money, shopping

April/May Financial Comparison

APRIL

I knew money would be tight, but I wasn’t really watching my spending. I still had a lot of items on my Amazon Subscribe & Save, I went out for fun a few times, and I reloaded my Starbucks card (for the last time/before I gave it up).

I spent just over $2100 in April. That seems astronomical to me. If you asked how much it takes me to live each month, I would have said $1600ish. I broke down all of my charges to get to the root of the issue. I spent $515 on one credit card, and $580 on the other. I do put bills and groceries on credit cards, so those aren’t just fun charges. I pay them off in full every month, but try to use them as much as possible because of the cash back rewards. (In fact, in May I was able to redeem some cashback rewards and it was… phenomenal. I hadn’t redeemed for maybe 3 years, so… yeah.)

Besides standard bills that are always the same – house, childcare, internet, cell phone (some of which are paid by check) – I spent $1000 on other stuff. A lot was my Amazon order, which I have since taken a lot off and will just pick up at the grocery store and hopefully use coupons on. I spent about $230 on groceries. I only spend $21 on gas.

A huge rare expense was signing my son up for summer session gymnastics. It was $240 but will go throughout the summer, so that was a one-time credit card expense. I also attended the Art Auction where my photography was on display, and I always buy something there. I love unique art and I love supporting local artists – plus it was a gift! But that is a rare expense, also.

I spent a lot of money via iTunes. I went to see a local musician play and realized I didn’t own all of his albums, and I wanted them. I think I need to try to listen to Pandora more, or figure out Spotify playlists or whatever the young whippersnappers are using now. I don’t mind buying music, but I spent $80! Buying an album here and a single or EP there adds up FAST. I need to keep an eye on iTunes.

MAY

I started my Year of Living Minimally and wanted to really focus on money. I mean, this whole blog, and a huge portion of my life, is dedicated to saving money, but I was going to buckle down and keep track of everything. And I did keep track, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I spent less…

My utility bill went down, which was nice because I actually had the A/C on! Maybe I’m showering less? Ha. I had to pay an insurance bill which is a rare expense, and it was a check so I didn’t include it in the round-up. I had other rare expenses like shipping charges for what I sold online (though of course I was reimbursed for it), a new water bottle for my kid, a visit to a cafe called “Dessert Therapy” (YES. It was therapy. And I will not divulge how much I spent. Yikes.).

I also ate out EIGHT TIMES. WHAT?!?!? Who is this person?!?!? It did not seem like that much. And I was (I thought…) being diligent about NOT eating out and saving money! So… wow. That will definitely change next month. Disclaimer: A lot of these food expenses were birthday lunches, brunches, and dinners. One was a lunch with coworkers that happens quarterly. Only the Chinese food and one other fast food visit were for just me and my kid to pig out on at home, so that’s… good. In the scheme of things.

BUT! Even with ALL of that, and all the birthdays in May that call for gifts and cards – I spent $1800. That is $300 less than April! Besides the standard bills I mentioned before (house, childcare, phone, and internet), I only spent $666 using credit cards. SERIOUSLY. That’s almost $350 less than last month. One credit card had ONLY bills on it this month, so I only spent about $495 on other things. That’s all those meals out, groceries twice, the post office visit, and gas.

One huge wrench in the works was getting my car worked on, but it was a necessary evil. It was actually really speedy and affordable compared to where I had been taking my car for service, and the place was so nice and friendly so I’m glad to have a new, trustworthy place to go.

So I ate out a lot this month, which isn’t great for my wallet OR my health, but I still managed to spend wisely. Next month will be a toss-up because I have a short trip planned, and my kid’s birthday party, but I think I’ll be pretty good with my financials.

money

Getting Gas

Gassing up my car used to be a huge to-do. I worked just 12 miles from home, but when you add in traffic and dropping my son at his school, the journey took about 45 minutes. I got gas almost every week, but sometimes I pushed it to two weeks. Working from home means I get gas once a month, which is such an amazing perk! My son’s new school is only 3 miles away, and all of our errands are pretty local. Sometimes we drive out to the suburbs to visit friends and family, but that’s rare (wow, I sound like the biggest hermit…). A bonus is that we have two restaurants and a small grocery store within walking distance, and my parents also live close enough to walk, so we get exercise when we visit or pick up a few items from the store. And, of course, save on gas!

