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Archive for April, 2019

Frugal Groceries: Homemade Seasonings

April 30th, 2019 at 09:52 am

I'm going to be going back to basics regarding our grocery bill. I am on a new eating plan, which has lowered our grocery bill and I will talk about that when I have more definitive results to share. However, we are attempting to keep costs in check this summer with our daughter home while supporting our older daughter who will be staying in our college town. She may end up covering most of the expenses since she does have an internship and a very part time job, but until that gets going we have to be prepared to help a bit.

So as I alluded to in the title, I need to tweek my homemade seasonings. We have tacos or fajitas once or twice a week and I have always bought those premade seasoning packets. A quick look at the Budget Bytes website and her recipe for taco seasoning is almost exactly what I pay for a packet. So it may not even work out as a savings, but I will avoid the added preservatives and unnecessary ingredients, which is important to me. I will have to watch for good prices on the
individual prices from now on!

Once I get an idea of what our daughter wants to eat on a regular basis, I'm going to be checking sales ads weekly. I may be able to stock up on some of her staples if they are loss leaders and save over the cost at the commissary. Generally, the commissary saves us 30% over the cost at traditional grocery stores. They do have some sales, but not always things we buy.

Anyway, you may be seeing more posts from me about grocery savings. Please chime and share your best tips for saving on groceries! My first one for anyone to work on is avoiding brand name items. Nearly all the time store brands are less expensive and the taste is the same. If you have never tried the store brand, I suggest it would be worth a side by side taste test to determine if you really can detect a difference. And if there is the difference is the price difference worth it to you? I will admit we need to switch back to store brand shredded cheese...or shred our own cheese if that is more cost effective.

Do you make your own homemade seasonings? Do you buy store brand? Why or why not?

A New High And Budget Adjustments

April 28th, 2019 at 09:05 am

Yay! Our retirement accounts have reached a new high as of the closing on Friday afternoon. So grateful we have money increasing in value for retirement! We just keep plugging away adding funds to our account monthly. All of these contributions are set up automatically, so other than recorded them in our check register (which is auto on YNAB), we don't think too much about it. Auto investing is the way to go!

Yesterday's mail was fruitful financially. We received a refund check from our utility service here on base. We have stay at or under the average compared to similar sized homes on base for electrical and water usage. The result is a refund of $55.

The other check in the mail was the proceeds from our oldest daughter's UTMA. I'd have to go back and look at our total investment in that account, but I'm going to guess under $1,000 since the late 90s and early 2000s. The final redemption amount was $3,973.62. This is money going towards her first car. Her car will likely be more than this, but hopefully not by much.

I have two items ending on eBay that are being watched, so two sales possible. They won't make more than a few dollars, but it all adds up, as I have shown over and over again on this blog.

I cut our Hulu Live subscription effective today. It's saving us $45 a month. This is planned for the summer months to offset the need to pay $55 a month for our youngest daughter to store her dorm items this summer. Our older daughter has always stored her items at my parents since she is pretty close. Our youngest is much farther away, so this just made sense logistically. Not exactly how I want to spend money, but we are going to try it this first summer and see how it goes. I think my husband is going to miss Hulu, so this is temporary because we did like it for accessing college football in the fall.

I stopped our youngest daughter's allowance for the summer. She was receiving $125 a month from us. Honestly it far exceeded her needs and expenses. I noticed she seems to buy music and make Go Fund Me donations with it. I love that she is generous. The primary reason to end it for the summer and reevaluate is to help cover rent for our older daughter. Our younger daughter will be home and we can cover anything that comes up with our own budget. We will likely reinstate some form of spending money, but we also know she is starting a part time research job, so she will start accumulating her own spending money, thus less needed from us.

I've also decided to stop funding our car maintenance and repair sinking fund for a few months. We currently have $1000 set aside plus an emergency fund. We have been funding it with $275 a month because we have older cars. We are very current on major repairs and maintenance we we think this will not be an issue short term. We expect to start it back up in August or September. This change is also due to upcoming expenses with our daughter staying in her college town this summer.

I'm doing my best to maintain our current Big Savings Goal progress and monthly contributions, thus the reason for making other adjustments to the budget temporarily. I'm grateful that we have flexibility to make changes to how we spend our money.

Surprise Scholarship!

