Friday, August 13, 2010

Breaking Up...It's Hard To Do!

Dave Ramsey talks about how you develop an emotional attachment of sorts to your first credit card, it's like your first teenage love! I never really got what he was talking about until I got a credit card in the mail awhile back for a credit card we have not charged on in YEARS. It was *that* card, the first card that took a chance on me and Matt and gave us credit. The first card that offered us a *gift*, which was a watch that I still have for some strange reason. But, I looked at that shiny new platinum card with the pretty gold letters on it, "cardholder since 1998". Wow! That card and I sure went back some years. More years than I've ever worked at a job, more years than I've had kids! So I almost held onto it, you know, just in case. But then I came to my senses and realized I don't NEED that card! I don't need Chase to give me any sort of assurance in my financial future. I called the number on the back and boldly asked to cancel the card, just close the account, we're DONE. Thankfully the break-up went pretty well, they didn't try and persuade me to keep the account or anything. It was a pretty touchy moment there so had they offered, I might have even fell for it.

Over the past few years I've held onto a bank acount that I wasn't really using for much. Granted I was getting a pretty good discount on my car insurance by being part of the group and when we used the account for all of our banking, it was great. But once we moved and started over in our new neck of the woods, the account pretty much just stayed open for my car insurance withdrawls. I've watched the account creep up from no service charge to $3/month charge, $5/month charge, and then last month it took the leap to $10/month! That was enough to push me over the edge. My car insurance savings needed to be at least $120/year to justify having this extra credit union account and I just wasn't seeing it. I called my insurance agent and explained the situation to her and we did some digging around and found a comparable group that I am already a part of that brought my discounted amount down a little, but even so, I am coming out ahead because I am not losing $120/year to keep open another bank account. The credit union apparently was fine with losing me as a 14year customer over $10/month, so good riddance to them. I am not paying anyone to hold my money for me!

So at this point, we are really moving towards our financial indepdence. We have our few household utility accounts and a single bank account, and not an open line of credit to be found. Our emergency fund is safely tucked away and growing and the Earth is still moving steadily around the sun. It is possible to live in a world without credit and we're doing quite well at it, something I never imagined I would be saying!

I've also taken the HUGE step to move my banking to almost strictly online. My goal is to write as few checks as possible. The bank (yes bank, not credit union) we are using at this time has a great FREE bill pay program where you can enter all of the places you need to pay bills at and they will either transmit the payment electronically on the due date, or print and mail a check by the due date. Not only do I not have to pay for paper checks, I don't have to pay for postage to mail them either. How can you go wrong with that? No more running the waterbill over to the payment station or even dropping a check in the offering at church. I just log in on payday and set up everything for the next 2 weeks and let it rip.

In the process of breaking up with our credit union and starting at the bank, there was a month where I didn't make my student loan payment, and then a month where they took the minimum payment due instead of the amount I was having them withdraw. Sadly, that makes my "ticker" look like we haven't made much progress, but we did fully fund our emergency fund this summer again plus beef it up a little, so it's not all that bad in retrospect.

August Status
Starting debt: $39,216.30
Amount paid: $26,093.98

$13,122.32 until we are debt free!!!

The student loan people sure make it hard to make extra payments! I have my account set to autopay out of my checking account every month and I couldn't just go to my online account and manage it. I had to send in a written request with my signature on it stating how much I want coming out every month. So starting next month, my auto pay is going to be nearly FOUR TIMES the amount of my minimum payment! At that rate, I should have my student loan completely paid off in about 2 years instead of the 13 they have me projected to pay off at!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Summer Fun

We've had one busy summer already and so much more to do! So far we've gone to the Memorial Day Parade, hosted a family game night, went to Scout Day in the Park, went to 2 cookouts at the Y camp, 2 family picnics, Michigan Adventure, went wild berry picking, watched the fireworks on Gun Lake, a week of Vacation Bible School, and gone to the park and swam quite a few times. We've crammed a whole lot into June and July has just begun! The park has been one of our favorite evening activities. I can take all 3 kids by myself and swim with them with no problem. The water is nice and shallow so Lauren and Nick can do pretty well, and I'm having a lot of fun teaching them how to swim. Even better, the park used to charge $5 to come in, but they did away with it this year, so it's FREE! Now that's a deal! A trip to the beach for $5!

