Monday, December 20, 2010

8 Free Traditions for Christmas

On a tight budget this year, we are looking for ways to carry on the Christmas spirit without digging into the wallet. These are some ideas for our family and yours to celebrate the season without breaking the bank.
  1. Caroling: This age old tradition is not as prominent as it once was...which makes it more fun in my eyes. No one expects carolers these days, so they are a bit nostalgic and heart warming. If you don't live in a place with traditional neighborhoods, you can always visit a senior home or nursing facility and sing for the residents. They will enjoy the music and the visitors.
  2. Christmas Parade: I remember as a child being in awe of our hometown parade and waiting for the day that I could be in it. And when my Girl Scout/Brownie troop got to ride in the back of a pick up truck while tossing candy to onlookers, I was on cloud nine.
  3. Looking at Christmas lights: This is something we reserve for the night of the 23rd. Riding around neighborhoods looking for grand displays. Amazing what a show some people can put on!
  4. Christmas movies: There is nothing that rings in the season like the first airing of Charlie Brown Christmas or the old claymation classics like Rudolph. You can throw in your favorite, whether it be It's a Wonderful Life or National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, the family time spent huddled around the holiday movies is one I still treasure to this day.
  5. Making homemade ornaments: Whether it is looping strips of paper to make garland, creating clothespin reindeer, or stringing popcorn together, this simple ornaments scream togetherness and home.
  6. Live Nativities/Musical Programs: So many churches now put on living or drive through nativities that you are sure to have one around you. Or just visit several area churches for their Christmas musicals and programs. We must remember what this whole shebang is really all about, you know.
  7. Baking and decorating Christmas Cookies: What child doesn't love to cut out cookies and add icing, sprinkles or candies to decorate--and then gobble them up?
  8. Volunteer: Throughout the holiday season, people's giving spirit is elevated, making non-profits a very joyously busy place. Find a soup kitchen or homeless shelter who might love the extra help. Call your local Salvation Army to volunteer to be a bell ringer. You can assist in wrapping presents at one of the stations in the mall that raises money for a nonprofit by wrapping presents for shoppers. You might want to volunteer at an animal shelter so the employees can take some time off while daily care activities are still performed. You might check with a local hospice who might need help during the holiday season. The possibilities are endless, but you can match them with your talents and gifts and volunteer as a family!

Photo credit: danyba

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Learning to Accept My Limitations

I have a serious confession to make. I'm afraid that it might disappoint you. I'm afraid that you might shake your head and "tsk" in my general direction. But in the spirit of full disclosure, I must make this confession to you, my readers.

I am not Superwoman.

I know. Shocking.

Wait, what? You aren't surprised?

Well I was when I first figured it out. It's a tough lesson to learn. Especially when you think you've got everything under control. When you think you are supposed to be able to do everything that everyone else does.

Let me tell you what I learned though.

Those people that you are trying to emulate? They are not Superwomen either. There is something in their lives they are sacrificing in order to do what they do. And if you are trying to be just like several Superwomen...who all have different focuses...you surely must realize that you can't be like ALL of them. They can't even do that!

Here are the things I have felt the need to be:

Wife. Yep. My husband needs me. I don't mean he is helplessly useless. But he married me because he wanted me to be in his life and spend time with him. I am called to be his friend, his lover, his support, his cheerleader, his helpmate, his biggest fan, his encouragement, his sounding board, his support. I cannot ever forget that.

Mom. I love my children. I am their mother. They need me to be everything that a mother entails. This in itself is very multi-dimensional and overlaps into many of the categories below. It includes teacher, disciplinarian, cheerleader, friend, doctor, and even just a set of arms to snuggle into.

Engineer. Yes. I am an engineer. An engineering manager these days. This is something that I love to do. I love to use my talents and strengths to help a company succeed. I like using practical and critical thinking skills to tackle a task and create new and innovative ways to approach matters.

Homemaker. Even though I love my career, I feel the responsibility of making our house a home falls to me. I was brought up very traditionally and feel that the cooking/cleaning/ and all matters of the home fall to me. Not that Chip doesn't help--he's actually a HUGE contributor. Not that I don't want him to help, as I am VERY grateful for how wonderful he is. But the responsibility for making sure that it happens is mine.

Cleaner. This is part of homemaking, but it is a huge part for me. I'm a bit picky. When our house is not clean enough to eat off of the floor, my soul is not at rest. These days, my soul is more restless than I like.

Musician. I grew up soaking in music at all times. I love playing. I love singing. I was once much better at both than I am now. This is something I truly love doing, but has been neglected over the last few years when other parts of life have taken over.

Cheerleader. No. Not the kind in ponytails and skirts (seriously...no one wants to see that), but the mom on the sideline or in the audience cheering on my children in their activities. The attentive wife who attends and is enraptured by all of my husband's musical demonstrations.

Classroom Mom. I can't be there to cut out felt for craft time. But I want to send homemade cookies. I want to help with Christmas parties. I want to chaperone a field trip.

Volunteer. I want to help out at our church. I want to help out our neighborhood. I want to give time to causes that I believe in.

Friend. I want to have a girl's night. I want to have friends to chat with and have private jokes with. I want to go our for dessert or laugh over a pedicure with girlfriends.

Gardener. I don't have a green thumb or anything, but I'd love for the outside of our home to look really nice and cared about with brightly colored seasonal flowers and manicured landscaping.

Craft Aficionado. I want to be crafty. I want to make things that impress other people and make our home unique. I want to teach these skills to our children while getting to spend quality time with them. I want to offer one of a kind gifts to friends and family that were made with love and personalization.


And the point of this ridiculous list is that I cannot possibly be all of these things. At least not at the same time. And that is okay. I mean, I know that, but I must truly believe that.
  • I must believe that it is okay to have a pile of laundry that needs to be done while I go on a date with my husband.
  • I must believe that it is okay to have store bought cookies because I had to work later than allowed me to bake them from scratch.
  • I must believe that it is okay that the we seriously need some new pine straw for our landscaping because I'm choosing to sit on bleachers and cheer for my son and his teammates on the t-ball team.
  • I must believe that it is okay to say "no" to a volunteer opportunity just so I can spend time on a craft for our home.
  • I must believe that it is okay to take a day off of work to shop and have lunch with a friend.
  • I must believe that it is okay to leave my children in the church nursery so that I can volunteer somewhere else during the worship service.
  • I must believe that it is okay to leave the husband to entertain himself while I plant some lovely annuals in the front yard.
  • I must believe that it is even okay to drop all of these things (even the kids--there I said it and you can lash out in the comments if you want) just so I can take a long hot soak in a bubble bath and relax.

It's also okay for your children to see that dad sometimes wins quality time with you over them. It's okay for your children to see that the house can wait to be cleaned until you have helped a neighbor out. It's okay for your children to see that you can take a day off of work just to spend time with them alone. All of these things are good. In fact, all of these things are HEALTHY for them to see. They need to see that mom is a person. That mom is more than a worker bee.

Dropping one for another is nothing to feel guilty about as long as it is not always the same thing getting dropped. Nourish your relationships. Grow yourself. Be everything you want to be. Just realize that you cannot be all of these things at the same time.

And be okay with that.

I know that is what I will be trying to do.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Donating on Behalf of Others and Truly Change the World

What’s the best part of the holiday season? Is it sharing gifts with friends and families? Is it helping out others in need?

If those two are at (or close to) the top of your list, why not consider giving a gift to help others in need on behalf of your loved ones. There are so many ways to give to charitable organizations, the possibilities are almost limitless. However, here are a few of the ways you can tangibly help others on behalf of others and enjoy both of joys of the season.


Money:
Almost every organization that accepts donation will accept them on behalf of others and usually send cards to the person whose name it was donated on behalf. This one is common, so not a big surprise for any of us, but an easy way to help a charity of choice and allow them to use the money as they need to.

