Spring Cleaning vs. Spring Spending

Good morning! When I previously tried to write this article, my finger slipped and hit the publish button while in the beginning stages of my first draft. It’s definitely not a best-case-scenario for any writer. Lol. This time around, I’m hoping the final draft is what ends up in your Inbox. Thank you for reading… again!

Spring Cleaning is a phrase we’re all familiar with. Some families take it to the extreme … scrubbing every wall, every bit of exposed tile grout, and even the front sidewalk. Others use Spring Cleaning to motivate themselves to get rid of excess by de-cluttering every room. And then, there are the Spring Cleaners who take this time of year to organize, organize, organize by color-sorting bins in the pantry or clothes in the closet, separating mini craft items into jars, and making the laundry room more accessible. Quite possibly, your family does all OR none of the above during this season of sunshine and renewal.

However, there’s one thing that every family likely has in common during the Spring season: an increase in spending. Data shows that this time of year is HUGE for retailers. Unfortunately, I don’t need research to prove this trend to me because I’ve noticed the spending binge in my own household. I’m definitely not alone; this article and associated charts clearly illustrate the significant Spring spending increase across the country. The Wall Street Journal has also predicted a further increase in spending this year, leading into summer.

So, how does a family that’s eager to take advantage of the better weather and longer days minimize this Springtime splurge?

Take Inventory as You Clean

Taking inventory comes up often in my articles… because it works. Just as tracking every dollar helps you save money and tracking calories helps you lose weight, taking inventory reduces your tendency to collect unnecessary items while out running errands. It’s your hedge against impulse purchases. Imagine yourself walking into Target. Do you gravitate toward the dollar spot right away? If so, being hyper-aware of how many coloring books, floral-covered journals, blue tooth headsets, and tiny vases you already own will hopefully make the idea of picking up another one, even if it only costs $3 or $5, cause you to groan rather than grab.

Make a “Needs” and “Wants” List with a Specific Budget

As you clean and organize each room, make a list of your family’s needs and wants. Maybe you’ll recognize that you need to replenish your supply of shampoo and soap while scrubbing the bathroom. Maybe you’ll notice you’re out of cinnamon and baking soda as you re-organize your spice cabinet. Maybe it’ll dawn on you that your kid’s mattress is nearing its 8-year expiration date. Write these items down on a “Needs” list and estimate what they’ll cost you. Then, do the same with “Wants” in each room, such as a new set of bath mats, an upgraded blender, or a neutral set of sheets to cover that new mattress. Based on your monthly budget, assign an amount you’re willing to spend on these Wants. Keep your lists with you, and then when out shopping, stock up on the Needs and vow only to buy the Wants if a current sale puts them within your set budget. You might even jot down in which month you should buy the Want items based on the best time to buy.

Redecorate as You Clean

Make Spring cleaning a lot more fun and interesting by redecorating your home with the items you find tucked away in cabinets, closets, and even your holiday bins. You could also make use of the crafting and paint supplies you uncover to update and/or create your own home decor. Involving yourself in a project, especially if you get to repurpose your own possessions, can give you a true sense of pride and accomplishment, while also salvaging the cash in your wallet.

Sell, Sell, Sell

Sometimes, a Spring shopping spree is just what the doctor ordered. It’s fun! You get out to see what the stores are offering and come home with new things to refresh your space and your spirit. Even the most frugal folks can identify with that! However, if you don’t want to sacrifice your savings rate by splurging on Spring goodies, unload your stuff in a big sale first. As you de-clutter, separate your items into categories, such as adult and kids’ clothing, kitchenware, sports equipment, tools, toys, baby items, linens, etc. Then, identify the best options for selling the items in each category depending on where those items will garner the most traffic and the highest prices. For example, if you have designer clothing items in good condition, try selling through Poshmark. If you have unique collectibles, eBay might be your best option. If you’ve accumulated dozens of products that you’ve never opened, an Amazon shop could give you the highest return. Tools and kitchen items will likely receive a decent amount of interest on your neighborhood Facebook page or Nextdoor site.

But if you have a large variety of items that span multiple categories, a well-advertised, old-school garage sale will earn you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to put toward that shopping spree. I just recommend that you pay yourself a percentage (to go toward investing/savings) at the same rate you save from your monthly income (10-25%) before you hit the stores.

I hope this beautiful time of year gets you out and about enjoying the changes this season brings, not just into the stores taking advantage of the advertised sales. However, if you do find yourself drawn to your favorite retailers, let us know what tricks you use to spare yourself from falling into the Spring spending trap.

Should I Add My Children As Authorized Users to Build Their Credit Scores?

Something popped up in my Instagram feed that led to a chain reaction this morning. I saw this post on @female.in.finance and took a screen-shot right away.

It seemed like a great idea, but I needed to analyze whether there were potential negative consequences and if it was worthwhile to add my children at their current ages (13, 10, 5, and 3). I’m willing to “play the credit score game” to help my children build credit by the time they enter adulthood but not at the expense of my own credit. So, the research began.

After posting this idea to two personal-finance Facebook groups, there were more questions than answers, but there were also several young adults who said that their parents utilized this strategy when they were teenagers, resulting in a credit score of 800+ for most of them by the time they were 18.

I then called the customer service numbers on both of the credit cards I carry. One is a Southwest Airlines card through Chase Bank, and the other is a Hilton Honors card through American Express. I notified the representative that I’m considering adding my children as authorized users on the card and had a few questions. The table below shows the questions I asked, as well as the answers from each bank.