We've got quite a bit planned for July. For Father's Day, Matt asked for a new tent so that we could go family camping, and we've been scouting out campgrounds that are reasonably priced and geared towards families. I know it's not "camping" if you are doing activities and stuff that are all programmed out, but when you're dealing with a 4yr old and a 2yr old, sometimes you have to take one for the team.

One nice thing about where we live is that there is no shortage of yard sales. I've picked up a few really nice things this summer that were on my list (well one of my lists!) and we've saved quite a bit of money by shopping used vs new. We were seriously considering buying new bunkbeds for the boys, and we had gone so far as to go in at Art Van and look around, and before the final decision decided to give Craigslist another once over, and came across a twin over full set for $40! Considering we were ready to spend $300, it was a great deal! They certainly weren't perfect, but unless we spend $260 on repainting them, we're still pretty far ahead on the deal.

We're having a birthday party for Nick, and a half birthday party for Nathan in a few weeks, and I've been couponing my way to rounding out the menu. I've got quite a few things stashed like pasta salad mixes, hot dogs, buns, condiments, and I'm pretty sure I'll be able to feed everyone we've invited for under $50! We're having the party at the park (the one mentioned previously with the beach), so no cost there either. Should be a good time and I'm really looking forward to it.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Summer Time!!

The weather has turned for the better, so it's time for us to start thinking about our summer plans. Obviously we aren't going on a huge expensive vacation, we plan on maybe a couple of smaller things closer to home, but still trying to keep things a bit exciting for the kiddos. Here's just a tiny list of what we hope to do this summer:

1. Memorial Day Parade
Nathan and Matt will be marching in the Wayland Memorial Day Parade with Scouts. It should be pretty fun! We always go and cheer them on from the sidewalk. If Lauren can hold it together, we might be able to picnic in the park afterwards? Or maybe we'll end up at Grandma's house at the lake for some swimming? Either way, it's going to be a fun day!

2. Family Game Night
We're hosting a family game night in June for some of our friends. We'll have a potluck, plenty of things for the kids to do and play lots of board games and stuff that we already have on hand.

3. Family Cookout at Camp
Matt works for the YMCA camp where Nathan goes all summer, and one night a week they do a parent show and a cookout. We go every single week! It's a night we don't have to cook dinner and the kids get to play outside as well. Nathan ends up spending the night that night and it's always a fun time for him.

4. Michigan Adventure
It's a smaller scale amusement park not terribly far from our house. They have a couple of days where we can go on the cheap (through SavingsAngel and Scouts), so we're going to have to pick a day and go for it. They have a huge waterpark there, so that's perfect for the kids, who absolutely adore being in the water.

5. Family Picnics!
Oh my word, can I even start to figure out how many of these we'll be going to? Family reunions, informal gatherings, birthday parties, etc. It seems like we have one at least every other weekend! It's so fun though to see the kids play with their extended family and have that time together. We have a mesh bag that we keep plastic plates, cups, and silverware in so that we can just toss it in the car and head out. I hit a great sale the other day at Meijer and loaded up on things like pasta salad so that we can just throw one together for the last minute stuff.

6. Vacation Bible School
I am volunteering at our vacation bible school this year since it's at night, and my intention is to take Lauren and Nick with me. I am going to be ushering around kindergarten kids, so my kids will blend right on in there. They'll have so much fun, I just know it. I love that our VBS is at night this year because I'll actually be able to get involved and see the program.

7. The Park
We have 2 very nice parks by our house. One is walking distance, less than 10 minutes away and it's pretty quiet there. The kids love to play there! It's a great way to end our day. Last night I braved it and took all 3 kids to the little park a bit farther away that is right on Gun Lake. They just played on the equipment there, but we are going to test it out and see how it goes if just one adult goes with them and we attempt swimming. The water is very shallow all the way out to the swimming line, so it should be a pretty reasonable thing to try and pull off. There is no charge for the park Monday-Thursday, and $5 if you go on the weekends. We wouldn't go on the weekend anyways since it's just crazy busy with out of towners.

8. Misc Other Things...
Though we don't have everything precisely nailed down yet, we know that there will be some camping coming up, an overnighter at the Whitecaps, and some scouting events. Just a little planning ahead on these things really do help keep the costs low and the day fun!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Urgent Care--Home Sweet Home!

