Archive for the ‘Money’ Category

Frugal Challenge: Meals under $10

May 7, 2007

Kelly at Thrifty Mommy threw out a challenge to make a meal for your entire family for under $10. 

Here is a meal we had often when I was growing up.  I recently fixed it for the first time for my DH and he is hooked – we have had this twice in the last week.  It is great for any meal during the day – breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Denver Sandwiches
Crack open 2 eggs per person and whip with a splash of milk.  Salt and pepper to taste.
Saute peppers, onions or any other leftover veggies you have on hand.
In a small skillet (we have one that is the size of a slice of bread), spray with non-stick spray and pour the egg mixture for 1 sandwich.  If you scrambled all your eggs at once, use about 1/2 cup of eggs.  Sprinkle with your sauteed veggies.  Cook on med-high heat until cooked on one side and then flip.  Place egg on whole wheat toast with a slice of cheese and deli ham.  Served with sliced strawberries and bananas and milk for drink. 

Cost breakdown for a family of 4 (most items were purchased on sale and rounded to my best guess):

Eggs (8 total):                     .50
Veggies:                              1.00
Deli Ham (1/2 lb):             2.00
Cheese:                               1.00
Whole Wheat Toast:            .50
Fresh Strawberries (1 lb): 1.00
Bananas (2):                          .50
Milk:                                       .75
Total:                               $7.25

In reality I would say nearly all my meals are under $10.   My ultimate goal is a total of $10 per day or a total of $70 per week.   I don’t always hit this goal, but I think my average is going down each month. 

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April Financial update

May 2, 2007

I did end up in the red for April.  The good news is this is the first month in 2007 that I spent more money than I brought in.  The difference was only $44 so for 2007 as a whole I am still doing OK. 

I have a few challenges in May coming up.  We are taking a little vacation near the end of the month.  We have saved up for it, so I hope nothing vacation related comes out of our regular budget.  There always seems to be something that comes up however, so I do need to make sure I have a little extra room.

I am also trying something new with my household and gas purchases.  Instead of using a cash based system for these types of items I am going to use my CC and earn points on my purchased and maybe a $ or two in interest on the money left in my account.  At the end of the month, I will pay my CC on-line.  I have always been very responsible with credit cards – I have never carried a balance.  However, with the cash system, I could physically see how much money I had left for the month by looking at my wallet.  With CC, I will have to keep track in my head when I am out shopping. 

April Finances

April 25, 2007

It is nearing the end of the month and I have a feeling that April will not end in positive numbers.  Here is the reasons why:

  1. The month of April had 5 Mondays.  I pay for daycare each week on Monday so this caused an extra $250 compared with the last two months.
  2. I hosted Easter Dinner at my house this year so this caused my grocery bill to go up a bit.  I also bought my princess a new dress for Easter – she didn’t need it but it makes her feel like Cinderella.  It just melts my heart to see her so excited about something. 
  3. Murphy’s law – If you don’t want to spend any money – you are suddenly out of everything.  My grocery list on my fridge grows each day of stuff we run out of – mostly they are staple items that we will need to replace before the end of the month – bread, milk, cereal, butter.  The car is also almost out of gas.
  4. Eating out.  Normally I only eat out 1-2 times a month (this includes lunch and eating out with my family).  This month I have eaten out 5 times including pizza for the family.  I had a lot of user-group meetings at work and traditionally the whole group goes out for lunch. 
  5. I received my tax return money but it all went to debt and a new washing machine. 
  6. We had family pictures taken for the church directory.  My DH does portrait photography on the side so we usually don’t purchase any pictures from these types of things.  However, the girls were especially cute and we have never had a family portrait of all 4 of us so we walked out with $70 in pictures. 

This is where I need to find my strength to keep up my budget.  In prior years when I have attempted to cut back on expenses, this is where I begin failing.   It is OK to be over budget once and a while – I just need to make sure next month it does not happen again.   Also – I need to stay focused on paying off my car loan.  Once that bill is gone I will give myself more breathing room in my budget so I am not scrounging at the end of the month.

