Category Archives: FInances

Embarking on a New Path

One beautiful aspect of this life is that there are no constants. 

Now, for a control freak like me, that concept is always first handled with trepidation.

But when I remember that life isn’t stagnant, that change is necessary for growth and to reach goals, I feel emboldened and blessed as I take the first tentative steps on the new path I see before me.

Independence

The BHE and I are both very intelligent and fiercely independent people.  We both would love nothing more than to live off the grid and thrive on our own efforts and ingenuity.

However, living in this time and place, and having been raised the way we were, we both cling to a few ideas of the modern, connected world.  Like health insurance, adult conversation, and the Internet.  I for one would like to know I have a steady income that includes benefits from a company, at least until my children are a bit more mature.  And our farm is functioning independently.

With independence comes greater responsibility, especially for oneself.  When you are beholden to none, you are more so beholden to yourself and your God.  I care not for the judgement of my peers but rather His view on the quality of my stewardship of His earth and gifts.

So the BHE and I have been talking about our options and alternatives.  I am a SAHM who would love to be a WAHM so, by golly, I gotta be independent and forge a new way.

Please, Lord, show me the next path I must thoughtfully walk upon.

Financial Independence

The goal here is to provide for ourselves, our children, our families, and our friends without depending too much on other people.  Reciprocity is the name of the game, rather than being borrowers to lenders, as that never ends well.*

For now, though, we do have a mortgage(s) and car loan (please don’t get me started on my student loans) and two small children.  We must be smart about our steps towards our end goals.  Which is why the BHE returns to work each day.  Which is why I have begun searching out ways to both save and earn.

If I do not have a steady income as a stay-at-home mom, the least I can do is be a good steward of the money we have been blessed with and use the considerable brain power God gave me to come up with new ways to work towards financial independence.

Saving

I’m known for my budgeting and my coupon-clipping and my bill pay spreadsheets… and my penny-pinching.  I will be the first to raise my hand and admit that I am a tight wad.  For all the hosting I’ve done, I can tell you I have upset a few guests in the past with how tight I hold my fist.

I found some new ways to save, and I plan on writing up my reviews of the apps that are helping me do so.  In fact, a couple of the apps are more than Saving; they cross the line into Making.  It is pretty cool.

If you want to get started on your own, I am using:

Checkout 51
Flipp
Coupons
Ibotta
Every Dollar
MobiSave
Walmart’s Savings Catcher
Target’s Cartwheel
And Payless’s (Kroger) digital coupons

Making

I decided to take it one step further.  Part of my approach to minimalism has been selling as well as donating and trashing the things we don’t need or want.  Now, after the passing of my beloved father-in-law and the subsequent inheritance of all of his shit crap garbage hoarded stuff belongings, we have a major inventory with which to work.  Antiques and collectibles, unopened boxes of supplies and tools, decorative items that have no place in our home, clothing and accessories that fit no one we know… the list goes on.

Thank God for the Internet!**  I have opened both an eBay shop and an Etsy shop as well as have posted items on all Craigslist sites that cover areas within an hour drive of me.  Also, if you didn’t know this, go take a peek at what’s around you in terms of Facebook pages labeled “yard sale” or “ rummage” or “swap”.

Here are some items I have up for sale:

blade.jpgashtraycoke-case

 

Here is the link to my eBay store, DeichMileFeirme, and my Etsy shop, Thoughtfully Sought.

Branding

While you’re online, reading this post and checking out my shops and the various apps I mentioned above, go ahead and check me out in the other corners from which I shine.  See the fun, colorful, crazy, thoughtfully sought path we are treading on my Instagram account.my Instagram account.  Find out what inspires me and what my big project ideas are on my Pinterest account.  Go crazy and LIKE my Facebook page.

If you’re trying to make a little extra on the side (and I do mean a little), start stretching your touch to various parts on the Internet.  There’s so much out there, and what goes around comes around. ***

How have you earned a little extra lately? 

What was the big-ticket item you last saved a ton on? 

If you were going to brag about how little you spent at the grocery, how would you explain how you did it?

 

*Proverbs 22:7 – The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.

**Seriously, I think I say that twenty times a day, if not more.

***Hebrews 13:15&16 – Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name. 16 And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.

Personal Review of ClickList

In effort to cut back on money and time spent on food’n’stuff, I decided to give Kroger’s ClickList option a try.

