recommending Heartsy

Okay, those of you who love all things Etsy… have you found Heartsy yet? Big discounts on Etsy stuff. I’d say that it has become dangerous, but the things that I’ve bought so far are only things that I was going to buy anyway… like cards and whatever… so it’s actually been a pretty good bargain thus far.

I try not to recommend things that give me money back unless I would recommend them anyway. If you sign up through my link, I get $5 credit, but really… I would recommend it anyway. Paying about a third of the price for cute handmade stuff? Yep, that’s a good deal!!

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Published in: on June 26, 2011 at 11:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

the mechanics of conscious spending

There is something about month four of unemployment that wakes up my materialistic “I need this” side and causes it to come tumbling out at every opportunity.

Or maybe the tight budget just makes it more obvious?

Either way, there was a bit of advice on Get Rich Slowly today that seemed particularly timely and useful. Here it is:

The mechanics of conscious spending are pretty simple. Before you buy anything, ask yourself some simple questions:

  • Do I have the money to cover this expense, or would I be going into debt for it?
  • Does this expense forward my financial goals?
  • Can I get this need or desire met without spending money on it? Could I spend less money?
  • Does this money need to be spent now, or can it wait thirty days?
Good advice, huh?
Published in: on April 18, 2011 at 5:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

spending spree

Lately we have been in a different kind of mode regarding money. There are a lot of factors here… finally having income again after a lean winter, Keith working 14 hours a day, having a new baby, moving to a new home… but it all adds up to spending more money than usual.

I’m balancing our checkbook just now and am working my way through more than the numbers. We don’t usually need to work at sticking to a budget; we keep a running tally of our monthly bills and living expenses, and they stay pretty much the same from month to month. Lately, though, there have been all kinds of new investments, and I’m going back to rethink them.

The biggest one was a new lawnmower. Keith spent several evenings searching Craigslist and local stores for the best price on a used one. He took a day to do errands in Coeur d’Alene, including checking out used lawnmowers, and at last settled on getting one from a local place in St. Maries. Totally out of our budget, yet buying one in town means that we can get it serviced here, and buying a new one means that there is a warranty and we can expect it to last a good while. It also means that Keith can spend his evenings with us rather than perusing the computer for a deal, and it means that we can actually enjoy our large lawn now… which was nearly a foot tall… without worrying that our children will get lost in it.

There are a lot of other little “worth it” expenses that just really add up. A ceramic handprint of our newborn son. A copy of his birth certificate. A trip to the chiropractor. A second SwaddleMe wrap so that I don’t have to hold the baby all night when his other wrap is dirty. (I am terrible at swaddling with blankets… he always escapes and cries.) Keith meeting friends for breakfast one morning. Me buying a new purse and diaper bag combo after being totally sick of my heavy-lead-content purse and picked-out-by-others diaper bags. Buying a couple of nice wooden lawn chairs for ourselves and the paint to paint them with after years of wishing for something we could sit on outside. A lovely new rocking chair that was Keith’s birthday gift to me.

The truth is that we could have done without all of these items. Yet I am glad for all the money that we have spent on them. Buying a copy of Abraham’s birth certificate now means that we don’t have to later. Getting a new purse is like getting a facelift… if I was into that kind of thing… because I used my old one for two years and am so excited to only cart around one medium-sized bag now. Meeting friends for breakfast is an investment in relationships… and yes, there are other ways to do that, but sometimes just eating out can be a nice change. It’s possible that we would have found cute lawn furniture eventually, but we’ve been looking for three summers, and buying the new (on sale) ones at the local hardware store means we can enjoy them now. I already had a rocking chair, but the cushions were worn out and it squeaked loudly enough to wake up the neighbors, according to Keith, so having a comfortable place to fall asleep in the middle of the night when I’m up with our little boy is WORTH IT.

Really, all of these things are worth it. But it is hard sometimes to let go and spend money on things that we could have lived without. Have you ever heard the logic that when you are in debt, everything costs more? The idea behind it is that every dollar you spend could have gone toward debt, and every item you buy ends up costing you more if you factor in the interest rate you’re being charged on the debt that you didn’t pay down. It all adds up to us feeling guilty any time we buy something that isn’t totally necessary. Yet I would rather enjoy our lives on the way to paying off our debt than be total sticklers for not buying anything unless absolutely necessary for another three or four years.

