Keeping your sanity during the holidays

This past month has been a whirlwind of activity in my world. I can’t believe how quickly it has flown by! Work, home, family, friends… oh my! The next month is going to get even busier. How are you going to handle the craziness?

I have mentioned in previous posts about ramping up for the Christmas season early. Have you finished your holiday shopping yet? (I’m SO CLOSE to being done. I have one person on my list that I’m still struggling to find the perfect gift for. I’ll figure it out, hopefully sooner than later.) Getting the majority of your shopping done earlier in the year can help take stress out of the season. The pressure isn’t there. You’ve already purchased your gifts (I’m hoping at a great bargain), and now all that’s left to do is wrap them up. I’m telling you, frantically running all over town on Christmas Eve, along with half of the population of my city, DOES NOT sound like fun to me. That scenario stresses me out just thinking about it!

Reuse, reuse, reuse!

Oh so lovely, and easy!

 

Wrapping presents is one of my favorite things about Christmas. I love making my initial present look just as lovely as what’s inside. I know I’m a weirdo, but I LOVE it. I also love finding the perfect box, wrapping paper, and ribbon. Yes, I’m a perfectionist on this subject. Cell phone boxes are one of my favorite boxes. Many of them have magnetic closures, and they’re really easy to wrap. Chip containers also make excellent gift boxes. Clean them out with a Lysol wipe, use wrapping paper or scrap-booking paper on the outside, and some ribbon, and you’re done!  You don’t have to use them just for foodie gifts… use your imagination here! I once log-rolled fuzzy pajamas into a Fritos can for my daughter. I was pretty proud of myself for that one, and she was impressed at my creativity. She had no idea what was in there.

 

Little items, like jewelry, wrap nicely in cute little boxes

 

 

This little metal box was actually a container filled with staples. It’s perfect for jewelry, or other little things.

I am also a big fan of using old Christmas cards and calendar pages for gift boxes. Gift cards would fit nicely in some of these, as well as jewelry. Add some ribbon to these little babies, and you’re good to go!

 

 

 

 

Instead of throwing cards away, repurpose into gift boxes

 

If you want to get really creative, you can make your boxes from scratch. There is an endless amount of gift box patterns available online. Poster board is one of my best friends for this. I have made some adorable boxes using poster board and gluing fabric to the outside. Like I said before… Get creative!

WHEN I AM PREPARED, I FEEL RELAXED.

Poster board and fabric… the possibilities are endless!

There’s a lot going on in here!

 

I’m pretty sure we all do. That’s what it’s all about for me. I have my stash, and my presents acquired. Crank up the Christmas music, and let’s get to wrapping! By the time Christmas Eve is here, all you’ll need to do is curl up with some hot cocoa, a blanket, and enjoy the fire in your fireplace (if you have one).

 

 

 

I’m not saying you have to be a hoarder of all things boxes, but it totally takes the panic out of wrapping when you have items on hand to choose from.

 

 

Let’s ENJOY the holiday season. Enjoy spending time with your family and friends. Think ahead, and have the time to do the really important things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Planning a wedding on a budget

I have a lot going on this summer. It’s the season of beautiful weather, vacations, garage sales, outings to the river with my doggies, and a wedding to pull together. It seems like just yesterday, not 6 months ago, that my lovely daughter, Carmen, got engaged. The happy couple is planning on paying for the majority of the wedding themselves. Of course my husband and myself are pitching in a bit, but, keeping the expenditures to a minimum is top priority. The wedding is coming up in just under 6 weeks. There is so much to do!

I have spent hours upon hours on Pinterest saving pins for frugal ideas on decorations, floral arrangements, backdrops, themes… Oh my goodness there is so much information out there! I absolutely adore Pinterest… way more than I should.

HOW IT ALL STARTED…

The official engagement Facebook post

 

 

THE ENGAGEMENT: Christmas day, 2017, Carmen’s boyfriend, Jacob, popped the question. (He’s such a great guy! We are absolutely thrilled to have him officially join our family!After a few weeks, it was decided to have the wedding in August of 2018. That gave us 8 months to plan a wedding.

 

Grange hall down the street. A more inexpensive venue with lots of perks

 

 

THE VENUE:  Carmen and Jacob wanted to have a smaller wedding, and the place they picked was perfect. Carmen already knew where she wanted to have the wedding. That was good since our timeline was pretty short. There is a grange/community hall just down the street from where I live that she picked. It’s a mile away from my home. It was nicely priced to “rent”, and there’s ample parking. She wants an outdoor wedding, and it has these two trees out front on the right side that will be perfect for the ceremony. It’s also a neat old building with a nice kitchen/dining area in the basement. It has a nice space upstairs for dancing, and a stage as well. There is a lot of history to that old building for me. I went to the school across the street from it when I was a child. I ate lunch in that grange hall every day in grade school for 4+ years. We had Christmas programs and talent shows there. There are so many good memories. I’m happy to have a wonderful one as an adult too.

Doing the engagement photos yourself can save you literally thousands of dollars.

