I Really Like Structure

About nine years ago, I lost 27 pounds using the Weight Watchers online program. Every day, I diligently entered my food consumption and activity into the system, and without much discomfort at all, I dropped the pounds. Sure I could’ve tracked the same things for free on a spreadsheet, or even a scrap of paper, but I didn’t. In fact, I wouldn’t have. The Weight Watchers program imposed a comfortable structure on me, “forced” me to track my results daily, and ensured that I stuck with the program. (It also didn’t hurt that I had positive results, relatively quickly and painlessly.)

Starting this blog was in large part an attempt to harness this same source of motivation. I’ve been tracking our debt totals for a couple of years, but putting them out there for anyone to see added a level of public accountability, which motivates me.

Now that I’ve realized that I’m spending a lot more on groceries than I thought I was, I’ve started a challenge to help limit my spending. I first put the challenge into practice a few days ago, and am happy to report that it was a success. Do you know what my favorite part of the challenge has been? Taking the picture of my receipt, and sharing it here on the blog. Yep, I really love structure and public accountability.

Rather than delve into the depths of my psyche to explain this trait, I’ve decided to use it to my advantage. I’m going to extend the grocery budget challenge for the foreseeable future. Expect to see more giddy posts with photos of grocery receipts. If I really want to challenge myself, I might even post some Target receipts…

How do you feel about imposed structure? Does it motivate or irritate you?


Grocery Challenge Check-In #1

After realizing that I was over-spending on groceries by WAY too much, I determined what I believe a reasonable grocery budget is for our family ($300 per month), and decided that I must get into the habit of bringing only the weekly $75 budget in cash, into the store with me. However, I adjusted this week’s budget down to $20, because we have tons of leftovers from our visit with family members and my daughter’s birthday party, on Saturday. As a result, all we needed to get through this week was some milk, and some fresh produce.

Here’s what I took in with me:

BudgetHere’s what I came out with:

receiptSo far, so good.

What’s your grocery budget for your family?




Six Months In – What I’ve Learned

I was so focused on preparing for our weekend guests and my daughter’s birthday party, that my six-month blogging anniversary passed last week, without me even noticing! When I started this blog in April, I was buried in credit card debt, and looking for support and guidance. Six months later, I’m still buried in credit card debt, but I’ve learned a tremendous amount. As I look back, here are some of the key things I’ve learned:

  1. I’m not being as careful about my spending as I thought I was. This is a fairly recent revelation, and it followed my first couple of months of closely tracking our expenditures. It was eye-opening to say the least, and while I’m disappointed that I allowed myself to stay in the dark for as long as I did, I’m glad I’ve got the undeniable numbers staring me in the face now.
  2. Cash really is king. Prior to starting on this journey, I rarely paid cash for anything. Just one look at my debt totals provides proof of this. While I haven’t completely cut the credit card cord, I now pay cash for many more things than I used. (I’ve never written so many checks in my life!)
  3. I’ve been fooled, big time. From Target to credit cards, I’ve fallen for lots of the tricks companies employ to get consumers to spend more. Buying things I don’t necessarily need at the moment when there’s a buy-two-get-a-$5-gift-card deal? Check! Rationalizing my credit card charges because I’m earning points? Check! I was well-aware of these techniques, but still fell for them. Here’s an great article about how mindfulness can help overcome this. It was interesting to read that even the researchers fell for some of these credit card traps.
  4. The PF community is truly wonderful! Not only have I been amazed at just how many PF bloggers there are and how diverse their stories are, but also how welcoming and supportive this community is. I’m in this slog for the long-haul, it’s not always pretty or easy to stay positive. The support, guidance, and even gentle advice, has been much appreciated.

Thanks so much for reading. Here’s to another six months!



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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MONEY Master the Game: 7 Simple Steps to Financial Freedom
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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?

There Was a Little Girl: The Real Story of My Mother and Me
Brooke Shields Release Date: November 18, 2014 Buy new: $26.95 $18.42