I am not receiving anything to tell you about my experience:  nothing free, no money or credit, nada.  But that’s okay, because on my Thoughtfully Sought path through life, I’m hoping to share what I’ve learned with others for the sake of sharing and possibly learning something new.

To make a full disclaimer, I do have family members and friends who work for the Kroger Company.  No, they aren’t getting anything from this blog post, either.  Sorry, guys!

ClickList

Before I go any further, I would like to state that I think this is a stupid name.  The Kroger Company probably spent a big ol’ chunk of money on a team of well-educated individuals to come up with that name, so I apologize to all who put effort into it.  But I could toss out about 15 better names in 40 seconds if you asked me to.

Anyway


Where I live, I shop at the Pay-Less stores of the Kroger family.  I was on my Android phone looking at my weekly sales ads and going through my digital coupons when I saw the “shop online” option.  After recently reading an advice book suggesting one creates more time with her family (or for her other priorities) by shopping for groceries online, I decided to give it a whirl.

I poked around on the site for a bit, saw how they save my previous purchases, looked into payment options and the cost, and decided to take it a step further and get out the laptop.

Once I logged into my Pay-Less account, I got a full screen with all my shopping options.  I used my list from these free printables to “shop” for what I needed.  Thankfully, the webpage shows what items cost and if they are on sale.  Then I looked through the digital coupons offered and added a couple more things to my “cart”.

ClickList does give a total amount of what is in your “cart” but it does not factor in the digital coupons.  It also doesn’t take into account any paper coupons you might have.  Note that Kroger/Pay-Less still accepts the coupons, though.  When you call to say you’re ready and in their parking lot, they will ask about your paper coupons while the computer will automatically access the digital ones you’ve loaded to your card/account.

So, let’s see, where was I?  Right.  I loaded up my “cart” and went to “check out” where it let me review what I was ordering and select a date and time frame to pick up my groceries.  Shortly after choosing my options, I received a confirmation email.


I was expecting another email or text or call or something once my order was ready, but I didn’t.  They only send you that first confirmation, pull your order before your time slot, and eagerly await your arrival.

Ok, maybe they aren’t eager.  I don’t know, I couldn’t see them from the parking lot.

I arrived at the store near the end of the time frame I chose, pulled into one of the designated spots, and called the number on the sign.  The friendly individual who answered asked which spot number I was in, talked with someone near him, then informed me it would be just a moment before a clerk came out to my car.

Since I could see said clerk helping another ClickList patron, I was cool with just sitting for a few in my air conditioned vehicle with two slumbering babes in the back seat.

Soon, the nicest guy I’ve ever met at a grocery store came out with another man and a rolling cart with some black plastic tubs full of white Kroger grocery sacks.  The friendly guy asked where I would like my groceries and if my doors were unlocked.  While the one man loaded the rear of my SUV with the bags (even putting the frozen and refrigerated goods in the cooler I had back there for that very reason), Mr. Super-Friendly-Nice talked with me about my experience, coupons, who I talked to when I called the number, et cetera while he ran my debit card on his tablet.

For whatever reason, the tablet didn’t like my card, and Mr. Super-Friendly-Nice ran back into the store for another one.  Meanwhile, the other dude was still loading my 60+ items.

Finally, I was loaded and paid for (that sounds inappropriate) and rolling out of the lot within less than 10 minutes of pulling in (yep, really inappropriate).

Extra Benefits

  • I don’t know if it was promotional or what but there was no fee associated with getting my groceries this way.  After telling a girlfriend who lives in another city about my experience, she said it cost her $4.95 to use the ClickList service.  For me, it was free and super easy, plus I didn’t have to drag my littles through a grocery store.
  • Ok, so not having to take the kids through the store was a huge plus.  That hour that we didn’t spend in the store?  I made a point to go to a free city park with them.  How’s that for awesome!
  • Also, I didn’t have any impulse buys.  I saved money by not setting foot inside and being lured by sights, smells, and sale signs.  I got precisely what was on my list, or on sale, or what I had a coupon for, because I was able to directly search for those things.  It was great!
  • I only had the one store to go to!  Normally, I would run to a handful of different stores on grocery shopping day.  This time, I decided the convenience of ClickList was worth the extra 10 cents on the marinara and the 40 on the salad dressing that I wouldn’t have paid having gone to Aldi’s for those things.

