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.

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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?

 

 

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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).

Necessities

  • 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?

Monthly Budget Roundup- November

Boy oh boy, I have not been doing a good job at keeping up with things this month. Life kind of fell apart/got super busy in November (which is definitely reflected in the budget) so I have been pretty absent from the blog.  My apologies and I will try harder in December!

This month brought us all of the sickness- F. had a cold, followed by pink eye, followed by an ear infection and I had a cold followed by another cold that has been sticking around now for a week (and still isn’t gone!)  I am very ready for the household to be healthy again.

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My poor sick birthday girl.

However, this month also brought exciting events as well.  Perhaps the most exciting- B. has officially returned from his deployment! I feel quite bad for him, as we got back from picking him up and I got sick about three days later, so he hasn’t had a lot of down time since he got back…

Also, my sister, brother-in-law and baby nephew came to stay with us over Thanksgiving.  Though it’s always crazy having more people in the house, I love getting to spend time with my family.  My favorite part of their visit was F. walking over to me and declaring that she “hates the baby.” 😉  Gotta love toddler emotions.

Anyway, all of this excitement and illness has led to a lot of general craziness and busy-ness and I am happy to have it come to an end (at least until Christmas craziness starts up!)  This month has been a budget doozy, so hopefully December will be better.

Yucky Yucky Debt

  • Planned payments: $1200+$1200 over-payment = $2400
  • Actual payment: $3431

Not as high as I would like ($4000) but also higher than I expected at the beginning of the month.

Budget Item Planned Actual Comments
Rent $1300 $1300
Utilities $280 $267
Phone $51 $50
Groceries $600 $657 Ugh. So much higher than I wanted.  Turns out having a big party for an unknown number of people leads to overspending on groceries…
Gas $300 $280
Daycare $1003 $1010 I had planned on B. not being able to attend the Thanksgiving lunch at daycare, but happily, he was!
B. Cash $500 $495
Netflix $11 $11
Restaurants $100 $90
Pet care $800 $684
Clothing $150 $93
Sports/Entertainment $75 $65
Miscellaneous $200 $260 I’m not gonna lie, we’re over on this category because I bought tickets to go see Hamilton this summer. No regrets.
Hair care/cosmetics $75 $17 I bought none of the needed make-up and failed to get a haircut for the second month in a row…
Fun money $100 $90
Doctor $50 $104 All of the illness has led to all of the buying of medicine. Cough/cold medicine is expensive, not to mention eye drops and antibiotics.
Maid $200 $123 I’m enjoying this while it lasts- now that B. is back, the maid is going away starting in January L
Lawn care $400 $450 Apparently they cut my grass four times in October? Oh well. This expense is also going away now that it is winter and B. is back.
F. Birthday $75 $72 Poor little F was sick on her birthday, so we mostly just ate at iHop and played at home.
Hotel $250 $162 Planning pays off! We only ended up needing one night at the hotel. This category also ended up catching a couple fast food meals on the trip.
Christmas presents $300 $92 The plague I have been down with prevented any buying of presents.
Charity $50 $400 We had some friends that were in a tough spot this month, so some of that money went to offering a helping hand.  I never feel bad about overspending here.
Subscriptions $0 $78 B. had let his WOW account lapse while overseas, so he wanted to get it back. This is an annual cost, so we won’t have to pay it again for a year.
Gym membership $0 $99 B. does Cross Fit and I hadn’t been planning on him starting back until December.

 

Total Expenses

  • Total planned expenses: $6870
  • Actual expenses: $6949
  • Percent of total income: 69% (for those of you wondering how we spent more but our % of total income went down, B’s military pay varied slightly from month to month. So I estimated low at the beginning of each month. Our final monthly income ended up being about $600 more than I had originally budgeted).

All in all, not a great month. I think now that B. is back and an active, spending member of the family again, we’re going to have to make sure to get on the same page about the budget, so we don’t have too many more months like this.

I think come January, we’re going to try and start the new year with a super-frugal challenge, so look for more to come on that!

 

 

 

The week of the cold and other miscellany

Hi all! Sorry for the radio silence around here- both F. and I have been sick since about Saturday with some cold bug.  I’ve been going to bed right after putting F. down at night, which is my usual blogging time!

Anyway, a few random thoughts about the week thus far.

1. Budgeting for doctor bills

I am extremely glad that I have continued to budget for doctor bills, even though up to this point we haven’t really been using them.  In the last week, F. has had a cold, two infected eyes and now an ear infection, all of which have required medicine of some variety.  Here’s hoping for a generally healthy month going forward though, as our budgeted doctor money is just about gone.

2. Stretching my dinner budget further

Mrs. Frugalwoods, over at the Frugalwoods blog (which you should check out, it’s awesome), recently posted about how she and her husband usually eat their dinner every night over rice or a bed of greens.  This got me thinking about new ways to streamline the dinner process (which I am always on the lookout for).  I’m thinking about trying to cut up some various meat and veggies and mixing up some various sauces (Thai, Mexican and Italian inspired) that I can use to make stir-fries at night.  This would, ideally, introduce a variety of meat, veggies and flavors to our diet as well as cut down the nightly “what are we going to eat?!”  Even meal-planning has not been helping with this cooking apathy.  I’m going to give this a try next week, so I’ll let you all know how it goes.

