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.

Fuel your FIRE

Financial Freedom in 2021! Take Action: Day 30

Wow! We made it to Day 30! I calculated that I’ve written (and you’ve read) over 25,000 words in the last month. That’s enough words to fill 1/3 of a novel, and all of them were about saving money and investing for the purposes of financial freedom.

But why?

In my post titled, What Does Financial Freedom Mean to You?, I summarized what motivated me to jump on board with the FIRE movement:

“Financial freedom allows the ability to let go

of maintaining a specific image; of an addiction to other people’s lives; of the shackles of material goods; of the restrictions placed on me by others; of saying ‘yes’ when I want to say ‘no’; of saying ‘no’ when I want to say ‘yes’; of negative relationships; of working to achieve someone else’s dream.

It provides the option to linger

with a baby in my arms; in bed all morning with my husband; on the floor in my kids’ playroom as they set up a tea party; at church after service or maybe on a Wednesday; on a restaurant patio with a friend; at a beautiful beach all day; in my sister’s living room catching up on a favorite TV show; at my mom’s house sipping coffee; at my children’s favorite museum; on the hiking trail or in the river at a state park.

It affords the privilege of indecisiveness

on whether to build a forever home, buy an investment property… or both; on whether to volunteer in local church ministries, start the business I’ve always dreamed of… or both; on whether to do travel homeschooling, keep my kids in public school… or both; on learning to play golf, participating in an over-40 soccer league… or both; on whether to write a book, start or podcast… or both.

It commands the responsibility to give

financial literacy lessons to my children; personal finance advice to the young and old; donations to charitable organizations; more time to important projects; opportunities to the underprivileged so that they can break the cycle of poverty; gifts to my church; more of me to those I love.”

It’s this final paragraph that makes the FIRE movement especially appealing, not just for myself, but for the entire community too. I recently heard that while others might see an individual’s push toward financial independence and early retirement as a selfish, greedy move, the truth is that most people in the community want to use their freedom for greater good.

Those who’ve reached FIRE write blogs to help others improve their money situations. They host podcasts and share the best tips available. They write books to make investing easier. They teach classes for free to the under-privileged, under-educated, and under-represented. They run fix-it clinics, start buy-nothing sites, and inspire minimalist movements. FIRE people don’t keep this to themselves; they share what they know and encourage others to make the best use of their money as well.

Consider the type of people who truly subscribe to the Financial Independence Retire Early life. These people are often intelligent, motivated, educated, persistent, goal-driven, risk-tolerant, and innovative. When people with these qualities are freed from the daily grind, their talents can then be put toward philanthropy and changing the world we live in.

Take action today on Day 30 by determining what fuels your FIRE and decide what good you could do in the world if earning a regular paycheck was no longer a top priority.

Thank you so much for going on this 30-day journey of action steps toward financial freedom with me! I truly hope it’s been helpful and that you’d be willing to share these tips with others.

I invite you to subscribe to this blog and follow Frugal_with_Four on Instagram. I’m looking forward to sharing so much more on living this frugal yet wonderful life with you.

Thanks for reading!!

Increase your Income

Financial Freedom in 2021! Take Action: Day 16

The term “side hustle” has become very common in the last couple years. It seems that every other person has a small side business, MLM venture, after-hours hustle, You Tube channel, Etsy shop, home bakery, or blog to try to add to their regular W2 income. If you type “side hustle” into google, there are thousands of articles and websites dedicated to sharing ideas on maximizing your earning power with a second, third, or fourth stream of income. I’ve found a list of 100 side hustles that can make you $500+/month and 50 ideas for a lucrative side business. There are even several weekly podcasts dedicated to making extra cash on the side.

The underlying theme is that in our modern culture, in which 80% of Americans carry debt, people need to make even more money. Sometimes a side hustle is a passion project or a hobby. Sometimes it’s a long-sought-after dream slowly coming to light. Sometimes it’s a way to reach financial independence much faster. However, many times, people launch into side hustles to pay off student loans and consumer debt. With the cost of living (and spending) today, many W2 jobs don’t offer a salary that allows people to get out of debt and get ahead quickly enough.

The ultimate goal of financial freedom is to let your money work for you, not the other way around, but in order to reach that goal, it may be necessary to trade some of the extra time you currently have for some extra cash.

