Achieving Business Balance

I have a very small business selling children’s books, and educational toys, puppets, games, and more. I started out as a direct seller of Barefoot Books, and over time added other brands that seemed to complement the books well. I’m no longer an official Barefoot Books “Ambassador”, but a generous former team member agreed to place wholesale orders on my behalf after I left.

As you can probably imagine, the holiday season is by far the busiest time of year for a business like mine. Last year, I did a large number of events – mainly cash-and-carry, but also some preschool fundraisers – and made a good chunk of change doing so. However, one of my costliest mistakes of 2013 was over-buying merchandise for the events I had scheduled. A fair amount of that inventory remains with me today, unfortunately. In my defense, several of the events I did were new to me, so I had no frame of reference. They were order-based events, with only a few days to fulfill the orders. Therefore, it was necessary for me to have ample inventory on-hand to fulfill the orders. And because I had no idea what the order volume would be like, I had no idea how many of each item I would need. To be safe, I ordered liberally.

I was able to sell some of the inventory to local customers, and some via my Amazon store, but I have plenty left as I head into this holiday season. At the same time, some of my most popular items are sold-out, and I’m feeling like maybe I should purchase some of them in preparation for this holiday season’s events. After all, I know these items sell well for me, so I may be giving up some easy sales without having them in my inventory…

The decision I’ve come to is to not place any additional orders, unless a customer specifically requests a particular item. After all, at any given event, customers see and shop from what I have on-hand, and have no idea what else I could have, but don’t. Perhaps if I wasn’t working to pay off so much debt, I would be a bit more liberal with my ordering again this year, but I’m just not in that position right now. Instead, I’ll be selling what I have, and (finally!) recouping last year’s expenditures.

(And if you know anyone interested in purchasing high-quality children’s books, toys, puzzles, and more, please let them know that they can save 20% sitewide with code SPOOKY, through 10/31/14.)

What do you think? Did I make the right call?

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Last Week’s Frugal Highs, and a Challenge Update

Happy Monday! How was your weekend? Ours was busy! Our weekend guests started arriving at 2pm on Friday, and the last left at noon on Sunday. I love spending time with our families, but I feel a little like I need another weekend to recover! The great news is that the rain cleared just as my daughter’s outdoor birthday party was starting, so the party went off beautifully!

Here are last week’s frugal highs:

  1. Earned cash back from Checkout 51 for purchasing bananas, carrots, and tomatoes.
  2. Received a payment for items purchased from my Amazon store.
  3. Watched several episodes of Boardwalk Empire,Season Four, on DVD, borrowed from the library.
  4. Continued reading Little Girls Can Be Mean, which was borrowed from the library. (I’ve been reading it in bed at night, so I’m only getting through a few pages at a time.)
  5. Received a payment for items purchased from my small business. Also registered for two book festivals early next month, where I’ll be selling my products.

On an unrelated note, you may recall the grocery challenge I created for myself last week. (Basically, after tracking our spending for a couple of months, I realized that I have been greatly overspending on groceries, and decided to allow myself a $75 cash budget for each of the next two weeks.) Anyway, we ended up with a lot of leftovers from our meals with our weekend guests, we have plenty to eat all week. The only thing we’ll be a little short on by the end of the week is fresh produce and milk. So, I’m giving myself just $20 to spend on groceries this week. I’m sure we’ll be very tired of leftovers by Friday, but there’s just too many to justify buying any groceries.

How was your weekend? What were your frugal highs last week?

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Weekend Plans

Happy Friday! We have a busy weekend planned here. My parents are arriving this afternoon, and my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew are arriving around dinner time. They’re all coming from out-of-town to attend my daughter’s fifth birthday party tomorrow. Please say a prayer to the weather gods, as it’s an outdoor party, and the weather looks a little iffy… I believe I’ve set a new record for number of times checking the hourly forecast in a single day! The rest of the weekend will be spent visiting with our family members.

What are you up to this weekend?


Dirty Secrets, and a Challenge

I started tracking my family’s spending in August, which means I have two full months to look at now. (To be clear, when I say that I’m tracking our spending, what I mean is our variable spending, things like food, clothing, entertainment, etc.) I’m doing this for a few months to help make more informed decisions as I finally stop procrastinating put together a budget.

Right off the bat I realized what an education this would be, but it wasn’t until I finally totaled last month’s numbers by category, that I realized just how surprising some of them were. (And a good reminder to total as I go, rather than wait until the end of the month, when it’s no longer salvagable!) When I look at August vs. September, I’m pleased to say that our total spending went down almost $100, but the good news pretty much ends there. Can you guess what our top three categories were? Go on, guess…






Got your guess? Here’s what they were, in descending order: medical, gas, and food. Yep, food was our biggest expense.

