Friday, September 16, 2011

Are You a Weekly or Monthly Budgeter?

Howdy friend-os!  It's been awhile!  I hope you're all doing well, saving your money and enjoying a Lean with Green life, even if I'm not here to keep you company as often as I used to be.  Sorry about that.

As I was tracking my weekly spending habits over on (you should sign up for it - it might change your life), I noticed I had nearly blown through my shopping budget not even halfway through the month.  "It's okay", I rationalized to myself.  "I won't shop for the rest of the month, plus I got those shirts on sale and I needed them."  Hmm.  Okay.  Need might be the operative word there.  True, most of my shirts are either old maternity shirts (totally cute when you're NOT pregnant anymore) or don't fit quite the way they used to (oh, the joys of body after baby).  I digress.  But what troubled me was I started telling myself it was okay to spend everything I allocated within the first 10 days of the month...what happens if there's a better sale at the end of the month?  Will I justify it then and completely go above and beyond my budget?

Usually, a monthly budget works fine for me, particularly on things like dinners out (delivery or take out these days) or grocery shopping.  I have a weekly "target" if you will ($75 on groceries, for example) - if I spend over that one week, I'll scale back on groceries the next.

So, dear readers, I ask you - how do you budget?  Do you set a weekly budget to keep a tighter grip on your money or are you more comfortable with a monthly budget for some wiggle room week to week? 

Psst - if you're missing BudgetBabe in your life, check me out as Mama Mahvelous on my mom/life blog.  I like it.  You might, too.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Hi lovely readers.  I know I've been neglecting you, and I'm awfully sorry about that.  While talking about all things money related still makes my heart go pitter patter, I have a new love (my sweet little babe) and and obsession with all things baby.  So I've started (sigh) a parenting blog:

If you're into the whole parenting thing, I hope that you'll join me over there.  I am by no means any sort of parenting expert, and I hope to keep my BudgetBabe practicality and sense of humor with Mama Mahvelous.  It's just a way to chronicle this whole mommy thing, as well as be a sounding board for me and (hopefully) a resource for others.  I'll still post over here occasionally, but if I'm not as (un)active, you'll know why.

Cheers and thanks for your reading through all the ups and downs. :)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Do We Earn Things Anymore?

After stealing, errr.. borrowing, my husband's Men's Health, I came across this very interesting article about the fiscally fit man. The author had 5 areas for "debt weakness", but the one that struck me the most was perverting the American Dream.

Decades ago, the American Dream was pretty simple. If you could afford to buy expensive things, like a car or a house with a white picket fence, you were doing pretty well. Most of the time, you had to buy with cash or a large downpayment. People saved for years and years to buy big ticket items. They tightened their belts and budgeted down to every last penny. With the explosion of buying things on credit and having long-term loans, it seems most people have lost the concept of earning nice things. People max out their credit cards or take out multiple loans in order to get something they feel they deserve. Do you know the average American household has nearly $11,000 in credit card debt? I understand that times are still tough for a lot of folks, and credit cards are a necessity just to get by when you're in between jobs. But I would make a guess that not all people who carry a large balance on their cards are people who are out of work and trying to support a family.

I will acknowledge I'm part of this perversion. While my husband and I saved for 2 years for a house downpayment, it wasn't a traditional 20%. True, to save 20% to buy a house in the Seattle metro area likely means you would be saving for at least 10 years, and I know that's the case in many other parts of the country. And while we have paired down to be a one car family, we still have a loan for our car. We put down a chunk of money and got the shortest loan term we could, but we don't own either of our big ticket purchases free and clear.

On the bright side, we have ZERO credit card debt and have had it that way for nearly 3 years. And now we save for mostly everything else. Taking a vacation? We have a vacation fund...if we can't afford it, we wait until we can. How about a shiny, new appliance, like an energy efficient washing machine that I've been lusting after? We're saving up to hopefully buy one in the fall. We have a 6-9 month emergency fund that we spent a year to build in case something drastic happens. We don't have the desire (or ability, after becoming a one income family) to go out and spend a ton of money on non-essential items.

I understood the concept of earning better when I was 12 than I do now. If there wasn't enough money in my wallet, I couldn't get it. I could do more household chores or babysit more neighbors, but I didn't have the option of buying it now and paying for it later like so many of us do today.

The question still nags me - do we earn things anymore? Often, people feel they deserve luxury or expensive things because they work hard, or they're a good person, or insert other reasons here. And while I'm all for celebrating success and rewarding ourselves, does it come at too high a price? Keeping up with the Joneses is costing us big time.

What do you think? Do we earn things anymore? What was the last big ticket item you purchased? Did you charge it and pay it off little by little, or did you save for awhile and pay for it all up front? How did it feel?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

What's Cooking?

Going out to eat is awesome. You don't have to grocery shop, spend hours cooking, clean up, and it's (usually) a social time. However, it can really take a bite out of your finances. According to a study of their users' behaviors, the average person spends $29 per transaction at restaurants (not including fast food chains) and eats out 6 times a month. That adds up pretty quickly, especially when you can cook at home for less than $2 a meal in most cases. Here are 10 cheap staples I keep in my kitchen to whip up quick, easy, healthy meals that don't break the bank:


*Tuna - canned tuna is a great thing to have on hand. You can make the old lunch sack fave tuna sandwiches (or go gourmet with tuna melts by adding a slice of cheese and sticking it under the broiler), or add it to salads or pasta. This is one of my favorite fish cake recipes (it calls for salmon, but tuna's great with it as well). Plus, it's a great way to get servings of Omega 3 fatty acids. You can usually find cans for less than a dollar, making tuna a pretty good bang for your buck. Just don't overdo it - have less than 6 ounces a week due to mercury concerns. Also, look for tuna that's dolphin safe.