Questions to Ask Before Adding an Authorized User

QuestionChase AnswerAMEX Answer
How many authorized users can I add?UnlimitedUnlimited
What is the age minimum?None13
Can I set a credit limit or spending limit?Same credit limit as primary ownerCan set spending limit (min $200) – some charges do not apply to spending limit, such as gas station charges
Is a credit inquiry required for responsible party or user to add them?No, SS # not even requiredNo, but SS# required for reporting purposes
What information is reported to credit bureaus?Payment history is reported ONLY for responsible party, not authorized user (Child will just be listed as “authorized user” on account)All payments history will be reported to credit bureaus on both responsible party and authorized users. Authorized users are considered “active”.
Will there be an additional annual fee?NoNo
Are there additional benefits for adding an authorized user?Not at this timeFor some cards, there is a promo offered to accrue additional bonus points after reaching sending amount on additional card. But it’s not currently available on this account.

Here is some additional information for Discover card users as well:

Authorized users for Discover Card
Minimum age: 15. Reported to credit bureaus on authorized user’s behalf: yes. Max # of authorized users: 5

Conclusion

Adding a child can be beneficial to his or her credit IF:

  • The primary responsible party (parent) is fiscally responsible with his/her credit card account by making payments on time, limiting debt accrual, and using credit cards responsibly (only paying for items for which you have the cash to back them up).
  • The primary responsible party has a credit limit of a few thousand dollars or more.
  • The credit card company actually reports payments made under the authorized user’s name/social security number.
  • The child learns key aspects of financial literacy and understands the pro’s and con’s of credit card use before having access to the actual card.
  • The account is monitored regularly, checking for fraudulent charges and ensuring that all payments are made on time. (Don’t just open an account, leave the card in a drawer, and never check the statements.)

Potential Problems:

  • If the account is not monitored or paid on time, this could hinder the child’s credit score, rather than help it.
  • Having excellent credit at a young age could allow for someone to qualify for credit or a loan that he/she is not personally or financially ready for. A child needs to be taught the fundamentals before applying for any loans, credit cards, or housing on his/her own.
  • If a child has access to the credit card or its number, he/she may rack up charges not approved by the parents, and the primary responsible party is liable for those charges.

What I Decided to Do

I added my 13 year old to my American Express card as an active authorized user. I set the spending limit to $200, and I denied access to cash from the card. I confirmed that it would not have an effect on my credit by going through the process of adding her as a user, as there would be no credit inquiries or credit checks to make this addition. She will not have access to the physical card until she has a job of her own and has been taught responsible use of the card.

If you’re looking for the right card for yourself and/or your family members, check out this post on Choosing the Right Card.

I would love to hear your stories related to this decision as well. Did it help or hinder you when your parents used this tactic? Have you done it for your own children? Why or why not?

I found that opening up this conversation in Facebook groups this morning led to multiple opinions and mostly positive reports of how parents helped their children in this way. I’m hopeful it’ll lead to positive results for our family as well.

Cover Your Ass-ets: Choose the Right Insurance Coverage

Financial Freedom in 2021! Take Action: Day 22

Let’s talk insurance. No one wants to pay for it, but no one wants to live without it either. All the hard work we’ve put into planning ahead for the betterment of our family could be completely wiped out with one disaster, diagnosis, disability, or death. This is why having an emergency fund as well as the right amount and right types of insurance are so important.

Life Insurance

Choosing the right type and amount of life insurance can be very tricky. Those who sell it have gotten creative in marketing the different types, not only as insurance but also as an investment. I prefer to look at insurance for what it actually is: protection of my assets. It is separate from my investments.

When doing an assessment of life insurance, a good question to ask is, “If I die, will a loved one need my income replaced to be able to survive or will a loved one need to pay another to take on my familial duties?” If you are a working parent or spouse, and your family depends on your income, life insurance is a must. If you are a stay at home parent, and your family depends on the work that you do at home, then life insurance is also a must. (The working parent would need to pay a caregiver to take on your responsibilities.)

I’ve heard that a good rule of thumb for deciding on the amount of life insurance to buy is to double your annual expenses, and then add a -0-. So, if you’re able to live on $50,000/year, double that and add a -0-. That would equate to a $1,000,000 policy.

Life insurance plans offered by employers may not provide enough coverage for your family. It is likely that a supplemental plan will be required to reach the benefit amounts mentioned above.

There are also many other considerations regarding which type of life insurance is the best choice. When in doubt, many personal finance experts recommend sticking with term insurance. Keep in mind that you only need to carry life insurance until you no longer have people dependent on your income and/or until you’ve reached a level of wealth allowing you to self-insure.

With all this being said, we know that any dollar amount will not take away the extreme emotional loss of a family member. Life insurance can also allow for some peace of mind and money for grief support during such a devastating time for a family.

Health Insurance

It’s outrageous, I know! We spend $15,800 per year on premiums to cover our family… and that’s on a high deductible group healthcare plan. If we had chosen the lower deductible plan, we’d be out an additional $2,000. We’re covered through my husband’s employer, but what we pay on premiums each month is nearly what I net from my part time job. But because our family’s health is an incredible asset, we pay to protect it.

I’d prefer to pay a lot less to protect this asset, but we haven’t found a way to qualify for less costly options. If anyone has any advice in this area, I’m all ears!

