Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Changing Habits

Throughout the summer I have made a great change in my daily or weekly habits. Not that it is earth shattering or something that will change the world. It isn't a new idea that I came up with. It is an old idea that people have been talking about forever, but since I have implemented it, I find that it is working extremely well.

No more coffee when I am out.  Not an astounding accomplishment to many, but to me it is huge. On average I probably purchased 4-5 coffees a week. This included Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, and Cumberland Farms. Not cheap. I will say Cumberland Farms coffee is surprisingly good and the cheapest of the three.

On the way to work I didn't always stop for coffee. I do make it at home, but sometimes I needed just a bit more caffeine. My stops were usually after work when my energy was draining and I just felt exhausted. Depending on where I stopped I could spend $1.00 or $4.00. My coffee spending was probably $10.00 a week or more. So no coffee spending has been saving me at least $40.00 per month. That is a lot of money to put towards groceries, pay a utility bill, or save.

This commitment to not buying coffee has been fairly easy to stick to in the summer, but when work starts back up again I hope I have the same resolve to keep my commitment to not waste money on coffee. For most of my life I have thought nothing about grabbing coffee anytime or anywhere. There was no thought about budgeting the coffee. I could always afford it even when I couldn't. I am finally, after many years, making a commitment to stay away from this type of spending for now. When we are in a better situation I may be able to budget a certain amount of money for coffee, or I could continue to save the money.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Sad Cooking

I was going to write about the fact that I am sad to be cooking when the kids aren't even here. We could have gone out and had fun, however, we are trying to save money.

But that isn't really how I am feeling. This is really sad cooking.  Sad to see my father the way he is now. Sad that no matter his situation the rest of us get up and follow our regular routine. It doesn't seem right, but it is what we do. We still have to clean our houses, pay bills, shop, cook, and carry on with life. Sometimes it feels weird to be laughing or enjoying a situation knowing that he can't appreciate it. Sick parents are something most people deal with at one time or another, but it is still really hard.

The past few months are starting to catch up to me. I can feel the weight of what has happened and how it is impacting everyone. Life is hard. Things change fast. There are many sad things, but there are beautiful things too. It is hard to focus on those things right now feeling this way, but it is all we have to get us through.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Easiest Way to Save Money is....................................

to not spend it. I happily did this many times today. At one point today I thought I would check out the clearance racks at Kohls because the kids could use some pajamas. They could use some, but it isn't a necessity. I thought I might find some good clothes for work on sale. But I don't need any clothes. There are wants and needs, and as good as a bargain can be if we don't need it, it may be better to just not buy it.

I thought of stopping at the grocery store on the way home to buy some fish for dinner. Then I decided that was a very bad idea. To enter a store with no plan when you are hungry and need many things is a very bad idea. I did not go. I was able to use what we had and grill out for dinner. Tomorrow I will probably shop with a very detailed plan in hand. 

I think what I was looking for was a little retail therapy. So eventually a little bit of money was spent. My son needed a new lunchbox. I remembered that I had a few dollars in credit from my Amazon card. I searched for an extremely inexpensive lunchbox, signed up for a free trial of Amazon Prime to get free shipping (which I will cancel) and was able to get a new Spider Man lunchbox for $2.66. That is a great bargain, and I won't be running around August 30th looking for a lunchbox.

As much as I wanted to go do some shopping I learned today that sometimes it pays better if you don't. Unless you can get something for $2.66.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Birthday Party Gifts

We have four different birthday parties in the next few weeks. We have never had that many parties in such a short amount of time. Parties are great, and kids just love them. We have had many parties for our kids. I do support parties. However, parties need gifts.  Yikes! We are trying to be extremely careful right now.

There are many homemade gifts that children can give. We always do homemade cards and reuse old gift bags that are in good shape. I really wanted to give gifts that would be enjoyed, not take up too much room, and fit the budget. I was able to combine an Amazon gift card with my husband's Amazon points. I searched gifts and set limits for $5.00-$10.00. I was able to get three Lego kits and an art kit and only pay $1.76 for everything because of our gift cards and points. Also, I now have all the gifts I need to buy even though only one party is this weekend. I will have everything in two days, spent almost nothing, and am ahead of the game.