*Beans - I always have a couple of cans of beans in my pantry. They are a great source of healthy, vegetarian protein and they are really versatile. They can be added to soups, they can be blended into a dip or spread. And for usually around $1 a can, you can stretch your dollars with this pantry staple.

*Eggs - I feel like eggs get a bad rap sometimes because of their cholesterol. Sure, maybe you shouldn't have fried eggs for breakfast most days of the week, but adding a few servings of this healthy protein into your diet is good for your body and your wallet. Eggs can be more than scrambled for breakfast - they can be hardboiled (makes a great snack or chopped up in a salad), mixed with leftover rice and veggies for fried rice...endless possibilities. Most markets have a dozen eggs for around $2 (or less than 20 cents per serving!) - great value.


*Baby Carrots - baby carrots are my favorite all-purpose vegetable. You can usually find a 1 pound bag for a few bucks. Not only are they cheap, but they are already washed and peeled, saving you a few minutes for other things. I usually grab a handful for a snack, chop up a few for salads, or roast them with a little bit of olive oil and herbs.

*Mixed Greens - another staple in my fridge is a container of mixed greens. Obviously, they are super easy for salads, but add greens into your sandwiches or wraps for a great crunch and extra fiber. If you plan to eat a lot of greens, warehouse stores like Costco can't be beat (usually finding a 32 oz tub for $4 - makes 4-5 good sized salads).

*Onions - they might be tear-inducing, but I consider onions a pantry must-have. For one, they usually take 2-3 weeks to go bad. They can add great flavor to just about any dish and you can usually get a large onion for under $1. Most of the time, I don't even use a whole onion - I just stick it in the refrigerator and don't peel the part of the onion I'm saving to preserve the freshness.

*Potatoes - potatoes are to me what shrimp was to Bubba in "Forrest Gump". You can do anything with them - bake them, mash them, fry them, roast them, add them to soups...and it doesn't get much cheaper than getting a sack of potatoes. Plus, much like onions, they take quite awhile to go bad.


*Pasta - noodles are a great thing to always have on hand. It's cheap, quick and easy to cook, and it's the blank canvas of cooking - you can add just about anything to it and it tastes awesome! I usually stock up on pasta when it's on sale because the expiration date is usually years away. And when does spaghetti not sound good?

*Rice - I. love. rice. I do. It's cheap, versatile and easy to cook (if you have a rice cooker, it's practically impossible to screw up). Not only is it a great side or good in burritos, but you can have it for breakfast (microwave with a little bit of milk, raisins and brown sugar) or dessert (rice pudding!).

*Oatmeal - I know most of you are thinking that oatmeal can't be anything other than breakfast. Well, it is awesome with some maple syrup, but I also add it to smoothies for some extra fiber. Oatmeal can also give your lunch and dinner entrees some crunch and texture - sub them in for breadcrumbs. I haven't even mentioned oatmeal chocolate chip cookies or any fruit crumble for dessert! I get a container of plain oats for $2 that lasts me for a good month or so.
Obviously, this is not a completely stocked pantry. But with a few condiments, some salt and pepper, and a little creativity, I bet my Top 10 could make some pretty interesting (and inexpensive!) meals.

What's something you always have in your kitchen?

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Decision to Stay at Home

As soon as we found out we were expecting, the very next conversation my husband and I had was how we planned to raise our child. Was I going to stay home or go back to work? (Note: it's not that we automatically jumped to me staying at home because I was a husband makes considerably more than I do, so it makes the most financial sense).

After looking at the costs of daycare and calculating what pay I would take home after childcare was paid for, I would net less than $500 every month. From that, subtract a car payment and weekly fillups at the pump, and I'm barely making enough to go to the grocery store twice a month. It didn't seem worth it to me when I feel like we can budget better in other places. We made the decision for me to stay home.

So how did we do this, and how will we survive in the future?

1) Practiced with one paycheck. My husband and I thought this might be a possibility when we found out I was pregnant, so we practiced living on one income. My entire paycheck for 10 months went into savings. Not only did we get the hang of what it would be like living on a single salary, but we bumped up our emergency fund, created a medical savings account, started a savings account for our daughter, and even fully funded a future vacation (Maui in November!). It took a little getting used

2) We are a one car family now. Even though my husband's main mode of transportation is the bus, he had an SUV that barely had any miles and came with a large car payment. My small commuter car wasn't conducive to our new lifestyle with baby and all the stuff that goes with her. So we traded both in for a Subaru Outback! Not only does this cut our car payments in half, but it decreases auto insurance, service and maintenance, and all of the other expenses that creep up when you have a car.

3) Cutting other incidental costs. Some spending naturally goes down when you have a baby - entertainment (unless you want to pay a babysitter, and then the cost doubles!), nice meals out, shopping for yourself. We're taking a hard look at cutting cable (mentioned here), and being smarter about every day choices.

I have no doubt that it's a little more unstable only having one income, particularly in this still shaky economy. But I think we're prepared for most worst-case scenarios. The only thing that is difficult about this for me is not being able to contribute to my retirement fund for a few years and getting used to not having my own spending money.

One interesting tidbit from - the stay-at-home mom's regular duties add up to being worth over $115,000 a year! While you get no vacation days or pension plan, the benefits are pretty hard to top.

Any other families who grappled with this decision? What did you ultimately decide and why? Does anyone else have other suggestions or tips?

Friday, June 3, 2011

National Doughnut Day!

Hey everyone! Apologies for being MIA recently - I've got some good stuff lined up for next week though. :)

There's not enough for a full Friday Deals post, but who can complain when it's National Doughnut Day! Krispy Kreme is giving away FREE doughnuts at participating locations from 6 AM - 6 PM, and no additional purchase is required.

Dunkin Donuts is also giving away some free doughnuts with the purchase of any beverage. But really, don't you need coffee to go with doughnuts anyway?

