Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve - Resolutions

Like everyone else you know, I want to lose weight and succeed in saving cash in 2009! But, I'm going to admit it publicly, and tell you the details of my goals, and as the year goes on, I'll tell you how it's going. Like I've said before, I think saving money is a lot like losing weight. So you won't be too surprised by my goals for 2009...

1. I will have a healthy BMI of 23 or 24. This is the high end of the "normal weight" range according to the CDC and NIH, but I think is a good healthy weight for me.

2. I will keep track of what I eat. I think if I am honest about what I eat on paper/email/internet/blogging, then I am likely to eat less. (This helped me lose a lot of weight before I got pregnant with my second child.)

3. Our family will save for the 3 months of emergency expenses. I will have to look more carefully at our day-to-day finances and will try to make a reasonable plan on how we can do this. If reasonable, I will save for 6 months.

4. I want to run a 5k. I have never ever been a runner, and can barely run a quarter of a mile right now, but I think it's something I want to achieve, mostly because...

5. I want to do a sprint triathlon. It would be great if I could do this in the summer when the weather is good, or at least before it starts to get chilly in the fall.

6. I want to trim more unneeded expenses in the family - phone bills, ATM fees, cable, auto insurance, etc Stay tuned for more details on that.

And there you go. They are not super unusual goals for this time of year, but this year, given good health and continued employment, I think that I will do it.

What are your specific goals and resolutions for 2009??? Let me know in the comments and commit to the world (or the readers of my blog) that this is the year you will DO it! And maybe others will inspire you too...

Monday, December 29, 2008

You know you're getting old when...

It's your birthday, and you wish you would have time to yourself so you could:
1. Clean the house.
2. Get all the laundry done, AND put away.
3. Do some gardening. Yes, it would be late December, but you could still cut the dead plants from the fall.
4. Not just clean the house, but REALLY clean the house, declutter, and find a lot of items to donate. Good to do before the end of the year.
5. While cleaning the house, get rid of LOTS of trash.
6. Sleep in late.
7. Go to bed early.
8. Pay the bills.
9. Oh, and pay the January mortgage early - it would be tax deductible for 2008, right?
10. Do a comparison of auto insurance policies to see if we could get a better deal.
11. Did I mention clean the house? And find items to sell on Craig's List and EBay?

Maybe I should call a babysitter and house-cleaners...

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Day After Christmas

Just a quick note today. My 16-year old cousin was at our aunt's house on Christmas Eve, when someone pulled out the Washington Post article for the relatives in Pennsylvania to read. (We were still at home) Imagine my cousin's surprise when she looked at the article, and began reading the same story her 10th grade history teacher had spoken about in class the previous week. Her cousins were the ones who did this experiment!

I was pretty suprised by that. But I do sincerely believe that there's a large population out there, probably in their 20s, 30s and 40s who KNOW how to be more frugal, but haven't been needed to follow-through due to stable and secure financial circumstances. I haven't had a chance to talk to my cousin yet to hear more about what her teacher said. Did he think we were crazy? Incredibly wasteful? An example of people trying to improve their financial habits?

So it's the new discount shopping day. The Day After Christmas. A great time to buy next year's wrapping paper, a tree skirt for the Christmas tree (we've been surrounding the tree with floor mats for a few years- not so festive), maybe next year's Christmas cards (oh yeah, we never sent THIS year's cards, so maybe not), and anything else that we "need" at a discount??? It might be a good time to stock up on some turkey and lamb for the extra freezer we hope get soon, a gift from family to help us stock up on frozen goods at a good price!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Dec 23 - Last-Minute Gift Ideas

(If you came to read Planet Perspectives because of the recent Washington Post article, you might want to go check out these highlighted blog posts of interest.)

Saving cash ---This morning, I'm watching my daughter's best friend while her parents are at work. (No babysitter costs for me and my friends, if we can avoid it!) I won't be working again out of the house until my next trip to Africa - which will be Ethiopia in January. I'm also doing some kid-swapping so another mom and I can get a few errands done, even some which are NOT holiday-related. (Imagine that!) But I do have just a few gifts left to get. My goal is to avoid all parking garages - yesterday friends got stuck in garages for 25 minutes and more, and that's the last thing I want. I need to be time- and energy-efficient now.

