Thursday, March 27, 2008

Tracking Food Spending

I have been tracking my spending on food this month. The reason that I am focusing on this category is because I think it is an important area that can fluctuate quite a bit. And I personally have a lot of control in keeping this expense down if I put my mind to it.

Also, I was having too much trouble tracking all of my expenses, so I thought I would be able to focus on just one category. (Now that I have begun using Pear Budget, I think it will be easy for me to track all of my family's spending. Check out my post about it here. And note that this was not a paid endorsement. I just found it to be just what I was looking for and thought it might be helpful to others too.)

So, here are the ugly numbers for our food spending so far this month:

3/14 - $497.57 (monthly subtotal as of 3/14)
3/20 - $184.20 (groceries for Easter)
3/26 - $68.97 (groceries - parents staying with me)

Monthly Subtotal = $750.74

Wow! That is really high! A good $250 over budget - but, some of the spending wasn't on groceries - it was for dining out, and that might be better categorized under "spending money". I'll have a whole breakdown of all the types of food spending when the month is officially over.

21 Day Spending Freeze Update

Okay. As most of you know I have been participating in the "Forget The Jonses" Project through the MommySavers forum.

Today is Day 18. Things have been going pretty well - but not perfect. Here is a list of the "cheats" that I can remember:

Last Thursday - $24 for pizza when daughter had a friend over for a sleepover
Last Week - $3 to daughter to go to store with friends
Last Week - $3 to daughter to go to store with friends again

Total of Unnecessary Spending - $30

This has been really difficult. There have been so many times that I wanted to stop for lunch or for a coffee. It really got me thinking about how much unnecessary money I do typically spend.

It really does seem to be a lot easier to NOT spend money if you stay at home.

3 days left . . .

Friday, March 21, 2008

Pear Budget

I just discovered Pear Budget - and I love it!

I think it could be the answer to all the problems I have had trying to track my family's expenses. It is very simple. There are basically three parts.

1. Plan Your Budget - this is where you enter your budget categories and the amounts. It is very flexible and allows you to name your categories any way you'd like.

2. Enter Your Receipts - this is where you can track your spending. Just go through and enter all your the bills you paid on line. Then enter all receipts for items you purchased. As you enter each item, you will be prompted to select one of the categories from the budget you set up. It's great! The categories will match your categories exactly, because you choose them!

3. Review Your Spending - this is where you get to compare your actual spending to your budget. If you go over in a category, it will show a negative amount - you can click on the category (like "misc") and it will show a list of all the expenses you entered with that label. It is really great for finding out "where you went wrong".

Pear Budget is currently in the beta phase and is free (no charge) during this period. Once the beta phase is over there will be a fee of $3 per month.

So far I think it seems like just what I have been looking for. I'll keep you posted! (At the end of the month I'll be able to post about how close our actual spending was to our budget!)

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Well, I've been busy getting my new jewelry website up over at Etsy (see sidebar), so I'm a little behind in posting. Here's what's been going on:

21 Day Spending Freeze
Today is my eleventh day of this challenge (more than half way - yeay!). It has been going pretty well. Yesterday was the hardest day yet. I went to Target to get stuff for the girls Easter baskets and I was tempted by a lot of other stuff! I really wanted to get myself something new to wear on Easter. I even tried on a couple of things. I liked them and would have made a purchase if I wasn't participating in this challenge. I knew that I "wanted" them, I did not "need" them. Small victory! As I was out and about doing all my errands, I really wanted to stop at Dunkin Donuts for a coffee. It was cold and rainy out and my urge was strong. I managed to wait until I was done all my errands, and I went home and made myself a cup of coffee at home. This delaying gratification isn't easy!

One thing I have learned is it is a lot easier to avoid buying stuff if you stay home!

