Thursday, December 31, 2009


This year we made it through some drastically reduced paychecks, more unexpected medical and dental bills, and a generally lousy economy. So I was more than a little encouraged to see that our total debt still went down

$7609 for the year!

Some things we accomplished this year:

Paid off one of the car loans
Paid off one credit card
Paid off a checking overdraft balance

We are cautiously optimistic moving into the new year, and are looking forward - never back - as we formulate our financial goal for the next 365 days. What that specific goal is, we don't know yet, but when we do know, you'll find it here.

Happy New Year, and have a happy, blessed and prosperous 2010.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Mid December Check-In

16 days till Christmas! The tree is trimmed, the presents are bought, the plans are made, and the kids are enjoying their annual Advent fun.

Overall, we've done very well sticking to a Christmas budget, and we have no doubts that the kids are going to be thrilled with their gifts on Christmas morning. We've even managed a few surprises this year.

We made it through the first majorly reduced paycheck of the holiday season, and are faring at least as well as we'd hoped for. Mike and I are both looking forward to the New Year, when the furloughs will be over and he'll have a relatively stable employment forecast for the near future.

In another positive bit of financial news - I periodically check our house's value at Zillow It's been like a train wreck for the past two years. I didn't want to look, but I couldn't seem to help myself. So I watched, feeling sick all the while, as it went down down down, often by several thousand dollars a month. The past couple of months the dropping had finally slowed, and when I looked yesterday, it had gone UP by $1000 over the last 30 days! I realize that it's going to take a long time for the market to stabilize, and for it to come up enough to make a difference. But a rise of any sort, now matter how small, feels very, very promising.

Monday, November 30, 2009

November, in short

I need to do a much more comprehensive blog in the near future, but I couldn't let the night - and the month - draw to a close with at least a quick update. This month, in honor of Thanksgiving, I want to express my thanks for so many things... but specifically on the financial front, I am thankful for Mike selling his truck!! It's allowed us to catch up on bills, even splurge a little, and eased much of the burden of this first month of furloughs. Total debt for November:

Down by 2514.04

Friday, October 30, 2009

October Roundup

First: Total debt for October - down by $434.66

Second: October was a big month for us, money-wise. Mike sold his 4Runner, and bought a (very cool) 1992 Land Cruiser to replace it. It netted us a fairly significant profit, which enabled us to take care of quite a few things that have been put on the back burner for all too long. It will also allow us to put some extra money to debt next month, and ease some of the burden of the reduced paychecks in November and December.

Our numbers will be a little crazy for the next two months: Next month we'll be making that big payment to our target credit card, and we'll also be putting all our Christmas money to our Amazon credit card (so that we can use it for our shopping and earn our Amazon bucks!) So we'll have a big reduction for November, but will likely show a rise for December. We'll have our last two months of furloughs in November and December as well, so that will also affect both our spending and debt reduction efforts. At the end of December, I'll do a update for the entire year, which I hope will show something encouraging!

Right now, I'm just thankful for how this truck situation panned out, as it removed a great deal of any current financial stress as we move into the holiday season.

Monday, October 19, 2009


Dental Floss
Mentromint Water
Toilet Paper
Hand soap
Zone Perfect bar
Frozen pizza
Maruchan Yakisoba meal

All things we got FREE yesterday, thanks to the Grocery Game!

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Another month of numbers slowly ticking down, down, down. We had a lot of extra expenses this month (but really, does anyone ever not have a lot of extra expenses?) but we still managed to stay within budget, and make our extra payment to our targeted card. One more month to go until the heavily furloughed months of November and December.

Total debt down by $554

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Pleasant Surprises

Spencer got braces on Thursday. Even with insurance covering most of the cost, we were resigned to the fact that 1) this was going to cost us some money, and 2) it was going to increase our debt temporarily.

Everything went smoothly, but the woman putting together the paperwork for the bill took a very long time getting it ready. She was apologetic when she finally presented it to Mike. He looked at it, and having gone over the numbers many times since they'd presented them to us at the last appointment, he noticed that something was wrong. He - politely - reminded her that we'd been told we'd be given a 10% discount for paying upfront in full.

More emphatic apologies as she rushed off to re-do it.

When she returned, she told him that ordinarily the discount was 10%, but that she was going to give him 12% because of her mistake. ! Which meant that our insurance card would cover the entire balance, and our out-of-pocket cost would be ZERO.

Happy Day!

Barring any other unforeseen emergencies, our debt should still come down for the month of September.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Another Blog Recommendation

Thanks to my friend Mikki for pointing this out to me!

Frugal Confessions


Every year, I seem to think about Christmas earlier and earlier. I actually don't like thinking about Christmas this early. Life is always so rush, rush, rush... why would I want to think about Christmas in September?? But alas, necessity and practically have forced me to do so.

