Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Bittersweet Credit Card Romance

I've recently received a few questions on the use of credit cards in personal finance. So, here is my quick credit card dating history...

I got my first credit card when I was 17 before I went on a school trip to Spain. I got a secure credit card for $500. This means the bank took $500 from me and put it in a savings account I could not touch. This money could be used if I didn't pay my bill for a few months :) I am happy to say that when I closed this credit card later in life, I was able to take $500 out of one savings account and put it in another. I viewed this card as a safety net. If I got into a problem, I had something to help me out!

In college the credit card spending started to get away from me. I was learning how to use disposable income and when it wasn’t available in the moment, I had a hard time saying no. So I started to accumulate movie tickets, pizzas, and road trips on my credit card. I would use it as a place holder until I got a check from my campus jobs, but it quickly became the go to way of spending money. I was always paying off my activities with the next week’s pay check. This is also about the same time that I stopped putting half my pay check into savings, funny how those coincide. 

Most months I would pay it off in full because the charges were small enough, but then I left college and I no longer had a meal plan to pay for my food, or 'CollegeBucks' to take care of going out for late night pizza, or free events to attend every night of the week on campus. I think I slowly fell into using my Credit Card as a safety net for when I didn't have money in the checking account to do what we were going out to do. The definition of an “emergency” became, we don’t have enough money in the account to do what we want to do.  

For example, we made plans to go out to dinner with friends. Before going to dinner, I realized we only had $30 to put towards dinner. While I couldn't just cancel our dinner plans, so the answer became, "While I guess we have to use the Credit Card to cover this one." Saving for special event of Christmas were not in our budget.

"Let's put it on the credit card and we can pay it back next month," started to be used almost every single time we went out. We never said NO, we just kept living our life beyond our means. We don't live extravagantly and don't go out to eat every night. We are frugal people by nature, but yet when an opportunity presented itself we rarely said No. 

So the credit cards kept on increasing. We maxed out our cards a couple of times, but got lucky. We either had savings, a great tax refund, or a free month of rent on a new apartment. Let's just say someone has been watching over Nick and I because every time the credit cards got to their max level, something would just go right for us. 

But 2 months ago, when we began this debt payment process, I realized things weren't always going to work out for us. We kept spending money on activities that we didn't have the money for and waisting money and savings of stupid activities. We had not learned to live within our means. Our Credit cards were at roughly $7,500 and we needed to STOP saying yes and learn to spend ONLY what our incomes would allow.

I would love to say that are credit card debt was for emergencies, but they weren't. They were life. You take a look at our credit card bill and you can see our life. We sold ourselves on using our credit cards because we get cash back, but seriously 1% Cash Back is not worth the interest that we accumulate when we can't pay down our bill each month!!

As I read Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover, he made two really good points that have stuck with me and forced me to really think hard about how/when we use our Credit Cards, or if we should even have Credit Cards: 

·         Many people plan on paying off their credit card balance at the end of each month but very few people actually fulfill this goal. I think he said only 33% of people actually fulfill the goal. Yup, I had been one of those 33%, but had become part of the 67%.

·         Long term financial independence and wealth do not revolve around credit cards. The more you think about it the more you realize it’s true. The wealthy are not using 1% cash back or any other rewards program to live life.

These two points helped me to move to NOT using our credit cards. Nick still likes to pay a few bills on his card and pay them off each month, and I still have my gym membership connected to my credit card. I should probably change that account, and will eventually switch that to my debit card. But, neither of us have used the card for life activities for two months. I still carry my card with me, and hope that at some point I will feel comfortable taking it out of my wallet, but for today I am happy to not be swiping the card. 

This is not an easy choice to make and has at times we have really hated saying No to attending events or going out for drinks. But, we are learning to prioritize and  live within our means rather than our credit card limits. Currently it SUCKS, but on a positive note we have "found" money in the budget to pay down debt so the long term potential ROCKS :) 

Monday, April 28, 2014

NOVA Habitat for Humanity

Nick and I had the opportunity to participate in Northern Virginia's (NOVA) Habitat for Humanity project A Bush with Kindness this past Saturday, as part of our Alma Maters Alumni Service Day.

