Friday, April 29, 2011

My first trip to Aldi's

An Aldi's opened across town a few months ago, but today was my first visit. I had heard all kinds of great reviews about how low the prices are and what a fabulous store it is.

I don't know. Maybe I'm missing something, but I wasn't that impressed. I expected the no-frills, bring your own bags experience, so that wasn't a surprise. What I also expected were phenomenal prices and a decent selection. I don't think I found either.

There were some good deals - like 4 ounces of chili powder for 99 cents. But most of the prices were just so-so to me. Now, granted, if I were one to shop at the expensive store every week, I would probably have been amazed by the prices. But I shop at Super Walmart for the most part, stopping at other stores for weekly deals. I think I do just as well there and it's one-stop shopping. Aldi's is not.

As I look at my receipt, I didn't do badly. But I still don't think I'll be back. Here's what I got. What do you think?

5 lb. all-purpose flour - $1.65
5 lb. granulated sugar - $2.49
1 lb. butter - $2.69
10 slices provolone cheese - $2.29
16 slices American cheese - $0.99
12 oz. shredded Colby Jack cheese - $2.79
8 oz. cream cheese spread - $1.39
1 canteloupe - $0.99
2 packages peanut butter and cheese crackers - $0.99 each
2 cans cream of chicken soup - $0.59 each
4 oz. chili powder - $0.99
1 roll paper towels - $0.69

Total with tax - $20.56


Thursday, April 28, 2011

I am not spam. Really, I'm not.

It's actually kind of insulting. Nearly every comment I leave on other blogs disappears into the abyss - presumably to the spam folders of the blog owners.

Some of you have taken notice of this and faithfully dig me out of spam. Thank you! Others of you don't even realize I've stopped by.

I leave a fair number of comments in an effort to keep up with my new friends in the PF world. I just don't want you to think you're having a one-sided conversation!

So, if you think about it, look for me in your spam folders :)


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I took the bait to get $50

I got an email this morning from IngDirect, where we have a savings account. It was an ad promoting Orange Checking and offering a $50 bonus to sign up.

I may be dumb, but free money sounds pretty good to me. I read the terms and couldn't find a catch. I'll receive a check card and if I use it three times in the next 45 days, Ing will deposit $50 in our account on Day 50. The best part is that it only requires a $1 deposit to open. The only caveat is that I think they run a credit check because they want to give you an overdraft line of credit. I said I didn't want any overdraft protection, but they still might run a credit check. I should be OK there, but we'll see.

I hope it works. An extra $50 would be a nice way to kick off the summer.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Good news, bad news

I logged in to our checking account this morning to make sure things were in order. The posted balance looked off to me, so I pulled out my real checkbook and went back to the last time I reconciled it with the official bank statement. I started there and punched the entries into the calculator. All was going along swimmingly, until I got to April 17th. And I realized with horror that I had subtracted $5.02 instead of the $50.20 that the gas for the car had cost. A $45.18 mistake.

That's the bad news. The good news is that I caught it before the account was shoved into overdraft because of my mistake. I moved enough money from the EF to cover it for a few days and will return it to the EF on Friday (payday).

It's this kind of thing that makes me so determined to keep beating down this debt. I can't wait for the day when I make a mistake and, in the grand scheme of things, it won't matter because there will be enough money sitting there to cover my inability to add and subtract at a sixth-grade level.

On another note, thank you all again for your support during this journey. You are making the difference by keeping me accountable and by continuing to encourage me. Your suggestions to yesterday's post were great and I'm thinking hard about what I want to do. You guys are the greatest!

And on that note, I'm going to spend today seeing if I can find anything to sell. Wish me luck!


Monday, April 25, 2011

I want it. I want it not.

I updated my debt totals this morning and found out I had either made an entry error on my ticker or I had not properly accounted for accrued interest. Either way, I had to make the ticker go back up a bit. Even though I know it's not because of new debt, it still made me mad. I am nearly obsessive at wanting that thing to go down these days.

I'm sitting on my patio writing this post and looking at the sad state of my flower beds. I only have a couple - mostly because of my lack of a green thumb - but I do like to put out spring flowers and fill the bird feeders with seed. I've done neither of those things this year and am struggling with whether or not I will. Flowers and bird seed so I can sit out here and enjoy looking at pretty things are wants, not needs. But they are fairly strong wants, so I don't know. The crappy thing about drawing a line in the sand is just that. There's a line in the sand.