We have a savings account for Christmas, but for various reasons it is fairly significantly smaller this year. Which means that once again we need to really plan, be creative, and scale down. And once again, while I would love to make more homemade gifts, I know that it's just not our reality right now. I keep a very tenuous balance, and I know myself well. I would dive headfirst into a dozen handmade Christmas projects, all excitement and enthusiasm.... then I would burn myself out and wind up frustrated, sad and stressed out, which totally defeats the purpose. I have one small idea that I might do, but otherwise I am buying my gifts and feeling good about it.

And in the past couple of weeks, I have made an excellent start! I found a too-good-to-pass up deal on a big present that will be shared by Everett and Tegan mostly, but is something that I suspect the older boys will play with as well. It is currently in the neighbors' garage, until we can figure out a better way to keep it safe and hidden away from curious eyes. I AM SO EXCITED ABOUT IT! Last week, I found something that I know Spencer will love. I'd started looking a few weeks ago, and was more than a little dismayed to find out that it'd been discontinued, and wasn't available anywhere. Ebay to the rescue! Someone was selling one his daughter had gotten as a gift and never opened. I was the first and only bidder, and got it for less than half of its retail price of $80!

So two big things crossed off the list, and it's only mid September.

It won't be easy to stretch our budget as far as we need to stretch it, but I know that we can do it, and I'm excited at the prospect of creating another magical Christmas morning for our kids.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


I just finished doing the numbers for the month of August, and I don't know if it was the lack of sleep or stress or what, but I truly had no idea where we stood until I finished. So I was very pleasantly surprised when I'd calculated that we'd come down by more than $600! What's more, that's the best month we've had since March! Our total debt actually went up a little bit in April, but we've done progressively better each month since.

May $134
June $365
July $594
and August $635

I don't know what's going going to happen over the next few months, as many things are up in the air. Mike is currently trying to sell his truck, which may or may not net us some extra money if and when a sale goes through and we find a replacement... Spencer's getting his braces next month... There are furloughs coming... There are birthdays, holidays, and baby showers... Halloween costumes and baseball cleats... Time will tell how it all shakes out, but for now I am mightily trying to convince myself to remain cautiously optimistic.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Grocery Game, Take Two

Last weekend we did a big, stocking-up trip. Today we just bought some necessities and some too-good-to-pass-up deals. We spent $51.99 and saved $69.91 ($12 in coupons, and the rest in sale & store card savings). We saved more than we spent! Last time we saved 47%, and this time it went up to 57%. We got a great deal on rechargable batteries - something that's been on our list forever - at CVS, and got another $8 back for next time.

I'm a happy girl.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Date Night & The Grocery Game

First, Mike and I went on a date on Saturday... a real live date, just the two of us. It's something we do twice, maybe three times a year, so it is hugely monumental when it happens. We went to the movies to see (500) Days of Summer (a movie that I give two very enthusiastic thumbs up by the way) while the kids played with their grandparents. We ate candy, drank gigantic sodas, and just generally enjoyed a care-free hour and a half. It was guilt-free too, as we paid for the whole thing with survey money! Ideally we should have "play" money built into our budget, but we don't. All our left over money (if we have any) goes towards necessities: new shoes for the kids, birthday presents, car repairs, etc etc. When it's at all possible though, the extra money I bring in is just that - extra- and I am so thankful for it. Sometimes you need a movie - or a pizza or a Jamba Juice - to stay sane. And you just can't put a price on sanity.

Yesterday, we did our big, multi-store grocery shopping trip. We just joined The Grocery Game again, and WOW! We will do better as the weeks go on and we build up more of a coupon base, but our first foray was not bad, not bad at all....

Much of what we got will last a month, some things (such as milk and eggs) will need to be replenished in a week or two. Keep in mind that we are a family of six! We spent $269, and saved $45 in coupons. Total savings with coupons and sales - $239, plus $9 ECBs to spend at CVS on our next trip. It always strikes me as sort of funny the things that make me happy as an adult, but I am so excited to see how well we do next time.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Answered Prayers

Every so often I allow myself a minor freak-out about money. Truth be told, every so often I allow myself a minor freak-out about a lot of things, but money is a common theme.

Last week I had one such freak-out. I was stressed that our paycheck was once again spent before it even hit our checking account, I was stressed that we were coming up short, I was stressed that we have Paxton's birthday coming up and don't have the money for his present, as well as a week-long camping trip that we are committed to but really can't afford. I was stressed knowing that our budget is so tight, and that if we're truly going to pay this debt off, it will only continue to be tight until we've done so. So last week my prayer was for.. well.. money. Just enough to meet our needs so we wouldn't have to rely on a credit card to get through the week. Just enough to ease some of the anxiety. I didn't know where it would come from, but I knew that if I truly trusted that God would provide. And did he ever!

Yesterday the unemployent money - which Mike submitted for a month ago - landed in his account, and it was twice as much as we were hoping for, and more than enough to lift our current burden. AND, on a totally unexpected front, he was able to fix a part in his truck himself, and subsequently canceled the order he'd placed for a replacement. This morning we were refunded the $135 he'd spent.

God answers prayers.

