Saturday, January 31, 2009

Weekly Roundup- Super Bowl edition

Having grown up near Pittsburgh, and being a big football fan, I'm pretty excited to see the Steelers in the Super Bowl this weekend.

But sad to say, even the Super Bowl is being hit by the poor economic climate. It just isn't providing the same economic boost to the host city, Tampa, as it has in past years.

Being a sports fan and following my favorite team is one of the joys I grew up with, so I'm sorry to see that even this simple pleasure isn't recession-proof.

But I'll still be enjoying the Super Bowl in my own thrifty way!! Come Sunday night, I'll be curled up on the couch, eating some frugal snacks and working on my weekly menu plan!

Here are a few ideas I found this week for Super Bowl parties. Enjoy!!

Healthy Super Bowl Snacks at $5 Dinners.
Football Party Food at Kaboose
Ways to Save Big on Your Super Bowl Party at Celebrations
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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Tips for a Thrifty Maternity Leave

For those who are working outside the home, I've put together some tips for keeping your budget and your sanity intact during your maternity leave!

I am particularly interested in this topic because I'm expecting baby #2 in just 6 weeks! I'll be out on maternity leave from my part-time job for 3 months, so we need to start planning for our financial situation during that time.

Here are the basics on planning for a thrifty and (relatively) smooth maternity leave:

  • Asses what income and/or savings you have to live on during your leave to ensure that basic bills can be covered
  • Cut food costs: Plan & prepare ahead for meals
  • Cut entertainment costs: Low or no-cost activities

Income & Bills

The first step is just to assess what income you'll have during maternity leave and what savings are available to you as a bridge during any time that you'll be without income.

For us, my company pays for maternity leave as follows:

"Regular" delivery
4 weeks @100%
4 weeks @ 60%
4 weeks @ 0

"C-Section" delivery
4 weeks @100%
6 weeks @ 60%
2 weeks @ 0

I'm certainly hoping I don't need a C-Section, and didn't have one with my first baby, so I'm assuming we'll be on the 4/4/4 pay plan.

It's a huge help that the first 4 weeks are paid at 100%. From past experience, that is the time when we'll be most occupied with the baby and have the least amount of time for frugality or paying extra attention to our bills and financing.

During the second and third month, we'll need to be more careful. Some of our bills are set to auto-deduct from our checking account based on due dates and pay periods, so we'll need to ensure that with my smaller (or non-existent) paychecks we have enough in our account to cover those bills.

There are other bills that my husband pays using our bank's online payment system, and again we'll just have to be aware of watching our balance so that we have enough money prior to the due dates to get everything paid.

We keep a few hundred dollars in our overdraft protection savings account, so that will act as an emergency buffer if we do make any mistakes.

If you are short on income during this time, you may want to consider using some of your emergency fund or short-term savings account to cover basic bills. Once you're back to work, you'll need to replenish the money you spent.

Cut Food Costs

When I was home with my newborn the first time around, the very last thing I wanted to think about was what to make for dinner. On the other hand, with my husband still working full time it isn't really fair to expect him to come home to no dinner and a hungry wife!

We're preparing plenty of freezer meals to reduce our food shopping needs and to make mealtime quick and easy.

I posted before about some of the Freezer Meal recipes I've chosen to make ahead of time.

We have a small chest freezer in our garage, so we have plenty of storage space for as much as I can make.

During the hectic times with a new baby, it can be very easy to fall back on takeout as a quick solution instead of cooking a meal from scratch. Being prepared with some planned frozen meals will help reduce the need spend money on takeout.

Of course, if you have a craving for a cheeseburger and fries, sometimes that is OK too!

Cut Entertainment Costs

We are also looking at what we can do to cut our cost of living in other areas during this time. I usually get cabin fever pretty quickly and, being at home for 3 months, there is a lot of temptation for me to just run to Target or the bookstore just for something to do and to get myself and the baby out of the house.

Of course, then I end up buying little things here and there that we probably don't even need!

After my first daughter was born, I joined a playgroup with about 8 other local moms. It has been such a wonderful way over the past two years to make friends for both me and my daughter.

It is also a very thrifty way to have lots of activities! We meet at least once a week, usually at one of our homes. We've also done some other activities like a picnic at a local park and a group birthday party.

With this child, I am really looking forward to having that support system of other moms during my maternity leave. It will be wonderful to have friends to visit with while I'm home or to go out and do activities with.

My toddler will be occupied with her little friends, and that will ease the pressure on me to keep her happy and entertained at home with me and the baby all the time.

This should help keep me from roaming stores or going to restaurants just to get out of the house.

Having that support network also gives me someone to call if I need someone to babysit for an hour while I take a shower or a nap.

I hope that this little bit of advance planning contributes to a low-stress maternity leave! I definitely plan to enjoy my time to focus on the baby and not worry about money, bills, or meals.
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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Envelope Grocery Budget- Getting Back on the Wagon

Dave Ramsey suggests an Envelope System for budgeting funds to specific categories.

I really like the simplicity of the envelope system. No tracking every receipt and tallying things up-- just spend the cash in your envelope.

