Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Lazy Girl's Guide to Saving Money

Welcome to my simple guide for making money work for you without much work. I'm glad you're here.  Now, before we start, I have a couple disclaimers....

1st - In no way at all am I providing best practices. What I am offering are the things that realistically work for me & my family.  Every one of these tips truly integrate my description of being lazy. These tips offer a way to save money with the least amount of work in a way that is enjoyable & profitable.  I don't know how to triple up coupons at Dillons or buy ten pounds of meat for $5. I just don't.

2nd - In no way does this post mean that I think of myself as exceptionally good at saving money or being a superior steward of our finances.  Paul and I have made a lifetime of financial mistakes & will humbly and honestly admit that.  We try our best, work hard, and have found a great love of providing for our family with some peace in how we spend & save our money. I didn't write any of these words for any other reason than this: I love you guys. If there is even one simple tid-bit I can share with you that can help....well, that will just make me enormously, immensely happy. 

I meant it. I love you guys. Now please don't throw Internet stones at me if you read on and don't like some things that you see. It's okay to disagree & nice things are nice to hear. It takes all kinds... Okay, I'll stop and leave you to it...

1. Filter emails so that solicitations are hidden

+  Solicitation emails are annoying, but they are also a necessary evil that save me so much money. I sign up for sales emails for every store I shop at & then I filter them to be pre-read & dropped in a folder, so they’re out of sight, out of mind.

+  When there is time in my schedule for a shopping trip, particularly for clothes or household items, I open up my Solicitations folder in Gmail and I look through for the best deals & match those to any additional coupons or points I already have. I’ll even do this as I’m in a checkout lane if I’m in a situation that wasn’t planned. So, if a store doesn’t have anything significant to offer [I typically only shop there if I can match an in-store sale w/ an email coupon or discount], then I wait a couple weeks until my next chance to pick up a few things.

+  I reverse my reason to go buy. I’m not prompted by sales [there’s always a sale--I would be running out all the time]. Instead, I decide when I have a need & then I find the best bet for buying it.

2. Don’t stress too much about the coupons

+  Coupons are wonderful! They can be a great asset. I have fond memories of my mom putting coupons to work to stretch the dollar, and I am also proud when I see that final price get slashed by my stack of coupons. However, it’s important to remember that the discount for a box of cereal means you’re still buying a box of cereal…

+  Don’t cut coupons for things your family doesn't already buy. Most grocery store coupons from the newspaper are for items that are processed, boxed, or a flashy version of some new item. If you are in need of stocking up on those helpful quick solutions, by all means enjoy the savings. If, however, you already make those things advertised by means of homemade, from scratch, solutions, understand that you are already making great savings both in price & health.

+  With that said, here’s how I utilize coupons for Wal-mart for my best deal:
          I “clip” coupons from the free coupon app on my phone, email them to myself & print them out, keeping my items to beauty, hygiene, medicinal, & staple items. 
          I take those coupons to Wal-mart about once every month or every other month [that's how often I go to Walmart] and only buy the items that are already also on a sale. Whatever doesn’t make the cut is not urgent anyway and will its coupon will probably not expire before my next trip when I will check them again to see if they're on sale.  

3. Pay savings account first
[Just an example of how we do it--every person/couple should develop their own realistic & stress-reducing system]

+  We split our paycheck, so that 10% is automatically deposited into savings and never touched. We never have to discuss it, argue about it, or even think about it. No one touches it. That’s just how it is.

+  We keep an additional savings account for big purchases that we know are up ahead [ready downpayment for a car when our current car fails, inevitable large house repairs that occur each year, a couple upgrades to the house we’ve decided on] and build it up and use it accordingly, but we don’t play around with our standard savings account which is there for 2 reasons: 1. loss of job & 2. an epic emergency

+  I keep cash on hand for surprise expenses I wasn’t able to account for but don’t want to take from our savings account or put on a credit card. Cash is an interesting tool. I’m not on board with Ramsey’s advice to use rolling cash envelopes for several categories, but I do think cash can be a incisive tool in making us think twice about paying for things we don’t need or could do without.

4. Maintain an Amazon wish list

+  Setting up an Amazon wish list, scouring reviews, and coming back later to thin the list & add to is an exercise of enlightenment. No, really. You will realize how many things we first feel we need & want & just gotta have because so-and-so says is just so awesome only to find that two months later, it isn’t all that important

+  And yet, the reviews are incredibly helpful. Reviewers will tell you how to get the best deal, explain best uses for the item, what it the item is comparable to, and so forth. Amazon reviews are by far one of my very, very favorite things to read through when I have free time.

+  Don’t think of it as a list of things you are definitely going to buy on Amazon. It is just as much a tool to weed out things you now know not to buy as well as products that are so great you will know to snag them as a secondhand item at a thrift store or consignment sale or even borrow from someone or the library.

