Saturday, February 28, 2009

Anyone else on Mom Bloggers Club?

I have recently joined MomBloggersClub and am really enjoying the groups I've found on there. It is wonderful to find such a friendly group of fellow bloggers.

I thought I'd share a few blogs I found there, and have added to my Technorati favorites. I hope you find something of interest to you!!

http://conversationswithmoms.com
http://1momof5.blogspot.com
ttp://www.scarymommy.com
http://stacysrandomthoughts.blogspot.com
http://isitmondayalready.blogspot.com
http://www.justtherightspice.com
http://www.drachma-girl.blogspot.com
http://saveyourmoneymama.blogspot.com
http://moomettesmagnificents.com/blog/
http://lusciousdeals.blogspot.com/
http://healthywealthymoms.blogspot.com/
http://tiafihaki.blogspot.com
http://www.andrewsandfamily.blogspot.com
http://dominiquegoh.com/
http://downtoearthblog.com/
http://www.3psinapod.com/
http://isitmondayalready.blogspot.com/
http://saveyourmoneymama.blogspot.com/

If you are on Technorati, please add me (http://practicingthrift.blogspot.com) to your Favorites! And follow me on Twitter!
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Thursday, February 26, 2009

TVP Recipes

I posted earlier this week about wonderful, frugal TVP and thought I'd add to that topic with some recipes.

TVP is a very frugal substitute for ground meat. For those who haven't tried TVP before, these recipes can get you started!

TVP Recipes
These recipes call for TVP, so you don't have to change or substitute anything.

Vegetarian Tacos
Marinara Sauce
Stuffed Peppers
Chili


Meat Substitution Recipes
In these recipes, you can exchange each pound of ground meat for 1 2/3 cups of reconstituted TVP.

Enchilada Bake
Breakfast Burritos
Cabbage Rolls


New to TVP? Read my previous post for more info! Enjoy!



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Preparing for Job Loss - Resources

This series has covered how to best prepare yourself and your family in case job loss should strike. Whether the loss is of your family's primary income, or of a secondary income source, job loss can hit hard.

Being prepared helps minimize that impact.

I came across many great resources over the course of researching this series. Some have been linked to in the other posts of the series, but there are a few more that I wanted to share as well:

Online College: 15 Ways to Set Yourself Apart in a Recession
Christian PF: Surviving a Layoff
Tips & Treasures: 10 Tips to Earn Money in 2009
WiseBread: Write for Money Online
Homemaker Barbie: Recession-proof Your Family

As I wrap up this series, I've reread all the posts on this topic that I've written. I think the number one bit of advice that is most important is to keep a positive attitude.

Getting laid off, downsized, fired.... whatever you want to call it... is a blow to the ego. Realize that you are not your job. Do what you can now to prepare for the worst, but expect the best and go one with your life.

If you do lose your job, don't lose heart. There is a world of opportunity outside your door. Open up that door and jump in!

Read the rest of this series.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Textured Vegetable Protein - TVP

What is TVP?? Textured Vegetable Protein is a high-protein, low-fat meat substitute made from soy flour. TVP is available in bulk at health food stores. It looks like yellowish, crumbly flakes.

We use a lot of TVP in our recipes. Pretty much any recipe that calls for ground meat can be substituted with TVP.

To use TVP, first reconstitute it in boiled water, broth, or even tomato juice. We prefer broth because it adds a nice subtle flavor to the dish.

Mix equal parts boiled liquid and TVP, stir, then let stand until water absorbs. You can use a little less liquid if your recipe is saucy and you want the TVP to absorb some of that. In recipes, use about 1 2/3 cups of reconstituted TVP to substitute for 1 pound of ground beef.

TVP is a very thrifty way to add protein to your meals. We pay around $1.80 per pound for TVP and TVP is about 4 1/2 cups of flakes per pound. When reconstituited, that will make enough to substitute for about 3 pounds of ground beef.

So, that comes out to about 6o cents per recipe "pound" for TVP!

Compare that to ground beef which this week at my grocery store (Harris Teeter) is 4.29/lb for 85% lean ground round. Morningstar Farms crumbles, another meat substitute, are 4.59 for 12 oz.

If you aren't quite ready to go all the way with TVP in your recipes, try using 1/2 TVP and 1/2 ground beef and see how it works for you!

See some recipes here and here that substitute TVP for meat.


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Preparing for Job Loss - Be Proactive

We're all aware that thousands of people are losing their jobs, seemingly on a weekly basis! What can you do now to prepare in case you lose your family income?