Here are some last minute gift ideas if you don't want to stray far from home:
  • Buy Gift Cards - You can print them out at home or email them directly to the recipient. Or you can simply drop a physical Gift Card into their shopping cart. Great for last minute gifts!
  • Buy Amazon gifts - you can order as late as 3pm PST with one-day shipping and get it by Dec 24. (I am amazed by this, and I'm relieved I shouldn't need to take advantage of this service, but if you do, go for it!!!!)
  • Make your own coupon book. Especially good for someone who wants to save some money or declutter. (See my Clutter-Free gift-giving post)
  • Order a magazine subscription. Give them a recent issue with a card explaining they'll start getting the subscription soon!
  • What about a restaurant gift certificate to a favorite local restaurant? Or an overnight at a nice hotel or Bed and Breakfast?
  • Do you travel a lot? Know someone who doesn't? Can you give your frequent flier miles to someone? Give enough for a round-trip somewhere!
  • Use those frequent flier miles, or credit card points to order something. Lots of times, we let those points accumulate without using them. Choose a splurge item for a friend or family member, print out a picture of what you're getting them, and let them know when they can expect it to arrive.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Radio Interview on the Michael Smerconish Program

(If you came to read Planet Perspectives because of the recent Washington Post article, you might want to go check out these highlighted blog posts of interest.)

I wish I knew what to write. With a big head cold, Christmas preparations, and getting used to the idea of having shared embarrassing facts about our finances with the world, I feel unprepared to write a blog post today. I remind myself that we all have different goals for our families - not just financially, but in all sorts of areas. Of course, money does seem to impact practically everything we want to do, either directly or indirectly. But it certainly doesn't have to be the focus.

Oh, here's a piece of news. While I was in the shower this morning (Mon) at 7:30am, we got a call. From The Michael Smerconish Program on 1210 AM WPHT in Philadelphia. They want us to do an interview tomorrow (Tuesday Dec 23) at 7:00am so we agreed - should last about 10 minutes. Apparently he discussed the story quite a bit on the air today, and wants to hear what we have to say. Should be interesting. Let me know if you happen to hear it. Hopefully he's not out to roast us.

And on a frugal note... I wrapped my brother's Christmas present in newspaper today - but not any newspaper. I saved the sports section from last week when the Bengals (his favorite team) beat the Redskins. My dad also got a present in the same section since I had more leftover. A present for my husband arrived today, and it's sort of big, so I wrapped it in the brown paperbag-type lining from the inside of a roll of gold paper. Not so pretty yet, but I'll have the kids decorate it with some festive drawings and it should look great!

If I have any free time tomorrow (cough, cough) I might start to try calling the catalogs and get off their mailing lists. I think I could make a goal to call at least 5, although I have to check to see if I didn't already put them all out in last week's recycling.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

What Wants Do You Wish?

(If you came to read Planet Perspectives because of the recent Washington Post article, you might want to go check out these highlighted blog posts of interest.)

It has been good to share our story of our "experiment" in not spending money for two weeks. The portrayal in the Post article is accurate, though of course it's not the whole picture of who we are. We think the author wrote an excellent story. Yet, it's still been quite hard to read all of the comments on the Post website, where people jump to certain conclusions about us; some are accurate and some aren't. I don't blame them. Some people are out there truly struggling for survival, and we're fortunate that's not our case. My aunt in Alabama is working with a group of men who are homeless, struggling for basic needs, while she can't always afford to pay the church's bills, such as heating. When she started her non-profit Jack's Place, I was financially stable enough to be able to send off a small check right away to help her out a little bit. (Her blog is listed on the bottom right, Homeless in America)

I know the people who were very bothered by the Post article are very unlikely to come to my blog, thinking they know enough about me after reading the article in the Post. But in case they do read this, here are some replies to their comments.

