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going cool turkey on the Credit Cards

September 5th, 2006 at 10:29 am


After an expensive month and the first credit card bill that I can't afford straight out of the checking account, we're going cool turkey on the Credit Cards.

I'd like to go cold turkey and freeze those suckers, but my husband pointed out that we get 5% back on all gasoline purchases if we match the value with other purchases. So the decision is to put all fuel and grocery purchases on the AAA card, since those purchases have been steady for the past six months I hope they won't creep with credit usage.

I did pay the balance in full on the card, but had to draw from the backup savings moneymarket account, which I am loathe to do. So, until the backup is fullup, no credit!

Eating Out (of the Pantry!)

August 29th, 2006 at 04:24 pm


After a challenging week in the big picture, I'm taking solace in the micromanaging the little picture. Pennies add up to dollars, doncha know?

So this week, we're eating out.

*gasp*

Of the pantry, that is! Smile

I took my last $10 in cash and headed down to the local farmstand. I bought slightly bumped tomatoes and lumpy butternut squash, a big head of lettuce, one cucumber, bruised apples and berries that were a tiny bit squishy.

Then, I went shopping in my freezer and cabinets. I had a few cut-up chickens, ground turkey, many kinds of canned beans and peanut butter for protein. I had the aformentioned veggies as well as some frozen corn. I had english muffins, whole wheat bread, frozen leftover cheeses, and all the pantry staples.

Monday night: Barbequed chicken drumsticks and thighs on the grill, cheesy rice and salad.

Tuesday night: Chili w/ leftover barbequed chicken stirred in.

Wednesday night: Butternut squash/apple soup with homemade bread rolls and sliced cheese.

Thursday night: 2-bean enchiladas w/ salad.

Friday night: Homemade pizza

I even "watered down" my son's milk with the powdered milk I had in the cabinet.

I know that one week's worth of grocery savings doesn't make up for having to replace a car, but when you work on the little pieces then it adds up eventually!

"found" money

May 3rd, 2006 at 05:41 am

I have a special category in my budgeting process for "found" money.

I put "found" in quotation marks, because this money isn't exactly just found, just laying around waiting for me to pick it up off the sidewalk. So far this calendar year, this category has included the following:

* Gifts under $100, in cash (or check). I'm 30 years old and my father is still uncomfortable picking out gifts for his little girl, so he gives money.

* Rebates from long-ago purchases that I'd completely forgotten about.

* Emptying the countertop change jar, every other month or so. This is the jar into which we empty our pockets daily, and comes to about $25 every two months.

* Income from focus-group work that I do on the side, answering questions about my shaving habits or shopping habits or whatnot. I got on a mailing list a few years ago and tend to get called once or twice a year, about $75 each time.

All this "found" money goes into a separate account, for purchases that are slightly more frivolous and less budgeted than usual. The steam cleaner from a few posts back, for example. I guess you could say it's my pin money, since as a stay-at-home Mom I don't tend to get much budgeted for extras.

So where do you get your found money? How do you account for it, and are there less restrictions than usual?

a new job, and a new savings opportunity

May 1st, 2006 at 04:34 am

We're in the middle of filling out the paperwork for my sweet husband's new job, which starts next week. There's the health insurance forms, 401k contribution, medical savings account, and direct deposit.

How can a not-working-outside-the-home Mom affect change in her husband's take-home pay? By working together with him to make smart money decisions in these transitionary periods!

Health Insurance - We can't do much about the cost of the health insurance, except in the long run. If we continue to be open to using generic drugs and keeping up with our general health by eating well and exercising, we're doing what we can.

401k contribution - This new job doesn't have 401k contribution matching like the old one, but we can still reap the tax and retirement benefits by putting a sizable chunk into his 401k every pay period.

Medical Savings account - This one is a tricky balancing act. We can pay for medical expenses pre-tax, but we have to use what we put in or else we'll lose it! So we sit down and figure how much we pay for medications annually, copays for standard medical visits, then add 25% because we've got a toddler who tends to require extra visits for ear infections, scratched cornea, and general malaise. At the end of the year, we can stock up on vitamins and cold medicine if there is any money left over.

Direct Deposit - I'd found that I would have a hard time scraping together a large sum for the mortgage, due at the end of the month (and pay period!). My newest trick is to direct deposit money from each pay period into a separate account with the bank who holds the mortgage, who then does an automatic withdrawal for the mortgage with no hassle at all. My next trick, with this new paystub that will be just a wee bit larger than the old one, will be to take the extra wee bit and deposit it to the money market account, so I don't even see it. What I don't "see", I don't spend!

