Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Creeeeeeeeek, thud, click!
That was the sound of the vault closing on our emergency fund! We did it! :) We actually went $1.05 over our goal! It feels so good to know that we have a safety net, and now we can work towards a new financial goal. Yay!
Next, for those of you who have been commenting on these financial articles, I want you to know that I have been getting lots of feedback from our readers, and not only do they appreciate that we're discussing this, but they really appreciate your comments! There isn't a "one size fits all" equation to managing expenses, and your different experiences are giving our readers a wonderful sampler of ideas, so thank you, and keep it up!
Now, back to the grocery store!
Deal or No Deal?
I was flipping through a magazine one day where I found an article about saving money at the grocery store. I'm a bit obsessed with the topic, so I started reading. The advice was pretty typical, but one particular blurb caught my eye. The author compared the unit prices of small containers of yogurt to a 32 oz. tub of yogurt and recommended that customers purchase the larger size to save money per ounce. Sounds reasonable, right?
You are the expert when it comes to your family.
I have bought the large tubs of yogurt. I have also thrown those tubs away, unopened, when they passed their expiration dates. My family just doesn't eat yogurt if they have to scoop it out of a tub. They eat a ton of yogurt, however, if it's in the ready-to-go cups. In our house, I leave room on the grocery list for cups of yogurt and I cut back in other areas to make up for it.
Bigger isn't always better.
Of course, usually the larger the quantity or volume, the less we pay per ounce. That's the lure of the big box stores and warehouse clubs. For things we tend to use lots of, like say, olive oil, it's a great deal to buy it that way. The trouble though, is that if we spend our monthly grocery budget to buy enough toilet paper to last a year, what do we use to buy food?
When my husband and I started cracking down on our food budget when we went to one income, my solution was to only buy what we needed for the week when I went to the store. It drove me crazy to only buy a small box when a month's worth of the same product was so much cheaper per unit, but it was a good exercise for me. We stayed within budget, and we always had what we needed. Unfortunately, I took a wrong turn in my "frugality" which led to some very expensive months.
Couponer gone wild!
When I really became a "power couponer" I started taking advantage of all kinds of deals because they were, well, deals. I would find an amazing price on something that we had never really tried, and I would buy a cartload of it. I would come home with twenty boxes of diet granola bars (they were only a dollar a box!) and very little else to eat. Guess what? We didn't eat the granola bars either. At least the food bank was happy that month. McDonald's was tickled, too.
Pioneer Woman I am not.
My next craze was to buy things like dried beans and the non-boil-in-the-bag rice. They are MUCH cheaper than their easy-to-prepare counterparts. Guess what? It doesn't matter how little they cost if you never cook them, and it especially doesn't matter if they are inedible when you do. It's all wasted money, and then it's worse when the replacement costs of canned beans and Minute Rice figure into the equation.
Return to Center
I'm still a couponer, but now I only "stock up" on foods that 1) my family will eat and 2) are healthy for them to eat. I only buy foods that I know how to prepare because there's no point to storing something for a year and then throwing it away when it expires. (Just a note--I actually have learned how to cook beans and rice from scratch now, and I do it often. I do have Minute Rice and canned beans in the pantry, however, just in case.)
What am I saying?
When I make my grocery list, I do all of the things I mentioned last week, but I do keep in mind our non-negotiables (like yogurt in a cup) and I work around those. I find other areas to cut or to economize (like buying store brand brown rice instead of Uncle Ben's). I budget each month for a trip to Sam's to buy olive oil and nuts, and I keep that money separate from our weekly grocery money. Even then, we only spend 10% of our income on food (the recommended percentage is 5-15%, so I feel pretty good about that).
YOU are the captain of your grocery-buying ship, and you know your family better than anyone else. Don't be swayed by the siren songs of "good deals" and clever packaging! :)
So...this week, I would love to hear about your financial successes--did you lower your bills this week? Spend less at the grocery store? Complete your MASP? Fully fund an emergency fund?;) Let's celebrate together! Also, have you ever bought something ridiculous in the name of a "good deal?" What are your grocery buying rules? Let's talk!
