Friday, January 30, 2009

Every penny counts.....

Since we pay cash for groceries and other household expenditures, we end up with a lot of change. I usually dump my change into a jar at the end of my grocery trips. Every few months I roll the coins and take them to the bank to deposit. Yesterday I rolled $33.50 in change, which I deposited, and will be adding to the Discover card today.

My bank gives me the coin rolls for free.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Strange Secret to Saving by Dave Ramsey

The Strange Secret to Saving
by Dave Ramsey

In the late 1950s, a man by the name of Earl Nightingale recorded the first positive thinking seminar on audio. This was, of course, an LP record and the title was, “The Strangest Secret.” It was the first motivational recording to sell over one million copies, and was the start of the modern self-help movement.

I heard “The Strangest Secret” many years after it was first recorded, when I was only 12 years old, and it had a great impact on my life. The secret? You become what you think about. Jesus said, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”

The proof is common sense; you will harvest what you plant. I have applied this principle to my life in many areas and I have observed it unfold in others as we do financial counseling with them. I hear statements like, “we just can’t find the money to save!”

What I have discovered is that saving money is not a matter of math. You will not save money when you get that next raise, you will not save money when that car is paid off, you will not save money when the kids are grown. You will only save money when it becomes an emotional priority.

Another statement Mr. Nightingale made is, “virtually any goal can be accomplished, but the desire for the goal is not nearly as important as what you are willing to give up to achieve the goal.” We all know we need to save, but most people don’t save like they know they need to. Why? Because they have competing goals.

The goal to save isn’t a high enough priority to delay that purchase of the pizza, or the DVD player, or the new computer, or the china cabinet. So we purchase, buy, consume all our dollars away or, worse yet, go into debt to buy these things. That debt means monthly payments that control our paycheck and makes us say things like, “we just don’t make enough to save any money.”

Wrong, wrong, wrong!!! We DO make enough to save money, we just weren’t willing to quit spoiling ourselves with our little projects, or pleasures, or wants to have enough left to save. I don’t care what you make, you can save money. It just has to become a big enough priority to you.

If a doctor examined your child then told you that your child was dying and could only be saved with a $15,000 operation which your insurance would not cover and could only be performed nine months from today, could you save $15,000? The answer is yes! Of course you could!

You would sell things to get rid of payments, you would stop any spending that wasn’t required to survive, and you would take two extra jobs. For that short nine months, you could and would become a saving mad man (or woman). Saving that $15,000 would become a goal that you would give up virtually anything to accomplish. SAVING WOULD BECOME A PRIORITY.

The strangest secret to saving? FOCUSED EMOTION. The secret to saving money is to make it a priority and that is done ONLY when you get some healthy anger or fear and focus that on your personal decisions. Harnessing that emotion will make you move yourself to the top of your creditor list. Then ask yourself, “which bill is the most important. Who should I pay first this month?” The answer is, ME!

Until you pay God first, then you, THEN everyone and everything else, you will never save money. You must be mad about it! Sick of it! Never going to be in a position of financial insecurity again! Then you will save and not until then. The advertisers and marketing community are affecting our emotions every day and taking every dollar we have by making us see our WANTS as NEEDS. It is time for this to stop.

Emotions make great slaves, but they are lousy masters. No matter how educated or sophisticated you are, if you are not saving all you should be, you are being ruled by emotions, not harnessing them as financial planning slaves. Focused, healthy anger or fear will work FOR you.

Light dispersed throughout a room merely lights the room, but it turns into a laser that can cut steel when it becomes focused. Make saving your new focus. Make saving your new priority. Consciously decide you are willing to give up everything, but your giving to God, in order to save.