3. Birthday day of fun!

That sadly, never was.  F. and I had a marvelous day of birthday fun planned for her on Saturday, when she came down with a nasty little cold.  I still took her out for breakfast (in her pajamas, to IHOP, for pancakes, which made her very happy), but the rest of our day pretty much devolved into playing with toys, snuggling on the couch and sleeping.  However, even though we didn’t go and do anything, she was still clearly having a great day hanging out with me, even though she didn’t feel good. It was a timely reminder that she doesn’t need me to go out and do things with her- she just wants dedicated time that we spend together.  Making memories with her doesn’t have to cost money- it can be as simple as sitting and putting together seven different Thomas the Tank Engine puzzles 🙂

Anyway, I think that’s about it (and I need to work on ordering groceries for next week) so hopefully I’ll be back at it strong next week.  Assuming we both can stay healthy…

 

Random Musings: Doing a Job for the Money

Today over at Ask A Manager (one of my all-time favorite workplace blogs.  Go read it. Then come back here), one of the letter-writers wrote in asking if it was a bad thing that she was motivated to do good work at her job because they paid her (hint: no. Most of us work so we can get paid).

But it did get me thinking about the idea that work should be something more than a way to make money.  To some extent, I like the idea of that, but the reality is that I would not be going to work if I wasn’t going to make money doing it.  And I’ve done some really weird/crummy/interesting jobs to make money.  So instead of deep thoughts on the relative merits of only sticking with a job because it pays money, I want to hear about the worst/weirdest jobs you ever had, simply to make money.

Here’s my list: five weird/awful jobs I’ve had, solely to make money (from not so bad to absolutely terrible).

5. Wading pool attendant

This one wasn’t actually awful at all, just weird.  I got paid to sit at the wading pool for four hours each day and turn it on/off.  That was pretty much it.  It was a pretty sweet gig during the summer in college and I read a LOT of books, but I’m not really sure why they had to pay someone to sit there for four hours.

4. Waitress at Village Inn 

If you aren’t familiar with Village Inn, it’s exactly like Perkins or IHOP. Or Baker’s Square.  Lots of pie, lots of breakfast, standard American fare.  This job sucked becasue a) everythign you wore to work always ended up covered in syrup, even if you worked the dinner shift and b) tips were crap.

 

3. Early morning gym opener

For awhile, I used to work for my city Parks and Rec and I was in charge of opening the gym in the morning.  At 5:45 am.  I am not a morning person.  This was way to freaking early for me.  I didn’t have to do much once I got there, but one mroning I got there at 5:46 and got yelled at by some crabby old man for 10 mintues straight.  It was really fun. Or not.

2. Cashier at Wendy’s

I did this for two years in high school and it was- not as bad as you might think.  The owner was a super duper sexist a**hole but also wasn’t around very often.  I really liked the people I worked with, which made it a lot better.  Smelling like grease after every shift was less fun.  So were customers.  My best story from this job- I was working on front register and a guy came in and ordered some chicken strips to dine in.  The chicken strips were slightly too big for their container, so it wouldn’t close properly.  He insisted that the box needed to close, but refused to let me put one of the chicken strips back and replace it with a smaller one.  Spoiler alert- this particular incident ended with him screaming at me about his chicken strips.  And the box still never got closed. Oh food service.

1. Head cook at a boy scout camp 

This was hands down the worst job I have ever had.  I worked the AM shift in a boy scout kitchen, which was every day, M-F from 5 am to 2 pm.  Not only is mass food prep messy, stressful, and heinously boring, but the head cub scout counselor and I….did not get along.  Her favorite method of communication was standing in the kitchen yelling at me and I was not invested enough in keeping my job to let her.  Sometimes I think it’s a miracle I didn’t get fired…

What job(s) did you have that you only stuck with for the money?

 

What I love Wednesday: Potato Sausage Soup

As promised, my potato sausage soup recipe.  I LOVE this potato soup recipe (even more so because this is the ONLY recipe I can think of that I actually made up myself. I am not a creative cook).

I also love it because it can be modified to use up whatever veggies you have laying around as well as a bunch of different types of meat. This is a great, hearty soup and I love it with some nice, crusty bread or a salad on a cold fall day.

Potato Sausage Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 carton (32 oz) of chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
  • Potatoes, cut into chunks (I usually use 3-4 large potatoes or 8-10 smaller potatoes. You want enough to pretty much fill the chicken broth in your pan)
  • 1/2 bunch of green onions, chopped
  • 1-2 cups of whatever veggies you have on hand (Peas, carrots and corn are some of my favorites)
  • 1 lb of meat (I’ve used Italian sausage, pork sausage, ham, ground pork, bacon and turkey in different versions of this soup).
  • Optional: Milk or shredded cheddar cheese

Directions

  • Combine broth and potatoes in large saucepan on medium high heat. Cover and cook until potatoes are able to be easily mashed with a fork. Using an immersion blender, blend potatoes in chicken broth until all chunks are smooth. At this point, your soup should have a fairly thick consistency.  If your soup is too thin, add some shredded cheddar (about 1/4 cup – this will make it taste amazing and thicken the soup).  If your soup is too thick (closer to mashed potatoes than soup), add a little milk or water (about 1/4 cup).
  • Meanwhile, if needed, cook whatever meat you’re using until done. For sausage, ground pork or bacon, brown in a skillet.  For ham or previously cooked turkey, no pre-cooking is needed.
  • Finally, combine all meat and veggies in potato/broth mixture.  Cover and cook on low medium heat for about 10-15 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

And that’s it! Fair warning if you have leftovers – this soup will get REALLY thick when it’s cold, but will become more liquid as it re-heats.  Happy cooking!