Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Q1 Update on Financial Goals for 2009

I've posted a series on my family's Financial Goals for 2009. Here is an update on what we've accomplished toward our goals in the first quarter of 2009.

1. Refinance our home - DONE!
It took almost 2 months, but we finally closed on our home refinance! We originally had 2 loans, an 80% mortgage loan at 5.5% and a 15% loan at 7%. We now have one loan at 4.75% which has lowered our monthly payment by $200.

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 - DONE!
My husband and I reviewed all 4 retirement accounts and decided on an asset allocation strategy we were both comfortable with. We've adjusted and rebalanced our accounts as necessary to get in line with our strategy.

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

2 goals accomplished, and 9 more to go!
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Monday, March 30, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

A friend brought over lettuce wraps for us last week, so that was a nice treat to break up our routine of freezer meals.

I also hit up a great frozen veggie deal at Harris Teeter, so I picked up some extra boxes of vegetables for side dishes.

This week, we'll be having a special dinner on Tuesday for my daughter's 2nd birthday!!

Broccoli Quiche
Pizza & banana muffins (bday dinner)
Stuffed peppers
Pasta with Marinara
Veg burgers & dogs on the grill, if the weather stays nice!

See more meal plans at Org Junkie!
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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Personal Finance for Moms- Investing and Retirement

This is the most intriguing topic to me in this series, because reading about women being ill prepared for retirement is what spurred me to write this series.

Why do women fall behind in retirement savings?

Women tend to earn less throughout their careers, and also tend to work fewer years than men. So, when it comes to income available for retirement savings, we're already behind.

In addition, non-working spouses don't have access to the 401k plans that are a common retirement savings vehicle.

Women also live longer than men, on average, so there are more years to pay for.

Considering all those factors, what can we do to prepare ourselves for retirement?

Action Plan:
1. If you haven't already, enroll in your workplace's retirement savings plan

2. If you don't work outside the home, open a spousal IRA

3. Investigate your Social Security eligibility to understand what income, if any, you will have.

4. Remember that there are loans available for your kids to attend college, but there are no loans for your retirement. Don't sacrifice your retirement at the expense of college savings!

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Personal Finance for Moms - Your Safety Net

This is a topic that no one really wants to talk about.

No one wants to think about something awful happening to their spouse or to their marriage. But in reality, we can't talk about financial planning for moms without acknowledging that nearly half of all marriages end in divorce.

The latest US Census reported a 7.5% marriage rate and 3.6% divorce rate per every 1000 people. And of course we all know that the death rate is 100%!

So while I certainly expect the best for my marriage and yours, and for the health of all of our dear spouses, let's at least consider the topic of creating a safety net for ourselves in case the unthinkable should happen.

Action Plan:
- Have all the information on your family's financial accounts. This includes your own accounts, joint accounts, and your spouses. Know locations, account numbers, and passwords. This includes information on any insurance policies.

- Have money to which you have ready access. This could be your emergency fund, or another small account to which you have easy access. Should you need money quickly in the event of an emergency, you don't want to have to wait a few days to transfer money around.

- Have adequate insurance. This includes life insurance for your and your spouse, homeowners, and car insurance.

- Have a plan for how you'd earn money, should the need arise to generate your own income.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

Our new daughter is 2 1/2 weeks old, and we're still mostly living off our freezer meals at this point.

Here is the plan for this week!

Enchilada bake (made vegetarian with beans & TVP)
Spinach Quiche
Pasta & Marinara sauce
Stuffed Peppers (made vegetarian with TVP)
Leftovers or pizza

A friend has also offered to bring over dinner one night, so I may save one of these meals for next week if that works out.

It has been so nice to not have to think about cooking for the past couple weeks! Now I can see the appeal of Once A Month Cooking!

See more meal plans at OrgJunkie.
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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Food price hikes put focus on store brands

Remember last year when grocery producers starting hiking pricing and cutting packaging sizes? At the time, the hikes were blamed on high gas prices.

