A Christmas Bonus and a Cash Only Christmas

It was so wonderful-we paid only cash for Christmas this year! That was very exciting- the funny part is that credit cards were such a normal way of paying out Christmas in the past that I don't even have memories of feeling guilty about credit spending. This year we had cash budgeted for Christmas. We had every thing bought and paid for when my husband brought home a special Christmas surprise last Friday- a very nice bonus!

Since we already paid for our gifts, we are thinking we will use this to pay down extra on our debt. We did splurge and go out for a nice dinner that night. It was also a celebration for us on the beginning of a long-awaited vacation.

We are still looking at used cars, while in the meantime paying down the negative equity we owe so we can get rid of the car. But that is a post in itself... :)

It is such an awesome feeling to not have new bills waiting for us after Christmas- instead we are ringing in the new year with an emergency fund, thousands less in debt, and with an extra bonus to pay down our old debts. We've worked harder and spent less this year- but the funny thing is we didn't even increase our income over last year because I was working part-time last year and this year I didn't.

And that is what makes me think- if we can do it, anyone can. That's what is the most exciting about the whole thing. We aren't special. We are middle-class people who simply had a radical perspective change and decided to change our behavior. And now we are on our way to becoming debt-free!

Frugal Confession- We Walked Out of a Restaurant

There was a new restaurant in town- very chic and was said to have decent prices. We decided to give it a try. We walked in and were seated by the hostess. We picked up the menus and started looking.

The server had yet to greet us, but as I was looking at the menu, absolutely nothing sounded good. Especially for the $10+ per plate. If there is anything I hate spending money on, it's food I don't even like. Not only do I have nothing to show for my money, I don't even enjoy the food.

So on this day, I was thankful the server hadn't greeted us yet. I asked my husband if he liked anything and he hadn't found anything, so I asked if we could leave, because I didn't want to spend that much money eating out when nothing even sounded good.

He was okay with us leaving, which is actually amazing because he is much more easily embarrassed than I about these kinds of things. We got up and told the hostess we had changed our minds and gave back our menus.

Were we too cheap? I'm not sure- I think it may be borderline. Maybe next time a new restaurant comes into town we will ask to see the menu before being seated. :)

Do you have any Frugal Confessions? Please share them with us- just leave a comment or post about it on your blog and use Mr. Linky to leave your link! Find out more about Frugal Confessions Thursday here.

Walgreen's Coupon Today Only

Get a $5 off $20 coupon good today only (Dec. 18th, 2007) at Walgreen's. If nothing else, it's 25% off diapers! ;)

How to Keep People from Buying your Car

I was looking at Craigslist for cars last night when I saw the title, "Hate it. I hate this car! Somebody help me!" I thought it had to be a joke, but it was definitely real, and completely hilarious!

I kid you not, this was the listing, misspellings and all:

Hate it! I hate this car! Somebody help me!

Reply to:
Date: 2007-12-11, 12:46PM CST

Yes, I HATE this car! Long story, but here goes. Bought the car about four years ago, for my daughter/son-in-law. The car had a couple of issues, mainly it had the famous peeling-paint-looks-awful-problem. It also had a ton of miles, but seemed to run alright. So, I spent some bux on a few things it needed and then saved money to re-do the paint. While I tried to save some for the paint, it seemed like every couple of weeks, something new would go wrong and once again, Dear Old Dad would buy another part. I just got lucky, I guess, and bought the car right before some parts were due to expire. It certainly SEEMS that way, at least.
I couldn't afford to re-cover the seats, that would just have to wait. The car just seemed to know when I thought I was done for a while; just as I started to think that the widget that I replaced would be the Last widget for some time, well it seemed like just a couple of weeks and then...something else would break. I'm exaggerating, maybe, but not much. Over about two years and not many miles (maybe 15-20,000) we did paint the car. We changed the color slightly from the original maroon to bright red metallic and it looks "like a million bux".
During this time it seemed like a never-ending parade of things I had to replace. I'm sure I will forget some, but a partial list is Hubcaps,Motor mounts,Brake master cylinder,brake pads (f&r),Heater core,Radiator,Battery,Water pump,Belts, Throttle position sensor, Mass flow sensor, CV Axle, Spark plugs,Wires,ignition module,Fuel Pump, Oil pan gasket, Muffler, All new tires, Window motors (2),this doesn't count the usual oil filters,etc.
During this time the grandbaby was born and everyone is strapped for cash, of course. Then, the transmission quits. Just flat quits. At this point we're desperate and we get a used trans and put in the car. All is well for about two weeks and then this *new* trans starts acting up. It doen't quit, but seems kinda wonky when it shifts so we don't have any confidence in it we worry about the kids traveling with it, especially with the baby. At this point we collectively throw our hands in the air! Arrangements are made to get the kids a different car and this beautiful bright red monument to my poor judgement is parked in my driveway in early '06 right after buying the new registration and the new tires. And there it has been...no-one will drive it even though it drives. I have not registered the car or had it inspected even though it will pass. It has set for nearly two years but its time to go. the car runs and drives and since I've replaced so many parts in the last 10000 miles of its life, it might be a great car for someone....there can't be too much left to break!!
I stupidly said to myself that "I'm not gonna spend a nuther dang dime on this car, I'm just gonna sell it"! and then found that the battery was dead as a doornail...I had to buy a new battery just to be able to put it on the market!!
This thing's gonna kill me I swear!
Well there you have it. Take a look at the pics, let me know MAKE OFFER!
1987 Pontiac Bonneville 3800 V6 cruise,AC,power steering/locks/windows/seats cloth seats.

Frugal Confession- I Didn't Price Shop

A couple of weeks ago I made a trip to Big Lots to buy a few Christmas gifts. As I was browsing, I found several good clearance deals on toys, and it didn't take long to load up the cart. I was in "spending mode" and ready to get a few bargains.

I saw tucked away in a corner a specialty fire box that we had been wanting to get for a long time for $22- a bargain. I thought about it for a while, and called my husband to see if he was okay with it. He was, and so I went ahead and bought it.

I had a general idea of what these fire-proof boxes cost, and in my mind they were usually $30+. I didn't check on what the price was for that box specifically before I bought it. That's why I felt really stupid when I saw the box at Walmart for $17. I overpaid $5 from Walmart's price! I will go to trouble to fill out a much-hated rebate for $5- it's a lot of money to me! $5 is an entire meal at home with leftovers, or even 1/2 of the cost of dinner out with the family!