Sunday, March 28, 2010
Who can participate in SHARE? "Everyone and anyone is welcome to participate in SHARE. There are no income requirements, just a desire to make a positive difference in the world." (from the SHARE homepage)
Our March food box is chock full of good stuff. I'm so excited about planning meals and not having to grocery shop for them! Check out the menu:
March Basic Package $18.00
March Distribution Day is Saturday, 3/27/10
1 lb. Lightly Dusted Chicken Breast Strips
1 lb. Bone in Ham Steaks
10 oz. Deli Sliced Black Forest Ham
1 lb. Ground Beef 85/15
1.35 lbs. Split Chicken Breasts
Plus a Produce Pack!
1- 2.5 lb. Bag Potatoes
1 Head Romaine Lettuce
1 Bag Carrots
1 Stalk Celery
4 Sweet Potatoes
1 Bag Radishes
We ordered 2 basic packages, which come with the produce packs, plus an additional produce pack. It's a LOT of food!
Here is a preview of April's menu, available now to order through our local SHARE host site. I'm especially excited about getting frozen blueberries for $1.70/lb from the Select menu in April. I see blueberry smoothies in our future menus!
When you go to sign up and put in your order, be sure to bring cash. It is the only accepted form of payment.
I would highly recommend you give the SHARE program a try if you're interested in cutting your grocery bill and willing to design your menus around the basic frozen meats and fresh produce in the box!
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
I eventually became a "couponer"--sort of like one of those people you see on TV--but before that I learned how to take on the grocery store and leave with money in my pocket, and that is the conversation I would like to start today. How do we save money on food without clipping coupons?
Time for a little introspection
Ask yourself a few questions:
1. Do you throw away large amounts of produce, meat, or dairy each week because you aren't able to consume what you have?
2. Do you have expired food in your pantry that you never got around to eating?
3. Do you dread seeing how much the "damage" is when you get to the cash register at the store?
Getting ready--do a little math
How much do you actually spend on food? Write down your best estimate. According to many financial experts, the food budget (including grocery shopping and restaurants) should be 5-15% of your total income. Take a minute to calculate how much of your income that would be. How do those numbers compare to what you actually spend? You may want to set a goal of lowering your grocery receipts to put you into the correct percentage range, and if you already spend in that range you may want to try to go even lower still.
How low can you go?
Lowering your food bills is like doing the Limbo. We don't start out two inches from the floor and expect success. Start where you are, then gradually lower your budget until you are spending what you want while still comfortably feeding your family.
Time to shop! Well, in a minute.
Now that we have a goal, it's time to plan to save. Here's what I suggest:
1. Pick a store, and shop there. Choose "your" grocery store based on where you believe you get the best deals overall, how practical it is to shop there, how much you like the staff there, etc. At one time I store "hopped" to get all of the good deals, and I tired of that pretty quickly. My bills are actually much lower now that I only shop at one store, Publix. Only shopping at this one store (one location, too) has allowed me to develop a friendly relationship with the staff as well, which means they are more likely to help me if I need assistance.
2. It's been said a hundred times already, but do not go into that store without a list. Also, estimate how much what is on the list will cost you. Would we buy a house without knowing how much it was going to cost until closing? A car? A car should only cost 10-15% of our income, roughly the same amount as food. If the cash register total is a constant surprise, that's like going to a car dealership, picking out the car we think we want, then going to the front desk and saying, "I'll take it! How much do you want for it?" If it's your first time estimating on your shopping list, estimate high so that the only surprise will be a pleasant one. As you continue to do this your estimates will be more specific and the process will be easier.
2b. I won't go into much detail, but treat your list with care. It's good to have a plan for everything you will buy, and be realistic about what you plan to purchase. Will your family actually eat it? Do you know how to cook it? Do you have time this week to actually cook it and eat it? Can it be frozen if necessary? Is your freezer big enough to hold it? (There is an awesome deal on frozen pizza this week at Publix, but I'm going to restrain myself because my freezer is just too small to hold them.)