SUNY Plattsburgh has sponsored a service day for the past three years and has dedicated this day to Dr. Richard Semmler. Nick and I have had a chance to meet and work with Dr. Semmler for the past three years, and seen first hand his generosity to both SUNY Plattsburgh and the NOVA Habitat families. His giving is one of those things you can hope to emulate in life.

Most people only know Habitat to build homes and sell them to low-income families for the cost of the land and materials at a 0% interest rate; however, they've run into an expansion problem. Land is a hot commodity, so they've had to adapt their model and find new ways to help families in need.  They developed a program entitled A Brush with Kindness. The program aims to provide support to the elderly, single-parent homes, and meet the needs of the local community through small projects.

This is our third year working on this Habitat endeavor and so far we have cleared an old shed, repaired a fence, built a fence, and this year shuttered a house and tore down a fence. Lot's of fence work :)

I really enjoy working with Habitat because as I help this great organization complete their work, I also learn great practical skills. Since college I've learned, through habitat, how to instal walls, put down a subfloor, remove carpet, take down kitchen cabinets, insert fence posts, build a fence, and most recently how to properly cover house windows, which included the wonderful use of a circular saw :)

I really do love working with Habitat and would encourage anyone interested in learning more about building to contact your local Habitat group and sign-up to go out to a site for a day! If you're a women don't delay reaching out to them today. The next two weeks are considered Women Build Day's. I attended this last year with a friend and we had a great time. It is a day to get your hands dirty and have a great time accomplishing something that you may never get to do in your own home!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Action Steps

Last Wednesday I wrote a piece entitled A Generation of Student Loan Stories and left you with a question, How will our generation mold this problem into action?

Here are 5 Ways we are molding our student loan frustration into action today:

Loan Repayment: We will continue to pay back our student loans, but will move to an interest rate model, to save more money in the long run. However, we reserve the right to pick-up a few low hanging principal loans on our list if we need an emotional boost :)

Continue to Live Life: We are cutting back on a lot of activities, but we also can't miss out on the next 10 years of our life. We would like to use all of our extra income towards loan repayment, but are also going to be realistic and take a one month hiatus now and again to use that money for a long-weekend away or to go do something fun. We also may need a new computer, so there are expenses that are going to come up, but we will do our best to stay ahead of the needs vs. wants.

Retirement: I think this is worth noting as an active financial goal in our lives and a way to take action on our long-term financial growth. We are currently investing in our companies 401 plans. The benefit of putting away retirement savings early, based on compounding interest, means that over time our money is invested longer and therefore has time to grow. To give us a guiding post on the investment percentage, we are going to use our companies' match percent and hopefully be able to increase this amount periodically to at least 15%.

Income: The current numbers for repayment do not take into account any change of income over the next ten years. That simply will not be the case, we are two highly motivated individuals that don't plan on decreasing our salaries in the next ten years, so that keeps me smiling! We looked into taking on second jobs, but determined that for now we are going to make do with the income we have unless a second job would assist in our personal growth. We are happy with our standard of living, plus we need time to complete action #2, Continue to Live Life :)

Savings: We used part of our safety net to pay off our credit cards at the beginning of what we though to be a 5 year journey. We now see that with a ten year time frame, we will need to build this back-up to ensure that we can take care of any emergencies that may arise in the next few years. This is an action step that we haven't yet determined how to build into the full budget, but we are going to work on this piece!

Being able to list action items highlights that we are working towards a larger goal and grateful that we have the ability to make additional payments towards our student loan. No matter how soon we pay off our loans, we will save ourselves money in interest. My Sallie Mae payment, after one month of principal payments, has already gone down by $10. Little victories WILL win this long race :)

If you have an extra 10 or 50 bucks this month, do yourself a long-term favor and pay it towards any of your debts principal balance. JUST DO IT :)

Any action step little or big helps to save you more in the long-term, and this is a long-term game we are playing!

Where are you putting your extra $20 this month?? 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Just Another Wednesday

Sorry for my late post today, but it has been a crazy full week.

Today, I had the opportunity to go on a tour of the White House and then participate in a 6k Water Walk.
Sorry no pic's allowed inside. 

With Obama off in Japan, his house was open for tours. I haven't been on a tour of the White House since I was a young kid. Yes, I have lived here for five years, but have never made it a priority to get tickets. The most interesting thing about the visit was the "lack" of a tour guide. During budget cuts, the White House chose to get rid of official tour guides. They have now passed on that duty to the Secret Service Agents standing in each room. The tour information specifically states, if you have any questions to ask the Secret Service Agent and they will be happy to answer your questions. Seriously??

