Friday, August 29, 2008

New $3/$15 CVS coupon!

I know I said I'd try to keep couponing posts off this blog, but this is an important announcement- there are $3/$15 CVS coupons on the back cover of the September issue of Richmond Parents Monthly magazine here in Richmond, VA! So for all of you who live in the area, pick up a couple (please don't clean them out- I will be so sad!)!

And for those of you who are outside the metro Richmond area, I will pick up a few extra and I will soon host a giveaway so that everyone can share in the joy! Don't miss it- check back often!

Happy CVSing, everyone!

Friday Night is Date Night! How's Your Love Life?

Okay, so I don't want any gory details or anything, I just want to know if you've tried out any of the fun and frugal date ideas from the past 4 weeks! If so, 

Was it a success? 

Is there anything you would have done differently? 

Have you thought of any more fun date ideas? 

Post a comment and share your thoughts!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

On the Road to Financial Freedom: Part I- The Beginnings of a Thrifty Life

I was just reading a post on Money Saving Mom about budgeting, and at the end of the post she asked the readers to post a comment about when they started budgeting and what inspired them to do so. 

Well, I left a fairly lengthy comment on there and I thought it would be a good topic for a post on my blog, and then I thought it would be a good jumping-off point for a series of posts I have been thinking of doing about my own personal story with my finances.

So let's go waaaay back to the beginning to start... (insert chimey music here)...

When I was a kid, I got an allowance. I remember that I kept it in a jar, and I was definitely a saver. Counting all my quarters and dimes and nickels and pennies was a frequent and enjoyable activity for me, and I can still remember the thrill I got when my little jar of money reached the $10 mark. I really thought I was rich! It was just such a good feeling to have the potential to buy something I wanted. My parents would even occasionally borrow money from me and leave an IOU in the jar. I was a tough creditor, and I always made sure that I got my money back!

The Teenage Years
As I grew into a teenager, the price tags on my desires got bigger. My mom decided to cut off the "gimmes" (as she called them) before they could get out of control. We were expected to do our share of the chores around the house (I had to vacuum, mow the lawn, empty the dishwasher, set the table, do my own laundry, clean the bathroom, etc.) and when I did I received a $50/month allowance. The stipulations were that:

1. I did my chores. Not doing them would result in either a hold on my allowance until they were done or a reduction in pay.

2. The money paid for all of my personal needs and wants with the exception of food and housing. I was to buy all of my own toiletries, makeup, clothing, and treats.

This was a very effective system for our family, because we knew that we were never to go to our parents to ask for money or things (I think they wanted to start this habit early in preparation for our college and newlywed days!) and it made us solely responsible for the money we received. I remember thinking it odd to see my friends go to their parents to ask for money before coming to the movies with us. I thought they had it easy- their parents were like ATMs! But at the same time, I knew that my $50 allowance was a real gift, and I felt like I had more freedom than they did because I knew that if I did what I was supposed to, that money was mine, and I never had to beg anyone for it.

I wasn't big on budgeting as a teenager. I remember I would keep a small savings of whatever was left over at the end of the month so that I could have enough to buy some nice Christmas gifts for my family at the end of the year (I love giving gifts- Christmas has always been so fun for me!), but I pretty much just spent as I went. There were times that I had to tell my friends I couldn't go out with them because I just didn't have any money, and that was a bummer but it taught me a good lesson- you have to plan ahead, and if you don't, you won't get what you want.

Moving on to college, I got my first bank account and my parents continued to keep me on an allowance, though I think it was raised to $100/month to account for gas (they liked for me to come home to visit) and other increasing necessities like school supplies (and parking tickets...). But I was on a meal plan that they paid for and I remember going for weeks without spending any money at all. That first bank account was a lesson for me, though- I learned quickly that if I didn't keep track of what I was spending, it would disappear quickly, and overdraft fees are no joke. So I started tracking my expenses.

It was during the summer after my freshman year that I got my first job, and so I suddenly had a lot more money to work with (not really all that much, but it was a lot more to me!). It was then that I created my first budget. Looking back, I think I was a pretty smart college kid because I made my budget value-based. To create it, I gave myself a fictional $100 on paper. Then I thought about the different things I would want to use that $100 for. I made categories based on those things- clothing, entertainment, organization (at the time I really wanted to get my space organized), books and music, savings, tithing, etc. I used the amounts that I had come up with ($25 for clothing, for example) to create a percentage-based budget, which I used to divide my paychecks among the categories (a $200 paycheck would have 25%, or $50 designated for clothing purchases).

The budget worked well, when I used it. I learned that I enjoyed the freedom of having money set aside for different things. The budget was only on paper, but occasionally I would allow "transfers" from one "account" (category) into another to accommodate a larger purchase. Since my purchases were pretty much all wants, it didn't affect the overall plan very much, and it forced me to really think about where my money went.

So that's where it all began. Looking back I can see how these early experiences shaped my views on budgeting and my overall approach to earning, saving, and spending money. For my next post in the series, I will talk about my newlywed years, and how budgeting became not just a form of organization, but a thoughtful financial decision for my life.

How did you handle your finances when you were young? How do you think it has affected the way you deal with your money now?


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Easy Deals of the Week: Free Glade Plug-Ins and Frank's Red Hot Sauce!

Welcome to my first Easy Deals of the Week, where I show you how you can get a deal using only the coupons from the most recent paper, or printable coupons from the internet.

*This week at Walgreens, Glade Plug-Ins Scented Oil Warmers are on sale Buy One, Get One Free. There was also a Buy One Get One Free Coupon for these in Sunday's paper (8/24) in the SmartSource insert. Get two and use the coupon with the sale and get both free! (Trust me, it works!)

*This week at Rite Aid, Frank's Red Hot Sauce in on sale for $0.99. There was also a $1/1 coupon in Sunday's paper (8/24) in the SmartSource insert. Use the coupon with the sale and get it free!