  1. We don't live in a McMansion. Our house is about 1300 square feet.
  2. We don't drive SUVs. Our cars (1999 and 2000), and are paid for in-full.
  3. When we bought our first house, we were offered a far larger mortgage than we knew we could afford. We bought a house at a reasonable price with a 30-year mortgage and monthly payments that fit in our budget.
  4. I'm not a government contractor in the typical sense of the word. I work in Africa about 6 weeks per year, training African peace-keeping soldiers and I work for a private company. When I'm in the USA, I don't work outside of the home; in other words, I am a stay-at-home mom most of the year.
  5. We do give savings to the poor. See comments above and below.
  6. Yes, we know we can do better with our finances, and hope to do so.
  7. We have struggles, like everyone, and we're not going to share them all on a blog!
In Senegal, where my husband and I lived for 2 years, we became close friends with two Senegalese women, and their families are often struggling to survive. One of them recently called asking if I could send money via Western Union to pay off a debt of several months to a local vendor of rice, a staple which is probably 80% of what they eat on a typical day. I feel a certain sense of relief that she knows she can turn to me for help, and I am also relieved that I am in a position financially to be able to help. You can read a blog post about that...

Even though we estimated what we "saved" but not spending, it's hard to say for sure what we would have spent. You don't really know for sure, if you don't actual spend it! And you don't really know what you spend, unless you track where every penny is going. If you use cash, and don't save receipts, or jot it down in a check register, you won't know for sure.

I think the blog will be taking a new path until my next trip to Africa in January or February. I'd like to address all these issues raised by various people and get our finances completely in order. But it's not an overnight fix. It will take some time to evaluate our priorities, and to thoughtfully determine what is a want, and what is a need.

We made the news! - Washington Post

Thank you for coming to check out the blog today! I hope you will find the stories about our frugal living interesting, and maybe inspiring. If you have time, you might also enjoy reading about what a stay-at-home-mom does in Africa with peace-keeping soldiers six times a year...

Here are some links to posts you might find of special interest!

Saving Cash - To Help Those in Need
- Although we no longer live in Africa, I do travel there frequently for work, and have the opportunity to help two friends struggling to survive - one on $30/month income. We know we are lucky to have the home and jobs we do, and we try to give back.

Day One of our Experiment - Bartering to get fruit for the family... Yes, we WILL buy toilet paper if we run out... Tempted to buy two times before 9am on the first day of the experiment; will we actually follow-through...

November-in-review - Here I detail how we did overall for the month of November, after giving up spending for 2 weeks, and then being quite cautious for another two weeks.

Four days after the experiment ended...
We spent no money all day, even though we "can"! I feel like saving money is like dieting...

Two days left, slowly the spending starts. The first non-essential purchase was made tonight. While it was completely a splurge, it felt like a medical necessity! We have eaten up most of the food in our fridge and freezer.

The Washington Post - Satisfaction from a Dollar Well-Unspent
- Summary of how our two weeks' of no spending went. The experts say spend within your means. We agree...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Be as you wish to seem

"Be as you wish to seem." -Socrates

So if I don't want to seem stressed out, frazzled, tired, or overwhelmed with everything - shopping, cleaning, cooking, wrapping gifts, writing holiday cards... I should simply not be those things? Easy for Socrates to say, huh?

How do I wish to seem? Calm, organized, kind, happy, together, helpful, caring. So I guess I should just be those things. I'll work on that. Starting tomorrow. After a good night's sleep.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Saving Cash - Can Two Weeks Create a Long-Term Change?

If I had more free time, I would love to spend more time on other people's blogs and personal finance forums, checking out all the good ideas for saving money. I'm sure our bank account would benefit. On the other hand, maybe we just need to be more focused on what we already know about spending and saving money!

I heard a psychologist on NPR say that it takes 3 weeks to make a habit. So I'm not sure that stopping spending money for two weeks made a habit! We did save a lot of money in those two weeks, and we continued to do better in the two following weeks. But I'm afraid on December 16, one month after we ended our experiment, we're almost back to our old spending habits. Tonight, I'm going to try to crunch the numbers. I'll try to remove Christmas gifts from the numbers, but everything else is fair game!