It was a rookie mistake- I should have at least checked the price on my phone before I bought it. I lost $5 because I was just too busy getting all these clearance deals with three children and I "thought" it was a good deal. I learned- never buy the first thing you look at with out doing some research. Or at least look at Walmart first.

Do you have any Frugal Confessions? Please share them with us- just leave a comment or post about it on your blog and use Mr. Linky to leave your link! Find out more about Frugal Confessions Thursday here.

Rebates = Work

I used to think that rebates were just free money- all you need is to make a few copies and put a stamp on it- but after a few years of sending in for them I realized that you really have to earn the money they "give" you.

Since May I have been sending in for various rebates. I have an ongoing list of what rebates I am owed. I also make copies of everything I send in to each company so I know exactly what I am supposed to be getting.

In May, I got a set of pots and pans for Mother's day. I was supposed to receive the $50 mail in rebate 10-12 weeks later but 4 months rolled around and I still hadn't received it. I looked up the info and gave them a call. Turned out that the rebate had been transferred to another company and they just needed to flag it in the new system for approval- and it was going to take an additional 6-8 weeks to get the check! Sometimes you wonder if they are telling the truth or if they are trying to keep your money.

Just today I had to call another rebate company to see where the other half of my rebate was. I had received only $10 out of the $20. This seems to be a common problem, the representative said, and they are sending out the other $10 to me in 2-3 weeks.

Walgreen's did the same thing to me last week. I sent in my October rebates and only got $9.40 out of the $118 I was expecting. Wow- they must have just missed those others the rep said- they were flagged and the balance and certificates will be mailed out as soon as possible.

It makes me wonder how many people aren't paying much attention and would only notice if they didn't get any rebate at all. Is this a new industry standard to pay as little as possible- kind of like the insurance companies? Just give them less and see if they notice?

If I didn't have time and 500 cell phone minutes a month, I would lose out on all of that money- just this month I would have lost almost $120. Rebates are work- that's why the companies offer them. They are counting on you to not send in that form or not notice when they don't send the money to you.

Frugal Confession- I am a Bag Lady

I love bags. Some people collect shoes, but I collect bags. I have loved and bought purses, computer bags, totes, diaper bags, beach bags- every kind of bag one could imagine. I gave away a ton of bags in April at our garage sale and then donated the rest to Goodwill. I thought with my new more frugal attitude that I would realize the silliness of the bag obsession and be done with it.

I cleaned out a closet the other day, and to my dismay I found that I had been collecting bags again. Straw totes- oh- it's pink- only $2.50? Wow I have to get it! I have a brown leather purse, but I need a black tote sized one- in leather- only $18! and I have a gift card to help out!

It's a disease. I love bags. I would like to think I have gotten better, but the only thing I do differently now is that my bags have to be on clearance or a great deal.

I have got to change this habit. This bag addiction has done no good. Wait- maybe if there was a natural disaster- we would be able to carry out all of our belongings... Yeah. I know. It's no good. I know I have a problem, and that is always the first step to overcoming it.

Do you have any Frugal Confessions? Please share them with us- just leave a comment or post about it on your blog and use Mr. Linky to leave your link!

Not Feeling Frugal with my Dollars

It's Christmas time. A time when it is so easy and often necessary to spend money. After trying and trying to *not* spend money at all for months, it is very difficult for me to get right back on the spending horse. I am doing pretty well I think- I have most Christmas shopping done, and I bargain hunted and found the gifts I wanted to give for much less than they would have cost while staying in my budget.

It's just hard. I feel torn, because even though we have enough money designated to cover these purchases, I just hate spending it. It feels just wrong to spend any money that we do have coming in.

Not only do we have Christmas presents to buy, my oldest son has outgrown his clothes, we have a room to repaint, several events to attend which involve bringing food and gifts, and we need something to wear to them. We aren't going into debt by any means, it just means that money is going toward gifts and other necessary expenses rather than paying down more debt.

I just need to be okay with that, and remember to do the best I can with each purchase- find the best deal, don't buy anything unless its absolutely necessary, and remember that any money we have is directly from the Lord, and He is in control.

Perhaps that little bit of unexpected money He has provided was given to us so we can buy clothes and gifts for our children this year and still contribute the same amount toward our debt this month. I just need to pray before I buy and ask my husband what he thinks about each purchase (well, besides his gift- we are only talking numbers there ;). And there's always the spending fast in January... :)

Frugal Confessions Thursday

We all have them- times when we were too cheap, times when we made poor financial decisions, and times when we were too extravagant. I have made many non-frugal and ultra-frugal decisions in the past and I want to share my mistakes with you! (I know, there might not be enough hosting space on Blogger! ;)

We are only human. No matter how hard we try, we will never stop making mistakes. Thankfully, our Lord is so forgiving, and His blood has covered our sins and mistakes. Through Him, we can get over ourselves, ask for and accept His forgiveness, stop feeling guilty about the past and go on to share what He has taught us. Sometimes we just need to let our guards down so that others can see where we've been and how we learned from our mistakes. I know that for me, the process is also cathartic- it helps me to let go of all those mistakes by sharing them.

That's why I am going to host Frugal Confessions on Thursdays- I am still in the process of learning how to be more frugal, and I am so relieved and encouraged when I read that someone else is like me and trying to do better with their finances. So starting next week, I will be posting a frugal confession each Thursday.

If you have any frugal confessions you'd like to get off your chest, please share them with us starting next week! You will be able to post them in the comments or on your blog and leave a link in the comments (I hope to have a linking system or carnival entry soon!).

Even Big Lots...

It's everywhere!

Nice Thanksgiving Break with Little Spending!

We had a great Thanksgiving break- we had family over, ran a 5 k, and did a little bit of Black Friday shopping.

While perusing the ads on Thanksgiving Day, I noticed that there weren't many good sales this year. It wasn't for a lack of ads, however. I looked at all of the ads, but it seemed to me like there wasn't much that was worth actually buying. It was a very strange experience for me. Since I was a pre-teen, I have loved to pore over the ads in anticipation of the best deals, planning what I would buy for others and what I wanted for Christmas.

