Monday, December 29, 2014

Money Monday: 2014 Coupon Savings

2014 is quickly coming to a close. As I began looking at my 2014 goals, the one that I was most interested in was my coupon savings for 2014. While I do track how much I save, I don't keep a running total throughout the year.

Total Coupon Savings for 2014: $1,704.39

My goal for 2014 was to save $2,000, and this year it looks like I missed my goal by $295.61.

But, there were some savings that I never calculate.

First, I am allowed to price match at my grocery store. I do this when I purchase produce, because its based on pounds purchased, or number of items. I don't have the time or desire to calculate those savings, so those are never included in my totals. (For example, if I have an add showing apples for .99C a pound, but my store is selling them for $1.25 a pound, I just show the cashier the add for the lower cost apples and they price match them to the lower price.)

Second, I don't calculate the rebates or incentives that I get when I purchase products. For example, at one store, I currently have $25.00 in rebates. I collect those rebates each week, and I am waiting until I earn $100.00 in credit before I cash them in. Again, I don't calculate that into my savings.

Finally, there are usually 2 or 3 mail in rebate offers that I participate in per month. These are the programs where you purchase a product, then mail in the upc code and receipt, and they send you the purchase price in the form of a check or gift card. Those are usually only a few dollars each, but they do add up. Again, I don't factor those monies into my savings totals.

In the end, when simply looking at the recorded numbers, it looks like I didn't meet my goal, but when I factored these other items into the total, I believe I ended up saving more than the $2,000 goal I set for myself.

In 12 months, we managed to save nearly $2,000 on things that we normally purchase. Those are real dollars, and real savings. For us, those savings allow us to stretch our dollars. According to the USDA, food prices in 2014 rose a little over 2% in 2014 over 2013. Using coupons and deals, we have been able to keep our food budget steady, and did not have to
increase it in 2014.

In addition, using coupons has allowed us to build an impressive stockpile of goods. Now, if we need razors, shampoo, cleaning products, or food, we have them here, in stock. That is a great feeling.

We have also been able to use coupons to purchase items for free or very cheap. If they are items that we don't need, or don't use, we give them to family or friends. We are also able to create bags to pass out to the homeless around our community.

If you are interested in coupons, and how to find deals, cut coupons, and organize them in less than an hour a week, please check out this post, or feel free to email me. I would love to help you out. Also, if you are interested, please feel free to check out my coupon savings page that I update throughout the year.

Tell Me: Did you do any couponing in 2014? How much did you save? 

**Disclaimer: I am not an extreme coupon user. I don't purchase coupons online nor do I dumpster dive for coupons. I spend $5.00 each week for a double issue of the newspaper to get those coupons, or I print them from sites on the internet. I have never purchased more than 6 items at a time, and have never used more than 1 cart while shopping. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Last Christmas

This Christmas week, has been very merry indeed. Its been filled with family, friends, food, laughter, presents and love. But, its also been bitter sweet.

I've spent nearly 30 Christmas' in this home, and this year is the last one I ever will. My parents are retiring in 2015, and they are moving to another town to be closer to family, which is wonderful and exciting. But these past few days, as we've helped my parents clean out the attic and sort through the stuff, there have been moments where I felt nearly paralyzed with sadness as I was overcome with memories and emotions. 

My parents close on their new house on January 9th, but won't retire until the summer. But, that weekend in January, they plan to begin moving things to their new house each month, to make the final move easier. The next time I step foot in this home, there will not be a bed in my room, or things in my closet. The end is very near. 

Last night, Christmas eve, we went to our final Christmas service at church. The church were I was baptized, where I met Jesus, and went to Sunday school. The church where I made friends, played on the lawn, spent countless hours. During our final song, I stood quietly looking at the alter, taking it all in, just wanting to remember the church, because its been exactly the same since I was a child. 

And last night, I woke up after everyone went to bed, and wondered the quite rooms of this house.  A lot of life happened between these four walls. Good things and bad. Memories and moments that we treasure, and a million others that we have long since forgotten. Dreams came true, hearts were broken, fights and make up's occurred. First kisses, slow dances, parties. They all happened here. It is just a house, just brick and drywall, but somewhere along the way, it became home. A refuge from the storm, a place where love always prevailed. 

