Dividend Challenge

>> 7.31.2009

I'm getting (especially) tight with my money as I've already started to pay hundreds of dollars in home-related costs. It might sound pathetic, but I got extremely excited when my stock dividend checks came in the mail. Why is getting excited about checks pathetic? Well, unlike wealthy people with millions of dollars in stocks who get thousands in dividends, mine come in amounts like $1.34, $7.25, $1.00.. In total, I was excited over $9.59.

Hey, it's still money- money that wasn't accounted for in my monthly budget! So I'm going to make the most of that $9.59 and see how much fun I can have with it this weekend. I'll report back with my adventures (?) on Monday. I love a good challenge!

What would you do to make the most of $9.59?


Buying the house... budgeting those expenses!

>> 7.30.2009

As I mentioned the other day, I did some very necessasary prioritizing on my home projects. Of course, I can't do everything on the list right away, so I created a budget sheet to help myself track the expenses. I plan on pushing on until my (budgeted) well runs dry!

Here are some super squished views of what my sheet looks like. Sorry, it's a pretty large sheet.

All I did was add in my over-all budget on the far right hand side under "budgeted" then fill in the rooms of my house, the projects I wanted to do, and the amount of money I want to spend. Of course, I added in some formatting so that the "flex" and "total remain" fields will change as I fill in my expenses. It's very similar to my monthly budget sheet. Which you can download here.

If you're in need of a home renovation sheet, you can download the excel sheet here (the first tab has a copy of mine and the second tab has a blank sheet).

To download:
1. click on the link above
2. chose "edit this page" in the bottom lefthand corner
3. go to "file" --> "export"
4. chose "/.xls" and "save"


Thrifty Little Tip... Library Rehab

>> 7.29.2009

Nope, this isn't your average "save money by going to the library" post. This post is for people who could use some serious retail help. I have some personal experience with shopping addictions (the not so serious kind). For some reason there's just something so satisfying about liking something in a store and bringing it home that same day. I've come up with many tricks to help myself save money on things, but I found that going to the library can be great way to prevent unnecessary spending.

The key to replacing retail shopping with "library shopping" is to just browse through those aisles. When I started browsing my library instead of creating lists, I got that same rush of excitement that only buying a new outfit used to give me. Now, when I need my fix, I just walk aimlessly through the aisles looking for things that might catch my interest. Usually, I create a nice pile for myself (something about the weight of it all makes it more fun) and walk out the door without spending a cent! The best part is that I don't get that same guilty feeling from not reading the books that I got when I would buy clothes or home decor items and leave them in their bags for a couple of weeks (don't act like you haven't been there).

Check out a few of the books I "scored" at the library yesterday:

I love a good party planning book!

"clean-enough" that'll be me!

My new life...

What do you do to replace your spending addictions?


Buying the House... so much to do!

>> 7.28.2009

I, like any new home buyer, want to make my new place as nice as I can make it (without blowing too much $$$). This means prioritizing! With so many ideas and so little money, I was really stressed out!! That was before I sat down and really organized my ideas:

1. I created a list of every room in my house and I wrote everything I wanted to do to each room.

2. I organized my list into: Need/ Want!!!/ want. This helped me realized what projects I would probably want to tackle first.

3. I created a realistic timeline for when I might be able to do the projects. I started filling in the timeline with the "needs" and went from there.

Of course, step four was to create an excel sheet to organize my budget... but I'll share that a little later this week.

How do you prioritize your projects?


Buying the house... the bonus!

>> 7.27.2009

I received a lovely packet of mortgage information in the mail this weekend to find a fun bonus to buying the house... I don't have to pay anything (except closing costs, downpayment, etc) in September! That's right, my mortgage payments begin in October so the rent/ mortgage that I budgeted for in September ($1000) can go right back into the little fixes I have in store for the house (and I have a lot!).

On a side note, the monthly payments look to be about $50 more than the lender originally estimated :/.