I hope you enjoyed these Easy Deals of the Week- if you are a veteran and you see any more that are easy, let me know! 

Monday, August 25, 2008

New Feature: Easy Deal of the Week!

I know that not too many people out there have a 3-ring binder containing every coupon from every Sunday paper from the last 6 months, so I wanted to post some deals for all of you sane people out there (the people who don't have the binder!). 

Each week I will post my Easy Deal of the Week- in fact, I may post more than one! This will be a deal where you can get something for free or really cheap (or even make some money off the deal!) by using coupons from the most recent Sunday paper or coupons printed from the internet. That way, everyone can enjoy great stuff for less!

I have a few of these deals up my sleeve for this week (free Glade Plug-Ins, free hot sauce...), so check back and I should have them posted soon...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

We Have 3 Winners!

Sorry this post is a few days late, but we have some winners of the CVS Coupon Giveaway! Congratulations to Anna, Julie, and SeeSawStar (sorry, I don't know your actual name!)! All these winners have been notified by e-mail, and Julie, if you're reading this I am still waiting on a reply from you to get your coupons out! So check your e-mail!

Again, congrats to the winners and I look forward to hosting another giveaway here soon. Happy CVSing!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Friday Night is Date Night! Part IV: Frugal Fun Dates

We have reached the final part in the Friday Night Date Night series, and I certainly hope that the ideas I have posted here have been helpful and inspiring. 

To share a personal story, just last Friday night I implemented one of the ideas myself, in a slightly simpler way. I hadn't planned on doing anything (I know, I'm a terrible wife), but when my DH called, sounding very worn down, he said he was going to be home late. So I made a frozen pizza for the kids, put some chicken in a marinade for us, then put the kids in the tub once they were finished eating. My husband got home shortly after and went to take care of the kids (bath time is kind of his special time with them) while I finished the preparations for our dinner. Once the kids were in bed we had our "date." It wasn't anything extravagant, just some yummy grilled sesame ginger chicken, rice, and broccoli, which we ate in the dining room (we only use the dining room for special occasions) by candlelight. Afterward, we played a card game together in the living room.

What made it special was that he was surprised (usually when he's home late we just eat without him and then he grabs his dinner from what I put away for him in the fridge and eats it in front of the tv), we had some special time together, and it showed him that I care about him and I love him. Sometimes just the simple things make the biggest difference, and if you keep it simple, then you're more likely to do it, because you won't get stressed about it.

On to this week's topic, which covers everything that the last topics didn't cover- Frugal Fun Dates for under $10- these are dates for anytime, any weather, and any budget! So here we go!

1. Secret Shopping- No, this isn't where you get paid to write reviews of stores! For this one, you and your sweetie set a budget, say $5 each, and then you go to a mall or another shopping area with a wide variety of items (Wal-Mart would work, or even the dollar store!). You split up and set a time and place to meet (usually 20 minutes to a half an hour is about right) and your job is to each buy a gift for each other. My DH and I have even done this as a family with our kids- each of us takes one child and we go buy gifts for the other two. It's fun because you get a surprise gift, it's an exciting challenge to see what you can get for your money, and it's a great way to become closer by thinking about one another. (This also usually results in both of you finding other things that you thought were cool/interesting that you want to show the other after you've exchanged gifts, so then you can go on a walk and look at all the stuff you missed!)

2. Window Shopping- This one can be especially fun if there's a home decorating project you're working on, or a particular big ticket item you're in search of. Just go to a variety of different places that have the types of things you're interested in and compare. Take notes on what you like and don't like, even take photographs and then compare them. It's a date and it's useful!

3. If I Had A Million Dollars- This one is a combination of the first two, and I named it after the Barenaked Ladies song ("If I had a million dollars, I would buy you a house..."). For this one, you pretend to be millionaires and set a fictional budget for each other (say, $20,000). Then you split up and find the things you would buy for each other if you had that kind of money. Meet up and take your honey to see their pretend present! 

4. Museums/Historic Homes- If you're not a fan of shopping, museums are a very fun option, and there are many out there that have free admission. It might sound dull, but you never know what you might learn about your significant other when both of you are standing in front of a piece of art, and learning something together will be an experience that strengthens your bond.

5. Model Home Tours- Whether you are an apartment dweller or a seasoned home owner, a model home can always give you some good ideas. Look in your area for new developments or a Parade of Homes (builders and designers showcase their best work in model homes and prizes are awarded). Most of the homes you will see will probably be out of your price range, but dreaming is half the fun. And you can keep your eye out for new decorating ideas!

6. Just Dessert- I always think it's fun to go out to a great restaurant and just order dessert- I remember once going to eat at a very nice upscale restaurant and we almost didn't order dessert (we were using a gift card) until we saw how inexpensive it was! You can even just get one dessert to share. Either way, you can enjoy the swanky atmosphere and gazing across your sweets to look into the eyes of your sweet...

7. Fashion Models- I used to do this with my girlfriends in college, and it's just as fun now with my husband! (though with much less giggling) Go to a clothing store and take turns picking out things for each other to try on. My husband loved finding evening gowns for me to wear, and I enjoyed the opportunity to dress him up too! The only rule is that you have to try on whatever they pick out- no exceptions! You might even find something you'll want to take home with you...

8. Book It- If you love books like I do, go to a library or bookstore and just hang out. You could even go to a bookstore that has a small cafe and make a whole night of it- get some great books, have a snack, play some games (often there will be chess or checkers). Bookstores aren't just great places to meet guys, they're great places to appreciate the one you already have!

9. Get Lost- Get a map (or your trusty GPS), hop in the car and just start driving! Make turns you don't usually make, and see how lost you can get. Then, using your map and your navigation skills, find your way back home! I did this in college when my family moved to a new area, and I got to know the area really well. Whenever I would go somewhere new with my mom I would say, "Hey, I know this place- I got lost here once!"

