Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Be a Levite

I've recently joined National Community Church in their From Garden to City plan, reading through the Bible in a year.

I am the first to admit that not all of the Bible is particularly exciting. For example: Leviticus. Whoa are there a lot of details on rashes in that book. But obviously God let them be in the Bible that we read today for a reason, so I try to stay awake as best I can.

Since I jumped on the Garden to City band wagon a bit late I'm still catching up and haven't had the - ahem - joy of reading through Numbers just yet (which they did a few weeks ago ... and by the way, they aren't reading through in order, so don't get confused here). I'm sure that will be thrilling, just as it has been in the past. Not.

Nevertheless I am DETERMINED to get something out of it. So I did a little "get something out of it" boot camp this morning while trudging through the land allotment section of Joshua. Overall Joshua = good reading, what with the crumbling city, harlot rescuing the holy people of God types and tons-o-battles (including one where God full on STOPS THE SUN. Exciting stuff). But the land allotments? Not the highlight for me.

Pastor Heather pointed out via twitter the other day that while she finds the whole "you get this city, and you get this land" bit a snore, it was THE most exciting part to the Israelites. Hello, inheritance time! What's not to love? I figured, hey, if they can get into this, so can I. So I asked God to show me something interesting in aaaaaaaaall the boringness.

And He totally delivered.

Two things -- one I need to investigate further -- jumped out at me. The most significant one, which I'll share with you, was this:

"But to the tribe of Levi, Moses had given no inheritance; the LORD, the God of Israel, is their inheritance, as he promised them." (Joshua 13:33)

All this land being handed out and they get ... nothing? Not to say they were sleeping on their cousins' doorsteps or anything -- they were given cities in which to live. But no large tracts of land. Nothing on which to build an in-ground pool. No roads to pave with billboards to sell for advertising. Nada.

Instead their gift, a reward for getting all those people out of the land and sticking with God, was a relationship with God himself.

Now if I was a Levite, I would not be down. It's super hard to watch everyone else get way cool stuff and ... land ... (I'd take that over a Wii) while you get nothing tangible. But the Levites (at least at this point) understood that the privilege of a relationship with God was to be valued over any real estate. It was the thing of highest value in the world.

So I ask myself: do I recognize that truth? Do I value ... stuff ... and the tangibles of the world over a relationship with God? On what do I place priority? And what am I willing to give up to maintain the thing of highest worth?

Be a Levite.

Frugal Fail: Busted Budget

We all know where good intentions lead.

... in this case, to a frugal failure.

It isn't so much that I totally blew our grocery budget, clothes budget, craft budget or any other money restrictions out of the water. It's more that I completely lost track. Hopelessly so.

It happened like this: one day, after the commissary, I did not write down in my Excel ledger how much I spent. The next day, after I shopped somewhere else, I did the same thing.

And so on and so forth, until I realized I was so hopelessly behind that spending time catching up would be worth more in time than any amount of money I've saved at the store.

There's always next month, right?

To make things easier I finally sat down and figured out how to use the Mac version of Excel, Numbers. I am ashamed to admit that it took me, oh, a year, to get around to that and yet it was not hard. Or really any different than Excel. I'm just that much of a procrastinator.

But what this means is that now I can use my mac for both my lists, shopping and account keeping. Previously I'd open the PC, open the Mac and put them beside each other. I'd then open Excel on the PC, the bank account on the Mac and worked it that way. ... but the PC is slow. S-l-o-w. On it's best day. And so this becomes a time consuming process. But who likes to go to the trouble of getting out a second computer?

So now I can do it all on Mr. Mac.*

The other thing that has thrown a catch in my whole budget-bank account-syncing is my trip to D.C. and our upcoming one in two weeks. While the foundation paid for it all, it was more like they are GOING to pay via reimbursement. Meanwhile my credit card bill is looming, waaaaay higher than normal, awaiting that lovely check.

And as for the budget, like I said above, there is always next month for keeping track accurately. I do know that we have been spending less. I do know that we have been saving more. I'm just not clear on how much more or less there is.

