Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Meal plan

I did it. I attempted a mega meal plan. Remember back here when I posted a link to this article, How We Eat on $250 a Month? One of Rachael's tips was that she makes a monthly meal plan. I decided to finally try it but am following our pay schedule instead so am doing it twice a month. I'm not sure what to expect, especially this first time. I'm hoping to save some money and also to enjoy cooking more because I'll have a plan every day and have all the ingredients there. I should also not have to shop as often. Hopefully my expectations aren't too high.

Here is my meal plan for the next 15 days:

Day 1: pork chops, rice, green beans
Day 2: chicken garlic pasta, focaccia bread
Day 3: steak fajitas, spanish rice, chips
Day 4: roast beef, potatoes, carrots, fruit salad
Day 5: bami, egg rolls
Day 6: sloppy joes, fruit, chips
Day 7: Awana dinner at church
Day 8: santa fe soup, grilled cheese sandwiches
Day 9: tacos, chips
Day 10: hot dog dinner at Youth Haven Ranch
Day 11: enchiladas, spanish rice, chips
Day 12: spaghetti, garlic bread, salad
Day 13: chicken noodle soup, bread
Day 14: Awana dinner at church
Day 15: hamburger gravy,noodles, green beans

I'm trying to come up with lunch ideas but not pencil those in. Just to know I have some options.

We'll see how it goes!

Sunday, September 27, 2009


We are getting ready to write out our October budget and it will look a little bit different. Some things we will continue to do the same. We are not adding in an eating out budget - that will have to come from our fun money or grocery money. But after reading The Financial Peace Planner (that I snatched at a used bookstore for $1 - love it!), I am realizing that we don't need to have quite the "bare bones" approach that we did this month. It was a good exercise for me and I don't regret it. I learned a lot about myself and how I overspend without realizing it. It was also good to realize that yes, every month is different and every month needs a new budget.

So this month the budget will include the membership for Sam's and some household things that really aren't part of our grocery money, like ink and paper. Our goal is still to build up our emergency fund so anything extra goes there. My hope is that by January, we will have our emergency fund built up and be able to start saving up for a down payment. It looks possible on paper but life doesn't always follow what's written on paper. Regardless of what happens, I'm happy we have a plan and thrilled to be moving in the right direction. It's also easier to sleep at night knowing we're not going to do anything to jeopardize our financial security.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


Yes, I finally got my new camera. On Wednesday. And I started taking pictures on Wednesday. I *think* it is what I want in a camera. The problem lies in the person taking the pictures. My friend is a really good photographer. She has a camera very similar to this and I was so impressed with the pictures she took. I now think that has something more to do with the fact that she's a REALLY GOOD PHOTOGRAPHER and not the camera. Nuts.

Just like it didn't matter so much what guitar I bought. It will only make the desired sound if I practice and get good at it.

Now I know you can debate quality and graphics and sound and whatever. I don't want to spend money on things that will produce junk. So I still think I made good decisions both times. Now the trick is to practice (both pictures and guitar) and become proficient at them.

So tell me, do these look blurry to you? I think I have a problem holding my hand steady when I take a picture. I hope it's not the camera. A user error would be much cheaper to fix than a system error.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A new camera

You may have noticed the lack of pictures recently. My camera stopped working right before we went to see Dave Ramsey live. Not the best timing. The flash wasn't working anymore. Yes, I tried new batteries and I looked on-line to see what the problem might be. The only advice I could find was to take it to get it fixed. I had been eyeing a new camera for a few months so I didn't like the idea of spending money on this one to get it fixed. At the same time, I was committed to this new budget and to building up our savings. But it's a camera! And I have a small children who are growing up so fast! How can I not capture the moments?

After 2 weeks of trying to decide what to do, I decided I didn't want to get it fixed. I want a smaller camera that can go in my purse and always be with me. I looked on-line and found one that had gotten good reviews and was priced below $200, which seemed very reasonable. I talked to Josh and we agreed it was worth re-working the budget for. Originally I thought I would just have to subtract that amount from our savings. Then I remembered that back in July I had opened an ING savings account. The idea was to have money deposited monthly in this account from our checking account for those things that only happen once or twice a year. So every month, we would send money over for car insurance and property taxes and then we'd know that money was always there.

I had set it up but didn't have it organized yet. Once I started doing the math, I realized we had extra in there. Woo-hoo! Exactly enough extra to cover this camera. So the budget stays as it is, the savings is not affected and I have a new camera being shipped to me as we speak. And, although this worked out in my favor this time, I do hope to have our finances managed better in the future.