Related to this concept is the TisBest Philanthropy gift card. You basically go to their website and set an amount to be donated. A card is then sent that can be given to a friend or family member. That person can then visit the TisBest website and choose from over 250 national non-profit groups, and many other local groups, that the cardholder can choose to donate that gift to. It’s a great way to allow your loved ones to donate to a cause that really means something to them.


Packages of Needed Items/Emergency Supplies:
Many organizations offer donation packages to meet an immediate need, like for lifesaving medicines and supplies which are not specific in its contents, but needed so greatly.

You can also give soap, blankets, mosquito nets, water, clothes, or safety for an exploited child.

And what is more needed than water? Providing water can provide health, nutrition, livelihood, and prevent death. You can help by visiting UNICEF, Water.org, or Project Concern.


Educational Needs:
You can easily provide school supplies, uniforms, and art supplies for children as well as a desk or computer training. For slightly more, you can train a midwife, help establish a savings group, or even build an entire primary school (that one’s just $1500) through Oxfam American Unwrapped.

I know, $1500 is a lot of money for many of us, but considering what you are providing, this would be a great gift to really make a huge impact. Think of either one big gift or perhaps getting 15 people to give $100 each…or 100 people to give $15 each. The impact it would have would be permanent.

Through UNICEF, you can provide books, pencils and notebooks, or a School in a Box kit for temporarily displaced schools.


Benefitting an Entire Village:
You can build a school, start a savings group, dig a well, or protect the fishing rights of an entire area, which will benefit entire groups of people at one time. All of these can be done through Oxfam American Unwrapped.

UNICEF provides the opportunity to buy packs of immunizations for diseases that we in the US take for granted that our children will not have to suffer. For just $20.60 you can provide 412 tetanus shots.

A number of different health and nutrition gifts can also be found at Project Concern.


Means of Providing Nourishment and Income:
Worldvision (look in the gift catalog) offers packages where you can purchase a goat for $75, two chickens for $25 or five ducks for $30. All of these provide a source of nourishment for the family who receives it but also gives them products to sell and earn money to provide for other needs for themselves. You can also choose alpacas, cows, donkeys, bulls, rabbits, oxen, fishing supplies or just collection of farm animals.

Other animal gifts can be found through Oxfam American Unwrapped


Help Getting a Livelihood Established:
You can provide seeds, livestock, irrigation, a boat, tools, or many other implements of daily life to give people the supplies and training they need to provide for themselves for a lifetime. A gift like this could change the entire direction of the life of a family.

Through Worldvision you can also Microfinance a loan for a entrepreneur trying to get a business off of the ground to change the path of their family’s existence. You can read through bios and donate some or all of their loan request. When they repay their loan, that money is used to fund other endeavors approved by Worldvision. This gives the business owner a since of pride and accomplishment to do it for themselves and teaches them the skills necessary for their business to be a success.

Fun:
Children in desperate circumstances often don’t get to be kids, and that is truly sad. You can provide two soccer balls for $16 via Worldvision that will provide days of entertainment and much needed physical exercise, as well as an escape for children who need to have fun in their lives. You can also provide music lessons, basketballs, plush animals or Christmas present in general.

You can also find kites, toys, and books through Oxfam American Unwrapped.

There are loads of other organizations. Don’t let my post here limit you to only those I have listed. There are many who can all help people. Many needs that are near and dear to your heart may not be listed here, but you can help with those as well.

Just check out Guidestar, Charity Navigator, and/or the BBB Wise Giving Alliance to find a legitimate charitable organization that will help causes that you believe in.

Just give. Bless the one you donate on behalf of as well as hundreds of others.

Friday, December 10, 2010

I Still Loathe Our Timeshare

This post was included in the Carnival of Money Stories #84: ‘Twas Two Weeks Before Christmas Edition hosted by Yes, I Am Cheap. Stop over there and see a lot of other really great posts. If you are visiting from that carnival, settle in and stay a while. If you end of following me, you might win some candy (see just under my header!). =)

You've heard me gripe about owning our timeshare before (actually, pretty recently). I continue to loathe the fact that we own it.

We had discussed taking out a Lending Club loan on it and paying it off to obtain the note and then trying to sell it back to the sales department at the resort just to get out from under it. It wasn't guaranteed to work and we were going to have to take a loss on it. But frankly, I didn't care anymore. Anything to just have it gone.

But we haven't done that yet. I was very close to clearing the whole process with Chip and making sure he was okay with doing that when he lost his job. And the loan I wanted to take out was going to increase our payment on it because it was a 3 year loan rather than the 10ish years we will currently pay on it. But then the job loss happened and we cannot currently afford a new higher bill. In fact, we're just making minimum payments until full employment is back. So that plan is on hold.

Well, two days ago I was reminded of what a pain this thing is.

We got our maintenance fee bill.

If you don't know anything about timeshares, let me enlighten you. For each year you are allowed to use it (ours is every other year) you get a bill to "cover maintenance" of the property. That makes sense actually. For upkeep and all. However, what you may not know is that we have no guarantee that it won't go up.

And it has gone up this year.

A lot.

Two months ago, we got a letter saying we needed to pay a "special assessment fee" related to a lot of stuff I won't go into here. But basically, everyone who owns a resort through our timeshare company had to pay it. One time fee.

And our maintenance fees were going up.

So...back to the original story.

Our bill arrived two days ago. For $1322.50. Let me let that sink in for you.

$1322.50

We are just getting by to make minimum payments on our regular bills right now. We certainly don't have an extra $1300 to pay these people. And if I don't pay it, it will just get interest and fees attached to it.

So today I "paid" it. Let me translate that for you.

I put it on a credit card.

I know. It sucks.

I don't want to EVER put anything on these cards again without the intent of paying it right off that very month. But I won't be paying this off this month. I can't.

We have this in our emergency fund. But I don't truly consider this an emergency. Because if we deplete our emergency fund and then run into a real emergency that we can't use our credit card on? We're up a creek without a paddle. So the cash will stay in the emergency fund. And our credit card balance will increase. For the first time in over a year, our credit card balance will be higher next month that it is this month.

And I feel like such a failure. Not because I did anything wrong right now. But because we can't afford it. And because we can't get rid of it. And because it makes me feel stupid for buying it in the first place.

I guess I know what our tax refund will be used for this upcoming year. Not paying off debt to take a chunk out of the snowball, but to pay for this stupid maintenance fee to a property that we don't use in the first place. In the meantime, it will acquire interest while sitting on this card.

Hooray.

Photo credit: BLW Photography

*Disclosure...the Lending Club link in this post is an affiliate link.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Holiday Safety

With the holidays quickly approaching for many of us and already here for others (Happy Hanukkah, my Jewish friends!), we really need to remember to keep this holiday a safe one.

Here are some tips:

LADDER SAFETY (1):
  • The CDC analyzed data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System All Injury Program (NEISS-AIP) for three winter holiday seasons. For this analysis, the holiday season was defined as November 1--January 31. This report summarizes the results of that analysis, which indicated that, during 2000--2003, an estimated 17,465 persons were treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments (EDs) for holiday-decorating--related falls. Approximately 62% of those injured were aged 20--49 years; approximately 43% of injuries were caused by falls from ladders; and males were 40% more likely than females to be injured. Prevention strategies should focus on raising awareness about falls and promoting safety practices during the holiday season.

PREVENT CARBON MONOXIDE EXPOSURE (2)

  • Do have your heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.
  • Do install a battery-operated CO detector in your home and check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall. If the detector sounds leave your home immediately and call 911.
  • Do seek prompt medical attention if you suspect CO poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed, or nauseous.
  • Don't use a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove, or other gasoline or charcoal-burning device inside your home, basement, or garage or near a window.
  • Don't run a car or truck inside a garage attached to your house, even if you leave the door open.
  • Don't burn anything in a stove or fireplace that isn't vented.
  • Don't heat your house with a gas oven.