This isn’t a sponsored post, but it will sound like it. (Sponsor me!) Kroger fuel points have been a huge help in saving gas money. We buy all our groceries at Kroger, save the random items we pick up at the nearby store as needed. I spend about $300 on food at Kroger every month, and that comes to be 30 cents off a gallon of gas when I fill up!

Receipts often have a code at the bottom, and you can complete a short survey to get 50 extra fuel points. DO THIS! It is worth it. It’s short, mostly multiple choice, and pays off! You can do one survey every 7 days, so that helps me plan my grocery visits – I don’t want to go too often just because it adds up (and I hate grocery shopping…), so at least 7 days apart is a great goal for me.

During the summer, you get double fuel points at Kroger if you shop on the weekends. I’ve started going on Sunday mornings, when people are at church or sleeping in, and I can get in and out quickly with those double fuel points.

There are some gas stations that will give you a discount if you come inside and pay in cash. I am going to sound like the laziest person ever, but… I don’t do that. I treat gas stations like a drive thru – I stop at the pump and stay at the pump! That’s why I stick with Kroger gas – I know the discount is already on my card.

Other stations take Kroger cards too, so that’s worth checking in to – one of those might be closer to your home or work so it’s efficient to get to. My Kroger station is close enough, and I try to fill up after I get groceries, since I’m already there.

There are apps to scout great gas prices too, but my phone is basic and doesn’t have enough memory for stuff like that. There are also websites you can use online, and sometimes it’s worth a long drive to get cheap gas! If you use gas for your lawn mower, you can fill up your gas can at the same time and keep that discount going! My parents used to save up for a huge Kroger discount, then take both cars and fill one up after the other! So you can see I came by this “saving” mentality honestly!

home life, money

Living Without A/C: Part 2

I left off with everyone wondering: Did she turn on the air conditioning? Did she turn on the A/C?

I heard you.

And yes, I’ve turned it on by now. Remember I was suffering at 78 degrees on May 2nd, at 10pm? I thought nights were supposed to be cooler, but… that doesn’t happen so much around here. Keeping my bedroom window open worked for 2 nights, but I just couldn’t cool down.

One night in early May I was in bed, staring up at my ceiling, willing myself to cool down… and I spotted that switch on my ceiling fan. I remember learning that you could flip the switch to use fans in winter to keep the warm air circulating, but I didn’t remember doing it.

Google to the rescue! Ceiling fans should turn counter-clockwise to cool the room, and clockwise to keep it warm. I had to stop my bedroom fan and start it again to see which way the blades were spinning.

Clockwise!

I turned it off again, waited until it stopped spinning (crucial step), and flipped the switch. Once the dust started flying off the blades (shame my housekeeping skills!), I vaguely remembered switching it for winter – because dust flew off then, too.

I tiptoed into my sleeping son’s warm oven of a room, staring up at his ceiling fan. Counter-clockwise, but it was so warm I stopped it, flipped the switch, and gave it a shot. Not much difference, but I put it back the way it was. I’m pretty sure it was on the cool setting.

My two new ceiling fans were off since the house was hunkered down for sleep, but I started them up – one was going counter-clockwise, but the other had to be changed.

The fan in the back room is the heartiest I’ve ever seen – it keeps that room as cool as the inside of a refrigerator. I knew it was spinning correctly.

The house got a lot cooler after that. It was too warm to keep windows open, but the fans alone kept the house at 76 or 77 degrees every day. Sometimes, in the mornings, it was downright cool. Not too shabby.

On May 7th, my son and I visited my parents’ house. As we approached, I could tell the windows were shut tight. I knew what that meant – their A/C was on!

Sure enough, they had turned it on before the extra-warm weekend hit. I mistakenly thought their goal had always (since my childhood) been to make it until June 1st, but Mom told me it was May 1st, with the crazy heat we get. Both parents seemed impressed we hadn’t turned our air on yet.

As soon as we got home, I turned on the fans. It was pretty warm. I glanced at the thermostat. 78. Did I want to live like this? Nahhh. Besides, I had beat out my parents, and they acknowledged my sacrifice (shhh – let me have this!). So I turned on the air on the evening of May 7th. Quite far from my original (misguided) June 1st deadline, but the house sure is comfortable now.

