CategoryFrugality

Debt free

We are now officially debt free (except our mortgage). We made the last payment on our last medical bill this morning. Our credit cards we paid off a couple weeks ago – we used our tax refund for it. We were so close that Stephen and I figured we’d use the lump sum to take care of it all that way.

It has been a long process of cutting back to pay off our debt. Some of it was from a bad business decision years ago, but a lot of our debt was survival debt from a few years ago. If I could go back and redo things, I wouldn’t have used the credit card, but that’s what we did. It amazes me how when we stopped using the credit card, that’s when God provided for us in some truly amazing and spectacular ways. He is so faithful, just as He promised.

In February, when our tax refund hit our account, we called and paid off each credit card in full. WOW did that EVER feel good! Then today, I logged onto the hospital site and made that last payment too.

It is so freeing to not have that debt hanging over our heads any more. There are plenty of things right now we’ll need the extra money for (like replacing the tank in our well), but it’s so wonderful to know we now have money at the end of each month to do it with.

So now we work on fixing some things around the house. This is so exciting!

Cash system

A friend of mine asked the other day about why and how we do our cash system.

In short, we’re loosely following Dave Ramsey’s system for budgeting. We pay most of our bills online, and everything else is typically pre-allocated before payday arrives.

We pay cash for most budget categories, with groceries and clothing being the two biggest. Gas money stays in our account because it is so much easier for me to pay with a debit card at the pump than dragging three kids inside the gas station to pay with cash. It has really helped us to stay within our budget categories. We did okay before, but it’s been a lot easier to stay within the budget with cash.

We’ve been working on becoming debt free, and now that we can actually see the end, it’s even more motivation to keep going and get that debt gone forever. Some of it was ignorant, fresh-out-of-college debt, but a lot of it was what Dave calls survival debt too. Either way, we want that debt gone for good and we’re working as hard as we can toward that end. And finally, I can say we’re getting close!

You know, it’s amazing. Once we stopped using credit cards to help us through tough times, that’s when we started seeing God’s provision in amazing ways. That’s when we started seeing things like money in the mail, people helping us pay our mortgage, bags of groceries or grocery money given to us when we were out of food, and I could go on and on. It’s funny how once we stop using plastic to meet our needs, that’s when we see God truly meet those needs, and in amazing ways.

Anyway, back to the cash system. . .I made the cash envelope wallet because I wanted something to keep the cash in one place in my purse, without mixing up the categories. What I wasn’t expecting was other people liked them and wanted wallets too.

Here’s mine:

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Here’s one I made for an online friend K: (and she was kind enough to email me with suggestions to make it better after she received it!)

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And here’s a picture of two that are listed in my Etsy shop:

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So our plan is to work as hard as we can, as fast as we can, to earn extra money to go toward becoming debt free. I told Stephen that seeing the end helps me be even more determined to get there as fast as I can!

Envelope system wallet

I’ve mentioned before that we use the cash envelope system for budgeting some of our expenses. First, I made some zippered envelopes. They worked well, but since they aren’t labeled they’re too easy to mix up inside the store. What’s the use of making three separate transactions if you pay out of the wrong envelope?

Then I came across this cash envelope tutorial. It looked simple enough, so I decided to just try to figure it out on my own. I didn’t want the pockets divided though – I prefer to pull out only what cash is necessary when it’s time to pay for something.

It took me a while to plan out, and there are a couple things I’d do differently if I ever sew another one. I’m pleased with the result though.

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The zippered pocket isn’t lined (one of the things I’d change next time) but seems the right size for spare change.

Folded up, it’s about the size of a checkbook. Here’s the outside:
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It also matches my checkbook cover. . .
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And my purse organizer. . .
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And my purse.
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I made a case for my old Palm too, but can’t use it with my new one unless I somehow attach Velcro to the back of it. The old one came with the Velcro already on it, but I’d rather not stick it on my new Palm. But just for kicks, here’s a picture of the case and my old Palm:
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Ok, so it’s a bit much of all the matching things, but I really like the pink and burgundy combination.

