Friday, April 25, 2008

Five Budget Busters Meme

I've Paid For This Twice Already , one of my favorite blogs, tagged me in the Five Budget Busters Meme. I love the idea of putting this down on "paper" so to speak. We all have stuff floating around in our heads but when you write it down, take an honest look at it staring you in the face, it becomes reality and you have to make a choice about it - you can ignore it or do something about it. Love that!

My Five Budget Busters are:

Organic Food
– Since we eat only natural, non processed foods I am so tempted by organic food in the stores. You know organic cookies that appear to be Oreo’s or organic frozen dinners which, since they are a whole food and usually just have a few ingredients would be fine on a night when I am too tired to cook. I shy away from those because of the high sodium content but it sure would be nice to have one of those sitting in the freezer for a night off for me.

Home school and Kid’s Books – Hello. My name is ChouChou and I am addicted to home school & kid’s books. I need a 12 step program. I try to do what I can: buying books a yard sales for .25 or buying off the clearance rack at our local used home school store but what is my problem???? For example I went into said home school store yesterday for a new science book since my 11 year old blew through hers in like three months so I went to get her the next grade up so she can start on it. One book. One science book. I walked out of there with a literature book, a study of the Tudor Dynasty book, a science book, and a history book. What is my problem?????

Travel – Lord knows I am a Travel Junkie! Being a homeschooling family does not help the situation either in that if we are studying Williamsburg why can’t we go experience Williamsburg? If we are studying the coral reefs why can’t we go snorkel in the Bahamas (we did this by the way this past September). I really try, I really do, to find the best possible deals, accommodations, eat in our suite, etc. but there is just something about traveling that goes hand in hand with the shocking realization that you have spent too much. I start off with great intentions but when we return I am almost always surprised at how much we have spent.

Starbucks Caramel Frappiccinos – Again, my name is ChouChou and among my many addictions I am also addicted to this particular coffee at Starbucks. I only go into town once a week and will usually get one, so a once a week addiction is not that bad [rationalization] but you can bet that I break out into a rash every time I fork over $4.43 for that thing. But I like the idea of little treats for myself now and then and if my treat is only 4 bucks then I think I can handle it.

Shoes – I think all women like the idea of shoes. I mean who does not like buying new shoes that go perfect with a certain outfit. New shoes do something for the soul. But is it really necessary to have six pairs of black pumps??? Hello, my name is ChouChou and I am addicted to buying shoes.

Okay after writing all that out I have decided that I have an addictive personality. Seriously though, those are the things that tempt me and even though I have a handle on them somehow they creep in occasionally and disrupt my budget. The good news is that since I have become a frugal zealot who is in control of my money the effects are not terribly devastating and that is the key. Once you get your finances under control a little deviation from the plan, even unplanned, is okay and is not the end of the world.

I am supposed to tag three people, so I will tag:

Frugal Dad

Thrifty Florida Mama

Pinching Copper

These are great blogs. Please visit them and see what they have to say on this subject.

Carnival of Snowflaking 1st Edition!

The first edition of the Carnival of Snowflaking is up over at Snowflake Revoloution and many thanks to Paid Twice for including my post on How To Find Snowflakes! Please go visit all of the great bloggers who post about snowflaking. You'll learn alot about this revolutionary way of attacking debt and saving money. Knowledge is power.

If this is your first time to my blog welcome! I invite you to please take a look around and learn how we live on a fireman's salary with 4 kids in a 21st century world! There are many ideas and helpful hints on how to save money, make money and reduce your debt.

I thank you kindly for stopping by!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Free Birthday Gifts

In the last year have you noticed that in drugstores like CVS or Walgreen's or Rite Aid they have begun to sell giftcards to places like Barnes & Noble, or restaurants like Olive Garden, or even Visa cards? This is a wonderful concept for those who frequent these stores for their free deals.

Sometimes when I shop at Walgreen's they will give you back Register Rewards (RR's) for certain products that you buy. For example the other day I received $10 in RR's for the Aveeno deal. A few days later I went to Walgreen's again and bought gum and a $10.00 Borders Bookstore gift card. Total $11.86 - $10.00 RR = $.86 for gum and a gift card. I buy gift cards with RR's so that I can give them away as birthday gifts throughout the year. For free. If you have a CVS they will give you something similar and they have also begun to carry giftcards.

Not bad since most people prefer gift cards anyway and it doesn't cost me a dime.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

How To Find Snowflakes

Snowflaking is a wonderful concept. You can read about it here. I mean I love the idea of the debt snowball where you pay off one debt and then apply the amount you were paying to the original debt to the next debt and so on. But snowflaking gives you the sense of mini-successes which I love. They motivate me to keep working towards the bigger debt. Granted you are moving forward while working on your debt snowball but the successes seem fewer and farther between. Chinking away at debt in $2, $8, or $11 weekly increments makes me feel like I am doing something rather than having my successes a couple of months apart or more.

Where to find snowflakes:

  • Change around the house - Look everywhere. I mean everywhere. In the couch, in the laundry room, all of the drawers in the house, in the car, the garage, everywhere. I found three dollars in change in the playroom. Who knew?

