Friday, June 29, 2012

A Discounted Way to Say Thank You

Right now LivingSocial has one of their national daily deals as a 50% savings for purchasing a USO care package for our troops.



Pay just $25 and the USO will put $50 toward a deployment care package or other morale-lifting services for our men and women of the armed forces -- and send you a T-shirt to show their appreciation. Filled with items like snacks, toiletries, and phone cards, each care package not only provides troops with a reminder of home, but helps those serving a world away reconnect with their loved ones.

Anyone who has ever been deployed will tell you how wonderful a simple gift from home can be a huge morale lift.  And this deal is a great way to send a care package full of useful goodies without having to worry about what to put in the box.

What a great way to celebrate our nation's birthday - by honoring and blessing those who maintain our freedoms and help others gain the same liberties we enjoy.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

How Less Debt Equals Cheaper Insurance

Photo credit: penywise
In the last 2-1/2 years, we've reduced our debt by $21,000. As much as that feels good to say, that fact reaches farther than I knew it could.  Recently we learned that with a better credit score, we could get better insurance rates.  That sounded interesting since we haven't gotten our insurance requoted during that time frame.

So we called our existing  insurance agent and asked if they could run a credit check and see if it would affect our rates. We knew our scores were really good because we had seen them when we refinanced our home a few months ago. We didn't change companies.We didn't change our plan. Just reran the credit score. Honestly, all my husband and I did was sign a form and fax it to them.

We got a letter in the mail.  Our auto insurance rates were reduced by 13.5%!  Now, in dollars that isn't a huge amount because the cars are paid off and as their worth depletes, so does our insurance rate.  However, 13.5% is huge - especially since all we did is sign a piece of paper.

So if you've made some lifestyle changes and recently reduced your debt and have a lower debt to available credit ratio or if you've found another way to recently improve your credit score, contact your insurance agent. It's simplistic and can really save you some money!


Have you ever done this?  What other ways can you save in unexpected places?

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Heart Like His by Beth Moore - Review

Publisher's Description:

We all go through times when we feel insignificant or times when we feel certain that we have experienced a degree of failure from which there is no return. This is not a reality we experience alone, but is one that a man after God’s heart experienced as well

In “A Heart Like His,” Beth Moore looks at this bond of mutual love and admiration between a man who was not unlike any of us and the one true God who is all good and all powerful. The book is an exploration of David’s incredible life, drawing spiritual insights from a man who boldly fulfilled his divine destiny not merely by what he did, but who he loved and served.


Bringing lessons from David’s life to bear on your own, this picture of a man who loved and followed God will help you to serve with a heart focused on Him no matter the circumstance.




My Thoughts:
I would be remiss if I didn't tell you that I am an enormous Beth Moore fan. The lady is truly gifted in her ability to truly study the Bible and inspire you to apply those stories you might have heard your entire life to your life in ways that you've never seen for yourself.

This book is no disappointment.

A Heart Like His takes the reader through the entire life of David, pulling from both books of Samuel, Chronicles and Kings as well as through many of the Psalms to compile David's life into a chronological story that I have never been able to put together in my mind so succinctly. I was truly wowed to see those things I knew about David put together into one long story and see him as a complete man. I am more in awe of him - his faults and failures as well as his victories, humility, and obedience. It is a story that allows that even the most obedient are not immune to sin - deeply ingrained sin - but allows that all can be redeemed.  It shows God's love, His faithfulness, His heartbreak, His justice, His sadness, His disappointment, and His patience. It is a story, while sometimes hard to read, of hope.

Summary:
An amazing story, this is not a light read, which is pretty true of Mrs Moore's style. It is intense, unapologetic, tactful yet convicting, and humble while proclaiming the Glory of God and His holiness. However, although a heavy read, it moves along easily and smoothly - a feat that difficult for most authors to pull off.  If you are ready to grow in your faith, pick this one up. You'll find yourself in this book somewhere in the life of David and you'll discover that no matter where you are, you too can be a (wo)man after God's own heart.