*In other news, related only because it is also by Mr. Mac, I discovered that Magic Eraser really IS magic! It gets rid of those ugly, black palm marks my hands leave next to the touch pad. So exciting.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Sorry for my absence from here for the last week.. I'm a bad blogger.

My time in D.C. was WONDERFUL. Whoever said it was going to be hard to be away from David for the first time for that many days was WRONG. It was awesome! I did feel a tiny bit guilty for not feeling particularly guilty on his first birthday, but whatever. He didn't even know it was his birthday anyway.

What I want to D.C. for in the first place (no: it was not only to eat delicious food, although that worked out too) was a complete success. I am a winner of one of this year's part time Phillips Foundation journalism fellowships to study (and eventually write about) the divorce rate in the military and the effort to help military marriages. It's going to be a LOT of work and it's stressing me out big time right now even thinking about fitting that in with my current life. Things are busy as it is ... and now I have a part time (but who are we kidding ... I'm not going to stop at 20 hours a week) job on top of that all? And one that requires I work from home and talk on the phone WITHOUT a baby crying in the background. How to do this with Dave is beyond me.

Fortunately I know God is going to make it all work out. But still. Stressin'.

I'll be posting in the next few days on my most recent frugal fail as well as a triathlon training update (because I know you all care So. Much.) ... that, however, will feature an extremely unflattering photo of me wearing a tri-suit, by far the most unflattering piece of clothing on the planet. Think unitard meets bike shorts. ... not cool, folks. Not cool at all.

But I know you'll come back for it.

I also have words to say regarding my Personal Spiritual Mecca and the amazing things God reminded me of during a Saturday night service at Ebz.

Meanwhile, lentil casserole for dinner. (Potentially) More yummy than you think.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Up in the Air

I haven't written in a week as we've been busy with crazy amounts of birthday party planning, birthday party executing and packing and preparing for my solo trip to D.C.

I am writing to you from the plane.

Delta is a genius. Yes, I like to keep the money spending as low as possible. But I also love the internets. And so here I am, paying for it on the plane. Look how entertained I am! Rad.

This is my first trip without Dave ... ever. His birthday is Thursday and so I am celebrating one year of having a baby by ... not having a baby. If you think about it for a sec I promise it makes sense.

I am headed to D.C. for an interview tomorrow morning for a journalism fellowship which will require me to do a lot of work for a year, starting in September, should I win. I'm not entirely sure I want to win. On the one hand, I love winning. On the other hand, I don't love doing a lot of work. You understand.

Beyond the interview and possible post interview meetings, which should take a minimum of 15 minutes and a max of 3 hours tomorrow, my plans are to enjoy my most favorite place in the world until Sunday. This includes a few runs (with the goal of working up to 7.5 miles by the end of the week) possible swim in my favorite un-favorite pool (I just spent 1/2 hour trying to find a column I wrote about this for a D.C. weekly but can't, so tough for you. It's funny, though), sitting in Ebs journaling and reading my Bible, attending church Saturday, eating food that is not healthy with people who I love, spending time with those same people and maybe getting a few more hours of sleep than I normally do.

.... And I am hoping to find God during this trip more than I have in a long time. I let myself get so busy, so distracted. But D.C. is like my mecca, my place of spiritual enlightenment. So much growth happened there before. I want to see it happen again.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Everyday Savings: Coupons!

A year ago February, while Luke was out playing Army for a month (OK he calls it "training") I stumbled one day upon the Web site of a friend's sister ... and the wonderful world of couponing. At the time I had very little interest in coupons or money savings at all.

Sure, I liked getting things on sale (who doesn't?) I enjoyed having extra cash in my pocket (again, who doesn't?) but ... going to the trouble of plotting my shopping like it was some sort of war against prices?

But all of that has changed. Simply put -- I love coupons. I love them for all of the money they save me and the wonderful, stick-it-to-the-man feeling that I get when I get products I need (or, let's be honest, want) for next to free or much less than the store is trying to trick me into paying.

I am far from a coupon expert, but in the last year I have developed a system that works for me and figured out how to get the most for my buck and time.

To make this as straight forward as possible, I'm going to take a question and answer approach.

