Many of us want to reduce debt and increase wealth. I'm no exception. This site will chronicle my efforts to live more frugally, pay off my debt, and save money. I hope you will find inspiration to get a handle on your own finances too, if you haven't already.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

What happened when I packed away half our dishes...

We are a family of two but until recently have had enough dishes and silverware to feed eight people at a time and enough cups and mugs for even more. It felt like I was doing dishes ALL. THE. TIME. The sink was constantly overflowing with dishes and I was spending a lot of time either loading and unloading the dishwasher or washing the dishes by hand. It was exhausting and both my water and electric bills were much higher than necessary.

I was sick of it.

One day, as I was washing Mt. Dishmore, I realized that we had about TWENTY mugs in our cupboard! TWENTY! When are we ever going to need that many mugs??? I stopped washing dishes, dried my hands, and immediately put half of those mugs in a box and packed it away. I finished washing the dishes, but throughout the rest of the following weeks I began to weed through the cupboards and drawers in the kitchen for things that we never used or that we didn't need. Turns out there was A LOT! However, it was some time before I began to purge silverware, dishes, and more.

I was still washing tons of dishes every single day. Tons of them! It was taking so much time and energy. And, it was costing a lot of money in terms of my utility bills, not to mention the time it was taking away from other activities and from my son.

I finally decided to get serious. We are only two people and we don't entertain all that often. I decided we needed to just have enough dishes to get through two meals each, plus some tools for cooking. I decided to cut the amount of our dishes, silverware, and cups and mugs in the cupboards in half. It was a great decision! I spend a lot less time washing dishes and my son is more willing to pitch in and wash dishes too - neither of us is overwhelmed by Mt. Dishmore anymore!

Washing dishes now takes about ten minutes instead of an hour (or more!) because we simply don't have as many dishes to dirty! Before making this change, it was easy to simply grab another plate or spoon or whatever rather than washing dishes. We would always rationalize not washing the dishes right away because there were clean ones since we had so many - "Why not grab a clean one instead of washing a dirty one? I can always wash the dishes later." It was exhausting!

Now that we've pared down, I have tons more free time to spend on my son, studying, or other activities. More is more - more work, more drudgery. There is a reason behind the saying "Less is more..." 

I've also cut back on silverware, but how much to keep and pack away has been a bit trickier since I use regular spoons, knives, and forks for all sorts of things besides just eating. I use them during food preparation, for my tea, and so on. Eventually, I settled on six of each piece of silverware and four steak knives. I also put away the various knives I've never used - EVER - that came with the knife set.

I also put away tons of other tools, pots, and pans that I never use or that I absolutely loathe washing because they are so big - if I want to bake cake I would rather use two smaller pans than my huge sheet cake pan. It just saves time, energy, and money. It's much more relaxing to come home now to an almost empty sink and know that I only need to spend a few minutes in front of the sink rather than my entire evening.

I also decided that instead of buying a utensil container or a special tin for tea bags, I would use containers that I already had at home. I had lots of plant pots around that I love but haven't used. They make GREAT kitchen storage containers!

 I used to have enough cooking implements to fill probably EIGHT of these cute pots. Now I just keep out the essentials - only items I use at least three or four times per week. A few slotted spoons, a non-slotted spoon, a whisk, can opener, tea strainer, two wooden spoons, and a spoon for our rice cooker.
 I bought this little pot on sale at Homegoods (I think) and had a plant in it that eventually died. I *love* this pot so I cleaned it thoroughly and now it holds tea bags (bought on sale and with coupons - our store doubles coupons and sometimes the sale prices are great! Each $5 box of tea was $1 after the sale price and coupons!).

A little white IKEA pot (bought from their clearance section) is great for holding scissors. We have eight pairs of scissors so I put away half and keep these two in the kitchen, another pair in the office, and one pair with my sewing stuff.  The other four are packed away. The little green vase is something I bought many, many years ago when I worked at a garden supply and patio furniture store. I also keep a marker in the white pot so I can label leftovers easily and without having to search out a marker that will work on our containers. Of all the things I own, this little green vase is one of my most favorite! If you have things you love, find ways to use and display them everyday! Don't let them languish in a box until "the right time" because what if that "right time" never happens? NOW is the right time! The green vase holds a few little things that were gifts from my best friend, a fabric crow that belonged to my grandmother, and a garden gnome stake.

