Sunday, February 27, 2011

Grocery Run - Last for February

I made another run to Safeway on Monday. I exchanged the candy thermometer I had purchased a month before and that had promptly broken. I purchased a regular meat thermometer that still covered the temps I need but doesn't have glass. I also picked up milk, red lettuce for sandwiches, and green onions. The green onions were an impulse buy, but I noticed that they were on sale for their old price of 99 cents. Then I noticed it was 2 for 99 cents! Are you kidding? Done and done. No regrets.

Thermometer Difference - $2.96
Milk - $4.99
Green Onions - $.99
Red Lettuce - $1.99
Total - $10.93

I also stopped at the Franz Bakery Outlet on Wednesday night to pick up sandwich bread. I've been meaning to go in there forever! I had no idea what to expect, but it was everything I was hoping for - no frills, but tons of products at cheap prices. Luckily, they had my husband's favorite bread. The loaves were $2.79 - already a huge discount off Safeway prices (although I did just buy loaves for that price on sale at Safeway). But on top of that, Franz had a buy two deal!

2 Loaves Columbia River Sweet Dark Whole Grain - $5.29

Grand Total - $16.22
Total for February - $229.75

Below budget! And I still have tons of food left. I will be working hard to come in closer to $200 in March.

Friday, February 25, 2011

My Favorite Ebates Stores

I just deposited a check from Ebates for $50.88 - the total of my 4th quarter rebates from last year. I thought I'd share some of my favorite Ebates stores with you.

One store that I use several times a year is Ordering my drugstore purchases online is a real time and money saver. I have tons of favorite products, like the face wash I like to use and the brand of mascara that I prefer. Especially when it comes to makeup, I often have trouble finding my products in stores. Maybe I'll find it this month, but then next month it will be sold out or simply not stocked. There are also plenty of inexpensive brands out there, but those can often be the hardest to find.

By shopping at, I can always find what I want to buy. If I'm looking for a new product, I can sort through the cheapest options and make informed decisions based on reviews. I love it. I do all my grocery shopping at Safeway and Costco, but purchase all of my drugstore items through You can even get your prescriptions filled there

By using Ebates I also save a ton of money. Currently, you get a 6% rebate on all purchases. That's no chump change! 

Another fave is Nordstrom. I'm struggling with my Nordies addiction and trying to be more frugal with my clothing purchases. Using Ebates makes things a little easier. I just got 5% back on a recent purchase, and right now they are offering 3%. If you do any clothing shopping online, you'd be wise to check out Ebates. They have a huge range of clothing stores like Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, Gap & Old Navy, J. Crew, JC Penny, Macy's, Victoria's Secret, Nine West, Saks...the list really does go on and on. And with many of these retailers offering free shipping deals it's hard not to save a bundle.

Speaking of Macy's, you can get lots more there than just clothing. The home department at Macy's is terrific and has a lot of great sales. If you're in your 20's or 30's and have friends getting married left and right, chances are they're registered at Macy's and Crate & Barrel. Crate & Barrel is - you guessed it - another Ebates store. Don't purchase another wedding gift without signing up for Ebates and getting your rebate first! Sur La Table is another favorite of mine offered through Ebates.

Traveling? Ebates has all the big sites - Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, Priceline and Hotwire, not to mention and among other options. If you want to book through the hotels themselves your options range from Travelodge to Comfort Suites to the Fairmont Hotels. 

If you're a big reader I'd always suggest hitting up the library first, but if you're purchasing books check out Borders and Barnes & Noble through Ebates. 

Really, there's such a plethora of stores on Ebates, it'd be nearly impossible not to find what you're looking for. Those are the things I use it for the most though, especially since my husband's wedding ring was a one time thing - yup, I bought even that through Ebates!

Once you're signed up and experience the awesome, you can recommend it to your friends and family. Besides showing how brilliant you are, you can get $5 for every referral that completes a purchase within 30 days of signing up. 

On top of the rebates and referrals, pay for your purchases with a rewards card. I get 2% back on top of all the other free money. I can't believe everyone isn't already using Ebates for everything - it's the best thing to happen to shopping since online shopping!

Food Waste Friday - Croutons!

Today's food waste post is another victory - I don't have anything to toss! My husband, however, would say differently. He's wondering why I haven't thrown away the four bags of sandwich bread crust that I have in the fridge.

Granted, I should probably consolidate them....

I make my husband a boxed lunch every day to save money over eating out. I once sent him to work with a sandwich made with one regular piece of bread and one crusty end. I got a text message from him that read, "Baby, are you mad at me?"

So, since he has been ever so willing to eat the same packed lunch every day instead of spending money, I have tried to be extra considerate and never force the crust on him again. I always make sure we have a spare loaf of bread, but I can't seem to bring myself to throwing away the crusts! I sometimes have toast as a snack, and I try to use them up that way, but I definitely don't snack on toast enough. My fridge full of crusts attests to that.

For dinner the other night I decided to make a salad with grilled chicken. It was a delicious - and thrifty - meal if I do say so myself. I seasoned one and a half chicken breasts (I tend to only eat half, but hubby can definitely down a whole) with lemon pepper and cumin. I sneak cumin into everything! I grilled that in a cast iron skillet and sliced it up. I chopped up some red lettuce, dressed it with an oil, vinegar, powdered garlic and Italian seasoning mix and threw in some chopped green onions and red pepper.

The dressing was key in this being the most delicious salad ever. I have a handful of tiny Tupperware, and I use these for all my dressings. Just pour in a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar, season to taste (or perfectly delicious unseasoned, too) and then put the lid on. Shake for a few seconds and it emulsifies. It's the easiest thing in the world, and I don't spend money on bottles of dressing that live in the fridge for years getting crusty around the edges.

I decided that since I was making salad it might be a good time for me to tackle some of my bread crusts. I chopped two crusts up, tossed them with oil, and threw them in my cast iron pan. I'm sure I could have baked them, but it was a last minute idea that I wanted to cook quickly. I threw in some seasoning - Italian and powdered garlic - and tossed the mixture around the pan until the crusts were crispy. They were delicious!

