Tag Archives: Personal Finance

God Breeze

If you ever followed Flylady.net, you know that a ‘God breeze’ is  like a bit of Divine inspiration.  I have been thinking about how when I am blogging I am so much more accountable with meal planning, and today I had a blog comment from a reader wondering if all was OK because it has been SO long since I wrote.

God breeze.

I need to come back to this blog, for me if no one else!

In the coming weeks, I’ll bring you up to date on what is working for us on the personal finance front, and also what balls have been dropped and need to be reassessed.

Are there topics you particularly enjoy?  Let me know.  I frequently have written about kids and money, Dave Ramsey, being debt-free, couponing, meal planning and budgeting.






Teaching Moment… Back to School Budgeting

KIDS AND MONEYOur daughter is headed to 5th grade this year, and this summer has been a great opportunity to ratchet up her role in the back-to-school finances.

Currently our school budget category has about $ 450 in it.  We deposit $10-20.00 a week into the category whenever we have a chance.  This is an ongoing budget category because inevitably there are purchases that come up throughout the year.  This fund covers school fees (yes, public schools have them), clothes, shoes, and school supplies.

The first budgeting opportunity was giving her the responsibility of looking at the school supply lists in July and combining all supplies required into one master list (if you take French, you need additional items; if you take Spanish, something else is required, and so on).  She did that at the start of July which allowed us to go to OfficeMax and get a bunch of supplies for .25 a piece when they started early-bird sales.  We focused only on the items with deep discounts and weren’t tempted by the full-priced items.  Still time for other sales!

A word on school supplies… or maybe more than a word.  When your kid is in Kindergarten if the teacher says you need a Bic pen in blue, by God, you will cross the earth to make sure you buy a Bic pen, lest your child’s blue pen be different than another kid’s pen.  By 5th grade, that is all out the window.  If the teacher wants Pink Pearl erasers, no way am I turning my back on Office Depot brand erasers for .01 as a loss leader.  Ditto on the markers.  If it is a reasonable-quality brand, we are going to live on the edge and get the ones on sale for .25.

Also, can we talk about #2 pencils?  How many #2 pencils do you think a 10 year old could use in roughly 9 months.  Now, about 1/2 the  school day consists of non-pencil using activities like lunch, band, PE, etc.  I would love for you to put your guess in the comments.  Is it anywhere near…. wait for it…. 79 pencils?!?!?!  We should have started sharpening these babies weeks ago! (Note for parents of small kids… start hoarding Ticonderoga pencils immediately)!

Another finance area for her to get involved was to see the amount we had budgeted for school needs and make some decisions about “optional” items like a new backpack and new lunch bag.  I supported her wish for something a little more grown-up and let her look through some catalogs.  She opted to get both items new for next year, knowing that choice may require some economizing down the road. Perhaps by being on top of the school supply sales we created more wiggle room for these “optional” items.

You may want to save on back to school because you have to… funds are tight and perhaps you are working Dave Ramsey’s steps.  On the other hand, you may not need to save on school supplies, but this could be a space to teach your kids about financial decision making in an area that concerns them directly.  My husband and I always say it’s important for kids to have some “skin in the game.”  Now is the time to have money experiences when the stakes are low.  Today’s backpack or Air Jordan decision is tomorrow’s decision about credit cards and college loans.  I’ll let you know how our purchases work out.  How is the back-to-school budgeting at your house?

Side note… if you are hoping to catch information on school supply sales I recommend the blog Hip2Save.





Vacation – Finding Hidden Worth

Hoppy Easter?  This flower creation was spotted at Walmart!

Hoppy Easter? This flower creation was spotted at Walmart!

We are back from a short get-away to a nearby state (one that is a little bit warmer)!  While it was just a few days, I came back with some fresh perspective on the value of getting away.

One realization I had is that being immersed in the busyness of work and school seems to encourage filling schedules up even more.  My daughter and I talked today and determined her summer schedule is going to be pretty open.  Theatre camp in late summer, and a 1 week ballet intensive in the evening.  That’s it.

There are so many neat things to do in summer, but choosing those things means we won’t have time to do the things we want to do together — the short list includes going to the beach, rummaging for American Girl dolls to revive, going for walks, picnics, blogging, and Grandma teaching us to sew.

The other thought I brought home with me was that I need to get back to stricter meal planning.  My new job this year has been mentally demanding, and while we are still eating at home most of the time, I can see that I could be more organized in terms of shopping and planning ahead so I am not making emergency trips to the store.  Those extra trips drive our grocery costs up, and I hate to think I am using the life energy I give to employment so I can go to the grocery store with abandon.

Do you find that vacations give you perspective that you can’t get in your daily life at home?  You can expect more meal planning posts from me to keep me on the wagon!

