Tuesday, May 3, 2011

San Diego Trip

Our San Diego trip was great. It was a super long drive (we averaged 11 hours each way!) but the girls did great and we loved seeing our relatives.

We stayed at the Doubletree Club in San Diego (Hotel Circle). We got a family suite (a hotel room with a king bed and a separate room with a bunkbed for the kids). I booked the hotel on hotels.com (going through ebates for 3% back) and I sent in my rebate for $20 for staying at least 3 nights.

We saved money by eating breakfast in our room. I brought a box of cereal, some hostess donuts, some muffins that I made, and I bought some milk and juice when we got down there. One morning we went to my in-laws and ate breakfast there. We used paper cups, plates, and utensils.

We didn't eat out very much, except for when we were on the road. We were lucky to have lunches and dinners with family and friends most of the time. Otherwise, we ate some snacks that I had packed and/or bought when we got into town.

When we did order out, if I could split the kids' meals, I did. This kept the cost down. Those kids' meals are expensive! In fact, the morning we drove home, we stopped at McDonald's for breakfast. I ordered one order of pancakes, which had three pancakes: one for each girl. : )

One thing that helped keep our kids (and us!) sane on this trip was the Disney Songs and Story CD's. They have 5 songs from a Disney movie and then a narration of the story (about 10 to 15 minutes). It really kept my kids' attention. We didn't use videos, which I was really happy about, too. The CD's come in lots of the Disney movies and you can get them on Amazon or half.com (which is where I bought mine).

Saturday, April 30, 2011

April Savings Report

This month has flown by! We did go on our San Diego trip and I'll report on that later. First I want to write down what I was able to save this month.

  • I was able to set aside $25 from last month's grocery budget to spend on groceries for our trip. I also put aside $40 from this month's budget, giving me $65 to spend. That was definitely a big help!
  • I reduced the amount of my grocery budget by $10 this month, bringing it down to $470 for our family of 5. I was able to do it! That is $10 extra in my savings fund.
  • I cashed in my coins from March: $31.82. That's a little bit high because I found a piggy bank with a bunch of coins in there. : ) I got a gift card to Amazon for that amount, used it to buy diapers and wipes, and then put the cash from my envelope into my savings jar. I rounded it up to $32.
  • I came in $10 under budget in groceries in March and added that to my savings fund.
  • My rebate check for $3 came from Rite Aid.
  • I found a dollar in my pocket. : )
That adds $56 to my savings fund, which brings my total up to $503.05 saved since February 1, 2011! Only $100 more to go!

We seemed to have some extra expenses this month: the girls needed new church shoes and some new clothes for the trip, my newspaper subscription was paid, which I wasn't planning on, our housecleaners cashed the checks for March and April in the same month...anyway, I don't have any extra money to funnel into next month's grocery fund. : ( Oh well. But it feels really good to come in right on target for our budget, though. In fact, we didn't have to take any money from our vacation fund to cover the cost of gas for our trip or our meals on the road. That is such a blessing!

Speaking of blessings, I have been amazed at the blessings that come from being a good steward over the money and goodness that our Heavenly Father has blessed us with. He is aware of us, even when the things we want/need seem insignificant. As an example, last week I was at the store and really wanted to buy some strawberries. They were a little bit expensive but I was just craving those sweet juicy fruits! I decided that if I had enough money when we got back from the trip, then I could buy some strawberries.

The next day, my parents came over and my dad brought me some strawberries that he had gotten earlier in the day. I was speechless. Those strawberries didn't mean that much to my dad (he was just being thoughtful). But he couldn't have known what they meant to me. : ) Have you had any experiences like that as you've tried to save your money?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

March Savings

Husband and I switched our money management over to Mint.com this month. It's nice to be able to see everything updated so quickly! We also decided that it would be best for our budget to deposit the cash that I have set aside when I use the credit card so that our numbers are a little more accurate. I deposited what I had on Monday and will get cash out on April 1st, so we'll see how it works.

This is what I was able to save this month:
  • I signed up for Offermatic at the beginning of the month and they sent me two great offers: one for $15 off a $30 purchase on Amazon (hello diapers!) and another for $10 off a $20 purchase at Target. I took advantage of both of those offers, adding $25 to my vacation fund!
  • My mom paid me back for the birthday cake I picked up for my grandmother's birthday last month. I decided that I'd add it to the fund since I already took it out of my grocery budget. That adds $16 to my fund.
  • I got a $20 check from Toluna for completing surveys.
  • $20 in cash from what I took out of last month's budget overage.
That's a grand total of: $81.00! Nice!

I did cash in my coins this month, but I decided that since I already made my bank deposit this month, I would add it in to next month's savings deposit.

So...that brings my amount saved up to $447.05. That's 3/4 of the way there!

How is your vacation savings going?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

February Grocery Breakdown

I thought it would be interesting to see how I spent my grocery budget this month. I loosely assigned my purchases to categories, just to get a general idea of where my money is going. Here's how it turned out:

  • Baby items (diapers, wipes, pull-ups): 13.7%
  • Treats (ice cream, cookies, etc.): 11.3%
  • Milk: 9.9%
  • Drinks (juice and juice boxes): 9.5%
  • Snacks (includes both healthy and not-so-healthy ones): 9.1%
  • Dairy items (eggs, cheese, cream): 8.2%
  • Home (tissues, toilet paper, dishwashing detergent, etc.): 7.2%
  • Staples (peanut butter, rice, pasta, etc.) 7%
  • Produce: 5.7%
  • Meat: 5.5%
  • Condiments (salsa, sauces, dressings): 4.5%
  • Health items (medicine, feminine products): 2.4%
  • Breakfast (mostly cereal): 2.1%
  • Beauty: 1.2%
I realize these are very general categories, especially staples and snacks! But, as I said before, I just wanted to get a general idea of what I was spending money on. One thing I noticed even before I did this was how much I spend on juice for my kids. I know juice is such a no-no and I admit that I use it as my crutch. Juice boxes are given for a treat in lieu of candy bars and chips, and my kids rarely drink soda, so that's how I rationalize it. I do know that I need to get them to cut back and I've started to do that already.