Q: Where do you get your coupons?
A: Three places. First, the Sunday paper. I find my subscription is more than paid for by the amount I save with the coupons that are in it. Second, online. Using a list of blogs I subscribe to on my google reader (which I'll list below) I keep track of any new coupons that are available via sites like, facebook or manufacturer's sites and consumer clubs. Third, in the mail. Using those same sites I sign up for product freebies and samples which often come with high value coupons or direct mail coupon booklets, which also have high valued coupons I would never find in the paper. As a bonus getting these only costs the time it takes me to type in my address on an internet form.

Another great facet of the blogs is that they do a lot of my work for me. These blogs post hot food deals based on coupons that have come out in the last several weeks matched to sales. For example, each week a list of really cheap items is posted at Safeway. If you still have the coupon on hand and a Safeway near by, you can scoot on over there and score four boxes of cake mix for $.50 like I did several months ago.

Q: What are those blogs?
A: My favorites are listed on the right side of this page. Here they are again with some details on why:
-- Abundant Food Savings. This is an awesome blog of primarily food related coupons, sales tips, and coupon to sales match ups.
-- Money Saving Mom and Mommies with Cents. These are similar blogs with slightly different coupon match ups and freebie alerts. I like them both.
-- Freebies 4 Mom. This is a fantastic run down of all the mail freebies out there. I rely on this blog to point me to places to sign up for all those fabulous free samples I receive.
-- Frugal Living Northwest. This is the blog that started it all for me but not necessarily the best for everyone to follow. Many of their deals are region specific (they are based in Oregon) and these ladies are VERY ambitious. Talk about inspiration. They know how to land the free goods at Walgreens through couponing that can only be described as vicious. The problem with this is that it takes very careful planning, incredible organization, regularly standing up to sales clerks who don't understand how coupons or their store's coupon system works and want to make your life as difficult as possible and being willing to say "no," and walk away from all that stuff you just spent tons of time collecting because some manager isn't going to give you the deal the ladies of that blog said would work. .... Not always my cup of tea. But it's fun every now and then.

Q. So I'm getting the paper like you said ... now what? Should I cut them all out? Should I cut out only the ones I'm going to use?
A. Pick your poison. After several months of cutting out every single coupon just in case I came upon a sale making makeup I have no intention of ever wearing free, I got tired of the giant pile of coupons and cut back (... pun intended). Now I only clip the coupons I either know I will use (example: coupon for the yougurt I eat for breakfast), will likely use (example: laundry detergent. I'm not picky ... I buy the one that is the cheapest. Keeping all laundry detergent coupons means I can make that happen) or would make it work if on sale (example: hillshire farms sausage. I dont regularly make meals with sausage, but if it's on sale for $2.00 a package and a I have a $1.00 coupon, I will FIND sausage recipes and we will eat sausage Every. Single. Day. for as long as it takes to get rid of it. Plus, sausage is delicious).

Q. Ok. Now I have a giant pile of coupons. Do you organize them at all?
A. Ummm.... confession. No. I mean, I have intentions of organizing them and I have a system of organizing them, but it never happens. They remain in a giant pile which I sift through once a week looking for the ones I need or could use at the store. Confession photo evidence:
Notice underneath that pile is a filing system of envelopes labeled by type. It is kept in this nice little plastic box with my giant pile on top of it. Also in this box: David's ultrasound photos. I don't know why.

But you SHOULD organize them. It would make my life easier if they were separated into categorizes. How about you come over and organize them for me?

Q. Do you base your shopping list off your coupons?
A. Yes. Very, very yes. Doing this takes being willing to change what brand you use based on what coupons you have. There are some things I am brand loyal to. (Example: wheat thins). There are some things that I prefer to be brand loyal to but will get the cheaper thing any (Example: salsa). And there are some things I just don't care about. (Example: flour. Seriously. Who cares?). I'm not going to buy some sub-par cracker just because I have a coupon. I will, however, buy El Paso salsa instead of Picante. It's not as delicious, but I'll do it

I also take into account the weekly sales using those Web sites I linked earlier. My meals for the week depend on what major (or minor ingredients ... if black beans are on sale, count me in!) ingredients are on sale that week.