Are we ready to take on another two weeks of no spending money in January? Could we make it three, so we can really start to establish longer lasting habits? While I finish my online holiday shopping today, I'll ponder that...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Clutter-Free Holidays- Some Ideas

Before Christmas arrives, and all the accompanying presents that arrive with it, I am slowly working on decluttering the house. Here are some of my goals:

  1. Bag up clothes we no longer wear for Goodwill or other charitable organizations.
  2. Post at least 5 items on Craig's List or Ebay to earn some money and get rid of a few things as well.
  3. Get involved with I love to have books in the house, but we are pretty much maxed out on every bookshelf in the house. With, I can get rid of some of the books we won't necessarily re-read, and then we will have credit to get the books we do want. I think the free public library is, of course, the best option, but I figure we might as well make use of the books we already have on hand.
  4. Conquer the paper-clutter! I'm sorting through paper-work, filing it instead of letting it pile up, getting ready for taxes, shredding documents we no longer need, and making sure we submit claims for reimbursable expenses.

On the gift-giving front, I have been stock-piling clutter-free gift ideas. Here are some:

1. Give a charitable donation in the name of the recipient.
See my blog entry- Saving Cash - So We Can Help Those in Need.

2. Give gifts people can eat- I got some great chocolate powder for making hot chocolate last year!

3. Offer services (yours or professional)
  • Babysitting
  • Lawn Moving
  • Several hours of helping to declutter someone else's garage, basement, attic
  • Assembly of a photo album
  • Breakfast in Bed
  • Knife-Sharpening from a cutlery service - or store like Sur La Table or La Cuisine.
4. Offer the gift of education
  • Art classes - watercolor, pottery, drawing
  • Yoga, Tai Chi
  • Cooking Classes - Everyone benefits when someone takes a cooking class!
  • Foreign Language Classes
  • Music Lessons
5. Memberships
  • AAA - especially great for a new driver
  • A local museum, zoo, or aquarium

6. Gift cards
  • I-Tunes downloads
  • Netflix or other movie rental certificates
  • To a favorite local boutique or restaurant

7. Experiences
  • Theater tickets - include babysitting if they have kids
  • Ballet tickets - How about the Nutcracker for a holiday season gift?
  • Hot air balloon ride
  • A day at the spa
  • Weekend at a bed-and-breakfast
There is an overwhelming amount of ideas at Fly Lady's Clutter-Free Gift Ideas for the Holidays Take a few minutes though to go through the list. You may find things you want to give, or find some good ideas to suggest for those buying for you.

If you have some especially good clutter-free gift ideas, please do include them in your comments!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Making a list, checking it twice?

Working on focus, and getting things done. Here's THE list for the day.

Wake up an hour early to take medicine, then go back to sleep
Eat breakfast an hour later
Clean up after everyone's breakfast - dishes in DW, make sure the cats won't knock over glasses with water
Take son to preschool
Try to start car to leave preschool parking lot, car battery is dead
Call AAA (can't call, don't have AA card in wallet, don't have my cell phone either)
Go into preschool to find friend's cell phone number
Have friend rescue me by coming with her AAA card in case we need it
Try to jump car ourselves - doesn't work
Call AAA
Visit with friend in her car while waiting for AAA
Go to YMCA for 9am workout with group training (missed this because of dead car battery)
Do cardio for 30 minutes (missed this because of dead car battery)
Spend 1 hour and 45 minutes in pre-school parking lot, thanks Kelly, for your help and company!
Jump start the bad battery, but since it's bad, AAA installs new battery
Start a load of laundry
Contemplate what to do for the rest of morning - have 1 hour and 15 minutes before going back to to preschool
Put cell phone and AAA card back in my purse where they belong!
Take a deep breath