YUM! Happy National Doughnut Day!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Will You Ever Retire?

It's been well documented in this blog that I'm totally freaked out about retirement. Yes, it's still a good 35 years away, but expenses are also going to start creeping up with a baby (and another one in the future) - add to that a bigger house eventually, college funds times two...oh man. Why do all the good things in life have to cost so much money?

So I was reading this great article in Money Under 30 and felt a little sick to my stomach after I was done. According to blogger David Weliver (and others in the PF world), you should have anywhere from 1-2 years salary in your 401K or other retirement account by the time you reach 30. Uh, what? I mean, I thought I was doing okay in my retirement savings, but 1-2 years salary?

After my husband was laid off in 2009, we were completely focused on building up our emergency fund to last 6 months. When we found out we were pregnant, we started building a healthy savings account for medical and baby expenses. So instead of upping my retirement contributions (like I intended to do a year ago), my money was saved in other places. Did I make the right choice?

I'd love to hear from you all out there - does anyone have (or did you have if you're over 30) a year or two's worth of your salary in your retirement accounts? How did you do it?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Earth Day Freebies!

I do love the earth. It's pretty awesome. I love celebrating Earth Day, too! Not only do you get to take some time to appreciate the planet, but some really great freebies and events happen to encourage you to adopt habits that are good for the earth! Here's what's going on for Earth Day 2011:

*My absolute favorite Earth Day freebie (did it last year) - trade in any cleanser bottle (full or empty) for a FREE full sized Origins facial cleanser! Only on Earth Day (4/22). You have to fill out this form in advance, and I'd recommend going early before all the supplies run out!

*FREE coffee or tea at participating Starbucks on April 22nd when you bring in your travel mug!

*FREE coffee at Whole Foods when you bring in your travel mug, too! Check your nearby store to confirm they are participating.

*FREE eco-friendly workshops at select Home Depot locations!

*Lowe's is also celebrating Earth Day by giving out a million FREE trees on Saturday (4/23)! See if your nearby Lowe's is participating. While you're there, make a FREE birdhouse with the kids at 10AM with the Build and Grow program.

*The best way to celebrate Earth Day is in the great outdoors, right? FREE entrance to all national parks!

And don't forget - celebrate Earth Day by doing something good for the planet! Take a shorter shower, turn off your lights, turn down your heat (or AC, if you're having better weather than me!). Maybe even hug a tree!

Happy Earth Day!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Friday Deals PLUS Tax Day Freebies and Deals!

Hi everyone! Thanks for all your great feedback for whether or not we should give up cable. I'm strongly considering it once summer rolls around. And now for Friday Deals!

*Boden, one of my very favorite stores, is having 40% off select items for their midseason sale! They make fantastic clothes that really hold up well, so while they are a little on the spendy side, getting items for 40% off is a great way to start what will likely be a Boden obsession for you! :) Plus, you can get an additional 10% off AND FREE shipping! Go forth and shop - you won't be sorry.

*All you cosmetic junkies should take advantage of Sephora's sale - 15% off! You have to be a Beauty Insider, but it's free to sign up (plus, you get all kinds of cool perks when you do). Ends April 21st.

*And thanks to lovely reader Alysia for pointing out this fabulous freebie - to celebrate Earth Week, Target is giving out FREE reusable bags on Sunday, April 17th. Get there early - I went to my Target last year to get one an hour after they opened and they were almost out! Remember to ask Target cashiers for 5 cents off when you bring your reusable bag to the store!

*FREE Curly Fries at a participating Arby's today when you bring in this coupon. Mmm...

*FREE admission to National Parks April 16th-24th to celebrate National Park Week!

*FREE Bath and Body Works 2 oz lotion of their new fragrance Into the Wild...hurry, it's only good with this coupon today and tomorrow!

Tax Day Freebies and Deals

I hope you all have filed your taxes, but you still have a couple more days (thanks Uncle Sam!). We owe this year (BOOOO!), but not too much. If you're getting a refund, remember to spend it wisely! If you have to pay like me, here are some freebies and deals to at least take the sting out a little.

*Cinnabon is giving away FREE Cinnabites from 6-8 PM on April 18th (participating locations only).

*FREE sundae at Maggie Moo's on April 18th from 3-6 PM at participating locations.

*McCormick and Schmick's restaurants are giving people two days to celebrate the end of tax season - today and Monday, get bar food and drink specials for $10.40.

*P.F. Chang's is giving 15% off dine-in and takeout orders on April 18th.

I'll repost some of these deals on Monday so you remember to take advantage! :) Enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Giving Up Cable

Okay, not quite. I love the heck out of TV, particularly cable. My DVR tapes over 10 shows a week. I have a sick obsession with multiple shows on Bravo - anything with Bethenny Frankel, or a show that starts with "The Real Housewives of..." I will most likely watch. And then they sucker me in with spinoffs and new shows that look AMAZING.

But I hate paying the piper for my addiction. Every month when the Comcast bill comes, I feel a little nauseous. It also includes our internet service, but $160 a month for reality shows and NBC sitcoms? I am so torn between my want to save money/feel like less of a couch potato and the sheer entertainment value of watching grown women throw wine at each other. And yes, I am that person that calls every few months to negotiate a lower rate by threatening to get a dish or cut my cable. But still, I wonder if even the reduced high cost of cable is worth it.

So when my good friends and fellow TV afficianados Kate and her fiance Joseph brought up giving up cable, I was shocked! They, too, love TV (and they watch better shows than I do) - how could they even consider? But their suggestions of watching streaming shows via Hulu/Netflix and paying 99 cents for others on iTunes really had me thinking...could I do this?