Monday, August 3, 2009


We have a CVS right by our house. Living in Phoenix, we have most stores right by our house, but there's a CVS literally 18 seconds away, one block down. We often use CVS to fill our prescriptions, and we'll run there to pick up more Halloween candy or the diapers that we forgot on our regular grocery shopping list. Which is why I have no idea why I didn't know about their reward program until now. If you are like I was, and ignorant as to all that CVS has to offer, allow me to share: CVS has an awesome awards program for their card members!!

Every week in their sales flyer (which I previously ignored, since they weren't on our regular shopping list) they feature several sale items that will earn you ECBs (extra cash back) Some of these allow you to essentially get the item for free - for example last week they had lots of back-to-school items on sale for .99, with .99 ECB. So you pay the .99 now, and get another .99 back to spend next time! These ECBs print like coupons right on the bottom of your receipt. The next time you shop there, you can spend them like cash and earn even more. The idea is to keep rolling them into the next trip, and by taking advantage of the sales and the ECBs, you can shop there for many of your household and grocery items, and literally pay almost nothing out of pocket.

We tried it out for the first time on Saturday. We got 3 boxes of Kashi cereal (on sale 3/$10 with $3 ECB), and 3 12 packs of Coke - which we would have bought for camping anyway (on sale 4/$13 with $5 ECB) 2 good deals, and $8 to spend on our next trip! Cool!! AND, if you combine manufacturers coupons and in-store coupons with the ECB deals, you can save even more, to the point that they're essentially paying YOU to shop there!

Love it.

Saturday, August 1, 2009


Total debt: DOWN by $594!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Money Saving Mom

Tomorrow I'm going to post my financial update for the month, but today I just had to share another great blog I found! It's full of money-saving ideas, links, coupons, tips, etc. Check it out.

Money Saving Mom

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Plan

My husband and I make a good financial team. I like to play around with numbers and come up with creative solutions; he likes to make formulas and spreadsheets in Excel. We've had a working budget in place for awhile now, but yesterday - between the two of us - we came up with an actual debt repayment plan. We tried several scenarios (if we pay X dollars a month, it will take X number of months to pay off the credit cards, then the cars, etc) until we finally came up with one that seems both practical and feasible. We printed it out, and I have it right here in front of me... just looking at it, and seeing the numbers go down, down, down is a motivator in and of itself.

We know very well that even the best laid plans can change, and that God might have something entirely different in mind for us. But..

If there are no surprises, and we are able to continue snowballing our money, we will have everything but the mortgage completely paid off in less than three years. No credit cards, no car payments, no loans. Less than 34 months!! I see a light at the end of tunnel. It's still a ways off, but it's there.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

One Down!

Yesterday was Mike's first full paycheck since January. As per our plan after much discussion, I completely paid off one of our smaller debts. It felt GOOD, and gave me the bit of a boost I've been needing. The next bill on our list will, God willing, be paid off in the next three months, then we steel ourselves to just hold steady through the paycut in November and December. Onward, onward, go go go.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


I hate that money is always an issue

I hate that we had to put gas on a credit card today, because we physically have no money left in the checking account until Wednesday

I hate that I need new moisturizer and have to keep putting it off because I don't have the extra money

I hate that moisturizer is just one of many many small things that we need... small things that feel huge because our budget just doesn't have any room for them

I hate that even with Mike's good salary, we have nothing left over - and are in fact usually in the red - after bills are paid and groceries and gas are bought

I hate that we are paying SO MUCH MONEY every month on credit card payments, because of house repairs, medical bills, and poor judgement in the past. I hate that there is nothing we can do about it now but just deal with it and pay for it and try to bring down the balance.

I hate watching everyone around me be so carefree, taking so much for granted. Talking about their iPhones and dinners out, vacations, movies, new clothes and houses and cars. Trips to Starbucks and hairdressers and spas. I hate that it bothers me.

And even as I'm hating those things.....
I know in my heart that we have so much to be thankful for!! I know we are very blessed to have Mike's job. We are blessed to have our health, and to have our home. To have the air in our lungs, and the roof over our heads, and good food on our table. I know that we have way more than we need. I know that we will get through this, and be stronger in the end, and I know that God will provide.

But the frustrations come, and all I can do is let myself feel them. It's exhausting having such conflicting emotions in my head all the time. No wonder I never sleep.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

June in Review

Lots to be thankful for today!

First, today was our last reduced paycheck until November!! We made it through the past five months, and overall we didn't do badly at all. In fact, I think we did better than both of us were expecting.

Second thing to be thankful for - I made some money this month. Not a lot of money, mind you, but real money, that I made myself working online. I'm anticipating next month being even better, and I'm excited.

And finally, I am thankful - exceedingly, indescribably thankful - for good health insurance!!! I found out today that my unexpected surgery a few weeks ago was billed at over $16,000. $16,000! And it's not over yet, as I still need - at the very minimum - another CT scan to see what is going on and how and if I need to be treated going forward. This in addition to the 10's of thousands I've already cost with my gall bladder, emergency room visits, and dental work. And the ironic part about it is, I'm healthy! I'm not a unwell person at all... have just had a very odd, unexpected, couple of years health-wise. Very very thankful for good insurance indeed.