If you asked me to guess what I had spent on food in September, I would’ve been off by $200. Gulp. There’s no good reason for this, since we didn’t host any parties, or feed lots of guests last month. (I don’t include eating out in this category, just groceries.) I just spent way too freely at the grocery store and Target. (Damn you, Tarjay!!!) I always shop with a list, but I do occasionally allow myself some off-list purchases. I try to meal plan and shop the pantry as much as possible, but I obviously need to get better.

I think I need a challenge to jump-start this process. I need to give myself a set-in-stone grocery budget, and bring only cash into the store with me. I clearly need to eliminate the credit card safety net, so there is simply no possible way for me to spend more than I’ve budgeted. Okay, here it is… I believe a reasonable amount to spend on food for our family of three is $300 per month, or $75 per week. So, for the next two weeks, I’ll bring only $75 in cash to the grocery store with me. End of story. To keep me honest, I’ll post pictures of my receipts. This is gonna be good…


Recent Recipes, and a Winner!

I’m trying to move my family away from processed foods as much as possible, while adding more healthy foods to everyone’s meals. Here are some recipes I recently attempted, with the results:

  • Taco Casserole. The recipe presents this as a freezer meal, but I like to try recipes before I double or triple them, just in case… Fortunately, both my husband and I enjoyed this one. (My picky eater wouldn’t even touch it.) I’ll definitely make this again, and next time I will double it for the freezer.
  • Curried Pumpkin Soup. Delicious! Both my husband and I loved it, and I’ll definitely make it again. (You-know-who wanted no part of it, of course.)
  • Oatmeal Apple Breakfast Bars. I SO want to love these, but they’re bland and dry. Both my husband and my daughter tried them, and declined to eat any more. I mainly finished them, but tossed out the last couple. I’m not giving up on them yet, though. I’m going to try making them again, doubling the filling, and adding some brown sugar.

In other news, we have a winner! A big thank you to everyone who entered my giveaway of Build a Budget that Works, by Jessi Fearon, from The Budget Mama. (And thank you to Jessi for providing a copy!) Kara from The Daily Whisk is the winner!


Last Week’s Frugal Highs

Happy Monday! How was your weekend? We had a nice one. We got some indoor and outdoor chores done, visited a nearby mountain for some breathless fall views, and I participated in a family consignment sale.

Here are last week’s frugal highs:

  1. Earned cash back from Checkout 51 for purchasing bananas.
  2. Received a payment for items purchased from my Amazon store.
  3. Picked the last of the tomatoes on our plants, in anticipation of a potential frost. (It didn’t happen.) Those bargain plants more than paid for themselves!
  4. Dropped off items for sale, and picked up unsold items, at a family consignment sale. I earned $148.23 (70% of the value of sold items). I should receive the check in about a week.
  5. Watched several episodes of Boardwalk Empire,Season Four, on DVD, borrowed from the library.
  6. Finished reading, Cut Adrift, and picked up Little Girls Can Be Mean again. (Both books were borrowed from the library.)
  7. Updated inventory of items for sale via my small business, in anticipation of the holiday season.

Strolling ladiesStrolling with my girl

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A Garage Sale Without the Garage Sale

I don’t know how I left this out of my weekend plans post yesterday, but I did. For the third time, I’m participating in a “family consignment sale”, this weekend. I believe it’s called a “family” consignment sale to differentiate it from the numerous children’s consignment sales that occur throughout our area. Basically, you can sell all kinds of stuff at this sale, rather than just baby and kid stuff. I think of it as having a garage sale, without actually having a garage sale.

There’s some work involved with preparing for this and the children’s consignment sale in which I participate, but I’ve found it to be worth it. For example, there’s a $10 participation fee for this weekend’s sale, and then I receive 70% of all items sold. (My local children’s consignment store pays 40% cash and 50% store credit, of all items sold, by contrast.) And while sharing my profits with someone else isn’t my favorite, the sales have a lot more traffic than I would at a garage sale. Plus, I don’t have to sit there all day. I dropped my items off last night, and will pick up my unsold items Sunday evening.

The total priced value (the seller assigns the prices) of the items I dropped off was approximately $450. I’ll feel like it was a success if I earn at least $120. (But of course I’d love to earn even more than that!)

Do you participate in consignment sales? Do you sell items as a consignment store?


Weekend Plans, and a Shameless Plug

Happy Friday! I hope you had a fantastic week!