We leave tomorrow afternoon to head back to Dallas. So this, my final night, in my home before everything changes, before everything is different, before normal is no more, I will take a moment to thank this house. Thank it for always being warm and inviting. For always keeping me safe from the storm, and for being more than just a house. 

In these last few hours and days of the only "normal" I've ever known, I'm reminded of the quote by Steven Rogers. "Beginnings are usually scary, endings are usually sad, but its whats in the middle that counts. So when you find yourself at the beginning, just give hope a chance to float up. And it will."

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Today was a Good Day

Today was a good day.

Scratch that, today was a wonderful day.  A day filled with hard work, frustrations, and finally, some sweet tears, and a precious moment that I will hold dear in my heart, forever.

Today started like most others. I arrived at work and hit the ground running. Emails, projects, meetings, repeat. I don't talk about work much on the blog, but I work in commercial real estate and I am the manager of several assets that are worth millions of dollars each.

I am fortunate to have a great team that works hard, plays hard, and are some of the best in the business. They work their backsides off, and I am so grateful for them.

A few weeks ago, I was able to approve and send out bonuses to the professionals on my team. While everyone was excited and grateful, there were a few grumbles, but for most everyone, they expected their bonus.

Today, however, I was able to give out a bonus to the housekeeping folks who take care of the buildings. They are on their feet all day, doing the work that no one wants to do. They take out trash, clean the bathrooms, and do a lot of the dirty work. Around 4:30, I walked into the lobby of one of my properties, and met one of my housekeepers. He is the newest member of the team, and has only been working with me for about 6 months. This afternoon, I was able to hand him his bonus, and when he looked up, there were tears in his eyes.

He is an immigrant from Mexico. He works 2 jobs, and comes in everyday with a smile on his face.  I told him how thankful I was to have him on my team, and how impressed I have been with his work. Still with tears in his eyes, he said thank you. He explained how much the money meant to him because he has been wanting to buy a Christmas present for his little boy, but he didn't have the money. He also said he has been wanting a Christmas tree, and he was so excited because he could take his family to buy one.

As I watched this grown man cry over his bonus, tears filled my eyes. His bonus was $250.00. For many of us, that is a lot of money, but it is not life changing. Many of us drop that much over the course of a weekend on clothes, dinners, and events with friends.

With tears in my eyes, I told him how thankful I am to have him on my team, and how much I appreciate him. Before I left, I leaned in to give him a hug, and he kissed my cheek and squeezed me tight, and again, in his accented English, whispered "thank you so much, you have such a big heart" in my ear.

That moment, that hug, that interaction is my Christmas present. That moment is all I need this year. Not because he paid me a compliment, but because I was able to do something for someone else who really did need it. He made my day, he made my week, and he made my Christmas.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Money Monday: The Cost of Juicing

14 days ago, my husband and I decided to do a pure fruit and vegetable juice detox. At first, we were planning on doing a 3 day detox, but, after 3 days, we decided to keep going for a full 10 days.

The detox has been both hard and unbelievably rewarding. We have both lost weight, slept better, and feel healthier overall. We are currently continuing to juice for two meals a day, while eating a healthy sensible meal of salad and lean protein each night.

The lessons we learned from juicing will come in another post later this week, but for now, lets get down to the nitty gritty of our 10 day challenge.

To start, we needed to purchase a juice. We chose to purchase the Breville Juice Fountain from Bed Bath and Beyond. The list price was $149.00, but I found a coupon, and saved $30.00, so we only paid $120.00 (pre tax).

Then, we purchased the fruit and veggies. The first shopping trip was the most expensive, because we were not sure what we were going to like, and spent around $75.00. That first round of produce lasted around a week. Since then, we have done four shopping trips, and each trip has varied in price.

The four shopping trips cost the following (rounded up to keep the math nice and simple):

Shopping Trip 1: 75.00
Shopping Trip 2: 35.00
Shopping Trip 3: 35.00
Shopping Trip 4: 35.00
Shopping Trip 5: 35.00

So here we are, day 14 of juicing, and while we are no longer doing a pure detox. Again, we are still juicing during the day, and eating at night.

