Friday Odds and Ends

Big News!!

It’s finally official: all of our credit cards have been paid off! It took a good bit longer than I expected it to, and with due dates looming, I made some payments before the loan payments went through. As a result, I’m waiting for two checks totaling $383, from two banks. They should arrive before the end of the month. Now on to paying off the home equity loan that made this possible!

Awesome Customer Service

I received my first order from ePantry today. (If you’re not familiar with it, ePantry is a company that sells green household and personal care products, from brands like Method, Mrs. Meyers’s, and Seventh Generation, as a subscription service.) As I was looking over the items in my order, I noticed that one, a Yes to Grapefruit lip balm, was missing. It’s easy to see how such a small item could be missed, but I contacted ePantry‘s customer service team via online chat, to request that a credit for the price, $2.49, be applied to my account. The very pleasant rep immediately applied a $5 credit to my account! (Interested in giving ePantry a try? Use this link, and receive a $10 credit on your first order.)

 Tax Time

I dropped our tax paperwork off at our accountant’s office today. (Because of my small business, our taxes are a bit more complex than they might be otherwise, and we prefer to have someone really knowledgeable do them.) When I texted my husband to let him know that I’d done this, he responded, “PTSD.” This was a reference to our taxes last year, when we unexpectedly owed $1,800. We had to take much of the money out of our then paltry emergency fund. This experience was one of the primary catalysts for getting in gear and paying off our debt, and ultimately motivated me to start this blog.

It’s unclear if we’ll owe again this year, as a number of factors are different. Immediately after learning that we owed so much money, we adjusted my husband’s withholding, and had more taxes taken out of his checks. He also earned a good bit more in 2014, but I earned less. Also, I began slowing down with my small business last year, and earned less there, too. We have much more money in our emergency fund this year, should we need additional funds to pay a hefty tax bill, but I’m hopeful that it won’t come to that. We’re now eagerly awaiting the news from the accountant…

 

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Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook
Dana Gunders Release Date: May 19, 2015 Buy new: $18.95 $14.21
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To Pay for Chores, or Not…

I’ve been going back-and-forth on whether or not to give my daughter an allowance, pay her for doing chores only, or something in between, for quite a while. (In fact, creating a chore list for her is one of my 12 goals for 2015.) All of the above appeal to me for different reasons, so I’ve come up with a hybrid model to attempt.

By way of background: My daughter is five and loves to acquire, what I consider, junk. She’s got stuffed animals and little plastic trinkets coming out of her ears, and most of them can’t be donated or consigned when she’s moved on from them. Even though most new things are forgotten within a week because there are already so many other things to play with, her appetite for new junk toys seems insatiable. I’m not willing to buy this stuff for her except for rare occasions like her birthday and a few holidays. However, because I want her to learn about spending and saving money, I generally let her use her piggy bank money to buy things for herself. To be clear: her piggy bank balance has probably never exceeded $20, and the contents typically come from her grandparents ($5 in holiday cards), and my husband periodically giving her the loose change in his pocket. She depleted her piggy bank after the last two weekends, and is now asking for ways to replenish it.

I believe that kids should pitch in at home, and must know that this is expected of them. When she groans about being asked to do something for me, I remind my daughter that our family is a team, and we all have to work together to get things done. At the same time, I want her to understand that money is earned through work. I like the idea of reinforcing this concept by paying her for doing chores. After speaking to several other parents about how they handle this, and reading a number of blog posts on the topic, here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • My daughter will receive $1 per week, on Saturdays, as long as she fed the cat in the evening, set the table for dinner, and cleaned her room before bedtime, each of the five preceding days.
  • I’ll create a list of additional chores she can do for money. Each one will be written on a piece of paper, and will include a payment amount. She can go through the bowl/box/whatever it ends up being, whenever she wants to earn some additional money. After she completes the chores, she put the piece(s) of paper in an envelope/box/whatever I come up with, and the total is added to her weekly allowance payout.

