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Archive for December, 2016

Uber Frugal Month Prep and Challenges

December 30th, 2016 at 05:34 am

One of the blogs I read (frugalwoods.com) is doing an Uber Frugal Month challenge. I'm going to to make a valiant effort at doing the challenge, but there are several obstacles.

First, the challenges:
1) DH's birthday - DH's birthday is the 2nd. He already usually gets shafted, so I try to make it a big deal. I've discussed it with him, and have it limited to 3 things: an experience (there's an indoor speedway at a nearby mall that he's been dying to try - 3 14-lap races will be $40 each), dinner (we're eating out with his family, so I'm not sure yet if this cost will fall to me), and a physical gift (DH works outside. With the cold weather, I want to invest in a good insulated thermos/food container, so I can give him soups and such to warm him up).
2) Our housewarming - We moved in last November. Given the holidays, we decided to host a housewarming in January. The date had already been set and invites sent when I signed on for the challenge. I'm going to give myself a $200 budget for party things including beer, wine, and 4 appetizers, plus a veggie snack tray. I'm going to do my best to get it under that, but that's a realistic number given the area I live in.
3) Eating out - DH and I tend to just give up and eat out when life gets overwhelming. I'm doing my best to combat this by having meals on hand that require little effort to get to the table.
4) House Stuff - Other than the hot tub, we're going to try and make do with the things we have. Given that we live next to Wal-Mart and 5 minutes from Home Depot, we've gotten into a bit of a habit of just going out and buying it when we find we need something.

In order to tackle the month as best as I can, I've done some prep. DH and I discussed some things we'd like to attempt to be more frugal in. At the end of the month, we'll go back to the things we've missed and nix the rest. The prep work:

1) Cancel Netflix and Hulu. We have Netflix, Hulu, Prime, and Sling TV to cover the shows we're not willing to give up. I'm going to put Netflix and Hulu on hold for the month to see how we make do.
2) Food - we're going to stick to a $50/wk food budget. This should more than cover sandwiches, fruit, and basic ingredients for things like soup and rice and chicken.
3) Water Use - We typically take 15 minute plus showers. We've agreed to limit it to 5 minutes. We'll set a timer to keep us to it.
4) Minimum Payments - I usually pay 5-10 over all the minimum payments, but I think it's hurting rather than helping. I'm going to pay the bare minimum on everything (except the Target card which I'll pay in full) and see what that leaves us with. Based on estimates, we should have anywhere from $30-50 extra to throw at one debt.
5) Eating Out - I bought 2 gift cards for food in December. We have a $25 card to both Firehouse and Papa John's in case the urge strikes, but we're going to do our best to not eat out at all. My boss also gave us a $50 gift card, so that's a future date night at some point.
6) Temperature - We've kept the house at 65 which is much lower than I'd normally prefer. It hasn't been terrible, and this winter's been mild, so we're going to try taking it down to 60.
7) Pets - We've lowered the dogs' food back to their normal levels, so that should help with food cost. We're also pretty well stocked on treats. I was going to get them groomed prior to the party since they smell pretty bad, but we're going to take that on ourselves. Total savings - $110.

Starting Fresh

December 29th, 2016 at 07:26 am

DH and I sat down and had a talk last night, and we are going to really focus on our finances this upcoming year. 2016 was amazing for us, but all the wedding and house expenses really set us back. Not to mention, we really want kids. Here's some tentative thoughts we've laid out:

Tabling the kids discussion until: 1) we eliminate balances on 4 credits cards (did I mention that we really fell hard off that wagon) leaving us with 3 cards that have balances 2) we have $5000 in savings (we currently only have $500)

I'm toying with adding that the total credit card balance across the 3 must be under 10k. Currently, the 3 total $16k. This one is a stretch, so I'm not sure about adding it in.

We have 2 remaining anticipated house projects, and then we're going to hold off on house things for now. The first is fencing. It was always the plan to fence this Spring using our tax refund as the jumpstart on those costs. The other is the hot tub. DH's dad hooked the power up, so all that's left is to fill it and see if it runs. We're also having a technician come out next week for $150 who will run through basic maintenance (how to monitor levels, drain it, change filters, etc.) and check over it. We're currently missing steps, but those cost another $100 for even the cheap ones, so we're going to hold off on that for now.

I think that in January, we can pay off 2 cards (Slate - less than $300 and Target - $250). Hopefully more since we're doing the Uber Frugal Month Challenge.

Done Christmas Shopping!

December 15th, 2016 at 05:10 am

We finished up our Christmas shopping last night. All that's left is to wrap everything and actually order the two credit card rewards gift cards. We did end up spending the $100 at Target. We got his goddaughter's gift, the last of the pet gifts (yes, I know...we're ridiculous for giving our animals presents, but my older dog actually does recognize the stocking and knows that it comes with goodies, so he likes to sit in front of it and stare at it), ice melt for this upcoming winter, and some odds and ends (the popcorn, bread, and envelopes). For those who were wondering, you can buy a gift card with a Target gift card.