Hope everyone had a blessed Easter Sunday. I know I did. Friends, family, faith. I have nothing to complain about.


Friday, April 22, 2011

Changing the family tree

My daughter called last night to report that her car was temporarily kaput. This morning she arranged for a tow and was resigned to the weekend without wheels. When I said after her description of the symptoms, that this might be an expensive fix, she sighed and said "I guess I won't go get that pair of shoes I wanted today." I said I thought it was going to cost way more than a pair of shoes and she said "I know, I have enough money. I just wouldn't feel right about the shoes."

My daughter is 22 and in her first year out of college. She has an apartment by herself, a 7-year-old car, a first job that doesn't pay a fortune and no debt. She has managed to save an impressive amount in her first few months in the working world and has an incredibly healthy attitude toward money. She has never applied for a credit card.

As I sit here squeezing every penny for the next week, and knowing we don't have enough cash to help her out with her car even if we wanted to, I realize that she has done it. She has done as we said and not as we did. She is starting out knowing a zillion times more about money than we did and her choices are proof of that.

I am forever thankful that I woke up to this mess in time to share my newfound wisdom with my children. They will be so much better off financially than their parents. What a wonderful realization.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Crunching the budget - again

First off, I still haven't fully recovered from the eyeglass disaster. I'm angry that it cost so much. I'm angry that I didn't say no and go somewhere else (although circumstances with DS would have made that difficult). But most of all, I'm angry that our finances are in such bad shape that we couldn't just pay the bill and move on.

At the same time, I'm very thankful for the unexpected support I've received from my new PF blogging friends. I appreciate every one of you!

But on to the subject at hand - the budget. We've had to do some shifting and rearranging and cutting back (no grocery shopping this week), but we're figuring it out. As we were taking pen to paper, I started wondering how everyone else tackles their budget. I've heard an awful lot of mention about You Need A Budget (YNAB) software. I've glanced at their site, but haven't tried out the free trial yet. I'm not sure I could ever bring myself to paying for budget sheets anyway. I know a lot of people use Excel or Quicken, too.

What works best for you and why? Has anybody ever tried something like YNAB? I'd love to hear how you do it.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Will this ever get better?

I was MIA yesterday. Partly because I was gone for most of the day. Partly because I was still in shock over the eyeglass experience.

The appointment lasted nearly three hours. Three. I read half a book in the waiting room. The doctor called me back to tell me that DS's eyes had worsened considerably, which was somewhat puzzling as they were expected to be fairly stagnant from here on out. So he was going to do some further testing to make sure there wasn't an underlying cause. As DS has some serious chronic health issues anyway, this was enough to make me edgy to begin with.

After another round of testing, the doctor assured me DS's eyes were healthy and he just needs a new pair of specs. So we head over to the other side of the office to check out the offerings. I ask to see the $99 for everything section. That section included a whopping four frames, none of which DS would be caught dead in - and I couldn't blame him. So we moved on. DS finally settled on a set of frames that cost $180. Insurance would pick up $100 and we would pay 80% of the remainder - $64. Not ideal, but I didn't think that was too bad.

So the woman starts keying in all the information, the insurance, the discounts, the prescription etc. She then turns her screen around to show me my final price. The only reason I didn't fall out of the chair is because I thought I was looking at the wrong number. I made her point to it.

Are you ready? ....$410!

I all but started crying right there in the middle of the office. When I recovered a bit, I stammered a lot and said I had never paid that much for glasses and how could they be that much - after insurance and discounts?? She said it was the specialty lenses that DS now requires.

And, you know, it's kind of like when you take the car to be fixed and they tell you what it's going to cost to make it drivable. I mean, what can you do? You have to have it. DS has to have glasses to see.

So I pulled out my grocery money for the week and wrote a check for the rest and paid half of the bill. The other $200 will be due when we pick up the glasses. I haven't figured out where that's coming from. I really don't know. In the past, I would have paid for them with a credit card, so I guess I'm making progress. But it sure doesn't feel like it.