The grand total for 10 full days of juicing: $335.00

This is the first time that I have calculated how much we spent on this challenge. Honestly, that number is a bit shocking. That is not cheap at all! But, when you pull out the cost for the juicer, the cost for the produce was around $215.00.

As I stated above, this was not a cheap experiment, but we knew we were going to spend more than we normally would on food this month. But, I am also taking into account the long term effects on our health and our budget. We see food as fuel, and while we are not opposed to taking medicine, we both prefer to take as little medicine as possible. By spending a little more money now, on the front end and improving our health, we are saving money on the back end because we don't have to spend those dollars on health care. Therefore, I have no problem spending the extra money.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Juicing Detox, Day 3 and 4

Here we are, the end of day 4, and we are still going strong.

If you have not been following along these past few days, my husband and I are in the midst of a juicing detox. In this challenge, are only allowed to drink pure fruit and vegetable juice, no food, just juice. We decided that we would spend 3 days doing the detox, and reassess. If we felt good, we would continue for a few more days. If we were struggling, we would see if we need to make some modifications.

First, its not been easy, at all. I never realized how much time and effort I spent either eating, preparing, and thinking about my meals. A significant portion of my day is spent cooking, eating, and cleaning up after meals. Now that we are not sitting down to eat, the mornings are much slower, and the nights are longer.

Second, I never realized how much I snacked throughout the day. This detox is making me much more mindful of what I put in my body.  Even though many of my snacks were healthy, I still ate without thinking about it. For me, I think I spent a lot of time eating out of habit, boredom, or as a form of entertainment. I very rarely asked myself, "Am I actually hungry?"

For me, day 3 was extremely hard. I had to drink some juices that I did not enjoy at all, and they were a bit tough to stomach. There were two drinks during the day that were majority kale, and they did not go down easily. By the end of the day, I was exhausted, and had a headache. I ended up going to bed before 8:00PM because I didn't feel well.

Day 4, (Thursday) has been much easier for me. I had 2 more kale juices today, but they were not quite as bad as day 3. I've found that I just have to chug them down quickly rather than sip them. As much as I detest the kale drinks, I cannot deny that after I drink them, I get a huge burst of energy for a few hours.

For my husband, day 4 has been a challenge. The newness of the challenge has worn off, and now we know what to expect from what we drink. He was already laying on the couch when I came home from work, so I know he's been struggling today.

There have been a few bright spots these past 2 days. We added spinach to our juice for the first time, and I didn't mind it at all. I wouldn't say it was good, but I would say it was much better than kale.

I've also found that I can stomach the harder, heavier juices in the middle of the day. Most days my stomach is a bit off in the mornings, so I need something light. Plus, I have found that I enjoy having a pure fruit juice in the evening as a treat, which encourages me to drink the harder, greener juices during the middle of the day.

Things are good here in the house o' juice. We have struggled a bit, but are staying strong. We both know this is for our own good, for our own health, and that when we are done, our bodies will be stronger, healthier, and better.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Juicing, Day 2

Kale sucks.
This is overpriced organic kale. It was terrible yesterday, its terrible today, and will be terrible forever. 
I don't like to eat kale. I don't like to drink kale. I hate kale. And in juice, kale is everywhere.

Kale has been and should always be a garnish, only. 

I may need to backtrack for a moment. My husband and I are currently doing a dextox where the only thing we consume is fruit and vegetable juice. We are doing a mix, making our own and purchasing some from a juice bar. (Could that sound any more pompous....juice bar). 

Today, Tuesday, marks the end of day 2 of the challenge. 

Today's menu
Breakfast: Orange, carrot, and celery juice, 8 oz. Homemade 
Snack: Orange, carrot, and celery juice, 8oz. Homemade
Lunch: Beet, kale, carrot, and parsley juice, 8oz. Juice Bar
Snack: None
Dinner: Orange, pineapple, and pear juice, 8oz. Homemade. 

Day 2 of the detox has been better than I thought, yet still difficult. This morning, it was extremely hard to wake up, I was just exhausted. Most mornings, I wake up quickly, and head straight to the gym. This morning, I could not even fathom getting out of bed, so I slept an extra hour and half. I also noticed that I was stiff, sore, and my joints were aching. I took a hot bath, and did some stretching, and felt a bit better. I called a friend on the way to work, and she thinks I am detoxing from sugar, because those are some tale tale detoxing signs. 

