Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Guest Post- Colorado Bound

I had the opportunity to go out to Denver for a work trip. At the end of my trip, I took three personal days to go and visit my good friend Amanda. Amanda and I grew up together from basically my birth , since she is a year older. After spending a great frugal weekend with her in Colorado, I asked if she'd be willing to guest blog for me on her rendition of the weekend :) Thanks for a great weekend Amanda and for the great write-up! 

Being frugal isn't a choice, it is our life.  Paycheck to paycheck, being grateful the bills get paid on time and we have beer in the fridge. It's sharing and getting creative, being realistic and understanding the reality without letting it get you down.  It's also nice to know you're not alone in this struggle.  We all have our ups and downs, our unique relationship dynamics and issues. We are all taking it day by day, penny by penny as best we can. 
The anticipation of the weekend visit from Monica had hit it's peak on Thursday night after work.  It's been a little over a year since our last adventure and there was so much to do.  The reality of the situation also needed to be addressed- How were we going to feed three people and drive approximately 250 miles, while still having some money for groceries until the next payday?  I sat down and looked at the numbers. We would have to be extremely meticulous with our spending, but I knew if anyone could do it- Monica and I could!  

I arrived in Denver on Friday afternoon, parking in front of Pam's (a good friend from high school) adorable house.  We picked up Monica and decided it was time for a beer. Splitting a few sample flights of beer we each only paid $8 w/tip for the opportunity to try 15 beers. For dinner, why sit in a stuffy restaurant when we could hit up the local food trucks? We parked downtown and grabbed a quinoa wrap for dinner- $8.50 each.  

We reminisced over our individual money woes while window shopping down the 16th street mall.  It's encouraging to hear others frustrations that so closely resemble your own, yet we are all getting by.   After walking for a while, we decided to skip the crowded/expensive bar scene and buy a 12 pack of beer and head back to Pam's, saving us all at least $20 each by not going out for drinks.  We enjoyed the fresh air on the back deck, great conversation and local craft brews until 2am.

The next morning, Monica decided to take Pam up on he offer to do her dirty laundry at the house, rather then wait till we got to the mountain and use the coin operated machines. While the load washed, we took a stroll around the neighborhood, fueled by Luke's (Pam's Husband) pot of strong coffee and a banana.  

It happened to be the weekend of a neighborhood garage sale, so we took the opportunity to make someone else's trash our treasure.  The garage sales sunk me in a whole $2 for Cranium. Pam and Luke scored a pair of skis for a whopping $25! (If only that guy had thrown in the sex swing for another $5)  and Pam also found a $5 espresso machine, with all the parts!
Yes, that is a sex swing tastefully laid out at a garage sale, next to a slimy chemistry set, oh the irony :) 

We went back to Pam's and switched the laundry over before hopping in the car and heading to the farmer's market. Lunch of empanadas and coffee ice cream totaled $7.75.  We also picked up a bag of fresh fire roasted pablanos for $3, a great addition to our dinner ingredients. 

Stomachs satisfied and laundry complete we got on the road.

Two and a half hours of driving up the mountains later, Monica and I had arrived in time for happy hour.  We split a nacho and each had a couple drinks, our priciest venture so far. Thankfully we had pre-planned dinner, so we could keep costs down by heading home. We utilized the peppers from the farmers market and made a homemade dinner of spicy turkey burgers and hand cut french fries, sipping on left over beers from the night before.  We even pored a few into plastic cups and soaked in the hot tub before heading to bed.    

The next morning Monica made breakfast- Eggs and hash made of leftovers french fries and a broken down burger. Great fuel for a 6 mile hike! On our way to the hike, we grabbed a few snacks to keep us going, roughly $12- that would be $4 per person :)  We could not have asked for a better day to hike. The air was comfortable and the views were spectacular!  

After descending through the forest and making our way back to the trail head we were feeling hungry.  Leadville had the perfect fix- meal deals of burritos/burgers and fries- $6.50 each.  Satisfied and content we headed along a winding road of cliffs and valleys to a neighboring ski resort, Vail .  The village was packed with artisans, farmers, bakers and more. The sun beat down as we wandered through the crowd.  