Random story: we were looking at pj's because I'd like to start a Christmas Eve tradition where we get pj's and watch a Christmas movie. DH immediately picked out the Darth Vader pajama pants I'd already gotten him. I told him no because we had to coordinate, and he was visibly sad. He knows that I got him pj pants. He even tried them on to make sure they fit (he had his eyes closed). He actually guessed they were Star Wars themed awhile ago. I laughed and said 'who'd want Star Wars pants?' knowing full well the answer was him. His face dropped, so he has no clue he's getting them. He'll be really excited about them. He also ruined his Darth Vader light saber light for the office which I did semi-tell him about. He saw a fancier one in Bed, Bath, and Beyond and pointed it out. I got frustrated and told him to stop ruining all his gifts! He goes 'Really?!?!?' and got really excited, so I know he'll love all of his gifts. He also guessed his big gift: framed movie posters from all 7 movies for his office (the big Michael's boxes gave it away), but I played that one off pretty well, and he doesn't know he got it right.

We couldn't find his parents' gifts at Target, but we were able to get them last night. We found the bed rest pillow thing from Michael's. With my 20% off coupon, it came to $20. For his dad, DH compiled a bunch of smaller things he'd like/need totaling about $50 (paid a little less thanks to a $10 Wal-Mart gift card).

I forgot stamps to mail in DH's computer rebates, so I'll have to get those today.

The last big thing I need to do is Christmas day groceries. So far, my tiny foray into the world of once-a-month-cooking is going well. We've had the spaghetti and chicken dijon and both were really good. Last night and today were supposed to be the meatball sub casserole, but the chicken dijon actually made two meals, and we have a happy hour today with free appetizers that we plan to treat as dinner. Christmas Eve meal is covered by the slow cooker chicken for shredded chicken sandwiches. For Christmas day, we're planning on turkey breast, ham, baked mac and cheese, potatoes au gratin, broccoli cheddar casserole, and rolls with bacon jalapeno pinwheels and deviled eggs as appetizers. I'll need most of those ingredients as I don't have any of that on hand.

Frugal Date Night & Upcoming Uber Frugal Month

December 14th, 2016 at 07:00 am

Tonight is our rescheduled date night to go see the Christmas lights drive through display. The cost is $12/car (it jumps to $25 on the weekend!). I'll never understand why people go then because we drive by it pretty much every day. There's maybe 2-3 cars on the route during the week, but on the weekend, it's stopped traffic. Seems much less enjoyable to me. We're aiming to go around 7:30 to hopefully avoid the frugal families who take their kids during the week (I'm thinking they'd go right around 5/6 to be able to make it home for dinner/bedtimes).

We are also going to finish up our Christmas shopping. At this point, we have one gift card to buy, 2 credit card gift cards to redeem, a bedrest pillow thing, a gift for DH's goddaughter, and something for his dad. We also have a $100 gift card to Target that I'm hoping to use for most, if not all, the gifts. Can you buy a gift card with a gift card?

We're also planning on buying a bag of white cheddar popcorn while at Target. For some reason, I feel like the lights show calls for popcorn and hot cocoa. We're making the cocoa at home, but the popcorn would be cold if we did that, so buying white cheddar popcorn seems like a good compromise. It's certainly better than the $5 small bag they offer at the refreshments stand there.

Next month, I'm doing the Frugalwoods' Uber Frugal Month with a few cheats. One being DH's birthday, and the other being eating out. We got a Firehouse gift card from one of Amazon's deals, and Papa John's has a deal where you get a free large pizza with a $25 gift card purchase. I plan to get that as well with this month's budget. So next month, we'll have 3 opportunities to eat out, but none will come out of next month's money since they've all been bought this month.

Are you doing any sort of January challenge to reset after the holidays?

Holiday Party and Gifts Update

December 12th, 2016 at 06:22 am

We had our holiday party this past weekend. Guess who was lucky enough to win the grand prize? That's right, this girl. Since it's not something I can use (an Apple watch), we will be giving my little brother a very nice Christmas gift. Christmas shopping is almost done. We have a few gifts left: a bed pillow for my MIL, something for my FIL, a gift card for DH's goddaughter's parents, something for his goddaughter, and maybe one more gift each for my mom and older brother. Overall, I think we did pretty well. From the bedroom furniture purchase, we had $45ish in Amazon rewards, so I used that to get coloring books and pencils for each of my 3 closest friends in this area. I also got some cooktop cleaner and scrubbing pads that had been on my list awhile.