Review payments due to my Mom for the Taste of Home Entertaining Party on Saturday
Write email to trainer to tell her why I missed class today
Go to pick up check from someone in neighborhood for Taste of Home party
Mail checks to Mom
Mail baby gift to friend in North Carolina at Post Office
Find Smart Label return slips for Sahalie products
Go to the grocery store for the short-list of things we need
Mail return items to - they didn't fit - about $140 worth!
Pick up son at preschool
Make and clean up after lunch
Close the party with my mom
Sort through prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines - threw away 22 that had expired since 2007
Play with son!
Print out and fill out forms for transfer of medical records from 7 doctors to our new healthcare providers - ah, but not so easy - many of the doctors require that you have THEIR form, and many are not available online. Spent 45 minutes accomplishing very little on this task. It will cost a bit of money too, to get the files transferred. I am going to look carefully though my own files and see if I have enough meaningful copies of information to share, or do I really need the whole file? Frustrating.
Get daughter to do her homework - about one hour of monitoring required
Get daughter to practice violin - about 15 minutes of monitoring required
Cook dinner, eat it with family, manage to get both kids to eat some tilapia and broccoli
Get all the recycling - paper, plastic, glass, metal etc ready for trash pick-up tomorrow
Take out all the regular trash
Fold two loads of laundry - one from 11pm last night
Babysit for another family in our babysitting coop from 6:30 - 10:30 pm. - Cancelled
Baths, books

I couldn't resist checking email more than 3 times today, but I did keep things brief and to the point. I think I still was within the time I had hoped for... And my in-box is at 9 items right now, so that's great!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Saving Time

I have a long list of things to do. We all do. Whether we work full-time or we are stay-at-home-parents, the list is never-ending. But when the list gets to the point that everything should have been done a few weeks ago, or it brings in a source of income, it seems that "The List" should become a priority unto itself.

So to that end, I am going to force myself to do a few things:

1. I am going to spend no more than 15 minutes a day doing blog-related activities - whether actually writing a blog, looking up new websites to share, or researching. I'm also going to include going to other blogs in this category. I'm starting the timer now for today's blog.

2. I am only going to check email 3 times a day until "The List" is taken care of. As I complete various tasks, there is always more to add to the list, but I'm going to start with the one I brainstormed in about 3 minutes earlier this evening of the most crucial things I need to get done.

3. When I check email, I will spend no more than 15 minutes at a time. I will set a timer.

4. My goals for e-mail are to keep my in-box to 10 emails or less. I will try to respond to emails promptly, file items in folders for future reference, and make note of new contact information in the correct files immediately.

That's all for now. That was less than 15 minutes.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Saving Cash – Helping the World While Making Cool Purchases

With a change in the economy for the worse over the last several months, it seems important to buy locally. We get our milk from a local farm, and when we go out to eat, we choose a restaurant close to home that's not a chain. We have a little "Main Street" in our neighborhood, with several interesting boutiques which make gift-buying fairly simple. Just a two or three miles from home, we have Old Town Alexandria, which is chock-full of shops, many of which are unique. I want all of these businesses to survive the downturn in the economy.

On the other hand, I know that the whole world is suffering, not just those a few miles from my house. That's why I'm including a few other links to interesting businesses for you to check out, for your holiday shopping, or maybe just for humanitarian reasons.

  1. The Hunger Site – You can click here to get their sponsors to donate cups of food to the hungry. They sell Fair Trade items and explain the origin of the products. They also have a lot of items on sale right now. Check it out, click to get the sponsors to donate food on your behalf, and happy shopping!
  2. BeSweet – Products with a Conscious – "Be Sweet works with several job creation programs in South Africa by giving artisans the confidence and the means to support themselves and their families in an otherwise economically depressed region. The empowerment groups have grown to include over 200 villagers, mostly female members of the Xhosa tribe, who live in Cape Town, the Eastern Cape region and Johannesburg." I think their products look amazing! We are teaching our 7 year old daughter how to knit, and I am anxious to try out the free baby hat pattern. It's too adorable! In the meantime, they show you where you can find local boutiques that sell their products because they are not ready for online purchases yet.
  3. Pangea Market – This online store and actual boutique in Washington D.C. sells traditional high quality handicrafts made by artisans in developing countries from Asia, Africa and Latin America. They have some beautiful products at reasonable prices.

Do you have any other unique, humanitarian favorites to share? If you do, include the link, and a little description of the products. Thanks!

I don't think you'll find any discounts at or for these web sites, but these could be some of the most meaningful gifts you'll buy this season.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Saving Cash – Some Links to Help You With Your Shopping

Oops. We cut up a credit card that had a recurring charge. Good thing we hadn't cancelled the card altogether. So we cancelled this quarterly charge, which was for access to a site with information about various companies. Now we're paying off the card again in full. This will help us saving cash!