Unknowns

  • I chose not to get produce or meat during this experiment.  I am, as many others are, particular about my meats and fruits (heh heh, inappropriate again).  We get our meats at a local meat market, so that wasn’t a concern, but I do like to get quite a bit of my produce at Kroger.  However, I just don’t know if I can trust a clerk to pick precisely what I want.  And what if he or she accidentally drops my bananas?  What if there was a bigger melon? How do I know the best peach, tomato, avocado, etc was selected?  I don’t, so I didn’t get produce that day.
  • I also don’t know how refrigerated and frozen items were handled.  I should have asked.  I would think if you ordered ice cream, frozen peas, a gallon of milk, and some eggs that the staff would somehow ensure those items stayed the temperature they needed to.  For instance, I selected the time slot of 3-4, and Mr. Super-Friendly-Nice informed me that my order had been ready since about 2:55.  But I didn’t get there until almost 4.  I didn’t order ice cream, but I’m hoping if I had, they would’ve somehow noted that some of my items needed to stay frozen.  I don’t know.  But I hope.
  • Since I didn’t have paper coupons to use this time, I am not entirely sure how that process works.  They say they take them, but I don’t know what that means.  I’m assuming a clerk comes out, gets your coupons, goes in to scan them, and comes back out to take your payment.  I don’t know, sorry.

Arriving Home

I drove straight home, and the BHE helped me unload sleepy kids and all the groceries.  My cold things were cold in my cooler, and everything else was set on our kitchen table.  Since they gave us both a receipt and print of my order on a 8.5×11 piece of paper, I had no issues checking off the items as I put them away.

Yes, everything was there.  Every last thing I requested online was in my kitchen.  How awesome is that!

I decided I must write a blog post about my experience with ClickList because it was easy, free/cheap, and accurate.  I did my grocery shopping one night while my family slept and I sat in my pjs in my bed with a glass of moscato.  I didn’t have to get out of my car and, more importantly, I didn’t have to get my kids out of the car, into a cart, around a store, through the check-out line, and back into the car to drive all the way home and unload the whole mess.  I saved money and time (and a headache).

If this service stays free, I’ll keep using it.  If they begin to charge, like maybe $4.95 each trip, I may have to rethink how often I buy certain items.  Because, really, five bucks to save money and the hassle, I think it is worth it.

Your Thoughts

Does your preferred store have this option?  Have you tried it?  What did you like?  What didn’t you like?  Or why haven’t you tried it?

I’d like to know.  Maybe my other preferred stores do this, too.  It was a fun experiment.

How do you like shopping for your groceries and goods?

 

How to Meal Plan to Save Time and Money

(More Free Printables!)

This is my current project:  simplifying our lives by removing the stress of deciding what is for dinner each night as well as working on our biggest budget-buster by making grocery shopping less costly and time-consuming.

I have read so much about saving money on groceries, so many blogs and books about how to spend less at the store, so much that I feel I’ve read all that can be said about meal planning and couponing.

Now I’ve got my own way of doing things.  Here’s how you can simplify and save, too.

What You Eat

First, decide what dietary requirements you and your family have.  For instance, we prefer few processed foods, organic foods, low wheat and low dairy meals, and to use meats sparingly.

Next, decide which meals you really enjoy eating as well as making.  I made a list of about 8 meals that every one of us enjoys to eat that takes me no more than an hour of active cook time.  I asked the BHE what he likes, too.  Given the way some meals can be varied by switching up the sauce used or selecting chicken instead of beef, we ended up with a list of 14 meals.

Also, determine how often you want to cook.  WE LOVE LEFTOVERS!  We save so much money by making enough food each time we cook dinner to utilize the same stuff as lunch the next day.  I wanted to take this a step further:  I want to go a full day without cooking!  My time should be spent WITH my family instead of rushing to make dinner in the other room FOR my family.  I want to be a part of the action, not on the side as a cook or maid.  The less often you cook, the less dishes you have to do, too.  Win-win!

I decided each time I make a meal, I need to make at least 9 servings if not 12. One “meal” should provide:  2 adult and 1 toddler servings for dinner, lunch the next day, dinner that evening, and possibly lunch the following day, at least for the BHE at work.  So, 12 servings.

This is just a snapshot of what I came up with! I typically print these to write on them, but I’m sparing you my terrible handwriting. 

The next step for me was to write out the chart of meals on the printable I made (and will share with you for free).  I wrote out the few variations we want for breakfasts 6 days a week, the plan for Sunday brunches, that lunches will either be leftovers(LO) or something easily toddler-friendly, and then the meals on every other day of the week.  The days in between are marked LO since we’ll just be heating up what is already cooked.  When all was said and done, I had SIX WEEKS’ WORTH of meals planned out.

