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?




Monthly Budget Roundup: December

My goodness, I have not been doing well at keeping up with things over here.  December ended up being a crazy whirlwind of family, holidays, traveling and continued illness.  As you’ll see, it also ended up being kind of a budget buster as well.  December was not a good month.

I think B. and I are still trying to get back in the swing of things now that he’s home.  When he was deployed, we didn’t really have to communicate much about money- I gave him a monthly allowance and he did whatever he wanted with it 🙂

Now that he’s back, it has been challenging, for both of us, to start keeping track of expenses again.  Anyway. Enough excuses! Here are the numbers.

Yucky Debt

  • Planned payment: $1200
  • Planned overpayment: $760
  • Actual total payment: $6041

This brings our yearly total to $55,919 in student loans paid off.

Oof. On the one hand, I’m really really happy to see that number.  What we’re doing is working.  On the other hand, the opportunity cost of that money is always on my mind. But, for now, I think I’ll choose to celebrate that we were able to more or less keep our focus throughout the year and put so much money toward debt.

Budget Category Planned Actual Comments
Rent $1300 $1300  
Utilities $280 $268  
Phone $51 $40
Groceries $600 $623 A little over, but not horrible. Holidays always end up costing more than I think they should.
Gas $300 $322 Between a lot of coldness, and some unexpected trips, this ended up being higher than expected.
Daycare $1245 $1245
Charity $600 $623 There was some kind of extra charge on one of our charitable contributions (an online payment charge maybe?) I’m not going to be a grinch over an extra $23 though.
Netflix $11 $11
Restaurants $150 $199 Lots of traveling.  And illness.  Never good for the restaurant budget.  We would have been ok, but we took advantage of the free childcare (i.e. visiting family) to go out and have dinner together one night.
Pet care $300 $189 No end in sight for pet expenses.
Clothing $100 $98 I didn’t think we needed anything, but then I remembered that my child grows like a weed.
Sports/ Entertainment $100 $110 We’ve been experiencing sub-zero temperatures for the last two weeks or so, so we’ve had to find more indoor activities.
Miscellaneous $200 $268 This is bad. I don’t even know for sure what we spent the money on. Might need to start keeping a closer eye on what spending is getting included here.
Gym membership $99 $99
Hair care/ cosmetics $50 $42
B. fun money $75 $83 Boys night out to a movie killed this for B.
L. fun money $75 $65 I’m proud of this, because Starbucks was repeatedly calling my name…but I resisted!
Doctor $50 $46 Everyone was sick, so we spent a bunch of money on cough syrup and cough drops.
Maid $200 $265 This would have been under, but we forgot to cancel the service in time, so ended up paying for an extra cleaning.
Christmas Presents $400 $503 This is the worst category and it’s on me- I did not calculate properly at the beginning of the month and we had many more gifts to purchase than I remembered. Next year I’m going to look for some creative ways to cut this down.
Gun parts $500 $435 B’s birthday/Christmas present for the next…two years? Three? 😉
Boots $200 $170
Contacts/glasses $350 $272 Yay for overbudgeting!
Everydollar Renewal $99 $99 So worth it. Budgeting made easy for $8.25 a month.
Car repairs $1500 $1328
Employee Lunch $0 $55 This is on me again- I knew that B wanted to take his direct reports out to lunch as a year-end thank you, but I forgot to budget for it.

Total Expenses

  • Total planned expenses: $8835
  • Total actual expenses: $8758
  • Percentage of actual income: 56%

I have to say, I am surprised by the final round-up (and simultaneously extremely displeased by the actual dollar amount of spending in December).  I’m trying to remind myself that we deliberately put all of our expenses on this month for a reason, but oof.  I was thoroughly convinced that we were going to be over, so I’m pretty happy to see that our spending mostly evened out.



And we’re back!

Hi everyone! Sorry for the radio silence for like…a month.  Things have been incredibly busy around here and I haven’t had time to sit down and write anything.  But fear not! I will be back with an audit of December spending (something I definitely would rather NOT share with all of you this month, but accountability and whatnot…) and more regular content going forward.

In the last month, we’ve had company and activities fairly nonstop.  And some very very frigid temperatures, which have sucked away my motivation to do anything except sit on the couch like a lump and try not to freeze.  I am TERRIBLE at dealing with cold weather and every winter I ask myself why I live in the Midwest. WHY? I lived in Minneapolis for a few years and I think the secret to enjoying winter is to just embrace the cold and everything about it. I have never met a group of people so eager to spend time outside in the snowy cold than native Minnesotans.  Despite living there for a number of years, I was never able to truly embrace the cold.