Q. You mentioned something in your last post about working the checker. What's up with that?
A. Some checkers are mean. Some checkers are mean AND old. Some checkers are just not very smart and don't know their company's coupon policy. Some don't understand that by using a coupon you are not committing a crime. And that you are allowed to use as many coupons as you want.

My advice in the checker realm is as follows:

-- Know your own coupons. Make sure you have the rights ones out and that you hand them to the checker before they start scanning your stuff. This way if they are extra mean, old or stupid (or all three!) they can look through them and question you before hand.
-- Defend your coupons. You are allowed to use coupons -- both those from the paper and those printed from the computer. And as long as they haven't expired and you are buying the correct product, there is no reason you shouldn't. If the checker insists that you can't use a coupon, ask to speak to the manager. Seriously. Stick up for coupon users everywhere!
-- Defend your price. If you are using a coupon on something and it is on sale, chances are you have already figured out how much it should cost. Pay attention and if it doesn't ring up right, say something. And if the checker wants to fight about it, ask for the manager. Seriously.
-- Pick a nice checker to start with. After a few times using a big stack of coupons at a particular store, you are going to become familiar with the people who work there. Pick one that is not mean, mean and old or not very smart. Pick a nice one. You'll be happier.

And those are my tips. Did I miss anything?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Everyday Savings: Have a Plan

The most important way we save money each week is through planning before hitting the grocery store. Without this I would simply wander through the store, pick a few things that look like we would use them for dinner, spend way more than I need to and then go back again several more times during the week because of all the things I forgot It'd be crazy! And expensive.

Instead I follow this careful planning process.

On Sunday afternoon I go through our local paper for coupons, cutting out the ones that I think I may possibly use. Even if it's something I might buy but don't normally buy, I keep it ... if I find the item on a really good sale I WILL buy it and make it work in a upcoming meal.

Next I look over the sales list on Since we are military we shop at the commissary. Instead of having weekly ads, they run two-week sales and post all sales items, the price and percentage off on that Web site. Largely based on that list and any coupons I have that match up to make things even cheaper, I decide what we will eat the upcoming week. For example, this week Zatarains rice is on sale as is Hillshire smoked sausage. Since I had a coupon for both I found a recipe for jambalaya.

I don't plan lunches (Luke takes a sandwich to work and I eat some fruit, hummus and wheat thins and maybe cheese each day) or breakfast (I eat yogurt every day and Luke sometimes eats cereal which I stock up on when it's on sale) so I only have to worry about dinner.

If what Im cooking with isn't based on that list it is based off coupons or what is in my pantry or freezer. Another example: blocks of cheese were on sale a few weeks ago, plus I had some great coupons. I bought about 10 or 12 blocks and put them in the freezer so we are well set in that area. I also had a coupon for hormel pepperonis ... and thus we are eating homemade calzones! Delicious. Last week I had $32 in coupons. That's $32 more I would've spent whether that day or another day on this we need for our home and meals.

Now bring on the list. I could be far more organized about this step, putting things into narrow categories. Instead I break it down into "dry," "meat," "dairy," and "veggies." The problem with this method is that it lumps an incredibly large number of things in "dry" in no particular order so they are easy to overlook. But let's not dwell on that, OK?

My list consists of things we need for the week (including cleaning supplies and hygiene products) and things that are on a great sale but we will use in a future week. I've learned recently the dangers of stocking up TOO much, but there are some things I know we use regularly enough to buy multiples of when on discount. Examples: cereal, black beans and cheese.

In the store itself I start at the one end and go to the other, using a pen to cross things off my list (so I don't forget anything).

Towards the end, before I hit the checkout, I go through my coupons to make sure I have the ones I plan to use separated out and ready to give to the checker.

The art of the coupon is a story for another post, but let me just say here as far as in the store is concerned -- Know Thy Checker. I don't care if it's the next one available -- let someone else deal with the Crazy Mean Coupon Checkers. Pick one that looks nice, young and like they don't care and regardless always hand them the coupons first. This will save you the trouble of dealing with someone who insists on going back through your groceries to find the 6 yogurts required for the $1 off 6 coupon. It is absolutely beyond me why some of these checkers care SO MUCH about your coupons. The coupon means the manufacturer is giving money back to the store for giving me a discount ... meaning there's no skin off the store's nose for giving me money off. And I KNOW they saw a bunch of yogurts go by because they JUST SCANNED THEM ... what gives?!

