immune system.

I have been doing this for about a month now and I have never felt better in my life. My constant tiredness and that cloudiness that I felt is gone and I am feeling more like myself than I have ever felt before. I am amazed at the difference that I feel and how I react towards my family. I am experiencing no side effects and I see a noticeable difference in myself. I feel like me again and it has been a long time since I have felt that way.

The icing on the cake is the extra $200 that will be sitting in my account each month. My new medicines only cost me $50 each month! What a savings!

If medications aren’t working for you, homeopathic remedies might be worth looking into. My depression and stomach problems were mild, but were having a negative effect on my life. With care from an expert in the homeopathic field, you might be able to relieve yourself of your symptoms and keep a little extra money in your pocket at the same time.

If you do have to take medications though, my articles on going without health insurance and my article on going without prescription coverage might provide some help! I also blogged on treating ailments when you are without coverage or are looking for the cheapest way to treat your sickness.

Sound Off: Have you ever substituted homeopathic remedies for prescription drugs? What are your feelings towards these types of remedies?

WSBT-TV: Tips for Staying Warm in Cool Weather

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

Well, you are going to get a glimpse inside our home since this morning’s segment was taped at our house. The segment that aired today discussed ways that you can keep your home warm without raising your heating bills. Lucky for me, my segment timed perfectly with our weather cooling down or I think this one would have been a dud! According to this week’s weather forecast, my tips might be put to good use this week out here in the Midwest.

For additional tips on getting your house ready for the cool weather, be sure to visit my article on Winterizing Your Home.

Sound Off: What do you do to get ready for the winter weather? What is your average heating bill in the winter months?

Pretty Menu Plans

Sunday, October 7th, 2007

I thought I would take the plunge and do a big day of grocery shopping for our entire month. This took a couple days of planning and picking our menus for the month. I really thought it would be a great idea until I actually got to the store and realized that loading and unloading my groceries was a little like a complicated game of Tetris. Nothing fit in the cart and nothing fit in my car. The only thing motivating me was the knowledge that I would not have to do this again for another twenty-nine days. I used to only shop once a month, but had gotten into the habit of shopping every two weeks with my husband’s past pay schedule. The new payment schedule motivated me to just go ahead and get it done all in one trip. Am I crazy? Maybe a little bit!

Inspired by my dear friend Monica, I decided to pretty up my menu plan this month. I found a cute pumpkin to add to my planner and now my menu plan looks organized and cute too!

As we have been going through the meals, I have just been highlighting them to remind me what meals we have left to eat and I can see what we have already eaten. I incorporated lots of new dishes and several of our old favorites this month. I am hoping I will have lots more recipes to share and that I can keep us on budget with our dining out category.

Sound Off: How often do you grocery shop? Why did you choose this schedule for shopping?

Day 29: Get Rewarded For Your Shopping

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

I love shopper rewards, but not the kind that require me to take out a credit card. Yes, I know there are tons of personal finance gurus that would disagree with me on this, but I do not feel comfortable using a credit card. Call it lack of discipline, call it sheer fear…heck, you could call it pure laziness, but I am trying to avoid using credit cards for any reason.

No, the rewards that I like come from shopping that I am already doing. You can find great shopper rewards from places you are probably already visiting- your grocery store, the gas station, or doing your online shopping for the holiday season.

As someone who is frugal, I tend to overlook signs that advertise reward cards because I automatically associate them with credit cards. For example, our local Speedway had advertisements that were hanging over their pumps, advertising gas savings and I immediately got that glazed over look and would ignore them. There was no way I would sign up for a gas card, nope, not me!

Fast forward to a day trip with my sister and she whips out her Speedy Rewards Card, which credits her three cents per gallon and then gives her an additional savings on other items in their store. She explained that you could get points for buying your gas there and then you could credit those towards gift cards. This was an opportunity that I would have lost out on if she had not explained that this was not a credit card, but just a reward card. Now I happily swipe my free card and get my three cents back on each gallon. Yes, it is a drop in the bucket, but why not take advantage of it? Many of my frugal endeavors might only save me pennies, but pennies do eventually add up to dollars, and I am looking forward to putting some of that money in my secret account.

There are also rewards at grocery stores. Many grocery stores offer gas savings or savings on your groceries, just for using their free card. There could also be rewards available for your child’s school, as many grocery stores offer a percentage back on your spending for non-profit organizations and schools.

Finally, there are great rewards programs for doing your online shopping. I have always been a fan of MyPoints because I could do my shopping and use my points on gift cards for myself. I also love Ebates and enjoy getting my big fat check every now and then. I won’t go into detail, but these are two shopper programs that have some great benefits IF you are already planning to shop online, not shopping just to get points & rewards.

Since I often have that glazed over look when it comes to reward cards, what are some of the cards in your wallet that you find have been beneficial to your family? What rewards do you cash in on?

Day 28: Get To Know Your Freezer

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

Today I was working on some items to put in my freezer when I realized just what kind of savings a person could cash in on just by learning what they can freeze and how to store the items in their freezer.

Here is the view into our freezer in our refrigerator. We also have a small chest freezer in our basement, but it isn’t as easy to view as the one upstairs.

What might one find in our freezer?

- Ice cube trays filled with ice to make our favorite Slushies and Magic Milkshake from Miss Maggie at Hillbilly Housewife. These make great frugal treats for the kids and save us a lot of money by not going to places like Dairy Queen in the summer.

- Coffee ice cubes to make my frozen coffee treats.

- Mashed bananas in measured containers for all of my baked goodies that might need this ingredient.

- Pizza sauce in measured containers for our Friday night pizza nights.

- Banana pops made to help the kids beat the summer heat.

- Lunch meat packets that I made for my husband’s lunch and quick dinners using our panini maker.

- Self-Rising & Cake Flour- which I use less regularly, but wanted to keep the ingredients fresh and on hand when I needed them.

- Homemade soup

- Homemade waffles

- Items that I got on sale- hot dogs, shredded cheeses, butter, margarine

- Cupcakes

In our downstairs freezer you would find loaves of bread, meats purchased on sale, gallons of milk, and homemade spaghetti sauce. I also stockpile anything that I can when it is on sale

Your freezer can be your wallet’s best friend if you use it. For example, when an item goes on sale and you want to stockpile that item, make some space in your freezer for the extras instead of letting them go bad in your fridge. You will have the item when you need it and you will pay a lot less money for those items.

Freezers can also be handy for bulk cooking and preparing meals in advance for your family. Prepare a meal that can be eaten by your entire family or prepare single serving dishes that can be eaten for just one. Veto the middle man and do your own freezer sessions in your kitchen and make dishes that can be eaten later. Dream Dinners even has a cookbook out that you can use to do your own freezer cooking. Check this book out from the library and see if you can come up with your own menu plans. You could start a group with girlfriends or trade meals with a buddy. (Note-This did not work for my picky family, but is great for families that are open to more types of foods).

Need help navigating the freezer? Here are some helpful resources for getting started:

Feed the Freezer Cooking Guide
Sneak Up on Freezer Cooking
Freezer FAQ
30 Day Gourmet
Recipezaar’s Freezer Recipes

Books to Check Out:

Dream Dinners Cookbook
Frozen Assets
Super Suppers
Don’t Panic- Dinners in the Freezer

Potential Monthly Savings- $30 or more

Sound Off: What could I find lurking your freezer? Is there anything that people might find unusual in your freezer?