So I did some online shopping today. Bought 4 or 5 different gifts. Pondered buying a bunch of other ones, but decided that the price wasn't right. Searched for discounts on and shopped through when possible. Still have a lot of shopping to go.

So to that end, here are a few links for you to peruse. By the way, these are not links for money, just ones I like, which is how I do it. The links on the right are also ones I simply enjoy.

  1. From the Washington Post today, December 7, 2008 – The Color of Money - This is a listing of a year's worth of book club advice – with a theme of personal finance. Books range from suggestions for kids ages 8-12, to a collection of essays about issues such as debt, poverty, and wealth, and more. One or two of these might be good gift for someone you know, like your spouse.
  2. This was rated one of the "10 Silliest Videos We Wasted Time Watching This Year" in the Washington Post today. Watch this if you need to laugh, are a Star Wars Fan, have a three-year old, or any combination. My life revolves around Star Wars, so I found it quite entertaining.
  3. Especially for Kelly - – Kids clothes – nice stuff, a bit pricey, but has a section for clothes made in the USA (a friend is not buying anything from China and I thought I'd help her out with a link)
  4. – I really want one of their Flip Flop Mats. They also have a lot of other very cool stuff.

I have some other fun sites I want to share with you all, but I'll need to do that tomorrow.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Saving Cash - So We Can Help Those In Need

I started this blog originally because of my interest in Africa, and my current work training African Union peace-keepers in West Africa. In the weeks and months that followed, the blog took a turn towards the world of frugality. Has it strayed from its initial mission? A bit maybe, but not entirely.

If you have read the blog from the beginning, you know that my husband and I moved to Senegal in 1997 as newlyweds for two years. Luckily, a chance meeting in a Paris airport introduced me to the amazing job I have now. I have been fortunate to return often to Senegal, where I usually have an afternoon to spend with two of my Senegalese friends, Ngone and Marie (pictured here on Goree Island).

Marie just called me two weeks ago. She hasn't had any full-time work in years, and in the last ten years, she's only had a few short-term jobs. Ecstatic, she was calling to let me know that she had been hired as a full-time housekeeper and cook for a Spanish man who works in the fishing industry. In a country where unemployment rates are around 50%, this was wonderful news. I have been helping the family financially over the last few years, as her eldest daughter is attempting to continue studies at a sort of private business school in Dakar. Her daughter's success at school and gainful employment in the future are like their social security, their retirement, their 401K.

Now that Marie has a job, she's searching for a job for our friend Ngone. Ngone lives with her husband's extended family where the cooking is done outside in the courtyard, they all share a common living room, and each family has private space in their 12x12 foot bedroom. It's not really a house; it's more like an enclosed compound which surrounds an open, common courtyard. Life is very hard for her. Her husband had been laid off for several months, and her 2-year old daughter died last October after being sick for a month. Their income is about $30 a month, which isn't even always enough to buy rice, an essential grain staple in their diet. Her dream is to save enough money to open her own small business someday.

These two friends opened up their hearts and homes to me and my family. One is Catholic and one is Muslim, but together we are family.

All that money I've been saving lately is maybe more like reimbursement for the Senegalese business school registration I paid in the fall, the three month's worth of rice that I sent to pay the local merchant who had given my friend rice on credit, or the money I have provided for childhood vaccinations for their children. We never earmarked the recent $2000 we saved for projects such as retirement funds, college education for the kids, or that 3-6 month's of living costs we're supposed to have on hand. Maybe somehow that money has been spent charitably along the way already, and that's something I don't mind.

If you want to give some money charitably this year, you could consider these organizations below. When I’m training the African Union soldiers, I actually pretend to be employees of these organizations in place like Darfur, Congo, or Cote d’Ivoire. I do role-plays with soldiers, to give them a chance to role-play various scenarios they’ll encounter when doing their peace-keeping.