3. Take the following to the store: Your list, a writing utensil (I've used a crayon before because it was the only thing in my purse!), a calculator, and your method of payment. As you shop, cross off the list what you buy, make note of any prices you may have mis-estimated, and keep a running total of how much you are spending. Be aware of how much money you have with you if you are paying in cash. Only buy what is on your list. (I do make an exception for milk, bread, and eggs. I am always forgetting to put them on the list, and they are necessary.) If you see something you would like to try, put it on the list for the next trip and include the price. Now you have something to look forward to! ;)
4. Wanna go hard core? Only take the amount you plan to spend in cash, and take no other forms of payment. It takes attention and calculation on your part, but those chocolate bars are nowhere near as tempting when you think you may be short at the cash register if you buy them. When I do this, I actually end up taking things off my list that I don't really need just so that I can stay under budget. It's a challenge, but it's kind of fun, too.
Afraid of getting strange looks from other customers? According to Thomas J. Stanley in his book The Millionaire Next Door, the majority of millionaires in this country are self-made, first generation millionaires who got that way by living well below their means. Seizing control of grocery bills is propelling your family toward unprecedented wealth. The next time someone gives you a funny look at the grocery store because you are actually paying attention to what you're buying, look at that person's overflowing cart of "stuff," smile sympathetically, and think to yourself, "You poor thing. You probably paid WAY too much for your car, too."
Next week let's stay in the grocery store. We'll play Deal or No Deal and tackle a few money-saving myths. Until then, let's hear your tips for how you have lowered your grocery bills!
Monday, March 22, 2010
I hate quiting almost anything except diets, of course. In fact, I had to quit my high school job at Claire's twice. The first time, my boss talked me out of it.
Sadly, my time at Motley Moms has come to an end. I would really like to sugar-coat this by saying, this is just a break; but the truth is, it is time for me to move on. My wonderful little boy keeps me busy in ways that are quite different than what most typical families face. I hope to find a place to share my stories with other special needs families.
I wish you all the best of luck, and please keep in touch on Facebook or via email! I am so glad our paths have crossed.
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Now we have to wait for our background checks to get back to the agency and we will be matched up with a social worker(SW). We just have to meet with the SW once to update our homestudy and we will be on the waiting list!
I have a cute story about the process so far:
I had some of the paperwork sitting on the table while our Little King was eating lunch. "What's that?" he says pointing to the paperwork.
"Oh that is paper to help us get you a sibling." I tell him
"Ohhhhhhhh.... sibbing!" He says.
"Do you want a sister?" I ask
"Ohhhhh Sister!" he says
"Or do you want a Brother?" I ask
"No, no... no brother!" He tells me.
Hmmmmmmmm do I take the advice of my two year old and go on the girl list?!?
We get to choose if we want a boy or a girl, which sounds great except that it is a REALLY hard decision! I mean I am choosing if my son has a brother or a sister and that means I am choosing if my son does NOT have a brother or a sister. It is a hard choice. I loved having a sister to share a room with, but I also loved have brothers too!
Later I asked him the same questions about a brother or a sister and his reply was: "No brother, no sister!" (which I think is the more honest answer!)
I hope all you Motley Moms in Florida are having fun with Karly this week... I am not going to lie to you...I am jealous!
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
So, our solution is a cash budget for our monthly spending. We were, as always, inspired by Dave Ramsey's envelope system, but over time we have personalized it to fit our family. The following document shows the categories of our envelopes, and they are taken directly from our MASP:
Our Envelope System
This is what I did:
1. I created the system using a coupon organizer, envelopes from the bank, and some paper clips. Each envelope is labeled with an item from the MASP.
2. I arrange the envelopes into sections that make sense to me, and that is not always how they are organized on the MASP. For example, in my organizer I put our Sunday School offering and church dinner money into the same section because they are both paid at church.
3. Each month after I have set the monthly spending plan I total the amount of cash I need (Excel does this for me nicely) and write myself a check for the exact amount.
4. (This is where I may lose some of you, but I promise this is not hard at all.) I make a list of the bills I need. For a category that needs $35, I write down 1-$20, 1-$10, 1-$5. I do this for each category and then tally the amount of each bill at the end. I give this list to the teller when I cash my check. (I have cashed my check both inside the bank and out, and they have NEVER said a word about my list, by the way. When I asked them, they said lots of people do it.) All in all, if you can count money, this step will take about five minutes.
4b. I actually organize each folder by bills. Our grocery budget is $50 per week (not a typo, by the way) and I include $100 for "stocking up" on good deals along the way. I have one $50 bill for each week, and I keep the "stocking up" money paper-clipped together in the same envelope so that it doesn't get confused.