My husband wasn't so crazy about the idea. He felt that it was too restrictive and also that it would be a hassle because the cash envelope would be at home.

We usually use debit cards for all of our expenses, and if he needed to pick up something quick on the way home from work he just wanted to use his debit card and not worry about going home first to get the envelope.

We tried the envelope system last year, just for our grocery budget. Our budget was $100 for every 2 weeks. Our paychecks are bi-weekly, so on each pay day we'd withdraw $100 and put it in the envelope.

Overall, we were pretty successful at keeping our grocery budget at or under $100 for 2 weeks. This didn't include baby items like diapers and wipes, but did include all other food, paper products and cleaning supplies.

We did find some of the logistics of the envelope systems to be difficult. My husband was right that quick stops at the store resulted in a hassle if we had to "pay back" the envelope for debit purchases.

Now that I'm working on menu planning, I'm ready to bring back the grocery envelope! I think that meal planning will decrease the number of "quick trips" needed to the store, so any logistical issues should be reduced.

So, I hope that getting back on the envelope system will work for us!

For more great ideas, see Rocks in my Dryer.
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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Financial Goals for 2009 - #11

In an earlier post, I listed all of our financial goals for 2009. Now, here's more on our the last goal for this year-- putting an extra $2000 toward our car loan.

11. Put $2000 extra to car loan

We currently owe about $12, 000 on our Honda Odyssey minivan. It is the only non-mortgage debt we have. Our other car is paid off, as are my student loans. So, we'd like to be as aggressive as we can and knock out this final debt.

Any additional money that we can come up with during the year will also be put toward the car. $2000 seems like an achievable number, and I don't want to over-estimate as we'll be adjusting to a new baby in the house and I'm not sure yet exactly how that will affect the rest of our budget.

This wraps up my series on Financial Goals for 2009. I'll be posting updates periodically on our progress towards each of our goals.

Read the rest of this series: Original Post, #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9 & #10
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Monday, January 26, 2009

Menu Plan Monday- Pantry edition

I'm really scraping the bottom of the barrel to come up with 5 meals, as we still haven't made it to the grocery story this week. So I'm scrounging out of the pantry!!

- Veggie Soup w/ rice or noodles
- Polenta w/ veggies (will make the polenta the night before & chill, so I can just slice & heat it)
- Pasta with sauce (already have the sauce made & frozen)
- Quesidillas w/ guacamole
- Leftovers

We also plan to do some fun finger foods for the Super Bowl on Sunday, even though we aren't having a party.

For more menu plans, visit Org Junkie!
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Recession hits the Girl Scouts

This hits too close to home! Rising costs have caused the Girl Scouts to shrink cookie boxes and offer fewer cookies per box of Thin Mints, Do-si-dos, and Tagalongs, and reduce the size of its Lemon Chalet Crèmes.

Thank goodness the Samoas weren't affected!
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Financial Goals for 2009 - #9 & #10

In an earlier post, I listed all of our financial goals for 2009. Now, here's more on our plan to handle our kids' 529 college savings accounts.

9. Open 529 for #2

This will be an easy one. Once our daughter is born and we get a social security number for her, we'll open a 529 college savings account.

10. Contribute $2000 to each 529 account

We've set a fairly low goal here and should be able to achieve it. Our families have been very generous with monetary gifts for our first daughter, and that has almost fully funded what she has so far in her 529 account. This year, we'll continue to do the same and put any gifts for the kids into their 529 accounts.

As part of the 529 account "maintenance" we will also look at the asset allocations we've chosen there and make any adjustments as needed.

Here are more details on the 529 college savings account plan.

Read the rest of this series: Original Post, #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8
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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Weekly Roundup Real Life Edition

Real life certainly isn't like the movies, or even like TV! In real life, there's no handyman next door on Wisteria Lane and life is more like Sleep in the Suburbs than Sex in the City.

At our house, we have a long list of chores waiting to be done, listed on the white board on our refrigerator. And more chores seem to pop up every day!

Some days the slow and steady (and frugal) route to financial security seems like a very loooong path. But as we aren't wasting money on lottery tickets, I don't think we can expect any surprise windfalls.

So for all of us real people managing real money while living our real lives, here are:

For my absolute favorite post of the week, see what its like when 30-Minute-Meals get real!
Weekly Roundup Real Life EditionSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Friday, January 23, 2009

Financial Goals for 2009 - #8

In an earlier post, I listed all of our financial goals for 2009. Now, here's more on our plan to make a will.

8. Make a Will

Can you believe our daughter is almost 2 years old and we still have no will???

The main thing holding us up on the will is choosing a guardian for our kid(s). Its such a huge thing to ask someone.

And then on top of that, we need to understand the options for financially caring for our kids if something happens to us, via our guardian, a trust, and/or some other way. We want to make sure we understand all the options and getting something in place. With a second child on the way, we can't procrastinate on this any longer.

We signed up for the prepaid legal plan benefit at work so that we wouldn't have to find a lawyer on our own. So, all we have to do is make some decisions and then make that phone call!

Read the rest of this series: Original Post, #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7
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Preparing for baby- the Thrifty way!