Can you imagine being assigned as an agent to the White House and then having to take a class on the history of the White House, and also having to learn a script to give tours of the room you're in on a day to day basis? Something tells me most agents would not be thrilled with this assignment, but at least the American people are saving a buck #frugalwhitehouse :)

After the tour, I headed off to participate in a 6k Water Walk. The length of a 6k was chosen because it represents the average length, mostly, women and girls walk daily to collect clean water for their homes. It was a great opportunity to meet a few new colleagues and get in a mid-afternoon walk. The Embassy of Sweden also had a water rest stop set-up with information on water conservation. Remembering how easy life is can be very humbling.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Easter Dinner

I hope everyone had a great weekend, and had an opportunity to spend it with friends and family!

Last Thursday, Nick and I were asked to cook Easter dinner for our DC and visiting family. All we had to do was set the menu, hand over the grocery shopping list, and show up to cook!

We planned the following menu:

Appetizers: Homemade Baba Ghanoush and Hummus with Warm Pita and Cucumbers

While I finished the hummus, Nick set the table.

Steak, only seasoning was garlic salt and pepper

Homemade Pierogies. My aunt and I started this recipe on Saturday and made a double batch, half with a white potato and the other with sweet potatoes. It took 3 hours of prep, but well worth it on Sunday evening :)

Fun tip of the day, learned from my sister, if you need to chop up fresh herbs place them in a cup and use a pair of scissors to chop. Works in a snap without the mess!

We also had a spinach salad with feta, red onion, and grape tomatoes.

Desert: Homemade Carrot Cake. One of our favorites.

The best part of the evening was kicking back afterwards and catching up with the Fam :)
A mostly unstaged photo :) 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Foodie Friday: A Barley Lunch

This week's lunch was suppose to be a change up from the "boring" rice bowls. I had had enough and was ready for something different- a spinach salad with boiled eggs, craisans, and some barley. The first day I put my salad together the barley fell all over the counter and the salad dressing was just not the taste I was going for.

On day two, I decided I would steam the spinach in the microwave (a dash of water and 30 seconds will do it) and top it off with my barley, eggs, and craisans...magically creating an amazing barley bowl that magically looks very close to a stupid rice bowl! I can't seem to get away from the rice bowls :)

So let's do the cost breakdown:
Bag of Barley- $4.99/12 portions= $0.42
Based on how much I used per day, I estimated appx.12 portions per bag.
Spinach- $5.00/5 portions= $1.00
Craisans- $2.00/16 oz= $0.125 x 2 = $0.25
Eggs- $3.79/18 eggs= $0.21 x 2= $0.42 

TOTAL: $2.09 
Not too shabby!!

I also added in strawberries with 1/2c of plain Greek yogurt as a afternoon snack! Great way to feel full and take care of that sweet tooth :)


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Generation of Student Loan Stories

A few weeks ago, after writing about the Snowball Hybrid method of paying off our loans, the Art of Being Cheap author reached out to me. He wanted to know if I would be interested in a analysis of our student loan debt. What does the interest vs. principal snowball vs. hybrid method actually accomplish in terms of paying off our debt?

I sent over my loan numbers for his analysis. Please take a look at his write up on the Debt Snowball

Okay so, have you had a chance to read his post?? 

No, STOP READING THIS and go read the article...

YES, well welcome back for my reaction :)

It was sobering to see the reality of 10 years of debt repayment laid out in this manner. I felt naive for imagining that we could become debt free in 5 years (which may still happen with an amazing increase in our income), and had to face the fact that we are looking at 7-10 years of a strict budget. My gut reaction was anger. I started to think about what I really wanted to accomplish and where I saw Nick and my life in ten years. Would we ever get there with this amount of debt?

NPR had a few timely stories over the past week on student loan debt and it opened a window for me into a larger look at how other individuals are handling the long term impact of their higher education bills. One story, "Many Millennials Expect To Spend Decades Paying For College," was a snap shot of three individual stories that seemed to represent a multitude of people I've met since leaving college. I've heard their student loan stories at work, in my family/friend circle, and in current college interns. 
Taken From:
We all seem to have a student loan story and a reason why we are now in debt or for the lucky few not in debt. It has become part of who we are, whether we know it or not this debt is part of our life story, and impacts our future narrative; How we live and end the story is now up to us. Student loans are just like a mortgage now a days, something we learn to live with and work through.  