Menu Printable

Print the free Meal Chart, talk it over with your household, and start to fill in the blanks.  Challenge yourself and print 4 pages so you can take care of a whole month at once!

What You Buy

Now that your Meal Charts are filled out, you need determine what groceries are necessary to make these meals happen.  Consider how often you’ll need to buy the things on your list.  The organic canned beans go on sale for $1 each at Kroger/Payless roughly every 6 weeks, so I’d like to buy those in bulk.  But bananas can’t last that long!  Produce goes on my “weekly” list.  Open the free Planned Pantry printable and fill that in as you review your Meal Charts.

Here’s a sample of what I’ll need and how often I should be buying groceries. The real list is a little longer and includes “incidentals” like candy, chips, ice cream, and alcohol. Oh, yes, alcohol. 

I reviewed my list of meals and wrote down the necessary ingredients for each, including side items, and made hash marks next to each meat, veggie, spice, etc., keeping portion sizes in mind.  That is how I determined what I would need for 6 weeks.

But I go to the store more often than that!  Sure, I would save so much money if I only stepped into a store once every six weeks (less likely to buy impulse items and stuff we don’t need/use/want).  But I like fresh produce, I get a kick out of finding marked down goodies, and I really need to get out of the house more than that.  That is why I must have specific lists and know how much I need of what so I can make these trips successful, saving time, money, and sanity as I drag my littles around town.

Planned Pantry Printable

A big part of saving money with meal planning is buying what you need, and want, ahead of time.  And preferably in bulk. No extra trips to the store, no using the ingredients needed for another meal because you didn’t buy enough for the one you’re making, no staring at bare pantry shelves with a blank mind.

Don’t forget to review your weekly sale ads and check on your coupons before you head to the store, either.  Look over THIS post and use that free printable to keep your shopping streamlined and as cheap as possible.

What You Do

Now that you’ve filled in your free printable lists, you’ve got a good idea of what you need to do next:  put it on the calendar!  Go ahead and mark on the calendar you’ve got hanging in your kitchen*, the small planner in your bag, the desk set at work, and anywhere else you regularly look to see what you’ve got going on in life.

Not only do you want to write in what meals are on what days (and which days you have off from cooking thanks to LeftOvers!), you’ll want to write down which days you’re going to go buy the items you need from the stores you wrote down.

Take note which days the sale ads switch over, too.  I’ve learned that my preferred Kroger puts out their sale ads on Thursdays, but they mark down their produce on Fridays.  I have also learned that the meat market has a fantastic special on ground chuck the week starting the second Tuesday of each month.  Knowing these factoids can go a long way to saving you time and money.

Once you have your printables filled out and your calendar filled in, take a deep breath.  The first time you do this may take a good 30-40 minutes.  Now that’s a small chunk of time for a month or more of planning and an even smaller price to pay for a load of stress off your mind.  But it also won’t take that long the next time you need to do it, as you’ll be a pro at handling the groceries and meals.

How Did It Go?

Come on back to comment and let me know how it worked out for you. By then, I ought to have my post and free printable for bill-paying and creating a personal spending plan**.  Stay tuned!

Here they are again, in case you wanted to finish reading before opening the PDFs:

Menu Printable 

Planned Pantry Printable
* You don’t have a calendar in your kitchen?!  I don’t understand.  Go get one and hang it up. You’re welcome.

 ** Because no one likes the word “budget.”

SAHM Activity #1: The Cents in Surveys and Emails (Inbox Dollars)

SAHM Income: My experience with Inbox Dollars

Being a stay-at-home mom has plenty of rewards. An income is not one of them. In efforts to bring in *some*thing, so that the burden doesn’t rest solely on the BHE, I started researching ways to earn a little dough.

Not much, mind you. I didn’t start looking for “jobs” that would pay me “$1000 in your first month!”

What You’ll Find

There are plenty of articles and blogs dedicated to this topic. They have lots of ideas and links and suggestions. Go ahead and Google it. Or better yet, sign up on a site like Inbox Dollars and use their search engine for a few pennies for each search. (There is also Bing Rewards, which does pay more than Inbox Dollars and is way prettier than Google.)