CARE - Emergency relief, tackle the underlying causes of poverty, emphasis on women to promote social change

Medecins Sans Frontieres - (MSF) Doctors Without Borders - Emergency medical assistance to populations in danger

UN World Food Programme - (UNWFP) Fight against global hunger, save lives in refugee crises, improve nutrition and quality of life

Friday, December 5, 2008

Saving Cash - Some coupons and discounts

I'm getting a bit nervous. I have only bought about 3 gifts for Christmas, and I actually have quite a number of people to shop for. I think after two weeks of not spending money, I'm anxious about spending a significant amount of money. So I'm trying to sort out the deals available before I hit the stores or start my online shopping. I'm not the real "Coupon Mom" but I have some discounts and coupons to share with you. Does anyone have any other favorite coupons we should watch out for, or great sites with online discounts? Send a comment and let's all save some cash!

1. The Coupon Mom - She's been on TV a lot lately - everything from Oprah to CNN. There are all kinds of coupons on her site. Enjoy! Watch a news article about her online and get inspired!

2. Friends don't let friends pay full retail. Before you order ANYTHING online, go to You can find free shipping, discounts, and special deals. Most involve a code share that you enter before checking out online.

3. Keep your eyes open for a Target Coupon in the mail. I got mine with a catalog that came yesterday - and it's good for $10 off a purchase of $100 or more. If I'm honest with myself, I know I can easily spend $100 at Target, and will soon, so why not get 10% off? (I can always stock up on toilet paper if I can't find anything else to buy...)

4. Orvis - I got a catalog the other day from them with a $25 coupon off any purchase of $50 or more. That's 50% off. And I got another one to share with a friend. If you're local, let me know if you want it... This one is only good in the store.

5. Foot Locker - Friends and Family discount of 30%! Shop online and use promotion code EMFF8C3P. Good only through this Sunday December 7, 2008. If you want to buy in the store, let me know and I can forward the coupon on to you, or try to figure out how to post it. (Attachments on my blog are not exactly my strength yet!)

6. JJill - one of my favorite clothing stores. Sign up for their Take 5 program and you get 10% off your first purchase, and then 5% off every purchase after that, plus an extra 5% on your birthday month. The interest rate is high on the card, so don't do it if you might be tempted to spend beyond your means. Most of your favorite stores probably offer similar programs. Sometimes during the year they offer 10% off for Take 5 members.

7. Send me some of your ideas - help us all save money!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Saving Cash – Bananas, A Penny a Pound

We love fresh fruits and veggies. But the costs of red peppers, grapes, and bananas can be a lot more than what I want to pay. So today I headed back to the Grand Mart – International Store where I went shopping the day after we ended our two weeks of spending no money. Today, my focus was largely on vegetables. But some deals were too good to pass up.

I bought bananas for 1 cent a pound! There was a limit of a little bag of bananas, but hey, I only paid a penny for them! Limes were 10 cents each. Grapes, a very reasonable price, unlike the grocery store I was at yesterday. I'm including a picture of my beautiful produce to show you what I got for less than $7.30, including sales tax. Amazing! Is it organic? No. And maybe next time I'll pay better attention to the pros and cons of that… I have read that certain fruits and vegetables absorb more pesticide and so it's more important to buy organic in those cases. But the low price and apparent quality of the produce is quite impressive, organic or not.

In a big metropolitan area, you could probably find an international store like this one. Even in a small town, you may find a place that caters to a more international community, and the prices may be lower than your large, local grocery store. Produce prices are always incredible. I'm lucky that ours is on the way to the doctor's office, so I can just stop in on my way home. It makes shopping there very convenient.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Saving Cash - Stupid, Sneaky Charges - Cancelled!

It seems one of the best ways to save money is to stop spending it, especially on things you absolutely don't need, or don't use. With our money-tracking software, we looked at our credit card bills, and found some charges that seemed odd.

1. Diet and Fitness online tool that hadn't been used in AGES. This was costing us about $20/month, for a service we didn't use at all any more. Probably paid for it for at least 6 months. Cancelled.

2. Web domain registration of a screen name we like. We thought we might use it for a business someday, but I doubt that will happen. I need to figure out how to cancel this one.