5. Each envelope is sacred and used ONLY for it's intended purpose. If I run out of gardening money, too bad. I will have to budget more wisely next month. Also, once the money is gone it is gone for the month. We do not allow extra purchases to be charged.
**Just a note, we don't use the cash system to pay for gas. It's too hard with a little one in the car, so we pay at the pump with our debit card.
Now, these are the little games I play to save more money:
1. I don't spend change. If I receive coins as change after a purchase I keep them separate from the envelopes and put them in a jar when I get home. Each month we roll our coins and deposit them into savings.
2. I taped an envelope to the door on our computer desk and labeled it "Extra Savings." Until January each month I paid for a cardio kickboxing class. Because of childcare issues I can no longer go to this class, but because we were doing fine spending the money I decided to keep it in the budget. When I fill my envelopes each month I just put that money into the savings envelope in order to entice me to save even more.
3. Each week, if I don't spend the entire amount allotted for groceries I put the leftover bills in the savings envelope. I do this for everything except the clothing category because I consider that to be more of a savings envelope for those purchases. This practice unleashes the competitive spirit in me, and by the end of the month I have managed to save about $100-$200 above our initial savings deposit.
Many financial experts agree that the best way to build wealth is to spend less than you make. Even though I don't bring a formal salary into our household, I can still see our emergency fund filling each month thanks, in part, to my vigilance over the cash budget. It's exciting!
What works for you? Any questions, comments? Let's keep the financial conversation going so we can all win!
Next week, let's save money at the grocery store without clipping coupons!
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Donna: Oh my gosh! I hadn't heard anything about it here. That's scary. I wish our Publix filled online orders for pickup. That would be awesome. I'd never have to drag our two kids through the grocery store again...my own grocery nightmares actually never involve murderers. Just really whiny kids who think popping the air out of the bag of frozen peas and watching how far they scatter is what grocery shopping is all about. Aaaargh! Actually, B was trying, unsuccessfully, to be a good helper by getting the peas out of the freezer section for me. But he spent too long doodling on the inside of the foggy freezer door and when I snapped at him to "hurry up and get the peas!" he grabbed them a little too hard and, "POP!" Then he realized he could "ice skate" down the aisle on the frozen peas. Yep, we are awesome everywhere we go.
Just thought I'd share that little exchange, since you have probably had plenty of your own "Grocery Nightmares" over the years. Don'tcha just love shopping with the kids?!
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Our current financial goal is to put 3-6 months of expenses into an Emergency Fund Savings Account, so we are focusing on saving money. Creating a cash flow plan (AKA a "budget") has truly helped us use our money more wisely and we have been able to find extra money every month to put towards our goal. We call it our Monthly Allocated Spending Plan, and for the sake of typing I will refer to it as our MASP from this point onward.
Google Doc of Our MASP
We started our financial renovation with a MASP from the appendix of The Total Money Makeover. It was a great start, but over the months we have been able to modify that document and now we are saving more than ever, we have money for what we need, and we rarely feel like we have to pass by something we really want. (You should know that we have modified our approach to purchasing also, but I will discuss that in a later post!)
The main thing that has helped me manage our MASP is including the recommended percentages for each spending category. I put the recommended percentage next to the category, and because I use Excel for our MASP I created a formula for each category to calculate the percentage of the amount we are actually spending. This has truly helped me to see if we have any overweight categories--for example, our utility expenses are usually high due to a couple factors, one of which is the amount we spend on TV, Internet, and Phone. Since it's so obvious that these are issues when I see the percentages, this is something we will definitely tackle when our contracts are up this summer.
This is my monthly strategy:
1. Determine as accurate a picture of our income as possible, including salary, travel reimbursement, etc.
2. In our family, we do choose to tithe, so before anything else is paid we deduct the tithe amount.
3. We put at least 10% of our net income each month into savings, so I start with that figure. As I calculate down the list I add as much to that as I find.
4. Next is housing and utilities. The mortgage does not change, but utility bills can change drastically in our area due to the crazy weather, so my plan of attack there is to always budget for the highest utility bill we have ever received (that is the second reason our percentage is high in that category). Again, our goal is to save, so not only are we prepared for the worst case scenario of energy bills, but when our bill is not as high (which is most of the time) we are able to deposit the difference into savings. I think you'll see that I use the tricking-myself-into-saving approach quite a bit!
