Monthly Archives: June 2013

Hocus Pocus! Change My Finances!

imagesIf you want to cast some ‘presto-chango’ style magic over your money situation, the best solution I know is to set specific, measurable goals.  Alas, this is not as quick as pulling a rabbit out of a top-hat, but it is more reliable!  If you have a partner, setting goals together and having a weekly budget meeting is essential to keeping everyone focused and ‘gazelle intense’, as Dave Ramsey would say.

In May my husband and I were ready to set some new financial goals which I wrote about in “What’s All the Saving For, Anyway?”  I would like to give you an update on how things are going.

Goal 1: Increase cash savings 30% by the end of the year.  To date we have increased our savings by 10% and are one-third of the way to meeting the goal.  This goal seems attainable as long as there are no major setbacks.  We have been gazelle intense about meal planning and only eating out when we are really going to appreciate the experience.

Goal 2: Fund each of our Roth IRAs up to the maximum, if possible.  The maximum contribution we can make to the Roth IRA is $11,000 total for two people ($5,500 each).  We have deposited $3,000 so far.  We have until March 2014 to make contributions.   Will we get to  $11,000? Probably not because we are pushing harder on goal 1.  That said, we don’t want to overlook this fantastic saving vehicle for US residents.

Assessment: nothing motivates like having the numbers right there in front of you.  Our best shot at meeting our goals will be continuing to meal plan, and monitoring our weekly budget together throughout the week.  We know that when we let go of budgeting and meal planning, it costs us an additional $100 – $200 per week.

In the words of Gordon Gekko in Wall Street: “You done good, but you gotta keep doing good. I showed you how the game works, now school’s out… Go to work.”

Pizza Hut Summer Kids Eat Free 2013

My daughter and I have a summer tradition of hitting the Pizza Hut lunch buffet every few weeks.  This summer they are continuing their “Kids Eat Free” promotion.

The Details:IMG_3613-private

Lunch from 11:30 to 1:00, Weekdays Only

Two Kids 10 and Under Eat Free per paying adult (adult lunch is 5.99 in my area)

Does not include drink (child drink is .99 and water is free!)

We also have a tradition of leaving a nice tip because working a “kids eat free” lunch shift does not look like the best waitressing job out there!  You might want to check with your local restaurant to make sure they are participating before packing up the kids.

Do you know of other restaurants running a Kids Eat Free promotion this summer?  Share in the comments!

Menu Plan Monday – 6/24

We grow spinach in a big pot!  Spinach is in the pasta salad recipe.

We grow spinach in a big pot! Spinach is in the pasta salad recipe.

Monday – Grilled Sausage Kebabs with Pasta Salad – A new recipe for me from Food Network Magazine. I already have Cajun Chicken sausage from a double coupon purchase and my garden has the spinach and basil for the pasta salad.  Hope it’s a winner!

Tuesday – Sweet and Sour chicken and rice

Wednesday – Summer dinner of tuna salad, lettuce, fruit.IMG_3510-private

Thursday – Evening outdoor concert and meal out

Friday – Blueberry pancakes and turkey sausage

If you are looking for more menu inspirations, head over to


What I Did This Week to Save Money – 6/22

As I wrote this week in ‘Summertime, Is the Living too Easy?‘, summer vacation brings its own challenges to the weekly budget.  This week I saved money by:

  • Resisting the urge to wash and dry beach towels from swim team until after 7 pm when our electricity rate drops.
  • Took advantage of two double coupon days.  I try not to chase around after every deal because money is still money and even if I saved .50 I still spent something.  This week, though, I was able to combine store coupons and manufacturer coupons to get items we will really use, like toothpaste, paper towels, and cereal.  I spent $110 this week on groceries, which is slightly more than usual.  I have most groceries needed for my meal plan next week though.
  • Husband spent an hour or more researching various options for rental cars for an upcoming vacation.  He looked into what benefits AAA brings us as well as promotions offered by credit card companies.  He ended up booking with Car Rental Savers for a 5% discount and our credit card company offers an additional 5% reward.
  • Making my own chocolate zucchini cake for entertaining in-laws this weekend.  I was
    Chocolate Zucchini Cake

    Chocolate Zucchini Cake

    tempted to buy something at the bakery but I went to a tried-and true recipe that uses ingredients I usually have at home.  This recipe freezes well and is very moist.  The walnuts are optional if you have nut allergies.