April 26th, 2019 at 07:34 am

Well, my older daughter DID get a scholarship. She was even surprised by it. It's actually one that she received last year for marching band. They had a Honors and Awards event yesterday, but she didn't go because she didn't know she was getting an award. The year prior they emailed her ahead of time that she was getting an award, so she attended. Oh well, she still gets the money.

Last year it was $600 and ended up being applied to her summer tuition. We expect the same will happen again this year. We are so thankful for all the scholarships we have received for both girls.

I am happy and grateful for all money that flows into our lives!

Credit Refund And A Few Sales

April 25th, 2019 at 10:55 am

It's nice when cash flows in!

I sold three items recently on eBay this month. Net profit was $20.77. None of the items were worth much, but yet they sold for a little bit better than garage sale prices. I'll take it!

I sold a heavy duty shelving unit from our garage. We had three and really only needed two since we have downsized so much. I sold it within a hour for $20. It was probably worth more since I had so many people interested.

The other unexpected money flowing in was a credit on my husband's government credit card in the amount of $116.08. I think he basically sent more to the card when the money should have come to us for reimbursement of expenses. I have that money set aside to cover a rental car we need next week on a trip.

I redeemed 2500 SB (Swagbucks) for an Amazon gift card and used it to buy a set of steps to help our 14 year old kitty more easily get up on the couch. We had been picking her up as she can no longer jump up on her own. I like when I can apply the SB earnings to things we need.

Do you have some extra money flowing in?

I'm Getting Clarity

April 21st, 2019 at 05:00 pm

I spent some time thinking through all these college costs coming up and I'm getting some clarity. We have already been notified that we owe my oldest daughter's University $901.25 since we withdrew her VA benefits. They put a hold on her University charge card since it is actually an overdue debt at this point. I will pay that tomorrow. I tried today, but they must have the site down for maintenance.

I will be pulling money out of both daughter's Educational Savings Accounts with in the next month or so, before the mid June tuition bills are due. This IS money we set aside to pay for school, so that is definitely what it should be used for. For my records later, I'm taking out $1560 for DD1 and $1025 for DD2.

In order to get clarity I had to do several calculations, specifically what the expected tuition bills will be for both girls through Spring 2020. I also had to figure how much of those bills we should pay out of pocket for our youngest daughter to qualify for the full American Opportunity Tax credit in 2019. If I take any money out of her ESA that disqualifies those funds as eligible for the tax credit.

Another part of getting clarity was doing a bit of a cash flow scenario, where I can see if we have enough cash available at the time the bills are due. The first time I did it without considering money from their ESA accounts, I was over $3500 short! And I did include loans for my oldest daughter for at least the fall semester.

So in order to not be short the necessary funds, I am withdrawing from their Educational Savings Accounts. I will also use $968 from our tax refund to pay the VA back when they finally do get around to billing us. This will come back out of the Big Savings Goal.

In order to help cover potential costs of my daughter living in an apartment this summer I stopped an allowance to our youngest daughter since she will be home and we can cover any expenses she needs. I am going to stop our Hulu Live subscription for the summer to save $45. I will also stop funding our vehicle maintenance sinking fund for a few months. It currently has just over $1000 in it , and we don't really expect any major expenses and can make it up from our emergency fund, or even the Big Goal Savings, if absolutely needed. I've been adding $275 a month for that. Those changes alone will free up $445 each month to help our oldest daughter. She already receives $125 spending cash from us each month and with her paid internship we don't expect we will need to fully cover all the expenses once she starts getting paid.

I still may need make some changes but I can see more clearly how I can make this work without completely derailing our savings and retirement goals.

Thanks for listening! I do know how blessed we are to have the ability to pay for college and all of our other needs and wants.

Financial Chaos

April 18th, 2019 at 07:47 am

First, I'm not sure how clear I can make this post as there is a lot I'm juggling financially. I 'feel' like we are in financial chaos, but I've been working very hard to turn those thoughts and feelings around. We are coming up on summer and both of our daughter's are taking classes. The combined tuition is over $4,400 plus books. No scholarships or loans available during the summer this time. The easiest thing to do is to withdraw the money in full from the Educational Savings accounts.

But...I know that if I pay out of pocket for our younger daughter that will help me meet the requirements to take advantage of the American Opportunity Tax credit for 2019. Spend $4,000 on qualified education expenses, get a $2,500 tax credit. I'd rather use that money to get a discount on taxes than pay our government more in other words.

And...I also know that our oldest daughter no longer has her scholarship for fall (full time) and spring (part time last semester) that has so helped us previously with the out of state tuition. Her ESA is now down to $3,500. Loans have been offered for the next two semesters.