Busted Bubble – There’s No Money Tree

Santa Fe, NM

Santa Fe, NM

I may be a grown-up, but I still haven’t gotten over the fact that there is no magic money tree.  I bought a nice pair of dress pants for church… and it is never fun to enter those purchases into Quicken and deduct the money out of the budget, even when I have funds saved for such purchases.

My daughter is now learning about this hard reality as she transitions into allowances and chores.  “Teachable moments” are cropping up left and right!

“Can I have money for the Scholastic book fair?”

“No, you haven’t read the last book I bought but you are welcome to use your own money.”

“But I am saving my money for something else!”

“Me too!”

She went on to wonder what would happen if she were the ONLY one in the class with no money for the book fair.  I said she would have to tell her friends she is saving her money for something else.  This conversation, for me, echoed many of the financial decisions my husband and I are making every day.  Why do we only have 1 bathroom… because we are saving for something else.  Why does my husband drive an ‘entry-level’ car… because we are saving for something else.  Freedom from debt is a wonderful situation, but it is still a life filled with many purposeful decisions about money.

Oh, and the book from the book fair that she reeeaaaally wanted?  The library has a copy waiting for us on reserve.


My Spreadsheet Thinks It’s Summer!

La Galera beach

Photo: Wikipedia

While the temperature is an icy cold 6 degrees Fahrenheit outside, in my budget it is already summer!  Our budget accounts for recurring expenses (such insurance, utilities, etc.),  upcoming expenses that need to be funded, and also larger goals such as retirement.

In upcoming expenses for 2014, we are starting to fund a variety of needs between now and summer.  They include:

  • A new hot water heater – Ours is pushing the limits of its expected lifespan at the age of 13.  We will be prepared to replace it in summer when I am off work.
  • Tires and brakes on one car.  We began funding this in 2013 by setting aside money each week.
  • Summer kid activities – Registration for summer camps and activities usually begins in February or March, so this category needs attention right away.  We have $200 set aside from 2013.
  • Vacation – We have been using my checks from part-time work to fund our vacation category and have a good amount saved, but not enough.  Read more here about our decision to make saving for vacation a family affair.

Those are the big items for the next 6 months.  Every Saturday night we have a final look at our expenses from the past week and any unspent money is allocated towards these budget goals.  Setting aside $10-20.00 a week does add up, and keeps us from falling back into the arms of Citibank!

Goodbye to the Two Week Party

Perpetual Party at Ceramic Pub

Perpetual Party at Our Ceramic Pub

The whole family has been mostly off work since December 20, and it has been a non-stop party around the homestead.  Trips to Whole Foods (Mr. Saver reminded me that we can ‘Live like No One Else’).  Old-fashioneds (a cocktail) at night.  Dinners that are comprised of foods you eat while watching a movie at home.  The dining room table has become more of an American Girl furniture making shop than a spot for family meals!

BUT… tomorrow is back to school and work for us all.  I did prepare myself for this inevitability by having two meals ready to cook for Thursday and Friday.  I at least managed that in between buying all the fancy cheese and crab sushi!  I also kept a grip on reality by doing Flylady’s Holiday Clean-Up missions every day.  The clean-up missions are quick 15 minute actions, such as putting away holiday dishes or tossing out holiday foods that are on their way to becoming science projects.  I feel good about that.

Another thing I really let go of over the holidays was my coupons.  Today I will sort through them while we have the Rose Bowl Parade on and get back to my money saving ways.  BudgetLovingMilitaryWife – watch your mailbox, my loss is your gain.

One of the best ways I know to keep myself on budget and on task is by making a weekly meal plan and sharing it with you.  I am working on next week’s meal plan which returns to some pantry and freezer meals, and I am real excited to try a new recipe for a White Bean, Sausage, Kale soup.

While being debt-free does allow us to ‘live like no one else’ for periods of time, we have many financial goals and getting back to the basics of meal planning, budgeting, and coupons is how we can make them happen.

Teaching Kids about Money – Vacation!

It's going to be hard to top our trip to Santa Fe...

It’s going to be hard to top our trip to Santa Fe…

I admit it… we are usually already discussing our next vacation on the way home from a vacation.  This fall when I returned to work we found a new way to involve our daughter, age 8, in our budget process.  We decided to have her be able to observe the saving process for our next vacation.

We use the money I earn from part-time work to fund various “wants” and my husband’s check does all the heavy lifting… insurance, retirement and college savings, taxes.   Grown-up stuff! When I get paid, we now convene the family around the glow of the MacBook and fire up our spreadsheet.  How much did mom earn?  How much of that can we deposit into the vacation fund?  It has been a great, simple way to see the process of making a plan for our money.

