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Category: Earning & Managing Money

Monthly Financial Check-up

It’s July and guess what that means? It’s time for our monthly financial check-up. How did you do in June?

We began June at 48.5% of our house savings goal and we ended the month at 50%!

I cannot even begin to tell you how exciting it is for us to have reached the half-way point in our house savings. We had set the bar a little high in our savings goal so we’re getting very close to the point where we can actually start looking at houses.

We’re going to begin our house search by doing more research into what our options are, what areas we’d like to live in, and what features we’re looking for in a home. Once we’ve done that, enough time will likely have elapsed that we’ll be able to begin looking at homes–for real!–which are in the price range of what we have saved up.

It is amazing for us to look back over the last few years and realize how far we’ve come. What once seemed like a “big, hairy, audacious goal” is starting to become reality. The beans-and-rice budget is paying off and it feels weird to realize how close we are. Yet, just because we’re inching closer and closer to our goal, we don’t want to let our resolve slide or our frugality slip–something we’re having to guard against.

I’d really like to be at 55% of our goal by the end of July so that we will have saved over 20% towards our house savings goal this year so far. But we’ll see how the month goes!

Thanks so much for encouraging and cheering us along. It’s a huge help to have so much accountability in this! If you have recommendations for us when it comes to buying a home (books we should read, things we should consider, or any advice you’d like to give), please do pass it along. I feel like I have so much to learn and I want to be as well-researched as I possibly can be.

(By
the way, if you’re new here, you can read more about our financial
goals for this year and our progress so far by scrolling down on this
page here. And if you’re wondering why we’re attempting to save to pay 100% down for a house, be sure to read this post.)

——————————————–
How did you do in June? Whether
or not you posted financial goals for 2009, please take a moment to
post about your financial successes and failures in June and, if you’d like, the areas
you hope to improve in July. Then, come back here and leave your link
below. If you don’t have a blog or would rather share anonymously, feel
free to leave your update in a comment. Let’s all keep each other
accountable to be better stewards of
our resources!

Do you price-match?

As most of you know, Wal-Mart has a policy to "price-match" any competitor's store prices. I'm hearing reports that Target ads had a notice in them yesterday (see pages 2 and 3) saying that Target will now also be price-matching (we don't get the Sunday paper so I haven't been able to double-check on this myself yet). Hooray for more options!

I personally do not price-match at Wal-Mart for a variety of reasons–the biggest of
which is that I find my local grocery stores usually have much better markdowns than Wal-Mart does. In addition, they also double coupons and run catalina offers, neither of which Wal-Mart does.

Do you find price-matching at Wal-Mart (and now Target) to be beneficial or money-saving? Why or why not?

Making short-term sacrifices in order to achieve long-term goals

Jennifer recently left the following comment on my blog:

I have
been following for about 10 months now and have managed to make a huge
dent in our "old" grocery budget. However, I am also an experimental
cook who loves to try new things, especially fish and ethnic dishes. We
eat fish at least three meals a week (including lunches i.e. tuna) and
fresh fish is rarely on "good" sale, and never free. We also love
Indian, Thai, and Chinese, all of which I cook from scratch. I've always
admired your honesty, as well as the fact that you repeatedly (and
sincerely) say "what we do doesn't work for everyone" – so I am also
wondering, do you "miss" variety in your menus?

Do I miss variety? Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that there are many things I often see at the store which I'd love to buy but which I know would totally bust our grocery budget. No, because I truly believe that making temporary short-term sacrifices (like, for us, eating simple meals made with inexpensive ingredients–see some of our normal menus here) is worth it to achieve long-term goals.

Before my husband and I got married, we sat down and did a lot of calculating to see how little we could survive on. Our goal was to make it through Jesse's six remaining months of undergrad and the following three years of law year without going into debt.

We had the money saved up and set aside to pay for school, but we didn't have much more beyond that. We figured that if he worked part-time and I worked part-time, we could manage to make close to $1000 per month. So that was the dollar amount we had to work with in making our budget. Considering that our rent ate up over half of that amount, we had around $125/week leftover to work with.

It seemed rather daunting to be able to pay for our utilities, transportation, food, and living expenses with that amount but we were determined to make it work. We knew we would have much more freedom if we weren't making payments on law school loans for years to come. And we knew if Jesse were to begin his legal career without the bondage of debt, it would give us much more of a foundation for achieving our long-term goals of owning a home debt-free, owning real estate debt-free, and being able to share abundantly with those in need.

Yes, we had some pretty big long-term goals from the get-go, and the only way to achieve those was by making short-term sacrifices. It would mean going without, saying "no", and exercising lots of self-discipline. In short, it would mean experiencing some temporary discomforts in order to reap lifelong rewards.

The temporary discomforts during the law school years weren't always easy, believe me. Both of us had moments when we just wanted to throw in the towel and throw our arms up in defeat. There were many times when we wished we could spend money on this or that or enjoy some of the little luxuries in life it seemed everyone else was. But we plodded on and on and on–wearing the same clothes over and over, driving an old car, brown-bagging it, clipping coupons, forgoing dinners out, living in a cramped little basement apartment, and so on–constantly reminding ourselves that it would someday be worth it.

