Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Spending Fast Update

I know I have been slacking on the spending fast updates, but I have a perfectly legit reason: my Internet didn't work last week. See?! What's a girl to do?

First off,  I have a few issues with my spending fast.

1. This is my life. We don't spend. Ever. Ben realized that I was calling our lives by a different name pretty early on when he remarked that the spending fast actually changes nothing for us and we still can't buy anything. I guess a rose by any other name is still a rose. 
2. I don't like to blog about things that I have to do to maintain my out of debt existence (not including student loans). It's depressing. It would be much more fun to do this as a growing experience instead of necessity.
3. I have probably spent more this month than any other month. We went out to eat for Valentine's day, which only ended up costing us a few dollars extra since we had the gift cards, but that is still more than we would normally have spent. We also got each other inexpensive gifts, but that is still more than normal. We had to spend money for Ben's deployment supplies, which had to be bought immediately because when the Army says "jump" you say "how high?" It is amazing how much a year supply of all the basics end up costing.

So how have we done? 

I'm not sure. Like I said, we had to spend more money this month than normal. I also had to buy a fast food meal while I was at Youth Conference because I was allergic to both lunch and dinner. We buy our groceries every 2-4 weeks depending on sales etc. I decided to just buy for the month not including perishables. I initially spent $128.31 including perishables for the first 2 weeks. After that, we made several purchases of forgotten but necessary items and perishables that brought the total to $144.76. My dinner at youth conference cost $5.54, which brings my total to $150.30. This leaves me with $9.70 for this week. I'm confident that I can finish and meet my goal of $160 or under for the month. I probably should have lowered my goal amount to make it more interesting. I should have made it a lot more painful because we are still pretty comfortable and didn't really have to think about it much.

 Things I do to save money

1. Make your own bread. I don't eat bread, but Ben does. He is pretty happy buying the $.99 loaf but there is a ton of crap in that bread, and it is poor quality, so I make better bread for him.

2. We don't buy cereal. Most days we eat oatmeal that comes in the big thingy (not individually packaged). You can flavor your oatmeal a ton of different ways, so it provides variety and it is so much more filling than cereal. If you want to know some of my oatmeal concoctions just comment or email me. I also make eggs, muffins, pancakes, crepes, grits or whatever else strikes our fancy on a given day.

3. I buy my eggs at Walgreens. I know this sounds strange, but Walgreens will frequently advertise $.99 eggs. I go there and stock up because their printed expiration date is usually a month or so away. I buy a ton of eggs at once, and that lasts until the next egg sale.

4. I don't buy packaged/ heavily processed food. If I want a cookie, I have to whip up a batch, which certainly makes you think twice about your cravings. I even make my tortillas from scratch, but I still buy my noodles.

5. I don't buy ground beef or beef. Most of our meals consist of ground turkey. Our meal breakdown turns out to be something like fish 2x/month, sausage 2x/month, pork 2x/month, and chicken 2-3x/month. Everything else is turkey or vegetarian give or take a meal or two depending on sales and special occasions.

6. I don't buy soda or juice. Our exception for this is OJ. Ben loves OJ, so I buy him the more expensive OJ. Otherwise I make and drink herbal ice tea (about 1.40 for 4 qts+ unless I have a coupon)  and Ben drinks powdered Gatorade when we want something besides water. Every Monday I make a big pitcher of each to last throughout the week. I also have a juicer, so when I want something like apple cider, or a healthy juice, I can make it on my own.

7. I've downgraded my toilet paper. I used to use Charmin Ultra Soft, now I use Whatever is cheapest but doesn't fall in the sand paper category and is still 2 ply.

8. When I run out of my old cleaning supplies, I use vinegar and backing soda. I only buy cleaning supplies for the bathroom because I'm anal. I also have a supply of Shaklee that has lasted a while.

9. I don't window shop. I only go into stores when I need something. I haven't been to a mall since I've arrived in TX.

10. We only eat out once a month. I freeze leftovers in individually portioned sizes, so when I don't feel like cooking we have a good healthy and hearty meal ready to go.

11. We come up with cheap, if not free, date ideas so we don't get bored sitting around. Plus we play a lot of board games.

12. I'm brand specific on very few items. This makes it easier to use coupons

13. I buy on sale and use coupons. When it comes to household items, I get those things on sale and with my coupons. Sometimes Walgreens will have a great sale price for an item. You can use their coupon and a manufacturers coupon on top of the sale price. This helps for things like toothpaste and contact solution or whatever. I was able to buy a year's supply of All hypoallergenic laundry detergent for $14. I also know how to make laundry detergent for the same price.  