Well, gas prices have now plummeted but the price hikes are not being rolled back. Retailers are pushing back and demanding that the hikes be rescinded, even threatening to stop stocking certain brands.

A side effect of the price increases is that more consumers are buying store brand products.

I focus so much on combining coupons and sales, this was a good reminder that store brands may be the best bargain of all.

So, remember to check the prices on store brands and compare them to your sale/coupon deals!
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Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Financial Impact of a Second Child

Adding a new member to the family is a joyous occasion, but it is also a major life change with a big financial impact.

We've recently welcomed our second baby and I have started considering how this new addition will change our financial situation in the short and long term. We're also looking for ways to lessen the new and increased expenses.

Short-term Considerations
In the first few years of life, the costs for a child are largely necessities like food, clothing, and shelter.

With a second child, the cost of these necessities may be much less than for a first child. You'll likely have some items that can be reused such as cribs, toys and clothing.

In our situation, we had a daughter already and now have our 2nd little girl. We saved all the clothing and baby gear from our first child, so we won't need to spend any money for quite a while on clothing. We haven't spent any money on new baby gear either and are reusing or borrowing everything we need. (crib, bassinet, carseat, bouncy seat, etc).

You'll also have some experience with feeding and know what worked for you last time, and what you'd like to try this time. Breastfeeding is best for the baby, and also the least expensive option.

Child care is another area that will probably be influenced by your experiences with your first child. You may choose to send your second to the same child care as your first, and may get a discount for doing so. Or you may feel that 2 kids in child care outweighs a second family income and so one parent may choose to stay home with both kids.

Long-term Considerations
College savings.... Have you opened that 529 account yet?

We already have a 529 account for our first child and will open one for the new baby too. The cost to us is low to nothing, as the money we put into the 529 consists mostly of gifts from family members to our kids.

Another ongoing, long term expense is for activities. As the kids get older, you may want to enroll them in enrichment activities like music lessons or sports. Depending on the extent to which one or both of your kids takes to these events, you may find yourself investing quite a bit of time and money.

Our neighbor's son is on a traveling hockey team and they seem to be out of town pretty much every weekend through the season. Those expenses add up, especially if they are doubled for 2 kids.

Vehicles and insurance are also expenses to be considered over the long term. Will your kids have their own cars? Even if they don't, you'll still want to insure them on one or more of your family vehicles.

In addition to these long term expenses, you'll obviously also have continuing expenses for food, clothing and shelter. These can be mitigated by continuing to use hand-me-downs and second-hand stores, as well as expecting kids to get a job to pay for non-necessities.

As I consider all these costs and our family situation, the short-term financial impact of our second child is quite low. We aren't paying any more for our mortgage with 2 kids in the house, she isn't eating anything but breast milk yet (and won't for a while!) and her clothing expenses are zero.

So, the real financial impact will be on those long term expenses. Luckily we have a few years to start saving up!

See more tips at Frugal Friday!
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Personal Finance for Moms- Beyond the Basics

Once you have a good understanding of your current financial position, it's time to get your money house in order. There are plenty of books and plans for doing that, but the best I've seen is Dave Ramsey.

I won't reiterate all his points here, but definitely take a look at his site to understand the "Baby Steps" he advocates, particularly steps 1 through 3, to get yourself into great financial shape for moving forward:

1. $1,000 to start an Emergency Fund
2. Pay off all debt using the Debt Snowball
3. 3 to 6 months of expenses in savings

For another take on Dave's Baby Steps, take a look at Dave Ramsey's Baby Steps: M Network Style

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

More on recession gardening

Last week, I posted tips on planting a garden to save money. This week, the AP ran a story on recession gardens, comparing them to the "Victory Gardens" popularized during World War II.

I love the movement mentioned in the article to petition the President to plant a recession garden at the White House. That would be great inspiration for all of us to learn to grow our own food and save money in the process!

Why import produce from overseas when we can grow it right here??

Don't delay, plant your recession garden today! :) See my previous article for 3 tips to get started with a garden.