Tired and thirsty, we decided it best to run to the store for a few essentials and then head home.  We even scored a mix and match 6 pack of craft brews for $5.99.  Homemade pina-coladas, salmon, rice and spinach was the perfect end to a long day.  

The next day, since we'd gone to the store the night before, we were able to make breakfast, lunch and dinner at home. We decided a Monday evening get together was a great way to end a long-weekend and kick start the week. So we invited friends over and made five homemade pizza doughs, grabbed cheese and sauce and friends brought over libations and pizza toppings. Potluck style get together are a smart way to spend time with fiends and keep costs down. Homemade pizzas were a hit with our friends and we were also able to enjoy that $2 Cranium game.  

With my friend Kristen flying out of Denver Tuesday morning, Monica was able to save $30 by hitching a ride rather then purchasing a bus ticket. Overall, a very successful frugal weekend!! 

-Amanda P. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Month in Review- July

I am not doing well on posting this past month, but I am also sleeping in my 10th bed in the course of a month- so throw me some slack :)

Month Five has been amazing! We kicked off the month on a 10 day vacation and I finished the month in Denver on a work trip, and squeezed in a great visit with an old friend! 

Financially, Month #5 was pretty amazing.  Nick and I have spent this past month renting out our apartment on AirBnB and have had a total of 11 bookings! I will do a full write-up on our AirBnB experience in the coming week.

Unexpected Costs: 

Our vacation was a little more then anticipated. That whole "Travel Budget" is still something that Nick and I need to work on, or we just need to be more realistic about our travel costs when coming up with a budget. We ended up going over our budget by $607.90. Not our best frugal trip...

Unexpected Income: 
No unexpected income this month! We have a very well laid out budget with our AirBnB income and expenses. We tracked these along with our monthly expenditures letting us track the expenses related to our AirBnB business; hopefully, this will help us later when we are doing our taxes.

July Splurges:
Definitely our vacation, but we also went to a Billy Joel concert! We did pull back on a number of "wants" on the vacation, but all in all we went out to a few fantastic restaurants, drank some great craft beer and we even got to visit an awesome, though expensive, museum in Vermont.

If you are ever in the Burlington area you should check out the Shelburne Museum. I think it may be one of my favorite museums :) It comes with a full steam boat, a barn full of old sleighs, a steam engine, a collection of beautiful artwork and even a toy museum!

However we did choose alot of free activities as well, like hiking Mt. Mansfield in Vermont and hiking White Face Mountain in NY :)

 Funniest Moment: 
When we left our apartment on July 2nd for vacation, we left our apartment ready for our first renter. This meant that Nick and I had to take what we wanted to have/use during and after vacation. We quickly started to describe our car as the Gypsy mobile. We had a Costco size bag of rice, old fashion oats, and enough ground coffee to get us through a month.

As we've moved around over the past month, we have brought our three "must have" grocery items with us from location to location. I keep joking that our priorities must seem totally weird to others, but for Nick and I oats and fruit for breakfast, and rice with beans for lunch is something close to the only routine we've kept over the past month :)

Lessons Learned
My biggest lesson learned this month was to not be so hard on myself, or on Nick. Money is tricky and our emotional attachment to those numbers in our bank account can push me to make irrational emotional decisions.

Let's just say my husband had to "talk me down" after I freaked out that we "only" made a $700 payment to our student loans. Sometimes you need to be brought down to reality and that's when I thank goodness that I have my awesome husband. I needed to be reminded that I should be thankful and excited for any movement forward we make, and not to regret the great moments we have, even when they do cost money.

Any movement forward is better then staying exactly in the same place :)

Total Payment to Debt: $737.75 , on top of our minimum payments for July

Not too shabby for month 5! 