Yeesh! Those are some scary numbers!!


I would if I could...

>> 7.25.2009

...but I can't.

Anyone get to see this?


Has this happened to you?

>> 7.24.2009

I couldn't believe that this happened to me! I was talking to a friend from work and she mentioned that one our other coworkers made a comment about how I spend all my money on clothes. I usually wear dresses and skirts during the summer because it is so hot and I try to make different looks by pairing them with sweaters or jackets. This guy had noticed that I always had a different look and rudely commented that I was a shopaholic! I looked down at what I was wearing that day and realized that I was wearing a thrifted dress for $7, a jacket from Gap that I've had for several years, and shoes that someone had given to me for free. I started to think about the clothes I'd been wearing all week, and I realized I didn't have one outfit that cost me over $100. Hey, it's not my fault I know how to shop. I'd rather get a cute thrifted dress than a cheap looking new t-shirt any day!

Ever have someone think you spent too much because of your thrifty skills?


Tips on Raising a Saver

>> 7.23.2009

I'm a saver. I've never been in debt, I have a nice emergency fund, and I'm ready to buy my first home. Lately, I've found an interest in PF (personal finance) blogs about people tackling their debt. These bloggers hold more strength and perseverance than I could imagine. They give up things that change their entire lives in order to erase debt that they had accumulated for various reasons. I'm not sure if I could do it! I'm glad that I've been penny-pinching since I could talk and that I don't have debt to work on currently so I decided to do a little analysis of how my parents might have* turned me into such a saver...

1. matched my savings: I had incentive to add to my savings as a kid because everything I added was doubled, like magic! Think: 401(k). Are you maxing out your employer matching? Kids are smarter than to pass up free money!

2. talked to me about money: I remember sitting in my room when I was 7 years old and having my dad tell me that I would have to start saving now if I wanted a car when I was sixteen. Nine years later and I had $5000 ready in the bank ready to buy that car! In addition, I got a job within weeks of turning sixteen... That was all okay because I was prepared for it. My parents had spoken to me numerous times about the responsibilities I would have and the reasons why these responsibilities were so important.

3. had me earn my own money: A short three weeks after turning sixteen, I was working at the Gap (for $6.25/hr). It was all part of the car deal. If my parents were signing over a car to me, they needed to know that they could rely on the car being paid for (um, hello mortgage lenders!).
4. "it's her money, let her use it:" What do you think might happen if a child saves and saves, but can't touch the money until they turn eighteen? It would be blown in a day! This does not mean that they will use all of the money, it just means that they will think about it as if it is actually theirs. I always wanted to have a TV in my bedroom when I was a kid. My parents said that I could have one if I paid for it myself. What happened? I never wanted to spend my hard-earned money on a TV when I had one to use in the living room!

5. they were good examples: No matter what else you do, if your kids see you running up credit card bills and buying a new car every year, they're going to do the same thing as adults. Who else will they learn from?

On a side note, yes, my parents covered the expenses related to my college education. I appreciate that opportunity more than they will ever know and I plan on doing the exact same thing for my kids in the future (*crosses fingers to not have quadruplets*). I can do it, I'm a saver!

Are you a saver? Have any tips on raising a saver?

*I am not a financial professional, these are just some friendly tips.


Thrifty Little Party!

>> 7.22.2009

This is a great weekend for a thrifty little party Tour de France style! This weekend will hold the conclusion of the race and it's sure to be full of excitement. Have some friends over and create a festive mood with these cheap and easy cupcakes:

*cupcake mix (your choosing)
*white frosting
*gel food coloring
*parchment paper
*red fruit chews (like Starbursts) or red hots

1. Make some cupcakes.

2. Use white frosting (vanilla or buttercream) to create three different colors: white, yellow, green
*When I color frosting, I use the gel coloring. I felt like it was a great investment at $10 and it will last for at least a year.
To make the yellow, I used 4 toothpicks with yellow gel and 1 toothpick with orange gel to darken the color. I use the toothpicks to add the color in then stir the frosting with a spoon. For the green, I used about 5 toothpicks with green gel and a dash of yellow and blue gel. Be careful using the gel... add a little color at a time!

