April Budget Round-Up

April Expenditures

So April ended up being a relatively expensive month.  I suppose this was to be expected- we just moved and were also in the process of settling up our bills from our previous rental. Fortunately, for our loan payments, we also had some unexpected income this month (our rental deposit and some checks back for services that we pre-paid but didn’t use, like renter’s insurance).

One of our biggest expenditures this month was car repair.  Both cars needed some regular maintenance that we’d been deferring due to the frigid cold (brakes, oil changes, etc.).  Our 12 year old Jetta needed a new vacuum pump.


Playing outside and “helping” with the cars

We had already purchased it, but B. had been waiting for nicer weather to install it.  The same car also required a specialty tool for the brakes.  We checked with AutoZone and luckily, it’s one of the tools they rent, for free.  This was at least a $150 savings. Then, just as we got the Jetta back in proper working order, our even older 16 year old van sprung a coolant leak. As in, dumping all the coolant into a big puddle on the ground. YAY. Though B. tried valiantly to fix this, we ended up having to take it to a mechanic. Fortunately, the fix was easy and set us back a mere $85.

Months like April are honestly why we try to plan to spend only about 50% of our take-home pay in a month- that way, when things pop up, we can absorb the financial hit without going into (more) debt.

How We Buy and Budget

Though we’ve been disciples of the Dave Ramsey plan for a long time, we’ve been experimenting with moving away from some of his tenants.  Most of his principles seemed to apply more when we weren’t able to (relatively) stick to a budget. More to come on this.


Yay for spring!

We buy almost everything with credit cards these days.  We have one credit card that we pay off in full every month.  If you can’t pay it off every month, do not get a credit card. B. and I have been down that road and we were really wary of trying credit cards again.  But it has worked out fine! Our spending hasn’t changed at all and we’ve had no problems paying it off each month in full.  Because our credit is high (thank you student loans?), we were able to qualify for a pretty good cashback card- we earn 1% back on all purchases and 1% back on everything we pay off.  It’s not a lot extra, but every little bit helps.

We track and budget all our expenses using EveryDollar (by Dave Ramsey).  We’ve tried some of the free options out there (Personal Capital, Mint) but I am personally less impressed by them for budgeting.  I think they work great for tracking expenses, but we still don’t feel that we’re at the point where we can’t budget. Maybe someday. Anyway. On to the meat and potatoes!

Yucky Yucky Debt

  • Total budgeted: $2564
  • Total paid: $3978
  • Total owed: $109,886

It’s going down- we’ll be under $100,000 soon. We started with somewhere between $200,000 and $250,000 so I think I’ll just celebrate this as a continued win.

April Spending

Expenditure Planned Spent Notes
Mortgage $1,336 $1,336 Coming in at only $36 higher than what we used to spend on rent. I’m counting this as a win, given the incredibly tight housing market where we live
Final utility bills $340 $328 Closing out utilities at our rental
Electricity $100 $100 Budget billing! We’ll see how this shakes out over the year.
Internet $100 $81 I think we’re on an intro offer for 3 months?
Garbage $45 $13 No need to dump the dumpster this month.
Gas $300 $441 So gas prices went up. A lot.
Groceries $600 $658 Ever a problem. I think this is high because we ate up everything we had to avoid moving food.
Restaurants $100 $85
Pet care $100 $213 Rover’s new vet wouldn’t refill his medication without an exam.
Clothing $50 $43 New pants! Men apparently use their clothes until they’re shredded? We’ve never been able to find B. clothes at any thrift store.
Daycare $792 $792
Sports/Entertainment $40 $0 I’m proud of this one.  Now that it’s nice, we’ve been spending most of our free time outside.
Miscellaneous $200 $198 Looks like this is some random stuff off Amazon (I think some allergy meds, a new watch band, etc.), updated drivers licenses and a couple trips to the dump (yay moving)!
Hair Care/Cosmetics $50 $17
B. Fun Money $50 $14 Go B.!
L. Fun Money $50 $51 Darn you $1 vending machine purchase.
Doctor $50 $23 I think some random labs?
Food-Drill $50 $0 B. had a four-day drill this month. I’m not sure what he did for food, but I didn’t have any expenditures come through.
House supplies $600 $602 Turns out moving is expensive. Especially when you haven’t owned a house in a few years.
Car parts $500 $641 We knew the cars needed some brakes, oil changes, etc.  Then some other stuff decided to break. B. fixed most of it himself, but parts still cost money!
CSA $350 $350 More on this in a future post. Suffice it to say, our garden is just getting off the ground this year.
Gym $100 $108 Still working out cost with B.’s crossfit gym…
World of Warcraft subscription $0 $78 Forgot this was coming due (and yes, we totally just outed ourselves as geeky computer game nerds…)

Total Spending

  • Planned: $5903
  • Actual: $6172
  • Percentage of income: 56%

Not the best. Not the worst.  Hopefully May will be better!


Five Frugal Things: The Moving Edition

I haven’t done one of these in awhile- today is all about moving!