1. Update your resume
Now would certainly be a good time to have a complete, accurate, up-to-date resume. You don't want to have to start from scratch to put a resume together after losing your job. If your resume is current, you can start applying for new jobs on day one.

My husband and I have both worked for the same employer for nearly 10 years, updating our resumes only very rarely, so this is a step we both should take!

2. Invest in training
There are always opportunities to expand knowledge of your current field, or to add skills in new areas. Many courses are available online or at night, especially through community colleges, and can fit into a busy schedule.

Again, this is something you don't want to have to start from scratch after losing your job. Keep your skill set current and learn about new areas that might interest you. This will help increase your qualifications across the board.

I work as a project manager and my husband works in software QA. In both careers, there is much room for training and learning new skills. I've recently completed an online project management course, and will continue to take more courses in the future.

I am considering working towards my PMP (project management professional) training, but that would probably have to be after baby #2 has arrived. My husband works in programming with a couple different languages, so he could take courses to expand his knowledge as well.

3. Explore alternate sources of income
As mentioned in the previous post in this series, diversifying your income streams is a great way to reduce the impact of a job loss. This, along with an emergency fund, would buy you some time as you look for a new source of primary income.

4. Save now for a rainy day
Speaking of emergency funds, HAVE ONE! An emergency fund, or a fully funded account with 3-6 months living expenses, will cushion the blow of your job loss and allow you to maintain a secure living while you look for new work.

Now is the time to build that emergency fund!

5. Keep a positive attitude!
Job searching isn't easy, no matter the situation. No matter how much effort you put in, you'll probably still have to deal with some rejection and disappointment.

Maintain your confidence in the skills you have to offer, and keep looking until you find the right opportunity!

Read the rest of this series

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

Here are the plans on tap for this week!

More Roasted Crockpot Veggies (this time: beets, asparagus & broccoli) and baked tofu
Creamed Spinach & baked sweet potato
Breakfast dinner (omelets & toast)
Veggie Burgers with whatever frozen veggies we have on hand
Panko shrimp with couscous

One other food note- my sister is coming into town this weekend, and we'll be cooking up a storm to keep stocking the freezer. I can't wait for her visit!!!

See more menus at OrgJunkie!
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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Asset Allocations

With the ongoing financial meltdown, the retirement accounts my husband and I have are down anywhere from 30-45%. As part of my 2009 financial goals, I'm reviewing our asset allocations across accounts and re-balancing as needed to get in line with appropriate allocations.

I hadn't paid much attention in the past to the asset allocation in my accounts. I set the allocation up when the accounts were opened, and haven't done much since.

After doing several allocation quizzes online and reading a few articles, somewhere around a 75/25 split between stocks and bonds feels about right. For example:

Stocks:
Large Cap- 50%
Mid Cap- 20
Small Cap- 20%
International- 10%

Bonds/Money Market: 25%

Here is the current total allocation we have, across all 4 accounts:
55% Large Cap (US)
25% Mid Cap (US)
0% Small Cap (US)
8% US (uncategorized large/mid/small)
7% international
5% bonds

I was pretty surprised to see how much more aggressive my husband's accounts are than my own. Together, we're currently at 95% stocks and 5% bonds. I also checked the expense ratios on our accounts, and all were below 1% except one.

After further investigation into all the funds available in our 401k, we've rebalanced to about 80% stocks and 20% bonds. We plan to stick with this allocation, rebalancing as needed, for the next few years and see how the stock market does.

Asset Allocation Quizzes/Resources:
Here are some resources that I found helpful in researching our asset allocation strategy:

CNN Money
BankRate
Asset Allocation @ Five Cent Nickel
Managing Asset Allocation Across Accounts @ Five Cent Nickel
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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Swap Parties

Want to combine fun and frugality? Host a swap party!

Swap parties are gatherings where folks bring their unwanted items and "shop" the unwanted items brought by others, similar to the old "swap meet" concept.

I like this idea so much more than inviting a bunch of girlfriends over to buy jewelry or makeup!

How to host a swap party:

1. Decide who to invite

You could make it a family & friends party, or host a gathering of neighbors or coworkers. Or you could just invite them all and have a big old meet, greet, and swap!

2. Decide what to swap

Choose a set theme (like pregnancy & newborn, kids, kitchen, clothing, etc) or just have a "free for all."

The important tip to remember here is to match the invitation list with the theme. Don't invite couples to a pregnancy & newborn swap, the husbands will be bored out of their minds!

3. Choose a location and date

If you have a large garage that you can empty out, you're probably all set. Depending on your location and the weather, outside in the yard might be an option too.