  • Store mistakes - The other day I was at Harris Teeter and they were supposed to take off $3.00 for their store brand organic salsa making it $.29. When they rang me up it did not come off automatically like it as supposed to so they sent me up to customer service to get my money back. the lady at customer service said okay you'll get back $3.14. I asked her if she had to put it back onto my debit card or if she could just give me cash and she said she could give me the cash. I took the money and out it into my orthodontist envelope that I have sitting in my desk. I use any snowflakes to pay down my $1600.00 ortho bill for my son's teeth. But in my mind I had already committed and spent the $53.00 in the original transaction. Getting three dollars back and putting it back into my account seems counterproductive to me [this could just be my bizarre thinking!] but since I know that money has already been spent why not take it and spend it in a snowflake instead? If I had really been on the ball I would have quoted them their store policy which is when an item rings up at the wrong price you get that item free of charge.

  • Refunds - Those of you who shop Walgreen's or CVS know the power of refunding. These stores have free items every month where all you have to do is purchase the items and send in the rebate forms and they send you a check or gift card back. They give away these items hoping that you are going to spend more money while youa re in there but little do they know that we hardcore frugal people will not buy anything but what we have gone in there to get. Instead of getting the rebate amount back in a gift card which means you have to spend it at their store get it in the form of a rebate check which is money free and clear that you can deposit at your bank. Take that money and snowflake it.

  • Sell your stuff - no brainer here. Sell your stuff on Ebay, Craigslist, wherever you can. Yard sales, etc. You have this stuff sitting aorund your house that is worth money. Pretend it is money. Pretend that book on the shelf is $15.00. Pretend that those shoes in your closet are $21.00 laying on the floor. That figurine in the living room is $11.00 sitting on your entertainment center. If that was real money wouldn't you gather it all up and want to pay off your debt with it? What is stopping you?

  • Windfalls - Any money that you were not expecting is considered a windfall. That could be an overpayment to your mortgage company, a rebate stimlus check (hint, hint), a birthday present, whatever.

  • Coupon Savings - If you are a couponer at the bottom of your receipt it says how much you saved in coupons and card specials. Every time you go to the store check this amount and immediately throw that amount towards your debt.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

For Those Who Coupon the Old Fashioned Way

For those of you who coupon the old fashioned way by scanning the sales ads and coming up with shopping lists on your own here are some tips. I told you about the methods I use called the Grocery Game where they track 12 week highs and lows (something I could never have done scanning the sales ads myself) and put out a list that compiles free stuff and the lowest prices possible on any given item. You can read more about the Grocery Game in my post here. This is much easier than scanning the ads yourself and not expensive.

But if you are still scanning the ads yourself there are a few things you can do to make your life easier. Let's hope that you did your monthly menu planning that I spoke about here so you have all of the meals planned, the shopping lists done and now all that you need to do is find the sales.

Sit down with all of your ads at a time when you have no interruptions. You will need to scan each store's ads and write down which items you use and how much they are. Get a notebook for this because you will want to track the prices over a long period of time, say 12 weeks. One thing to remember here is that with the current economy the way it is prices have been steadily creeping upward in the last year so finding a product whose prices will trend downward at certain times will be difficult since everything is trending upward.

Once you have your products selected and your prices written down you need to make a menu based on these items. I actually plan my menu for a month in advance and use the same menu each month since no meal is repeated in the month. You can read about it here. But if you are trying to make your menus from the ads weekly now is the time to do it to see what you need in your pantry because, God forbid, you don't want to come home on a Tuesday night, tired, and discover you do not have baking powder and have to run to the corner store to pay an arm and a leg for it.
Now you need to break out your coupon binder and go through to see how you can get your prices down even more. Use an envelope and write the store's name on the back and list what you will be buying, the price and whether or not you have a coupon. Put your coupons into the envelope so they are handy when you go into the store. Preplanning will save you money. By using this method and not deviating from the items on your list you will get in and out of the store paying exactly how much you thought you would. Go in, buy what is on your envelope and leave. Do not buy anything else.

If you glean anything from reading this blog I hope that it is that planning will save you money. We always get into a situation where we have a need and because we have not planned we have to go out and pay for that need, usually full price.

Plan for your family's needs.

Children's Library Online

For you homeschoolers out there I just discovered a wonderful children's library online unlike any I have ever seen. I has all the books categorized by age and interest and when a child goes to read the book it has the actual book whose pages flip as you are reading it! Amazing and if you have big readers in your family, which I do, who clow through books faster than we can get to the library this is a good in-between visits option. A great resource for your family.

Here is the site. Enjoy!

Monday, April 21, 2008

How Are You So Skinny?

People ask me this all the time. That's good considering I have four kids and I am pushing 40 and I HATE exercising. My husband is also in good shape - has abs a 25 year old would love - but he is not muscular by any body builder's terms. My children are also all thin and lanky, just right for their heights. We are also all very healthy.

I think it is because of our diets and activity levels. We eat no processed food. None. We do eat "junk food" but it is usually the kind that are all natural with only a couple of ingredients and all of which I can pronounce, if we have not made it ourselves. Granted eating no processed foods and whole foods only requires a bit of creativity and planning in that we must make all the food ourselves or eat raw almonds and raw tomatoes or something. But in reality, eating healthfully saves us money.