My new heating and cooling system is efficient and cut down my utility bills. Plus the ceiling fans still help – they keep the house cool enough that I don’t need the A/C on very high. Right now it’s at 77 and I’m at my desk with a fan swirling above me, and the breeze is a little cool!

I haven’t looked into how much it costs to run a ceiling fan (or multiple ceiling fans), or how much it costs compared to running the A/C. So we’ll check out that utility bill at the end of the month and report back.

home life, money, natural living

Living Without Air Conditioning

I’m not.

Living without air conditioning, that is. So I guess this title is clickbait, sorry!

I tried to live without air conditioning. My yard gets nice sun and my windows let in a nice amount of natural light, but overall my house stays pretty cool. I had a new heating and cooling system put in about two years ago – a major investment, but worth it because there has been a noticeable drop in my utility bills, while my house still stays at an enjoyable temperature.

This spring I had two ceiling fans added into the house. The 2 bedrooms and back playroom already had fans with light fixtures. The living room didn’t have anything – we used two wall mounted lamps and a floor lamp in the corner for meager light. My “office” had a chandelier, because it was technically a dining room. Slight digression for the glorious Mitch Hedberg:

I just bought a 2-bedroom house, but I think I get to decide how many bedrooms there are, don’t you? “F*(% you, real estate lady! This bedroom has an oven in it! This bedroom’s got a lot of people sitting around watching TV. This bedroom’s over in that guy’s house! Sir, you have one of my bedrooms, are you aware? Don’t decorate it!”

I hated the chandelier, and wanted to get a cool light fixture to spruce up my office, but then I figured since I was switching out the fixture already, why not get a practical fan?

So I did. I bought the most basic white builder’s fan for my office, and a slightly more stylish white fan for the living room. The living room didn’t have anything on the ceiling other than that lovely popcorn finish, so I had to hire electricians. They went up in the attic and drilled and cut and wired and did their thing very quickly and efficiently, and switched out my office chandelier, and voila! I had a fan in every room but the kitchen.

Having ceiling fans everywhere, and a window in every room that could open, made me think I could live without air conditioning until June 1st. That was my goal. Think of the low, low utility bill! Think of how empowered I would feel, beating the system, living life au natural!

Cue getting ready for bed, slightly sweaty, looking at the thermostat – 78 degrees! Oh my god, I’m not going to last! What day is it? It was May 2nd. I kept thinking I wasn’t going to make it…

 

fun, home life, money, shopping

Tax Refund!

Before we even did our taxes, my husband asked what I wanted to spend our tax refund on. He wanted a new grill, and probably some other things. I, of course, wanted to put it into savings. And probably still will. But it made me daydream about…

An upgraded camera body

A macro lens

A home studio setup

New books to read

A trip to somewhere relax

A camping trip

New tattoos

A fancy, delicious dinner out

A fun evening bowling, snacking, drinking, eating

 

Did you get a tax refund this year?

home life, hygiene, money, natural living

Changing Your Focus

I previously wrote about Finding Your Focus, mentioning that right now my family was focused on money. It’s tax season, we’re taking a good hard look at our financials, so it just makes sense.

I feel all over the place right now as I find my footing with my new work-from-home life, and that is definitely reflected in this blog. Because right now, I feel like our focus should be finding the products that are best for our family.

We recently switched from Crest or Colgate toothpastes (whatever was cheapest in a 2 pack) to Tom’s of Maine. Now we love our Tom’s toothpaste, so I’m keeping track of how long one tube lasts us – me, my husband, and the 8 year old use the adult mint toothpaste. My 3 year old uses the kids’ fruit-flavored toothpaste and loves it, but of course it will last longer with just him using it.

The point is, we all love this toothpaste now, so it will be worth the expense, even if it’s not as cheap as another brand’s 2 pack. So we’re not saving green by buying this, but we’re using a natural product which is healthier for our family, and Tom’s offers recycling options for something that isn’t usually recyclable. That’s worth it to me, because I’d rather use a sensible product and dispose of it properly instead of buy something cheap, use it, and throw it in the landfill.