Now I just have to come up with a list of additional chores. Here’s what I have so far:

  1. Dust downstairs tables (end tables, coffee table, and dining room table): $0.50
  2. Dust base boards upstairs and downstairs: $0.50 each
  3. Wipe doorknobs upstairs and downstairs: $0.50 each

I’m obviously in need of other ideas, so please feel free to share any that you may have! I know there will be plenty of outdoor projects and chores she can assist with, once the warmer weather comes. (It is coming, right??)

How do you handle allowances/spending money for kids?

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February Side Hustle Income & Out-of-the-Ordinary Expenses

February Side Hustle Income

As a mother who works outside the home (very) part-time, I’m always looking for ways to earn some additional income from home. February was not a great month for this, but I did earn a small amount of money from a number of different sources:

Twice: $16

Amazon Store: $65.67

Ebates: $45.53

Swag Bucks: $5 Amazon gift card

Checkout 51: $20

ePantry: $10 referral credit

Update on February’s Out-of-the Ordinary Expenses

Going into every month, I try to anticipate what the unusual expenses will be that month. I’m not really able to budget specifically for them, yet, but it’s at least helpful to know what’s come and plan for it as best I can. Here’s what I anticipated for February, and how it actually turned out:

My husband’s dental work (anticipated): $240

My husband’s dental work (actual): $198.50 (There’s more work to be done, but not until April.)

Propane (anticipated): $710

Propane (actual): $710

Booster seat (anticipated): $200

Booster seat (actual): $34.99 (But I will be purchasing a second one this or next month.)

Car service (anticipated): $200

Car service (actual): $0 (At least one car will be getting an oil change this month.)

Bonus: We spent around $200 on a hotel and food when we got stuck in the Boston-area during a blizzard in February.

Did you have any unanticipated expenses in February?

Enjoy natural beauty with 104 Homemades.

 

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2015 Goals Check-In #2

We’re two months into 2015; how am I doing with my goals? Here’s an update:

  1. Try 40 recipes from Martha Stewart’s Cookies. I’m off to a slow start here, with only two recipes attempted, so far. (Grammy’s Chocolate Cookies and Apple-Cherry Crumble Bars)
  2. Decrease debt total by $5,000. We closed on our home equity loan last month, but are still waiting for the final payments to several of the cards. I should be able to track my debt total normally again by the end of this month.
  3. Read 15 books. This month, I read (1) Lady Almina  and the Real Downton Abbey, (2) Vegetable Gardening in the Northeast, (3) Straw Bale Gardens: The Breakthrough Method for Growing Vegetables Anywhere, Earlier, and with No Weeding, and (4) Gaining Ground: A Story of Farmers’ Markets, Local Food, and Saving the Family Farm(You can follow my progress toward this goal here.)
  4. Create a weekly meal plan every week. Nine meal plans completed!
  5. Visit Aldi to develop an informed opinion, and, if appropriate, make it part of my shopping routine. No progress here, yet.
  6. Develop and stick with a monthly cleaning plan. I put together a list, but did not complete everything on it this month. I need to create a check-list that I can follow along with throughout the month. I’m sure there’s one in the List Plan It Homemaking ePlanner that I can use or adapt…
  7. Put together a chore list for my daughter, and make it a part of her routine. Some progress here, but I’m not quite ready to check it off, yet.
  8. Grow 200 pounds of food in my garden. My seeds have arrived, and I put together a planting schedule. I cannot wait to make more progress on this goal!!
  9. Have monthly financial check-in meetings with my husband. Success!
  10. Make-ahead and freeze two meals each month. I added crockpot beef and barley stew and pizza pockets to the freezer.
  11. Sell all remaining small business inventory. My plan for completing this goal is here. Last month I had several sales via my Amazon store, and a couple of sales from regular customers. At the end of this month, I have my last preschool fundraiser event. (Shamelss plug: The current discount code is CLOSING20, if you know anyone who’s looking for high-quality children’s books, toys, and more.)
  12. Redesign blog. I don’t anticipate making much progress on this until the summer.

How are you doing with your goals for 2015?