See more great ideas at Works for Me Wednesday
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Personal Finance for Moms- Build your credit history

Building a credit history is an area with needs particular to women. If you don't work, don't carry credit cards, and/or if family assets are in your spouse's name, it can have a long-term impact on your credit score.

Lenders use your credit score to predict the risk of lending to you, meaning the score affects the interest rate at which you are able to borrow money.

I can hear you thinking... "I'm not in debt, I don't use credit, so who cares about my credit score??"

While this seems logical, the fact is that none of us knows what lies ahead. You may find yourself wanting to go back to school ten years from now and needing a student loan. You may want to buy a home without putting 100% down.

In addition, your credit score affects not only lending, but insurance rates as well. So your home, auto and life insurance rates can all be based, in part, on your credit score.

What can you do if your credit score leaves something to be desired?

Action Plan:
1. Review your credit report and correct any errors

(Hint: Don't use freecreditreport.com. It's not actually free.)

2. Ensure that some of your family's credit transactions are in your name, solely or as co-borrowers with your spouse. Your name should be on the checking and savings accounts, the home mortgage, and any credit cards.

3. If you don't have your name on any financial instruments, consider opening a credit card. Yes, I know this advice is contrary to all the financial advice that says "pay off your credit cards and close those accounts!" However, if you have the financial discipline to pay it off every month, I think it is perfectly OK to have a rewards-earning credit card and use it sparingly.

Stay tuned for more in this series on steps to take to ensure your financial security.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

Overall, I feel like we're making great use of our freezer meals now that our baby is here. We've been home from the hospital just over a week and we have had takeout a couple times but mostly we've been eating at home.

Here is our plan for this week:

Breakfast burritos & toast (carryover from last week)
Broccoli Quiche
Calzones & salad
Veggie Soup

See my freezer meal recipes here.

For more menu plans, check out Menu Plan Mondays, hosted this week at $5 Dinners!
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Friday, March 13, 2009

Save money by planting a garden

Spring is upon us! Take advantage of the seasons to save some money at the grocery store.

With just a few containers or a small plot of land, you can grow enough plants to replace some of the expensive produce at the grocery store.

3 tips to help you get started:

1. Start simple. If this is your first attempt, don't overwhelm yourself with a huge garden. Patio pots and window boxes are a great place to start.

2. Focus on replacing some of the more expensive items that you buy at the grocery store. Herbs and peppers, for example, are easy to grow and tend to be pricey at the store.

3. Look for plants that will grow well in your local area. Use the USDA Hardiness Zone map to locate your zone. Most plants and seed packets will indicate the zones they are appropriate for. Local stores will probably only stock plants for your area, but your zone is especially important to know if you are buying online.

A few resources for inspiration and more information:

Vegetable Gardening Basics
Old Farmer's Almanac
Backyard Gardening Blog
Skippy's Vegetable Garden

See more great ideas at Frugal Friday!
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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Personal Finance for Moms- When expenses exceed income

So, we know about our income and we know about our expenses. What happens when expenses exceed income, instead of the other way around?

If you've cut all the expenses you can, and things still aren't adding up, you need to find ways to increase your income.

There are a wealth of resources online to make money, including working at home. Unfortunately, many (or most?) of them are not legitimate.

Let's look at a few compilations of creative, legitimate ideas to earn extra income:

Make Extra Cash From Your Hobbies
@ DumbLittleMan
Extra Income Guide @ Moolanomy
Works for Me Wednesday @Saving Dollars and Sense

Earning extra income can be particularly challenging for Moms, who may have left the traditional workforce to stay at home with kids.

So, what if you need to go back to work? First, assess your skills and consider job training. Second, don't be afraid to highlight and make the most of your stay-at-home-mom time on your resume.

Finally, leverage your fellow Moms for some great tips on working at home:

Work From Home Wenesdays @ Musings of a Mompreneur
The Work at Home Journal

Money4Mom @ Freebies4Mom

Action Plan:
1. After looking at your expenses subtracted from your income, look at home much money you need to earn monthly to break even or get ahead.