I like a handful of articles and blogs I’ve seen, but you can find your favorites on your own. Here is one of the best, most honest blogs that I’ve found:  Christian Personal Finance. Bob has plenty of great posts, but these are my bookmarked ones:

35 Ways to Make Money for 2015!

27 Ways to Make Money for Stay-at-Home Moms

5 Legitimate Work-from-Home Jobs

You’ll notice something common among these articles:  you can earn money by taking surveys and polls, providing feedback, and even opening a few emails or advertisements.

Enter Inbox Dollars

Before coming across Christian PF, I had discussed options with a girlfriend who had tried a number of online “jobs.” Of the ideas she gave me, I decided to sign up for Inbox Dollars. That was October 24, 2014.

It sloooowly adds up.

It sloooowly adds up.

My first pay out was $38.76 (after the $3 processing fee) on February 27, 2015. If you care to know the hows and whys, ins and outs, keep reading.

How

First off, I do all of this on my Windows Smart Phone, typically while I’m putting Angel Baby to sleep.

There are always a handful of FEATURED surveys but I always check out my TARGETED ones, like this one paying $.40 for roughly 25 mins.

There are always a handful of FEATURED surveys but I always check out my TARGETED ones, like this one paying $.40 for roughly 25 mins.

I take surveys, ranging from 5 minutes to 20 minutes for pay of $.05 to $1.25 per survey. There are others that take longer but I do not click on those. There are surveys that can’t be taken from a mobile device. Sometimes you’re two minutes into one before it tells you this.

Billy's Spin & Win:  I haven't spun yet.

Billy’s Spin & Win: I haven’t spun yet.

Here’s a bonus of Inbox Dollars: If for any reason you can’t complete the survey, like your demographic has been filled or you don’t have kids in the right age group or whatever, and the survey generator says sorry, Inbox Dollars gives you “spins” on Billy’s Spin & Win wheel.  These spins can win you “tokens” to add $.25 or more to the next survey you complete or sweepstakes* tickets or even money. Find out more about their sweepstakes here.

This shows me how much I've earned in searches today and how many days this week I've used Inbox Dollars' search engine.

This shows me how much I’ve earned in searches today and how many days this week I’ve used Inbox Dollars’ search engine.

I use their search engine for all Internet searches on my phone. You can earn so many cents per day and then so many per week for a “loyalty bonus.” For instance, I received an email today from Inbox Dollars stating I earned $.33 for my searches over the last week and another email that said I earned $.10 for using their search bar at least 4 out of the last 7 days.

I get at least $.02 for each of these, just to click on them.

I get at least $.02 for each of these, just to click on them.

Also, open your mail. They have Paid Email within their site (you don’t have to deal with it in your personal email) where you earn $.02 for each advertisement you open. You can earn more, depending on what they are offering. For instance, donating to the Children’s Find can earn you more money through Inbox Dollars.

Confirming the email gets you 2 cents, but donating to this worthy cause adds more to your Inbox Dollars.

Confirming the email gets you 2 cents, but donating to this worthy cause adds more to your Inbox Dollars.

Slow Going

Obviously, this is not a get-rich-quick kind of job. It isn’t really a “job.” I mean, c’mon, two cents here, fifty cents there only adds up so fast.

Slooowwwly I earn, step by step, inch by inch.*

Slooowwwly I earn, step by step, inch by inch.*

But if you’re like me and have a Smart phone and some regular down time, it’s a easy to earn a little as you go. It took me around four months to hit their payout minimum of $30. But since I am anchored to the armchair in the nursery a good hour to three per day, why not kill time in such a way? In fact, during the time I was earning that $38, I was stuck in the chair much more since I was still breastfeeding. So there you have it.

Wondering if You Want To

Do you have a commute where you aren’t the driver? Use your phone, laptop, tablet to answer some questions that could not only earn you a buck but also influence an advertising campaign for, say, a new drink on the market. Are you a SAHM (or SAHD) who can spend a few minutes each day at your computer? Then you could be earning some change by searching the internet with a different engine or by opening ads that you’d otherwise delete if they were in your inbox.

Plenty of other ways to earn money than just the few options I use.

Plenty of other ways to earn money than just the few options I use.

There are more ways to earn, too. If you have a Smart phone that isn’t a Windows phone (oh, lordy, that’s a post in itself), you can use apps for cash. You can watch videos or play online games for money. There are plenty of free offers and coupons you can sign up for, too. I just don’t fully engage in Inbox Dollars out of time constraints and personal willingness.