My husband agreed it was one of the best salads we've ever had.

My fridge is still full of unused crusts, but now they have a purposeful future ahead of them. Maybe I'll toss them all in the same bag to neaten the fridge up a bit, but I'm definitely not tossing them in the garbage!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Prius MPG - A Portland Road Trip

I keep track of the gas I put in my Prius and my mileage every time I fill up. You can read about how I became a Prius owner here. I last filled up on February 1st. Here's my latest miles per gallon...

I'll let you in on a secret - I actually filled up once between now and February 1st. We took a road trip to Portland, and got gas along the way. I completely forgot to write down the exact mileage and gallons, so here's my best guess based on how much the gas was and the last time I glanced at the odometer.

February 11th
Distance Driven: 390 Miles
Gallons Filled: 9.37 Gallons

Average MPG: 37.78

I also filled up again last night. Don't worry, I was on top of it this time!

Distance Driven: 367 Miles
Gallons Filled: 8.94 Gallons

Average MPG: 38.55

I bought my Prius last May, and was averaging far better than these numbers show because you get better gas mileage in warmer weather than in the winter. Unfortunately, I lost all the data to even out these winter reportings! Oh well, it will start getting warmer soon. (Never mind that the Prius and I will be braving a couple inches of snow this morning!)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Small Victory

I put some big once-a-year bills on my credit card recently for my husband, and worked out a payment plan from him to get everything paid off before it accrued any interest. He works in construction, and the winters can be slow, so he put a motorcycle that wasn't being used on Craigslist to help pay everything off. Luckily, it sold quickly and for more than he was expecting.

Of course, this left him feeling very flush.

His little brother, whom he does a lot for, helped him out with a job over the weekend. He does this a lot, and in return my husband has helped pay for things his family wouldn't otherwise be able to afford. It also helps keep little brother busy and out of trouble! He mentioned to me that he was thinking of stopping to buy some Carhart's for his little brother in the morning. He was sick of him showing up for work in skinny jeans :)

I said "Listen. You still owe more than you currently have in your checking account. You get paid this Friday, so I'm going to leave you $150 for two tanks of gas, which is more than you'll actually need since you just filled up, and $100 extra. You can pay the remainder when you get paid. $250 is way more than you need until Friday, but it's your money so you can do whatever you want with it."

His response? "I wonder if we could find a pair at Goodwill?"

I couldn't be prouder!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Picking Yourself Up After Failure

Driving to work this morning I saw a sort of home made looking bumper sticker on the car in front of me. It read "There is no bigger success than picking yourself up after failure". I haven't been able to get that out of my head - how true it is!

My financial story is not one of huge failures. Sure, I wish I'd been more frugal and saved more in my early 20's, but I had great parents who took the time to teach their kids about finances (and send me to college without any student loans!) and so I never found myself in debt or struggling with any huge problems.

My husband didn't have as sound a financial upbringing, and did have to climb out of a hole before he could start getting ahead, but compared to a lot of people that hole was pretty shallow. Even though he has come a long way with his savings, it also hasn't been too difficult for him since I have headed up steering on this ship. Don't get me wrong, I'm very proud of him for paying off debts, and working so hard to come up with that money, but his financial story is one of autopilot.

When I read stories like Quest's I can't help but feel that her story is so much more impressive than mine will ever be. I'm grateful that my story has been a relatively easy one, but I'm always amazed when hearing stories of people facing seemingly insurmountable debts who plow forward anyway. Reading stories of people who had to pay thousands of dollars (even hundreds of thousands!) in debt just to get to zero is so inspirational, and makes me even more committed to tackling my own financial goals.

If you're feeling overwhelmed or hopeless, educate yourself and start chipping away at the problems. I believe in you, and you are my inspiration.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Counting Pennies at Inbox Dollars

True to the name of this blog, I really do save every penny I can. When I signed up for Fusion Cash and started earning about $25 a month, I also heard about a site called Inbox Dollars. Both offer $5 signup bonuses and are free to join, so I figured why not give it a try? Inbox Dollars is similar to Fusion Cash, and offers many of the same offers. Because of this, I don't use it as much. I can't really qualify twice for the surveys or freebies. But Inbox Dollars offers something extra - like their name suggests, you get money in your inbox.

Here's how it works: every week I get e-mails from Inbox Dollars to the account I use for junk mail and receipts and such. When you open the e-mail and click on the link at the bottom, two pennies are deposited into your account.

Two pennies, you scoff? Heck, the time it takes would be worth it for one penny! Clicking on an e-mail takes about as much time as bending over to pick up a penny in the street. And there's not even any bending involved!

I am now counting down the pennies because I am less than 40 cents away from the minimum cash out limit of $30. For virtually no effort, I will be $30 richer. Here's a breakdown of my earnings:

As you can see, the $5 bonus didn't hurt and I also earned $12.75 for completing offers. I even got $1 for signing up for, an excellent source for tracking your budget! Did you get paid to sign up for You could have!

InboxDollars also rewards you with 50 cents for downloading their toolbar, so I definitely took advantage of that easy opportunity. But already, my simple e-mail earnings have been $11.36. If you would like to give it a shot and get started with your $5 bonus, sign up here and help spread the referral love. 

Does $30 make me rich? No. But it does add some padding to my strictly slim budget and helps me stay on track with my savings goals. I'm sure you wouldn't turn down a free $30. My philosophy is that every penny really does add up, and you can see that in action here!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

February Electricity

I put some serious effort into saving electricity this month. I didn't tell my husband, and yet he didn't even notice!

Changing our thermostat settings was no discomfort at all, and came with the added bonus of getting the cat to sleep in later. My husband never asked why we were watching TV in the dark or with only one light on - and why would he after all? There's no need for the kitchen or hallway lights to be on while we're watching TV in the family room! And we snuggled together under blankets, with the cat helping to keep us extra warm :)

So, I promised to reveal my savings. It looks bigger than it actually is since February was a shorter month than January. So, a little math later my adjusted savings over January is $28.83!