Around lunch, I found that I was really hungry. I broke into the beet juice, and that drink was rough. I ended up having to hold my breath and chug it as quickly as possible. It tasted terrible, but, it kept me full for the rest of the afternoon. 

Finally, around dinner time, my husband and I were both hungry, and craving something sweet, so we made our own pure fruit juice. It was A.M.A.Z.I.N.G! By far, the best tasting juice of the day!

Over all, today was much easier than I expected it to be. I am finding that if I drink juice every two hours, I don't get hungry. I've had very few headache's like I thought I would. Plus, my cravings for processed foods has been waining. 2 days of no eating, and while I am not hungry, I have found that I miss the act of eating. I just want to chew something. 

If anything, thus far, this challenge has taught me how often I mindlessly snack, and give into my cravings. 

As far as my husband, yesterday he was having some pretty severe caffeine withdrawals. He was fighting some nausea and a terrible headache. Today, it has subsided just a bit, but he has been really strong and pushed through the pain. 

Overall, we are doing well. Day 3 is going to be tough because we have some pretty terrible juices waiting for us, so we will have to be pretty disciplined to get through it. I will report back tomorrow!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Great Juicing Detox of 2014

That title sounds pretty epic, doesn't it?

This past weekend, over the Thanksgiving holiday, my husband, mother in law, and I watched the documentary, Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead.

The documentary follows the story of a man named Joe Cross, who goes on a juice fast for 90 days in order to improve his health and lose weight. Prior to the fast, he was on a lot of medicine, he was over weight, and had an autoimmune skin disease. His goal was to juice for 90 days, and get off all his meds, all while taking a road trip across the USA. The documentary was really good, and brought up a great deal of points regarding the benefits of juicing.

Later that day, my husband, out of the blue, mentioned that he would like to try juicing. He suggested a 10 day challenge, of nothing but juice. My first response, was a nervous giggle, because I've done detoxes before, and they are hard. Secondly, I know that I am weak, and feared that I would break. After some discussion, some research, and taking to juicers, we decided that we would do a 3 day detox, then reassess.

We have decided to make our own juice in the morning and evenings and then purchase some juices to drink during the work day. Currently, our fridge is packed with kale, cucumbers, celery,apples, pears, lettuce, carrots, and ginger.

I plan on documenting my findings, feelings, and thoughts about the process here, along with the juices I have been consuming.

So here we are, day 1.

Day 1: Monday.
Breakfast: 8 ounces hot water, with lemon. 16 ounces of celery, carrot, and apple juice. Taste good, not great!
Morning Snack: 16 more ounces of celery carrot, and apple juice. Taste good, not great.
Lunch: 8 Kale, Cucumber, Apple, and mint juice. Taste like crap. Would have been easier to just go outside and snack on the lawn.
Afternoon Snack: 8 ounces Orange, carrot, apple juice from Whole Foods. Tasty, but would really like something to eat.
Dinner: Nothing. Still full from afternoon juice.

Most of the day, I felt really full. I never felt hungry and never felt the desire to eat. I felt full, and had a ton of energy.

Currently, it is around 8:00PM on Monday night, and I am starting to get really hungry. I wish I would have had some juice at dinner time. I don't want to drink any now, because I don't want to be up all night using the restroom, so I am dealing with the hunger pains. I am also dealing with a headache right now, and I will probably go to bed early in order to avoid the temptation of swallowing an entire loaf of bread.

As for my husband, he has done great today, but he has had some adverse side effects that I have not had to deal with. He is a coffee drinker, and in addition to the hunger, he is also dealing with a pretty bad caffeine headache. When I came home from work today, we was laying on the bed in the dark suffering pretty badly. But, he is staying strong, and not giving in. He has chugged more juice, and water, and is hoping that the pain subsides tomorrow.

Here we are, at the end of day 1, hungry, headache ridden, tired, and irritable. I keep telling myself this is for my own good, for my health. This will make me healthier, better, and stronger.