Ways to remain focused during debt payoff and not get burned out

April 13, 2007

MoneyDummy has a great post on how to avoid burn out when you are paying off debt. 

Almost every year I start off by being in tightwad mode to try to save some money.  Every year it lasts until February and then I go back to my old habits.  This year was different. 

Here are ways I avoid burnout – A lot of these are similar to MoneyDummy. 

1.  I got scared.  I have two kids in daycare.  I added up my monthly bills/daycare along with what I was spending and I was consistently spending more than I made.  Granted I didn’t have any credit card debt, but if this cycle continued I would be in trouble.  I needed to free up more cash… which leads me to #2. 

2.  I have a goal.  My goal is to have my car paid off by the end of the year.  The only way this is going to happen is if I pay at least an extra $170 a month on my loan ($500 total).   I get excited every payday when I go on-line to make my $250 payment to the loan.  Once the car is paid off it will be like having a $500 a month raise… which leads me to #3.

3.  I fantasize about what I am going to do with the extra money.  I seriously cannot wait for until my car is paid and get excited every time I think about it.  What should I do next?  Start paying down on my DH’s school loan?  Or maybe extra mortgage payments to get the principal amount lowered so we can quit paying mortgage insurance?  How about beefing up savings so we have a real emergency fund?  Start saving for the next car?  Vacation fund? Home Improvement?  AHHHHH! $500 is not going to be enough!!!!

4.  We rarely eat out, not only because of the costs, but also because eating out with a 1 year old and a 3 year old is not enjoyable.  To make up for not eating out I try to plan a fun meal each weekend.  Homemade pizza where everyone makes their own.  Grilled steaks with sauteed mushrooms and onions.  Copy Cat versions of our favorite restuarant meals like Cheesecake Factory’s Cajun Pasta.   Granted, these meals usually cost me more than our normal weekday fare, I am pretty sure we are still coming out ahead.

These are things I do get burned out on and I usually have to give myself a pep talk to talk myself out of it.

1.  Going out to lunch with my co-workers.  I love the social time with my co-workers when we go out to eat.  It is really the only time during the day I get to do this.  Luckily there are almost always people that bring their lunch to eat in the lunch room also.  I do allow myself 1-2 times a month to go out for lunch – as long as we go somewhere cheap (no $10 lunches). 

2.  Buying clothes for my girls.  Little girl clothes are so stinking cute that I want to buy everything.  My 3 year old is into everything girly – if I bring home a dress or anything pink she gets all excited.  It makes me feel so good to see her light up like that… but I have to keep reminding myself she already has more clothes than she needs.  

3.  Toys – Again, all I have to buy something princess or barbie related and my 3 year old thinks I am the best mom in the world.  I do realize that my kids will think that anyway and I don’t need to buy them things… but it just makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. 

Big purchase – new washing machine.

March 20, 2007

My hubby and I plan on purchasing a new washing maching next weekend. Our current one is around 10 years old and recently it has started sounding like a jet plane is taking off in our basement. You can hear it all the way through the house and outside. It also leaks a little bit of water each cycle. When it started doing this I decided I was going to wait until it died completely before replacing it, but I really can’t stand it much longer.  

Originally I did not want to spend over $500 on a new appliance. Our current washer was a cheaper model and it lasted 10 years. However, now I am reconsidering:

  • We now have 4 members of our family = more laundry. Since we have two girls, I can only imagine that the laundry load will continue to grow. My oldest, who is only 3, already will change clothes several times a day “just because”.
  •  I have been working the last few months on saving money on our utility bills. We insulated our home in December to cut down on the winter gas bills. We only buy CF light bulbs. Buying a energy star washing machine fits into this goal. Sometimes you have to spend a little money to save money in the long run.

