Wednesday, June 30, 2010

WFMW - Menu Planning is SO Simple Now

Okay, so I have been using e-mealz for my meal planning for just over 3 months now and I can fully recommend this service to ANYONE!

E-MEALZ EASY AND DELICIOUS DINNER RECIPES

Seriously...the time I save on this task is so appreciated, and to think I'm saving money too...what more can I ask for?!

I once had a problem meal planning. We were seriously trying to watch the budget, so I scoured sale papers and helpful sites that matched current sales with coupons, but I had a major disconnect when trying to put together meals even once I had all of this useful information in my hands.

I worked to find stuff that my family would eat, something we had not eaten JUST last week, and match those things to the sales. I was seriously struggling.

Then while listening to Dave Ramsey's radio show, I was introduced to e-mealz. It is a menu planning website that plans out a week's worth of dinners for you considering the sales of that week.

It totally rocks my world.

You can choose 2 or 4-6 person meals; you can choose from several different stores (currently features Kroger, Publix, ALDI, Ralph's, Walmart, and "any store"); and you can also choose a special diet consideration if you want: like WW Points, Low Carb, Low Fat, or Vegetarian.

And you just click on one link and you have a week's worth of dinners at your finger tips.

What's better?

It provides a shopping list for you. It is divided by area of the store and indicates which meal the items go with (in case you decide not to use one of the meals, you can cross off all items associated with that meal easily!).

And the shopping lists? Since they are based on the sales, they indicate that the average cost for each week is between about $70/week (some more, some less depending on the store) for the 4-6 person meals.

The cost of e-mealz is just $5 a month. You can easily recoup that in the first week, so it is a no-brainer. You pay for 3 months at a time and can cancel at any time. Use coupon code "Dave" when ordering and save $2.50 off your $15.00 order.

I have continued to save money using e-mealz, but more importantly, I have saved some serious time and frustration and that really Works for Me!

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

Monday, June 21, 2010

8 Reasons My Children Have the Best Dad

As a belated Father's Day tribute to Chip, I wanted to use the Monday 8s series to thank him for simply being incredible.

8 Reasons My Children Have the Best Dad
  1. He has NEVER been too "manly" to change a diaper, clean up spit up, dress the children, or basically do all of those "mom" things.
  2. He has no problem carrying a diaper bag--even Abigail's bright pink diaper bag that is monogrammed.
  3. He is an AWESOME playmate. For the kids. You know.
  4. He is the disciplinarian he swore he would never be because he loves his children.
  5. He gives and receives all of the kisses required to make our children feel loved.
  6. He celebrates the "small" moments...like the first steps, the first waves, the first solid foods.
  7. He works hard to provide for his family, but treasures his time with us more than the money he makes.
  8. Most importantly...he loves their Mom.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Another Reason to Kill My Credit Card

Welcome to anyone visiting via the Carnival of Money Stories #69: Summer Vacation Edition hosted by Squirrelers. I hope you enjoy this post as well as anything else you find while perusing my blog. Please know that things are a little crazy right now because I'm hosting a huge series of giveaways, which is giving me twice the posts as normal right now. I promise you can find the "regular" stuff amidst the giveaways! Feel free to stick around and hey--go ahead and enter to win some stuff if you want. There are some great prizes to be had!

So after becoming listeners/readers/fans of Dave Ramsay, we began our journey to becoming totally debt free. We decided that we would take it to the limit and drop all credit cards permanently. That is still the plan.

Since October 2009 we have paid off over $15,000 in consumer debt. Absurd, right? (I mean the amount we have to pay off, not the fact we have done it; I rather love that part) I will admit (ashamedly) that we still have a long way to go, but we are making our way through it and killing off credit cards as they are paid off.


Image Source: Accredited OnlineSchools

The current target of our debt snowball is a Chase card that was my primary card since graduating college. It has the highest credit line and the longest credit history attached to it. It also had the highest balance on it. The snowball method would indicate that we would pay it off last (we have one other card with another high balance although not as high as this Chase one), but this one is getting paid off next because it will be a huge emotional win.

You see, I was a good customer of Chase's, as far as credit card companies define good customers. I had a high credit line because I would carry a balance for long enough to please them and then pay it off in full. Each time I paid off a big balance in full, due to the way credit card companies have acted in the past, I would get a credit limit increase. I finally asked them to stop increasing my credit limit when it reached $24,000. Yes. $24,000. On one card. Ridiculous. They obviously thought I should be able to purchase a nice new car on that card.

