Archive for the ‘Budget’ Category

So there is good news, there is bad news,  and there is a good deal on a movie and frozen food, in that order!

  • Deposits:

I am depositing $119.50 into the e-fund! Woohoo!
$1 found on the ground at Costco
$3 rebate from Rite Aid$115.50 from mystery shop payments

My current savings total is $946.14. Does anyone know of a bank that I can deposit straight from Paypal?

  • Deductions:

I had to replace my car’s tires and that knocked out  $340.00. Ouch! I shopped around and found that Costco had the best price, but I still had a bit of sticker shock . I’m glad that I had the cash available so I didn’t have to drive on unsafe tires or take on debt to get them replaced, and I’m pretty sure the emergency fund is there to cover just this type of unexpected expense, but it stung a little using it.

  • Deals

This is not normally a deals blog, but occasionally find a money making deal that is worth sharing. Starting today, there is a money making deal at Safeway that I’m taking advantage of and wanted to share.

a. Get the DVD of The Princess and The Frog for $.99, or the BluRay/DVD combo for $6.99 with the deal outlined here.

b. At Safeway, you get $10 in Kohl’s Rewards for every $50 you spend. The Kohl’s Rewards are an awesome reason to spend a little extra on pantry staples that don’t frequently go on loss-leader sales, such as spices. *Edited – the movie deal didn’t work at my Safeway.

c. Combine the  Kohl’s deal with the frozen foods deal running all month and spend $25 on frozen foods. (Stock up on frozen veggies!) You’ll get a $10 catalina coupon toward your next purchase.

Edited to add:

I combined deals to get 70% off of my grocery trip today, stocking up on spices, vinegar, oil, frozen veggies and fish, and items for my Scratch vs. Store Bought posts. I also have $40 for Kohl’s and $20 for frozen foods. Yippee!

I went to Target for the BluRay/DVD combo, and it’s going into Sweet Pea’s Christmas gift. I also got Toy Story Legos for $15 for Peanut’s Christmas gift using a $5 off coupon at Target, more Hanes underwear for Peanut (in yesterday’s comments) and 2 boxes of character Band-Aids for $.32 each with coupons. (I needed the Band-Aids for the movie rebate, and they’ll make a nice stocking stuffer. What is it with kids and Band-Aids? Mine love them! And since we don’t get a whole lot of character stuff, they’re a novelty.)


So that’s the update! Plenty of saving and some unexpected spending which reminds me why I’m saving in the first place.

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A friend recently sent me a link to Graveyard Mall‘s amazing deal on printer ink refills – 24 refills (12 black, 4 each cyan, magenta, and yellow) for $19.99! I decided to give it a try and ordered it, plus an overhead light for the dining room on the daily deal for just $24.00.

They arrived a week later and I am happy to report that the ink refills work perfectly in my Brother printer! I followed the instructions and refilled all four colors in about 30 minutes, including the learning curve with the first set.  With a single ink cartridge for my printer regularly costing at least $9.99, I would have to spend $239.76 to get an equivalent amount of ink refills, plus much more garbage would be created.  More than 90% savings works for me!

Our dining room is also improved by an overhead light that actually works! A similar light at Home Depot costs $246.00 plus tax. I’d put off replacing the lighting fixture because it was unaffordable, but again, that 90% off puts it into the affordable category.

Now I need to touch up the paint on the ceiling that was covered by the previous fixture.

Not everything at Graveyard Mall is marked down so steeply, and because it’s an outlet, you can’t be guaranteed that the same thing will be there when you go shopping. I don’t know if everything on the site is quite as good a deal, either, but I’m glad I checked it out!

(I am not affiliated with Graveyard Mall and do not get any financial incentive for this review. I was just pleased with the deals I found and wanted to pass them along!)

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February was the Month of the Dining Room in my home. I completely remade what was an unusably clutter-full room into a cheerful space where my family can sit and enjoy meals, play games, and be together. The 28 Day Challenge was just the nudge I needed to really get it done, and I love love LOVE the results!