For groups affiliated with a church, the church hall or a meeting room would be perfect.

4. Invite swappers and advertise the rules

You probably don't want someone bringing one item and taking home 10 things. For a small group of folks who know each other, the honor system should work fine.

For larger groups or public events, you may want to give each swapper one token (or ticket) for each item they bring. Then each token can be traded for one item. This helps to keep the swap fair for everyone.

5. After the party...

Swappers can take home their unwanted items, or you can organize a group donation to a local thrift store or other charity. Enlist a swapper with a truck to help you take all the unwanted items to a drop-off location.

For your charity or group:
This could be a great fund-raising activity for a charity or group. Charge a very inexpensive admission to swap (like $1) and set up a little bakesale too. With enough publicity and participation, you could make a tidy little sum!

See more great ideas at Frugal Friday!
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Who will bail YOU out?


There is an interesting article on MSN Money: The 5 biggest lies on Wall Street.

The article basically debunks common myths of investing-- the ultimate authority of the free market, getting advice from talking-heads, etc.

To me, what the article is really about is that the only person responsible for your finances is YOU. No one else knows you and your family and your finances like you do.

You can listen and read and follow all the advice you want, but what it comes down to is that no one else is responsible for the decisions you make and no one else faces the consequences of those decisions.

If we hadn't already learned that lesson, now is the time!

Don't take ANY advice on blind faith, don't sign your name to anything you don't understand, and don't turn over control of your money and your future to the government or anyone else!
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Preparing for Job Loss - Losing all Income


Previously in this series, I've talked about handling the loss of primary income or secondary income.

What if the worse-case scenario happens and you lose both your primary and secondary income streams?

This might seem far-fetched, but it's not impossible. I'm sure there are many people in this situation today, losing both full time and part time work in one family, who never thought it would happen to them.

Along with the cost-cutting measures discussed previously, job hunting has got to be a top priority.

Both earners would need to get out and hunt for jobs, be it full or part time, and probably looking for ways to diversify your sources of family income as well.

See some ideas at:

Income Diversification @ Wisebread
Extra Income Guide @ Moolanomy
Freelancing @ Mile High Mama
Earning Extra Money @ Five Cent Nickel

The most important thing you can do to prepare for the loss of all income is to create an emergency cushion NOW. Don't wait for the worst to happen before you start cutting back and saving!

In our family, we have a 6-month cushion of living expenses in our savings account. That would last even longer if we were more aggressive with the cost-cutting (cable, cell phones, etc) and if one or both of us were able to land part-time, temporary work during our job hunt.

So, besides having a plan in place for how to cope should you lose some or all of your family income, what can you do to prepare proactively for being in that situation? What steps can you take ahead of time? Stay tuned for the next post in this series!

Read the rest of this series.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Safely cutting costs for baby

Consumer Reports published an article last week on how to trim costs for baby without compromising safety.

There are a few good ideas here-- skip the "convertible" mattress, skip the shopping cart covers, use store brand diapers.... but what struck me is that there are only 3 ideas in the article!!!

Surely we can come up with more cost-cutters that don't compromise safety!

Here are a few more ideas:

Formula- If you use formula, try a store brand. We used formula with my first and spoke with our doctor about what brand to use. He said that all formula sold in the U.S. has to meet the same safety standards and most store brands are made by name brand manufacturers anyway. So, that is something to consider since store brands are about 1/2 the price of name-brand. Of course, breastfeeding is best, and least expensive, if you are able to do it.

Baby wipes- Make your own or, again, try store brand.

Baby food- Store bought baby food jars, premade meals and snacks are insanely overpriced. Here is a primer on making your own baby food.

My absolute favorite book on this topic is Super Baby Food. My daughter is almost 2, and I still use the recipes and info in this book all the time.

Skip all the supplies you don't need- I have a little bit of a pet-peeve about all the supposedly must-have baby items that you really don't need. Babies need very little, and most of it is free or inexpensive.

That said, don't skimp on safety for the car seat or crib!!

What other thrifty-but-safe ideas do you have??

See more tips at Rocks In My Dryer.
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Monday, February 16, 2009

Menu Plan Monday


You know what I love about Menu Plan Monday? It forces my husband and me to actually think ahead and come up with some ideas, instead of being lazy on the weekend and paying for it all week when we can't decide what to cook!

So, here are the plans for this week...

Crock pot roasted vegetables (carryover from last week)
Cabbage rolls (Using TVP instead of beef, making extra to freeze)
Homemade pizza
Taco Salad
Leftovers

I'm also planning to make some rice pudding this week!