We are taking our time while we look at other products we use, trying to make good choices for what we use often. I’ll have to get into our kitchen and food situation another time, since it is always a work in progress. But switching toothpaste is a good start, and I have already switched to Tom’s of Maine deodorant. We drink Equal Exchange coffee because it is fair trade. My friend Victoria has some great information and resources about fair trade products, which we’ll also explore later. For us, it’s definitely worth finding quality, environmentally-friendly products and maybe spending a little more money, but getting more out of your investment in the long run.

How do you feel about spending more for something natural, fair trade, or made locally?

money

21 Ways You’re Throwing Away Money and What To Do About It

You’re looking at your expenses and can’t find a single way to save money. You’ve already cut out everything that’s not a necessity, but your bills still eat up your paycheck every month. This list will show you way you’ve been throwing away money without even realizing it, and offer simple solutions to help you save more.

1. Not Planning Your Meals

It’s too easy to go out to eat on your lunch break, or to pick up fast food on your way home from work. These are unhealthy and expensive options.

How You Can Fix It

Make weekly meal plans and write them down. Look around your kitchen and see what meals you can make from what you already have. Use the meal plan when you make your grocery list so you only buy what you need. Pack your lunch the night before work, or make a big batch of something you can take for lunch all week. Keep your meal plan posted to the fridge so you’ll be more likely to stick to it.

2. Impulse Buying

How many times have you seen something in the store and realized you needed that item, it would change your life, and it would pay for itself in no time? How many times have you been right?

How You Can Fix It

Impulse buying can range from buying something big just because you see it on sale, to buying candy or a magazine that catches your eye at the register. Stop impulse shopping by making a list and sticking to it. Don’t let yourself buy anything else. Then try the 72 hour test: if you keep thinking about something 72 hours after you see it, and you can’t live without it or find a better deal somewhere else, then you can go back and buy it.

3. Buying New

Buying new isn’t always better. Especially in the case of cars, you’re mostly paying for bragging rights. But buying new electronics isn’t necessary either. And why would you buy new clothes that are just going to be out of style next season?

How You Can Fix It

Research options for buying used cars in your area to keep from buying an overpriced new car at the dealership. Shop around for refurbished electronics — these have been professionally cleaned and repaired, but cost a small portion of what the same electronic would be new. Shopping at thrift stores is trendy anyway, so why buy expensive new clothes when you can find gently used clothes when you’re thrifting? Plus, nothing can beat the thrill you feel when you find an item with new tags still on it, for a percentage of the original price!

4. Paying Full Price

These days it’s easy to find a deal anywhere you go, so why would you pay full price for anything? This can range from shopping around, both in stores and online, to finding what benefits certain stores will offer you.

How You Can Fix It

Some gas stations give you a discount if you sign up for a free membership at their store, and some offer a discount if you pay in cash. You can find something you like in stores, and then find it online for a discounted price. You can shop at a store that honors coupons from its competitors.

5. Paying for Cable

You used to have to be a cable subscriber to get access to the best shows on the best channels, even if that meant paying a hefty monthly bill for a lot of channels you never even flipped past.

How You Can Fix It

Cable TV is going the way of the landline, because you can only watch it on your TV instead of watching online from any device via providers like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and more. These sites not only stream classic shows and movies, but they are creating their own high-quality content with increasing frequency. See which provider fits your budget and offers the shows you love, so you’ll be paying a lower price for content you really want to watch.

6. Being Loyal To Your Brand

Sometimes being loyal to a provider or brand means you’re rewarded with coupons or discounts, but sometimes there’s no reason to keep using a company or brand unless you really love it. If your priority is saving money, start looking around.

How You Can Fix It

A lot of businesses and products offer a discount to new customers. You can try a class for free at your gym, or find a new local business that is giving heavily discounted hair cuts in exchange for word of mouth marketing. You can start a free trial with a new TV streaming provider — just remember to cancel your account before the trial period ends and your card is charged for the next month’s service. Some banks invite you to open an account by guaranteeing they will make the first deposit of $10-50 for you.

7. Not Redeeming Gift Cards

Gift cards are so easy to give as gifts, because you know the person will get something they like. You probably have a few burning a hole in your wallet right now, because you forget about them or are waiting to spend them for some random reason.