 

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March 1 Debt Totals & Upcoming Expenses

Happy March! I don’t know about you, but for me, March 1st is an important milestone. Yes, it’s still very cold and can still snow, but this is when I feel like the end is in sight. Days get longer, temperatures slowly rise, and color starts to return. And after this winter, I. Am. Ready!

With a new month, comes an update on my debt totals. This is kind of a “false” month for my debt totals, because even though we closed on our loan and received our portion of the payout, the funds that are being sent directly to some of our credit cards have not gone through yet. We don’t know exactly when the payments will be made to our four accounts, but it should be any day now. (If not, we’ll call to check in with the bank.)

Because I don’t know when the loan payments will go through, I’ve held off on making payments of my own. I don’t want to have to wait for the credit card companies to cut me a check for the difference between the balance after my payment, and the loan payout. I’m pretty sure Chase will not be in a rush to get me my money. (Obviously I’ll make minimum payments if the due-date arrives before the loan payment.) So with that in mind, here are this months current debt totals:

(NOW CLOSED) Chase Card #1: $21,858.95 ($131.54)

(NOW CLOSED) Chase Card #2: $3,685.17 (-$37.68)

Chase Card #3: $0.00 (-$11,231.94)

(NOW CLOSED) Discover Card: $15,714.81 ($159.52)

Citibank Card: $0.00 (-$6,882.53)

Total Credit Card Debt: $43,221.54 (-$15,898.51)

Ah, how I wish our real debt total had gone down almost $16,000 last month, but this isn’t the case. We’ll be back to reality next month…

Out-of-the-Ordinary Expenses

Each month, we all have our standard expenses, as well as some “out-of-the-ordinary” expenses. I’ve come accept that although they’re not the same, every month has some of these pesky “out-of-the-ordinary” expenses. Eventually, I’ll be budgeting for them in advance. I’m not quite there yet, but I try to identify them before each month starts, so I can at least know what’s coming. Here’s what I’m anticipating this month:

  1. Propane: $1,125. Thanks to the cold weather we’ve been having, we’ve been using more propane to stay warm. (And by “warm”, I mean 66 degrees when we’re home during the day, and 60 degrees at night.) Our tank was just shy of completely empty by the time we received our last delivery, and the amount due reflects this.
  2. Booster seat: $50. I bought a booster seat for one of our cars at the end of last month, and it cost $35. We’re going to test it out in my car for a few weeks, before deciding if we should buy a second one of the same kind for my husband’s car, or get a different kind for the other car.
  3. Car service: $200. We ended up not getting either car serviced last month, but I know that we’ll really need to do both this month. (One already has an oil change appointment in about a week.)
  4. Ballet: $144. This is my daughter’s only extra-curricular activity, and she really enjoys it. Yes, one could reasonably argue that we shouldn’t be paying (by check, at least) for something like this while trying to pay down our debt, but it’s a worthwhile expense for us.

How did you do in February? What expenses are you anticipating this month?

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2015 Meal Plan #9

I went over our $400 grocery budget last month, so I decided to skip the grocery store this week. (Disclosure: I bought 5 Greek yogurts for my daughter’s school lunches this week, at Target today.) My freezer is crammed full of meals and other items that can more than feed us dinner all week. Here’s what we’ll be eating:

Meal Plan 9001

(Like my meal planner/grocery list sheet? It’s from the List Plan It Meals ePlanner.)

My husband and I are going out for dinner (using a Groupon deal) on Saturday, so I won’t be cooking anything that night, except something for my daughter before we leave. We’re a little light on fresh veggies, but with a bunch of carrots, some broccoli, and some frozen peas and corn to work with, we should be fine.

In other news…

Another book completed! I finished reading Gaining Ground: A Story of Farmers’ Markets, Local Food, and Saving the Family Farm this week. I really enjoy it, especially as someone who secretly desires to be a farmer. I just started reading Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal. You can see all of the books I’ve read this year here.

A cool, green company. I discover ePantry this past week. It’s a subscription-service company, that sells green household and personal care products from companies such as Mrs. Meyer’s, Seventh Generation, and Method. If you’d like to give it a try, use this link to get a $10 credit on your first order.

