Ways to Save, Part II

This is a continuation of a series on how to save/find money to alleviate the pressures that Christmastime spending usually brings to the average household in America.  Find the first installment, Ways to Save: Part I, here.

Part II: In the Laundry Room

1.) Combine loads of laundry in the dryer.  You may have to wash darks and lights separately, but if the loads are small enough to fit in the dryer together, dry them at the same time.  1 dryer cycle vs. 2 = 40 mins of electricity pull vs. 80 mins. = SAVINGS!

2.) If you use dryer sheets, cut them in half or reuse them 2 or 3 times before throwing them out.  Don’t use them on towels, btw – they coat the towels with stuff that prevents them from absorbing as much water as possible.

3.) Stop buying dryer sheets and commercial detergent.  We have started making our own detergent – recipe here: http://www.diynatural.com/homemade-laundry-detergent-soap/ – and will make the fabric softener recipe as soon as we run out of the dryer sheets we have – recipe here: http://www.diynatural.com/homemade-fabric-softener-dryer-sheets/.

4.) Use the clothesline (or drying rack) whenever possible.  The point is to keep the dryer from running as often.

5.) Do only full loads of laundry.  Be smart about your clothes – wear pants a couple of times before throwing them in the hamper.

6.) Wash in cold water more frequently.  There are some items which MUST be washed in warm or hot water, I understand – baby clothes with food stains, for one!  But I saw this advertised recently: Tide Coldwater Liquid Laundry Detergent.  Here’s the description: “Tide Coldwater is specially formulated for cold water conditions so you can save energy and money when you switch loads to cold.”  Brilliant!

7.) Don’t have multiple appliances running at the same time as your washer/dryer.

8.) Also, consider the time of day you run your major appliances.  Don’t run the dryer between 2-7 pm in the summertime, when your A/C unit is struggling to keep up, anyway.  Your dryer pulls lots of electricity that your A/C unit needs, cranking that meter up into high gear.

9.) Use Borax.  I add a few shakes into loads that have been sitting for a few days or that contain clothes with stains.  You use less detergent and don’t have to buy special stain-fighting sticks and gels.

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Ways to Save, Part I

(For my facebook friends, I wrote a note about this last October.  Most of this information is repeated.)

You all know I LOVE Christmas.  I love the baking, the music, the lights, the festivities, the smells in the air, and the time with family and feeling like nothing matters – it’s Christmas!

But in order to get to this utopian mindset, I’ve discovered I must take care of my finances first.  As Dave Ramsey mentions in his FPU class on budgeting, we women have a gland related to money.  When money is short, or when there are money problems of any kind, the gland starts acting up and makes our faces squish up, making us look like we ate a lemon!  And then, what it does to our rhetoric to our husbands???  Oh wait, I’m not speaking theoretically anymore… :/

So I want to share with you, in a series of several posts, ways we save money to prepare to celebrate this wonderful season (that is less than 4 months away now) with no worries of money issues invading our happiness.

Part I: Around the House

1.) Put your tv/entertainment system and Internet power supplies on power strips.  TURN THEM OFF when not in use (including overnight).  We saw nearly a $50 savings in one month from this alone.

2.) UNPLUG YOUR CELL PHONE/COMPUTER/NOTEBOOK CHARGERS and other device chargers when not charging the device.  They draw power even if nothing is plugged in.

3.) Open the windows as much as possible to save on heating/cooling bills.  Again, we saw huge savings.

4.) If you must use the heater or A/C, use a programmable thermostat, and turn it up/down when there’s no one home.

5.) Instead of reaching for the thermostat, change your clothes or turn on a fan.  In warmer weather, keep the A/C at or above 74*, turn on fans, and keep the kids from running in and out.  In the cooler weather, put on sweats, socks, or even a stocking cap to keep warm and keep the heater down (like 68*).  Plus, you can cuddle under blankets on the couch with your sweetie or a mug of hot chocolate to stay warm!

6.) Unplug fans, Scentsy warmers, and anything else drawing power while not in use.

7.) Drop the expensive Smart Phone plan for your 10-year-old.  Ok, I’m exaggerating, but smart phones are literally causing some families to go hungry because of poor money management.  Read the article here: http://theweek.com/article/index/233979/are-smartphones-wrecking-family-budgets.

8.) Sell old clothes to a consignment store or use an auction site, like eBay.

