Wednesday, June 13, 2012


Yes, I'm finally back after a long break from blogging.  I've had a very busy and difficult couple of months.  It was challenging to find the time and motivation to write, plus I haven't been a model PF blogger the past few months anyway.

Spring is my busy time at work and I've also been coping with the sudden death of my grandmother in February.  I have not been handling it so well.  I always knew I was an emotional spender, but after this event, despite my knowledge and financial improvements over the years, I have found that I still have that tendency.  The last few months of grieving have resulted in me being less concerned with our spending and staying on budget, which has resulted in very little growth in our savings accounts.  I've been very discouraged by this, which causes me to feel bad and spend more, which causes me to feel worse and spend even more, in a giant never ending circle.  It's not even like I'm spending on lots of frivolous things like clothes or jewelry.  I'm happy grocery shopping.  I think I just enjoy being out of the house and the high that comes from the purchase.

I do need to stop beating myself up for this and move on.  Dwelling on it is not helping me feel powerful in my money and spending decisions.  In hindsight, I wish Hubby would have helped me with the finances or held me more accountable, but he didn't.  And I need to be better about communicating to him when we're reaching our budget limits.

My goals for the next few months are to find something I enjoy that fulfills me emotionally that doesn't involve spending money.  And get back on track with our budget and sock away everything we can to make up for the last few months.  I also need to talk with Hubby and find some way to get him more involved in our finances, and ask him to hold me accountable for my spending, since I take care of a majority of the household expenditures.

Do you ever have periods of emotional spending, or fall off the wagon?  How do you get back on track?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Spending Diet--Week 4 (Final Week and Wrap Up)

We are officially DONE with our January Spending Diet!  First, let's see the tally...

Week 4 Totals:

For a FINAL TOTAL of $503 (of $450 budgeted) for the month of January!

No, we did not stay under $450 -our goal amount- but I still consider this a success.  Normally, we spend $700-800 on these categories, so we still came out much improved over our normal spending behaviors.  Most of that gas money was the $47 Hubby spent to fill my car completely up.  (I would've just put $20 or so in for the sake of the challenge, but he decided to fill it up in order to save time later.)  Otherwise, we would've nearly stayed within budget.  The higher food expense this week was a result of having to fill in and buy more as our ingredients and staples were very depleted.

What I take away from this challenge...

We spend too much on groceries.  I thought I was already doing this, but I need to do a better job of utilizing ingredients we already have on hand.  A system using cash-only and calculator are the way to go (and don't forget to plan your meals.)  It is also hugely helpful if you can shop without the kids whenever possible.  Based on this experience, I am going to try and lower our grocery budget drastically to $80/week.  It may work.  Or it may not be sustainable over the long term.  But you never know unless you try.  Even if we could do that every other month or every third month it would be an improvement.

Cooking at home is underrated.  While we weren't eating steak or lobster this month, we did eat pretty well and I didn't feel like I was constantly prepping or cooking.  I tried to stay realistic about the time and energy I would have to prepare a meal on a given night, and plan accordingly.  I used the slow cooker a lot for busier evenings which was a nice break.  And I honestly didn't miss fast food or eating out.  By severely cutting our food budget and virtually eliminating the restaurant option, it somehow made it easier and more enjoyable to cook at home.  Eating out has always been the sole cause whenever we go over our food budget, and we weren't even eating in sit-down restaurants.  It was fast food, mostly.  Those costs add up quickly and the food isn't even that great.  Sacrificing eating out is something I'm willing to do if it will help us reach our financial goals.

I stock up too much AND I don't stock up enough.  Funny, huh?  I probably spend a lot of money unnecessarily on stocking up.  However, stockpiling ingredients (within reason) can be a valuable safety net if there is a sudden job loss, major illness, or disaster that causes you to be unable to afford food or leave your home.  It is what helped us get through this month on our reduced budget.  I think I will try to strike a balance--no need to spend a lot of money to fill the pantry back up.  I will build it back up over time, using coupons to get the rock-bottom prices, and only if there is room in the budget.  Ingredients for planned meals will be prioritized first and stock up items will be purchased only if there is money leftover.