This year was different though. I didn't want to buy anything the ads offered. I think that it all came down to the change in perspective that we had this year. Seeing all these items on sale no longer motivated me to spend money like it had in the past. Paying off debt has become far more important than getting the best deal on something I probably don't need.

There was only one thing in all the ads that we deemed worthy of shopping for this year- a $22 5x7 rug at Lowe's. I have been shopping for a rug that size since last year when we moved in our house- I just couldn't find a decent one for under $100, so I never bought one.

This year I got a beautiful rug at Lowe's at 3 p.m. on Black Friday (no early birds at my house ;). It matches our decor perfectly, we didn't fight any crowds, and we didn't have to pay much at all for it! Not only did we get a wonderful deal on something we really needed, we also saved money by not buying unnecessary things like we might have done in the past. It really was a great Thanksgiving (and Black Friday!).

$20 off $20 or more at BabyCenter.com

Get $20 off $20 or more at BabyCenter when you use the code 22298ENFAMIL. I got a fancy baby bathtub that we've been needing for a while since Isabella won't fit in the bathroom sink anymore, and one of those wonderful laminated bibs that last forever (in pink!) for .23 plus $7.75 shipping. I received an additional 6% off by clicking through my account at FatWallet.com. Now would certainly be a great time to pick up any upcoming baby shower gifts!

*Edited- this deal has expired

No Used Car Yet...

We are still waiting, patiently looking for our new old car. :) We haven't heard from the guy we talked to before. My brother surreptitiously emailed him for us to see if he still had the car, and asked his bottom dollar. The man replied that he had the car and gave his bottom dollar which was, of course, much higher than we offered. Since we offered a price fairly low for the value of the car, I doubt he would sell it to us. But you never know, God sometimes works in surprising ways!

We also are looking at *very* inexpensive cars- like $1000-$1500 cars. That amount of money isn't what it used to be, that's for sure! I wonder if Dave has actually looked at those $1000 cars lately ;). I would feel rather unsafe with three small children in a vehicle that costs $1000. Another constraint we face is that we have three littles in car seats, so we have to have a bench wide enough to hold three car seats in a row. We need about 54 inches minimum. Older cars were much smaller than those that are made today, so we have to find a van or SUV to fit us all.

We have talked about placing our car in the newspaper, but we haven't done it yet. I'm really not sure why we haven't- maybe we will get to it over the long weekend.

We also may have an opportunity to gain extra money to pay off our current car in the next few months by selling some property we own, but as the market is rather soft these days, we are not relying on selling it. We want to get out of debt, even if it's the hard way! :)

Black Friday 2007

We normally don't do much Black Friday shopping, and we rarely get out of bed earlier than usual to get to the store. I think the best BF deal we've ever gotten was a $25 king-size down comforter from Target. We also got an undercounter CD player for $25. Wal-Mart usually has decent deals, and they often have the sale item in stock.

This year Wal-Mart is having "secret sales" in which you can get text messages or emails sent to you with the "secret items" on sale. How much of a secret is it when they print it at the bottom of your receipt? Secret or not, you can have them send you the info here.

Not so Subtle Marketing...

After spotting some blatant marketing at the shoe store the other day, I have certainly become more aware of the not so subtle "buy it now" messages everywhere.

When we went used car shopping last weekend, here's what was on the wall by the salesman's desk:
This was just an outright attempt to get you to buy the car NOW. I am just about disgusted with this kind of sales tactic. It's absolutely ridiculous! Car dealerships have even stooped to a new low.

Pressure tactics are the salesman's favorite tool when it comes to car buying, but it's not usually a sign on a wall that's pushing you to buy!

Salesmen first make you wait, and wait and wait longer to get some numbers on paper. You are already anxious by this point, just because you wonder what's taking so long, and you start getting a little impatient because you want to get on with it. Then they offer some outrageous price so when they offer you a little bit less you'll feel like you are getting a deal. If you refuse the deal, the cycle repeats. Waiting and more waiting. They are trying to wear you down, so that you'll take whatever they throw at you, just because you're tired. It's all tactic and psychological games.

They also try to make you feel bad for asking for a better deal, like you are trying to rip them off or are making them lose money. Trust me, they aren't going to allow themselves to lose money. You just have to be insistent. We have found that buying late at night expedites the whole process. Everyone wants to go home, so they either do the deal, or they won't.

When we went used car shopping last weekend, we waited an hour to get a price on paper. The numbers they threw out at us were so off, we stood up and walked out, because there was just no use in trying to bargain- we were never going to meet. The vehicle that we wanted to buy was new to the lot and it was early in the month, so they weren't dying to make a deal. They figured they could get more money out of someone else.

We have made it all the way to the finance office before on a car after getting their "absolute bottom dollar." We decided the interest rate was too high and we didn't love the car, so we walked out. The next day they called and offered us $500 off the car. Car dealerships will almost always call you back within a day with a better deal if you leave the deal on the table after negotiating. Patience and a tough skin will serve you well at a car dealership.

I know for us, the more we know about sales tactics, and the more we see through the marketing ploys, the less we fall prey to their schemes. It's important to realize that every business out there is trying to get your money! When you realize that, you'll hold on to it even tighter. :)

Patiently Used Car Shopping...

We found an awesome SUV for sale by owner- low mileage for it's age, it's supposed to run forever, and three rows of seats with leather. We really like it. We drove it for a long time and decided to make an offer on it.

We made an offer on the upper limit of what we would like to spend. Unfortunately, the offer was much lower than the price the guy wanted for the vehicle. He said he had a couple of people interested in the car and that he wasn't saying no, but he might get a higher price from the others. So we gave him our card and asked him to please contact us if it doesn't sell.

It's so much different to buy a car face to face. Those car salesmen at dealerships have it all worked out so that everyone can blame some unseen face in a back office. It's much more tense to buy person-to-person. You almost feel bad asking for a good deal! ;)

I'll confess, I am a little anxious about the situation since we still have a chance to get the car. But the waiting is all we have left. If the car doesn't sell by the end of the week, we might get it. Now we're just patiently waiting for the best deal. This is certainly the weirdest car-buying experience we've had yet!

Carnivals 11/5/07

I participated in a few carnivals last week:

Carnival of Personal Finance- hosted by My Two Dollars. I submitted my post, Great Thought on Personal Finance.

Carnival of Debt Reduction- hosted by Cash Money Life
. My post Clearing out the Clutter was included there.