The running joke is that I should get a frequent visitor punch card for urgent care since it seems like we are taking a kid there so often that they often recognize us by name when we walk in the door. Now part of that could be the "small town" of it all, or it could just mean that we visit the office more often than your typical family.

Today I packed up Nick and we headed out after him being absolutely miserable the past few days. Of course they couldn't find anything wrong with him, which means we paid our co-pay and were shoved out the door, but as a parent, you second guess yourself all the time. Do you want your name to be the one who ends up in the paper because the kid was sick for 3 days before going to the Dr only to find out that they had some rare bacterial infection that spreads like wildfire and infected all of west MI? Nope, I think not, so off to urgent care we went!

Medical expenses. Ugh. Just a part of life and you have to pay them. But there are ways to minimize the costs and try and manage them as best you can.

1. Do you have flex spending accounts at work? You can set aside pre-tax dollars and use that money towards co-pays, prescriptions and other things. I say "other things" because the new healthcare bill is going to impact flex accounts quite a bit. What's true today might not be true this next plan year, so I am sticking with it for now. We set aside a nice chunk of change and base it on what we used last year. Unfortunately this year we budgeted way too low and my account is already empty in May and the new plan year doesn't start until September 1.

2. What's your co-pay? We pay a $10 co-pay for regular Dr visits and urgent care visits, so we tend to go that route first. Our highest co-pay is for the emergency room, so we almost never go there. If we do end up there, it's because urgent care sent us there.

3. Ask for generic! Typically if you need a prescription, they'll ask, "Do you have insurance?" Yes, I do, but don't ASSUME that I have rock star prescription coverage! I always ask if there is a generic drug that we can use and if it doesn't work, then and only then will we go for a brand name drug.

4. Ask for samples. When I was starting on beta blockers for my migraines, I asked if the Dr had samples around before filling my prescriptions. He was tweaking the dose a bit the first few months, so I hated the idea of paying for something and tossing it because I needed a different dose.

5. Check for prescription drug programs. Here are just a few that I am aware of in west MI:
Meijer free antibiotics, prenatal vitamins and Metformin
Sam's Club $4 Generics (no membership required)
Target $4/30day, $10/90day Generic Program
Wal-Mart $4/30day, $10/90day Generic Program
Family Fare $4/30day, $10/90day
D&W $4/30day, $10/90day
K-Mart $5/$10/$15/$25 Program

6. Visit the manufacturer's website for the prescriptions you take most often. The medication I take for my breakthrough migraines works out to $4/pill when I get it filled, so that's $40 for 10 pills and that's just my cost! YIKES! So I went to the website of the drug and printed out coupons for $20 off my next refill. When Nicholas was taking Prevacid as a baby, we registered on their website for a card that gave us $20 off each prescription as well. Definitely worth the time!

7. Mail order options. Do you have this available through your prescription plan coverage? Ours used to be that we paid 1 copay and got 3 months of medication, but it was changed this last plan year that we pay 2 copays and get 3 months of medication. So it's a "free" month basically. If it's a medication that you take daily and fill constantly, the savings add up and the convenience of having it mailed right to your house can't be beat!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Dinner Rolls

Here's an amazing recipe I've been using for dinner rolls. We've made them a couple of times and they come out sooooo good!

Here ya go!

1 pkg. yeast
1 c. lukewarm water
1 egg
1/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/4 c. oil
3 c. flour, sifted

Dissolve yeast in lukewarm water. Add egg, sugar, salt and oil. Add half the flour, and beat until smooth. Add rest of flour and beat again until smooth. Fill greased muffin pans half full and let rise until double. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.

Definitely melt a little butter and brush on them before baking. Yum!

Ticker Update (May)

What the crap! Have I not done this since February? How is that possible?

Starting debt: $39216.30
Amount paid: $26,005.30

$13,211.00 until we are DEBT FREE

We're on a snowball hold since we drained our emergency fund. But, we're intensely trying to get it stocked up again and going!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Back to Step 1

Is it really going back to step 1 if you never did step 1 to begin with? We were fortunate that we had a chunk of change in our savings account to begin with, but now that's all gone gone gone, and we are back to step 1--Building our baby emergency fund.