THE PHOTOGRAPHER: Photographers can be one of the biggest expenses for a wedding… Engagement photos… the wedding itself… Hours upon hours are spent taking photos and editing. Since I am a photographer, it was a natural decision for me to do the engagement shoot. After all, IT’S FREE if I do them. We picked a spot and set up a time. I brought some props, and so did they. The photos turned out really nice. We were all pleased with the way they looked. We decided to use one of these photos for the wedding invitations. I had originally thought about doing the photos for the actual wedding myself, BUT… I am the Matron on Honor, (seriously LOVE this girl for choosing me!) and I just can’t visualize how that is going to logistically work. Besides, I am going to have enough going on that day…  I don’t need to worry about that too. I have quite a few photographer friends, and I hired one to do the photos. The photographer and I went to high school together, so there’s some history there as well.  He does great work, and gave me a great deal. It KILLS ME to have to pay someone else to do it, but, after some very serious internal struggles and conversations with my family, I agreed. I paid for the photographer. It was still quite expensive, (but about half the price from if I were to hire a stranger), so I didn’t want the kids to have to fork out the money for that part.

THE WEDDING ANNOUNCEMENTS AND WEDDING BOOK: I am a HUGE fan of Shutterfly. They have an excellent variety of choices for wedding announcements and books (and pretty much anything else you would want). You can use your own photos, and fill everything out the way YOU want, and their turn-around time is pretty quick… We received the announcements within 4 days! They are ALWAYS having sales and promotions. I was able to get the wedding announcements for around 75% off, thanks to all the coupon codes I found. They offer rectangle shapes, and ones with rounded corners. Rounded corners look very elegant, but it costs extra… by 20¢ per card! I only ordered 90 cards. Just imagine the cost for several hundred!

This little tool, that I already had, saved me $18 on wedding announcements!

Lucky for me, I already had a paper cutter for rounding corners. I was able to save $18 by spending 30 minutes and rounding the corners myself. Definitely worth a half an hour of my time. Score one small frugal victory!

Carmen and Jacob created an event on Facebook and used that as their “Save the Date” in lieu of purchasing and mailing out cards. They invited their family and friends, and I was able to invite my family and friends that I wanted present as well. We used that forum to get all the addresses that we needed for the official invitation. This also gave them a general idea of how many people would be present on the day of their wedding.

The wedding book I ordered was also 75% off with all the coupon codes. I was able to use all my own pictures and create a completely personal book for guests to write in and peruse. I am excited to see the results.  ONLY TWO MORE DAYS UNTIL IT’S HERE!

 

THE OFFICIANT: Carmen and Jacob weren’t sure who was going to perform the ceremony. They did quite a bit of thinking on the subject and everyone they could think of was either busy or out of town. At this point, with less than 6 weeks to go, I was getting a little bit nervous about finding someone, so I did something crazy… I went online and became an ordained minister, able to perform weddings in Oregon. Yep, I really did! I just received all my official paperwork in the mail last week. I texted my friends in my music circle and told them what I had done. They were VERY surprised to say the least. Haha! (That sparked a round of interesting thoughts for future adventures… THAT will be for another post!). I explained to them that I was creating a backup plan just in case the couple couldn’t come up with someone. One of my girls said that if they couldn’t come up with anyone, she would be willing to get ordained and perform the ceremony. I mentioned this to Carmen, and she said she would absolutely love to have my friend perform their wedding. She knows her, and really likes her. The next day, this same friend got hold of me to ask if I would be willing to do her daughter’s senior pictures, and how much would I charge… We had a brief discussion, and we decided to trade services. She is going to become an ordained minister, and then perform the wedding ceremony, and I’m going to do her daughter’s senior pictures.

Just…. WOW

THE DECORATIONS: Carmen has been gathering items to use for decorations for quite awhile. She has bought most of them during extreme sales or in the clearance section. I had an idea for lighting and using my canning jars for subtle lighting.  I have the wire hangers that go around the lip of the jars, so they could be hung up if we chose to go that route. I will use them on our front and back porches after the wedding. I wanted to have nice subtle lighting out there anyway. Carmen chose to have a retro/vintage themed wedding. We have a lot of friends with vintage cars, so we kindly asked if we could “borrow” their cars for a few hours on a Saturday evening. One of which she will arrive in just before the wedding. She has a lot of Matchbox cars that she is going to put on the food tables for decorations. We are going to be making the centerpieces for all the tables with fabric that she purchased on clearance several years ago. Carmen doesn’t want a lot of flowers at her wedding, so she will have a bouquet to walk down the aisle with, and that is it. As for the ceremony outside… The background behind the trees is not exactly ideal, or romantic… two streets join, street signs, a house, and a school. After talking it over with my husband, we decided that we are going to purchase two 4’x8′ sheets of wood lattice and place them between and slightly behind the two trees. We are going to attach fabric, in one of their chosen colors, to the backside of the lattice to hide the eyesores behind it. My husband can reuse the lattice after the wedding for some projects he is working on. MULTI PURPOSE ITEMS ARE FANTASTIC!

Draping made out of tool is simple and pretty inexpensive. USE YOUR COUPONS!

We are then going to make a nice flowing drape out of tool on top and flowing down the sides to frame it. We have several fabric stores in town that have coupons weekly. We should be able to get this at 75% off regular pricing, making this a nice frugal item. Carmen suggested reselling it after the wedding to recoup some of the overall costs of the wedding. If we can do this with many of the items we are purchasing strictly for the wedding, that will be a big help in the long run. All in all, the decorations will come in well under $300, and most will be re-purposed after the wedding.