Our progress for June: Total debt down by $365.35

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Furloughs, Revised Budgets, and Giving

As is often the case, I spoke a bit too soon in my last post. There will be 6 more furloughs, and Mike's pay will be restored to normal - sort of. We were given three options: Take the reduced pay of the 6 days spread out over the course of another 12 months; take it over the next 6 months; OR get full pay restored now, and take the hit of the furlough days when they fall in November and December (the company will be shutting down for the week of Thanksgiving and the week of Christmas) After weighing all the pros and cons, we chose the latter option. It just gives us the most control. Starting in July, we'll have our full pay again (!) and can 1) bang out some of our smaller debts to get back on track and 2) set some aside each month to prepare for the drastically reduced pay the end of the year. After the holidays, it's behind us, and we can move forward into the new year without having to worry about furloughs.

Planning for the next six months meant once again re-working our monthly budget. I enjoy doing it, in an admittedly somewhat obsessive way. Despite the availability of the internet, the computer, and a million different spreadsheet and budget programs, I will always feel most comfortable doing it the old fashioned way - with a pen and paper. I have been doing it that way for so long, it is now in the "if it's not broke, don't fix it" category, and will forever be my preferred method. For the past few weeks I have crunched, re-crunched, and crunched again, until I finally came up with a good workable budget that should get us through to the new year.

One of the things that we really had to take a good look at was our charitable giving. The question of how and what to give has been weighing on me a lot the past few months as things have gotten more and more tight financially. I have to say, I love to give. Deciding who or what we're going to anonymously give to at Christmas time is one of my favorite parts of Christmas shopping. And giving has always been part of our monthly budget, no matter how large or small. Lately though, it has felt.... off. I don't know any other way to put it. It just hasn't felt like we've been heading in the right direction.

The Bible is very clear that we should give, especially to the poor and to those spreading the word of God - although I think it's worth mentioning that the practice of tithing 10% was an OLD testament command that was not carried over into the new law. Another thing the bible is very clear about? NOT HAVING DEBT! Should we be giving to the detriment of our own financial health? If we give first, and then end up having to use a credit card just to feed our own family, is anyone really benefiting? Should we be giving money that isn't really ours to give in the first place? Is it like the oxygen mask on an airplane? We need to put ours on before we can help someone else?

It's important to give, no question. And we'll always have that portion of our budget set aside for just that. (It is small right now, but I so look forward to it growing!) Right now though, this month, we need to get back on our feet. We need to give to ourselves.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Back in the saddle again...

I am so, so happy to report - after a stressful recent post, and a stressful month for that matter - that I have good financial news!

As of July 1st, Mike's pay is going to be restored almost to normal!! After weeks of waiting and wondering what the verdict was going to be, he found out on Friday that they are going to be going from 2 furlough days/month, to just 6 days ammortized over the next year. Which means... just a half a day a month, and a quarter of a day per pay period. If he couldn't get his entire salary back, this was the next best thing.

As I said in my last few posts, the past couple of months have been difficult. We've dug ourselves a depressing little hole, but we now have the resources we need to once again begin climbing our way out. It's going to take a couple of paychecks to gather our bearings, reclaim our equilibrium, and get back on track, but I have faith that we can do it.

Onward and upward into the summer we go.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Unexpected Expenses


This is why you have an emergency fund. We don't have an emergency fund, haven't had one for a few years now. It's on the list of things to reinstate if/when the furloughs go away, but until then, all of our money goes to living expenses and debt.

Our hot water heater blew up on Saturday, leaving our garage temporarily flooded. We have a home warranty (very THANKFUL for the home warranty) and most repairs and replacements are only $50. They guy came today, and in addition to the $50, there was a $45 fee to dispose of the old one, and $90 in parts and labor to replace the valves. Another $185 that we don't have, another $185 further from our goal. Ack! It really does start to feel like a merry-go-round, but without the fun, colorful horses to sit on. I want to get off.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Good News & Bad News

Good news - Our total debt went down, however slightly, by $134 for the month of May

Bad news - Our credit card debt went UP, by more than a couple hundred dollars. The reduced pay is catching up with us, and we're finding it harder and harder to keep up with everything. Everything is current, but we're struggling.

Good news - Thanks to Mike's new health reimbursement plan, the several hundred dollars we would have had to pay this month in dentist bills, copays, and prescriptions were 100% covered.

Bad news - The fact that we needed that much medical coverage in the first place!! It has been a horrible month for sicknesses, and we're praying for a calmer - and healthier - June.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Surveys (again)

OK, this is the last time! I started one more section of my survey site, a blog, to give updates on new sites I've added, cool offers I've gotten, new things I've learned, etc. Which means that from here forward I'll take all survey talk over there, and keep this blog as it was intended - about money and debt :)

Here's the link to the survey blog, and I've added the link to the whole site on the right.

