Browsing Category

Budget

Budget, Family Finances, Frugal living

Budget Friendly Birthday Party for Our Frugal Family

October 19, 2015

When I found out that I was expecting for the first time, I knew that I would be cutting it pretty close to my own birthday with the due date. Little did I know, instead of going to my birthday dinner reservation, I would be spending the evening in the military hospital, meeting our daughter for the first time.

It’s pretty cool that my daughter and I have the same birthday. It’s an extra special day in our family not only because we share the birthday, but also because I shared the birthday with my great-grandmother. I always felt like I was in a special club, sharing my birthday on October 9. My great grandmother has since passed on, but now the club continues with me and my daughter.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but two people in the same family having the same birthday is a really great way to cut down on the costs of birthday celebrations. You don’t buy two cakes or have two parties, so the costs are essentially slashed in half. My family is pretty frugal, so this has worked out pretty well so far. I don’t mind eating whatever kind of cake my daughter chooses. Also, for the moment, her friends are the children of my friends, so parties aren’t an issue either. 

This year for my daughter’s birthday, she wanted to invite her friends to the park to eat cupcakes and hit a piñata. So, that’s what we did, and it cost next to nothing. It was a very budget friendly birthday party. My husband did go a bit overboard at the store, but try telling him that his 5 year old doesn’t need helium balloons at her birthday party…wasn’t going to happen. So I just let it go, because it made him happy to do that for her and it made her happy too.

The only thing she specifically asked for was a unicorn piñata. Our local Walmart doesn’t carry unicorn pinatas though, which really left me in a bind. The one she really wanted in particular is sold on Amazon for $30. I didn’t want to spend that kind of money on something that would only last ten minutes. So, what’s a frugal mama to do?

To remedy the unicorn pinata situation, I bought the My Little Pony piñata from Walmart for $10 and decided to make a unicorn horn myself. With just 15 minutes of extra effort, I saved $20.

IMG_0287

Turning the pony piñata into a unicorn, instead of buying one, basically covered the cost of the impromptu purchase of a helium tank, so we’ll call it even. Making 24 cupcakes for the party only cost me $5 for cake and frosting supplies, and we had fruit, veggies, pretzels, tea, and water for the party guests to snack on. All in all, it was a really affordable, fun, and budget-friendly birthday party for our frugal family. There was gorgeous weather at the park the day of the party too, which made the day even nicer.

Saving money, one unicorn horn at a time

Even though our daughter is only 5 years old, we’re already finding our groove with how to celebrate two birthdays on the same day. We also have a few family traditions now because of our unique birthday situation. For example, we go to the pumpkin patch every year on the weekend nearest to our actual birthday. I love all things fall and all things pumpkin, so going to the pumpkin patch is how I get to celebrate my birthday in my own way while also doing something the kids will enjoy.

This year, my parents, sister, and soon to be brother in law were able to join us, which made our pumpkin patch weekend even more special. As an added bonus, the pumpkin patch we went to this year was really affordable. It was also only $8 per child with accompanying adults getting in for free for all of the activities (maze, fun house, and petting zoo). They had free hay rides out to the pumpkin field to pick your own pumpkins as well. They also had a fun deal where you could get as many pumpkins as you can carry in three steps for only $20. My husband decided to do it, and he ended up carrying 6 or 7 full size pumpkins and a whole bunch of smaller ones.

IMG_0503

My big strong husband carrying all of the family pumpkins so that we could get them for only $20.

My favorite part of the weekend was getting our family picture taken. We look forward to it every year. Taking a family picture in the hay has kind of become an annual thing for our family. We have never had professional family pictures done, so these pictures are precious to me. Our pumpkin patch picture from our birthday weekend has become one of my most cherished memories. I love that my husband and I get to make such sweet memories with our beautiful kids.

annual family photo

Do you have any family traditions on your birthday? What are your cost-saving measures to have a budget friendly birthday party?

Budget, Family Finances

Can You Be Both Spontaneous and Frugal?

July 20, 2015
Can you be both spontaneous and frugal?

I rarely spend money without first planning for it. Having been on such a tight budget for so long means that I usually have to pry my wallet open. I don’t go shopping unless I need something in particular, and I hate when unexpected expenses pop up.

Even grocery shopping entails about 30 minutes of clipping coupons and writing a list of items by department. Saving $20 at the grocery store could be the difference between being able to pay the utility bill on time or facing over-draft charges. Every purchase for our home is usually calculated, literally and figuratively, into our finances, because we don’t have much wiggle room in our budget for error.