THE DRESS: Carmen was all for buying a wedding dress second hand, however, her fiancé insisted that she buy a brand new dress… it’s their wedding, after all. After doing some research, she decided on a store. They were having a sale, and the beautiful dress she picked was $500. Considering how much many wedding dresses cost, it was a price that she could live with. She cringed as she pulled out her debit card to pay for it, but, considering the woman next to us was spending over $2000…  (Sorry, there will not be a photo of the dress until after the wedding, for obvious reasons.)

THE BRIDESMAIDS/MATRON OF HONOR ATTIRE, HAIR AND MAKEUP: Carmen wanted to choose something that her chosen friends could wear later… not something that will sit in their closets and gather dust. She decided on vintage style dresses that the girls will purchase for $30-$40. The colors can vary as long the chosen wedding colors are in there somewhere. Same for the shoes… Something within the vintage theme that are comfortable and they can use at a later time. I already have a dress and shoes that fit the criteria. Each of the ladies will do their own hair and makeup, and Carmen will help with any last minute details if the need arises. She’s an expert with vintage hair and makeup.

THE MEN’S SUITS: My understanding is that the men are going to wear suits, which they already own. The ties will have the wedding colors. The groom will be wearing a suit as well.

THE MUSIC/DJ: The ceremony itself will have pre-recorded music through speakers. She didn’t feel the need for live music. As for the reception, she has a playlist put together on her iPod that she is going to play through the speakers inside the building. She can play whatever she wants, and it will be all the music she loves and likes to dance to.

THE FOOD: The couple has decided on a potluck style for food for the guests. They wanted something simple with variety that all the people could enjoy. As for the cake… They are going with a very out of the norm item… Pizza. Different? Definitely, and I love everything about it. Why be traditional?!

THE SETUP AND TEAR DOWN: Family and friends will be doing the wedding setup and tear down of everything. We get the keys to the building two days before the wedding, and have them until two days after the wedding, to get everything cleaned up. We can do all the inside decorating in the two days before and set up the outside Saturday morning, since the ceremony doesn’t start until early evening. Then we will have the two days after to get everything cleaned up.

Things are slowly starting to come together. I’m sure there are things we haven’t thought of yet. When they come up, we’ll deal with it accordingly. You don’t realize how short 8 months really is, until you are trying to plan a wedding. The engagement happens, and then suddenly, there’s 6 weeks left to go. Now it’s a mad dash to get all the details done. It will happen, the wedding day will arrive, and everything will be fine… and even if everything doesn’t go exactly as planned, that’s okay. It will generate a wonderful set of memories to share later on! (My wedding was at the Justice of the Peace, it took about 10 minutes, with three guests, and they forgot to charge us for the ceremony. We wore regular clothes, and my husband had a mullet. We will never forget that, and we love telling the story!)

LET THE FESTIVITIES BEGIN!

 

 

 

 

Having an emergency 72 hour kit

No one wants to think about the possibility of a natural disaster or some kind of emergency that causes us to have to evacuate our homes for a period of time. I know I don’t want to think about it, BUT WE NEED TO. We need to be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice with items to sustain us… For every member of our family living in our home… Pets included. Think about all the things that have happened in recent years… Forest fires, earthquakes, tsunamis, flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes…  It seems they happen more and more frequently. It also seems that they are more severe. Many of these events are requiring evacuations, and they need to happen quickly. Are you ready for that?

By no means am I the guru “know it all” when it comes to emergency preparedness, BUT, my parents were adamant about having a 72 hour kit, and at least a 6 month supply of food. (I’ve mentioned that I live in the house that I grew up in… I STILL have close to 1000 pounds of wheat in my basement! 😳) I watched my mom take sheets, make them into bandage strips, sterilize them, and vacu-seal them for our kits. I watched her buy 5 gallon plastic buckets to store our kits in… Waterproof and durable. She crocheted large doilies to go over them and set houseplants on them in the living room… Close and ready to grab if needed.

Being prepared is critical

I do things a bit differently than mom did, but yes, I have kits for two adults, two children, and three large dogs. I don’t have five gallon pails though. I purchased two backpack kits, and added in dog food and clothing. I also have an emergency “bug-out” backpack that stays in my car at all times. (Thank you, my co-workers, for putting that one together when I was preparing for a long road trip with a very questionably nasty winter forecast possibility. It’s nice that people worry!)  Purchased kits can be spendy, but I don’t feel bad about this purchase. For me, peace of mind made this an easy decision. The backpacks are designed to hold everything that comes in the kits, and has first aid items as well. Do your research, and I’m sure you can come up with something to fit you and your family’s needs. It was just simpler for me to do this than try to gather up all the different items, and pray that I didn’t miss anything important… I worried about that.

It’s also a good idea to have a stash of emergency funds… as in cash money. If there’s a disaster, are debit/credit card machines going to be working? Maybe, but maybe not. Do you really want to take that chance? I know I don’t!

One thing my parents always did routinely was to fill up the car when it got down to half a tank. I will be the first to admit that I am not good at that. Call it laziness if you like, but, that requires getting gas more frequently. In the long run though, you’re still going to be spending the same amount for gas every month. You’re filling up half a tank instead of a full one. Think about it for a minute though… If you have to leave in a hurry, are you going to need to wait in line for gas along with everyone in the town you live in? No thank you, not me! I’d rather be heading away from whatever disaster is coming!