I am a firm believer that there is a time to spend and a time to save. Sometimes these times follow close on the heels of one another. I am thinking that it is time to tighten the reins a bit on our budget again, but that doesn’t mean that I regret the money already spent on these and other recent investments. It just means that we need to revisit frugality so that the next time something is so worth it, we will have the money to pay for it. For now, I am going to thoroughly enjoy the results of our recent spending spree, and seek wisdom for living in balance when it comes to spending.

Published in: on June 18, 2010 at 12:51 pm  Comments (1)  

thoughts on groceries: getting started

After Keith and I got married, my first job was working at a grocery store for six months. It was quite humbling to me at the time, as I felt that I was qualified for several better jobs in our small town. As it turned out, though, working in the Customer Service department at IGA was one of the most mentally challenging positions that I could have taken, as well as one of the most informative.

Looking back on it now, I am convinced that despite the low pay, working at that job has turned out to be a financial asset for us. Tasks like balancing the till sheets for the cashiers, forking out petty cash in return for small wins on lottery tickets, and processing UPS orders taught me quite a few small lessons. These included the futility of buying lottery cards unless you are quite lucky and have a well-tested method, the large profits made from superfluous grocery store items like flowers, and the benefit of sending many packages with UPS rather than the Post Office.

The most useful knowledge, though, came from just being in the grocery store on a daily basis. I suppose this is information that I would have learned eventually, but I’m glad I learned it early on in our married life. Simple as these points may be, just knowing them has made a huge difference in how I shop.

  • Sale flyers come out weekly. Thus, every Wednesday, I learned to check the flyers at both stores in town and compare prices to find the best deals. I usually purchased food from each grocery store once per week.
  • Most items are on a sale rotation. It is typical for items like spaghetti sauce to be on sale every 4-6 weeks. Instead of buying nonperishable items of that sort whenever I felt like it, I learned to wait until it was on sale and then stock up.
  • On the flip side, it’s important to know the standard price of an item. Buying something just because it’s on sale doesn’t necessarily mean getting a good deal. I occasionally discovered the hard way that the sale price at one store may be higher than the normal price at another store.
  • Saving money on one item doesn’t justify spending extra money on another item. I still have to fight the mindset that says “I saved $4 over here, so it’s okay to spend $2 extra over there.” If you want to save money, it’s crucial to view each item as an individual purchase. Doorbuster sales, the types that advertise $2 boxes of cereal for 12 hours only, are specifically designed to get the consumer to spend more on other items – like milk – which may be marked up. Resist the urge to spend more by just getting the good deals and leaving the rest.
  • Buying from discount stores, the kinds that advertise “always low prices” and few sales, may not save a person as much money as would buying only the sale items at certain higher-end stores. The ones with always low prices may have a section in the front with items sold at very low prices, which causes the consumer to assume that the rest of the store will follow suit. Usually, the rest of the store will be normal in pricing, but the very low prices at the front make a person want to stock up on everything else, too.
  • Although it’s great to buy what I want while it’s on sale, it’s not so great to buy something only because it’s on sale. I often refer back to common-sense questions like, “Do I want this? Did I want it before I came in the store? Would I spend this money on it if there weren’t a sale sign in my face telling me what a great deal it is?” If I’m not sure, I can always wait and come back later. If it’s still on my mind when I get to the checkout line or when I go home, it may be worth going back.
  • Knowing the prices of the items I put in my cart can save quite a lot at the cashier’s register. I have made it a habit to watch each item ring up, as it is not infrequent for them to ring up incorrectly. If I don’t get the chance to see each item ring up, I check the register tape and take it to Customer Service if there is a need to point out errors. Some stores are better than others when it comes to having items ring up correctly. The store where I worked typically had a pricing error every time I went through the checkout line.

It’s kind of silly, but something I started in my IGA days and still often do as I leave a grocery store is check to see how many bags I’ve received for the amount I’ve spent. My goal is always to have averaged less than $10 per full grocery bag. So if there are seven bags in my cart and I’ve spent $65, I consider it a successful trip and assume that I have shopped fairly frugally.

These are some of the foundational principles that I bring along on every grocery shopping trip. What about you? What do you bring along?

I’ll start digging into other thoughts on groceries in my next post.