I'm sick. Just sick. And I cannot wait for the day when I can handle an unexpected $400 bill without losing sleep that night. I just wonder if that day will ever come.


Monday, April 18, 2011

Meal plan ... and eyeglass anxiety

We eat most meals at home (and pack lunches), but I've never done real meal plans. The way it usually works is that sometime after breakfast, I look in the freezer, see what's there and pull something out to either defrost or stick in the crockpot for that night. There's not much advance thinking involved.

But I know a lot of you do weekly plans with the idea - I think - that it will save money in the long-run. I'm not sure whether it will save me money, but it might make life a bit easier, so I'm game to give it a shot. I'm going to come up with five dinners each week, figuring we have at least one night a week that is leftovers and weekends are often fix-your-own. The only thing I'm not going to do is specify particular days for particular meals. I'd rather have the flexibility. I can just glance at my list and quickly decide on one for that evening.

This week's meal plans:

Beef stew (this is tonight's - already in the crockpot), noodles, carrots

Chicken sliders, tossed salad, corn

Calzones, apples, corn

Grilled salmon, rice, black beans

Grilled chicken, green beans, baked potatoes (cooked in crockpot)

We're getting to the season that my menus will be more interesting, since we like to use the grill in the warmer weather. That and the expanding choices at the farmer's market will help. We may not always eat the healthiest choices, but I think we do OK.

Next on today's agenda is taking my son to the eye doctor. He desperately needs new glasses and will have to have an exam before they'll write a prescription. With our insurance, the exam will cost me $15. Basic lenses (without all the frills I know they'll try to sell me) are free and I'll be allowed $100 for frames. Anything over $100 I will pay out of pocket. And that's where my anxiety kicks in. Frames can be expensive. Really expensive. And given that my son is in high school who needs to wear his glasses all waking hours, I don't think it's fair to get him the cheapest pair, just because they're the cheapest. Aside from reasonable durability, they need to be somewhat fashionable.

Can I find fashionable, durable frames at the place where I'm required to buy them for under $100? Stay tuned.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

My shovel is a fork

After our tax damages were revealed, I'm looking forward to working back up to a little spoon like Sarah's.

Due to a thoughtful family decision, hubby and I are beneficiaries of a generous retirement, doled out in monthly payments. The only stipulation was that we don't actually get it until another family member doesn't need it any more. As we're not in a hurry to use it for that very reason, we've tried not to panic these past few years at the impact an entire extra paper-only salary has made on our already shaky financial state.

The biggest targets have been financial aid for college (so long, 'needy' grants) and - gulp - taxes.

We're very fortunate that the current actual recipient is understanding and has insisted on paying the taxes owed because of the retirement. What we haven't shared - and won't - is that not only are we having to PAY now, we've lost what used to be substantial refunds... which we've always needed to plunk down on essentials. You know, food and stuff. We counted on those refunds as a chance to catch up. This year, the impact of the retirement (amount we would have gotten plus the amount we owe) is over $5000.

Before I had a chance to regroup from the CPA's horrifying chart regarding the damages for 2010, she very tentatively showed me the projection for 2011... the year we lose two deductions at once and the college credit. And if we 'settle' on any credit cards, our souvenir will be a 1099 to share with Uncle Sam.

I haven't recovered from those numbers yet.

Meanwhile, I've found a state assistance program that looks promising. I'll report when I learn more.

Meanwhile, part two, I'll see if Sarah has another little spoon handy. Because I will need it.


Friday, April 15, 2011

Making the numbers work

Payday and lots of bills. What's new? The good news is the check was enough to pay them with a tiny bit left over. If we pay really close attention, we should make it til next Friday.

No snowflakes this time, but I did set up an ING account for Eboo's savings plan. I couldn't decide how to do it, since it's a one-year plan and we're already at Week 19. I want to reach the finale on Dec. 31, and start over again in 2012. Plus, this would make a great Christmas account. I obviously don't have the extra money to plop down to make up for the first 18 weeks. Then I realized I could add two weeks together and so that's what I'm going to do. Today, I put in $19 for Week 19 and $1 for Week 1. So I start the account with $20. I think this is going to work.

It's so great to be excited about saving money!


Thursday, April 14, 2011

A penny saved ...