Current Debt: $166,777.53

We started with a total of 35 Student Loans.
We are currently at 34 Student Loans and we need to pay $1,744.71 more in order to reach #33 :)

Student loan #34 has our highest interest rate at 12.5% ! We originally anticipated this taking us a total of 8 months, this being month #2, but I think we may be able to get rid of this one in 4 more months, cutting off 2 months from our initial plan!!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Dinner Improv

I know I have a few Improv actors and "Who's Line is it Anyway?" fans on this reading list, but I am hear to talk about frugal improvisation. My favorite frugal vacation memory took place while we were staying with a good friend in Plattsburgh. Let's call him Jake for simplicity sake.

Jake has just moved into a new apartment the day before we arrived and started a new job roughly 8 hours before we arrived in town. Needless to say, he had not fully "unpacked," while it was more like he hadn't bought anything for his apartment :)

So after a night of going out to eat and drink like old college students, we decided that we should cook dinner at home on the second night. We were all tired and trying to keep costs down, so eating at home is cheaper then eating out.

What could we do with very little kitchen items? We decided on a fest of picnic food: hot dogs, french fries, mac-n-cheese, beans, and a salad :)

Key kitchen items needed: A knife, a sauce pan, a frying pan, a baking sheet, a large bowl.

It wasn't until we got home from the store that I actually inspected what was available, and we started to improvise!!

French Fries: We had a baking sheet and spray olive oil... now if only we had something other then a butter knife to cut potatoes. Nick managed and the fries were in the oven cooking before we knew it :)  
Salad: No Large Bowl Available...

Paper towel with cleaned lettuce, and a small bowl with grapes (the only thing the butter knife could cut easily). Just to make it a little more commical, we bought the seeded grapes...

Mac-n-Cheese: We made it easy on ourselves and bought two boxes, rather then do anything fancy. I realized when we got back to the apartment that when Jake says he has a sauce pan, he meant a sauce pan the size of my hand! So, we made mac and cheese in batches and heated both batches in the oven in a casserole dish once they were ready. PERFECT :)

I think as soon as we were done with the pan for Mac-n-Cheese we threw the beans to warm up as well. So this small little sauce pan got a work-out!!

All in all, dinner was an adventure and we got to sit on the porch drinking out of our improvised beer mugs and discussing politics over a 6 year old's dream dinner :)

Thanks for the fun memory Jake!!

Sorry for the lack of posts over the past 2 weeks. With vacation and our AirBnB rentals, I am still a little off schedule and trying to get back into a routine. Bare with me for a few more weeks :) 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Month in Review- June

Sorry for the Month in Review Delay :) More to come on our vacation tomorrow and next week!

Month Four was a whirlwind. I was looking back at my Month In Review- May and it made me smile! All the fun activities we did and all the time we spent with friends and family. June seemed to have buzzed by without a second thought. Financially, I think Nick and I are starting to get the hang of our discretionary funding, or at least how to track it, we still need to learn how to spend less.

Unexpected Costs: 

Car had to go in for repairs. This ate into our "extra" income, but we were fortunate to have the wiggle room to cover repairs when needed. Otherwise, it was a pretty straight forward month! By adding the Alcohol and Family/Friend lines to our budget, unexpected costs didn't occur, they were budgeted for :)

Unexpected Income: $ 1, 928
We signed a new lease on our apartment last month, and so this month we didn't need to pay rent, meaning it all went toward student loans! This was a very exciting and took a huge dent out of the 12.5% loan we are trying to tackle!

We also sold our old AC on Craigslist and did our weekend modeling gig.

June Splurges:
Nothing really extra this month. We did buy pizza twice, which has been uncommon for us lately, so I guess it has kinda become a treat :)

Funniest Moment: 
This is a bit of a May/June funny moment, but it all began with me trying to stay in budget. We were having a lot of people in and out of the house, so I tried to be frugal when picking up a case of beer and bought Miller High Life. Now I understand that some people love Miller High Life, but I am just not one of those people. We get home, I have one beer and I was done. I was not interested in drinking 23 more of those, that was for sure!!