Published in: on February 24, 2010 at 11:53 pm  Comments (6)  

preparing to be out of work

The major financial thing on my mind right now is that Keith will be out of work after the middle of the month.

In a lot of ways, it’s a good timing for a break. I have the two weeks after that all scheduled out for us: making goodies for Christmas, throwing a birthday party for Rilla, having the ultrasound to determine our baby’s gender, celebrating Rilla’s birthday, enjoying Christmas at home with the three of us, having Christmas celebrations with family, and then moving before the end of the year.

But after all of that… then what? I haven’t been concerned about it, mainly because a) God provided a place for us to move to that is nearer to Keith’s work, and I don’t think He would do that right now if there would not be work to follow it up; b) we have that little bit in savings; c) we can get a good tax return soon; and d) unemployment checks are a beautiful thing. But the most important part is that e) God always provides.

So really, how do you prepare to be out of work? 

For us, it has meant making sure all bills are up to date and the credit card we use for monthly expenses is at a $0 balance. It has meant making sure that the groceries I buy will go the distance if we can’t afford to buy more for a month or two. It has meant not spending anything extra, whether on needed clothes for Rilla or gifts for others or whatever else.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ve been doing the best job of it this time around. Normally we wouldn’t take a trip to Utah right as money gets tighter. It may be that I should have spent less on Christmas presents. And buying a few pieces of (used, of course) furniture for our new place was probably not the greatest idea, although I will be selling a few pieces as well to make up the cost. I have been stocking up goodies for our daughter’s first birthday party, and that in itself is probably not necessary; we could just not have treats there, and people would probably understand.

But in these matters, and in other ones, I think this is where it all comes back to grace in finances. I’m not a perfect steward of our finances any more than I am a perfect steward of the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and so on in my life that is also a gift from God. I’m not a perfect wife or a perfect mother or a perfect friend. I need daily grace in order to honor the Lord in what I do, and this applies to finances as well. Sometimes I mess up by accident, like spending $4.50 on aluminum-free baking powder at the health food store when I could have got it at Fred Meyer for $2.50. Sometimes I mess up on purpose, like buying organic bananas at 79 cents a pound when I know that the normal bananas at 49 cents a pound really don’t have enough pesticides on them to warrant me buying the organic variety. And yet the point of trying to be frugal and spend appropriately is not perfection. The point is to honor the God who has enabled me to live and move and have my being. When I mess up, He forgives me. It doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t try to do better, but it does mean that His love and grace toward me is not tied onto my ability to do better.

Now I don’t know how this fits into all of that, but here’s a little secret about my real mindset toward money: sooner or later, it goes away. Sometimes you can make it stretch longer. Sometimes I don’t think it’s worth worrying about, so I just buy what we need and throw in a few wants until it is all gone. Worrying about it doesn’t seem to make it last longer; instead, it only makes the spending of it less enjoyable. So when it looks like we are going to run out of money, here is the honest truth: I don’t usually try all that hard to be extra frugal. Partially that is because I think I am frugal enough as it is, but also because I just think… well, what  can you do? We’ve got to pay the bills, and we’ve got to buy food, so I’ll just do what I normally do and see how long it lasts. God will provide once it’s gone, so whether that happens in two months or two months and one week doesn’t seem to matter all that much.

Does anyone else have that kind of mindset, or am I the only one?

Published in: on December 6, 2009 at 2:09 pm  Comments (2)  

on buying presents

As our nation sinks deeper into this recession, I hear more and more talk about people not spending much money on Christmas presents. Frankly, I think that is a good thing. I might even go out on a limb here and say that the recession in general is a good thing. It is beautiful to see people take more responsibility for their financial actions and for our society to begin to esteem frugality again.

The personal issue I have with not spending money on Christmas presents, though, is that gifts are my love language. I absolutely love to give gifts to the people I care about! I have toned down the spending in recent years, but we still feel it is worthwhile to give gifts to those we love. Thus, gift-giving is a small but important part of our monthly budget.

Our budget for family birthdays and Christmas presents is $10 per person. Looking at both my birthday gift list and my just-finished Christmas list from this year, that means we’ve spent about $150 on birthday gifts and $120 on Christmas gifts (not including the amounts I spent on Keith and Rilla). Some people might think that is a lot; personally, I don’t think it is all that much for a lasting expression of endearment, and I think the cost is totally worth it. Maybe it would not be worth it for something lame that a person would toss aside and never use, but I think I usually manage to find gifts that are suited to the person, will last a while, and will be worth more to them than what I spent on it.