I'm happy that I spent more on produce than I did on meat (although just barely!). I would like to see my produce numbers go up and my meat numbers stay low.

I'm not surprised that most of my budget goes towards diapers! We are in the middle of potty training and hopefully I will see this number go down over the next few months!

The treats category was rather high this month, but I do have an explanation: (1) It was Valentine's Day this month so some of those items were treats for Husband and the tiny babes. (2) We hosted a Valentine's Day party and some of those treats were for the party. (3) It was also my grandmother's birthday this month and I picked up the birthday cake. Whew! A lot of celebrating!

I think it will be interesting to see how these numbers change as the year progresses. Have you ever wondered which categories your family spends the most money on?

Monday, February 28, 2011

February's Cash Only Experiment Report

I have to say that I loved doing this cash-only experiment this month. I'm going to continue on in March, but I wanted to mark down the results from February:

I was under my grocery budget by $13, under my clothing budget by $15, and under my household budget by $38 for a total savings of $86! I decided to add some of this overage to next month (especially since March is a long month for me as a tax widow!) and I took out $20 to put toward our San Diego vacation. This $20 will show up in my savings for next month.

I was able to "cash out" three giftcards this month. When I used a gift card, I took the cash out of my envelope for that category and put it in my savings jar. This allowed me to add $50 to our San Diego trip.

Every time I got change back from a purchase, I put the coins in my savings jar. This past Saturday I took one of my daughters with me to cash in the coins at a Coinstar machine. If you choose to receive a giftcard instead of cash, there is no counting fee. I chose an Amazon gift card and ended up getting $12.35 from my spare change! I took $13 out of my grocery budget to put in our savings jar and used the gift card to buy wipes on Amazon. With the gift card, my out of pocket expense was only $0.02!

We got our "big fat check" from Ebates this month: $40.05. That money went into the savings jar. We also got our rebate check from our American Express card (that we have through Costco). I was shocked to see our rebate was $263.00! That money also went right into the savings jar.

The only downside was that I did use my credit card for some things (like Costco) and just took the cash out of my envelope and set it aside. We decided not to redeposit this extra cash at the end of the month only to have to turn around and withdraw cash at the beginning of the month, so all the cash I saved will be redistributed into our envelopes for March and we will see the savings from February at the end of March. (We use Microsoft Money to keep track of our budgeting.) Not a big deal in the long run, but it did make us a little cash poor this first month.

So in summary, here is what I was able to save in my first month at this cash-only experiment:
  • $50 from "cashing out" gift cards
  • $13 from saving spare change
  • $263 from credit card rebate
  • $40.05 from Ebates
...for a grand total of: $366.05!

The total cost for our hotel stay in San Diego is $610. So with the savings from this month's experiment, I have already covered more than 1/2 the cost! I am so excited to start saving in March!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Cash-only experiment begins!

Remember when I tried to do my version of the cash-only experiment? It worked "okay" but then the holidays started sneaking up on me and I totally cast aside my coupons and deals and forgot about the importance of budgets.

Then, one of my New Year's Resolutions was to eat better: healthier, purer, happier food. (Well, stuff that makes me all those things.) And that kind of food is expensive, especially when you don't try to plan your shopping...at all.

So, here we are at the beginning of February and I've decided to take the plunge into the Cash Only pool. Here's how it's going to work:

*One envelope of cash for groceries for the 1st through the 15th of the month.
*A second envelope of cash for groceries for the 16th through the end of the month.
*An envelope of cash for what we call "household" items: books, ink, stamps, and pillows are just a few examples of things that fall into this category.
*Finally, an envelope of cash for clothing purchases.

I chose not to have a grocery money envelope for each week because I don't like trying to figure out how much money to put in each week, especially when it's a week with fewer than 7 days. This way, I just take my monthly budget and divide it in half. Done.

We are taking a trip to San Diego in April to visit my husband's family for Easter. So I've decided that any extra money that I get (through savings, rebates, etc.) will go into a little fund for that trip, to help defray the costs.

In the spirit of full disclosure, here are the amounts for each envelope:
*Grocery #1: $240
*Grocery #2: $240
*Household: $100
*Clothing: $100

I'll be posting updates with my progress to let you know what type of things I can get on this budget and how much I can save toward our San Diego trip!


For those of you wondering if we are still going on our European Tour...well, plans have changed a bit. Two of the friends are now pregnant and won't be able to take their babes out of their respective countries until later in the summer, when one friend will be returning to the States. It looks like there will be a scheduling conflict for all four of us to be together at one time. However, we are still trying to make a trip to Europe to visit those friends who will still be there this summer. I'll keep you posted.

Here and there

It seems that I feel blogging has to be an "all or nothing" deal. Either I'm fully into posting my thoughts or I'm fully into mommy-hood...and of course being a mommy trumps all other endeavors.

But I've decided that I'm not going to beat myself up about some breaks in between posts. I'm still trying to find the balance that comes with three small children! I hope you will still come and visit from time to time.