3. Create red polka dots using fruit chews. To do this, I just unwrapped red fruit chews and placed them on parchment paper. I put these in the microwave for about 10-15 seconds or until they were warm enough to mold like clay. Next, I broke off little pieces and rolled them into balls. To create the dots, I smashed the little balls with my fingers. Red hots would also work as the red dots, but I already had fruit chews in my pantry.

4. Decorate the cupcakes with yellow, green, polka dot, and white frosting.

Each of these colors represents a color of an important jersey in the Tour de France.
yellow= overall leader
green= points leader
red polka dot= king of the mountain
white= best rider under 25
Go here for more information on the jersey colors.

To add to the mood, why not cook some yummy French food! Unfortunately, French food tends to be a little pricey, but adding some wine, fruit, cheese, and bread to the menu shouldn't break the bank.

Is anyone keeping up with the Tour de France?


Buying the House... Part 4!

>> 7.21.2009

WOW! I'm really on my way...

Like I mentioned in part 3, I actually had an appointment with a lender last Friday! About 30 minutes after filling out the online form, the lending agent called me to set up an appointment. (I think the difference here was that I filled the form in as if I was ready to buy a house that day instead of within a few months... which I am) Luckily, my work schedule is flexible so I could go to meet her at 3:00 that afternoon.

When I arrived at the appointment, she asked me a few questions to verify the information that I filled in the online form and immediately began entering in the information into the preapproval form (it was for an FHA loan). As she continued through the form, I came ac cross some decisions that I wasn't exactly prepared to answer.

Since my credit is above 660 (it's 775), I qualified for really good interest rates. What I had not thought about was whether or not I wanted to pay extra in upfront fees (2 points) to get a 4.85% rate or if I wanted to pay less in fees to get a slightly worse rate... 5-5.5%. The decision I ended up making was to get a 5% rate and pay 1.5 points upfront. This made the difference of thousands of dollars upfront, but only $10 per month in mortgage costs. I decided that I can just add the extra cash into my emergency fund and I'll think of that additional $10 as an "insurance" payment. [side note: my parents said that they had a 16% interest rate back in the 80's!]

I was also a little unprepared in making the decision of my down payment amount. Leading up to this purchase, I always thought that I would put at least 10% as a down payment. I figure that this would lower the monthly payments and get me a better interest rate. What I didn't realize was that the FHA loan would only require 3.5% down while giving me the best interest rates. It might have been with an extra push from the lender, but I decided to go with the minimum of 3.5%. The lender explained to me that I could estimate $7 per month difference for each $1000 I put down. So, I made the choice again to keep more cash in my funds rather than save and extra $50-70 per month.

When it came time to add all of the numbers up, I was so happy that I decided to buy a house at this point!! After closing costs, down payment, and other fees, I'll be spending about $8000 to get into the house. This money will be completely returned to me next year when I file for the stimulus tax credit! Also, my monthly payments will come out to be about $1000 (including insurances) which is how much my place would go for in rent. After looking at the numbers, I would strongly encourage any first time buyer who has savings in the bank and a secure job to look into making this the time they buy a home. *I'm still not a professional, that's just what I would tell my friends

After initialing and signing all of the papers that she presented to me, I realized how so many people got into the problems with the adjustable rate mortgages! As a first time buyer (who has been researching home buying for a while), I wasn't as prepared with all of the answers as I thought I would be and I found myself trusting my lender to guide me through some pretty major decisions!

So, by the end of the day, I had already paid $500 in fees (appraisal) to get the process started. It looks like I'm committed to this home buying thing! My lending agent gave me a list of forms to copy and fill out. I gathered all of the information over the weekend and I'll turn them in today. Hopefully all goes through with the loan and I'll have a house next month (*crosses fingers)!!