One of the other very important things to have is a plan. Have a family meeting and discuss what to do in the event of an emergency. Talk about what to do in certain circumstances. If the situation applies, have an escape route… Have a meeting spot… Have a code word. Make sure everyone knows what to do, where to go, who to call, and who to trust. I cannot stress this enough. HAVE A PLAN!

Lately, emergency preparedness has been repeatedly creeping up in my thoughts.  I want to be prepared, and I want YOU to be prepared. What are you waiting for? Make your list of things you need. Do some research if you need to, and get it done! https://www.ready.gov/ Personally, I would rather have my kits and not need them, than have the emergency and have nothing to survive on.

 

6 months until Christmas… are you getting ready?

I love the Christmas season… It’s my favorite holiday. I absolutely adore the music. I love the lights, the baking, the tree, and the smells associated with it. I love getting creative with gifts, and coming up with the perfect present. I love the look of surprise and joy when my gifts are opened. I love watching people selflessly give to others. It would be nice if everyone was so caring and sharing all year long, don’t you think?

I hate to break it to you, but Christmas is officially less than 6 months away! I know, right? This year is flying by! Blink again and black Friday will be here. I know it seems very far away, but trust me, it really isn’t! I don’t know about you, but I’ve already got a game plan together. It’s ALWAYS good to have a plan.

There’s a few things to plan for as you’re gearing up. THINK LISTS! You know how much I love my lists. Obviously, I start off with a list of the people I need to buy for. By each name, I write down their favorite color, things they collect, and the snacks they love. Next, I start brainstorming ideas for gifts. I keep an ongoing list in my notes app on my phone. That way I can keep up with the little things I notice as they come up.

Reuse, reuse, reuse!

Oh so lovely, and easy!

Next, I write down gift wrapping ideas. Those of you who know me know that I am obsessed with meticulous wrapping. I feel that the wrapping should be just as beautiful and exciting as what’s inside. A few of my favorite ways to wrap presents… Repurposing Pringles chip cans. They make great boxes. (Pinterest has excellent diy ideas!)  I also enjoy making used greeting cards into gift boxes. I used to ask all of my friends to save their chip containers and little boxes for me. I love using cell phone boxes too. I love this type of wrapping… easy yet elegant… And recycling things just makes sense!

Instead of throwing cards away, repurpose into gift boxes

One of the most important things to add is my budget. I HAVE to have a budget. Millions upon millions of people go deep into debt every year because of the holidays… buying everything under the sun… buying every single thing on children’s lists.  Personally, I absolutely despise the idea of being in debt, especially because of Christmas! I write up a realistic budget, and use all my frugal skills to ensure that my budget stays in check. Coupons, coupon codes, membership bonuses, gift cards, store rewards, ebates… the list goes on and on! As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, the resources are out there for the taking. MAKE YOUR MONEY WORK HARDER FOR YOU! A little bit of research can save you hundreds. If you come in under your budget by Christmas, that’s great! Set it aside for a jump start on next year. You could even get presents and clearance Christmas accessories in January. Save 75%+? Um, YES!

Another thing I do a lot of is homemade gifts. I love the creativity of making the perfect gift for someone… made with hard work and love. It could be beaded jewelry, gifts in a jar (cookies, etc… there’s actually cookbooks specifically for this!), a framed photo you’ve taken, a knitted scarf, the possibilities are endless. Make it, and make it personal! I thoroughly enjoy receiving these kinds of gifts. One of the things I do for all my employees is make each of them a Christmas stocking. Every year we hang stockings on the front of our counter for everyone to enjoy. Each fabric is picked for something that they love, and it makes me so happy to see them all hanging up. (When the holidays come around again, I’ll show you the counter. It’s absolutely lovely!) Things like that, to me, makes me appreciate the effort that was put into a gift.  It truly warms my heart.

LOVE personalized things!

I scour the thrift stores for wrapping paper, ribbon, and bows for pennies on the dollar. I save the majority of the colored tissue paper (used for gifts) that I get throughout the year. I have a little box specifically for it. When it’s full, I stop collecting. I do the same with gift bags. I have a container dedicated to gift bags. When it’s full, I’m done. If you find nicer ones, swap out for the less attractive ones in your stash. You honestly CAN have too much. Set a limit and stick to it. 

One of the things that I have realized as I have gotten older is this… you don’t have to buy EVERYTHING for everybody. I have always had a humble approach to gift giving. When my kids were little, they had very long lists of items they wanted to receive. I know, I know… that’s what kids do. I know I did. (I recently found one of my lists from way back. So THAT’S where my kids got the hilarity from!) Just because our kids ask for a hundred things DOES NOT mean you have to get them all. Remember that budget? Take the time to find out what they REALLY want the most. Pick out 3 or 4 things, and let them be happy and satisfied with what they have. My kids had a ton of toys, but yet could still be bored. How is this possible?  Well, I found out that the overabundance of toys results in a lack of appreciation for what they have. Totally true! This could be said for so many things in our lives. I appreciate my things so much more when I have to work to get it. I don’t get everything I want, and I’m honestly glad I don’t. When, and if, I finally get what I wanted so badly, I am much more likely take better care of it… use it more often, for a longer length of time.

So, what it comes down to is this… Take a little time, and start preparing now. Wouldn’t it be nice to have the majority of your shopping done before December comes? Think how nice it would be to actually relax and enjoy the season instead of stressing out about it. Wouldn’t it be comforting to know that your Christmas fund is already where it needs to be, since you’ve been saving a little every month for it, right? If it’s not where you want it to be, now is the time to start!