Plenty of registry checklists and online stores would have you believe that you need a whole truckload of stuff to care for a baby. But what do you REALLY need for bringing home baby?

Just think of the basics-- the baby needs to sleep, eat, have something to wear, and be clean. That's it!

While there are both simple and more complex ways to attend to these needs, the accessories and gadgets on the market have really gotten out of control. Do you really need a Baby Cry Analyzer for $120?? Or a $230 flat screen video monitor??

Probably not!

Let's take a look at what really are the basics:

Yes, YOU need sleep! But what does the BABY need to sleep? There are plenty of options here.

You could start off right away with a crib, or use a bassinet, Moses basket, or co-sleeper. Whichever you choose, have a few changes of sheets and receiving blankets. A swaddling blanket may be useful as well, and you'll likely get a couple blankets and maybe a pacifier from the hospital.

All of these items can be bought new or used or borrowed from a friend. Just remember to check the CPSC site for any recalls.

If your tiny baby looks lost on that giant crib mattress, just roll up and tuck a few receiving blankets around her.

Bassinets and baskets are much smaller in size than a standard crib and will likely be used for only a few months. So if you want to use either of those, they are good candidates for items to borrow.

Breastfeed if you are able and willing. Breastfeeding is mostly free, except for the increased cost of food for you and some lotion, breast pads, and accessible tops/bras.

If breastfeeding isn't for you, go with formula. Most hospitals and doctors offices will give you formula samples to get you started, if you choose.

If you formula-feed, you'll also need a few small bottles. The more bottles you have, the fewer times a day you'll have to wash them.

But don't go load up on one type of bottle right away. There are many shapes and styles of bottles and of nipples and you want to find what works best for you and the baby before you stock up. So, start with a few bottles of different styles and see what you like.

A handful of onesies, some pj's or sleeping gowns, and some warm socks and a hat are plenty to get you started.

If your baby spits up a lot, you may want to get some plastic-backed bibs as well. Those tiny little bibs that come with all the baby outfits are cute, but not very useful for protecting clothing.

Ditto for the frilly dresses and lacy blankets that seem to be required baby shower gifts. Don't bother putting them on your little girl right away unless you want her to be itchy and the fabric to be ruined!

Keep your eyes open for consignment sales in your area, as these are great places to stock up on clothing.

Babies don't need to be bathed often, but you'll want some gentle soap and a soft washcloth for those baths.

An adult's fluffy towel can work perfectly well to wrap the baby during and after the bath. Those tiny little baby towels are adorable but not the most practical things!

For changing diapers, you really don't need a fancy changing table or even any changing table at all! Get a changing pad and lay it on the floor, or just use a towel the same way. Add in some diapers and wipes, and you're ready to go!

Last but not least.....a carseat!

You won't be able to leave the hospital without it. And of course, eventually you'll want to leave your house with the baby.

You can buy an infant or convertible carseat new or used. As with the cribs, check with the CPSC to ensure that the seat hasn't had any safety recalls.

If you are going thrifty in most areas and can afford to spend a bit more in others, I'd recommend splurging on the carset and crib. Those 2 items are the most important to a baby's safety and will be used for the longest period of time.

Share your experience--- What baby gear or supplies did you find to be a "must have"??

For more frugal tips, visit Frugal Friday at Biblical Womanhood!
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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Freezer Cooking- Prepping for baby

My second daughter is due in mid-March. To help us get through the initial crazy period with a newborn and toddler at home, I'm planning to stock the freezer with a couple month's worth of meals.

We tend to eat a lot of leftovers for lunch, so I want to have plenty stocked up for some lunch & dinner variety each week. I'll also do a few breakfast & snack items to break up the monotony of cereal, oatmeal, & crackers.

Our plan is to eat home-cooked as much as possible, to try and avoid the temptation of easy take-out when we're busy and sleep deprived.

My expectation is that our food expenses will increase a bit in the next month or so as we make and store our frozen dishes, but that the expense should even out during the post-baby period when we're shopping less. We'll see how that works out!

So far, here is what I have made:

--- Pasta sauce

--- Beef Stew

Other things I plan to make:

Chocolate chip and/or blueberry pancakes (from The Sneaky Chef)
Fruit & Veggie Muffins
(See a great tip on freezing muffins)
Cabbage Rolls (substituting TVP for beef)

My husband loves to make giant vats of Chili and veggie soups, so we'll probably make some of those as well.

I'd love to see any freezer meal ideas or recipes you have! Please post them on your blog and link to it below. Or just post in the comments. Thanks!

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Financial Goals for 2009 - #7

In an earlier post, I listed all of our financial goals for 2009. Now, here's more on our plan to review our insurance needs and the plans we have.

7. Review Life Insurance

I'm almost certain that we don't have enough life insurance, especially for my husband. Being that I work part time, the bulk of our income is from his salary. Should something happen to him, I need to make sure that I could cover the bills & college expenses for our (soon to be) 2 kids.

I'd also like to look into other insurance options like long-term care and a plan to pay off our home mortgage should something happen to either of us.

I've heard conflicting advice on whether it is worthwhile to have life insurance on small children, so that is another insurance question I'd like to research further.