So as the saying goes, "turn lemons into lemonade," I just decided to ADD lemonade. I knew it wasn't going to HURT the beer : ) The next thing I know we were having Summer Shandy's with our homemade Cran-Lemonade :) Carbonated Lemonade with Miller High Life became my new favorite beer on a hot day. I do believe we ended up buying at least 2 more 6-packs of Miller!!

Lessons Learned
I finally figured out why we don't have money for groceries at the end of the month... COSTCO. I never budget for Costco but typically take it out of the grocery line! We are saving money from buying in bulk at Costco, but on a week to week basis we still have to buy staples at the grocery store.

I have been paying attention to how much we were spending at the grocery store, roughly $75 a week. When making our monthly budget, I was simply taking $75 and multiplying it by how many weeks in the month. By the last two weeks of the month, for the past 3 months, we are down to pinching pennies and trying to use everything in the freezer and cupboards because we don't have money in the grocery line.

I finally asked myself WHY does this keep happening. When I looked through all three months I realized that we may spend $75 weekly, but that is not possible without a $100 Costco trip for staples. For July, I have adjusted the budget to read $100 for Costco and the $75/week in Groceries. We had to move other money around to make this work, but now we should actually be able to stay in budget or hopefully duck in a little below budget!

Total Payment to Debt: $1,868.08, on top of our minimum payments for June

TOTALLY AWESOME MONTH :) I think it is our best yet! Yay to no RENT :)  

Current Debt: $170,382.01

We started with a total of 35 Student Loans.
We are currently at 34 Student Loans and we need to pay $2,535.20 more in order to reach #33 :)

Student loan #34 has our highest interest rate at 12.5% ! We are ready to get rid of this one as soon as possible!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Art of Spices

I love those racks with glass jars for your spices. I like how they make a wall statement. To me, they become a piece of spicy artwork :)

I thought it was a little impractical to buy a few jars and racks for storage knowing that I would still need to buy a jar of the spice from the grocery store and go home to place it in the storage jar. It is just a wee bit impractical, but for art- eventually I took the leap!

A few days after buying my jar and rack supplies at IKEA I wondered into a cute market right around our apartment, the Broad Branch Market. This Market is set-up as a deli, organic store, classy 7.11, candy shop, and ice cream parlor all in one. This place is beautiful, but most of their products are either too nice for a frugal budget, or cheaper at Safeway...except their bulk goods.

They bring jar spices to a whole new level, and sell their spices by the pound in little ziplock baggies. They also do this for a few dry goods, but thats for another post. We have been buying spices from this location for the past two years, but my inquisitive nature got the best of me last weekend, when I wondered if we were just buying less then a jar so the price of our bill was lower, or if by unit costs we were actually saving money.

So I took down a few of their prices and I have compared them to our grocery store below:

Broad Branch  Safeway 
Cinammon 9.99 lb 0.88oc x 16 = 14.08 lb 

Garlic Salt

12.99 lb

0.49oc x 16= 

7.84 lb
Curry Powder 17.89 lb 3.75oc x 16 = 
60.00 lb
Parsley 16.59 lb 3.85 oc x 16=  61.60 lb

Crushed Red Peppers
21.99 lb 2.46oc x 16 =  39.36 lb

Except for Garlic Salt, Broad Branch takes the win :) Buying where they sell in bulk, even in lower quantities, seems to be the way to go!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Vacation on a Budget

Taken from www.sheknows.com 

Nick and I are only four days from the start of our 11 day vacation. As we begin packing our bags for vacation, I began working through the vacation budget numbers.

We have been saving money each month towards a summer getaway and then with our AirBnB reservations we were able to up that budget by a few hundred dollars. Again, thank you to everyone who shared our BnB listing over the past few weeks!!!

Setting a vacation budget, for me, is just as important as setting a monthly budget. Understanding where we are going to spend our money and on what helps me to mitigate my fear of over spending. It also helps me to set an expectation to what we can afford to do, rather then spend money just because we have money.

