Frugal Findings 7/4/2014…

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As most of you who know me IRL, most of my efforts are put forth in taking care of my family and a big part of that is being frugal. Since my dear husband is the only source of income, I think of my frugal offerings as a way to help stretch the money a little further. So, I thought I would let you guys in on some of the ways I make the dollars stretch.

Frugal Fourth of July

Today is the 4th of July and we used to run in our city’s 10k race but with race fees adding up to more than $70 each person to run, we cut that out two years ago. Last year we ran the local 10k race. I ran for free by volunteering to help with registration but we still had to pay for John to run since he couldn’t volunteer during work hours. I think that his race fee was about $30 and that didn’t include a t-shirt. So, in order to be more frugal this year, we just ran by ourselves which cost us exactly zero. We got up at 7am this morning and headed to the local Greenway and ran our own 4th of July run. It was very cool (only 65 degrees this morning) and not crowded at all. We didn’t have any problem finding parking or dealing with crowds. It was a blessing.

Afterward, we headed home for breakfast from the freezer (we are in a pantry challenge but more on that later) of pancakes and bacon. Then we took our son to play airsoft which is $20 for 8 hours of supervised play. He loves it and we consider it his “sport”. I send him with a $5 pizza which he eats all day long and he also carries bottles of water and a soda.

Hubs and I headed to the local water park which we bought a family season pass for. Our daughter decided to stay at home and spend her day playing Mindcraft and reading, so we were by ourselves. To save money, we packed a picnic lunch and ate when we got there. We also carried in some snacks and water. It was so relaxing to spend the afternoon reading on the beach watching the boats goes by. John did splurge and buy me an Italian Ice – not as frugal as we normally would have been but it was a very nice change of pace.

After a few hours of the water park, we headed home to grill burgers and bake french fries (both from the freezer). We finished the night off smores cooked over the firepit that was given to us by our very generous friends. And speaking of free outdoor gifts, I got lucky today and found a park bench for my front yard marked with a large “FREE” sign on it. We loaded it up into the minivan and headed home with it. I will spend tomorrow revamping it so I will post pics of that later.

This is how we have an almost free 4th of July. It was fun and relaxing without costing much at all.

Valentine’s Day Gift on the Cheap…

Ok, Valentine’s Day is next week and it is time to start looking around and figuring out who your Valentine is. If that is the easy part of Valentine’s Day for you, then move on the step #2, figuring out what to get them. For the most part, John and I agreed a long time ago that Valentine’s Day is just another trumped up Hallmark holiday that exists for you to spend lots of money on something from the dead retail period between Christmas and Easter. Normally we just give each a card and something small but this year we have issed a challenge.

Find something useful for the person you love at the Thrift Store for less than $5.

I personally love challenges like this because it makes it a game and I am all about competition, even in the loving gift category. Luckily, I have had several weeks to purse the local haunts to find something that John will really like. I will probably end up with whatever the Thrift store has at the time John goes the day before Valentine’s Day. But, it really isn’t about the gift. It is about the other person taking time to really figure out something that the other person would enjoy without the benefit of a lot of money. Anyone can buy a present that is awesome when you have a really fat budget but it takes more effort to find something awesome when the budget is only $5 and you have to find it at the Thrift store. But hey, nothing says LOVE like giving your Valentine someone else’s used unwanted item.

 

Show Me The Money…

Since I don’t have a regular paycheck, I don’t really contribute much on the income side of our financial situation. On the Rodi team, I am more of the defense than the offense. It is my job to make sure the money we do have goes as far as it possibly can using coupons, buying used and saying no a lot. Since we have  goal this year to save for a new car, most of the extra I earn will be going toward the car fund. There are a few things that I do during the year that help out, even if just a small amount.

Surveys: I have a few survey websites that I use that pay me to give my opinion. Just like most women, I have no problem giving my opinion and it is even better when I am being paid to do it. The main sites that I use are MySurvey.com and Mypoints.com but there are some smaller sites like e-rewards.com and valuedopinions.com. The average survey pays $.50-$5.00, just depending on how long it is and how detailed. Most of the sites pay in cash after you have accumulated a certain dollar amount. I don’t make a lot doing survey sites but it is a nice perk when you least expect it.

Points: Another way that I make a little extra, is to use search engine sites to do my internet browsing. The two most popular ones that I use are Mypoints.com and Swagbucks. Most of my searching is done through Swagbucks, which awards you points randomly during the day. You never know how many points you are going to get for a certain search but they add up over time. You can trade your points on both sites for gift cards or Paypal payouts. I typically use these sites to get giftcards for places we would normally not spend money but really like such as Starbucks, Panera or AMC theaters.