The color palette inspiration came from this stained glass, which we’ve for years but had but never hung:

and these napkins, which I made in sewing class last semester:

I love the aqua, red, black and white together, so I planned the room around it. Here it is:

The Picture Wall

The Bookshelf Wall

The price tag? Just $162.31, and four kid-free days, thanks to my husband and mother-in-law. Where the money went:

  • $75.00 – Six chairs to match the table, bought second-hand from Craigslist
  • $17.02 – paint primer (paint was free from a mystery shop)
  • $34.32 – Two silk shantung curtains from St. Vincent de Paul thrift store and a hanging rod (I negotiated down from $50, which is a steal for silk curtains!)
  • $26 – lighting fixture to replace the broken overhead light/fan (in transit; UPS shows it in the Mid-West still)
  • $7.88 – printing photos to put in frames that I already owned; photos are from Flickr’s Creative Commons, and I took them to Target to print out
  • $2.09 – hooks to hang stained glass that I already owned

What I already had or got free:

  • Bookshelf moved in from my another room.
  • Stained glass art piece (and WHY didn’t I hang it sooner? Gorgeous, right?)
  • Black frames, which have been sitting new in their box for more than a year at the back corner of the dining room!
  • Table cloth, from our wedding
  • Pampered Chef large bowl, freebie from when I was a consultant
  • Paint, free from a mystery shop
  • Plant, free from a mystery shop

Let me remind you what it looked like before.

Ridiculous!! Garbage on the floor, Christmas tree at the back of the table at the beginning of February, piles and piles and PILES of stuff. I am not proud of this, but we all start somewhere, some of us farther than down others. It was a hovel, to be sure. I’ve done a lot of introspection this month, trying to figure out not just where to put things away to make it a usable, pleasant space, but why and how I let it get to its truly horrendous state in the first place.

You can follow my progress by visiting the following links:
Improvement in the Dining Room! (February 10)
Even More Improvement in the Dining Room! (February 14)
Guess What I Did Today? (February 20)

Org Junkie, the host of the 28 Day Challenge, has posed the following questions for people participating in the challenge:

1. What was the hardest part of the challenge for you and were you able to overcome it?

The hardest part for sure was just starting. Tackling the room as a whole was so overwhelming! The fear of how hard it would be to let go of the stuff held me back from even starting, but once I got started, it was not nearly as hard as I’d imagined. In fact, I was excited at the end of the day – and it only took one day to sort almost all of the stuff! – I felt really good about how much garbage I’d pulled out. There were a few things that were tough to let go of, but I had the idea in my mind that I wanted the clear space more than I wanted things just in case. If I needed something I had been keeping just in case, I wouldn’t have been able to find it anyway!

I spent many, many hours sorting and purging, shredding and filing, though there were distractions. Having the kids out of the house for four whole days (!!) made all the difference in actually getting it done.

2. Tell us what kind of changes/habits you have put into place in order for your area/room to maintain its new order?

I pulled everything out of the room that didn’t belong, and now there is so little stuff that it’s easy to maintain. After every meal (now eaten at the table!) I clear the dishes and wipe off crumbs. I sweep every day. Nothing stays on the table or floor overnight, and I have kept it up for more than 2 weeks.

3. What did you do with the “stuff” you were able to purge out of your newly organized space?

I was ruthless! I had SO MUCH STUFF, and almost none of it belonged in a dining room! Most of it ended up being recycled or tossed, or boxed up to sell.  I didn’t keep much in this room except for the books, and even then I took three full boxes to the used book store to sell. The other three boxes of stuff to sell are boxed up and ready; some have been listed on Craigslist already. The bulk of it was garbage and recycling, with a few boxes of stuff that I donated.

Of the stuff in the original picture, I would estimate that less than 10% ended up staying in our home – the table, the lamp, Christmas ornaments (finally put away!) and books you can’t even see in the original picture are just about it. I have no regrets for any of the stuff that is gone now.