However, if you meet certain income qualifications, there are great options on the health insurance marketplace (healthcare.gov). Unfortunately, open enrollment has closed for the year, but if you have experienced a life-changing event, such as marriage, having a baby, or losing your job, you can still purchase a plan, hopefully with significant discounts.I am probably not the best person to be offering advice in this area because we spend an arm and a leg on this type of insurance, but I do believe that keeping an up-to-date health profile on your family can help you determine which plan is the best choice for you. If you rarely go to the doctor and each family member has good health overall, you can opt for the higher deductible plan and save a few thousand dollars per year. My husband and I have to reassess each year which plan might be best due to the health issues our family is currently facing. A couple years ago, we calculated that we spent well over $23,000 on premiums and medical care due to a baby with asthma and a new Crohn’s diagnosis for our eldest child. Thankfully, we have been able to get both conditions under control, so we are able to go back to the less expensive, higher deductible plan. So, be sure to review the options offered by your employer each year rather than just renewing what you’ve always had.

One more tip – be sure to look into whether you’re eligible for an HSA. This is one of the best ways that you can get a little bit further ahead in investing for retirement.

Disability Insurance

As mentioned in the post, Take Action: Day 1, your ability to earn an income is one of your greatest assets, and you buy insurance protects assets. Therefore, it would make sense to cover yourself in case of disability.

According to statistics, you have a 1 in 4 chance of becoming disabled during your working career. Employer benefits usually only pay 40-60% of salary, on which you still have to pay taxes and high insurance premiums. These policies are often short-term, meaning that you’d have to apply for government assistance after that term ends, and Social Security disability claims often take years to process and to be awarded. (Minimum time is 3 months for processing claim and then many end up in court.)

Many people choose to supplement their company disability coverage with another plan to cover at least half of their annual income (or the amount NOT covered by the company plan benefit).

Homeowner’s/Renter’s Insurance

Here we are with another asset that needs protection: your home and/or rental property. Thankfully, you can really shop around to find discounts and opt for higher deductible plans to lower your premiums. I’d recommend using a broker who can shop around for you.

Car Insurance

Again, you can find a broker to shop around for you and get you the maximum discounts. Consider a higher deductible, less comprehensive coverage for older vehicles, and reduced rates for safe driver record, career/company affiliations, and bundled insurance packages.

Umbrella Insurance

This is pretty much insurance for your insurance. Yep, that’s a thing. Also called Liability Insurance, it’s a relatively affordable way to protect you from the “extras” that your insurance policy may not cover, including lawsuits for additional damages.

This list of types of insurance includes all of the ones highly recommended. There are many other types not mentioned here that may protect some of your personal or professional assets.

However, some insurance options I tend to steer clear of are:

  • Rental Car Coverage: My own car insurance and travel credit cards have sufficient coverage.
  • Mortgage Life Insurance: This is life insurance for the purposes of paying off your mortgage if you die. Instead of paying for a rider or additional policy, just make sure you have adequate life insurance coverage as mentioned above.
  • Identity Theft Insurance: Keep tabs on your accounts and set security alerts for each of your cards and accounts to protect yourself without buying an insurance policy.
  • Credit Card Payment Protection: Your disability or life insurance policies should help to cover credit card payments in case of an emergency. Also, don’t forget that emergency fund you’ve had saved up.
  • Long-Term Care: This one is a toughie! I’m currently of the mindset that my husband and I will be able to self-insure for future long-term care (think assisted living or nursing home), but I have been debating buying a policy for my father. Long-term care insurance is often recommended for people who have too much money to qualify for Medicaid (which is only used toward nursing home care) yet not enough money to pay all expenses out of pocket. And the expenses are HIGH! I’m honestly still on the fence about what to do, but for now, we’re considering other investment options to accumulate cash toward long-term care if/when it becomes necessary.
  • Travel Insurance: With the current liberal cancellation policies for airfare and hotel stays, it’s not necessary. When cancellation policies are a bit stricter, I take each trip case by case. More expensive travel or further-away destinations sometimes warrant a travel insurance policy, especially when kids are involved. The risk of illness goes up when traveling with a large family.

Today’s action step is to review your insurance plans and policies. Consider whether you really need each policy you have or if you need to add more. Determine whether you have adequate coverage based on your family’s financial situation. Then, shop around for the best rates

Spend Nothing Week

Is it time for a spending reset?

In August of 2019, I decided it was time for myself and my family to become hyper-aware of our mindless spending and to hit the reset button. The result of this decision was a Spend Nothing Week, which provided us with a reason (or excuse) to just say no to the frequent discretionary spending we were doing.

As the Spend Nothing Week went on, I posted about it on Facebook. My posts and photos are shared below. Upon reflecting on our week of resetting our spending, I realized that awareness is just the first step; changing habits requires the hard, consistent work. Since taking the Spend Nothing Week challenge, we’ve definitely improved in making better use of the food we have at home … eating what’s available rather than what we’re craving. However, we haven’t managed another Spend Nothing Week in over a year. It seems we’re due for another spending reset, or better yet, maybe we should attempt a whole month of spending nothing. Can we do it?

