July 1 Debt Totals & Side Hustle Income

June Overview

Overall, June was a good month, considering that I’m not bringing home a paycheck at the moment. I had a good side hustle month, and my husband’s paychecks both reflected his raise. We did over-spend on my husband’s birthday dinner, but we had a wonderful meal and enjoyed being out with each other. Since I believe that making memories is important, I’m okay splurging a little on things like birthday dinners.

At the end of June, we learned that our health insurance will indeed be going up by around $230 per month. Our new plan year started on July 1, so we’ll know what my husband’s checks will look like now, shortly.

July 1 Debt Totals

June was another uneventful debt repayment month. Since I’m not currently getting a paycheck, we didn’t put any additional funds toward any of our loans. Here’s where they stand now:

Home equity loan: $59,199.82 (-$238.75)

School loan #1 (mine): $3,511.48 (-$91.62)

School loan #2 (my husband’s): $56,610.65 (-$236.04)

Car loan: $3,843.73 (-$167.86 )

June Side Hustle Income

My small business was my greatest source of side hustle income in June. I hosted a shopping party at my house early in the month, plus had a few sales from regular customers looking for birthday gifts for kids. I continue to publicize that everything is now discounted by 40% (use code CLOSING40), and have been paying closer attention to my competitors’ pricing on Amazon, adjusting mine where appropriate.

SavingStar (cash back on grocery purchases): $9.57

Amazon Store: $73.39

Small business: $391.92

Swag Bucks: $8 Amazon gift card

MyPoints (watching videos, taking surveys, and clicking through offers.): $10 Home Depot gift card

Surveys (various companies): $10 Amazon gift card

How was your June?

Green Your LIfe: Get Started Today!

Summer Goals Check-In #1

My summer break from my job is almost half over already, and my daughter finished school last week. I’d say it’s time for a summer goals check-in!

Parenting Goals

  • Teach my daughter to tie her shoes. Velcro and slip-on shoes have made it so easy to avoid this, but since she’ll be six in fall, it feels like it’s time. Nope – haven’t started this yet.
  • Read with my daughter daily. I’m amazed by the progress kids make in kindergarten these days, and I want my girl to at least maintain her current reading abilities over the summer, if not improve somewhat. Yes!
  • Work on 1st grade readiness workbooks with my daughter most days. I stocked up on a few of these recently, when our bookstore had a 20% off everything sale. My girl enjoys “doing worksheets”, which helps a great deal. Yes!
  • Teach my daughter how to ride a bike. (My husband will be taking the lead on this one.) We have a gravel driveway and live on a fairly busy road, so we need to take her someplace else to work on this skill. Oh, and we don’t have a bike for her, yet! I’ll be combing Craigslist to find one over the next few weeks. Nope – haven’t even gotten a bike yet. :(

Personal Goals

  • Exercise four days per week. I’ve learned that exercise is important for both my physical and mental health, and I greatly prefer exercising outside to inside. I’ve been walking several days a week for the past couple of weeks, and want to continue this throughout the summer. Some weeks, it’ll get a little challenging, when my daughter is home, but not in camp. She likes going for walks with me, so I’ll take shorter, slower ones with her on days when we’re together all day. On weekends and on days when she has camp, I’ll go for longer, faster-paced walks by myself. Sort-off. I was on a great streak until my daughter finished school last week. She started camp this week, and I’m going for walks while she’s there – weather-permitting.
  • Continue working on all of my goals for 2015. I’ve had great success with some of my goals, and others have been more challenging to keep up with, but there’s still plenty of time to complete all of them. On my way!
  • Read four books. On my way! I finished one, and just started another. (You can see all of the books I’ve read this year here.) 

    Financial Goals

    • Sell $1,000 (wholesale) worth of my small business inventory. I currently have $5,103.48 (wholesale) of inventory, and plan to sell everything off by the end of the year. I’ll continue offering a progressively-increasing discount on all inventory, aggressively price the inventory I have for sale in my Amazon store, host a “summer reading” party for my local customers, and do some giveaways (stay tuned for details!). On my way! I haven’t updated my inventory list, yet, but I’d say it’s down by about $300.
    • Earn at least $100 per month in additional side hustle income. Be it selling items at the local children’s consignment store or on Craigslist, or taking surveys, I should be able to exceed this goals fairly easily. Yes! 


How are you doing with your goals for this summer?

