Tax Time Is Here! Embrace It!

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Tax Season! Love it or hate it, here we are! This is a great time of year to LEARN and EMPOWER yourself–it’s YOUR money!! Make sure you get back everything you can…and most importantly, for this next year, make sure you aren’t putting too much in!

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When It Rains, Does It Pour??

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Have you ever had one of those weeks where SO MUCH has gone SO RIGHT? I mean, hour after hour, day after day life was just coming up ROSES?!?! That was this week for me.

Have you ever had one of those weeks where SO MUCH has gone SO…well, not so right? Again, I mean hour after hour, day after day, life just seemed to be the FERTILIZER for the aforementioned roses? That, too, was this week for me.

Truly, it’s all about perspective. I know some people who would focus on the negative and anything positive would’ve just been chalked up to “Well, now I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop…” or “Things can’t go this well for much longer, something bad is going to happen soon.” And I gotta tell you, this week was SO PERFECTLY balanced of AWESOMENESS and sub-awesomeness I wasn’t sure some days what was up and what was down. But, again–perspective.

AWESOMENESS: Skinny jeans ALL.WEEK.LONG; I got FREE workout tanks; I had AWESOME Spin and other classes at the gym; I ate a brownie for breakfast today; I ran over 4 miles and didn’t break myself; I was able to get some studying done before the semester officially started; I got an e-mail back from a research/professional contact that I’d been waiting on; a job offer to provide financial literacy education; excellent participation in class from my students this week; excellent reviews from my students this week; I got the preliminary “Okay” on a subject I want to submit for an ethics fellowship application; a suggestion that I prepare some research I’m working on now to submit a paper to the AFCPE conference; told that someone wants to work FOR me; new followers on FB; new followers on Twitter; I made the #FridayFive on the America Saves blog; the invitation to submit an interest in guest blogging for America Saves…truly, I could even continue.

Sub-awesomeness: The person who told our property manager that he would sign RIGHT THEN if we would take $775/month decided not to rent the house; my husband and I had a rather significant disagreement about money and fun; I had to order ANOTHER textbook because what I thought was confirmation of a book was just a comment of “yes, we’re only using a book” (so $101 wasted on a book and now $170 spent on the right book), a pipe burst in the wall of our house in Texas (the same one we’re trying to rent out) and we have to cough up $1430 to pay the deductible, which pretty much wipes our savings.

The Sub-awesomeness almost…almost…took the joy out of my entire week.

What’s funny…not ha ha funny, well kind of ha ha funny in a warped way…is that all the sub-awesomeness had to do with money.

Here’s the balance, the perspective, the reason that the AWESOMENESS outranks what could’ve been serious ugliness:

1. My husband and I cleared the air (again)–FYI, even professionals have differences of opinions with their spouses as to how to use money, what’s best, what’s most fun, and who should make what decision. We don’t disagree often, but when we do it can be a real humdinger.

2. The property manager told me today that there is someone else interested in our house–so much so that she is asking for room dimensions and won’t move to town until the 20th…after the house repairs are done.

3. The house repairs are completely covered by insurance except our deductible (to be expected).

4. We had money in savings to cover (granted, it doesn’t get to be used for what we were hoping to use it for, but at least it was there and liquid and we don’t have to put anything on the credit card).

5. Payday is next week so we get to immediately begin rebuilding savings. (Well, kind of. The dog has to have her annual check-up and my husband wants to take a quick family trip out of town…but we’ll still be able to put a few bucks aside…I think…).

What I’m saying is…LIFE HAPPENS. When it rains, sometimes it drizzles, sometimes it POURS. It’s all about perspective.

It’s only money.

WHAT? IS SHE SERIOUS?

Very.

I tell my students–men who are transitioning from incarceration into a work release program–I tell my students in every.single.class that while it’s not always easy, there’s ALWAYS a way to find savings…in this case to RE-build our savings, but even if you’re starting for the very first time.

I NEVER say it’s going to be comfortable. I never say there won’t be sacrifice, but it can be done.

Do we HAVE to take the short trip out of town? No. Will we? It depends on how much we have left over after the bills are paid, the dog is to the vet, and at least $100 is put back into savings. Do we have to eat out if we take the trip? Nope. We’ve got our cooler…so, we may be able to have our cake and eat it too.