On a side note, if you are interested in signing up for Inbox Dollars, let me know.  If you give me your email and I give it to them, I get a little extra something-something as a bonus for encouraging you to sign up.  Drop me a line!

Not a Pitch

They aren’t paying me to tell you this. They probably don’t even know I wrote this post. I’m just sharing my experience. So if I send you an email through Inbox Dollars and you do sign up, I get a wee incentive. Which I’d like, considering I’m a SAHM about to be raising two babies on one income.

But I digress. I just wanted you to know a little more about this option if you’re like me and looking for just a little extra. Clearly, this is a llliiiitttlle extra, not much, not to pay off any credit cards by summer or some such.

You can put more time into it than I have. You can use all their money-earning options, like watch videos and answer a few questions or play online games. They have plenty of other ways to earn than those I engage in. But again, time is an element. I guess it would be different if I were still an insomniac high school student with things like bus rides, passing periods, and homework avoidance tactics.

Just sayin…

Do you use anything like Inbox Dollars to add a little to your bank account? I would love to hear about others’ experiences, with Inbox Dollars as well as other sites. What kinds of earnings do you get or would you like to get?

*The sweeps have changed a bit in the updating/grading Inbox Dollars did a few months back.  Instead of all your tickets going straight into a sweepstakes for whatever prize-of-the-month they’ve set up, you can use your tickets to enter in various other sweeps.

Depending on how many "tickets" you've earned at the "wheel," you can choose which sweeps you can enter

Depending on how many “tickets” you’ve earned at the “wheel,” you can choose which sweeps you can enter.

Here's one I'm entering for a Target gift card, using some of the "tickets" I recently earned.

Here’s one I’m entering for a Target gift card, using some of the “tickets” I recently earned.

Four Week Experiment: Budgeting with the exactness of February

If you want to read the back story, the tale that got us to this point, read the last Thoughtfully Sought blog post.

Exactly four weeks

After looking over the amount of money that went flying out of our wallets from September 2014 through January 2015, I was sick.  Really, that’s what we do with our hard-earned money?  We have one income, people, so the last thing we need to do is any spending on what we don’t NEED.

Of course, needs are relative.  But I digress.

I got out my handy-dandy my pocket calendar to mark the dates I went shopping in December and January.  I definitely did better but not good enough.  I flipped to February and felt like I’d gotten a golden egg.  There were EXACTLY four weeks in February 2015, the 1st being a Sunday and the 28th being a Saturday.  It was an OCD SAHM’s dream-come-true.

I wrote in the tiny boxes which days I would shop, which days we would have dinner guests or weekend guests, which days would need to see the coffee pot cleaned or the water softener refilled, and which days got which recipes for dinner and then leftovers.  When I was done, I was beaming.  I may not take meds for it but that doesn’t mean I don’t fully recognize my obsessive-compulsive moments.

I knew, just KNEW, we could stick to our budget.  However, I love contingency plans.  I plan everything to give myself the comfort of (imagined) control, and I plan back-up plans for back-up plans.  February saw the first attempt of the Murphy family using the envelope system.

Abbreviated

You can learn all about the envelope system by Dave Ramsey here and here and here and here and here.

In no way, shape, or form am I benefiting from sharing these articles or Dave Ramsey’s efforts with you.  I am receiving no compensation from any of these sites.  (I know, too bad, right?)

The BHE and I decided we would start with just two envelopes:  groceries and house.  All of our bills are automated and only “fluctuate” by going down, as we are not adding to our credit card debt and our mortgage and car payments are set.  (Note:  we round these up.  The car payment due on the 28th of every month is $181.75 so I have $185 automatically withdrawn every month.  Capiche?)

Because of the hassle that is unemployment benefits with a return-to-work date, the BHE took cash from the ATM each week.  It was divided between our two accounts, since some bills come from his and some come from mine, and then we put $400 in one envelope and $100 in another.  Thus began the experiment.

What happened

The short version:  while we were WAAAAY more aware of what we’d spent working with just cash, we still went over budget.  By $30.53.  And I can show you the three empty wine bottles and consumed 12-pack that the $30-and-change bought us.

Let me be real, folks:  we didn’t NEED the alcohol but we were hosting our two very good friends and their kids for a long weekend.  Since they traveled hours to see us and were bringing lots of groceries to feed all of us, the least we could do is buy some booze.  Booze we blew through in the first night.  So had to go buy more… but I digress.