The three speakers discussed how they have put future life decisions "on hold" until they are in a better financial situation, but they didn't expect to pay back their loans for another 5-30 years. Which makes me question, how long do you put life "on-hold" for student loan debt? 

A staggering statistic from NPR's story "Paying Off Student Loans Puts A Dent in Wallets, and the Economy," stated that people with student loan debt now will have 60% less net-worth then peers without debt later in life. We are spending decades paying off student loans rather than investing, so our long-term net worth will not equate to those who can afford to buy a house sooner or invest in retirement at a higher percentage. 

The Financial Aid and student loan programs were originally created to bring about equality in the higher education system to the middle and lower class; however, it does not seem to be working. The speaker in NPR's second story, William Elliott, agrees that Millennials with student loan debt are still better off in terms of net-worth then without a four year degree, but we are still not reaching our financial growth potential. Creating equality through student loans does not seem to be working.

We have instead created a vicious cycle of debt and repayment. If we have student loan payments we are not saving. So when it does come time to buy a car, we end up with a lower down payment, a higher loan, and most likely a higher interest rate due to the lack of a large down payment. We've now switched our student debt to auto debt. A cyclical patter...
Having all of this information at my fingertips this week was frustrating and invigorating at the same time. It is really challenging to hear that no matter how soon we pay off our loans we will still be unable to achieve the net-worth of our peers without student loan debt. Our generation is in for a very interesting future.

How will our generation mold this problem into actions?

Please feel free to share your student loan story in the comment section. 


Monday, April 14, 2014

Brainfood and City Paper

Last Wednesday, Nick and I spent the night volunteering at City Paper's Best of DC party. This is a culminating event to their annual contest to determine the best locations for pretty much every category of DC life.

The event was held at the Carnegie Library on K Street.  The event highlights the food and beverage winners. There were three large rooms lined with restaurants and bars. Nick and I were responsible for walking around to the tables in our designated area and checking-in to ensure they had everything they needed. I have never carried so many bags of ice up and down stairs!

The event was full of  great food and for this event sampling was encouraged- we had to be able to tell guest where to get those amazing ribs or who was serving the best guacamole! It is fair to stay that we definitely worked hard for our keep, but we ate sooo much and I was stuffed after the first few samples!
Turkish Airlines was a sponsor, so why not have Turkish dancers! 
I found out about this event through a local organization, Brainfood. Brainfood works with local teenagers through food to teach life skills in an active learning environment. This program aims to empower youth and also provide them an opportunity to be a resource in their communities.

I learned about Brainfood at my previous job and find their mission admirable. They do some full time programming that I hope to volunteer with in the future. I've only recently learned how much I enjoy cooking and how rewarding it can be, and I would love to share this with DC youth. If you're in the DC area, they are doing a Box project that provides you with 6 boxes of prepared food and produce. If your interested visit their website or email Maeve at

Friday, April 11, 2014

Ten Days of Meals at $41/$43

I mention in the March Review post that I had forgotten that we had an extra week of groceries to account for in the month of March. Our budget was set-up for FOUR weeks of food, but our monthly food budget begins and ends on the 10th, due to our pay schedule. 

In looking at a calendar, you can see that April 10th falls on a Thursday, so we had roughly 12 days (March 30th- April 10th) of eating to get through before our April money is suppose to be used. On March 30th our remaining food fund was $41. We later scrounged coins up around the house to buy two onions and move our total amount spent up to $43. 

Our first month of food budgeting was definitely TOP heavy :) We don't tend to skimp when it comes to eating. Normally getting by for one week on $41 would be "tight," but 12 days seemed impossible. But we were torn because honestly how could we go over budget our first month and feel accomplished? So, we took on this challenge and raided the fridge, cupboards, and freezer for anything that would make a meal. 

We kept breakfast the same, homemade granola, but shifted from yogurt to milk for a few days and also took note that we had steel cut oats in case we ran out of milk and yogurt.  We did purchase half a gallon on milk and one vanilla Greek yogurt to help us get through. 

Lunches for the work week were going to be rice bowls, so that was easy enough to make and ensures that we had leftovers for dinner, when scheduled. We also bought mandarins in bulk, so that we would have fruit to last us the full two-weeks. 