Last summer I got a nice letter from them telling me that my minimum payment amount would more than double. I was floored. Frankly, I couldn't make that payment because I was deep in debt with not only them, but with three other cards. I called them and told them so. They increased my interest rate and left my minimum payment percentage the same. It hurt, but I had gotten myself into that mess and I didn't have any choice.

Upon investigating this in anger online, I found that Chase did this to over 1,000,000 of their customers. What did these customers have in common? They had previously transferred a balance at a "lifetime low" interest rate, they were employed, and they consistently paid their bills as required and on time. So they were wanting to punish those customers who were most loyal to them and responsible as far as that word can stretch in the credit-card carrying person's dictionary. Yep...increasing the payments of those they were most certain they could get a payment from.

I was furious. After 8 years of carrying that card, this was my reward for using it the way they wanted me to.

I vowed then and there that once that card was paid off, I would never use Chase again for any of their banking products.

That's all back story. Here's the current deal:

So, I open my mailbox last week and I have a letter from Chase. It states the following:

Dear Kaye:

We are writing to provide you with important information about your account. In an effort to ensure the credit we extend is appropriate for each customer, we regularly review customer credit lines. Based on our review of the account referenced above, we have changed the credit line to $15,000.00.

The review of your account considered several factors including our assessment of information obtained from the consumer credit agency listed below. The primary reason(s) that led to our decision to change the credit line are:
  • Balance owed on revolving accounts too high.
  • Balance too high compared to credit limit
....

We understand that you may be disappointed with this decision, but we hope that you continue to find value in the benefits, protection, and payment flexibility your account provides. If you have any questions....

So. There it is, ladies and gentlemen. My credit limit has been decreased.

Why? Well, I agree that my balance owed is too high, so I cannot argue with that.

However, the crap about my balance being too high compared to my credit limit? Well, my ratio of balance to limit is higher now thanks to my limit decrease, so I don't really buy that.

You see...they see that I am paying this sucker off. In pretty hefty amounts. Every month. And they see that I'm not using it. At all.

So they are ready to close my account as soon as it is paid off. And you know what? I am too. That's the first thing I have agreed with Chase about in a while.

So why my feelings are not hurt by any part of this letter nor the actions associated with it, I find it humorous that Chase suddenly is concerned that my credit ratio is too high. They are concerned that I cannot pay my bills although they have NEVER not received a payment from me.

The dishonesty associated with most of the credit industry (I only say most because I can't lump absolutely everyone into the same category. I'm sure there are good people out there. Somewhere.) sickens me and further confirms and solidifies our decision to be done with them once and for all.

And Chase...by the way...I am not "disappointed with this decision," and I have not found "value in the benefits, protections, and payment flexibility" with my account in a long time now. So really...don't let that concern you.

By the way...I'm not trying to pick Chase out from the bunch. Most credit card companies are doing something similar these days. Chase just decided to do it to someone who would blog about it.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Flag Etiquette-Repost

In honor of today being Flag Day, I am foregoing the usual Monday 8s post and posting the proper etiquette for displaying, handling, and honoring the American flag. This is a repost from 06/18/2008.

With summer fast approaching already beating down upon us, many people fly the American flag outside of their homes more regularly. It begins with Memorial Day and flies for Flag Day and Independence Day as well as throughout the rest of the summer (yes, many people fly more frequently, but they seem to be more abundant during the summer).

One of my pet peeves is to see someone "trying" to be patriotic by flying their flag, but not concerned enough with their patriotism to fly it properly. It pains me to see a tattered flag flying outside of a home or business (exception being, of course, immediately after a major storm or catastrophe). Therefore, I am posting the US Flag Code (compliments of USFlag.org) today so everyone can properly fly their flags out of respect for those who fought for the right for them to fly. Yes, it is lengthy, but definitely worth the read!


STANDARDS of RESPECT

*The flag should never be dipped to any person or thing. It is flown upside down only as a distress signal.
*The flag should not be used as a drapery, or for covering a speakers desk, draping a platform, or for any decoration in general. Bunting of blue, white and red stripes is available for these purposes. The blue stripe of the bunting should be on the top.
*The flag should never be used for any advertising purpose. It should not be embroidered, printed or otherwise impressed on such articles as cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins, boxes, or anything intended to be discarded after temporary use. Advertising signs should not be attached to the staff or halyard
*The flag should not be used as part of a costume or athletic uniform, except that a flag patch may be used on the uniform of military personnel, fireman, policeman and members of patriotic organizations.
*The flag should never have placed on it, or attached to it, any mark, insignia, letter, word, number, figure, or drawing of any kind.
*The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.
*When the flag is lowered, no part of it should touch the ground or any other object; it should be received by waiting hands and arms. To store the flag it should be folded neatly and ceremoniously.
*The flag should be cleaned and mended when necessary.
*When a flag is so worn it is no longer fit to serve as a symbol of our country, it should be destroyed by burning in a dignified manner.
Note: Most American Legion Posts regularly conduct a dignified flag burning ceremony, often on Flag Day, June 14th. Many Cub Scout Packs, Boy Scout Troops, and Girl Scout Troops retire flags regularly as well. Contact your local American Legion Hall or Scout Troop to inquire about the availability of this service.