And, as for spending money…

  • Had an unanticipated expense of a Speedo swim suit for daughter’s swim team ($50!).  Next year if she participates I will know to plan ahead for that expense.  This was my first experience with the costs of children’s sports, and it made me feel compassion for the people who have multiple kids in sports.
  • Had some “fun” expenses related to Father’s Day last Sunday and attending a bike race.
  • Levolor shade broke in sunroom.  We immediately allocated some of our unspent weekly money towards a replacement and hope to order that in July.  We can wait until we have the cash saved since it doesn’t interfere with privacy.

We ended the week with 20% of our weekly money unspent.  Some will go into savings and the rest towards home repair and maintenance.

I would love to hear how your week went!

Summer-Time, Is the Living too Easy?

IMG_3597-privateIt is day 5 of summer vacation, and since yesterday I have been feeling the ‘Saver’ in me losing power as quickly as a teenager’s iPhone.  My daughter and I have really enjoyed the free activities at the library, taking picnic lunches to parks,  and swimming at the local pool.  In the back of my mind, though, I find myself thinking ‘Hmmm….lunch at the mall sounds good’ or ‘Maybe I should switch my meal plan this week’ or ‘Thai-iced coffee!’  I have yet to do any budget damage.

As I observe myself having these money-spending thoughts, I keep going back to one thing:  I am not working this summer.  Normally my job in a kitchen is a source of much focus, physical movement and adrenaline.  I think that focus and intensity spills over into the rest of my life when I am working and now that is gone.  It’s summer-time and the living is too easy!

I don’t plan to work this summer — being home in the summer with my daughter is a great luxury and source of joy.  Now I am aware, though, that my desire to add excitement to the day is just my brain noticing the absence of my job.  I am also realizing that when retirement comes some day, two people not working could equal two people wanting to go to the mall and get drinks at the coffee shop every day.

And that Thai-iced coffee?  I am enjoying a home-made version that vaguely resembles the real deal:  leftover coffee, chilled; add sweetener; pinch of cardamom; top off with milk of your choice and ice.

What do you do when you have the desire to spend out of boredom?

Menu Plan Monday – 6/17

A whole lot of arugula in the garden...

A whole lot of arugula in the garden…


Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia

This week I aim to get back to more vegetables in our meals.  I feel I ought to have the time to be more thoughtful about this now that I am home for the summer with my daughter.

Monday – Jamie Oliver’s Fajitas with refried black beans.  This recipe is a mainstay in our home. Jamie never disappoints!

Tuesday – Make your own big salad with leftover fajita chicken as a topping choice.  I am making the AMAZING home-made salad dressing – Honey Chipotle Vinaigrette.  You must try this, but go easy on the chipotle until you give it a taste-test.

Wednesday – Egg Fried Rice – giving the extra vegetables from the salad on Monday a home.  I hope to use my bok choy from the garden which is on its way to bolting.

Thursday – Bike race (as in bicycle) – we will grab some sandwiches and go watch.  Free and fun!

Friday – Hamburgers and whatever fruit and veg we have left at the end of the week.  I have some hamburger buns in the freezer that need to see the light of day!

If you are looking for more menu inspirations, head over to


What I Did This Week to Save Money 6/16

Summertime Relaxation

Summertime Relaxation

This week was a nice balance of spending money and saving money.  Lately it’s been save, save, save, so it felt a bit strange to spend.

Saving Money 

  • We enjoyed meals at home and husband brought lunch to work from home most days.
  • Summer break – trying to keep busy with my daughter without spending a lot of money.  We went to an outdoor lunchtime reggae concert and brought our picnic lunch.
  •  Another day we walked to the grounds of a local university with gorgeous landscaping and took a picnic lunch, played the card game ‘Fairy Snap’, and then walked to the library for a free showing of the movie ‘Brave.’IMG_3600-private
  • I was inspired by Lili over at Creative Savv to enjoy some of the beautiful things I have at home and we used pretty cloth strawberry-print napkins and a Vera Bradley cooler for our picnics.
  • Walked to the Village Hall to pay our water bill

Spending Money

  • My daughter had an afternoon with Grandma which allowed my husband and me to have a lunch date and do some shopping.  The money for lunch came from our “Date” budget category and we still have $20.00 left in it for the future.
  • Husband and I went to Target and the mall while daughter was with Grandma.  Target was an opportunity to stock up on some essentials, like lots of sunscreen.  We rarely go to Target but when we do we maximize savings by printing out the Target coupons on their website which can be combined with manufacturer’s coupons for even greater savings!
  • At the mall we had a 30% off everything coupon at Eddie Bauer and were able to pick up a day pack for our upcoming trip to Santa Fe.