10. Go Gaming- Save up your quarters and go to your local arcade. Try as many games as you dare, and see who can beat the high score!

11. And Everything Else- There are so many fun things you can do out there, and prices vary from location to location, so I wanted to include a brief list of everything else that could fall under the "under $10" category, depending on the businesses where you live. And don't forget that you can often find coupons to bring the cost down on many of these activities! Some that I thought of were: 
- bowling
- roller skating/roller blading
- indoor rock climbing
- ice skating
- cheap movies/dollar theaters
- pottery classes

So there you go, you have all the inspiration you need to create some fantastic fun frugal dates, whether at home, outdoors, or anywhere else! Your assignment for this week: GO ON A DATE ALREADY! Then come back next week and tell me about it. I would love to read about your experiences and your ideas. Happy dating everybody!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Thrifty Gift: Books!

Here's a quick tip on a thrifty gift I love to give: books!

Now, books can be expensive, but not if you look for the right kind of book in the right kind of place. Whenever I'm at Goodwill or another thrift store, I keep on the lookout for the "Life's Little Lessons"-type gift books. They're small, they're cute, they have great quotations, and they're often only a dollar. Sometimes I will even use one of them in the place of a card- at a dollar, it can be just as cost efficient!

Recently, I was at an antiques/thrift store and I found the cutest little hardback book with a little prose in it about what it means to be a friend. It was shaped like a little novelette, and it was very antiquey-looking. The pages had the sweetest illustrations, and said things like, "A friend will sit with you when you are sad."

I bought the book for fifty cents, then I decided to save it as an anytime gift for my mom, since she is my best friend. The next time she came to visit, I tied a sheer white ribbon around it and left it on her bed in the guest room. She thought it was a really thoughtful little gift, and it was a nice way for me to let her know how happy I was that she was here, and that I think of her when she is not here.

So next time you're at a thrift store (and if you read this blog, I KNOW you go to thrift stores!) check out the book section and pull a few feel-good books for those you love. It's something that costs a little, but means a lot!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Rules of Winning

With my current giveaway going on, I thought it would be appropriate to bring up one of my favorite sources of free stuff- contests and giveaways! I love to enter contests and giveaways (almost as much as I love offering them myself) and I have gotten some great stuff from them- just today I stopped by the library to pick up my 2 free books I won by entering a drawing, along with a free book for each of my children that they won from drawings! It took only a few seconds to fill out the entry slip (name, phone number, books we read) and lucky us- we got picked!

But how do you make the contests and giveaways worth it? Well, there is never a guarantee with a drawing that you will win, but here are a few Rules of Winning that I like to follow:

1. ENTER! This might seem obvious, but it is the most important rule: you'll never win anything until you participate! Don't ever let the idea of slim chances deter you. There is always a winner, and you have the same chance as anyone else. Why couldn't it be you?

2. Crumple- This sounds a little silly, but if you're entering a drawing, it sometimes helps to crumple your paper (rather than folding it or leaving it flat) because it will take up more space and stick out more, so a hand feeling around for a random piece of paper will be more likely to pick it. It works, seriously! (hey, I won the books, didn't I?)

3. Know the rules- Check all the fine print listed on an entry form, not only to protect yourself but to increase your chances of winning. Can you enter more than once? Can other members of your household enter as well? How often can you win from that source (most radio stations have a 30-day minimum limit between wins)

4. Be on the lookout- The drawing I mentioned that I won was at the local library. Libraries often have very easy and simple drawings and contests, both for you and for your kids. Other favorite places to win things are stores, radio stations, mailers, and websites. The only businesses I don't recommend entering drawings for are home improvement companies. Once they have your information they call you and try to schedule estimates, which leads to annoying salespeople, and personally, I just don't think it's worth the hassle.

5. Extra tips for winning off the radio- Thanks to my husband for these! Have the radio station's phone number on speed dial, and press "send" as soon as you hear the "key word"- for example, if you have to answer a question to win, wait until you hear them say the word, "question" just before they read the question. That will be when they are clearing the lines to take callers, and if you jump the gun and start your dialing, you're more likely to get through.

5. Beware- As always, protect your personal information. Be cautious of the information you give out when entering contests and drawings.

To inspire you, here are a few other things my husband (he is the Radio Winning Champion because he is on the road all the time- they know him by name at the radio station!) and I have won in the last few years:

- $100 gift certificate to a day spa (won through registering via a radio station e-mail list)
- DVDs (won lots off the radio)
- Tickets to the symphony (radio)
- $50 gift card to Bookbinders, a very nice upscale restaurant (radio station promo event- just had to show up and register to win a diamond ring at a jewelry store and we got to pick our prizes)
- Tickets to the zoo (radio)
- Tickets to the State Fair (radio)
- American Idol board game (radio)
- Tickets to new movie screenings (radio)

There have also been times when we have won tickets and then been unable to attend the event, due to scheduling conflicts. When this happens, we either offer the tickets to a friend, or we sell them at a lower price than retail. A little extra cash never hurts!

Happy winning, everybody!

What have you won lately? Do you have any tips to share to increase your chances of taking home the prize?

$2/$10 CVS Coupon Giveaway!

To celebrate reaching $1000 in my CVS ExtraCare Card Savings, I am choosing 3 random lucky winners to each receive TWO $2/$10 CVS coupons! These are original coupons that I clipped from the Richmond Parents Monthly magazine, not an internet printable! They expire 9/28/08.

To enter- leave me a comment OR subscribe to my blog. In your comments, please let me know what you like about my blog, or any suggestions you have for improvements, and any new post topics you would be interested in. Please be sure to leave an e-mail address so that I have a way to reach you! The giveaway will end at 8am on Thursday 8/21.

I look forward to reading your comments and giving away some coupons!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Beautiful Thrifty Treat: Music to My Ears

One of the most fun, but most often overlooked challenges of living a beautiful thrifty life is allowing ourselves those little treats to enjoy. It's easy to spend our time trying to find grocery bargains and saving a buck on clothes, but sometimes you just need something that's fun and frugal just for you; that doesn't take a lot of time or money, but it gives you a chance to just indulge yourself for a moment. 