I could cut cable. The new semester is here, Kaden has started basketball, we’re SWAMPED with things to do…that’d save us $50 easy…I’ll have to broach that as an option.

The heat is already down, but I could go one more degree without anyone noticing…and I could limit showers to 5 minutes and Slaeda could take a shower instead of a bath.

I don’t coupon NEARLY like I should. I could stop going to the store (except for milk for the next couple of weeks) and just use what we have at home. It’s not as if the pantry and freezer aren’t sufficiently stocked. I may not want the danged brussel sprouts, but I can eat them. Slade may have to go without soda for a few weeks–that’s quick money to put into savings–but he has a coffee pot and plenty of coffee, so no harm, no foul.

I could have let a few–yes just a few in number, but big in terms of financial and emotional impact–less than awesome things really affect my perspective on this week. But, I’ve worked too hard to fix the mistakes I’ve made in the past (i.e. using my almost maxed out credit card to be my emergency fund, not having ANY savings to speak of, paying my rent via a cash advance off of a credit card, putting groceries on a credit card, shopping when I’m stressed or sad)…I’ve worked too hard to get out of those situations and stay out to let a few hits get me down.

Listen. If money woes have you in their grasp, take a step back. Separate your emotion from your money–much easier said than done, believe me, I know. Look at ONLY the numbers. Where can you cut? Don’t sacrifice any needs (roof over the head, food on the table, utilities paid, clothes on your back, transportation), but cut back where you can and buckle down for a few weeks or months until you get back to where you want/need to be.

When it rains, sometimes it pours…but look for that rainbow too!

Start Small, Start Now–Another Spin on the “52 Week Money Challenge”

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You’ve probably seen it via your friends and family on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+…maybe even on the news…the “52 Week Money Challenge”. In fact, numerous other financial bloggers are talking about it, listing it’s pros and it’s cons…and there are so many different twists you can take on this challenge. Here’s my 52 week challenge to you: JUST SAVE. Every week. Every pay period.

Step 1: START SMALL…or Start Large…whatever works for you, but TYPICALLY, start with something you KNOW you can maintain and once you’ve done it for a few weeks/few pay periods, you get adjusted and then you can start to see where you may be able to cut back on expenses and add more money to your pot.

Step 2: WRITE IT DOWN. Yes, writing it down is the second step because today is probably pay day (last day of the month, tomorrow is a holiday)…so take a few bucks, put it in savings, write it on your “To-Do List” and then cross it off. Wow, that was pretty cool to get something on there and off there so quickly wasn’t it?!

Step 3: WRITE IT DOWN…AGAIN…just for next pay period and the pay period after that. You should have one budget sheet per pay period that shows how your money gets disburse each pay period. Make sure that whatever you’re going to pay out is WRITTEN DOWN. There are a jillion budget/spending plan forms out there. I have one I can share if you’d like, just let me know. FIND ONE THAT WORKS FOR YOU–AND USE IT!

Step 3.5: You should create a budget sheet for the following two pay periods every time you get paid. Money goes in your account, you sit down to pay bills, you write out your budget sheet for the next two pay periods. Now, this may be as simple as copy and paste–but use your critical thinking skills about what’s coming up. What changes do you need to account for the next time you get paid? Is there a birthday coming? A holiday? A school field trip? Do you need to add an additional line item for ANOTHER savings purpose (car repair, new appliance, furniture, etc.)?

Step 4: HOLD YOURSELF ACCOUNTABLE. It is so dang easy to make excuses as to why it can’t be saved this month. Been there done that. Will probably do it again (I’m human). But since we’re starting small and we’re not stretching ourselves thin, why make excuses? Hold yourself accountable and SAVE. I’m not asking you to save the world, the whales, or even a million bucks. I’m asking you to make a small positive change in your savings habits so that you can see that you can, indeed, do it.

Step 5: KEEP MOVING FORWARD! Don’t give up. There will be some months when it will be difficult to get even the smallest amount into savings–life happens and the car never breaks down at the most convenient time, the kids never need new shoes when there’s “money to burn”…I get that. But don’t give up and if you can’t do the whole amount you have pledged to your savings plan, then do at least some of it.