We’re excited to have a three-day weekend together, and to get some late yardwork done. I’ll be pulling up my carrots and parsnips, and picking the remaining tomatoes. Today I’m checking out a cool event being put on by a natural foods grocery store. They have a bunch of local farmers bringing their surplus produce for sale. Most of the prices are the same or cheaper than at my regular grocery store, and some of the farmers’ produce is even organic. I’m planning to pick up some Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, a few broccoli crowns, and maybe some apples. Most of these items will keep for a little while, and I’ll do a soup-making day this weekend, to stock up the freezer. Ah, fall, how I love you…

Speaking of the change of seasons, one of my all-time favorite books for babies and toddlers is, Listen, Listen.

lisThe gorgeous illustrations highlight the beauty of all four seasons, and the simple, rhyming text is great for pre-verbal kids. I’m 100% convinced that my daughter learned a lot of her first words from this book. In fact the first time we realized how many words she understood – even though she couldn’t speak them – was while reading Listen, Listen. We asked her to point to the squirrel, the sunflower, the snowman, etc., and were amazed when she identified them all. Have I mentioned that I love this book?? :) It regularly sells for $14.99, (it’s a large board book), but it’s on sale for $11.99 this month through my online store.

What are you up to this weekend?



Build a Budget That Works Review and Giveaway!

One of the first personal finance blogs I came across when I started on this journey of debt repayment was The Budget Mama. As someone working to pay down a significant amount of debt, I was draw to Jessi’s blog because she had already done a similar thing herself. Also, I liked that she has a background in accounting, which she uses to help others tame their own debt beasts.

I don’t have a true budget, and until pretty recently, I really didn’t think that it was something I needed. (Hmm, I wonder if this has anything to do with my current debt situation…) However, I’ve realized that a budget is a critical tool for not only getting out of debt, but also for staying out of debt, later. I’ve started the process, by tracking my family’s spending over the past couple of months, and this alone has been a frightening educational experience.

Fortunately for a budget newbie like me, Jessi has just published a great book, Build a Budget that Works. It’s full of tips and information on why a budget is important, how to set one up, and how to stick to it. But what I really like about this book is that it’s chock-full of worksheets to guide readers through the step-by-step process of setting up their budget. Seriously not only does she have the basics, like a debt tracker and a monthly breakdown by expense type, but she also has sheets for tracking an amazing array of designated expense funds. Auto expense fund? Check. Gift-giving fund? Check. Childcare, charitable giving, and vacation funds. Yep, there’s a worksheet for that. I’m working my way through these sheets, and while it’s a little overwhelming for someone who has never attempted a budget, having such a clear and comprehensive tool has been very reassuring.

Build-a-Budget-that-Works-Cover-240x300Jessi has been kind of enough to provide me with a copy of Build a Budget that Works to give away. Enter below, through 10/12, and good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway



It Was Only a Matter of Time…

Well, I knew this day was coming – the first propane delivery. Coincidentally, I checked the level in the tank yesterday, and it was still 50% full. So when the truck pulled in this morning, I knew it wouldn’t be too bad. The delivery was 179 gallons, at our negotiated rate of $2.77 per gallon, so the final cost will be a little over $500, after taxes and random fees are added in.

Propane is definitely our biggest annual home maintenance expense, costing us several thousand dollars each year. Our heat and stove are powered by propane, so we’ve learned to love layers! (Actually, we have a gas fireplace that’s also powered by propane, but we never use it. Our first fall in our house, we used it a lot and drained our tank very quickly. We spent a chilly late November night under lots of blankets, before getting an emergency delivery the next morning.)

Throughout the heating season, we typically keep our daytime temperature at 68 degrees, and we drop it down to 62 at night. That’s, of course, assuming we’re home during the day. On days when my husband and I are both at work, we drop it down to 62 while we’re away. We don’t have a programmable thermostat, so there are some days when we forget to adjust the temperature before we leave. When our heating/AC company comes to do the annual check of the heat system, I’m going to ask about installing one. It seems like a worthwhile investment.

A much more substantial investment would be adding a second heat/AC zone to our house. For whatever reason, when our two-story home was built, the entire house was put on one zone, with the thermostat in our family room downstairs. This is very inefficient, because it means that we have to crank the AC downstairs, to cool the bedrooms upstairs, in the summer, and crank the heat to warm the bedrooms in the winter. (Although it helps that heat rises in the winter.) We received a rough estimate for the work several years ago, and it was more than we could afford. It’s definitely on my list of higher-ticket home projects I’d like to complete.

How do you heat your home? How much does it cost you each year? What temperature do you set your heat at during the day?