Five Frugal Things

  1. We moved on a weekday– B. and I are incredibly lucky to both work for companies with very generous PTO benefits, so taking a day off work to move was not a big deal for either of us.  Our moving company charged us 10% less per hour to move on a weekday versus a weekend.  As a plus, we had a whole weekend to finish packing!
  2. I price-shopped moving supplies– I shopped around and found that Home Depot had the cheapest moving supplies around, by about $1 a box (ever since I found out that bed bugs can live in cardboard boxes, I can’t do used ones.  I just can’t).  I hate spending money on moving supplies, but I know that I got the best deal.
  3. We cleaned out our rental ourselves– given the stress of moving, it was very tempting to hire this chore out. It was a long week of cleaning, but we got it done and saved ourselves the cost of hiring someone to clean it
  4. We re-purposed existing items in our new house – we have a rather large assortment of containers and these ended up being quite handy as we tried to figure out where to put things in our new house.  Rather than buying still more organizational solutions, we’ve been trying to re-purpose existing items as much as possible.
  5. We re-purposed our moving boxes– more on this in a few days (once the SNOW ON THE GROUND clears up).  Suffice it to say, our moving boxes are getting re-purposed for our garden this year.

Where we chose to spend money on moving 

  1. MOVERS– this was quite easily the best decision we made in moving. B. and I have moved, for various reasons, four times in the last three years. There was no chance that we were going to load all our stuff into yet another U-Haul and do this ourselves.

    Our last U-Haul ever.  NOT this move.

    This turned out to be a very good decision, as B. (the primary “lifter of the heavy things”) injured his neck two days before we were supposed to move.  Also, we tipped our movers pretty generously- mother nature was incredibly helpful on our moving day and provided a raging snow/rain downpour in frigid temperatures gentle rainstorm in pleasantly cool temperatures. Our poor movers.

  2. New boxes– again, raging fear of bed bugs. The moving boxes cost less than exterminators.

One big frugal moving fail

We accidentally packed the coffee maker two days before we were due to move.  This was not a smart move for two serious coffee addicts. The question was never “should we buy coffee” but more “where should we buy coffee this morning/afternoon/9:00 pm? This wasn’t a huge expense, to be sure, but it could have been avoided if we’d been a little more thoughtful about packing strategy…

So there you have it! Our mostly frugalized move.  What frugal moving tips do you all have to share?

March Madness: The Moving Edition

I’m not one to bury the lede: we moved!

That’s largely the reason that things have been so quiet on the blog this month- between packing, prepping and moving, we’ve been pretty darn busy.

But, for your viewing pleasure: our beautiful house 🙂 Or at least, some not great pictures of the inside of our house shortly after semi-completing the unpacking process.  Let’s be real- spotlessly clean has never been our reality.


We are officially country residents now- we have two neighbors and 1.5 acres of wooded land on our property, which is fortunately adjacent to conservation land. I can’t wait for the weather to warm up so we can actually explore the woods behind our house.

Anyway, I know you all really want to see the inside of the house, so behold.

Our kitchen! I LOVE this kitchen- it’s much bigger than our old kitchen, and most of the appliances were in good working order. B. and I can actually cook in the kitchen together, which is a uniquely luxurious experience.


Our dining room (and jack russell terrier).


A bad shot of the living room, still kind of full of stuff. Not pictured: a GORGEOUS bay window, complete with window seat, that looks out over woods and corn. 

Bad picture aside, the living room is one of my favorite rooms in the house. It’s big and open and has a gorgeous view out the window of trees. And corn fields. No neighbors in sight.  It feels so incredibly peaceful- no matter how stressed or busy life gets, I feel calm just sitting and looking out the window.

F.’s bedroom.  Please note the fabulous Thomas blanket (her current favorite). She was incredibly excited that her dollhouse could be in her room, as her old room was too small to accommodate both F. and her toys.  Her new room is much larger and she has been spending a lot of time in there.


And last, but not least, our main bathroom.  We have another 3/4 bath/laundry room, but alas, I have no pictures of it currently.  Not pictured is the master bedroom- I have attempted to get a good picture multiple times, but the dirty laundry has largely overtaken our room…I’m sure ya’ll don’t want to see pictures of our dirty clothes all over the place!!

Also not pictured is the large, unfinished basement.  I definitely want to get a good picture of the basement and the garage at some point- the original owner of the house covered the walls with this beautiful pine and cedar paneling.  In fact, he actually hand milled every board himself.  The walls are absolutely gorgeous and if we ever renovate down the road, we will make sure to keep and incorporate this amazing piece of house history.


This is a personal finance blog after all- I know you all want the down low on the financials.  Our main goal in buying a house was to spend no more in mortgage/utilities than we were currently spending in our rental.  So here’s how the finances broke out:

House Purchase Price: $202,000 (with $3,000 in seller paid closing costs)

  • Mortgage: $1336
  • Electricity: $100 (this is a little more expensive because our electricity is supplied by a co-op. Also, our furnace is old)
  • Internet: $110 (so expensive. Please please fiber come out here).
  • Trash: $15 (this is the cost of our dumpster rental- we have to call to get it emptied and it’s $30 a load. Not sure how often we’ll need to dump it).