I happen to LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the “52 Week Money Challenge”. I prefer it in reverse ($52 the first week, $51 the second, and so on…) because as I continue to pay myself, my commitment, my requirement, decreases. I like to see what I HAVE to do get smaller and smaller. Besides, who wants to have to put over $200 in savings next Christmas when we’ll be all distracted by the sales and buying of presents for the holiday season?

And, here’s what’s REALLY neat–you can use this “52 Week Money Challenge” to pay down debt too! (ABSOLUTELY get at least $1000 in emergency savings to take that monkey off your back!!) If you have credit cards, or other unsecured debt, on which you are paying a higher interest rate than you are getting in savings, you’re losing money–use this technique to pay down your debt!! If the interest rate on your car is high or you financed it for more than 5 years, use the “52 Week Money Challenge” to pay additional to the principal–which will decrease the overall amount you pay in interest–and will allow you to pay off the vehicle faster!

New Year’s Resolutions can be very difficult to maintain. SET YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS and start small. If you can do it according to the “52 Week Money Challenge” and you want to, GO FOR IT. If you can’t, or you aren’t sure, DO WHAT YOU CAN and then increase your commitment after you’ve gotten used to the change in your budget.

2015 is going to be an amazing year and I’m excited to share the ride with you!

Please let me know your favorite savings, spending, debt reduction techniques and let’s generate some conversation!

Happy New Year!

And, there was FIRE!!

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This year? This year we’re not having turkey. Nope.

Last year, my oh so brilliant husband (actually he is, but kind of not really…) decided that a 20 lb. turkey (for two adults, a 7 year old and a 2 year old) was appropriate.

Now, lest you think I was horrified–which I was–solely for the size of the turkey–which I kind of was–it was more that I had to think about cleaning up after it was cooked. I’m a great cook, but Slade handles the turkey every year. That man makes DAMN. EXCELLENT. TURKEY. Well, usually.

Last year, he set the oven on fire.

Every year (except last, of course) we pride ourselves on using the stainless steel roaster Slade brought home from Germany 15 years ago. It keeps the heat even, the turkey is never dry, the clean-up is really quite easy. Also, we save the cost of buying a new aluminum roaster (yes, just a couple of bucks, but every dollar adds up and this is, after all, a money blog ;)). The 20 lb. fowl monstrosity (pun intended) was too big for our roaster. For the record, **whispering** The fire was caused by the turkey juices spilling over out of an aluminum roaster that was also too small…even though he swears it should’ve been big enough. Uh huh.

For the record, baking soda puts out grease fires quite well and assists in the clean-up of the grease when the oven has cooled.

This year, we’re going with Chicken Nuggets. Yes, Tyson breaded chicken nuggets–deliciousness in nugget form, will be our protein for Thanksgiving dinner.

To make sure we cover the appropriate financial focus of this blog…we saved at least $10 on the turkey by not opting for the traditional bird this year. (I frequently combine coupons to get $$ off the turkey…the two weeks prior to Thanksgiving, though the lines are a little extra insane, are sooooo worth the effort for the cost savings.) This is also a great time to cross-check your coupon stash for spices/seasoning, flour, and believe it or not, I’ve found great prices on chocolate chips at this time. Baking season is upon us, so if you find them discounted, it might be a good time to stock up!

Now that we have the business out of the way…

I want to say that I am THANKFUL for YOU!

There are thousands, hundreds of thousands probably, of blogs out there, and right now you’re reading mine. Thank you.

I am also thankful for my supportive husband, for my beautiful and amazing children, my part psychotic dog, my parents and brother and sister, all my nieces and nephews, my friends, my classmates, my professors, my students, and so many others. I am thankful for the ability to read, write, color (I can’t draw), and express my creativity in baking. I am thankful for social medias that not only allow me to keep in touch with friends, but that also allow me to make new friends and professional contacts. I am thankful for running water, electricity, heat, my smartphone, my computer, and online classes. I am thankful for my injuries, which allow me to put into perspective just how well I’ve done over the past year–and to really appreciate my athletic/exercise efforts even if they’ve had to temporarily come to a standstill. I am thankful that I have the opportunity to dream–because my husband defends our freedoms as a United States Army Soldier–but also that I have the opportunity to not achieve everything I want to, because it reminds me that I have a Father who is watching out for me and guiding my every move. I am thankful that while I am no longer gainfully employed, as I was last year, I am out of a miserable job. I am thankful that while we currently do not have renters in our Texas house, we can still afford to pay the mortgage. I am thankful that while we’ve lost $3200 (net)/month we can still make ends meet and put a few dollars (literally some months) in savings. I am thankful that I can look back at the money we’re now doing without and not beat myself senseless for not having more to show for it. I am thankful for coupons, sales, and knowing that just because the neighbor, friend, guy down the street has it, doesn’t mean that I have to have it too.