My Beautiful Thrifty Treat for today is music. Sometimes I get that shopping bug where I just want to buy something, so I keep a list of songs I want to get for my iPod. Whenever I feel the need for a little pick-me-up, I'll spend $0.99 on a song I've been wanting. It costs less than a dollar, so it's not going to break my budget, and I get to look forward to listening to the song and adding it to my playlists. I am definitely a music lover, so 3 1/2 minutes of a great song is a real bargain for $0.99, in my opinion. 

If you don't have an mp3 player, then just pull out an old cd with a great song you haven't heard in awhile. Take those 3 1/2 minutes and listen to it. You might be surprised at how the music can lift your whole mood!

Have a beautiful thrifty day!

What are some of your favorite pick-me-up songs?

Friday, August 15, 2008

For All You Fellow CVSers

I just published a post on my other blog, Gettin' Deals, entitled, "You Know You're A CVS Junkie When..." If you think this may be you, check it out! Happy CVSing!

Sweet Scents...very cheap!

I am a very sensory person, so for me, how my home smells is almost as important as how it looks. If it doesn't smell clean, then it doesn't feel clean! And with a dog, sometimes that can be tricky. 

Lucky for me, there are always great deals on home fragrance products out there, and while I have been mostly relegating my coupon posts to my other blog, this is one I think that everyone can appreciate and use to make their life more beautiful! Not to mention it's really simple- the 8/03 SmartSource coupon insert (from your 8/03 Sunday newspaper) has a coupon for $4 off 1 Glade Plug-Ins Scented Oil Warmer. These are $4.94 at Wal-Mart, so with the coupon you can get one for $0.94! Not a bad deal in my opinion.

Mine smells just delightful...

Like A Bandit: Free Friday!

Check out my morning haul! Between Rite Aid, CVS, and Walgreens, I came out with a pretty good load. I didn't pay for any of it, and actually the stores owe me money! I'll spare you all the gory details, but if you're curious, you can go to my other blog, Gettin' Deals! to get the full story. It looks like I'll have enough pens to last me a lifetime (14 packs) and enough chocolate to last me a week (4 bags).

Ahh, I love to shop...especially when I don't have to spend any money doing it!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Friday Night is Date Night! Part III: Dates in the Great Outdoors

We are nearing the end of summer, so now is a great time to take advantage of the warm weather (and gear up for the even nicer weather of fall) and head outside with your honey! Here are a few suggestions for some fun and frugal outdoor dates:

1. Tennis, Basketball, Frisbee Golf- any sport will do! There is something about the teasing that comes with competition that rekindles those flirtatious feelings. Go to your local park and make use of the tennis courts, basketball courts, and any other sport you might like to try! Pair this one with a fun picnic lunch or dinner (see #11 for a great menu and more ideas) or grab a cold treat for dessert. Just have fun and try not to beat him too bad... ;-)

2. Stargazing- It may sound cheesy, but why not get a book on constellations, grab your picnic blanket and a flashlight and find an open field from which to gaze into the heavens? There is something magical about snuggling close under the sparkling night sky, and you could even make it more memorable by picking out your own constellation and naming it together...

3. Go Exploring- This is one I have always wanted to try- get a die (like from a set of dice) and decide what direction each number will represent, like right, left, forward, look up, look down, kiss....Then you go to a "downtown"-type area and at every intersection, take turns rolling the die to see which way to go or look (or whether to lock lips!). You might be surprised at the things you'll see that you might not have discovered otherwise. This would be especially fun if you are new to the area.

4. Walk the Dog- Have a doggy date! If you own a dog, take him/her with you on your next date. Go to some dog-friendly places and just play. If you don't have a dog, go to your local animal shelter and volunteer for dog-walking duty. You and your sweetie are bound to have an adventure, and you'll be helping some furry friends along the way!

5. Batting Cages- This date is not completely free, but it is cheap. Just make sure that you take turns watching each other bat, and of course include as much good-natured teasing as you possibly can. If one of you hits one out of the park (hard to do, but my sweetie did once!), see if you can retrieve it, then autograph it for your biggest fan- your spouse! autographed baseball would also be a great invite for this one...

6. Hiking, Biking, Canoeing- This one is pretty straightforward. Bikes and canoes can be rented, and most state parks offer some pretty cool nature programs like moonlit hikes and evening canoe trips. It's definitely worth checking into!

7. Park Hopping- This could be a one-nighter or a series of dates- get a list of all the local parks in your area and then visit each of them and decide what you like/don't like about them. You may discover places you have never been before, or even just find that there were parts of parks you hadn't explored before. Be sure to find the best picnic spot in each park, and then "stake your claim". Each time you return you can go back to "your spot."

8. Go Back to High School- This is not as traumatic as it sounds! With the fall coming up, there will be lots of high school football games scheduled. Make a date to attend one and relive the fun of those Friday night lights! Get concessions, cheer as loudly and obnoxiously as you dare, and hold hands with your sweetheart.

9. Photo Fun- This one has a wide range of possibilities- grab your camera and get dressed up to take glamour shots of each other. Do a full modeling session- the cheesier the better! Be sure to try lots of different locations as backdrops. If you're camera-shy, then just find things that inspire you and snap away. Then take your camera to a one-hour photo and check out the results together. The best part is that you'll have a fun collection of photos to remember your date by. (note: if there is another couple you can do a double date with, try a photo scavenger hunt- losers buy the winners ice cream, and everyone has a blast looking at the photos afterward!) See last #3 on last week's post Part II: Dates at Home for an idea for what to do with the photos!