Saving Money at Amusement Parks

swings text

I live about 20 minutes from a Six Flags amusement park. Until last week, I had never been there, and while I hoped to keep it that way, I knew it wouldn’t last forever. At some point, I figured, my daughter would learn about the park and start asking me to take her. Then, one day last week, a neighbor asked if my daughter and I would like to go with them. I reluctantly agreed, because:

  1. School was out and camp hadn’t started yet.
  2. I knew I’d never want to go there on my own, so this seemed like a good opportunity to go with another adult I like, and a child my daughter likes.
  3. I was curious, since I’d passed the place many times, but never gone.

Unfortunately, I accepted my neighbor’s invitation and told my daughter about the plan before I checked the price of admission. Never having been to an amusement park as an adult, I had no idea how pricey admission is. My first indication was when my husband told me he’d grabbed some coupons for me at Dunkin Donuts. (He was picking up his free birthday coffee.) The coupons were for $10 off an adult admission. That seemed like a pretty big discount. At about 10:00 the night before our trip, I checked the admission prices online. Kids under 54 inches: $46.99. Adults: $56.99. Wowsa. This does not include the cost of parking, by the way.

Since we were meeting our neighbors in under 12 hours, I decided to go ahead with the trip, and minimize additional expenses as much as possible. Here’s what I did:

  1. Rode with my neighbor. My neighbor is a season-pass holder, and her pass includes free parking. (Without the pass, parking is $15 per car.) She offered to have us ride with her, and I gratefully took her up on it. This also saved us from spending any gas money, although I basically cancelled out this savings by buying my neighbor a bottle of water as a thank you.
  2. Packed our own food. My neighbor warned me that outside food is not allowed in the park and bags are checked at the gate, but said she’d never had her food confiscated. My bag was inspected, including the pouches I’d tucked our food into, but the kind guard gave me a medical clearance pass, and let me through. The only food price I noted in the park was $7.99 for a funnel cake, so I can only imagine what a full lunch would cost!
  3. Refused my daughter’s requests to play games at the park.  My daughter really wanted to play some of the games in the park, you know – the ones that cost extra. Since I didn’t want to shell out an additional $5 per game – not to mention potentially have to bring home a cheap-looking stuffed animal if she won – I declined her repeated requests.
  4. Used a coupon for admission. I was very happy to have the $10 coupon my husband got for me. In retrospect, I’ve seen coupons and discount codes for the park in many places over the years, and I’m confident that I could find a better deal, should we my daughter ever want to go again in the future. In fact, my neighbor got her season passes – which include unlimited admission and parking for the whole season – for just $49.99 each, back in March.

Do you go to amusement parks? How do you minimize expenses?

2015 Meal Plan #26

Meal Plan #26

Once again, I deviated a bit from last week’s meal plan. Instead of making slow-cooker chicken tacos, I made grilled chicken tacos. I lost track of time on the day I made them, and didn’t get the chicken into the slow cooker on time. I sprinkled the chicken with homemade taco seasoning, and brushed it with olive oil, before grilling it. We had it with all the taco fixings – including lettuce from my garden!

I’ve been craving sausage and peppers lately, so we’re going to have them for dinner tomorrow, and on Tuesday, I’ll make a pasta sauce out of the leftovers. On Wednesday, I’ll be trying again with the slow-cooker chicken tacos, and we’ll have chicken quesadillas with the leftovers on Thursday. Friday will be a fridge clean-out dinner, before we head out-of-town for the holiday weekend. We’ll be home late in the afternoon on Sunday. Typically, my in-laws send us home with lots of leftovers, which we’ll eat for dinner on Sunday. If that doesn’t happen, we’ll probably pick up a pizza on our way home. Here’s the full plan and my shopping list:

2015 Meal Plan 26001

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

Garden Harvest Tally

I’ve finally started harvesting produce from my garden! One of my goals for 2015 is to grow 200 pounds of produce, and I’ll be tracking my progress here. I crossed the 1/2 pound mark today – woo hoo!

Reading Update

I finished reading another book today. It was my 12th book of the year, which means I’ll likely surpass my goal of 15 books for the year, this summer. (But I’m a little behind on my goal of reading four books this summer.)

Last Call

Tomorrow is the last day to purchase the Ultimate Digital Photography Bundle! It contains 13 ebooks and 5 video courses to help you take your photography to the next level. The retail value of all of the resources is $555, and the bundle is on sale for just $37. You can learn more about the bundle here.

What’s for dinner at your house this week?

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2015 Meal Plan #25, and More!