We have fewer visits to the doctor which means less co-pays.

We do not pay for medicines unless we absolutely need them which is rare.

We have a garden and grow a lot of the food.

We do not eat out very much since there are not a lot of options for whole- foodists out there.

We did not decide to eat healthy to save money. Saving money was just a natural result from our eating healthy. We decided to eat healthy to be good to our bodies. Our bodies are our temples and we get just one. We should honor it. We are killing two birds with one stone here.

As a related side note, we eat all natural foods and some organics. We also use natural remedies for their healing properties rather than running to the store the minute someone has a problem. I think healthy eating and healthy living go hand in hand. I believe God has given us everything that we need to live on the earth - all that he created was good. Even pot, even beer. Everything has a purpose if not abused. We treat aches and pains with real ginger tea. We do not treat our children's sniffles or fevers under 100 degrees. Learn to use what you have and what others have had for hundreds of years. Do you really need Theraflu to get through a sickness? How about good old fashioned rest and tea and just work through it. How about parents that treat their kids colds? Why can't they have a runny nose? Oh so you don't get inconvenienced because your 2 year old wakes up several times a night because he cannot breathe. How about a humidifier and rocking him for a while because those days will be long gone fast and in 20 years you will be wishing that you had a baby to rock for hours on end since your house feels so empty nowadays.
People nowadays don't like inconvenience. They want the easiest and fastest way to relief, to eat, to sleep, to earn money, etc., etc., etc.

Seek out things that were put here for your benefit. Falling into the trap that the newest medicine or foods have to be better is illogical thinking. Tried and true tactics for better living have lasted this long for a reason.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Aren't Student Loans a Way of Life Just Like a Car Payment?

I am in graduate school and I want to get a PhD so I am far away from being finished paying for school. Being obsessed with personal finance does not help when I have to borrow loans to pay for my schooling. Plus I attend a private Christian college so the tuition is slightly more than a regular college. I have 26,000 in school loans already that I am going to need to pay back and it stresses me out thinking that those are just sitting there waiting for me when I finish. I assume I will add another 26,000 when all is said and done. I have been weighing how to handle this for months:

I cannot pay it back yet because sold my company and I am not working right now to pursue school. This is where most people are. They are going to school and postpone paying back their loans until after they graduate and get a job. This seems like impending doom to me. I don't like the idea of having to fork out $800 a month once I am working. Seems like it goes against going back to school to earn a better living. Seems like I went back to school to pay back $800 a month.

I could pay for my education as I go. I did this as an undergrad. Back when I had help from my parents, I was in my early 20's, no husband, no pets, no kids,, no responsibilities. Unlikely I can do that now since we are on a fixed income and don't have a lot of surplus. Sure I am saving a few hundred a month towards personal savings and retirement accounts and I could carve out a little from that but I feel like we are not contributing enough to those outlets so I would be stressed if I had to cut back on them some more. I like adding to savings every month and I like adding to my retirement accounts. They are the safety nets for our future. Planning is the secret of frugality.

Okay you say, well ditch the private Christian college. Go to a less expensive state run school. I could but it isn't my preference. I like the idea of learning about theology while I am learning about my field. It is like hitting two birds with one stone. I am growing spiritually while learning about other things. Seems like a bargain so to speak in terms of getting bang for my buck. I did attend a secular college as an undergrad and it was fine but I feel like attending this school for graduate work has made a tremendous difference in my enjoying my education. I believe it has added to my life. So ditching this school would be a last resort.

Okay well aren't student loans a way of life just like a car payment? No they are not and neither is the car payment. When I say I want to be debt free I mean debt free. There seems to be some sort of slavery associated with owing others and I do not like it. Freedom is having the money to do what you want and I value that so much so that I am willing to not go into debt to keep it.

I visit my student loan accounts on line a lot to look at the impending doom. I am not even starting to pay them back but as I look at the figures going up I just shake my head. There has got to be a way out, or through this.

Here is what I have decided. We purchased our home 6 years ago before the big housing bubble. We were unbelievably fortunate to get a builder's house with all kind of upgrades that is unique (a Victoria reproduction) with all the bells and whistles close to a major metropolitan town but just on the outskirts for cheap. Since it is half an hour outside of this major city it is still considered rural so the housing market had not caught up with the major city yet. We stand to make close to $300,000 profit when we sell this house in two or three years. There is my escape. As badly as I want to use that to build our new home mortgage free and throw the rest into an investment or savings I know I will have to pay back these student loans. I like my freedom so I will do it no matter how much it will hurt. I will be giving away part of my house that I plan to build to pay back a debt that I borrow to go to school. Ouch! But freedom is on the horizon!

Okay you say, that is great for you but I don't have a house I can sell for profit like that so I am stuck paying it back when I graduate. If I did not have the option of selling the house I would start to snowflake immediately, even before I was required to pay back the loan. You can read about snowflaking here. I would get a part time job or bring in some extra income and slate it nly for student loan payback. I would have to do something to get started on it because the idea of that waiting for me might be enough to make me think it just wasn't worth it. At least chinking away at the loans would feel like progress. I would divert some of the funds from the savings and from retirement and put it words to student loans each month. I would also start taking my tax refunds, whatever the amounts and use it for student loans or to pay tuition. I would also start using any windfalls that I received towards the loans or tuition.