This is how we mapped out our meals and accounted for leftovers: 

Sunday- Beef Chili 
Items in Stock: Kidney Beans,  a red pepper, leftover tortilla chips
Items Purchased: 1lb of Ground Beef, an onion

Rice Bowl for Week Ones Lunch (10 meals total)
Black Beans with Peppers and Onions, usually topped off with a little salsa.
Items in Stock: Brown Rice, Black Beans, 1/4 bag of Kale, frozen veggies
Items Purchased: Nothing :) 

Monday- Brie with Homemade Pretzel roles and Strawberries 
Items in Stock: Brie (bought at Costco at double the size for $7, we halved the wedge and froze half), All ingredients for the pretzel rolls were in stock
Items Purchased: Strawberries

Tuesday - Couscous with Roasted Chicken and Brussels Sprouts
Items in Stock: Couscous, leftover roasted chicken from the previous week, 1/2 bag of brussels sprouts, parmesan cheese
Items Purchased: Another free meal!

Wednesday- Leftover Chili with Homemade Pretzel Rolls
Items in Stock: LEFTOVERS :)
Items Purchased: n/a

Thursday- Kale Pesto Pasta with Meatballs
Our apartment building had happy hour in the lobby, so we brought back some meatballs to have with dinner :) A fun addition to our meal.
Items in Stock: Pasta and pesto
Items Purchased: Nada

Friday- Homemade Pizza
Sorry, I forgot to take a picture of the whole pie :) But here is a snap shot of the leftovers on Saturday.
Items in Stock: Mozzarella (Frozen- like the brie from Costco), Half a pepperoni, all the makings for homemade dough
Items Purchased: Zilch

Saturday- Dinner with Family
We went over to work on a project and got invited over for dinner. Though we did spend money on beer, we are applying that to our April budget, so I am holding true to our $41 March budget :)

Sunday- Homemade Pelmeni 
This is a Russian dish that we love to make, but it is really time consuming. We cooked enough for dinner and then froze half for a future meal. We also managed to make a few Piroshki- pelmeni's baked cousins for Thursday's dinner.
Items in Stock: Fixings for a homemade dough and vegetable stock
Items Purchased: 1lb of ground beef, Greek yogurt, an onion*
**We did need to count change and buy 2 onions for this meal and Mondays. Bringing our total up to around $43. But it did not come out of the bank account, so we are still IN budget for March:) I am all about the small victories during this process, but we may run out of change soon!!

Rice Bowl for Week Two Lunch (8 meals total- we took Friday off from work for Fun)
Kielbasa sauteed with spinach and garlic and topped with steamed green beans and brussels sprouts
Items in Stock: White and Brown Rice- mixed, Spinach, 1/2 a bag of brussels sprouts, and frozen green beans
Items Purchased: Kielbasa

Monday- Lentil Pumpkin Soup with bagel chunks :) (I just wanted a carb)
Items in Stock: Bagels, Red Lentils, Pumpkin puree, Chicken stock, and spices
Items Purchased: an Onion

Tuesday- Shepard's Pie 
Items in Stock: Nothing- but it makes a good cheap meal with leftovers
Items Purchased: 1lb of ground beef, 4 potatoes, frozen veggies

Wednesday- Volunteer Event 
Dinner was provided and more details on the event later next week.

Thursday- Piroshki and Cherry Blossoms
We made these up with the Pelmeni on Sunday so that we could take them down to the tidal basin for our annual Cherry Blossom Picnic. Nick and I have gone down to the mall every year after work during the Cherry Blossoms for a picnic date night, so we had to plan ahead for this to happen during our 10 day cheap meals! I forgot to take pictures of our picnic, so you get Cherry Blossom Pics instead :)

Today, we are free to spend money, but chances are we will make a pizza- it is kind of our Friday thing. Looking in the fridge, we have leftovers to get us through Saturday and Sunday :)

What could you make with the items currently in your cupboard for dinner?? 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Comment Today

Today is the day to leave a comment :) Don't be Shy. I need your feedback.

I started this blog with the idea of talking about ways we save money while getting out of debt. However, now that we are a month through, I'm realizing that being on a strict budget means not spending money. I love writing about our free activities and fun meals, but I would love to write a few content pieces that would be helpful to you as a reader.