Festival of Frugality- hosted by I've Paid Twice for This Already. My post Birthdays on the Cheap
was included in the festival.

Thanks to all who hosted the carnivals!

Trading Down in Cars

After finding out I was pregnant, early this year we traded in our beautiful coupe on our current car. It was before we started on our mission to become debt-free. We knew that we wanted to try to go down in car for the sake of cheaper payments but we also wanted a third-row seat and no mini-vans. I really didn't want a van. I know, materialistic isn't it? If it gets you from point A to point B it shouldn't matter what it looks like. But somehow it still mattered.

We traded in our coupe on a late model used Toyota Highlander with a third row so we could fit lots of kids inside. We got what we felt was a good deal on it, and we were happy. It was still a rather expensive loan with high monthly payments because we rolled in negative equity.

Enter the major revolution in our lives to become debt-free. After listening to Dave Ramsey's radio show, we heard over and over "dump the car." It made sense. We pay more for a car payment than some people we know pay for housing. Yikes.

Why exactly were we hanging on to a depreciating hunk of metal? What made it so more "valuable" than a cheaper car? Reliability? Looks? My husband can fix anything, and my dad knows a lot about cars, so we would be okay if it needed occasional repairs. Looks- well, I would just have to live what I believe is true- that material possessions are not what this world is about. All that really matters to us is that the car is pretty reliable and that it fits our growing family. My spouse's car will not hold our family, so this would be the only car we could all ride in. It's important that it won't break down frequently.

So, here we are, trying to "dump the car" as Dave says. It is a lovely vehicle, and we haven't had a single problem with it. It runs as well as every new car we have bought. Our biggest problem now is that we owe more on it than it's worth. We have negative equity in it.

If we get a loan for a cheaper car, we would have to find a way to finance the difference that we owe on the Highlander. At this point, we are shopping for a much older used car and trying to find out how to finance the difference. We could possibly get a personal loan at a bank, or put it on a very low-interest credit card. There are a lot of important decisions to make. We don't want to make the same mistakes that we have made in the past. Decisions like these are not easily made when you are trying to get the best deal and get out of debt.

Something that is comforting to us is that the whole situation is going to work out in God's timing. We are praying to make the right decisions and that God will open the doors for us to allow us to get out of debt. It's hard not to try to figure it all out on my own (as I often try to do), but I know that if it is in God's will for us, He will make it happen.

Free Downloadable Price Book Form

No Credit Needed has so generously shared his price book with the world. It is in both Open Office and Microsoft spreadsheet formats for you to download and print out! I have never used a price book before, but it seems to be a great money saving tool. Now that I have a form to use I might just get started using it during this week's grocery trip!

Check out more frugal tips over at Crystal's blog!

CVS Deals this Week

This was a great shopping week at CVS- I got a ton of stuff that I needed for our household- diapers, milk, cereal, soap, water, and hair products. I just started shopping at CVS this spring and I am amazed by the deals that can be had there.
My online balance shows I have spent $141, and that I have saved $635. Now that total isn't entirely correct because I have had to get refunds for things that didn't ring up correctly, which brings my savings much higher and my spending much lower. But it's fairly close to the actual numbers.
Some of the biggest resources I have for finding CVS deals are the Slickdeals and Families CVS forums. MoneySavingMom has recently started working each week's deals for newbies, and I often find good coupons there too.
If you haven't tried the CVS game, I really encourage you to give it a shot. We rarely pay anywhere close to regular price on household goods (and often pay nothing!) now that we get such great deals at CVS.

Consumerism and the Shoe Store

As we walked around on Sunday window shopping for a good price on shoes, we stopped into a new shoe store in town. After noticing the terrible prices on less-than-average quality shoes, high on the wall, I saw these words built into the decor:

"Life is short. Buy the shoes."

At first I couldn't believe they were so blatantly marketing to their shoppers. It was just shocking to see those words across a 5 foot span on a main wall.

After the initial shock, I felt disgusted at the no-holds-barred approach of the message they were sending. The fact that they were implying that the shoes were the key to my happiness and I should do whatever it takes to get them just irked me.

That message was very obvious, and for me, it even had the opposite effect of what was intended. I did not want to buy any shoes there.

But as I reflect on the whole situation, it's not what I noticed in the shoe store that bothers me the most- it's which marketing ploy did I fail to notice that day? What sly marketing scheme did I buy into subconsciously?

I don't know if that phrase would have bothered me in the past, but since trying to live more frugally, I would have to say I am increasingly more aware of the marketing of consumer goods. My goal is to become more and more immune to it.

Victoria's Secret Deals

Thanks to the Bargain Shopper Lady, I found this great deal she posted at Victoria's Secret. Buy any sweater (even clearance!) and get free boucle hat, gloves and scarf! Even sweeter than that, add these codes to get a free lip gloss 4 pack, another free lip gloss, and $5 off your first purchase! Wohoo! All that for about $17 shipped if you buy a clearance sweater! Sounds like a few awesome Christmas gifts!

Carnivals 10/29/07

I was so happy to be included in this week's 98th Festival of Frugality, so graciously hosted by BeingFrugal. I submitted the post Saving Money Dining Out During Birthday Week.

Clearing out the Clutter

Clearing out the clutter from my cabinets and closets is therapeutic for me. It seems that debt and clutter are very similar in the way they clog up and stress out your life. You can't get to the back of the closet because too much junk is blocking your way. Debt is much the same for me. It's like an obstacle course that I have to push my way through and clean out before I get to the end. And I am not there yet.

Right now, I have about 15 things I need to sell, and much more I need to give or throw away. Even though I cleared out closets and cabinets when getting the house organized for a new baby six months ago, here I am again finding myself with a pile of junk that needs to be thrown away or sold.

The question that remains is... will the debt come back once we get rid of it like the clutter does?

If it does, I am going to have to learn to be more vigilant about clearing out the clutter. I want to form habits that never let debt (or clutter!) come back into my life once I am freed from it.

Using Bargaining to Save

After trying out the gym for seven days, and doing some research on other area gyms and exercise classes, I decided to join the gym I tried last week. Not only was the price comparable to other options, the gym offered lots of evening classes that I can join in for no extra charge, and I felt more safe in the parking lot of the trial gym versus the other area gyms, which was very important to my husband as well.

