Archive for July, 2011

Meal Planning… Where to Begin?

On Thursday I mentioned my plans to stock the pantry in preparation of the arrival of my little-one-to-be and my impending job loss. A few readers provided great ideas on preparing and freezing meals in advance as well as creating weekly menu ideas. The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of both creating a menu and preparing make-ahead meals.

I was wondering if anyone can direct me to blogs or websites that discuss menu planning in more detail. While I don’t want to create crazy and elaborate entrees, it would be nice to have a quasi-plan in place that will limit take out, especially during those first few months.

I found a few sites that recommend meal planning, but when I dig into them I find a lot of their menus involve eating breakfast for dinner. While I wouldn’t mind doing this every so often, (I actually love scrambled eggs and french toast for dinner), I’m not sure that I want to make that a weekly staple.

So I’m handing this one off to my readers in the hopes of hearing about your ideas and suggestions. Do you plan a weekly meal menu or do you fly by the seat of your pants each night? If you make a menu where do you find inspiration and how long does it take to prepare and cook an average night’s meal?

I’m looking for solutions that are healthy, but relatively quick. I’m also hoping for suggestions that will involve a bit of variety so I’m not staring at the same set of meals over and over.

If you have any ideas or thoughts on meal planning please leave me a comment and let me know what you think.

July 31, 2011 at 2:25 AM 11 comments

Sometimes Financial Decisions Are Not About the Money

Yesterday I wrote about my impending layoff and my desire to plan and prepare so we can keep a nice little nest egg in the bank while I transition from full time employee to temporary stay-at-home mom. One thing I failed to mention was my desire to fully fund my 401(k). Given the fact that I have no idea how long I’ll be out of work, it certainly doesn’t make a lot of sense to put money away for retirement. After all, I’m pinching pennies all over the place to make certain we have accessible money to spare.

In fact, if you were in a similar predicament and asked me if you should continue to fund your 401(k) I would probably say ‘hell no.’ I would tell you to decrease your contribution to the minimum amount that your company would match or 0% if you didn’t have a solid emergency fund. The more time you think you’ll be out of work, the more money you should have on hand in your checking and savings accounts. If you find yourself in dire straits you certainly don’t want your money bound up in retirement accounts that you can’t access.

So why am I choosing to fund my 401(k)? Well it’s a completely emotional reason. I have been contributing the maximum amount permitted since 2004 and despite losing my job I don’t want to save less this year.

I graduated from college in 1999 and if I made more money I would’ve started saving the maximum amount that very first year. Of course, on my initial salary that was absolutely impossible! I barely made enough to pay for food and rent, but I pinched my budget just enough to set aside the minimum amount required to receive a full company match. Of course, as the years went on I began to earn more and more and therefore had more to set aside. In 2003 I was a few hundred dollars short of hitting the limit. In 2004 I hit the limit for the very first time!

I get a huge sense of accomplishment from watching my 401(k) build and grow. Despite facing a layoff I feel no differently about meeting my goal this year. If I were in dire need of the money I would certainly decrease my contribution to 0% or at least to the minimum amount the company will match, but I’m very close to reaching the yearly limit and don’t want to end the year without seeing a $16,500 contribution!

Is it a little crazy to put money away for something so far in advance when bigger things may loom in the immediate future. Of course it is. Will I change my mind and decide not to fund my 401(k), I don’t think so.

July 29, 2011 at 6:00 PM 3 comments

Preparing for My Inevitable Layoff

As the weeks until my inevitable layoff dwindle I’ve begun hard core preparations for my soon-to-be life without a job. I’m a planner by nature so it certainly helped for me to put a plan in place and start checking off the list of things to do.

First, I logged on to all of our bank accounts to see how our finances stack up. While I took a look at our overall retirement accounts, my main focus was on our checking and brokerage accounts. My husband keeps amazing track of our finances, so I also looked through the history of our bills to determine what big expenses might pop up in the next six to nine months. This included items like insurance, (our mortgage and auto insurance is always due in August), as well as property taxes on our homes in Maryland and North Carolina. I subtracted these expenses from our current totals to get a ball park idea of our liquid bottom line. Through gnucash, (our financial tracking tool), I was also able to forward project my remaining wages and estimate monthly bills like utilities and credit cards. This gave me a pretty clear picture of what number we’ll be staring at when the big day finally arrives.