Today’s action step is to review the articles and lists linked above to determine if there’s a way for your family to earn a side income from a side hustle. But before launching into anything, calculate what your time is worth and what you could really earn. Also, remember that it’s usually best to stick with what you know and utilize your current skill set.

Which side hustle seems most feasible for you? Or, if you already have one, what do you love about it? Please share!

Eliminate the Ads … Eliminate the Temptation

Financial Freedom in 2021! Take Action: Day 11

Who knows you better than you know yourself? Your spouse? Your parents? Your sibling or your kids? Your BFF?

Wrong.

Retailers know you better. 😔 They can *predict* what you want before you even know you want it. They understand your impulses and your brain chemistry better than you do. They have you psycho-analyzed better than the best therapists around. If you’ve seen The Social Dilemma, you know this unfortunate truth.

Therefore, you gotta stop those retailers in their tracks. You gotta set boundaries and block them from your phone and your email.

To continue down the path of resetting spending habits, today’s action step is to eliminate the ads!

1. 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. Unsubscribe! Try it for a month and then assess whether you are really missing anything in your life that you HAD TO HAVE and didn’t catch on sale. If you are, I’m pretty sure you know how to find that retailer’s website or store location again.

2. Change your Facebook settings. Under Settings, go to Ad Preferences. There, you can turn off ads from specific retailers and categories. Then, go to the Ad Settings tab and turn off the features in each section that allow targeted ads to appear in your feed. You’ll still see ads, but hopefully they won’t have as much effect on you because FB is no longer reading your mind.

Eliminate targeted Facebook ads

3. Toss all snail mail ads and catalogs in the recycling bin before opening or reading through them. Same reasoning as in #1… if there’s something you really need or have saved up for, you can find ways to get discounts when you are ready to buy, not at the time the retailers are convincing you to do so.

4. Fast-forward through commercials(if possible) or watch commercial-free shows on TV. You can’t be sold if you don’t see the ad.

Please comment below if you have further suggestions on how to avoid seeing the hundreds of ads that flood our daily lives.

Our First Rental Property Deal: The Challenges and Rewards

Just over two months ago, my husband and I bought our first rental property! Adding real estate investing to our portfolio is step #9 in our plan to reach FIRE by 50, so we are stoked that we were able to get started in the infamous year of 2020. I turned 41 this year; my husband turned 40. We still haven’t decided if our age deadline of 50 refers to his milestone birthday or mine, but we figure we have about 10 years to develop a strong real estate portfolio.

At my 40th Bday party…
let the FIRE countdown begin!

It all started with a little podcast called Bigger Pockets Money, which introduced me to several personal finance strategies and books to read, while also making real estate investing sound very appealing. I quickly decided that it had to be a part of our early retirement plan, but the extent of my knowledge only came from buying and selling a few primary residences in my life. So, I had to dive in! Thankfully, the free resources available are endless. About 50 podcast episodes and a dozen books later, I felt like we were ready. I started analyzing deals daily, constantly texted my realtor with questions about available properties, and talked my husband’s ear off about the next best Texas town in which to invest.

After months of research, analysis, and attending random open houses in the cities and towns we heard were the fastest growing, it hit us that we were out of our league. There are a lot of big dogs out there in the investing world, and the competition is fierce. Houses sold sight unseen, and several deals went into bidding wars. Out. Of. Our. League.

So, we finally decided to check out a sleepier town we’ve traveled to a few times on family road trips. I started looking up houses for sale and made a list of about a dozen I was interested in. Problem: Our realtor didn’t have access to the MLS there, and I wasn’t ready to involve a new realtor because we were still in the exploring phase. So, I took matters into my own hands. I spent an entire afternoon while one of my kids napped and the others played legos to call or email the listing agent on every single property. I politely asked if they’d be willing to show us their listing in a couple days. Most obliged despite my unconventional method, and we had 8 showings for that one Saturday.

This particular Saturday was during the dead heat of summer… in Texas … during a pandemic. So, we had no choice but to load all 4 of our kids into the minivan with the temperature gauge already reading 100 degrees by mid-morning. We promised them a fun day trip with just a few stops to look at houses. Thankfully, they bought into it, and we took off for the 2 hour trip. We had packed lunch boxes full of favorite snacks and plenty of treats, and we planned a stop at a super cool playground with a nearby hiking trail along a river.

