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.

How Grocery Savings Can Take You to Disney World

Turn Savvy Shopping into Family Travel

If your kids are like mine, they beg daily to go to Disney World or to stay at a hotel for the buffet breakfast and awesome pool. I’m pretty sure I know where they get it from; I research travel deals more often than I’d like to admit. With our family’s wanderlust, we set a high budget annually for travel, but we also try to find creative ways to free up some additional cash to pay for spontaneous trips we just can’t pass up. This is part of why I continually seek ways to save as much as possible on our food spending each month.

In 7 EASY Ways to Save on Groceries, I shared how our family of 6 got our grocery budget down from over $1200 per month to closer to $900.On average, we continue to save about 17% – 25% of our total on each trip to the grocery store by using coupons and capitalizing on weekly sales and clearance offers. We also use ibotta to get up to $8 cash back per receipt. Over the last year, with the exception of the months at the start of the pandemic, we saved nearly $3600 on groceries and earned about $112 in cash back from ibotta. That amounts to $3,712 that could be put toward additional investing or travel!

Let’s see how this math plays out for a “typical” American family. The average grocery costs for a family of 4 in America is between $800 and $1,000 per month. If a family can reduce its grocery spending by 25% over the next 12 months, that would give a family an additional $200 – $250 per month to go toward other opportunities. If that money were invested and compounded annually at 8%, those grocery savings would amount to approximately $36,688 – $45,860 in cash at the end of 10 years. That could be a down payment on a house or a trip around the world! It could even allow you to retire an entire year earlier.

However, if you need more short-term motivation, those annual savings of $2,400 to $3,000 could take your family of four to Disney World or any other favorite vacation destination each year. Here’s how:

  1. Use a hotel rewards card for all your grocery shopping. At the time this was published, Hilton Honors offers a 150,000 point sign-up bonus as well as 5x points for grocery spending, meaning that your annual spending of $7,200 would provide you with 186,000 points to use toward hotel stays. (That’s just with grocery spending, not including anything else you’d put on that card.) *Important: Only sign up for a credit card if you are able to make your payments every month on time!*
  2. Transfer the amount you save in groceries each month into a high-yield savings account and give that account a clever name to keep you motivated, such as “Meeting Mickey Mouse”.
  3. Use the calendar function on Disney’s website to find the most affordable days to visit Disney World (or do research for cheapest time to travel to your desired destination/theme park). Mid-week travel in August and September is often when you’ll find the best prices. For a family of four, 4-day passes to Disney World Resort (1 park per day) come out to $1,708.28.
  4. Find the best hotel using your points. Log in to the specific hotel chain associated with the credit card you signed up for (Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors, World of Hyatt…), and search the dates of travel associated with the lowest-priced theme park tickets. Select the option to “Pay with Points” or “Use Points”. A quick search turned up dozens of hotels priced at 20,000 to 30,000 points per night. With the Hilton Honors example above, you’d have at least 186,000 points available to go toward this stay, which would cover 6 to 9 nights away.
  5. Book your trip and use the remaining $700 to $1300 (or more with added interest and cash back) toward flights, rental cars, or food. Find more ways to save on airfare and rental car!

This method of motivation to save on groceries not only works for you, but it’s a great way to get your kids on board with learning about the benefits of frugality too. If a trip to Disney World is promised, kids may be willing to try more off-brand foods, finish the leftovers in the fridge, and help with meal planning and prep! It’s a win-win for everyone.

Cut Healthcare Costs

Financial Freedom in 2021! Take Action: Day 15

What a whale of a topic, right? Everyone from you to your parents to the members of Congress is trying to figure out how to cut costs on healthcare. On the political side of things, the debate will likely go on and on throughout our lifetime and beyond. On the personal side, thankfully there are a few strategies we can employ to reduce how much we spend on our own care.

Keep in mind that healthcare and health insurance are two different things. Today’s focus is on the cost of healthcare, but there are a few services you can take advantage of by carrying health insurance.