For one thing, it would help prioritize what I really want to watch. The ability for me to tape shows has caused me to delve deeper into the basement with bad TV. Another Kardashian show? Okay. What's this new cooking competition? Sure. Put it on my queue. If I didn't have access to DVR and cable and had to pay per individual show, 80% of what I watch currently probably wouldn't make the cut. Is this show worth 99 cents to watch? Sad that I'm watching shows that aren't even worth a buck.

Are there any other TV addicts out there that have cleaned up and given up cable? How is life on the other side?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Birthday Resolutions

As I've mentioned before, I'm not so big into New Year's resolutions, but more birthday resolutions. Why? Well, for starters, January 1st is just kind of an arbitrary day. Yes, it's the first day of a new year, but it's pretty much just another day. Your birthday, though, is a whole new year for you. Plus, people never keep New Year's resolutions and I figured I'd keep myself more accountable and pump myself up for my new year if I had some goals to go with it. I do both financial resolutions and personal resolutions.

Birthday resolutions in past years:

*Have 6 months of living expenses saved - check!
*Increase retirement contributions by 5% - uh, still working on it
*Open a Roth IRA - ugh, no
*Make steps to become pregnant - check!
*Take 3 vacations a year - check!

So since I turned 29 a few weeks ago, I wanted to keep you up to speed on my resolutions for my year before the big 3-0.


PUT MY MONEY IN A ROTH IRA - this is in all caps because it has been a goal for almost 2 years and I haven't done it. Bad personal finance blogger, bad! It WILL happen this year, even if I don't put the max contributions in. I'm determined.

Start a college savings fund for our daughter - I'm assuming college costs will keep rising at their current rate of 7-13% every year, so by the time our daughter goes to college, it will cost an arm and a leg. We'll start saving now - money we get now for her will start going into a savings account, even though I'm not sure yet what savings account would be best.


Be the best mom I can be - I know to make goals achievable, they have to be SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely). While this may not be a specific or timely goal, I'll hopefully be able to measure it in smiles. Wow - super cheesy! :) But seriously, my daughter is my number one priority, and there isn't anything I wouldn't do for her. Until she's a teenager - and then, I will not give her my credit card.

Run a half marathon - I've never been a runner. There was the time I ran track in 8th grade and I thought I had an asthma attack...turns out I was just out of shape. But I want to really push myself and see if I can do it. I've signed up for a race with my friends for Labor Day weekend and I'll be so proud of myself when I cross the finish line. I'm not doing it for time - I'm doing it for pride. And the chocolates and mimosas at the end of the race.

Okay, so there you have it! My two financial and personal goals for my 29th year!

Anyone else make birthday resolutions? How about sharing a few of your goals for the year?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Friday Deals!

Finally, some Friday Deals for you all! :) Did anyone watch "Extreme Couponing" on TLC the other night? Makes me want to up my deal-hunting game a bit, but they are definitely on the crraaazzy side in my opinion...anyway, onto deals that you don't have to work so hard for!

*Ben and Jerry's is having their annual Free Cone Day on Tuesday, April 12th in their Scoop Shops! The lines are usually long, but so worth it! Dreaming of a Cherry Garcia cone...

*Speaking of ice cream, Baskin Robbins is having their 31 Cent Scoop Night on Wednesday, April 27th from 5-7 PM. The 31 cents will benefit the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. Put it on your calendar!

*Need to update your spring wardrobe, ladies? Ann Taylor and LOFT are celebrating their Friends and Family with 30% off your purchase! This ends Sunday, April 11th, and is good in stores and online. Here's the coupon.

*April is National Volunteer Month and Volunteer Match is celebrating all the folks who give their time by giving away FREE Newman's Own products! Yes! Sign up for a project during the month of April and you'll get a coupon for any free Newman's Own item! I'm a big fan of their Caesar dressing!

Enjoy your weekend! The sun is actually supposed to make an appearance here in the Northwest, so I'm going to try and soak up some Vitamin D with my family.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Saving Some Bucks with Baby

While I'm a neophyte parent, I'm well aware of how expensive babies and children are. But in my very limited experience, I have learned strategies on my own or through my very smart parent friends on how to save money with a new family member in the picture.

*Go Gender Neutral - while it is SO tempting to get all those cute gender specific clothes or furniture, try to steer clear of getting everything in boy or girl styles, particularly if you're planning on having more than one child. I'm not going to sit here and say that my husband and I have nothing girly - we totally do. However, many of our big purchases (like the stroller, car seat, etc) are gender neutral. It doesn't seem to make a ton of sense to spend hundreds of dollars on equipment to last a few years to not be able to use it again if or when another baby is welcomed into your family.

*Have Multipurpose Furniture - who wants to spend a couple hundred bucks on furniture only to have it serve a few years? My husband and I were pretty savvy when it came to shopping for nursery furniture. We purchased a crib that converts into a toddler bed (you can even find some cribs that will convert into a full sized bed), and instead of a changing table, we got a dresser that a changing pad can be secured to and then removed. We wanted to get furniture that would grow with our daughter and viewed it as an investment as opposed to furniture for the baby stage in her life.

*Cloth Diaper - I know that this sounds completely crazy to most people. And it very well could be, as it is not yet something my husband and I have actually done yet. But if you can make the commitment to cloth diaper, it can save you beaucoup bucks (an estimated $1500-$2000 over the diapering process according to Consumer Reports). The value doubles if you can reuse your diapers for another child. And cloth diapers today are totally different than they were a generation ago - no pins, but velcro and snaps instead! Obviously, there might be an initial yuck factor to get over and the startup costs are more steep(anywhere from $12-$20 per diaper), but most likely, the diapers will pay for themselves within the first 6-8 months. Plus, it's good for the environment. Oh yeah, and they're super cute. What's not to like?