Survey Blog

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Looking forward

April was an incredibly stressful month finance-wise, in so very many ways. I'm glad tomorrow marks the start of May, a new month. That's all.

This number is not entirely accurate, as I never reflected the money we had to spend on new tires back in March... so I added it in this month to get myself caught up on the spreadsheet.

Total debt in April: Up by 310.30

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Survey Site

My little weekend project! I completed my survey website, and it is now online. Check it out if you want help making some extra money online (or if you just want to admire my hard work :-D):

Best Free Survey Sites

Friday, April 17, 2009

Payday Musings and Survey Stuff

I paid the bills this week. I pay them twice a month: on the 15th and on the last day of the month. I know a lot of people who are stressed out when it comes time to pay the bills, and I can understand the feeling of having too much month left at the end of the money.

But I kind of like paying bills. I always have. I remember when I was first married and I told my mom that I enjoyed it. She laughed and said "You'll get over it." I had a whole ritual... I'd get out the checkbook, a beverage and a calculator. I'd get comfortable and I'd make a little ceremony out of it. I'd turn something that could be drudgery into practicing the proverbial art of seeing the glass as half full. No matter how little we had, we had something to be thankful for! We were able to pay for housing, for electricity and cable and telephones. We were getting it done. Now, 16 years later, things have changed a bit. I pay 99% of our bills online, and rarely need to fill out any checks. But the feelings of gratitude have stayed the same, and mom, I still enjoy the process. :)

I'm thinking of it now because this has been a difficult, difficult month in terms of money. A lot of new expenses... some expected, some not-so-expected. Our credit cards, previously tucked safely into our wallets, have once again come out to play. Most of it was paid off with this last check, but a portion of it was not. Not a good month, and it's only half over!

Still, we're paying our bills and pushing on through. Just like 16 years ago, we're getting it done. We'll do it.

Finally, a couple of months ago I posted a blog about taking surveys, and shared some of my tips. I've increased my survey taking - and subsequent money-making - tenfold since then, as well as signed up at more than a dozen more great sites. I decided to give it a little more attention than I can give in just a blog, so I've been working on a website (yay!) It will have a list of links of my favorite sites, my tips, and FAQs for your perusal. I'll be posting the link very soon.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

March Update and our Bounty of Produce

Aren't they beautiful fruits and vegetables? I wish I could say that we grew them ourselves, as I have been wanting to do a garden for the longest time, but this just isn't going to be the year. We did however, get them from a wonderful local food co-op for a great price. $30 for around $70 worth of fresh, delicious produce. And none of those awful plastic bags from the grocery store either! The kids have been especially enjoying the mangoes, peaches, and strawberries, and are looking forward to seeing what's in next week's basket.

On the debt front, March was another good month. Total debt is down over $700, and that is with Mike's furloughs still in full effect! When we first heard he was going to be getting such a substantial paycut, we were just hoping to be able to make ends meet. Debt repayment was the furthest thing from our mind... our hope was simply that it would not increase. The fact that we're making ends meet AND still paying down our debt?? A visible reminder of the grace of God.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Frustrations and Epiphanies

I've been stressed about money. Incredibly stressed. Stressed, frustrated, and sad (especially when it comes to having to tell the kids we can't do xyz because we don't have the money for it) I realized the other day that this is possibly the most stressed I've ever been about money, which made no sense to me. Our money situation has been much more dire than it is now. There was a point in time that we were bringing in half as much money, and had twice as much debt. That was a stressful time, to be sure, but I still don't remember feeling it, really FEELING it, quite as acutely as I do now.

So what's different this time?

For one thing, while many in the country are in our same boat, most in our own immediate circle are not. I'm watching as everyone around me plans trips, goes to museums, goes to the movies, goes out to eat. It is difficult to see day after day, when none of those things are in our immediate future. I'm not proud of feeling bothered by this... I know that what others do is none of my business. But the feeling is there, no matter how distasteful it may be.

More than that though, is the fact that perhaps for the first time since we've been married, we are truly living within our means, and are therefore intimately aware of every penny that comes in and goes out. We are living it and feeling it and not burying our heads in the sand. With the exception of my unexpected ER trip in early February, we have not used a credit card for any purpose since the beginning of the year.

We have never been a family that's been terribly into "stuff." We don't buy the fancy cars, expensive clothes, nice furniture. But we have in the past been known to reach for those credit cards... to go out to eat, because we "deserve it". To take a vacation, because it's been such a long time. To buy something for the house or the kids or each other, just because we wanted to. We always found a way to justify it, to turn it into a "need." Did we have the money to pay that bill at the end of the month? Who knew? Who cared? We were living like true Americans. Buy now, worry about it later.

Well, "later" is now. Now we pay for past mistakes. Now we live the way we should have been living all along. Now if we don't have the money, we don't spend it. Simple. And it IS frustrating at times, and it IS stressful. But I've realized that even more than being frustrating and stressful, it is freeing! This is the way it is supposed to be. I like knowing that when we buy something, we're using hard earned cash and making it a thoughtful, planned purchase. I like knowing when I pay the bills every month that we are being responsible, and that we are blessed to have the extras - internet, satellite TV, cell phones, etc - that are so so easy to take for granted. I like knowing that we're living simply, and I like knowing that we're still finding new ways to do so.