Tell Me: Have you done a juice cleanse or detox? Any tips for surviving this?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Money Monday: Using Money as a Motivator

2 weeks ago, my husband and I were looking at the calendar and realized that Thanksgiving was only 4 weeks away. After clearing a bag of Oreo's in less than a weekend, (let's be honest, it was in less than day) I knew that I wanted to feel better before the holiday season, so I proposed an idea to my husband, a challenge. 

The $25.00 challenge:

The Rules: No sweets, no chips, no cokes, candy, juice, cookies, cakes, pastries, or refined sugar of any kind, from November 1-November 28th (Thanksgiving).

The Reward: Each week, if you do not eat any of the above referenced foods, as fun money, each person will get an additional $25.00 in fun money to spend however we like.

The Punishment: If you fail, if you eat any of the above referenced foods, you don't get your $25.00, it goes to the other person. If we both fail, then no money for either of us, at all. 

So far, we have been successful and each collected on our reward. We have tried challenges in the past, and we never stuck to them, but by making it a challenge involving money to motivate us, we have been more successful.

That led me to wonder, should you use money as a motivator?

Growing up, my parents didn't have much money, but, they did make a point reward us for our grades. In their eyes, school was a job and report cards were the fruits of our labor. When it was report card time, we received money for A's and B's, (about $20.00 total if we earned all A's and B's). They saw it as a way to keep us motivated.

On the other hand, my husband was never given money as a reward. He began working at a very young age, and he learned that if he wanted or needed something, he needed to get a job and earn the money in order to pay for it. 

We also have friends that use money to motivate their children to read and write essay's on books that they deem important. 

For us, we are on a budget, and we keep a pretty tight reign on our spending. We only get a small amount of "fun money" or "blow money" each month, so when there is an additional amount on the line, we are motivated. 

My question is, when does it stop becoming motivation, and turn into bribing? In our eyes, using money to motivate is done by setting the terms and rules in advance, but bribing is done in the moment. 

Tell Me: Do you use money as a motivator? What are your feelings on using money to motivate yourself, your kids, or others?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Money Monday--Giving Cash

 The holiday's are here. Its almost time when we as Americans lose our minds (you know we do) and start shopping. It seems as if we treat shopping as a sport, pitting one store against another, beating each other out for the best deal.
I made the decision earlier this year that I want to get ahead of the holiday's and get most of my shopping done by the end of November, so that way I don't have to fight the holiday crowds and limit my exposure to the chaos.
A few weeks ago, my husband and I sat down and created our list with the money we have saved throughout the year, and allocated dollar amounts to each person that we were buying for. 
With the exception of a few gifts, the majority of what we are giving is either cash or gift cards. 
For some of our best friends, each year we send a card with a Visa gift card, and tell them to enjoy a date night on us. 
For many of our family and friends, rather than shopping for a "gift" we end up giving them cash. We try to give it in a creative and fun way, but in the end its just cash. 
When my husband I were first married, we used to spend a lot of time shopping for a gift for each other. But, over time, we began to realize that we each are a bit picky, and would rather be given cash to spend as we like. In our monthly budget, we each get a certain amount of fun money, but sometimes, that is simply not enough for the things we want, so we are able to supplement with money we received from Christmas/birthday's throughout the year. 
For us, giving someone cash is a great gift. We don't ever want someone to feel obligated to use or keep something they don't want, so why not allow them to spend money however they want. 
I know that some folks consider giving cash or gift cards tacky, or a cop out, or unsentimental for not buying a specific gift. For us, we don't feel that way. I think giving someone cash, and with it a well written, thought out, and meaningful card means more than a trinket.
There are certain things that I have received in my life that mean the world to me, and I would never part with. But, there are very few Christmas gifts that I was given that I remember. 
Tell Me: Do you give cash and gift cards to people? Is the practice trash and tacky, or do you think its practical and smart?

Friday, November 7, 2014

Friday Confessions

Hey y'all. Its Friday, so its time for our confessions!

Here we go..

1.I bought a whole bunch of decorations and crafting supplies to decorate for fall. 2 weeks later, they were still in the bag unused, so I took them back to the store and got my money back. Crafting failure.