I was provided a copy of A Heart Like His for review. All opinions are my own.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Auto Maintenance Even a Girl Can Do

Photo source
Growing up my dad made sure that I knew the basic ins and outs of my car. I knew a few tricks to keep it maintained on my own.  It was a great lesson. I used those tricks several times while I was in college.

However, after I got married and my husband started handling all of the car maintenance, it seems I forgot how to do even some of the simplest tasks. This past week my oil light was coming on indicating low oil pressure. I knew with the light on I needed to stop and put in at least a quart of oil so I wouldn't ruin my engine. I had to call my husband and ask him several questions about what type of oil he used when he changed it and if it mattered if I put synthetic in or not.  That frustrated me because these things I once knew. But I did it...and you can too.


Here are several car maintenance tips that every woman should know. And your college students that are leaving home for the first time this fall?   Teach them too. =)

Changing the Air Filter - Rule #1 that only your dad will tell you is that when it is dirty, you don't necessarily need a new filter.  Take it out, bang it on the concrete a few times to get the "big dirt" out and put it back in.  After two or three times of this though, you need a new filter.  All you'll need is a filter (say $15, but it varies between vehicles) and possibly a screwdriver.  Make sure when you open it that you note how the filter sits in the housing so you'll know how the new one goes in.  I had a oil change place try to charge me three times the price of my filter to do this once.  I politely declined telling them I was perfectly capable myself, but thanks for letting me know it was dirty.  Saved $30 right there.

Changing Windshield Wipers - Okay - this may not be a big deal to you because most auto parts stores will do this for free if you buy your wipers there. But in case you pick them up somewhere else, you can do this. Don't pay for someone else to do it for you. Note how the old ones come off and simply install the new ones the same way.

Replacing Fuses - If you've ever had a fuse go out on you, it could be really frightening at first. All my lights are off?  Is the battery okay?  First tip here is to keep a "multipack" of fuses in your glovebox. It will have an assortment that will cover you in a pinch.  Locate the fuse box on your dashboard (probably on the side or underneath but could be on driver's or passenger's side). There will probably be one under your hood too, but check the one inside first. Read the little key on the cover of the box to tell you which one is the likely candidate to replace. Simply pull the fuse out with your fingers and replace it with the same kind.  They are even color coded by amperage to make this easier on you.

Checking and/or Adding Oil - So changing your oil might be a bit over your head (it's really easy from what I hear though and my husband saves us a LOT of money by doing it himself). But if your car is an older model (or even if it isn't), you'll need to know how to pull the dipstick and read it and where to add oil if you're getting a little low.  This is in no way meant to replace an oil change, but just to get you through until it can be changed (like if your oil light is on like mine was).  Pop the hood of your car and locate the dipstick.  It will be the little handle (either looped on top or a T shape) that says "OIL" on it. Pull that stick out. Wipe it off with a rag and reinsert.  Now pull it out again and read the lines on the stick. It will tell you how much oil you have in there by the location of the oil on the stick. If you need more, buy a quart of the oil weight your car uses. Locate the twist-off cap labeled "Oil" that is probably near the middle of your engine. Carefully pour that oil directly into that hole. Be careful not to spill any, as it will smell awful as it burns off if you miss.  But a steady hand is usually good enough. If you don't trust yourself, get a cheap funnel when you buy the oil.

Check and (if needed) Inflate Your Tires - If you own a car you should know how to use a tire gauge and keep one in your car. It can be checked anywhere at any time, as long as the car isn't moving (yeah...that wouldn't be recommended). Unscrew the tire cap, hook up the gauge, read the pressure.  Your tires should have their recommended pressure written on them. Top off to that amount using one of those air stations at many gas stations. Your car will run better and you'll get better mileage with properly inflated tires.