But like I said -- a discussions for later. And believe me, I will discuss it. You can count on it.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Training Update

We've had some (off and on) beautiful weather, or just beautiful enough to allow me to run outside with Dave on an almost daily basis. I've been working up my mileage and am up to 5.5 and totally feeling like I can do more. Considering that it wasn't that low ago that I wasn't sure I could even WALK after a two mile run, this is pretty great.

Today I did a brick, biking 5.5 miles and then running just under four immediately after. It was not as hard as I thought it would be. This is fortunate as in the race I have to ride 14 and then four. Scary.

... did I mention that I am absolutely exhausted now? So much so that I can't even form the words to write about how I put together my grocery list. I guess I'll do that tomorrow.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Birthday Planning Aholics

Dave's birthday party is one week from today. Against the advice of the lovely Alisha (who thinks I should hold everyone is suspense regarding our plans and general craftiness surrounding the day), here is the run down of all the little things we are doing/making for the party. ... so you can see just how crazy this has gotten:

First, this is the happy birthday sign Alisha and I made.

We also made a sign for his high chair yesterday, but it's in the car and Luke took the car so I can't take a photo of it.

Here is the super cool party hat, modeled by a very wiggly David. I need to add some elastic to keep it on his head.

Next, I made this bib for when he eats cake.

We've also been working on the food list ... Alisha will be making him a gorgeous cake, so that's taken care of. The rest of the food ...

-- Chocolate covered bananas!
-- Veggie tray/ dip
-- Meat and cheese tray (made by me because buying one is waaaaaay pricey, unlike the veggie tray which Ill be buying from Costc0)
-- Punch
-- Monkey mochas (made by me ... basically a coconut/chocolate latte)
-- Some other sort of snacky/salty thing. Chex mix? Pretzels? Unclear.
-- Paper products from the dollar store

Now I know you are asking "Ms. Budget lady -- what about your budget???" ... well, we DO have a budget for the party. So far I am under it, and the above food should be around $30. Our budget for the shindig is $100 (you only turn 1 once!).

So, stay tuned (next Saturday!) for the party details and photos and ... fun. All sorts of fun.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Frugal Fail: the dinner version

In the land of envelope living where there's a set budget each week for eating out, we try to stretch our little dollars in every way possible. We LOVE eating out and so it's really important to make sure we get to do it as much as possible.

To do this we frequent and their monthly 80 percent off sales. We are able to buy $25 off coupons for local restaurants for $2. Every now and then I buy 10 or 12 of these for different places (and always via for money back) -- some we've tried and some we've not -- and put them in the car. When we're out and feel like going to dinner, we have them on hand.

Today was one of those days.

We decided to try a new restaurant in Tacoma for which we bought a certificate several months ago -- El Guadalajara. Sounded nice enough and with a minimum purchase requirement of $35 (which I doubted we would exceed) and a $25 certificate we would have ourselves a cheap and delicious meal.

We wandered around in the car for a while burning gas -- but no worries! We were in for a cheap meal. We finally found the place, parked, got a (very excited and hungry) Dave out of the car and walked up ....

And it was closed. Not just closed but empty and completely and totally gone.


So we put a (very unhappy and hungry) Dave back in the car and drove to another certificate location -- Joseppis. It was delicious, but it was more expensive (it has a $50 minimum instead of $35).

And so here is some frugal math for you to determine whether or not we broke even:

Buying certificate for cheap meal: +1
Driving around looking for the place: -1
Finding place closed and wasting money on certificate: -1
Eating delicious italian food instead: +1
Spending more money than planned: -1

Total: -1 = frugal fail.


(meanwhile I'm trying to contact the web site and get my money back)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Everyday Savings: The Electric Bill Challenge

I have a terrible habit: I hate turning off lights.

It isn't that I like having the lights on, either -- it's that I don't like going to the trouble of hitting the switch. I'm just that lazy.

Laziness, at least in this circumstance, costs money.