The list, of course, could go on and on and on and on…you get my point.

One last thankful thought…I am thankful that (my) money (or lack thereof) does not define me.

Please, as we enter into one of the most “spend-focused” seasons, I encourage you to look at what you DO have, to look at the needs that you are meeting, even if the wants sometimes don’t get to happen. I encourage you to give what you can, when you can, but not to the detriment of yourself, your family, your savings, or your budget.

I hope you have the Happiest of Thanksgivings and would love to hear what you are particularly thankful for this year.

P.S. I am thankful that there is no turkey to set the oven on fire this year…because, yes, of course it was the turkey’s fault.

Happy Thanksgiving!

When There Just Aren’t Words…A Blog in Pictures

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KandS 1544 lbs of food 4

You have to understand…this started with $50 two years ago…

Mom and Kaden start

Kaden and I have always done the shopping for the school food bank drive together. It’s become a tradition. At 3, he got $20, the same at 4 and 5. At 6, he asked for $50. Then he set a goal. Kind of the beginning of the end…and yet we’re no where near the end yet. Last year, at age 7, he raised $435. Now he’s 8…

Slaeda and Dad start

He inspired his sister last year (then 2) to help too. She’s 3 now and her shopping partner is Daddy.

Kaden commissary 1

A few months ago, I posted a picture of Kaden from his shopping trip last year. He has grown, in height, maturity, and heart.

Kaden commissary 2

This year we did a lot of comparison shopping and used a notebook to keep track of coupons and the comparison shopping list so we knew how to shop for the best bang for his buck.

Kaden with bags in car 1

It was a little hard to see him.

Kaden with bags in car 2

But, he was able to make enough room to buckle and wave!

commissary front seat

My water bottle felt so squashed by the mountains of bags.

commissary unloaded

Kaden and I unloaded the food from the commissary in front of the fireplace. (Yes, there’s a fireplace behind all those bags.) And while Kaden and I were unloading his first trip…

Slaeda WalMart

This year Slaeda saved and received donations totaling $103 to take with her on her shopping adventure. She and Slade had a grand old time going to Wal-Mart and choosing food together. She also wanted to buy bananas for the food bank, but those are perishable, darn it! Slade said it was all he could do not to laugh when she walked right up to a can of SPICY Beef Ravioli and said, “Daddy, I like these!”

Slaeda's haul 1

Slaeda purchased more than 80 lbs of food! She worked really hard and put a lot of thought into the purchases she wanted to make!

Slaeda's haul 2

Sam's Club 1

After we were done at the commissary, and Slade and Slaeda were off on a different adventure, Kaden and I grabbed a bite to eat and headed off to Sam’s Club. This year Kaden’s school is collecting food for the Salvation Army food pantry and kitchen. Every day the Augusta Salvation Army food kitchen feeds over 250 men, women, and children. The purchases made at the commissary were made for the purpose of filling food baskets; these purchases will go towards feeding the homeless and hungry of Augusta, GA.

front seat Sam's

Light stuff up front.

over 900 lbs of food 1

over 900 lbs of food 2

Heavy stuff in the back. Kaden purchased 200 lbs. of rice and 100 lbs. of beans.

Sam's loaded with Kaden 1

A little celebration once almost all of it was loaded…

KandS 1544 lbs of food 1

Slade and I got the car unloaded and everything organized so that we could see what all had been purchased.

KandS 1544 lbs of food 2

KandS 1544 lbs of food 3

KandS 1544 lbs of food 5

The kids really had a good time sitting on the cans!

Slade sorting and counting 1

I thought it would be a good idea to know how much food (in pounds) had been purchased.

Slade sorting and counting 2

Slade worked really hard sorting and counting.
Fortunately, the spreadsheet Kaden and I had created for comparison shopping had some of the numbers on it, so we were able to keep a SMILE on Slade’s face as he worked.