And...our oldest daughter is living in apartment this summer. Here in a couple weeks we going to help her get a car, likely with a majority of the funds coming from her UTMA account and a small loan. This will not be a new car, or even rather that new.

And some news on VA educational benefits. We had planned to transfer some benefits from our youngest daughter to our older daughter for the fall semester since she already used all that we originally allocated to her. We can do this, but if we claim them for fall, they will actually get applied in arrears to this spring when we only used 19 days. The VA even though all parties are good today, goes back to fulfill the obligation in full. While this sounds good, it's not the best scenario for us, as our daughter will have more tuition due in the fall not because of more hours but because her scholarship expired. We have been advised to withdraw the benefits applied to this spring so that we can them claim those 19 days plus the months we transfer to the fall semester. This withdrawal is now creating a debt we will owe to the University and the VA. Specifically we will owe the University $901.15 and the VA $966.43. The University bill will likely be very soon, but the VA will be delayed several months.

Our oldest daughter did get an paid internship for this next year that starts just after school ends. She is also looking for another job to work this summer in addition to the internship. This is good as she will have some funds coming in to help with the car expenses, such as fuel. Because her hours and income are not fully known we are doing our best to support her as she transitions to paying more of her expenses.

I currently have $1,305 in the college category in YNAB. I also have $1650 in our emergency category. We have our tax refund ($1968) that I did put into our Big Savings Goal and really, really don't want to use. I also save $400 a month towards college tuition and expenses. I think I can add more, since we are saving quite a bit of money in fuel living on base.

My struggle is wanting to keep moving towards our own goals, specifically the Big Savings Goal, as well as to avoid taking on debt. Overall, I'm not against debt for the short term, but I've learned to love not having debt. In the end I think having our daughter take on a small car loan and some student loan debt is the best route. We have given a lot to avoid debt at this point and we really don't feel sacrificing our goals is worth keeping her from debt. I think that makes sense, and even if it's not what you would do, I think it's right for us at this time.

This post is long. I'm pretty confident I can get it all to work out it's just taking a lot of effort to think through it all and decide where all the money is coming from. Oh, I realized I didn't exactly touch on where the student loans come from, but basically our oldest daughter is at the end of her Education Savings money, scholarships and Post 911 GI benefits. We expect she will have no more than $7,500 in loans. This is very reasonable debt for a double major don't you think?

Refund of Annual Fees

April 13th, 2019 at 02:22 pm

We notified Chase that my husband is active duty military upon learning that some credit card companies will waive annual fees under the Servicemember Civil Relief Act. My understanding, which I likely learned before my husband went full time, was the the SCRA would provide relief on loans when deployed (which would at the time have been the only time my husband was considered active duty). We learned from another coworker of my husband that they will waive annual fees on credit cards.

We have thee Chase credit cards, two are in my name as the primary card holder and one is in my husband's name. We are both authorized users on the other's account. One card in my name does not have an annual fee, the other two do.

Chase responded promptly to my husband's request on his Marriott card and has waived the annual fee retroactively back to account opening in 2015. They did need a copy of his orders. We received a refund, plus interest it appears, of $349.18. Annual fees will be waived going forward, but we were told that request for current orders may need to be provided again in the future. Oh, and the interest rate is now at 4% (although we do not expect to be holding a balance to incur any interest rate charges).

I think I waited to see what the response would be with my husband's card before I inquired on the other two, so it seems to be a bit delayed. They have asked for orders and we have supplied those. We have also supplied orders to American Express in order to at least have annual fees waived going forward as well. I'm not sure that American Express will retroactively waive the fees.

If Chase or American Express do not apply the SCRA benefits to the accounts where I am the primary account holder, we will close those accounts and open the appropriate ones in my husband's name.

I am always thankful to organizations that provide benefits to service members. It is not something they have to do in most cases (although maybe yes with this one based on the law). And like all of you, I want to benefit our bottom line in anyway that I can.

I'd like to say I will apply this to the Big Savings Goal, but there are upcoming expenses that will require these funds. More on that at another time!

Frugal Friday

April 5th, 2019 at 06:14 pm

It's been a very frugal week!

I ate out of the fridge, freezer and pantry through lunch today and could have eaten another meal without buying more food, but my husband is on his way home and will want dinner. There was nothing left he would eat...not a fan of veggie burgers! So I went to the store and picked up groceries for the weekend primarily. Some items will carry over into next week.