I’m a bit of a procrastinator with these weekly meal plans, but I’m particularly late this week. Between Father’s Day and anticipating my follow-up mammogram yesterday – I was cleared after a 3D mammogram – I’ve been a little preoccupied. That said, here’s what we’ll be having for dinner at my house this week.

2015 Meal Plan 25001

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

The leftovers from my family’s weekend visit about a week ago lasted longer than I expected. As a result, I didn’t make as many things as I planned to last week.

We had leftover ravioli and edamame from the freezer last night. Today I’m making a double recipe of the yummy baked ziti recipe I made a few weeks ago. One recipe will go in the freezer, and the other will be dinner a couple of nights this week. My husband is celebrating the big 4-1 on Wednesday, so I’ll grill his favorite fish, swordfish, for him, and salmon for my daughter and me. We have a family tradition of eating Carvel ice cream cake for everyone’s birthday, so that’s on Wednesday’s menu, as well. We’ll have leftover baked ziti on Thursday, and I’m trying this slow cooker chicken tacos recipe on Friday.

What’s for dinner at your house this week?

A couple of other things I wanted to share today…

  • The Ultimate Digital Photography Bundle is on sale now through 6/29. If, like me, you could use a little help taking better pictures of your family, of scenery, or of things for your blog, this bundle is for you! It contains 13 ebooks and 5 video courses, valued at $555, but it sells for just $37. Hurry – it’s only available for through 6/29!!
  • I’ve been reading about Zaycon Fresh for months, and finally signed up for an account. Once you’ve signed up for an account, you place your order online for ground beef, chicken breasts, wild sockeye salmon, bacon, breakfast sausage, ham, and other products, and then pick it up a “sales event” near you. The high-quality products are sold by the case, enabling you to maximize your savings. I’m eyeing the upcoming wild sockeye salmon and chicken breast events in my area…
  • Last week, I started using another shopping app, shopkick. I like it because you can pretty quickly earn rewards, like Target e-gift cards. You earn points for tasks as simple as walking into stores, as well as for scanning products and making purchases at participating retailers.

**This post contains affiliate links. These affiliate links help support this site, and cost you nothing. Thank you for supporting my blog!**

It Can’t Hurt to Ask

raspberries text

About a year ago, I started getting serious about paying down our debt and finding ways to live more frugally. One of the first steps I took was reading every personal finance book I could find at my library. I eventually burned out on these books, but not before reading about 20 of them. The first three or four books I read were by Dave Ramsey, and while I’m not his biggest fan, several things he said made a lot of sense with me. In particular, asking people for a discount if I paid cash for something really stuck with me, and I  learned to also ask about other things impacting my bottom line. Sometimes I get what I ask for, and sometimes I don’t, but I’ve realized that it can’t hurt to ask. Here are some of the things I’ve asked for:

  1. Cash discount. Soon after learning the ask-for-a-cash-discount tip from Dave Ramsey, we had our septic tank cleaned. It cost around $250, and when I scheduled the appointment, I asked about a cash discount. Did I get it? Nope, but I’ve heard about people getting cash discounts enough to motivate me to keep asking. Smaller businesses in particular seem more likely to accommodate this request, perhaps because credit card processing fees take a bite out of their profits.
  2. A refund. Not long ago, I assumed that companies didn’t care too much about me as a customer, once they’d gotten my money. But because I’m much more aware of every dollar I spend now, it drives me crazy when I realize I’ve wasted money on a defective or otherwise disappointing product. For example, I recently opened up a $3 – $1.50, after coupons, but still! – package of raspberries, and found a (dead) bee tucked inside one of the berries. Most of the other berries were fine, and I started to pick through them, before getting seriously creeped out. I threw the entire contents of the package into the compost, and sent an email to the company that supplied the berries. After a quick conversation with a customer service representative, I was informed that several coupons for free berries were headed my way. I’ve done this quite a few times when I’ve felt like my money was wasted on a product, almost always with similar results.
  3. A credit card interest rate reduction. When we were carrying a huge amount of credit card debt, people encouraged me to call the card issuers, and request interest rate reductions. I tried, but was told that the bank – with whom I had three cards – performed semi-annual reviews of all accounts, and did not consider rate reductions in between these review periods. I should’ve called back or asked to speak to a supervisor, since I’ve since heard that banks routinely grant these requests. Fortunately, the credit card balances are all paid-off now, and have been converted into a lower-rate home equity loan.
  4. A discount. I’m not super comfortable asking for discounts just because I’d like one, but when circumstances seem reasonable, I’m willing to give it a try. I usually buy a couple of red peppers every week at the grocery store. On a recent trip, there were no red peppers on display at the store, so I asked the produce associate if there were any in the back of the store. She said there wouldn’t be any at the store all week due to a “quality issue”. My options were limited to green and orange peppers. Green peppers were cheap, but no one in my family likes them. Orange peppers were twice the price of red peppers, but every one loves them. I asked the produce associate if I could get orange peppers for the red pepper price, and she said, “Sure!”