And…that’s it. 🙂  Our heat is supplied by propane, we have a shared well with our closest neighbors and a septic tank/septic system.  These things are certainly not free, but their expenses don’t show up on a monthly basis.  The septic tank/well will need to be inspected every year and the propane tank filled, but we are happy at the moment to cash flow those expenses each month.

This brings us in quite a bit lower than what we were paying in our rental, so hopefully this will help with student loan debt.


Part of the reason we got such a good deal on this house is that a) a full 50% of the living space is actually unfinished and b) a lot of things are getting close to the end of their usable lives (looking at you furnace, water heater and air conditioner).

Additionally, most things in the house are a little bit…dated. Or covered in wallpaper. We have a lot of renovations planned for this house.

But not for at least 3-4 years.

We estimate that at our current rate of payment (factoring in raises, bonuses, etc.), it will take us between three and four years to pay off our remaining student loan debt (currently around $112K).  Therefore, part of our deal in buying this house was that aside from paint and hardwood floors (for health reasons), we were not going to do any other major renovations.  Sure, things don’t match but really, who cares? We certainly don’t.  We’d much rather live in a smaller, mismatched house and put our money toward getting out from under this student loan debt.

So there you have it- our new house in all its glory! I’ll be back tomorrow with a moving-related edition of Frugal Friday…


A look back in time…

Paying off debt is a funny thing, especially when you’re carrying a relatively high debt load (like we are). It feels great to put $2000-$3000 a month toward student loans, but we’re starting to get to the point where that isn’t enough to pay off a loan each month. I’m not going to lie- it’s a little discouraging. When your debt load is so high, it can be hard to feel like $128,000 is drastically different from $158,000.

But I was thinking today about where we were ten years ago.  The dark days (financially). The pre-Dave Ramsey days.  Ten years ago, I was in graduate school and B. was still finishing up his undergrad degree.  We were living together in our first apartment, we both had part time jobs, but we survived mainly on student loans.



We would regularly go out to eat- I’m actually a little ashamed of how much we went out- probably three or four times a week.  I can’t remember what we did for lunches- possibly ate out and when we did cook at home, we tended to lean heavily toward highly processed, more expensive convenience food.  I never planned any meals for the week and we more or less flew by the set of our pants for food.  I’m pretty sure we threw a lot of food away. Also, I didn’t even discover the magic that was Aldi until about five years ago, so we were definitely over-paying for groceries.

Additionally, this was also our pre-kid days and I’m pretty sure we went out a lot on the weekends. Bars, movies, more expensive dinners out- we partook in all these social activities.  We owned (and still own, despite my best decluttering efforts) a large selection of DVDs and thought nothing of replacing expensive electronics when they broke (I had a decade long love affair with Apple products, which are ridiculously more expensive).


I know this is blurry, but this pretty much sums up our relationship right here…

Finally, we had no plan with our money.  There were some months we didn’t even have enough money left to make B.’s student loan payments (I cringe so hard when I think back on this).  It wasn’t that we didn’t have the money- we just didn’t have any plan about how to make a budget or how to really make our money work for us. And, most importantly, we weren’t prioritizing our financial future.  Our life was a hot financial mess.


My hair was also a hot mess! 🙂

I’m sharing all of this with you for two main reasons.  First, I think it’s important to look back and see where you were and where you are now. It can feel like $2000-$3000 a month isn’t a lot, but when I look at our life now, we are nothing like that financial hot mess couple we were a decade ago.  Are we perfect? Hell no! But have we vastly improved our financial picture and life? Absolutely.

Second, I want to emphasize that we were not innate savers. Though frugality runs, to some extent, through both of our families, we were not innately motivated to save money (or really, make any good decisions with money).  Ten years ago, we were making literally every bad decision with money.  Eating out, prioritizing social life over paying bills, and not saving anything for our future.  But through commitment (and a lot of trial and error), we managed to get our spending under control.  So if you aren’t an innate saver- never fear! You can get your financial life under your control and you can make your money work for you.  So what are you waiting for? Let’s get saving!





A complete guide to saving money on groceries

Wow! Thank you to everyone that commented on my grocery audit! Ya’ll have so many great ideas 🙂

As a follow-up to that post, I’ve put together a guide to help all of you save money on your grocery bills. I’ll kick things off and share how B. and I currently save money each month on groceries and then I”ll finish things off with some reader-inspired ideas.

Our Food Challenges

Before diving in to all these great, frugal grocery savings, I wanted to share what B. and I consider each week before we even think about meal planning or grocery shopping. We have some unique food challenges that make traditional frugal advice difficult, so if it seems like we’re missing something obvious- we probably are!!