Although I chose the trial gym as my first choice, I wasn't happy with the cost, and after meeting with the sales rep for the gym, I had a feeling that the monthly fee might be negotiable. I had a brand new outlook after listening to old Dave last week, so I decided I didn't care if they thought I was poor. :)

I was told the rate was normally $49, but if I signed up before the end of the trial I could get it for $39 per month and $99 enrollment fee. I emailed the sales rep on Friday and I offered a much lower rate than he had previously told me. I said I could pay $30 per month, no enrollment fee. He countered with what turned out to be his best offer- $35 per month and the enrollment fee was mandatory for all members. I was happy with this, as it was what I was hoping for, but I countered again and said I would come in that day if he could get it down to $32. He wrote back that he couldn't go any lower and to get that rate he placed me as a corporate account. So I accepted the $35 per month, as I know I will get good use out of the membership.

The lesson I learned here was don't be afraid to bargain- for anything, even a service. If they say no, what have I lost? If they say they can't go lower, then I choose whether I want to buy it at the original price. But by simply asking for a lower rate, I saved $48.

Here is the definition of frugality from wikipedia:
Frugality (also known as thrift or thriftiness), often confused with cheapness or miserliness, is a traditional value, life style, or belief system, in which individuals practice both restraint in the acquiring of and resourceful use of economic goods and services in order to achieve lasting and more fulfilling goals. In a money-based economy, frugality emphasizes economical use of money in meeting long term personal, familial, and communal desires.

Being frugal with my husband's hard earned money is very important to me. Because the value of being in shape and losing weight is important to my long-term goal of being healthy and fit, my husband and I decided to allocate money to a gym membership. I researched my options, and by bargaining to obtain a lower price, I practiced frugality.

It's important to remember that you never know where you can save money! Give bargaining a try next time before you pay full price.

Great Thought on Personal Finance

I was listening to Dave Ramsey the other day and he read an email that said (a paraphrase here):

The poor get poorer by acting rich, and the rich get richer by acting poor.

That really struck me. The people I know that are extremely wealthy seem like some of the poorest people I know. They are serious penny-pinchers. An older man who owns half of the town I grew up in walks around in holey sweats and nasty tennis shoes. My husband's grandfather who is quite wealthy still uses a water-heater timer and helped build his own house instead of paying people to do it.

We got in debt by acting like we could afford the new car, the new house, the dog. We didn't think twice about debt because it was such a natural way of life, we thought. Who saves money to buy a car when you can make 60 easy payments?

I used to think acting poor meant you were actually poor, but as I get older I am not afraid of how "poor" I seem to other people. I am the one responsible for my bills each month, and their opinion of me is not going to fund my retirement account or send my kids to college.

$10 off $25 at Lowe's

This is a great coupon, as Lowe's doesn't often give them out. Just fill out the registration form to receive the $10 off $25 coupon by email.

Gym Membership- Worth the Cost?

Since I had my youngest eight weeks ago, I am really wanting to jump start my exercise and weight loss. I have been running for about 4 weeks getting ready to run in a 5k, but it doesn't really make me feel stronger. I know with my first child, I got in shape and lost weight in a church aerobics class that cost $5 per month. It was a steal, and they provided childcare during the class!

We've moved since then, and the gym closest to us costs $39 per month plus a $99 enrollment fee. I have begun a 7 day trial of the gym, and I like it so far. Both the Turbokick class and the Pilates class were extremely challenging and would get me in shape fast. I have to let the gym know I want a membership before next Monday or it will cost $49 per month.

Both prices seem extremely high to me. This is the nicest gym in town, and I haven't checked any other gym prices. I know there is a Jazzercise class at a nearby church, but it's farther away too. I am willing to spend money to get back into shape, but how much is too much? We can "afford" the extra money, it would just take away from our debt reduction.

I know I need to go somewhere to exercise, and on a schedule. I need people to know I am supposed to be there, because it helps me to be more accountable. I have tried all kinds of home exercise options, but with three needy little ones and housework to do all around me, I just can't be home and exercise. So an outside place just works for me, and I am willing to pay for it.

Now I just need to call other gyms and see what they have to offer as far as classes and prices. I also need to check with that church for their prices as well. I want to get in shape as frugally as I can!

Birthdays on the Cheap

Since we are trying to get out of debt, we planned on spending a much smaller amount on gifts and parties during our family birthday season. We stopped doing big birthday parties this year, because it was a ton of stress to get it all together and then the cost of the actual party was far more than we wanted to spend three times a year. We decided to do only immediate family birthday parties after the first birthday, with just cake and ice cream.
This year, instead of buying a cake at the store, we made a birthday cake at home for our four year old. He loves Veggie Tales, so we made a Larry and Bob cake. It certainly wasn't a beautiful cake, but it only cost us about $4 instead of $12-15 like we would normally spend for much less cake. It did take a lot more effort than just buying one at the store, but the money saved and the specialness of the Larry cake made just for my little one made it worth the time spent. He loved it even more because it resembled (I use that word loosely!) Larry the Cucumber.

$20 off $50 at Office Max

Here is link to the coupon for $20 off $50.

Saving Money Dining Out During Birthday Week

Whew- what a busy couple of weeks we have had. We celebrated two birthdays and have one more to come this week. We usually dine out to celebrate, but we have been trying to be more cautious with our spending. My dad and mom took us out three times, but no one will be coming tomorrow. Which means we have planned to spend about $35 to dine out at our favorite restaurant.
One way we save money on dining out is to sign up for restaurant clubs. I have received so many coupons for free food at places like Fazoli's, TGI Friday's, Johnny Carino's, Quizno's, etc. Many have birthday clubs where you get a free meal or appetizer on your birthday- I just got a $5 gift certificate to McAlister's and a free appetizer at Johnny Carino's for my birthday (That saves at $12-$13 right there). I will probably use the appetizer as my meal to save even more money. It's so much more enjoyable to eat great food when it's free!

Frugal Thinking is Becoming Part of Me!

Last week I went shopping to find a nice outfit for my birthday. I went to my favorite store on Wednesday and found a pair of pants that I absolutely loved. This pair of great pants was not on sale this week, and since I am on a budget, I just couldn't bring myself to automatically pay full price for any clothing I buy. I hated to leave them behind, but I knew I hadn't done any pre-shopping online to see if the price was competitive.