How did your first meeting with a lender go? Are there things that you wish you knew ahead of time?


My Weekend Mini-Makeover

>> 7.20.2009

This weekend, I decided to beautify my back porch a little bit with a mini-makeover. I had already purchased the table and chairs ($125) and I spent a grand total of $5 for the rest of the supplies. Here's what I did:

I found a cheapo $5 blue rug at a garage sale and I added that to the ground for some texture. Next, I gathered some pretty things from around my house (vase with flowers, candle, yellow silverware, and IKEA wine glasses and dishes). Finally, I added some outdoor lighting to the fence (sorry, those pictures didn't turn out). The chairs are really comfortable, but I think I might look out for some pillows to add color.
Yum! Cupcakes and wine on a summer's evening!
I also kept myself busy this weekend gathering documents to give to my mortgage lender. We had a long meeting on Friday... I'll post about it later!
How was your weekend?


What's the font?

>> 7.19.2009

Like the font from my post title? I love it and I got it for free (quite a thrifty thing to do)! KevinandAmanda makes it easy to download fonts that you can use on your blog, in your word documents, or printed out to make a million crafts.

To browse through the free fonts click here.

To learn how to add a cool font to your blog click here.

*KevinandAmanda.com didn't ask me to do this post, but I wanted you all to know about this awesome free resource. Thanks Amanda!

Don't forget to come back tomorrow to see my porch mini-makeover!


You get what you pay for?

>> 7.18.2009

I mentioned last week that I bought a new patio table for $125 and I would be posting a makeover with it soon... well, there was a little snag in my plans! The table was flat-packed and when I put it together I started with the chairs. When the chairs were finished, I went to open the smaller box that contained the table. As I picked up the box, I heard the sound of broken glass! The entire table was shattered!! I was so upset because we had already put together all of the chairs and it would be a major pain to take them apart in order to take them back to the store. I called the store to see if I could just bring in the table and swap it out for a new one. Seemed like a simple solution, but the store didn't have an option of talking to a live person! The only way I would have an answer to my question would be if I drove all the way back to the store. Being the thrifty person that I am, I knew I had to drag my tired self back to the store and have a talk with the manager. I took the risk of just bringing the table to try to make a swap.

When I got to the store I was directed to an associate that would help me with my issue. He seemed a little wary of doing the swap and went to ask his manager if it would be okay. When the manager came she asked me what my issue was. I let her know that the table was shattered when I opened it and that I wanted a new one. It was then that she told me flat out that she wouldn't do the swap! Her reasoning was that she couldn't believe that I bought it broken and that I must be the one responsible for breaking the table. She continued to call me a liar for the next few minutes as I stood my ground in saying that the table was broken when I opened it and there was no way for either of us to when it broke. Finally, she agreed to swap out the table.

I think that the only reason I ended up getting the table replaced is that I continued to have a very good attitude when I spoke to the (rude) manager. Yeah, there was hassle involved in getting the right pieces, communicating with the employees, and assembling it all together, in the end, I was okay with the little obstacles that I had to overcome to get an inexpensive table that I love. In this case, I really got what I paid for!
Have you ever had a moment where you said, "well, I got what I paid for?"

Here's the table in progress:

*Note: I was happy to have a replacement table, but I had no idea how difficult it would be to put it together. After hours(!) of sweating in the sun, blistering my fingers, and slapping at mosquitoes I finally had a finished table!! Well, after all of that, I'm a little tired and I'll need to get some energy back before I finish the patio. Come back Monday and you'll see how I used the table in my patio mini-makeover.


Buying the House... Part 3

>> 7.17.2009

So, STILL no word from Ms. "I've started working on it" banker. I left her a message asking her if she planned on following up with me. I also went ahead and filled out a form for another lender (see part 2)... she called me within an hour of filling out the form and we have an appointment scheduled for this afternoon! I'll let you know how it went.