I'm pretty happy about this, especially since we were gone 2 weeks of the last billing period. The average temp for February was 43 degrees and for January was 41, so I think the warmer temp balanced out our absence. I'm excited to see how small I can get my bill over the next few months before we turn the heat off for good in the summer!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Spending Saturday | The Dream of the 90's

Is the chicken local?
We spent last weekend in Portland visiting a friend and attending a wedding. If you haven't yet seen Fred Armisen's new show Portlandia,'re missing out. Especially if you've ever been to Portland, or lived through the 90's.

As expected, we spent a little money on our weekend. First, I bought Pringles for $2.29 for the road trip. Then, I picked up the tab for some of our meals - $133.33 - way over my monthly allowance, but what can you do. I'm feeling kind of flush with extra money from my eBay selling and I figured that this was our Valentine's Day celebration. The hubs also spent $143.99. Considering how much we ate out, I'm actually pretty happy with those numbers.

Considering how far outside my budget plan they are, I'm not.

I did have a small victory when my friend and I stopped into a clothing store. I saw a sweater I liked, and even went so far as to try it on and calculate the exact price since it was on sale for 25% off. Plus, no tax in Oregon! It was hard, but I walked away.

I'm glad I did.

I recently read a couple articles about being addicted to shopping. I'm definitely not a shopaholic. I don't get a physical high from a purchase or a down afterwards that leads me into a spending cycle. But I can see how easy it would be to become one. We're all shoppers to some extent - you just can't get past it, no matter how self sufficiently you live - and even if I don't experience an actual rush, I still see things that I want and it makes me happy to have them. But when I go over my budget, it makes me bummed.

Certainly I'm lucky that when I feel bummed, I don't think to go shopping for a quick fix. I just try to put my spending on lock down, and be really mindful about what I need and don't. Even though I don't need to go away and eat out for every meal over the weekend, I do need to visit my friend in Portland once in awhile. I do need to have some fun. I don't need to live my life like a hermit, and every once in awhile I can splurge in one area and cut back in another.

Like cutting back my closet, and turning it into cash in the bank :)

If you're in Portland and in a spending mood (I know, I'm a horrible influence!) I highly recommend Papa Haydn and 50 Plates. We eat at both these places every time we're in Portland - they are amazing!

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Cheap Quiche Recipe

I have loved quiche all my life. Growing up we called it "spinach pie". I'm not sure how many parents could get their kids to eat that, but I guess I've just always been a spinach fan!

I bought some pie crusts this month on sale - 2 packs of two for $5 - but am planning on making my own pie crust from now on, so this recipe could have been even cheaper. I usually put ham in my quiche, but I forgot to get a new pack from Costco. The ham is fairly reasonably priced, and I can usually get 6 quiches out of it, but I was restocking the freezer with a lot of meat this month, so I'm glad I skipped it.

I decided to make quiche anyway when I realized I had some frozen spinach in the freezer. So, I chopped up some bacon and sautéed it with half a large onion. Usually I put the onion in the pie crust uncooked with the ham chunks, but I think this way added great flavor!

I whisked 5 eggs with about 1/2 a cup of milk and added about a cup of shredded cheese. Any hard cheese will do. I've used cheddar, pepper jack, swiss. Last night I used up the last little piece of Dubliner...mmm. You can use cheaper cheeses, but it was the best option for me since the cheese would have been part of next week's Food Waste Friday if I hadn't used it!

Then I defrosted about a 3/4 cup of frozen spinach, squeezed out the extra liquid in a strainer, and mixed it in with the cheesy eggy goodness. Then season season season! Last night I used salt, pepper, powdered garlic, paprika, red chili powder, and cumin.

I usually pin prick my crust and put it in the oven at 400 degrees for about 3 minutes before I put the onions and bacon in. It helps the crust that gets covered up bake a little more than it would otherwise. Then pour your liquids  over the onions and pop it in the oven. Bake it at 400 for 15 minutes and then at 350 for 30 minutes.

Quiches are so quick to assemble, and you can just sit back while they bake. I wish I'd taken a picture last night. It was my most delicious quiche yet - and made for a great breakfast on the go this morning!

Update: Made quiche again and added some chopped asparagus - pic this time!

A Note On Milk

You may have noticed (and probably didn't care) that I bought 1% Milk on my last shopping trip. This is actually a huge change for my little family of two.

I was raised on non-fat milk, and on top of really loving milk I really really love non-fat milk. My husband is also quite a big milk drinker, and thinks anything less than 2% tastes like gross water.

Now, milk is really not a frugal drink choice, but we still drink quite a bit of it at my house. Besides being very healthy, milk also helps sooth acid reflux. I have a nasty case of GERD, and a poor case of health insurance. I recently switched from my nifty but expensive drug to a why-am-I-even-bothering to-take-this more affordable option, so I've been drinking even more milk than usual.

Around the same time, I started noticing I was having breakouts. After searching the internetz a bit decided to switch to organic milk. This is a $3 per gallon difference - another less than thrifty move, but balancing thrifty food with healthy food can be a tricky act. I'm no scientist and have no idea if it's even related to the milk, but my breakouts have stopped.

Another plus? Organic milk is delicious! Delicious and extra creamy. After much deliberation, my hubby decided he'd be willing to switch to 1% if we keep drinking organic milk. So, we're meeting in the middle. By having only one gallon in the fridge at a time I'm pretty sure we'll never have sour milk again.

And avoiding food waste is thrifty.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Quick Safeway Trip

I made a quick stop at Safeway for some things to supplement my big February shop. I knew I was going to need things like milk, onions and sour cream, and I also picked up some canned fruit for a healthy dessert. They were having a $10 for 10 sale on the smaller cans, so I picked up some peaches and pears as well as a big can of the fruit cocktail my husband loves.