Slade sorting and counting 4

He came out alive, I promise!

KandS 1544 lbs of food 4

Kaden and Slaeda both worked hard this year to make this project a reality. Kaden sets such an amazing example for Slaeda. She wants to put money in her food bank jar to save up because she sees her big brother doing it. At three, she is learning how to save! Kaden took 5 hours a few Saturdays ago to do comparison shopping at 4 different stores so we’d make sure we knew where to get the best bang for our buck (since Slade is in the Army, the commissary was the best place to shop, though WalMart did have a better price on canned fruit.) They both saved Christmas and birthday money, allowance, and received donations from friends and family for their efforts.

Kaden’s fundraising efforts were significantly more intense than Slaeda’s (of course) and in addition to the dollars donated through Go Fund Me from friends online, the private donations he received, and the change he picked up here and there, he also raised more than $300 in his yard sale! Kaden has learned how to comparison shop, is starting to understand how interest works, and sees how he can use money to positively impact others.

Oh…and I suppose you want the totals???

The kids got a GRAND TOTAL of 985 items purchased for $1521.95 with a total weight of 1,544.16375 lbs. That’s more than 3/4 of a ton of food!!

‘Tis the season…yes, I’m aware that it’s not Halloween yet, but is your wallet aware that Christmas is coming?

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tistheseason
I love social media. It’ll likely be the death of me, it’s true, but I love it. Facebook and Twitter keep me thinking forward–mostly because of random comments that friends make and I think “Oh, Shiz-nit! I need to be tracking on that too!”–and today is one of those days…sort of. This is more about what I did RIGHT than what I need to be remembering! Meagan, this is for you, and again, thanks for the props!

‘Tis the season to be jolly, fa la la la la la la la la, ‘Tis the season to be spending….

Christmas is coming. All the joy, the family, the Birth, the time together…the music!! Oh, it does my heart good.
Christmas is coming. All of the money, the presents, the stress, the money (yes, I know I already mentioned this part)…the music!! Oh, it drives me crazy!

You may fall in a combination of those camps. You may fall in one or the other. Whatever your current relationship with the upcoming Christmas season, I want it to be as stress-free and financially sound as possible.

It’s not even Halloween! I know. The big sales aren’t in place yet. I know that too. I have small children who like to get into things. Um, see the picture above.

Believe it or not, it is in no way, shape, or form too early to start Christmas shopping. I’m not saying that you should go out and buy the big things that are likely going to go on sale on Black Friday or the weeks immediately after. However, if you have some small things to pick up–Santa gifts, things for gift exchanges that will likely come up last minute, this is a great time to do that. Many smaller items hold their prices and don’t go on sale at all. Why? Because the stores know that people are going to run into last minute things they need to pick up and they can just hear the “cha-ching” allllllllll day/week/month/season long. Once or twice I’ve even seen mark-ups on music and movies the week before Christmas!

This is the time, before the humongous holiday rush, to do some research. Do a Google search for “Black Friday ads” for the past three years. Fat Wallet (http://www.fatwallet.com/black-friday/ads/) will get you started for last year…and you can see what went on sale. Look for things that ALWAYS go on sale the days immediately following Thanksgiving and the weeks leading up to Christmas. If something on your list for this year…you do have your list written, right? If something on your list for this year is going to go on sale, wait. Buy it when it’s on sale. Consumer Reports (http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2013/08/best-time-to-buy-things/index.htm) lists the best time to buy things–THROUGHOUT THE YEAR!! (Keep this link handy, save it to your task bar!!)

Kids like to get into everything. I get that. Sometimes my closet is a safe zone, sometimes it’s not. My husband has God only knows what going on in the garage–everyone stays clear of there, so that’s a safe place for us to hide gifts until it’s time to get them wrapped and under the tree. (Did you buy wrapping paper the day/week after Christmas last year? If not, put it on your list to do so this year. The savings are ASTRONOMICAL!!) Other clever hiding places include inside luggage, the box of pregnancy clothes you haven’t gotten rid of yet–donate the clothes if you’re done getting pregnant and hide the gifts in there, borrow a friend’s house/garage/closet. Where else? If you’ve got a good hiding place to share, please let me know!!