Next, I reviewed the HR policies associated with leaving my company and realized that I would be paid for any unused vacation accrued throughout the year. I originally planned to take two weeks off this summer, but after reviewing the policy in detail I decided it’s more prudent to take less time off this year. After all, I’m about to receive a large chunk of time off in the form of unemployment. So rather than spending a week doing nothing, I’ll work that week and bring home an extra week’s worth of wages in my final paycheck.

Since the baby is due to arrive around the time my job ends I figured it would also be a good time to stock up on good bargains. Each Sunday for the past three weeks I shopped for deals at CVS and Rite Aid. Our minuscule hall closet now has enough razors, shaving cream, shampoo and other personal hygiene products to last us throughout the summer and the first few months of after the little one’s arrival. Since we own two homes, some of these products will make their way to the beach, so we have stock on hand there too.

My husband owns a small business, so I also picked up a few bargains at Staples the past two weekends. We now have a small stack of printer paper and various items I received free after rebate like highlighters, envelopes and pens. The goal with these purchases was as much about saving money as it was preparing to have items on hand so we aren’t forced with rushing out to the store with a little one in tow.

My husband also suggested stocking up the pantry when items go on sale. I’m all about being prepared, so for the first time in my life I might actually try to come up with a meal plan that will help us decide which meals to prepare. If anyone has ideas on the best way to create a meal plan please let me know. I have a feeling those first few weeks after birth will be a bit chaotic and I’d prefer to cook at home and avoid the dreaded take-out routine as much as possible.

Lastly, as I mentioned before, I called a bunch of companies that we subscribe to and asked for discounted rates. I also scrounged up some money by returning a bunch of unused items and selling a few other things on eBay.

Overall I’m feeling unbelievably good about the state of our financial affairs and the preparations for my first few months after unemployment. It’s pretty crazy to think that three months from now I’ll be without work for the first time in 20 years and having a baby. Completing all of the steps above has certainly made me feel more confident about our future!

July 28, 2011 at 2:20 PM 5 comments

Do Extreme Shoppers Ruin Bargain Shopping for the Rest of Us?

I drove over to Babies-R-Us today in the hopes of scoring a few packs of Huggies diapers for only $1 each. The store held a $5 sale on Huggies Pure and Natural diapers, permitted the use of coupons and provided a $5 gift card for every two packs purchased. I had a couple of coupons in my binder, so I figured I’d make the trip and pick up a few packs for next to nothing.

When I arrived the diaper aisle looked like the milk department just before a big snowstorm. The shelves were completely bare. I was curious when the store ran out of diapers, (since I knew the sale started yesterday), so I asked a very kind salesman who told me the shelves were stripped clean within the first few minutes of the store’s opening. It seems two or three women came in with binders full of coupons. They were each guiding a number of carts and simply threw every diaper into their carts, (regardless of size), and rushed to the register.

There wasn’t a limit on the number of diapers one individual could buy, so there was no policy against the shoppers filling multiple carts and cleaning out the store. Within minutes the shelves were empty.

While I don’t fault these women for bargain shopping, I wonder if they really needed to purchase every pack of diapers they could get their hands on. Honestly, I’m not sure how I feel. While I think it’s great that these women will save themselves hundreds of dollars on diapers I can’t help but wonder if it’s fair to all of the other women out there who were looking to save a little too. Over at Bargain Life, they’ve raised this and other important questions that need to be asked – how is a family affected?

What do you think? Are you an extreme shopper and do you strip the shelves of products when you head to the store in search of bargains? Do you think stores should put limitations on the number of products a person can buy with coupons and discounts to ensure more people can take advantage of the bargains or do you commend these women for filling their carts for next to nothing?