All the fruit is canned in pear juice - no heavy syrup for us!

Fruit Cocktail - $1.54
Canned Peaches - $1
Canned Pears - $1
Sour Cream - $1.50
1% Milk - $4.99
Onions (.99/lb) - $4.12
Total: $14.15

I'm pretty happy with my total grocery purchases this month. So far I'm $213.53. My budget calls for $250, but I want to get that down to $200 a month so I'm trying really hard to come under. It's probably a good thing that February is so short - March will be a real challenge!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Optimizing Your Credit Score

Besides getting negative credit items deleted from your credit report, there are several things you can do to optimize your credit score. Even if you already have good credit, making a few changes can help make the difference between a 720 credit score and a 760 credit score and help you get approved for the lowest rates offered.

The first thing to consider is that the length of your credit history comprises 15% of your credit score. Obtain credit early, as long as you can responsibly manage it. If your parents didn't help you get a credit card while you were still in high school, or if you didn't obtain a credit card or car loan as soon as you turned 18, you might think there's no way to travel back in time. Wrong! If you have a parent, grandparent or spouse who is willing to add you as an authorized user to a card in good standing that has been open longer than any credit you currently have, their credit history will be added to your report.

It's important to remember that the card must be in good standing (now and in the past) or adding it will have a negative impact on your report. If someone is leery about adding you to their account, they can always cut up your card as soon as it arrives. My husband is an authorized user on three of my cards, but doesn't have any of them in his possession.

Not every company reports authorized users to the credit reporting agencies. Most do, but USBank for example doesn't. In my case, my oldest credit card was a USBank card. Once my husband's credit had bounced back I applied to add a joint user to the card rather than an authorized user. This means that he is as responsible for the bill as I am, not just allowed to make charges to the account. This way it actually showed up on his reports.

Besides establishing a long credit history, your score is also impacted by the average age of your accounts. Opening new accounts all over the place will lower your average credit age. Be thoughtful when you apply for credit. I wish I could open cards all the time for the bonuses that often come with a new account, but because of the hit my credit score would take it isn't worth it to me. I stick to opening bank accounts instead of credit cards for the incentives.

Opening a lot of new accounts also means that your score will take a hit because of inquiries. Every time you apply for credit, a new inquiry appears on your report. Sometimes this will be on just one, sometimes it will be on all three. Inquiries make up 10% of your credit score, and it is best to have one or two inquiries at most. Multiple inquiries can also make it seem to creditors like you're scrambling for money, and can result in a denied application for credit.

One of the biggest factors that impacts your score is the utilization of your credit cards. If your card is maxed out it will have a very bad impact on your credit report - even if you're making all of your payments on time. It is best to show a total utilization of about 1% (for some reason this is better than 0% - I guess because if you're showing zero you're not demonstrating an ability to actually use credit) but anything in the 10-20% range is pretty good. The lower you are, the better.

Add up the total balance on all of your cards and divide that by the credit limits of all of your cards. This will give you your utilization percentage. If you have multiple cards, it's best to show use on only one or two of them, and for that utilization to also be low. Even if your total util is only 1%, if you still have one maxed out card your credit score will take a hit.

Keep in mind that different cards report credit limits at different times, so even if you're paying off your card in full every month you might find that your credit report still shows balances. I can only speak to my experience but here's the way my cards report:

  • USBank - Reports the credit balance on the last day of the month. Even though my payment isn't due til the 3rd or 4th, I pay it on the last day of the month so that my util will be low.
  • FIA Fidelity - FIA is a division of Bank of America, and reports the same as them. They report the balance on your statement. If you want to avoid a balance showing up when using a card like this, you will need to pay the card off right before your statement cuts (so about a month before the actual due date).
  • American Express - AMEX is a tricky beast. They report your statement balance from the previous month just after your statement cuts. So, if my statement balance in January was $500, when I get my statement in February for $200 my reports will update with a balance of $500. If you want your American Express card to show a zero balance, you'll have to plan ahead.
Note: Even though my FIA Fidelity card is an American Express, it follows FIA's reporting guidelines. Only cards obtained directly from American Express should follow AMEX's guidelines.

Although my credit has always been very good, I have used utilization tricks to maximize my score. By making sure my utilization was at 1% on only one card, my score went from about 730 to about 760 and I got the very best rate possible when I purchased my Prius.

By adding some credit history and higher utilization to my husband's credit, I pulled his scores from around 650 to just under 700 - a huge difference from where he started at 470!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How To Fix Your Credit

I posted my husband's credit story yesterday. The happy ending is that I pulled his credit up from the 470 toilet to just under 700, and you can too.

First, we pulled his credit reports and took a look at every collection. Sometimes it was hard to figure out what was what since the same collection might look different on the three different credit reports. By matching up amounts and account numbers, we were able to isolate the 13 accounts that were showing up on his reports.

Next, we paid everything. For some people, if a collection is old enough it might make more sense not to pay. If it is outside the statute of limitations you might not legally have to pay it. If it is that old, it might also be about to come off your report altogether and your money would be more smartly applied elsewhere.

Negative accounts stay on your report for up to 7 years. Your credit report will often give an estimated date that the collection will be removed. If you can wait for this date, it could save you money. However, if you're trying to fix your credit now you might need to suck it up and pay. For instance, most lenders require that all collections be paid in order to be approved for a mortgage.

If you do plan to pay off your collections, contact the creditor and discuss a pay for deletion agreement. Offer to pay the collection in full in exchange for it being deleted from your credit reports. Get the agreement in writing! Some creditors will happily do this, others will not. But always make an attempt before you just go ahead and pay anyway.

If you have a paid collection still on your credit report, you can still ask for a "good will" deletion. This means you contact the creditor (I've done it by phone and mail) and ask them to delete the paid collection out of the kindness of their hearts. Since we paid all of my husband's collections to stop garnishment of his bank accounts, this was our only way to get collections of his reports. We sent letters out on all of his accounts. Our very first response was successful! A local collection company agreed to delete 2 medical collections.