*DON'T Register for Clothes - most family and friends are excited to shower your new arrival in clothes - they're cute, easy to pick up and fun to shop for! You may even have some people who want to give you their old baby clothes for free. Save space on your registry for other things you may really need. If you don't get enough baby clothes, they are quite easy and cheap to pick up at places like Target, Babies R Us, or even Goodwill. Also with clothes, be careful of buying too many before baby's here. Your baby may not fit into newborn clothes. Or those cute seasonal clothes (fleece jackets and mittens, or summery clothes) may not fit when the weather's appropriate.

*DON'T Stock Up - I know, this seems counterintuitive. You want to be prepared and in control. But babies have personalities, and just like you, preferences. Maybe they won't like those pricey bottles you have 10 of. Maybe the swaddling blankets you bought 4 of will make baby uncomfortable. Start with getting one of a few different types and see what your baby prefers. It might seem a little wasteful at first, but not using one item sure beats not being able to use a dozen, don't you think?

*Know What to Get Second-Hand - there are plenty of things you can get at Goodwill, on Craig's List or handed down from friends and family. And it will save you a TON. But be careful - baby items are frequently recalled. Do your research and make sure the good deal is also in the best interest of your baby's health and safety. You can't put a price on that.

*Nurse - if you can, breastfeed. Not only have studies shown it's the best for your baby, but it's FREE! :) Of course, breastfeeding does come with expenses (pumps, clothing, accessories, etc), but compared to the costs of formula, you'll save a lot of money. Bonus - it's good for moms! You burn up to 600 calories a day AND it is linked to lower instances of breast cancer!

Hey moms and dads out there! Anything else you did to save money?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Life Is What Happens...

So sorry for the delay in posting, but I had a baby.

And she's really cute and takes up a bunch of my time. :)

While I'm focusing more now on trying to be an amazing mom instead of a blogger, I'll try to be a little more regular while my little angel takes naps. More posts coming soon...

Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday Deals

Happy Friday everyone! I hope you have some fun weekend plans in store! Here are your Friday Deals!

*FREE full-sized body butter at The Body Shop (while supplies last or through Sunday) with a purchase of $30 or more. This offer is good online only.

*Another online sale at Gap - 25% off your order when you enter code GAPSAVE25 though Saturday.

*Did you know that March 1st is National Pancake Day? Well, it is. And IHOP wants to give you some FREE pancakes! When you go in between 7 AM and 10 PM, you can get a FREE short stack. It's also a fundraiser for Children's Miracle Network, so consider leaving a sweet donation.

*I love SELF Magazine so I was thrilled when I saw Tanga is offering it for $3.99 a year (and you can subscribe up to 3 years at that price). Enter promo code SELF at checkout. This deal is only good for a few more hours, so hop to it!

*I love me some Chipotle and also some reality TV - combining those two is an unbeatable combo! When you "like" the new NBC show "America's Next Great Restaurant" on Facebook, Chipotle is giving out coupons for buy one, get one FREE burrito/taco/bowl/salad. It's good through Friday, March 4th. Nice! While you're there, feel free to "like" Lean with Green. If there's a good deal during the week, we'll post it on our Facebook page - don't miss out!

* is selling gift certificates for 80% off (normally $10 for $25 worth of food is now $2) with the code DINE at checkout. Valid now through Monday, February 28th.

That's all I have! If you know of any other deals, feel free to leave them in the comments!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Reduce, Reuse...Make That Old Corkboard Fabulous

I love Young House Love. LOVE it. I think John, Sherry, Clara and Burger are just about the cutest family ever. I also love their design aesthetic, their creativity, and how they stretch a buck. They totally inspire me to go through piles at Goodwill to find a diamond in the rough, or head over to Michael's clearance aisle to see what I can do with scrapbook paper, a vase and fake flowers. I had an homage to YHL in the past with my Halloween decor, and I thought I'd share my recent triumph with giving new life to old junk.

I've had a corkboard lying around for years. Literally. It had not been in use since the year after college where it served as a photo holder of the good ol' days (that had just happened 6 months before...). I never got rid of it, thinking I'd be able to find a use for it. After we moved into our house last March, I had an Oprah a-ha moment - the corkboard would be a jewelry display board. Oh yes.

So I took the sample of paint I had from when we painted our bedroom and painted the corkboard within an inch of its life - really, probably about 5 coats. The color is Benjamin Moore's Coventry Gray, if you were curious.

I purchased a box of 40 cup hooks at Home Depot.

And then it continued to sit in our basement until last week. Finally, I decided to get my act together and finish what I barely started.

Project Budget:

Corkboard - FREE and in need of a purpose
Leftover paint from sample - FREE (but I did pay $3 for it when we painted our bedroom)
Box o' hooks - $2.19
Patience from my husband for a project that took months when it should have taken an hour - priceless
TOTAL: $5.19

The finished product:

While I wanted to paint the wood frame white to set it off against our dark blue walls and to match the hooks, I ran out of patience (hey, I'm 39 weeks pregnant). But overall, I'm pretty pleased. My necklaces aren't getting tangled any more and it's doing double duty as a piece of functional wall art.

Anyone else have some fun DIY projects in the works? Can I get a "heck yeah!" for YHL?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Think Small!

Bigger is better, right? Well, I'll take a bigger piece of cake, a bigger salary or a bigger blanket to avoid cold toes, but I don't think bigger is always better. For instance, take housing.

Since we've had baby on the brain for the last 9 months or so, people keep asking us what "stuff" we need. Baby stuff can be endless and take up a lot of space in your house. But my husband and I have been pretty good (in my opinion) of avoiding "stuff" for stuff's sake, primarily based on the fact we don't have room for it in our 1400 square foot house. It got me thinking that maybe having a small house is the way to go. How else can having a small house save you money?