Change a Light Bulb (headlight, turn signal, etc) - Okay, I'll admit...this is a lot easier on some cars than others.  Some make it nearly impossible to get to the lights without disassembling part of the engine. But most are user-friendly. If you can get to our light housing, it's as easy as changing a bulb in your house.

Change a Flat Tire - Trust me on this one...you'll want to practice in your driveway before you've encountered this one real-life.  This is one of those things that might be needed whether you have a brand new car or a 25 year old legend. It can happen any time, anywhere. If you don't want to wait for 1-1/2 hours for roadside assistance or trust the stranger that pulls along side to help to not be a mass murderer (okay, that might be excessive), learn to do it yourself.  If you've practiced, you'll be able to do it in 10 minutes or less.  If you haven't, it will cost you more time. Time that you don't want to be sitting on the side of the road as a potential abduction target or just a target or oncoming traffic that gets dangerously close.

Refill Wiper Fluid - It doesn't get easier than this. Buy a bottle of the stuff at a local retailer or gas station (possibly sitting outside between the pumping stations), pour into the wiper basin. It's labeled. It's probably white. Unless it's completely empty, you'll be able to see the old blue wiper fluid in it.  If it is entirely empty, go ahead and pour that whole bottle in. Easy peasy.

So there are eight things that you can do. All by yourself. I promise. No matter how mechanically inclined you are (or are not), you can do each of those tasks.  So go buy some fuses and a tire gauge on your next outing and while you are at home, do a few tire changes using your jack (and your owner's manual if needed).

Stay safe...and save some money while doing it! =) 

Have you ever had to do these things? Tell us your story in the comments.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Solution to our Overspending?

If you have looked at any of our month to month financial update posts, you know that we have a problem with overspending on eating out. Restaurants, fast food, coffee shops, convenience stores...somewhere or other there is always money spent that we did not budget for.

And as much as I know this, it never seems to change our habits.

So I have a trial of a solution that I am going to give a go.

Photo source

During the month of July, Chip will be on orders, meaning he won't be around to eat at our house. At all. So just me and the kids. This is when I will try my trial. That actually seems funny because I'm more of a problem (usually) with this than he is, but I think I can control myself better than I can make both of us do this. So I'm going to give it a try while he is gone and see if it works. Then we might roll it out for the household.

My solution? 

The money I DON'T spend on eating out AND the money I save below my grocery budget will go to our missions budget at church. Above and beyond our regular giving, I will give that extra amount to the penny. No over-giving allowed - not because I'm trying to be selfish or stingy. But if I allow over-giving, I will just give regardless of what I spend, so that rule is in place to be a checkpoint for me.

That's it.

Doesn't sound really complex, does it?

But honestly, I can't seem to stop myself for reasons of our debt, so I obviously need a more motivational reason. And I think giving to those who don't have food?  That's a pretty good reason. That's a reason that will make me say, "You know...I'm not going to go to lunch with my coworkers today because someone else needs to eat with that money."

Let's see how it goes, okay?

Would this work for you on any overspending area?  Want to try it with me?  

Will this work for me?  I don't know, but you can check out what does work for everyone else over at We Are THAT Family

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Our Financial Status #28 - May 2012

Once again we're to that point in the month where I tell you how we've done for the month.  This is a lot of information and most of you won't want to read it all. Totally understandable. But this is how I try to keep myself accountable and keep transparency for the sake of my blog.  So here we go!

INCOME:
This month was one of those "extra paycheck" months for our household, so that is always good. Chip also had some extra National Guard pay because he was on order for a few extra days during the month.

UNDER BUDGET:
Electricity/Water: $24 under for the month and that puts us $35 under for the year, which is a buffer I'm trying to build up before summer gets here and the south Georgia heat really hits.
Groceries: $57 under budget. This sounds great until you scroll down and see our eating out performance (which shouldn't shock you by now, but continues to embarrass me).  At least they aren't both over budget like they usually are (silver lining?).
Doctor: No spending this month. Abigail will get a check up at the end of June or beginning of July but hopefully that's the only medical spending in our near future.
Pharmacy: Similarly, non pharmacy spending this month either. 