CHRISTMAS TREE SAFETY (3)

  • Many artificial trees are fire resistant. If you buy one, look for a statement specifying this protection.
  • A fresh tree will stay green longer and be less of a fire hazard than a dry tree. To check for freshness, remember:
    --A fresh tree is green.
    --Fresh needles are hard to pull from branches.
    --When bent between your fingers, fresh needles do not break.
    --The trunk butt of a fresh tree is sticky with resin.
    --When the trunk of a tree is bounced on the ground, a shower of falling needles shows that tree is too dry.
  • Cut off about two inches of the trunk to expose fresh wood for better water absorption. Trim away branches as necessary to set tree trunk in the base of a sturdy, water-holding stand with wide spread feet. Keep the stand filled with water while the tree is indoors.
    Place your tree at least 3 feet away from all heat sources, including fireplaces and radiators. (4)

"SNOW" (3)

  • Artificial snow sprays can irritate lungs if inhaled. To avoid injury, read container labels; follow directions carefully.

LIGHTS (3)

  • Whether indoors or outside, use only lights that have been tested for safety. Identify these by the label from an independent testing laboratory.
  • Check each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections. Discard damaged sets or repair them before using.
  • Fasten outdoor lights securely to trees, house, walls or other firm support to protect from wind damage.
  • Use no more than three standard-size sets of lights per single extension cord.
  • Turn off all lights on trees and other decorations when you go to bed or leave the house.
  • Lights could short and start a fire.
  • Never use electric lights on a metallic tree.
  • The tree can become charged with electricity from faulty lights, and any person touching a branch could be electrocuted!
CANDLES (4)
  • Avoid using candles when possible. Consider using battery-operated candles in place of traditional candles.
  • Never leave an open flame unattended. Keep burning candles within sight.
  • Extinguish all candles before you go to bed, leave the room or leave the house.
  • Place lighted candles away from combustible material and areas where they might be knocked over.
  • Never use lighted candles on a tree or near other evergreens. Keep candle away from other decorations and wrapping paper.
OUTDOOR DECORATING (4)
  • Make sure all products are marked for outdoor use.
  • Keep all outdoor extension cords and light strings clear of snow and standing water.
  • Make sure spotlights used to highlight decorations are well-ventilated, protected from weather, and a safe distance from flammable items.

POST HOLIDAY SAFETY (4)

  • Holiday decorations are meant for temporary use. Take down all decorations during the first week of January.
  • Do not yank or tug on cords when unplugging them.
  • Carefully inspect all decorations prior to storing them. Discard broken or faulty lights.
  • Make sure that electrical cords are in good condition, and wire insulation is not frayed or cracked.
  • Store decorations in a dry location that is safely out of reach of children and pets.
Photo credit: Anthony!!
Sources: (1) http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5348a1.htm (2) http://www.cdc.gov/co/guidelines.htm
(3)
http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/611.pdf (4) http://www.holidaysafety.org/holidaysafety/file/ESFI-Holiday-Decorating-Safety-Tips_2010.pdf

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

WFMW - Cozy Toesies

This is probably nothing new to most of you, but for those of you who haven't done it or are first-time parents who haven't thought of it yet, I'm going to offer you a simple, yet effective hack to keeping tiny people warm on those cold winter nights.

First let me tell you that I am neither an expert on parenting (this 2nd one is nothing like the 1st!) or the cold (I live in Savannah, GA, for crying out loud), but this works for us and it might work for you.

Have you ever noticed that when your feet are warm, the rest of you is? Seriously...my arms can be cold and I can warm them up by putting socks on my feet. Strange, but true.

So to give me peace of mind when our babies were either too young for heavy blankets or slightly older but not able to keep a blanket on them (our children flip and flop all night), I simply put socks on them underneath those fleece zip up footie pjs.

It gives me peace of mind and their little bodies always felt warmer in the morning when it was time to get up.

That is something that works for me. If you want to see what works for everyone else, visit We Are THAT Family.

Photo credit: psansao

Monday, December 6, 2010

8 Gifts on a Tight Budget

This year our Christmas budget is tighter than normal. But seriously...keeping our spending to a minimum should be a goal every year.

So to help out others who may be in a similar situation as us this year, or for those who just want to curb their spending on gifts this year, I am offering this list of gifts that are meaningful and heartfelt, but not damaging to the wallet.


  1. If you are good at cooking, give the gift of something homemade...candy, bread, a lasagna, a fat batch of muffins...whatever your specialty is. People love to have fresh goods that they can't/don't make for themselves. And the love put into it is far more appreciated than some "mandatory" gift you found to buy.
  2. If people are always raving about your cooking or baking, put together a recipe booklet full of your (or their!) favorites. It can be as simple as index cards and a recipe box, a three-ring binder with clear sleeves with recipes (decorated if you want), a lovely journal, or something even more home-made via Martha Stewart.
  3. For unique treats of deliciousness, try the pies in jars or cobblers in jars found at not martha. Even though these are tiny, that's part of their charm and no one will complain about how tiny the gift was...it's that cool!
  4. If you want to look at other "in a jar" gifts, check out this list at Organized Christmas to find not only recipes for goodies and soups, but bath items and journals!
  5. Also on not martha you can find a great gift idea that would could be fun and extremely personal... marble magnets. Go check it out!
  6. I found on Get Rich Slowly a suggestion for a hollow book for storing valuables. Using a hardback book from a thrift store, this would be a great gift that would cost you more time than money!
  7. There is an entire blog devoted to making homemade bath and body products called Homemade Bath Products. Go check it out to find something to give for a pampering gift.
  8. The gift of service...you can make up coupons or the like to keep up with it (for the recipient and you!). It could be something you specialize in...like music lessons...or something ordinary like a house cleaning or yard work. If could be dinner one night or coupons for babysitting. It could be organizing or taking down their Christmas decorations. These possibilities are endless and are best defined either by what you are good at or by what the recipient would most appreciate (dog sitting?).

So there is my list of suggestions.

What would you add to it? I need some ideas!

Photo credit: nicephoto

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Our Financial Status - Update #14 - November 2010

It has been an interesting month to say the least. That's why there are a lot of comments at the end.

For those of you who don't care to read this, I understand. You can leave and come back tomorrow. However, I need to do it for accountability and to maybe let someone else see that they aren't alone in their financial ups and downs.

INCOME:
We were $827.00 under budget for income. Because Chip lost his job suddenly. We're battening down the hatches though and hopefully can make this work. It will be a challenge though since Christmas is here. We did get $11 unexpectedly from the sale of a book on Amazon though (silver lining?).

UNDER BUDGET:
Groceries:

Auto Service/Parts: $30 under budget. We didn't spend anything this month. After last month's huge expenditure, I reset this budget, knowing I would never catch up and we could just consider it done. However, the check engine light just came on in my car yesterday, so I'm hoping that isn't the promise of more repairs to come.
Power Bill/Water Bill: $35 under budget for the month. We're still $361 over budget in the rolling budget, but I'm going to hold out and see how this settles out to see if we need to budget more for it to all level out in the end.
Groceries: $6 under budget. Not bad. Since we didn't pay for Thanksgiving food (but paid for gasoline instead), this is not too shocking for November.
Home Services: $5 under budget. This will roll into next month for e-mealz until that service renews.
Baby Supplies: Spent $25 this month, but with the rolling budget, I still have $169 more dollars to spend in this area. Doing good.
Hair care: None spent this month or last, giving me $48 under budget. This would usually be my cue to get my hair cut, but now that we're squeezed a bit financially, this will wait.
Clothing: Spent $5 under budget for the month, but since this budget rolls too, it puts us at $33 under the rolling budget.
Make-up/Toiletries: Nothing spent this month, so $5 under budget. However, the rolling budget is still $14 over, so I can hopefully just wait this one out until the dust settles.
Mortgage/Timeshare/HOA: $233 under budget. Our HOA fees did not clear until December 1st, so this will roll into next month and clear so it all balances out in the end.