Cousins, enjoying each other’s company

Finally, life has been busy because…we bought a house!! 😀  Now that B is back and we’re fairly set on staying here long-term, we decided to invest in a house here. Renting is nice, but the rental market here is quite expensive, so our mortgage is actually comparable (or a little bit less) than rent.  Alas, no pictures at the moment, but once we actually close, I’ll make sure to provide some.

This isn’t our first round through the home-buying process, but I was definitely more financially aware of the process this time around.  We’ve consciously tried to balance our wants and needs in a house with our desire for frugality and I believe we’ve achieved that. However, I do have a few frugality-related observations on the whole process.

It’s no wonder people end up buying way more house than they can afford.  

We didn’t spend a lot of time picking a mortgage broker- we had a mortgage  (and VA loan) previously with Wells Fargo and had zero problems so we decided to go with Wells Fargo again.  The pre-approval process was stunningly eye-opening.  On the positive side, rather than telling us how much house we could afford, our mortgage broker instead asked us what we wanted to spend each month on our mortgage.  I really liked this approach, because we knew that a) we could already afford what we’ve been paying in rent and b) we didn’t want to spend much more than that.  That way, we were only pre-approved for a loan amount that made sense with our monthly budget.  This seems small, but this approach just blew me away.

We did find out that with a mortgage at the type of our monthly budget, our debt to income ratio was about 25%, meaning that our mortgage and student loans together made up about 25% of our monthly income.  I am very comfortable with this- if one of us unexpectedly lost our job, the house would be safe. We would not be homeless.  I was less fine when our mortgage broker told us that the VA loan would allow us to purchase up to a 50% debt to income ratio.  This right here is how people end up purchasing more house than they can afford.  50% is absolutely ridiculous, especially if you depend on having two stable incomes to make that work.  If your house is 50% of your income, and someone loses a job, all of sudden you can afford your house and nothing else.  That’s way too much of a financial risk for me.  Once we have student loans paid off, our mortgage will be approximately 12% of our monthly income. I am much more comfortable with that number.

Having a plan helped us keep to the frugal side of our house budget

Let me tell you a little secret about realtors (from my experience)- if you name $200,000 as the top of your budget, you’ll see a lot of houses in the $200,000-$225,000 range. I don’t blame them at all- they want to maximize commission.  But B. and I saw a lot of houses that were $10,000-$25,000 above our budget. Some of them were really nice houses- they had more square footage, they had three finished bedrooms, they had master suites, and they had big kitchens.

But we ended up picking a smaller, two-bedroom house on 1.5 acres of land. Why, you may ask? Well, a few reasons!

  1. We knew we could easily afford it (it was $25,000 under our max budget).
  2. It has a great big space for a garden! Growing your own food is delightful and we can’t wait to start.
  3. We’re disconnected from most public utilities. The house is definitely out in the country and comes with a well, a septic tank and a propane tank. Though all of these things require maintenance, it works out to less money than we currently spend on utilities.
  4. We loved the house.  I’m a fairly intuitive person and I trust my gut feelings about pretty much everything (the last time I didn’t, we ended up with a horrid lemon of a car). I love this house. It felt warm and cozy and homey.
  5. It has great potential. The house has lots of room for us to grow (and a lot of unfinished space) but we’re committed to no renovations until we finish paying off our student loan debt in the next 3-4 years.

We’re planning only minimum renovations in the next 3-4 years.

I mean very minimal work here.  We plan to paint the walls (all the same color, because we’re boring and having one touch-up can of paint is much less work than four or five) and rip up the carpet and lay down some durable wood floors (or a nice laminate- undecided at the moment). The latter may not seem particularly frugal, but I have insane dust allergies, so getting rid of the carpet will help me stay healthy (plus it’s easier to lay flooring BEFORE moving in).  We might try to finish a space downstairs for guests to stay (the basement is partially finished and could easily be finished into an open-concept “bedroom”).  But beyond that, we plan to do exactly nothing for the next 3-4 years, for a couple of reasons.  First and foremost, any money put toward house projects is money not going toward debt.  Our primary goal is to continue aggressively paying down debt, so all renovations are going to take a backseat to that goal.  Second, I’m a big fan of living in a house for awhile before deciding what needs renovated.

So there you have it! Our house-buying journey.  Stay tuned for more house-related posts as we head into the moving process… And pictures to come!