Read the rest of this series: Original Post, #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6
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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

No Sugar Added Homemade Granola

I was inspired by the Baking Day over at Money Saving Mom, so I decided to make and post my homemade granola recipe!

I like the idea of homemade granola because granola bought at the store is just so expensive and usually loaded with sugar.

The only caveat to this recipe is that it does have a molasses flavor to it from the blackstrap molasses.

If that flavor is too strong for your taste, I'd suggest cutting down the molasses with some oil.

We mix this into yogurt, and we also mix it with raisins and Chex cereal for a trail mix.

No Sugar Granola
4c Quick Oats
2c Puffed Millet (could substitute Puffed Rice)
1/2c Ground Flax
1/2c Non-fat Dry Milk
1/2c Honey
1/2c Blackstrap Molasses
Vanilla & Cinammon to taste (I used about 1 tsp each)

Mix well in a large bowl, then spread onto a cookie sheet or jellyroll pan. Bake at 325F for 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. When done, will be mostly dry throughout. Allow to cool and then store in an airtight container. Yields about 8 cups.

Homemade, no-sugar-added granola definitely works for us!

Want more? Subscribe to Practicing Thrift

For more Works for Me Wednesday tips, visit Rocks in My Dryer.
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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Embracing the values of thrift

As mentioned in a previous post, there is a movement to bring back National Thrift Week. On the Thrift Week website, there is a form letter that you can send to your congressperson and I think the letter sums up the concept of thrift very nicely:

"By “thrift,” I don’t mean simple penny-pinching. I’m talking about a much broader set of practices like spending prudently, saving abundantly, investing wisely, and giving generously. From the times of Benjamin Franklin to the early part of the twentieth century, we were a nation that valued these things, but somewhere along the way, we’ve been led astray by unbridled consumerism, instant gratification, and an attitude that we must, at all costs, “keep up with the Joneses.”

While I'm new to the blogosphere, I think it's clear to see that there are many, many bloggers who have embraced the values of thrift and put them into practice.

In the past, the greater culture seems to have looked down on those who lived their lives in a frugal or thrifty way. We were cheapskates or penny pinchers or just plain old cheap.

But in reality, the values of spending less than you earn, conserving rather than wasting and having a "do it yourself" attitude are the bedrock of a strong household, a strong economy and a strong nation.

There is certainly no shame in being thrifty!! In fact, as we saw in 2008, many more people and businesses should probably be embracing the concept of thriftiness.

If you'd like to support the National Thrift Week movement, visit their website and write to your congressperson.

Have a favorite thrifty website? Please share it in the comments!
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Financial Goals for 2009 - #6

In an earlier post, I listed all of our financial goals for 2009. Now, here's more on our plan to review our credit card benefits and interest rates and look for better deals.

6. Check for better credit card deals (rewards/interest)

We use our credit cards in a pretty limited fashion, 95% of the time paying them off each month. I have an American Express card that pays .25 to .5 % cash back on purchases. We also earn points with our debit cards that can be redeemed on a shopping site for things like gift cards.

Given that we don't use our credit cards a lot, I don't know that we can really earn much in the way of points or rewards. But it certainly can't hurt to do a quick review of what benefits we get from our current cards and see if there are better offers available.

Same with the interest rate-- being that we don't use the cards a lot I'm not overly concerned with the rate, but its always a good idea to periodically see if you're getting the best deal.

Read the rest of this series: Original Post, #1, #2, #3, #4, #5
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Monday, January 19, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

Last week was my first attempt at Menu Planning, and I'd say I was about 50% successful. We definitely didn't stick to the meal plan by day, but we did have 3 of the 5 planned meals for the week.

We went out to eat one night when I threw up my hands because the tofu for my Spinach & Tofu dish had expired. I also modified my plan for Egg Noodles w/ veggies & beans when I came across this great idea for Roasted Noodles. I just substituted veggies & cheese for the ham.

Now on to this week's plan! I think I'll just list out 5 meals for this week, knowing I won't stick to the days anyway.

We're having a cold snap, so when we sat down to plan our meals they tended to be "comfort food" for the most part.

- Meatloaf w/ mashed potatoes and spinach
- Corn on the cob w/ rice & beans
- Crockpot Spinach & Tofu (carry-over from last week)
- Shepherd's pie
- Leftovers or pizza

See more menus for this week here.
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Sunday, January 18, 2009

National Thrift Week

Do you remember National Thrift Week? I sure don't. I wasn't even born in 1966 when the last National Thrift Week was held.

There is a movement to bring back National Thrift Week, which is certainly timely given the state of our economy!

With a few adjustments in our own personal financial habits, we can all renew a sense of thrift at the individual level, but a nationwide culture shift that reestablishes thrift as a core value can only be achieved in the context of a broad-based, well-sponsored, and government-backed social movement.

I love the values celebrated in National Thrift Week:
  • Have a Bank Account Day
  • Invest Safely Day
  • Carry Life Insurance Day
  • Keep a Budget Day
  • Pay Bills Promptly Day
  • Own Your Home Day
  • Share with Others Day
National Thrift Week runs from January 17th to January 24th, so this week I'll have a few posts honoring those thrifty values!
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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Weekly Roundup- Kids Edition

With my due date 8 weeks away, my mental focus has been on my daughter and the new baby to come.