ON BUDGET:
Television: As usual. This may have to go if things get tight.
Auto Insurance: No surprise here. Although we are taking steps to save $5 a month, so we will be able to lower this budget. It's not much, but there's no reason to be spending the $5, so we'll use that extra $60 a year for something else!
Term Life Insurance: Really no surprises here.
Mobile Phone: Done.
Alarm Monitoring: Same old, same old.

OVER BUDGET:
Gas/Fuel:
$87 over budget. Actually, I'm not that upset by this one. We traveled to Nashville for Thanksgiving and this is where the extra money went. All in all, not bad for the month considering the drive that was.
Eating Out: $40 over budget. This would have been under budget a good bit except for the $70+ we spent eating out on the road to Nashville.
Doctor: $25 under budget. AKA--no visits to the doctor this month.
Pharmacy: $5 under budget. AKA --no visits to the pharmacy this month.
Home Supplies: $5 over budget to replace a broken broom.
Childcare: $50 over budget. This month had some extra "after school" payments for the days that the was closed but he had to go anyway (Veterans day, etc). An update on this budget to come in the comments.
Coffee Shops/Gas Station Snacks: $6 over budget because we don't budget for this.
Dog Costs: $195. The dog needed her shots and our dog sitter from Labor Day cashed her $40 check.
Eyecare: Chip had to order contacts because one from the trial pair he got a year ago finally went missing. $128

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS:

  • We sent about $400 more than the minimums to the credit cards this month due to the cost of the car repairs last month. That was before the job loss. Next month we'll just stick to the minimums to hopefully hold out. Then we'll be back on top of things when Chip is again employed.
  • We spent $90 making shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. It wasn't in the budget, but I cannot complain about this one.
  • Spent $13 on Christmas gifts.
  • Spent $15 on the kids to go to a inside playground area while we were in Nashville and they were getting cabin fever.
  • We had to pull $350 out of the emergency fund to make the bills work at the end of the month since we were shorted one expected check due to job loss. Since December has three paydays for me, this will be replenished immediately.
  • We had to put about $200 on the credit card during on trip to Nashville to cover the expenses of the trip. I've considered immediately paying this off with the extra check in December, but I think I'm just going to put the extra check into savings and wait until Chip is employed again to pay off the extra amount. I know that means slightly more interest acquired, but we can eat, you know.
  • Chip is going (today) to apply for unemployment. Although he doesn't qualify based on the paperwork he has regarding his release, he is going to challenge it since it really was without cause (they had no evidence that anything really happened...he is just a liability to them they think). Let's hope for the best here!
  • I have luckily already been challenging myself to have the least expensive Christmas as possible. I hope to keep it up. So far, only $28.74 out of pocket and 14 items (plus a few stocking stuffers) purchased. Woo hoo!
  • I have changed my 401k withholdings at work from 8% down to 1% while we are on one income. I would have gone down to 0%, but a lot of paperwork would have been required to "re-enroll" so I'll just hold it there. That's chunk of money that we're missing in our retirement (pretaxed) and a 50% match, but tough times call for tough measures, right?
  • I am a bit bummed. I had really wanted to throw the entire "extra" December paycheck at debt and knock out a chunk of it. But, instead of doing that, God is using it to provide during a time when we didn't plan on being down to a one-income family. He is so good and for that, I am thankful.
Change in Networth from October 14, 2009: + $34,990.18
Debt Paid off Since October 14, 2009: $19,887.14

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

WFMW - A Twist on Holiday Giving

I will admit it--I can take no credit for this. I read it in the current issue of Family Fun magazine, but thought it was such a fantastic idea, that I wanted to pass it along to those of you who either haven't gotten your issue yet, haven't gotten a chance to read it, or don't subscribe to it.

Somewhere near the front of the magazine (sorry--don't have my copy with me at the moment), I found this suggestion of how one family makes the holidays about giving:

They have a large family (26 in their extended family) and found it impossible to buy gifts for each member of the family every year. Plus they wanted to make the holidays about giving rather than receiving.

So each family member chooses a charity they would like to see get money. Kids participate too. People can certainly decide to pick the same charity as someone else if they want. They write their charity of choice onto a slip of paper (one preschooler simply wrote "help tigers" one year).

Each family writes a check for the sum of their family's ages (two 40-year old parents, one 8-year old, and one 6-year old equals a $94 check from that family).

Each family member puts their slip of paper in "the hat" when they gather together for their holiday festivities. Grandpa draws a winner at some point in the day. That charity receives all of the money from the checks from each family.

They hand their checks over to the family who had chosen that charity, who then write one big check for the total amount and send it to the charity that won. As a bonus, that family can write the contribution off on their taxes the following new year. That family then sends out the reminder email the following year to tell everyone to start preparing for the event again.

I thought this was a FANTASTIC idea to emphasize giving while making it fun; for teaching children that giving was a blast and more important that getting gifts for themselves. Although we've never tried it ourselves, this is certainly something I think we can incorporate into our festivities in the future.

Go over to We Are THAT Family and see what other holiday and/or gift ideas you can find!

Friday, November 19, 2010

How Debt Smothers

This post was featured in the Carnival of Personal Finance #284: Thanksgiving Preparation Edition at Sweating the Big Stuff. Go check out all of the great articles listed there for some really great and informative reading! You might just find a new blog to follow!

I hate feeling like there is no room to breathe. Debt has so many far-reaching consequences. This is one I never anticipated.

Currently our church is one of the fastest growing churches in the country. We are currently facing a growth crisis. The crisis is no room for children.

Let me restate that. There is plenty of room for children. There is not enough room for all of the children who are currently coming. Our church has over 800 elementary aged children every weekend and we can't accommodate them all anymore. It's a good problem to have. But it is a problem all the same. So there is a capital campaign beginning to make more room for the kids and provide improved space for the adults that are getting displaced because of the growing children's program. It will also establish a center for abused families in our city as well as in a city in Guatemala that we have ties to.

We were asked to make pledges this past weekend. We knew it was coming and had been praying about what we could do. I have faith that God can and will provide for the faith pledge that he laid on our hearts, but I only wish that debt and former stupidity wasn't holding us back from giving more.

We have pledge to donate $200/month for the next 24 months to this campaign. This is above and beyond our tithe. This is in addition to any extra gifts we already had planned. This is going to cut into our credit card repayment plan. And I hate that. But this is a real opportunity to invest in the lives of kids forever and that chance just cannot be passed up. So if we have to slow down our debt repayment, we've agreed that we can do that.

Now we face that pledge in addition to the fact that we were knocked back down to one income last week. We are still pledging it because we still have faith that God will provide the money since he provided the pledge amount. I am honestly not fearful about it at all.

But I am angry. I am mad at myself and at us for how much more we SHOULD be able to give. I make a good salary. I make more than enough to provide for our daily living expenses when we are down to one income. I make enough that even down to one income we should be able to donate more than that to this campaign at church. It makes me furious that we have to scrape by now and donate less now because of stupid mistakes that we made YEARS ago.

YEARS ago, people.

I know...we are heading in the right direction now. But I just really regret the full effect that our debt is having on our lives.

No wonder so many people think debt is stupid.

No wonder they are now crying out to the masses about how stupid it is.

I hope more and more people will realize it before it has to hit them hard. But I'm afraid they won't. And then they will have to feel as stupid as I do now.

And I wouldn't wish that on anyone.

What has debt kept you from doing that really laid heavy on you?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

And I Really Don't Think I'm Missing a Thing

You want to know how incredibly cheap frugal I am?

I don't have a smart phone. In fact, I barely have what would be considered to be a phone these days. I have one of those basic My-last-phone-died-and-I-need-another-one-so-I-signed-a-contract-just-to-get-the-base-model-free-one. Yes. That one.