I went home to do some research. I found the pants were out of stock online and that any available internet deals would be negated by the shipping costs. Add that in with the fact that the pants would probably not arrive within the week, and I decided I would probably have to purchase the pants in store.

Before I would buy them, I made myself go to other stores with coupons in hand to see if I could find a better deal on similar pants. After hitting all my favorite stores, I finally made it around to the store to try on the pants once more. When I arrived, they had started a weekend sale on all pants- $10 off. I tried my favorite pair on and still loved them, so I bought them at a newly discounted price.

This experience really had an impact on me- I realized that without a conscious effort, I didn't make an impulse buy like I would have in my less frugal days. I waited and shopped around online and in other stores to make sure I had the best deal, and it didn't bother me at all. I took a few days to really think about the purchase before I made it and my patience paid off in the form of $10.81.

$2 off $10 at CVS

Here is a link for $2 off $10 at CVS.

Getting Started on the Envelope System

After I read the Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey in May, we really started getting serious about being on a budget. We had previously heard of the envelope system (a system where you use only cash, and each budget category has an envelope with a budgeted amount of cash in it), but at that point in our lives we were quite skeptical about using only cash. We didn't really believe that using envelopes would be any different than using our debit card- we wanted to change our finances, but thought using cash required too much weekly effort.

In July of this year, we decided to give the envelope system a fair chance. We made out our budget for the month based on what we spent out of our checking account the month before. I decided in the budget how much I was going to need for each category of cash spending: gas, groceries, and miscellaneous (which included clothing and gifts). For the monthly bills, we write checks and use online bill pay as much as possible.

The consumer in me wanted to purchase a tool to get started on (read: reward myself for using) the envelope system. Dave Ramsey's website has a beautiful *deluxe* envelope system that holds everything. But before purchasing it, I decided I was on a new path- a frugal one, where it was ridiculous to spend $20 on envelopes! Instead of spending money on it, I decided to ask for extra money holders they give you at the bank.

So off to the bank I went. I added up the total of spending categories for the two week period and wrote a check to cash. I asked the teller to break it up into the amounts I noted on the check. I ended up with three separate envelopes with different amounts of cash in each.

Taking care of the logistics of the envelope system turned out to be the easy part. The next two weeks of existing without using a debit card was a challenge to the lifestyle I had lived since I opened my first account at 16.

Instead of an easy swipe to spend money, I was seeing it leave my envelope. I felt like a middle schooler finally spending their hard-earned allowance. I had forgotten what spending money was really like. It was so much harder to give up $20 in cash for gas than it had been on a debit card.

Using the envelope system for those first two weeks really changed my perspective about spending. Since we had already planned our budget for the month, I knew that the money in that envelope was just enough to cover two weeks worth of expenses. Not spending money became a huge priority, because I didn't want to run out.

Now that we have been using the envelope system for a few months, I wouldn't go back to using my debit card. There are occasions when we have to use it because we haven't been to the bank after payday, and I hate it because I feel like I don't know how much is there to spend, and then I have to figure out how much less cash I should get in each envelope. Cash has gone from being inconvenient for us to being the most convenient option for us.

We have made some mistakes along the way- like not budgeting enough money for the month- but using cash has certainly reaped great rewards in our finances. We spend much less money than before and I am much more careful to find the best deal so I don't waste our limited weekly cash supply.

If you haven't used an envelope system before, I would definitely recommend trying it for at least one pay period. Once you start using cash envelope system along with a budget to control your spending, you will really start to see positive results.

If you are just starting out using an envelope system, here's how to get started based on what we learned:
1. Make a realistic budget based on the previous month's or pay period's expenses.
2. Categorize your cash expenses (for us it was gas, groceries, and miscellaneous- other categories might be entertainment, clothing, dining out, gifts, etc.).
3. Go to a bank or ATM and get cash. Place it in envelopes according to category.
4. Spend money only out of the envelopes. When it's gone there's no more to replace it (this is the hardest part!). Any money left over each week could stay in the envelope or go to savings, another category, or debt reduction.
5. Repeat 1-4 every pay period- as soon as possible after each paycheck so you aren't tempted to spend with your debit or credit card.

Tylenol $5.00 Off Coupons

Tylenol is offering $5 off their products (any Tylenol, Motrin, PediaCare, Benadryl, Sudafed, St. Joseph, or Imodium products) due to the recent recall of children's medicines. You can print 2 coupons, or call the number listed and get them sent to you in the mail. $5 off makes many of their products totally free!

Toys 'R Us Freebie Coupon

Toys 'r Us freebie link over here.

Second Emergency Fund Brings Security

Philip over at Wisebread wrote about having a second emergency fund you never spend. A kooky idea, he says, but it really resonates with me. Since we got on a budget and saved for an emergency fund, it has changed the way we look at money. Having money saved in a separate account makes a huge difference in the way I feel about our financial security.

I no longer feel that we desperately need money- on paycheck day I don't worry if the money got into the bank before the cut-off time. Debt creates an anxious feeling in the pit of your stomach, and it's gone now that we have an emergency fund.

Having an emergency fund for us is a psychological safety net. It makes you feel like you are in control of your money, instead of your money controlling you. If you had a second emergency fund, like the article suggests, I imagine your security level would be even higher. As soon as we get our debts paid off, maybe we will find another place to stash some cash and forget about it.

Free Dr. Pepper at Chick-fil-a

Chick-fil-a is offering this contest and a free Dr. Pepper to the first 300,000 who sign up.

From their website:


Chick-fil-A® and Dr Pepper® are teaming together for 40 days. Each day until November 17 someone will win.

You could win:
  • A trip to the ACC, SEC or Big 12 Football Championship where each trip winner will have a chance to compete to win up to $1 million
  • Free Chick-fil-A food for a year

And there is more good news. If you don't win a trip or free Chick-fil-A food for a year today, you can come back once each day until the promotion ends to try again.

And by the way, the first 300,000 people who register will receive a coupon good for a free large Dr Pepper.

Check out more frugal finds and tips at Crystal's blog.

Carnival of Personal Finance #121

I participated in this very fun carnival over at Ask Mr. Credit Card. My post Learning to be Gazelle Intense Without Going Crazy was featured in the lively presidential candidate discussion. Mr. Credit Card did a great job organizing all the posts!