And so my personal challenge for the month of April is dropping our electric bill drastically. I chose to wait until this month so that I would have a full month of drying cloth diapers reflected before I worked to lower things. And wow did that make a difference ... our dryer/washer (apartment owned) is not energy efficient. It just SUCKS MONEY.

Unfortunately stupid power company did not get my comparison memo and they have decided to raise the rates this month. So to do this for you I'm going to have to do MATH. ... MATH! for you. That's how much I love you.

Since we can't avoid using our dryer every other day for diapers (since that in itself is cost cutting), I'm going to have to find other ways to do this. Examples:

-- Turning off our surge protectors (and everything plugged into them) at night. We don't need our modem and wireless on while we're sleeping, let's be honest.
-- Unplugging our cell phone chargers during the day ... no reason to suck power when they aren't charging anything
-- Turning off the computer when not in use
-- Turning off lights when we leave the house or a room. We live in a small apartment so I don't bother turning them off each time I go out of the room ... and when I'm about to go out the door with my hands full of David and three million other things and I notice that I left I light on ... it stays on. We are going to change that.
-- Running the dishwasher less. I frequently run it just to clean bottles and nothing else. There's no reason I can't take five minutes to wash them by hand.
-- Washing clothes less. I typically do loads of clothing laundry, wearing the same shirts and jeans over and over again just because those are the ones I like best. It's not like I don't have any others. I've decided to abide by a clothes/towels/sheets cleaning schedule with the hopes that it will cut down on the number of partial loads (and thus loads total) I do each week.

We'll let you know how it goes.

Everyday Savings: Just Say "No."

It's a new month! It's a new day! It's a new blog post series!

(Lucky you).

(And fine, it's a mostly new month ... I've been out of town. Give me a break).

This month I'm going to focus now and then on how I've been accomplishing every day savings in my home. Hopefully this will give you some good ideas ... or make you think "wow you're a moron I can't believe you didn't think of that before now." Let's just not share that little tidbit with me when it happens, mmmk?

I started thinking about this series in early March, gathering ideas for this. As I took stock of all the little things I've started doing and learning the number one thing that has helped me save money is this: saying "no" to stuff I don't need.

I know, that's mind blowing.

But stick with me here. Think about how many times you are walking through the grocery store and buy that bag of cookies because you are hungry and it looks delicious and hey, it's only $2 and on sale.

Just say "no," folks. Just. Say. No.

Think about how many times you wandered into that mall store *cough* ann taylor *cough* and fingered through the clearence items ... and ended up walking out with that $15 super cute sweater that was $75 to start with! and on sale.

I hate to break it to you -- but even if you get it on sale, but you actually don't need it -- it's just money spent and money wasted on something unnecessary and, frequently, unbudgeted.

I'm not saying there is no room in life for the simple pleasures of a gallon of delicious ice cream (which made its way home from the commissary in my bag). But it should be planned. It's the impulsiveness that gets you in trouble. Just say "no."

Coming soon: actual practical tips with evidence ... or something of that nature.

The Take

We returned from Ohio Tuesday mid-day ... and I say mid-day meaning mid-the-longest-day-ever.

That trip is just BRUTAL. To start with, his parents live a solid 1.5 hours from the airport. Add that to gaining three hours on the way home and the fact that our flight is always at o'dark thirty (in this instance -- 7:15 a.m.) and you get one very, very long day.

Now I'm catching back up on life.

One of the joys of coming home is getting several days of mail at once. I LOVE that! And Tuesday's take did not disappoint. Check out all the free stuff that came while I was gone! And note that this photo is missing a full sized bottle of panteen that was waiting at the leasing office when I took the picture. There are also several high valued coupons pictured here that resulted in free stuff from the grocery store ...

So far this is our stockpile of mailed freebies ... minus the things that I've used.

Yesterday I took my giant pile of free stuff and high value coupons to the commissary. My lofty goal was having $40 in coupons. I missed it, but not by a ton: the final tally was $31.43. Had I used all of my free stuff coupons I would've made it, but they didn't have the exact product I wanted so I decided to save it for later.

Here's the free stuff I ended up with yesterday ... not pictured is a bottle of vitamin water I drank on the way home:

You know how much I looooove saving money. Love, love, love, love, love.