  1. B. can’t handle beans. It doesn’t seem to matter what type of bean, B.’s digestive system just can’t handle them. He never feels good after eating them. This is probably the hardest food challenge we have, because the advice of “rice and bean” (looking at you, Dave Ramsey) is nearly impossible if we want to both eat and feel good.
  2. I hate fat. I’m not talking about the fat content of food, but I literally can’t stand the taste of fat on meat.  I keep trying to make myself be ok with it and I keep failing. This impacts our frugality because cheaper cuts of meat are nearly always fattier cuts of meat and it’s not easy to cut that fat out.  I think that fattier meat ends up being greasy and I feel terrible every time I eat them.
  3. We don’t eat many carbs.  Neither B. or I feel our best when we’re eating a carb heavy diet. As such, we try to restrict our carb intake to fruit and maybe one serving at dinner (rice, pasta, etc.).  Know what’s cheap? Carbs.
  4. Time constraints– In all honesty, this is one of our biggest issues.  B. and I both work full-time, partially because we need two incomes right now, but mostly because we both enjoy working and the work taht we do.  However, with 30/45 minute commutes, we can’t do as much “from scratch” as we’d like to.  It’s a trade-off for us between family time, work and money.

If we were going to be able to clear our studnet loan debt in six months or less, I think we’d be ok with feeling less than our best and eating some of these cheaper foods. But when you’re looking at a five year payment plan, we need to be able to eat in a way that’s sustainable and isn’t damaging our health.

Our Strategies for Saving Money on Groceries

In no particular order.

  1. Meal plan- I cannot stress this one enough.  If you don’t have a plan, you won’t save money. B. and I plan out breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks for every day each week and then build our grocery list off that plan.  As a side benefit, B. never has to wonder what he’s going to make for dinner.
  2. Make a list- and stick to it!  This goes with the first tip- if you don’t have a list, you’re more prone to buy whatever looks good to you in the aisles.  Make a list and force yourself to stick to it. It’s easier to say no to food when you’re sitting at home than when you’re standing longingly in front of the bacon, drooling.  (just me? Ok then).
  3. Don’t go grocery shopping when you’re hungry– see note above about drooling.  If you go shopping when you’re hungry, you’re going to buy more food.
  4. Eat with the seasons – our food consumption (particularly for produce) generally mirrors the seasons.  During the winter, we generally stick to bananas and clementines, with some berries as they come into season.  During the summer, produce abounds in the Midwest and we consume copious amounts of watermelon, cantaloupe, cucumbers and tomatoes (tomatoes never taste good outside summer time).  In the fall, we turn to squashes, pumpkins and apples.  Eating with the seasons saves you money because supply is high (thus lowering your cost).
  5. Buy what’s on sale– We try to plan our side dishes and meals around things that are on sale at the store.  For example, Aldi had blueberries, avocados and grapes on sale this week, so we loaded up on….blueberries, avocados and grapes! This also has the added benefit of introducing a wider variety of food into your diet.
  6. Shop at Aldi- I have shopped at a lot of different stores and none can compare, price-wise, to Aldi. I just cannot find good food for less money.  At some point in the future, I will dedicate an entire love poem to Aldi on this blog.  I love Aldi.  If you have one, and you haven’t been there, go (but make sure you bring a quarter). Aldi beats even Walmart on pricing, and they treat their employees significantly better.
  7.  Shop along the perimeter of the store-  Grocery stores are all laid out the same.  Produce, meat and dairy products can always be found along the perimeter of the store.  If you stay along the perimeter, you’ll avoid all the processed food, which can be more expensive (and is likely less healthy).
  8. Stock up on meat when it’s on sale- We often stock up on meat when we can get a good deal and freeze it. Not sure what a good price is? Watch your grocery circulars for a month or two- almost everything will go on sale during that time, so you’ll be able to see what a good sale price looks like.
  9. Buy cheaper cuts of meat- Beef is expensive. We almost never eat beef.  Our usual meat rotation consists of chicken, pork and ground turkey, because we can reliably find those types of meat on sale each week.  More than $1.99/lb? I won’t be buying it. Our only exception to this is fish, which we try to eat at least once a week for the health benefits.  Not the money benefits, because fish in the Midwest is NOT. CHEAP.
  10. Stretch your meat- We try to create a lot of meals that stretch out our meat. We rarely just eat chicken breast for dinner.  For example, this week we are going to make chicken stir-fry (two breasts feeds our family of three with leftovers), chili (one pound of ground turkey, at least two full meals), and chicken ramen (a whole pile of chicken legs).
  11. Do it yourself– Any product that has some of the work done for you will come with a premium on price.  I’ve seen a lot of people making fun of the peeled oranges and avocados (a life-saver for those with arthritis, btw), but there are a lot of pre-processed foods that we often don’t think of.  Here are just a few examples of items that you can get a lot cheaper if you’re willing to do some prep work.  For example:
    1. Lettuce (we buy heads each week that we wash and cut up for salads)
    2. Carrots (cut up your own sticks or shred your own)
    3. Shredded cheese (we don’t shred our own cheese, but we really should)
    4. Boneless chicken breast (get a good boning knife, watch a YouTube video and get those bones out yourself. As a plus, you’ll get some really great ingredients for homemade chicken stock!)
    5. Yogurt (we don’t make our own, but I’ve heard it’s much cheaper to do it yourself)

The list goes on, but you get the idea. These are some of the ways that B. and I routinely save money on groceries each week.  However, all you fantastic readers also had some really great ideas on how to save money, which I’m happy to share here as well!