Money Monday: The little things add up…

Sometimes, when you’re facing down what feels like a mountain of debt, it starts to feel like you’re always going to be in debt.  That no amount of frugality is ever going to be enough to offset the amount of money you owe.  I get it. I do. I have been there before. I was there last week!  Every month, when I put together our monthly budget, I get so excited about the amount of money we can put toward student loans.  But then I look and see that our overall balance is still well over $100k.

Some days, the weight of that feels crushing.  I sit and think, why bother? What good are we doing? Why not just pay the monthly minimum until ten years from now and toss this whole frugality thing in the metaphorical garbage can.

I had this thought last night as B. and I were sitting down to dinner.  It was a rather sad dinner, which consisted of the remnants of an old bag of chicken nuggets, some eggs with cheese and some leftover apple halves that were hanging out in the fridge.


Sad dinner and mismatched plates. Living the dream over here!

It is not a pretty meal. It honestly wasn’t even that good. But it kept us from getting takeout, which was pretty much the point of the meal.  Frugality at its finest. But a non-small part of me really wanted to say “screw it” and just order takeout.  Part of the impetus for starting this blog was to put some accountability on myself, because I’ve given in to that “screw it” urge many, many times.

But here’s the thing- even though it doesn’t seem like it at the time, the little things add up.  Frugality, as a lifestyle, leads to small savings, day in and day out, that eventually lead to big savings over time.

I calculated today how much we’ve managed to pay toward student loans so far this year and the total actually kind of blew me away:  $49,878.  By the end of the year, that will be well over $50,000.

$50,000 y’all.

I swear, I thought I’d calculated that wrong when I added it all up.  I really didn’t believe that we could have possibly paid that much.  But guys, we did!! That’s around 30% of our student loan debt paid off in one year!  If we can keep up this pace, we’ll be debt free in 2.5 years.

Suddenly, my sad little dinner didn’t feel quite so sad anymore.  Neither did my thrifted clothes, my fifteen year old car or any of the other frugal choices that B. and I make on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.  The small choices we made over the course of the year have cumulatively added up to some really big savings and meaningful progress on securing our financial future.  It really is the little things, the every day frugality that make a difference.

What daily frugal things have you all been up to?



Five Frugal Things (and one frugal fail)

I haven’t done one of these in awhile, so here are some frugal things I’ve been up to this week!

Five Frugal Things

  1. I turned chicken bones and some no-longer-edible veggies into chicken broth. We had some veggies that were a little too soft for me to eat, but weren’t actually spoiled. So I made chicken broth in the crockpot.  This is my favorite thing to do on the weekend- put chicken bones and veggies in the crockpot, add water, and let simmer overnight.  We ended up using some of the chicken broth for ramen and froze the rest.  I love homemade chicken broth, because it essentially turns “garbage” into food (and saves me roughly $3-$5 on chicken broth).
  2.  We price-shopped new tires- getting new tires is not an inherently cheap activity, but taking care of the car we already own fits in with our frugal lifestyle.  Taking care of the car means it will last longer before we have to replace it.  By price-shopping a little bit, I’m confident that we’re getting the best price.
  3. I brought my lunch every day this week but one.  B. is going back to work next week at his civilian job and since we work approximately 45 min. apart from one another, we almost never get a chance to go out to lunch (when restaurant prices are MUCH cheaper).  So we took advantage of him being home and went out for ramen today.
  4. I ate up some very disgusting oatmeal, even though it was gross.  I bought some lower sugar instant oatmeal for F., because she doesn’t do well with a lot of sugar. Turns out “lower sugar” is synonymous with “no taste.” But I finished off the box, even though it was gross and no one liked it.
  5. Despite the big chill here, I’ve resisted the urge to turn up the heat in the house.  The house we’re currently renting has terrible HVAC, so even though our house is set at 69 degrees, the bedrooms are all routinely a very chilly 60-63 degrees.  The previous owners of the house built on an addition, but didn’t upgrade the HVAC, so it’s cold.  All the time.  B. and I have a heated mattress pad and a lot of blankets, which have sufficed so far.

One Frugal Fail

Since B. has been at home during his transition time, he has largely taken over cooking every night. However, last night he had a bad migraine, so F. and I ended up picking up take-out on our way home.  I picked up a pizza and then threw together a salad at home along with some oranges.  Definitely not the most frugal choice, however.

