Out-of-the Ordinary Expenses: May Update and June Projections

Update on May Expenses

May turned out to be a pretty decent month for out-of-the-ordinary expenses. You can see my full explanations for what I expected here. Below is a comparison of what I projected and what we actually spent:

  1. Car care: $900 (expected)/$852.90 (actual). My husband got a slightly cheaper price for new tires from a place other than the dealership, and we had them put on in time for the inspection.
  2. HVAC club: $199 (expected)/$0 (actual). Thanks to the wacky spring weather we’ve had, there hasn’t been a need for us to use our air conditioning for more than one or two nights. As a result, I decided to hold off on this expense until June, when we’re more likely to use it on a regular basis.
  3. Veterinary care: $200 (expected)/$187.51 (actual). Poor Tony had an IBD flare-up in May, which meant another trip to vet, plus more medication. (And I learned how to give a cat subcutaneous fluids. There’s something I definitely never expected to be able to say!)
  4. Kid clothing: $0 (expected)/$196 (actual). I completely forgot that my neighbor with a daughter 18 months older than mine brings the outgrown contents of her daughter’s closet to my house twice a year, so I can have first dibs before she takes it all to the local children’s consignment store. She has very nice taste, so I get to purchase like-new condition clothing and shoes from some very nice (and some more standard) brands. In May she brought over both winter and summer clothing, and I stocked up for the next year or two.

June Anticipated Expenses

  1. Teacher gifts $100. While that feels like a big number, it includes gifts for my daughter’s classroom, music, art, gym, library, and ballet teachers, as well as her bus driver. As I did at Christmas-time, I’ll probably bake a tray a goodies for the school building staff, too. (This could be a great opportunity to make some progress on my baking goal for the year!)
  2. Dentist: $110. We learned at my daughter’s last cleaning that she has two cavities. Because they’re in back teeth, which she could have until she’s as old as 12, she needs to have them filled. Our portion of the bill will be $110.
  3. Hair cut: $60 (including tip). I know this may seem like a frivolous expense to some, but it happens no more than five times a year, and it’s worth it to me.
  4. Father’s Day & husband’s birthday: $100. Both fall in June, and to be honest, I haven’t figured out my plans for either of them, yet, so this is a guess.
  5. Veterinary care: $200. Since Tony’s been up-and-down lately, I’m putting this down. I hope I’m wrong, and we don’t use all or most of it.
  6. HVAC club membership renewal: $199. This entitles us to semi-annual system inspections and new filters, plus a discount on any additional parts of services throughout the year.

How did your expenses look in May? What are you anticipating for this month?


June 1 Debt Totals & May Side Hustle Income

May Overview

Overall, May was an okay month. My husband’s raise was processed, so we now know exactly what each paycheck will look like moving forward. Actually, we only know what it’ll look like in June, since our health insurance plan year starts on July 1, and we haven’t seen the options for next year, yet. Last year  we actually had no increase in rates, but that seems unlikely to happen two years in a row.

In May, I also received my last pay check until early in the fall. While my pay constitutes a very small percentage of our overall income, any loss of income makes things a bit more challenging. As a result, I established two financial goals for myself for this summer, which you can read about here.

June 1 Debt Totals

May was an uneventful debt repayment month. Since we had substantial car expenses, we didn’t put any additional funds toward any of our loans. As a result, here’s where they stand now:

Home equity loan: $59,438.57 (-$237.71)

School loan #1 (mine): $3,603.10 (-$92.43)

School loan #2 (my husband’s): $56,846.69 (-$487.60)

Car loan: $4,011.59 (I couldn’t access the account last month, so this is my first time reporting a total for this loan.)

May Side Hustle Income

Consignment was my greatest source of side hustle income in May. There aren’t any more consignment sales until the fall, so I’m going to have to make up that income in another way. I have additional items at the consignment store, but don’t expect to earn a whole lot there. My focus will be on my small business this month, as I’m hosting a shopping party at my house early in about a week, and will be publicizing the fact that everything is now discounted by 40% (use code CLOSING40) in a number of places and ways. (Stay tuned for a giveaway, too!)