*Energy costs - this is kind of a no-brainer, but the less space you have to heat or cool, the more money you save! Right on! Not only that, but if you have fewer rooms, you likely have fewer electrical appliances plugged in, meaning the "vampire draw" (or appliances that suck up energy without being used) will be less!

*Less space to fill - just like my husband and I refuse to get "stuff" for our baby because we don't have room for it, this can apply to just about every space in our house. We have a small kitchen, so our cabinets are full of things we use frequently instead of the random appliances that we'd use once a year. I can't be a crazy bag lady and have multiple half-used bottles of beauty products in the bathroom because we have 1 bathroom with 4 shelves of storage. If I don't have 7 rooms to fill with furniture, I'm saving thousands of dollars! It keeps us conscious of what we buy and helps us better identify when it's time to give other things a better home when we're not using it anymore (tax deductions or garage sales put money back in your pocket!).

*Less upkeep - whether you do it yourself or hire someone to do it for you, the less space you have means the less time and money you spend on cleaning, renovating or replacing. I can tell you I already hate spending half of my Saturday cleaning my 3 bedroom home (and I'm too cheap to pay someone to do it)...I would absolutely cringe spending my entire weekend cleaning a 5 bedroom and multiple bathroom home. Who wants to clean more than one shower? Not me.

*Healthier in a small home? - I could be reaching here, but I would argue you could be a healthier person if you live in a smaller home. Think about it - a smaller home is easier to keep clean, meaning there would be less germs and air pollution. Although I guess you could argue you might be in better cardiovascular shape if you had a bigger home (walking further, climbing more stairs, etc).

Image from MyBallard

Obviously, you have to have a space that works for you and your family. But if you can get by with a smaller home, it will benefit your bottom line in multiple ways.

Anyone else who loves living in a smaller place and saving money? Anyone who lives in a big space that feels it's worth it?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Friday Deals

Happy almost weekend everyone! And for some of us, it's a long one! Thank goodness for 3 day weekends! Here are your Friday Deals!

*Good Presidents' Day sale at Gap starting today - 44% off 44 styles and lasts through Monday. Not sure what the 44 styles are, but that's a good amount of stuff! Not valid at Gap Outlet.

*Gap's more expensive big sister Banana Republic is having a sale of their own - 25% off already reduced merchandise in stores and online (enter code BRPRES25). Ends Monday.

*25% off your full priced purchase at Ann Taylor Loft in stores and online (just enter code PRESIDENT) AND 40% off sale merchandise! Ends Monday.

*20% off all women's orders over $150 at when you enter code FABFEB. Ends Monday.

*Buy 3, get 3 FREE on Signature Body Care products at Bath and Body Works in stores or online. Ends Monday.

*Buy 1, get 1 50% off on all items at Express, PLUS $15 off every $75 you spend (enter code 1088 online).

If you know of any other sales or good deals, leave them in the comments! Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Is $75,000 the Magic Number?

As I was watching Oprah a few weeks ago, she had a man named Dan Buettner on her show discussing how to be happier the "blue zone" way? What the heck is a blue zone? According to Mr. Buettner, blue zones are places in the world where people are exponentially happier and live longer than in other parts of the world - and these places share many commonalities. Residents have high rates of being physically active, of drinking wine (yes please!), eating a primarily veggie-based diet, of belonging to a faith-based group...there are a total of 9 indicators (the "power 9" as he calls them). One point of contention between him and Oprah was on the topic of money. He said research suggested that at a salary of $75,000 per year for a family of four, your happiness plateaus. As you can imagine, Oprah begged to differ.

But I'm wondering if that's really true. Clearly, something to take into account is location. Obviously $75,000 goes a lot further in Cedar Rapids or Cleveland than it does in Seattle or San Francisco. Another thing - happiness is kind of subjective, right? Would you be happy if you didn't own your home? Would you be happy if you couldn't take a vacation? Would you be happy if you didn't have designer clothes? Some things that might be key to your happiness might be more difficult to obtain on $75,000 a year.
Apparently, the $75,000 magic number relates to day-to-day happiness, and that once people make more than that, their day-to-day happiness plateaus. And by people, I mean persons over the age of 15, men and women, and people all over the world. There's also a difference between money and satisfaction (strong correlation) and wealth and positive emotion (more complex). Read more about the story here.

What do you think? Is $75,000 the magic number for universal happiness?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Lessons to Teach Kids About Money

As I'm weeks away from welcoming our little baby girl into our home, I am thinking about all the things my husband and I will have to teach her: sharing is caring, if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all, treat others the way you'd like to be treated, subject-verb agreement...the list goes on and on. But one thing I don't think enough parents tend to tackle is the subject of money. Studies show that parents have a hard time talking with their kids about the big three: sex, drugs and rock and, money. But it's hurting our kids - by the time children start to manage their own finances, they have an average of $2100 of debt on 4 different credit cards! Schools can't be guaranteed to teach financial literacy - most states do not have mandatory financial literacy units. I know we're still a few years out from talking to Baby Claire about money, but this is where my husband and I are thinking about starting.

Allowance does not equal an entitlement. I do believe that kids have to have their own money in order to understand how to manage it. That said, I don't think kids should get $10 a week just for being them or doing their basic household responsibilities, like keeping their room clean or making their bed. No one pays me to clean the house! It's just what I have to do as a member of the family. When kids want to take on projects that fall outside their realm of responsibility, then they should be paid according to their age and the level of difficulty of the chore. It shows they have to earn money, they can't just sit and wait for it to fall into their lap.