A bunch of home-bodies

What this boils down to is that, as a family, we aren’t very spontaneous. Both because of our tight budget and my husband’s erratic work schedule, we don’t just pick up and travel on a whim. We’re very much home-bodies who would rather rent a red-box movie than go to the theater. Most of our day off activities are free or really inexpensive and planned in advance. Now that I have kids, I have a tendency to equate spontaneity with wasted money and poor financial choices.

Ditching the deliberate and dull 

As newlyweds we did a fair bit of spontaneous travel and made impulsive purchases. While not always the most responsible, spontaneous use of our money was fun. Spontaneity keeps life interesting and fresh. Being willing to jump up at a moment’s notice and take off helps rub the sheen back into a dull life. Until last night, we hadn’t done anything spontaneous in a painfully long time.

Last night we had finished the post-dinner routine, and the kids were watching a cartoon. Since I had a free minute, and inspired by an article by Carrie of Careful Cents to create a productive work space, I got on Craigslist to see if I could find an inexpensive desk or entry table that I could buy to use as my own work space. We have a desk in our office, but my husband’s desktop computer takes up the whole surface, and it’s in the den where the kids tend to spend quite a bit of their time. I have a hard time getting work done in that room while the kids are awake.

After only about 10 minutes of different search terms, I found a beautiful, solid wood desk, with the exact dimensions I needed, listed for only $25. At 7:30 last night I called the sellers to see if the desk was still available. It was, but they were selling it out of Richmond, and they were moving so they needed it gone immediately. She sent me the address, and I told her that we would be there by 9:30.

Spontaneous frugality

So, instead of quiet, lazy bedtime routine, we quickly got our kids in their jammies, brushed their teeth, and piled everyone in the van for a three hour round trip to Richmond and back. Since it was his bedtime anyway, our son fell asleep before we even reached the highway. Our daughter chatted our ears off from the back seat the whole way to Richmond. Getting in the car that late, with no prior notice, was like a shot of adrenaline for her. She was so excited to watch the sunset come down over the trees and watch the deer grazing the edge of the tree line. We danced to music, talked, and enjoyed this spontaneous adventure as a family.

Our daughter fell asleep after we had gotten the desk, so my husband and I had a solid hour and a half ride home uninterrupted by kids, phones, computers, or the television. For $25 for the desk and $20 in gas, round-trip, I have a beautiful, solid wood desk and a fun memory of that time we allowed ourselves to be spontaneous again.

My new  work space

My new work space

Being spontaneous can save you money 

Sometimes you can still be frugal while also being a bit spontaneous. Not only did life unexpectedly give me the opportunity to save some money, but going for a late night trip to pick up a desk off of Craigslist was like a breath of fresh air for the whole family. The experience put a pep in my step, I don’t have quite as bad of a case of the “Mondays” today, and I have a beautiful desk to organize as my own work space.

Do you ever allow yourself to break away from routine? Do you think that you can be both frugal and spontaneous?

Budget, Family Finances, My journey to moderate minimalism

Not Primed for Prime Day Deals

July 15, 2015
Not primed for prime day deals

Any other year, I would have been enthusiastically clicking the refresh button to get in on the new deals offered every ten minutes by Amazon Prime Day. I have always loved Black Friday shopping, and I can’t resist a good deal on quality items. We are on such a tight budget right now, I really can’t justify the expense of any “deals” no matter how much money I would be saving.

Especially since we pledged as a family to get rid of half of our stuff by the end of the year, it would be a bit ridiculous to spend money on items just because they’re on sale. I might consider looking at the deals if there was something that we actually needed right now.  As it is, I would just be tempted to spend money we don’t really have on items we don’t really need. 

When preparing for big deal days, I ask three questions before participating Continue Reading…

Blog and life updates, Budget, Family Finances, Motherhood, Self Suffiency

Learn How to Get Paid to Write for Blogs

July 7, 2015
How to Get Paid to Write for Blogs

This post is a part of the Get Paid to Write for Blogs Course Launch! Get Paid to Write for Blogs is a brand new course created by Cat Alford of Budget Blonde. Cat makes a full time income from writing for blogs and her course will teach you how to do the same.

Six months ago I saw an advertisement on my Facebook news feed for a course on how to get paid to write for blogs. After discussing the cost, both my husband and I knew that it was something that I needed to do. I had been feeling stagnant at home without professional aspirations and without any sort of creative outlet. Knowing that taking the course would be an investment in my future, I took the plunge and paid for the first month of the course.