Well, gosh ChouChou, wouldn't my life be terrible since I would have to give any extra money over to my education? Yes, for a little while but just think about the fact that you will be able to breathe a sigh of relief one day when you have your education paid in full and can longer be a slave to student loans. Won't it be worth it?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Circumstances That Can Rob Even The Most Savvy Frugal Zealot

Today my husband had dive training with a few other guys from the station. One guy is single. one guy is married, both of them work, no kids. The other guy is divorced, no kids. Then there is my husband - married, four kids. Since my husband is a healthy eater he tends to make his own meals at the fire station. This particular day the training was off site and on a boat for the coast guard. Now that I have set this up let me tell you the host of circumstances that can rob even the most savvy frugal zealot.

There was no warning that training was going to be off-site - This means that my husband was caught off guard and had nothing prepared to grab on the way out the door.

He was on a boat - no refrigeration. Well, you say, he could bring a cooler. Nope, not allowed.

He was hanging out with guys who do not have kids, or are single - these guys decided that hey we are off site, there is a restaurant around the corner - Hey let's go there for lunch! These guys don't really care or watch their finances as closely as someone with children would and were fine with dropping 10-15 bucks on lunch.

Because he was on a boat he couldn't opt out of lunch - Normally he would just skip lunch and wait until they got back to the station to eat but being on a rocking boat and having motion sickness, it is not a good idea to skip lunch since he would be sick the rest of the day.

Alas, he was stuck. He dropped $11.00 for lunch that day. Not a big deal but we don't want to make a habit of it. But my husband was a bit irritated because the guys that he works with do not even think twice about going out to lunch. Husband does not feel as though he is missing out on something by not being of the same mind as those guys but more that he has goals that he wants to achieve and would much rather spend his money on travel or something worthwhile than a fancy salad.

So at the end of the day, be aware of the situations that you could get in, plan for them, so you do not get into a position of being caught off gaurd as my husband did this day. Planning is the secret to frugality and living on less.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

What To Do With Your Rebate Stimulus Check

In the blogosphere there is a lot of discussion about what people should be doing with their rebate checks that are starting to come out in May. Most people are talking about paying off debt or putting it into a CD or savings. Here are some other alternatives that you can consider when deciding what to do with your windfall:

  1. Invest in Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs (CFLs) - These are pricier than regular light bulbs but will save the earth and your pocketbook from an untimely demise. Throw a couple hundred dollars towards changing all your light bulbs out and reap the savings in your power bill and longevity of the earth.

  2. Fill your freezer - Your freezer doesn't run as efficiently if all you have is a tub of Chunky Monkey and a Tostinos pizza in there. Consider buying some meats or other items to fill your freezer so a.) you will have a fridge using less electricity and b.) on those weeks where you are short on cash and have little money to spare to buy groceries you can pull that rump roast out of the freezer that you bout 2 months ago and throw it into the crock pot and not have to worry about how you will feed your family this week.

  3. Get an electric programmable thermostat - $100-200 buys you a regulator that you can program to lower the temperature when you are not home and thus save money over the long haul.

  4. Invest in a low flow Shower head - Again no brainer here - save the earth and your water bill at the same time.

  5. Replace all the filters in your house - New filters means the less your systems have to work to clean the air.

  6. Buy energy efficient appliances - Yes your 14 year old Whirpool washer still works but do you think that thing isn't a water/electricity hog? Donate it to a women's shelter and get a highly efficient model to save on water and electricity bills.

Before you make any decision have all the options in front of you so you are well informed.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Saving Money Doesn't Need to Be Difficult But It Needs To Be Organized

Remember how I told you about how I use coupons here and here? Just to make my life a little easier when I am going to a particular store I will write the list on an envelope and then put the coupons for that store that I need into the envelope so everything is sorted and I do not have to troll through my binder to find something. This works especially well if you are doing the Walgreen's or CVS or Rite Aid deals. Write what the deals are on the outside of the envelope. Here is an example:

Colgate Total Advanced Toothpaste -2.99 (on sale) - 2.99 (rebate) - 1.50 (MC)

This shows me what the price of the item should be on sale, that I have to rebate, and that I have a 1.50 manufacturer's coupon in the envelope for it. I use all kinds of abbreviations so it doesn't look all written out like this on the envelope.
Saving money does not have to be difficult but it does need to be organized.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Be a Superhero - Beat Pride, Your Financial Arch Nemesis

If you think about it most people could do with so much less than they do. Why do you think that is? Do you think that people WANT to part with their money? Do they want to give it away to the cable company, or the store, or to the guys who manicures their lawn? We all realize that it is possible to live a just a few things as they did 100 years ago. Why do we feel as though we are entitled to have the latest a greatest things?
Do you always try to show your best feathers?

Pride. We like to have nice things. We like getting compliments on our new haircut or our new car. We like to have the nicest lawn on the block or have a new pair of earrings. But who is all that stuff actually for? Is it for you or so your neighbors will think that you are well off? Is it for your wife's parents so they will think that their daughter did not do too bad marrying you? Is it so your best girlfriends will think you are the cutest mom of the group? How about when you go to church? Are you dressing up in your "Sunday best" to glorify God or to look like the most put together family?