As I stood in the transmission shop yesterday and wrote the check, it made me think back to when we bought our house, and I was shocked to think back and remember the day we closed on our house and how we scraped together just enough to close that day, and thanks to the wonders of FHA mortgages, we brought less money to close on our house than we did to rebuild our transmission. Scary thought huh?

We managed to drain our baby emergency fund and also budget around an extra paycheck for both of us this month and cover the cost of ALL of our car repairs without having to borrow money or (gasp) use a credit card. Talk about a bad month, we had 2 oil changes, a blown brake line, and a transmission rebuild...all in about 3 weeks.

It did motivate me to get a few things that have been just taking up space in our basement out on CraigsList and sold. We don't really need the money for regular expenses or anything, but it will definitely help bring the emergency fund back up to completion.

Overall, I can't really complain. We were faithful and continued to tithe, our bills are all going to get paid, and we are no worse for the wear. Thank you Jesus!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Test My Ways...

Lamentations 3:40
Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the LORD.

You know how people tell you when it seems like the world is crashing down that God never gives you more than you can handle? Well I would like to think that God must have amazing trust in my ability to handle things because He has given me a heaping help of stuff to contend with right now!

1. The transmission on my minivan needs to be replaced
2. The brakes on our SUV went on our way home from the transmission shop!
3. Our house is sitting empty, unsold, on the market for nearly 4 years

So if the Lord sees fit that a money tree should grow in my front yard, I would accept his blessing with a big basket and a huge smile right about now. Alas, I am pretty sure that's not going to happen, so it's time to move onto a plan of action.

The plan of attack

-We will NOT use credit to get through this emergency
-We will NOT touch our tithe to the church to get through this emergency
-We will TRUST that God will continue to provide for all our needs

We have our Dave Ramsey emergency fund, so that money is there to use. Unfortunately, our emergency fund isn't enough to really cover all these "opportunities" we've been given, so we are going to get very creative over the next month to fund the rest out of cash flow. It's going to be tight, and very close, but I am thinking we can do it. I started looking around the house and noticed we do have quite a few things that could be put on Craigslist instead of gathering dust. I listed a few things tonight, and when I am off work a few days next week, I'll attack a few more.

I read in some of the materials at church the other day something that really stuck in my head. It was a blurb on Phillipans 4:6 where we are commanded by God, "Do NOT be anxious about anything". God's pretty clear on quite a few things, and when he says DON'T, I am pretty sure I'm supposed to be listening! If I tell my kids, "Don't touch that" or "Don't you dare go out that door", I'm talking pretty serious, so I am gonna do what I am told (I know, shocker right???) and follow His lead on this one:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Phillipians 4:6)

Friday, March 26, 2010


I like to follow a few frugal blogs and forums, and have been seeing the word "Upcycling" more and more. I am not a hoarder, but I do have problems parting with things and I tend to hold onto things because I know I'll want them later, for something.

For example, I buy baby wipes, quite a few of them in fact. What can I say? I have 2 boys, they make a huge mess of themselves, and I have a tomboy in diapers that gets disgusting from head to toe. In my quest to find the best deal, I know my "buy" point on wipes, which is about $1/per tub or refill. I used to just buy them by the case at Sam's Club, but a quick price comparison shows that they are actually not the best deal out there.

One of the downsides to getting the best deal is that you might end up with a bunch of smaller sized things than you might normally buy. Of course it's easier and more convenient to buy the case of wipes at Sam's, or to buy a big refill bag, but if I can get a plastic tub of wipes for pennies, or FREE, I'm going for the plastic tub.

I had it in my mind that I was going to use all these tubs for something, so I kept piling them up on a shelf in the closet. The other day I had one of those AHHH HAAAA! moments and decided that I was going to condense the random bags and boxes of school supplies into them. I had a few sheets of Avery labels around and just did a quick handwritten label on each one and stacked them in a cupboard. Now when we want to color with the kids, we can find everything easily and pack it up quickly when we are done.

It's not fancy, but check it out

Are You Sick and Tired?