I'd like to help get us prepared for the new baby by having some freezer meals ready to go. I hope this will help us maintain a fairly thrifty food budget when we're all sleep deprived! Also, it will simplify my life to have plenty of meals ready to just defrost and heat.

From a larger perspective of kids and money, I've been thinking about how to start incorporating an understanding of money into my daughter's life. She is almost 2, and I think It's never too soon to teach kids about money.

  • I'd love to get her a Money Saving Pig, but first I need to make sure it isn't breakable!!
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Friday, January 16, 2009

Family Night at Chick-fil-A

One of my Menu Plan meals didn't work out this week, so we decided to go out to dinner. We found that our local Chick-fil-A does family night on Tuesdays. Kids eat free with an adult combo meal, AND there is a free make & take craft!

All together we spent $10 on dinner for three and made a funny little snowman picture frame as a family project.

It was a fun and inexpensive last-minute night out on the town! Contact your local Chick-fil-A to see if they have a similar Family Night program!

For more frugal tips and thoughts to share, visit Biblical Womanhood every Friday!
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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Financial Goals for 2009 - #5

In an earlier post, I listed all of our financial goals for 2009. Now, here's more on our plan to review our asset allocations.

5. Review/Adjust asset allocations across retirement accounts

Given that my husband & I have 4 retirement accounts between us, and given that our accounts our down 30% or more in value, now seems like a good time to revisit our true risk tolerance and what investment mix is right for us.

We also want to verify that we're not over-investing in any one area amongst our accounts. Plus, this appears to be a good time to rebalance if our asset allocations have gotten out of whack after the crazy market year in 2008.

I found a bunch of asset allocation and risk tolerance calculators online to try, as well as one provided by our company's 401k plan administrator.

My husband and I both need to spend some time looking at this for a stock vs bond (or cash) split, as well as looking at how to split the stock portion between domestic and international, and small/large caps.

We'll then need to look at what investment options are available within our plans, including target-date life cycle funds.

Read the rest of this series: Original Post, #1, #2, #3, #4
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Stockpiling - Is it really thrifty?

Most frugal living websites that I read advocate stockpiling: stocking up on sale items to avoid paying full price when things aren't on sale and/or you don't have a coupon.

I have a few problems with the concept of stockpiling. First, I have a natural aversion to excess "things". I really dislike having extra anything around the house, or having anything at all that I don't absolutely need. I like empty shelves and clean closets.

The second problem for me is the money spent to stockpile. I was struck by a recent guest post on Money Saving Mom, It's not about how much we save, it's about how little we spend.

This fits nicely with my feeling that buying 15 boxes of cereal just because they are on sale might not be the best idea in the world. Even if I can get a deal on cereal for $1.00 a box, for example, does spending $15 of my grocery budget to stock up on cereal really make sense?

What if I need that $15 for food to eat NOW?

It seems logical that if cereal goes on sale every 3 months, I should buy enough on sale so that I won't have to buy during the times that it is full price. But what if other brands are on sale during that 3 months?

What if I buy generic during that 3 months? What if we eat oatmeal or homemade granola bars instead of cereal? Do we really need 3 months worth of cereal at all? If not, why stockpile??

The third problem I have with stockpiling is that for it to be truly effective, you need to have multiple coupons. If Cheerios are on sale for $2.00 a box and you get a .50 cent coupon from your Sunday paper that will double, you get Cheerios for $1.00 a box. Great!

But to stockpile at the $1.00 a box price, you need multiple coupons.

So you can coupon swap with friends, dumpster dive, buy coupons online, etc. All of that work to accumulate coupons takes time. For me, coupon-hunting is not the best use of my time.

Instead, I'll buy one box of Cheerios with the sale + coupon. Next time there is another sale and another coupon, I'll buy more cereal.

If we run out in the meantime, there are plenty of other thrifty breakfast ideas around:

Frugal Breakfast Basics
Yummy Granola Bars
Fruit and Veggie Muffins
Crockpot Baked Oatmeal
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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Storing Yearly Paperwork

We've devised a simple system for storing all the paperwork that accumulates throughout the year. We keep a basket on the desk in our kitchen and we throw into the basket any paperwork that needs to be filed and stored.

For example, we keep medical bills, receipts that we'll need for our tax returns, pay stubs, statements for bank and investment accounts, etc. Everything goes into the basket.

Once the basket gets full (usually about once a month), I go through and sort everything into an expandable folder categorized by type. We use a new expandable folder for each year.

This keeps all of our papers organized in one compact folder, and it also comes in very handy at tax time as all our income, expense, and deduction information is in one spot. It works for us!

Want to see more great tips? Have a Works-For-Me Wednesday tip you'd like to share? Visit Rocks in my Dryer!
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Financial Goals for 2009 - #4

In an earlier post, I listed all of our financial goals for 2009. Now, here's more on our plan to spend some time looking at our fixed monthly bills to see where we can cut back and save money.

