Monthly Archives: August 2013

Letting Go of Summer

IMG_4001-privateIt seems it wasn’t that many posts ago that I was trying to get into the slower pace of summer, and here I am wishing for just another week or two to spend with my daughter lounging around watching American Girl movies or reading on the couch.  It’s not that we don’t do these things the rest of the year, but when school starts back up, it feels like you have added another person to the family — one who has an insatiable appetite for reading minutes to be logged and spelling words to be practiced.

We relished an easy summer day today… no coupons, no grocery stores, no dry-cleaning stops.  We went to the beach at 9:00 am, had lunch at Subway, and watched episodes of the cartoon ‘Arthur’ in the afternoon until my legs started to go numb from sitting so long.  As grateful as I am for our New Mexico vacation and other summer excursions that required money, it’s the simple, easy days that I crave.  Days with no purpose other than hanging out together.

This weekend I need to get in gear with a meal plan and groceries for brown-bag lunches (groan), but I hope I can pack these chores into an hour or two, and then get back to banking a few more hours of lazy family time before September comes calling.

Cleaning the Closet and Learning to eBay

I’ve had a burst of energy lately to sell some items on Craigslist and eBay.  This month I sold 5 clothing items on eBay that were ready to go to Goodwill.  Not to worry, the Goodwill bags are still full of treasures to donate, but I cherry-picked a few items to see what kind of money I could net.

I started a spreadsheet to gauge my net profit, and the spreadsheet has pointed out some of my shortcomings.

I sold 5 items for a gross of $ 60.00 excluding the shipping fees I collected.  However, when I look at the shipping costs I collected compared to my actual mailing costs, including materials, that is an additional $ 8.00 I have to deduct from my gross.   So my net was about $ 10.00 per item.   Definitely worth doing, but I do think I need to rethink my shipping pricing.

Issue 1: If you have a clothing item under 13 ounces, you can ship first-class, but you also have to pay for your shipping envelope and possibly .90 extra for tracking.  Total cost to ship is around $ 5.50.

Issue 2:  If you are over 13 ounces, you are looking at Priority Mail, which gives you a free envelope or box to ship in, and free tracking, but Priority Mail is running $ 6.85 for many of the heavier kids’ clothing items, like jeans.

Any experienced sellers out there with an opinion on whether it is difficult to sell a kids’ clothing item with a $ 6.85 shipping charge?  I think my own frugal nature ($7.00 shipping?!?) prevents me from seeing the shipping charge in the way others might.

Some items, such as a pair of women’s Chicos pants, have sold at high enough prices that the shipping shortfall isn’t so troubling.  When you are selling a pair of GAP kid’s jeans for $ 4.50, having to chip in for shipping eats into the profit pretty quickly.

Selling on eBay is one area where having a hard-core frugal mindset is working against me.  I can’t imagine paying $26.00 for a pair of used pants and paying $ 6.00 shipping on top of that.  Clearly, I am in the minority, because I had a number of bidders on the Chicos pants.  I am having a hard time imagining what buyers might be willing to pay, and may be undervaluing my offerings.  I do want to sell the items though, and not have them hanging around so that I can earn an extra dollar or two.

I welcome any input or advice you might have!

Menu Plan Monday – August 26

Ball-Jar-Vintage-Image-Graphics-Fairy2Last week of August, whew!  I am sad for the end of summer break but I am looking forward to the tastes of fall.  It’s going to be hot in the midwest this week, so I’m keeping the meals on the cool side.

MondayChicken and Bow-Tie Pasta Salad from Cooking Light.  This is a recipe I have made many times.  Chock full of grapes, walnuts, chives and a citrus dressing.  Great with leftover grilled chicken.

Tuesday – Sheryl Crow’s Warm Hummus Soup – I never bother with the pesto or the croutons.  The coriander is a must though!  Super easy.  This is pretty much a no-cook recipe.  Everything goes in the blender and then you just gently warm it.  Serve with naan.

Wednesday – Tuna Salad, french bread, summer fruit.

Thursday –  Husband has his fantasy football draft.  When the cat’s away, the mice go eat with Grandma!

Friday – Keeping it easy with leftovers/grilled cheese etc.


For more end of the summer meal inspiration, head over to!

Barbie Movie Party – Birthdays at Home!