Reader-Inspired Ideas

  1. Don’t buy groceries one week–  this would be similar to a pantry/fridge/freezer clean out.  Eat up whatever you have in your house.  It might make for some odd meals, but it won’t cost you anything.
  2. Buy in bulk– this tip only works if you actually keep track of what you buy and what you eat, but if you have the space to buy in bulk, it can save you a lot of money per pound (or ounce, or whatever).
  3. Bountiful Baskets– I am super thankful for this idea, because I had never heard of Bountiful Baskets before but they are right up my alley! Affordable, good produce that is made affordable by a local community of people working together? Sign me up, please! We will certainly be giving this a try in the near future and I will provide you all with a review.
  4. Community supported agriculture– This is similar to number three. For those of you unfamiliar with the CSA concept, you basically buy a “share” in a local farm.  Each week, you meet the farmer and pick up your produce.  Here in the Midwest, CSA’s generally run from about May/June (depending on weather) through around October (our growing season).  I wouldn’t say it’s guaranteed to be cheaper per month, but you’ll get a wider variety of vegetables and you get to support your local agriculture businesses.  That’s a win, in my book.
  5. Go veg! No really- replace just one or two meals per week with vegetarian options and you can save money. Produce and beans are cheaper than meat. Also, I’ve heard rumors that this is good for your health too 😉

I hope I didn’t forget anything that readers recommended!  Thank you all so much- this is such a great list of strategies for saving money.

A Final Note

You’ll notice two things I didn’t mention on here- coupons and generics. I personally don’t collect or use coupons for the vast majority of groceries, for a few reasons.  First, Aldi doesn’t take coupons.  This frees me from having to look at coupons.  Second, most coupons (not all, but most) were for products I either didn’t want to buy or that were still more expensive than generics, even with coupons. There were almost never coupons for meat, diary or produce. Third, I definitely didn’t remember to bring my coupons.  Some people have a lot of success with couponing, but I never did (and I often ended up buying things I didn’t really need, just because I had a coupon). Aldi’s regular prices are so good that I never couponed again after we started shopping there.

Additionally, if you shop at a regular grocery store that isn’t Aldi, I highly recommend you buy generics over name brand food.  In almost all cases (especially for staples), there is no difference in taste between the name brand product and the generic. However, Aldi only has one option for everything they sell and they rarely carry any  name brands, so I don’t generally think about this unless I’m at a regular store.

I hope this list helps you and feel free to add your own tips to the comments if I haven’t covered them here! Thanks again readers for such a great guide 🙂

Grocery Audit

The last few months, we’ve been a) spending a lot more on groceries and b) consistently going over our grocery budget.  Currently, I budget about $100/week for groceries, plus between $100-$200 more depending on whether we have guests or other social plans (like a Superbowl party!).  However, I feel like our money is not going as far as it used to at the grocery store.  It has been a struggle recently for us to stay within our grocery budget, despite all my usual money-saving strategies.

For those of you who don’t know me well, I’m a big data nerd and I also really enjoy lists.  So you can all imagine how excited I was at the prospect of doing a grocery audit for a month!! 😉   Basically, I tracked every single grocery item we bought for an entire month.  Completing this audit served two main purposes for me:

  1. To get a better idea of what we were spending our money.  We all have our own perceptions of things in the world, many of which are…not always accurate.  In this case, my perception was that we were spending a whole lot of money on household items (which we roll into our grocery budget) and on junk that could be eliminated.  As you’ll see in a bit, my perception was…very wrong.
  2. Look  for places to save.  Hopefully, by identifying the big spending categories that we have on groceries, we’ll be able to find some cost savings in those areas.

So without further ado- here is our spending breakdown.


Apologies for the ugly graph. It’s late and I didn’t want to put any further effort into this…

This chart makes me both happy and frustrated.  It makes me happy because I can see that at the very least, our spending is reflecting our food priorities- the majority of our grocery budget goes to eggs, dairy, fruits, veggies, meats and beans/nuts. We’re spending very little on junk food. It’s hard to be upset that vegetables are one of our biggest grocery expenditures!

However, I feel frustrated because I’m not sure where to go from here.  My perception was that we were spending too much on household goods and junk food.  This was SO WRONG. Sure, we’re spending money there, but cutting things out in those categories is literally stepping over dollars to save dimes.

So, frugal friends, I’m throwing this back out to all of you! I need some ideas.  Here’s what I know/have done with our biggest spending categories:

Dairy- most of this is cheese. String cheese and cheese sticks, to be exact.  I know these are more expensive than just buying cheese, but I absolutely despise cutting up cheese.  F. gets most of her milk at daycare, so we only go through about 1/2 gallon of milk a week.