Mom’s Piggy Bank

Aug 26, 2019 – After realizing how much money we spent on school supplies, clothes, shoes, band fees, end-of-summer excursions, and then listening to my kids continually ask for MORE, I announced to my family that we’re having a Spend-Nothing Week! Anyone up for taking the challenge with us?
Step 1 was to do pantry/fridge inventory and figure out meals with our limited supply of food in the house. I hadn’t planned for this so there was no big grocery trip last week to prepare. We had zero fruit, hardly any meat in the freezer, 3/4 gallon of milk, a handful of pre-packaged snacks, and only half a loaf of bread.
However, I was feeling super confident with my meal plan this morning and thought, “for sure, we can do this!“ Then, within the first few hours of Monday, a youth group pizza party invitation came up, and the kids poured almost half a gallon of milk into their cereal bowls this morning, BUT crises averted when I discovered a small balance in my Venmo account and transferred it. I grabbed a few groceries and paid for the $5 pizza ticket… we’re back to being in the black!!
Let’s see how long this lasts…. 🤔😬🤞

Aug 28, 2019 – I’m disappointed to report that there have been a couple hiccups with Spend-Nothing Week. The hubs STRONGLY suggested I get gas in the car if I wanted to continue to drive it. 😜 And then at my dentist appt today, I discovered that my deductible hasn’t been met, and I had to fork over $50. 😩 I guess those were non-negotiables, but I’ve mustered up all the willpower and stubbornness in my body to resist buying a new pair of sunglasses to replace the ones I lost this week and also to buy a new TV after one of the kids BROKE the screen of the one in our living room! 🤦‍♀️😖 (I’m sporting free shades from the dentist office today. 🤣)
But there is a plus side: The fam is getting Chick-Fil-A for dinner without a single dime being spent, thanks to app rewards and some freebies we had acquired!!

Aug 30, 2019 – Celebrating the end of Spend Nothing Week with steaks from the bottom of the freezer 😋, a salad made from veggies the kids won’t eat (including 1/2 a head of barely-edible lettuce), the last few potatoes, and margaritas, plus flourless PB blondies!! It was delish, but shelves are bare, and we definitely won’t make it another 12 hours without milk for the toddlers. I’ve never been so excited for an early Saturday morning grocery trip before! (I’ll share how much I spend tomorrow.)

Aug 31, 2019 – The day after Spend Nothing Week included a BIG grocery trip. Here’s a picture of my receipts from that day:

BIG grocery spending after Spend Nothing Week

Yep… that adds up to about $440 spent at H-E-B this morning. 😱😱😱 I made THREE different trips inside bc I realized in the parking lot that I forgot things and did not want to go back another day. The total definitely caused a bit of sticker shock, but I bought 2 weeks worth of groceries (hopefully), and if we actually make it 2 weeks, it will still be a big improvement on what we usually spend.

Recap: Total amount of money that we charged on our credit card was <$100 between Sat, Aug 24th and tonight, August 30th. The only money that left our bank account was a recurring medical bill. Full disclosure, I did go to the movies on Sunday evening, but I had paid for the ticket in advance, and on Sat night, I bought a beer and fries using a gift card. So, we did not, in fact, spend “nothing”, but it was the closest we’ve ever come, and it leaves room for improvement!

AMP UP Your Savings

7 Proven Ways to Increase Your Savings Rate

Savings rate? Who keeps up with that? We have so many expenses, not only the basics but also the high expectations of what a “good life” should look like. Is there anything left to put aside for saving or investing?

There has to be! Every personal finance expert out there will tell you that you need an emergency fund, preferable equal to 3-6 months of monthly expenses, accessible at all times. They also recommend investing for your future at a higher rate than you’d probably think possible. All in all, it seems we should be aiming for a savings rate of at least 25% of our gross monthly income, setting some aside for emergencies, some for retirement investing, and a little extra for living a full life. This requires motivation and dedication. I propose the route of immaturity to get you started. 😉

Do you know that awful song that kids sing about a watery substance that most people don’t like to speak of? The lyrics start like this, “When you’re sliding into first, and you feel your britches burst, ______, _______.”

My older two kids have taken to singing this song more often than I’d like. To prevent my younger two from adding it to their favorite song list, I sing over them and change the lyrics:

“If you really want a jeep when you reach age sixteen, save your money! Save your money! If you really want a scooter that has a fast motor, save your money, save your money!”

This song can work for adulting wants and needs as well…

“If you need a gorgeous beach to escape a tough week, save your money! Save your money! If the truck keeps breaking down every time you’re in town, save your money! Save your money!”

Go ahead, make up your own lyrics. It’s pretty catchy. And then when you’re done, check out some of these more serious ways to motivate you to amp up your savings.

1. Name your accounts.

I read about this idea in one of my favorite mindset books, Atomic Habits by James Clear. Try adding an emotional connection to your accounts by giving each a name, like “Ditch the Clunker” if saving for a new-to-you car, “Oh No, Not Now” if growing your emergency fund, or “Escape Rona” if saving for an epic vacay when we’re free of the Covid. This might motivate you to keep adding to these accounts.

2. Reward yourself … often.

Every time you make a frugal decision over a splurge, such as cooking on a Friday night or driving past the very enticing shaved ice truck, reward yourself with $5 or $10 in one of the above funds.

Reward yourself every time you make a good frugal choice, including skipping that delicious shaved ice.

3. Move from debt-free to saving big.

After you pay off a debt, take the amount of money you were putting toward that debt each month and put it into savings instead of spending any part of it. (You already adjusted to not having that money to spend anyway.)

4. Wait … and wait … and wait.

Wait 24, or even 48, hours before making a “want” purchase. If you decide after that 24 hours not to buy it after all, reward yourself by putting the amount of the purchase in one of your savings accounts to go toward something more meaningful.