9.) Have a garage sale (weather-permitting).  Literally pull stuff off the walls and get rid of things you don’t need.  If you haven’t used it in the last year, chances are you don’t need it!

10.) Clean out closets and the attic.  Use whatever you have for gift wrap, foregoing the wasteful, expensive bags and paper that are all going to get thrown away!  We were given some baskets by someone else who was cleaning out closets.  You can bet those will make an appearance at our Christmas gatherings!

Try doing just one of these and see how much money you can find to spend on Christmas.  Remember, no credit cards!  Christmas IS coming, and it’s on the same day as it was last year, so don’t get surprised by it!  Plan your work and work your plan.

More to come.  Until, then, glory to Him who is able to bless you exceedingly abundantly more than you could ever ask or imagine! ~Ephesians 3:20-21

Christmastime’s A Comin’…

I love that old Christmas song. I know, I know, I’m that annoying friend of yours who has the silly countdown til Christmas memorized! At least I make myself wait until after Thanksgiving Day is over before busting out the Christmas CD’s and Pandora Christmas stations.

So we all know when Christmas is. We all know it’s coming. My question is, why don’t we better prepare for it?

If we know there’s a tornado coming for our area, we in Tornado Alley follow our tornado plan and get to a safe place with non-perishable food and water. If there’s a hurricane headed our way, we leave town on the Evacuation Route to safety. These are all for our physical protection. So why don’t we protect ourselves FINANCIALLY from the money disaster called CHRISTMAS?

I like what Tim Allen did in that movie, “Christmas with The Kranks” (which is based on the book called Skipping Christmas by John Grisham) – he calculated how much they spent on Christmas festivities, decorations, food, etc., and wrote it all down. I think the total came to $5600. (Don’t get me started on how materialistic and how commercialized my favorite holiday has become. Grrr….) Have you done the same with last year’s calculations? Are you still paying for last Christmas via credit card bills?

Do yourself a favor: cut up all your credit cards. Stop giving away 20 cents of every dollar you spend. That’s what you’re doing when you “put it on the card” – you are giving that financial institution roughly 20% of your hard-earned money per transaction. Isn’t the APR on most credit cards around 18% – 20%? It’s been 3 years since we’ve even touched a credit card, so I am probably a little behind the times there.

Instead, start saving now for Christmas. Factor in parties, gifts, stocking stuffers, special food items, travel expenses, party clothes and shoes, extra restaurant money because you are out shopping all the time…. Now find an envelope and put it in a safe place. Each week or month, whenever you have your budget meeting, make allowances for Christmas in your budget. Cash a check for the amount you determined, then put it in the envelope in the safe place and DON’T TOUCH IT, unless you’re purchasing a Christmas present, of course.

Then do yourself another favor: take a Financial Peace University class. You’ll be able to find one near you by using Dave Ramsey’s website: www.daveramsey.com/fpu. Just think about how PEACEFUL you will feel on December 26th and January 1st and all the other days after Christmas that the credit card bills DON’T come.

Christmastime’s a comin’; how are you preparing??

We love ALDI!

We were so excited when a new grocery store opened in our hometown last month. ALDI is a national chain of grocery stores specializing in low prices. You bring your own grocery bags, you rent a cart for 25 cents, and there are virtually no name-brand products. Sounds like a different world from Wal-Mart or Kroger, right?

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While on our debt-free journey (read more about that in Our Story, Part I and II), hubby and I have shopped at both Kroger and Wal-Mart for groceries. There are pros and cons for every grocery store, of course, but we love this new option. We go to ALDI for our eMeals shopping list (see the post about eMeals here), then make a quick stop at Wal-Mart for any baby items we might need.

EMeals (http://www.emeals.com/) provides us a menu of 7 dinners based on what ALDI has on sale that week. (Did I mention you can’t find everything all the time? They didn’t have soy sauce this past week but it was in the circular for the following week.) So for a week’s worth of dinners for the two of us, plus fruit and vegetables for baby girl, our total came to just about $60.00 on our last shopping trip. Can you feed your family dinner for that much by shopping at Wal-Mart or Kroger??

Besides the money it saves us, we enjoy shopping at ALDI. When is the last time you ENJOYED grocery shopping WITH YOUR CHILD? It is a quiet, pleasant experience. It was not too crowded on the Saturday morning we went, but I did hear some people say it was too crowded in the parking lot when they drove by so they would try it another time.