Fruits/Vegetables/Meat- I’m completely unsure what to do here.  We try to only buy fresh veggies/fruits that are on sale.  A lot of the fruit we eat are apples and bananas.  We almost exclusively eat cheaper types of meat (chicken, ground turkey, pork) that we only purchase when it’s on sale (for example, the chicken breasts currently in our freezer were 1.49/lb on sale!).  The veggies we buy fresh tend to be relatively cheap, such as peppers, green onions, carrots and zucchini. The frozen veggies we buy are all $1.00 steam-in-bag veggies. I am seriously struggling here.

Additionally, we do nearly all (90% or more) of our grocery shopping at Aldi, which is about the cheapest option around here for food.

B. is of the opinion that we should make small adjustments where we can, but we might just need to accept that grocery costs have increased and we need to increase our budget as well.  However, I’m not ready to throw in the towel yet.  So lay it on me! What suggestions do you all have?




Money Monday: Five ways we save money on insurance

Hey everyone! Welcome to this week’s Money Monday series- all about insurance! (I know- you’re all totally thrilled). Insurance has been on my mind a lot recently, because we recently purchased a house, which requires insurance. We also are the current proud owners of:  health insurance, life insurance, auto insurance, disability insurance (long and short-term) and renter’s insurance (but only until we move at the end of March).

Back when I first started purchasing insurance (auto insurance, in college…), I had no idea what I was doing. I just put in some information and then took whatever recommended plan Progressive spit back out at me.

*ahem*  We do things a little differently around here now.  I will not claim to be an expert, by any means, but we do understand the concept of insurance a little better these days (pretty sure I started out with no understanding of what a deductible was, so if you’re in the same boat- have no fear! This post will help you!)


Insurance is the best investment you can make when it comes to protecting your money.  I work for a health insurance firm- trust me when I say that health claims can easily run in tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars.  For example, when I had my daughter, I had a routine, complication free c-section.  No NICU stay and we went home on time.

$32,000.  No way we could have paid for that. Having a baby would have completely bankrupted our family.  Insurance is meant to help protect your financial assets and protect you and your family from bankruptcy.

So, if you don’t have the following types of insurance- get out there and get them!

  • Auto insurance- protects you from financial liability if you hit someone and comprehensive coverage will replace the value of your car if your car gets totaled.
  • Home/Renters insurance- covers your house (the actual structure) and all of your stuff as well as financial costs associated with injuries on your property
  • Health insurance- provides financial coverage for doctor/hospital visits, medical equipment and prescription medication
  • Life insurance- provides your family with money in the event of your death
  • Long-term/short-term disability insurance- provides a percentage of your income in the event that you become disabled and can’t work
  • Long-term care insurance* (generally if you’re 50 or older)- provides financial assistance with the costs associated with nursing home care or in-home nursing.

Alright? Alright. Now that we’re all on the same page about the benefits of having insurance, I’d like to talk specifically about our recent homeowners/auto insurance purchase and some strategies we used to reduce the amount we pay for insurance.

5 Ways to Save Money on Auto/Home Insurance

1. BUNDLE– This is by far the easiest way to save money on insurance. Almost all major insurers offer both home and auto insurance and you can score some pretty big discounts for buying both policies through the same company.

2. Look for discounts- Related to number one, look for other discounts.  We got quite a few discounts through Progressive (I remember…paperless billing, new roof, welcome home, and some type of continuous coverage discount).  I sort of remember getting a “good student” discount when I was in high school/college.  Different insurers offer different types of discounts, so look around for ones that match your situation.

3. Shop around- I shopped out our homeowner’s policy through five (YES FIVE) different insurers. They all asked similar questions, but varied widely in price. And I mean, widely. Our quote through Progressive was about $100/month while our quote through USAA was a whopping $250/month. That’s an $1800 savings over the course of one year. It took me a long time, but I’m confident that we got the best price.

4. Adjust your deductibles– This is the amount that you have to pay before your insurance plan kicks in. For all five quotes that I completed, the “default” deductible was $1000 for homeowners insurance and $500 for auto insurance.  However, if you’re willing to cash flow a larger deductible, it can drastically reduce your monthly premiums. In our case, frugal living has allowed us to save a fairly healthy emergency fund- not enough to replace both cars outright if needed, but enough to cover most minor repairs and a more substantial deductible.  We ended up choosing a $2000 auto insurance deductible and a $5000 (I think!) deductible for homeowners insurance.

5. Make yourself less risky– Insurance is all about mitigating risk, so insurers are likely to insure you for less money if you’re less risky. We made sure to have working smoke detectors in each room as well as fire extinguishers on each floor.  We didn’t buy a house in a flood zone. Additionally, we have mostly clean driving records.  Speeding tickets stay on your record for something like five years and we (I won’t say who) have one ticket left on our record (which should drop off soon- YAY!). That one ticket raised our auto insurance premiums by almost $80 a year.  That’s, to quote Dave Ramsey, a stupid tax.