We didn’t spend the whole $100 that was set aside for the house.  In fact, we barely spend $20.  The goal this winter layoff was to work on house projects for which we already had the supplies.  There were rooms that needed finishing touches and we had the paint or trim or what-have-you just sitting in the basement.  So that was a WIN for us.

Where we lost

I went through each receipt to see what we really spent our money on.  I feel like there should be a self-help class for people with our sweets addiction.  I kid you not. We spend almost $20 on candy alone.  Haribo gummy candies and some chocolates.  Candy, people.  Processed corn syrup and good dyes and fake “natural flavors”… all ingredients that don’t fit our diet guidelines of whole, unprocessed, healthy, organic foods.

Ok, I take that back.  There’s a candy line Yummy Earth that the BHE found at Walgreens.  So SOME of the candy we bought fit our self-prescribed guidelines.  Whatever.

The alcohol was the other thing.  Including the booze bought for our weekend with friends plus the fact that we like a beer now and then (and I’ll never say no to a glass of white wine), we spent almost $60 on alcohol.  One hand is patting me on the back and reminding me that we used to spend that kind of money for one weekend in just the two of us; the other hand is giving me the finger for being so dumb.  Whatever.  I’m an adult.  If I am going to break my budget on alcohol, so be it.

We also spent $41 and change at restaurants during February.  Yes, this came out of the grocery budget.  It’s food, right?  One trip to McDonald’s for sundaes because all three of us had sore throats; one trip to Subway because we were both craving sandwiches and we were driving by one; and one trip to Max and Erma’s with family we almost never eat out with after a day-long birthday party.  I’d say “not bad” on that account.

Here we are in March

It is March 2nd.  I spent the Angel Baby’s nap calculating what we spent and where during February.  Then I pulled up every weekly ad to every store where I shop and wrote down what was on sale that we would normally buy.  While on the Payless (Kroger) site, I logged into my account to load digital coupons to my Kroger Plus card.  I would’ve done the same at the CVS site but I didn’t seen anything in the ad that would get me to go there this week.  Then I went to Coupons.com and “clipped” coupons for things we would normally buy.

That’s the trick:  what you’d normally buy.  Clipping coupons for shit you don’t need so that you buy it, even for less than its regular price, is exactly what manufacturers want you to do.  It also screws your budget.

I compared this list to my already-written list of food, drinks, and supplies.  Next to each item, I wrote an abbreviation for the store at which I’d purchase them.  Then I looked at the forecast and chose the day I’d go do this major shopping trip.  If you are following this, I may suggest you check the weather first.  See, if the weather was going to be total shit until, say, Thursday, well, so many sale ads end or begin on Thursdays.

Stay tuned.  I’ll let you know how tomorrow’s shopping turns out.

Oh Say Can You Say How You Spent Your Money

(Admit it: you read that title and made it rhyme.)

Open communication

The BHE and I have talked about saving and budgeting and just managing our money better since, oh, the beginning of our relationship (we’re talking 2005, folks!).  Sadly, as money is such a major factor in the average American’s life, it is something that ought to be regularly discussed with one’s significant other.  Complete and open communication or any monetary goals will not be fulfilled.

In the almost-decade we have been together, we have managed to pay off cars and credit cards, buy one house for cash and then mortgage it to buy another, put me through grad school, and start a family.  We don’t miss payments, we rarely charge anything, and our debt is pretty small compared to the average American family.  We have one mortgage for two houses, one smallish car payment but three vehicles and two trailers, minimal credit card debt (that we haven’t added to since September), and my ridiculous student loans.

Next step

When we decided it was time for us to try to grow our family, there were many conversations about day care vs. one of us staying home to raise our children.  No brainer:  one of us stays home.  At that time, we both made about the same amount of money per hour.  Then I started grad school, switched jobs for a pay cut, and then got pregnant.  No brainer:  I would leave my low-paying, benefits-less job to stay home with our child once he or she was born.

The hard part would be adjusting our lifestyle to accommodate halving our income and adding a whole new person.  Let me be honest here:  we didn’t change a damned thing until that first electric bill after Angel Baby was born.  The whole pregnancy, knowing we had 9 months to clean up our act and start really budgeting and saving, we were tossing out money left and right.  Y’know, we HAD to have a whole new bedroom suite for the baby.  And that bedroom needed completely remodeled before the baby was born.  And we needed the matching car seat, stroller, pack’n’play, etc.  (Thank you, Aunt Jan, for the pack’n’play!!)