See more menu plans at OrgJunkie!
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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Spending on Conveniences?

Tip'd featured an article today whose title caught my eye: "The Cost of Convenience: 10 Things We Overpay For."

I thought I'd get some good insight and helpful tidbits from the article, but none of the items featured are things I pay for, at least not on any regular basis.

This article seems to be written for folks at the very beginning of the cutting back/saving money journey. Valet parking? Luxury travel? Clearly I am not the target demographic for this advice!

However, as I thought about convenience items in my own life, there are certainly things that I pay extra to get in a more convenient way.

Here are some examples:

- Dining out: We'll usually have one breakfast or lunch and one dinner "out" a week. That might be take-out or actually going out to eat. We could cut this out with better meal planning, shopping, and prepping ahead of time. But some nights, we just don't feel like cooking and cleaning up, and we haven't made any effort to cut out these trips.

- Bread: We usually use store-bought bread, even though I know it would be easy (and cheaper) to make my own. I just haven't made the time to do it on a consistent basis.

- Carwash: When the cars are dirty, we're more likely to drive them through a local carwash stall (about $8) than to do it ourselves at home. Again, this is something easily within our ability to do, but we pay to have it done instead.

-Pedicures: This is my "luxury" item. Every 3-4 months, I'll treat myself to a pedicure for $30. I could definitely do that myself with cheap supplies at home.

-Baby Wipes: I've tried several times to make my own, but they always seem to get moldy. I couldn't figure out why, so I just went back to paying for store bought-wipes.


How about you? What are the items that you pay extra for, just for the sake of convenience?
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Friday, February 13, 2009

Pregnancy "must-haves"

I've written before about all the so-called "must-haves" for a new baby. Yesterday, I came across this article on the pregnancy "must-haves" for the mama to be.

I think a few of these are great ideas. I have a belly band and use it ALL the time, both pre & post baby. Antacids? Sure, I'll go along with that one.

But others seem like a total waste of money! A special perfume ($35)??!? An iPod nano ($113)?!? Organic Belly Butter ($29)??!!?

Don't get me wrong: I am all in favor of taking great care of yourself, including some extra pampering, while you are pregnant.

I'm 36 weeks pregnant now, and most nights after my toddler goes to bed I sit on the couch with my feet up while my husband makes dinner and cleans up.

Now THAT is some frugal pregnancy pampering!! :)

See more frugal tips at Frugal Friday!
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Preparing for Job Loss - Losing the primary family income

So far in this series I've talked about how job loss can strike unexpectedly and how to handle the loss of income that is not the primary family income.

While losing non-primary income would likely cause some changes in your budget, it probably wouldn't be a devastating loss. But what about the loss of your primary household income?

My husband in the primary income earner in our home and after retirement and daycare expenses we basically live on his one salary. For that reason, this would require more extreme changes than the loss of my secondary income.

First steps

From a practical standpoint, the first priority needs to be covering the normal monthly bills- mortgage, power, water, etc. To do that, our first steps would be to take my daughter out of daycare and file for unemployment.

In addition, I'd need to drop my 401k contribution down to 6% (the amount my employer matches) at most and possibly drop it even further in order to increase my take-home pay to cover our bills.

Having an emergency fund or stash of 3-6 months living expenses would come in very handy here. You've lived frugally and socked away the extra for a rainy day.... and now the rainy day is here! Don't be afraid to tap into those emergency accounts for necessities like insurance premiums and other expenses that cannot be cut.

Also, make sure you inquire about any severance package or job placement services available through your former employer.

One thing you don't want to do is cash in your 401k or other retirement account. While the quick cash might seem appealing, you'd be paying stiff penalties and squandering your long-term retirement plans.

In our situation, my husband would need to start looking for a job right away, and take on more duties at home to decrease our expenses (including dropping our cleaning service and other little luxuries). Lucky for me, my husband is a great cook so he wouldn't mind doing more cooking at home to cut costs.

Picking up on the meal planning and frugal shopping would be a bit more challenging for him but I think he would do fine with it. He isn't a planner by nature, nor is he frugal by nature, but he's adapted to those concepts over the last few years as is necessary once you get married, buy a house and have a baby.

Job Hunting

A current, polished resume is a must-have in today's market, where many experienced professionals are out of work. In addition, it would be great to secure a recommendation from your previous manager(s) if at all possible.

Networking sites like LinkedIn, Facebook & Twitter can provide a valuable way to get the word out that you are looking for a new position.

Another thing to keep in mind is that freelancing or other multiple sources of smaller income might be more practical than finding a single new full-time job. This might be the time to try and turn that hobby into some pocket money or to explore other income streams. You might also use some of your new free time to pursue online courses or other continuing education options.