Contemplate why you spend money on things. By spending money on things we really do not need it sets us up for financial failure. Before you consider buying that new outfit think about who you are actually buying it for. It is not bad to have a few nice things. But when it becomes a need for you to maintain a certain persona or public image then it encroaches on your financial well being. Do you really need to spend that money or could it serve you better in your savings account?

Be a superhero - beat pride, your financial arch nemesis.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Our Egg Layer Has Died

Roxy "Buck Buck" was killed in her enclosure by a fox. My girls wept for an hour last night. Please be in prayer for these young children that lost a pet. She followed them around the yard and came when they called her. She was not like other chickens but like a real pet for them. Pray that they might understand that it is better to have loved her for a little while than to never have loved her at all.

Coupon Lecture Last Night

Couponing 101

Last night I gave a lecture for a local MOPS (Moms of Preschoolers) group in my area about agressive couponing. I showed them everything from how to organize my coupons for maximum efficiency to how to do great "deals" so they can keep more of their money in their pockets. Here are some of the topics we discussed.

I. Types of Coupons - the secret is piggy-backing several coupons for one product
· Manufacturer’s coupons
· Store Coupons
· Catalinas - coupons that print out at register
· Holders to organize your coupons – binder or plastic tub - you can see my organizer here

II. Which Stores Work Best For Couponing
· Harris Teeter
· Kroger
· Walgreen’s - here is a primer on how to maximize savings at Walgreen's
· Rite Aid

III. How To Compile Deals
· Be organized
· Let others do the work for you – Coupon Mom, The Grocery Game, etc.
· Websites that post the deals for you – Money Saving Mom, etc.
· B1G1 Free - use two coupons for two products instead of just one
· Register Rewards (RR’s) - get cash back from Walgreen's

IV. Rebates & Refunds
· Be organized - if you lose you receipts or do not enter them in on time what goood is it?
· Get Rain checks - if other couponers have bought up all the good deals get a rain check so you can make sure you get the item at the same great price
· Roll savings onto Gift cards for no out of pocket expenses or get a check in the mail
· Take your savings and roll onto your next purchase by purchasing iems with your giftcard or put in savings or pay down debt by snowflaking

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Chances Are Slim That I Will Win the Lottery

I will occasionally pick up a lottery ticket if the jackpot is huge. Apparently, if you are one of those people who buy lottery tickets regularly you are throwing money out the window. I was listening to NPR recently and they were interviewing a professor that wrote a book called "Guesstimation: Solving the World's Problems on the Back of a Cocktail Napkin". The guy, Lauwrence Weinstein, put it all into perspective with regards to lottery tickets for me. You know when it says on the ticket "Your chances of winning are 1 in 12, 048, 2837?" What does that number mean? Professor Weinstein put it into layman's term for the rest of us. He said to imagine taking enough lottery tickets to stack them one on top of another all the way from the ground to where the planes fly, so about 40,000 feet up, and then your job is to pull one ticket, only one ticket and one try to do this, you must pull the winning lottery ticket.

Puts things into perspective for me. Chances are slim that I will win the lottery.
[Jerry posted a comment that got me thinking so I wanted to add something to this post on imagery. I love solid imagery to help me wrap my brain around things. You might like the book I referred to in my post. He even talks about the numbers 1 in one billion. If you line the equator with white golf balls and your job would be to pick out the one red golf ball that would be equal to 1/1 billionth. If you line the equator with grains of white sand and then try to pick out the red grain of sand this would equal 1/1 trillionth. Amazing isn't it? Thank you for your comment!)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Money Saving Ideas

I remember when I was eager to get out of debt and save money. I was so hungry for any tips that would help me and motivate me. Unfortunately there is a lot of stuff out there you have to weed through to get to the real tips that you can actually use.

Money Saving Ideas to Get you Out of Debt or increase your savings:

Make a budget - I know I know, everyone says this but it couldn't be more true. Pay everything in list of priority – pay shelter, utilities, food, transportation (PUFT) and first. Then work your way down the list of who gets paid until you are out of money for that month. Pay people in this order:

· Shelter, utilities, food, transportation
· 2nd mortgages/HELOCs
· credit cards

Increase your income - take a second job, part time job, get a better job. This is only temporarily.

Sell stuff on eBay – Since you have plenty of time on your hands because you won’t be eating out or going to the movies, etc. collect all the stuff in your house that you don’t use that is taking up space, plus you have to dust it. Recoup some of the money you spent on frivolous stuff and throw it towards debt or savings.

Have yard sales.

Loose the cable/satellite

– you know that you are losing brains cells by sitting in front of the tv for hours at a time don’t you?

Cut back on extras – No Starbucks Caramel Frappicinos. No new red shoes. No filet mignon. Remember this is only temporary until you can get your bearings. That stuff will always be there.

Ditch anything that is not in PUFT – Blockbuster/Netflicks movie rental – you can borrow movies for free from the library, piano lessons, etc.

Freecycle for what you need – Sign up for your area’s Freecycle and post what you need and someone will have it and email you to come pick it up. You can read about my recent success story here. Stuff that you think you cannot sell on Ebay post onto Freecycle so it does not end up in a landfill.