3. Reward points - I supposedly (mistakenly) signed up for a rewards program when I ordered from a catalog. They charged me $1.95 for a trial month, and for doing the trial, I was supposed to get $15 off my next order with the company. Then I automatically started getting charged $14.95 a month, to be in this rewards program. I'm still not sure how it happened, but the customer service rep was pretty nice in canceling the $14.95 (x2) charges that I had received so far, and has canceled the program entirely, so we won't get any more charges. Cancelled.

4. Watch out for the "totally free" trial periods online, because you often then start getting charged. We recently did one of these "free" trials. It was free, but then it started costing $59/month. We ended up paying for two months. This was a service that I actually enjoyed, but wasn't worth $59/month to me. Cancelled!

There are more ways for us to trim the fat, but now I think we'll be moving on to a closer look at our insurance (car and home) and our telecommunications next.

Saving Cash - November in Review

As most of your know, we spent two weeks of November trying not to spend any money. In the end, we did buy gas for the cars, and one $6 splurge of snacks at the grocery store. But I think that's all we spent, aside from regularly scheduled bills. I didn't think we had a massive rebound spending after those two weeks were up, but... are we really saving cash?

Well, let me first say that we are currently tracking all our spending on Money and at I would highly recommend that you find ONE software and stick with it. It's really ridiculous to try to use two different programs to do the same thing. We paid for Money, but Mint is free. We still haven't set every little detail up on either one, but we're working on it. We know it's hard to evaluate your spending and to set goals for the future if you don't know where your money is going today. We found some discrepancies for the month of November in the two money-tracking systems, but after a little work, they ended up showing us a similar picture. (I can't believe this, but I can't for the life of me find where I saved our Money file from November 30 on my computer.) So here's the update as we see it on Mint.

We have a category which is called Food and Dining. It can then be broken down by store or restaurant. In October, when we were living normally, we spent $1738 in this category. In November, we spent $956. So in November, we saved $782 in this area! Obviously, food is one of our biggest variable expenditures, whether it is in the form of groceries or eating out. The fact that we stopped spending money for two weeks certainly helped.

So breaking it down a little more:
October grocery spending was - $894
November grocery spending was - $756

This $140 savings wasn't as extreme as I would have liked to see. Initially, I was very disappointed, and wondered why we spent so much in November. But then I considered all the extra shopping and stocking up on frozen meat and fish that we did in Pennsylvania at Wegman's grocery store, and I felt much better. We have around a month's meat and fish in our freezer now, and it may last even longer. Then I examined our spending even more, and found about $160 of the $756 was special for Thanksgiving. We bought several nice bottles of wine to share at dinner with the 13 people there, and also some good French and Spanish cheeses, with yummy crackers too. If we had planned ahead, we may have been able to get better deals, but we spent what we spent. Now we'll have to plan better for Christmas. I think it's easy to say that we splurged for a special occasion, but it seems there is always a holiday, birthday, company, or some other "special event" that we could use to try to justify frequent splurges. So we'll work on that!

What about dining out?
October - $844 (includes restaurants, coffee shops, snacks, etc)
November - $200 (now that's much better - but we want to get it even lower!)

What about shopping in general? This includes shoes, clothing, books, electronics and software.
October - $1171
November - $224
Wow. I hadn't realized that we spent so much in October. I know we were buying some needed clothes in October, but what about the rest of it? This is certainly something to carefully examine in the next few weeks.

And entertainment, including DVDs, movies, music, magazines, books, the arts?
October - $253
November - $100

Lastly - personal care (includes hair cuts, massages, manicures, pedicures, makeup, skin care)
October - $313
November - $0

I could break it down even more, but for the blog, I have admitted our greatest short-comings, and the areas that everyone probably wants to look at when trying to save cash. Let me tell you, even though my blog doesn't have an enormous readership, it's still quite humbling to admit all this!

So in the end, did stopping our spending for two weeks help?

Yes! It definitely did.

First, it helped us by saving cash for those two weeks. And then it made us want to spend even less in the weeks that followed. At the end of the month, this "experiment" may have saved us around $2200. And although this month would be an extremely difficult time of year to stop spending money, I would recommend it at some point for anyone who wants to save money in the short-term, and reevaluate spending patterns in the longer term.