+  Last year we only bought Christmas presents for our kids on Amazon. We never shopped ads, checked out Black Friday sales, tried to double up sales at Toys R Us. We skipped all of that. Instead, we curated a list of things we discussed & debated & revisited during a two month span & then spent two minutes dropping into a cart & buying. That’s it. No stores or rushing or stress. Time is incredibly precious in our home. Paul travels a lot. And I find little to no joy in rushing in with the masses for a toy on mega sale that we probably wouldn't have bought anyway. We stuck to a small amount of items & felt very happy Christmas morning that the kids were getting thoughtful, quality items that were well-worth their bang.

+  BONUS: Lazy tip if you are also pressed for time & like avoiding stores: Sign up for Amazon’s subscribe & save and never run out for toilet paper, paper towels, baby wipes & coffee ever again. ;)

5. Show leftovers a lot of love [they deserve it!]

+  Keep an eye on what leftovers get the cold shoulder and what leftovers people are happy to eat. In our house leftover spaghetti gets the death sentence the second I start boiling water. I know to never make big batches of it. Cut blackened chicken, skillet meal, and paninis are big wins & help stave off that urge to eat junk or eat out throughout the week.

+  Dedicate a section of your fridge to leftovers & boot out anything out of that area that is not clearly a leftover. Give them some space & place them at eye level if possible, so they would be very hard to miss. Keep food in clear containers & if you want to really rock it, label containers with the date it was made. Lost, forgotten, and uneaten leftovers are the difference between decent savings {by cooking at home rather than eating out} and huge savings.  

+  Dress up the leftovers into something new. Throw little bits of veggies & protein into mini burritos, tacos, or quesadillas (the kids are clueless to the things I’ve fed them in quesadillas), pair them with an egg, or find a creative way to put them in or next to a quick soup or salad.

6. Live by this promise: “We won’t buy things the 1st time we see them.”

+ Formula to avoid superfluous grocery buys: 1. clean fridge 2. take stock of what’s on hand 3. check ads 4. meal plan 5. write list & add to it the running list of requests & empties 6. stick to it

+ Gently remind salesmen, spouse or self “Well, we don’t buy anything the first time we see it, so we’ll get back to this soon.” [Then walk away, keep the conversation going & research, research, research.]

+ When ads come in the mail ask yourself if it is for something that was already discussed as a need. If not, immediately rip it up.

7. Track bottom prices

+  Keep either a mental or physical list of grocery store prices for things you always have on hand: cheese, eggs, black beans, bread, tortillas, etc. Your grocery store will go in cycles of sales & eventually hit “bottom price”. You can stock up on staples when you see the 4 to 6 week cycle hit bottom price. [Yes, it takes a bit to memorize or keep track of these, but it can be fun & very rewarding]

+  Ask lots of questions at your favorite stores. Ask what kinds of coupons (1 or 2) you can put on top of sales. Ask if you can get a discount for damaged items or packaging. Ask about upcoming sales. Just don’t hesitate to ask questions.

+  Stalk big purchase store rhythms. Know when semi-annual sales occur & what highest percentage off you can get with a little patience, especially for things like cars, furniture, etc.

+  Also check out online shopping lists for best times to buy things due to sales [anything from bikes to patio furniture]. Pick up coats at end of season. Buy things when other people aren’t in the mood to buy those things. That’s when you’ll walk away amazed at the deal.

BONUS tip:  Get excited! 

Be mindful of that energy you feel when your finances are in check and everything is being directed where it should be. When things feel off or you’ve got the urge to run out and buy all the things, turn to one of my five fail-proof ways to get back in the game:

+  Start or update a goal tracker: Maybe it’s a goal you’ve set up on or a faux-thermometer taped inside your closet door of how much debt you want to pay off this year. Have & update, corny as it might sound, some visual tracker to make you feel good about your progress, sacrifices, and hard work.

+  Do the laundry. You have more clothes than you think. 

+  Listen to Suze Orman’s podcast. Nothing gets you in the mood to tighten the financial belt like Suze’s decisive assessments. Plus, she’ll inevitably tell a caller to go walk in their truth & you’ll remember to walk in your own. [Not a fan of Orman? Fine go feast on Ramsey or a trusty financial book. Point is--free education!]

+  Pay for something you have to pay for. Go out and license the car, pay a bill, buy that non-negotiable item you need to for a house repair. Sometimes our desire to spend comes from wanting to escape that thing we need to do but is miraculously quenched when we take care of our seemingly mundane priorities

+  Clean & organize a neglected area of your home. Tidy up your make-up drawer and play around with a lipstick you haven’t tried out in a while. Organize your kitchen tools & uncover the waffle maker; set it up & make waffles for the kids tomorrow morning. Organize the tool shed & remember the hydrangea bush needs to be trimmed. My point is that the energy to shop or fill our homes with more things can often be cooled when we remember how many resources, obligations, and gifts we already have at our fingertips.


Well, that's it. That's all the lazy girl wrote. Except for this one last thing that I'm even more nervous to write.  
There's one thing that I don't think it's okay to be lazy about and that's having heart-to-heart talks about money. 