Collect all of your bills and call each company to get a better rate – again you have time on your hands since you are in lock down from yourself and your bad spending habits. Spend this time calling each company and get them to lower your rates to the very best rate they can offer – this includes your cell phone, insurance (life & car), credit cards, power company (see my post here about how to do this). Every company you deal with wants to keep you as their customer and not loose your business. Use this to your advantage.

With a few major and minor adjustments you can get yourself out of debt or increase your savings. Sure it will be difficult. Sure it might not be much fun.

But just as you teach your children that they must suffer the consequences when they make a bad choice the shouldn't the same be for you?

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Creative Loopholes

Yes! I love it when things work out for my benefit!! But you cannot just sit around and expect things to happen to you that maximize your savings. You need to take an active role in seeking out creative opportunities.
There are ways to obtain what you need/want in such a way that it makes you smile because you really got a bargain. Always try to look at how you can maximize your potential savings. I always tell myself and the kids "I would rather have money in my pocket to travel, buy things that I enjoy and not have to waste money on things like the electric bill and groceries." This is why I strive so hard to minimize trivial (well, trivial to me) bills. I just don't want to give away my hard earned money. I always try to maximize my savings in any situation.

Today on National Public Radio (NPR) they are having a drive to raise money. If you donate $200.00 to their drive they were offering two free tickets to a huge amusement park. Now we were already going to buy season passes to this amusement part which are $68.00 each. For a family of 6 that is $408.00. We usually buy either those amusement park season passes or water park season passes each year. Now I usually do not donate to NPR when they have these fund drives but I am a loyal listener, every day of my life in fact. But we just do not have "extra" to give away in this season of our lives.

Since we were already going to buy the passes to begin with my husband and I both donated $200.00 to NPR. This equals four free season passes. You're sitting there thinking well didn't you actually spend more for the tickets? Here's the sweet part of the deal. You can deduct the amount that you donated to NPR off of your taxes. So in essence, I will be able to deduct the $400.00 off my taxes lowering my taxable income for this year. Nice, huh? I thought so too.

Always look for way to maximize your savings so things will work out for your benefit.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Savvy Shopping Report! Detergent!

Normally I do not buy detergent. It has all kinds of junk in it and you can easily make some yourself. Here is a recipe for homemade laundry detergent. But sometimes I get bogged down and need to buy detergent. But yesterday I was smitten by a deal at Walgreen's. In their sale ad they had Gain detergent for 2/$10 which is a horrible deal. But since you get $4.00 off your next shopping order (these are called Register Rewards) and if you buy $50.00 worth you get an extra $5.00 RR. I decided to buy $50.00 worth. Here's the math:

2/$10 - I bought 10 things of detergent - the big 48 load ones!


-$25.00 Register Rewards

-$7.00 previously earned RR's


$18.00 OOP (Out of Pocket)

$20.00/10 = $1.80 each

I won't need detergent for a year! Yes it is obnoxious to walk out of a store with 10 things of detergent! And you do need to have some flexibility in your budget to be able to drop extra money on a really good deal and not have to worry that you cannot buy eggs this week. Pad your account with a little extra so you can take advantage of deals like this. You can either have surplus in your regular checking account or budget envelope or have a totally separate account for "extras". Just make sure that you have a little extra so you do not have to pass up a good deal. Pre-planning makes all the difference.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Do Pets Really Need a Skirt?

I post under the name Chou Chou. Chou Chou is the cat. Well the favorite cat out of the three cats in the house. I picked his name as my blogger name. This leads me to some interesting ideas on frugal pet care. Obviously having animals costs money. I think that it is worth it for the contribution they bring to my life and to my children's lives but that doesn't mean I want to spend a lot of money on them.

Here are some tips for frugality when it comes to pets:

1. Feed them the right food so they don't get sick - This is the most important element to having a pet. As anyone with a pet knows, one visit to the veterinarian puts you into the poor house. You can easily avoid unnecessary visits by feeding your animal decent food. By decent food I do not mean the most expensive that is out there. I am talking about food that does not have fillers or preservatives in it. Just as people shouldn't be eating food with this junk in it because it gunks up their system the same goes for animals. There is a relatively inexpensive product at Walmart that is called Maxximum (blue and black bag) that is the store brand that is decent with no additives or preservatives and no fillers. Look at what you are feeding your animals and find a better alternative to junky food. Your pocketbook will thank you later. So will your animal by living and loving you for many years to come.

2. Search out alternatives - We recently adopted a hurt chicken. She was a major layer in her flock but got hurt and was getting attacked by the other chickens so a friend of ours let us keep her until she was healed and then we ended up keeping her. My daughters love this chicken. They named her Roxy because, as we all know, once you name an animal your dad cannot butcher it. The woman that gave her to us gave us a bag of feed to give to her. We had already decided that she would be free ranging in the back yard and that we would add to her meal by supplementing with feed but I did not run out and by her some feed which was certainly overpriced from the feed store. I made my own. Since we buy grains in bulk for the family it was not difficult to come up with a mixture that would be good for a chicken. I combined in a container millet, steel cut oats, regular oatmeal, flax seed, flax meal, corn meal, and sunflower seeds. These are all organic so she is eating organic feed. She also eats scraps from the kitchen. Since she is a layer she is giving back to us for our caring for her. Great symbiotic relationship - like it is supposed to be. Again, don't just run off to the store to spend money - seek out alternatives first.