4. Cut "fixed" monthly expenses

We have all the usual services that many families have: cable tv, home phone, cell phones, insurance, etc. It's time that we conducted a thorough review of those bills that come in every month and get paid without too much thought.

In particular, I think our cell phone bill could be lower. We don't use the phones a whole lot, so we're going to investigate the pay-as-you-go idea to see if it would save us money.

We currently have AT&T cell phone service, so I'm investigating their "GoPhone" options. I need to look back at a few past bills and compare usage with the pay-as-you-go plans to see what would be the best choice for us.

My husband and I will split up the rest of our bills and each investigate lower cost options on our share.

Read the rest of this series: Original Post, #1, #2, #3
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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Financial Goals for 2009 - #3

In an earlier post, I listed all of our financial goals for 2009. Now, here's more on our plan to maintain or expand our emergency fund.

3. Maintain 6 months living expenses in an emergency fund

We already have 6 months worth of expenses in a high-yield savings account. With the coming year I expect that our expenses will rise, so we need to determine how much more to put into that account and then fully fund it.

In addition, we need to decide whether to stick with the high-yield, online account for all of our emergency savings or to split some of that money out into another account.

We're considering putting part of the emergency fund into our local credit union account. The interest would be lower, but the ease and speed of accessibility would be greater as we could walk into one of several branches to withdraw money. This would be a purely peace-of-mind change, but is that enough to offset that reduced interest income?

Both my husband and I got a little spooked by the bank failures in 2008. Our emergency fund is in an FDIC-insured account, so we know that even if our online bank did fail we wouldn't be out any money. Still, there would be a hassle-factor involved if that did happen.

Having some emergency money in a local account feels like a good compromise. We just need to decide if the peace of mind would outweigh the sacrificed interest income.

Read the rest of this series: Original Post, #1, #2
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Monday, January 12, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

This week, I'm making my first attempt at menu planning! I've read so much about how menu planning is a great tactic for saving time and money, because you don't have to struggle at the end of the day to come up with an idea for dinner or pick up take-out when you can't think of anything.

Being that this is my first time, I'm going to try and keep things simple. I've decided on 2 make-ahead meals and 2 quick throw-it-together meals to give us some flexibility. I'll also have leftovers or a frozen pizza one night, so I only need to plan 4 meals.

Monday: Crockpot Spinach & Tofu
Tuesday: Risotta with frozen veggies
Wednesday: My mom's beef stew recipe
Thursday: Egg Noodles with veggies & beans
Friday: Leftovers or frozen pizza

See more menus for this week here.
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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Weekly Roundup- New Blogger Edition

This is the week my blog went live, so I've been reading a lot of articles for beginning bloggers. Much of the content for new bloggers is targeted towards building readership and making money but at this point I'm mainly interested on tips for writing good content.

And on a personal finance and family note, I found the article "Do Children Really Cause Financial Burdens?" to be an eye-opening read. I've always read the horror-stats about how expensive kids are, but this article really debunks some of those myths.
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Friday, January 9, 2009

The student surpasses the master

I think my husband has officially spent too much time with me. When we first started dating, he was not the most thrifty guy in the world. In fact, he wasn't thrifty at all. He wasn't wasteful, he saved, he did the 401k thing. He just made enough money that frugality and budgeting were not on his radar.

Since we got married and combined our finances, he's been exposed to whole new world of frugality: budgeting, emergency funds, coupons, sale shopping, carefully evaluating the need of items before buying, etc.

I think he's absorbed it all and gone over the top right along with me.

My husband is a coffee drinker. I am not. For our wedding, my parents got him a nice coffee maker for our house. Nothing fancy, just a nice coffee maker. Well, he was washing the glass carafe and accidentally banged it against the counter top and broke it. He was pretty bummed, because he uses that coffee maker every weekend. (During the week, he just drinks the coffee at work.)

Being the kind wife that I am, I told him to go ahead and order a new carafe or just spend the $25 bucks on a new coffee maker at Target. He was hesitant to spend the money, so I went to Goodwill and found a $2 carafe of a different brand. We gave that a try, but it didn't fit right into our coffee maker.

In order to use the new carafe, he had to start the brewing cycle and stand at the coffee maker while holding the carafe in just the right spot to "trigger" the drip spout. This went on for about a month. Every Saturday and Sunday morning he'd stand at the coffee maker holding the carafe in place so that the coffee didn't overflow or backup into the filter. Every Saturday and Sunday morning, I would say "Please just go get yourself a new coffee pot, we can afford a new coffee pot."

He looked online for a replacement carafe but felt it was too expense. He looked at the Sunday sale fliers for a new coffee maker but couldn't bring himself to buy one when we had a perfectly good coffee maker at home!

I told my mom about this silly predicament and she immediately ordered him a new carafe for Christmas. So, at no charge to us, my frugal hubby is no longer a slave to the coffee carafe! Thanks Mom!

For more frugal tips and thoughts to share, visit Biblical Womanhood every Friday!
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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Financial Goals for 2009 - #2

In an earlier post, I listed all of our financial goals for 2009. Now, here's more on our plan to fully fund our 4 retirement accounts.