By the time we made it to the first showing appointment, the car was a disaster, covered in snack wrappers, small toys, and countless coloring pages. Plus, our 3-year-old was fast asleep. My husband and I saw the first few houses in shifts. One of us had to stay in the car with the little guy. And of course, all three of the other children insisted on getting out, donned their masks, paraded through each home, and offered their unsolicited opinions. Our 4-year-old kept pointing out which room would be hers, no matter how many times we explained that we wouldn’t be living in these homes.

After hours of foundation issues, bad neighborhoods, major fixer-uppers, and an historic home with a busted lockbox, we made a quick kid-friendly pit stop for ice cream. At this point, the temp had reached 110 degrees outside, and our A/C was struggling to keep up. Everyone was exhausted. We debated whether it was worth it to see the last two houses. It felt like we had struck out in yet another Texas town.

Maybe it was the sugar high from the root beer floats or the sheer determination within, but we decided to forge ahead and see the last two houses. For our second to last appointment, we arrived to an obviously occupied home but no sign of a realtor anywhere. Soon after pulling up, a woman walked out onto the porch and gestured for us to come on in. The realtor was a man, so we knew this had to be someone living in the home. We double-checked the address, and it was correct. My eldest and I put our masks on and slowly approached the door. The house was beautiful, well-kept, and only a couple years old. It was even better on the inside, and the tour of the home was given to us by the current tenant who had just brought her first baby home from the NICU. We kept our distance, did a quick tour, and chatted outside a bit. My husband took his turn walking through the house, and as soon as he exited, we both gave each other THE look. This was it. We knew it.

Just at that moment, the listing agent arrived and gave us the whole story. We were questioning him about why this wonderful house with kind, paying tenants had been sitting on the market for 30 days, especially since the almost identical house next door sold in less than a week for full asking price.

It turns out that because the tenants in this home had a baby in the NICU for the whole month, no showings were being allowed… until that afternoon when we walked in! We asked the realtor several questions about how much rent the house was getting, why it was being sold, and whether the current tenants planned to stay. The answers couldn’t have been better, and we quickly realized that if another person were to walk through this house, we might lose our chance.

We called our realtor; she recommended a great local realtor in the area, and we put in an offer right away. The realtor she recommended specializes in rental properties, so as an added service, he also agreed to write up a new lease when we closed and to do all the negotiations/signing with the tenants, who did agree to stay.

We couldn’t believe it! After months and months of striking out, we finally hit a home run. We felt like this deal was the best scenario we could’ve imagined for our first rental property.

Here are all the numbers for those interested in deal analysis:

  • Purchase Price: $175,000 (25% down, 3.65% APR)
  • Monthly P&I: $598
  • Taxes and Insurance: ~$420/month
  • Additional expense: $50/month landscaping
  • Rental Rate: $1510 monthly (including pet fees)

So far, everything has been great! We communicate with our tenants a few times per month, sometimes about the house, sometimes about our families. My husband has visited the house for a walk-through once since closing and asked the tenants if there are any concerns or any ideas for future improvements. This relationship has helped with on-time payments and upfront communication. We even get a picture of the check each month before it’s sent in the mail and sometimes a picture of their baby to accompany it.

Now, we’re ready to find the next one! We know not every deal will go this smoothly, and we anticipate that problems will come at some point, which is why we have 6 months of expenses in a separate bank account for this property alone. However, the momentum has started, and we don’t want to slow down. With a goal of 2 properties per year, we are constantly on the hunt.

I’ve recently adopted a mantra I heard in an interview with Robert Kiyosaki: “4 green houses and a hotel.” Hopefully we can play our own game of real-life monopoly within the next decade. Stay tuned to see if we win or go bankrupt trying! My current goal is to just land on my step-dad’s version of “free parking” a few times, where the player gets to collect a mix of Monopoly money and the real cash my step-dad tossed in to make the game more interesting.

We plan to play often with our kids as well. Now that our children have joined us on this journey, literally and figuratively, we’re hopeful that they’ll learn investment strategies and important aspects of personal finance much earlier than we did. We’ve also told them that these homes are a key factor in their future post-graduation. More details on that to come…

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the story of the ups and downs of our first rental property investment. I can’t wait to share more with you in the future! Please subscribe for more posts on our FIRE by 50 journey and additional tips on living a frugal yet FULL life.

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!

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!