ON BUDGET:
Tithe: There is no question here. Any offerings above our tithe will not be noted because I'm not about bragging. But I do want you to know that we are giving 10% of our net income to our local church, as I feel it is important that you know that this is top priority to us.
Mortgage/HOA/Timeshare: Nailed the new budget. What's beautiful? This budget is down $680/month from where it was 3 years ago thanks to refinancing and lower HOA fees.  Hooray!
Auto Insurance: This actually went up a dollar a month because I got a speeding ticket a couple of months ago. Boo, hiss on me.
Television: As usual.
Term Life Insurance: Done
Mobile Phone: Nothing new here.
Alarm Monitoring/Pest Control: Regular charges here.

OVER BUDGET:  
Gasoline: $240 over budget. Ouch. Along with Chip's extra orders came extra miles on the vehicle. Oh well.  It also didn't help that both cars got gas on May 1st and then again on the last day of the month. Great planning!
Auto Service/Parts: $9 over budget for the month but still over $200 over budget for the year. Got to maintain low usage of this account in the next few month to try to catch back up on this one.
Eating Out: $314 over budget. This is truly my Achilles heal.  I think while Chip is gone during the month of July I'm going to try a "no eat out" month and see how we fair.  Not that he is the problem (it's more me), but I think it will be easier to maintain with fewer people to work around. 
Childcare: $25 over budget. This was the registration for Patrick to go to the YMCA summer camp this July while Chip is away. I'm going to have to up July's budget for Childcare but it will come out of the paychecks he will be receiving while on orders.
Clothing: $200 over budget.  I wrote about my new weakness with buying little girl clothes a few weeks ago. I'm going to reign this in.

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS:  
  • Sent an extra $740 to credit cards this month (over the minimums).
  • The full effect of our refinance can now be seen in our debt payoff amount below.
  • A baby shower, a graduation gift and a birthday present for a neighbor had me spending an extra $80 this month (but not bad for those three events).
  • Spent $25 on Abigail's upcoming birthday party.  That spending will increase this month with her party at the end of the month.  
  • My 401k did horribly this month so although we made headway with debt repayment, our net worth did not increase as quickly. Boo, hiss. 

Debt Paid off Since April 2012: $3272.87
Debt Paid off Since October 14, 2009: $21,004.19
Change in Networth from April 2012: $1331.82
Change in Networth from October 14, 2009: $43,737.18

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Summer Boredom Busters

Since I am not personally very creative and am fantastic for taking someone else's creative genius and replicating it, today I share with you some summer boredom busters for your kids - all via Pinterest.

Grow your own rock candy

For too hot or rainy days, create a road for matchbox cars

Create this amazing piece of art with your youngsters

"Paint" bread and then toast and eat.

Melting ice game teaches them too
Host a "drive in" theater for the kids

Spray chalk fun

DIY ecosystem - this amazes me

DIY Sidewalk Paint
Indoor fun - this fizzy fun will amaze even the little ones!

Nature Scavenger Hunt - I wanna' go!

Toddler fun for the younger crowd

Names from Nature - do the whole family!
Do you have any fun things planned for your kids yet?  Let us all know your great ideas too! 

And for even more ideas, join Works for Me Wednesday over at We Are THAT Family. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

25 Great Father's Day Items from Etsy

Everyone loved my post about great Graduation gifts from etsy and since I love etsy and etsians, I thought I would repeat the post for Father's Day items!