Make your lists. Have a plan. Let yourself look forward to the holidays.

Here a penny, there a penny: Saving for the holidays

I love change.  Let me clarify…. The coin kind of change. Those lovely shiny circles that jingle in the bottom of my purse, and weigh down my pockets. That’s just one of the beautiful bonuses to using cash to pay for my purchases. I get LOTS of coinage.

I know many of you would prefer to not have anything to do with change, but I love it. When I have some extra dollar bills, I’ll actually exchange them at my bank for a roll of dimes or quarters. Why, you ask? Well, for me, there’s a lot less temptation to spend it. I’m not real likely to carry a canning jar full of change in my purse because I feel like it. Hey, I’m still human. I’m not immune to the impulse buy unfortunately.

Did you know a full quart canning jar of quarters is $158? It really is! I haven’t filled up a jar of dimes, nickels or pennies yet, but I’ll let you know when I find out!  I’m hoping a jar of dimes will be around $500.  How awesome would that be?! The best part about my “piggy bank” jars to me, is that it’s so exciting to watch them fill up. I took four jars and etched them for the different coins. I’m a craftsy person. I liked the idea. I think they look pretty cool. Yes, I have four jars. I’m a bit OCD… they NEED to be separated!

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First and foremost I use these coins for Christmas presents. It may be May but it IS NOT too early to start thinking about your holiday shopping planning. Would you rather fork out hundreds in November and December, or save a little cash all year long? The majority of the country goes deep into debt because of the holidays. I absolutely refuse to let that happen. Think about it… set aside $50/month for 12 months, and you have $600 in December. That’s $12.50 per week… That’s practically one espresso and one fast food lunch.  Start this month and you’ll have $350 by December.  Save $100/month starting now and have $800! Utilizing a spending freeze could be quite beneficial here. (Hint hint 😉) Obviously, you don’t have to wait until Christmas to purchase your gifts. If you find a great deal, by all means, get it! It’s all about SAVING and DISCOUNTS right? Some opportunities are too good to pass up! But ABSOLUTELY set a budget and have a plan.

You should already know what the people on your list want or need. Think about having 6 months to find those perfect gifts instead of weeks or days. See? Planning not only will save you time later on, but added stress. Maybe you’ll actually enjoy the holidays instead of feeling weighed down by it. Granted, some last minute emergency present is bound to rear its ugly head. It always does. Not only should you expect it, you should (hopefully) have a little money leftover to use for said gift. Remember your self control. What’s left over should be put in your fund for next year.

That, my friends, is how I fund my Christmas every year. Make your change work for you!

 

 

 

 

 

The Dreaded Spending Freeze

Habits are so hard to break. I suppose it depends on what it is, but when it comes to spending money, it is difficult for me to reign myself in sometimes. I know, I know…. Frugal me having a hard time not spending money ? WHAT IS THIS MADNESS? Like I said, it becomes a habit. The interesting thing is, the majority of the time, I don’t even realize it’s happening. Some random event will happen, and suddenly it becomes so obvious. I can see my overspending habit laughing in my face.

TIME TO TAKE CONTROL OF MY MONEY!  Enter the spending freeze.

Several times a year I adopt the spending freeze for a month. Usually, January is my first month for a spending freeze. The Christmas season is one of my favorites. It is also my least favorite. Every year we all spend, spend, and spend some more. We have become spending monsters. The habit of spending has taken hold. For me, it is absolutely essential to begin the new year relearning my thoughtful, deliberate spending rituals. I’m NOT suggesting that you skip paying your bills. Obviously, those are mandatory. What I’m suggesting is that for one month, avoid any extra spending.  No eating out, no coffee shops, no movies, no Amazon or Ebay. No extras added to your grocery cart,  only what you need for your menus… I think you get the idea. This requires conscious awareness. It sounds painful… miserable… depressing…  It all depends on your attitude. If you have already convinced yourself that it will be horrible, then it probably will be. BUT, if you look at it as an opportunity to push the reset button and renew your frugality, then THAT will be your reward. Well, that, and a substantial amount of money saved at the end of your no spend month! We don’t realize how much money we spend frivolously every day. That white chocolate mocha you buy every morning on your way to work is around $5 if you add a tip. That’s $100 in a month! Eat out for lunch every day? Chances are that’s $6 per day. There goes another $120 per month.  I don’t know about you, but I could always use an extra $220 a month to put towards bills, or stash in savings, or designate it for Christmas presents.

Make that cup of coffee at home and take it with you. Brown bag your lunch. DRINK MORE WATER. Watch movies at home, play some games… Yahtzee anyone? There are so many ideas out there. Pinterest just might become your new best friend.

When I first made the decision to start participating in routine spending freezes, it was out of desperation. My bills were spiraling out of control.  My credit card balances were high. I was stressed financially, emotionally, mentally… I wrote a pep talk for myself. I printed it out. I laminated it. I put it in my wallet. I forced myself to read it every time I reached in there to pay for something I didn’t need. It worked.

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I no longer HAVE to have my spending freezes, but I choose to. It invigorates me. It helps me stay grounded. It helps me to focus on the more important things in my life.

January has long passed, so I challenge you to make a goal to have designated spending freeze months.  Pick your months, and do it. Mentally prepare yourselves and take control of your money!  You’ve literally earned it!!