Cash Rebates: If you are going to shop online, you might as well earn a little money while doing it. I use Ebates.com to start most of my shopping trips on the internet. They have the largest list of online retailers and when you start off selecting a retailer through their sites, you earn a certain percentage back in cash. Just from this past Christmas, I earned approximately $50 that will be coming to me in a check in mid-February. They payout every three months and you have to have a minimum amount before they will cut a check. They also offer sign up bonuses, so look for that before you sign up for them.

Contests: This one is hit or miss but I have found pretty good luck in signing up for online contests. I sign up for giveaways that are being held on the regular blog sites that I read but I also sign up for giveaways from manufacturers. I won two contests on Monday this week, awarding me free juice coupons ($9 value) and a free book ($10 value). I have also won a $100 Publix giftcard, $70 running shirt and $100 in cash from signing up on online contests. It is not a reliable way to make money but it doesn’t take much time and it is fun when you win.

Ebay/Craiglist: This is a great way to earn some cash for stuff you have laying around that isn’t being used anymore. I really like this one because it doesn’t take much time or effort to really turn over some Benjamins. John and I typically tackle this one together. His job is to list the items and my job is to package them up and ship them when they sell. We normally prefer Ebay because we can control the transaction better – we list it, it sells all by itself and then we ship it out. We have sold some items on Craigslist but it has not been as big of a success for us since I find that most people will waste your time by not showing up when they are supposed to or offering you $5 for an item worth $200.

Side Hussles: The last way that I earn a little extra around the house is various side hussles throughout the year. A side hussle is any part time job that you take on, whether it is a one time gig or a regularly scheduled program. Some good paying side hussles are babysitting, pet sitting, cleaning and office work. The key is to not be too proud to do whatever you have the ability to do as long as it is morally and ethically upstanding. I made a few hundered dollars pet sitting for a friend this past year, which halfway funded my anniversary trip to the mountains.

If you take a look around and get creative, there are lots of ways to make a little extra money. You can even blog to earn a little extra, which is one of my goals for this year. What do you have going on that brings a little extra cash to the table?

New year, New budget…

2012 is just days away and with it is a new budget. This is actually one of my favorite things to do during the new year. I love the feeling of starting fresh with new goals and an empty spreadsheet just waiting to be filled in with lots of data. It is also a time to reflect back on the year that has just passed and see how we did.

2011 started out with a bang but ended with more of a fizzle. We finished up Dave Ramsey’s babystep #3 (a 6 month emergency fund) at the end of 2010 and jumped into babystep #4 (15% of gross pay into retirement) at the beginning of 2011. We were banging on that goal pretty hard until July hit and my car broke down in the mountains of North Carolina. We had to pay for the transport of my car back to Georgia and the repairs on my car from the emergency fund. It was nice to have the money to be able to take care of the problem but it meant that we had to cut back retirement savings in order to replace the money in the emergency fund. I guess doing that took some of the wind out of our sails. This is the first large set back we have had while following the Dave Ramsey plan. But, had we not started his plan 3 years ago, we would not have had the money in the bank to cover the expenses that we incurred when the minivan broke down. We finished the year with a completed emergency fund but retirement still at 6% instead of the 15% we had hoped to achieve.

So, what does 2012 bring our way? I am not exactly sure yet. John and I have a “date” to finish up our goals and the 2012 budget later this week. It will most likely be an intense several hour planning pow-wow that will leave us both exhausted. We are both hopeful that by the end of it, we will be headed in the same direction and working toward the same end. Some of the goals that I hope to achieve by the end of this new year are to begin putting away 15% of our gross pay in retirement (combination of 401k and Roth IRA) and saving $5000 toward a new used car to replace my van when it finally does give up the ghost. I would also like to take the family on some kind of vacation (Brittany is praying for New York City) and put at least $2000 in the kids college accounts. These are pretty ambitious financial goals for us as a family this year but I believe that you either go big or go home.

The path to achieve these goals is lined with the word “no” during 2012. We said “no” to getting cable (even though the kids asked Santa for it) and “no” to buying another car until we have more in savings. We will also be saying “no” to more entertainment and dining out invitations (sorry, friends) so that we can try to make our dreams a reality. I pledge to use the year of “no” to be able to say “yes” to more quality family time, more time with friends and more inventive ways to save money in our everyday living expenses.

So, join me in welcoming in the New Year with a list of goals and a fresh budget. Maybe this will be your year to hit all your financial goals but you won’t know unless you set some. Good luck!