You’ll notice that none of my tips above involve reducing the amount of liability coverage you have.  In fact, B. and I specifically picked larger deductibles so that we could afford the maximum liability coverage offered. Insurance is all about mitigating risk and I want to make sure that my family is as protected as possible from financial risk. As such, we carry the largest liability coverage we can, for both our homeowner’s policy as well as our auto policy.   In terms of mitigating financial risk, we are both fairly conservative, so maxing out our liability coverage was incredibly important to us.

What other questions or comments or tips do you all have for saving money on insurance?


Five things that are making me happy

Between a whole lot of snow and some crummy personal stuff, it’s been a long week over here- and it’s only Wednesday!

As such, I’ve been feeling pretty tired and mopey so I’m going to try some forced gratitude.  There’s a lot of research that suggests that expressing gratitude increases satisfaction and contentment.  SO…here goes!

  1. My job offers a student loan repayment program–  This is a great, although less common, perk.  My employer, for any loans that went toward a college degree, offers a certain amount of money that you can apply for each year to pay down student loan debt.  And it’s recurring! I can apply each year.  This is a fantastic benefit, as it allows me to put an extra large payment on one of my loans each March. Plus, the degree doesn’t have to be related your current job (which is good, since my undergraduate degree is technically in French…)
  2. Our super-powered snowblower– We’ve had this snowblower for a good number of years (originally acquired when we lived in Minneapolis, where a snowblower was more a necessity than a luxury).  However, it’s still going strong.  B. does a lot of yearly maintenance to keep it in good working order and we expect to get many more years out of it.  In fact, last year, the handle that turns the…blower part(?- I am not mechanically inclined) broke off when we moved. Fortunately, a local farm and garden store was able to repair it, and for much less than we would have paid for a new snowblower.  In any case, it has come in very handy for this week’s snowstorms.
  3. Family visits! My sister and brother-in-law (and their adorable son) are in town for the week.  I love getting to spend time with family and Baby W. is ridiculously cute and chunky and perfect.  🙂   They currently live about nine hours away, so it’s always nice to get to see them whenever they make it down here.  I think we’re going to try and plan a trip to see them this summer.


    F. and Baby W.  I think he’s hitting her in the face… 

  4. Our new house– One week until closing! We went and picked out some paint samples last weekend (a rare time when B. and I got to go out alone). So far, everything seems to be getting done in time for closing next Thursday- hopefully that trend continues.  I’m starting to get excited!!
  5. A healthy family– I’m knocking on wood as I type this.  The flu has been making the rounds through daycare as well as my office, but so far we’ve managed to avoid catching it.  Besides feeling miserable, illness is always a big hit to our frugality efforts, as neither of us can muster up the energy to perform the money-saving tasks we normally would (like cooking dinner).

What things are making you happy this week?

January Budget Round-Up

I’m trying something new this month- rather than posting a budget at the beginning of the month and a round-up at the end, I’m just going to post the round-up post.  You’ll still see what we budgeted and how much we actually spent, but having both posts was starting to feel redundant.  So here goes!


  • Required payment: $1058
  • Planned overpayment: $1500
  • Actual overpayment: $1900
  • Total paid: $2958
  • Total owed: $124,597

It’s getting down there, people. It may not be fast and it’s certainly not glamorous, but having a clear plan and clear financial priorities can make a difference! (Assuming you have the luxury of choice in your budget- feel free to ignore me if you’re struggling to pay bills and put food on the table). 


Expense Planned Spent Comments
Rent $1,300 $1,300
Utilities $414 $431 This was our “settle-up” month with the gas/electric company, where we had to settle the difference between our budget billed amount and our actual usage.  It was about a $75 difference, which was much better than last year’s $250…
Phone $51 $46
Netflix/Hulu $15 $15 We downgraded our Netflix account and added the most basic Hulu account. We’re going to try it this way for a few months and then see if we can reasonably get rid of one Netflix.  We both enjoy TV at night and this is much cheaper than cable.
Gas $300 $309 Gas is expensive.
Groceries $600 $707 I’m currently in the process of conducting a grocery audit, to better understand where our grocery dollars go. We’ve been consistently over since B. returned and I’d like to get that under control.
Restaurants $50 $68 We would have been on budget, but our landlords unexpectedly had to tear up our kitchen for a day, rendering cooking impossible. If we had some advance notice, we would have planned accordingly, but the problem they were fixing ended up being much more work than anticipated.
Pet care $300 $347 This is mostly medication. Having an old dog can get expensive, but he seems happier on all his new meds, so I’m happy about that.
Clothing $50 $20
Childcare $996 $996
Sports/ Entertainment $100 $97 This is mostly gymnastics.  It’s expensive, but we’re willing to prioritize it right now because it makes F. so happy!
Crossfit $99 $99
Miscellaneous $200 $172.17 Next up after the grocery audit is an audit of expenses that fall into this category…
Hair care/cosmetics $75 $63
Fun money-B $50 $20
Fun money-L $50 $44
Doctor $50 $10 Yay for good health!
Beachbody subscription $105 $105 This is a one-time charge for a year of access to all Beachbody workouts.  I prefer working out at home and I can access all the workouts from our existing Roku. If I end up not using it, I’ll just cancel.
Snow boots $150 $143 Part of the joy of living in the Midwest is having to deal with snow. Lots of snow. For some reason, B. no longer had a pair of good, warm snowboots and was out shoveling snow in his tennis shoes! In negative temperatures. Not a solid plan, so we went and got him a pair of good, warm, waterproof snow boots. Which of course have not been needed- now that we’re prepared, there has been no snow to speak of.
Earnest money $1,000 $1,000 Pretty sure this is getting returned to us at closing, but I guess it’s technically an expense for January?
Mortgage fees $440 $439 Fees for some part of our mortgage. Title work maybe? Appraisal? Who knows.
Car insurance $0 $271 We ended up purchasing a new insurance plan as part of purchasing our home insurance and bundled both together. However, we had to pay the car insurance premium right away and it was cheaper to pay for it upfront.  So we did.