2. Explore income opportunities that interest you. Don't be afraid to try a few different things and see what works for you.

3. Don't overlook local opportunities. Can you deliver the newspaper in your area? Is there a store you frequent that is hiring part-time help?

4. Factor in any discounts to the job's earnings. For example, a job at your favorite grocery store might come with a 20% discount on purchases, which could translate into 20% lower grocery bills.

5. Investigate online opportunities carefully. Be extremely wary of sharing personal information like Social Security Numbers. Also be wary of jobs that require you to pay up front fees.

Now, go forth and EARN!

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Most Popular Posts

I use Blogger, and wasn't able to find a gadget to track my most popular posts. Lucky for me, I found this great widget at BloggerStop! The code was easy to place on my site, and it lists the most popular posts based on the number of comments received.

So, here is a list of my current most popular posts.
  1. safely cutting costs for baby
  2. preparing for baby thrifty way
  3. textured vegetable protein tvp
  4. menu plan monday
  5. student surpasses master
  6. freezer cooking prepping for baby
  7. spring cleaning but thrifty problem
  8. pregnancy must haves
  9. swap parties
  10. storing yearly paperwork
See more great tips at Works for Me Wednesdays!
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Personal Finance for Moms- Understanding Expenses

Now that you have a good understanding of where your family's money comes from and where it is deposited, it's time to look at expenses. In my experience, this is the area where most moms tend to really shine.

There are so many great blogs devoted to minimizing family expenses and being really creative to create the best quality of life for your family with the least amount of expense possible.

With that being said, there are some areas of expense that you probably can't eliminate completely!

Let's review and assess those necessities:

- Housing: Do you rent or own? What is your monthly cost for rent/mortgage/homeowner's or renter's insurance?

- Transportation: Do you have car loans? What are the monthly payments and remaining balances? If you use public transportation, what is your average bi-weekly or monthly cost?

- Fixed Expenses: Each month, you probably have to pay for electricity, gas, water, trash collection, etc. What are the average expense each month? (You may want to consider some of these on a quarterly rather than monthly basis if your home's bills vary greatly throughout the year due to weather.)

- Food: If you don't track your food/dining expenses, it can be really eye-opening to realize how much money goes toward feeding ourselves! Capture your expenses for food, including groceries and dining.

- Flexible Expenses: Do you have cable, cell phone, home phone? What is the monthly cost for these services?

- Child Care / activities: What are your costs for day care, school, or activities that your children participate in?

- Credit Cards/other debt: Debt reduction is chronicled in detail on many blogs, and Dave Ramsey is probably the best starting point if you are trying to pay down debt. For the purposes of understanding your family's expenses, know what your total debt is and what you are spending per month to reduce it.

These are the most common expenses, and your family may have some or all of these. You might also have some that aren't listed. What other expenses does your family incur on a monthly basis?

Action Plan:
- Review each type of expense with your spouse to get an understanding of average monthly payments
- Understand how and when each expense is paid from the family income. Do you use automatic drafts or write checks manually? Are bills paid by credit card?
- Determine where, if anywhere, you can reduce the amount of your expenses
- Subtract expenses from income and determine whether you can meet your monthly needs and obligations without incurring more debt.

Next in this series, what to do if expenses exceed income.

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Sunday, March 8, 2009

Menu plan Monday - after baby!

Now that my new baby is here and we're home from the hospital, it's time to start making use of all those freezer meals we prepared!

I'm planning to thaw out and cook about 3 or 4 of our freezer meals a week. That should give us plenty for dinners plus leftovers for lunches and we'll supplement that with salads, frozen or homemade pizzas and other quick meals for the sake of variety.

We stocked up on Steamfresh this week at Harris Teeter's Buy 2 Get 3 Free sale, so that will give us lots of easy side dishes.

Here is the plan for this week!

Stuffed peppers
Breakfast burritos & toast (for a breakfast dinner)
Mini pot pies
Spinach Quiche
Frozen pizza or possibly grill out, if the weather stays nice!