Finally, don't limit yourself by feeling that any job is "above" or "below" you. Working part-time at the grocery store might feel demeaning. But if you are earning some extra money and getting a discount on the family groceries, it might turn out to be a great option for you.

Keep a Positive Attitude!

Most important is to keep a positive attitude and not feel defeated. Who wants to hire a sad sack that can't get over the loss of a job? Realize that you have plenty of skills to offer your family and prospective employers.

Keep your frugal habits, use the emergency cushion that you created for just this situation, and be proactive about finding your next adventure!

Read the rest of this series.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Savings Bonds- Are they a good investment?

U.S. Savings Bonds are a common gift for kids, especially as a college savings vehicle, but are they a good investment or should you put that money into a 529 account, IRA or other investment vehicle?

With the financial meltdown of 2008, the U.S. Savings Bond feels like a safe place for your money. They have a guaranteed rate of return, you won't lose your initial investment, and the fees are minimal. Depending on your income and how long you hold the savings bond, the interest may even be tax-exempt.

There are 2 common types of Savings Bonds:
  • Series I Bonds- You purchase the bond at face value and the return is calculated in 2 parts. Part of the return is at a fixed rate (set at purchase time) and the other part of the return varies with inflation. The current rate is 5.64% through April 2009.
  • Series EE Bonds- You purchase the bond at 50% of it's face value, and the bond reaches face value in approximately 17 years. Additional interest accrues for up to 30 years. The current rate is 1.30% through April of 2009.

On the other hand, the trade-off for a safe rate of return is the lost opportunity to make an even greater return in a stock or mutual fund investment through a 529, IRA or other account.

Historically, the stock market has averaged a return of about 8% per year over the past 100 years. This far exceeds even the current I bond rate of 5.64%.

However, over the past 10 years, the stock market has averaged around just 1.5%! OUCH!

So, determining whether savings bonds or the stock market is a better choice really comes down to how much risk you're willing to take.

Savings bond will probably (but not definitely!) give you a lower return over 30 years than the stock market, but your principal investment will be safe and you'll have a set rate of return.

The stock market will probably (but not definitely!) give you a higher return over 30 years than the savings bonds, but your principal investment is certainly not guaranteed to be safe and you may well have quite a few instances of stomach-turning years.

Low risk, probably lower returns. Higher risk, probably higher returns. Which do you prefer?

Resources for more info:
US Treasury- Intro to Savings Bonds
About.com- Savings Bonds
The Simple Dollar - How to handle savings bonds received as gifts
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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Asset Allocation Wizards

So we're all saving money, right?? But what do you do with all that money you save?

I'm currently working on investigating our family's retirement accounts and how our assets are allocated, so that we can re-balance as needed.

In order to know what the "right" asset allocation is for us, I've been taking using several asset allocation wizards online. These are simple quizzes that asses your life situation and risk tolerance, and recommend the best types of investments to meet your goals.

Need to know where to stash all that cash you're saving? Here are my favorite asset allocation wizards!

CNN Money
TIAA-CREF
Marketplace Money


See more great tips at OrgJunkie.com!
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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Preparing for Job Loss - Secondary Income

Photo: Geek Philosopher

As I mentioned in the first post of this series, it is important to have a plan in place for how you'd cope if one or both income earners in the family lost their job.

In our situation, I work part-time, so here are some ideas on a plan for coping with the loss of a part-time salary or other non-primary income.

If I get laid off....

For our family, I have to admit it would be more of a blow to my ego than to our financial situation if I got laid off. Most of my income goes to 2 expenses: daycare and funding my 401k.

This will be especially true later this year when we have 2 kids in daycare. At that point, after taxes and other payroll charges, my whole monthly income will go to daycare and funding my 401k.

I'm fine with this situation for 3 reasons:

  • I enjoy working and really like my job and the company I work for
  • It is important to me to fund my 401k and get the company match
  • I feel that daycare, at least part-time, is beneficial for my daughter

Working part-time is the best possible scenario for me. I get personal fulfillment and enjoy the accomplishments I achieve at my job, along with having plenty of quality time with other adults. Plus I get extra time at home with my daughter, more than what I'd get if I worked full time.

Should I get laid off, our first steps would be to pull our daughter out of daycare and file for unemployment benefits for me. This would compensate for much of the income we'd be losing from my job.

If your part-time or secondary income comes from a source that doesn't pay a payroll tax, you may not be eligible for unemployment benefits. In that case, you won't have the emergency cushion of unemployment pay. This is where it pays to have an emergency fund or savings of 3-6 months expenses!