There comes a time when either your budget can’t swing a bounce house/gymnastics birthday party or your kid is just sick of going to them (first world problems, I know).  How about an old-fashioned, frugal party at home?  When it is time to celebrate my daughter’s birthday, this is what it looks like outside our window


So, no backyard birthday parties or going to a park to play for us.  I hope those with summer birthdays realize the budget-friendly party hand they have been dealt!  It is possible to have a fun, memorable party at home that even Mom and Dad can enjoy.  One of our best parties was the Barbie Movie Party.  My daughter and I made almost everything for the party.  Let me show you what we did and feel free to adapt to Star Wars, Superman, or whatever the flavor of the month is at your house.

First we made invitations by hand.  My daughter was in the rhinestone-sticking department and I handled the paper cutting.  We made invites that fit in business size envelopes that we already had.  We invited about 6 girls.  That is maximum kid capacity for our home.

Barbie Party invite

We heard many raves about the invitations!  Next my daughter and I made a tissue paper flower for each attendee to take home as a party-favor.  Find how-to instructions on the web.  Each flower takes less than 5 minutes to make.

Tissue Flowers

We fancied up some water bottles for a party drink.  Simply cut thick patterned paper, like scrapbook paper, to fit in a band around each water bottle.  Then use clear packing tape to cover the entire band.

Decorated Water BottlesThe final home-made detail was the Barbie Doll Cake.  You can either buy a Wilton cake pan to create Barbie’s gown, or find instructions on the web for making it from a mixing bowl.  Ask your friends – someone has to have a pan you can borrow!  I really recommend buying a Barbie torso cake pick at your local craft store.  Don’t try to fit an entire Barbie doll in the middle of the cake.  If you want your cake to look great, dress the cake pick in a Barbie-doll shirt you have around the house.  This means you won’t have to decorate around her, um, chest.  We decorated her gown simply.  Remember, you have 7 year olds coming to your house and this isn’t a Pinterest contest!  All the dots and squiggles I created can be done with a Ziplock bag with a hole cut in the corner. If you have a Barbie cake, you have yourself a party!

Barbie CakeOur party agenda was:

  • Arrival – decorate your own Goody Bag at the dining room table
  • Play Musical Pass the Barbie – When the music stops, if you are holding Barbie, you’re out.  Continue until you have a winner.  Extra points for the hostess who plays a Barbie music cd from the library!
  • Watch Barbie movie on living room floor while eating pizza and drinking from fancy water bottles.  Check movie length.  “Barbie Magic of the Rainbow” fit our schedule best.
  • Cake, presents
  • Dance around living room with tissue paper flowers before pick up.  This may have been the highlight of the party!
  • Take home your goody bag – we like to put in some home-made sugar cookies.  I avoid cheap junk that gets thrown out the next day.

My daughter and I had so much fun working on the party details and using things we had around the house to make a unique party!  I do admit that I have a family legacy when it comes to kid’s parties.  My mom was always very creative. . . one year we had a taffy pull!  That was in the days before personal injury lawyers had been invented 🙂  Truly, there’s only a handful of years when you have a chance to have a fun kid’s party.  Before you know it, birthdays with friends will consist of a request to be dropped off at the mall or the movie theatre.  Carpe diem my friends!

Caviar Dreams, Star-Kist Budget?

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This summer the New York Times ran an article called ‘For Would-Be Retirees, A Million-Dollar Illusion.’  The gist of the article was that increasing inflation and low returns on bonds can create a situation for retirees where they could run through a $ 1 million dollar nest egg before they die.   A million ain’t what it once was!  I’m not near retirement and I don’t have a nest egg that size,  but I found the end of the article to be very thought-provoking:

“When you are in your 50s… you can try to save as much as you can and try not to get accustomed to a lifestyle that you won’t be able to afford later on”

If a retiree is drawing conservatively from a $1 million portfolio and taking Social Security, that might look like $61,000 per year.  Nice, sure, but not the kind of cash that will have Robin Leach calling you to be on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”.   Cranking up the “lifestyle” too high during your working years and you might find retirement to be a rude awakening.  If you are used to saving, and living a comfortable yet not opulent lifestyle, your retirement income might feel a whole lot like what you have been used to.