I did give in to my daughters though. My oldest wanted to go for a walk with several kids from the neighborhood to a nearby corner store. I gave in and gave her $3 to buy a candy for her and her two sisters. (I'm finding it easier to delay my own gratification than to make my children delay theirs!) I did resist their begging to stop at McDonalds for dinner on Monday night. It was very tempting, but I said no. I even explained about the 21 day spending freeze challenge and explained how it could be good for our family, the environment, and the world, if everyone lowered their rate of consumption. They seemed to "get it". And one of my daughter's even wrote a great story about how not buying stuff could help the earth. :)

Tracking Food Spending:
This has been going pretty well, BUT I need to go to the grocery store today to get food for Easter dinner. And truthfully, in spite of the large (and expensive) last trip to the grocery store (that I thought would last us pretty much through the rest of the month), we do really need more food for lunches and dinners. I'm hoping not to spend too much though. We will surely go over our $500 food budget this month, but a lot of it has been "entertainment food" and I think that would be better budgeted under our "spending money" category. I'll tally it all up and analyze at the end of the month.

Snowflakes: I sold another item on ebay and earned another $7.50 for the debt snowball. I'll have to total up all the snowflakes at the end of the month. I think I did pretty well.

One big "oops" in this category though - we received a check for $460 from our Flexible Spending Account (pre-tax medical). This should be a great big snowflake, but we need to put it into our regular budget as we are falling short this month. Part of the reason is my husband's commission was $250 less than we expected. The rest is for misc. unbudgeted expenses that I'll have to analyze more.

Museum of Science Trip:
We had a lot of fun when we brought the kids to the Museum of Science on Saturday. But we did spend a lot more than we expected. We had one free pass and 4 passes for $5 reduced fee, BUT, it turns out, to use the "free" pass, we needed to pay one full price ticket. So, the basic entrance for my family of 5 cost us $32 (instead of the $20 I was expecting). We had planned to do two "extra" attractions, but because of the high costs we decided to do only one (3d shark movie) - this cost another $17. We checked our coats, which cost another $5. We got ice cream and drinks, which cost us $16.

The trip on the commuter train cost $21 round trip (this was more than I had expected since kids under 11, all of mine, ride free). Then we had to take the subway which cost $8 round trip (also more than I had anticipated since the kids ride free).

Then we stopped for dinner in town (which we had planned) and that cost $60.

So, if I'm adding correctly, this day cost us $158. (I guess that's not sooo bad for a family of 5, but I thought it would be less.)

Anyway, that's where things stand right now.

I am participating in the "Forget The Jonses Project" over at the Mommysavers forum. (You can read about how I have been doing here.) I am also part of the Snowflake Revolution (check it out).

Monday, March 17, 2008

Friday, March 14, 2008

My Jewelry On Etsy

I am pleased to announce that I now have my own shop on Etsy.

What is Etsy?

Etsy is an online marketplace for buying and selling all things handmade. Their mission is to enable people to make a living making things, and to reconnect makers with buyers. Their vision is to build a new economy and present a better choice.

Check out some of my items now shown in my sidebar. I have many items that would be great for Mother's Day!

I'm Trying To Forget The Joneses

We have some very close friends that I'll refer to as "The Joneses". Although I am protecting their identity by referring to them as "The Joneses", it is, in fact, a very fitting name for their family (at least in relation to my family).

We have been friends with "The Joneses" since we were all in college, none of us yet married. Unlike my husband and I, "The Jonses" have always been very good with their money. My husband and I got married right after college and purchased a home immediately. Mr. and Mrs. Jones waited to get married for a couple of years, saving money by living with their respective parents during that time. When my husband and I purchased our first home, we put down a down payment of $14,000. This money came from a settlement from a law suit from a car accident that I had been in. It was the only savings we had. "The Joneses" on the other hand, put down $100,000 cash that they had been saving throughout their lives!

As we socialized with them often, I began to realize that they didn't waste their money on knick knacks from the Christmas Tree Shop (like I did), but saved up for big purchases like their heirloom quality bedroom set. We, on the other hand, financed all of the furniture that we purchased.