However:

  • I do not phisically have the money right now for a front loader washer.
  • I have $550 saved for a new washer plus we will be getting around $2000 from our tax return (when I get around to finishing them…). I will have the money shortly, but this conflicts with my “NO DEBT” resulution. However, if I put it on my credit card, by the time the bill comes due I will have the money. The laundry detergent that is required these appliances is more expensive than traditional laundry detergent. I believe you use less of it and with the water & electric effiency you will still come out ahead.
  • My other hold back, is that this is going to require additional research. We got a copy of consumer reports from a friend. Once we find out what model\brand we are interested in, we will have to figure out where we can get the best deal. I hate shopping around. I know it is in my best interest, but it is just so boring – I can find a much more interesting use of my time.

Basically – I just want someone to make this decision for me. In the past, I have just let my husband deal with the big purchases like our car and when we replaced our dryer. It is not that I don’t want to be involved with the decision, I just have a hard time parting with my money in big chunks. It makes me feel sick in my stomach just thinking about it.

Ways to pay off debt faster

March 15, 2007

Kelly at Thrifty Mommy wrote a great article on 20 ways to pay off debt faster.

I do not have credit card debt – I never had it and hopefully never will have it.  I do use credit cards, but I make sure to pay them in full each statement.  The last few months I have taken this a step further and pay the charge online as soon as it appears on my account.  I do however have a car loan, a home equity line of credit and a huge school loan of my DHs.  Currently I am working on paying off the car loan (this is the smallest of the three) and hope to have it paid off by fall. 

Here are some of my thoughts on the items on her list I am currently doing:

1. Create a budget and stick with it!
For budgeting, spreadsheets seem to work the best for me.  I have tried Quicken and Microsoft Money in the past and basically only used them to balance my checkbook.  I never really used it to track a real budget.  The last few months of 2006 I started using a spreadsheet I created myself and as of January 2007 I am currently using PearBudget.  It is a spreadsheet based budget system.  I added a few additional spreadsheets to the workbook to track my checking account and to categorize the money in my online savings account. 

2. Figure out why you are in debt in the first place. Do you spend more than you take in? Do you eat out too much? Do you have an addiction that is killing your financial freedom like shopping? Get an accountability partner to hold you accountable to stop whatever you are doing.
When I was figuring out where my monthly budget numbers need to be I found the following items were killing my financial freedom:

    Lattes
    Buying the girls toys/clothes when they have way more than they currently need
    Eating out for lunch
    Going shopping for entertainment when nothing else was planned for a weekend. This usually involved eating out also.

None of these items were a lot of money at once, but added up, they were making me spend more than I made. 

4. Live within your means. This will help you keep from getting into more debt.
That is what the budget is all about.  If you don’t have the money – don’t buy it.

7. Use the envelope system. Budget a certain amount for entertainment, eating out, groceries, etc. and put the cash in an envelope. When the money runs out, you are done for the month. It really works.
I totally agree – this does work.  I do a very simplified version of the envelope system.  I take out between $100-$150 each week and put the money in my wallet.  This is my household money for the week – groceries, gas, miscellaneous\target items.  I tell people that I use a cash for these types of purchases and I always get the same response “I can’t keep cash around, otherwise I will blow it.”  In order for this to work for you – you may need to change your attitude about cash.  Once the cash is gone, you are done spending for the week.  It helps to also remove any ‘backup’ methods of payment when you first start doing this.  Take your checkbook, ATM and credit cards out of your purse when you go shopping.  You will start thinking twice about picking up that bag of chips you don’t need or the shirt that is on “sale” at target.  You won’t want to be embarrased at checkout that you don’t have enough money to pay. 

8. Don’t cut every form of entertainment out. This will surely be your downfall as you will not stick with it.
Each time I take cash out for household, I put a $20 bill in the “Fun Money” bank.  We use this for ordering pizza, eating out, or other entertainment.  I also put any extra cash\change from my household purchases that I didn’t use. 