Set it and forget it. Saving can be easy and fun.

5. Set it and forget it.

I’m not sure who coined this phrase, but it works! You can create your own catchy phrase to force yourself to transfer a set amount of money from checking to savings each paycheck. Maybe “Automate my savings rate!” or “Conquer the transfer!” However you refer to the practice, repeat it in your mind until you just do it.

6. Shop around.

Find the best APY so that the money you save will work for you. Check out Nerd Wallet’s list of online savings accounts to make an informed decision. If you’re looking to invest the extra savings, JL Collin’s Stock Series has excellent advice about where to put your cash depending on your goals.

7. Keep the change, ya filthy animal

Try out a program such as Acorns or through your local bank that will automatically round up your purchases to the next dollar and deposit the difference (the change) into your savings or investment account.

Increase your savings a little bit at a time.

These tactics tend to work for me so that I am continually finding ways to increase our savings rate. However, we have plenty of setbacks too, and when those happen, it helps to draw on a little bit of humor to get back on track.

What works for your family?

Save Money by Taking Inventory

Know What You’ve Got Before You Shop

Have you ever gone into your drawer and had to search through multiple pairs of black yoga pants to find that ONE pair you really love? I counted recently, and I have 11 pairs of them. ELEVEN! Despite having so many of one type of clothing in my wardrobe, I used to search for deals on black yoga pants every time I went shopping. Until I took a true inventory of what I owned, I just fell back into my regular shopping habits and searched for a deal on what was familiar. I have a feeling you do this too. What items in your closet do you have multiples of? Do you have a dozen pairs of jeans? Several pairs of the same type of running shorts? Twenty t-shirts of the same style?

How about in your pantry or refrigerator? How many bottles of ranch or Italian dressing do you have? How many jars of peanut butter or bags of flour or types of half-eaten cereal? These are items found in most households, and because they’re the “common” items, we often buy more and more of them when we mindlessly shop and fall into routine habits.

Taking inventory is your first line of defense against unintentional spending. Awareness helps you spend less and therefore, save more. After all, even if you find black yoga pants for 50% off or buy another bottle of ranch because there was a $1 off coupon, you’re still spending money on something you don’t currently need.

So, the next time you’re making your grocery list, peek into your pantry and your fridge and take count or better yet, take a picture. Not only will this keep you from adding something to the list that you don’t need, it will prevent you from mindlessly or impulsively buying yet another bottle of ketchup or frozen bag of peas.

Before your best friend and you embark on your next shopping day together, take a count, make a mental note, or snap a picture of your drawer full of jeans, your shelves full of shoes, your rack of dresses and skirts, and your pile of soft graphic tees. Being aware of what you already have will give you that resolve to say “no” when your friend is telling you how stinking cute you look in that #MomLife t-shirt.

A few other categories to take inventory of prior to launching into your weekly errands include:

Beauty items, such as makeup or hair accessories and products

Personal care items, including soap, body wash, razors, lotions, and toothpaste

Towels … oh my gosh, the towels! I cannot even tell you how many times I’ve found amazing deals on soft, luscious, colorful towels at Target and convinced myself that we just did not have enough nice towels in our house. Now that I’m taking inventory, I’m blown away by how many drawers, cabinets, and closets in my house are packed full of every type of towel imaginable.

Laundry and dishwasher detergents … there are almost always coupons available at the grocery store for these items, convincing you that you should buy more, but remember what I just said. There are ALMOST ALWAYS coupons available when you do actually need to replenish those products.

Toys! Take a picture of your playroom or your child’s bedroom at its worst and have it handy for when you’re tempted to buy that “must-have” toy that was just marked down.

With all of this being said, I don’t want to discourage you from taking advantage of a great sale or huge discount. As a self-proclaimed frugal shopper, I understand that there are some deals that just cannot be passed up. I completely agree that occasionally, it makes perfect sense to stock up on something if you find an incredible deal and know you’ll be using that item often or that it will get eaten within the next month or two. For example, recently my grocery store was running a 20% discount on organic food items. This included the 24 pack of organic applesauce that my kids love. I already had a stash in my pantry, but because my younger kids each go through 2-3 applesauce pouches per day, I bought all the boxes left on the grocery store shelf. Those boxes full of addictive pouches of puréed fruit are taking up a lot of space on my pantry floor, but when I’m ready to go to the grocery store again, I’ll have a mental image of them being in stock at my house, saving me $12 of mindless grab-and-go shopping next time around.

I hope taking inventory of what’s on your shelves keeps you on the right path of your savings journey. You will likely recognize that you have far more than you truly need, and this awareness will prevent you not only from throwing away extra cash but also save you from being nominated for the next episode of “Hoarders”. Happy Saving!

tracking your spending is easy

The Secret Path to Tracking Your Spending

In my previous post, “New Year, New FRUGAL You”, I mentioned that tracking your spending is the most important yet most daunting step in starting your journey into savings. However, figuring out HOW to track where your money goes doesn’t seem to be the biggest challenge. We’re all smart and savvy people. We can find apps, we can keep receipts, we can download Excel templates, we can jot totals in a notebook… to each his own.