Cutting back while being at home...

Not working should allow more time to help your family live frugally, doing more home cooking, cleaning (and canceling cleaning service, if you have one), baking and meal-planning.

On the other hand, there would also be more temptation to spend by being at home all day. For me, I'd need to avoid those daily trips to Target and wouldn't be able to sign my daughter up for a lot of activities and events that cost money.

I'd need to get more creative in providing a nurturing and enriching environment for her, as well as getting her interaction with other kids her age.

One of the reasons I like that my daughter is in daycare part-time is that she seems to tend be on the shy side. At daycare, she gets a lot of playtime with other kids and she also gets exposure to a group of adults outside her family.

We've been lucky at our daycare that there is very little turnover among teachers, so she has a consistent set of faces that she sees each day. She also sees other adults coming and going through the day, whether it's other parents dropping off their kids or teachers from other classrooms.

If she were at home with me full time, she wouldn't get nearly as much exposure to that variety of people. So, if I did get laid off it would be a priority to get my daughter out of the house and into a variety of social situations without spending much money.

Finding new sources of income...

Replacing the lost income may or may not be a priority, depending on how important that income was to your family expenses. Also, you may be able to balance out some or all of that lost income with savings in other areas.

I'd begin looking for another job, but I'd prefer not to work full time so my prospects may be a bit limited. Another avenue to explore is work-at-home activities that can be done around your kids' schedules.

I've read a lot about work at home jobs and the large number of scams out there, so that is something to be cautious of. One avenue worth exploring is writing for sites like ehow.com. I'd also look into virtual assistant jobs, as I have a lot of relevant experience.

It remains to be seen though how much time I'd actually have to dedicate to work while being at home with 2 kids. I would definitely need to step up my level of organization to do it all!

Conclusion

The loss of a non-primary income stream can be offset with savings in other areas. It is important to keep in mind though that less time working can translate into more time spending, so it is important to direct your new "free time" into a thrifty lifestyle.

Read the rest of this series.

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Monday, February 9, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

We were pretty successful at sticking to our plan last week, so that was an accomplishment! However, I spent all day Sunday cooking freezer meals, so this week I'd like to limit time spent in the kitchen (and try not to generate many dirty dishes!)

Here is our plan for this week!

- Soba noodles & edamame (had this last week, love it, having it again!)
- Spinach & pasta bake (will make extra for the freezer)
- Crockpot Roasted Veggies over rice or orzo
- Leftover veggie soup (from last week)
- Pizza
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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Weekly Roundup- Freezer Cooking Update

I mentioned before that I'm working on stocking our freezer with meals in preparation for the first couple months with our new baby (due March 13!). I made great progress this weekend, so I think I'll be able to stock up even more than I planned!

Here is what I have done so far, and a few more recipes I've added to my plans.

Done
Pasta Sauce
Beef Stew
Fruit & Veggie Muffins (a double batch of berry muffins) Mini Pot Pies
Veggie Bake

Still to come...
Cabbage Rolls (substituting TVP for beef)

And a couple more I've added to my plans...
Polenta Casserole
Banana Crumb Muffins
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Friday, February 6, 2009

3 Reasons to Buy Used

With the recent news on the enactment of the lead safety standards in resale for children's clothes, buying used has been a hot topic.

It's disappointing to me that a law passed with such good intentions, to keep lead out of kids' products, could be written by folks so lacking an understanding of the importance of resale markets in this country.

The law was originally written to cover ALL children's products: toys, clothing, etc. It required that all items be tested for lead content before being sold. Of course, no consideration was given in the law to resale of products.

The responsibility then fell on the Consumer Products Safety Commission to say that it would not enforce the law upon resale items. That is, the law will not be enforced as written. Sounds like a big "OOOPS!" to me!

Buying used does require you to be a smart consumer. Think twice about essential safety items like cribs and car seats, unless you know the previous owner and can verify that the item hasn't been in any accidents or had any problems. Always check the CPSC site for recalls.

But for most items, buying used is a great option. Let's take a look at some of the benefits of buying used!

1. Save Money
The most obvious reason is that buying anything used is almost always cheaper than buying it new. The exception to that rule would be antiques and collectors' items. But for pretty much everything else, buying used is more frugal.

Think of a new car-- it depreciates as soon as you drove it off the lot. Why take that financial hit yourself? Let someone else pay for the depreciation and you can get a great deal on a car that is just a few years old.

This same rule applies to a lot of things: clothing, appliances, toys and more. All of these can be found at thrift or consignment shops for much less than the price you'd pay new.