Goals: Baby steps to achievement

I’m going to be brutally honest. I despise making goals. It stresses me out. It forces me to sit down and think about my life… every aspect of it. It makes me realize how many things I want to do, and how much I should’ve done already. Here’s the thing about me: I have VERY high expectations of myself. I am also very easily distracted. I have too many things I want to do, and delusional ideas about how I think I’m going to succeed. In the end, you guessed it… Nothing, or very close to nothing seems to get done. It can be so discouraging.

I have done years of soul searching on this subject. It is so easy to just NOT do it. I think one of the things that has maybe, quite possibly, changed my perspective on this, is my job. One of the things they ask of me every year is to set some goals. Short term ones that could be completed within 1 year, mid-term ones that could be accomplished in around 3 years, and long term ones… 5 years or longer. I moaned, groaned, and procrastinated. Like I said before, I despise making goals.

Keep looking forward, but don’t forget where you’ve been.

When they ask me to set goals, they’re not just asking for work goals, they’re asking for a combination of work and personal ones. I know, some of you may think it isn’t any of their business, and you’re probably right, HOWEVER, I’m glad that was included. It forced me to become accountable, and motivate me to get to work.

You know what? I accomplished my goals. Not all of them, but more than half. More than I would have if I hadn’t been “forced” to. I am proud to say that I have published my very own children’s book. I wrote the story ages ago. I had been dreaming about it for years, and had done nothing about it. Fear had taken over…  Fear of the unknown, fear of rejection, fear of putting myself out there.  I made it one of my goals to get the illustrations figured out and get it up on Kindle. Quite frankly, the illustrations was one of the biggest obstacles. Originally, my grandmother was going to do the artwork. She was a wonderful artist. I procrastinated, my grandma passed away, and that opportunity was gone. How special that would have been to have her handiwork included with mine. So, with my deadline approaching, I made the decision to do several different things to make the artwork a reality. I “cartoonized” a few pictures I had taken, and attempted to draw the rest. Mind you, I DID NOT inherit my grandma’s drawing talent, but I was determined to reach this goal.  AND I DID IT!  It was hard. It was frustrating. But it happened.

Accomplishing your goals feels amazing!

Amazing how making that goal has changed my outlook on so many things! I’m not completely over the fear, but that book changed me. Watching something important come to life is exhilarating. It opens your eyes to all the possibilities that lie before you. ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS MAKE IT HAPPEN. Things don’t magically happen on their own. It sure would be nice if they did, wouldn’t it? It takes effort, accountability, and dedication.

Here’s what I want to ask of you. I want you to make some REALISTIC goals for yourselves. Take some time to contemplate things that you really want. Do some research if you need to. Figure out what it will take to make them happen. Short term, mid-term, and long term. 3 in each category. Write them down. Share them with your family and friends. Let them help keep you accountable. Let them cheer you on. Let them help you celebrate when you accomplish them.  Making goals and seeing them on paper makes them real. It makes them important. Reading those goals every day motivates you. Spend a little time every day getting closer to your end game. Baby steps… Five minutes here, ten minutes there… Before you know it, the end is in sight.

You can do this! Get ready to change your life!  LET’S MAKE IT HAPPEN!

Organizing for food storage

I’m making dinner. I’ve got my casserole almost ready for the oven, and then it happens… I’m out of that last, vital ingredient I need. You know which one I’m talking about. It’s the one item that makes or breaks the meal. I run down to my basement, flip on the light, and there it is… the one I so desperately needed. I do a little dance, and run back to the kitchen with a smile on my face. Dinner is saved.

I love the idea of food storage. I have roughly a 3 month supply of food in my basement. I don’t know what I would do without it. It has saved my family more than once over the years. This subject, to me, lies in the gray area where minimalism is concerned. Yes, I really want to have less stuff. I am slowly making my way through my belongings and getting rid of unused and unwanted items. Food storage, however, is something that I will not compromise on. I want to be prepared… emergencies or whatever other circumstances come my way.

It is extremely important to be organized when it comes to food storage. Having too much, isn’t necessarily a good thing, and neither is not having enough. Decide how far ahead you want to be, and start planning. Plan out menus for the month. Start with the meals that you know you have the ingredients for. As you get to the meals that are missing items, write them down. You can then look through your weekly ads every week until you find your needs on sale. This is where inventory lists come into play. You will know exactly what you have and what you need. I use separate sheets of paper for different categories and subcategories of items.

The categories/subcategories I use are:

FREEZER: meat, vegetables, whole meals, breakfast, desserts, and other.

PANTRY: potatoes/rice, pasta, meat, vegetables/fruits, beans(legumes), sauces & dressings, soups, cereal, peanut butter/jelly, snacks, desserts, whole meals, flours, sugars, add ins (coconut, chocolate chips, raisins, etc), juices, spices, and other.

PERSONAL HYGIENE/CLEANING: hair (shampoo, conditioner, hair spray), paper products (toilet paper, paper towels), laundry products (laundry soap, fabric softener), kitchen/cleaning (dish soap, cleaning products), personal hygiene (bar soap, tooth paste & mouth wash, floss, feminine products, deodorant), band-aids & other first aid items.