10. Heart Attacks- Put together some treat baskets or cookie plates for friends, then put on your ninja gear and sneak it up to their door under the cover of night...ring the doorbell and book it out of there as quick as you can! You can either hide in the bushes to watch their reaction or one of you can be the getaway driver. I've heard that adrenaline can mimic the feelings of falling in love...

11. Picnic With the Works- If possible, choose a designated spot ahead of time and hide some items close by. The advanced preparation will show your sweetie how much you care. Include sparkling cider, champagne glasses, candles (remember, safety first!) and even a portable music player to set the mood. For a simple yet elegant menu, try chilled chicken salad on crescent rolls (keep these separate until it's time to eat), grapes, and spreadable cheese (NOT Cheez-Wiz, please!) on crackers. If you're more culinarily (yes, I just invented a word) inclined, then do a full 3-5 course meal! Just make it romantic and special, and you will be bound to have a night to remember.

Check back next Friday for Part IV: Indoor Dates!

Have you tried any of the dates in the series? Do you have any more fun date ideas to share? Leave a comment!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Gas Monster

Marie Curie once said, "Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood." I find that true in so many aspects of my life, and lately one fear that has cropped up is all of the hype about gas prices (though lately they have been going down- yay!). So I decided to take it upon myself to, rather than fear the increasing cost, instead try to understand what exactly that price increase means for me, and to deal with it in a rational and constructive way. Just like ordinary budgeting and financial planning, you can stick your head in the sand and say "Woe is me!", or you can take measures to face it head-on and know exactly what you're up against so that you can cut out the worrying and start preventative planning. All it takes is a little more awareness on your part. Are you ready for some math?

The first step I took was to calculate my car's gas mileage. I wasn't sure how to do this- it seemed a little difficult to wrap my brain around- but I came up with my own method.

1. The next time you go to the gas station, allow the pump to fill your tank until it automatically stops. You can now assume for the intents of this calculation that your tank is full. 

2. Reset the odometer or write down the number- if you have a trip odometer, you can set that to zero and it will work just fine. Don't touch the odometer again until the next time you fill up.

3. The next time you fill up, check the number on the odometer. If you are using your car's main odometer, subtract the number you wrote down the last time you filled up from the current number. Otherwise, just check the number on the trip odometer that you zeroed the last time you filled up. This will be how far you have gone since your last fill-up. 
4. Next, allow the pump to fill the tank again until it automatically stops. Now look at the digital readout on the gas pump or check your receipt to see how many gallons of gas you purchased. That is how many gallons of gas it took you to go the number of miles you see on the odometer, and all you have to do is to divide the number of miles by the number of gallons. 

Example: Your receipt says 15 gallons, the odometer reads 330 miles. 
330 divided by 15 = 22 - the car gets 22 miles to the gallon.

It is also a good idea to do this a few times consecutively in order to get a good average, just because sometimes you will spend more time doing highway driving and other times you will be in the city more. This way you can get a good solid number that will be your guide to planning your trips. Now you have some good information you can use to plan them.

It is important to spend some time planning your trips, because every time you drive your car somewhere, you are spending your money. If you care where your money goes, you should plan where your gas goes. 

The next step is to boil this down to the mile. This is easy- decide on an average gas price (you can be specific and adjust this each time you check your fuel economy, but I like to go with an average to make it simpler) and then divide the cost of a gallon of gas by your car's gas mileage.

 Example: A gallon of gas costs $3.80 and my car gets 22 miles to the gallon
$3.80 divided by 22 = approximately $0.17. Each mile I drive costs me 17 cents.

This number is now my measuring tool. If I want to decide, for example, whether to take my kids to the community pool that is 7 miles away where I have to pay an $8 admission fee per person, versus taking them to the beach that is 85 miles away but is free, I simply do the math.

Pool: 7 miles x 2 (round trip) = 14 miles total x $0.17 = $2.38 + $24 (total admission fees) = $26.38

Beach: 85 miles x 2 = 170 miles total x $0.17 = $28.90

With a difference of only $2.52, it's a pretty close call. But the funny thing is that there are probably a lot of people out there who, in a valiant attempt to save money on gas, are spending far more money doing things closer to home. It really just comes down to the math.

Now, you would certainly have to take lots of other factors into account in the above example- like convenience, wear on your vehicle, purchasing food on the way (I like a picnic lunch, myself), and the basic desires of the family. But my purpose in doing this little mathematic exercise is to demonstrate that knowing the numbers can help you make a truly informed financial decision when you're planning your everyday activities. 

For me, this has been a very useful tool when it comes to my couponing and grocery deals shopping. How great is it to save $5 on groceries by going to a warehouse store when it costs me $6 to drive there? I have also started paying attention to combining my trips, and I have started thinking far more about the places I go, because as I said before- every time you drive your car, you are spending your money. Even a short trip to just "run out to the store" costs me $1.20, and when you're trying to save money, that's enough to make you think twice!

Do you try to calculate your gas down to the mile? If so, how has this changed your daily travel patterns? If not, do you think this is something you will try?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Mother Hubbard Meal #1

So tonight I was planning on doing the Chicken Noodle Soup with dumplings, but as I looked through my pantry I decided to change the menu a bit. I came upon a family-sized can of Cream of Chicken soup, so I decided to use that as my base, and then I added in a can of chicken, carrots (I steamed these separately because I didn't want to boil the soup), and some sliced green onions for a little color. Then I cooked up some instant mashed potatoes, and I served the soup over the potatoes.

Well, it was a big hit! I loved it, my husband loved it, and I'm sure that if the kids had eaten it, they wouldn't have complained too much (I had some leftover mac-n-cheese that needed to be eaten, so that was their dinner, much to their delight). It was also very filling, which is important when you're trying to stretch your budget. The best part was that I even had some left over for lunch the next day... yum!

See? Old Mother Hubbard doesn't have it so bad!

Friday Night is Date Night! Part II: Dates at Home

It's Friday and that means...DATE NIGHT! And just because you can't get a babysitter is no excuse for missing out on the best night of the week! 