Taking that first step was exactly what I needed to feel like I was grabbing life by the horns again. Creating a website from scratch, deciding on content, and putting myself out there has helped me to grow in unimaginable ways. I have a platform for telling my stories, sharing my knowledge, and inspiring others.

Six months ago I was a mom and a wife. Today, I am a mom, a wife, a blogger, a freelance writer, and a woman who has professional aspirations again. I am making money while getting to stay home with my kids! It’s a win-win scenario. Learning from Cat how to get paid to write for blogs was the greatest investment I could have made for my future.

Here are 12 reasons you should learn how to get paid to write for blogs:

1. No previous experience necessary

People of all backgrounds can learn what it takes to become a paid blogger. Taking a course on freelance writing will teach you everything you need to know to get started and to become a successful paid blogger.

2. Work in your pajamas

Who doesn’t love earning money while wearing yoga pants? Some of my best writing is done late at night, in the comfort of my jammies.

3. Blogging is a creative outlet

As a mom especially, I tend to put my needs on the backburner while I take care of my family. Committing to becoming a paid writer has forced me to set aside time for myself and my career. As if that wasn’t enough, blogging serves as an outlet for all of my unused creative energy, because I’m able to pursue my interests and passions through writing.

4. Location flexibility

Anywhere that you have access to Wi-Fi, you can get paid to write for blogs. You can work at the local library, the coffee shop, sitting in airports, or even on the beach. You can side hustle as a paid blogger from anywhere in the world.

5. Extra Income

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a little bit of extra money to save for vacations, pay down debts, put aside money for your kids’ college funds, and to build a nest egg for retirement? Extra income earned from being a paid blogger will help you achieve whatever financial goals you set for yourself and your family.

6. Create Your Own Workload

Paid bloggers set their own writing hours, so you can work as often or as little as you choose. Depending on what your writing and financial goals are, you could write just two articles per month, or you could continue taking on clients and writing jobs until your schedule is full.

7. Schedule Flexibility

Researching for and writing articles does not have to happen on a typical 9-5 business hours schedule. You can work whenever you want to or have the time. Some people make blogging their full-time job and others just write at nights and on the weekends.

8. Learn new skills

Six months ago I knew nothing about website management, SEO, pitching to clients, or affiliate marketing. An entire world of knowledge opened up to me through learning what it takes to become a paid blogger.

9. It will help provide new opportunities

Sometimes a bad credit score is the only thing holding you back from applying for the job of your dreams, getting approved on a loan for a home, or getting the bank assistance you need to start a business. Extra income from your writing for blogs will help you pay down debts and improve your credit score, giving you a second chance to fulfill your dreams.

10. Make new friends

Bloggers form a very close-knit community. By joining in as a fellow side hustling blogger, you will make great and lasting friendships with like-minded people.

11. Have a backup plan

Extra income from becoming a paid blogger can help you build up an emergency savings fund. You could also utilize blogging as a safety net career to fall back on if you were to lose your regular full-time job.

12. You’ll Have a Support Network

Life is unpredictable at the best of times. It’s even more so when you have kids. Fortunately, the freelance blogging community is filled with parents who understand that sickness, ER visits, and broken bones are par for the course. Your online community will be there to get you through family emergencies by covering your deadlines. Then, when you’re able, you’ll be there to help someone else out as well.

Why wait to get started? Get hustling!

Taking a course to learn how to become a paid blogger could be the decision that changes your life. Don’t feel stuck in a job you hate, stagnant without a creative outlet, or struggling to live paycheck to paycheck. Side hustling as a paid blogger can help you achieve both your family and your financial goals.

Are you ready to invest in your future? Learn how to become a paid blogger so that you can pay down debt, build up an emergency fund, and start truly enjoying your life again.

Get Paid to Write For Blogs is a comprehensive online course that teaches you everything you need to know about getting hired to write for blogs. With 29 videos within 8 modules, this course covers every single step to start a successful and lucrative writing career online. Click here to get 15% off your course!

Budget, Family Finances, Self Suffiency

Personal Finance Goals for the Future

July 3, 2015
personal finance goals for the future

The past week has not been great for the Muse house. My grandfather passed away last week, which is still really affecting me. Also, our fridge broke down, and we have been fighting with the warranty company to fix it for almost a month now. Now, both of my kids are sick with fevers, congestion, and nasty sounding coughs. Bad things come in threes right? Wrong. Whoever came up with that adage is a schmuck. The sump pump in our basement quit working and excessive water from some bad summer storms flooded everywhere.