Making do with what you have

Lately I’ve had a few conversations where the other person ends up saying something like, “You MADE that?!?” It amazes me.

For us, it’s simply making do with what we have. We went through an incredibly hard time financially a few years ago. Things had been tight for us for a while, but when Stephen was laid off, things got much tighter. We worked so hard at trying to just pay our bills, that anything outside an absolute necessity was pretty much put on the back burner. We did our best to live on as little as possible.

It was very difficult. I learned a lot about faith. God provided for us in some really amazing ways (you can read about some of those ways by clicking on the Miracles category in my sidebar).

I really struggled with feeling deprived. There were many things we chose to do without, but I missed them. One of the hardest things for me then was hearing about little things in other peoples’ lives that sounded like luxuries to me. One day a friend mentioned that she was having chicken cordon bleu for dinner, and it absolutely devastated me that we couldn’t afford it.

Strangely enough, that was a turning point for me. Rather than complain that I couldn’t have what she could, I decided to learn how to make some of the things I missed. We already cooked from scratch, but we learned how to make more. We started learning how to make things most people just buy. Bread, tortillas, dry mixes (taco seasoning, flavored coffees, ranch seasoning, dipping spices, to name a few), yogurt. . .I could go on and on. Some things were a total flop, and some turned out well.

Many of those things we continue to this day, even though our finances aren’t as tight as they once were. Some we’ve stopped making or doing because they’re not worth the amount of time to make them or we didn’t like the results.

It really was a learning experience. Would I change it? Honestly, no. I wish I could say I handled it with more grace, but I didn’t. But God showed me just how mighty He really is during that time, and that makes it worth it.

I told one of the ladies the other day that I’m not going to complain about not having money. I’m going to get creative and figure out how to make things myself. It’s nice. I don’t feel so deprived. And it’s gotten to be enough of a habit now that for some things, I don’t ever intend to go back.

Just because money is tight doesn’t mean people have to feel so deprived. It just means getting creative in new areas.

My $.88 turkey

A long time ago, you could go on the Jenni-o turkey website and request a $5 coupon. I did, but never had a chance to use the coupon after it arrived. It stayed in my purse, but I’d pretty much forgotten about it.

Until this week. Walmart had their Jennie-o turkeys on sale for $.40 a pound, so I went to buy one (after buying one at Aldi earlier for $.99/lb – wish I would’ve known about the Walmart sale then!). After the coupon, a 14-pound turkey cost me only $.88. I ended up buying two turkeys, and got twice the amount of turkey for literally half the price I paid for one at Aldi. It was interesting trying to find room in the freezer for another turkey, but I wasn’t about to resist them at that price.

The other one is in our frig, thawing. It’ll probably need to be cooked before Thanksgiving, but that’s ok since we’re going to Stephen’s grandma’s for the day anyway.

Cheap flour

If you live in an area with a Harris Teeter nearby, they’re having a great sale on flour this week.

I went in there yesterday to do a coupon run (they’re tripling this week as well). I happened to see the flour section, and thought, “They must have coupons for flour out right now.” Then I saw the price tags, and figured out why there wasn’t much flour on the shelf. It was on sale for $.99 a 5-lb bag. Even the bread flour was that price.

I bought eight bags. Who knows where it will go, because our freezer is pretty full. But I sure am thankful that I could buy it at that price. I’d like to go buy more, but not until I find a place for this first. . .

$14.41

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Here are our finds from a trip to Value Village this morning. They have a half price sale roughly once a month. It’s a madhouse in there, but worth it for the good deals you can find. This morning, all these clothes cost us a whopping $14.41. I was able to find a few more clothes for Little Miss, some church shirts for the boys, and a bit more fleece to get more diapers finished. I’m not sure if it will be enough, but considering I’m completely out of anything that looks ok with pink flannel, this amount will really help.

One of my favorite finds is this little dress. It only cost $1.50 today.