I've heard finances is one of the things that people fight about most. That and in-laws and I can't remember what else. For me, I get that. I do. Financial decisions can be made on a whim or drag around for years or can just feel so not fun to make and commit to.  But I swear to you this.  Money is one of the sexiest things you can talk about. Saying no to your spouse & accepting their gentle no to your wants is sexy too.  It takes a great deal of intimacy & vulnerability to sit down, pour over a yearly budget or the retirement, savings, and investment numbers and ask tough questions. But I assure you 100%, and if I had some money-back guarantee I'd put that up for grabs too, that if you sit down to ask those tough, crummy, awful questions that you haven't asked but have been wondering about or sitting down to see if you and your spouse can come together to bump up the financial sacrifices up a notch .... you won't regret it. "Fun times" guaranteed. There. Now I can't write anything more awkward on my blog. :) 

Leave me a comment. Don't throw stones.

Love you guys! 


Friday, October 17, 2014

Anderson Academy & Twin Care Role Call

Yes, this IS the only thing I have to write about right now. My brain is so on kid mode, you don't even know. I'm going to start twitching to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle in no time. I know there will be a season when my brain sails away to other places beyond our island of teaching little people words, but today is not that day, my friend.

I'm watching Luke & Logan along with my three full time now unless you don't count the collective hours I tell Thomas to go play in the dirt outside, and then I'm on this almost full-time. Most of my mental, physical, and emotional energy is spent taking care of and loving on all these people, so I have a few notes to share about each boy with you. They are all amazing and bring so much joy to my day when I'm not furiously finishing dishes or gasping at choking hazards I've found in the boys' room.

          Luke: Generous with the smiles. Eats like a beast. Likes to poop and fart on me when I am holding him like a nice aunt should. Fascinated by hands. Amused by Thomas. Developing interest in that guy who looks *just* like him.

          Logan: Tolerates my singing. Sleeps like a beast. Likes to spit up on me when I am holding him like a nice aunt should.  Fascinated by hands. Amused by Thomas. Developing interest in that guy who looks *just* like him and especially seeks contact when "those other people over there are acting crazy and I think we should find a way out right now".

          Alistair: Thinks props for hats are hilarious. Says wow & woo [look] about everything. And points at things like it is his ordained job. Oh the wonder of the world, my little friend. Finds dinosaurs and says roar in a funny, raspy, deep voice.  Sniffs out ninja turtle figurines like they're crack. Can you sniff out as a human? My knowledge of drugs is super limited. Thinks he knows how to read books. Shh, don't tell him he doesn't. Loves to dance. Signature move: the bend and bob.

I know this is the worst picture. I had no recent photos of him by himself. Mom fail. 
          Emerick: Gives hugs by coming close and bowing his head. Thinks any food he hasn't tasted or seen before has been delivered by Satan and should be eliminated without question.  Takes items and puts said item away or inside some other item. All day: book back on shelf, toy for momma, potato head inside these jeans. Peacekeeper: Alistair wants to fight--he walks away. Thinks momma's purpose in life is to read to him. Cuddliest kid that ever was. Loves to dance. Signature move: attempted gang sign and bob.

          Thomas: Fills up his days doing these main activities: 1. reading 2. "visiting his loves" (Luke & Logan) 3. playing with his brothers (aka escalating chaos until I tell everyone they need to separate before a vein explodes in my neck) 4. watching t.v. because mom said she is not in this to be a super hero and we will survive by watching more Barney. Current hobby: making "juice" in the backyard. Best friend: next door neighbor whom he visits for long conversations at the fence. Has grown one thousand inches in the past two months. Writes from right to left sometimes just because he can. Thinks the word "poop" is the best thing to happen to the face of comedy. Will dance if mom really wants him to. Signature move: something he calls "the brain" where he moves around methodically in a circle, and then when he gets back to the front acts as if someone has funneled a week's worth of mom's caffeine into his body and his limbs are reacting accordingly.

           And then there's me: And because I'm not suppose to whither up and die as an individual with nothing left of me but the smiling exterior of a mommy... what I've been up to lately: getting weird (counting calories) to lose weight, watching YouTube videos about organizing and beauty regimes and wondering where I've been all my life, drinking water like it's my job, trying my best to not text Paul dramatic things when he's away in D.C. (=all the time), marking days off the calendar toward the next time I can depart from the house by myself [hand clap emoticon x 1000], freelance work, drinking lots of coffee, watching Parenthood (much crying), and as of this week: reading Gone Girl and stocking my house for possible emergencies (what I told Thomas when we loaded his cart with 1000 gallons of water and bleach) but pretending like it's for me to emerge as a bad A for Walking Dead version 2.0 (and that is meant with 100% no offense at all--I literally mean I fantasize all the time about how I would fare and protect my family and be awesome in a zombie apocolypse). Wow. Longest role call write-up for myself. That's ok. I deserve it. But no, really. I deserve it. <Hard wink>.