Our next responses were negative. Don't give up. Try again. Try again. And then try again. You might reach someone else (try mailing to different addresses!) who will take pity on you. You might annoy an office so much they finally give up. If there's a paid collection on your report the worst that can happen is that it stays there, so don't be afraid to bug a collection company until you get a deletion. Persistence pays off! In the end we got all of his collections deleted except his student loans and a Bank of America charge off - both notorious for never deleting.

If you see something on your report that you don't recognize or understand, try disputing it. Sometimes a collection will be removed as easily as that. If it comes back as verified, you can send a letter to the collection company requesting verification of the debt. If they can't provide this, my advise would be to continue disputing it. We disputed one of my husband's collections 3 times while also sending letters to the collection agency before it was finally deleted the 4th time we disputed.

If there are unpaid collections on your report, be prepared to pay them before you start trying to get them removed. Taking action can wake the beast, so to speak. You might find yourself barraged by phone calls. If you want a collection that should really be there deleted from your report, you're most likely going to have to pay it off first.

Once the majority of the issues on my husband's report were fixed, his credit bounced to 650 - a huge and welcome improvement! We then looked at ways to maximize his credit score. These are tips that can be applied even if you don't have any credit issues - coming in the next post!

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Bad Credit Story

When my husband and I first started dating I had no knowledge of his financial situation. Then, one night out at dinner his card was declined. He couldn't understand how this was possible since he had just deposited his paycheck. It turned out that his account had been garnished. An unpaid collection had become a judgment and had been granted permission to take payment straight out of his account.

I have always had good credit, and grew up with parents that weren't necessarily perfect with money but who taught their children about it. My husband grew up in family with no financial plan, often surviving on unemployment and constantly in collections or facing evictions. In his late teens he found himself faced with thousands of dollars in bills that he had no clue how to pay. With no financial education whatsoever he chose to ignore them rather than working out a plan. Of course they only got bigger and bigger and went to collections. He handled that by never answering a phone call from a number he didn't know. This was his financial plan.

When everything finally caught up to him, we pulled a copy of his credit report and started figuring out what he owed. A few thousand in bills had turned into $6,000 of collections. All in all, there were 13 negative entries on all 3 of his reports, and his credit score was 470.

We immediately began paying his collections. This is often not suggested as collections could be outside of the statute of limitations during which they can collect, and paying a collection can often wake a sleeping monster. It's also advisable to try to work out an agreement with the collection agency to delete the negative entry in exchange for payment. But I didn't know any of this yet, and with his bank account being garnished he really had no choice but to pay. We contacted the main collection agency and stopped the garnishment by setting up a payment plan. I made the payments on my credit card since he didn't have one, and he paid me back over a period of a few months.

When his car broke down and he was forced to buy a new one we found out how much a credit score of 470 hurts. I could have cosigned the loan for him at a much lower rate, but we had only been together a matter of months, and I was already extending myself by paying off his collections while he repaid me. Since ultimately we got married, it probably would have worked out for us if I cosigned (and saved him a lot of money!) but I still think I made a safe and responsible decision for myself. If you ever cosign a loan, you might find yourself trying to fix your credit one day too. Without the help of my good credit, my husband accepted a 24.99% car loan.

Just to give you an idea of the weight of that money, amortized over 5 years that would mean paying $7,607 in interest on a $10,000 loan - almost double the price of the car! A 3.9% rate (the rate he was approved at just two years later) would cost only $1,022 in interest.

In my next credit post I'll tell you how I went about pulling his credit scores out of the toilet, but first I wanted to illustrate exactly what a bad credit score can end up costing you and how important it is to be careful with your credit. If you don't know what your credit report or credit score look like, you can buy your score and report here or get a free copy of just your report here. And if you find any problems or mistakes, be sure to come back to find out how I brought his scores up to just under 700 so far!

So Much For A Thrifty Valentine's Day

I just received these beautiful flowers at work from my hubby for Valentine's Day. It was a complete surprise as he knows I do not require flowers for occasions like this. To be perfectly honest, I'd have been happier with a plant for the back yard. Or anything really that isn't going to die a week from now. I'm a little sick at the idea that this cost $85. I was also just informed that I won't be making the steak I'd been planning (and which was already a part of our grocery budget). He'll be going to the grocery store for supplies for a surprise dinner.

My husband is definitely not as frugal as I am, but he is obviously a loving and caring man. He even made sure the bouquet included orchids and white hydrangeas - just like at our wedding. I'm probably going to make sure I don't get cut flowers for Valentine's Day next year, but today I'm going to enjoy the beautiful bouquet and be grateful that my husband is the kind of man who plans a delicious dinner for me. Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Spending Saturday | A Weekly Spending Round Up

In order to keep up with my budget, I've decided to take a look at my spending for the previous week every Saturday. Here's my spending round up!

I purchased groceries last Friday and came in under budget but didn't leave a whole lot of room for additional produce runs later in the month. I managed not to make any more grocery runs this week - plus one for me! - even though we are now solidly out of milk and onions.

I purchased a trunk to be used for storage/coffee table from Goodwill - $14.23. My husband's not in love with it. It may end up on Craigslist. If so, hopefully I can get $15 for it.

I had to have a mirror cut to replace our spare bathroom mirror that broke during installation 3 years ago - $189.98. Gah! I still have the two old mirrors that were replaced sitting in a spare bedroom waiting to be listed on Craigslist. I'll also be listing the broken one that could easily be cut down to a smaller size since the crack is right along the edge. Hopefully this will recoup some of that painful expense.

I purchased a chip and dip set for a wedding we're attending tonight - $31.90. I purchased online through Ebates, so I'll be seeing 3% of that back. It was either that or put $50 in an envelope. I don't know the couple well, so I decided to go with the cheapest option and for a night out with free dinner and drinks I think it's worth it. Rumor has it there's going to be a vodka fountain...