Total Spending

  • Total planned spending: $6395
  • Actual spending: $6702
  • Net difference: -$307
  • Percentage of income: 72%

As you can see, we’re over by just about the amount that we spent on car insurance. It was definitely a rough budget month though.  Now that B. is no longer deployed, our percentage of income spending is going up, since his civilian job pays less than being deployed.

For some reason, groceries are becoming a problem. I’m hopeful that the grocery audit will provide some insight, but I’m really afraid that our biggest spending categories are going to be ones we’re most loathe to cut (like vegetables- we buy A LOT of vegetables).  More to come on that toward the end of February.

How frugality has reduced our carbon footprint

download (12)

I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot this week, although I’m not really sure why.  Obviously, environmental news of late hasn’t been great, but I think that the nice weather this week has me thinking about my environmental impact (because let’s be honest- while 50 degree weeks in January are nice, snow and cold actually serve an important environmental purpose).

I grew up with a healthy respect for the environment, largely because my mother worked as a naturalist for a very large part of her life but also because I spent almost all free time I had outside. But until recently, I wouldn’t say that I did a good job of living my values in that area. Before I started on this debt-free journey, I probably over contributed to the carbon footprint.  Nothing obvious, like throwing trash on the ground, but in a million little ways.  However, years of being frugal has fundamentally changed the way I view consumption and I’ve found that as I am making more and more frugal choices, I’m also making more and more environmentally positive choices.  Call it laziness, but it makes me happy when values align and work in tandem (and that isn’t always the case for frugality and environmentalism).

Here are a few ways that frugal living has reduced my carbon footprint.

I actively choose used over new, whenever possible 

There are a few things that I absolutely will not buy new (Underwear, socks and cloth furniture, to name a few. I am completely phobic of getting bed bugs.  Not the bugs themselves, but having an infestation).  But for every other major purchase, I try to buy used when possible.  I buy nearly all of my clothes on ThredUP (a phenomenal online consignment store). B. and I both drive older, used cars (and do not plan to ever buy an actual new car). F.’s Christmas present last year was a plastic play desk that we bought at goodwill and her Christmas present this year was a dollhouse that I received for free. All of F’s clothing is either hand-me-downs or purchased from a consignment store. My leather work bag is a phenomenal Goodwill find.

Don’t get me wrong- I’m not militant about this. There are some things I won’t buy used that other people would have no problem purchasing used (beds anyone?) But I know that by trying to buy used whenever possible, we’re keeping perfectly functional items out of a landfill somewhere.

We’re more conscious about food waste

Food waste is a huge, yet rarely discussed, contributor to climate change. According to the EPA, we throw away 31 million tons of food each year.  The amount of food we throw away each year in the US could feed 2 billion people for a year. Throwing out perfectly good food is a huge waste of money and a huge waste of resources.  B. and I were SO BAD about this (and are still working on it).  We would go out to eat even when we had tons of leftovers in the fridge, which usually ended in us throwing out tons of leftovers. I’m honestly a little ashamed of the amount of food we used to waste on a regular basis. We certainly aren’t perfect (some week, I will have ZERO food waste) but our conscious decision to use up the food we have keeps perfectly good food out of the landfill.

We consume fewer resources

Turning off lights, turning down the heat, turning up the air conditioner, batching errands and washing clothing in cold water all save us money and also consume fewer natural resources.

We always try to repair before replacing

This kind of goes along with the first point, because the goal is the same- keeping serviceable items out of the landfill.  For example, I’ve had my winter coat repaired after pretty much every winter. The repairs cost significantly less than a new coat and my current coat lives to see another year.

I’m sure there are more ways that frugality has helped to reduce our carbon footprint, but these are the ones I have been thinking about this week.  How do you combine frugality and environmentalism?