See more menu plans at OrgJunkie!
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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Personal Finance for Moms- Understanding Income

We all know that income needs to exceed expenses if we're to keep our family's financial head above water. While a lot is written in the blogosphere about living frugally and cutting expenses, the first part of the financial "equation" is actually INCOME.

Here are some questions to consider:

- What are the sources of your family's income?
- Do you know your spouse's salary?
- If you work full-time, do you know your salary?
- If you do part-time or freelance work, can you make a good estimate of your income on a bi-weekly or monthly basis?
- Do you have income that is unrelated to work salaries, such as rental or investment income?

It's important to look not only at the gross amount of your income, but the net as well. Gross income is the total amount you earn before any deductions are taken. If you work for a 3rd party, you'll likely have expense such as taxes and insurance deducted from the pay before you receive it. Once all the deductions are taken, what's left is your net income.

If you are self-employed, you need to account for those deductions on your own, as you'll still be liable to report your income and pay income, Social Security and Medicare taxes.

Once you know the total amount and all sources of your family income, you need to know where all that money goes! Does all your income go to one checking account? Is it split automatically between checking and savings? Do you and your spouse both have access to all of those accounts? Would you prefer to keep some income combined and other separate?

Joint vs separate accounts (or a combination) is a crucial topic for discussion. Some couples combine all their funds into joint accounts, while others keep all income separate and each pay for a portion of the family's bills. Still others choose a combination of the two methods and have some joint accounts and other individual accounts.

All of these systems can work fine for a couple or family, the most important thing is just to discuss the options with your spouse and decide what works best for your situation. If you do choose to maintain separate accounts, ensure that both parties know the location and details for all accounts. This could become important in the event of an emergency.

Action Plan:
- Sit down with your spouse and get a good understanding of all the sources and amounts of income to your household.
- Review what bank/investment accounts receive regular/automatic deposits from your income streams
- Decide with your spouse whether to combine or split financial accounts.

Now that you have a handle on your family income, stay tuned for more on understanding expenses.

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Thursday, March 5, 2009

Freezer Cooking - Ready for Baby!

I'm finally done with all the plans I had to prepare freezer meals before the arrival of baby #2! We're expecting an induction... so by the time you read this, our baby may already be here!

Here is a summary of the recipes I have stocked in the freezer:

Pasta Sauce
Beef Stew
Spinach & Pasta Bake
Veggie soup brought over by a friend
Stuffed Peppers
Black Bean Soup
Apple bread
Date Squares
Stuffed Shells
Fruit & Veggie Muffins (a double batch of berry muffins) Mini Pot Pies
Veggie Bake
Sweet Potato Biscuits
Spinach Quiche
Banana Crumb Muffins
Pizza Pockets
Broccoli Quiche
Enchilada Bake

We've made a list of all the meals we have prepared and hung the list up in the garage next to the freezer. We'll cross off meals as we use them, so we'll always have an up-to-date list of what's available for us to use from the freezer.

Now I can't wait to start eating some of these great meals!

See more great tips at Frugal Friday!

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Helping Parents Cope with the Recession

I recently read an interesting article on how to help your parents cope with damage to their nest egg and retirement plans caused by the market downturn.

My parents face this situation and have reacted in 2 different ways. Dad is already retired and quit his full-time job last Summer, right before the market really tanked. He has a pension and seems totally uninterested in all things related to financial planning. His government pension will keep coming in, so he really doesn't care about anything else.

Mom, on the other hand, is still working and has only a very small pension from her old teaching job. She has an IRA and 401(k) that were both hit very badly, and she's panicking. Her accounts are handled by what she thinks is a financial planner, but sounds more to me just like an administrator who processes the paperwork if my mom asks for changes to be made.

In addition, the housing market where they live has tanked, so their home's value is 30% or more below what it was just a few years ago.

I've encouraged my mom to get more involved in understanding her finances and visit a fee-based certified financial planner to get help with her asset allocations.