I view finding the right present for the right price like a never-ending treasure hunt. My grandma taught me to look for birthday and Christmas presents all year long at retail store sales and yard sales, and I have learned to do that especially with online sales. It is so satisfying to find gifts ahead of time this way! One treasure that I enjoyed finding and giving this year was a neat old picture frame purchased at a garage sale for $2. I outfitted it with pictures of my dad, myself, and my baby for less than fifty cents and presented it to my father for his birthday. Having the whole thing planned out months in advance just made the anticipation that much sweeter. When we only buy one or two birthday gifts a month, it is fun to think about them ahead of time. And there is something especially satisfying about getting a great deal on a fantastic gift.

Because I do most of my shopping online, let me just share these sites that tend to have the best deals. There are others which I have referenced now and then, but these are my favorites and have proven to be the most useful to me over time. In particular, I check Cool Mom Picks and Slick Deals almost every day. I may go a month between finding relevant deals, but the ones I do find are so worth the thirty-second daily time investment.

For finding gift ideas…

For finding a good deal…

Do you have any other favorites?

Published in: on December 5, 2009 at 1:45 pm  Comments (6)  

this and that

Since one of my four loyal readers pointed out that I haven’t written on here in a while, I’m taking a few moments while Rilla is napping to catch up a little bit. I don’t want to be disappointing 25% of my readership, you know!

Actually, one of my friend’s comments really got me to thinking about the way I view debt. She is mired in it too, yet she said that it is her responsibility and she wants to pay it all back. You know what? I don’t think like that. My thoughts are more along the lines of it being unfair that I ever had to go into debt to begin with, and thus the world owes me something and my debt should just magically disappear. Really, when I stop to admit it, I actually think like that.

And that is why I think that rather than God granting us some huge windfall that makes it all go away, Keith and I are going to have to continue to plod through payment after payment until it is all gone. I have felt like that ever since we graduated from college. We know plenty of people who have supernaturally had their loans forgiven or instantly paid for in one way for another. But I feel like God wants to teach me something in the slow and steady plodding that comes from the long-term commitment to pay off debt. There is definitely a discipline and a patience being cultivated through all of this.

Lately we have had several things come up which seem to have slowed us down a bit in the debt-paying-off process, specifically Christmas presents, a trip to visit friends in Utah, the realization that Keith will likely be out of work in two weeks, preparing to move again, and beginning to prepare for Rilla’s sibling who is due in May.

Each of these expenses (and the choices we have made that led to creating each expense) carry with them all kinds of implications, so maybe I’ll just delve into a few via a short little blog series. Look for it over the next few days…

Published in: on December 3, 2009 at 12:12 pm  Comments (3)  

one down

“Outstanding balance: $0.00.”

THAT feels GREAT.

We paid off the lesser of our two credit card balances the other day. Not the kind that we use for monthly expenses; this was a debt made up of 2007’s taxes. It’s been hanging around since last year, and we just made one final shove to get rid of it. Hurray! One debt down, only four more to go!

I’ve been realizing lately (with reluctance) that like everyone else, I too spend more money when putting monthly expenses on a credit card. It’s taken me a long time to admit it, though. Keith and I never used credit cards during college, and we’d never accrued any debt other than student loans, so when we began using credit cards for monthly expenses in the year following college graduation, it was purely for the purpose of building credit. Because we just knew that we would never be so foolish as to use credit cards unwisely. Fast forward a year, then throw in the worst six months of our lives, add in making next to nothing for the six months after that… and bing, we have credit card debt. I really do think it’s fortunate that we had credit to fall back on during that point in time, and we are fortunate to have our credit card interest rates to be under 5%, but still. Debt is debt.

So anyway, that has all been separate from the card we use for our monthly expenses, but I’ve decided I really need to just pay for things out of checking now. Even if we don’t get the 4% cash back. I’m excited to see what kind of difference it will make in my spending when I am forced to write everything down in the checkbook. Thus, the “monthly expense” card is now down to $0 as well, and I have begun in the last few days to use real money to pay for things.

I kind of like it.

Published in: on July 9, 2009 at 8:53 pm  Comments (3)