July 26, 2011 at 3:35 AM 12 comments

Sunday Night Link Love

A few posts I really enjoyed this week:

July 25, 2011 at 3:20 AM Leave a comment

The Gem I Found Inside My Own Home

If you are a long time reader of One Frugal Girl you know that I am a bit of a neat fanatic and extremely opposed to clutter. I try to limit the number of things in our house and purge unwanted items on a regular basis to ensure things stay neat and orderly.

Now that the nesting instinct is beginning to kick in I find myself itching to clean out each and every nook and cranny in our home. While reorganizing today I came across a truly unexpected gem.

When I shop for food and groceries I typically carry reusable bags with me, but when I go shopping for clothes I never seem to remember to bring bags along for the ride. If a store provides me with a solid shopping bag, (you know the solid paper ones with handles from places like Victoria’s Secret and Macy’s), I typically store them in a drawer to use for future occasions.

What future occasions you ask? Well I often use these bags when I donate unwanted items to the local shelters. They can hold a lot, have flat bottoms that allow them to stand up straight and typically have handles that make them easier to carry. I don’t like to throw all of my unwanted belongings in a plastic garbage bag. Instead I typically fold my shirts, pants and sweaters and stack them on top of one another and place them neatly inside the bags. I also find that the size and handles make them more manageable.

I also use them at Christmas time to carry presents up to my parents and in-laws homes and to carry home whatever gifts we may have received along the way. I guess it’s odd to keep a small stack of bags in the house, but I only have a handful and they are piled in one neat and tidy drawer.

This afternoon I reached into the drawer to find a bag that I could use to ferry unwanted books to our local library. When I opened the bag I was surprised to find a couple of receipts laying in the bottom. I typically deposit receipts in a binder after I get home from the store, (it helps me keep track of them in case I need to return an item), so I was surprised to find them there.

I was even more surprised to find a brand new pair of earrings laying underneath the receipts. What’s even more shocking is how long this particular bag and it’s contents had been laying around my house. The receipt was dated October 2009!

I remember purchasing the earrings. I bought them during one of those Buy-One-Get-One free sales at New York and Company. I didn’t intend to purchase two pairs of earrings that day, but since one pair was free I couldn’t resist the bargain. Maybe I didn’t notice they were missing when I came home, because I hadn’t explicitly gone to the store to purchase them. Honestly, I’m not too sure of the reason, but I can’t believe they had been sitting in a bag, that had been sitting in a drawer for nearly two years!

I’m thrilled that I found them and find it funny that I didn’t even realize they were missing! It just goes to show that even when you clean and organize on a regular basis it’s hard to keep track of all of the items in your home. I wonder if I’ll find anything else while I’m nesting.

July 23, 2011 at 3:00 AM 2 comments

How Long Do I Intend to Stay Home?

I received an email this afternoon asking me how long I intend to stay home after the baby is born. The honest answer is that I’m not quite sure. My employer will provide me with a severance package that is set to begin right around the time the baby is born. (That’s one nice thing about having my termination date and due date being so close together.)

My severance will be be taxed like a bonus, which means I’ll probably see less than half of it after the tax man takes his share, but we should receive much of that back after filing our taxes in April. I also plan to save up as much of my accrued vacation as possible. I still plan to take my summer vacation, but otherwise I’m going to hold onto those days so I can cash them out when I leave the company. Depending on when the baby arrives I may also qualify for a few weeks of short term disability, but this isn’t guaranteed.

Between my savings, my cashed out vacation and my short term disability I imagine I can stay home anywhere from nine months to a year without significant impact to our overall finances, but this doesn’t really answer the question of how long I intend to stay home.

Rather than setting a specific goal for myself to return to work I’ve decided to see how things go. Some of my friends and coworkers said they couldn’t wait to return to the working world, while others have said years at home wouldn’t have been enough for them.