Anyway, fast forward 17 years and it should be no surprise that we are struggling to get out of debt and "The Joneses" are in excellent financial shape.

In fact, they are going on a three week vacation to Italy this summer. I have known about this for a while and although I would also like to take my family on such a trip, I hadn't really felt jealous about them going. Until today. . .

I just found out that some other friends of "The Joneses" will be going on the Italy trip with them. They would, of course, rather be going with us, but it isn't in our budget this year. It also wasn't in our budget when "The Joneses" and this other family went on two trips to Disney World and another trip to The Bahamas.

Yes, I am jealous and jealousy is not a pretty emotion. I know that.

I am happy for "The Joneses", they really do deserve these things. They lived like no one else, and now they can live like no one else.

It's just really hard to not want to keep up with "The Joneses".

I am participating in the "Forget The Jonses Project" over at the Mommysavers forum. (You can read about how I have been doing here.)

This article has been included in the Carnival of Personal Finance #144 over at Being Frugal.


Well, most of you know that I am participating in the "Forget The Joneses Project" over at the Mommysavers forum. (You can read about how I have been doing here.)

I am currently working on the "21 Day Spending Freeze" and I think I did my first cheat today. On the way to school my 5th Grade Daughter remembered that today is the one day a month that the school store is open. She asked me if she could have some money to purchase something there. Clearly buying some trinkets from the school store must be classified as a "want" not a "need", but I went ahead and gave her $2 to spend.

As I thought about it later on, it became clear to me that I have much less trouble denying myself "wants" than doing so to my children. For example, a couple of days ago two of my friends e-mailed me and wanted to plan to get together for dinner the last week in March. I really had no problem telling them I was participating in a 21 Day Spending Freeze challenge and asking if we could postpone until April. I wasn't able to, however, tell my daughter that she would need to wait until next month to shop at the school store. This is really an interesting experiment that I'm sure will bring a lot of insight when the 21 days are over.

I also stopped at the grocery store to pick up a few necessities. Here's what I got:

Hot Dog Rolls - $ .69
Bread - $ .69
Bread - $ .69
Ital. Bread - $1.49
Bananas - $1.23
Sour Cream - $ .99
Deli Turkey - $2.69
Trail Mix - $1.49
Trail Mix - $1.49
Rolls - $1.39
Raisins - $ .99
Eggs - $1.99
Milk - $3.99
Total = $19.81

$497.57- Subtotal of March Food

Thursday, March 13, 2008


Sold 4 items on ebay today for a total of $38. Hello Snowflakes!

Also earned $20 babysitting today.

Day 5 of the 21 Day Spending Freeze - and I still haven't spent a penny! Yeay!

So today's Food Spending is also $0. (Monthly subtotal for Food = $477.76)

So, I'm feeling pretty good today!

I also finished reading Voluntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin, which was a very powerful book that I will write about later this week.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

More Snowflakes

Today I was able to "snowflake" another $38 to our last credit card! This snowflake was made possible because of two checks we received in the mail. The first was for $25 for reimbursement from our FSA (flexible savings account) for out of pocket health expenses. The second was a check for $13 which was a rebate for the full amount that I paid for a package of fancy markers for my daughter (will go in the Easter basket).

I love the snowflake method! Join The Snowflake Revolution!


Well, today is Day 3 of my "Spending Freeze", and so far it has been going well.

Haven't spent a dime!

This has certainly made tracking my food expenses easier too!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Forget The Joneses Project - Phase I (Steps 1-5)

As I noted in my last post, I am participating in the "Forget The Joneses Project" at the Mommysavers Forum. I am a bit behind since the project began in January, but it doesn't matter so long as you follow the steps in order.


#1 Grab a Notebook

I decided to use a word document for this.