We ended the week with about 20% of our weekly budget left and split that money between general savings and our home repair fund.

In other news, my post ‘So You’re Debt Free, Where are the Granite Countertops‘ was recently featured over on the Carnival of Financial Independence.  A blog carnival is an opportunity to gather a variety of blog posts on similar topics together in one place.

Enjoy your Sunday!

Me, My Dad, and Money

Me and My Dad-Starting My Financial Education

Me and My Dad-Starting My Financial Education

I can tell you we had the most frequently mowed lawn on the block.  My Dad wasn’t the type of person who would know the cost of a gallon of milk, but he did give me many foundational experiences with money.  He provided me with opportunities to earn, spend, and owe money.

The earning money?  Well, by 5th or 6th grade I was regularly mowing the lawn and washing the car, as often as possible!  I don’t remember what he paid me but I am sure it was fairly generous.  This really gave me a taste for earning money and as soon as I turned 16 I got a job within that very week.  Earning money also gave me an opportunity to learn to do my own income tax forms.

Spending money… well, that is a learning experience too.  My Dad gave me a subscription to Penny Power magazine (Consumer Reports for Kids), which I wrote about a few months ago.  It was useful to discover that some products weren’t really as exciting as they appeared on t.v. commercials (the Snoopy Snow Cone Maker comes to mind . . .).  When I wanted something expensive, my Dad would usually offer to pay for half and I needed to come up with the other half.  That was a great lesson in working hard to save money, and then having it be gone so quickly.

Another piece in the financial puzzle is owing money.  My Dad gave my husband and me an experience in owing money that had more teeth than a simple “pay me back next month.”   When my husband and I were just out of college and still riding the city bus around town, my Dad offered us an opportunity to buy his old car when he was buying a new one.  It was a great deal – $1000. for a car worth much more.  We had to really think about it though – it seemed like a whole lot of money!  While my Dad could have set us up with a family payment schedule, instead he sent us to the university credit union to apply for a loan.  We were approved and got the old fashioned payment book with a slip of paper to tear out every month until the loan was paid off.

Now that I am a parent, I have an opportunity to provide a financial education for my daughter.  I’ll let you know how we do!  I wish your family a Happy Father’s Day.

I’d love to hear about a money experience you shared with your Dad!

Budgeting: How Much Honesty Can You Take?

Putting on the coffee pot at home requires no confessions to Quicken!

…Putting on the coffee pot at home requires no confessions to Quicken!

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting article today.  The article compared daily tracking of expenses (with Quicken or Mint, for example) with periodic budget assessments.  It won’t come as a surprise to you that I am a firm believer in the daily tracking method to keep my finances under control.

The article mentioned that one of the reasons people aren’t successful with daily tracking is that it “takes more honesty than many people can muster.”  Honesty, though, is the main reason that daily expense tracking works!  We have a set amount of money we can spend each week, and every lunch out, trip to Starbucks, or tank-top from J. Jill comes out of that pool of money.  When we confess to Quicken at the end of the day, we can immediately see that those small expenses do add up, especially with two people drawing from the same pool of money.

Daily expense tracking is like the Weight Watchers method of dealing with finances.  I imagine that the food points-system that Weight Watchers uses helps prevent mindless eating, and certainly daily expense tracking helps prevent mindless spending.  Daily tracking probably saves us a minimum of $100 a week, or $5200 a year. Unless I become “Oprah Rich” someday, I need that daily dose of honesty to do my part in freeing up money for the bigger goals we have in life.

I would love to hear your take on the article, or learn about your system for knowing what money you have to spend.

Menu Plan Monday – 6/10

Just a few more days until we downshift into ‘school’s-out-for-summer’ mode!

Monday – The Amazing Broccoli Cheddar soup (less fat) from the cookbook Super Natural Every Day: Well-Loved Recipes from My Natural Foods Kitchen.  This is my favorite soup recipe.  Don’t skip the whole grain mustard in the soup – essential!

Tuesday – Daughter’s teacher is hosting a party for the end of the year.  We will have a light dinner when we get home as there will be snacks and fruit at the party.  We have a frozen pizza and similar offerings in the freezer.

Wednesday – Meal out to celebrate end of the school year!

Thursday – Turkey burgers topped with salsa and avocado

Friday – Frittata with roast potatoes and kale.  Yogurt fruit parfaits.  I loosely follow the recipe from Cook Yourself Thin but use whatever you like in terms of veg and meat

For more menu planning inspiration, head on over to  Have a fabulous week!