Gently worn hand-me-downs and other used clothing are a huge money saver with kids, especially at the younger ages when they run through clothing sizes so quickly!

2. It's "green"
We all know the mantra "reduce, reuse, recycle" and buying used is the ultimate "reuse." That pile of unused paving stones in someone else's shed might be just what you need to finish your patio. Buying used saves the resources needed to produce and ship duplicate products that are already available in the secondary market.

3. Set a good example for your kids
There is no shame in buying used, and it's good to instill this value in kids from a young age. Our society has preached for too long that our personal value is tied to the label on our jeans or the brand of our shoes.

We all want our kids to be happy and to not compare themselves unfavorably with the kids in the neighborhood or at school. It's our responsibility as parents to reinforce that our value comes from within and that approval from peers is not the basis upon which to make our decisions in life.

With the economic crisis in our country, maybe this will finally be the year that conspicuous consumption goes out of fashion!


Resources

There are a lot of places to research and buy used products, and some where you can get used items for free!

Consumer Reports
Craig's List
Thrift Shopper
Freecycle
Freepeats

See more Frugal Friday tips here!
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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at home

ABCs of Investing recently posted a definition of GDP and information on how GDP is measured:

One definition of GDP is the total expenditures for all goods and services in the country during a certain period of time (ie 1 year).
...
If the economy is doing well then people have more money and can buy more tvs (or any other goods or service) and the GDP will keep increasing. In good times the economy is said to be expanding.
...
The GDP is supposed to be a proxy for the standard of living for the nation as well as the health of the economy. Of course the opposite is true - if less tvs are purchased then the GDP will shrink and the country might be considered to be in a recession.

I found this definition startling because it is the exact opposite of what I (and all other frugal/thrifty bloggers) define as success with finances. My goal is always to decrease expenditures.

By the economists definition, my goal is to have a household recession-- by spending as little money as possible.

It is also interesting to me that expenditures would be a measure of "standard of living." In reality, spending less certainly doesn't correlate to a low standard of living.

In fact, I think you could argue that the opposite is true. Spending little, with a DIY attitude of baking your own bread, cooking your own meals, etc, can give you personal satisfaction as well as health benefits for your entire family.

Limiting entertainment expenses and spending your time taking a simple walk with your family or visiting the library contributes to building those important relationships that last a lifetime.

It is unfortunate that our national economy seems to be built on its citizens spending, often unnecessarily and often beyond their means.

So, when you hear the bad economic news all around us, just remember that being in a recession at home might not be such a bad thing!
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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Job Loss strikes close to home

Yesterday, I posted the first installment of my new series on preparing for job loss. Today I came into work to learn that 6 of my coworkers were being laid off. While my husband and I were not directly affected, it is still a very sad and unsettling day.

Two of the people let go worked in my department. One was someone I'd worked with for 10 years and the other was one of the most pleasant, upbeat, helpful people I've ever met.

I am so sorry for both of them that they have been put into this situation, and I hope that they are able to bounce back quickly.

This has really underscored the need to plan and be prepared for the lost of primary or secondary family income. The "it can't happen to me" attitude just isn't going to cut it in this economy.

My next post in the series, on preparing for the loss of non-primary income, will be coming soon.

Read the rest of this series.

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Always read before signing

I found an interesting post over at I've Paid for this Twice Already about the first financial advice you ever received.

I posted my reply and it occurred to me that the advice I posted about is just as relevant today, or more so, than it was 25+ years ago when I got it:

This applies to more than just finances, but the first advice I remember was from my grandfather. He told me to always read everything before signing. I have followed that advice when opening bank accounts, buying cars, houses and more. It has always proven to be excellent advice! You have absolutely got to know and understand what you are signing your name to!

I recall reading in the news last year about the many folks who didn't understand the mortgages they took out on their homes. They didn't realize that adjustable rates could (and would) increase, or that balloon payments would be due.

Many of these folks have probably been put in the unfortunate position of being unable to keep up their mortgage payments and even losing their homes to foreclosure.

So, this seems like a great time to reiterate the advice that has served me so well for many years:

ALWAYS read and understand any document before signing your name to it!

Once your name is signed, you are legally bound to adhere to the terms of the document. Don't be shy about taking your time to read and ask questions.

This is a simple step you can take to protect yourself, your family and your financial security.

Find more great tips at Rocks In My Dryer!
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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

How to Prepare for Job Loss

When it comes to job loss, my approach is to expect the best but plan for the worst.

What would you do if you and/or your spouse lost your job?