What kinds of things do you ask for to save money?

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich, A Disease Called Debt and Shoeaholic No More*

Psst… have you grabbed your FREE download from the book, The Key to Taking Pictures Like a Professional Photographer, yet?


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What I’ll Struggle With This Summer

Bay view text

The end of my daughter’s school year is right around the corner, so summer is almost here! For the most part, this is wonderful news and something I look forward to. However, each year I find myself struggling in several different areas during the summer, and I’m confident that this year will be the same. Unlike previous years, I’m going into this summer aware of these challenges, and thinking about how to manage them more effectively:

  1. Parenting an only child on summer break. Because my daughter is an only child, she looks to my husband and me for entertainment. All parents are better and worse at different elements of parenting, and engaging in imaginary play is definitely not my strength. In fact, I really, really don’t enjoy it. Unfortunately, this is my daughter’s favorite form of play these days. I understand the importance of imaginary play, but I prefer to play games, do puzzles, read, color, pretty much anything but play school with princess dolls. Sigh… In addition to my preferred forms of play, I’ll be scheduling several playdates with friends each week, to ensure that she gets her fill of socialization and imaginary play. I’ve already informed the mothers of several of her friends that they’re more than welcome to drop their kids off for playdates at our house.
  2. Keeping “extras” spending under control. Is it me, or are there countless ways to spend a few extra dollars over the summer? Pool fees, snacks, ice cream, park and fair fees, goodies from the farmers’ market, souvenirs on vacation, the list is endless. I haven’t fully figured out my plan to manage spending on these “extras”, but I’m thinking it’ll involve a weekly cash budget. Ten dollars per week seems like a reasonable amount, with any extra funds carrying over for pricier activities, like entry fees. At such a reasonable amount, I could probably fully fund the “extras” budget through side hustle income, like Swagbucks, MyPoints, and taking surveys.
  3. Creating structure for lazy days. I always think that I love having days without plans, but I’ve learned through experience that these days often end up being the most frustrating. My daughter gets bored and wants to me to play with her all day, and I end up getting far less done than I should. After I read Crystal Paine’s fantastic book, Say Goodbye to Survival Mode, last summer, I started creating small to-do lists for each day. I dropped this habit sometime later, but resurrected it this spring. I’ll continue doing this all summer, and planning at least one activity per day, even if it’s just a quick trip to the library, or a walk in the state park.
  4. Getting my daughter to do more things for herself. Teaching my daughter how to tie her shoes is one of my goals for the summer, but there are any number of other things that she could and should be doing for herself on a consistent basis. I’m often guilty of doing things for her because it’s faster, but I want her to develop more self-confidence and pride in her ability to do things on her own. At the same time, I learned this spring that supervision is still necessary at times – even for things she seems to be capable of doing on her own – when her dentist informed me that she had two cavities. And thinking long-term, I’d also like to train her to contribute more at home, through more active participation in chores. I think I’ll focus on training her to help with folding and putting away her laundry, and watering plants. (And improving her tooth-brushing skills!)

Are there challenges you know you’ll have this summer?

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2015 Meal Plan #24

My parents, sister, and nephew visited us last weekend, and, as tends to be the case, I over-stocked on food for the visit. As a result, we’ll be enjoying leftover salad, pizza, and fruit for several days. It also means that I need to dial back my grocery spending this week. My plan is to keep this week’s grocery expenditures to $50 or less. (I’ll count the swordfish as a Father’s Day expense, since it would definitely put me over-budget.) I bought a savings pack of ground beef last week, so I’ll pull some of it out of the freezer for this week. I also have a pound of sausage meat in the freezer, and I’m going to put that to use in baked ziti as well. I’m going to double the recipe, and put one in the freezer. Here’s the full plan for the week:

2015 Meal Plan 24001

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

What’s for dinner at your house this week?


**This post contains affiliate links. These affiliate links help support this site, and cost you nothing. Thank you for supporting my blog!**

I’m Really Dense

I turned 40 at the beginning of this year, and for most women, that means it’s time for their first mammogram. (Yep, this post is a little different than what I usually write about. Please bear with me.) I had my annual ob/gyn check-up in December, about a month before my 40th birthday. At that appointment, my doctor gave me a referral for my mammogram, and sent me on my way. I waited until I was on summer break from my job, and scheduled an appointment for late last month.