I like knowing that if we keep doing what we're doing that we will eventually be debt free, and out from under the burden that so many people consider to be an inevitable part of life.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

It's officially chic to be cheap

Saw this on CNN, and thought it was a good read. I was happy to see it indeed, as lately I've been frustrated by people around me who are continuing to talk up their lavish spending. It's encouraging to know that society at large is beginning to "get it."

By Lisa Respers France

(CNN) -- Jeneba Jalloh Ghatt is the first to admit that she likes nice things.
Stylist Philip Pelusi has offered his clients bargains and hosted two designers' shows to help them save money.

Stylist Philip Pelusi has offered his clients bargains and hosted two designers' shows to help them save money.

But these days when she passes the new upscale shopping area en route to her Chevy Chase, Maryland, office, she refuses to even glance at the lavish goodies.

"There's a Ralph Lauren store, a Louis Vuitton store, Tiffany's," said the attorney and principal of The Ghatt Law Group. "I drive by and I don't even look in that direction."

With the economy in shambles and so many people losing their jobs and homes, it is no longer considered cool to brag about possessions and purchases.

For many during a deepening recession, conspicuous consumption is out and frugality is the new black.

"People have long used the way they shop and what they buy as a way to communicate with other people about their values, their tastes and their interests," said Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist and professor at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, California.

"A year ago, what was considered the ultimate status symbol would have been the chicest bag or the most luxurious outfit," Yarrow added. "Now what's chic is being the most knowledgeable and efficient at saving money."

Yarrow said that despite the tough economic times, there are many Americans who still have disposable income.

Those people are choosing not to spend, she said, or making more thoughtful purchases.

"What I am saying is that we have moved from an era of conspicuous consumption to an era of considered consumption," Yarrow said. "People at one time wanted to showcase all of the things they are buying and now they are stopping and really thinking about it."

Brett Wright, co-founder and chief creative officer of Uptown Magazine, is also seeing evidence of that attitude shift. What adjustments are you making to your budget?

His publication is targeted at what he terms the "triple A's" -- affluent African-Americans and those who want to be.

Wright said he is seeing consumption of big ticket items being put on hold or done more discreetly.

"Buying the new red Ferrari is certainly not in favor," Wright said. "Everybody is trying to do things sort of under the radar screen. No one is looking to be as ostentatious as they may have been in the past."

Consumers are looking for value for their spending, Wright said, and focusing on "How do you live like a king without having to spend a king's ransom?"

To that end, Wright and his staff are brainstorming ways to address the change in spending habits in their publication.

"We don't believe that luxury lifestyle has gone away," Wright said. "We're looking at maybe not having the $250,000 watch, but a great watch you can get for perhaps $7,500."

Renowned hairstylist and salon owner Philip Pelusi said he, too, has seen the focus shift to more bang for the buck during the economic downturn.

Pelusi said clients are opting for money-saving tactics like extending time between visits, partial highlights or getting services on "training nights" for the salon, which can trim their bill up to 60 percent.

"We are doing everything we can to accommodate the clients," said Pelusi, whose Tela Design Studio in Manhattan has only seen a slight decrease in business.

Pelusi is also reaching out to others in the industry who are looking to economize.

Two designers, Susan Cianciolo and "Project Runway" finalist Jillian Lewis, opted to forgo staging more expensive shows and used Pelusi's design studio during Fashion Week for their presentations.

Marilani Huling is a Washington-based jewelry designer who said she has reduced prices on her creations to cater to her clientele.

Huling said that during the recent "Crystal Couture" event in Virginia, one of the most popular presenters during the two-week fashion festival was Goodwill Industries.

"Goodwill had stylists put together things off their racks and put them on the runway models," Huling said. "I was surprised, because everything really looked good."

HLN consumer advocate Clark Howard said a new term is "in-sourcing" instead of "out-sourcing."

"People had their collection of 'Mys,' " Howard said. "My massage therapist, my yard person, my hairdresser. Now people are really stepping back from that and saying 'If I cut my own lawn, I'm going to have that $60 in my pocket.' "

Howard said he has noticed from listeners to his popular call-in radio show that even those who really don't need to cut back are still choosing to do so. That didn't happen, he said, during the last deep recession from 1979 to 1982.

Howard said he attributes the rush to downsize in part to the 24-hour news cycle, which continues to pepper the public with bad news.

"People didn't have access to the constant drumbeat of news that they have now," he said.

With so much personal spending being tied to emotion, Howard said consumers are being much more cautious while they ride out the economic turmoil and are taking comfort in being able to score good deals.

Ghatt posted unabashedly on Twitter when she spotted a pair of Cole Hahn shoes originally priced at $180 going for $20 at Marshalls.

When a friend expressed his surprise that she would go public with shopping at a discount store, she had a quick comeback.