I also made $17.50 from Half Price Books and sold $274.30 of clothing I wasn't wearing on eBay. So all in all not too bad. One big painful but necessary and not unexpected expense, and quite a windfall so far from the declutter project!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Food Waste Friday | Famous Focaccia Fail

I don't have too much food waste to report, although I just did my big shopping trip of the month so everything in the fridge is relatively brand new. Crossing fingers none of it turns into waste!

I did make a gallon batch of yogurt, courtesy of The Frugal Girl's instructions. I still need to perfect this. I'm pretty happy with how it turned out, but I think I may have added the starter when the milk was still too hot and killed off some of the good yogurty bacteria. It definitely still made yogurt, but was a little runny. As a result, I have about half an inch of yogurt at the bottom of a mason jar that seems to have separated and will have to be thrown out.

I also requested some of my hubby's famous focaccia bread to accompany some pasta, but he couldn't find his favorite recipe. He used a different one found online instead, and it turned out....not the best. We ate it the first night, suffered through it a second night, and decided to put the remainder to rest the third night. So disappointing!

I also have been far too busy with decluttering the house and a to be announced thrifty project to bake anything other than store bought cookie dough, so the sour milk in my fridge remains unused. How long can you leave milk before it goes from sour to just plain bad? I'm getting nervous about cooking with it, so that might have to be added to my food waste tally for this week.

All in all, I'm not feeling too guilty. I did make some extra rice the other night (I like to make two batches at a time and refrigerate half) and we're going out of town for the next 2 nights, so I'll have to use it up on Sunday to make sure I don't have to post about it next week!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Have A Thrifty Valentine's Day!

 The blogosphere is rife with suggestions for a frugal Valentine's Day. I'm not ambitious enough to find a dollar movie deal or a free concert on a Monday night, and I cook dinner at home pretty much every night, so to amp up my Valentine's Day I'm going to bake some delicious brownies for dessert and buy a nice bottle of red wine. I can't think of a better way to spend a thrifty romantic evening with my hubby!

What are your Valentine's day plans?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Tips On Saving Electricity

For the past month I've been working really hard at saving electricity. I am anxiously awaiting my bill (15 more days!) to see how it has been impacted, and will let you know as soon as I do!

Here are my tips for saving electricity.

Turn off the lights - No, you don't have to live in utter darkness, but only turning on the lights that you need can have a huge impact. In the morning I use natural light, sometimes aided by my bedside table lamp, rather than turning on the bedroom light that has (count it) 5 light bulbs. When I'm cooking dinner, I leave the family room and hallway lights off. Once my husband gets home, I turn off the front porch light. And when we're curled up on the couch watching TV we turn the lights off altogether - movie time!

Get a good down comforter - With a great down comforter you can turn the thermostat down even further at night and not even notice it. Adding a top sheet will also trap your body heat in with you and keep you even warmer. Sometimes I even find myself too warm, even in the dead of winter! If you'd like to turn your thermostat down earlier at night as well, you can use a bed warmer to kick start the heat under your covers.

Buy a programmable thermostat - Just like automated payments, programmable thermostats make energy savings automatic. Set your thermostat low at night; start dropping the heat an hour or so before bedtime, and don't start it up again until just before you get out of bed. Hearing the heat come on in the morning can be a great way to start naturally waking up, and if you're already toasty warm from sleeping under a good down comforter, you won't need the air temperature to be too warm when you first get up. Turn the heat down again during the hours you aren't home, and try notching the thermostat down a degree from your norm when you are home. I find 68 degrees is almost too warm for me now!

Close the vents in rooms you don't use - Closing the vents in seldom entered rooms pushes the heat into the rooms you are using, and there's no sense heating a room you're not going to be in. Closing the door can also keep the cold away from the rest of your nice warm house.

Put on a sweater - Feeling chilly anyway? Grab a sweater, or some sweats! This is part of my daily routine when coming home, and there's an added bonus. By changing out of my work clothes into some snuggly clothes as soon as I get home, I keep my work clothes cleaner longer and don't have to wash them as often. Less time in the laundry room equals even more savings!

Keep blankets in convenient places - Leave blankets lying over the arm or your couch or in a trunk used as a coffee table for easy access. That way, while you're curled up on the couch you'll be more likely to wrap a warm blanket around yourself when you feel a chill than to get up and notch up the thermostat.

Light a fire - Being married to a contractor means I end up with a lot of free wood, even if it's not the prettiest firewood imaginable. But there are plenty of ways you can stock up on free wood, too. Try Craigslist or Freecycle to find people giving away firewood, and if you ever do a home improvement project (like replacing a fence) that leaves you with scrap wood, save it for winter!

Leave the oven open after you're done cooking - I love to prop the door of my oven open after I've pulled the food out of it. It's always so lovely and warm when I open it, why not let the rest of that lovely warmth come out?

Wash your clothes on cold - Besides washing your clothes less often, washing on cold can be great for a number of reasons. By not using hot water you're saving more energy, but you're also saving your clothes. Cold water means less shrinkage, less stains setting in, and better color retention. Your clothes will look newer longer, and that means extra pennies in your pocket!

Caulk your windows - Make sure that your windows are properly caulked and sealed so all the nice heat you're paying for isn't just seeping out of your house.

And last but not least...

Get a cat - They make fantastic lap warmers!

Update on how my tips worked for me coming soon!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

eBay Success | Free Listing Ends Today!

About a week ago I started cleaning out my closet and listing my gently used (and a handful of never worn) clothing on eBay. The success I've had so far is way more than I ever expected! As an experienced Craigslister, I knew that none of my items were suitable for Craigslist. I would have to list everything every week for a year in order to get even a few fluke sales. But I figured I'd try them out on eBay with some auction style listings.

When I discovered that eBay was running a free listing promotion I listed a handful of my nicer new-with-tags items for a little bit higher, but mainly I started everything out at the free-all-the-time auction price of 99 cents. I either put up only one picture, or uploaded additional pictures using HTML in the body of the listing, so I didn't pay a penny upfront for any of my listings.