One of my favorite articles featured was Never Have a Car Payment by Chris Kakaras. I love to see how much money you actually save by not having a car payment. We are trying to get out of ours now and we can't wait to free up that extra money in our monthly budget.

Great Post on Fair Debt Collection Practices

FiveCentNickel has a great post on the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. He has been called by a collection agency, and most likely they have the wrong person. He outlined the basic tenets of the FDCA. My favorite is that they are not allowed to "Annoy or harass you with repeated calls."

When I was in college, I had debt collectors repeatedly calling and harassing me because there was a girl with the same name who had apparently run up a ton of debt on store credit cards. These people called me almost everyday, insisting I owed this money. I told them over and over it wasn't me (they never believed me), and after a couple of weeks, they finally stopped calling. To this day I will not shop at Bealls because of their harassment. I only wish I had known about the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act then.

Walk Before You Buy

Last Sunday afternoon we went to my spouse's favorite store- Lowe's. I generally dread going to any home improvement store, but if I had to choose one to go to I would pick Lowe's because it has more organization tools. I love baskets and containers of any kind- they can be used in so many ways around the house! So when I saw two laundry baskets on a great clearance, I picked up a couple. At less than $2, I thought these sturdy baskets were a great find.

But the longer I carried around those baskets, the more I thought about purchasing them.

I first thought about how much I really needed those baskets. I could definitely use them, but did I really need them? I have four baskets already. Granted one was broken but it still functions well. I began to think I really didn't need them after all.

Then I thought about the cost- at less than $5 total, they could be bought with our budgeted miscellaneous money. But the question that bothered me was how much time and effort I go to save $5 normally- how much I normally valued $5, but if I thought I was getting a deal $5 wasn't much at all. If I was overcharged $5, that would be a ton of money but I didn't think twice about spending it on something I didn't need. I realized money I saved was more valuable to me than money I spent.

As I walked around thinking these thoughts and carrying around those baskets, I slowly talked myself out of the purchase. I didn't need the baskets, and simply thinking about the purchase for a while before walking to the register kept me from buying something I didn't need. I walked out of the door basketless but with a light heart because I had just avoided more unnecessary "stuff" and saved my spouse's hard earned money.

More frugal living tips can be found over at Crystal's blog.

My Very First Carnivals!

I participated in my very first round of carnivals this week. So exciting!

First there was the 107th Carnival of Debt Reduction which was so graciously hosted by Moolanomy. I contributed my post Debt=Stress. My favorite article featured there was Gazelle Intense Not for Me, Thanks by Gather Little By Little. I am on that path now but trying to become more gazelle intense without going crazy.

I also participated in the 120th Carnival of Personal Finance hosted over at My Retirement Blog. I submitted my post The Day I Realized Almost Everyone was in Debt. The article Extreme Saving: Hide your Money from Yourself by ProBargainHunter was quite entertaining- I can relate! We have a savings account online that we rarely even think of- it helps that it is a three day transfer because it's not worth the trouble to get the money out of it. Slowly but surely it is growing. I may need to get a few more savings accounts like the article suggests! :)

Learning How to be Gazelle Intense Without Going Crazy

From Lindsey at Finding Contentment in the Suburbs:

I have an idea that many of you newer "frugalites" or "frugal zealots" out there have a romantic love affair with being debt-free. After all, for most of us, it is the supreme zenith of the quest before us---to be completely, utterly, totally debt-free (including the mortgage!). Just hearing the phrase "debt-free" makes us shudder with excitement. It's almost a rush. Almost.

Okay, I have to admit it- I am a new "frugalite." I am in love with the idea of being completely debt free. No car payment, no house payment- I dream of the day! I love to stare at the numbers in my little spreadsheet and imagine what it would feel like not to have those payments.

It's been about 3 months since I started listening to Dave Ramsey, and I am not even close to as "gazelle intense" as Lindsey. If we were, we would rent, sell our car now, and we wouldn't go out to eat EVER. That seems like almost too much to handle at once, but it would be so great for paying off our debt. We are working on finding a balance between being gazelle intense and still staying sane. We aren't quite there yet though!

Since we started trying to be debt-free and on a strict budget, I have noticed that we have cycles of super-frugality at our house. We don't really go anywhere or spend any money for about 2-3 weeks, then we will have a weekend where we go and do and spend $100 on shopping and eating out. Then there's much guilt (only on my part, my spouse doesn't do the guilt thing) and we go ultra frugal. And the cycle repeats. It's bad. I feel the "need" after a couple of weeks for a new shirt or a nice date. It's like the binging of personal finance.

I still haven't figured out quite how to manage this cycle, but it seems to help when I make sure to include a small portion of our budget for blow money. And I consistently listen to good ol' Dave to keep my motivation and focus on not spending. It also seems that reading other blogs like I've Paid for this Twice Already and The Simple Dollar encourages me to save instead of spend.

Lindsey was right- I am seeing that becoming debt free is definitely intense and very hard work. I just hope I can become as intense as she has been so I can go on and enjoy life without payments.

Surprising Uses for Potatoes

Myscha over at Wisebread has a great post about creative ways to use potatoes. My personal favorite is the potato bar/buffet. What a great idea- and your friends can bring their favorite toppings so everyone ends up happy.

The Day I Realized Almost Everyone was in Debt

I remember a time when I thought everyone had money but me. They had the latest gadget, the camera, the newest tv, a new car every year or two, every game console known to man, a brand new house. I thought we were the only ones who had debt or financial troubles at the time. The people like this who come to mind shall remain nameless- but they had everything, and if they wanted something new they went and got it that day. I admired them, and hoped to one day be in a position like them.

I'll never forget the day I overheard one of them saying to another that they went ahead and paid down one of their credit cards that month. "WHAT! " I thought. "I can't believe THEY have credit card debt- they have everything and they make so much money." Here we were on half of what they made and barely swimming. That day was a new beginning for me. Even the most affluent people I knew had debt.

Fast forward several years when I started listening to Dave Ramsey. Callers making over 100k would be deeply in debt and about to file bankruptcy. My thinking changed radically after only a couple of days of listening to Dave. I realized almost every person I ever admired or envied were in a mess of debt. That fancy car they have is really a huge monthly payment on a car they don't own yet. And the house is the same. And all the nice clothes they wear are being paid for with the Mastercard. The nice lawn furniture they have is on a credit card at Home Depot.

