Tag Archives: money

Pantry Staples

unnamed (6)After a recent post about groceries, I was talking with a friend about how we manage to go grocery shopping so “rarely”–anywhere from one week to three weeks.

That got me to thinking about how we pull it off, and what it boils down to is this:  we keep certain things (foods, spices, etc.) in our kitchen that can be utilized by many different dishes.  Here are a few examples:

1.  A broad assortment of spices.  In addition to the standard spices, like cinnamon, salt and pepper, make sure to have a few other options available too.  Ones I find I use a lot include ginger, cumin, parsley, and (surprisingly) crushed red pepper flakes.

The benefit to having a variety of seemingly random spices is that if you don’t have a spice on hand that a recipe calls for, a quick internet search often yields an appropriate substitute, thus eliminating the need to go out to the store and spend money.  For example, I did not have poultry seasoning on hand for a recipe, but I did have rosemary, oregano, sage, ginger, marjoram, and thyme that Google told me would make a decent DIY poultry seasoning.  It worked!

2.  Protein source.  Be it lentils, peanut butter, chicken, beef, fish, or lamb, keeping a protein source at the ready can help you create the skeleton of a recipe.  Plus, if you stock up when meats are on sale, you can also save money!

3.  Veggies.   It is a well-known fact that I incorporate almost-rotten foods in my cooking because I hate the idea of wasting food (and thus wasting money), but don’t discount frozen and canned vegetables either.  Toss them in with your spices and protein source, and you are well on your way to a tasty casserole of your own making.

4.  Cream of something soup.  Ronnica makes her own cream of chicken soup; I prefer to buy mine.  No matter your soup origin preference, if you have cream of chicken/mushroom/celery soup on hand, then you have a critical component of hundreds of recipes.

What food staples do you keep handy?

Amanda’s Buy Little Month Wrap-Up, January 2016

unnamed (13)January was “Buy Little Month” in our house.  Ronnica sang the praises of intentionally minimizing purchases, so I figured…why not try it?

We did not keep records as meticulously as she did, instead opting to track expenses as we would ordinarily.  Rather, our thought processes were what we took note of more than anything.  “Is this a need or a want?” is something that crossed my mind whenever potential purchases came up.  (I think this is how Riley thinks on a regular basis, Buy Little Month or not, so this month really benefited me more than anyone in that regard!)

That said, I wasn’t terribly surprised to find that not much changed in how things went–we didn’t save a great deal of money (although if one considers what has been saved via the new grocery shopping method alone, we did pocket an extra couple hundred dollars).  It turns out, one of our financial strengths is that we tend to be pretty intentional and thoughtful when it comes to purchases.

What I did appreciate about our Buy Little Month exercise was the fact that it was good to refocus on our financial goals at the beginning of the new year.  I don’t know that this is something we will actually sign on to do again, but making sure we continue to stay on the same page as a couple is always a good practice.

Be sure to come back on Thursday to read about Ronnica’s Buy Little Month experience!

Groceries Update

My trusty grocery sacks.
My trusty grocery sacks.

As has been mentioned here on more than one occasion, groceries are one area of our budget that we have a good amount of control over.  As the primary grocery shopper in the family, I am always on the lookout for new ways to cut costs but still keep some semblance of nutritional value.

To that end, I wanted to give you a little update on two modifications to my grocery shopping habits–while one has worked remarkably well, I am still on the fence about the other.

First up: being more flexible with how often I go shopping.  For the longest time (we’re talking years), I stayed true to grocery shopping every two weeks.  Any longer than that and we ran out of fresh produce and dairy, and any shorter than that was a scheduling inconvenience.

These bananas fell victim to my "old" way of shopping.
These bananas fell victim to my “old” way of shopping.

For the last couple of months however, I have only gone when I needed to.  Sometimes that’s once a week, and sometimes that’s longer than three weeks.  I make it a point not to go for one tiny thing, and still continue to go by the grocery list. But if we need, say, diapers and milk, I won’t hold out–I go out and get what we need, plus whatever is on the list at that point in time.

What I’ve discovered with this modification is that I wind up spending less because I’m not as focused on stocking up on things we don’t need for the immediate future.  We also waste a lot less because I’m not as determined to stretch the food for longer periods of time (which meant that produce often went bad before we used it).  The verdict:  I think I may keep doing this…it’s working well for us.

Also, we have paid for some groceries using cash.  A quick search for how to save money on groceries will invariably point you to the cash-only route.  While I love how this method forces me to stick tightly to the list and all but eliminates impulse purchases, I find that I am a bundle of nerves when it comes to checking out, because I am fearful that my cost estimates are off and I won’t have the right amount of cash on me.