 

Thrift Stores…

I am not a big shopper in most cases but there is one kind of shopping that I love….thrift store shopping. I grew up going to thrift stores with my mom. We would spend almost every weekend scouring the local shops looking for a bargain. I don’t shop that much now that I am older but when I do venture forth, my favorite place to go is the thrift store.

Why do I love the thrift store? Let me count the ways…

1) It is cheaper. Yes, I am sure you could have figured that out. I can buy most clothing items for $1-$2 and shoes for $2-4, so it makes our clothing budget stretch further. You can also find kitchen items for a fraction of the price or furniture that is selling for pennies on the dollar. This week I bought 5 items of clothing from the thrift store and still had change from a $5 bill. Another plus is that you can bargain more effectively than you can in a new retail outlet. I often offer less than the marked price for an item to see if I can do any better and more often than not, they accept my offer.

2) It is a treasure hunt. You just never know what you might find when you go to the thrift store. I have seen everything from lightbulbs to motorcycle helmets. They have had tools, Christmas decorations and paintings. I love the variety and knowing that the inventory will change on a daily basis. This is also a negative, you have to realize that something you saw there last week will most likely not be there this week. If you find an item that is in good condition for a good price, you better buy it then because it won’t be there is you try to come back for it. Here is the futon that is pictured above when I found it at the local thrift store. It didn’t look like much but I saw that it had potential. I bought it for $30 and took it home. Once I got it home I stripped the cover and threw it away (it had a broken zipper and was not exactly a beautiful print). I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the mattress was in like new condition and a very nice neutral navy color. I then cleaned the entire thing with clorox disinfecting wipes and vacuumed the mattress. It takes vision and a love of treasure hunting to see not what it is but what it could be.

3) It is more environmentally friendly. I love the fact that the stuff at the thrift store did not go to the landfill instead. Too often people will take the items that they don’t want anymore and set it out for the trash to pick up. These are items that still have lots of life left in them and knowing that they will be used again gives me great joy.

4) The quality is better. For the most part, a lot of what makes it to the thrift store is of a higher quality than what you can buy new. These items were made years ago and have stood the test of time. The furniture is often made of real wood  and the clothes are 100% cotton fabric. These higher quality standards means that they can stand up to my 7 year old’s attack with his nerf gun and going through my wash cycle three time in a week.

5) The money goes for a good cause. Several of the local thrift stores around me use the profit they make toward a good cause. We have a thrift store that supports the local humane society, one that helps men with substance abuse and one that offers assistance to families in crisis. It makes you feel good to know that the money that is being made off of the items that you are purchasing is helping out in other ways in your community.

So, next time you need to buy something, take a look at your local thrift store. I bet you will find what you are looking for and at a better price than you would have thought.

 

Halloween Costumes on a budget…

Halloween is just 1  week from today and it is time to start figuring out what the kids or you should dress up as. If you go to the local party store or a big box retailer, you will see costumes as cheap as $10 and up to hundreds of dollars. For someone who is on a budget, what are you to do? There are a few options available:

#1: Borrow a Costume

As the kids get bigger or their tastes change, you end up with several different costumes laying around that aren’t being used. Why not trade with a friend? Or let your friend borrow your kids’ costume from last year? This is a great no cost way to let the kids switch up what they are each year. Even if you don’t borrow an entire costume, ask around for the accessories that you might need to make a costume work. Maybe you need glasses for Harry Potter or cleats to be a football player? I am sure that someone you know has the item that you can use for a night.

#2: Shop at Home

With some imagination, the kids can turn your old clothes into a new costume for themselves. Brittany decided that she wanted to be a fortune teller/gypsy last night for a costume party. She put together a sparkly top, shoes and earrings from my closet along with a skirt and scarf from her closet and she had an instant costume. We did the same for Josh, since he wanted to be a burglar, we just put him in all black and only had to buy the face mask for $1. His trick or treat bag is an old pillow case that we put a large dollar sign on using black electrical tape. For adults, take a look at your spouse’s closet. Maybe you husbands old football jersey can become a football uniform or your wife’s prom dress can turn into a beauty pageant costume, the ideas are only limited by your imagination.

#3: Thrift Store

The thrift store is full of costume ideas, even if you don’t realize it. Take a look around and see what you can find. Go over to the scrubs/uniform section and find something to be a nurse, doctor or flight attendant. My local thrift store sets up a rack of just Halloween costumes that they get donated. I was able to score 2 Halloween costumes for $4 each and one was selling on eBay for $30! They also have lots of fun accessories that make a costume special such as hats, purses or shoes.

With some imagination and a little time, you can make some awesome costumes for little or no money. Halloween doesn’t have to break the bank to be a fun filled night!