After I realized that most people aren't making it, I had a huge change in the way I view "stuff." When I see the nice car on the road I don't think "Wow, they must be rich," I think "Wow, they must be deeply in debt." Clothes and purses don't even phase me anymore- I realize that people are trading their financial future for a material object that will be out of style next year. This change of perspective was so liberating for me. I don't care anymore about things- I just want to be debt free. It is amazing what a change in perspective will do for your financial life. Your priorities change and when you stop spending your money on "stuff," you have so much more money to pay off debt and grow wealth. All you need is that change in perspective.

Free Museum Admission Sept. 29th

Museums across the nation are giving away free admission for you and your guest on Saturday, September 29th as part of the Smithsonian Magazine's Museum Day. There are so many cool museums listed by state. I think we might visit the flight museum with these free passes! Just sign up and print out your free admission pass!

Here are more details from Smithsonianmag.com:

Museum Day is a nationwide event taking place on Saturday, September 29, 2007 where participating museums and cultural institutions across the country offer free admission to Smithsonian readers and Smithsonian.com visitors, allowing for one day only, the free-admission policy of Smithsonian's Washington, D.C.-based facilities to be emulated across the country.


Over the past five years I have experienced the age-old truth- debt equals stress. The more debt you owe the more stress you have. Here's why:

1. When you have debt, you are no longer working for your self. You have another "boss."
When you are living paycheck to paycheck, you are working to pay living expenses and debt. You are responsible for keeping the minimum payments on each car loan, student loan, personal loan, and each credit card you owe. When you add each of those minimum payments up, they are often a large chunk of the monthly income. Each dollar you bring in already has a name on it, so in essence you just worked for that credit card, for that car, for that undergrad class you dropped 10 years ago.

2. You worry more about the future.
When you are in debt, any complication that arises such as an illness, job loss, or wreck can keep you from earning that precious paycheck. The fear of something happening is always lingering in the back of your mind. I know I would have no idea what I would do if my spouse lost his job- how would I keep the house, the car, the food on the table?

3. You are not able to enjoy life freely.
This lingering fear not only keeps you in a state of worry, but also keeps you from enjoying the good things in life. A trip out to eat with the family isn't as enjoyable when you have to worry about how much it's going to cost and which credit card can you put it on. That vacation isn't quite as relaxing when you're worried about how you are going to make ends
meet next week.

4. It keeps you from taking risks.
Debt also needs a safety net. When you have all those payments to make each month, you can no longer be free to start that business you always dreamed of, go back to school full-time or leave the awful job that just gave you a cut in pay. You are stuck where you are because you have to pay the bills, and even a minute drop in income will cause problems.

5. Small emergencies quickly become a crisis.
Something as small as a blown tire can become a disaster of epic proportions. Your credit cards are all maxed out, and you have less than $50 in the bank- you have no room to deal with unexpected problems. You are then faced with finding some way to pay for the emergency- asking a family member for money, going negative in your bank account, or trying to find another place to extend you credit.

Having to juggle all debts you owe- the worry of living from paycheck to paycheck- causes you to change the way you live your life. You become a slave to the debt, and being the slave of the unforgiving master of debt is stressful.

As Solomon the wise man said, "The rich rules over the poor, And the borrower becomes the lender's slave." Proverbs 22:7

There is good news- we can all be freed from debt! The first baby step is realizing the problem- that debt rules the way you live your life.

How has debt affected your stress level and quality of life?

Cheap and easy teeth whitening

I love having white teeth, but teeth whitening products can really add up. My husband uses hydrogen peroxide 3% as a mouthwash (instructions are on the bottle) and it keeps his teeth very white. I noticed a significant difference after just two uses.

One bottle of hydrogen peroxide costs .47 and the results are just as good as (if not better than) my fancy teeth whitening products!

Sprint plan

I signed up for the Sprint Sero Plan yesterday, and received my phone this morning! When they say overnight they mean it! I am in love with the Treo so far and the reception is perfect. I am anxious to see my first bill to make sure it is all correct- others seem to have lots of problems with getting the features at the right price. I get unlimited data, unlimited text messages and 500 anytime minutes and free nights and weekends. We are going to drive around tonight to make sure the reception is good. I have 30 days to change my mind if the phone doesn't meet my expectations.

Sprint SERO plan

Nickel over at FiveCentNickel posted this informative article about getting a Palm Treo and a Sprint SERO plan. It is a great deal-I am considering it for myself (it's about the same price as I pay for my prepaid phone but with unlimited data and text messages) but Sprint is said not to have good coverage in our area in the past. So even if the Internet is free, if it doesn't work it's not a good deal, right?

Friday Freebies- Chick-fil-a, Chocolate, Senseo Coffee Maker

Free Chick-fil-a:
Register to receive a coupon by mail for a free chick-fil-a sandwich and a medium coke!

Begins at 12 midnight 8/20/07 and ends on 9/29/07 or when 1,000,000,000 have been given out!

Free Chocolate (who can resist!):
Nestle Crunch Crisp Bar from 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Free Senseo Coffee Maker:
Apparently they are giving these away again as a part of the Share Senseo Program. You take a short questionnaire and they email you in 2-6 weeks if you are eligible to receive a free $60 Senseo coffee maker ($15 shipping though). I did the questionnaire today but haven't heard from them yet. Definitely worth a try- this would make a wonderful gift for a coffee drinker! :)

Free Office Package

I love Google, They are always coming up with new things that are free! They just recently added another free software to their free Google Pack- Sun Microsystems Office Suite, which normally costs $70 to download from the Sun website. If you are in need of an office package, and don't want to pay $200 + for Microsoft Office you might just want to try it out .

Save Money on Cell Phones

To save money every month on cell phones, I use AT&T's GoPhone plan, a prepaid wireless plan that is very affordable for our family. I use my phone almost every day and pay an average of $27/month, which is far below the monthly cost of a contract plan. Plus, I love that it allows me to control my monthly phone bill if I need to, because I am only charged minutes when I actually use the phone.

The best part about this plan is that you get mobile-to-mobile minutes free of charge (although there is a 1.00/day charge if you talk on the phone that day). All of my family and almost all of my friends are AT&T customers. Since we both have cell phones, we canceled our land-line, which also eliminated $20 per month from our monthly bills.