We stumbled into another teachable moment regarding money as a result.  My daughter was interested in an after school art class ($125.00 plus additional fees for only 5 one-hour sessions)!  Normally we budget way ahead for any special classes she might take in summer.  This one sprang up as a surprise.  We told her she could take the class, but that the next deposit to the vacation fund was going to be a lot LOT smaller.  She decided it wasn’t worth it.  Had the class been $40.00, I would have just written the check and carried on, but given the expense, it was the absolute truth that enrolling in the class would mean little to put towards our vacation fund in that pay period.

We don’t know where our next vacation will be just yet.  Usually we start planning in January after the holiday excitement fades and there is still a lot of winter to roll through.   The planning and imagining is all part of the fun!

What I Did This Week to Save Money – Oct 5

Well, it has been an interesting week, to be sure.  My 8 year old’s comment on the Federal Shutdown: “Do they even REALIZE what they are doing to the American people?!” Can I get an ‘Amen?’

So, with questions about when my husband will be paid, and for which days, we did the following this week:

  • Daughter brought home the catalog for the Scholastic book sale at school.  Had her mark some titles she was interested in and I requested them from the library.  When I wish to do something charitable for the school I prefer to make a tax-deductible donation rather than participate in a fundraiser.  The books should be in at the library even before the sale starts.
  • Husband used his furlough day to get a free haircut at a new SportClips place in our neighborhood.  He had a good experience and liked the cut as much or better than his usual higher-priced stylist.
  • Kid birthday party this weekend… I tapped my reserve of American Girl gifts I bought at the crazy American Girl Warehouse sale.
  • We are entertaining during an NFL (football) game tomorrow, and I worked out a menu that takes advantage of some ingredients we already have on hand.  I am planning a quesadilla bar, Pioneer Woman’s restaurant-style salsa, and a Halloween-ish cake.

Other than that, we are relaxing at home – economical too!

How was your week?

Spending a Sick Day with Clark Howard

I’m home today with a sick child (cold), and catching up on some reading while she watches her favorite movie “Night at the Museum 2”.  I’m reading Clark Howard’s Living Large for the Long Haul: Consumer-Tested Ways to Overhaul Your Finances, Increase Your Savings, and Get Your Life Back on Track”  The book came out just a few months ago and I dutifully waited on the library’s reserve list for my chance to read the book.

I haven’t read a lot of Clark Howard’s books, but I am greatly enjoying this one.  If your favorite part of reading personal finance blogs is learning about other people’s journeys, you will like this book, which shares personal stories on subjects such as travel, retirement, cars, technology, and living below your means.  Each story has Clark’s tips at the end.

What I respect about Clark is that this book features people that have a really wide variety of perspectives on money, some of which would be outright dismissed by other personal finance personalities:  people who own every Apple product known to man, people who buy gold, people who lease cars, people with no cars.  While my beloved Dave Ramsey would go nuts on someone leasing a car, Clark gives a balanced approach with facts about leasing which include the few scenarios where leasing may be acceptable.

I most related to the chapter “El Cheapo Man and Wife: Living Below Their Means Gives Matt and Jamie the Freedom to Enjoy Small Splurges.”  They didn’t seem that cheap to me… which I guess I why I related to them!

End of the Week Wrap-Up

IMG_3935-privateHappy Weekend!  Did you enjoy Mr. Saver’s LED bulb post this week, and did you guess that his educational background is in the computers & engineering field?

We finished out the week with money to put back into savings.  Some will be set aside for an Amazon Subscribe and Save order that will hit in a few weeks.  For information on saving money using Subscribe and Save, see these earlier posts.  The rest of the money is for long-term savings.

The main reasons we spent less this week were simple meals at home and a return to work for me meant little time to get in trouble anywhere else.  I have to admit, being back at work after a summer off is a harder adjustment than I remembered.  It isn’t so much the process of getting out the door, making lunches, and so on, but more my own expectations about what I can accomplish at home.  I have another week of simple meals planned, and I hope I can eventually get back to making more interesting meals.  My family, however, would be happy to eat eggs, hot dogs, and pea soup for quite some time!

I did get away to the mall for a bit this week before picking our daughter up from school and treated myself with my birthday money to a really good nonstick pan from Sur la Table.  I also was pleased to buy our daughter her Halloween costume – Athena, Goddess of Wisdom.  This gal loves to dress up from any historical period.  While saving money is quite a thrill for me, I try not to let my spending muscles atrophy too much, especially when I can buy something that will be really enjoyed.

We have about $100.00 in our “Family Fun Money” budget line and are trying to decide as a family whether we want to buy the game “Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries” with it.    My daughter said she would like to go to Montana instead, but I’d say our fund is about $3,900 short on money for that.  Any Ticket to Ride fans out there? To me, a game is always a good investment.

How was your week?