 

 

Planning for Christmas…

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. And he will be here in less than 3 months. It may seem early in some minds to start planning for Christmas spending but we started in January. John and I take steps to ensure that we have enough money to have a cash Christmas since that is the only option available to us. As Dave Ramsey subscribers, we don’t have credit cards and we don’t believe in debt so in order to pay for Christmas, we must plan and save.

In the beginning there is the budget. We have a master family budget that we set each year for the spending we expect to be doing that year. We normally work on it toward the end of the year before so that by the first paycheck in January, the money is all accounted for. We budget for yearly expenses such as homeowners dues, car taxes and Christmas spending in this budget along with monthly expenses such as mortgage payment and utilities. We set a total Christmas spending budget for the year based on previous years and what we expect to need, taking in account changes in family dynamics such as new babies or new spouses. Once we have a total spending amount, we then break it up by 12 equal monthly budget amounts. This amount will be accounted for each month and transferred into a separate Christmas savings account. So, now that we have some money to work with, how do we plan what to do?

The Christmas budget is the next step in our plan for Christmas. I use a simple excel spreadsheet to list out everyone that we need to buy for at Christmas time. I prefer to split the names into my family, John’s family, the kids, and then others. The “others” category includes gifts for teachers, bus driver, babysitters and friends. We also include spending  for miscellaneous things such as Christmas travel, Christmas entertainment (ie. going to see Santa) and Christmas cards. The most important part of our Christmas plan is to budget for charitable giving. John and I believe in giving regularly throughout the year but we put aside money for giving especially during the holidays. In the past we have used this to sponsor a child from the Salvation Army Angel Tree, give to our local community charity toy drive and give to Operation Christmas Child (the shoe boxes).   The success of the Christmas budget is planning for everything you can think of that might need to be purchased during Christmas. We then sit down and allocate a specific dollar amount for each person, items or organization that we need to buy for during the holidays, keeping in mind the total dollar amount that we have to spend on all the items.

The nuts and bolts of the Christmas plan is a little more effort than most people want to put forth. It doesn’t do any good to have a budget and make a plan if you don’t stick to the amounts you have allocated. The easiest and most effective way we have found to do this is to use the envelope system. Since this is the system we use anyway during the year, it isn’t any different for us than anything else. We make envelopes for each category of spending we will be doing and then place the amount of cash into the envelope that we will need for that category. I will then write on the envelope the name of the category and any detailed information that we will need. For example, if I have an envelope that says “others”, I will also write on the envelope – teachers $20, bus driver $10, etc. until I have allocated all of the money in the envelope.

It can be hard at times to get everything to balance. There have been times when we have had to cut back on spending for people even though we felt as though we should be spending more on them. We have also found times when we found the perfect gift for someone but it is over the budgeted amount for that person and have had to cut back on someone else so that the numbers all balance. In the end, we rely of the grace of the people we love to know that our intentions are good even if our gifts are lacking.

It is not too late to plan out your Christmas for this year and even get started on a spending plan for next Christmas. Look at your family budget and see what you can save for Christmas spending this year. Vow to make it a cash Christmas even if you have to give your friends and family homemade gifts. Take a note from Santa and make your list and check it twice, you won’t regret planning in advance.

How I buy school supplies…

Ok, it is that time of year again and as one tired mom, I am kinda glad. I love having the kids home for the summer but it can wear you out with all the activities that keep them busy. So, cheers to school starting again in a few weeks, even if I have to go back to getting up before the rooster again…

Since school will be starting soon, it is time to start looking at school supply shopping. Actually, I started back to school shopping a week or two ago when the deals started to come out. But, here are some tips to help you out as you tackle this project:

1) Take an inventory – There is no need to buy what you already have. Every year the school supply list show up with items that can roll from one year to the next. You do not need to buy new scissors each year or a new ruler, since the one from last year should still be in good enough shape to move on to this year.

2) Make a list of what you really NEED, not WANT – I take a look at the school supply list and figure out what the kids really NEED. It says they NEED a 3 ring binder but it does not say they need a $15 Trapper Keeper in the latest fashion.

3) Pay attention to the sales – I peruse the ads each week in a casual way looking for a good price on what the kids need for school. I do not buy everything all at once but gradually over a few weeks as the sales come up. I was at Kroger today and saw that they had Folders w/pockets and prongs for $.15 each. I knew the kids each need 3 for school so I picked them up while I was there. I was shopping at Publix last week and glue sticks were $.67/3 pack so I picked up a few packages. I will keep looking for deals like this for the next few weeks and pick them up piece by piece until I am done.