Let me start by giving you some advice on planning your dates. What my husband and I have done is to trade off weeks for date night. One week it's my responsibility, the next week it's his, and whoever has responsibility is also in charge of finding a babysitter (if necessary). We usually do our planning in secret, simply because we like to surprise each other, and we both enjoy being surprised. On occasion I will get very creative and send him an invitation, or leave notes with hints about the date throughout the week. My favorite were my clues about our tennis date- "This is a court with no judge and no jury," "Where we're going, love means nothing," etc. I loved to watch his complete confusion as he tried to figure out the clues! We had a good laugh about it when we finally got to the tennis court!

Sometimes, if the date is a big deal (like a show he's been wanting to see) I will just tell him ahead of time, because I think that the planning and anticipation can be almost as fun as the event itself, and the excitement leading up to the date can bring you closer together as you talk about it and anticipate together.

So back to my topic- Dates At Home! My biggest piece of advice for dates at home is to make them special by having a theme. It actually makes the planning easier, and it's just more fun! Here are a few ideas for when you just can't tear yourself away from the kiddies for the night!

1. Have a Movie-Themed Night: I did this with my husband for one of the Harry Potter movies- he really wanted to see one of them and we hadn't gotten a chance to watch it, so without him knowing I got my hands on a copy (borrowed it from a friend) for our date. I had popcorn and hot chocolate and warm blankets all ready (it was wintertime). I turned on the dvd to the main menu so that the theme music was playing when he came in, and I had turned out the lights and lit candles all over the room (very Hogwarts). It was just a really cool effect! You could do this with any movie, and even dress up and/or make special treats to go with your theme.

2. Game Tournament- If you two are of the competitive mindset, this one can be a blast. Set up a gaming tournament with certain rules- you can play one game or a series of different games (this would be a great one for tonight with the Olympics starting!). When my husband and I did it, we used pool (we had a pool table), foosball (a foosball table too) and a card game. We kept score differently with each game (every ball in the pocket was a point, every goal was a point, etc.) and at the end of the night whoever lost had to make an ice cream sundae (or you could do smoothies) for the winner. And then we just teased the heck out of each other!

3. Scrapbooking- Okay, ladies, now you may think that your husbands will think this is lame, but if I got MY husband, the Jock of All Time to do it, then yours will too! You can scrapbook anything you want- photos of when you were dating, your wedding, your honeymoon, your kids- just have fun with it and be creative! You might be surprised at what you can create together. (And ladies, if you are an avid scrapbooker, please remember to just let your man do it his own way- this is NOT an entry for Creating Keepsakes magazine!) 

4. Getting to Know You- This is a good one to combine with something else, like baking cookies. Just get a series of "getting to know you" questions and put them in a jar (there is  great list here) Find a good cookie recipe and have fun making it together, then once the cookies are in the oven, take turns pulling out a question and giving your answer. You might be surprised what you learn about each other...

5. Spa Night- The credit totally goes to my sweet hubby for this one! One night he surprised me with a spa date- I came into our bedroom and he had laid out a thick cushion of blankets on the floor as our massage table. The lights were out, and the room was lit only by candles. He had a small water fountain bubbling quietly in the corner, and a cd of soothing spa music playing. I have gotten professional massages before, and he re-created the atmosphere perfectly! He then gave me a delightful massage with wonderfully scented body oils, and then pampered me with a bubble bath afterward. I felt like a queen! Getting spoiled was fun, but if we did this date again, I would insist on getting a turn as the masseuse. ;-)

6. Remember When- A lot of us have home movies, but we hardly ever have an opportunity to watch them! Take a night to pull out your old home movies and watch your wedding, or when your kids were born. Going back to those special moments in your life will remind you of all the loving feelings you had (and hopefully still have!) for each other.

7. Pick a Project- Whether it be painting a room in your house, making Christmas gifts, or refinishing a piece of furniture, a project will bring you closer together as you learn to work together to accomplish something big. Come on, we all have projects that need doing! Doing them together will make it fun, and in the process you will make some great memories.

  8. Exercise- Get a workout dvd and do it together! Since you're doing it with your man, I would recommend something macho, like tae-bo or kickboxing. Don't take it too seriously, just have fun with it and enjoy a healthy treat like smoothies when you're finished. And of course you'll probably need to shower afterward, which could also bring you closer together... ;-)

9. Learn Something New- Your local library is a great resource for instructional books and dvds. Why not get a book on origami and try it out? Or even a dvd on ballroom dancing. I remember when I was a teenager I would see my parents sitting in the living room eating popcorn and watching instructional videos on things like "How To Install Wainscoting". Not exactly on the romantic side, but they enjoyed deciding on projects to do around the house and then learning how to do them together. It's just those little things that make you closer!

10. Dine in- After you have kids, mealtime can turn into a hectic affair. Why not let the kids have the hectic affair and save the romantic affair for your sweetie? We have a back deck, so I would love to someday make a romantic dinner for my DH out there. I would string up some white lights, light some candles, maybe have a tablecloth with rose petals on it and some soft music playing... sparkling cider and champagne glasses... it would be just like our own 5-star restaurant at home! You could do the exact same thing inside, and if you want to keep the kids away from the "restaurant", you could have their dinner picnic-style on the living room floor. Kids love that, and your eating sanctuary would be safe until date time. And if cooking an elaborate meal is too much for you, just order out. Guys love food from their favorite restaurant. Just toss the containers and serve it on your nice china. :-)

Check back next Friday for fun and frugal date ideas you can do outdoors!

Do you have any fun stay-at-home date ideas? Leave a comment!

Great Personal Finance Book Recommendation

I am an avid reader, and when I come across a book that I love, I have to share it! I was just sitting down to re-align our budget (there are just some times when that becomes prudent), and I thought back to a book I read a couple of years ago called "All Your Worth" by Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi. 