I watched TLC's program, Extreme Couponing, last night. While I was in awe of some of the deals, mostly I was just annoyed. Seemed like an organized way of hoarding to me. I was totally put off by the 24-year-old single woman who cleared the shelves of 30+ bottles of Maalox. Really?

I did, however, dig out my coupons this morning for my grocery shopping trip. I do clip coupons, but I don't use many. I can usually get a better deal by buying the generic brand. Today, however, was especially satisfying. My goal is to come in under $150 a week. This is still probably high, but I have to start somewhere and that's the average I've been spending. And I have been paying attention. Anyway, I was in the store, being rather ticked off by the skyrocketing prices of everything and figuring there was no way I was going to pull this off. At the register, my subtotal was $151.75. But then I pulled out the coupons. Cha-ching! New subtotal: $136.75. I used $15 worth of coupons - and I didn't buy anything I wouldn't have bought anyway. Yay me!

Meantime, Eboo over at My Life Journey has me really excited about her new savings plan. She calls it the Dollar A Week Saving Plan, though it's not quite that. For 52 weeks, she aims to save the amount of the week she is on. For example, on Week 1, she deposits $1. On Week 38, she deposits $38. Eboo calculates that by the end of one year, there will be $1,378 in the account, not counting interest. And the most she will have put in at one time will be $52. I mean, how easy is that? I think I'm going to start tomorrow. Thanks, Eboo! Anyone else want to join us?


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

My shovel is a spoon ... and that's OK

I was listening to Dave Ramsey today and he was talking about how some people clawing their way out of debt have really big shovels.

I wish.

Jenny and I were deliberate in our naming of this blog. Both of us are a long way from having even a small shovel. We have spoons. Little ones. Just when I started to let that thought get the best of me, I remembered a movie my son was watching this weekend. It's a family favorite: The Shawshank Redemption.

If you haven't seen Shawshank, I'm about to spoil it for you, so read further at your own risk. It's the story of a successful banker wrongly convicted of killing his wife and sentenced to life in Shawshank, a prison run by a corrupt wardon. Life goes on for Andy for two decades until one morning when he is found to be missing from his cell. Behind a poster is the hole through which Andy escaped. It turns out he had been digging that hole for 20 years with a tiny rock hammer, one handful of debris at a time.

I kind of feel like Andy. The going will be slow, but at the end will be freedom, glorious freedom.

Jenny and I will get there. One spoonful at a time.


Bringing up the rear...

Someone's gotta do it, and since Sarah has obviously grabbed the bull by the horns, I guess I'm it.

The less-than-positive news is that I am still trying to work out arrangements with several credit card folks. Some are still quite pleasant to talk to on the phone, others are getting a little testy. I received the first 'debt collection' letter yesterday and responded today with a letter of my own to explain our situation. I hope my next report doesn't hail from a sea of orange.

The good news, however, is that I managed to scrape up enough old rings for our daughter's fiance's wedding band! Since we are having to fork over such a piddly amount for the wedding, we are paying for his band, priced this way at a quarter of the cost of a new band. I won't go into details as to why it means so much to have the ring done this way as opposed to selling the gold and buying a new ring, but 'priceless' comes to mind.

This morning I ordered a packet from, recommended by Sarah, who learned about the company from Dave Ramsey. I'll send the 'ring' rejects first to see if there's anything there; old coins will be next.

Other accomplishments include hubby's perfecting coasting down the mountain every morning, raising our gas mileage back to over 44 miles per gallon in his little car with over 350K miles (no vacation miles there, either). He drives a LOT of miles daily, so this is a big achievement!

And in a completely free, much-needed activity this weekend, I managed to make an impressive dent in pitching out old papers.

Finally, a shocking, unexpected benefit of trying to stretch food dollars and the overall financial stre$$ over the past few months is that 25 lbs. have gone missing.

So, despite still haggling with too many creditors, I do believe we're heading in the right direction. I sure don't have to worry about getting any speeding tickets....


Monday, April 11, 2011

Mark the calendar and save the date

Now that I've spent a few weeks crunching the ugly numbers and seriously paying attention to the pennies, I'm ready to set The Goal. The date when I want to be totally free of the chain of credit card debt around our necks. Jane over at Life Doesn't Begin at Retirement says I am now an official member of the "geeky money people" club. So I must be doing something right!