I spent $40.65 out of pocket for some of our staples, including organic eggs, meat and almond butter. Cost was actually $50.65. I used a $10 NAPA Visa rebate from when we bought the battery for my husband's truck. I pulled that $10 from our grocery budget and put it in our Big Savings Goal.

I sold an item on eBay for a net profit of $3.73 and did a Pinecone survey and now have another $3 in my Paypal account. I also added these to the Big Goal Savings!

Other than the spending today, I did not purchase anything this week. Was your week frugal?

Update: Eating It All

April 4th, 2019 at 07:45 am

My husband has been out of town for work this week so I made a goal to eat primarily out of the fridge and not buy too many new groceries.

I've been eating green smoothies for breakfast consisting of 1c water, 2 c spinach, 1/2 mixed berries, and 1 TBS of chia seeds. Lunch and dinner have consisted of some sort of salad, a turkey sandwich, soup or some raw veggies. I'm not eating all of these in at one meal but two or three of them.

Today, I'm actually skipping breakfast to allow for a longer fast since I ate dinner last night.

In the past I've listed what I have in my fridge, freezer and pantry and then explained what I used up. This time I'll just explain what I have used and what I had to purchase.

I bought a small loaf of bread, four bananas, three small heads of broccoli, a red onion, green onion and spinach. These were bought on two different trips, so I think the cost had to be under $15, maybe even under $10.

I made broccoli salad which I was able to add two boxes of raisins from the cupboard and use up five slices of turkey bacon. This also used up the last in a jar of mayo. I ate this along with sandwich or soup for four meals.

I used up a slice of cheese on one sandwich, added three small slices of chicken to a salad, and ate some raw cabbage as a snack. Last night I put together a https://www.budgetbytes.com/smoky-quinoa-black-bean-salad/ which used up the quinoa in the pantry, the mini peppers in the fridge and some cooked kidney beans I had in the freezer. So tasty! I will eat that for lunch later.

There was a Vegan Lentil Stew in the freezer so I thawed that Tuesday night to have with my lunches and dinner. So that is used up!

I still have fresh produce to use up. I'm putting the last of the ginger root in my water for flavor. I also have some orange slices I could do the same with. I have two apples, two bananas a few celery sticks and carrots along with spinach. Oh, I did use up all the spring greens and half a tomato. I was putting these on my turkey sandwiches.

While I love the green smoothies I think the bananas are too much sugar. I will use them up, but I will not buy any more for awhile.

I basically have five meals left to make for myself. I feel like I still have plenty even though the pantry consists only of almonds, spices, nutritional yeast, pearled barley and lentils! I will keep my focus mainly on the fridge and fill in from the freezer if needed since there is a burrito and veggie burgers in there.

It feels good to not have to go shopping for almost a week and find that there is plenty in my house to keep me full and satisfied.

If you are eating it up this week or month, how is it going? Do you feel you have saved some money?

March Big Savings Goal Progress

April 2nd, 2019 at 11:33 am

Yay! Three months in a row I have remembered to update you on our Big Savings Goal progress.

$350.00 ($175 from each paycheck, two per month)
_$38.90 American Express CC Rewards
_$38.47 Discover Cash Back
__$5.33 Chase Freedom Rewards
__$8.55 US Bank Cash Bank
_$58.31 FNBO Interest Earned
$122.01 NFCU Interest Earned
__$5.61 USAA Interest and ATM rebates
__$20.00 Cash
$1,968.00 US Treasury Refund

$2,615.18 March Big Goal Total
$4,191.22 2019 YTD

$63,178.18 Previous Big Goal Balance
$67,369.40 New Big Goal Balance

33.68% of $200,000 Goal

We are very pleased with this progress! An unexpected tax refund is appreciated and makes a big difference. There is still a chance I will pull the refund (or part of it) back out depending on some upcoming expenses. However, I decided to go ahead and try to make it work without. I did not add any fuel savings this month, because we had $1800 in travel expenses in the last two months to cover. I simply needed that money to help make that happen. And finally, I marked $20 cash in my notes, so I'm not exactly sure where that money came from, but apparently I decided to add it to the goal.

March Interest Earned

April 1st, 2019 at 12:52 pm

Grateful for higher interest rates! The amount we earn each month keeps growing.

FNBO $58.51
NFCU $122.01
Total $180.52

Our interest earned funds our Big Goal each month!