I could get web service if I wanted to on this phone. But I don't. In the 13 years that I have owned a cell phone of some type I have never felt the need to be on the internet at any time and place of my choosing. Seriously. If I need to be on the internet I can do that stuff at home. Sure it's great sometimes for directions or information, but that's why we have a map and 1-800-free-411.

I don't Twitter from my phone. In fact, I barely Tweet at all. (sorry all of you adoring fans out there)

I don't Facebook from my phone. I typically check into Facebook 4 or 5 days a week from my home computer to see what is going on in the lives of people I actually know and care about. I sometimes post items regarding what is going on around this blog on my non-personal account. And although I should be better about that for those of you who do care, I just don't feel the need.

I honestly am okay with the fact that not everyone I've never met knows what I'm doing at all times in the day. I don't think I'm that interesting.

We have our mobile service with Verizon. It was once with Alltel, and we had the 10-circle of friends we could call for free (not using minutes). After the merger with Verizon, we still have that circle of 10 friends that we can change on a regular basis to suit our calling needs. And we can call anyone who has Verizon service without using minutes. And all of the people listed above we can text without any charges.

You know who else we text? Nobody. Seriously. If we see we're going to need to text other people, we add them to our 10 friend list. Free. Simple. Done.

So while all of the crazy people out there who feel they need the latest and greatest app for their smart phone, you go ahead and download that baby for a couple of dollars. Then you pay that premium associated with using your 3G/4G network at all times/locations. And you go ahead and sacrifice real face time with friends and loved ones.

I will keep paying for our pitifully simple service and enjoy time with those same people in person. Or via a phone call where we can have a real conversation rather than one in less than 140 characters at a time. And I'll use all that money I'm not spending on mobile service elsewhere.

And I won't miss a thing.

What about you? Can you not live without your social media on you at all times? Talk to me.

Photo credit: judy_breck

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Our Financial Status - Update #13 - October 2010

So, another month has gone by and here I am to confess our successes and our shortfalls. I apologize for those of you who have to endure this post, but I need to do it to keep myself accountable. Please just click on over and enter a giveaway (or 5) if you are not interested. However, I welcome any comments you do have!

INCOME:
We came in at $502 over budget. This is still flexible because until Chip is assigned to a particular restaurant as "his own" he will be getting paid at an hourly rate. This is cool during the weeks he works a lot, but it makes planning a pain. So I won't be updating our budget for income until he is set up in his new store.

UNDER BUDGET:
Groceries: $25 under budget. Some of these should have been used instead of eating out, but at least we didn't eat out too much AND go over in groceries!
Home Services: $5 under budget. This was expected, as we have $15 that comes out every 3 months in this category for e-mealz. After three months, this will clear itself up in our rolling budget.
Baby Supplies: $174 under budget. This is a rolling budget that keeps rolling as I find great deals for diapers and such. But I'm leaving it alone because we will one day have to buy another car seat as Abigail outgrows her infant seat in Chip's car and this would be a great place to get that money from!
Hair care: $24 under budget. Chip got a haircut, but we had room due to this one rolling from month to month.
Clothing: $28 under budget but only because it is a rolling budget. I actually spent over $56, but since we haven't spent our budget in the previous months, we had the room for it this month!

ON BUDGET:
Mortgage/Timeshare/HOA: Nailed it.
Television: This actually shows up as $20 over budget because I somehow made an extra payment in the month. So I just won't pay for it in November and it will work itself out. So I'm not really counting it as an overage.
Auto Insurance: No surprises here.
Term Life Insurance: Just as expected.
Mobile Phone: We were on budget for the month, but rolled a $4 overage.
Alarm Monitoring: Bingo.
Pest Control: Once again, nothing unusual here.
Childcare: It was slightly more expensive this month because we needed childcare when Patrick's Pre-K was on "fall break" so we had to pay a bit more for all day childcare for him. But we expected it and put it in the budget for the month. November will have one day like that where we need care on Veteran's Day too, which we have planned for.

OVER BUDGET:
Gas/Fuel: $54 over budget. Although we're still over budget here, it's much better than it was.
Auto Service/Parts: $840 over budget. Yeah. Ouch. Chip had some work done on his car that cost well over what we expected. The bad news is we didn't get to send as much to debt repayment as I would have liked. The good news is, we paid in cash. =) That seriously would not have happened in the past! Although this was a rolling budget, I'm resetting it to "$0" because there is no way we'll ever catch up with that one!
Power Bill/Water Bill: $36 over for the month. We have a huge rolling balance on this one due to a horrible expensive power bill in August. But I'm going to leave it rolling to see if it works itself out through the seasons (and therefore if it needs adjusting for a yearly average). During the month itself, though we did pretty good. Next month will be even better and we will catch up a bit.
Eating Out: $229 over budget. I hate this category. Every month I hope to do better and every month we don't. However, I had discussed not eating out at all with Chip and then saw this challenge from Enemy of Debt. I'm taking it. I can't make Chip take it, but I will and see how I can do for the month!
Doctor: $50 over budget. We spent $75 this month in co-pays (two well child visits and one sick visit for Chip), but we will be reimbursed that full amount by my employer. They reimburse up to 2 co-pays per insured family member each year. So when I get the checks for those this month, we'll be ahead of the game!
Pharmacy: $79 over budget. Sick Chip = steroids + pain killers + Zpack = $$$.
Home Supplies: $55 over budget. A water filter for our fridge.
Make-up/Toiletries: $13 over budget, but I scored some great stuff (at a great discount) for Christmas presents!
Halloween: $15 over budget. I didn't specifically budget for this (although I should have), but we only spent $15 for both kids to be totally ready for the big event. I think we did okay.
Gas Station Snacks: $4 over because we have nothing budgeted here.
Books: $28 spent at the bookfair. I bought each of the kids one book and one book for each of their classrooms. I will never complain about having to pay for books (except college textbooks).

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS:

  • We only sent $333 more than minimum payments to credit cards. Much less than I wanted. However, with the unexpected cost of the car repairs AND the fact that I will be paying big money for pictures from a professional photo shoot of our kids this month, I didn't sent off as much as I wanted. November should be better and December will hopefully blow the previous two months out of the water!
  • We spent $36 toward various fundraisers. Gotta' give back, you know.
  • We spent $26 on Christmas Gifts. Great deals!!
  • We spent $23 in October for Patrick's b'day party. Add that to the $61 we spent in September and we did his entire party (including gifts) for less than $100! HOORAY!
  • Emergency fund is good to go at $1500 still.
  • We spent $60 at the county fair. Great memories, funnel cakes, and cheap prizes for all!
Change in Networth from October 14, 2009: + $32,290.99
Debt Paid off Since October 14, 2009: $19,170.86

And that is October in a financial nutshell at our house.

How did you do this month?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

WFMW - Recandying

This is a repost from last year, but I definitely feel it's worth putting out here again for anyone who missed it!


Yes. I just made up a word. Don't look at me like that.

I've made an executive decision about the candy content in our house.

Patrick got LOADS of candy for Halloween this year (although this picture is not one we took). Too much for any one child really. When I took in all of the candy the wheels in my head started turning, and I had a brilliant idea.

Some of that candy will go in his Christmas stocking.

Is that cheating? Maybe, but I will explain the method to my madness.

He got far more candy than we want him to eat. And since we limit his candy intake it will probably take him up until December 24th to finish off his Halloween stash. Then he would more appear? I don't think so.

So I took some of his non-Halloween specific candy out of his trick-or-treating bag and put it in a bag with other items waiting for Christmas. He hasn't missed it a bit (except for one blue pixie stick that he had noticed had disappeared. It surprisingly was found IN THE HALLOWEEN BAG the following day). If your child is more attentive to his/her candy stash, you might want to slowly take a little out over a few days. It would be less obvious that way.

So instead of regifting, we are recandying this year. Cuts down on the amount of candy he gets across all of the holidays and saves me money at Christmas! Win-win I think!