Take advantage of secondhand stores, Goodwill, Salvation Army and places that have gently used merchandise for gifts that hold their shape and wear well. If you want to frame pictures for family Christmas gifts this year, the pictures themselves cost a significant amount, so look for nice frames at a secondhand store. Clothes–if you have a pretty princess in your household, get her those skirts and bows at the secondhand stores too! What are other good finds at secondhand stores?

Yes, Halloween, and all it’s wonderful associated ghoulishness is upon us, then Thanksgiving, and THEN Christmas. But, don’t frighten your wallet this Halloween season by ignoring the opportunity to spread out the costs of the coming Christmas holiday season.

“I like walking around,” he says…

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Kaden Comparison Shopping

Grocery shopping isn’t always fun. Frankly, it can be a chore. Not just the shopping and choosing and buying and loading and unloading the car…and hopefully putting everything away before the cucumbers get lost and sit in a plastic bag with the box of Velveeta you are supposed to use on Sunday for the church potluck and then they rot and leak and the Velveeta gets ruined…oh, sorry, got off track there for a minute.

Grocery shopping isn’t always fun. Frankly, it can be a chore. One whopper of a chore. It’s not just about choosing food off the shelves, but EFFECTIVELY choosing food off the shelves and combining those ingredients to make a meal (or more). But, even before we choose the food off the shelves, there is work to be done.

My eight-year old son, Kaden, has been working for the past year to save some of his birthday, Christmas and allowance money to go towards the purchase of food for the hungry. Not only has he saved his own money, he’s inspired others to cough up some of their money to help him reach his $1100 goal. He’s $18 shy of his goal and has his “Food Bank Yard Sale Fundraiser” this weekend–with a goal of $300 for the yard sale itself. That’s a total of $1400 this kid wants to come up with to feed others. What? Huh? He’s a kick–he spoke to my mentor, his honorary grandfather, a couple of weeks ago, when he found out he’d just crested the $1000 mark. “Nothing’s going to stop me now,” he excitedly exclaimed. He’s ready, willing, and able…and is putting in a lot of hard work too.

This past weekend we took 5 very, very long hours to go comparison shopping. We went to the commissary (love Army benefits, especially this one), Publix, Kroger, and WalMart. We had lunch about halfway through the trip and we spoke a little bit about his thoughts.

I asked him, “What do you think about this comparison shopping thing?”

“It’s great because I like walking around,” was his reply. Okay, clearly I need to work harder to draw some usable quotes from this kid. I reminded him that I was going to use this for my blog and we agreed to revisit the topic a little bit later when he’d had more time to think.

We finished our shopping trip and had completed comparison shopping on products commonly found on the “wish lists” for food pantries, especially for this time of year when they are getting ready to compile holiday food boxes. Spaghetti, canned sauce, canned meats, green beans, corn, sweet potatoes, stuffing, boxed mashed potatoes, gravy, soups, rice, corn muffin mix, boxed cake mixes, cranberry sauce, dried beans, even salad dressing. By far, as Kaden says, “the commissary WINS”– in terms of the best prices for the most items.

Publix and Kroger were within pennies of one another on most items. WalMart had some items that beat out Kroger and Publix by more than a few pennies. We recognized just how fortunate we are to have the commissary as a benefit. Kaden determined, “It costs more for them (civilians) to shop for groceries.” Yes, my son, yes it does. We talked about the difference between store brands and name brands and making sure that when we did the comparison shopping that we compared “apples to apples” i.e. same net weight to same net weight, same brand to same brand. He even thought to put the weight in ounces on a few of our items so that we priced the same size throughout the day.

We talked about the difference between buying for our family and buying for a food pantry where they will give the food to others. He took great care in looking at the price per item, the price per unit, and how many families we could feed if we bought two of the smaller boxes as opposed to one of the bigger boxes of cereal, pasta, etc. For our family we would buy the big box (lower price per unit/ounce). One large box of cereal may stretch farther within our family and be a better price per unit/ounce, but if two smaller boxes, even if more per unit/ounce, adds up to about the same in terms of overall cost, we’ve just fed two families instead of just one. We put on our “shopping by price tag” glasses, rather than our “shopping per unit/ounce for the family” glasses.