#2 Go on a 21-Day Spending Freeze

"What is a spending freeze? To put it simply, no more spending. Zip. Zilch. Nada. You’re not allowed to spend money on anything but necessities. Use up the food you have in your cupboards. Your grocery budget is now limited to what you must buy (milk and toilet paper, for example). Think of it as “Mommysavers Survivor” except the only prize at the end of the game is the money you’ve saved." J

This one is going to be tough. Yes, I have committed to going 21 days without spending money on anything that is not a necessity. I am excited about this challenge though. It is something that I have thought about trying often in the past. So, from March 9th through March 30th I will not spend money on anything but necessities. Luckily I just went grocery shopping and my home is filled with food.

#3 Question the Difference Between Wants and Needs

"During your spending freeze, you will need to question the difference between wants and needs. Try to anticipate the decisions you’ll have to make in the next three weeks. Are you going to be invited out to lunch? If your child needs money for school lunch, will you have him brown-bag it instead? What will you do? "

As I look ahead to the next 21 days I do notice two dates that will be a challenge.

The first is next Saturday. We have planned to take the kids to the Museum of Science for the day. We reserved passes from the library which will allow us to get in the museum for $5 each (instead of the regular price of $17), plus we have one free pass, so the total for our family of 5 will be $20. Plus we will be taking the train in town, which will cost. These things are obviously wants not needs. But since they were planned before we began this challenge, we will keep the plans.

The next is Easter dinner. I will be having Easter dinner for my extended family at my home. Although I did already purchase the ham, there might be other foods for the event that I will buy that won't technically be needs.

#4 Create an "Approved Spending" List

"Write down all the things you think you will need to purchase in the next three weeks. You are only allowed to purchase the bare-bones minimum, things you cannot get by without."

Here's my Approved Spending List for the next 21 days:

- Groceries (fruit, vegetables, milk, bread, eggs, Easter dinner food, NO DIET COKE)
- Gas for the car
- Museum of Science Trip (noted above)
- Easter Baskets for the kids

#5 Get Support

I have been going to the Mommysavers forum for support and the blogosphere for support. :)

(I'll keep you posted as move along through the steps.)

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Forget The Joneses Project

Thanks to commenter Steph O, I am participating in the Mommysavers' "Forget The Joneses Project".

Mommysavers is an on line forum. Their website states:

" helps parents make the most of their time and money. We want to give you the tools to live a rich, fulfilled life while on a budget or living on one income. We truly can help you live "more richly" for less!"

The "Forget The Joneses Project" is explained as:

"Each year at Mommysavers we hear from a lot of you who resolve to get out of debt, break the paycheck to paycheck cycle or save more money. We want to help all of you. However, cutting up the credit cards is just the first step in achieving true financial fitness. You also need to change the way you look at money and how you relate to it. You need to redefine your relationship with material possessions, see just how your self-worth may be connected to your net worth and really analyze how you’re using your other greatest resource, your time. It's all about being mindful with your spending and putting your money where your priorities, dreams, and values are. In this year-long project, you’ll learn what you need to know to improve your finances and your life all at the same time. Think of it as a "best you" with a financial twist."

I will list the steps of the project tomorrow. If you want to check it out yourself, click here.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Today's Food Spending

(photo courtesy of

Went grocery shopping today.

I used to shop at Market Basket. It is close to a twenty minute drive away, but they have really good prices so I always felt it was worth the extra drive.

Then a new discount grocery store opened near me. Their prices are fantastic but they have a very limited selection of brands and items.

I was alternating between these two grocery stores each week for a while. Then I realized that I don't really need to go grocery shopping every week. So, I stretched it out a little longer between each trip.

Now I have decided to make just one trip a month to Market Basket, and shop the discount grocery store as needed during the rest of the month (hopefully only to get fresh fruits and vegetables as needed).

So, this long preamble is to explain my very expensive trip to Market Basket today. I spent $227.80 (after saving $9.50 with coupons).

This puts us just about at the $500 mark, which is our total food budget for March, and it is only March 8th.

The good news is that my house is stocked! I think we can make it on the grocery side. I'm not sure we can go the rest of the month without eating out. I guess we can use our weekly spending money for eating out, which is what we usually do.