I am creating a writing calendar and list of things I want to cover in the blog. Over the next few months, I will be writing a piece on The Student Loan Battle on Capitol Hill, Federal Repayment Options, Volunteer Activities, Home Brewing, and of course the Month in Review posts.

I have set a goal for myself to write THREE posts a week, so what do you want to read about? Do you have a money saving tip, that you actually want tested?

Please share your thoughts and ideas. There is no stupid suggestion!!

Seriously... I am posting a picture of my participation in Free Cone Day from Ben & Jerry's yesterday to prove to you that ANYTHING can be suggested :)
Proceeds from Free Cone Day support the Lupus Foundation
Please leave your topic ideas below so that I can incorporate them into the blog.

I really look forward to your feedback and thanks for reading!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Spring Goals and A Weekend Review

Happy Monday!

Last Friday, I was reading Coffee Cake and Cardio's blog post on Spring Goals. She mentioned that we had 11 weeks left in Spring, and I thought it would be a great idea to follow her lead and publish some of my own goals for those 11 weeks. If I have learned anything about debt, it's that small goals are the key to long term success. 

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 minnimum payments
  • To write three blog posts a week, so 33 more by the first day of Summer
Today's post is a spring weekend review. It was beautiful here is DC, so we took advantage of the great weather and headed outside.

On Saturday we went to the opening day of District Flea. The market seems to have gotten bigger this year with a lot more vintage clothing stands. I am more of a refurbished items gal, so I was a bit disappointed with all the clothing stands but I still was able to find plenty of great items. If you read through my Top 10 Ways We Save Greens post, you'll know this is a great way to come up with DIY projects for Nick and I :)  Sorry, I forgot to take pictures.

After an hour or so we headed home and Nick went to work on the top to his kegerator! It is almost done and looks fantastic. I'll show it off when it's finished.

Sunday was a bit more active. We got our bikes ready for the road! I changed one of my tires out in less then 5 minutes, a true accomplishment for me. Last year it would have taken me 30 mins :) 

We packed snacks and headed to the tidal basin for an early look at the Cherry blossoms! They should be in full bloom in 2-3 days, so additional pics to come. 

Sunday was also workweek prep day, so once we got home it was time to COOK. We made a soup for the week, rice bowls for lunches, and homemade Russian Dumplings (Pelmeni) for dinner. It was fun to spend time in the kitchen, but after a day in the sun it was nicer to be in bed by 9:30!!

Total money spent this weekend: $23.00  
- Beer, our Saturday night contribution to dinner with family
- Two Onions for this weeks meals 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Top 10 Ways We Save Greens

In honor of Dave Letterman's Retirement, today's post will feature

Top 10 Ways We Save Greens 

10. Bringing Coffee and Lunch from Home 
This one is pretty self explanatory. Pack In, pack out is not just good for hiking but for going to work as well :)

9. Visiting Flea Markets for Ideas
Sometimes it really stinks to not spend money. When we get in this mood, we go to a flea market to look around and gather ideas. We start to look at pieces and talk about how we could design a DIY project around the concepts we like. One of our favorite flea markets is the District Flea Market, but Eastern Market is one of the largest in DC.

8. Home Brewing 
Nick is a home brewer, and by default I have learned quite a bit and have become a Sous-Home brewer. I will do a thorough cost analysis on Nick's next brew, but for now trust me that after the initial investment in equipment, Home brewing pays for itself :)

7. Zero Tolerance for Compromise
We have saved money by not compromising on our budget. If we don't have the money, we don't spend money. This past week has been challenging! We are both CRAVING a good meal out, but our entertainment budget has been allocated for the month to a race registration. We are learning the art of making firm decisions about our money and also learning the repercussions of these decisions.

6. Planning Ahead 
This is more of a long-term money savings technique. We are still getting the hang of planning ahead, but I have to say it feels great understanding that we already have a little set aside for a week off this summer and holiday travels. Saving money little by little will save us from stress in the end :)

5. Free Activities
We are always looking for things to keep us busy and not focused on our lack of spending money. Though DC has many restaurants and bar temptations it also has a lot of free activities, museums, a ton of volunteer activities, great hiking trails near by, and free events through the Embassies, universities, and other organizations. I've learned that the key to keeping a free activity free is to bring snacks; otherwise, we ALWAYS end up buying food or drinks! Cherry Blossoms are right around the corner, but here is a photo from last year.