  • Nurse Line – Check to see if your insurance provider offers one; most of the big names do. Blue Cross Blue Shield has a nurse line 24/7/365 to answer questions about wellness, prescription drugs, self-care/at-home treatments, allergies, and even your specific symptoms. And this service is free. So, if you’re not sure whether you should see a doctor or if you might be having an allergic reaction or whether you’re taking the right medication for your symptoms or if there’s a vitamin or supplement that might help with a genetic predisposition to a chronic disease or if you’re unsure as to how two medications might interact or if you’re curious about a weird pregnancy symptom, etc, etc, try the FREE nurse line first and possibly save yourself a trip to the doctor as well as the co-pay.
  • Virtual Visits – If the nurse line doesn’t answer all your questions, try a virtual visit with one of the doctors with the insurance company. Major providers are now offering virtual appointments with doctors working for them. Your co-pay may even get reimbursed by your insurance provider if you use their own virtual medical platform. (Call to check your plan’s benefits.)
  • Benefits Summary – Know before you go. Call your medical or dental provider before going in for a visit or procedure and ask for the specific codes that will be billed. Then, call your insurance company’s benefits line before going to your appointment to ask for the fees allowed in your specific area for each code and how much is covered by your plan. Don’t assume that the doctor’s or dentist’s office quote is exactly right. Also, keep in mind that if you’re seeing someone out of network, that doctor/dentist does not have to charge the contracted rate for your area, and you’d have to pay the difference between what that doc charges and what your insurance company has set as a maximum.

In addition to making the most of your insurance benefits, keep these tips in mind for future medical expenses:

  • Over the Counter vs Rx – The assumption is often that over the counter drugs are cheaper than prescription and that generic is cheaper than name brand. But these are not always true assumptions. You have to ask and compare. My daughter, who has Crohn’s disease, is on a dual-med therapy that requires a folic acid supplement. I immediately decided that I would buy that over the counter, knowing I could get a full bottle for under $10. I assumed a prescription would be more. Then, I asked… and I was shocked! A full month of the supplement only cost us 47 cents! However, for her iron supplement, buying over the counter was half as much as the prescription. You have two resources for this comparison. You can call the insurance company nurse line to discuss the medication you’ve been prescribed to find out if there are generic or over the counter equivalents. Then, you can ask your pharmacist to price them all out for you. (Another option is GoodRx, but I’ve never tried that app.)
  • Shop Around for Non-Urgent Procedures – Need an MRI, a hip replacement, or back surgery? You might find a drastic difference in price across town or across the country. There are now websites that allow you to shop around for the cost of specific procedures, and the variation in price may shock you into medical arbitrage. If you need a hip replacement in the Austin area, you can find prices ranging from $19,000 to $25,000, but if you’re willing to travel a short distance to Baton Rouge, LA, you can find the same procedure offered at half the price. Of course, you want to do your due diligence and make sure that the doctor/surgeon meets high standards and has positive reviews, but when you’re paying a 20%-50% co-insurance, that could amount to significant savings.
  • Negotiate – Everything is negotiable, especially medical bills. You might even be able to use the info gathered above to talk your doctor and facility down in price for the procedure you need to schedule. Even if you weren’t able to negotiate a lower price in advance, you may be able to call the hospital or doctor’s office and negotiate a discount after the fact, especially if you can pay in full or put more than half down right away. I’ve heard that doing these negotiations on your bill before leaving the hospital or surgery center will get you the best results.
  • Pay Cash – Sometimes you can get an even bigger discount when you pay out of pocket instead of going through an insurance claim.
  • Care Credit – If you’re planning to put medical expenses on a credit card, ask your doctor’s office about care credit. They can call to get an authorization on your behalf, and you’ll often be given a 0% interest offer for a certain number of months. Be sure to set up auto-pay to cover the full amount of the bill before the promo period ends. You’ll also earn points for paying your bill each month, and you can trade those points in for gift cards to popular retailers. We’ve been paying down a colonoscopy, and we just cashed in on $200 worth of Home Depot gift cards.