Save $5 on $50 or more + FREE Shipping at CHEFS Catalog

 

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Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook
Dana Gunders Release Date: May 19, 2015 Buy new: $18.95 $14.21
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Recently Attempted Recipes (and Results)

My creativity and bravery in the kitchen are pretty limited, so I tend to follow recipes for most of the entrees I make. I’m always on the look-out for things that are healthy-ish, tasty, relatively easy, require few funky ingredients (fish sauce, I’m looking at you!), and that will be eaten by my family. (My super-picky five-year-old refuses many of the entrees I make, but every now and again, I hit the jackpot.) Here are a few of the recipes I’ve attempted recently, along with a summary of the results:

  • Pizza pockets. I saw Ree make these on her show, and was immediately intrigued. The theme of the show was freezer cooking, so it seems like a win-win for me: something tasty/appealing to all family members, AND something I could put in the freezer for future meals. (You may recall that one of my 12 goals for 2015 is to make and freeze two meals each month.) These turned out to be more work than I wanted, mainly because there were multiple steps involved: make pizza dough, make fillings, roll and cut dough, make pockets, flash freeze pockets. Also, I didn’t roll the dough out thinly enough, so I ended up with fewer pockets than I was supposed to. And my daughter didn’t like the dough, maybe because all of the pockets had too much of it. My husband and I thought they were fine, and probably would’ve been better if I’d gotten the dough-to-filling ration closer to what Ree intended. There are a bunch in our freezer for future meals, but I don’t think I’ll attempt this recipe again.
  • Crockpot Beef Barley Stew. On the plus side, this recipe is very simple and easy. I doubled it, and put one in the freezer. On the negative side, it was pretty bland.
  • Italian Wonderpot. Very easy, and pretty flavorful. A great quick, from-the-pantry dinner option.
  • Coconut Vegetable Curry. Cheap, easy, and delicious, but not very filling. Next time I’ll add a little protein, like some shrimp.
  • Pantry Challenge Minestrone. Pretty cheap and easy, but a little bland. We just added some grated cheese, which enhanced the flavor quite a bit. (But doesn’t cheese always do that??)
  • Broccoli Cheddar Sweet Potato Casserole. This is a great way to get some veggies, but it’s not super filling on its own. We had it as a side dish when we ate it, and both my husband and I really enjoyed it, especially the crunch from the almonds.

Have you tried any good recipes lately?

 

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Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook
Dana Gunders Release Date: May 19, 2015 Buy new: $18.95 $14.21
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Lifestyles I Secretly Desire

First let me share with you that I almost always write the titles of my posts, before I start writing the posts, themselves. Doing so helps me organize my thoughts and figure out the message that I’m at least trying to convey. My intended title for this post was, “I’m a Total Voyeur.” Then I looked up “voyeur”, to make sure I was spelling it correctly, and learned the true definition of the word – eeks! Then I looked up synonyms, but the list started with “peeping Tom”, and didn’t get much better. Therefore, I went with, “Lifestyles I Secretly Desire” as a title for this post – less impactful, but also a good bit less creepy.

Over the years, I’ve become temporarily addicted to books, TV shows, blogs, etc., because I’m so interested in the lifestyle they present, and secretly want to emulate it. This has been a very consistent pattern throughout my adult life, and it continues today. Most of the shows, blogs, and books fall under one of a few different themes:

  1. Ultra-frugality. This started with my obsession with the show Extreme Couponing a few years ago. I’ve completely fallen out of love with this show since then, but I continue to be interested in frugality, especially in some of its more “extreme” forms. (Please note that I do not mean “extreme” in a pejorative way here.) About a year ago, I started reading the blog, The Prudent Homemaker. Brandy does amazing things to keep her family’s costs down, especially with food. And now I’m also loving a different frugal-living blog, Frugalwoods. I have taken bits and pieces of wisdom from all of them, and have learned a great deal in the process.
  2. Wealth. I think this started quite a few years ago with the cooking show, The Barefoot Contessa. While Ina Garten’s simple, yet elegant, style of cooking certainly appealed to me (and still does!), I was equally captivated by her marble countertops and fabulous Hamptons lifestyle. I eventually fell out of love with Ina, and then discovered Ree Drummond, aka, The Pioneer Woman, a little over a year ago. I know she doesn’t really present herself as wealthy, but she clearly is. I started watching her show, reading her blog, and even read her book, Black Heels to Tractor Wheels. I still read her blog and watch her show, but it no longer feels like a tragedy if I miss a new episode. (Perhaps because I know The Food Network will replay it countless times in the following week.) The Pioneer Woman also appeals to me because it highlights another lifestyle I secretly wish to emulate: farming. (See below.) Finally, I was late to the Downton Abbey party, but am now hooked. It’s obviously a different time and degree of wealth, but it still appeals to me – so much so, that I’ve read and enjoyed a couple of books about the “real Downton Abbey”. After each episode, I try to get my husband to refer to me as “her ladyship”, but my requests fall on deaf ears…
  3. Farming. I’ve been interested in (small) farming for as long as I can remember, but I’m well aware that I have a very romanticized notion of it. Actually, I think I have a pretty realistic understanding of the incredibly hard work running a farm entails, but I secretly crave the romanticized version for myself. I get a little of this from watching The Pioneer Woman, although cattle ranching isn’t really up my alley. (I’m more interested in growing-foods-in-the-soil kind of farming.) I’m currently reading, Gaining Ground: A Story of Farmers’ Markets, Local Food, and Saving the Family Farm, and really enjoying it. I also consider my interest in vegetable gardening to be an extension of this, as well as the closest I’ll ever get to actually farming.
  4. Homesteading. This interest probably branched out of frugal-living blog reading. I’m definitely not a the-world-is-coming-to-an-end kind of gal, but the concept of self-sufficiency appeals to me. While I’ll never truly raise chickens or honey bees in my yard, I admire and like reading about people who do. I never thought the homesteading lifestyle was easy, but a  post by The Frugal Farmer really gave me a good dose of reality. I believe it was from last fall, and in it Laurie talked about how she and her husband had spent an entire day cutting firewood for the winter, and how it would only last them a matter of hours. That really drove the point home for me, and was a good reminder that I’m not nearly tough enough for homesteading.

What about you? Are they lifestyles that you secretly wish to emulate?

 

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The Money is Flowing In – and Right Back Out!

We closed on our home equity loan last Wednesday, and since then I’ve been checking our bank and credit card balances twice a day, to see if there had been any significant changes. (Four of our credit card accounts had to be closed as part of the application process, and the bank will issue checks to them directly. The remainder of the loan amount was to be wired into our bank account, and then used to pay off two other credit card accounts.) Last night, our credit card balances were unchanged, but our bank balance was a good bit higher. Sure enough, the balance of the loan amount was wired into our account yesterday. I immediately made payments for the two remaining credit cards, Chase #3, and Citibank. I paid the current balances on them, but I’m sure there will be additional, small interest charges on the next statements.

So how does it feel to pay off nearly $18,000 of credit card debt just like that? It feels okay. I mean, I’m thrilled to no longer be paying 11.99% and 12.99% on large balances, but we’re now paying 5.29% on the home equity loan, and our house is now on the line. That’s kind of frightening. So while this move has enabled us to save a lot of interest and pay down our consumer debt a lot faster, we still have a LONG way to go. Still, this feels like an important step on our path to ridding ourselves of this debt, and creating a more sound financial footing for our family.

My focus is now shifting to making more money, to help pay down the home equity loan and our other debts, more quickly. While we’re not living a barest-of-bones existence, there’s not much “extra” spending happening, either. (Yes, I realize that “bare bones” and “extra” are subjective terms.) I plan to do this by maximizing the number of hours I work at my job, before it potentially goes away, selling my remaining business inventory as quickly as possible, and generating as much additional income as I can from my various side hustles.

Click here to starting bluuming today!

 

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Buck Books Gluten-Free Event

Good morning! Just a quick note to let you know that the Buck Books Gluten-Free Event is happening today!! Get 10+ gluten-free books for only $0.99! This event is only today, so be sure to check it out if you or someone you know is gluten-free!

 

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