A small victory in our quest to spend less.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Vacation Summary: Walking, Church, and Frugality

We are back, and I miss the beach. It was great to be able to walk down the street and swim at the beach. The last day had a lot of seaweed, but overall the water was great. 

During our stay I walked four out of six days. Walking on the last day was out because we had to pack up and check out by 10:00 AM. Walking those four days made a huge difference in my mood. I started using a walking app that helps to keep track of miles and routes. I think the calorie burn may be inflated, but it is a good way to keep track of how many miles you are walking. We also went to church our first day there. It was a beautiful church and it felt really good to be there. I am trying hard to bring God into the center of my life. I want to do that with the kids too. Being sure we attend church weekly is an important part of that.

Walking and going to church were helpful, but relaxing is just plain hard for me. My brain does not let go that easily, but I am working on it.  I worked hard to enjoy the break.  I have to remind myself that it is okay to relax.

From a frugal standpoint I give us a B +.  I made a lot of meals, which I typically enjoy doing. We had a couple lunches out and ordered pizza midweek so I could get a night off. Considering we were there for six solid days and seven nights we thought that was pretty good.  The kitchen was small but very cute. It made our kitchen seem so much bigger when we got home. 

Other expenses included a couple of visits to a local homemade ice cream parlor, entrance to a great natural history museum ( I was actually free due to my union card), and a few adult beverages for us to drink while watching television at night.  Eating lunch out was a big savings because we don't usually drink any beer or wine at lunch which makes a big difference in the check. I mistakenly purchased juice and water at a local market and almost fell over when they told me the price. I really should have left it there. I think when the price sunk in I was already in the car.

Our grocery supply included a few things I brought from home, a stop at a very well priced store on the way to our destination and a mid week stop at Stop and Shop for a few more things. I did spend more on groceries than a typical week. We were eating a bit more junk than we would usually consume, but it was great fun.

We spent more money when we returned home yesterday and had lunch out. We had no food for lunch and we were all starving. Also, I was unable to bring home a few old bananas and bread ends that I would have re purposed, but they would not fit in the cooler.   I did, however, go grocery shopping yesterday. I plan on making that last through Friday. It is Sunday now, so we will see how creative I can be. Two loaves of bread last about two days, so we will see if it can be done.

It's a Vacation So Get Over It

The following is a post that I wrote the day before we left for our vacation. I am posting it now that we are back and will add another post with some follow up thoughts.

The title is my mantra to myself as I pack, pack, pack, pack, and get grumpy, grumpy, grumpy, grumpy. I am going on a week long vacation with my family. Many people don't even get to take a vacation so I need to enjoy the experience and change my attitude.

Yes, I have been talking a lot about cutting back. We planned this before we got super serious and I must say we paid for most of it.  It is a week in a cottage near the beach where we will be bringing our own food. We only have one planned meal out and are extremely serious about eating our meals at the cottage or on the beach with food from the grocery store.

Living in an East Coast state gives us access to many beach areas. We are about an hour and a half away from a very popular beach destination. We opted to to spend the week in the same town as we did last year. We can walk to the beach and it will cost us very little extra. This is 1/5 of the cost of the Disney vacation I was drooling over in the winter. We all enjoy the beach a lot. The kids will have a blast.  However preparing for a vacation can be time consuming and gets me cranky. I spent most of the morning preparing food and getting things ready. Finally I hit the neighborhood for a walk to get out the blahs and take in the ahs.  I plan on doing that every day that we are away. Last year I walked on just the last two days and really wished I had walked the whole week. It is great fun to check out new neighborhoods and it burns extra vacation calories.

What is vacation for? It is to unwind, relax, and build lasting memories. It is to enjoy some down time before the school  year begins and things are crazy again. I want to enjoy this vacation and have it to remember when it is mid December and I feel crazed. I want to sit back, count to ten, and remember the beach. That is what vacation is all about and we are blessed to be taking one.