If we decide to continue this grocery shopping modification, I am going to have to continue to carry my debit card on me, just in case.  This will be especially critical with larger purchases, at least until I become more confident in my math skills!

So once again, I am reminded that flexibility is a key trait to exercise, especially where groceries are concerned.  How do you stick to your grocery budget?

2016 Spending Goals

I’m an obsessive budgeter. I know exactly where each dollar should go, planning months ahead.

But until a few months ago, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to where my money actually went. If I went over in a category, I would find money to make up for it in another, which helps to cover up overspending.

So I’ve decided to use the best information I have to reconstruct what I spent in each category each month. In 2015, I spent $19,203.52, not include debt payoff, savings or giving.

Looking over my numbers, I’ve decided to set goals for several categories for 2016 to try to lower my spending from 2015 levels. While I don’t believe my 2015 spending was necessarily too high, I want to fight to keep it in control as I work towards my longer term financial goals.

Important note: I have not changed what I’m budgeting in any category. My budget still reflects what I believe I may spend each month, so will necessarily be higher than the numbers listed below for my goals. Any difference between actual  and budgeted spending will go towards savings (80%) and retirement (20%).

There are a few categories that I will not be setting goals in. This is what I spent in these categories in 2015:

Rent $10,903
Utilities $1,356.98
Insurance $765.34
Gas $750.57
Car (repair/registration) $589.75
Cell phone $548.22

Now for the categories that I am setting goals in:

2015 actual: $2,026.04
2016 goal: $1,820

I’m actually pretty happy about this number, as it works out to just under $39 a week. Still, without Diet Dr Pepper and hopefully even less food waste, I should be able to trim it down even more. My goal reflects $35/week.

Ronnica on mountaintop
Views like this make traveling worthwhile.

2015 actual: $743.35
2016 goal: $1,400

Yes, this goal is going up! This is an estimation of what the trips that I hope to take in 2016 will cost. I already have some of it saved up.

2015 actual: $625.93
2016 goal: $260

I spent a lot on outdoor gear this year as I have started to settle into being a Coloradan. I don’t have as many of those types of purchases planned for 2016, though I do hope to go to a few events.

Garden/homesteading fund
2015 actual: $319.60
2016 goal: $75

This is incredibly high, as I settled in to gardening on my balcony, and I don’t like it. I absolutely will not allow myself to spend that much in 2016. I should only need to buy a few seeds and possibly a few starter plants.

Eating Out
2015 actual: $281.98
2016 goal: $200

Though decent, this number can definitely go down since I’ve given up Diet Dr Pepper.

2015 actual: $179.61
2016 goal: $120

I like blessing others, but I need to be more creative in how I do so to get this under control.

2015 actual: $60.86
2016 goal: $20

I love this! Thanks to some generous Christmas gifts, I don’t think I’ll need to buy anything this year. I am setting a small goal for myself in case I need new tights or finally find the brown or navy skirt that I have been hunting for.

2015 actual: $52.29
2016: $50

I’m happy with this number for 2015 as well so I’m only slightly lowering the goal for 2016.

I’m a competitive person, so I’m hoping by setting goals for myself, I’ll be able to spend even less this year!

Health Care and Finances

6722544475_524a721154_bA few weeks ago, Riley and I sat down to discuss his company’s annual open enrollment–the time of year when employees pick and choose what insurance and other benefits they would like for the coming year.

While we didn’t change much as far as plans are concerned, this and other events of the last few months got me to thinking about health care and finances.

Do you know how incredibly easy it is to go into debt because of medical expenses?  I feel like not a day goes by that I don’t read or hear something about the increasing costs of health care.  Even with insurance, things are expensive.  Insurance itself can be expensive.  What’s more, not every procedure or expense is “optional”–for some, it is life-altering or life-saving, and therefore absolutely necessary.

If going into debt is not the greatest option out there, but the alternative is to not receive the medical care one needs…then what options are left?

Obviously this is a difficult question that far too many people struggle to answer.  Each case is unique, and each family comes with their own set of priorities, so I’m not going to pretend to hold an answer on this.  I will, however, share a few things that have proven helpful to our family as we navigate the often-complicated world of healthcare and finances.

1.  Prevention is key.  No-brainer here.  Eating a healthy diet, exercising, and reducing stress are emphasized as preventative measures everyone should take in order to stay healthy.  But what if the medical issue at hand is not preventable?  What if the person in question is experiencing issues outside their control–a congenital condition, accident, etc.?  The next tip may be helpful in such instances.