Pictures will be coming soon!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Week 2 of budget

One more week down! Yay! Things are still going well. I have stuck to the budget and think I have made some new habits. This weekend we went up to Petoskey to visit family. I took drinks in the van and snacks. We went to a football game and I took some candy in little baggies to share. I brought extra snacks so we'd have some on the way home and refilled water bottles. Those little things can add up and it didn't take much time to grab a few things before we left the house.

We got home today at 5:30 and normally we would have just unloaded the van and gone out to eat. This time it was different. I'm trying to keep things on hand at home for quick meals so today I made a pizza and a salad and we ate at 6.

I did get to eat out twice this week. Thursday I was invited to eat out with a friend for her birthday and her husband treated, which was very generous. Then today we ate out after church with some cash we had set aside. I'm finding out though that I'm not missing it as much as I thought I would. It might be harder this next weekend because we don't have any plans. I'll have to come up with some good meals or fun things to do around here. Maybe a picnic at the park?

There have been a couple of things pop up that we'll have to adjust in the budget but nothing big. Otherwise, we've both been very careful about what we're spending and where our money is going. It will be interesting to see how the 2nd half of the month goes. I want to learn to control our money and not let it control us. I think we're on the right track.

Our school year

It appears that I finally have our curriculum figured out. We started math a few weeks ago and then the kids were so excited when our science books arrived from Sonlight so we started that two weeks ago. Last week was our first full week and it went really well. Tuesday was a little chaotic because it was the first day but we still got everything done. Wednesday we were gone in the morning for a showing and didn't get school started until 11:30 and still finished everything. Wow. On Thursday, it started to hit me - things were going really, really well and it was only the 3rd day.

We are doing science, math, reading, history, spelling, handwriting, grammar for Brendan and phonics for Tori every day. It is taking us probably about 2 hours total. I love what they are learning and feel like we are making the most of every minute they spend at the table. There is no busy work or things that just take up time. When they learn something, we move on. I think this will be the best year yet.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Week one of our new budget

I cannot believe it has only been one week since our new budget plan started. It feels like it should be a lot longer. I think one reason budgeting is so hard is because it takes a long time. Everything looks so good on paper. The numbers do what they're supposed to do and you think, okay, in 4 months, we'll be where we need to be. And you smile and want it to be 4 months later right now! But you still have to live every day and make many financial decisions every day. And the decisions you make affect the final outcome. It might end up taking longer than 4 months. It might end up taking less. The numbers from your budget might change.

So far, after one week, things are going well. The numbers still look right and I have told myself "no" countless times. I'm hoping it gets easier.

I have not made a meal plan yet but still plan to. I think Sam's Club will have to wait until the next pay day - it's not going to fit into the budget this time. I might not be ready for Sam's Club yet, anyways. There are a lot of temptations there. A lot of "good deals", even if they're not in the budget. I might have to plan to go right at the end of the pay period and only use what is left. Either way, it will be good for me to practice more self-control before going there.

We have certainly not suffered in any way this week by not spending more. We have actually done more as a family. After creating this budget, I immediately thought of all the things we wouldn't be able to do and then stopped thinking like that and started coming up with what we could do. There is a playground about 6 blocks from us so we've been biking over there after supper this past week. Today we drove a couple hours to a beach and had a cook-out over there. Hot dogs on a grill at a beach taste way better than a hamburger at a fast-food restaurant. All in all, it's been a great week and I'm ready for week 2!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


I have been blog-hopping tonight and read a couple posts that I thought were very interesting. Then I realized that they kind of went together. They were from two completely different blogs and from two completely different blog-sources. Coincidence?

The first one was How We Eat on $250. Of course, this caught my attention right away because if I could do that, I would have quite a bit left over to spend on eating out! This is for a family of 5 and even though we have a family of 6, I think it would be about the same. Tori and Rachel are just not typically big eaters. The author, Rachael, is very organized and makes out a monthly meal plan and then a shopping list for the month. The idea is great. If I can get in the habit of doing this and sticking to it. That's a big "if". And I promise I'll write about it if I do.

The second post was Why I Like Sam's Club. This caught my attention because I have not renewed our membership in a year and have been debating about going back. I found this very interesting and also exciting because at Sam's Club, you can't use coupons! I say this is exciting because I have 6 stacks of coupon inserts to go through and zero motivation to do that right now. The author, Brandy, gives a lot of information on what she considers to be good buys at Sam's Club and how she uses things that she buys there. She also recommends only going shopping a couple times a month, which would be okay if we could fit 10 gallons of milk in our fridge. Any solutions for that? I suppose I could try freezing it again, although it takes so long to thaw that you really have to think ahead. I've thought about a small fridge but how much would our energy bill go up? It doesn't really save money if it causes other costs to go up. I love the idea of shopping less though!