Have you had enough? Are you sick and tired of being sick and tired? Do you pay more than you should in "stupid tax"? If you've followed our journey to becoming debt free, then you know that we have been following the Dave Ramsey principles taught in Financial Peace University. We started out by just reading the Total Money Makeover and then running with it. This past fall we finally got to take the entire Financial Peace University class and it really helped us narrow our focus and keep plowing ahead.

One Free Financial Peace University Lesson

If you are interested in testing the waters of Financial Peace before jumping in, this is a great opportunity for you. If you fill out the form on his website (linked above), you will get matched up to a free FPU lesson near you. Of course I am biased and would HIGHLY recommend that you sign up for one in the 49348 zip code and join the class I am going to be co-leading, but it's ok if you can't make it to my class :)

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

"Free" Money to be Had!

I know I've mentioned a few different ways that I earn free gift cards and such, but I don't recall if I've ever made a centalized list of all of those. Me? Without a list? Say it ain't so! Having made this realization, I give you:

Search & Win
I started "swagging" about a year ago and just installed the search toolbar on my computer figuring a search here or there might add up to something eventually. Around Christmas last year I decided to see what I had and what I could cash in for. What I ended up with was $50 in Amazon gift cards! Wowza! Anyone who frequents Amazon during December knows that it's the best time of the year since the sales are abundant and I was lucky enough to have a free trial of Amazon Prime, so I stretched that $40 into a LOT of Christmas gifts for people!

My Points
I've been using MyPoints as my starting point for online shopping for years. They also send random emails to your account that have you click through for 5 points each. Sometimes you can earn 10-25 points for filling out a survey, but I rarely do that. If I am looking to buy something online, I ALWAYS start by seeing if it's a merchant that works through MyPoints. I've redeemed over 55,000 points, which works out to a whole lot of gift cards to places like Sam's Club, Chili's, and Starbucks! One thing they did recently was link up to, so if I print out 10 coupons from them (which is incredibly easy for me to do with the amount of coupons I use!), I get 10 points, and you get points for redeeming the coupons as well.

My Coke Rewards
This is a hit or miss one really. I have redeemed my MCR for a few good things like Chili's gift cards and Omaha Steak gift cards, but the pickings on their site are pretty slim. You have to check back often to see if there is anything good there to cash in on. I bank up well over 1000 points before I even think about cashing out. I have a lot of friends who drink Coke products but don't do the rewards program, so they just give the codes to me.

Speedway Rewards
If you drive a car, you pretty much are guaranteed that you have to buy gas. There are less than 5 options on my way to/from work to get gas, and Speedway happens to be one of those. As long as they are the cheapest option, I will choose them to get gas from in order to build up my Speedway Rewards points. At Christmas last year we cashed in our rewards for a $25 gift card to Applebee's and the year before that we cashed in for a $25 card to Lowe's. It's not big money, but we aren't loyal to just Speedway so we don't earn as many points as we could be. If someone offered you $25 wouldn't you take it?

I've gotten random gift cards here and there for filling out surveys, but am always interested in more ways to free up cash in our daily expenses to put towards the snowball.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Price of Country Livin'

Almost 4 years ago we made the move from urban Metro Detroit to a little township between between Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo. We love living here and have ZERO plans to move back to "the city" at any time, ever. But every once in awhile something comes up where I think, "Wow I really miss that!"

I was visiting my family this weekend, which was a very frugal trip since we haven't sold our house there and can sleep there for free, and this morning I drove by Randazzo's Fruit Ranch. When I lived there I would typically go there at least once a week to buy fresh produce and I absolutely loved it. We would make fresh salads with our meals, lots of stir fry's, and plenty of variety in buying fruit. Driving by I remembered just how much I miss having that kind of convenience.

So I stopped in and walked around. I could have bought a couple of just about everything, but ended up leaving with: 3 heads of garlic, 2 lbs of gnocchi, 2lbs of popcorn, 10lbs of apples, 2.5lbs of grapes, and celery....all for $11.10. Last time I bought celery, about a week or so ago I paid $2.50!

I guess there really are trade-offs to everything, I just wish I didn't have to give up reasonably priced produce to live here!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Savings Angel

West Michigan - Cut your grocery bill in HALF!

So it's been a little over a year since I started using Savings Angel and I wanted to get some thoughts down on the program.