Because they don’t have a lot of brand name items, you don’t have to stand there and compare prices. That part of grocery shopping DRIVES ME NUTS and takes up way too much time, especially with a grumpy baby girl. So we just grab the ALDI brand and go – no worries. I know I’m getting the best deal with the ALDI brand.

And some ALDI store brand items actually taste better than the name brand versions. The fruits and vegetables are priced PER ITEM, not per pound or per ounce, so there’s no difficult mental math or estimation needed. Avocados are 25 cents each; peaches were 19 cents each, etc.

According to some Braum’s milk snobs I know, the ALDI brand of milk is actually pretty good. In taste, it beats the Wal-Mart milk but doesn’t quite reach the upper echelons, like Braum’s milk does. But it beats everywhere on price – $1.79 per gallon. I know, right?! And bakers, you’ll love this. Butter was $1.69 for 4 sticks last time we went. That’s HALF the price you find at most grocery stores. I think Wal-Mart had it for $2.38 last time I was in there.

So let’s recap:

  1. ALDI is cheaper than anywhere else, especially with eMeals.
  2. ALDI is quiet and pleasant.
  3. ALDI saves you time.
  4. Bring a quarter for your cart and bring your own reusable grocery bags.

So if those things sound good to you, then give ALDI a try next time you buy groceries. You’ll be pleasantly surprised. May God bless you more than you could ask or imagine. – Ephesians 3:20-21

Have you tried eMeals yet?

We love eMeals. It is so easy and convenient. If you don’t know what it is, check out their website, www.emeals.com.  Basically, the creators of eMeals design a week’s worth of meals around the sale items at the grocery store.  They email it to you with the shopping list, menu, and instructions on how to fix everything.  It is WONDERFUL!

I love that I don’t have to think about what’s for dinner: eMeals already did that for me!  I remember the time I used to spend at the table with the cookbooks spread out in front of me, asking myself, “What do we want to eat this week?”  No more–eMeals to the rescue!  Also, if I get interrupted in the middle of making dinner, the instructions are so simple that anyone can pick up right where you left off.

The recipes are simple but flavorful, and often take me outside my comfort zone of spaghetti, tacos, turkey sandwiches, and roast in the Crock-Pot.  I never would have tried capers or gone in search of yellow rice if it hadn’t been for eMeals.

They have something for everyone!  If you are a vegetarian or vegan, they have meal plans for you.  If you need help with portion control, there’s a plan for you.  If you need Crock-Pot only recipes due to your busy schedule, they’ve got you covered!  You can also choose whether the meal plan is for 1-2 people or for your family, 3-8 people.

The BEST thing about eMeals is that I don’t have to worry about how I’m spending my budgeted “food” money.  I know I’m going to get the BEST deal and make the most of each food item purchased because that’s what the eMeals creators do for a living.  PLUS, an ALDI grocery store just opened near us, and we discovered that shopping at ALDI saved us even MORE money than shopping at Wal-Mart.  EMeals creates menus for both places.  (Another post on ALDI will be coming shortly!)

Try their 30-day trial for FREE today, and see how much money/time/headache you saved.  You’ll agree, their small monthly fee is worth every penny.  This is not a commercial, and no one paid me to say these things.  I just know how when something works, you want to tell the world, especially when it comes to saving money!  This works for us.  I hope you’ll try it and find that it works for your family, too!

Be blessed, exceedingly abundantly.  -Ephesians 3:20-21

Cheap Diapers

It’s been a while since I’ve posted.  So how have we been exceedingly abundantly blessed?  By buying the dollar store brand diapers.

We frequent the Dollar General in our little country town of 2000 people.  It’s a lot easier and quicker to run up to town to get that one thing you forgot at Wal-Mart or Target (which are 20 minutes away).  So, the inevitable happened: we ran out of diapers.  What to do?  The easiest and fastest thing: I sent hubby to the Dollar General.

We were pleased with how the diapers fit, how they did not leak, and they didn’t have a weird baby powder smell (like some name brands we’ve used).

So I got to thinking on the next once-a-month trip to Sam’s.  Is it really cheaper to buy diapers in bulk (at Sam’s), or are they cheaper at Wal-Mart?  Or even at the Dollar General?  

