Archive for December, 2009

Bring on the New Year

So far I haven’t written any resolutions or decided on any new goals for the new year. Instead I want to spend the last day of the decade focused on all of the wonderful things that have happened over the last ten years. While I experienced my fair share of bumps in the road the last ten years also provided many wonderful moments and blessings for me. Before I look to the future I plan to take a moment to step back, reflect and count my blessings. There are so many amazing moments that I’m not sure I can remember them all.

Happy New Year!

December 31, 2009 at 11:00 PM Leave a comment

Did You Stick to Your Holiday Budget?

This year my husband and I agreed to stick to a holiday budget. As the year came to a close we refinanced both of our properties and paid quite a bit in closing costs and other mortgage related fees. We also spent nearly $2,000 on two short trips that were long overdue.

The members of our small, extended family also encountered quite a few unexpected expenses, so we all agreed to cut back on holiday purchases this season. Remarkably, my husband who absolutely loves to play the role of Santa also agreed.

My husband and I typically break down the shopping chores by family. I shop for my mom, dad, sister-in-law, nephew and niece, while he shops for his mom, dad and brother. There’s a bit of overlap in purchases but for the most part we stick to this model.

It’s much easier for me to stick to a budget, because my family tends to purchase only one or two gifts per person. My husband’s family really goes all out for Christmas and buys stacks and stacks of gifts for each other, so it’s a much bigger deal for them to cut back on purchases. I think it really helped that everyone agreed to spend less this season.

In the end my husband not only stuck to his budget but actually spent about $50 less than expected. In fact, if he hadn’t spent extra money on 2-day shipping, (a result of our late December vacation), he would have been about $150 below budget. I did my part this Christmas and came in about $130 under budget.

I think Christmas was more enjoyable this year because we focused much more on spending time with the people we love and spent much less time focusing on gifts. How about you? Did you stick to your holiday budget this season?

December 31, 2009 at 4:58 AM 3 comments

Joining the Eat From the Pantry Challenge

In an effort to eat down the contents of our overstocked pantry and save a little money on groceries I’ve decided to join Money Saving Mom’s Eat From the Pantry Challenge this January. Our pantry is stuffed to the brim with a whole host of products I bought over the last few months for cents on the dollar. With a fully stocked freezer I actually think I could participate in the eat from the pantry challenge for a couple of months, but I’m going to start with a shorter goal.

For four weeks, (starting January 4th), I will only venture to the grocery store for milk, produce and lunch meat. I will also try my best to create a simple but adventurous dinner menu, which includes at least two new dishes, (hopefully three each week). I hope to limit shopping to only three trips all month and I hope to limit each trip to less than fifteen minutes. During this time I will also minimize takeout and will try to eat out a maximum of two times during the challenge.

If we make it through the first four weeks I’d like to extend the challenge for another month. Of course, I don’t want to get ahead of myself. I’ll try to document my status and will post a challenge update each week. I’ll make sure to include all successes and failures. Wish me luck! I have a feeling I’ll need it.

December 30, 2009 at 4:45 AM 3 comments

So Little to Return this Year

For the first time in many, many years I had very few unwanted gifts to return to the store. In fact, I had only two gifts for myself and one gift that I bought for my grandmother. Luckily my returns were a breeze. I had receipts for everything that didn’t work out and stood in relatively short lines.

Looking at the mounds of unwanted items behind the returns counter made me a little sad. The heaping piles of gifts were spilling over. Wrinkled shirts and pants were crammed under unwanted cookware, picture frames and toys. When you think of all the time and energy spent searching for the perfect gift it seems a shame that so many items end up right back at the store.

Target was the worst. The back of the returns section was so overloaded that the cashier barely had anywhere to stand. Even the counter was overrun with unwanted items.

I for one was happy with almost everything I received this year. It definitely helps to have a hobby. Since mine is cooking I received a bunch of items like sauces and marinades, which will be eaten and enjoyed. The best part of all, food gifts result in very little clutter. We’ll eat the contents and recycle the jars.

I only hope everyone else enjoyed their gifts as much as I enjoyed mine. I’d hate to think my friends and relatives are wasting time standing in line.

December 29, 2009 at 4:35 AM Leave a comment

Just a Few of the Ways I Saved on Christmas this Season

Dough Roller held a contest earlier this week asking:

What is the savviest way you have made your money work harder for you this holiday season?