$227.80 - Grocery Food (Market Basket monthly trip)
$477 .76 - Subtotal For March

Friday, March 7, 2008

Today's Food Spending

Yup, you guessed it. Another out to eat today!

Hubby took the day off from work to attend a field trip with our daughter. He got back at noon and we decided to go out to lunch. We knew we shouldn't since we had a lot of dining out last weekend, but we don't have a lot of lunch food in the house (going grocery shopping tomorrow) and, well, we just really like to go out to eat!

$32.00 - Entertainment Food (out to lunch at Longhorn Steakhouse)
$4.50 - Entertainment Food (hubby got ice cream after lunch)
$249 .96 - Subtotal for March

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Our 2008 Debt Snowball

(photo courtesy of

Here is what are plan of attack for our debts looks like for 2008. I have listed the amount we plan to pay towards our debts for each month. (We currently owe $3,000 on a credit card and $27,000 on our Home Equity Loan.)

2008 Planned Debt Payments
March - $1,100
April - $1,425
May - $1,425
June - $1,425
July - $1,425
Aug - $1,425
Sept - $6,125
Oct - $2,125
Nov - $2,125
Dec - $2,125

If all goes according to this plan, this will leave us with $10,000 left in debt at the end of 2008.

This plan includes an anticipated tax refund of $6,500. I actually expect the refund to be a lot higher (I know, I need to change our withholding, and I will after I see what our exact refund will be). The refund could be as much as $4,000 more - in which case we would apply that to the debt, and lower the end of the year debt balance to $6,000.

I am hoping that by snowflaking all the money I can and starting once again to try to earn some extra income by selling things on ebay, etc., I am really hoping that somehow we might possibly be able to become debt free by the end of 2008!

My Snowflake Melted!

(photo courtesy of

I was all excited to snowflake another $100 from my paypal account today. I checked my on line bank account and noticed that my husband had paid most of our bills today. This was as I had expected. But what I hadn't expected was two excise taxes that amounted to $115! I hadn't expected this bill and therefore this expense had not been put into our budget.

So, instead of snowflaking that extra $100, it will go to pay the excise bill. I guess we're lucky to get an extra $100 to offset that unexpected bill.

Need to make sure to plan for the excise tax bill for next year!

Today's Food Spending

$4.02 - Coffee Break (coffee and donuts, too often this month!)
$12.08 - Entertainment Food (brought daughter and her friend to Burger King for lunch)
$25.00 - Grocery Food
$13.80 - Diet Coke (3/$12 plus deposit)
$213.46 - Subtotal for March

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Today's Snowflakes

(photo courtesy of

Just "snowflaked" a little more money towards the debt we are currently "attacking". (We are paying off our debts using the debt snowball method. We are paying our debts in order by balance, from smallest to largest. We are down to our last two debts. A credit card on which we owe $3,000 (which is the one currently under "attack") and our HELOC (home equity line of credit) on which we owe $27,000.

So, today I received a couple of paypal payments that amounted to a total of $159.51. So, I transferred the money from paypal to my bank account and then made an on line payment of $159.51 to our credit card. Our on line bank account even popped up a warning that we just sent this account $22 yesterday and asked if we were sure we wanted to send another payment. Yes! we are sure!

I really like this "snowflaking" method!

Read more about snowflaking at I've Paid For This Twice Already and The Snowflake Revolution.

The Ultimate Credit Card Cut Up Contest

The Penny Saved is holding a Cut Up Your Credit Cards Contest and is giving away several prizes, including two iPod nanos!

This was just the inspiration I needed to take the plunge! Seven cards gone, one to go! (I am holding on to the last card until we have funded our Fully Funded Emergency Fund with the money to cover six months of living expenses.)

We are down to owing just $3,000 on our last credit card (still owe $27,000 on the HELOQ), and expect that card will be paid of in the next couple of months.

I encourage everyone to get out your scissors and join in the contest!