DISPLAYING THE FLAG OUTDOORS

*When the flag is displayed from a staff projecting from a window, balcony, or a building, the union should be at the peak of the staff unless the flag is at half staff.
*When it is displayed from the same flagpole with another flag - of a state, community, society or Scout unit - the flag of the United States must always be at the top except that the church pennant may be flown above the flag during church services for Navy personnel when conducted by a Naval chaplain on a ship at sea.
*When the flag is displayed over a street, it should be hung vertically, with the union to the north or east. If the flag is suspended over a sidewalk, the flag's union should be farthest from the building.
*When flown with flags of states, communities, or societies on separate flag poles which are of the same height and in a straight line, the flag of the United States is always placed in the position of honor - to its own right...The other flags may be smaller but none may be larger...No other flag ever should be placed above it...The flag of the United States is always the first flag raised and the last to be lowered.
*When flown with the national banner of other countries, each flag must be displayed from a separate pole of the same height. Each flag should be the same size. They should be raised and lowered simultaneously. The flag of one nation may not be displayed above that of another nation.


RAISING AND LOWERING THE FLAG

The flag should be raised briskly and lowered slowly and ceremoniously. Ordinarily it should be displayed only between sunrise and sunset. It should be illuminated if displayed at night.The flag of the United States of America is saluted as it is hoisted and lowered. The salute is held until the flag is unsnapped from the halyard or through the last note of music, whichever is the longest.


DISPLAYING THE FLAG INDOORS

*When on display, the flag is accorded the place of honor, always positioned to its own right. Place it to the right of the speaker or staging area or sanctuary. Other flags should be to the left.
*The flag of the United States of America should be at the center and at the highest point of the group when a number of flags of states, localities, or societies are grouped for display.
*When one flag is used with the flag of the United States of America and the staffs are crossed, the flag of the United States is placed on its own right with its staff in front of the other flag.
*When displaying the flag against a wall, vertically or horizontally, the flag's union (stars) should be at the top, to the flag's own right, and to the observer's left.


PARADING AND SALUTING THE FLAG

*When carried in a procession, the flag should be to the right of the marchers. When other flags are carried, the flag of the United States may be centered in front of the others or carried to their right. When the flag passes in a procession, or when it is hoisted or lowered, all should face the flag and salute.

THE SALUTE
To salute, all persons come to attention. Those in uniform give the appropriate formal salute. Citizens not in uniform salute by placing their right hand over the heart and men with head cover should remove it and hold it to left shoulder, hand over the heart. Members of organizations in formation salute upon command of the person in charge.

THE PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE AND NATIONAL ANTHEM
The pledge of allegiance should be rendered by standing at attention, facing the flag, and saluting.When the national anthem is played or sung, citizens should stand at attention and salute at the first note and hold the salute through the last note. The salute is directed to the flag, if displayed, otherwise to the music.


THE FLAG IN MOURNING

*To place the flag at half staff, hoist it to the peak for an instant and lower it to a position half way between the top and bottom of the staff. The flag is to be raised again to the peak for a moment before it is lowered. On Memorial Day the flag is displayed at half staff until noon and at full staff from noon to sunset.
*The flag is to be flown at half staff in mourning for designated, principal government leaders and upon presidential or gubernatorial order.
*When used to cover a casket, the flag should be placed with the union at the head and over the left shoulder. It should not be lowered into the grave.