SavingStar: $9.14

Amazon Store: $65.58

Swag Bucks: $13 in Amazon credit

Ebates: $14.72

eRewards: $10 Best Buy eGift card

Children’s consignment sale: $112.75

Children’s consignment store: $20.11

How was your May?

Frugal Real Food Meal Plans


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Why I Love My Walks

Uphill text

One of my absolute favorite things about my non-work days, (which are plentiful this time of year), is the freedom to go for a long walk by myself. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy walking with my daughter, too. In fact, she’s surprised me lately with how long she can walk before getting tired, but we go at a much slower pace than I do when I walk on my own. Also, as much as I enjoy chatting with her, it’s nice to have some quiet time on my own. My walks have become a huge source of enjoyment, and here’s why:


  1. They’re a good source of exercise. I walk at a good clip for 50 minutes. My heartrate gets up, I work up a little sweat, and I cover about 3 miles at time.
  2. They’re good for my mental health. I’ve learned through experience that I feel a lot better when I get some form of regular exercise. I’m an anxious gal, and I’ve noticed a big difference in how I feel when I’m active versus when I’m not.
  3. I love being outside. I’m not a religious person, but I love the beauty of nature. We live on a busy road, but it also offers some lovely views. The whole sensory experience of being outside is fulfilling for me – the sights, the sounds, the smells (except when a garbage truck drives by!).
  4. I learn more about the locals. I don’t live in a neighborhood, so I haven’t met many of the people on my street. On my walks, I get to check out who’s doing yardwork and home improvements, who’s selling produce, and who’s outsourced mowing their lawn to furry friends.
  5. I can multi-task. While I sometimes pause them to just enjoy my time outside, I typically listen to podcasts during my walks. I’m currently binge-listening to the How They Blog podcast, but I periodically listen to episodes of Listen Money Matters, and Smart Passive Income.

Who needs a lawn mower?

Asparagus, anyone?

On another note, I wanted to share a great deal that’s available this weekend only… Tiffany from Don’t Waste the Crumbs is offering discounts on her 3-month and 12-month Frugal Real Food Meal Plans. These plans include 55+ meals per month, complete shopping lists for the meals, detailed prep lists, and more. She really couldn’t make it any easier for those of us who are a little overwhelmed by meal planning and cooking, plus she keeps budget top-of-mind when she puts the plans together. The price of the 1-month plan is $15, and now through 11:59 pm on Monday, 6/1, the 3-month plan is 15% off ($11.05 per month) with code SUMMER15, and the 12-month plan is 20% off ($7.99 per month) with code SUMMER20! Happy meal-planning!

Frugal Real Food Meal Plans

Do you go for walks? What do you like about them?

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Interview on Indebted and In Debt

Happy Friday! I’m very excited to share my story about balancing parenting, work, and personal finances with Kirsten from Indebted and In Debt today. You can read the interview here.

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My Goals For This Summer

Now that Memorial Day has passed, it’s really starting to feel like summer is just around the corner. I’m off from work over the summer, and will be home with my daughter once school ends for her on June 24th. After going through 100 Days of Summertime (read my full review here), I realized I need to get my goals for the summer – I’m defining “summer as Memorial Day through Labor Day – together. Here’s what I plan to

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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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.
  • Read four books. I finished my most recent book about a week ago, and for the first time this year, didn’t have another book lined up. This week I’ll put together my summer reading list.
  • 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.

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!).
  • 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.

What are your goals for this summer?
Zak Designs

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Straw Bale Garden Update


During this past frozen hell winter, I read the book, Straw Bale Gardens: The Breakthrough Method for Vegetables Anywhere, Earlier, and With No Weeding, and knew that I had to try this method. It’s a fairly unusual approach to gardening, but if it works as it’s supposed to, I’ll be thrilled. After I read the book, I wrote a post about it, which you can read here. Essentially, the (admittedly ugly) straw bales are prepped before planting, so they begin to decompose somewhat. This raises the internal temperature, and plants should therefore grow more quickly, earlier in the season, than if they were planted in the ground. Since we have a relatively short growing season here in upstate NY, this prospect is pretty exciting.