I’m sure there are many other ways to save on medical costs, and I’d love to hear from you on what’s worked.

Today’s action step is to set up a health profile or journal for each member of your family. (If you already have one, take a quick review of it.) This health profile can be a simple binder or spiral notebook with plenty of space for printed doctors’ notes, bills/receipts for procedures, and your own notes on reactions to meds, treatments that have worked well, allergies, common symptoms to common illnesses, dates of illnesses or odd symptoms. Organize it in any way that makes sense to you and decide if you want a separate one for dental and vision care.

I was so glad I had kept dental records on my kids because I received a huge bill from our dentist after my eldest child got a filling. The insurance company denied the claim with the reasoning that the exact tooth had already been filled. I checked the dental records from our previous dentist and was able to determine that that tooth had never been filled. The last dental office had billed incorrectly.

This sounds like a lot of work, but having good records for each family member can save so much money in the long run, and it may help when trying to make tough decisions about proper treatments in the future.

Save on Kids’ Activities: Get Creative with Extracurriculars

Financial Freedom in 2021! Take Action: Day 13

Gymnastics for the preschooler to help with balance. Music class for the baby to encourage language development. Soccer for the big kids to teach sportsmanship and teamwork. Riding lessons for the horse-lover. Dance camp for the tiny aspiring ballerina. Yoga or a Bible study group for Mom’s mental, physical, and spiritual health. Monthly golf games to counter Dad’s work stress. A YMCA or pool membership for the whole family to spend time together.

It’s all too much. These extracurriculars can become easily justifiable, but the expenses quickly add up. I’ve often heard friends of mine say there’s nothing that can be cut in these areas; I’ve been there before too. We’ve tried all of the above, but I needed to cut back. We were over-committed and over-spending. Plus, the kids weren’t getting as much out of every experience as I had hoped.

I quickly realized that we had to limit everything to what was providing the most value and determine which extracurriculars could wait til later. This required asking some hard questions and thinking outside the box (or even counter-culturally) for solutions.

I recommend asking the following questions before signing up for something or continuing with an extracurricular activity:

  • What’s my WHY? What’s the true reason for this membership/activity/group?
  • If I’m doing this to learn a skill, can I learn it for free from a library class, a You Tube video, a good book, or a friend?
  • If I’m doing this so my kids will learn teamwork and participation, can that be accomplished through free school activities such as UIL or PE classes already offered? Can I organize a weekly kickball game in the neighborhood?
  • If I’m doing this to make friends for myself or my kids, can I find other options such as a neighborhood bunco group or small group at a local church or a nearby parent/child playgroup? (Search Facebook or Meet Up and ask around for options.)
  • If I want to start a young child in a sport or activity that I love, can it wait until he/she is a tad bit older? Many times, we sign our kids up for something and get so disappointed when they show no interest or seem to have no idea about what’s happening. But give it a few years and that will likely change. Also, at an older age, kids can articulate what they do and don’t like about an activity, helping you determine which are truly the best options for them. Despite considering lessons as an earlier age, my eldest daughter got into music, theater, and dance once she entered middle school. Because she was old enough to know what she liked about them and was mature enough to put in the effort necessary, she learned new skills rapidly, much faster than the pace that would’ve been required had she started in elementary school with private lessons. And the middle school classes are free as a part of her school day.
  • If the extracurricular is for exercise, what are our family’s favorite options to get in free work outs? What about that class, sport, or gym truly motivates us? Can it be replicated elsewhere, including at home or in a local park?