With one stressful situation after another, I have been neglecting both this blog and other things that are most important to me…like exercise. I haven’t gone for a run in over a week now. I guess that is a natural side effect of when things go awry, but I am trying to refocus on my goals and become more organized. I have been meaning to write a financial goals post for a few weeks now, but I have been lacking the motivation/energy necessary to get it done. I really felt the need for a pick me up, so I started hashing out ideas to motivate me for the future. The following list represents my biggest personal finance goals for the future.

10 Personal Finance Goals for the Future

  1. Immediately reduce household expenses by $200 a month
  2. Start Roth IRA and 529 accounts for both kids
  3. Earn a steady $500 a month through online writing by December 2015.
  4. Put 10% of all income towards retirement savings
  5. Start saving 10% of all income for a down payment on property
  6. Pay off personal loan debt by April 2016
  7. Eliminate all credit card debt by December 2016
  8. Purchase a property and build a berm home by August 2017
  9. Save $5000 to take a 10 year wedding anniversary vacation to Scotland with my husband (2019)
  10. Have enough money invested to retire by 2027

Looking toward the future

Some of these goals are easier to accomplish than others, but what fun is life without a little bit of a challenge? My biggest dreams for the future involve travel and living in a self-sustaining home. I want to be free of consumer debt, and I want to be able to pursue whatever it is that brings my family joy. My goals will most likely change a bit over time, but this is my motivating list for now. Creating this list of personal finance goals for the future has given me renewed direction, purpose, and focus. Life is too short to dwell on the negatives. You need to just pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and look towards the future with hope and a plan.

What are your personal finance goals for the future? Do you have specific dates planned for your goals?

Budget, Family Finances

Breaking the Chains of Debt

June 9, 2015
Breaking the Chains of Debt

 

Due to a bureaucratic snafu with Veterans Affairs, we had a pretty dark financial period in our life a few years back. After my husband got out of the Navy to pursue his Bachelor of Science degree, he used his GI Bill benefits to pay for his school tuition as well as our mortgage payment. He was working full-time and going to school full-time, but, without the GI bill stipend, we didn’t have enough money to cover the bills.

An important piece of paperwork, essential to receiving the benefits, got lost repeatedly within the great void that is Veterans Affairs. Because of this low-level error, we were left facing an 8 month period where we didn’t have enough money to pay the bills. It was either pay our bills, pay for gas to get to work, and pay for food on the table, or pay our mortgage payment. During this incredibly trying time, we weren’t even living paycheck to paycheck. We were living on borrowed money. We had to put our groceries on the 15.99% interest rate credit card just to feed our family.

It was a humbling, embarrassing, eye-opening eight months of asking friends and family for help, eating mainly from our garden and WIC checks, and wondering if the next month would be the month where we faced foreclosure and homelessness. Needless to say, at the end of the ordeal (when the VA finally fixed the issue) we had accrued even more debt on our credit cards than we had before the VA debacle.

Today, we are in a much better place financially, but we are still struggling to pay off debt from the credit card, our car loan, and a personal loan used to fix my husband’s daily driver vehicle at the time. During our first finance date last Friday night, my husband and I had a considerable discussion about our debt. Mainly, we discussed ways to limit our spending, increase our income, and put the difference towards the $16,172 we have in the red (not including our mortgage).

I have been reading several different personal finance blogs lately, and a common tool utilized in the personal finance community is to have a debt visual in your home that keeps you motivated towards your goal of paying down your debts. Some people like to use a picture like a thermometer to fill in as they pay down their debts. Others may use pennies on a scaleI love both of those ideas, but I wanted to have something pretty striking as a visual aid. I wanted to have something that would be a topic of conversation if someone came to our home.

Since our financial and personal freedom is so tightly bound by our debts, we decided to go with cliché but highly effective paper chains. Each link of our debt chain represents $100. The red links represent our car loan, the black links represent our credit card, and the brown links represent our personal loan. At the end of each month, we will look at the principle paid down on each debt and remove the links one at a time. We are hoping to have every last link of the chains removed in two years or less.

IMG_8470

We are going to be making a lot of sacrifices, earning money through side-hustling, and putting every spare penny we have towards removing those awful chains from our den. We didn’t notice it at first, but we have a little sign sitting on the window sill that says, “Every day is another opportunity to change your life.” We felt it was a very fitting place for our debt visual.

We hate seeing so much of our income going towards credit debt and loans every month. We want to be able to save our money for emergencies, retirement, paying college tuition, and traveling. We want to be free to live our life on our terms again. The next few years are going to be a lot of hard work, but we are so excited to get started on this next chapter of our lives together. We want these chains of debt to break free one day at a time so we really can change our life. 