The last big purchase was Christmas cards. I never did get around to sending out thank you notes from the wedding (I know...shame on me), but with the move and all the other life changes, it just got away from me. DH has a friend in this area who's working on growing his photography business. He did our engagement shots and is really talented, so we asked for his help with holiday photos. Since it only ended up being an hour-long shoot, he didn't charge us anything, but I would like to get him a $25 gift card as a thank you since he also spends time editing. I read about a hack for using holiday business postcards instead of Christmas cards to make it cheaper. We are getting 100 postcards for $12. I did end up splurging for the rush order though, so that was another $16. Overall though, $30 bucks for 100 Christmas cards is a good deal to me. I'm hoping to have those sent out this weekend.

In the next few weeks, we have a few spendy things planned. Tonight, we're hoping to finish up the shopping. Wednesday, we're doing a drive through light show ($12, plus the popcorn and hot cocoa we bring ourselves). Saturday, we're probably going to visit DH's goddaughter. And Sunday is tentatively decorating our work office (we go all out each year...this year, we're doing The Nightmare Before Christmas). Next week is my big 3-0. I told DH not to make a big deal out of it, but that I do want some sort of date night. I think we're leaning towards Allied at a movie theater that serves dinner food. I'm also really hoping he and his dad come through with the hot tub as that's all I really, really want.

Then, we have Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with both of our families. Going to be a hectic few weeks, but filled with lots of good memories.

Does it ever stop?

December 5th, 2016 at 06:03 am

Just when I think things are going to start settling down, they don't.

Here's some of the happenings in rambling form:

New Job: I'd been half-heartedly applying to other jobs. I don't really want to leave my company as I've built a lot of good rapport and flexibility there, but I feel very stagnant. I've been severely underpaid for several years now, and there's just not room for my salary to grow in comparison to how much my skillset has grown. I got a verbal offer late last week and am expecting the written offer this week. My biggest hesitation is that the job is hourly (meaning no PTO or paid holidays), but it's a solid 15k more than what I'm currently making. It would definitely give us a bit more breathing room and allow us to make some progress on paying off debts.

Holidays: I want to thank everyone for their comments on my last post. I'm definitely going to try and focus more on the spirit of the holiday rather than the number of gifts under the tree. That said, we did scrounge up what we could to buy some gifts.

Pet Care: I was delaying bringing the pets in to the new vet where we live because we didn't have the extra funds and they were fine. However, we did have to go in last week. DD1 (dear dog 1 for those who may not remember) has been losing a lot of weight. He's basically a bag of bones. We attributed it to the fact that he's now running top speed for at least an hour and a half daily and upped his food intake to make up for it. Well, when DH was walking him, he decided to check DD1's business and make sure there was nothing alarming there. He found tan and white specks, which according to Google, could be tapeworms. We took him in immediately, but there was nothing in his stool. We gave the go-ahead for bloodwork to make sure those levels were fine, and that was normal as well (except for slight anemia). Total cost was just under $200 for the blood work and float test (the visit was free since it was his first).

Cooking: I spend $160 yesterday on the ingredients for half of a 2-wk. once-a-month-cooking cycle (including several new pantry ingredients that I didn't have). Since this is my first time trying it, and we don't need that much to get us through December, I picked about half of the meals. DH and I will be prepping and cooking them tonight. Since they serve at least 4, we will divide them into multiple serving to get through the remainder of December. Fortunately, one that I chose serves 16-20. On Christmas eve, we will probably have both families over at our place. DH has a tradition that he does every Christmas eve that he wants to start in our new place. So that night, we'll do the slow cooker chicken sandwiches, so we can feed everyone. I still need to get Christmas day groceries, but I'm encouraged that we may be able to stick to our $200/month grocery budget in the future.

I'm sure there's a lot more, but I just can't really brain right now. I'm long overdue for a good hard look at the numbers.

Holiday Shopping

December 2nd, 2016 at 05:23 am

I'm trying so hard to resist the temptation of holiday spending. Being the one who normally makes Christmas happen for my immediate family makes me feel like a failure for not being able to do it this year. I did manage to snag up several things on Cyber Monday for DH and our household, including a carpet cleaner, new filters to revitalize our vacuum, a Star Wars puzzle, posters for all the Star Wars movies (to hang in the office), discounted frames for the posters, pajama pants, and several thermal shirts for DH to wear in the winter (he works outside).

I've portioned out $300 of DH's extra paycheck for him to be able to buy gifts for his family. We also have enough points for 3 gift cards through our Marriott credit card (2 $25 gift cards and a $15 gift card). I also need to get one gift for each of my family members.

I feel bad because we're doing Christmas at our place so everyone can be together again, and my mom is worried DH's family will judge that there's not many gifts from my family. Honestly, I'm a bit worried about that too, but oh well. They are somewhat aware that my family is nowhere near as stable as they are, but I just hope it's not super obvious when their family has tons of gifts to open and mine only has 2-3 gifts for each person.