Pay yourself first. Until you make saving an emotional priority, you will never achieve real Financial Peace. “In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has.” Proverbs 21:20

Car Troubles

Michael's car started leaking oil last week. He had to take it in to fix a recall, so he asked the dealership to find out why the car is leaking oil. According to them, it needs two repairs to fix the oil pan and some other oil thing. They quoted us $700 for that, as well as to fix the power steering which is also leaking--$391. Plus tax of course. We called another place and got a nearly identical quote of $1100. Ugh. We have a family friend who is our regular mechanic, but he wasn't open today. Michael is going to call on Monday and see if he can look at it. He's usually really honest about telling us what needs to be done ASAP and what can wait. I'm so bummed--that will wipe out our baby emergency fund, and we'll have to use next month's snowball to replace it. I also hate that neither of us is car savvy at all, so it just feels like it would be really easy to get ripped off. The best we can do is to get the opinion of our regular mechanic, who we are pretty sure we can trust. It's also going to mean a very inconvenient week with me having to shuttle Michael to and from work. His car is supposed to be our more reliable one--my car is in need of rear bearings at $600, which we've been putting off for while, since my car is just the run around car. I never drive it very far from home, but this week I'll be driving it a lot more than I'm comfortable with.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Another Snowball to the Discover Card

After I corrected an error in our budget, we ended up with a second snowball of $690.16 to Discover. That brings our balance to $1,713.35. If we buckle down, we should be able to tackle that balance by the end of March.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Yesterday's grocery shopping trip

I decreased my grocery budget from $180 to $175 for the next two weeks. I finished my shopping with $25 leftover for any random produce or dairy that I might need between now and the end of the month.

Here are my dinner meals for the next 2 1/2 weeks, with some of my random notes showing how I build my meals around what is on sale, and build my meals on top of each other:
1. Beef tips (stewing beef on sale $2.59/lb. at Fiesta) over brown rice (make extra rice for chicken fried rice), collard greens (always dirt cheap--0.79 ea).
2. Chicken fried rice (I have cooked chicken from last week in the freezer, and will use rice from yesterday, since the rice needs to be cold anyway), asian slaw (cabbage is the main ingredient, and it is 0.34 a lb--use only 1/3 of the head to save for later).
3. Polish cabbage & sausage dinner (sausage on sale at Kroger for $1, use another 1/3 of the cabbage) over mashed potatoes, corn (the frozen variety)
4. Meatless spaghetti & marinara, steamed broccoli (broccoli crowns on sale at Kroger for $1)
5. Asian lettuce wraps (Boston lettuce on sale at Kroger for $1, I already have some ground beef in the freezer, and I will use half a can of water chestnuts, saving the other half for later)
6. Manicoti a la Romana, garlic toast (bought at Save A Lot for $1.79), steamed broccoli (we are having dinner guests that night, so this is one of my fancy meals).
7. Potsticker skillet (I have no idea what to call this, it is a recipe that came about after a failed attempt at making potstickers--I'll use the last of the cabbage and water chestnuts, and sub in beef instead of pork, because I have ground beef on hand already)
8. Barbeque pork chops (pork chops on sale at Fiesta for $1.19/lb), baked potatoes, greens
9. Chicken noodle soup (I have chicken legs that I bought on sale at Fiesta on my last trip, I will save half the meat for a later meal, and 1 c. broth for a later meal).
10. Chicken enchilada casserole (using leftover chicken, and broth for the sauce that goes in the recipe), refried beans
11. Homemade bean and cheese burritos (well, halfway homemade--I'm going to use canned beans, but I'll make the tortillas myself), lettuce and tomato
12. Salmon skillet (salmon, new potatoes, peas, seasoned and cooked together in the same pot)
13. Six Layer dish (a simple meal from my More-with-Less Cookbook--haven't tried it yet, basically meat, potatoes, tomatoes, layered in a dish).
14. Baked potatoes and salad
15. Chili and homemade cornbread
16. Pancakes and sausage (using up the last of the milk before it goes bad, sausage on sale for $1 at Kroger)
17. Pantry/Freezer Meal

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Bread Outlet Store

One of my latest finds is the Mrs. Baird's Bread Outlet Store. They sell day-old loaves for 0.89 per loaf. That includes whole wheat, double fiber, and those kinds of varieties. I also buy my hamburger/hotdog buns, and hoagie rolls from them. It's only about 1.5 miles from my house, but I try to buy enough to last through two weeks, so I don't make trips very often. I normally spend a least $1.99 for a loaf of whole wheat bread at the grocery store (on sale!), so this is a really unbeatable price. They also give me a loyalty card, where after I fill out the card and spend a certain amount, I get two free items.