The interesting part though is that my dad is not just uninterested, he's actually antagonistic about my mom taking these proactive steps and learning more about their financial situation.

I don't understand why, and I certainly don't want to get in the middle of that situation, yet still want to be supportive of my mom taking the right steps. What is the best way to navigate these tricky waters?

My solution has been to talk separately with my mom about her financial concerns when my dad isn't around. These have been some uncomfortable conversations, as she is deeply in denial about the impact of her investment losses and their home equity losses on their plans for the future.

I've left it up to my mom to discuss (or confront!) my dad about any changes they need to make, and about his attitude in general.

I've tried to remain upbeat and positive, after all they are not in as bad a position as many. They have a home that they can still afford the mortgage on, my dad has a stable pension, and my mom still has a job.

On the downside, their plans to both retire, possibly relocate, and do some traveling are no longer in the near future and that is a sad reality that they have to confront.

Subscribe to my blog to learn more in my upcoming series, Personal Finance for Moms.
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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Savings and Debt Tickers

I've seen a lot of blogs and websites with "tickers" to track countdowns to pregnancy due dates and to count child ages. But I recently found tickers made to track progress toward goals of savings and debt elimination!

Check out The Ticker Factory to design savings and debt tickers. These are a great way to have a visual reminder of your progress to achieving your goals!

Plus, if your blog is about frugal living or debt reduction, you can share your progress with your readers too!

Check out WeAreTHATFamily for more great tips!

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Personal Finance for Moms

I've seen several articles lately about how women are far behind men when it comes to saving for retirement.

When you consider that women live longer but earn less income throughout their lifetime, it makes sense that we need to be more proactive about understanding our financial situation and planning for the future.

There are a lot of great personal finance and retirement resources available, including some of my favorites:

Get Rich Slowly
The Motley Fool
CNN Money

These cover a lot of general financial and investing information, but the problem I see with these sites is that they seem to be mainly geared toward middle or upper class working men.

Don't get me wrong, men need to understand personal finance and save for retirement too! But being a woman and mom presents its own set of requirements and challenges for personal financial management and planning for retirement.

To me, the only personal financial "guru" I've found who consistently acknowledges and discusses women's needs is Suze Orman (http://www.suzeorman.com/) ... and I don't know that I can whole-heartedly endorse all of Suze's advice.

Whether you work outside the home or not, your family finances ARE your business. With all the other tasks moms tend to shoulder, it can be easy to just leave the personal and family financial management and planning to your spouse.

However, it is particularly important to have communication between husband and wife on both general and specific family financial issues. Both parties need to be fully informed, even if one or the other is the primary caretaker of the finances.

In this series, I'll explore what personal finance and retirement planning means for moms. Whether you work outside the home, work at home, or are a full time mom, this series will touch on information you need to know and a plan for actions you can take.

Complete Series: Personal Finance for Moms
1. Intro
2. Understanding Income
3. Understanding Expenses
4. When Expenses Exceed Income
5. Build Your Credit History
6. Beyond the Basics
7. Your Safety Net
8. Investing and Retirement
9. Resources

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Monday, March 2, 2009

Carnival of Personal Finance

I have a post in the Carnival of Personal Finance this week! Pretty cool! Here is my post on proactively preparing for job loss.

There are some other great articles in the carnival too. Here are a couple of my favorites:

15 Things You Should Never Pay For

Cheap, Healthy Homemade Meals

Check out the Carnival of Personal Finance. There are posts on tons of topics, so you may find something useful to you!
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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Menu Plan Monday - pre baby

I'm scheduled to go into the hospital on Thursday for an induction. I'm nervous but also really excited to finally meet my little girl!

So, I'll have a short menu this week and am planning around using up the leftovers we have since we'll be gone for 2 nights/3days at the hospital.

Here's the plan:

Leftover stuffed shells and salad
Leftover Black Bean Cakes from Lucky 32s (went out to dinner with my sis while she was in town!) & leftover pizza
Date night- last night out before the new baby!

See more meal plans @ Menu Plan Monday
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