-Amazing deals!
-Centalized list making
-Easy access to printable coupons
-Supportive community for swapping coupons and non sale deals

-It does cost $20/month

It took me a long time to wrap my mind around the whole concept of paying $20/month to be a part of the service, but the money is VERY well spent! I easily save that in just a week of shopping using them.

I was not a Meijer shopper at all before Savings Angel, and now that is pretty much my store of choice. With their MealBox coupons stacked with a manufacturer coupon, I can get groceries for just pennies on the dollar, or just plain free. Plus, I am in Meijer more often, so I can take advantage of their produce and meat markdowns that I come across as I am in the store. My kids have enjoyed more fruit this way than I was able to budget and buy in the past. Fruit in our house doesn't last much longer than a day or two, so the ripe fruit markdowns are just fine for us.

As we've paid off our debts and we've had some wiggle room in our budget, I've actually increased our grocery budget over time. We were budgeting right around $200/month at one point, and I've increased that to $250/month. We were almost living exclusively on chicken since it was the most inexpensive meat to buy, but now I splurge and we're eating more beef and pork than we used to. I personally could eat chicken every single day because I love the taste of it, but the variety is nice too. In theory, Dave would have us stick to the barebones until we were debt free, but I think that he would be amazed that a family of 5 could even make it on $250/month, forget the $200 we were skating by with!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Gone Baby Gone

Hard to believe, but today I scheduled the FINAL payment on our credit card. I honestly can't remember a time in our relationship where we haven't had some sort of credit card payment to contend with. It was a long road that we started down, and while the numbers were somewhat fuzzy, I look back and see that of the nearly $40,000 in debt we started with, approximately $12,000 of that was credit card debt.

When we got our tax return back, we were thankfully able to be able to cover quite a few things that needed to be taken care of:

1. Tires on our van
2. Paid off the credit card
3. Paid our property taxes

I'll admit and throw out there that once those 3 things were taken care of, we did purchase a new desktop computer for our house. Matt is actually building it because he was able to get a pretty good deal on the parts vs a ready made system. Our desktop died quite a few months ago and we've been trying to run things off of a second hand laptop that I bought from work, and every once in awhile it takes an absolute dump and we get the blue screen of death. We aren't very "hard" on our computers, so I anticipate we'll be holding onto this one for quite a few years, much like we did with our dearly departed desktop.

Starting debt: $39216.30
Amount paid: $25,153.71

$14062.49 until we are DEBT FREE

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

We Have a Winner!

I've been experimenting with different bread recipes trying to find one that works for our family. The main criteria being:

1. Simple ingredients that I have on hand (yeast, flour, salt, etc)
2. Not overly elaborate steps
3. Low maintenance

Let's face it, I have 3 kids and I work full time, I don't have time to knead, proof, rinse, repeat, babysit and all that comes with the more common bread recipes. I have a KitchenAid mixer with hook, so that cuts down on the amount of hands on I am willing to put into this. I don't want a bunch of extra stuff in the bread either, so I avoided recipes that have shortening (gross!), butter, whole milk, buttermilk and a host of other oddball ingredients that I either don't want in my bread or I don't have in my house often enough.

Tonight I think I found my winner. From start to finish it was a little over an hour and that was 40 minutes of cooking. In between steps I found time to hand wash the mixer parts and empty my dishwasher, so it's a multi-tasking friendly recipe!

The bread does have brown sugar in it, but it's not super sweet at all, in fact, I forgot the sugar was in there until I just looked at the recipe again. I have some honey that a friend from church gave me from her hive, so I am thinking I might try to use that next batch to see how it tastes. If anything, I would rather have my kids eating bread with local, fresh honey in it than GFS brown sugar :)

Tomorrow I am testing driving a recipe from the Hillbilly Housewife, Italian Beans and Rice:

Last month Spartan had coupons on their website,, for $1 off of a 2lb bag of dried beans, so I picked up some dried northern beans and we've been trying to use them in different ways. We made a very tasty bean and ham soup, and now it's time to put them to the beans and rice test.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Ticker Update (January)

I am not wild about the particular ticker that I chose when I started this blog, so I am not really updating it all that much. It's just a pain in the butt and I get more annoyed than excited when I go in to update it.

In any case, what I hope to do is a monthly "ticker" update so that I keep myself motivated and on track.