5. Next, I check my calendar. My calendar is my all-time necessary tool for giving our money names. I look for meetings, appointments, fees that are due, the number of grocery shopping days in the month, the number of Wednesday night church dinners, the number of Sundays for our son's offering...all of those expenses are recorded at the beginning of the month so that on that last Tuesday of a five-Tuesday month we aren't struggling to find grocery money.
6. Last month I realized that I was spending money every month on certain things, but I wasn't specifically allocating money for them. I added Gardening and Newspapers to my list, and now I'm not digging through the change jar to buy fertilizer and papers!
7. For what is left of the month, I consider the other categories like entertainment and clothing. This month is Spring Break, so I have added more to our entertainment budget than usual. At the beginning of the school year I will need more money for clothing. Again, I keep all of these allotments within the suggested percentages.
8. Finally I identify any expenses that can be paid in cash, and I highlight those in yellow. I write myself a check for these, and I put the money into our envelope system to be used as needed throughout the month. I will go into detail next week on managing and really working the cash envelope system.
Budgeting is just giving money a purpose and a name, and it has truly helped us to put our funds where they need to go. I hope this helps!
Saturday, March 6, 2010
Sometimes that is what me and my Hubby need... some one to declare a winner and then we can move on! So today we are letting the Motley Moms be our Marriage Ref!
Here is what we are arguing about.... the taste of Ketchup... is it more salty or sweet?
My Hubby says it is salty. He looked at the back label and it is 9% of your sodium and it has salt listed as an ingredient.
I think that is is more sweet. There is sodium in pop and that is not salty. Also there is Fructose corn syrup listed BEFORE the salt on the ingredients which is sweet... and tomatoes are a fruit which has a little bit of a sweet flavor.
My Hubby's come back is that I am a salt lover so, my salt taste is off... it does not taste salty to me unless it is REALLY salty.
My come back is, yes, I am a salt lover... BUT he is a sweet tooth so I can use the same argument for him and the sweet taste.
So, this is where you come in. We decided that we will put up a poll and what ever you decide will stand!
Please help us! : )
Thursday, March 4, 2010
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
On our way to our pediatrician's office (the next town over), I realized I couldn't see anything in the center of my vision. And as I drove along, the "hole" in my vision was getting bigger and bigger. I was getting a migraine. So, knowing that we had a last minute appointment at the end of our doctor's office hours, I had to turn around and go back to LW to get my husband from work (on his busiest day of the month, no less) so he could drive us all to the doctor. Meanwhile, our little one is panting fast, totally flushed from high fever, coughing and gagging in her carseat, and her eyes are glazed over. I was so afraid she was going to have a seizure from this high fever! We made it to the office in time (I called and let them know we were on our way but running late...they always appreciate the call), and by the time the doctor finally saw us, our little girl was finally starting to perk up and respond to the dose of Motrin I gave just before we left the house.
We really just need some rest! Hopefully, tonight's the night.
I'm cancelling Musikgarten class today...something I really hate to do! But I'm thinking the whole family could use a quiet afternoon and early bedtime. I'm tired, my throat hurts, that migraine is still lurking behind my eyes, and Big Brother is all stuffy and froggy today, too. We are all just in rough shape. Nobody really needs to be around us at this point. I guess I better start calling my Musikgarten friends....
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Gardening frustrates me because I have so many problems doing it successfully. Being a master gardener is my birthright. My grandfather would graft a branch from one tree to another when I was little and it would create a new breed of fruit. His vegetable garden fed his family. My mom has beautiful flowers every year. My great-grandmother could start an entire rose bush from one rose. My great-aunt and her husband have a massive vegetable garden every summer that keeps them eating yummy and healthy veggies year-round. Me, I can kill mint. Show me someone else who can do that--I dare you. Maybe that makes me somewhat successful, but not in the way I would prefer.
This year, I'm planning to garden like a mad woman as soon as these chilly temperatures are finished down here in Florida. For those of you laughing at that statement, let me just say that while you are happily growing things in the summer, we could roast veggies in our gardens (I've done that before, too) so we have to get our plantings done early to beat the heat. Time is running out, but these cold fronts are not and I'm thinking that maybe I can blame this year's gardening failures on something besides an inept gardener. We'll see.