What I discovered is that the most difficult aspects of tracking your spending are the initial execution and staying motivated enough to follow through. Do you remember wanting something so badly as a child that you saved and waited and then saved and waited some more to be able to get that desired object of your infatuation? For me, it was a pair of rollerblades when I was a teenager. My best friends and I explored the neighborhood on eight wheels every single day after school, practicing tricks and showing off along the way. My first pair was an off-brand set that my parents bought me, but after those started to wear out, I really wanted a real pair of name-brand Rollerblades. Prior to setting this goal, I was the type of kid who spent every penny I came by, so I had to really buckle down to stay motivated and save every little bit of cash I received. Eventually, I had enough, and I proudly purchased that pair of black and neon-green skates. I loved my prized possessions so much because I had waited for them and earned them myself.

Do you remember what that special thing was for you? What were you willing to save every last penny for as a kid? Can you remember that feeling of accomplishment and the well-deserved reward?

setting goals

It’s time to rediscover that childhood perseverance and determination! As you read this, set a short-term goal that is really meaningful to you and/or your family. Maybe you want to stay in a picturesque pastel beach house in Seaside, Florida this summer for a few days with your family and cruise around in that quintessential golf cart. Maybe you want to spend a birthday or anniversary night away with your partner at the chic Camp Lucy in our beautiful town of Dripping Springs. Maybe you want to buy a trampoline for your kids so they can burn off that after-school or pre-nap energy each day. The dream is all yours to come up with. I just recommend that it’s realistic, that it’s short-term (achievable within six months), and that it’s something that will continue to keep you motivated, like a super cool pair of neon rollerblades. Now, write it down. Yes, write it down right now and share it with others. Text your partner, call your mom, share it with a friend, or write it in the comments below. This goal needs to be real, and as soon as you share it with someone else, it will keep you accountable. My short-term goal is to take my husband somewhere special (shhhh) for his 40th birthday coming up in May.

With that goal in mind and a very specific deadline on when you want to achieve it, let’s talk about getting there in 4 simple steps without digging into savings or just purchasing on a credit card and figuring out how to pay for it later. This goal is going to be your budget-motivator.

1. Start tracking!

There are apps, such as YNAB, Mvelope, Every Dollar, and Mint to help with tracking and setting an initial budget based on what you think you’re spending each month. You can also go old school with pen and paper or excel spreadsheets. This personal budget template has several common categories already listed and is a great way to get started, but there are hundreds out there to choose from. Pick your poison and track ALL your spending for one month.

2. Budget and eliminate!

Based on your current spending in the first month, budget reasonable amounts for the the next month and then find categories that can be reduced significantly or eliminated completely, even just in the short term to reach your goal. For example, I want to save $600 for my husband’s birthday celebration, which will be toward the end of May. This gives me approximately 4 months to save the money. That comes out to $150/month. Looking at what we typically spend in specific categories, I ask myself, where can I cut out $150 for just the next 4 months? Can I go without new clothes for that amount of time? Can I do pedicures at home for a few months? Can we cut our eating-out budget in half? This is the same process you can go through to reach your specific goal. If it’s a $300 trampoline that you want to surprise your child with at his birthday party in April, then where can you cut out $100 per month in the short term?

3. Set that money aside!

Put that money saved in a separate account or withdraw it from the ATM and hide it in the house. Don’t spend this money on other things. Keep your eye on the prize.

4. Buy it and reap your rewards!

In the process of saving for this one specific goal, I predict that you will have developed a habit of tracking your spending, and it will become easier and easier to budget every single month from here on out. It will also become easier to cut out a lot of spending fluff, all those extras that no longer seem necessary once you’ve seen exactly how much of your hard-earned dollars are being spent on them. Think of your budget as a way to afford you something you need or want, rather than depriving you from it.

Congratulations! You’ve found a personal and achievable way to get started and stay on track. Now, set bigger goals! After saving for that one reward and accomplishing a big win in doing so, now it’s time to set long-term and even bigger savings goals. What’s next? A paid-off credit card? Buying your next car with cash? A house in a better neighborhood? Early retirement? Once you’ve started on your path, anything is possible!

save money on groceries

7 EASY Ways to Save on Groceries

Adulting seems to be a repetitive drill of one step forward and two steps back. As soon as you pay to get your car washed, a huge storm rolls through. After you painstakingly clean your kids’ play room, you discover that your living room and children’s bedrooms are disastrous. When you finally set a goal to save money and start investing or pay down debt, large unexpected expenses arise.

I was so pumped to start 2020 on an even better track with my budgeting and savings, but …. life happened. It’s only mid-January, and setbacks have already occurred. A higher-than-expected emergency room bill from November showed up in the mail. All 4 tires on my minivan had to be replaced yesterday. The necessary home improvement project we tackled last weekend cost twice as much as we budgeted for it. And today, my computer wouldn’t turn on at all. It’s January 24th, and we’re already facing thousands in additional, unanticipated expenses.

So, where do I go from here? Thankfully, we have money in reserves and can cover emergency expenses, but I have to admit that defeat set in. I realized that I needed to find wins to stay the course and keep motivated. I opened up my budget spreadsheet to account for the additional spending, and while staring at all the numbers, I noticed one that was significantly lower than usual… my grocery spending! I’ve been implementing some of my own money saving tips, as well as advice from other bloggers, over the last few months to reduce our grocery costs. And I discovered that our January grocery spending is $509 LESS than what it was just 4 months ago. Win! In October of 2019, we spent $1320 on groceries and household items (diapers and wipes included), which was a somewhat typical month for us. However, this month, we are at $811 ($680 on food items only) with no plans to go back to the grocery store until February, and I promise you that no one in my family of 6 is starving. We’ve been eating the same meals we usually do… hearty soups, tacos and burritos, casseroles, chicken and turkey salad sandwiches, spaghetti, roasted chicken and veggies, protein-rich salads, etc. All the norm, all for less money. And my plan is to keep getting our grocery bill lower and lower until we’re near my $600 goal. But how?