Starting debt: $39216.30
Amount paid: $21728.30

$17,488 until we are DEBT FREE

Friday, January 22, 2010

Breaking News: Water is Wet!

I always joke around that there is breaking news right now: water is wet, the sky is blue, and it gets cold in Michigan. So why is it that people are shocked when snow falls on the ground? We've been pretty much wearing our winter jackets since before Halloween and I anticipate we'll be wearing them through March and possibly into April, you just never know how long it's going to stay that cold here.

One thing I started doing years ago was buying my kid's clothes a size or so bigger at the end of the current season for the next. It's not really that hard, and I've done pretty well guessing on just about everything. One thing I try and remember to do every year in January is hit the clearance racks and get winter jackets and snow pants. Last year I got wrapped up in just general chaos and missed my window, and ended up not getting a very nice jacket for Nathan.

So the other day I noticed that JcPenney was starting to mark their jackets down, and I decided to swing by today and see what was what. I don't like to spend more than $10-$15 on a jacket (a girl has to have her limits right???), so when I did the quick math and saw that the jackets I had picked out for Nathan and Nick were going to be closer to $20 I did hesitate a little. Do I risk it and wait for the next wave of markdowns? Or do I just get them now and be done? The deciding factor was that I was only able to find 3 jackets in about 10 racks that were even in Nick's size that I was looking for, so I knew if I waited much longer, I was taking the risk of not getting a good quality jacket or not finding one at all and being stuck paying full price later this year when the snow falls again.

Original price: $222.57
Clearance price: $50.32 (or $16.77 each)

Of course I'll still have to budget for boots and stuff later on this year, but the biggest expense is already out of the way!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Fake A Roni

When Matt and I first got married at the ripe old ages of 22 and 21 years old, we discovered the wonderful world of prepackaged side dishes. Oh they were so tasty! Who wouldn't love seasoned rice one night, noodles the next, creamy cheesy mashed potatoes the next...The only problem? They were expensive and full of ingredients I couldn't even pronounce! The ingredient thing (oddly enough) didn't bother me as much as the fact that they were so darn expensive! I kept buying them, but limiting myself to buying them with coupons and on sale to bring the cost down.

After we had Nathan and we were faced with the first of a few layoffs in our marriage, I discovered a whole new world of frugality, and enter The Tightwad Gazette. To say that the book changed my life is an understatement. Nothing was safe in our house because Amy (the Frugal Zealot) had trained me through her book to reduce, reuse and recycle so many things. I don't think I've ever taken things to the extent that she has, but I still have my Complete Tightwad Gazette book, still in excellent condition with hundreds of little pieces of paper sticking out of it directing me to the most important parts.

The Tightwad Gazette has the following recipe for Rice A Roni:

3 cups uncooked rice
1/4 cup parsley flakes
6tbsp bouillon (chicken, beef or veg)
1/2tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp thyme

Mix everything together and store in an air tight container.

To use, mix 1 cup mix with 2tbsp butter and 2 cups of water in a saucepan. Bring to boil, reduce heat and cover. Simmer for 15 minutes or until rice is tender.

I used this faithfully for several years, mixing up batches and storing them over and over again. But I decided one day that I wanted to mix it up a bit and decided to do a few things different.

The first thing I do different is that I don't use the bouillon granuales. They are hard to find and I don't think that they taste very good. We almost always have beef and chicken soup base on hand in our fridge, so I just use a tablespoon of that when I make my rice. It's got a much better flavor and it's very reasonably priced at Sam's Club or GFS. Just make sure to store it in your fridge!

Secondly, I like to follow the Rice a Roni directions. So I typically put the butter in the pan and then brown the rice a bit before adding the water. I might throw some broken (raw) spaghetti noodles in there, some orzo noodles, or even some slivered almonds (bought in bulk at GFS). Definitely gives some variety!

Finally, I check and see what's hanging out in my fridge or freezer. A few peas, some frozen carrots, maybe a few lonely pieces of broccoli, just whatever I have to give it a little more flavor. While the parsley gives it some color, it doesn't really add any flavor, so a few veggies here can do that.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Step by Step

I've been thinking a lot lately about processed foods and budgeting. I am the first to admit that I get caught up in the day to day crazy routine of being a full time working mom and resort to the quick fix dinner, the quick fix lunch, and breakfast in the car. As I was grabbing lunch the other day (Wendy's chili, by absolute weakness!), I started to think about how far I've strayed from basic whole foods and our dinner table.