In their book, they present a very rational and doable plan for money management, including a budgeting formula of 50% Must-Haves, 20% Savings, and 30% Wants. I can tell you that the more in line we've been with that formula, the less stressful our budgeting has been. If you'd like a preview, check out this link. It covers a lot of the main points in the book.

The book is very readable, very enjoyable, and completely motivating. I highly recommend that you check it out from the library- it's definitely on my list of must-reads for everyone I know, especially if you feel like you're in a financial rut!

Does anyone else out there have recommendations for some good financial literature? I am always up for new material!

Old Mother Hubbard and Me!

My husband's job is mostly commission-based- he installs security systems and gets paid by the job and the devices he installs. Well, a couple of weeks ago he suffered an injury that put him on "light duty". Light duty= office work= low paycheck. So this week I am putting my frugal muscles to work to see how little I can spend when I do my weekly grocery shopping tomorrow! 

What I have decided to do is to try this "Old Mother Hubbard"-style and to take a look at what I already have in my freezer, fridge, and pantry, and try to make some meals from it. Luckily, they are not completely bare thanks to my deals shopping of weeks past. So here is what I have come up with so far in no particular order (note: I usually only plan dinner menus because we always have cereal for breakfast and the kids always eat the same things for lunches, and my DH doesn't eat lunch...go figure...):

Dinner #1: Canned chicken noodle soup- I'll add dumplings (this is a first for me!) and some extra carrots that I have, maybe even some extra cooked chicken (see dinner #7)

Dinner #2: Spaghetti- no meatballs for this one, but I'll make either some homemade bread or rolls and accompany it with a big salad (I like the giant bags of salad from Sam's Club for $2.50)

Dinner #3: Tuna pasta salad- I have some of that "Suddenly Salad" mix that I tried for the first time this week and it was pretty good- I think that if I just add some canned tuna and have some cooked broccoli on the side, maybe some of that leftover bread and/or rolls with it then it will be pretty good!

Dinner #4: Frozen Pizza- Got this cheap, not particularly healthy, but it's a crowd-pleaser! We'll have some salad on the side.

Dinner #5: Corn pancakes or waffles and eggs- I like to make breakfast for dinner sometimes, but I like to use the Jiffy corn muffin mix (can't beat it for $0.33 a box!) and do corn pancakes because they're a little bit heartier than the buttermilk pancakes.

Dinner #6: Potato Soup- I just recently got a recipe for how to make a cheesy potato soup using items from food storage (dried potato flakes, etc.). I am going to give it a try and maybe add in some of those extra carrots and accompany it with some corn muffins.

Dinner #7: Grilled Chicken Salad- this is a favorite of ours! We just take some chicken breasts (I think I have 2 left in the freezer!) and season them with a little garlic salt and pepper and then throw them on the grill. Once they're done, we cut them up and put them on a green salad. Add some cheese and  your favorite salad dressing, maybe some bread on the side, and you've got a yummy and filling meal!

So that's the plan for next week- I'll be sure to post again to let you all know of my successes and (though hopefully fewer!) flops.

How could you reduce your grocery bill for next week with items you already have in your cupboards?? Leave a comment and let us know what you're going to try this week!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Speaking of Gardening...Here's a FREE eBook!

I have at least one sister-in-law who will love this freebie- just go here to sign up for Organic Gardening's free newsletter and receive a complimentary eBook entitled "Companion Planting Made Easy." I love free stuff, especially really helpful free stuff!

Thanks to moneysavingmom for this great deal!

This is a test...

I have been hoping with this blog to help people save money and appreciate their lives and to get a dialogue started about the various topics  through the comments sections. Sadly, the comments have been really sparse! So this is my question- does anyone read my blog? According to my hit counter, people come here, but no one comments! (Except for you, Alicia, thank you!)

This is a test- if you read this post, please add a quick comment for me- I don't even care if all you write is "Hi." I just want to know that someone is out there! 

If you have a little more time, please let me know if this is a blog you think you might read again, and depending on if your answer is a yes or no, please tell me what you like/don't like about it. I am open to criticism!

And lastly, if there are topics you want me to cover on here, please let me know! I aim to please, people! ;-)


Monday, August 4, 2008

Hang on Little Tomato

Okay, so that's a weird title for this post, but it's the title of a song (and an album) by Pink Martini, one of my favorite bands, and I think of it every time I'm in the garden!

Anyway, today I just wanted to write about a God-breeze I had (for those of you who are not familiar with the term "God-breeze" it is borrowed from Flylady and it covers anytime you have a moment of inspiration and contentment). I was out in the garden with my children last week, and the weather was really nice- not nearly as humid as it has been, and the sky was blue and the sun was shining and there were white puffy clouds and a pleasantly cool breeze. I was sitting on my bench under my favorite tree by the garden gate and I was just enjoying the delightful weather, when I realized that my enjoyment of the weather was being heightened by my garden. I've always been one to appreciate a glorious day, but since I have been caring for my garden this summer, I seem to have extended my mothering instincts to my little tomato plants (and my one butternut squash plant, can't forget him!). As I was enjoying the weather, I wasn't just appreciating it for me and my children, but I was appreciating it on a deeper level for the way that the sun was gently encouraging my little plants to grow. I was admiring the clouds for the moisture that they carried that would nourish my little plants and help them flourish. I was enjoying the little insects buzzing around that pollinated the flowers. I was admiring the worms for their dedicated tunneling that would loosen and enrich the soil so that the roots would have room to stretch. 

At that moment it just seemed that all of nature was helping me to produce these beautiful sweet tomatoes (and squash, of course) that would eventually nourish my family, and I was just grateful. Grateful to God for giving us such a beautiful world, and for creating a perfect system in which all parts work together for a great purpose. In my case, that great purpose is a humble little tomato and squash garden, but to me it is special, because I helped to create it. I remember once reading a long list of ways to feel closer to God, and it included things like read your scriptures, pray, give service to others, but the one thing on the list that surprised me was "plant a garden." Now I really understand why! When you plant a garden, you are harmonizing with God in His creations, and you are being industrious, yet gentle. You cannot stuff a seed into the ground and then yank up a plant. It takes patience, loving care, gentle coaxing, much as our Father helps each of us to grow. And then, if given enough time and love, you will be rewarded with an abundance of beautiful fruits to nourish and sustain you.