So that is what is going to work for us this holiday season. Make sure you visit What Works for Me Wednesday over at We Are THAT Family to see what works for everyone else - this week is a fall recipe edition although I didn't offer one.

Photo credit: Amarand Agasi

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Stuck in the Middle

If you are just joining us from Carnival of Money Stories – Halloween Aftermath Edition hosted by Live Real, Now, I want to extend a warm welcome to you. Things look a little crazy around here right now, as I just started a series of giveaways to enter for Christmas goodies. It will run the entire month of November, featuring over 30 sponsors. Feel free to join in! If you don't want to win stuff, feel free to stick around and browse about anyway. We'd love for you to hang out for a while!

We've been on our debt repayment plan for 1 year now. Following Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover we established a tiny emergency fund and started paying off debt.

Our first steps were the big ones.

  • We sold off a lot of stuff including a third car that was Chip's "play" car. (I still applaud him for that).
  • We downgraded in vehicles to use the profit off the sale of the van to pay off debt.
  • I had already learned how to shop frugally, but in the past the money I was saving in shopping was not being spent wisely. So our debt was not being eliminated in these efforts. That changed.
  • We refinanced our home to save over $250/month in mortgage payments.
  • We basically stopped buying things unless they were necessary (with the exception of food. Eating out is where we still struggle).

We banked a lot of money up front. We made a lot of progress. In the first year, we've paid off $19,170.86 and increased our net worth by $32,328.22.

It was fun.

Now it isn't as fun.

The progress is slower now.

Life sometimes hits you hard and that large payment you wanted to send to pay off a big chuck of debt is retargeted to pay an unexpected doctor's bill or car repair.

I feel stuck.

I know the end of the road is out there, but since I'm not approaching it as quickly as I once was and the ride isn't as exciting as it used to be, I am starting to get bored of the trip.

Not bored enough to turn around, of course. I mean, that would be totally counter productive and stupid.

But just tired of being on the road.

"Are we there yet?" is a pretty good analogy of how I feel about our debt repayment at this point. And no, we aren't. We aren't even halfway there in fact.

I'm trying to find encouragement along the way, but that isn't always easy.

I mean, it's cool to read about someone's success about becoming debt free and celebrate with them. But in the end, it's just a reminder that I'm not there yet. And that is depressing.

I try to help others see that mindless spending is not smart and going to catch up with them one day. Hopefully they will wise up before it does. But then I feel completely unequipped to do that because how am I any better with our loads of debt that still haunts me?

Sadly it is so much easier and takes so much less time to get into this mess than to get out.

And I'm tired of trying.

I'm not going to stop.

But I need some encouragement. Some inspiration. Some cheerleading.

Anybody know where I can get that? Am I just being a whiny baby who needs to deal with the damage we've done and shut up?

Are we there yet?


Photo credit: runrunrun

Monday, October 25, 2010

8 Financial Discussions to Have With Your Spouse (or Fiance)

Welcome visitors from the Carnival of Personal Finance #281: Halloween Candy Edition hosted by Consumerism Commentary. I hope you enjoy your stay here. You happened upon my blog at the beginning of a series of giveaways that will be going on. You can see the current ones listed in the right sidebar. Find something around here you like and stick around for a while. We'd love to have you!


Getting married is a huge commitment. You promise to put up with another person on their ugliest of days, take care of them no matter what, stay true to them exclusively, grow old and ornery with them, and figure out how to put up with their most annoying of habits that seem "cute" before about 2 years into the wedded bliss stage.

Sorry to glamorize it for you. =)

Seriously...don't get me wrong. I love my husband dearly and I am so glad that I can still call him my closest and dearest friend. But together we haven't always been smart with money. Some of it was out of stubbornness, some out of stupidity, and some out of naivety. So I'm going to tell you that there are (at least) 8 financial discussions that you and your betrothed should discuss before the big day. If you've already passed that day and haven't had these discussions yet, it's never too late to get started!
  1. Debt: "Hey there, Baby. How high is that balance on your credit card?" isn't the sexiest pick up line. But it is something you definitely ought to know before taking on the legal liability of that card as the spouse. Yep...even if your name is not on it, the whole "what's yours is mine" rule applies unless there is some sort of legal pre-nup you guys have created. Crazily enough, there are some people who go into marriages having NO IDEA what they are getting themselves into debt-wise. It's not too rude or personal to ask the person you are about to wake up next to with morning breath. It's essential.
  2. Financial History: Does your fiance have something in their financial past that might make joint accounts a problem? Believe it or not, some people go into their relationships without disclosing they have a foreclosure or bankruptcy in the past. They feel that now they are "past" it, they do not want to feel its pain again. However, a lot of bitterness will result if one spouse discovers they were clueless about a prior financial offense that might delay or incapacitate your ability to buy a car or house or furniture together.
  3. Financial Goals: What is the plan? Do you both want to work forever? What do you want to do in retirement? Do you want to stay at home as a wife and/or mother? Do you even HAVE a goal? Sure, goals can change, but it is good to at least have these discussions to start the planning process. And these goals aren't written in stone, so they can develop and reshape as life requires. Just talk about it though!
  4. Joint Accounts? Will you have a joint checking account? Will you have separate checking accounts? Will you have one joint one for the bills and separate ones for spending? You have to decide what works best for your situation and personalities and go with it.
  5. Who will Handle the Account? If you go with a joint one, who is going to handle the bill paying, balancing, and overall being responsible that bills get paid on time and you don't overdraw the account?
  6. Do You Have a Spending Limit? Once again, if you go with a joint account with no side spending accounts, how much can one person spend (single transaction, per month, per week) without having to check in with the other. This requires some evaluation of your spending habits. If you set a $100 limit, it doesn't make sense for one person to spend $99 each and every day without checking in, so you might need a weekly limit. Find out what works best for you.
  7. When/How Will We Discuss Money? Money is a very emotional topic. Strange, but true. You don't want to do it when you are rushed or prone to being stressed. You shouldn't do it in bed (leave the bedroom for other things). You shouldn't do it while one spouse is preoccupied (during Monday Night Football, for example). Pick a time or place to do it and reserve your conversations for that time unless necessity requires otherwise.
  8. Lastly, And Probably Most Importantly: The Budget: You will have new bills together as well as possibly more money via combined incomes. A new budget is required. If you've never lived on a written budget, this is definitely time to start. You or your spouse-to-be may feel that you've always had control of your spending without having to write it down. And that may be true. But now that someone else will have full access to your account(s) with you, it will prove trickier than you know to keep up with everything. Make sure those debts, goals, and incomes are reflected accurately in a written budget. It's okay if the first one isn't perfect. You can alter it to fit your needs as you figure out what your (as a couple) spending habits and needs will be. You will also change it as life makes you change it (raises, children, medical bills, etc). But get it in writing so you have a starting point.

Although these are the non-romantic details of a marriage, you cannot ignore those less-beautiful sides of this union. I promise you there is nothing less romantic than a couple who are constantly fighting over finances and making accusations because they never discuss how to do this together. No amount of love will conquer that.

Talk it out. Take control of your money rather than letting it control you and your relationship.

Photo credit: penywise

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

WFMW - Unusual Place to Put Vicks

As cooler weather approaches, so do the stuffy noses, runny noses (seriously...how can they be stuffy and runny at the same time?!), and the like. With little ones in daycare we exponentially increase our risk each year of getting and keeping colds.

What works for us?

A few years ago when Patrick was little, an experienced mom told us to put Vapor rub on the bottoms of his feet. This would work better than on his chest, she said.

We thought it sounded crazy, but we tried it anyway.

You know what?

It worked! It worked much better than putting it on his chest. And why is that?

I have no idea.

I don't know if it stays on better or if it absorbs through his feet (you know those weird Chinese get-the-toxins-out-via-your-feet pads) or what, but it works.

I can't tell you why, but I can tell you that it works for me.

Go visit We Are THAT Family to see what works for everyone else too!