3. Animals do not need "things" - Does your dog really need a skirt? Does your cat really need a jeweled collar or that complex jungle gym thingy- ma-bob taking up space in your living room? Do you really need to provide a lavish pet bed or fancy walking gear or a pet stroller for your animal? Do you think that it increases their quality of life? It doesn't. Buying animals things does not do anything for the animal - the things are for people. So people can show off their pet or feel better about their pet or perhaps it makes the person feel better about themselves, who knows? Let me tell you before you think I sound like some bitter pet owner - I spoil my pets rotten, but with love and not things. Kind of how we should treat our kids don't you think? (Rant for later)

4. Let's say your animal does get sick - Try, if it is not an emergency, to wait until business hours to get treatment for your pet. If you go to an after hours emergency vet you might as well leave your first born child as payment because you will be in debt if you weren't already after you leave that place. Try to comfort your animal until regular hours and then take them in.

5. Weigh the options of treatment - We lost our dog of 14 years two years ago. We loved that dog. He was the healthiest dog. never went to the vet except for shots. Again I believe this is because we fed him the right things and loved him with all our hearts. He was heading down hill and when it came time to decide what to do we elected not to do all the expensive tests to see if there was an "out" and they could stabilize him. His body was failing him and so we had him put down. That was probably one of the hardest decisions we ever had to make and as bad as I wanted to spend whatever the amount to see if he could be saved, if there was a 1% chance, I knew we couldn't do it. He was in renal failure and we just needed to let him go.

This has nothing to do with frugality but I will share it just in case anyone out there who reads this blog (does anyone read this blog?!?) has pet that they lost or if they lose a pet explaining it to children can be difficult. We heard comments like "I never want another animal again" or "I cannot love another animal" or "We should have never gotten him in the first place if he is just going to die and we feel bad." These are all valid feelings that children will experience. We told our children that yes, it would be easier if we did not have to say good-bye but we would never trade those years that we had Jake because he added so much to our lives. Our lives were better because of him. (I am starting to cry) We would have missed out on a lot if we did not have him so it was worth it even though he had to leave us. We buried him in the back yard and had a funeral for him. The children stood at his grave and threw flowers into it before we buried him. We also buried him with his tennis ball because he loved that stupid ball. The children planted a tree over top of him in his memory. And they can "visit" him anytime they want to by going to his resting place.

Perhaps some of these things can help you and your family whether the grief of losing a beloved pet.

Dedicated to Jake - 6-23-06

[Disclaimer - I'd like to add that Augie left a comment about there being a true need for some pets to use strollers. I agree with this wholeheartedly! I believe there are cases where it does add to the animal's and the owner's life. I was merely speaking of people who buy strollers for animals that do not NEED such devices to make their lives complete. Thank you Augie for helping me to remember that I need to clarify these things.]

Friday, April 4, 2008

Using Coupons- Crash Course - Part II

Now that you have your coupons in order time to start scanning the ads for sales. There are three ways that you can do this. You can either get the Sunday paper and make your shopping list to coincide with your monthly menu plans that we talked about here. Once you have your shopping list then you can pull the approriate coupons. The is the cheapest by being free as you can access the paper from a friend or some other free method.

The second way is to look online at the sale ads for your favorite stores. Another free way to get the informaiton but you need to be comfortable with scanning websites and copying information down. I did this before and it is somewhat time consuming but worth it in the end.

The third way and the one I recommend is using the Grocery Game. This site lets you access all the sales and coupons ofr your stores. What I love is that it is color coded with best lowest prices in blue and free items in gree. All the items are listed with the price, sale price, the coupon that you can apply and the new price. All you need to do is check the items that you want to print on your list, pull the coupons from your handy coupon binder and you are all set to shop. This is reasonable - $1o.00/8 weeks for one store and $15.00/8 weeks for two stores. I personally only shop at two grocery stores so this seems like a good price to me and a time saver at that! Right now you can try the Grocery Game for $1.00 for 30 days and if you don't like it cancel. I recommend at least trying it.

Yes, if you find it works you will have to spend some moeny to obtain this service but look at it this way:

  • This will save you a bunch of time that you do not have - time = money

  • You will easily recoup this amount in savings - she has a staff that monitor all the possible deals. If you are doing it you are guaranteed to miss something. Let the experts do it. Kind of like changing the oil in my car. Would I attempt to save money by changing it myself? No, becasue I would have no idea what I was doing and I would probably mess something up, not to mention I would spend twice as much of my valuable time doing it. I think the money would be well spent letting the "experts" do what they know how to do.

  • This is money spent for something useful. You are not buying a new shirt. This is something that will help you save, a tool - that makes it worth the money coming out of your budget.

Stay tuned for Part II of this series.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

You Still Have Your Arms and Your Legs

In light of the economy many people are having to make some financial cuts in order to stay atop the rising costs of day to day living. This is a good lesson is wants versus needs. Needs are food, shelter, & clothing, the bare necessities to keep a human being alive. Many could argue that in America we could also lump transportation so we can get to/from work as a need to be able to get food, shelter and clothing. I believe that is valid. However cable television is not. When we speak of wants we all know that this means things that you could live without - cable, a new Wii, designer clothing, etc. So in today's economy, how can one discern between what you really need and want?