Since I’ve never stayed at home with a newborn I don’t know if I’ll be happy or find myself going a little stir crazy. It’s nice to have the option of staying home for awhile if things go well and if they don’t there is always the possibility of finding a part time job or even a volunteer opportunity. I figure that would get me out of the house for just a little while without forcing me to start a full time job within that first year.

Of course, I’m not ruling out the possibility of looking for full time work sooner either. I plan to keep my eye on job postings and if the right opportunity falls into my lap and I’m ready to go back before the year is over than I’m not opposed to moving in that direction either.

I really want to try my best to take things as they come. I tend to be a worrier and a planner, but I don’t want to try to dictate the next year of my life. This is a very unique opportunity, (not everyone gets the chance to stay home with a little one), and I want to make certain that I savor the moments without expecting too much of them.

July 21, 2011 at 3:00 AM 1 comment

The Best Thing I Spent Money on In a Very Long Time

I can’t sleep. My mind is racing with a million different thoughts. Between trying to find a new doctor, preparing for my soon-to-be job loss, researching and interviewing for new jobs and preparing for the little one my brain has a tough time quieting itself when the nighttime hours arrive.

My to-do list is shrinking, but every time I knock one item off the list I seem to add another. I make a choice and think about moving in one direction and then second guess that decision and start all over.

Add to that the inability to get comfortable as the little one grows inside me and you have a recipe for long nights of tossing and turning. I’m only six and a half months pregnant but it sure is difficult to find that comfortable position and remain in it until the morning comes.

Well, after wrestling with sleepless nights and finding it nearly impossible to get comfortable I caved in and bought myself a snoogle. Well to be honest, my husband picked it up off the rack in Babies-R-Us and started walking to the register before I could put up a fight about purchasing it.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, (I wasn’t before last week), a snoogle is a large body pillow that is absolutely perfect for snuggling. Seriously, I plan to use this thing even after the baby arrives and honestly if I didn’t hug it every night I think my husband would yank it from my arms and use it for himself.

It certainly wasn’t cheap, (and yes in retrospect I could have bought it for less on Amazon), but let me tell you it is worth every penny. Sometimes it’s good to have a spouse who doesn’t mind spending money on the things that matter. While I would have contemplated this purchase for days on end, he purchased it right on the spot without a coupon or looking for a bargain. While I might have been able to save a few dollars by ordering it online I wouldn’t have had been able to use it so quickly.

On the very first night I fell in love with the snoogle. While my sleep still isn’t perfect my overall rest is dramatically different. Thank goodness for my big, new body pillow!

July 20, 2011 at 3:10 AM 4 comments

Saturday Night Link Love

It has been a ridiculously long time since I last wrote a link love post. Between preparing for the baby and my soon-to-be unemployment I’ve had very little time to devote to checking out the stories in my RSS reader.

I took a little time to catch up on all of the articles I’ve highlighted over these last few weeks. Here are a few of my favorites:

July 17, 2011 at 3:35 AM 1 comment

Worth It?

I realize that I’ve been writing a lot about baby stuff these days, but what can I say with our first little one on the way it’s hard to think about much else! I was wondering if anyone had thoughts on the value of baby care and/or birthing classes.

Everyone I know seems to say they aren’t worth the time or money. I feel confident in the baby care area, but I think my husband would feel a little more comfortable if we took a class together. He’s only been around a few infants, mainly my niece and nephew, but he’s never changed a diaper or really had to care for one so little.

I’m not sure about the child birth classes and I’ve heard mixed reviews. Most people I know say they’d skip them if they had it to do all over again. A good friend offered to send me a birthing video and the rest said each birth situation is so unique that the classes can’t really help you prepare for it anyway.

I would like to take a refresher CPR class, so we know how to handle emergency situations. I took a class eight years ago before my nephew arrived, but to be honest I don’t remember too much of what I learned.

I feel like we could watch a few you tube videos and save ourselves quite a bit of time and money. I’d love to hear from anyone who has been through the process and feels strongly one way or another. I want to be prepared, but I don’t want to waste time or money if the classes won’t be valuable.

July 14, 2011 at 2:55 AM 8 comments

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