Obviously, you can pick and choose what to add and to eliminate in the lists I have here, but they are a good guideline to start with. Under each subcategory, I write what I have, what size, and how many. I try to keep these lists on my fridge so I can refer to it when I’m looking through recipes. I also check off items when they are brought up from the basement so my counts are (hopefully) correct. I have included PDF’s of my lists in this post. Personally, I write down all my specifics… (green beans, corn, etc), on my lists, and then laminate them. Then I can use a dry erase marker on top and simply change the quantity. Easy. I hope these help you!

FREEZER INVENTORY LIST 1

PANTRY INVENTORY LIST 1

PANTRY INVENTORY LIST 2

PANTRY INVENTORY LIST 3

PERSONAL HYGIENE INVENTORY LIST

These lists help me tremendously when I’m going through the grocery ads. I know what I need, and what I don’t need. I can keep an eye out for items that I’ve used. I complete an inventory of my goods every three months to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything.

Rotating your food storage is a must! I use the CanSolidator rack system for my canned foods. These help take the chore out of rotating. All I have to do it load them up, and the oldest gets used first. There are labels included. They’re adjustable for different sized cans as well. I absolutely love these babies. They are a little bit of an investment, but they really do help keep me organized. CanSolidator

So there you have it… Meal planning, creating and taking inventory! Your effort on these will help you make the most of what you have, and save you so much time and effort in the long term. LET’S DO THIS!

 

Resources! Save time and money

First off, let me announce if you didn’t know already, that today is Wednesday, and Fred Meyer’s weekly ad is now being run Wednesday through Tuesday instead of Sunday through Saturday. That being said, MILK IS ON SALE THIS WEEK in the Willamette Valley. Half gallons for .99 – limit 10. Just thought you should all be as excited about this as I am!

I have quite the collection of apps and websites that I use to help guide me to sales, coupons, and overall deals. Some of them I sift through, other ones I let them do the work for me. My essential apps that I use the most are shown below. I try to use them as often as possible.

I love loyalty cards. Nearly every store has one, and I have quite a few. One of the best apps that I have found is called Key Ring. This app lets you take a photo of your loyalty cards, front and back. You can then take all those cards out of your wallet, or off your key chain, and let your helpful cashier scan the bar code that comes up directly from your phone.  It is awesome! (You can usually enter your phone number as an alternative, but I feel very “techie” when I use the app. Ha!)  Not only do I use it for loyalty cards, I use it for my library card, my Bi Mart card… the possibilities are endless. It helps keep me organized AND clutter free.

Fred Meyer is my main store with a loyalty card, and app. I seem to find the best deals for my household here. They issue a rebate coupon quarterly, based on my total purchases during that time period. Free money! I love that I get gas rewards as well. I’m all about that little extra savings. There is a time limit on the rewards, but I try to let the savings build up a bit to make sure I’m getting the best deal possible. When I know it’s going to be an extra big discount on gas (in .10 increments off/gallon, with $1 discount max/ gallon I believe), I’ll have the hubby go down and fill up his truck, since his gas tank is much bigger than my little Mazda. Safeway has a good user friendly app. They also have gas rewards, which is great!

Flipp is another great app to have at your disposal. It enables me to see all the weekly ads in one handy place without having to purchase the paper. I can see all the deals as soon as I get up in the morning.  A nice perk to Flipp is being able to enter specific items in the search box and the app will show you which stores have sales currently. You can create a shopping list in this app by clicking on the items within the chosen store. I, however, have the Our Groceries app that I love. This lovely app lets you create shopping lists by store. You can list all your items, categorize them by department, add the amount of products needed, etc. Very handy! What I like most though, is that multiple people on multiple devices can log in and add to your grocery list. The syncing is incredibly fast and very user friendly. (Thanks bro for the suggestion!)

The Target app now has their Cartwheel portion built in to their program. If you have a list for Target, check the app and search for your items. You can find coupons, percentages off, or gift cards for purchases, making your shopping trip cost a bit less. Unadvertised specials are also posted throughout the store. Text a specific word to their dedicated # and get a coupon. This comes in VERY handy around Christmas!

Checkout 51, Ibotta, and SavingStar are apps that give back to you after your purchase. They have advertised items on their apps. You highlight them, buy your product, (not necessarily in that order) and in most circumstances, take a photo of your receipt. The app verifies that the products you purchased are the ones from their list, and you get rewarded. It’s a simple process. SavingStar is a newer app that I just started using about 2 months ago, and I have made $5.25. It’s not a ton of cash, but I’ll take free money! I started using Ibotta in 2013. My lifetime earnings are $66.82. Sometimes there will be a few months where there’s nothing in there I want or need. Other times there’s multiples. The cash you earn doesn’t expire, but, for the most part, there is a $20 minimum before you can “cash out” your savings. The majority is paid with digital gift cards, but they also offer PayPal and Venmo options. (Also, think Christmas!)  Checkout 51 will send you a check once you have reached $20.00. I’ve had this account for about 6 months, and have earned $16.51. All in all, between the three, I’ve made $88.58 for buying items that are already on my shopping list… and doing nothing but punching a few icons on my phone and taking a couple of pictures.  Woo hoo!

I have a decent amount of websites, some of which are also apps, that I subscribe to. I have a designated email strictly for these subscriptions. It’s much easier to sift through! Fabulously Frugal is one of my favorites. Not only do they email me info on deals that are free, or heavily discounted, they tell me exactly what I need, where to go, and what to do to get the deal. See? They do the work FOR me! I don’t always have every coupon, because I don’t get the Sunday paper with the coupons, BUT I don’t have a mountain of clutter and recycling to go through and dispose of.