Ask yourself these few questions:

1. Can I get by without it? Let's use the example of cable television. Some could argue that this is actually a need because they are trying to save money by cutting out any outside entertainment whatsoever. You could reason that this is actually less money than going out to eat or a movie or some other form of entertainment. I believe this could be deemed logical reasoning if you were not having your house foreclosed on you. If you are trying to cut back and do so by eliminating all other forms of entertainment including eating out and settle for just keeping cable so you can be entertained at home for an amount that you can expect and budget each month I think this is feasible. But not so if you cannot pay your fixed bills. You need to cut the cable out completely.

2. Do I want to trade my time for this item? I have always looked at a purchase in terms of how much time it would take for my husband to work to earn that amount. Let's say that you are looking at buying a $15 sweater at Target. Great deal right? $15 sweater! Yay that's a bargain! But what if your husband, the sole breadwinner of your family, makes $15/hour at his job? Your husband would have worked an hour of his life, an hour he cannot get back, for you to have that sweater. Is it really worth it to you that your husband, or you for that matter, worked an entire hour for that sweater? When you look at your purchases in these terms you might find yourself hanging things back on the rack.

3. Are you having to choose between a want and a need? Let's say you have a few kids and would like them to take soccer lessons, or piano, or whatever they want to do. Granted it is nice to let your kids take lessons but not if it means paying for the lessons or the power bill. 60 years ago kids rarely took lessons like they do now and still they turned out alright. Your kids are not going to suffer just because they don't play T-ball this year. Perhaps they will develop their imagination since they will have to find things to do for themselves outside while they play. I can think of worse things for a child to develop rather than their imagination.

4. Can this be temporary? So what if you have to cut the cable? So what if you can't let your kid play soccer this year or get that new sweater you like? This is only temporary. Once you have your financial bearings then you can let yourself breathe a little bit and add back in some of the things you are cutting back on now. Nothing is forever. You'll like another sweater. You'll probably read more or devote time to getting your financial life back on track when you cut the cable. Your kids can play soccer next season because by then you will have put aside money to plan for that expense (hopefully).

5. Finally, and most importantly, look at how others live - I'm not talking about the Joneses either. I just read this book "Three Cups of Tea" about the plight of one man who goes into remote regions in the last 15 years to build schools in little villiages where young girls never had the opportunity to be educated. All I could think of was how blessed and fortunate we are to live in a civilized country. They did not even have clean water and the infant mortality rate was so high that 1 in 3 infants died before age 1. Many mothers died in childbirth. The man, Greg Mortenson, brought medical care, vocational training and built schools for $12,000, so nothing fancy and these people were able to haul themselves up by their bootstraps and begin to work themselves out of poverty. They would have loved to have what the person on government assistance in the US has now. Yet people who are poor in this country complain that they cannot get ahead. Try living in a mud hut and drinking dirty water all the while living in a harsh climate near the Himalayas where temperatures hover around 0 degrees and make a living. Someone is always more worse off than you. Not that you should take comfort in this but let this be your snap back to reality - as bad as it seems you are still not as bad off as you could be. You still have all your arms and legs, since they have not been blown off by a landmine. You have a source of income and if you don't then you can get assistance from your government to help you so you don't starve to death like those children you see on television in Africa. Let's hope you have a car and don't have to walk 12 miles to the nearest town to get supplies for your village. You have heat or air conditioning. The next time you feel pity for how your life is progressing take a look at how others live. It will put things in a new perspective for you and perhaps you might become grateful for the position you are in currently.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Lightbulb Appears on Top of My Head- Frugal Multiplicity

We live on 1 1/4 acres of land. We have had a riding lawnmower for years. You know the gas guzzling hog that is loud, obnoixious and you die of boredom while you are riding it. Witht he weather breaking and the grass starting to grow again I decided that I wanted one of those old timey lawn mowers, the kind you push and the roating blades cut the grass with sheer elbow grease.

10:30 AM- Ding! Lightbulb appears on top of my head. I decide I want an old timey push mower to get more exercise and not have to pay for gas to run the riding lawnmower. Not to mention leaving less imprint of the earth with no emmisions.

11:00 AM - Post on Freecycle that I am looking for such a thing.

3:00PM - Someone emails me and tells me that have one in perfect condition and it is sitting outside and I can pick it up whenever.

3:15PM - I call my freind who works in town right around the corner from these people and he picks it up on his way home from work for me.

5:30PM - My friend drops off the mower, and not without a 15 minute diatribe of how ridiculous I will look with the 1952 mower. I begin to mow the yard, well part of the yard and get my exercise for the day.

Cost: Free

Those things run $90-139.00 new. Granted this came about beautifully and I would have waited until one showed up over the next few weeks on Freecycle but this just goes to show that to get your idea to become a reality is easy and it won't cost you anything. I remember 15 years ago if I got that same idea I would run to the store and just buy one, not even thinking about how I could come about one for free.

Again, you never know where help might come from and it might just be free. But you never know unless you tell people your needs.