So, there are my four tricks to contributing to the household income without actually earning any money myself. What other suggestions have you got?

When to Rent vs. Own - a Carpet Steamer!

April 27th, 2006 at 10:31 am

I'm not willing to shell out the cash needed to replace the aging, stained carpet in the condo that I'm going to be selling within the next three years. But, the carpet is in the living and dining area, and I've got a toddler who has a tendency to spill his juice. And, a husband who has a tendency to spill his red wine.

It drives me crazy when the carpet is shabby. When it's dirty and matted, I just want to give up. The whole rest of my living room/dining room gets cluttered and messy, because I don't feel like it's worth it when the carpet is nasty.

After a few years of phoning the local Stanley Steemer, then a few tries renting a steamer from the grocery store, the costs added up. My friends extolled the virtues of their home-level carpet steamers, but I pooh-poohed. Who really needs another appliance?

They talked me into borrowing theirs for a trial run, and I was hooked. All the dirty water running out of that tank made me feel like I was a newly-reformed housekeeper. Still, the units they own ran around $200 and I wasn't sure it was worth the expense.

Finally, the dirty carpets won out. I had been putting away $20 or so a month towards my carpet-cleaning fund, since the winter's salt and spring's mud started up. I was up to $85 in that envelope when I saw the Bissell light steamer for sale at my local big-box general store, for $90. I dug out my change jar, made up the remaining $5, and bought one this morning.

$95 (with tax) spent this morning, and I've already attacked my biggest pet peeve, the high-traffic area in my living room.

When the carpet cleaners come, it's $110 a pop. When I rent at the grocery store, it's $35 a pop. Three uses, and I'll break even.

The lesson here for me is this: when something drives me crazy and can be solved for a reasonable amount of money, it's not extravagant to spend that money. Frugality is not about misery.

snacks, toddlers, and no-longer-indulgent mothers.

April 26th, 2006 at 06:08 pm

My son is a picky eater. There. I admitted it. And when it comes to snacks, he's even pickier. Only animal crackers will do.

So, I had developed a habit of buying him a small one-to-two-serving box of animal crackers every time we were at the store, be it the drugstore, the grocery store, the big-box general store, or anywhere they had that cute little red box with the circus animals on the side and the white string across the top. At $1-$1.50 a pop, it seemed like a sweet indulgence for my adorable boy.

But $1.50 a pop, multiplied out by three times a week, four weeks a month, twelve months a year, that's quite a lot for cookies. Even if the box is cute and a semi-appropriate serving size for the boy.

Enter logic. The store brand box at my local grocery is $0.99 for at least a dozen servings, and I already had the re-usable plastic containers. I bought the store brand, and when I got it home I pre-divided it into toddler-sized portions. Half the portions made it to the car for distribution before entering a store, and half stayed in the kitchen cabinet for further dispersal.

Twelve servings of cute red-box-with-circus-animals animal crackers = $18.

Twelve servings of store-brand animal crackers in plastic reusable containers = $1.

A toddler who doesn't know the difference? Priceless.

Travel options

April 24th, 2006 at 10:17 am

My son and I are evacuating the house for the weekend while my husband studies for his exams. Since this MBA is costing a pretty penny, I want to make sure he gets all the peace and quiet he needs to study!

In planning our travel to Philadelphia, where we will be hiding out at my brother's house for the weekend, I ran through several options.

Option 1. Flying. For an adult and a toddler (over 2 years) to fly from Boston (or other, smaller, local airports) to Philadelphia will cost us $275 altogether. And, more importantly, it will take approximately 1 hr of travel time.

Option 2. The train. For an adult and a child to take the train from localstation to Philadelphia will cost us $125 altogether. And 8 hrs of travel time.

Option 3. The bus. For an adults and a child to take the bus from localstation to Philadelphia will cost us $85 altogether. And 12 hrs of travel time.

Option 4. The car. For the mileage my car gets, and the distance to Philly, it'd cost us $74 altogether in gasoline, plus about $12 in tolls. And 5 hrs of travel time.

We're choosing option 4, driving my own car. Well, we're going to drive my husband's car and save about $16 in gasoline costs since his car is more fuel efficient.

It disappoints me in some ways that the cheapest option (the car, barely) is also nearly the easiest option. Sometimes we like to think that by being frugal, we're really being martyrs. How much do I sacrifice by taking the option that I really wanted in the first place?