2.  Look into insurance plans and a Health Savings Account.  While many plans can be expensive, they also tend to be cheaper than paying out of pocket medical expenses.  There are many options for choosing insurance; check out what may be available to you.

Also helpful are Health Savings Accounts (HSAs).  These tax-free accounts can aid in paying for deductibles, co-pays, and many other medical costs.  Many employers will contribute funds to them, too.

3.  Get on the phone.  This isn’t a fun option for most, but it is so vital to get a price check on potentially costly procedures, so you can make sure you have an idea of what you may be facing, financially-speaking.  Oftentimes this starts with a call to your health provider to get the medical codes for the procedure or exam in question, and then you call your insurance provider with those codes to see what exactly is going to be covered.

If you find the procedure or exam to be out of your financial realm, then that brings us to the next tip…

4.  See what may be free or negotiable.  There are a wealth of services that may be available to you (see this post for a sampling) at little or no charge.  It also is helpful to contact the financial services department of your health provider to see if there is any assistance that may be available–for example, some hospitals may provide a discount to those who pay in cash, or others have funds for those who are under-insured.  Still others are willing to work with patients in various ways if funds are limited.

Although these tips have proven helpful for us, this is certainly not an exhaustive list, and since each situation is different these tips may not apply to you.  What tips would you add?

Photo by 401kcalculator.org

Breaking Rules

52501482_fcd5405228_mI think it is a pretty accurate statement to say that I follow the rules.

If a doctor tells me to do something, I will typically do it.  In school, I was the girl who adhered to every single dictate put forth by the teacher.  As an adult, not much has changed.

…except when it comes to a few financial rules.

I realize that rules–especially financial rules–become such because they tend to work well when followed.  For most people.  I also believe (and hope I have effectively conveyed on this blog) that there can be exceptions to many rules.  Each family may have a different way of going about their different priorities.  I know our family does!

What follows is just a sampling of some of the rules we don’t follow.  It should be noted here that 1) this is simply a short list of rules that first came to my mind that we also happen to break, and 2) I am not a financial “expert”–your own situation will vary, so when in doubt, get to a professional!

Rule #1:  We save more.  

Depending on which financial guru you follow, the number in your savings account should range from $1,000, to 3-6 months of salary, to many times that.  Since our family has one breadwinner, we have experienced job loss before, and we have little people looking to us to provide for them, we have always aimed on the higher end of savings.

For example, $1,000 would not provide nearly enough of a safety net in the event of a major life event, so we have made our goal higher than that.  That doesn’t mean that our savings account always reflects where our goal is (we have had to dip into emergency savings some this year), but the peace of mind this affords is priceless.

Rule #2:  We use credit cards.

This one is a tough one, because obviously one wants to avoid debt as much as possible.  One could also argue that the credit card rewards are either rarely (if ever) cashed in on, or that the potential rewards do not outweigh the drawbacks (high interest rates, crushing debt, etc.).  I do believe, however, that credit cards can be a helpful tool…when used correctly.  Obviously paying off your balance in full each month is the ideal.

Rule #3:  We pay our retirement accounts first.

I’ve mentioned here before that we have worked to find a good way to fund our children’s education.  It’s still a work in progress, but here’s the important thing to note:  our kids have many options available to them when it comes to paying for higher education.  Our retirement?  Not so much.  So, as much as we love our littles, we pay our retirement accounts first.

These are just a sampling of some of our rule-breaking ways.  While rules may be in place for a reason, it’s important to remember every rule may not be the best fit for your life situation.  And when in doubt, consult with an expert!

Photo by Jem Stone

Christmas Prep

156362_904223042779_1338120_nI don’t think there has ever been a year where I have waited so long to start planning for Christmas as this one.  (Yes, even a Striving Stewardess procrastinates.)

That is not to say I haven’t determined various aspects of the holidays–the logistics, for example, likely won’t deviate from holidays of the past.  We know where we will be and when.

No, I mean gifts.  Experience-based or not, I have dropped the ball in this arena.  About as far as I have gotten in this is the budget and a few ideas for each person on the list.

I have figured out a common gift for extended family that will serve the four of us as well; now I just need to execute my plan!  The challenge I am running up against is buying for those in my own household:  my husband, two children, and yes, budget permitting, the pets.

It’s not that I don’t have ideas–as noted above, I absolutely do–but the budget is pretty tight this year.  Saving a lot throughout the year was next to impossible for a variety of reasons, so the gift budget is coming in at a pretty small sum; I won’t disclose the amount here (yet), but suffice it to say that it is what most people would spend on one gift for one person…not several gifts for several people.

Stay tuned to see what we wind up doing for gifts.  Experience-based?  Traditional gifts under the tree?  Forgo gifts altogether?  We shall see!