I completed the “conditioning” phase a few days ago, and started planting the bales yesterday. I’ve been growing plants from Botanical Interests seeds since mid-March, and I planted several of them in the bales, as well as some seed potatoes and some seeds. I have six bales – I wanted 12, but my husband put his foot down – and here’s what I planted in them yesterday:

I love the space-efficiency of planting in straw bales! There’s a handy chart in the book, which details how many of each kind of plant – tomato, eggplant, squash, etc. – can be planted in one bale, but you don’t have to stop there. For example, I planted the three eggplant plants “allowed” in one bale, but also planted carrot seeds around them. The carrots will grow down, into the bales, while the eggplants will grow up out of them. Similarly, I planted two bales, each with the three seed potatoes “allowed”, then planted lettuce seeds on top of the bales.

I need to pick up more of the soil needed for securing the plants and covering the seeds, but I already know what else I’ll be planting in my bales this week:

One of the other things that the chart mentioned above highlights, is the number of potential harvests of each item in a season. Many of the things I planted are limited to one harvest, but things like carrots and lettuce can be harvested two or three times per season. I love being able to ensure a steady stream of several different veggies between now and mid-to-late October! This will surely help with reaching my goal of growing 200 pounds of produce this year.

Have you tried straw bale gardening? If so, what did you think?


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2015 Meal Plan #21

We had friends visit for the day yesterday, and I went a little crazy at the grocery store in preparation. The good news? We have lots of leftover sandwich stuff, pasta salad, green salad, cheese, watermelon, and snacks. The bad news? I spent double our weekly budget last week. Gulp. As a result, I won’t be doing any grocery shopping this week, and instead we’ll be eating leftovers and food from our freezer and pantry.

Since I haven’t frozen any meals in the last couple of months, putting together a meal plan for the week was a bit of a challenge. First I dug through the freezer, knowing that there had to be some meat in there. Jackpot – I found a couple of chicken breasts and six pork chops! (And hot dogs, but I had a harder time getting excited about them.) Although I know we’ll be sick of them by next weekend, I have extra ingredients for the pasta salad and chickpea salad I made for our guests. My husband and daughter won’t eat the chickpea salad, but I can have it for lunches. (I only record dinners on my meal plans, so it’s not listed here.) I love it, and it’s easy to put together. Here’s the recipe. Since it’s a relatively quiet week for me, I’m going to make two additional recipes: applesauce cake and homemade spaghetti sauce. I’ll freeze most of the sauce, but keep a little in the fridge for something next week. Here’s the full plan:

Meal Plan 21001

(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?

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Advice for Unemployed College Grads

briefcaase with textDuring the academic year, I work in the career center at a local college. Especially for seniors, this time of year can be very stressful. People are constantly asking them what they’re doing after graduation, and sometimes they don’t have an answer. Every year there are some students who graduate without having secured a job. Some years, like during the recent recession, a large number of students find themselves in this position. Thankfully, hiring of recent college graduates has improved since then, but there are still plenty of students around the country graduating from college without having secured a job, yet. Here’s my advice for them:

  1. Maintain a positive attitude. I know this can be very challenging during a job search that has dragged on longer than anticipated, but it’s also critically important. Not only will negative thinking impact the way you approach your search, it will also come across during interviews and networking meetings. Meet regularly with others who are looking for jobs, volunteer, meditate, exercise; find what helps you stay positive, and do it.
  2. Keep a regular, “adult” schedule. Even if you don’t have anything you have to get up for every day, try to maintain a regular routine. There’s no need to get up at 5am, but do get up at a reasonable hour – say, before 8am – and start your day. Sleeping until noon and lounging in your pajamas all day will make it more difficult to maintain a positive attitude and to see yourself as a professional. Also, you don’t want to have morning voice at 10am when you answer a phone call from an employer seeking to schedule an interview with you.
  3. Stay active in your field. Read the newspaper and professional journals or articles to keep up on current events, especially those impacting your field. If possible, do volunteer work in the field, which will not only keep you active and making connections, but is also experience you can include on your resume. Join a relevant professional organization or two, and attend local meetings and read the newsletters. Many of these organizations offer discounted memberships for recent grads, and sometimes they publish member directories for networking purposes, and/or job postings.
  4. Network like crazy. Networking is a critical part of anyone’s job search. Talking with people who work in your field can give you inside knowledge on potential job openings, trends in the field, and ideas for how to make yourself more marketable. Use resources such as LinkedIn, alumni lists from your college, personal contacts, and former professors. Ask each person with whom you speak or meet, to refer you to other contacts who might be helpful. Set a weekly goal for the number of new contacts you’ll reach out to and networking meetings you’ll have, and follow-through on it.
  5. Use your college career center. Most college career centers provide assistance to alumni/ae, as well as current students. Take advantage of this excellent, free resource. They can help with resume and cover letter reviews, job search strategy, networking advice, interview preparation, and more. Some, like the college where I work, publish lists of job openings for alumni. No longer live near your college? It’s generally possible to “meet” over the phone or Skype, and to have your documents reviewed via email.
  6. Make the most of your time. Once you’ve secured a job and started working, your schedule is likely to become a lot less flexible. Use the time you have off to read, enjoy time with friends and family, indulge in a hobby, and anything else that you won’t be able to do as easily, once your time is more constrained.

Believe it or not, this period of unemployment will end, and what you do during this time can have a direct impact how long your search drags on. Be smart about how you use this time.

What advice do you have for recent college graduates who are still searching for a job?


Debt Discipline Interview

Hi friends! Today you can find me answering some questions about myself and my personal finance journey at Debt Discipline. Click here for the full scoop!

Frugal Real Food Meal Plans


2015 Meal Plan #20

Happy Monday! It was a gorgeous weekend here, and my husband and I got some good yard work time in. I also took my daughter to a classmate’s birthday party and to a playground playdate. Oh, and I may or may not have dozed off on the deck, while “reading” my book… Have I mentioned how happy I am that winter is over??

Meal Plan 20001

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

I felt a little more inspired than I usually do, when I put together this week’s meal plan. I’m planning to try two recipes that I tore out of recent magazine issues. The grilled chicken and avocado wraps – romaine lettuce leaves are the actual “wraps” – comes from Better Homes and Gardens, and the citrus-marinated fish tacos comes from O Magazine. (I get all of my magazine subscriptions for free, using points from sites like Recyclebank and eRewards.) The ravioli are still in my freezer from last week, because, as usual, I overestimated how much we would eat for dinners. Since we still had leftovers when I planned to make the ravioli, we ate the leftovers, instead.

My Italian grandmother was a fantastic cook, and her baked ziti was one of my favorite things that she made. Perhaps because I loved hers so much, I’ve never actually attempted to make baked ziti myself. However, I decided to give it a try this week, and I’m going to use this recipe. Grandma always made hers meatless, but I have a little Italian sausage meat in the freezer, so I’ll probably add it to the sauce, as the recipe says. If this recipe turns out well, I’ll make an extra tray for the freezer, since I’ve been slacking on my goal of making and freezing two meals each month.

We’re having friends visit us for the day on Sunday, and I haven’t figured out what we’ll be eating with them. Lunch will probably be a pasta salad, veggies with hummus, cheese, and fruit. To make the most of our time together, we may end up ordering pizza for dinner. I planning to get ice cream sandwiches for the kids, and to make a simple freezer pie for the adults. I’ll make a chocolate graham cracker crust, and fill it with coffee ice cream – yum! Delicious and make-ahead, the perfect combination in my book!

What’s for dinner at your house this week?

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