I think it is especially important for my family to consider this question because my husband and I work for the same company. I work part-time, and he works full-time.

We work for a small division of a large international corporation and I don't expect that our company would go out of business. However, if our division starts laying off workers I suppose it is twice as likely to impact our family!

I certainly expect the best, both present and future. We have worked for a great company for about 10 years and are both very happy with our work environment, pay scales, and work/life balance. We also have some really good friends here and our company definitely has a family feel to it.

That said, we need to be smart and prepare for the worst.

In this series, I'll explore a plan for coping if one or both income earners lose a job. I'll also cover things that anyone can do proactively right now to prepare, without waiting for job loss to hit.

Complete Series: Preparing for Job Loss
1. Intro
2. Losing Secondary Income
3. Losing Primary Income
4. Losing all Income
5. Be Proactive
6. Resources


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Monday, February 2, 2009

Spring Cleaning... but a thrifty problem

Being that we're close to Spring (I live in the South!) and that I have a baby due in 5 weeks, this is the time to get some Spring cleaning done around the house!

I'm following Spring Cleaning for Normal People to get me started.

I have no problem going through the house and pitching all the trash, donating things we don't need anymore, or boxing up hand-me-downs to save for the new baby.

However, I have a problem. A lot of the unnecessary things we own are actually lovely antiques that have been given to me. When I was single, or married with no kids, I was thrilled to have the beautiful antique furniture that has been handed down through my family.

Now that I have kid(s) the furniture really isn't practical and I don't want it to get destroyed. But I don't have anywhere to store it for 5-10 years until it is "safe" to bring it out again.

I'm talking about A LOT of furniture- many chairs, a dining room table, a slant-top desk, a secretary, and more.

They are all gorgeous pieces of furniture, mostly 75 years old or more. Some of them are in good enough shape to be usable by careful adults, others are just for looking at (as far as I can tell).

I'd love to use the space for something more practical, like toy bins or cubbies.

The thrifty thing to do would be to sell unnecessary items that I don't need and can't use. I'm pretty sure there are some valuable pieces there, so I don't want to just sell them cheap or take them to Goodwill.

Should I try and find an appraiser and pay to have them appraised? Would it be insulting or disrespectful to the people who gave them to me if I sell them? They are family antiques, after all.

I don't have any family that lives near me (none closer than at least an 8 hour drive) so I don't have a way to just pass them on to another family member. Does anyone have any advice on how to handle this situation?
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Menu Plan Monday

Here is what I have planned for this week:

- Veggie Soup (carry over from last week)
- Veggie Shepherd's Pie (using TVP instead of ground meat)
- Soba noddles w/ edamame
- Homemade calzone or pizza
- Night out- we got a coupon for my husband's favorite place!

It worked out well that we are making the Veggie Soup this week instead of last week, because my husband made a veggie tray for the Super Bowl yesterday and saved all the trimmings for our first attempt at making our own vegetable stock. So we'll see how that goes!

On a side note, I made a double batch of this Veggie Bake last week. We had one at home and I gave another to a friend who just had a baby. It was GREAT and I will definitely be making more to put up in my freezer.

See more great meal plans at OrgJunkie!
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Sunday, February 1, 2009

Recession on display at consignment sales

My daughter is almost 2, and for the past 2 1/2 years I've been going to consignment sales in my area to stock up on clothes for her. It's definitely a hit or miss process.

Sometimes I'll find great clothes at great prices, sometimes the clothes are only OK and overpriced, and sometimes the clothes are mostly stained and should have been thrown in the trash!

My preferred plan of attack for consignment sales is to hit "half price day." Most sales that I've found have a half price clearance at the end of the sale. This is when I go and stock up on things like onesies, t-shirts and jeans.

I really don't feel we need anything fancy, so as long as the clothing is clean looking and has no holes or tears, it's fine with me.

I went to one of my favorite consignment sales last weekend and was shocked at the number of people there. I've been going to this sale for years and have literally never seen so many people there.

The typical wait time to check out in the past has been about 30 minutes. This time, I waited and hour & 15 minutes just to get to the checkout! Then I still had to have all my purchases tallied up and wait in another line to pay.

It hadn't occurred to me before going to the sale that it might be busier than normal given the state of the economy.

While I wasn't so happy about having to wait in the long line, consignment sales are still definitely far preferable to me than buying all new clothes. Plus, I suppose it's nice to see that so many folks are acknowledging the reality of their financial situation and starting to make more sustainable choices.

If you haven't already, check your local newspaper and family publications for consignment sales near you. And don't forget to look for half price days too!
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