My Costly C's

You can't take an informative post seriously without alliteration, right?
Like many of you, when I spend my money, I want to make the most of every penny! Therefore, I've made a simple system that helps me with my unusual spending decisions: I ask myself, "Is this in a C category... Is it worth spending a little extra?"
What are the "C's" that I'm talking about? Well, here's the lowdown:

Community- Is this money going back into my community? As you saw yesterday, my community gives me a lot and I want to give back to it. I try as hard as I can to support local business and farmers. This website helps me find great local businesses and having centrally located farmer's markets make it easy to buy "C" food.

yum... locally sourced groceries
Charity- Will this money help less fortunate? If the money goes to charity, it is worth spending a little more than I usually would for a fun event! Some great ways that I've found to combine my interests with charity have been in attending film screenings, hanging out with friends at benefit concerts, and participating in charity sporting events.
a charity bike ride I participated in this spring:

Finally, Courtesy- Will spending this money prevent conflict? Sometimes it's important to put others first! Whether it's splitting the check at a dinner or buying a gift for a wedding, I try to think what the most considerate and polite action I can take is. If this thinking makes me spend a little more, I have to accept it and move on. Money is not worth harming relationships!

What do you think about my C's? Do you have any special spending guidelines for unusual purchases?


Just Couldn't Resist!

>> 7.16.2009

Alright, so I took a bunch of cute pictures at that (free!) dog fashion show and I just had to share more! I hope you enjoy.... It's all their own fur cut and dyed to look like clothes!


...and it didn't cost a thing!

I've had a blast enjoying free outdoor events this summer...

There was the hillside musical...
...the symphony in the park...

...the Independence Day fireworks...
...the very popular blues concert...
...and even the dog fashion show!

...and it didn't cost a thing!

What have you been up to this summer? Are you enjoying the outdoors?

Weekend task: Find yourself a free community event to attend!



>> 7.15.2009

This is so sad! I love their style and will miss the inspiration. I suppose now is the time to go check out what they have on sale in the store. (click on image to go to link)


How I Save Big... My Actual Budget

I promised I would share, so here it is! This is how I actually spend my money. Each month is a little different based on what is going on in my life, but usually it is similar to this. The "earned money" is post-tax and post-retirement contribution (yes, I contribute 10% to my 401k).

(click image to enlarge)

Yep, I live off of about $1200 which means I get to save over half of my money each month. I probably shop a little less than most and eat out more. How is your budget different from mine?

*You might have noticed that each figure is rounded up to the next dollar... I do this so that my bank account is padded. I pay my car insurance in full every six months and these extra dollars add up enough to cover it!


You asked!

>> 7.14.2009

Oneadvice asked if I would post my budget sheet. Well, here it is.

To download:
1. click on the link above
2. chose "edit this page" in the bottom lefthand corner
3. go to "file" --> "export"
4. chose "/.xls" and "save"

If you want tips on how to start up the budget, check out this post.

I'll talk more about my personal budget later this week!


Thrifty Tip-- Eat Earlier!

Staying at home is not the only way to enjoy a nice and inexpensive dinner! There are so many restaurants these days that will offer reduced "happy hour" pricing on their food. I'm really enjoying having a night each week where I get to relax in a nice restaurant and have someone make me (delicious) food for the price of a fast food meal. Here are a couple of my favorites finds:

Cipollina, a local pizza place, offers a pizza happy hour before 5:30 (you can order the food right before 5:30 and stay as long as you want). For $6, I had a handmade pizza made with locally farmed ingredients that fed two!

Kona Grill has a half-priced appetizer menu from 5-7. The sushi rolls are $3 each (so good that we had already eaten most of the sushi before I remembered to take a picture)! The entire meal of spicy tuna roll, California roll, and calamari for two came out to $10.50.

Whether it's a daily special or an appetizer meal, these deals are around everywhere! Where do you find the best restaurant meal deals?