Monday, June 7, 2010

8 Best Frugal Summer Toys

So the kids are loose for the summer. How do you keep them entertained without spending a lot of money? Well, my childhood summers were full of fun and memories that cost little to nothing. Here are some great ways to invest more in the memories than in the toys:
  1. A bicycle. Seriously…great exercise, freedom, wind in the hair, and speed. What more could a kid want? Regardless of what this costs, it will have the life run out of it by the end of its functionality, making it a totally frugal choice.
  2. Balls—any kind. Beach balls, baseballs, footballs, basketballs, soccer balls, tennis balls, kick balls, any kind of ball will do!
  3. Garden hose. Hook it up to the sprinkler, water the plants, hook up a slip n slide, wash the car, just spray one another. Anything cool and wet in the summer is a winner!
  4. Sandbox toys. A bucket, pail, sand rake, and such are loads of fun for kids! Even if you don’t have a sandbox, you can use these in the dirt or in the water. My son loves to use these even when we are not at the beach!
  5. A tent. Although these aren’t inexpensive, they made the list because the are durable and can serve a greater function. What could be more fun for little ones than camping out? Let them use the back yard…or even the porch…to keep them close to home but allow them to have an adventure.
  6. A magnifying glass. Little ones love to explore the world around them and a magnifying glass allows them to do this in a way they never have before! Get close with nature and learn something about the world just outside your door.
  7. A kite. This might be more of a spring toy (at least in Georgia), but these can be purchased for literally $1.00 and can provide hours of family fun.
  8. Sidewalk chalk. Let your artist be inspired to create huge murals in the driveway or on your sidewalk with just a few dollars invested. They can even draw hopscotch boards leading to even more fun. Or for the young ones, they can practice writing their names.

Photo credit: GreenWhiteOrange

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Our Financial Status - Update #8

May seems like it was a strange month in my head. Let's break it down and see if that feeling is correct:

INCOME:We made $44 more than expected this month. Hooray! $25 of that is due to the fact that I have a friend who wants me to teach him to play the piano and he's paying me $25 a week (for now) to teach him. We've just started, but that will add a nice little cushion to the budget.

OVER BUDGET AREAS:
Gas/Fuel: $59 over budget. I traveled to my mom's for Memorial Day weekend, so there was a bit of unplanned expense there.
Fast Food/Restaurants: $48 over budget. There is that ugly monster. The bane of my budget-minded existence. It's truly no one else's fault, but I still hate it. I blame living on a weird schedule these last two weeks with Chip worked 3rd shift (and therefore not having time to go to the grocery store), but that really is no excuse--we could make time if we really wanted to. Must do better.
Home Supplies: $59 over budget. We had to buy a water filter for our fridge.


ON BUDGET AREAS:
Auto Insurance: Just as expected, but happily half of what it once was with three vehicles! Hooray!
Television: No surprises there
Doctor: Patrick had a weird skin thing that we took him to have checked out.
Term Life Insurance: Of course this is just as expected.
Home Services (Pest Control): On budget. This budget will have to increase for June because we will have to pay for our annual termite bond.
Mortgage: As usual.

UNDER BUDGET AREAS:
Auto Repair/Parts: $30 under budget. We will need to spend this during June because I'm already up for another oil change. We just might spend May's and June's allotment...but this budget is a rolling one, so that is okay too I guess.
Mobile Phone: $6 under budget.
Utilities: This actually came out $122 under budget. That's because the water bill didn't clear during the month of May. But even after that, we're still more than $70 under, so we did great here.
Groceries: $23 under. At least with the eating out being over, this is lower than budgeted (although not by the same amount).
Pharmacy: $15 under. Not sick enough to buy some drugs we don't already have, it seems.
Baby Supplies: $50 under budget. Nothing spent in this category this month. Thank goodness for stocked up diapers!
Sitter/Daycare: $285 under. It seems that the last check didn't clear before the month ended AND there were two days that Abigail was out sick (thrush) that we didn't pay for.
Hair: $25 under budget.

Additional Comments:
  • Paid the minimum payment to CC#4 and $1500 to CC#3.
  • We got a bill for $178 as the balance of the bill for Chip's vasectomy. We will plan to pay this in June.
  • We will increase our Home Services budget to include the termite bond that is due in June.
  • We had to pay back over $1300 to the Dept of Labor because they kept sending us money during Chip's unemployment period although he told them he turned down a job. We intentionally set it aside in case they wanted it back. They did.
  • Still haven't touched the credit cards since January.
  • Sold over $130 in yard sale stuff. Didn't include it under "income" above, but it really helped keep so much stuff in the "under budget" category because I don't track cash spending on mint with the other stuff.
  • Our 3-year contract with our alarm monitoring company is up in June. I don't know what we will have to do to renew it. I don't know if it will be a lump payment for another long term or if it will be a monthly deal. We'll just have to see.
  • Abigail turns 1 this month (HOORAY!) so there will be some money spent on that.

Net Worth Update: Since October 1, 2009 when I really started paying attention to our finances, we have increased our net worth by $21,760.73! This is less than last month thanks to the stock market's effect on our 401k and IRAs, but I can't complain! We're almost $6400 richer (in assets) and have more than $15,000 less in debt that at that time!

 

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