Are you facing considerable debt?

Would you consider placing a visual in your home to help you pay down those debts?

Budget, Family Finances, Police wife life

Financial Emergency Planning and our First Ever Finance Date

June 8, 2015
Finance date night

At the start of our marriage, my husband always took care of our finances. It made sense because he had more experience than I did with tracking money and managing bills. I had just graduated from college, but he had been living on his own and managing his money for four years working in the Navy. After our kids were born, I actually preferred that he take care of the finances, because taking care of the kids all day is exhausting, and my mind would turn to mush if I were confronted with accounting numbers.

I have no trouble at all living frugally, cutting the excess from our spending, and trying to live within our means. When it comes to hard numbers though, up until this past Friday night, I was completely lost. I was completely ignorant of the bills, how any of them were paid, and I didn’t have the login and password information for any of our accounts. Especially since my husband works a high risk job, this put our family and our future in jeopardy. Should anything happen to him now, on his job as a police officer or Navy reservist, I would be completely in the dark as to how to go about managing our finances.

Receiving daily advice from personal finance blogs has really helped get me motivated to organize our finances and save for the future. I realized that we have an alarm system on the house and a fire extinguisher in the kitchen. We have car, home, and renters insurance. We have all of these safeguards in place to protect our belongings and our assets, but we didn’t have any protection or emergency plan in place for our finances. For the past few months, I have really been pushing for us to sit down and hash out the numbers. I wanted to have a plan in place, not only for if an emergency should arise, but also so that I could become more involved in the daily maintenance of our money.

So, this past Friday night, my husband and I snuggled on the couch with a legal pad and laptop. We had our first ever finance date for creating a concrete budget and having all of our account information compiled in one place. It was everything I imagined it to be and more. Just kidding…sort of. Creating a contingency plan for if your spouse should be killed is not exactly the epitome of romance. However, going over the numbers that represent our life and how we feed, clothe, and house our family was a new sort of intimacy that we had never experienced together. Albeit serious and at times painstakingly dull, it was a date which required eye contact, real communication, and compromises being met. If you have never had a finance date, I highly recommend it. It brought us closer together, and it gave us the tools we need should we ever have to deal with an emergency.

After our finance date, I felt so much better. I don’t like having to think about something terrible happening to my spouse, but it’s a relief knowing that I now have all of our account information to deal with the finances if I have to. After our date, my husband told me that he felt like a huge burden had been lifted from his shoulders. Since he was no longer the only one dealing with the stress of our finances, he could breathe a little bit easier.

I honestly have no idea why we waited so long to sit down together and talk about our finances. It was such a huge relief to us both. We decided that, from now on, we are both going to manage our accounts together, and we are going to work towards meeting our financial goals together. We plan on having monthly finance dates from now on. We both slept well Friday night knowing that, financially, I would be alright if anything were to happen to him in the line of duty.

Do you and your spouse have monthly finance dates?

Do you have the account information you would need in case of an emergency?

Budget, DIY, Family Finances, None

Frugal Friday Night: 2 Large Pizzas Cost $6

March 29, 2015

If you aren’t mindful of your food spending budget, weekends can wear down your wallet in a big way. Friday and Saturday nights are the biggest income nights for take-out restaurants. Don’t be tempted to dial out for take-out food, if you haven’t specifically budgeted for it. There are so many quick and easy recipes out there, and you can save your family a lot of money by learning to make your favorite take-out foods yourself.

This Friday my family and I had a pizza craving. Instead of ordering out, we made it a fun project. My four year old daughter helped me to make two large pizzas using Bobby Flay’s pizza dough recipe.

My kitchen assistant

My kitchen assistant

I only let it rise about 30 minutes, and it worked just fine. They took about 5 minutes to prepare once the crust was rolled out, and 25 minutes to bake. This is the break down in cost for our two pizzas:

4 cups flour: $1.60

1/2 jar tomato sauce: $0.75

8 oz cheese: $2.00

4 slices bacon: $0.50

1 onion: $0.30

4 tablespoons capers: $0.60

2 cups fresh greens: $0.13

1 oz olive oil: $0.17

2 Large custom-made pizzas = $6.05 

IMG_7705

 

If I were to have ordered two large, three topping pizzas from Dominoes, it would have cost $39.70. We saved $33.65 by making the pizza at home instead of ordering in. The small things in life are the biggest budget savers. Try making your own pizza next time you get that craving. You might be amazed at how much money you save.