I absolutely love this question, because I saved a ridiculous amount of money this Christmas. In fact, it’s probably the most I’ve ever saved during the holiday season! Although I didn’t win the contest I thought I’d share my thoughts on the topic. So without further ado here is my list:

First, I purchased gifts that provided extra kick-backs. For example, for every dollar I spent on Marriott gift cards I earned 10 Marriott Reward points. These purchases helped me earn a free night’s stay at any 4-star Marriott hotel. I also took advantage of similar promotions at local restaurants in my area, which offered a $5 bonus each time I purchased at least $25 in gift cards.

Second, I purchased gift cards from online sites like Plastic Jungle. I saved between 10 – 15% on each gift card purchase and then used the gift cards to make in-store and online purchases. I also waited for sales and coupons, which further expanded my savings. On average I saved at least 25% using this technique.

Third, I used a cash back credit card for all in-store and online purchases that didn’t involve a gift card. If I went online I used cash back sites like Ebates and Fatwallet. Recently I learned about ev’reward. This site compares all of the cash back websites so you can get the most bang for your buck. I also held off on most of my online purchases until Cyber Monday. I knew from experience that many online sites offered double cash back that day.

Lastly, I finished at least half of my holiday shopping prior to November and when stores in my area closed I bought stocking stuffers for 10 to 25 cents on the dollar.

A little advance planning went a long way in helping me save this season. I plan to count my Christmas receipts later this week to find out just how much money I saved. I bet it will be in the ballpark of 50%.

December 27, 2009 at 4:55 AM 2 comments

Merry Christmas!

There are so many things to be thankful for this holiday season. What could be better than spending the entire day with the ones you love? Merry Christmas!

December 25, 2009 at 3:40 PM Leave a comment

Free Chocolate Covered Strawberries and a Free Movie

A few weeks ago I signed up for Fresh Rewards at 1-800-flowers.com. As a reward for signing up and adding ten gift reminders to their site I earned a $40 credit*. Earlier this week I spent that credit on a box of chocolate covered strawberries. The strawberries arrived yesterday and are absolutely beautiful. I plan to serve them tonight at our annual Christmas Eve dinner.

This is actually the second free box of chocolate covered strawberries I received this year. I picked up a box a month or so ago from Edible Arrangements. I received that freebie by adding Edible Arrangements as a friend on Facebook*. I haven’t tasted these yet, but I’m interested in how they compare.

Excited about my free score I hopped on the Internet in search of other freebies. Wouldn’t you know I found a free $4 credit from Amazon Video on Demand. Last night I ordered a two day rental of Four Christmases and watched it from my laptop. The movie wasn’t anything to write home about, but I was impressed by the picture quality. I’m now even more excited about the Blu-ray DVD player I purchased for my husband this Christmas. It’ll stream videos from twenty-five content providers including Netflix.

I received so many fabulous freebies this year that I now wish I’d documented them. Too late now, but maybe I’ll keep a list next year.

* I believe these promotions have ended.

December 24, 2009 at 4:20 PM Leave a comment

$45 to Check Out the Kitty’s Paw

I came this afternoon to find my poor little kitty walking around with one leg stuck straight out behind him. I gave him extra attention and kept a watchful eye on him for an hour and a half or so, but his poor back paw didn’t seem to get any better. He was happy and purring and trying his best to follow me around the house, but he definitely didn’t want to apply any pressure to his back paw.

I should clarify that my kitty, isn’t really a kitty at all. He’s actually an eight year old cat that holds the most precious and special place in my heart. Even though he’s middle aged I still consider him my kitty.

I called my husband at work and he agreed that we should take the kitty to the vet. I got the clinic’s last appointment of the night, wrapped the kitty in a towel, (we don’t own a kitty carrier), and headed off to the vet.

Thankfully our cat has been unbelievably healthy up until this point in his life. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been on a car ride in years, hasn’t been to the vet since he was a kitten, and is not used to the strange smells and sounds of the clinic. He squirmed around for 30 minutes, first in my arms and then in my husband’s, until the vet was available to see us.