First light

That first electric bill was a doozy!  We use cloth diapers, which means more loads of laundry.  Lots more.  We also had put in a dishwasher while I was pregnant.  So there was even more electricity being used to clean things.

I’ve got another blog post in the works about our indoor laundry line.  Stay tuned!

Second eye-opener

The BHE takes a quasi-voluntary layoff for 2-3 months every winter.  Luckily, he receives unemployment benefits and has the peace of mind that comes with knowing he has a return-to-work date.  Unluckily, those benefits change every year and can be so low it is almost comical.  Almost.

With that uncertainty, and knowing he will only earn his regular pay 9-10 months of the year, budgeting is a necessity in our household.  Ok, let’s be honest:  budgeting is a necessity in every household.

Coincidental moment on our thoughtfully sought path through parenting:  the day Angel Baby had her first solid food was the first day of the BHE’s layoff last year.  Yay… adding one mouth to feed while subtracting regular income.  Uff.

Third and final straw

We agreed to save X amount of dollars prior to the BHE starting his Winter 2015 layoff.  In order to do so, we had to know where our money was going.  Really, it is hard to say where you’ll start cutting back when you don’t know how much you’re spending.

I gathered all receipts I could for September 2014 and thought, “Huh, not too bad.”  But that wasn’t the whole story.  We needed to keep all receipts in one spot so that I could really and truly see what was what.  October was a different story.  Not bad, just a more complete story.

Without giving you too much, let’s just say we spent over $450 in October, $520 in November, and $760 in December.  Ouch!

Where did it all go?

When I say “groceries,” I mean anything and everything bought at:  Payless (Kroger), WalMart, Target, CVS, Walgreens, Fresh Thyme Farmers Market, Aldi’s, D&R Meat Market, and the like.  So “groceries” can be food, alcohol, diapers, toilet paper, cat litter, candy, paper plates, etc.

Knowing that, it is understandable that our December total was so high.  There were gifts for the nephews bought at Target, there was our annual Christmas party to supply, and of course more food than normal was bought to feed us through holidays and my birthday.

Still, unacceptable.  Honestly, what in the hell are we doing with $450 or more in groceries?

I create meal plans.  I do our grocery shopping on 2 (or 3) days during the month.  Typically, I do one major shopping day of four or five stores at the beginning of the month.  Then about two weeks later, I hit one or two stores to get more milk, eggs, and fresh produce.  If there’s another trip before the month is out, I kick myself repeatedly as I go get what we need.  We live in the middle of nowhere so factoring time and gas for each trip, you can understand why I don’t want to shop more than a couple days a month.  Plus, everyone knows that you buy more than you intend to each time you go to the store; going multiple times during the month means multiple times you will spend too much.  Stick to your lists (yeah, that thing you tend to leave on the kitchen counter).

Something needed to change if our monthly expenditures on groceries could fluctuate from $450 to $750 without us blinking an eye.  Something really needed to change if I had no set limit for spending.

My two favorite R words:  reading and research

Of all the books and articles, financial advice from experts to stay-at-home-mom bloggers sharing their experiences, I’d say the two most influential authors are Dave Ramsey and David Bach.

(If you would like to know the books I’ve read or at least see the authors who have influenced the way I look at and deal with money, here’s my shelf.

Both of these men are renowned financial advisors.  Both have books and workshops read and attended by millions.  In fact, if you haven’t read or attended something by either of these men, chances are you know someone who has.  Ask your librarian to reserve a handful of their books for you.

One of the ways to budget and save that I’ve read about and talked to friends about is Dave Ramsey’s “envelope system.”  I’d never tried it myself but it sounded (a) logical and (b) straight-forward…which is, in my humble opinion, the best way to deal with ANYTHING money-related.

One more try

For the month of January 2015, with the BHE on his layoff, I decided to keep on with the mental budget I’d set for us.  I decided we could live comfortably with $400 for groceries and $100 for anything for the house.  (The BHE spends his layoffs working harder at home than he ever does at work.  Our 110+ years old house has been a major project that is still going.)

I did my shopping as I always do, but I would add on my smartphone the prices of the goods I would put in my cart.  Then I kept a mental tally of what I spent at each store.  At the end of January, I tallied up the number of days we went shopping, the number of stores we visited, and the amount of monies spent overall.  We kept to our $100 house budget but went almost $120 over our $400 grocery budget.  Not cool.

Read the next Thoughtfully Sought blog post to hear about February 2015.