Krazy Coupon Lady is another one of my favorites. They have an amazing coupon database that takes the hassle out of searching for specifics.

Raise (discounted gift cards) is a great app/website for purchasing store gift cards at discount prices. I love using this site around the holidays. It is a great way to get more bang for your buck.

Coupon Mom, Ebates,  RetailMeNot, Coupon Cabin, and Smart Source are also great for finding printable and online coupons and coupon codes. (And if you’re going to buy online, go thru the Ebates website. Yet once again, free money back in many instances, at websites you were going to buy from anyway!)

Honestly, I could go on and on for days about all the different websites and apps. It amazes me how much information is out there! The older I get, the more respect I have for my parents and grandparents clipping all those coupons to get a deal all those years ago. Granted, driving all over the San Gabriel/Pasadena, CA area to save .50 doesn’t amount to much considering the cost of gas, BUT it’s the principle of it all, right??  There’s not a lot that gets me as excited as getting an incredible deal on something… just ask my daughter, she usually benefits from my money saving adventures. I’m sure there are so many more I have missed. If you have any to suggest, please comment! I would love to get the word out!  HAPPY SAVING!

 

Apps that rock

Milk: the most expensive item on my grocery list

I am a firm believer in the cash envelope system. It has really made a difference in the way I spend my money, whether it be groceries, personal spending, or bills. It has DEFINITELY helped me stay on budget when it comes to groceries. When the money is gone, it’s gone. Done. I tend to freak out a bit, when I see my grocery money dwindling, so I am diligent about keeping track of my purchases.

Anyone who knows me and my family knows that we go through A LOT of milk every week. When my two kids still lived at home, we went through 14 gallons a week. Yes, you read that correctly. Fourteen. It was very expensive. We had a refrigerator dedicated to milk. (and still do, I might add)  I learned to get creative with my milk purchases. For quite awhile, Rite Aid had a markdown day every week. Milk would be marked down to half price if it was within 5 days of the date printed on the jug. I was overjoyed. My milk budget dropped by about 33%. Milk at Rite Aid normally wasn’t cheaper than my normal grocery store, but with the half price discount, it became a bargain. I also discovered that we can drink our milk until about 5 days past the date on the jug. It seemed that on day 6 past the date, the milk turned sour. I did this for over a year, and I rejoiced. (I remember cashiers repeatedly asking me why I didn’t just buy a cow. I suppose I could have, but, I just don’t have time for that. Haha). Then came a merger/buyout of the company, and my milk prices went back to normal. UGH. I shopped around and managed to find fairly reliable, low prices at Wal-Mart and Winco. I worked my grocery budget over and had a separate, dedicated fund strictly for milk. Heh, I literally had milk money.

Fast forward a couple of years…  My children have grown up and moved out of the house. Now, my husband and I live by ourselves, and we go through about 7 gallons of milk per week. That’s still a considerable amount of milk. What can I say… WE LIKE OUR MILK!  So, I’m still constantly looking for a great deal. I set my milk budget for $80/month. For the most part, I have it figured out. Fred Meyer. Their milk is on sale fairly routinely. It seems to be every 2-3 weeks. Sometimes it’s gallons, and sometimes it’s half gallons. Honestly, I don’t really care which size is on sale, as long as it’s cheap! When gallons go on sale, they’re usually $1.99/gallon. When the half gallons are on sale, they’re $.99/jug. I can live with that, since milk is usually anywhere from $2.69 to $2.89 depending on where you go. (Let me note here, that we usually buy skim milk, regularly priced at $2.69.) Saving 70 cents on every gallon adds up. It saves me  $20/month, or around $255/year. Woo hoo!  When the half gallons go on sale, they limit you to 10 per purchase. I’m sure I could buy more at one time and do separate transactions, but, I feel scandalous when I do it that way. I’m not sure why, I just do. Honestly, I’d rather go early in the week, and then later in the week (and I bring my daughter so she can buy milk for me). This way the dates on the jugs, hopefully, are staggered, so they last longer at home. My mother-load of milk usually lasts us until milk is on sale again, and then I do it all over again. Sometimes when I go in to get my milk, I get a lovely surprise… the unadvertised sale. Nothing makes me more giddy than to see that special yellow tag. I hear angels singing from the heavens as I fill my cart full of gallons of milk priced at $1.29. No limit. I call my hubby and find out how much room we have in that beautiful dairy filled fridge and stock up. The best part about these glorious sales is that the expiration dates are normal ones. It’s just milk.. Even better! 

My milk budget works for me. When I find that extra sale, I still have money in my envelope. I have this little thing I do at the end of every month. Whatever money is left in that envelope, I divide it up. Half of it goes into my Christmas fund jar, and half goes back into my envelope, just in case a sale takes a little longer to come back around. I have it covered.  It’s usually not an adsorbent amount, but it keeps me within my spending guidelines.

Buying milk in bulk isn’t for everyone.  I’m pretty fortunate to have room in my garage for my extra refrigerator. I realize that not everyone has that luxury. If you can swing it though, I highly recommend it. We originally started out with a three foot tall mini fridge in our basement that worked for quite awhile, until the growth spurts happened… Oh boy!

  Do your research, and figure out the sales trends. Your budget will thank you!