These may seem like little changes, but they are having a big impact on our lives. I've got so much more free time. Instead of spending time on dishes, I now have more time to interact with my son, pay attention to our dogs, draw, read, and enjoy life. Our electric and water bills have both dropped (I also stopped using the dishwasher ENTIRELY!) too which is great for my financial health as I try to dig out of debt and move towards financial stability. I've been a lot happier in general just with little changes like these. 

Should family or friends drop by, it's a so easy to just pull a dish or two out of the box in the closet, quickly give it a rinse and have enough dishes to serve guests. In fact, we did just that a few weeks ago when a friend and her children joined us for a BBQ. The key is to wash and repack those dishes as soon as possible so you don't end up with Mt. Dishmore ever again!

Stay tuned for my next two posts which will be my progress with Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace Planner and lessons learned from downsizing in general. Until then, I would like to invite you to check out my Etsy shops:

***Please note, the Dave Ramsey link is an affiliate link, and if you choose to purchase through this link, I will receive a small commission.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace Planner

A couple of weeks ago I bought Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace Planner. So many people swear by his methods for getting out of debt and getting ahead financially that I figured it was worth a try. I'm tired of being broke and want to get ahead. Right now, I'd settle for just breaking even every month.

The Financial Peace Planner by Dave Ramsey
The planner has weekly exercises to work through and I am starting week two today, although it feels like week one since I didn't do too well during the first week. Part of the planner involves setting spiritual, relationship, physical, and mental goals. I managed to do only a few of those goals on a few days last week. I'm planning to do better this week, starting with today!

During the first week, I listed my top five money fears:
  1. There will never be enough money.
  2. An emergency will happen, wiping out any progress I may make.
  3. I will never be out of debt.
  4. I will never own a home.
  5. I will just end up in more and more debt.
My goals last week were:
  • Spiritual: deep breathing and empty-mind meditation at bedtime (I'm not religious so changed this up from Ramsey's intended spiritual type goals).
  • Relationship: Go on a daily walk with my son.
  • Physical: Do yoga on odd numbered days and Jillian Michael's Shred DVD on even days; eat 2 servings of fruit daily.
  • Mental: read, write, draw, journal daily; study languages daily
  • My own other goals: write 3 blog posts; earn $20 on Etsy.
Of those goals, I managed to eat two servings of fruit per day on four days, earned $1 on Etsy, and did my mental goals on three days. That's about it. Pretty pitiful.

Handmade ceramic piggy bank by jlynnepottery on Etsy

This week, one of the thought/writing prompts is what would you do if someone gave you a million dollars? My response: I would pay off all of my debts and bills, fix up my car, get my son a car (nothing fancy), buy a townhouse to rent out and buy a townhouse to live in, and pay for both my son and I to go to school. I would invest a ton, and after I finish school and start on my career path, earning money from the rental property and my job, I would buy an apartment in Europe and rent it out half to three-fourths of the time and visit the other part of the time.

My weekly goals for this week (September 28 to October 4):
  • Spiritual: deep breathing and meditation at bedtime; bedtime by 2am unless I work the evening shift.
  • Relationship: 4 or more walks with my son; write him a note every day.
  • Physical: 30 minutes of cardio daily; strength training Tues/Thurs/Sat; 2 servings of fruit daily.
  • Mental: daily reading, writing, journaling, drawing.
  • Other goals: 3 blog posts; earn $20 on Etsy.
I also listed my top 5 priorities:
  1. My son's health and happiness
  2. My health and happiness
  3. My financial stability
  4. Success at work
  5. Learning
Finally, a I made a list of ways I could cut back expenses or earn more money to work towards a $1,000 emergency savings fund, and I went over all of my spending for September and made a budget for October.

Downloadable, printable stationery from my Etsy shop, Marbles and Jam
 ***Links to are affiliate links. Should you make a purchase through these particular links, I may earn a small commission from your purchase. However, buy purchasing through these links or making a purchase from my Etsy shop, you will be helping me to get that much closer to financial stability. Thank you! Every penny counts!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

How I saved money and food with carrot muffins

I've been so scattered lately! Today, however, I decided to recommit to my savings plan and to getting debt free.

You see, I was standing in front of the open fridge, about to throw away half a bag of perfectly fine shredded carrots. The only thing wrong with the carrots was that I paid to much by buying them pre-shredded instead of buying loose, bulk carrots and shredding them myself. So, picture me standing there, 1/2 full bag of shredded carrots in hand, when it suddenly occurred to me that I was about to put my hard earned money in the trash. I paid for those carrots, and I was going to throw away half of them? Really? That seemed rather counter to my financial goals. I decided to do something about it.