We owe an enormous amount of money to 11 credit cards. The total seems insurmountable. But five of those are in BLPs and slated to be paid off in five years. So I'm going to use them as the benchmark. I have every intention of beating the others into the ground before that. So here goes:

My credit card debt free date: March 31, 2016

It sounds like a long way off. But at my age, five years isn't really that long. And I am going to make it my goal to beat that date. I know we can do it.

Thanks to all of you for inspiring and encouraging me. I'm going to beat this, one spoonful at a time.


Friday, April 8, 2011

Flurries ... finally!

I did it. I made it to payday with $7.62 left, which I sent off this morning to Discover. My first snowflake. I'm so proud.

I put gas in my car, paid the bills and added $25 to the Emergency Fund. It feels good to be moving in the right direction. Finally.

I can see where it might get to be fun to work the plan. And that's next on my list: The Plan. I want a get-out-of-credit-card-debt-forever date. I want that extra motivation.

Stay tuned.


P.S. For some reason, Google seems to think I'm spam when I comment on others' blogs. I've done a lot of visiting and commenting and my comments don't show up until I alert the site owner. If you think about it, check your spam folder and see if I've been there!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Changing the way I think

I started the week with $79.25 to last until payday. Given the price of gas and our long commutes, this was not good news. In the past, I would have groaned and gone on as usual, knowing I had a credit card in my pocket "for emergencies."

But a funny thing happened on my way to a budget. We put away the credit cards five months ago, and now that we have five of them in BLPs, using them is no longer an option. So instead of worrying about not having a crutch, I concentrated on seeing if I could finish the week with at least a few cents to my name.

The hubby filled his car with gas, eating up the bulk of the money. My car was closing in on the "E" and there wasn't near enough money to fill the tank. Instead, I put in $20 and vowed to only drive when absolutely necessary. That left $7.62 left. Not a lot of margin for error.

When we ran out of snacks, I baked instead of bought. When I thought about "running out" for a quick errand, I stayed home instead. It was sort of a game, though I'm not ready to say it was all that fun ... yet. Whipping out a credit card never entered my mind. And surprisingly, I was left with a feeling of peace and accomplishment that I had consciously taken steps to make sure our debt didn't go up.

Tomorrow is payday and we have $7.62. We're going to make it. I think I'll mark down 2011 as the year that we took control.

It feels good.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Slowpoke report

Whew - I can't keep up with Sarah! While I'm still trying to explain our present financial situation to a few more bank folks, li'l sis is barreling through and making cookies and cinnamon rolls! If we didn't live 3+ hours apart, or I wasn't trying to shed some pounds for my daughter's wedding in a few weeks, or gas wasn't $$$$$/gallon, or either of us had any spare time for a lengthy visit, I'd be at Sarah's making sure the troops would be happy with her efforts.

It doesn't look like they'll have a problem.

Since I last reported, we now have a fifth plan in place. The terms aren't quite as impressive as some of the others, but since the rep was willing to work with us and was sensible*, I agreed to it. I'm relieved to have one more taken care of. Now if we can just get some income flowing from our hibernating side businesses to help pick up the slack....

(*Why do 'customer assistance' reps so often offer plans with payments 3+ times more than the minimum payment you CANNOT make even after you've explained - sometimes twice to that rep - that your current situation renders it impossible to make the former minimum payment???)

I do have some thrifty experiences to share!

1. We had a visit from some old friends this past weekend. My husband, a pro in the kitchen, planned to fix one of his famous breakfasts - eggs, potatoes, biscuits, gravy, and some kind of meat. Bacon is too expensive, and some folks don't like sausage, so we opted to get five big slices of ham from the deli. It cost less than the bacon and was delicious, and because the rest of the (cheap) breakfast was so filling, we had two big slices left over!

2. Our friends took us to a late lunch/early dinner, and the restaurant owner (a friend) surprised us with two huge bowls of ice cream and cinnamon fritters! Because we couldn't take the ice cream home, we inhaled our courtesy dessert and brought home enough leftover dinner for the next night.