2. I sat on a toilet in the yard and talked to neighbors. Let me give you a little back story. Our toilet in the master bathroom was not flushing, so we had to get a new one. We put the old one out in the front for the large item trash pick up, and they only pick up on Monday's, so the old toilet sat on the curb for a few days. One day, I was talking to the kids next door, and sat on the toilet while we chatted. Just doing my part to keep the neighborhood classy.

3. I have had paint in my hair for 4 days. I was painting a closet this week, and got paint in my hair. Its not yet been washed out. People are starting to notice.

4.I found my old N'SYNC c.d., and I know every word to every single song. When I was cleaning out a closet (the one I ended up painting) I found a bunch of my old c.d.'s. I ended up pulling out the N'SYNC one, and much to my husbands horror, I still knew each song by heart and most of the dance moves that go with it.  (Hu hu hu here we go, N'SYNC has got the flow).
There was a time in my life where I thought I would meet and marry Lance Bass. I was madly in love with him and thought he was the cutest thing ever. Ugh, news flash young Allison, he likes dudes, so you never stood a chance. I also was able to recount all the drama between JT and JC. I thought P would be interested, but shockingly, he wasn't. So weird.

Your turn, fess up!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Healthy Shepherds Pie: A Recipe. (And Ido am terrible at taking photos of food)

I know many of you have been experiencing fall like weather for a few weeks now. For us in Texas, it was in the 90's last week. But, the temperature has finally dropped for us. Now that its getting colder, I thought it was time to bring out the crock pot and make one of our favorite meals, Shepherd's Pie. 

This is not my recipe, but I have been making it for years. (I cannot remember where I found it either)

This is a great meal, its healthy, easy, and delicious! 

Ground Bison (Can substitute group turkey or chicken)
1/2 Onion
3 cloves minced garlic
2 sweet potatoes
1 bag frozen vegetables
Garlic power
Onion powder
Salt Pepper 
Beef Broth

1.Soften the sweet potatoes. This can be done either by boiling them in water for about 15 minutes or steaming them. 
2.While the sweet potatoes are softening brown your meat in a hot skillet. Once browned, drain any excess liquid, and set aside. 
3. In the skillet cook the onions until translucent then add the garlic. Cook for 2 minutes. 
4. Add your protein back to the skillet and season to taste and mix well.
5. Transfer everything to the crockpot. 
6. Next, add your bag of mixed veggies. No need to defrost them. Once you add them to the crockpot the heat from the protein will do that for you. Mix everything well. 
7. Add your beef broth to the mixture. Add only enough to fill the crock pot just below the food line. Don't over fill because it will get soupy. 
8.At this point, the sweet potatoes should be soft enough to put in your food processor. Give them a whirl until they are fully creamed. 
9. Using a spatula, spread the whipped sweet potatoes over the meat and veggies. 

10. Turn on the crock pot and let it cook.
11. Take the lid off for the last 30 minutes of cooking to allow the top layer of the potatoes to crisp up slightly. 
12. Eat and enjoy!

We eat this meal at least twice a month every winter. Its healthy, filling, and we love it! 

Hope y'all like it too! 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Money Monday: Warranties, Returns, and Replacements

Many of the things we purchase have warranties of some kind. I have never been one to take advantages of warranties for smaller purchases. When my husband and I make large purchases, such as at.v., washer/dryer, refrigerator, ect., we often purchase the extended warranty. We may never have to use it, but it gives us a piece of mind that we have it in case our product did not function property. 

But, for smaller items, historically, I have never taken advantage of the warranties offered by the manufacture.
A few weeks ago, I was drinking water from my Turvis Tumbler, and a friend noticed that it was extremely discolored and cloudy. He mentioned that Turvis had a lifetime warranty and all I had to do was send it in and they would replace it for free. I went to their website, filled out a form, grabbed a box from work, and sent my cup in. Two weeks later, I received a brand new cup in the mail. 

I did the same thing with the cup I use at the office, a Bubba. The insulated piece unattached from the outside holder. I went to the site filled out a form, sent it in, and again, less than two weeks later, I received a new cup. 

Those two returns ended up savings me money. Rather than purchase new cups, I spent about $12.00 in postage to receive $40.00 in new products. 

I bring all this up, because as I said, prior to these returns I never used the warranties for the products I purchased. 