I had already made a full batch of lemon muffins for my son and had been craving something a little less sweet for myself. I've also been trying to come up with healthier snacks for work than whatever happens to be available at the cafeteria where I work (mostly junk food or really expensive salads). Why not use these shredded carrots to make muffins?

Savings #1: I found a use for perfectly good, leftover food (I don't even remember what I bought them for originally).

My son, however, already had a full batch of lemon muffins to keep his tummy full and satisfied. He also doesn't like carrot muffins. I can't eat a full batch before half go bad. I don't like the texture of frozen then thawed muffins. This led to...

Savings #2: Cut the recipe in half to make a smaller batch that I know I'll eat without any going to waste.
Halving a muffin recipe can be tricky if you aren't really precise and my batter was extremely dry and thick. I added a bit more egg, coconut oil (instead of butter or margarine), coconut milk yogurt (because I'm allergic to regular dairy), and some rice milk until the batter seemed about the right consistency for muffins. However, now I had a problem - leftover wet ingredients and leftover shredded carrots. I only need 1/2 the carrot shreds and since I mixed the wet ingredients separately, I was guestimating and only used 1/3 of what I threw together. This led to...

Savings #3: Use my freezer. I may not like the texture of frozen and thawed muffins, but I don't mind if the ingredients are frozen and thawed. I decided to put the extra carrot shreds and wet ingredients in freezable containers for use another time.
The muffins turned out perfectly! I used this recipe, but as mentioned above, tweaked the ingredients quite a bit since I halved the recipe and had to make adjustments and also due to a dairy allergy. The recipe, after halving it made eight muffins. I've already eaten three! I ate one right away and took another two to work in my lunch which also prompted me to...

Savings #4: Pack my own lunch for work. This should be a no-brainer, but I often forget or choose to get a little extra sleep when I wake up in the morning. Maybe if I make myself more yummy goodies like these muffins I'll be more inclined to take my lunch to work more often!
Seems simple and obvious, but how often do you throw out perfectly good food rather than finding a use for it? I know I do it far too often. My goal this month is to waste as little food as possible and save money along the way!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Extra income with online data entry - one company that is real

After having been broke for far too long, but also having to balance being a single parent with earning an income, I have spent a lot of time coming up with creative income generating ideas. One of these was to investigate at home data entry. There a lot of scams out there — a lot! After reading through numerous work at home mom websites and reviews of various at home data entry companies, I happened upon Key For Cash which has since changed its name to Virtual Bee.

I’ve been doing data entry for Virtual Bee for a few years now, and while I’m not getting rich from it, I do earn enough to pay for most of the gas I use every month. Some months are better than others with Virtual Bee, but I usually earn a minimum of $60 per month. Sometimes, however, particularly from late February through the end of April, I am able to earn $60 per week with Virtual Bee. 

Personalized Money Clip from Bee Baubles Jewelry on Etsy
 The positives of online data entry with Virtual Bee

  • You can do it from home — You just need your computer and an internet connection
  • You can do it at any time of day, any day of the week — Mornings offer the most opportunities, however. Weekends offer the least.
  • You make your own hours — Some work at home jobs require you to keep regular hours. With Virtual Bee, you work whatever hours suit your needs.
  • You aren’t penalized if you don’t work — If you need to take a break from Virtual Bee, it’s not a big deal. You won’t be penalized for not being productive. You can log in to work whenever you need to or want to.
  • If you’re fast and accurate you’ll earn more — The faster you type and the fewer mistakes you make, the more you’ll earn. One nice thing about Virtual Bee is they don’t care about capital letters — If the snippet to be keyed has capital letters, you don’t have to bother with hitting shift or caps lock. Just key the letter. This saves you some key strokes.
  • There are several types of data to work with — If you are great with 10-key data entry, you can focus on those types of snippets. If you prefer only alphabetical entries, focus on those. If you like a mix, choose alphanumeric. I typically focus on numeric, dollars only, dollars and cents, or checkboxes data entry, although I also occasionally do alphanumeric and letters only snippets.