3. Hubby and I wear our shoes (and drive our cars) until they fall apart. We own more than one pair, but we pretty much each live in one pair year round. He's on his feet and outside most of the day and was in dire need of a new pair, so we hit Kohl's the other night during their big sale, armed with an extra 30% coupon. Although we tend to keep buying the same shoe brand/style, hubby was agreeable to trying on a different one because the sale price was considerably lower than his usual pair. He said they'd work, and the sale price was so low, he also sprang for a black pair of shoes, perfect for muddy days. Feeling smug, we hit the underwear department, as his personal collection had reached antique status. Once I recovered from sticker shock (even at the sale price), I remembered the 30% coupon, so we sprang for a package of six. That should take care of him for life.

4. I bought NOTHING at Kohl's.

5. The little Toyota hubby drives for his long commute has racked up 350,000 miles (not a misprint!). It was clamoring for a tune-up, so hubby ordered the $$$ spark plugs (at a significant discount) and installed them himself for the first time! Of course, it called for special tools, but they were on sale, too.

6. I haven't paid attention to grated cheese in the store because it used to be more expensive than block cheese. I was going to make something that required a lot of cheese (and a lot of grating), and hubby noticed the big packages of grated cheese in a completely separate bin. It weighed 2 lbs. like the block and was priced about $1 LESS. Money and time saver - woo hoo! It does have a different texture, but it hasn't hampered our ability to eat :)

So... while I'm behind Sarah in most ways, I am trudging along in this newfound determination to stretch what we have even farther while meeting such enlightening friends along the way....


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sugar-coating the bottom line

With not a penny to spare this week and a severe shortage of snacks for the hungry troops, I checked the pantry for supplies and got cooking. No chocolate chips, so some favorites were out. I ended up making a batch of spice cookies and a pan of homemade cinnamon rolls.

With any luck, they'll last for more than a day.


Monday, April 4, 2011

The weekend $$ bleed ...

I ended Friday with $83.94 left of the paycheck to last for the next seven days. Then the bank statement came in Saturday's mail. Despite my diligence, my figures were off by $4.69. In the bank's favor, naturally.

So my $83.94 became $79.25 without my even spending anything.

Two other purchases were made over the weekend:

Stamps - $7.92
Wiper blades for hubby's car - $17.31

Now I'm at $54.02 until Friday. I think we can do it. Who am I kidding? We have to do it.

Meantime, I'm going to get serious about the food budget and going cash-only via the envelope system. Thanks for all the encouraging ideas on this one, Sarah, Little Lamb, Louise, Jane and Jolie.

Pot roast from the freezer is in the crock pot for dinner. At least we're still eating well.


Saturday, April 2, 2011

The envelope, please

I'm a list kind of gal. I like them. So it stands to reason that I would like goals, too. But when your head is buried in the sand, it's a little hard to make that connection. Now that I've started looking forward, I decided to set a few goals. They've got their own tab on this site. There's nothing momentous there, just starter goals, if you will.

The one that's sort of open-ended is the promise to reduce grocery spending. I struggle with that a lot. My grocery budget includes everything from toilet paper to toiletries to makeup - I tend to do one-stop shopping at Super Walmart. So I'm thinking using the envelope system for that one category might help me achieve the goal. It's scary, though. What if I get to the register and don't have enough in the envelope to cover it? I think I average about $150 a week - some weeks more, some less. That's for four people - essentially three adults and a teenage boy. I need to do better than that.

I'm going to think about it this week and maybe fill an envelope on Friday. Problem is, right now I can only do it a week at a time. If I could put a whole month's budget in there, I think it would give me more flexibility. But I can't do that now. Maybe that will be next year's goal.

Anybody else use envelopes? Any tips for me?


Friday, April 1, 2011

Poof goes the paycheck

The euphoria over payday lasted mere minutes. I paid the mortgage, American Express, Department of Education, Chase, life insurance and a co-pay to the hospital for a scheduled doctor's visit.

There's $83.94 left to last until next Friday. The good news is that there is plenty of food in the house. The bad news is that gas for both the cars will come perilously close to the amount. And it leaves zero wiggle room for unexpected expenses.

Sure wish my balance sheet was an April Fool's joke. But it's real and it's hard not to get discouraged. I think I need to set some realistic goals for this year so I can feel like I'm getting some traction. I'm going to think on that.