13. I do not recommend cashing out your savings totally. Usually, if you are in debt, you don’t have any savings. But if you do, knowing that you have a small cushion in case you get in trouble makes you rest a little easier.
I left 1500 in my savings account for “emergencies” and used the remainder – a little over 1,000 to pay off my own school loan and a small medical bill.  Any extra money I have at the end of the month for being under budget goes half to debt and the other half to building my savings back up. 

19. Try to go to the grocery store and Wal-Mart only once a week. Little trips to the store add up and will kill your budget.
I plan my meals a month at a time and only go to the store once a week.  I try to do the Target trips even less – 1-2 times a month.  These are the stores that kill me. 

These are two items I am not sure I agree with 100%, but I do understand where she is coming from:
9. Cut up all but one credit card to start with. I hate credit cards to begin with because they get you into trouble faster than you can blink. Keep one paid off for emergencies and have a low limit on it. The credit card companies will try to increase your limit so you can spend more. Just decline the increase and stand your ground.
If the credit card asks increase your limit – let them.  This will help your credit scrore.  Just don’t use your card!

12. Do you have equity in your home? Using the equity to get one lump sum to pay off might be more financially responsible as you would probably have a lower interest rate and can deduct the interest on your taxes.
Kelly is correct, you can deduct your home equity interest on your taxes.  However, if something happens where you can’t make your payments, you could lose your house.  Credit card debt is unsecured – they can’t take anything away from you if you don’t pay.  I have friends that buy their vehicles with their home equity account.  It is very tempting (and I am not saying I will never do this).  If you default on your car loan – you just lose your car.  You default on your home equity loan – you could lose your house.

Exercise last weekend

March 12, 2007

Exercise last weekend. 

I took advantage of the warmer weather this weekend and went for a walk outdoors on Saturday and Sunday.  The only downside is that with all the snow that melted the last few days made a few puddles on the sidewalk.  It was drier on the streets, but even though I only walk in residential areas, I don’t feel comfortable walking on the road. 

Saturday:  Walked about 45 minutes.  If I remember right from last fall, this route is just under 3 miles.
Sunday:  Same route, but I did this at 8:30 at night after the girls went to bed.  There were some extremely dark areas without street lights.  I may have to rethink my route if I am going to continue to walk after dark. 

I feel great financially about walking\exercising outdoors – it doesn’t cost me anything except the equipment I already have.  The gym I belong to has a punch card system – you pay for as many punches as you want.  The punches don’t ever expire (I purchased 100 punches a few years ago and I am still using them).  I think I am getting closer to the end of my punches – so anytime I can workout outside instead of going to the puts off this purchase another day.
 

February Finances

March 8, 2007

February numbers from my budget:

Expenses          Budgeted          Actual              Difference

Household        $600                $520                $80

Daycare           $1000              $1000              $0

Regular Bills     $271                $176                $95

Irregular Bills    $                      $328

Medical            $10                  $50                  ($40)

 

Debt                 Budgeted          Actual              Difference

School Loan     $200                $200                $0

Car Loan          $500                $650                ($150) 

Savings             Budgeted          Actual              Difference

College               $50                  $50                  $0

Irregular Bills      $240                $240                $0

Savings                                       $85                  ($85)

 

Total Expenses\Pmts:                $3299

Income:                                    $3302

Difference                                 $3.00 ahead

 

I run a zero based budget so I want my bottom number to be zero or as close to zero as possible (I try to be on the positive side).  I will post more detail on how I budget in a later post.

Explanations of differences:

Household – This number includes pretty much everything that is not a regular bill or payment.  Groceries, gas, hair cuts, clothing.  My goal is to have this number always smaller than my budgeted amount.

Regular bills – Normally this number would not have much difference.  However, I do budget billing on my gas bill and they were so far off last year I basically got 2 ½ months free gas bills. 

Medical – I normally do not pay much in this category (prescriptions are included in the irregular bills).  However this month I had a co-payment from my daughters 18 month check up plus I got a bill from the clinic from last year’s flu shots.

Car loan & Savings– Anything extra at the end of the month gets split out to the car loan and savings.