I decided to write about this on here because gardening is such a wonderful way to feed your family delicious, quality fruits and vegetables while spending only a few cents for the seeds and a fraction of your time each day. But not only will you enjoy the end result, you will grow to appreciate the journey, and gain a deeper appreciation for all of God's creations along the way.

How does your garden grow? 

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Run Away

This is going to be slightly off-topic for my blog, but it's becoming a big part of my life so I just want to put it out there- let's talk about physical fitness! Now, I have a lot of friends that have monthly gym memberships, which I think is great if you can afford it and you know you'll use it, but I am so busy most of the time, I just don't know how I'd find 2 hours in my day to drive to the gym, work out, shower, and then drive home. It would be tricky, and therefore not necessarily worth the expense.

I have always tried (key word is TRIED) to exercise on a fairly regular basis, but of course it hasn't always worked out. But in April I had something of an inspiration when my husband ran the Monument 10k here in Richmond. He is very athletic, so even though he wasn't in top shape and he only started preparing for it a month in advance, he ran it in an hour and ran the whole way without too much trouble. I really enjoyed supporting him and cheering everyone on. It was just really inspirational watching all of these people- many of whom did not look like they were athletes- taking on the challenge and having fun with it. 

So after that race I decided that I wanted to give it a shot. I know that I am not a runner, and I am definitely not athletic, so I knew that I would probably need the whole year to prepare and so I started about 2 weeks after the race. My training really picked up in May after I got my heart rate monitor for Mother's Day. I usually don't endorse spending a lot of money on things, but in this case, the heart rate monitor was TOTALLY worth it. Mine is made by Polar, and it has a watch/wrist unit and a chest strap. I think it was around $100 on eBay. Shortly after I got it, I checked out a book from the library on how to train with a HRM, and that helped me understand that I didn't just need to get my heart rate up, I needed to keep it steady in the right zone for me. Basically, think of your body like a car- cars get the best gas mileage when they are going steady (like on cruise control) on the highway. It's the same way with your body- if your heart rate is constantly jumping up and down, then your endurance is greatly reduced. If, however, you keep it at a constant rate in your target zone, then your body uses your energy much more efficiently and you can do a lot more with a lot less expenditure.

Anyway, before I was barely able to run for 3 minutes without stopping. After I started training with my HRM, I was able to keep going for quite some time. After only about 8 weeks I ran a full 3 miles without stopping. It may have taken me 40 minutes to do it, but I did it! It was a huge accomplishment for me.

All along my goal has simply been to run the 10k and do so comfortably- without feeling like I was going to die! Before, it was a distant dream. But now I am running at least 2.3 miles 2-4 times a week, and I feel really good! Having the 10k as my goal has kept me moving, even through the "slumps", and I am looking forward to conquering a mountain that, up until now, had always seemed far too tall for me to climb. Nothing makes me feel better about myself than accomplishing something that is really hard for me to do, and doing so as a result of persistent hard work. I am proud of what I am doing, and of how it is making me feel not just physically, but emotionally as well. 

So, to summarize, running is an initial investment that can pay off huge dividends if you throw in a little perseverance and hard work!

What mountain are you climbing in your life?

Friday, August 1, 2008

Friday Night is Date Night! Part I: Babysitting Solutions

I thought it would be fun to do a little weekly series every Friday on fun and free/cheap date ideas. My hubby and I do our dates when we can, which is not as often as we like, but we both agree that it's an important part of keeping our marriage strong.

To begin this series, this week I'd like to address the issue of the B-word- BABYSITTING! Because you can't go on a real date with the kids in tow! Date night is all about the one-on-one bonding between you and your spouse, and bringing the kids just really defeats the whole purpose.

Here are our most common babysitting solutions:

1. Family- we are lucky enough to have family close by, and so we use them and abuse them! We try not to use them too often (maybe a couple times a year) but it's a great option because it's a real treat for the kids to spend quality time with a grandma or a favorite aunt and uncle. When we do use family, we usually try to have some good food or other "bonus" that we give them to show our appreciation. Whenever we leave the kids with my mother-in-law when we go on weekend trips we try to bring back a little gift that is unique to the place we visited.

2. Trading with Friends- I have heard of this being done a few different ways, but what works best for us is having one other family who has kids around the same age as ours that we trade with. We take their kids once during the month, they take our kids another time during the month, then we usually keep two weeks free (inevitably things come up and we don't want to be overscheduled). Because our kids are young, we usually do from around 3:30-7:30pm on a Saturday- it's in between naptime and bedtime so there are fewer tantrums! 
Another option for trading with friends is the "Babysitting Co-op" in which 4 (or more?) families rotate turns babysitting- Family A takes all the kids on the first Saturday of the month while Family B, C, and D all have their dates. Then the next week Family B watches all the kids while Family A, C, and D have dates, and so on. I think this would be fine if you don't have too many kids and you don't mind the commitment of every week. We're just afraid of that many kids and being tied to once a week!

3. Trading services- I think that bartering is a great option, especially if you have trusted friends (adult or teenager) that don't have children. You can always find services to offer in return for babysitting, like tutoring or music lessons for a teenager, or cooking, sewing, or grocery shopping for a friend. Don't be afraid to ask!

4. Staying in- Okay, I know this sounds lame, but you might be surprised at the fun things you can do at home with your spouse once the kids are in bed (no, not THAT! That's for after the date! ;-)) Come back next Friday for ideas on Dates at Home!!

It's Date Night- Do you have any unique babysitting solutions or fun and frugal date ideas? Leave a comment!

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