Monday, January 12, 2009

I feel dirty!

You know what will make you feel as dirty as haggling with a slimy car salesman for a new car? Shopping around for a new gym! I recently quit my job at the Y, which means I need a new place to work out. I first went to a local chain. They weren't too bad as far as the sleaze-factor goes. Their joining fee was a bit high at $60, but their monthly rate is only $20. It's a pretty basic place--cardio, weights, some classes. Not a lot of frills, but that's fine with me after working out at the Y for 2 1/2 years. Believe it or not, I'm not used to a lot of frills in my life ;)

The next place I went (intentionally toting my price info sheet from the previous gym) was the monstrous new L.A. Fitness. Oh my. That was an experience. After driving by the massive church-like structure that was supposed to be a gym, I should have known better. I walked in the door and was assigned a young, hot guy to first escort me around, before we sat down to "talk". He gave me the grand tour of the 90 pieces of cardio equipment, the acres of weights meant to work everything from my abs to my pinky finger, the locker rooms with wood-panelled lockers, the indoor pool, spa, and the childcare room with a McDonald's like play place and theater seating in front of a large screen T.V. I made the mistake of asking if they have anyone to assess body fat, as this is something I've been keeping up with for the past six months. Well, of course they did! And we could do it right now! Then I got the pleasure to meet "Toni", who was going to assess my body fat. Toni (a chick, if you didn't get that from the "i" in her name) asked me a few questions about my height, my weight (oohhh, she said, with a very surprised look on her fact), and then she had me stand with this contraption that read my body fat in three seconds. As she was telling me about how building muscle is what they do here at L.A. Fitness, I found her voice trailing off...I was mesmerized by her collagen enhanced lips, and wondering to myself just how many plastic surgeries this woman had had in her life. She looked strikingly similar to a plastic surgery addict I remember seeing on an old episode of Dr. Phil...but, I digress.

After my encounter with Toni, I got to sit down with whats-his-name hot guy (I honestly don't remember his name), and discuss just what we might do to "help" me today. This started out cordially enough. He started with one set of exhorbitant joining fee of $150, and $59/month, or some other equally ridiculous amount. And then he sits back and says, "So, which of these do you think might work for you?"

"Neither", I said. He probed as to why I felt that way. "The joining fees are ridiculous." So he runs through a second set of numbers which I also rejected, and then a third (you see where I'm going with this). Then he says, "I see you went to [competitor's gym], what if I could meet their price, which would you choose?" I told him that I would probably choose L.A. Fitness, since it's more convenient to my son's school. "But we offer so much more VALUE than they do, to get you the results you want!"(I don't remember mentioning to him what results I wanted, I guess he inferred it from the diagnosis of my fat percentage). So I took that moment to level with him. I said, "Look, your gym is pretty, and new, but I, ahhh, don't really care. I'm not really impressed by pretty. I need a gym that's convenient, affordable, and that has good, safe childcare for my kids." Then he starts to get a bit testy with me. "Well, let me ask you something. If you liked [other gym] so much, why didn't you sign up when you went in." I think I made some kind of snorting sound, and I told him, "Because I'm smart with my money. I'm not going to sign up with the first gym I check out, without looking around to find the best value for my dollar. By the way, can I get a trial pass?" He begrudgingly agreed to give me a three-day pass, but assured me that I would lose all these great deals he had presented me with by not signing up today. I replied that I never had any intention of signing up today, and all of a sudden he became very aware of the next customer behind me. I don't think he actually ever said goodbye or anything...I just remember being somehow aware that our conversation was over, and meandering towards the door.