How You Can Fix It

Keep your gift cards where you keep your credit card, so when you’re reaching to pay, you’ll grab the gift card instead of your own card. When you use a portion of your card, see if you can get what’s left back in cash — the limit on cash back depends on the store, but it never hurts to ask. If you have just a small amount left on a card, give it to someone who will use it, or sell it online.

8. Paying for Shipping

Have you ever found a great deal online, then clicked through checkout just to find the shipping is more than the item? So many companies offer free shipping that it doesn’t make sense to pay for it.

How You Can Fix It

Find sites that ship for free and bookmark them. If your favorite site offers free shipping for orders over a certain amount, add things to your cart as you need them, and wait to check out all at once so you get free shipping while only buying what you need.

9. Being a Member

You can get a membership for pretty much everything these days: gyms, playplaces for your kids, big box stores, even some local stores. But have you ever figured out if the membership is really worth it?

How You Can Fix It

Be honest — do you go to the gym? If so, do you go often enough to justify the membership? If not, consider finding a community gym that allows you to pay when you visit, or better yet, gives out a few free visit passes. Do you shop at the big box store enough to justify paying for the privilege? Some local store memberships make you feel good because you’re supporting your community, but if the only perks are getting 20% each purchase, it might not make sense financially.

10. Buying Unnecessary Insurance and Warranties

When you buy new electronics or high price items, you will be asked if you want to add on insurance or purchase a warranty. Sometimes this is important, when you consider that your last three phone screens have cracked beyond recognition and insurance saved you from paying to fix the glass. But it’s not always mandatory.

How You Can Fix It

Think about what you’re buying and what the manufacturer already offers. A $20 coffee pot doesn’t need a $15 warranty when you know that the manufacturer offers a one year warranty. And if the coffee pot stops working after a year, will the additional protection even cover that? Most major purchases include a one to three year warranty, and some warranties cover only limited problems; research this before you buy to make sure you pick the right product for you.

11. Spending Too Much Eating Out

The advice on saving money on eating out is usually to just not do it. And sure, it’s cheaper to buy groceries and cook at home. But it’s fun to eat out, and you can save a bundle if you do it right.

How You Can Fix It

Save a few bucks by drinking water instead of a soda. Split big platters of food with your dining companions. Going out for lunch is always cheaper than going out for dinner, especially if you eat from the specials or set menu. Go out during happy hour — you can buy a drink, and get one free, but restaurants often have great food specials during this time, too, so you can treat yourself to an early dinner.

12. Not Using Cashback Options

Do you know how much money your credit card gives you back on each purchase? Do you know how much you can get if you send in that rebate card that came with your latest purchase? Do you have some free space on your phone to download apps that will save you money?

How You Can Fix It

Find out what benefit your credit card offers and take advantage of them by buying everything with your credit card so you can redeem points. If your credit card company doesn’t offer good benefits, find one that does and switch. When your purchase comes with a rebate card, take a few minutes to fill it in and mail it back, or fill it out online. You’ll have a bit of money coming your way very soon! Download apps like Ibotta so you can scan your receipts and get money back on things you’ve already purchased.

13. Not Using Coupons

Some days your mailbox is stuffed full of junk mail, and that’s your real and online inboxes! Those coupon bundles always catch your eye, but cutting out coupons seems like such a hassle.

How You Can Fix It

Honestly, it’s worth the time to cut out a few coupons you’ll actually use. Keep them in your wallet with your cash or credit card so you remember to use them at checkout, or clip them to your grocery list. If you don’t get paper coupons, check online. Many large stores have apps that include digital coupons. If you’re buying online, search the web for coupon codes related to the store you’re buying from, or the product you’re buying. It’s worth the extra time, online or with scissors in hand, to save a big chunk off your purchase.

14. Not Paying Your Credit Card Balance

The last tip said you should pay for everything with your credit card so you earn more points. That being said, many credit cards have high interest rates, and may penalize you for not paying off your balance.

How You Can Fix It

Treat your credit card as cash, and only buy what you can afford. This means you will be able to pay off the whole balance every month, which saves you from astronomical interest fees and other penalties the company may tack on. Paying off your credit card every month also helps your credit score, so it’s win-win.