"I tweeted and said 'Don't you know that bargain divas are in style now?' " Ghatt said, laughing.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

February in Review

For some reason, I spent most of the month of January thinking that it was February. So when February really did come around, it felt exceptionally long, especially for the shortest month of the year! It was a good month though, financially speaking, something I was not expecting. Last month we found out that Mike was among the many people who would have to take take 10 unpaid furlough days over the next five months, resulting in a temporary 10% pay cut. Perhaps I was a little more cryptic, and dramatic, than I needed to be when I posted about it, but it was difficult news to swallow. Yes, we're extremely fortunate that so far he won't need to be laid off. And yes, it could have been so much worse than 10%! But when you're living paycheck to paycheck, and using every last penny of those paychecks just to get basic needs met.. 10% feels enormous, and at times insurmountable. I allowed myself to feel extraordinarily frustrated for a good part of the last month... and then I moved on.

We got our tax return and used it as carefully and deliberately as we possibly could. We paid off some outstanding bills, got our Wii repaired (an $85 fix that we'd been waiting on since December), and paid a portion to our lowest balance credit card. Once that was all taken care of, it was on to the task at hand: adjusting our budget to accommodate the 10% decrease in pay. I have to laugh when I read or hear most tips on stretching your dollar - things like bringing your own coffee to work instead of going to Starbucks, getting your hair cut every 10 weeks instead of 6, going out to eat just once a month. Etc. We are way, way beyond that. We never go to Starbucks, never EVER go to hair salons, and "going out to eat" consists of infrequent $5 Hot N Ready pizzas from Little Caesars. We don't go out to the movies (one of my favorite things) save but once or twice a year. We conserve water, conserve electricity, don't shop for clothes - or anything, really - unless it is a necessity. I thought our budget was just about as stripped down as we could get it, but we've managed to strip it even further. I'm strangely proud of the progress we've made on our groceries.

Just a few short months ago we were spending upwards of $800 a month on groceries. As of this month, we have cut that in half (without compromising the quality or quantity of the food we eat) We've been shopping the sales, clipping coupons, utilizing our Dollar Tree and Grocery Outlet, and only shopping twice a month instead of weekly. It's become a sort of game, and I have to say that as exhausting as it is to shop 6 different stores on one Saturday - just for a few weeks of groceries - the prize is worth the effort.

All told, we ended up shaving 2473.83 off our total debt for the month of February, and are feeling cautiously optimistic about March. On Mike's next payday, we will already be one third of the way through the furloughs.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Another way to save money

My latest discovery!

My Homeschool Rewards is a program that sells gift cards - for everything, from gas and groceries to your favorite restaurants, clothing stores, book stores and toy stores. If you're a homeschooling family, you can register for an account (it's free to sign up) and you receive cash back on every purchase that you make, as well as purchases that others make on your behalf. You can use the gift cards on yourself for your everyday purchases, or give them as gifts. If you're not a homeschooling family, you can still buy all your gift cards there, and the cash back based on your purchases will go to the homeschool family of your choosing. We tried it out for the first time this week, and I was amazed at how simple it was. We ordered a gift card to Dick's Sporting Goods to get Paxton some cleats, a Chevron card for gas, and an Amazon card to get Bibles for the boys. The shipping was FAST (2 or 3 days), and our account already reflects our $1.50 cash back. Cool! Best of all, they only accept electronic checks as payment, so we had to have the cash on hand to buy them. No temptation to use a credit card and go further into debt.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Talking About Money

I read a Debt Support message board. It's refreshing to hear other women's stories, no matter where they are on their journeys. I love that people are sharing where they've been, where they're going, and where they never hope to be again. A lot of that sharing is of ideas, concepts, and inspiration, but a lot of it is cold, hard numbers as well. Yesterday there was a post from a new member, who introduced herself and then said that she couldn't share any numbers, because she'd shared something before, and got "scolded" by a family member for giving away sensitive information online. I think that's interesting.

Talking about debt is a sensitive subject, and before I started this blog, I asked Mike how he felt about it. (He, as I suspected, didn't care in the least) Sensitive or not, I'm not ashamed of our debt. It is what it is. I would be ashamed however if I shared other kinds of financial information that other people quite freely share, not because the numbers are too high or too low, but because there's a time and a place, and all too often the line of good taste is crossed. It's kind of ironic to me that people will talk (ie: brag) about how much money they make, how much they spend on their house and their cars and their "toys", but talking about their debt is too personal. I was at a party - in a roomful of people - and someone was talking about his first post-college job that he'd just started. He then proceeded to tell the room the exact amount of his salary and his signing bonus. That to me is the kind of sharing that you just don't do in polite conversation. I'm never impressed with high salaries anyway, because it's such a small small piece of someone's financial picture... not the whole story. And what does it matter anyway? Would you think more highly of me if I said we brought home 90K a year? What if I said we brought home 30K, but we owned our house and our cars outright? What if it was actually 150K, but we owed 70K on credit cards? (None of those are real, by the way)

Who cares how much money someone makes? What do they do with it? Do they waste it? Do they use it to help others? Do they live within their means? Are they trying to keep up with the neighbors? Do they think "the guy with the most stuff wins"?