The Snowflake Revolution

I have joined The Snowflake Revolution!

This is a great idea that goes along with the Debt Snowball.

Today I paid our Electric bill. I had budgeted to $187 and the actual due was $165, so I "snowflaked" the $22 difference. In other words, I took the left over $22 and applied it to the debt that I am currently attacking (our last credit card). This is in addition to our normal debt snowball amount (of $1,100).

Little by little, in this way, our debt will get paid off faster!

Why not give it a try?

Braces Update

(photo courtesy of

Thanks to everyone who commented on my Braces dilemma.

I decided to not pay in full up front for the 5% discount. The reason I decided this isn't really financial. After I thought about it for a while, I started to wonder what would happen if we were unhappy with the services we were receiving or what if we needed to relocate for my husband's job (unlikely, but anything's possible). If I had paid in full it might be difficult to get a refund of any funds. If I pay as I go I feel I have more flexibility. And, there is no finance charge of any kind, so that makes me feel like this is not a new debt.

Today's Food Spending

(photo courtesy of

$3.56 - Coffee Break (stopped while out doing errands this morning)
$158.56 - Subtotal for March

I did change our grocery budget for this month from $500 to $300. Part of this is just wanting to cut back but also I am not grocery shopping as regularly anymore as I was in the past. I was going grocery shopping every Monday. There are 5 Mondays in March, hence why my original budget was for $500 ($100 a week). Now that I am trying to stretch out between grocery visits and going on a different day each week, plus the fact that I am a stockpiler and have tons of food in the house, I have lowered our grocery budget to $300.

I also got rid of the $80 we had budgeted for March for pizza, as we have not been as regular about that either.

Now, we have already spent over $150 on non-grocery food this month that didn't have its own category in the budget (part pizza, part personal fun money, etc.). So, our total food for the month will probably be very close to the $580 (original $500 grocery plus $80 pizza).

May need to think about changing my budget category names.


* Save To *

Read more on this topic in Your Money or Your Life (Part 1), The Daily Tracking of Expenses Experiment is Over, and Trouble With Tracking and Yet Another Attempt At Tracking Expenses and Food Spending.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Tracking Spending - Food

(photo courtesy of free

Okay, as I have mentioned, beginning on March 1st I have decided to track my family's spending on food. The reason I am only tracking our spending on food and not other categories, is that I have found it much too difficult to keep track of all categories. And food is a dangerous area in our family's budget. We usually keep our grocery budget on the low side (we'll see if my beliefs are substantiated with the facts) but have more trouble with dining out, coffee breaks, convenience, and food as entertainment.

So, catching up, here goes:

Saturday, 3/1/08
$20 - Entertainment Food (I went out to lunch with a group of girlfriends, on an overnight trip)
$35 - Entertainment Food (Husband went out to lunch with the 3 kids and another family while I was on my overnight trip)
$30 - Convenience Food (Husband took the 3 kids out to dinner after dd's basketball game)
$85 - Total (Notes: very high for 1 day, especially husband and kids going out for 2 sit down meals in one day)

Sunday, 3/2/08
$0 - Total

Monday, 3/3/08
$15 - Celebration Food (bought a cake to celebrate my sister and my niece's birthdays)
$40 - Celebration Food (pizza for dinner with my family and my 3 sisters, niece, and nephew)
$55 - Total (Notes: now that my parents have moved to Florida, most of my family's entertaining takes place at my house. This could become very expensive but I don't really feel comfortable asking everyone to chip in. Two of my sisters did put in a little cash but most was paid by my family.)

Tuesday, 3/4/08
$15 - Entertainment Food (went to lunch with my sister who was visiting from out of state)
$15 - Total

$155 - Total for 4 days

This is very high for just 4 days. Will need to be careful for the rest of the month!


* Save To *

Read more on this topic in Your Money or Your Life (Part 1), The Daily Tracking of Expenses Experiment is Over, and Trouble With Tracking and Yet Another Attempt At Tracking Expenses.