4. What creative storage solutions were you able to introduce in order to create additional space as well as establish some limits and boundaries?
The bookshelf on the wall is the single storage solution in the room. Having a place for the books, and having them organized by category – cookbooks with cookbooks, novels with novels, etc. – makes it easy to find the book I want. I went two deep with a few categories.

Two of the bottom squares hold my sewing supplies. One has a basket with my iron, foot pedal and cords, and a pull-out container for all the small pieces I need, like bobbins, thread, scissors, etc. My sewing machine and a plastic bin that contains just my current project are in the other square, with a reversible ironing mat/self healing cutting pad slid in next to it. When I’m ready to quilt, I can now pull out the one basket, one plastic bin, and my sewing machine, and I’ve got everything ready to go. When I’m done, it’s easy to put away.

I also particularly like this square, with my clock CD player/radio, CD binder (goodbye, bulky cases!), and pretty cloth napkins. I had the shelf divider, bought for but never used in the kitchen, and it’s just the right size to divide the shelf and leave space for the CD binder. The cards on the side are conversation starters to inspire family dialog during our meals.

And perhaps most surprising is the fact that I still have an empty square! I’m leaving it empty on purpose; I’ve had a really hard time with leaving empty spaces, feeling like every space needs a thing, and I’m trying to reroute that thought process. Empty space is a good thing.And that one square holds all of the magazines I kept. If it didn’t fit in that square, off it went to the donate pile. You would not believe the amount of magazines in that room on February 1!

5. Why do you think you should win this challenge?

Let me show you the before and after pics again and let them speak 1,000 words:

And then I’ll petition on my behalf. I worked really darn hard on this! It’s not just the drastic before and after photos, from a could-be-on-TV’s -Hoarders room to a pretty, functional space. I got down to the hard business of unlayering the crap, sorting through not just boxes but feelings. I posted in the comments on February 11:

I’m sorting through more boxes and really questioning why I kept most of this stuff. What am I getting out of having it? I am being pretty ruthless and tossing most of it. It isn’t bringing me joy; in fact, most of it is keeping me from fully enjoying my home.

I’m angry at myself for letting it get so bad. This is not how I want to live in my home, and not how I want my kids to grow up.

Walking in and having a clear table, and clear space under the table, is like a weight off my shoulders. I did a puzzle with my son yesterday, and we ate dinner at the table. Today, we did a cutting and pasting project, and after we cleaned it up, I wiped down the table, swept the floor, and cried, literally cried, because that’s NORMAL stuff families do, and my inability to let go of garbage, really, has held us back from doing that.

Last year, I did a serious purge of the kids’ room, and it has stayed organized and clean since then. They pull out toys, of course, but everything has a place to be put away and it’s easy for them to help keep it tidy. Why haven’t I done that in the rest of the house?

I hope that I’m making the mental shifts that I need to be able to keep it cleared out once I finish.

In the weeks since posting this, I’ve swept every single day. I’ve kept the table clean. I’ve washed the windows, hung art, organized the books on the shelves and my sewing things to make it a functional, beautiful space that I love to be in. The transformation is not just with the room, which is the most organized, pulled-together room I’ve ever lived in, but in myself.

If you’re new to my blog, poke around a bit and consider subscribing through RSS feed (top right corner of the blog) or e-mail (on the right bar under the search button) so you can see my March declutter challenge – the closets.


Like my transformation? Check out others at the 28 Day Organizing Challenge over at orgjunkie.com.

And I’m linking this post up all over the place, because I’m proud of my accomplishments and want to share with everyone! 🙂

DIY Showoff
Shop the House Sunday
Room A Month

Before and After Party
Metamorphosis Monday
Make It Monday
Make Your Monday
Just Something I Whipped Up
Motivate Me Monday
Made It Monday
Making The World Cuter
It’s So Very Creative
Made By You Monday

Toot Your Horn Tuesday
Trash to Treasure Tuesday
Tips Tuesday
2nd Time Around Tuesday
Talented Tuesday
Today’s Creative Blog
Tackle it Tuesday