When you determine which extras are most important to you and your family, consider the following solutions or alternatives to save money:

  • Swap hours with a friend. Maybe you can tutor her kids and she can teach sewing to you and yours. Maybe you can mow a friend’s lawn in exchange for guitar lessons for your kiddo. Maybe you and a neighbor can swap babysitting hours for kids’ swim lessons.
  • Take a You Tube class. My 5 year old occasionally asks to attend dance class. We’re not sure if she’s truly that interested in learning dance, if she likes the idea of dance because friends attend lessons, or if maybe she just wants to wear a leotard and tutu. So, we found a You Tube channel with adorable and easy-to-follow ballet lessons. When my little one is “in the mood to dance”, she goes to that channel and follows along. She’s quite good at it, but she’s not consistently interested, and this type of video lesson is enough to satisfy her for now. We’ll reassess in a year or two but save our money for the time being.
  • Offer to work. If you love your gym or yoga studio or Pilates class, can you offer to work one morning a week at the front desk in exchange for a membership or a significant discount? What if you volunteer for the sports board? Can you get a discount on registration? It doesn’t hurt to ask.
  • Skip the skills camp in the summer (for younger Rec-level kids). A week of soccer camp can cost as much as the fees for a whole season of Rec soccer. A week of dance camp is equivalent to a few months of classes. A week of horse camp can exceed the cost of 5 private lessons, and while at camp, riding time might be very limited. If you still want your kiddo in camps for summer so they can be with other children and get out of the house, I get it! Try swim team, which provides daily swim practice for 2 months and a team full of friends for a fraction of the cost of private lessons. Check out the local VBS camps in your area. Most are free. Libraries (if re-opened this year) often offer free summer camps or day programs as well.
  • Take advantage of all the extras offered when you register. Does enrollment of the gymnastics class allow you to attend open-gym days for extra practice time? Does your sports program offer additional clinics or trainings? Does the gym membership offer 2 hours of child care? (If so, then exercise for an hour and use the extra hour to catch up on work, reading, phone calls, etc.)

Today’s action step is to re-evaluate all the extras. Be sure to know WHY you’re involved in them and whether they’re worth what you’re paying. If not, cancel and try an alternative!

Beware of “Just”-ified Spending

Financial Freedom in 2021! Take Action: Day 12

One more post on resetting spending habits…

You didn’t sleep especially well last night, so you stop for a coffee on the way to work or to run errands. It’s just $5 and there’s no way you’ll make it through the morning without that extra shot of espresso.

You notice a sweater on sale while grabbing toilet paper and paper towels at Target. It’s just $15, but it’s so much cuter than the $40 one you bought a couple weeks ago.

The toddler is fussy and won’t stay seated in the cart, so you grab a toy phone off the shelf to keep him entertained. It’s just $8 but totally worth your sanity.

Your daughter did really well on a difficult math test. You decide to celebrate with a stop for ice cream after school. It’s just $12 for everyone to get a treat, but she knows how proud you are of her.

It’s been a really long day, so instead of making dinner, you decide to order a couple pizzas. It’s just $16 because there’s a special deal today, and it saves you from dishes later as well.

These “just”-ified purchases, which could easily occur on a typical busy day, led to $56 of unplanned spending! It adds up.

What does it take to waste $10,000 per year? Just $27. 40 per day in miscellaneous spending.

I’m not arguing whether all of the justifications given above make sense. I’m a mom. I get it. I’ve been in every one of those scenarios many times. It takes a lot of strength and resolve to just say “no”. It also requires preparedness.

My best defense against this type of spending is a good offense. I prepare coffee for myself to go before heading anywhere in the morning. I keep toys, books, and snacks in the car (and a few in my purse) in case kids need some distractions. I also keep a small stash of leftover Halloween candy on hand for those days that I want to reward my kids with a special treat for going above and beyond. Finally, having a few easy go-to meals at home diminishes the temptation to order pizza or grab take-out.

When the “just”-ified spending decreases, along with the random unplanned stops, it feels that much more special and rewarding when you decide to go out for dessert after a family hike or decide to spend the month’s clothing allowance on a rare Mom-daughter shopping afternoon.

Today’s action step is to set aside about $50 in cash. Over the next two weeks, every time you pass up on a random “just”-ified spending opportunity, put the amount of cash that you would have spent (or an IOU if you don’t keep cash on hand) in a jar at home. After the two weeks is up, take $10 to buy a favorite family treat from the grocery store, like a cake, a fruity pie, or ice cream sundae ingredients. Then, stash the other $40 away toward one of your priorities, and spend an evening celebrating how great you are at saving money!