14. I meal plan. I plan out all my meals on a chart. This makes grocery shopping easier but also keeps me from wondering what to make for dinner and then deciding not to make anything.

15. We don't have cable. We can get most of our shows online and others will eventually show up on Netflix, if we are still interested. During football season, Ben would listen to the game over the internet most of the time. If it was a game he really wanted to see, he would buy a soft drink and sit at the bar at Applebee's. $2 certainly beats the $50+ that cable costs. Now if only we could live without the Internet. 

Doing these things and more has helped us live within our means and still enjoy life. We have a great time together. My philosophy is "If we don't have it, we can live without it." Telling myself that when we first started cutting back really helped. Eventually you stop thinking about what you can't do with what you don't have and start thinking about all you can do with all that you do have. It was great when we sat down to make our Christmas lists and couldn't really think of anything that we really wanted or needed. I know that I'm really grateful for the opportunity we have had to truly assess our needs and wants. I know we could do even better than what we are doing now if we really wanted. I'm keenly aware of the many things that we still have or buy that we could most certainly live without, but I'm also thankful that I don't have to do without for the time being.

Anyway these are a few of the things that we do. If you are interested in knowing more or just want some good cheap recipes, let me know. Feel free to leave a comment about your money saving techniques. I don't plan on posting anything else about the spending fast. I'm thinking that in March  I want to start a thing where I get rid of 1 item  everyday in March. Anyone interested?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Snow Day!!!

We had a snow day not too long ago. It was pretty awesome. Ben did not have to go to work so we slept in and then made a snowman. It took us a long time to make since the snow was too powdery and there wasn’t a ton of snow to work with, but in the end victory was ours. I’m pretty happy with the results even though the red eyes make him look a little like a creeper. Maybe that is why a kid stomped him to pieces and ended his life early. Oh well.

P.S I'm pretty sure this is my shortest post ever.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

You Say It's Your Birthday

Ben turned 27 on January 30th, isn’t he old?. At the marriage retreat a couple we met surprised Ben with a pastry and organized the whole banquet hall to sing “Happy Birthday” to him. It was so sweet! When we got home that night, it was too late for me to make his birthday dinner and cake, so we just had one of our frozen meals and played a board game of Ben’s choice. We ended up playing Babel, which is a great strategy game for two. After drinking sparkling cider and eating chocolate for dessert, he opened his presents. My parents gave him Fifa 2011 for the Wii, and I gave him a cordless mouse ( I know your jealous). I also gave him my old set of laser tag equipment that I had from when I was a kid. My mom graciously sent the set to me so that I could give it to him. Laser tag equipment is pretty expensive for a brand new set, so I was so glad that my parents still had my old set. He was pretty excited about all of his gifts, and I know that he will have a lot of fun with the laser tag. He really likes to play laser tag and now we can play whenever he wants.

On Monday I made Ben’s steak dinner and chocolate mouse cake with chocolate ganache. Unfortunately, right before everything finished cooking he got called to CQ. Someone forgot to tell him that there was a schedule change and he was supposed to be there from 6:30pm to 9am. Needless to say, I was not happy. I had spent forever preparing the dinner and cake. I even made the cake twice seeing as I have mad skills and knocked the first one off the counter and all over the kitchen. Fortunately, Ben’s friend covered the first two hours of CQ duty and we were able to eat before he left.

I almost started to forget the disorganization of the military after the marriage retreat, but luckily I was swiftly corrected. That’s the military for you, always screwing up your plans. Fortunately it worked out in the end.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Marriage Retreat

Over the weekend of January 30th (also known as Ben’s Birthday), Ben and I decided to participate in a very lovely and very free marriage retreat. We traveled three long hours to a beautiful and relatively secluded resort in San Antonio. The trip consisted of 2 nights and 3 days in the Hyatt resort with all meals provided for FREE (paid for by the Army). Of course we had to sit through 8 hours of marriage workshops, but it is was well worth it, and due to my participation, I won us enough books to constitute a mini marriage library.

When we first arrived we were a little unimpressed with our sleeping arrangements not because the rooms weren’t nice or anything, but because we had a room with 2 double beds instead of one king size bed. Ben was all like “Well at least it is free,” and I was all, “I don’t care our bed at home is better, this is not going to work unless you want to sleep alone.” Turns out, when put like that he agreed with me, so I found someone to rectify the situation. We were able to move into a more suitable room once I explained to the facilitator that I didn’t think they wanted us sleeping separately on the marriage retreat because I certainly wasn’t going to cram into 1 double and let the other bed go to waste. Our new room even had a balcony with a beautiful view looking out over the courtyard.