What relief I felt when I compared prices and discovered the Dollar General diapers WERE the cheapest way to go!  No more fretting and hemming/hawing about whether we should buy them here or try the other place (how many times do we say, “There’s always Wal-Mart”??) to try to get the best deal.

So this isn’t a glamorous post, it’s not an earth-shattering discovery, or even a homegrown, tried and true recipe for success.  I’m just wanted to share how pleased I was that the cheapest option for something we use on a regular basis is just a 3 minute drive away.  Yay for Dollar General!  (And no, they did not pay me to say any of this.)

Homemade Baby Wipes

Let me tell you about one of the easiest things in the world: homemade baby wipes.  It sounds really complicated, but it’s not.  I recently read an article (can’t even remember where I saw it) about all the things store-bought baby wipes contain, and it scared me.  I don’t know if the author of that article had credible research or not, but still, I was bothered by what the article said.  Next time you are in the store, look at the ingredient list on a package of wipes…it’s quite lengthy.

Beyond that, I hate the thought of forking over $12.00+ of my grocery money every week just for things I’m going to throw away.  For a while, when Pride&Joy had a bad diaper rash, we quit using the store-bought wipes and used a warm, wet washcloth.  Sure enough, it helped her diaper rash heal more quickly, and we realized how we DIDN’T need the wipes from the store.

So here’s what we’ve started doing:

Buy 1 roll of Kleenex brand Viva! paper towels (they are softer when wet than other brands, yet still get the job done).  Cut it in half with a big knife.  (You’re going to use one half of the roll at a time.)  Remove the cardboard tube from the center of the roll.

Boil 2 cups of water on the stove.  You’re sanitizing it to keep the wipes fresh for longer.

While the water is coming to a boil, get your container ready.  It needs to be something with good lid that doesn’t leak liquids.  You will be turning it upside down, so do a quick test before you get all your stuff in there.

In the container, add 2 Tablespoons of your favorite baby shampoo/soap.  I have started using the yellow Johnson and Johnson’s baby shampoo.  Also, add 1 Tablespoon of EVOO, sunflower, safflower, or even baby oil.  I had some leftover safflower oil from some Christmas projects, so I’ve been using that up.

After your water boils, remove it from the heating element and let it cool (so it doesn’t melt your plastic container).  After it has cooled, add it to the oil and shampoo in the container.  Sit your half roll of paper towels in the container, put the lid on tight, and let the liquid absorb into the towels.  Once that has happened, flip the entire container upside down and let sit for 10 minutes. Wipes are ready to use after all the liquid has absorbed into the towels.

So how has this blessed my life?

I no longer have to worry about what is touching my baby’s skin.

I am not creating the same amount of trash I would be if I were using store-bought wipes.

I am spending a fraction of what I would be if I were buying store-bought wipes.  I think a roll of paper towels is around $2.00, and I had all the other items on hand already.

I enjoy the satisfaction of making something with my hands that is beneficial to my family.

“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Jesus Christ to all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.” ~Ephesians 3:20-21 (NKJV)

Leftovers

Last January, Guitardude and I decided to budget for Christmas better than we did the year before, so we set aside $50 every month for gifts, including Christmas and birthdays.

We also decided that the best use of our money would be to make everything for Christmas gifts – edible goodies like biscotti, granola, chocolate-dipped pretzels, Ritz cracker/peanut butter snacks, and peanut patty, and some bath things, like sugar scrubs and bath fizzies.

The result?  Christmas was a lot less stressful this year!  And since Pride&Joy came along the week after Thanksgiving, we were relieved that we didn’t have to get out there and fight the crowds.  Aaaanndd we had money left over!  That’s right – we came in UNDER BUDGET AT CHRISTMAS!

Anyway, as we cleaned up the Christmas stuff and packed away the tree until next year, I realized we had A LOT of excess flour, sugar, brown sugar, peanut butter, oatmeal, and oil.  (Looking back, I think I calculated incorrectly – each recipe made more than I expected.)  So what am I doing with these things?

I call it The Great Cookie Extravaganza!  Much like It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!  🙂  I made molasses cookies, chocolate chip cookies, snickerdoodles, peanut butter cookies, almond biscotti, cinnamon granola, and chocolate covered pretzels.  I wish I had kept count of how many dozens of cookies I made!  I think the itch is still in me to make some oatmeal raisin cookies, too.