We could be a lot smarter about our fuel consumption.  In the future, we will drive for a purpose and when we actually need something, and not to just "get out of the house".  We will use our hybid as the primary car.  I will be better about planning ahead to minimize trips back and forth to work or the store.

We are blessed in many ways.  I have a renewed appreciation for the ability to buy groceries and fill up my car with gas.  For us, this budget lasted only a month.  For many, they have to make do with even less and more mouths to feed.  It is so easy to get caught up in your own world and what you think are big problems, that we forget to remember the big picture.  We are so fortunate and need to be reminded of that occasionally.

What do you think?  Are you inspired to do a Spending Diet of your own?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Spending Diet--Week 2 and 3

This update is overdue.  I know.  But things have been hectic here, to say the least, and I'm absolutely wiped out by the end of the day with no mental energy left for blogging.  I know you've been anticipating an update on our January Spending Diet.

Here's the rundown of costs:

Food-- $52 (week 2), $58 (week 3)
Gas--$46 (week 2), $50 (week 3)
Miscellaneous--$0 (week 2 and 3)

Week 2 Total: $98 

Week 3 Total: $108

For a running total of...$332 (of $450) with one week to go!

What I've Learned...

First, shopping with cash is the way to go.  I will definitely continue that after this month.  I've done it on and off before but always had my debit card in my wallet as a safety net.  I haven't been carrying my debit card for the past few weeks and have realized how much of a difference it makes in my self-control.  I always thought I could be disciplined with a debit card, but it is so much different now that I don't have it to fall back on.  I have found that I think through things more, evaluate and re-evaluate the necessity of that item and how its cost could keep me from buying something else.  When I am looking at something that I maybe didn't plan on buying, or that is more expensive than I had expected, rather than put it directly in the cart I tell myself that if I have money leftover, maybe I will come back for it.  Usually I don't go back, either because I've met my spending limit or I've forgotten about it.

Second, a calculator is a must.  No question. Or a phone app that helps you add up prices as you shop.  I've had to be more diligent about shopping with a calculator to help track my spending in the store, since I am using cash.  I found this great free version of a phone app "Out of Milk".  It lets you make a shopping list, enter prices, and adds the total up as you check items off your shopping list. You can also save the prices to refer to during future shopping trips. It was much less cumbersome than the paper/pen/calculator method, especially with the little guy in tow. And I didn't have to worry about accidentally hitting a button on my calculator and losing the ongoing tally.

Combining or eliminating errands really does save gas.  Before we began, I thought that our fuel costs were going to be the most difficult to cut, but strangely that has been the easiest.  We have just been more focused on driving our hybrid whenever possible, for every commute, every errand, and every family outing.  Errands have been combined much more, and some completely eliminated (since we didn't have the extra cash to spend on frivolous things.)  It has also helped that gas prices have remained fairly steady up to this point.  

And, recipe websites are a great tool.  Food costs have been the hardest to control the further we get into this and as our ingredient selection is being depleted.  Surprisingly, we're not being tempted to eat out.  I don't feel we're eating cheap rice-and-beans type meals.  If anything, we're probably eating better because I'm trying new recipes to utilize our available ingredients.   Recipe websites, such as, have been a great tool because I could plug in an ingredient we have and it will give you a list of recipes that incorporate it.  Especially with fresh produce that spoils quickly (I had a leftover bell pepper from another recipe), this was handy so nothing went to waste and we got the most our of our grocery dollars.

The Plan for the final week...
With one week to go, I know it will be a stretch. 

Our cars both have been pretty low on fuel the past few days--we haven't been filling them back up these past few weeks, just putting in our allotted dollar amounts, which isn't enough to put them anywhere near FULL.  After doing that for so long, they're pretty low.  Time to fill them to relatively full levels.

Our pantry is looking more bare, and our freezer is the emptiest it has been since it was brand new.  We've gone through all but one of our frozen meals and are pretty low on meat and some of our staple ingredients.  We've been grocery shopping weekly, but it has just been to fill in the missing items for recipes which we already have most of the ingredients.  We've also been using those trips to buy fresh produce, milk, bread, protein, and a few snacks.  It is getting more difficult to compile meals using only what we have on hand so we are having to buy more to fill in.  