When we weren’t in classes we found plenty of other things to do around the hotel since our goal was to not spend any money outside of gas and not use electronics outside of occasionally watching CNN and SNL (We don’t have cable at home). As a tradition the hotel allows guests roast s’mores in the huge fireplace in the entrance, which was pretty exciting. During free time we borrowed bikes from the hotel and went for a ride through the nature trail. We also spent time laying in a hammock, playing tether-ball, and chatting with new friends. Saturday night they showed Fireproof, which surprisingly enough turned out to be a good film on marriage and relationships*. Both nights we had plenty of free time, so I dragged Ben to the beautiful hot tubs despite his complaints of 50 degrees being too cold (What happened to my Chicago guy???). The hot tubs were huge and had beautiful waterfalls. I loved it.

I’m glad we went. Even though we didn’t learn a lot from the lectures we did get a few extra tips. Despite the fact that I think Ben and I have a pretty awesome relationship, we are always open to learning how to make it better. This retreat was kind of like a mini vacation and we love vacations. Vacations always do wonders for our own personal well being as well as our relationship. If you get the chance to go on something like this, I say take it. It is well worth it.

*I enjoyed the film, but I still had to put aside Kirk Cameron’s bad acting and the somewhat contrived religious message. It was a lot better than expected. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Spending Fast 2011!!!

Sedona: A possible vacation destination

A friend did a spending fast last year and documented it on her blog. I thought it was brilliant. Although I didn't read about her experience until a month after she did it, I knew I wanted to do it in 2011. The time is now. I originally planned to do this in March, but she preempted my slight procrastination by initiating a challenge in February, so I am rising to the occasion.

What is a spending fast? Simply put: don't spend money. ever. You can pay your bills, fuel your car, and feed your family but that's it. As for feeding your family, you are on a tight budget. My friend sets a limit of $50 a week in groceries and no fast food. I am setting a slightly tighter budget of $160 for the month. Ben and I already lead a relatively frugal existence, so the $160 presents more of a challenge and that is what this is about: The challenge. I'm not going to lie, I'm hoping to add a little more money to our pre-deployment vacation fund, but I also want to push myself to get creative and think outside of the box when it comes to dealing with our budget. As far as gas, we are hoping to use our gas conservatively.

Valentine's will be our only outside expense. I certainly considered not really celebrating V-day, but Ben will be deployed during V-day next year, so I feel comfortable making a reasonable exception. This exception will most likely include homemade cards, dinner paid for with gift cards, and an exchange of thoughtful gifts that fall within a $15 price limit.

I will post updates on our progress as well as savings tips that I already employ along with new ones I learn throughout my journey. If you want to join in, please leave a comment so we can keep up with each other. I will probably do this until the middle of March.

Monday, February 7, 2011

52 weeks of personal history: New Year’s traditions

I wrote this post a few weeks ago but trouble with the internet preventing me from posting.

My family has never been super big on New Year’s traditions. When my sister and I were younger, right after midnight we would run around the house like mad fools trying to be the first to touch, use, or kiss this or that item in the new year, but that is pretty much the extent of our traditions. In one of the more recent years I got out pots and pans and banged on them inside the house and out in the streets to ring in the year with my little brother and sister. This year we did something completely new. My little sister, Taytum, and I made popcorn balls and bread together (using my brand new stand mixer). Afterward we all played the new WII that we got for Christmas. Then around 11:55 we turned on the TV to watch the ball drop. Once the clock struck midnight, we called family while we drank sparkling cider and ate black-eyed peas. We had so much fun! I look forward to following that tradition every year. Normally we eat the black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day, but I think I enjoy doing it at midnight. I suppose it doesn’t matter when we get to eat them as long as it happens at some point. The Black eyed peas are supposed to bring luck and money in the New Year, so we put some in our tummy and 3 dried beans in our wallets.

This New Year Ben and I decided to set some goals for the year. We made a couple goals last year and really enjoyed the results, so we have decided to expand on that general idea. Basically we picked several categories to set goals in. Our categories: financial, spiritual, relationship, physical, and individual.
There are a few that I will probably post more about than others. One of our relationship goals is to have at least two active dates a month. By active, we mean dates where we can actually take pictures and record the event with our brand spanking new camcorder. We are hoping to capture, record, and further document these dates so that we can have specific memories to draw upon when Ben deploys. We want to create a sort of date memory book for each of us before he leaves. I also want to share one of our goals in the spiritual category since I will probably be posting recipes/ pictures for this one. We have decided that I will cook at least one fully nutritional yet vegetarian/vegan meal a week. This is in the spiritual category because we want to follow the Word of Wisdom more fully by eating meat sparingly.

What goals and resolutions did you come up with this year?

Happy New Year!!!