I plan to give some of the cookies away to friends and Guitardude’s coworkers, freeze some, and send some to far-away family members.  I’d hate to think of how many pounds Guitardude and I would gain if we ate all these ourselves!

However, one great thing about all the extras is enjoying the “fruits of my labor.”  This morning, I am drinking a cup of coffee and munching on my homemade biscotti while watching the snow cover the ground.  The red cardinals look so pretty against the white backdrop.  Happy Tuesday, everyone!  And may the Lord bless you exceedingly abundantly more than you could have asked or imagined!  ~Ephesians 3:20

 

 

OUR STORY: PART II

In Part I, I shared our desire to jump on the Dave Ramsey train and get out of debt.  What we’ve discovered on this ride is HOW MUCH BETTER LIFE IS when you don’t have to worry about money!  So I want to uncover a few of these hidden blessings so you can buy YOUR ticket to financial peace (go to www.daveramsey.com to get started).

In our first year on Dave’s plan, we paid off $27,500 in debt.  Being a TINK couple (Two Incomes, No Kids), it was easy once we got the snowball rolling!  The second year’s success was not measured so much in dollars, but in peace.  Let me explain.

Toward the end of the first year on Dave’s plan, something shifted inside of me.  I found a peace in knowing there was going to be an end to any financial strain we felt previously.  Dave calls it a security gland inside each female partner in a marriage, and when finances are under control, the security gland relaxes.  When my security gland relaxed, I finally realized that we could afford to have a baby.  I didn’t want to bring a child into the world without being adequately (read: financially) prepared, so it had never been an option before we got on Dave’s plan.  With our finances under control, I wasn’t afraid any more (yes, just like Kevin on Home Alone!).

As we fought off the cheetah, our gazelle-like intensity grew.  Guitardude and I were talking about living on one paycheck.  As a matter of fact, at the start of the second year on Dave’s plan, we began living on one paycheck and throwing the other paycheck (remember, we were TINK still) at our debts.  It felt so good to know that if one of us lost our job or chose to quit, we could survive!  I started talking about the possibility of quitting my job and staying home if we were to have a baby (which was a lifelong desire of mine!).  God was opening doors for us one at a time, preparing us for parenthood.

And then the miracle of life found us.  God had tapped us on the shoulders and asked us to be parents.  As Dave recommends, we pressed “pause” on the snowball, only paying minimums, while we created a pile of money designated specifically to pay off hospital bills and doctor bills once baby arrives and both mom and baby come home healthy.  We called it the Baby Fund.

Because we knew it was possible to live on one income, and we felt strongly about me being home with P&J (Pride & Joy), I got to quit my job!  It was the day I had long been waiting for – I was so nervous telling my principal that I wasn’t coming back the next year.  I got to watch from a unique perspective during the transition period of finding a replacement for Guitardude since he would be taking over my job.

Once we made it official that I was staying home next year, our gazelle-intensity increased!  Guitardude’s job was to go to work and bring home a paycheck; my job as Homemaker/Chief Operations Officer/Head Chef/Mom-to-Be was to figure out how to live on as little as possible while we waited for P&J to arrive.  We started making our own detergents and lotions.  We got going on the eMeals program, saving us literally HUNDREDS of dollars at the grocery store each month.  We called an ELP (Endorsed Local Provider – see Dave’s website) and changed our health and home/auto insurance plans to get lower premiums.  We called another ELP and refinanced our house to get a lower mortgage payment.  We denied ourselves the things we wanted to buy so that we could build a bigger stack of cash in the Baby Fund.

Let me share this awesome story:

When the receptionist walked us through the bill at my OB’s office, she tentatively mentioned the option of a payment plan since the cost was several hundred dollars.  After one look at each other, we pulled out the checkbook and just wrote a check using the money from the Baby Fund!  Same story when we pre-paid the hospital for baby girl’s arrival.  That’s right – she is technically PAID FOR!  And she’s not even here yet!!

Could it really be this easy, you ask?  The simple answer is YES.  God WANTS you to have good things.  All you have to do is ask!  He has given us the wisdom to navigate this financial course, which has provided us with so many unspeakable joys that we thought we could never have as our own.  We can face the future (More children?  Another degree?  Move to a bigger house?) with certainty because our finances don’t hold us back.

I pray that He will bless you exceedingly abundantly more than you could have ever imagined as you begin or continue your path to (financial) peace.