The negatives of online data entry with Virtual Bee

  • It isn’t consistent — There are dry spells periodically. Sometimes there will be days and days with very little work. Sometimes there will be an abundance of work one day and nothing the next. There is no pattern.
  • You won’t get rich — Online data entry with Virtual Bee pays 30-cents per 1,000 key strokes for most types of work. For some types of work you can earn up to 60-cents per 1,000 key strokes, but these higher paying segments are less frequent or may be more complex. However, over time you will likely naturally get faster and make fewer mistakes. I have definitely increased my speed and accuracy, and thus my earnings.
  • Too many mistakes gets you cut off — If you make too many errors, you will be logged out from your snippet, and possibly the system. If you continue to make a significant number of mistakes, you may have your access terminated entirely.
  • The pay dates are inconsistent — Payments come in the mail by check. Although they are supposed to come on a schedule (you can log in and see when your payment was processed), they sometimes come late. Most payments come about two weeks after the processing date, but I’ve waited four weeks on occasion. You also won’t receive a payment until you accrue $30 worth of key strokes.
  • Communication isn’t great — I have never received a reply when I have emailed with a question. However, when I emailed to ask them to update my address, I never received a reply, but my email must have been received because two payments later, my address was updated.

When I work
With Virtual Bee, I frequently work while I am watching television or movies. It’s down time that is generally dedicated to little else, and I don’t always feel totally engaged with what I’m watching, so why not? I also frequently have two windows open on my computer so that I can watch Hulu or Netflix on the computer while doing data entry.

As I said above, you won’t get rich from Virtual Bee, but you may be able to earn enough money to cover a small or small-ish expense every month. It definitely has made a difference for us. Please note that you do need to take a typing test to qualify, and the test covers a variety of types of snippets. You can take the test as often as you want (or at least you could when I signed up). Even if you score really well on the typing test, you may experience a wait before you are approved. This will coincide with how much work is available and how many others are also testing. It was about two months from the time I tested and when I was accepted into the program.

If you are ready to check out Virtual Bee, click HERE.

***This post will be cross-posted at my personal blog, M and J in a Nutshell.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

First spending of 2014

So, I did it. Today, I made my first purchase of 2014. I actually made two purchases, and 1.5 of those two purchases was frivolous. Sigh...not the best way to start a new year financially.

I ran out of dog treats last night and was too lazy to go buy more. Instead, I waited until this morning when it was time to feed our dogs. One of them is the most finicky dog I've ever encountered when it comes to eating, and will only eat certain foods, most notably particular types of dog treats, in the morning. I had noticed that dog treats were on sale at CVS this week, so I popped the dogs in the car this morning and we took a little jaunt over to the local CVS where I picked up two large bags of dog treats and two sodas. The sodas were totally unnecessary both financially and calorically. 

Then, on the way home, I swung by Starbucks and got a grande soy latte. I do allow myself one coffee purchase per week, but I try to make it an entire outing, not just a random drive thru stop. I also try to make that outing to an independent coffee shop, but it doesn't always work out that way. So, now I've had my one coffee out for the week, and wish I had saved it for a more special, indie-coffee shop outing over the weekend. 
Spending today:
  • CVS: $10.68 - $3.06 frivolous; $7.62 on dog supplies
  • Starbucks: $4.69 - totally frivolous
Total spending for January 2014 so far:
  • $15.37 
    • $7.75 frivolous spending
    • $7.62 necessities
Since I know at least one person will think it, if not ask it, why do I buy coffee out weekly? Why not save that money or put it to better use? Because the so-called "latte factor" tends to backfire. I have tried cutting my coffee dates out entirely and it just blows up in my face every time. Instead of being good and spending that money more wisely or paying a bill, I end up getting all flustered, feeling super broke, and then going totally overboard and losing control. By allowing myself a special treat each week, I keep my spending in check. I get my treat, I'm satisfied, I move on. I also find that I do best if I do my financial planning/analysis while having that special treat.

Here are some articles on the latte factor and why eliminating little splurges like this aren't always as beneficial as they seem to be:

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Small steps towards financial freedom

There are both big and small things that can be done towards achieving financial freedom. This post is about some of the small things.

In the craziness of the past several months, I've gotten away from some of my frugal ways. Here's a reminder that the small things can sometimes add up to big savings.

I resolve to return to these frugal habits:
  • Keep to the power company's off-peak hours for things like washing clothes.
  • Return to line drying the vast majority of our laundry.
  • Continue to hand wash dishes - with only two of us, it's easy and fast to hand wash dishes, and saves electricity, water, and gas (to heat the water).
These may be small changes, but they can have big long-term impact if I am vigilant about practicing them.