Monday, October 11, 2010

8 Ways a Bigger House Can Cost You

Bigger is better, right?

I mean, we live in a society where that is true in most things. We upsize our value meals; restaurants have increased their portion sizes over time; we like SUVs when we only have 2 children to transport. We've some home come to the "realization" that bigger must be better.

And I too have succumbed to this mindset in so many areas of my life. Including house buying. In the first house that we bought, we had three rooms that were only touched about 2 or 3 times a year. In the current house we have a living room that rarely gets used in any way other than an entry and a spare bedroom (yes, we have guests, but 90% of the year it is unused). It's crazy.

And it's costly.

So many others have figured it out before I have and have downgraded their homes. They have decided to live on less. Not out of necessity, but out of pure choice. To simplify their lives. They have figured out that owning a bigger house costs more. And in many more ways than the obvious. Let's look at eight ways owning a bigger house can stretch your finances.

  1. Purchase Price: Of course more square footage will cost you more up front. This is pretty much a no-brainer, but I had to list the obvious.
  2. Taxes: And certainly a larger house will require more taxes from your city, county, etc. This is really no surprise either, but one that is probably not on the forefront of your mind when buying a home.
  3. Insurance: More area to protect/cover = more costly premiums. This also should be a given, but we don't all think about it going into a purchase.
  4. Furnishing: If you have an extra bedroom that you plan to use as a bedroom for guests, you most likely will still buy a bed for it. A bed that no one sleeps in for the majority of the year. You will probably buy a nightstand, an alarm clock, a lamp, and maybe a dresser as well. That's several hundred dollars that you would not have spent if you didn't feel you needed a guest bedroom.
  5. Cleaning: It's absolutely more costly to clean a bigger house. I don't mean in hiring a maid, although if you do this, you will pay more. I mean in cleaning products and in your time. And you do have to clean those "unused" rooms because dust collects, water in the toilets stain, and dirt from the A/C scatters.
  6. Bills: Heating and cooling a larger home will surely cost more. You can close off vents and close doors to unused rooms, but now your heating/cooling system is not working as it was designed to and you may be putting unnecessary strains on the unit.
  7. Maintenance: Which brings us to maintenance. The more sinks you have, the more possibilities to need to replace a faucet. The larger the AC unit is, the more costly it is to repair.
  8. Clutter: The more walls you have, the more likely you are to buy things to hang on them. The more furniture you have, the more likely you will feel the need to buy some type of decor to accessorized it. And knickknacks not only clutter your home, they clutter your mind too. Have you ever met a collector of all chotchkies? Are they crazy to collect those items or crazy because they have collected those items? I think it is cyclic.

So there it is. My list of ways that buying a larger home can really strain your budget. Some are quite obvious, but some are not clear until you find yourself not wanting to clean those 4 bathrooms every week or change out those 5 light bulbs throughout the bedrooms. Owning a larger home can be a strain--especially when it is totally unnecessary for life.

Photo credit: hcampbellk

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Our Financial Status - Update #12 - September 2010

So, another month has gone by and here I am to confess our successes and our shortfalls.

INCOME:
$936 over budget. Hooray! Although one of Chip's paychecks was lower than normal (coming off a week of vacation and being paid hourly for that week), he got an extra one during the month along with one "high" one, so things were great.

UNDER BUDGET:
Baby Supplies: $31 over for the month, but since I have such a huge rolling budget on this one, I am still $154 under my rolling month-to-month budget in this category, I can afford to be over for a month. That's the point of having it roll. Hooray!
Hair care: Same as baby supplies. Although I was $17 over for the month, that's why I have this budget rolling, as I was still $13 under the total rolling budget.
Clothing: And as the two above--although I spent $4 over my monthly budget, I was still $44 below my rolling budget. I'm currently getting fall/winter clothes for the kids though, so this one might work itself out in October. We'll see!
Home Supplies: $2 under budget. Don't even remember what this purchase was for, but it fell within our guidelines.

ON BUDGET:
Mortgage/Timeshare/HOA: Nailed it.
Auto Insurance: No surprises here.
Term Life Insurance: Just as expected.
Mobile Phone: We were on budget for the month, but have a rolling $4 overage. I'm waiting to work itself out during a month or two when we are slightly under budget.
Alarm Monitoring: Bingo.
Pest Control: Once again, nothing unusual here.
Childcare: On our newly lowered budget. Hooray!

OVER BUDGET:
Gas/Fuel: $144 over budget. We traveled for Labor Day to visit family, so we used extra gasoline than usual. Additionally, Chip has not been assigned to a particular store (again) yet, so he is traveling a lot and I don't know how to reset the budget until we are more certain about where he will be traveling daily. So I'm leaving this alone until he has a "home" again.
Auto Service/Parts: $173 over budget. Chip's car needed a new windshield thanks to a large crack that mysterious showed up and ran right into his line of vision.
Television: $20 over budget, but I paid October's bill early, so it hit during September. It will work itself out
Power Bill/Water Bill: $199 over budget. I know, right? We actually paid two water bills this month because I paid the August one late. And our power bill was OUTRAGEOUS because August is horribly hot in Georgia and the bill we get in September is always AWFUL. Now that the weather is so very pleasant, I'm hoping to open some windows and balance out some of the overage from previous months!
Eating Out: $141 over budget. We really have no excuse. A lot of late dinners and poor grocery/meal planning made this happen. We did intentionally eat delivery pizza for Chip's birthday but have no excuse for this kind of overage.
Groceries: $113 over budget. It always depresses me when we eat out over budget AND have a over budget grocery category. It's pitiful and unnecessary. This was once again poor planning.
Doctor: $153 over budget. We didn't use a co-pay during this month (although I budget for one every month), but we did pay off the final $178 we owed from Chip's vasectomy! Hooray for the depletion of medical debt!
Pharmacy: $23 over budget. Chip was dying for some acid reflux medication and since we had used our budget in the previous months, there was no build up of credit in our rolling budget.
Home Services: $55 over budget. $15 was from e-mealz (I am going to add $5/month into this budget right now for that...not sure why I haven't already done that) and $40 was a renewal of our Sam's membership. Oh well.
Gift/Gift Shipping: $57 overage. We bought Patrick a birthday gift and a niece a birthday gift. Really not too bad considering....
Make-up/Toiletries: Although I spent nothing in this category, I'm still $6 over my rolling budget. Hopefully this one will work itself out soon.
Gas Station Snacks: $6 overage resulting from our traveling during Labor Day. This is a weakness of Chip's when stopping for gasoline.


ADDITIONAL COMMENTS:

  • We sent $719 over the minimum payment to the credit card that is next on our debt snowball list. I'm hoping to really throw some money at it in October! I just hate seeing the overages in un-necessities (like the eating out overages) and thinking about how much more I could have sent.
  • Emergency fund is good to go at $1500 still.
  • We paid off the remainder of all medical debt (we still previously had one $178 bill leftover from Chip's vasectomy that we have been putting off paying).
  • We paid $128 to renew our car tags. I didn't budget for it but we were able to pull it off still.
  • We spent $61 during September preparing for Patrick's birthday party. There won't be many additional costs to add during the October budget, so I think we pulled off his entire party for under $100 (including gifts!).
Change in Networth from October 14, 2009: + $29,887.31
Debt Paid off Since October 14, 2009: $18,218.38

And that is September in a financial nutshell at our house.

How did you do this month?

Monday, October 4, 2010

8 Items to Donate Other Than Money

If you find yourself here via the Carnival of Personal Finance #278 – Thanksgiving Edition hosted by Canadian Finance Blog, consider yourself welcome. Pull up a chair, grab a glass of sweet tea and look around. If you find what you like, you can always subscribe, follow me on Twitter, or Fan me on Facebook using the links in my right sidebar.