I guess I'm unusual in that I like to - politely - talk about money. I do. I never would have started this blog otherwise. Sometimes I'll share specifics, and sometimes I won't. But as long as I feel that I've shared honestly, and humbly, and remembered that at the end of the day money doesn't matter, I'll be happy.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Setback

Monday night I went to bed feeling pretty good. Mike had just filed our taxes, and I was looking forward to getting our fairly sizable return, most of which was earmarked to go towards debt. Then Tuesday came, and brought with it some financial news that will hugely alter our course, at least for the next 6 months. Debt repayment will be taking a back seat to staying afloat. We're not unique in this, and I understand that. And we're surely better off than we could be. The amount of cutbacks and layoffs and foreclosures out there is truly staggering. Still, it was difficult to process. In just one evening I went from sad, to mad, to scared... and back to sad again.

But onward we go. Yesterday was also National Chocolate Cake Day, and I was wanting to make a chocolate cake after dinner. But suddenly celebrating didn't seem like such a great idea. At 7:00 I decided that cake was exactly what we needed, so Spencer and I went to the store for a cake mix and frosting, and all three boys helped me make it while we waited for dinner to cook. We had a nice dinner, watched American Idol together, and at 9:00 we had our cake. And ate it too.


Saturday, January 10, 2009

The best laid plans...

So I'd decided to get a job. I was sure, I was resolved, I was peaceful. All the things you want to be when making a big change like that. But ... always the but ... it didn't sit well in my heart. The very night I'd made the decision, I couldn't sleep. The following night I started having nightmares. I felt uneasy and unsettled from the time I got up till the time I went to bed. Yes, the money would have been helpful. Yes, I could have made it work if I had to. But God was telling me loud and clear that the timing wasn't right, so I listened.

Then what to do? We can't keep going the way we are headed, especially with the state of the current ecomony. We're fortunate in that we're not falling further behind - I know a lot of people are right now - by we're not exactly making progress either. Our progress is slow, essentially one step forward, two steps back. We're spinning our wheels. How do we change that without my taking a job, which would mean time away from my husband and babies?

We take a deep breath in, and tighten our belts another 2, 7, 10 notches. Every dollar we can save is another dollar knocked off our debt.

Mike just started taking the train to work, which not only benefits the environment but also saves us over $100 a month (closer to $200 when the gas prices rise again!) We just started grocery shopping once a month, instead of weekly, and on our first go we saved $100 by shopping the sales at several different stores and stocking up. We're going to start coupon clipping again, and seeing if we can do even better in February. I'm starting to check my survey mail daily again, after taking a few months off, and have around $100 coming to me next month. I also did a major purge of my movie collection, and currently have over 100 movies listed on Ebay. It's something I'd been saying I'd do for awhile now, and was finally ready. Next, I'll do my books!

I feel good and positive moving into the new year, and I feel relieved that - at least for now - our plans do not include my getting a job.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Grocery Outlet

A benefit of insomnia!! The other night I couldn't sleep and was watching a news program in the wee hours. The piece was about salvage grocery stores, where you can buy groceries at a significant discount because of damaged packaging, overstocks, etc. While I didn't find one of those in the near vicinity, I did find The Grocery Outlet nearby. We checked it out this weekend, and will definitely be going back! They carry all the same brands as our regular grocery store, but at a much better price. Not everything was a bargain - it took careful shopping, and knowing what the normal prices should be - but we found some absolute steals. We just bought a handful of things (we'd already done a full shopping trip the day before) and spent $21.00. We totalled it up when we got home, and the same items would have been $35+ at our regular store. Awesome. I can't wait to see what a full trip looks like!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

New Year, New Plans

We just ushered in the new year, and with it came a renewed determination to get ourselves back on track. I did December's numbers yesterday (which included doing the final numbers for the entire year), and while things certainly could have been much worse, we did not end the year on a high note. But rather than wasting even a second dwelling on that, we are taking action. Today.

I really want to move into a bigger house, and in order for that to become a reality a few things need to happen. The market needs to improve, we need to pay off our credit cards and cars, and we need to pay down our second mortgage. Now I unfortunately have no control over the market, but I can make changes to more quickly pay down the debt. So with the goal of a new house in mind, I am going to get a part time job. I don't NEED to get a job, and for that I am eternally thankful. We are able to pay our bills, keep a roof over our heads, and food on our table without it. But do we want to spend 5, 10, 15 or more years paying on debt that we could pay off in two if we get aggressive about it? No.

Today we put it all down on paper - our budget, our short-term goals, our long-term goals. For 2009, a few simple (but important) things are changing. We're setting up an automatic contribution for church so that isn't something that goes by the wayside when things are tight. We're reinstating our savings for gifts and car expenses. We're bumping up our credit card payments again. Step one though is finding me that job...