I had heard a range of reactions to mammograms. Some women had described it as no big deal, and some had described it as “painful” or “excruciating”. I don’t have a very high threshold for pain – my husband does an annoying impression of me asking begging for an epidural the moment I was declared 3 cm dilated – so I was a little concerned. Also, as someone who’s not wild about disrobing in front of others, I was anxious about the whole, er, process of how a mammogram goes down. Suffice it to say, I really only thought about what the mammogram itself would be like, not what it might show. I’m only 40, after all, and I don’t have any family history of breast cancer.

After my “pictures” were taken – they actually called them that, as if I was having head-shots taken – the nurse told me that I would hear from them in 7-10 days, and that it’s pretty common for first-timers to be called back for more “pictures”, since the radiologists don’t have a baseline to compare them to. “Great, see you in a year,” I thought.

The Call

Three days later, I received a call from the radiology department at the hospital where I had my mammogram. I need to return for additional imaging. This will definitely entail another mammogram, and possibly an ultrasound, as well.  The next available appointment? IN FOUR WEEKS!!! What’s a hypochondriac to do? Take the appointment, hang up the phone, and sob. (First I commented snapped to the poor guy who called me, “Great! Now I only have to freak out for a month!”)

The Letter

After a brief sob-fest, I calmed down and went about my business. A couple of days later, a letter arrived from the hospital. It went into a bit more detail than the guy on the phone did, including informing me that I have dense breasts. You can read more about what this means here, but basically dense breasts contain less fatty tissue, and more fibrous tissue. (I know this isn’t a joking matter, but I can’t help but wonder why this has to be the ONE part of my body with insufficient fatty tissue. Rear end, thighs, hips?? Nope, plenty of fatty tissue there!)

It’s more difficult to identify tumors on mammograms when one has dense breasts, so additional imaging is pretty common. Not great news, but what sent my heart dropping to my shoes was the line about women with dense breasts being at a higher risk of getting breast cancer. What felt like only a minute ago, I was strolling in for my first mammogram, wondering if I’d be in the “not-a-big-deal” camp, or the “excruciating” camp. Now I need another mammogram and possibly an ultrasound, and I’m at an increased risk of developing breast cancer. For an anxious gal, with serious hypochondriac tendencies, this was horrible news.

Coping by Sharing

I (obviously!) like to share. Maybe it’s good, old misery-loves-company, but I’ve told countless women about my dense breasts. To my relief, almost everyone has either known someone with the same “condition”, or has it themselves. And while it may just be lucky sampling, none of them have had breast cancer. Since my anxious mind tends to get carried away and start imaging the worst, it’s been very helpful to normalize my experience in this way.

Do you know anyone who’s had a similar experience? Are you a hypochondriac, too?

Frugal Real Food Meal Plans

2015 Meal Plan #23

Happy Monday! As I type this, we’re under a tornado watch – something that doesn’t happen very often here in upstate NY. (I hear all of you peeps in the Midwest snickering!)

This week’s meal plan is pretty simple. I didn’t get to make turkey taco salads last week as planned, but I purchased the ingredients. As a result, that’s what we’re having for dinner tonight. Because everyone, including my super-picky five-year-old, enjoyed it so much when I made grilled salmon and veggies last week, I’m going to repeat it this week. (Plus, it’s super healthy!) I had a craving for chili while putting together this week’s plan, so I decided to make it in the slow cooker on Wednesday. I’ll be at my daughter’s field trip that day, plus she has ballet that evening. It’s a huge help to come home to dinner ready to go!

2015 Meal Plan 23001(Like my meal planner/grocery list sheet? It’s from the List Plan It Meals ePlanner.)

My parents, sister, and nephew will be visiting us Friday afternoon through Sunday morning. My father is a vegetarian, so I’m sticking with simple, Italian food over the weekend. I’ll make ravioli for dinner on Friday, and we’ll pick up some brick-oven pizza on Saturday. I’m also going to make a Nabisco Famous Wafer chocolate cake for my father’s birthday, which was earlier this month. I feel a little ridiculous saying I’m going to “make” it, since all I have to do is whip cream and slather it on the cookies. So simple, yet so delicious!

What’s for dinner at your house this week?

20 Meals from Costco for $150 - The Summer Edition

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