There were some items he wanted to compare store brand against brand name. Overall, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that…many times, as I explained, you can get more for your money and get a good quality by going with the store brand. However, I explained, there are some store brand things that just don’t taste the same, so you have to decide where you’re willing to take a taste difference to save on cost. This was brought up when comparing the blue box mac and cheese to the store brand…I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. (In these cases, we wrote down the cost of both so that we could determine if a store brand beat out the price at the commissary for the name brand item. Sometimes the store brand beat out the commissary price, sometimes it didn’t.) For the record, there are things that I will only buy name brand because of taste and overall product (Reynolds foil is one prime example…I have yet to find a store foil that is not completely inferior to Reynolds. We only buy Tyson chicken nuggets and Stove Top stuffing…there are a few tastes I just will not sacrifice. We’re fortunate that we can, for the most part, shop with our taste buds not just our pocketbooks.)

As we went into the different stores he looked for coupons, “Look, Mom! Coupons!” At one store they had coupons for refrigerated items, this did not thrill the boy, as they are unusable for his project.

At the end of our very long day I asked Kaden, again, what he thought about this comparison shopping trip.

“I’m going around seeing what the prices are and where I should spend. The prices tell me where to shop because if I shop at the commissary then I get a big bang for my buck, but if I shop somewhere else, I’d have to pay more,” he replied.

“What if you didn’t have the commissary to shop at? What if we were a civilian family like most of the rest of the people?”

“Then I’d have to spend more money to buy groceries.”

I’m working on dragging longer, more extensive, critical thinking quotes…but he’s 8…and I’m awfully damn proud of him for staying awake and excited through the whole process. 🙂

Grocery shopping CAN be a chore. Embrace the walking around. Embrace the opportunity to teach your children about effective shopping habits and how to get the best “bang for your buck”! Embrace the love that a child can have for feeding others.

I’d love to hear your about your effective grocery shopping trips–what best serves you, what advice do you have for others?

*If you’d like to help Kaden feed families in the Augusta, GA area, please visit http://www.gofundme.com/KadensFoodBank to make a donation.*

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I thought the sign said “DON’T feed the…” oh wait, that was BEARS, not children!

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Feeding Kaden

I love my son. I do. With total abandon, in fact. But, holy cow, that child eats like a professional linebacker! Yes, he’s a growing boy, yes, it’s to be expected, but Oh. Mah. Gaw. That kid eats more than me, his daddy, and his sister put together. Well, unless it’s chocolate and then I out-eat him every day of the week.

Anyway, I digress.

Feeding children isn’t cheap. Feeding children healthy food is even less cheap. The price of fresh fruits and vegetables can fluctuate based on season, weather, where you live, where you shop…so many different reasons. We (currently) live in the South. I don’t like the weather here, nor does it like me, therefore I don’t spend much time outside, unless it’s in the fall or the early spring. These two seasons, here in Georgia, are great for growing things. My folks live in Oregon. When we went to visit this summer, my son got to harvest strawberries, snap peas, lettuce, blueberries, tomatoes, onions, and garlic. He helped plant pumpkins! I need to plant some vegetables.

What I’m getting at, is that there ARE ways to make eating healthy more affordable. Yes, some of them take a little work, and some of them take a little up-front capital (containers, soil, seeds, stakes, etc.) and they definitely take time (watering, weeding, bug checks). The ROI (Return on Investment–I love financial terms I can use in different ways), however, YOUR ROI is healthy food, (inexpensive healthy food that in some cases will easily fertilize and spread to make more plants to grow more food), time with your children (would I make this suggestion if I had to do it all myself?!?!), and the opportunity to teach (and learn) about balancing meals, money–how much does it cost to start up and maintain and how much money is saved, and maybe even a little abut weather patterns. 🙂

Learn about where you live. When are the good growing seasons? When shouldn’t you attempt to grow things (think zucchini in July in Texas)? What are the costs of fresh fruits and vegetables in the store? What it will cost for you to take the time–with your family or by yourself–to commit to growing food, and see if you can’t find a way to affordably feed an adorable, eight-year old eats as much as a professional linebacker, little boy.

Please share your successes, failures, ideas, and comments! I’d love to hear from you!

Flexibility in the Budget–Legend or Myth?

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Have you ever started the day thinking, “Why couldn’t I have made a better decision last night?” I find typically this kind of discussion is related to food–yum, yum–but often times it also is related to money.