Buying the House... Part 2

>> 7.13.2009


"Good morning,
Thank you for your interest in xxxxx xxxxx Home Mortgage. Please click on the link below to begin the application process. Once completed I will retrieve the info on my end and contact you promptly. If you have any questions please feel free to call me anytime.
Thank you,
Mortgage Consultant "

Dear Ms. Mortgage Consultant,
Please see this post. I already filled out that form. You said that you recieved it and would get back to me. Is this some sort of a game?
Thank you,


How I save big...Setting Up the Budget

I've been really careful (or "thrifty") with my money for the past few years as I've been saving up to buy the house. I came up with some pretty effective ways to budget my money and I thought I would share them with you. In this post, I'll give you a tour of my Excel budget sheet.

NOTE: This is not my actual budget... I'll share that with you later this week.

1) I like to break my budget into months- it's how I'm paid and how most bills are processed- so I begin each month with a blank sheet:
2) I fill in my monthly earnings and projected budgets in each category:

3) I update the budget a couple times each week so that I can keep an eye on where my money goes.

4) At the end of the month, I have more information about where I was under and over in my budget. This helps me refocus and plan for the next month.

How do you budget? Do you use Excel or other software to help you with your budget? Please comment the link if you have a post about it in your blog!


I would if I could...

>> 7.12.2009

I love the feeling of this outdoor dining set. Too bad I don't have the space or money. I did find a new patio set this weekend for $125. Stay tuned for a backyard makeover.


I'll admit... I heart carnations

>> 7.11.2009

You can't beat the color selection, they smell great, and they're cheap! Plus, I think they're beautiful. The flowers below came in a grocery store bunch that cost $4.

Look how fun they are in my new vase:

The wedding world is partially accepting them these days, but mostly in monochromatic clusters:

Source: MarthaStewartWeddings

Source: MarthaStewartWeddings

So, what are your thoughts on carnations? Hate/ love? Are you going to turn your nose down at me when you see them all over my house?


Thrifty Tip-- Go Red!

>> 7.10.2009

Here's a tip that I learned from teachers: red is the most versatile for year-round color (they use it as the backdrop for their bulletin boards so that they don't have to change them very often).

So, when you're faced with a post-holiday sale, buy red! Think napkins, plates, envelopes, candle holders, wrapped candy, etc. While most holiday decorations need to be horded for the next 11 months, red can be used several times a year! Christmas, Valentines, Election Day, and Fourth of July. Plus, when paired with certain other colors, it can work at any occasion.

red/ aqua for summer

source: marthastewartweddings

red/ yellow/ pink/ white for spring

source: countryliving

red/orange/yellow for fall

source: home-garden-ideas

I just bought a ton of red sprinkles when they were on sale from Fourth of July ($.50 each). I can't wait to use them.... whenever (but especially in my holiday baking)!

What post-holiday sale items work their magic year round in your house?


to ikea or not to ikea...

I'm not sure what to do. Right as I'm trying to save money, this comes in the mail:

It would be perfect timing if I already had something in mind, but the only $100+ purchase I want to make right now is on outdoor furniture. I really want to be a good "thrifty" shopper... do I take advantage of a great coupon or do I stick to my budget and only buy the patio furniture?

In the meantime, I think I'll check out ikeahacker for some good ideas that might make my decision easier.


Buying the House... Part 1

>> 7.09.2009

Update on my home buying process:

Step 1: Save. Save. Save some more.

Step 2: $8000 tax break? Perfect!

Step 3: Fill out online pre-approval request.

Step 4: Wait. Fill out online pre-approval request... again.

Step 5: Go into bank; ask how to get in touch with someone.

Step 6: Fill out another online form.

Step 7: Wait. Banker: "I've started working on it."

Step 8: Wait.

Home buying tip: Don't start the process at the last minute! Luckily, I have until December 1st. So far it has been a month of trying to get a meeting with someone :/.

She really wants her very own flowerbed to lay on!

Anyone else going through this?


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