I was contemplating renewing our membership (after figuring it into the budget, of course) and how I could stock up on things and all of a sudden, it hit me. I could plan our meals for a month and then I'd know what to get at Sam's. I wouldn't have to worry about cutting coupons or finding time to get all these great deals every week. It's really got me thinking, which is not good late at night.

I have only used $12 out of grocery budget so far this month so I could sit down tomorrow and write out a meal plan and then make a list and then take my cash to Sam's (subtract the membership fee) and see if I can make it work. At this point, I would just get the staples and then I could go to Aldi for fresh produce and milk next week and whatever else doesn't seem to be a good deal at Sam's. Oh, I feel a plan and another post coming on. :) Stay tuned! Then again, tomorrow morning I might wake up and say, "What in the world was I thinking?" I always have way more energy at night than I should.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Another total money makeover

Last Saturday, Josh and I went to a Total Money Makeover Live event with Dave Ramsey. He is an incredible speaker. I'm not really sure what I was hoping would happen when I told Josh I wanted to go to this, but it worked. We walked away ready to commit to his plan fully for one year and then evaluate how things were going.

Basically, we had been doing his plan for the past couple of years. I had read his book and relayed some info to Josh and he liked the sounds of it. He didn't want to stop his 401(k) or empty our savings of all but $1000 to pay off debt but everything else sounded good. So we made a budget and a list of our debts and started paying them off. I don't know how long it took exactly but we were doing well. We had a home equity loan that we weren't sure what to do with because the rentals were supposed to be paying that off since that's what we had used it for.

About a year ago, we decided that plan wasn't working. The rentals were just not generating enough of a cash-flow to count on paying off that home equity loan. We were wanting to sell our house but the real estate market was down and it was going to be difficult, if not impossible, to break even with that loan. We revised our budget and this was also the time I started coupon shopping again. We paid off that loan in April and were thrilled. Now we were completely debt-free except our house.

Then the air conditioning went out on our van and we bought a different van. We could have used up our savings but decided to take out a loan and work on paying it off early.

After listening to Dave on Saturday, I really wanted to follow his plan completely and asked Josh if he would agree to try it for one year. Then we went back for the 2nd half of the conference and Dave said that if you were in the stage of building up your savings, you shouldn't see the inside of a restaurant unless you worked there. And I gasped out loud. I love eating out. We eat out usually twice a week, sometimes more. Josh just looked at me and I said, okay, I can do this.

On the way home, we talked about what needed to be done. We would set aside money for the rentals so it would be a different account then our savings account. This was necessary for both of us psychologically. I always felt like we had more than we did and he was always worried we didn't have enough. I should clarify - we have a business account for the rentals but there have been times that we have had to use our savings to keep them afloat. Now we just have a special account for any emergencies that are related to the rentals.

We also agreed to pay off the van loan immediately. This would drop our savings considerably but there would still be over $1000 there and we would work on building that back up. We were also going to temporarily stop the 4o1(k) until we built up our savings to a number that we were both satisfied with.

We sat down Sunday night for a "budget date". We went through this coming month and tried to think of every expense. We deleted items like eating out. The only frivolous thing we left on the budget was our fun money. It turns out we have quite a bit left to put into savings. Because of that, the 401(k) will not be stopped. I was so tempted to ask if that meant we could still eat out but I didn't.

I have learned quite a few things already about myself and how I view money through this process. One, I was spending a lot of money that had no place on the budget and apparently just figured it would all work out. I can't believe how many times, in just the last 2 days, I've thought about buying something and realized it's not in the budget. And when you have a strict, zero-based budget (meaning every dollar is assigned somewhere) there is no wiggle-room!

Two, whenever I would get frustrated with something, I would move quickly from "wanting" something to make it better to believing we "needed" that thing. I started wondering how in the world we would ever be able to save up for all the things we "needed". Oh, I'm learning so much.

Josh had originally wanted to have 6 months living expenses in the bank before moving on to the next step but after talking about it, he has agreed that 3 months is good for now. We should be able to do this by Christmas and still have gifts under the tree! The only way I could commit to not eating out is if I knew it would be temporary. :) And we've also said if we have extra fun money (I rarely do so I'm hoping Josh does) or if we have extra grocery money, we'll use that for a special meal out. I'm so excited about this new plan for our lives and what the new year will bring.