I'm already pretty basic. I've been making my own "mixes" for things now for quite a few years. I think my homemade "rice a roni" tastes pretty darn good, and I can't even remember the last time I bought a packet of taco seasoning mix, but I am guilty of buying more than my fair share of Hamburger Helper!

So I am doing some kitchen science in the next few weeks to see if I can add a few more cards in my hand and cut a few more dollars out of the grocery budget.

Last night I made homemade noodles and I think they turned out pretty good! We have a pasta machine thingie, and it's pretty complicated! I ended up just using a cutting board and a pizza cutter and that was much easier and certainly got the job done! Now that I did a batch and tested it, I feel more comfortable making it for a family meal.

Tonight I tried "baking" bread in my crockpot and it didn't turn out quite as well as I wish it would have. Truth be told, I used some yeast we've had stashed in the back of our freezer for probably 2 years, so it was not a good way to start the experiment. Yeast is pretty inexpensive when you buy it in bulk at Sam's Club, so it's on my shopping list for Monday and I'll give it another try. We got through a LOT of bread and I used to be able to get it for about 50cents/loaf at the bread outlet, but they are right around $1/loaf now and I see it as something I can do at home and save some money on.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Wait, Wait, Wait!

Ok, so I discovered recently that there is something I do that drives my husband crazy. Kind of shocking that it's taken 10 years of marriage and 2 years of dating to figure this out, but I learn something new every day!

It drives Matt crazy that I don't just buy things I want, and even worse than that, I don't really want a whole lot. Needless to say, this makes shopping for gifts a bit of a challenge for him and I can see how it would because I have a hard time even coming up with a list of things I want. Matt on the other hand is pretty much an open book, and I can easily pick off a few things here and there that I know he would like.

I have been eyeing a Shark steam mop for awhile, and I've done a bit of research here and there about them, but it was nothing that I was returning empty cans to scrape together the money to buy it with or anything. For Christmas this year my mom gave me a nice gift card to WalMart/Sam's Club and I decided that the Shark was going to be mine. I dug around online a little and saw that the best deal probably would be at Sam's Club because they often sell packages that have a few extra bonus items, and the one they carried did have a few more bells and whistles than the one I saw at Wal-Mart.

I was very happy with my purchase, I've used it at least once a week and it definitely gets the job done. But what made me the happiest was seeing the exact same thing I bought at Sam's Club at Walmart, only it was $30 more. I might not have gotten it the very minute I decided to buy it, but I did come out $30 ahead on the deal!

Same thing with a dock for my Ipod. I knew I wanted one, and I've been watching the sale papers and SlickDeals for one, but I hadn't seen one that jumped out at me at the right price point. I wanted a nicer one than the $10 deals that they sell that are basically just speakers, but I wasn't exactly looking to spend the $500 on the Bose one either.

On a whim the other day I was browsing the endcaps at Target and in the back of the shelf in electronics I found a nice one that was regular price $50 marked down to $12! I looked in the box and all the pieces were there and it looked like it had everything I was looking for, so I decided to give it a shot. Worse case scenario it sucked and I would just bring it back. Turns out it was an online purchase that someone returned to the store and they price those to go quickly since they don't usually stock it.

I still have some money left from Christmas that was gifted to me, and I can't really decide what I want to get with the rest of it right yet, but I am sure that if I wait patiently, I'll come across something!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Kicking off 2010

I am not one to make resolutions, but those who know me well know that if there is a list to be made, I am on it! Sometimes, just for fun, I write lists to organize my other lists, and when that's done, I'll devise a MASTER list to clean up those pesky other lists laying around.

So how could I possibly kick of 2010 without a list? If I put it on THE LIST, then I will be compulsively driven to complete the task because if there is anything more fun than writing lists, it's being able to cross something off the list!

THE LIST v.2010

1. Pay off our credit card debt
2. Eat healthier: more fresh fruits and veggies
3. "Run" (or slightly jog) a 5K
4. Drop these last 30lbs of baby weight
5. Track the amount of coupon savings for the entire year
7. Read the entire Bible

Who's with me???