I don't even think I'll use the guest pass. I'm too scared of seeing that plastic lady again.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

College Education on a Budget

I realized I never blogged that I graduated from college last month. :) I earned my B.S. in government, and graduated Magna Cum Laude.

One of the things about going back to school that I am most proud of, is that I did it without any student loan debt. I went back to community college in August 2005, and at that time we were so poor that I got way more financial aid than I even needed to go full time, buy books, etc. I am now a huge proponent of community college, and will encourage my children to go to community college after high school. Some of my professors were really wonderful, and you just can't even compare the cost. When I went to school in 2000-2001, I made the financially dumb decision to go to a private university. Neither of my parents went to college, and I honestly never realized that there was a difference. So imagine my shock when I found out that a class at a community college costs $200, instead of $4,000! What a deal! Especially since I can honestly say that the education I received at the private school was just not worth that much more than the community college education. In the Fall of 2007, I transferred from community college to a state university. I got a part-time job and started feverishly saving money to pay for what financial aid I didn't get. I was determined not to take out loans--we are done with that. The first two semesters I had to pay out about $1200 plus books. I also got very creative about purchasing books--I NEVER went to the college bookstore. For the most recent summer and fall semesters, I had enough money in grants and scholarships to pay for everything I needed and then some. I made a hobby out of finding scholarship money. In my last semester I still needed a math class, so I made the decision to take it at the community college, saving a bundle. I was also able to take that class online, saving gas money.

Me and my brood on graduation day:

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Blog of Shame

Apparently, I've already broken my New Years Resolution. Sigh.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Saved some money yesterday by cutting Ethan's hair at home. I think I did a pretty good job, if I do say so myself :)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

$327 Snowball to Discover

Our Discover Card is our last little bit of consumer debt. The balance stands at $2800. We'd like to have it paid off by March. It's got a big minimum payment of $150, and it will be awesome to free that amount up every month. My goal is to send them a total of $1100 this month. We divide our budget up in half, since Michael gets paid twice a month. I just sent them the extra $327 that we had in the first half of the month, and I'm hoping to send them $785 from the back half of the month (barring anything unforeseen).

We've already paid off:
My Car
A family debt to Michael's brother
A family debt to my grandparents
Capital One
American Express
Michael's Car

Once we pay this last consumer debt, we're left with two private student loans, and one big hairy federal student loan that's going to take a while to pay off.

I refuse to turn the heater on

Our electric bill was really high last month (almost $200), so I'm going back to being a thermostat nazi. After being 80 degrees yesterday, it is currently 36 degrees with a wind chill of 25. Gotta love Texas. In the past, I would get up in the morning and stay in my tank top and pajama pants and crank up the heat. I was just too lazy to get up and put on some extra clothes. I got up, and instead of turning on the heat, I put on an extra layer of clothes. Seriously, how hard was that?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Found money

That was a nice surprise! Yesterday, Michael and I were getting organized to go grocery shopping. I checked the budget so I could go to the bank and pull out cash for the grocery envelope. I had budgeted $180 for two weeks worth of groceries. Michael pulled out the grocery envelope and I guess I had forgotten that I still had $40 from December. So we only needed to budget $140 for the next two weeks. I've actually had leftover money the last couple of months, so I think I'm going to experiment with lowering the grocery budget.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Another cheap (not healthy!) dinner

Tonight we had grilled bratwurst and french fries. The package of brats were $1.99 manager's special at Kroger. I got a bag of French fries at the 99 Cents Only Store (we ate half the bag), and bought some buns at the Mrs. Baird's Outlet for 0.79.

Total cost for the meal: $3.28 or $0.82/serving, and we still have three buns for another meal.