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Coupons 101 – Ethics

There is one more thing about coupons that isn’t necessarily a “how-to,” but more of a reminder. Ethics and doing what is right.

When a store has a super sale going on, and you can get things for really cheap or even free, go ahead and take advantage of it. Buy what you can and put some back for later. Most sales go in cycles, but it could be quite a while before you see a price like that on an item again. If it’s not something perishable (toiletries come to mind here), then put it away for later when you need it.

Most of the places I’ve seen call it stockpiling. The goal is to have enough in your stockpile so that you don’t ever have to pay full price for an item. By buying extra when an item is on sale, you can go for longer periods of time before buying more. It’s nice to avoid paying full retail price for something when you know you can get it for whatever your target price is.

One of the things for me is toothpaste. Stephen prefers one brand, and it happens to be a brand I can get for free with coupons. There is enough stored at our house that I shouldn’t ever just have to run to the store to buy more and actually pay out of pocket for it. That’s not been by buying a lot at any one time – just by getting 2-3 tubes when they’re free with coupons. When I notice the number of tubes on my shelf is getting low, I start looking for more sales to get more free tubes. You can do this with quite a few things.

A person’s stockpile is limited by one main thing – storage space. We don’t have a lot of extra storage room in our house, so I try to be careful with how much I bring home to stockpile. Some say that a good rule of thumb is a year – keep a year’s worth of any one item in the house so you can always get it at rock-bottom price. For our house, that’s just not practical. For others, it is.

There’s one thing I want to caution you about with stockpiling though. It actually applies to couponing in general, not just stockpiling. It’s greed. Don’t just buy items because they’re free. Just because you can buy 40 bottles of window cleaner at once, doesn’t mean you should. If you really need the cleaner, then yes, buy it. But don’t just get it because it’s cheap and you have a ton of coupons. If you buy so much that you end up having to throw some away after a while, you’ve bought too much. Be careful that your stockpiling doesn’t become hoarding.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to discourage stockpiling at all. It’s the mindset behind the stockpile and the tendency for greed that is the problem. It’s a heart matter. Some people will have bigger stockpiles than others. No problems there. But when the stockpile is built because of greed, there is the problem.

Also, be considerate when you coupon. Please be mindful of others who are doing it because they need to. There are people who may be depending on those deals to stretch their grocery budget enough to afford everything on the list. If you buy a bunch, just because you can, you may be depriving others of getting what they need.

That is something I’ve seen repeatedly during the triple coupon promotions around here. My store’s policy is that there’s a limit of 3 like items per customer, so people get around it by going multiple times a day or sending other people in their family to go get more. Unfortunately, by doing that, they clean the shelves of the really good items, leaving very little for others.

I don’t say that as a guilt trip – just as a reminder to be considerate. People so easily get caught up in “I bought 347 boxes of cereal for only $2 today and they had to clean out the back of the store for me to get them! What a deal!” Yet somehow they don’t realize how that can affect others when they’re just being greedy.

Another thing to be mindful of is store policies. If the limit is 3 of an item, then stop at three. Don’t try to go back into the store 14 more times that same day just to get more. The store employees know who is abusing the system, and the stores that double or even triple coupons can easily stop those promotions. I’d hate to be the one that the store manager dreads seeing every time I walk through the door! Please follow the rules, so that everyone else doesn’t have to suffer when stores tighten the rules about couponing.

Coupons 101 – Know your prices

One of the next steps to couponing is knowing your prices. I think that is one of the more time-consuming (at first) parts of couponing. It’s not impossible, but can be a challenge sometimes.

What it boils down to is knowing what your absolute lowest price is for an item. A coupon does you no good if you can go elsewhere and get an identical (or sometimes better) item for the same or lower price.

This is where having a price book is an incredible help. You can read my post about price books here.

Some people can manage to keep a running mental list of how much they’ll pay for each item. I’m not that good at keeping track very well that way. Everything goes into the HandyShopper program in my Palm. From there, I can find any information that I need.