Works for Me Wednesday
Power of Paint
Penny Pinching Party
Make It Yours Day

Show and Tell
Room To Inspire

Transformation Thursday
Thrift Store  Thursday
Thrifty Thursday
Show Off Your Stuff Party
Strut Your Stuff Thursday


Victory of the Week
Frugal Friday
Feature Yourself Friday
I’m a creative cat
Frugalicious Friday
Remodelaholics Anonymous
Show and Tell Friday

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Monthly Wrap Up

Already we’re at the end of February, and I’m happy to report that I made up the gap from January and am ahead of schedule for my annual goal with a current savings of $1,082.86! That means that I put $968.86 into the emergency fund just in the month of February. Wow! A big chunk of that, over $550, was a reimbursement from overpaid health care, but I still was able to make $409 this month, before including payments for February’s mystery shops or refunds I’m waiting on. Not too shabby!

I’m still working on my Medi-Cal application, but the kids are covered while they’re evaluating our paperwork. I learned that our assets are too high to qualify us for Medi-Cal, but they don’t consider assets for kids, so they are covered. As you might imagine, our assets are not especially high, but you can’t have more than $3,000 in combined assets to get Medi-cal, and a small 401(k) from a previous employer, the average balance on our regular checking account (which is down to next to nothing by the end of the month), and this growing emergency fund push us over that amount. We will likely be using the San Mateo ACE program once all the paperwork goes through, which has an $8,000 asset limit.

Having the full $6,000 in an emergency fund will likely put us over the asset limit for ACE. Since our income doesn’t give us the flexibility to pay out of pocket for health care, I’ll need to readjust our savings plan at some point this year so that we continue to qualify for the county plan. I’m sticking my head in the sand on that until I come to it, though. I’m not willing to liquidate the meager 401(k) and pay the penalties so that we have a full emergency fund.

I’m not sure I made my 21 no-spend days goal, but if I don’t include mystery shops (which I consider work, as I’m being paid and reimbursed for whatever I spend out of pocket) I’m pretty close. I’m going to keep the goal of 21 days in March, again not including food, gas, regular bills, or mystery shops.

I’m expecting $453.00 for mystery shops (including reimbursements), $32.00 from mail in rebates, $11.29 from Ebates and $26.50 from Surveyhead (that’s taking awhile!). I’ve done more surveys but haven’t cashed out yet.

Once I get the payments for mystery shops, I will have gotten for free in February: a brake check, oil check, children’s clothes, paint, beauty supplies, a night of bowling, several meals, an eye exam (which I really needed!), and a house plant.

In February, I also did a MAJOR declutter of the dining room, painted (with paint from a mystery shop), and it is a clean, livable, and in my opinion, beautiful space now. Come back Monday for the after pictures!

Goals for March

1. Stick to a zero-based, envelope budget, using only cash.

2. Call to negotiate the price on more of our services – cell phone, car insurance, etc. Watch for a few more Dialing for Dollars articles in March!

3. Save or earn $449.14 to stay on track for my annual goals.

4. Finish paperwork on Medi-Cal, college for the fall, and preschool for Peanut.

5. All meals at home except for mystery shops. (This is still a tough one for me!)

6. Attack the closets with decluttering fury! I’m feeling so good about the dining room and want to bring the rest of the house up to its standards. This month, the focus is on our four small closets and a wall of cabinets in the living room – all of our personal storage space.

7. No-Spend days – 21; No-Drive days – 14

March Budget
Income – $1,700 (I did some work this month for the family business and will make about $200)

(We get food stamps, so food is not accounted for in our budget.)
Savings – $100
Rent and utilities – $1,000
Car payment – $200
Gas – $70
Household expenses – $49 (toilet paper, dish soap, diapers, etc.)
Mystery shops (will be reimbursed) – $100
Irregular Expenses – $181

How I came to the amount of irregular expenses:
Renter’s Insurance – $230
Car Insurance – $700
Smog Check, Car registration – $160
Clothes and shoes – $600
Household items – $480

Annual total: $2170
/12 =   $181/month

We don’t pay for utilities out of pocket; they’re included in our rent, explained here. On months that I don’t work, I don’t put away as much for irregular expenses, use less in gas or household expenses, reserve money that would go to the emergency fund, or pull from it for things we need (such as chairs this month, and my ticket and traffic school last month.)