There are dozens of resources on the internet to reduce your spending on groceries. I am in complete awe of most of these incredible penny pinchers and home chefs, but I have to admit that many of the plans seem like a lot of work. I’d love to be awesome at food prep, monthly meal planning, large batch cooking, intense couponing, and deep-freezing, but after years of convincing myself that I’d get better at these tasks, I still haven’t. Therefore, I had to find my own system of cutting costs, and it primarily involves a change in mindset and a break from routine.

Here are my 7 EASY Ways to Save Money on Groceries without Making Drastic Changes:

  1. Ask yourself whether you HAVE TO go. One of the best ways to save money on groceries is simply to go to the store less often because once you’re there, you know you’re going to buy something else … and another something else… and another. I get it if you have a sick child and ran out of his medication or if you need more baby formula. However, many of our *quick* grocery store runs are for want items as opposed to need items. Can you make a slight change to tonight’s recipe so that you can go without a certain ingredient? Can you bring a different dish to the potluck than what you had originally planned? Can you make pancakes or muffins rather than instantly replacing a favorite cereal? Find ways to eliminate those in-between trips, and you’ll spend significantly less.
  2. Take Inventory. As I mentioned in a previous post, making note of what you already have in your fridge or pantry and determining how best to use them in the weeks ahead will prevent you from buying duplicates or even substitutes when at the store. Know what you have and don’t buy more (unless there’s a deal really worth stocking up on).
  3. Don’t bring the kids. Easier said than done, I know. However, kids can make you stressed… stress makes you cave to convenience… and convenience costs cash. If you are able to change habits and go to the grocery store less often, you most likely can find an hour each week or a little longer every other week to go alone. It’s glorious. And necessary.
  4. Know when your store sets out clearance items. I called my local grocery store and asked what time they set out clearance items daily. At the Dripping Springs HEB, they stock those specific shelves between 6 and 7 am. Eek! That’s not even close to my usual shopping time, but I still always check the racks because I have found so many items I would’ve bought anyway marked way, way down. If your store doesn’t have a clearance rack, maybe they mark down soon-to-expire meats or day-old bread at certain times of the day. A quick phone call or short visit with a manager is all it takes to get the inside scoop. (You could also ask when the least busy times of day or days of the week are so you don’t have to stand in the check out line forrrevverrrr.)
  5. Keep your grocery list generic and shop the sales. This brilliant idea came from a podcast featuring the Saving Sherpa on Bigger Pockets Money Episode #75, during which Justin shared how low his grocery bill can go. It is completely unrealistic for me to feed a family of 6 on $15/week, which is his personal budget, but hearing how he shopped was pretty inspiring. Instead of planning very specific meals with very specific ingredients, your list should be more generic so that you can shop based on sale prices, seasonal produce, and in-store coupons. Your list might read “Protein, Fruits, Vegetables, Lunchmeat, Fillers (i.e. rice, potatoes, bread, tortillas), Snacks, and Yogurts”. The most important aspect of this idea is to break habits and buy based on value, not based on routine or rigid meal plans.
  6. Before you grab an item from the shelf, ask if it’s something you can make from scratch at home. If frozen waffles aren’t on sale this week, can you make extra waffles on Saturday morning and freeze them for later in the week? (I know I mentioned that batch cooking and meal prep aren’t my thing, but some cooking is still required, and waffles or pancakes are easy!) You can ask this same question when shopping for granola bars/balls, cookies, rice krispie treats, muffins, frozen pizza, sweetened coffee creamer, bagged popcorn, chex mix, lunchables, veggie trays, fruit salad, jars of soup, pre-made/frozen meals, and so on. Not only is it usually cheaper to make something with scratch ingredients, but it’s a lot healthier too.
  7. Make the most of store coupons and apps. Use your local grocery store app to save money on groceries. I’m a big fan of HEB… everyone in Texas is! And with the featured HEB digital coupons, I’m an even bigger fan. HEB is already known for their in-store yellow coupons and their weekly meal deals, but the app offers additional featured coupons and even sends users freebies every once in a while. Today, I received a coupon for a 5 lb bag of mandarin oranges, which happens to be by son’s favorite fruit. That’s a $6 savings on something I would have bought anyway. If you add a cash-back app, such as Ibotta (enter referral code “wpcrvpk” pretty please), you can even double up on some coupons or on other items you bought. In fact, there have been many, many times that I’ve saved using an in-store coupon and then received additional money back from Ibotta on the same product. Last week, I purchased two packs of GoGo Squeeze Blastz flavored applesauce with an in-store coupon for 2 for $4. Then, Ibotta paid me back $2.94 for that purchase, so total money spent on the two boxes of my kids’ favorite snack was $1.06. Ibotta pays you back on specific grocery items listed in their app, and it changes weekly, but it also has “any item” options that will earn you some money back for simply redeeming a receipt or buying bananas. All you have to do is select the items you purchased, take a picture of your receipt, and cash in. I’ve earned $91.23 since I joined on Oct 22, 2019 (3 months ago).