Knowing the price per unit (per ounce, pound, gallon, per roll of tp, etc) will be the most helpful. At first glance, a bottle of laundry detergent may seem to be a better deal than the one you usually buy, but once you look at the unit price, you may discover otherwise.

To find the unit price, take the total price and divide it by the number of items/units in the package.

For example, if a 12-roll pack of toilet paper costs $7.99, just divide that $7.99 by 12. That gives you the unit price of $.6658 per roll. You could then round up that to $.67 a roll. This is helpful when a different size package than you usually buy goes on sale. By comparing the price per roll, you can see at a glance whether it’s a good deal or not.

After you know your basic prices, you can then add in coupons. Sometimes you can get a generic product cheaper than a name brand product bought with a coupon. On the other hand, some stores have really good sales. By buying sale items and using coupons with the sale price, that’s often when you can get name brand items at low, low prices or even for free.

Many stores now have their sale ads online. Some are easier to use than others, but most of the major chain grocers around her do have them available. That’s a good way to do some checking ahead of time, especially if you don’t get that flyer in the mail. They also often offer some sort of “specials by email” program. Right now I get email specials from 4 different area stores.

This is something that I’m still working on though. I live right on the NC/SC state line, so don’t get most stores’ sales ads for the NC grocery stores I shop at. I often forget to check those stores’ ads online – even though I know I could get some really good deals by doing so.

Once you have a good handle on regular prices, you’ll be able to establish what your threshold prices are. A friend of mine won’t buy cereal unless she can get it for under $.75 a box. Eventually you get to the point where you know when it’s time to just buy one or two items to get you to the next sale, or start stockpiling because it’s the best sale you’ve seen in a long time.

It can be time consuming, and is definitely a learning process. But knowing your prices is certainly worth it!

Price Books

I’m going to interrupt my coupon series here to blog a little about a price book. It’s not absolutely vital to couponing, but it is such a HUGE help that I wanted to include it at this point. A price book is valuable whether or not you use coupons though – so hopefully this post will be a help to someone.

A price book is some sort of document or book that contains current prices for items that you normally buy – at each store you shop at. You can see at a glance where it’s cheaper to buy something. For instance, sugar might almost always be cheaper at Aldi, but it’s on sale this week for less at a different grocery store instead of Aldi.

You can do them digitally or on paper. I’ve done several different ways.

The simplest way is probably a blank notebook. A lot of places say to give each item one page, but I never needed that much space for any one item. Half a page would probably be plenty. You write the item at the top of the page, and then write down the brand, price, size of object (like 5 lb package, 12 oz, etc), the store it’s at, and the date. The reason you put the date is so you can start to learn sales cycles and so you can see if a price may be outdated or not.

I’ve tried typing a master list and then printing it and putting it into a 3-ring binder. It worked ok for a while, when I kept up with it. I even tried keeping the master list on my hard drive, but didn’t keep up with that very well either. I’d forget a few times. . .and I found I didn’t do a very good job keeping up with them at all.

Then when my husband got a new PDA for work, he gave me his old one. I was looking for other software online for it, and came across a program called HandyShopper. It’s only for Palm OS at the moment. It’s a list maker and price book all in one, and it has completely changed how I do my price book. Now, when I mark items on my shopping list, it gives me a total based on the prices that I have in the database. I can see how much things should cost before I even get to the store. Not only that, I can select a specific store and see exactly how much I can expect to spend at each specific store. For a tiny little freeware program, it has helped immensely.

The HandyShopper database also transfers easily from one device to another. When I upgraded to a newer Palm, I worried that it would be difficult to transfer the data over. It ended up being pretty easy, and was a huge relief that I didn’t have to rebuild the database!

I’ve tried to create price book documents for people to download, but haven’t been able to come up with one that I am truly happy with. Maybe that’s because they don’t work the best for me – I don’t know. If there is enough interest in the documents, I’ll consider putting them up online to download.