4) Stock up for later in the year or even next year – As you find good sales on things that the kids will use a lot of, like glue sticks, you can stock up on them for replenishment during the year. This will save you money 6 months from now when the kids need glue sticks and they are full price at the store. This works even better if you can scoop up a lot of after back to school clearance when supplies go super cheap. I still have 8 boxes of crayons that I got for free last year from Kroger when they were clearancing them out.

5) Coupon – There are coupons to be had for school supplies. I recently bought 8 dry erase markers and 4 highlighters for $1 because they were on sale and I had a coupon for $5 off expo/sharpie products. I have also gotten lots of free or almost free supplies this way but the key is to combine the coupon with a sale. There are times when I have had to hang onto a coupon for months waiting for the right time to use it. I have the belief that if you see a coupon that you think there is even a remote chance you will use, grab it and see what happens.

6) When it matters, buy quality – My last tip has to do with saving money in the long term by buying something that will last. My kids have had the same book bags for years because I bought ones that will last.  Both LL Bean and Lands End are great for purchasing book bags and lunch boxes that will keep going from year to year and they even guarantee their products. Even though these items cost more on the onset, not having to replace them every year (or even more often than that) is a real money saver.

Using these tips, you should be able to get your school supplies for relatively little money. I have not added it up but I would guess that I have spent less than $10 for school supplies and I only have 4 items left on the list. So, grab your list and go get your kids their school supplies. There are only 16 days left until school starts but hey, who’s counting?

5 things I pay more for…

Ok, in all fairness there are some things that I pay more for than I really need to. I don’t get the rock bottom cheapest version of everything so here are a few things that I will pay more for.

Syrup: In the past, I bought the cheapest syrup the store had to offer. In an effort to eat better, I switched our family to real maple syrup. I will admit that it took some time to get used to the flavor (it seemed too mapley for me) but now that I am converted, it’s the only way to go. The upsides are that you use a lot less syrup so it goes a lot further. The downsides are the price and the fact that my kids don’t like it. I am able to get fake syrup, which is really just maple flavored corn syrup, for free or almost free most of the time and real maple syrup cost around $6 a bottle for store brand. I do still pick up a bottle of fake syrup for the kids but they eat so little of it that I don’t worry over it.

Tires: Safety is very important to me, so I am willing to pay more for tires if it is a safety issue. John is actually the buyer of tires in our household and I trust his judgement. When he tells me it is time for tires or which ones to buy, that is what we go with. I normally can find a coupon for our local car repair center that atleast makes them cheaper than paying full retail price.

Computers: Ok, this one is a brand preference issue. We are a Mac family even though they are more expensive than comparable Windows computers. I waited over 2 years to get my current MacBook Pro when I could have gotten a new Windows laptop a lot sooner. I just prefer the Mac interface and will pay more and/or wait longer to get it.

Dog Food: In the past, we bought our dog the cheapest dog food available, which tended to be the Walmart brand. But, our experience has shown that if you buy a better dog food, you end up with less doggy waste which is worth it in my book. We feed Barkley Blue Buffalo dog food and he seems to process it better and eat less of it so in the end it is worth it to us.

I guess I am cheaper than I thought, since I could only come up with 4 things that I pay more for than needed. There are times when you have to make a choice in favor of healthy, safety or preference even if it costs you more than what you could get.

What are some things that you pay more for?

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure

I love garbage day. I love the fact that things that are cluttering our lives are moved out and room is made for the things that we need. I also love to see what my surrounding community puts out as their “trash”. I don’t intentionally drive around looking for good things in other people’s garbage but if I happen to spot something that is left out by the can, I am not too proud to stop and pick it up. I have gotten several good things this way with the latest being the hose reel pictured above.

I was just driving through my neighborhood the other day on my way home from the kid’s school and I happen to see this little beauty sitting out with the trash. From my perspective in the car, it looked as though nothing was wrong with it so I stopped to pick it up. We have not had a hose reel on our front yard hose in the 5 years that we have lived at our house. It is one of the things that I have wanted to have but just haven’t wanted to put the money toward. It is also on my list of things that I look for when I am out at yard sales but I had not seen exactly what I had wanted – until now.

I got this beauty home and quickly realized the problem – the connector from the hose reel to the faucet was slightly misshapen. I am not sure how it happened – it looked as though something rolled over it and just bent it but not enough to make it unrepairable. So, off I go to find John’s pliers and mold it back into shape. It only took a minute or two and I had it back to it’s original shape and ready to use. I wound the hose onto the reel and we were in business. It feels good to meet a need that our family has for no money and to keep something out of the landfill.

Does anyone else have a good find from the trash? I can’t wait for the next garbage day, it feels like a treasure hunt!