I am proud of us for doing so well up to this point.  But boy am I ready for this to be over.  I like having choices with my food and the limited budget hasn't allowed for that.  And I want my debit card back.  You have no idea how many times I went to use it for something that wasn't food or fuel, like pet food, and it wasn't there.  One more week.  We can do it.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Spending Diet--Week 1

So we are officially into our January Spending Diet. Our plan is to only spend $450 this month on groceries, fuel, gifts, entertainment, clothing, and anything else we would buy ourselves.  Our kid and dog were still allotted their normal budgets.  (I should clarify that this challenge officially goes from Dec 29 thru Jan 26 to coincide with paydays.  Hey, when you plan your own spending diet you can make your own rules.)

What we started with/without...

  • We were pretty low on fuel, so we filled up both cars.  We're both off work the end of December and the first few days of January so that should be to our advantage.  Hubby also doesn't start back to class until mid-January, so that will save some gas, too.  It's not much, but every bit helps!
  • We had a fairly stocked pantry and some meat and veggies in the freezer.  Plenty of basic ingredients like pasta, rice, and sauces to last us a few weeks.
  • We have a few meals we can pull from the freezer.  A couple of batches of soup I made this fall, a lasagna, and a chicken dish.  You can bet we'll be eating these this month.
  • We aren't running low on any toiletries or household items.  If we do by chance run out of something, such as shampoo, toothpaste, or dish soap, for example, there's a good chance it will be something we can pull from our "coupon stockpile" in the basement to fulfill the need.
  • We don't have a garden to pull from.  It's January in the Midwest--need I say more?  Maybe if we do this again we'll do it during the summer months, when fresh produce is abound and cheap.

I withdrew $200 in cash last payday--enough to last us 2 weeks, hopefully.  I kept $100 tucked in an envelope for next week so we're not tempted to dig into it early.  Everything seems to be going pretty well so far, but there have been challenges.

I had planned on leaving the debit/credit cards at home but we haven't been able to bring ourselves to do that yet.  I think it's a sense of security in case there's an emergency.  Maybe I'll try to just leave one credit card in there.  Yup, I'm taking everything but one credit card out now.  Done.

It has also been difficult to remember to grab cash on the way out the door.  Blame it on years of carrying a debit card and no cash.

I've been paying a lot more attention to my use of fuel.  We combined errands before, and usually took the car that got better gas mileage, but now I'm evaluating if I actually have to take care of that errand today/this week/this month.  Sometimes I decide that something can wait and I don't need to make a special trip across town to do it.

Here's the breakdown of our spending this week:

Miscellaneous--$10 oil change supplies

Week 1 Total: $126 (of $450)

My plan was to try to stick as close to $200 this month for groceries, $200 for gas, and earmark the additional $50 for any overages, entertainment, gifts, etc.  It seems like we are slightly higher than we should be at this point, but I'm hoping next week's grocery budget will be way down.  I spent about $60 for groceries this week but I planned that to last me nearly 2 weeks.  I may have to revisit the store for a few things like milk, lunch items, and cereal. 

I didn't do much stocking up in December like I had thought I would.  Simply put, there was no leftover funds in the food budget to shop ahead for January.  And, I suppose stocking up would kind of defeat the whole purpose of this challenge anyway.

Cooking at home the last few days has been strangely peaceful.  I haven't minded cooking each and every meal at home.  Before, I would cook but wouldn't thoroughly enjoy the time or effort put forth.  Now, I'm enjoying it.  Not sure what has caused this change in me.  It could be my enthusiasm for the challenge, could be that I'm off work and have more time.  I suppose we'll find out once I return to work and we're much busier.

I've had to be even more on top of things because there's no extra money to grab fast food if I forget to defrost something.  I don't want to make any extra trips to the store either.  Before I would usually run out to the store to get exactly what the recipe called for, now I'm more determined to make it work with what I have on hand.

I'm anxious to see how next week shapes up.  If we can do well next week and avoid spending on any extras, I think the rest of the month will be a little easier.  Are you doing your own spending diet?  It's not too late to join us!