December Budget

It’s time for our December budget! This is a weird month, as B. is still getting paid through the military, it’s a three paycheck month for me and we have some random, miscellaneous money coming in from the end of the deployment and my job (i.e. no clear way to plan for it).  So right now, the budget looks bad, but only because I know we are WAY underestimating income for the month.

Because we have so much random/extra money coming in this month, we’ve decided to forge ahead with a few expenses that we had been putting off.  I still think we’ll have a good bit of money to put toward student loans at the end of the month, but we’ll have to see how it all washes out at the end.

Yucky, yucky debt

  • Total amount owed: $132,485
  • Planned payment: $1200
  • Planned overpayment: $760 (I think it’ll be quite a bit more than this, but this is what my budgeting software is telling me we have left).


  • Rent: $1300
  • Utilities: $280
  • Phone: $51
  • Groceries: $600- This is high because we’re having a bunch of family come visit over the holidays.  Plus, Christmas Eve gumbo. It is every bit as delicious as it sounds. I’ll post about it after Christmas!!
  • Gas: $300- With B. going back to work, I think our gas bills will be a bit higher.  This is probably too much, but we’ll wait and see how it shakes out.
  • Daycare: $1245- Three paycheck month also equals five daycare payments.

Other Items

  • Charity: $600- We generally prefer to save a little bit each month toward charity, but due to the upheaval this year, this somehow didn’t happen.  We’ll start up again with this method next year, but for this year, we’re going to do some shopping for our charities of choice.  I’m thinking a diaper bank might be my choice this year.
  • Netflix: $11
  • Restaurants: $150 – I upped this slightly since we have family coming in to town and holidays are always a little crazy. We did GREAT last month so hopefully that trend can continue.
  • Pet care: $300 – Yet more testing this month. Plus medications.
  • Clothing: $100- I actually don’t think we need anything.  So this probably won’t get spent.
  • Sports and Entertainment: $100- Now that F. is 3, the cost of her gymnastics class went up.  Gymnastics is expensive, but F. loves it so much that we have decided to prioritize her lessons.  Plus, it’s the only extracurricular activity she takes part in.
  • Miscellaneous: $200
  • Gym membership: $99- B. likes CrossFit. I don’t know why. Apparently some people are masochists? 😉 Anyway, it’s expensive, but he sticks with it, so I think it’s worth the money.  Health problems are more expensive than the gym in the long run.
  • Hair care/cosmetics: $50
  • Fun money: $150- This is $75 for each of us.
  • Doctor: $50
  • Maid: $200
  • Christmas presents: $400- This should cover the majority of our Christmas spending. We try really hard not to go overboard with F.  Sometimes we’re more successful than others.  I try to stick to a little maxim I read somewhere long ago: “Something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read.”  I’ll check back in after Christmas on how that went…
  • Gun parts: $500- B. needed two last parts to finish a project that he has been working on for years, so this is a birthday/Christmas present combo this month.
  • New boots: $200- After six months (plus six previous years) of continuous use, B’s boots are shot. The military doesn’t pay for new boots, so we get to pay for them. Yay…
  • Contacts/glasses: $350- My latest cold left me with a nasty bout of pink eye, which made me realize how badly my glasses need to be updated.  And I also need new contacts. I really like the frames I already have, so I’m just going to see if they can put in new lenses.  This should hopefully help save some money on glasses.  I think I’m going to look into Lasik (and saving for Lasik) in 2018. It isn’t cheap, but it’ll be cheaper in the long run compared to contacts and glasses!
  • Every Dollar renewal: $99- Time to pay for our awesome budgeting software. Considering how much money we have saved, I consider this to be money well spent.
  • Car repairs: $1500- After sitting for six months, B.’s car was in need of some maintenance, as well as new tires.  Unfortunately, living in a cold, snowy state means that we have to be pretty proactive about new tires and they have to be fairly high-quality, all-terrain type tires. Which are, of course, expensive. We’re doing a lot of the repairs ourselves, which is saving us quite a bit of money.

Total Planned Expenses

  • $8835
  • Percentage of income: 80%

So…yeah.  That looks really terrible.  BUT! I know we have more coming in than what I currently have accounted for, so we’ll see how the end of the month shakes out.  If our percentage of income was over 100%, I would be more concerned about accurately figuring out what extra money would be coming in this month. Since we’re only at 80%, anything extra is just gravy, so I’m not going to waste time or energy trying to track down exact extra amounts.  It will be like a nice surprise!  How does your budget look this week?