With all of the commotion the poor cat’s adrenaline was pumping like crazy and of course in the vet’s office he walked around on all four paws without any problem. The vet yanked on his legs, paws, knees, etc and didn’t find any obvious structural problems. So five minutes and $45 later we drove home.

The vet told us to keep an eye on our cat for the next few days and advised us to get an x-ray if his leg doesn’t improve. Of course, the moment we came home and put the cat down on the floor he started limping again.

Luckily he’s still in a good mood. He’s purring and happily following me around the house. Hopefully he just tweaked something in his leg and will be back to himself in a few days. Regardless of the time it took and the money we spent I’m still glad we took him in to get checked out. He’s a very special little guy.

December 22, 2009 at 4:55 AM 1 comment

Reducing Insurance Costs

Over the years my husband and I have worked hard to reduce our insurance costs. I believe wholeheartedly in acquiring insurance, particularly disability insurance, but I sure hate shelling out money for each policy.

In order to reduce our overall insurance costs we built up a sizable emergency fund and waited to change our policies until we knew we could afford the larger out of pocket expenses. Once we achieved a solid financial footing we increased the deductibles on each and every policy. The changes started out relatively small. The first change altered our auto policies from $250 to $500, later we made the jump from $500 to $1000.

In my opinion increasing the deductible on homeowner’s policies is a no-brainer. Insurance premiums are bound to rise anytime you make a claim, so it makes the most sense to avoid claims for minor issues. Of course, in order to avoid claims you must have enough money in the bank to cover the cost repairs, which is why all roads lead back to building a solid emergency fund.

Another big savings came from merging our homeowners and auto insurance policies under one low cost provider. This alone saved us a few hundred dollars a year. There are many ways to search for low cost insurance. I simply searched the websites of most big name companies and used comparison sites like those provided by Progressive Insurance.

The other way to save on insurance is by purchasing used cars and holding on to them for the long haul. At this point all three of our vehicles are at least ten years old. When the blue book value of our vehicles falls below $3,000 we typically remove collision coverage from the policy. This usually puts another $100 or so back in our pockets.

Of course, car accidents and speeding tickets are the fastest way to drive up insurance costs, so my husband and I both do our best to practice safe driving. Although we’ve both been caught by speed cameras, neither one of us has ever been ticketed by the police or been the cause of a auto accident. A clean driving record goes a long way in keeping costs down.

Between our clean records, low cost provider, merged policies, older vehicles and high deductibles I bet my husband and I spend at least 50% less on insurance than most of our friends and family.

December 21, 2009 at 12:25 AM Leave a comment

Total Cost of Our Four Day Vacation: Just Over $1,900

It feels like forever since I last sat down to write a new post on One Frugal Girl and I’m happy to be back in front of my big screen monitor. I’m also happy to report that our fabulous four day vacation actually cost less than I initially expected.

Our breakdown is roughly as follows:

  • Food: $240+
  • Lodging: $1,225+
  • Transportation: $365+
  • Gifts & Souvenirs: $240+

The lodging costs were quite large and certainly dwarfed all of our other expenses. I should note that the total in this category includes room rates, parking and food related expenses at hotel run restaurants. I would’ve categorized these items but I can’t find the detailed receipts.

All of the hotels we stayed in were absolutely amazing and paying more for an oceanfront room was definitely worth the additional cost. We sat out on the balconies of our hotel rooms quite a bit. We brushed our teeth, snacked on leftovers, snuggled, ate leftovers, drank beer, stared out at the water and listened to the waves out there. Thanks to all of my readers who convinced me to splurge a little. The rooms were so romantic I felt like we were on a second honeymoon.

I booked a room with a view of the city on the last night of our trip, but after some billing discrepancies the hotel offered to upgrade our room at no additional cost. They also provided us with a complimentary late checkout, which allowed us to swim around the hotel pool for an additional two hours. It was the perfect way to end our vacation.

I have no regrets on the money we spent for this trip. We didn’t intend to spend so much money on gifts and souvenirs, but with the holidays only a few days away we spent quite a bit of money shopping for Christmas. We also ran into a few incidentals including the need for suntan lotion, bottled water and baseball caps (to keep out the sun during our long drives).

All in all it was an amazing trip that ended too quickly. I’m thankful and grateful for the time I spent with my husband and I can’t wait to plan another vacation.

December 19, 2009 at 4:20 AM 1 comment

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