Are you ready for the holiday season?

Frugal Victories

6988272680_97102f42c6_zI’ve been spending quite a bit of time on here lately commenting on reducing our grocery bill, perhaps at the detriment of discussing financial victories we have experienced.

You know me (and Ronnica too)–improving our stewardship of money is a constant quest! I wanted to take a post and share what I’ve been proud of recently, as far as our finances are concerned.

We have been a one-car family for over three years. Darn right I’m proud of this.  We have been a one-car household (remember:  four people and two big dogs comprise our family) for over half of our marriage now.  People said it couldn’t be done, but thanks to careful planning, priorities aligning, and a walkable neighborhood, this has been a noteworthy accomplishment.

I don’t know how long we will be able to swing this, but we have no plans of adding a car any time soon, so as long as we can make one car work for us, we will.  It’s saved us a large amount of money!

We have been without student loan debt for over two years.  I wish we could say “completely debt-free” but the mortgage alone precludes this.  We’ll get there–in the meantime, let me say that not paying a student loan bill has been pretty awesome (as Ronnica can attest to!).

We continue to be on-track for savings–including retirement and college.  Without delving into specific numbers, I will say that I am pleased with our progress in saving for our emergency fund (we’ve needed it more than once!), retirement, and college for the kiddies.  There are times where I wish we had more funds to play with right now, but knowing we won’t have to worry about the future as much (because, as a worrywart, I worry no matter what) is a relief.

What victories have you celebrated lately?

Photo by Phillip Taylor at ptmoney.com

August Project Recap

6757849129_54c4f1ab10_mWhen I started Amanda’s August Project (AAP) a few weeks ago, I wasn’t entirely sure what information would be gleaned.  I knew that some lessons would bubble up to the top, but didn’t have a firm grasp of what they might be.

August has ended, and so too has AAP.  Part of me is glad–remembering to track every single cent of our take-home pay has been a bit of a challenge.  Part of me is also grateful–in addition to the take-aways from earlier in the month, I found there are several lessons I can take away from AAP.

1.  I learned what we can cut.  Admittedly, we cannot cut much.  But at nearly $14 a trip, the biweekly trips to get gourmet coffee have to go.  Even library fines add up (and we spent more than I care to admit on those during August).  And our grocery budget can even spare a few dollars–even though “special treats” for each member of the family may make the list, that doesn’t mean those treats are free.  I figure we can save a couple hundred dollars a month just by being more mindful of what we are about to purchase.

2.  I learned the importance of telling your money where to go.  As noted earlier in August, this isn’t really a new lesson for me, but AAP has served as a great reminder that either we tell our money where to go, or it will tell us…and before we know it, it is gone.

3.  I learned that my kids pay attention to EVERYTHING.  This hasn’t necessarily been a negative thing.  Bean has reminded me to write down what we purchased many times, and it has served as a good “teachable moment” with regards to spending money, budgeting, and what our family values are.  Kids do indeed learn by example!

The AAP is a project I’d like to repeat again; to keep the acronym, I may do it once in April and again in August. It would be interesting to see how things differ at different points in the year, and it would also serve as a tune-up for our budget!

Photo by http://401kcalculator.org

August Project Check-In

6757849129_54c4f1ab10_mAlthough this post is set to be published on August 14, I am writing my first Amanda’s August Project Check-in on Tuesday, August 4.

The reason:  holy smokes, y’all, I’m learning a lot about where our money goes.

Some highlights thus far:

1.  I spent all of my “fun money” for August by Day Three.  Husband and I both get a few bucks each month to spend (or save) on whatever we want.  This isn’t a huge amount of money, but I learned it can go up in smoke pretty quickly.  I chose to spend mine on morning coffees and treats, and before I knew it, poof!  There went my money for 31 days…on the third day of the month.

Lesson learned:  Taking a few minutes to plan where I want my money to go can result in less impulse purchases.  Or I can quit coffee, but that’s not likely to happen anytime soon.  I can also make my own coffee at home for a lot less…and still get caffeinated.

2.  Communication with others in the household is crucial.  This one is more of a reminder than a lesson learned, but it was great to get a refresher.  If only one person in the household knows where the money is going, or spends without consulting the other people in the house first, then it can be all too easy to 1) be left in the dark, and 2) see your bank account dwindle rapidly.

3.  Budget.  You had to know this was coming, right?  Also more of a reminder, but if you don’t tell your money where to go, then it will be gone before you know it (see Highlight #1).

Stay tuned for more take-away lessons from AAP!

Photo by http://401kcalculator.org