I truly hope these tips help you to find wins in your savings journey without having to change your lifestyle too much. A slight change in habits, an intentional change in mindset, and a tiny bit more work may save you hundreds of dollars each month.

I do want to add that cooking for a crowd and stocking up on what you use often are excellent ways to save money too. If you use a lot of ground turkey in your cooking, buy it in 3 pound packages instead of 1 lb packages. If your kids love chicken dishes, buy whole chickens at a much cheaper price per pound. And if you are making a favorite meal, double the recipe to have leftovers available. These tips and tricks go a long way and have helped my bottom line as well.

Happy Saving!

New Year, New Frugal YOU! (9 Ways to Save in 2020)

Happy New Year! Have you already made your resolutions? Planning to get skinny (errr… I mean “healthy”)? Hoping to read more? Watch less TV? Exercise daily? Go to church more often? Swear in front of the kids fewer times per day??

Those are all good ones, but so far, the single resolution I’ve been hearing the most is “to save money!” Consumerism has taken over and rendered many of us hopeless and hungover in its wake. The year 2020 is the time for change, right?!

What I’ve also been hearing is that most people aren’t sure how to save money. Where could they possibly cut back? Especially when kids are in the picture. That’s exactly where I stood several months ago when I started a deep-dive into the messes of our finances and our spending. I had previously considered myself pretty darn frugal. I only bought clothes and decor on sale. I made my kids share meals when we went out to eat. I had one fewer drink than I wanted to when out with the girls. And my husband and I took joy in repurposing or building furniture rather than buying new. So, where could I possibly cut back without leading a life of “deprivation”? I was already careful with money… so I thought.

This list of 9 easy ways to save money in 2020 are just the first 9 things that came to mind when I thought about little changes that a family can make to achieve big wins. Please let me know if they’re helpful at all, and I’d also LOVE to hear your tips on frugal living and financial gains.

1. Track your spending! Pay attention to where every dollar goes. Write it down, dictate it into your phone, use an app, whatever works for you. Then, ask yourself whether that money is going toward what you consider to be most valuable in your life. (This is the hardest but the most helpful step, by the way. Skip it and come back to it if it seems too daunting.)

2. Unsubscribe to retailer emails! All those emails about upcoming sales, can’t-miss offers, and travel discounts seep into your subconscious and encourage you to spend, spend, spend because ya know, it’s a DEAL! Go a month without seeing them and determine whether you are really missing anything in your life that you HAD TO HAVE. If you are, I’m pretty sure you know how to find that retailer’s website or store location again.

3. Take on a challenge! Engage your family (or friends) in a fun money-saving challenge, such as a “spend-nothing week” or “eat everything in the pantry week” or “free-activities month” where you only partake in family fun that’s totally free. (Check out my post on the best parks in the Dripping Springs area to get started on this one.) You could also try “no eating-out month” or “book a family vacation for less than $1000”. Make saving fun, and you might see even bigger results than you expected.

4. Ask a friend! When you’re in need of something, ask a friend or offer a swap before reaching for your wallet. You can swap clothing, jewelry, kids’ puzzles/toys, books, and so on. You can swap time also: babysitting hours, carpooling/rides, and home organization hours. Doing home projects with a friend is more fun anyway. Maybe you can help clean out your friend’s fridge this week, and the two of you can tackle your shoe collection next week.

5. Call your credit card! Find out what they’re willing to offer you as a loyal customer. Ask and you will likely receive. Do you need a lower interest rate? Do you want your annual fee waived? Are you looking for opportunities to earn more travel rewards?

I no longer wanted to pay the annual fee on the credit card that we’ve had for 10 years and had been paying off every single month, so I called Chase, and after a 6 minute call, my annual fee was credited back to me.

If your ccard company doesn’t have anything to offer you, there are MANY more out there who are happy to give you bonuses and lower rates.

6. Pay attention to your TV habits! Are you watching ALL the channels? Are you regularly taking advantage of ALL the subscriptions? If not, what can you cut? Choose one and cut the cord or call the cable company and ask for a better plan.

Kids today hardly even watch traditional TV… so what are we paying for?

7. Take inventory! Before you shop, be sure to know what you already have. Really take note of what you have in your pantry or in the back of your fridge. Go to your closet and count how many pairs of black yoga pants you have and the # of gray t-shirts and the collection of sneakers, etc. Intentionally taking stock of what you own might keep you from buying yet another.

After No-spend Week: a half-empty pantry!

8. Get the app! Do you always shop at the same grocery store? Download the app, check out the coupons, and take advantage of the featured offers. Do you often stop at your kids’ fave fast food joint? Try out the app, collect the points, and snag some freebies. Do you like getting cash back for what you already buy? Check out the Ibotta app or Rakuten.

9. Watch YouTube! I know, I know… “YouTube” is equivalent to a 4-letter word in my house due to my kids’ obsession with it, but it can truly be a useful tool when something in the house breaks and you want to save money on handyman fees. Or when you want to teach your child something new, like beginning guitar lessons. You can find a DIY video on just about anything on YouTube, so save money while simultaneously winning cool points with your kids.

Thank you for reading about the 9 easy ways to save money in 2020! I plan to blog about this journey often, and I really hope you’ll join me in the challenge to become a new FRUGAL you. I really hope we can all achieve small, and eventually big, wins together. I’m looking for a tribe who can help keep me motivated (and vice versa), who can share these wins, and who will join me for carefree vacations in my future home in the Rockies! 😉

Free family fun in the mountains: sledding!