Here are my picks of some great items handmade and homemade for that special dad in your life:

Mahogany  Spice Shaving Soap - and other great scents - from Wicked Soaps

S'mores Cookie in a Jar - lots of other great flavors here! - from Tookies

Delicious-looking caramel pecan tarts - from Fusion Sweets

Barcode t-shirt - other fun gifts here - from BarcodeArt

Manly collection of wall art - on sale! - from Racetay

Gourmet Chocolate gift basket - who wouldn't love?! - from Nicole's Treats

Manly soap set - from the awesome Rocky Top Soap Shop

Gourmet Rubs set - lots of great choices here! - from Purpose Design

Jedi Knight robe - cause you never know when it might come in handy! - from 219eileen

Periodic Table Cufflinks - such a fun shop! - from Shop Gibberish

Set of 3 Ninjas - my hubby would love - from Lilley

Upcycled Beer Bottle Glasses - so many choices! - from bottlehood

Imperial Star Wars Cufflinks - for the geek but many non-geek offerings here- from Crimson King

Handstamped brass whistle - from my awesome friend at JoyBelle Jewelry

Guinness Chocolate Cookies or other delicious flavors - from Old Time Favorites

Steampunk Pendant Necklace - from Pink80sGirl

Gears Belt Buckle or a number of other great selections - from Flight Path Designs

Gorgeous black and white shaving kit - from The Beaver Wood Wright

An awesome bow tie - from Can Do Stitching

Beautiful rustic lunch box - from Rosemary Jordans

Vintage wood clock - so manly - from Beca Runs

Masculine Leather Pouch - from Shovava Leather

Vintage railroad lantern - from Hoof and Antler

Moleskin notebook - trio - from Big and Mighty

Four Pack Carrier - from Frick and Frack Scraps
What would you feature?  Share with us your etsy favorites!

As a side note, none of the shops I  mentioned have not sponsored this post in any way - I just like their stuff.  =)

Friday, June 1, 2012

Feel a Cold Coming On? This Stuff WORKS!

Back in February, I was approached about reviewing a product called Cold-EEZE, an over-the-counter zinc-based cold remedy, that boasted that it would reduce the symptoms of a cold and shorten the length of the illness.

Well, I waited and waited and waited. And frankly, with small children in my house, I somehow made it over 3 months through the spring without the slightest symptoms to combat.

About three weeks ago though, my boss came to work sick. He wasn't feeling well but didn't think it was a big deal. Over the next few days his cold got worse and worse and worse. He was out a few days but ended up having to come in because some bigwigs from corporate were coming in to meet with him and he couldn't reschedule their international travel.

He felt HORRIBLE.

And about a week and a half of meeting with him almost daily, several times a day, I too started feeling poorly.

In fact, a couple of Mondays ago I called him and said, "Did that crud you've been carrying around start out with a sore throat?" When he responded to the affirmative, I knew I was in trouble.

And I knew it would be the perfect time to try out Cold-EEZE.

Cold-EEZE is a homeopathic OTC medicine that you spray inside your mouth every 2-4 hours up to six times a day, as needed. That Monday evening I started my regime. I felt AWFUL that month with aches and chills and a terribly sore throat.

The next morning I woke up, I felt great. I had no voice really (laryngitis), but it didn't hurt to speak. Over the next few days I kept spraying the Cold-EEZE in the morning and then every 3-4 hours, as symptoms started to rear their ugly heads. And throughout that week, although I battled not having a voice, I really felt just fine most of the time. By the end of the week there would be the occasional coughing and sneezing, but a couple of sprays of Cold-EEZE and it would stop pretty quickly.

I was thrilled! Usually when I get a cough, I hang onto it for weeks without end - having real trouble shaking it off. This time, it truly wasn't the case.

I cannot prove that I would have gotten what my boss had without Cold-EEZE, but he was the only sick person I knew and watching him, I knew I didn't want what he had.

So does Cold-EEZE work? I'm convinced that it does! I will be keeping a bottle of this stuff in our medicine cabinet and as soon as our children reach age 12, they will be taking it too! If you want to check it out for yourself, find out where you can buy it locally.

For the little ones, you can also check out Maty's all natural products, which I reviewed here.

I was sent Cold-EEZE and Breathe Better for review. No positive reviews were promised. This stuff really worked and I really be buying some more in the future!
 

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