And it has been every bit worth it. The little luxuries in life that we gave up–like eating out, making fancy meals, buying new clothes or things, driving a nicer car–pale in comparison to the freedom we now have living a life without payments.

Many people expected that as soon as my husband got out of law school and our income quadrupled, we'd stop being so frugal and start "really living". Shouldn't we reward ourselves for those sacrifices by loosening up on our tightwad ways? It was easy to justify, for sure, but we'd lived on such a beans-and-rice budget for so long that neither of us felt comfortable with all of a sudden becoming more extravagant. Plus, we have more audacious long-term goals–like paying cash for a house–and we know the only way we'll be able to achieve those in a timely fashion is by making more short-term sacrifices.

We have given ourselves quite a bit more budget breathing room than we had during law school and we have mutually decided to allow ourselves to "splurge" every now and then (like our dinner at The Cheesecake Factory last Friday night!), but we still adhere to a strict written budget and we do our best to constantly be looking for ways to keep our expenses and expenditures to a minimum. This enables us to live on much less than we make so we put a large part of what we earn towards saving to pay cash for a house. In addition, it allows us to have much more to share with others.

None of this would be possible if we were buried in debt. Not only would we have all the stress of trying to make ends meet while paying all our payments, we'd not have the freedom to give generously or the ability to make good traction in our savings goals.

So yes, there are days when I wish I could go to the store and just buy whatever I want without worrying about staying within our grocery budget. And yes, there are times when I wish I could make more elaborate meals with more expensive ingredients instead of planning our menus based upon the sales and what coupons I have. But then I quickly realize that sticking with a small grocery budget and eating simple meals is one of the reasons we're living a life without payments and one of the reasons we're able to save more and give more. When thinking of it in that light, it is so worth it!

And honestly? I really enjoy the challenge of working with a small grocery budget. In fact, while our menus might seem dull to some, we really rarely notice the fact that we spend so little at the grocery store. Through years of practice, I've learned a number of tricks (like the Buy Ahead Principle) which, coupled with a large dose of creativity and ingenuity, allow us to enjoy a rather varied and healthful fare without breaking the bank to do so.

Note: I wanted to make it clear that I am not advocating everyone need to have a grocery budget like ours or that you need to forgo eating fancy dinners. These are choices we have made based upon our family's goals and what works best for us right now. Your family's goals and needs are different than ours so please do not feel the need to do similar to us. I just share what we've done and are doing in hopes it might be an inspiration to you to find ways you can live on less in order to save more and give more.

Guest Post: Once-a-Week Frugal Food Night

Guest Post by Amy Ellen from Health Begins With Mom


Eating healthful foods can sometimes put a strain on a family's grocery
budget. Buying food in bulk, joining food co-ops, and shopping
strategically all help, for sure. In addition, our family has found
another strategy for bringing down our weekly budget: our family has committed to have a Frugal Food Night every Wednesday.

Of course, we try to be frugal all week. But, we see our Frugal Food Wednesdays
as an opportunity to save big! I try to prepare a meal for my family of
six for about $1.50. Our goal with
this extra budget-cruncher is to free up some money for the more
pricey, nutrient-dense foods we want to include in our diet the rest of the week.

Here's what we've been making for our Frugal Food Wednesdays recently:

Take a two-pound bag of pinto beans and sort the beans for any stones or bad beans. (These around $2 at the grocery store and less than $1 per pound if you buy it in bulk.)

Soak
the beans overnight in a crock pot turned off by covering the beans
with plenty of water and stirring in about 2 tablespoons of plain
yogurt. The yogurt will begin to break down some of the amino acids
that cause our digestive systems some difficulty. This process will
also make the beans' nutrients more bioavailable (ready for our body to
use).

The
next morning, rinse the beans and refill the crock pot with fresh, pure
water. Let the beans cook on low for most of the day. I start mine
first thing in the morning. In the early afternoon, add 2 cups of brown
rice ($0.50), 2 Tablespoons of chili powder, 1 teaspoon of garlic powder, and salt and
pepper to taste. (Since I purchase my seasonings in bulk these
spices only add up to costing about 5 cents.)

Let this cook on high until supper time. Voila! You have a dinner that
serves about 12 for less than $3.

At first glance, this meal may not
look like magazine cover-food. However, the seasonings make this dish
surprisingly tasty.

Here is the cost breakdown: $2 of beans, $0.50 of
rice, and let's say $0.10 of spices. That is a total of $2.60. This
meal will serve 12, so divide that figure in half for my family of six,
and we have a complete meal for $1.30. (It will even be less if you buy your beans and
rice in bulk.)