So to make vacation super relaxing and fun I will:
Walk daily to destress, take in the sites, and unwind
Be in the moment with the kids, build sand castles, swim, and walk on the beach
Indulge a little but eat lots of salad too
Enjoy the week and not complain about anything
See you in a week.

Vacation Update:

Still here and enjoying the relaxing time. Off to do my third walk of the week. My walking has been every other day. I hoped to walk every single day, but every other is pretty good. We have eaten many meals in and just a few out. All our groceries that we don't consume can be used next week. We have two more days of ocean paradise before we pack up and head home to the rest of our summer.  Now I need to walk to get my head straight and burn some calories from all that vacation indulging. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Ten Years Today and Dinner this Week

Today is our ten year anniversary. We are celebrating it by not spending any money.  No cards, no flowers, no dinner out.

I have tonight's dinner all planned. It is chicken quesadillas with  homemade salsa.  I actually made salsa out of what I thought was an empty pantry. I had no fresh onions or canned tomatoes. My salsa came together yesterday with diced grape tomatoes, a few jalapeno peppers, garlic, and pureed frozen onions and peppers. Sort of weird, but I remember I had all these frozen peppers and onions in the freezer. Peppers are not popular in this house ( I like them) but salsa is. So I pureed most of them and added the tomatoes and simmered it on the stove a bit. It prevented me from going to the store to buy salsa. I also made bread to get us through until tomorrow. Yesterday I had poached some frozen chicken and was able to create two meals. Tonight's quesadillas and last night's chicken salad sandwiches on  homemade bread.  We also have some chicken salad left for lunch today. My refrigerator is amazingly empty. It feels good to utilize every single thing we can before we hit the store. I have not been to the store since Sunday, with the exception of buying milk at CVS because I had Extra Bucks.

So would it be nice to go out for our anniversary?  Yes and no. I always love going out, but at this point in our life I would prefer to get our finances under control. We have been doing a great job in the past two weeks with no restaurants or take-out.  I have been bringing my own coffee along in the car to prevent accidental coffee trips.  It is hard at times, but it feels good to love what you have and not want what you don't. 

So tonight instead of sipping a nice cocktail at a fancy restaurant we can eat dinner with the kids and be thankful for all that we have.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Waking Up Early

It's 7:17 AM and I have been up since 5:30. My typical night involves crashing on the couch around 10:00 PM until someone wakes me and says "Time for bed". It drives him crazy that I actually never go to bed until he does, but it is just something that I do. I should go to bed at 10:00. Getting all that sleep (however I get it) allows me to wake up quite early and start my day.

Starting my day includes drinking coffee, sort of folding some laundry, paying some bills, and surfing on the internet. If I was a really organized person I would have taken my walk already. Instead I enjoyed the solitude of the house while everyone else is sleeping. The kids are probably wiped out from yesterday's swimming.

I hear my six year old friend waking up. I am sure his cute face will join me soon. The sun has created a golden highlight around the edges of his brown hair and bleached his eyebrows. It is too cute.

My solitude is ending; it will probably be the most relaxing part of my day.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Hair Update

A couple of posts ago I talked about our spending and how we were finally cracking down so we could pay our house debt off and get it together. Nine days in, and we are doing well.  My hair had come up because for about a year and a half I have been having my hair lightened and cut at various salons. Each trip costs about $120. Now I don't go every six weeks like many people. And for the record many people spend a lot more on their hair. However, I probably get it done five to six times a year. When I thought about how much money that was and compared it to how good my hair looked, I decided that, even though my hair did look good, I should get over it and go darker. That way I can do it myself. Here is my story.

I bought some dark brown hair dye that looked good on the box and colored my hair. The initial results were awful. My hair was a blackish dark brown with no warmth to it. I looked washed out and pale.  I Googled how to fix it. The next day I washed it with baking soda and shampoo which did take out a bit of the color and cracked the kids up. After about five days I can say that my hair seems to be a normal brown, I don't look washed out, and I do not need to go pay someone else to fix my mistake. Also, my gray is covered.

Do I like to get my hair done? Yes. Do I want to have money in the bank and our bills paid off? Yes!!  More than I want my hair to be lighter. I may eventually be at a place where I can go get my hair colored but right now I will continue to (carefully) do it myself.

