Five Frugal Things

It’s time for five frugal things! I think I actually have a few non-food things this week 🙂

1.We used our saved vegetable “trash” (onion peels, carrot ends, green pepper innards, etc) and chicken carcasses to make chicken broth for dinner later this week. For some reason, it never occurred to me until recently that I could let broth cook overnight in the crockpot.  That particular revelation has been life-changing and has exponentially increased my willingness to, you know, make broth! Homemade bone broth is incredibly good for you and it costs nothing, since it was literally the parts of meat and vegetables that most people throw in the garbage.

Mmmmm….chicken broth

2. We opted for high deductibles on our auto and home insurance policies.  We currently have a very healthy emergency fund that we have been incredibly diligent about never using (it has been at the same amount for the last…12 months? More?) Opting for much higher deductibles means that our policies cost quite a bit less (and we were able to pay for higher liability coverage) and we are 100% confident that if we did need to use our policies, we would be able to afford the deductible.

3. I’m hosting a girls night this week and I opted to make something that used ingredients that were either a) cheap or b) things I already had. I cleaned my house to the best of my ability, but I’m definitely not planning to go buy anything to make our current rental look different than it usually does 🙂  I’m excited to see my friends!

4. We took F. to both the Science Center and the zoo this weekend, where we spent a grand total of $4 on parking (parking downtown is always a challenge). My dad gives F. a year-long family pass to these two attractions each year for her birthday, which makes admission free for our whole family (plus two guests)! F. loves going to both of these places and the zoo is surprisingly fun in the winter, even though a lot of the animals are inside.  It was about 40 degrees here over the weekend, which was about 80 degrees warmer than earlier in the week (ugh…) so we bundled up and walked around. We saw baby macaques, baby lions, penguins getting fed and otters getting fed. And the best part? There were maybe 10 other people there. TOTAL. I’m telling you, it was an introvert’s dream.

5. I ate at home all weekend, I didn’t buy anything from Starbucks, we used up all our leftovers from last week over the weekend, I fixed one of Fiona’s sweatshirts and I kept our budget up-to-date.

Not too shabby! I’m pretty happy about how things are going around here right now- life has been really busy and stressful with work and house stuff, but we’ve been better about not translating that into spending.  I’ll take it! What frugal things have you been up to?


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?

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.

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!