Otherwise, we are rocking our Dave Ramsey cash budget envelope system and because of that we are finding more and more money every month that we can use for our financial goals. I used to think that there was no way our income would be enough to become financially independent, but it's clear now that indeed, a family's income is it's number one wealth building tool if it's used properly. It has taken a few months of fine tuning, but each month we save more, spend less, and live better. It's really fun!
So based on all of that I would like to start writing to a theme this spring, and I want your input--do you want to discuss life outdoors in the garden or family finances? Or should I just shut up and tell potty-training stories? ;) Let the people speak!
Monday, March 1, 2010
Picture me as a street performer at Mallory Square in Key West. Who knows why, but I have decided to spin plates. Oh, how I would love to be in Mallory Square right now!
Plate one - advocating for my child's education. It's a swirly plate representing lunch recess, speech therapy and school lunch. I want Alex to be happy and enjoy life. I truly do not care about how smart he is, but I do expect the school to do what they can to help him do his best. They think I am an overachiever who can't handle the fact that my son might be average. BTW - the THEY is his teachers at our public school.
So add in another plate. I see the shortcomings of his current education yet my husband teaches for the same school district. As my son fake farts in my face, which he learned at school, I can't help but complain all the while I am using their pay to provide a roof over our head!
Plate three - my husband coaches varsity basketball. It is a little known fact, but everyone in the world knows more about basketball than the coach, and they are quite happy to say so. Last Thursday, I was sandwiched between my husband's team (we sit right behind the bench) and some loud angry fans from the other team. Alex was clinging to my lap usually crying because his dad was yelling at the guys, or he was hungry or he wanted to go on a walk. My hands were pressed firmly over hears the WHOLE time. The fans behind us spent most of their time criticizing my husband to the point where I was going to have to confront them. I said a silent prayer asking God to help them be quiet or to give me the courage I needed. Fortunately, I didn't have to say anything, but I am not going to let some stranger put down my son's father in front of him. Ironically, we sit behind the bench because it is the best place to avoid most of the criticism.
Plate four - dishes, cooking, cleaning, paying bills all to be done in the four free hours I have while my son is at school.
Plate five - stress eating. I could really use some comfort food to help me balance all of these other plates, but if I eat enough chocolate to make all of this other stuff right, I will not have any clothes to wear!
Plate six - exercise would really help me deal with some of this stress, but plate four is really tricky and takes a lot of time to balance.
Plate seven - I really just want to have fun with my child. I want to bake cookies and play with toys. I want to teach him to read and blow bubbles in the house. Yet, everyday life creeps in. We get up late and are rushing for school. Before 8:30 on most days I am apologizing to him or he is apologizing to me. He will only be five once, and he now has to ability to remember things! I only get one shot to make this a fun time in his life. Yet, I can't bake cookies everyday. See plate five!
Plate eight - my taxes have not started figuring themselves, so I guess I need to work on that too!
Plate nine - money. I am so lucky to stay at home, but that means money is really tight right now. A quick fix to a lot of our problems would be a little more cash. I could buy more clothes if I ate too much chocolate. I could hire my own speech therapist. I could pay for a personal trainer to help me work off the chocolate, and so on and so on.
Plate ten - my Norton antivirus software has expired and is holding all of my online passwords hostage! I need to pay my bills online but can't remember my log in ID or password. I can buy the new version of Norton, but I am waiting until it goes on sale, see plate nine. Must call bank soon!
I can share this with you because I know all of you are also keeping a handful of plates spinning above your heads too. Some of our plates are different, some are the same. Some of us have very large heavy plates that threaten to crush our families. For you, I am saying extra big prayers that you can keep those plates spinning for as long as it takes. I am thankful that my plates are small and manageable, but I am still tired. I am like a salmon constantly swimming upstream, and I just want to stop and enjoy the swim for a while.
Now, I am trying to learn how to drop some of these plates. On Saturday, I went out for a day alone just to be by myself. I went shopping in Iowa and had to cross a very scary bridge to get there. I had a great day, and it was great to forget about the plates for just a short time.