The importance of being earnest. Money is very complex, and should be taken very seriously. Yes, you can have fun with your money and you should! But money is for more than just having fun. It's survival, both short and long term. It's saving for a goal. It's giving to something or someone who needs it more than you. I love the piggy bank below because it accounts for all the various ways kids should view money (in my opinion anyway). Of course, kids should be able to spend money just like adults. They can get that toy they've always wanted, or they can buy something impulsively, never play with it again, and it becomes a teachable moment. But kids should also understand the importance of philanthropy and giving back to others. I want my kids to feel like they can make a difference - whether that's at their school, in their community or in the world. Philanthropy and charitable giving is a great way to make kids feel like they did something good for someone else. Obviously saving is a great value to instill in children - they might be saving for a big purchase or event, but teaching them to save when they're young will help them be better savers when they're older. And I love that there's an "invest" slot in the piggy bank. When you're ready to talk to your kids about how to invest and what the stock market is, that is a great tool to help facilitate that lesson. For allowance and cash gifts kids receive, I like the 40-30-20-10 rule: 40% long term savings, 30% big ticket purchases savings, 20% immediate spending and 10% charitable giving.

Everything costs money. Or as my husband likes to say "There's no such thing as a free lunch." I don't think kids should be sheltered from the costs of things. Obviously, there are more appropriate ages to bring up the costs of a mortgage versus the cost of a pack of gum, but kids should know that everything has a price. I think showing monthly bills
or grocery store receipts can go a long way in kids understanding how money works to keep a house going. In order to get things that we need and want, we have to work and pitch in to earn money. At least until the money tree we planted last year starts to grow...

Practice what you preach. While we all want to raise financially savvy children, it's hard to do that when you have mass amounts of credit card debt, live in a house you can't afford, and spend money like it's going out of style. You are your kids' best teachers, but actions speak louder than words. Getting conflicting messages about money will no doubt confuse kids, so make sure to be a good role model yourself.

Are you a parent already teaching your children about money? What do you do that has worked? Did your parents give you any words of wisdom you take with you to this day? What are you planning on doing with your children?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Friday Deals

Wow, it's been WAY too long since I've done one of these! Lots of fun stuff, including gift ideas for Valentine's Day if you needed to get a jump on doing something special for your sweetie. Enjoy!

*FREE Coffee Mate creamer when you "like" Coffee Mate on Facebook. By 9 AM PST today, they will be giving out over 100,000 coupons for a FREE creamer. Nice! I could probably drink the Hazelnut Biscotti flavor straight out of the container...okay, maybe not... but it sounds delicious!

*Need some FREE dessert? Chili's Grill and Bar is giving out coupons for FREE Brownie sundaes today only when you "like" them on Facebook. The coupon is good through next Thursday, February 11th. Also, if you sign up for their email list, you get a free welcome gift of queso and chips. Nothing says "Welcome!" like melted cheese, in my opinion.

*We mentioned already on our Facebook page that Burt's Bees grab bags are back! For $25, you get over $50 worth of great stuff. When I bought mine last year, I took a few things out that I wanted to keep and gave the rest as gifts or stocking stuffers during the holidays. Perfect! Hurry though - they don't last very long!

*If you want to get your online shop on for Valentine's Day, head over to The Body Shop. You get a FREE gift with a purchase of $25 or more. Online only and expires on 2/13.

*Another just-in-time-for-Valentine's-Day deal...Victoria's Secret is giving away FREE underwear with a $50 purchase. I can't tell if it's just online, but use the code LACIE50 when checking out. Ends Sunday.

*Need some romantic music? Head over to Amazon for 14 FREE downloads of Valentine's themed songs!

*Like Cheez-Its? Well, "like" them on Facebook for a FREE sample.

*A GREAT Groupon deal for all you book lovers out there! You've got the weekend to get $10 for $20 worth of merchandise at Barnes and Noble. This can even be applied to ebooks! It's valid online and at most of the 700 retail locations. Hurry - it says limited quantity available so I don't want you to miss out!

That's all I got! If you know of any other good deals, feel free to post them in the comments! Happy weekend!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Dark Side of Group Buying Sites

Some people wake up with a cup of coffee. Some need a shower before they can function. Me? I check my Groupon, Living Social, Tippr, and BuyWithMe emails. It's a gross obsession really. I do really love a good deal, but sometimes, just the notion that I can get something more than 50% off is just enough of a catalyst to get me to reach for my credit card.

What the hell? I write a financial literacy blog and I am a compulsive group-buying site deal shopper? Can the two go hand in hand? Here's how I learned to enjoy the opportunity that group buying sites provide and still have my dignity (and spare change) in tact.

1) Be smart about your purchases - I know that part of the reason these sites exist is so new businesses can draw clients in the door with a cheap meal or service with the hopes they become repeat customers. While I love trying new places, I also have to be somewhat realistic. Sure, an unlimited month of yoga for $40 sounds amazing, but the studio is 35 minutes away from my house. I may make it once or twice a week, which drops the value of the package significantly.

2) Read the fine print BEFORE you buy - many times, there are all kinds of restrictions on your half-off deal - not for use on alcohol, must be used in one visit, cannot combine with other offers like happy hour, etc. Check out the business' website to see if it's realistic for you to spend your certificate in one purchase, or if there's anything you'd actually want to eat there that's not on the happy hour menu.

3) Question refund policy - I have had two experiences (one with Groupon and one with LivingSocial) where the merchant went out of business before I was able to spend my certificate. With the LivingSocial deal, I didn't even know it was too late until I drove past the dark restaurant with the windows boarded up. I contacted both LivingSocial and the restaurant to ask if I could get a refund for my $20 and never received a response from either. On the flip side, Groupon actually contacted me when the vendor I purchased from was going out of business. They wanted to either give me a $10 credit towards another Groupon or to refund the $10 to my credit card. Customer service winner goes to...GROUPON. In this economy, particularly with new businesses, it's tough to keep the doors open, so make sure you're aware of how things are handled if the vendor can't honor your certificate.

