Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009--The Good, The Bad, The Sad

I started doing this quite a few years ago when I was heavy into scrapbooking, and I would make an entire layout for just this. Now that time is limited and I haven't touched the scrapbooks in years, I just tend to reflect on this either in a journal or a blog and try and use it as my launching point for the new year.

The Good

  • Jenny was promoted at work

  • Nathan finally learned to ride a bike without training wheels

  • Scout joined our family shortly before Christmas

  • Jenny was baptized in Cobb Lake

The Bad

  • Jenny was in a car accident (her fault!) on Valentine's Day, the van was a total loss

  • Jenny was in another car accident (NOT her fault!) with the "new" van over the summer

  • Nathan's bike was stolen from our front yard

  • Our house in Eastpointe--STILL FOR SALE, three years and counting

The Sad

  • Whiskey the dog passed away

  • Pastor Todd left Gun Lake Church and moved to California. Sad for us, not him!

  • Many of our friends ended 2009 with empty arms and we pray that they are blessed with children during 2010.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Saving Money is WORK!

Sometimes I feel like being frugal is my 3rd full time job, right after working 40"ish" hours a week, and wrangling my 3 kiddos. It does take time to comb through the ads, browse the clearance racks, and clip coupons to get the best deal I possibly can with every dollar. It's great to save the money and stretch those pennies into copper wire, but I really can't wait to get to the point where being frugal isn't a requirement in order to manage my finances. Like Dave says, if I am willing to live like no one else, then one day I will really be able to live like no one else. I just keep reminding myself of that!

For example, one of my most treasured things I do for my kids is buy them a Hallmark Keepsake ornament every year. I start buying them for their first Christmas and collect all the way through the series that ends with their fifth Christmas. From that point I try and find one that either has the year or is really reflects something of their personality/hobbies of that year. I used to be able to pick these up in the days right after Christmas and get a GREAT deal on them, but the past 2 years I've noticed that either Hallmark has cut back on how many they are sending to the stores, or more people are buying them, because I have really struggled to get the ones I need even the weeks before Christmas!

This year I decided I was going to just get them early and pay full price because I wasn't going to risk not getting the right ones. As I was browsing one of my favorite deal websites (, I saw that they had a coupon link posted for $5 off of a Hallmark purchase and when I printed one and read the fine print I saw that there were virtually NO EXCLUSIONS on the coupon, so I could use it for my ornaments! Almost every Hallmark coupon I've seen excludes the ornaments, so this was a huge find for me. I printed off the 2 that I could from my IP address and then sent the link to a friend and she printed one off for me too. Armed with my 3 coupons I had to visit SIX different stores to get the 3 ornaments I needed since so many of them were already sold out!

But the end result was that instead of spending the $30 on the full price ornaments ($10 each), I was able to get 2 of them for $5 each and I got the final one today for $2! That's a net savings of $18 and I am still under my total budget of $300 for Christmas.

Friday, December 18, 2009

If I could get my ticker to update, I would post the following:

$39,216.30 Starting debt

$21,199.98 Debt paid as of 12/18/09

$18,016.32 before we are DEBT FREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

Christmas on a Shoe String

So, I think I am just about done with Christmas shopping, only a couple of straggling gifts to pick up. My budget this year was $300 cash in hand to get the job done and anything I could cut a deal on or get for free was not going to impact the cash reserves.

Gifts given that did not cost any cash include:
$25 gift cards to Kohl's, Cracker Barrell, Panera Bread, and Olive Garden (MyPoints)
$50 in Amazon gift cards (Swagbucks)
$10 Chili's gift card (MyCokeRewards)
$25 Applebee's gift card (Speedway Rewards)

That's a total of $185 in gifts that were not taken from our $300 budget!

I usually do bank up points over the year and cash them all in for gifts, but I think that this year was my best year by far. I've never really tracked it all that closely, but this year I definitely am keeping track and will set myself a goal for next year to at least meet the same or hopefully beat it!

What definitely helped keep me on track this year was an unsolicited offer from Amazon for a 30 day free trial of Amazon Prime, which gave me free 2nd day shipping on most items regardless of the cost of the purchase. So I wasn't looking to get to that $25 minimum for free shipping all the time. I was able to use my credits on Amazon and free shipping to buy: 2 DVD's, 2 Nintendo DS games, a dancing Buzz Lightyear, a Bakugan carrying case, and a Bakugan booster pack. As you can see, the Amazon credits were used primarily for gifts for my son Nathan who is 110% boy in his likes! I might end up putting one of the DS games away for his birthday in January, I haven't decided yet.

Even more exciting than the fact that we pulled off our Christmas on a shoestring this year is that in the month of December were were able to put $80 towards our debt snowball as well!

The winter months are hard on us, and I wasn't anticipating having ANY extra money in the budget at all for the snowball, but God promises that he will provide for us, and once again he has provided not only for our needs, but provided in abundance as well. We have food in the fridge, gifts under the tree, our tithe to church is being met, and we gave for Christmas charity as well. We are truly blessed!

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Last night was the last class in Financial Peace University and we did in fact graduate. It was a great experience to actually go through the full 12 weeks with a group of people instead of just reading and doing it on our own. I am a chatty one though, so the small groups made the class way more enjoyable by far.

Right now is a tough time of year to really stay "on plan" for us, so the classes were perfectly timed. Matt works full time for part of the year, but we are currently in the slow time, so there isn't much money to roll into the snowball.

The best take-away from the class had to be that we finally developed a very real, very living, working budget for our family. I created a nice budget spreadsheet in Excel that takes our gross income and calculates out our tithe (since it varies depending on Matt's check), and then lists all of our obligations for that 2 week time period. It is set up to tell me how much I need to take out of the bank in cash (groceries, gas, entertainment money, blow money, household money) and how much is left after bills that we need to move into the snowball. Since we have very few debts left, the workbook is pretty much a cut and paste from the previous month with just a few minor changes here and there. Dave isn't lying when he says that once you get it down to a science, it will go much faster. It used to take me at least an hour to get it all straight, and now it's way less than 10 minutes! And it's so much faster to balance my checking account now that I only have a few large transactions to really work with and balance out.

The budget workbook has also helped us stay very faithful in our tithing to our church, and we have not had to dip into our emergency fund at all! We have taken the test and God has shown us that if we are faithful to Him, He will be faithful to us, and has provided for all of our needs plus some these past 12 weeks.

Hopefully our church will offer FPU again and now that I've been through it as a student, I would love to do more than just help with one of the smaller groups.