I was asked about preschool: my son was isn’t currently in school. He was in preschool before our cut in income, at which time I had to pull him as I couldn’t continue to pay the $300 a month. He was in a Head Start program for the first semester of this school year but it was a poor fit for him for reasons I will not discuss here. I have found a subsidized program at another local preschool and am working on getting him in there now. It would be really wonderful for our family, as they’ll also take both kids full time in the fall while I go to school. Think happy preschool thoughts for us that this will work for us!

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I need some new clothes. I’m down to just a few shirts, and most are showing their age and proximity to small children – stained, wholly, pilly, or generally stretched out from a baby who pulls at my shirts for nursing access.

I budgeted $100 for clothes this month, the first time I’ve bought any new clothes in at least 3 months, and of course I want to make it stretch as far as possible! I picked out a few pieces at Old Navy, and you know I’m not paying full price.

First, I stopped over to Plastic Jungle to see if I could buy a gift card at less than the face value.  Success! I bought two $50 gift cards for $88, a 12% savings. Already my $100 is s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g! Haven’t checked out Plastic Jungle yet? It’s a site where you can buy and sell unwanted gift cards for less than their face value. Some gift cards are as much as 30% off their face value!

Next up, I logged into Ebates, where I will get 4% back for my purchase. They also have a coupon code, ONSAVE20 (exp. 2/18), which will give me $20 off a $100 adult clothes purchase. Frequently, Ebates has coupon codes in addition to their regular percent-back deal.

By making a quick detour at these two sites, I’m already saving 38% before even clicking over to the Old Navy website! And you know I hit up the sale section first. I spent $99.97 on the Old Navy site (using a gift card that I purchased for $88), including shipping, on 7 tops and 2 pairs of pants – originally priced at $165.00! I’ll be getting $4 back from Ebates, too. In our area, I would be hard pressed to find that much stuff for $84.00 at the thrift store.

Doing a little extra online legwork to stretch my dollar as far as possible works for me. To see what works for other families, check out We Are That Family.

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A few years ago, I discovered the book “The Budget Kit” by Judy Lawrence in a used bookstore. I swooped it up and am using it as a fantastic resource in putting our financial house in order.

It seemed natural that I would share the book with you guys, and in planning to review it here at The Saved Quarter, I checked out the author’s website and found that mine is an older version. I e-mailed Judy to ask if she would send a copy of the current edition for me to review and one to give away to a lucky reader. I’m happy to report that Judy agreed not only to send two copies of the 5th edition of “The Budget Kit”, but to call me for a chat about the book! And so I am offering my very first giveaway! Read through to the end of this post to see how to enter for a chance to win.

“The Budget Kit” has been in continuous print since 1981, has sold over 400,000 copies, and is the #11 personal finance book on amazon.com. Its endurance is understandable when you look at its logical and user-friendly layout and thoughtful worksheets that help you to manage your finances from every angle. Judy sat at thousands of kitchen tables to talk about what these worksheets needed and it shows! She has revised them over the years to incorporate more ideas to make it as comprehensive as possible while still keeping it organized in a way that people naturally think.

The three worksheets that are the cornerstone of the book are the Yearly Budget Worksheet, Monthly Budget Worksheet, and Monthly Expense Record.

The Yearly Budget Worksheet gives you a place to track irregular expenses that are expected but not monthly, such as property taxes, car registration, or dental exams. These are the things that can sink a monthly budget, since they’re not regular payments and are easy to overlook until they’re due. This worksheet covers just about every non-monthly expense that you can imagine; you add them up and divide by 12, putting that monthly amount into savings so you have the money for your kid’s school yearbook or tax preparation when you need it.