It’s not always the big expenses that throw us off. Sure, an unexpected trip to the mechanic, a forgotten annual check up for our pets, or a spur of the moment jaunt out of town “just to get away” can really put a monkey wrench in our budget–but so can “nickel and diming” ourselves.

The small expenses add up–sooooo dang quickly! A quick soda at the gas station here, a candy bar there, a new tube of mascara, little “I’m thinking of you” presents or cards for friends or relatives. My daughter is IN LOVE with Hello Kitty and My Little Pony. Today she wants me to pick up Hello Kitty Band-Aids for the ouchie on her toe. Is there an ouchie? She says there is. Is there something that I can see, something Band-Aid worthy? Um, yeah, no. Will I buy her the Band-Aids? Probably.

I set out every single month to have all my dollars and cents fall in particular areas. I have a plan to keep money in savings and keep us all entertained by doing things that don’t cost a lot–if anything at all. Even when we do take a quick trip “just to get away” I have a budget in mind for that event. Sometimes things fall right where I want them to. Other times I/we have an “Oh! That would be AWESOME” moment and realize that WHILE I HAVE THE CASH, while I am NOT in any way, shape, or form causing grievous harm to my family’s financial well-being–boy howdy do those dollars and cents just seem to disappear.

Case in point: I went to the Type-A Parent’s Blogging Convention this weekend. I had a budget, it was a good solid budget. Emphasis on “was”. I underestimated what I would need to spend on food. I went over my food budget by about $40. I went over my “gift” budget by $120. (Mostly because I didn’t plan on buying any gifts and I did.) I went over my “me” budget by $100. (Again, I didn’t plan on buying anything as a momento, but I did…a few things in fact.) So, $260. Gone. Is my family going to suffer for not having that money? No. It’s money I wish like hell I’d left in savings but by spending it I did not interrupt our regular flow of life. I would not classify this as “Buyer’s Remorse” as I do not regret the purchases I made. I do, however, classify it as “Spender’s Remorse”…I could’ve more effectively spent those dollars (or most of them anyway) if I’d said “No” to the frivolous stuff.

My husband and I plan for some flexibility in our spending budgets. He and I work very well together as a team to keep things flowing and adjust as necessary. Every pay day all the bills are paid before lunch time. What we have left goes to savings, groceries, gas, miscellaneous spending, pocket change, and date nights. We talk a bigger savings game than we play sometimes. It frustrates us both and we are working diligently to find ways to hold each other accountable and keep our spending down.

What I’m trying to get at here is that we are all HUMAN. We are going to make mistakes–but we HAVE TO PLAN for those mistakes/errors/snafus/changes in plans/last minute “oh, I want tos”. It’s kind of like I tell all my students when we’re working on Emergency Savings–it’s not if something happens, it’s when. It’s not IF my husband is going to want to eat out or get a soda, it’s when. It’s not IF I’m going to want to buy a spur of the moment gift for someone (whether that’s a card, buying them lunch, or actually buying a “thinking of you” gift), it’s when. It’s not IF my husband is going to take our daughter out for lunch…and then a movie because her behavior was so good at lunch…and then ice cream…because her behavior was so good during the movie…and then to the store to buy a toy…because they’ve been having so much fun together. It’s not IF I’m going to go to conferences for work or school…and then need a new blouse that will help me make the impression I want…or those great new heels…or new lipstick…or those highlights…I know you see where I’m going here.

Creating flexibility in your budget is absolutely key. Slade and I have spent over 11 years figuring out how to build in flexibility that works. It’s not always easy to build in that flexibility. Sometimes you just don’t have enough money left after all your needs are taken care of. Sometimes you’ve planned for flexibility, but then the electric bill is higher than you planned, or the car needs to be repaired, or the dog has to go to the vet.

I’m not going to provide any answers right now. I know what suggestions I would make to someone, I know how to make the changes I want to make (I just have to buckle down and say “No!” to myself…and my husband…and my kids) but what I want to know is HOW DO YOU PLAN FLEXIBILITY INTO YOUR BUDGET?

Let me know how you provide flexibility in your budget, or if you have a question about doing so…you can respond to this post, @KateMielitz on Twitter, or facebook.com/financialwellnesscoach.

I look forward to hearing from you and generating some discussion on this topic!