It seems one of the big barriers to creating wealth (aside from debt) is what goes on in our own heads.  Or, as the article implies, what lifestyle we think we deserve to be living.  It might sound like:  Someone with my income wouldn’t drive a used car… I have a full-time job, so if I want Starbucks, I am darn well going to have it…. My family doesn’t ‘do’ leftovers… All my neighbors have a cleaning service…    I think that we already live a fairly modest lifestyle, with the exception of vacations.  This summer, though, a number of bloggers have opened my eyes to some areas where I have been unaware of my own lifestyle beliefs.  If you haven’t met them yet, check out Creative Savv and The Prudent Homemaker.  They are both showing me ways to create a healthy, frugal and less wasteful lifestyle … and I’m tuning out my inner brat who demands “Champagne wishes and Caviar Dreams.”  Now I am off to pick (more) zucchini for dinner tonight, inspired to save a little more towards the things that really matter to me.

Have you ever given yourself a lifestyle adjustment?

Menu Plan Monday – Aug 19

More blossoms, More zucchini!

More blossoms, More zucchini!

Taco Salad

Taco Salad

Monday – Make your own taco salad night… made fresher with choices of black beans, oven roasted corn kernels, avocado, crisp Romaine in addition to the usual suspects of cheese and chips.

Tuesday – White bean, sausage and kale soup which is a new recipe for me.  I have the kale in the garden (as long as the bunnies don’t beat me to it!) and some chicken sausage in the freezer.

Wednesday – Hot dogs on the grill, potato salad.  Turkey select hot dogs were $ 1.78 this week!  I will make extra potatoes and use them in frittata.

Thursday – Frittata with bacon, kale, zucchini and potato.  Summer fruit.

Friday – Orange chicken with basmati and veggies from the garden.

For more Menu Plan inspiration, head on over to!

What I Did This Week to Save Money 8/17


Chalk Art

Our weekly budget felt like it was under a little more pressure than usual this week.  I forgot to budget for elementary school fees ($75.00) that are due next week.  I recently heard Dave Ramsey say that budgeting isn’t so much of a ‘microwave’ thing… more like a ‘Crock-pot’ in that it takes a good bit of time to reach perfection.  Even after so many years of budgeting we still have mix-ups.  We also have a medical bill due in a few weeks so surplus cash will be diverted in that direction temporarily.

Summer Minestrone in the Crock Pot

Summer Minestrone in the Crock Pot

To prevent us from tapping into savings for these expenses we:

  • Got busy and listed a large carpet remnant on Craigslist.  I am glad someone can take advantage of it while it is still clean and new.  + $15.00
  • Listed several clothing items on eBay.  I have to say I am surprised at the demand, especially for kids’ clothing, on eBay.  The last kids item I sold went for $16.00, plus $4.00 shipping – which is kind of a head-scratcher considering it was not new.
  • Planted more arugula – this is our third crop this summer.  Also planted some broccolini which is a fall crop for us.
  • Ate at home using ingredients we had on hand, including…. Summer Minestrone Soup!  I am coming up with new places to put zucchini and kale in next week’s meal plan 🙂
  • IMG_3956-privateMade chocolate zucchini cake for a treat.  Could not find a good price on chocolate chips so I made frosting instead – a trick a good friend taught me.  This recipe is a keeper!
  • Were vigilant about waiting for time-of-use-rate to kick in to charge devices and run dishwasher, washing machine, etc.  Time of use rate saves us $200.00 a year.
  • For some Saturday fun we went to a chalk art festival – free, and no temptation to bring the art home with you.

We were grateful to have some money left at the end of the week to put towards upcoming expenses.  We had a Saturday night budget recap and determined we will go back to focusing on our emergency savings as well as holiday gifts in the coming weeks.

Getting Out of Debt Part 4 – Inspiration Strikes!

When we last left the ‘Getting Out of Debt’ story, we were doing the right things with our money (retirement, no credit card debt), but we still had no overall plan and were spending a lot of money as a result.  To go back and read parts 1-3 start here:

As the curtain opens on Part 4 of our story, a huge change has occurred – the arrival of our dear daughter.  For the first two years of her life I continued to work at my professional career, which entailed a long commute and a day care bill closing in on $10,000 a year.  Even more pressing was a growing desire to be home with her.  My boss was very family-focused and I continued to work by reducing my days in the office, and eventually,  job sharing with a friend and fellow mother at work.

Over Memorial Day weekend, 2007, I tuned into a TV show that radically changed our direction.  The show was The Dave Ramsey Road Show.  As Dave outlined his financial plan to ‘live like no one else’ we discovered we were already pretty far along.