I'm astonished by how much things have been bid up! Items I didn't expect to sell at all have sold, and things I expected to make a few bucks on at most have sold for up to $30 in bidding wars. So far I've sold $206 worth of clothing, and have at least another $20 coming once the last of my auctions end.

None of the clothing I'm selling had been worn in at least 2 years. Some of it hadn't been worn at all.

Even with the 9% that eBay takes off the top once a sale is made, I'm banking at least $205 from this experiment, and with all the success I've had I'm definitely going to try to list some more items. If you're trying to figure out how to put a couple hundred bucks away as the start of an emergency fund, this is definitely a great way to do it.

The free listing promotion ends today, so get started!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Groceries | February

Felling pretty good about our grocery expenses so far this month. In the name of accountability, I am now tracking not only what I spend but exactly what I spend it on. I think this is going to make a HUGE difference in our food budget and my ability to keep within my limits.

I typically do one big grocery trip a month to Safeway and Costco. I then pick up little things as needed like milk or lunch meat. I'm a little bit worried that I've spent too much this month already, and it's only the 5th. I think maybe my problems with going over are that I spend within my budget on the big shopping trips, but then have too many "little" trips that add up and put me over.

Hopefully keeping track of exactly what I buy as I buy it will cause me to be more aware of how much has already been spent and how much room is left.

So, here's what I've bought so far in February:

Trader Joe's
1 Dozen Eggs - $1.69 (This is the first time I'd realized TJ's eggs are this cheap!)
Red Wine - $13.13 (Total splurge, totally needed that night. That's the after tax price.)

2 Bags Timm's Jalapeno Chips - $4.29 each
Brown Sugar - $2.39
Oatmeal - $3.19 (All they had was quick oats, grrrr!)
Frozen Corn - $2.50
Frozen Peas - $2.50
4 Frozen Pie Crusts - $5 (Lesson learned - making my own from now on)
Red Leaf Lettuce - $2.19
Salami - $6.49
1lb Deli Turkey - $5.75 (They were running a special so I bought a pound)
2% Milk - $4.99
2 Loaves Franz Bread - $2.79 (Super sale, bought two!)
Skinny Cows - $4.99

Timm's Maui Chips - $4.89 (Almost twice the size of the Jalapeno bags!)
2 Flank Steaks - $15.09
3lbs Organic Ground Beef - $12.99
2 Tubs Nestle Tollhouse Cookie Dough - $5.29 each (They applied my $2.50 coupon twice!)
Pantene Conditioner - $5.99 ($2 off coupon)
Pastrami Lunch Meat - $12.99
Potatoes - $7.99
6 Red Peppers - $5.79 (Cheaper than the multi-colored pack)
2 Dozen Eggs - $3.45 (A few pennies more than they would have been at TJs)
Garlic Powder - $4.49
Olive Oil - $17.99
Frozen OJ - $9.99
Laundry Detergent - $11.29 ($2 off coupon)
Pepperjack Cheese - $6.89 (Same price as the sliced stuff, but 1/2 lb more)

Grand Total: $199.38

I'm going to need onions, more lettuce, sour cream, and a couple more gallons of milk before the month is over. I'm hoping that is it. We have frozen chicken breasts, shrimp, and sausage in the deep freeze, plus chicken pieces and broth for soup and tuna for sandwiches. It should be enough to get us through 24 more dinners. I definitely have enough chips and cookie dough to get through my hubby's lunches. I bought more than is necessary, but I wanted to stock up while Costco still had the cookie dough on sale and the chips in stock. I know I should start making my own cookies, but for 80 oz of our favorite cookie dough I couldn't pass up the price. The same cookie dough would have cost me the same amount on sale at Safeway for only 36oz!

I might have to get another loaf of bread and half a pound of lunch meat towards the end of the month. I'm excited to stop in at the Franz Bakery Outlet for the first time. It is basically across the street from my Safeway, but I've never been in. I can't wait to compare prices!

I completely forgot to buy ham at Costco for quiches. I'm also out of spinach. Those way-too-expensive frozen crusts are really annoying me now, and I don't even need any quiche to make it through the month. Maybe I can return them to Safeway? Is that really weird? Where else do you think I could be saving on my grocery budget? Technically I've allotted myself $250 for the month. I know I can make it, but I really want to come in under!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Approved For A New Rewards Card

After writing a post last week about my credit cards and my favorite rewards card, I decided to apply for the Fidelity Rewards Visa. I was ecstatic today after logging into my Fidelity account and seeing that I was approved!

My favorite rewards card is definitely my 2% Fidelity American Express, but a lot of places don't take AMEX. I lose out on rewards when paying our Progressive car insurance bill, and often at smaller stores (thrift stores especially, it turns out!) I was so excited to learn that Fidelity also had a Visa card. It's only 1.5% cash back and increases to 2% after spending $15,000. Not quite as good as the AMEX, but still better than the FlexPerks Visa I use now.

This high I have now is probably pretty close to what a shopaholic has after charging through Nieman Marcus. I'm glad I get it from being approved for credit, rather than using credit!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Food Waste Friday | Keeping Accountable!

Staying accountable to my grocery budget isn't just minimizing my spending, it's also minimizing wasted food. Kristen at The Frugal Girl stays accountable by posting pictures of any food that has gone bad as part of her Food Waste Friday series, which I think is a great idea. Saying your goals out loud helps assure you'll actually achieve them.

With that being said, I think I'm doing pretty well so far. My successes are both breadcrumb related. First I made some breaded chicken, but misjudged the amount of breadcrumbs I needed and ended up with a lot left over. Of course, at that point they were contaminated and couldn't go back in the tub, but I decided to save them in some Tupperware and make Chicken Parmesan a couple of days later. I wondered if this was a good idea, since technically all sorts of deadly germs could be sitting in there, but I figured the heat of cooking the next meal would suffice.

We're still alive, so I think it worked out alright.