The Monthly Budget Worksheet is similar to other budgets you might have seen, but its set up makes it very easy to understand and use. Fixed expenses, fixed variable expenses, occasional expenses, and installments are listed separately so you can better manage your month. Columns give you a place to write amount, when items are due and when they’re paid, and the dates you receive the service. It’s a very well thought out budgeting tool!

My very favorite of the three main worksheets (and there are at least a dozen more in the book!) is the Monthly Expense Record. A two-page spread with a row for each day and a column for every type of expense, it’s a great way to visually see where your money is coming from and going to. If you have five entries this week for vending machine snacks, you may begin to see how that $1.25 adds up more quickly than you thought. This worksheet alone is worth the cost of the book!

Other worksheets include a debt repayment plan, Christmas/holiday budget, tax deductible expense record, medical expense record, investment/savings record, child support record, and more.

In our phone conversation, Judy explained that her goal in writing the book

…is to help people plan a budget in a way that makes sense, encourages you to be in control, and for you to build up confidence. It’s all about becoming conscious and mindful of finances as well as your inner self.

What is the spending about? A budget is not about deprivation. Watch the language you are using and approach your finances with an attitude of gaining mastery. What will feel better in a month? A new blouse or paying off a debt, not having that angst anymore? Which is more important: a piece of furniture or peace of mind?

Couples, Judy stressed, should work together; both partners need to be on board for the plan to be most beneficial. With fights about money being a common cause for divorce, it’s understandable that working together would be invaluable for maintaining marital peace surrounding money issues.

She also mentioned that the physical act of writing can make you more connected to your finances, which is why she recommends writing in the workbook to start, although Excel versions of her worksheets are available on her website.

Now for your chance to win! We have two giveaways:

1. “The Budget Kit” by Judy Lawrence, 5th edition


2. 30-minute one-on-one phone call with  author Judy Lawrence.

You have two chances to enter.

1. Leave a comment here
2. Blog about this giveaway on your own blog (or Tweet it), and come back here to leave a second comment with a link to your post.

A winner will be randomly drawn at 8 pm PST on Tuesday, February 16 and the winner will be e-mailed.

In the meantime, check out Judy’s website and the other services she offers: personal budget coaching, a free 7-week e-course, Excel versions of her worksheets, and her other books. If you have a question about “The Budget Kit”, contact her; she’s very friendly and wants to help you to be in control of your money!

Disclosure: Giveaway and review copies were provided by Kaplan Publishing at my request. They did not influence the content of this post.

You’ll find this post linked to Works for Me Wednesday, The Thrifty Home, Thrifty Thursday, Money Saving Mom’s Giveaways Galore, Saving Money Plan’s Giveaway Link-up, Frugal Friday , Frugal and Fabulous.

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Monthly Wrap Up

January is coming swiftly to a close and I’m ahead for the month with $114.00 in the emergency fund. It’s not the $500 I was hoping to have reached, and I’m a little anxious about this shaky start!

I did, however, start my IDA, actively pursue more options for bringing in money, turn my $10 donation into $100 for Haitian relief efforts, and took the plunge and dropped our health insurance for Medi-Cal (still in progress – this is not a fast process!)  I also had the money on hand to pay for my little set back without incurring debt, so it’s not all bad. I got my credit report and am ready to write letters to make corrections. It was a busy month!

I also far exceeded my goal of 7 no-spend days. I’m pushing myself with a goal of 21 no-spend days in February (mystery shops, gas, groceries, and routine bills excluded.)

I am currently expecting $115.14 for mystery shops (including reimbursements), $17 for rebates, $11.29 from E-bates, $10.00 from Swagbucks, and $26.50 for online surveys at Surveyhead. I am also waiting on $77 back from a bank error.

Goals for February

1. Stick to a zero-based, cash only budget.

2. Call to negotiate the price on all of our services – phone, internet, cell phone, car insurance, etc. Watch for lots of Dialing for Dollars articles in February!

3. Save or earn $886 to get back on track for my annual goals.

4. Finish paperwork on Medi-Cal and college for the fall.

5. All meals at home except for our anniversary dinner, with a gift certificate. (We’re celebrating ten years as a couple at the end of the month!)

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