This will be our first vacation since we let go of the Credit Card safety net. In the past, Nick and I have always gone on vacation enjoyed ourselves, ate and drank ourselves silly, and basically did whatever we wanted or our credit cards allowed. At some point in the trip I would usually say "okay we are spending way too much," but by that time- we had spent too much and usually it was even worse then I had thought. We lived life and payed for it later.

Unfortunently, I can't say that we have totally gotten rid of this "buy now, pay later" mentality.  We've gotten a lot better, but when a need arises and we know we'll have money in a few days or in a week, we've thrown a few things on the card. For example, prepping the house for our AirBnB reservations has taken roughly $200 so far in cleaning supplies, new keys, and other items. We won't receive our first guest payment till next week, but that money is already spent on the cards and will be paid for in a week.

Needless to say, I am a bit nervous that we will slip into our bad money habits andworry about staying in budget while havign a good time. We have made rough estimates for food and gas, and think that we'll be okay with our allotted totals. We also typically find fun ways to save money while we are on the road, but I'll share these tips next week!

So here are a few "precautions" Nick and I plan to take to try to stay in budget:

  • Keep a running total of our gas charges in a notebook in the car. I would say we would use cash for gas, but honestly, who really wants to go into a gas station to pre-pay for gas? So we'll use our debit card and track it as we go. 
  • Cash Money!!! We are going to have a daily allotment for food and beer. Depending on what's planned for the day we will alter the daily allotment, but in looking at our rough schedule we will spread out food/drink money out over the 11 days we are out and about. This will be carried in cash to help us eliminate going over budget. When we can see our money we tend to spend less of it on things we don't really need or want. 
I'm hoping by taking these two precautions Nick and I can keep each other on track and still fully enjoy vacation! Wish us luck as we work through going on vacation with a budget :) 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Summer Goals

Back in April, I decided to write up a post with Spring Goals. Here is a quick breakdown of what I decided to accomplish during those 12 weeks :) 

My three goals for the remainder of spring are:
  • Run a half-marathon, not a race just be able to complete 13.1 miles
  • Pay $5,500 toward our debt, to include our minimum payments
  • To write three blog posts a week, so 33 more by the first day of Summer

Summer began on June 21st and here is where I stand with my Spring goals: 
  • My longest run was 11 miles completed on June 8th, not a full half-marathon so I'll need to keep working up to that 13.1 mile run. This goal really did make me run more then normal to try to get up to the 13.1 mile marker. So cheers to running more! I am actually starting to enjoy running, which I never thought would be possible!
  • We payed over April, May, and June in minimum payments $4,381.39 toward our student loans. In extra payments, we have paid, to date, so not including all of June :) $1,795.26 in additional student loan payments. Giving us a grand total of $6,176.65 in student loan payments since setting my SPRING GOALS! So we knocked this goal out of the park!!
  • Blog posts for the Spring: I was hoping to get in 3 a week, but realized that I still haven't figured out the perfect writing schedule to really make that happen. I was able to get a total of 28 blog post completed before June 21st. Not too shabby :) I hope to keep bringing this blog new and interesting posts. I may need to come up with a better time management plan in order to get all the research done and have time to write up each post. I am still learning how to be a consistent blogger, bare with me folks! 
I was only successful at making 1 out of 3 goals, but still deem this a very successful season. Setting goals really made me focus on the three things I wanted to do over the next 12 weeks, so I figured that setting some Summer Goals might also help me accomplish more over the next season. 

So by September 23rd, roughly 13 weeks (The First day of Fall, which seems sooooo far away right now!) I hope to: 
  • Put $2,500 toward student loans, in addition to our minimum payments. I think AirBnB will help us accomplish this goal :) We have gotten some great reservations! Thank you for sharing our link!
  • Write at least 2 posts a week, but aim for 3- So a total of 39 posts.
  • Repeat Goal: Run a half-marathon- get myself up to the 13.1 mile marker :)   
  • Start and finish a new book, I'm thinking something related to personal finance... 
  • Learn 100 new Russian Vocabulary Words
We have a very exciting Summer planned and it all kicks off this weekend, so here's to a great summer and fun memories! 

What are your Summer Goals?