In short, I look at group buying site deals like grocery store coupons: if it's not something I would normally buy without the deal, it's probably going to be a waste of money and I shouldn't get it. We've all had that moment where you MUST get something because it's on sale, right? Hopefully, it was a great purchase and you got a lot of use out of it. But sometimes, that thing you had to have just sits in your closet with the price tags still on. The deals online are definitely tempting, and I say go for it if it's in your budget and it's something you'll enjoy. Just don't get blinded by the good deal that isn't actually worth it.

One more group buying site to check out: Ideal Network. They are not everywhere yet, but it's a daily deal site where part of the proceeds benefit area charities. Check out their deal in Seattle right now - $10 for $20 of Theo Chocolate...and $2.50 of your $10 goes to one of 6 charities you choose (I chose the Woodland Park Zoo). Do you like how I preach about the evils of group buying sites and then show you a new one? Ha!

Theo Chocolate - feel free to get me some for Valentine's Day!

Any other thoughts on the merits or drawbacks of group buying sites? Do you have a particular strategy to get a bang for your buck but keep in line with your budget?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Discussion: What's Your Biggest Splurge?

Greetings y'all! I hope most of you are staying warm - it looks nasty in most of the country. The Northwest has the makings of a perfect winter's day - crisp, sunny and dry!

Anyway, my friends over at WiseBread had an interesting question posed to their readers this morning, and I thought I'd ask you all: what's your biggest splurge?

This was a question that took me awhile to answer. I allow myself to spend $25 every month at coffee that a splurge? I recently upgraded to a nicer gym with amazing amenities and cleaner facilities for an extra $5 per month than I paid at my old gym. Splurge-worthy? I don't have expensive clothes or shoe habits, I don't get weekly manis or pedis, I've had 4 massages in my whole life...what the heck do I splurge on?

The closest things I could think of as splurges are a) food and b) home improvement. With food, my husband and I cook 5-6 nights a week, and when we go out to dinner, we usually go to a delicious restaurant that doesn't cost more than $40 for the two of us (including tax and tip). Hardly splurging...BUT when it comes to groceries, we probably spend $75-$90 a week. What do I buy? Lots of fresh produce (which is often organic), Greek yogurt, and hardly any processed foods. This means that our grocery bills might be a little higher than average, but eating good and good-for-you food is important to me. If you can, I totally recommend buying from a farm that participates in community supported agriculture (CSA). You are buying directly from the farmer, so your produce is super fresh, seasonal and supports your local businesses! One more food-splurge: grocery delivery! While I don't do this all the time, I have ordered from AmazonFresh on a handful of occasions. It's not necessarily more expensive than a grocery store, but there is a delivery fee if you don't purchase a certain amount of food. It's convenient (I've had groceries delivered at 6 AM before), it saves me time and money on gas, and it might even stop me from those impulse buys.

As far as home improvement go, I think it's almost in our biology to prepare our home for a new member of the family. Before little Claire came into the picture, my husband and I wanted to put in California Closets or pimp out our backyard. Maybe make the basement into a man cave. After we knew we were expecting, all those fun projects got replaced with buying new carpet (not fun, but necessary) and getting a nursery ready to go. And while we didn't go over budget too badly, it's just hard to say no to buying things for your unborn child. The willpower is not so strong with us when it comes to getting cute art for her room or a onesie that says "It was the dog." (yes, we have it in orange).

But I do have a splurge goal now: traveling. I want to see more of the world, and I want Claire to see more of the world with us. I think exposing children to different people and places is extremely important for them to learn and grow.

What about you? What do you splurge on and why?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Ask and You Shall Receive

Hi everyone! I cannot believe it's been almost 2 months since I last posted! Wow! That's what happens when you're 34 weeks pregnant and you've got a few other things on your plate, I guess. :) I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season, and that 2011 has started off on a great note!

Here in my household, we are fast and furiously preparing for our baby girl's arrival in mere weeks...and with that comes dropping some serious dough. Or does it? As you know, my husband and I purchased our first home early last year. While the house was in fantastic condition pretty much all the way around, we knew we were going to eventually replace the carpet. It was pretty heavily stained and while I'm not exactly a germaphobe, I know that carpet can get DISGUSTING. The sellers even apologized for the condition of the carpets. So now with baby on the way, we wanted a clean slate and started to price out how much it was going to cost to get new carpet in three bedrooms. First, Empire Today came to our home to give us an estimate - initially $2100! I had no idea how much installing carpet was, but I wasn't going to pay that much. I told the representative that it was much more than I had anticipated, and we were going to continue to look. Almost immediately, he dropped the price down to $1600. Did you hear that? Just by asking and refusing the first offer, I saved $500! After pricing around other companies and retailers and figuring cost of installation, haul away, etc, Empire Today did have the best deal.

Lesson: never accept your first offer. Always see if you can negotiate a better deal.

Part 2 of Preparing For Baby Without Dropping All Your Dollars: we have to make our small space work for us in more ways now. Our 3rd bedroom now has to serve a multifunctional purpose of guest room/office. To increase our space, we got rid of our full-sized bed and are replacing it with a sleeper sofa. We waited and waited for our dream sofa at West Elm to go on sale...and it did! Not only was it $400 cheaper than the original price, BUT if you ordered online, you saved an extra $200. Uh - guess who ordered via phone where the $200 off didn't come into play? But guess who realized that, called back, and talked to customer service to get that extra money back in Claire's college fund? And isn't the couch so pretty?!

Lesson: the squeaky wheel gets the grease. If you're not completely satisfied with your experience, speak up. More than likely, the customer service department will do whatever they can to keep your current and future business.

In one week and two shopping experiences, I saved our family over $700 by being proactive, doing some research, and not taking "no" for an answer. Don't be afraid to ask for a better price - in this economy, many people are willing to be flexible and are more responsive to customers' needs.

How about you? How have your negotiating skills benefitted you recently?