Back in August, I purchased a new pair of running shoes. I live in the Brooke's Adrenalines. They are my go to running shoe, but they are not cheap. At $120.00 a pair, I try to get as much mileage out of them as I can. I had my new pair of Brooke's for about 3 weeks, and put about 60 miles on them, when the fabric along the edges began to tear. I lived with it for a few day's and finally, encouraged by my experiences with the two cups, I sent Brooke's an email and explained the problem. In return, they asked me to send in photos of the damaged shoes. Within 24 hours, I had a reply apologizing for the problem, and that I would be receiving a replacement pair of shoes within 3-5 business day's. Less than a week later, my new shoes were waiting for me on my door step. 

I was pleasantly surprised. With the exception of some torn fabric, the shoes are in great condition, and I am still running in them. And, I have a pair of brand new shoes in my closet when these wear out. For Brooke's, I am sure this was nothing but a blip on the radar, and cost them very little. But for me, a person who loves to run but will never win a race, nor sponsorships in this lifetime, it meant a great deal. I won't forget their great customer service was, and it solidified me as a customer for a very long time. 

In recent weeks, I've learned that there is no harm in speaking up. There is no harm in using a warranty for a product that you purchased. I am so much more cognizant of warranties and guarantees now as a consumer, and I am willing to go to a company to ask them to repair or replace my purchase. 

I am a firm believer that we vote with our dollars and that companies will listen to us when we speak up. 

Tell Me: Do you use warranties? Any companies worth bragging about for their warranty policy? 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Money Monday: Spending on Holiday Decor

The holiday's are almost here. In just 5 short day's millions of kids will go trick or treating, and then, the holiday rush will unofficially begin. Shopping, parties, cooking, and wrapping of gifts will work its way into our lives. 

We all know that Americans spend billions and billions of dollars from November-December on gifts and decor for Christmas. But, what about the holiday's that precede Christmas and New Years?

About 2 weeks ago, I was out running, and came across a house a few miles away that was already decorated for Halloween. These people spared no expense for their yard. 
This is really creepy. 
 While I was running, I began to wonder, just how much do American's spend on Halloween? 

According to the National Retail Foundation, the average American spends around $75.00 on Halloween. That includes costume, candy, decor, and party supplies. In 2013, as a country, we Americans spent $6.9 billion dollars on this holiday alone. That is a 55% increase since 2005. 

That lead me to wonder, why such a drastic increase for this single holiday?

I have no scientific research to back this up, but my guess would be the rise of Pinterest. I know for me, and my circle of friends, we don't make or decorate without heading to Pinterest first for ideas. 

On a personal level, Halloween has always been one of the cheaper holidays. Growing up, my parents didn't purchase us packaged costumes. If we wanted to dress up, we needed to plan our costume from what he had in our closets and around the house, or we could go to a thrift store and come up with something that way. Most years, my brother and I were able to piece together costumes for less than $10.00. 

As an adult, my husband and I don't spend a ton of money on halloween. For us, our biggest expense is buying candy to pass out. Last year, I think we spent around $15.00 for a few bags of candy. Our neighbors tend to gather around outside and the adults hang out on the sidewalk or in each other's yard passing out candy and talking. 

As far as holiday decor, I rarely decorate for holiday's. We have never spent a holiday at our home. We always travel to be with family, and so I have never put the time or effort into it. Plus, I tend to be a little Type A, and a minimalist, and I don't like to see things moved around or out of place. 

Tell Me: Do you decorate for Halloween or throw a party? How much do you spend? What is your Halloween tradition?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Friday Confessions

We made it to another Friday!

This week has been a busy, but productive one over here.

Anyone have any fun weekend plans?

Its Friday, so that means its time for Friday Confessions!

Here we go.

1.I asked a guy if he washed his hands after coming out of the restroom. I had a meeting and I was going to meet a vendor to do some work. He walked out of the restroom right when I walked into the lobby of the building. I walked up, shook his hand, and said "I sure hope you washed." He got red faced and didn't respond. Ugh.

2. We have been binge watching Friday Night Lights. This t.v. show is AMAZING! We watched 3 episodes each night this week, and then we both woke up at 3:30AM and watched it before work. Addicting!

