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!