15. Paying Bank Fees

While you’re looking into your credit card benefits, look at your bank. Are you charged a fee for getting money from an ATM? Are you penalized for overdrafts on connected accounts? Do they fine you if your balance goes below a certain amount?

How You Can Fix It

You shouldn’t have to pay a bank to hang onto your money for you. In fact, they should be paying you with decent interest rates. Find a bank that not only doesn’t have unnecessary fees, but they might reimburse you for ATM charges, or don’t require a minimum amount in your account.

16. Missing a Bill Payment

Some months, you might just scrape by after you pay everything off. Some months, you might not be able to pay a bill if you want to be able to go out with your friends next weekend. It’s okay to treat yourself, right?

How You Can Fix It

Always choose to pay your bills. Skipping out on this month’s bill might save you a hundred or more dollars now, but next month, your bill will be even higher. You’ll have two months to pay off, plus any late fees and penalties the company charges. Once you skip a bill, it’s hard to catch up without breaking the bank.

17. Not Taking Advantage of Employee Benefits

Are you signed up for your company’s insurance plan? What about life insurance? Are they adding money to your 401k? Are you?

How You Can Fix It

Look at your company’s manual, or contact HR to see what benefits are offered to you. You probably already have health insurance through them, but what about dental and vision? These are usually a small fee every month, but pay off when you actual visit the providers. Make sure you go to doctor and dentist appointments regularly — you may think it’s cheaper to skip them and not pay a copay, but it’s better than paying a lot for a procedure that could have been prevented. Most employers also match employee’s 401k input. You can put a percentage of your check into retirement, and your company will match it. That’s free money!

18. Buying Name Brands

Most people think generic products are just watered down versions of the real thing, but when you buy, you’re paying for the brand’s name, label, and reputation.

How You Can Fix It

Always ask for generic medication when you’re getting your prescription filled; they are much cheaper, and just as effective. Instead of going to your favorite big box store, go to the nearby dollar store. They have quality glassware and ceramic plates for just a dollar. They have kitchen utensils for just a dollar. They have school supplies, party supplies, and cleaning supplies for just a dollar. Pick some up and give them a try. If you don’t like what you get, you just spent a dollar, but most likely you will be impressed with what you found.

19. Driving Up Your Utility Bill

Leaving your phone charger plugged in next to your bed all day is convenient, but it’s draining electricity when when not in use. Taking a long, hot shower may be relaxing, but it’s expensive. Old appliances are fine because they still work, so it’s cheaper than buying new, but they’re not as efficient as newer models.

How You Can Fix It

Be conscious of what you use and when. Does your laptop need to be on the charger all of the time? Can you unplug the coffee machine after you drink the last cup? Check out how much energy you’re wasting with the Energy Vampire Calculator, and then challenge yourself to make your next utility bill less than it’s ever been before.

20. Buying As You Need It

Isn’t the whole point of saving money buying only what you need, as you need it? Yes and no. You’d rather have money in your wallet than unnecessary products cluttering your house, right? But sometimes buying something right when you need it means you’re paying an astronomical mark-up. Think: holiday goods.

How You Can Fix It

Everyone is excited the day after Valentine’s Day and Halloween because candy is so cheap. Wait and satisfy your sweet tooth when you can save 50%! Christmas decorations are heavily discounted after the special day, so buy your ornaments, lights, and gift wrap when they’re dirt cheap. Store them until you need them next year, and save yourself the stress and expenses of buying right before the holiday.

21. Paying For Things That Are Free

Having a Netflix subscription is great because you can watch movies whenever you want. Buying coffee from Starbucks is a pretty tasty treat, and getting tickets to the hottest concert of the year might hurt your bank account, but it will be fun.

How You Can Fix It

Take advantage of things that are free. Fill up your own water bottle instead of buying bottled water. (Buying a filter for your sink will be worth it in the long run, considering all the plastic bottle waste you’ll be saving.) Make cheaper coffee at home and pour it into a travel mug, or get your fix at work if your office brews a pot every morning. Look for free papers specific to your city, and look at the list of events going on in the area. Free events can be farmers markets, parades, special public events, and more, and they can be plenty of fun without breaking you.