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.

Tackle Transportation Costs

Financial Freedom in 2021! Take Action: Day 8

Transportation is #2 (behind housing) in the top monthly expenses incurred by most Americans. Car loans, car insurance, gas, repairs, and depreciation all lead to the high cost of car ownership. It’s estimated that it can cost over $9000 per year in addition to the base cost of a car. But most of us, especially with a family, can’t fathom managing our daily lives without the convenience of multiple cars.

There are a few ways to significantly reduce transportation costs, but these will require quite a change in lifestyle:

  • Share a car – this option might be more do-able than in the past because of the increase in remote work and school situations.
  • Sell or trade in your cars for smaller, older, or electric vehicles.
  • Bike to work and to run errands. Maybe a cargo bike is in your future.
  • Eliminate all cars and use public transportation or ride-share services. Rent a car for road trips /vacations.
  • Switch to a job with a shorter commute or work out a plan to work from home 2-3 days/week to reduce gas charges and reliance on a vehicle.

However, if a drastic change isn’t in the cards this year, here are a few things you can take action on now to save on the high costs of transportation:

  • Shop around for cheaper car insurance (consider raising your deductible and ask about all possible discounts, including safe driver, company/occupation-related, good grades for teenage drivers).
  • Plan a weekly schedule for errands so that trips can be combined on same day to reduce outings and gas-usage.
  • Change kids from car-rider to bus-rider (this is a battle in our house!).
  • Pay off your car loan.
  • Refinance your car loan.
  • Vow to buy a used vehicle approximately 6 years old or older from now on.

Today’s action step is to shop around for car insurance, make a plan that reduces your car use, determine whether you can pay off or refinance your car loan to get monthly costs down, and plan to make one of the BIG changes suggested above in the near or distant future.

In our household, we continue to make the conscious decision not to inflate our lifestyle with regard to vehicles despite how embarrassed our 13 year-old is of our minivan and how cool our friend’s new Tesla looks. I currently drive a 2015 Toyota Sienna with over 100,00 miles on it. We paid off the loan on my van as one of our financial goals in 2018. My husband still drives his 2005 Ford F-150, which has over 250,000 miles on it. He takes great care of that truck, and we use it minimally so it can last much longer. Neither of our cars looks especially cool, nor are they stain-free. We could easily justify an upgrade, but it’s not worth sacrificing bigger priorities in our family’s life.

Tomorrow, we’ll dive in to how to save money on the third biggest expense for most households. Can you guess what it is?

Financial Freedom in 2021! Take Action

Happy New Year! Soon enough, everyone will be asking you what your New Year’s Resolutions are.

They never seem to last, but if you set some firm foundations in the first month, you have a good chance of not backsliding the rest of the year. One of the foundations I set for 2021 was to sign up for a boot camp. I’m the worst at attending workout classes, but thankfully, a friend asked me to join a biggest loser challenge for the month of January. Enter in a little competition, and that might push my butt out the door and to the class, even on a freezing winter day.

It seems that most resolutions are related to diet and exercise, career success, spiritual well-being, and money habits. One of my favorites, though, is from Jimmy Fallon’s 5 Word Resolutions last year:

Less upsetti and more spaghetti!

(Perfect for our current 2020 social climate.)

All kidding aside, one of the most important things you can do for yourself and your family, especially after what 2020 dealt us, is to get on track financially. If you’ve received this email, it means that you’ll be getting daily action steps for the next 30 days that worked for my family to significantly increase our savings rate and our net worth in just a couple years. We’re on track for financial independence sooner than we could’ve ever imagined, which is opening up more opportunities than we’d ever dreamed of. I hope that these action steps help you to get back on track or to expedite your financial independence journey.

Please comment on posts along the way to provide your feedback and to let me know what works for you in your personal finance journey. I’m still learning every day and love to get advice from others on how to earn and save more.

Financial Freedom in 2021! Take Action: Day 1 starts tomorrow!

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!