2. Fully fund our Roth IRAs and 401ks

I expect to meet this goal for 2008 and plan to do it again this year. Our 401ks for 2008 are already done, and we have a few more months to finish the Roth IRAs. We each have one 401K (through our current work) and one Roth IRA.

For 2009, the 401k contribution limit is 16,500 and the Roth IRA limit is 5,000. We will each contribute the maximum to both accounts. This is really easy to do with our 401k, as we figure out at the beginning of the year what percent of our salary is needed to hit that limit and then set our automatic contribution to that percentage. Because it happens automatically and we never see this money, we really don't miss it throughout the year.

The Roth IRAs are a little harder and we usually end up filing our taxes as early as possible in order to use our tax return to top off both accounts before the April 15 contribution deadline. This is what we'll need to do for 2008 as well.

In the future, I'd like to look into automating our Roth contributions but with the baby coming in March I don't think this is the year. I'd prefer to have some extra flexibility with our income until we have a firm grasp on expenses with 2 kids!

Read the rest of this series: Original Post, #1
Financial Goals for 2009 - #2SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Filing bills & receipts

In the past, we kept all our upcoming bills and recent receipts in a stack on the desk in our kitchen. Every time we got paid, my husband or I would go through the pile, use our online banking system to pay the bills, and then enter everything in Quicken.

It was a bit messy, but it was OK for us until my daughter got tall enough to reach the pile on the desk. Then our stack started ended up scattered all over the floor.

So we went to Target and picked up an inexpensive 3-slot desktop filer that we keep on the back of our desk. We keep recent receipts in the front, checkbook in the middle, and upcoming bills in the back.

This simple filing system keeps the receipts and bills separate and, most importantly, keeps everything out of my daughter's reach! It works for us!

For other great tips, visit Works-for-Me Wednesdays at Rocks in my Dryer .
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Financial Goals for 2009 - #1

In an earlier post, I listed all of our financial goals for 2009. Now, here's more on our plan to refinance our home mortgage.

1. Refinance our home.

For ease of refinancing, we've decided to stick with our current mortgage lender, Wells Fargo. I've compared rates on and looked at a few other lenders, so I'm comfortable that the rates we're seeing with Wells Fargo are competitive.

Based on what we've seen in our research and in working with the lender, we're waiting to lock-in until we can get down to 4.75% with .250 or less points.

We expect this to save us about $200 a month. We'll pay off the refinancing fees in about 18 months. This is acceptable to us, as we expect to be in our home for at least 2-3 more years, and the extra $200 a month in our pockets will be a benefit to us with a new baby on the way.
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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

My philosophy on Couponing

I'm definitely a proponent of coupons, but I try to use them in moderation because I feel like couponing can really become an obsessive time-sink for me. There are so many sources to find coupons---- online printing sites, individual brand sites, ecoupons for store cards, buying coupons from clippers or ebay, etc, and that's not to mention the plain old newspaper! Personally, I really don't want to have to register at 1000 different websites just to get 1 coupon here and there.

Then to get the most out of the coupons you've gathered, you need to organize and file them all and match up the coupons to items that are on sale each week. In my area, there are 4 grocery store chains, 3 drug store chains, plus Target and Wal-mart, all of which print weekly sale flyers. Its not so much the matching up coupons to sales that's hard, because there are many sites that do this for you. My favorite local site is Taking Stock, which posts all the deal match-ups every Wednesday. The problem for me is actually driving around to 2 or 3 or more different stores to get the deals. I've tried this in the past and it never fails that some of the items are out of stock, especially at the drug stores. (CVS, this means you!)

My current weekly routine with coupons is to go through the Sunday paper and clip pretty much every coupon. I divide them into 3 piles: one for me, one for a neighbor I swap with, and another for a friend who doesn't get the newspaper. I only keep the coupons for brands we use regularly or for items on which I'm not brand-loyal. I'll also save coupons for things that I don't use regularly but would be willing to try if they were cheap enough.

I do print out some coupons from and and I've just starting investigating some ecoupon sites, including Upromise. These haven't proved too valuable to me so far though because my only local chain that accepts ecoupons is Kroger. In my area, Kroger doubles coupons only up to 50 cents whereas Lowes Foods and Harris Teeter double up to 99 cent coupons. I shop most often at Harris Teeter and only go to Kroger if there is an outstanding sale + coupon + ecoupon deal.

Here is a great overview of printable and ecoupon sites from Mommy Snacks.

My coupon filing system isn't a large binder, its just a small expandable plastic file like a canceled check pocket with multiple slots. I actually don't even have a price book. (shhh! Don't tell anyone!)

In my file, I have coupons categorized into logical groupings somewhat based on the aisles at the store where I shop most often. The coupons are sorted by date, with soonest expiration date in the front of each pocket. This usually works well for me, but I do sometimes "lose" coupons when I can't remember where I filed them or I made a mistake on my expiration date sorting.

In the past, I've varied between some different couponing methods. For a while I was clipping and filing every newspaper coupon in my organizer plus printing out a lot online too. This just got to be too much in my coupon organizer. I had trouble finding coupons for the things I used most often because there was too much clutter from coupons for things I likely wouldn't use. I was saving all those extra coupons "just in case" and I never used most of them.