We are also finding things to keep us occupied at home: Potluck dinner with friends, game night, learning Russian-again, writing blog posts, preparing for future adventures, and putting together photo books to be printed at a later date. I think this weekend may be the time to switch out our winter clothes!

4. Coupons
Coupons have become key to our Sunday shopping. We spend time looking through what's on sale as we plan out our week of meals. We have an App on our phone that helps us keep track of what coupons we have while we work our way around the store.

We are also on the look out for coupons for baseball games ($2 Tuesday games), oil changes, and % off coupons for stores we frequent. I have given up on Groupon and Living Social for the time being, unless I know it is something I will use in the next month.

3. Working Out
Working out has plenty of physical and mental benefits, but Nick and I have also noticed an additional benefit- we don't spend money after a long workout. Honestly, it probably has to do with a lack of energy to actually go out :) After a long workout the couch looks really good!
Runners couple running in trail run outside
Stock photo of beautiful people running... I'm not sure when they got this pic of Nick and I? Damn we look good :) 

2. Planning our Meals 
This tends to go hand-in-hand with coupons, but in planning out meals for each night on Sunday we can ensure that we aren't tempted to just grab a pizza on the way home. Each week we plan out 4-5 meals and account for leftovers for at least one maybe two meals. This allows us to be creative and try new recipes, but also prep in advance if we're going to have a busy day at work, or if we're going for a quick run after work. Planning is key to our cost savings :) Lot's of food pics coming your way next Friday on my post, Two weeks for $41.

1. One Income Budget 
The biggest way we have been able to save money is creating a budget from only ONE income. This has cut how much funding is "available" to us to spend on monthly expenses and forces us to put the full second income towards our student loans. This was one of the best pieces of advice we have followed. I understand that not everyone can do this. We can't pay our minimum balance of our student loans as part of the one-income budget, but we can pay for everything else.

If your even able to put $50 or whatever you can afford from your paycheck into savings or towards a debt payment, it helps. Whatever you can do, look at your budget and try to stick with it :) It is hard and frustrating at times, but I am optimistic that it will be worth having a whole income not going to debt in a few years :)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Gas Rewards

Reward programs never seem to be straight forward. I am always thankful for the extra "help," but more often then not I feel like it takes more work to figure out how they work then they may be worth. 

Our Credit Card offered us reward points, or the option of the 1% cash back. I can handle this type of reward, every time I got up to a $25 cash back reward I applied it to my balance. Simple and Easy. Note: we are not using our credit cards anymore, but those random $25 were nice :) 

I still have not taken the time to figure out how I actually earn bonus reward points from my debt card. But, perhaps this blog post will encourage me to take time and research that program.  
When our grocery store started to do Gas Reward Points I was determined to figure out how it worked and how it could benefit us. This has been one of the easiest Reward programs to follow, as long as we remember to use the points we earn each month. 
Step One: Buy Groceries, every $100 in groceries earns you 10 cents off on gas. 
Step Two: Once you accumulate gas points, usually shown on the bottom of your receipt, go to the participating gas stations and use them. The stations are usually easy to spot because they have flags out front with the grocery stores name. 
Step Three: Using your Points. I lost my grocery card, so I always use my phone number at the store. The pump lets me use the card or put my phone number in to bring up my reward points. AWESOME. The pump gives you all the prompts to enter your store card/number, lists your available points and asks you if you want to use them- Yes/No, you then swipe your debit card and you are off. The first couple times I followed these steps and now I am a pro!! 

We have saved 50 cents and this past week 70 cents on gas. We have not yet made it to a full dollar off gas, but we'll get there. You need to pay attention to when your reward points expire, so you don't miss out on 10 cents.

We are always on the look out for coupons to double or triple our gas reward points. For the month of March, we found a coupon for 3x the gas rewards if we went to the gas station and picked up a coupon. So each week, we went to the gas station for the coupon.

Nick and I both have Safeway cards and have found that we get different personalized coupons. For example, if I don't use my card for a month, I get extra reward point coupons, or a coupon for $5 off our overall grocery bill. We have been trying to use one card each month and then switching when the other card gets better deals. Just an idea, if you don't mind managing two cards.

Happy Shopping!