The Cost of Eating

I found this article about grocery spending It is a couple of years old, but it states that a frugal grocery plan would cost about $146 per week for a healthy diet.  I find it mind boggling, even though I shop weekly (or more) and see how much things cost now.  How do people on strict budgets do it?

We are fortunate to have a decent amount of money to spend  on groceries, however, in our current situation, we are trying to pay off our house debt, so we are trying hard to be a bit leaner.   It makes me wonder how people with no choice really do it week after week. In the past week and a half I did use a menu plan, and I  really stuck to it.  I switched our meals around depending on the day, but we pretty much ate what I planned. One thing I did that was not part of the plan was to pick up some pizza dough at the store to get dinner on the table quickly. It was so much quicker than making dough and still cost under $10.00 for grilled pizza for four people.  I know I could make some dough ahead of time and freeze it, but grabbing it one day saved me the cost of takeout.

So last night I whipped up pasta cabonera with bacon, eggs, and cheese. It is a quick dinner that relies on very little meat. I used half a box of whole wheat pasta and it did feed four of us. Next time I will make a larger salad and maybe add another vegetable. Once the bacon is cooked it comes together quickly. I see myself making it in the fall when work is back in session.  It is a dish that goes over well for everyone in my family, which is great after working all day! One thing I noticed about this and some other meals is the lack of protein. I do have to make some changes to our menu. I have been been focusing on some more pasta based meals and find that we are more hungry later than if the meal had more protein. Also, too many carbs are bad for my weight loss goals. I need to up the protein and veggies big time.

As we try to reign our grocery bill in I have to think about our needs as a family. I am impressed with countless blogs that I read, but what works for one family doesn't work for everyone.  I know that minimal meat night after night would be met with raised eyebrows and questionable looks. It would not work for me either. Since the whole family is home for part of the summer, it is important to have enough food in the house to prepare meals and survive with a smile.  Yesterday I went shopping and tried to stay under $100 to get us through until the end of the week (Thursday or Friday).  I tried not to buy things we already had, and I had my list with me that I pretty much stuck with. We needed things like coffee, tea, and toilet paper. Important items to buy. I included fruits that we eat regularly like bananas and apples as well as salad veggies. I eat many vegetables, but right now I am focusing on raw salad vegetables that are eaten by more household members like cucumbers, carrots, and celery.  They are also great with humus when someone needs a snack.  I did buy some deli meat and cheese, and since we are home we will use these items for lunch. I know some frugal bloggers stay awaw from the deli, but PB & J does get old. I reconcile my deli choices with a once a week purchase and when it's gone it's gone.  I bought oatmeal (only eaten by me unless I make granola) and some low priced cereal for the kids. I had a few store coupons, but I was not focused on crazy couponing. I have tried it and am always impressed with people who can stick to it, but it is a lot of work.  Too much work for me.  My only meat purchase was a package of drumsticks. So cheap and great when grilled. Those are dinner for tonight. I hope to take off the left over meat and use it in another dish this week. I also have chicken in the freezer and will be using that this week in something that I have not planned yet. I did buy some snacks. Now I know that many true frugal blogs stay away from snacks, but I really believe it is important to do what works for you. I had a store coupon to buy cookies that were on sale. When I get home someone (over 40) is going to ask me if I bought cookies anyway. It is just easier to get a few snacks. Now I did not show all the snacks to everyone. When purchasing certain things it is good to hide things so that they don't all get eaten immediately.  My trip also included eggs, bread, and a buy 1 get 2 free humus deal. Unfortunately there was no plain humus for the kids, but maybe they can try the flavored kinds. With careful shopping I still spent $95.00, however, I feel like we can eat for the next few days without feeling deprived.  The most amazing part is that it took careful shopping to only spend $95.00. It doesn't seem possible, but the cost of food is sky high.

My point of this very long winded post is to get the most out of your grocery money try to do the following:
  • Shop carefully and focus on what most people in your house will eat
  • You can get great ideas online, but make choices that you and your family can happily live with
  • Find a few meals your family enjoys that are cheap and easy
Now off to plan my menu.