  1. Emergency Fund of $1000 – Check
  2. Pay off all debts excluding your house – Check
  3. Emergency Fund of 3-6 months expenses – Check
  4. 15% income into retirement – Check
  5. Save for kid’s college – Check
  6. Pay off your mortgage – BINGO!
  7. Build wealth and give like no one else

Our house is small, but it is paid for!

We had never even considered paying the mortgage off early.  Dave Ramsey’s plan made so much sense to both of us.  We decided to attack the mortgage so that we could be free of payments and get to a point where I could stay home with our daughter.  Having a specific goal and a vision of the way we wanted to live gave us a laser-like focus on our finances.  We were about midway through a 15 year mortgage so our additional payments made a decent impact on the principal.  My daughter began to think every balding man was Dave Ramsey.  Instead of take-out from the Cheesecake Factory we were rocking the beans and rice at home!

As the mortgage ticked down, I was able to leave my professional career when my daughter was 3.  By the time she was in kindergarten, I took a part-time bakery job to earn extra money to throw back on the mortgage.  That same year we were able to make a final lump sum payment and finish the mortgage off!  When you need a large cashier’s check from the bank it makes you feel like you are participating in one of those scams to send money to a “prince” in Nigeria!  Mailing the check was exhilarating to say the least.  When my daughter went to her 6 year old check-up that week she announced to the pediatrician, “We paid our house off!”  The pediatrician said “What?  No one does that!!”

Since paying the mortgage off three years ago we have been focused on saving like no one else so that we do not have to take loans out in the future.  We have been able to enjoy more travel opportunities and I continue to work part-time in a job that lets me primarily be home for our daughter.  If you are interested in what Dave’s plan involves, I recommend getting the The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness book from your library.  If you want to give yourself extra inspiration, check out Dave’s video from the radio broadcasts.  Watch and read and do the steps until you find yourself beginning sentences with “Well, Dave says…”

Thanks for reading our story!

Menu Plan Monday – August 12

cropped-cucumbers-graphicsfairysmb2.jpgThis week’s menu plan is a little more free-form than usual.  My husband is off of work for a few days for a last hurrah of family fun before it’s back to school time.  We will catch a number of meals out, but will need some dinners at home too.

Monday – Daughter to Grandparents’ for the day.  It will be a simple dinner like oatmeal or cereal to balance a big lunch out.

MinestroneTuesday Summer Minestrone Soup!  This soup turns out well in the crock-pot if you sauté the onion, garlic and red pepper first.  Try it for about 4 hours in the crock-pot.  Helps keep the kitchen cool.  If your garden is producing things like zucchini, greens, basil, beans… this is the recipe for you.

Wednesday – Green Chile Burgers – I saw fresh Hatch chiles from New Mexico in the grocery store.  I plan to grill them, remove the skin, and place on grilled burgers.  We can pretend we are still on our New Mexico vacation.  Sigh…

Thursday/Friday – Have ingredients on hand for frittata, home-made pesto and pasta, and quesadillas for lunch or dinner at home.

If you are seeking some meal planning inspiration, head on over to!

Best Buy, the NFL, and Our Mad Money

Picture this: it’s a lazy Sunday morning and my husband is relaxing with his weekly Best Buy ad.  But wait, he has an tablet nearby to “do more research.”  And even more troubling, now he is walking around with a ruler!  The last time he did that an XBOX Kinect showed up!

When the slight chill in the air arrives heralding autumn, Mr. Saver’s thoughts turn to NFL Football and questions about the adequacy of the televisions in the house.  If it were me, I would still have the tiny T.V. my Dad bought me in college which didn’t even have a remote control!  How to address this pending conflict?  Mad Money.

In our written budget both my husband and I have a ‘mad money’ category.  This is money each of us can spend as we wish – no questions asked about whether the purchase is worthwhile, and you know I am talking about that XBOX!  Having a mad money fund is also important to prevent what I call ‘tit-for-tat’ spending.  You know,  ‘He bought a T.V. so I am going to go have a shopping spree at Williams-Sonoma.’  This kind of thinking will completely unravel your budget and possibly your marriage too.  We add some funds to our mad money category periodically when we have a budget surplus, or when we get gift money.  Single people on a budget need mad money too, to keep their budgeting efforts from going bust.

Oh, and that American Girl warehouse sale… mad money all the way.  It was very enjoyable to buy the doll clothes knowing that we would still maintain our weekly budget.

How do you budget for occasional indulgences?