Money is tight for a lot of people these days. Because of the economic downturn our country has seen over the last few years, many non-profit organizations have suffered because people are clinging a little (or a lot) more tightly to their wallets. When these organizations depend on the generosity of others and those others are not as confident of their financial standing, many programs can fall apart or have to make drastic cuts themselves. Additionally, more people are qualifying for the needs that some of these organizations provide. Supply and demand is completely off balance.

However, there are things other than money that you can donate if you are currently finding yourself a little more strapped for cash but feeling bad about not being able to help as you wish.

1. Clothing
Whether it be stuff your family has outgrown or items that you just are not using, there are a number of places that will gladly take your gently used clothing. You can always do a standby of Goodwill or the Salvation Army, but there are thousands of others.

You can send clothing in good condition to local homeless shelters. Maternity clothes can go to crisis pregnancy centers. Business attire can go to organizations like Dress for Success (women) or Career Gear (men).

You can even donate unwearable clothing to The Socity of St. Vincent de Paul, as decent items they cannot pass as good quality are sold as rags.

Items that are torn, stained or unwearable can be donated to PlanetAid, who resell these to textile manufacturers to be repurposed as carpet padding, insulation, shop rags, and other byproducts. I actually used to work at a textile mill that did this. It was a great learning experience for me since I did not know that type of business existed previously.

Worn out sneakers (any brand) can be donated to Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe program. This organization repurposes the material into sports surfaces—like tracks, tennis courts or playground padding. Since 1990, more than 25 million pairs have been collected.

2. Building Materials:
There are a number of organizations that will gladly accept the remainder of the flooring that you didn't need after the installation or some tinted grout mix that just didn't match your tiles but you were not allowed to return. Habitat for Humanity specializes in building homes for underprivileged families and can always use supplies and will gladly accept large donations of supplies. For smaller donations, you can give to their ReStore organization and all proceeds from those purchases help fund their building projects (and you can get some great deals there!). Make a Wish foundation also accepts donations to assist in building items to help children's dreams come true.

3. Electronics:
Of course many local organizations working with children will accept decently up to date computers and you should check those out in your area. If you can't find anything locally on your own, you should check out Recycles.org and they can assist you in finding something in your area.

What about cell phones? Cell Phones for Soldiers will rebuild/refurbish usable phones and distribute them to servicemen and women returning home from overseas. Non-usable phone are recycled and the profits are sent to military personnel overseas in the form of a calling card. 1 broken phone = 60 calling card minutes.

4. Eyeglasses:
What do you do with an old pair of glasses? You obviously cannot use them (effectively) anymore. OneSight, whose mission statement is to "restore and preserve clear vision for more than 314 million adults and children in need worldwide who cannot see clearly" could certainly use them. You can donate individual pairs of glasses at any: LensCrafters, ILORI, Optical Shop of Aspen, Pearle Vision, Sears Optical, Target Optical or participating local practitioner. Find the donation location nearest you today! Seriously...how easy is that?!

5. Clicks and Searches:
A number of sites now online will allow donations to be made because you simply clicked a few buttons. It's donating some of your internet time...and I know we all have that to spare. You can use The Hunger Site, Care 2, Ecology Fund, Free Rice, The Solar Site, Bhookh or you can search around on The Nonprofits, which lists 76 click to donate sites for non-profits in one area and you can choose the charity that fits your heart's passion.

There are also ways to use search engines to donate to your favorite causes. Because you're searching anyway, right? So instead of making Google more and more popular (is that possible) and earning Swagbucks (yeah...I do it too), use Dreamer, Do Great Good , GoodSearch , and/or Livoogle.

6. Body Parts:
Don't laugh. I'm serious.

But I'm not talking about your big toe. I mean blood, plasma, platelets...all those things that various blood banks across the country are always in need of are a great donation. It takes a minor amount of time on your part. You don't need anything you don't already have. You get a free cholesterol screening and juice and cookies along with your donation. And if you give during a drive you might score a free tshirt. But you're giving life. Literally. Blood and its components don't last very long so the need is constant. Search one of these national blood banks for a donation location near you: United Blood Services or American Red Cross. Also you might want to search (use one of the search engines above!) for a local blood bank.

Or you can donate hair. If you have 8 inches of hair (or more) that you can cut off you can donate it to Beautiful Lengths (free wigs for female cancer patients), Locks of Love (hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children 18 suffering from long term hair loss from any diagnosis), or Wigs for Kids (12 inch minimum - creates custom hairpieces for children with hair loss).

7. Shop for Free and Donate Items:
I have discussed many times through my pharmacy and grocery shopping posts of old that I would frequently use coupons, sales, and rebates to score items for free. It's great to get something you need for free, but what happens when they keep putting peanut butter on sale and you can get it for free with a mail in rebate or coupons, but you have a peanut allergy (totally a hypothetical situation...you rarely get peanut butter for free!)? You can still "buy" it for free and donate it. I've done this with a lot of grocery items and personal care products. If I don't like a brand of shampoo and don't need shampoo for free, it goes in my donation pile that gets sent to our church's pantry once a month. Just do a search (remember those search engines listed above!) for Free Walgreens or Free at CVS or the like and you'll hit THOUSANDS of websites and blogs telling you what you can get free this week. Go "buy" these and donate them.

8. Your Time:
All of the above organizations (and thousand more) would love your money and your gifts. What they are usually desperate for though is volunteers. Find an organization that really grabs your heart and then ask how you can volunteer. Maybe you can love on pets, mentor a child, cook a meal, build a house, mow a lawn, clean an apartment, tutor a child, sort through donations, or a number of other tasks. You don't have to be particularly gifted in any field. There is always something to do and usually two hands are needed for that task. Maybe you can sort mail, run errands, do some filing, clean a pet cage, help people fill out forms, vacuum a non-profit's office building, or serve a meal.

There are so many needs in this world. Many of them on the other side of the world. Many of them next door to you and me.

Give someone a hand even if you don't feel you have much to give. You will both be blessed for it.

  • If you can't feed a hundred people, then just feed one. - Mother Theresa
  • If you have much, give of your wealth; If you have little, give of your heart - Arab Proverb
  • They who give have all things; they who withhold have nothing - Hindu Proverb
  • Don't say that you want to give, but go ahead and give! You'll never catch up with a mere hope. - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  • Some people give time, some money, some their skills and connections, some literally give their life's blood. But everyone has something to give. - Barbara Bush
  • I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver. - Maya Angelou
  • No one has ever become poor by giving. - Anne Frank
  • A handful of pine-seed will cover mountains with the green majesty of forests. I too will set my face to the wind and throw my handful of seed on high. - Fiona Macleod
  • I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. - C. S. Lewis

Photo credit: dolmansaxlil

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Credit Report Check


Yesterday I ran my credit report. It had been a solid year since I had run my allowed one annual credit report by each credit reporting agency at AnnualCreditReport.com (this is the only truly free report - don't be fooled by other companies). The last time I ran it, I found one wrong social security number and eight wrong names listed on my report. I "reported" them all to be corrected. These in no way affected my report, but I did want all of the info to be right.

This year I decided to split up the three agencies and run one this month, another in January, and then the third in May so I can keep an eye on my credit report throughout the year and still get it free each time. I have put reminders on my work email calendar so they will pop up and remind me. =)

This time I chose Experian.

What did I find? All of the previous year's incorrect items have been corrected. Hooray!

I found that all of my accounts are still in good standing and nothing looks suspicious.

I found that I understand the report a lot more now than I did one year ago when I was almost clueless about our own household financial status.

I found two open accounts that I didn't want to be open. An old Sears card and an old Victoria's Secret card. I called and closed them both. No big deal really, as I had no idea they were still open.

I did find out though that there is one company that is running our report once a month for the last three months. It's a credit card company. I have called and asked them to stop, as we are not interested in carrying their card.

So that's it.

Boring.

Just how I want my report to look.

Have you run yours in the last year? If so, did you find anything unexpected? If not, it's time!

Photo credit: lusi

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