My husband also made some delicious corn bread when he realized we were out of yeast and couldn't make his trademark focaccia. I ate it for breakfast lunch and dinner for a couple of days, but the last little bit got pretty stale. I decided to throw it in the food processor, and now I have a bunch of cornbread crumbs! I'm thinking they might be delicious on some pork chops next week.

The bad news was mainly lunchtime related. There were a few slices of Havarti cheese remaining before we went away for the holidays, and they started looking pretty bad. I also had about half a bag of salami from Costco that started to look.....gray. Horrors! I have never in my life let a Costco bag of salami go bad. I don't even know how it's possible, especially with cured-meat-loving Me around. It never would have happened if we hadn't been out of town for 3 weeks.

The last little bit of my milk went a little sour. I drank about half a glass of it before I decided it was gone. I poured the last of the glass back in the jug, and I'm going to scour the internet for some recipes this weekend. I'm determined not to let it go to waste!

If you've ever read anything about food waste you know that this is just one of the ways in which frugal living is also sustainable living. 

The Saver and the Spender | Adjusting Spending Habits

Get Rich Slowly posted a reader question today that I can totally relate to. The reader asks how to motivate her boyfriend to stop spending so much and focus more on saving. My husband worked through a lot of debt and credit issues while we were dating, but - in my opinion - continued to bleed money and save nothing.

The thing that helped me curb my spending was creating a budget. Along with my fixed monthly expenses and savings goals, I also had to allot some money for miscellaneous things. I'm not such a miserly person that I will never grab a coffee or meet a friend at happy hour - I just try not to do these things too often. I decided on an amount that I thought was reasonable to spend, but when I took a look at my past spending (tracking my spending in Excel spreadsheets made this really easy!) I was flabbergasted to find out that I was spending way more.

Comparing what I thought was reasonable and what I was actually doing was a wake up call that has really changed my spending habits.

My husband is not a details guy and definitely doesn't want to see an Excel spreadsheet of his expenses and spending habits. However, painting the bigger picture for him in broader strokes has worked well for us. Since I'm the one knee deep in our finances every day, I pay all of our monthly bills. This way I know that everything will be paid on time (I'm not always perfect, but at least then I can yell at myself and not him) and that we never overdraw a checking account. Twice a month he writes me a check for his portion of the expenses. I cash these checks on his paydays.

Paying the bills as large lump sums really helps him see exactly how much his fixed monthly expenses are, instead of adding up a bunch of smaller line items in a detailed budget.

As a big picture person, my husband finds it hard to see how saving $416 a month in a Roth IRA, or 4% of his paycheck in a 401K is going to add up to retirement savings for our future. He'd rather not mess around with pennies, and instead take on a side job building someone's garage so that he can put a big chunk into savings all at once. The problem with that plan is that there's always somewhere else to spend that extra money.

Since he didn't want to think about what was a reasonable amount to save, we focused instead on what was a reasonable amount to spend every month. Like me, what he actually spends and what he thinks he spends are two very different matters. I gently told him this, but didn't bash his brains in with the details. Instead we used the amount that he thought was reasonable, subtracted it from his monthly income, subtracted his fixed expenses, and set up automatic withdrawals to retirement accounts.

We left a big cushion, but since he's still a spender at heart I didn't think he could immediately cut his actual spending down to the amount he thought was reasonable. He automatically saves, and pays his bills to me on payday. What is left over is basically his. I watch his bank account like a hawk to make sure he never overdraws. Sometimes he's fine, and sometimes he comes close to spending everything in the account, but my reminders that he only has another $20 until payday keep his spending in check without him having to put too much thought into it.

I still think he could be saving a lot more, but as his spending habits change his savings habits get better. I think we'll get there. I think we're already on our way, and I know we're a good balance for each other!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

15% Off MyFico Monitoring is offering 15% off their quarterly and monthly credit monitoring services now through February 14th. Just use the code MONITOR15 when your're checking out!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

List on Ebay Free!

February is declutter the house month. Maybe not officially, but certainly at my house. Not only do we have too much stuff, but I think we could make a few pennies on things that we really do not need. Much of what I need to pare down is clothing in my overflowing closet of things I haven't worn in 5 years. I already wrote about the epic failure that was my first trip to a clothing thrift store. Apparently the teens don't want my stylin' 5 year old clothing. But whatever! I decided to sell on eBay instead.

After checking out eBay I learned that there are fees for selling, besides the 9% they charge on the final sales price of an item. If you want to put it at a buy it now price, there's a charge. If you want to set a minimum reserve, there's a charge. If you want to put up more than one picture, there's a charge. If you don't sell an item, you could still be out money.

There is one way to avoid all fees altogether - auction style listings for 99 cents or less. You also have to either post only one picture, or post the rest of your pics using html in the description of your item. (Here's some super easy instructions!) The only problem with this is that your item might sell for only 99 cents. That wasn't such a big problem for me, because most of the stuff I need to sell I would be happy to get anything for. But when I started putting my items up for sale, I discovered eBay is running a free promotional offer between now and February 8th! As long as you go with an auction style listing, you can start your minimum bidding at any price free!

It's already February 2nd, so if you want to take advantage of this offer you need to get on it now. I'm using it as motivation to really declutter. I had a few items pulled out for selling that I knew I wouldn't mind losing for 99 cents, but now I'm listing some of the things I'd like more for as well. I even have multiple bids on a couple of shirts I listed for only 99 cents! I'm amazed at how people seem to get in competition with an auction style listing.

We'll see in a couple of weeks how my bounty of clutter pays off, but I think I'm off to a good start. Now, to list some couches on Craigslist...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Prius MPG | Tracking My Mileage

I keep track of the gas I put in my Prius and my mileage every time I fill up. You can read about how I became a Prius owner here. I last filled up on January 8th. Here's my latest miles per gallon...

Distance Driven: 383 Miles
Gallons Filled: 9.33 gallons

Average MPG: 35.93
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