I then tried clipping just those I'd be most likely to use while saving the rest, unclipped, and filing the coupon fliers. Saving the fliers seemed like a good idea, especially when I was trying to work the CVS Extra Care Bucks system, but I ended up with a big folder of coupon flyers that I rarely used.

The system I have going now feels like a good compromise. I'm certainly not getting every coupon deal out there, but I do regularly save 15-20% or so on our grocery bills. The time and effort I invest in coupon shopping is somewhere in between Money Saving Mom (my frugal hero) and The Simple Dollar. I try to combine sale shopping, coupons, and store brands to get the best deals with only a moderate time investment.
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Sunday, January 4, 2009

Financial Goals for 2009

Being that it's a New Year, my husband and I have started to discuss what our financial goals should be for 2009. Some will be the same as in 2008, and others will be new.

While we haven't been directly affected by the economic downturn so far, we're definitely both aware that is a possibility. One or both of us could get laid off, while prices for food, daycare and other expenses will continue to rise. So we're trying to find extra space in our budget wherever we can and add more to our emergency savings account.

Here is the list we've come up with:

1. Refinance our home
2. Fully fund our Roth IRAs and 401ks
3. Maintain 6 months living expenses in an emergency fund
4. Cut "fixed" monthly expenses
5. Review/Adjust asset allocations across retirement accounts
6. Check for better credit card deals (rewards/interest)
7. Review Life Insurance policy/needs
8. Make a Will
9. Open 529 for #2
10. Contribute $2000 to each 529 account
11. Put $2000 extra to car loan

I'll post more in-depth details on each of these goals throughout January.
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Saturday, January 3, 2009

Moderately Frugal

I'm generally a thrifty person and always have been. Even as a kid I loved getting my allowance and cash gifts and holding on to them to see how much I could save up. I wasn't really one to blow my allowance on the little toys, candy, and collectibles that are meant to entice kids. I was more interested in a heavy piggy bank and fat savings accounts. This has paid off for me in adulthood as I have a good credit history, have never been in credit card debt, paid off my student loans early, and have owned 2 paid-off cars. I also owned my own home as a young-ish singleton.

On the flip side, I've probably missed out some pleasures and experiences because I just didn't want to spend the money. Vacations have been few and far between, and my style of home decor could probably be described as spartan mixed with thrift-store-chic. That's not necessarily a bad thing.... but I have tended to live further below my means than necessary and deny myself some simple pleasures like a comfortable couch or new clothes.

Now that I'm a married mom, sharing a home with my husband and daughter, I find I have to balance my frugal tendencies with practicality and compromise. There are some things that you simply can't be thrifty about. You've just got to spend the money on a safe car seat, or on an acceptable daycare that may not be the cheapest one around.

In general, there are 3 things (besides safety issues) standing between me and true over-the-top frugality (bordering on tightwad-ism).

1. Time: Many of the things required to be truly frugal take time...Making all or most of your own meals, snacks, bread, etc at home. Spreading your shopping around to more than one store to get the best deal. Making several visits to stores to try and get the (usually sold out) advertised deals. A lot of time web surfing, coupon printing and organizing.

I work part-time and have a daughter who is nearly 2, with another daughter on the way in early 2009. I need to use my time to its best advantage, really focusing on the value of time vs money rather than strictly on dollars saved. Is driving to 3 CVS stores to get one out of stock Extra Care Bucks item really worth my time? Its a question I need to remember to ask myself when those situations arise.

2. My husband: He was the opposite of thrifty when we started dating. He was single, rented a house with a couple roommates, and had a good job that paid well. He also had some hobbies that weren't cheap, like video games and beer collecting (aka beer hoarding). He pretty much spent what he wanted when he wanted, but had great credit and wasn't in debt at all because his housing was cheap and his job paid well. He's on board with frugality, but he does frequently remind me to take a step back and remember that we aren't barely scraping by and can afford an extra buck here and there. He also reminds me that time is often more valuable than money (see point #1) and we have to have a balance between the two.

3. Purging: A pull stronger on me than frugality is my complete intolerance for clutter in any form. I am simply incapable as a person of building a grocery stockpile or buying things we don't need to score rebates or resell them on ebay. For the same reason, I rarely, if ever, sign up for the scads of "freebies" and free samples to be found online.

Sometimes, even things that we need get swept up in my latest collection for Goodwill. It really isn't uncommon around my house for my husband and I to search and search for something we know we have, only to finally conclude that I must have given it away in the last few months! I know, it is completely un-frugal to give away something you need (even if you need it only occasionally) and then have to replace it. So I am just admitting this personality flaw right up front!

Combining my natural tendencies with the practicalities of our family means that we try to live frugally as much as is reasonable and balance thriftiness with time better spent in other ways.

In addition to limiting expenses, the only other way to improve your financial position is to increase income. So these are the 2 areas of our focus.

My goal is to both limit expenses and increase income in moderation and in a way that respects the value of time and family. I also work to carefully track and plan our finances effectively for both short-term and long-term needs.
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