Here are some variation ideas:
  • Adding a can or two of petite diced tomatoes gives this meal a fuller flavor. Two cans will add about $0.50 per meal.
  • At times, we will often omit the rice and serve plain chili beans
    with corn muffins. My children really enjoy this variation. Simple corn
    muffins are very frugal!
  • Our favorite variation is Black Bean soup. Start with just one
    pound of black beans instead of two pounds of pinto beans. Still fill
    the crock pot up with water and cook as normal, adding the rice,
    seasonings and 2 cans of tomato paste. Black Beans sell here for $1.15,
    plus the two cans of tomato paste for $1.10 and rice for $0.50. Since
    this soup will also serve two complete meals, the cost is still less
    than $1.50 per meal. 
A few additional thoughts on this meal:
  • Leftovers freeze well for the next Wednesday. Or they are great
    layered with whole wheat tortillas, salsa and cheese for a quick
    Saturday night supper–which makes for another very frugal meal.
  • When reheating the rice and beans, spread a thin layer of salsa over the top to prevent drying out in the oven.
  • If your children are new to this type of food, cheese sprinkled on the top might make the meal more exciting.
  • Our family eats an enormous amount of fresh foods throughout the
    week. We feel one night with all cooked food is not tremendously
    harmful to our health. If you can't skip vegetables once a week, you
    can always steam broccoli or another sale-priced vegetable. This would
    increase the cost of the meal by at least $1.

Amy Ellen is a homeschooling mother of a third-grader, a
first-grader, a preschooler, and a nineteen-month-old-tagalong. She has
a vision to help moms who want to be healthy but don't know where to
start… and moms who know where to start but need some encouragement
along the way. She blogs at HealthBeginsWithMom.com and is a Wellness Consultant in her "free time".

Ask the Readers: Best deal on an mp3 player?

Ipod
I'm wondering how to find the best deal on a good mp3 player. Are there any great deal-comparing sites, coupon codes, or sales I
should know about? Also, I'm interested in thoughts on brands, styles, and models? What do people have and what do they like and dislike? -Linnea

Personally, I'm not a bells and whistles kind of gal (bet you could've guessed that!) nor am I a techno-geek, so I have an Apple iPod Shuffle 1 GB. I love it and use it every morning when I work out. It works great for exercising since it's so lightweight and can just clip onto your clothing.

However, the iPod Shuffle has very little memory (or is it called "space" or something else? See, I'm no techno-geek!) compared to other mp3 players and absolutely no bells and whistles. But it serves the purpose I use it for perfectly so I'm happy as a lark with it. Oh, and I got a really great deal on mine–I earned it free through Swagbucks (thanks to extra points earned from some of you signing up with my referral code on the sidebar!). Otherwise, I'd likely still be living in the "Dark Ages" and using a CD player or radio when I work out! 🙂

For those of you who have mp3 players or
ideas for where to purchase them inexpensively, I'd love to hear your
input. I'm sure Linnea's not the only one who could benefit from it!

Guest Post: Using Skype to Save the Family Money

skype_logo

Guest Post by Karen at Saving The Family Money

In December of 2007, our cell phone company let us down and we decided to cancel them. Long story short, they changed my phone number without permission, and it was a customer service nightmare trying to get it resolved.

After long discussions with my husband and a lot of research, we decided to give Skype a try. I first heard about Skype on the Clark Howard show. I had always heard him talk so highly about it, that I thought it was worth a try. My husband is tech-savvy, so he was excited about testing the technology and seeing if it would work for us. I’m happy to say it is still our main line after 16 months.

The Technology–Skype is free software you can download onto your computer that allows you to talk over the Internet to anyone else with Skype–anywhere in the world. I wish we would have had Skype when my sister and her husband lived in Japan. It would have been nice to video chat for free anytime. Now we use the video chat with the grandparents and it’s fabulous. They enjoy seeing the kids more frequently and the kids think it's fun to see them on the computer!

The Money–The exciting part for me is we are only paying about $6 a month for our home phone service (no taxes)! Imagine the savings if you did this for your family. Although my sister is now in the same city, she signed up with Skype and is also using it as her main line.

Purchases

Skype has changed their pricing format a couple of times over the last two years. They've changed their subscription names for the bundles, so when you research it online, it can be confusing. Despite the changes, it has remained a cheap deal. There are three main levels of pricing:

  1. You can do Skype-to-Skype for free. (Includes video chat, IMs and file transfer capability, but only to other Skype members)
  2. You can upgrade for $3/month and get what I'd call "Skype-to-Phone," to be able to call normal (non-Skype) land-line phones and mobile phones. Voice mail also comes with this package.
  3. Lastly, you can pay for an actual number, so folks can call you. (This is where Skype becomes a land-line phone replacement.)

It's nice because you can take those baby steps to test the service before you commit. Even after you commit, you can choose short monthly service plans.

The Ease and Convenience–My husband got hooked quickly because of the conveniences Skype offered. He loved how it worked on both PCs and Macs. I appreciated all the options Skype had; it's been a pretty seamless change and we use it 100% of the time now.

Over time, we've used a USB Handset, USB Headset,and even bought a Skype phone that works like a cordless. Yes, that's right, you can buy an actual phone so you are not bound to the computer to use the service. It can be worked into your home and used like a "normal" phone. I've even taken my laptop on location, where Internet is available, and by simply plugging in my headset, I've been able to receive and make calls.

Please note: Skype cannot be used for emergency calling. My husband
has a work-issued cell phone so in case of an emergency, we would use that.

Karen has had so much fun saving her family money that she is blogging about it at Saving The Family Money, in hopes that it will benefit other families.