3.We stared down a neighbor from our porch. Our neighbors boyfriend parks right in front of our house, right next to our driveway. It makes it really hard to back out and he parks in a way that we nearly hit his car all the time. We have asked him to stop parking so close to our driveway and give us more room. He has not. So this week, he pull up and we stood on the porch and watched him park.

All right gang, fess up!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Before and After: The Patio

When we first purchased our home about 2.5 years ago, we knew it needed some work. Nothing major, just some TLC.

About a year ago, my husband and I were sitting on the back patio enjoying the weather, and we were torn because there was football on t.v. We wanted to watch football, while still being outside. I think I said something along the lines of "We should put a t.v. out here." It was just a flippant comment.

But, my husband heard it, and the wheels in his head started turning. He began to think and dream about what a patio cover would be like. 

We looked at some, priced them, and they were way out of our budget, and I never wanted to pull the trigger. But, if my husband is anything, he is persistent. The subject was brought up at least 3 times a month, if not more. 

Finally, after my husband bid it out again, he found a vendor to build the cover at a really aggressive price, and I caved in. It looks great, and we are so happy with it!

The Before:
The deck

 The After:

We added strip lights inside 

The final piece, the furniture! I have been eyeing and lusting over this Martha Stewart set at the Home Depot for over a year! 
This has been the biggest, most expensive project we have undertaken at our home. I think this may be the final project for the year. This year has been the year of home improvement projects, and I think at this point, we are ready to stop with the house projects and enjoy what we've got and all that we have done.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Money Monday: Why we don't use credit cards

5 years ago, my husband and I sat down on our couch, took out a pair of scissors and cut up all of our credit cards.
Then, we took a look at our accounts, totaled all of our extra cash, and left 3K aside as an emergency fund. With just a few thousand to use, we decided to pay off as much of our credit card debt as we could that day.  Once each credit card was paid in full, we called the bank and cancelled our card. One by one, the credit card debts were paid, cancelled, and we vowed that we would never be in credit card debt again.
One part of the process that surprised us was how hard to was to actually close each account. The banks tried to offer us perks (higher credit limits, an upgraded card, concierge services, ect.) and once we declined, we were put through to a supervisor. Then, the supervisor tried to sweet talk us with the perks again. When that didn’t work, they began the scare tactics, and tried to bully us into keeping our cards. It took persistence, determination, and focus for us to remain on track.
But, we did it. We stuck to our guns and kept pushing towards our goal.
I remember after we cancelled our last card being scared. I never realized how tied I was to that piece of plastic. That card was our emergency fund. It was the safety net. Again, we pushed through those feelings and stuck with our plan.
Why did we give up credit cards?
First, we found that when we used credit cards, we spent more money.  This may not be the case for everyone, but when we bought on plastic, it was so much easier to buy more items.
Today, we utilize the envelope system and use cash for food, gas, dry cleaning, pet supplies, home goods (cleaning, HBA, make up ect), and entertainment. Once the money is gone, its gone and we don’t get to spend any more that month. Using cash is what lead me to becoming a couponer because when I bought a cart of groceries with my credit card, I didn’t think about price as much. But, when I sit in the store parking lot and count the cash in my envelope, I have no choice but to stay on budget. Sometimes we have to sacrifice and not buy things we want this week, but I can normally find a coupon for it, so we usually are able to get that item in the next few weeks with a discount.
Second, we read the fine print. The contracts with the credit card companies favor the banks, not the consumer. CC companies advertise a fixed rate, but in our agreement, they were able to increase the interest rate just by giving a two week notice.  
Third, we didn’t trust the credit card companies.  Credit card companies have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to study the consumer. They have sociologist, scientist, psychologist that study us and our behaviors. They study how we act and think in order to get us to spend more money. They try to sell us on a life that quite frankly we could not afford on our own, but with their credit card we could achieve.
Finally, we wanted to be self-reliant and free. We wanted to call the shots in our own financial life, and didn’t want to be tied to an institution that tracked our habits and used that information in ways that were not helpful, but harmful.
Are we missing out?
Sure, we don’t get frequent flyer miles, or discounts at the store, but in most cases, I can find a coupon code online and get those savings anyway.
But, what we don’t get in rewards, we more than make up for in piece of mind. We never worry about what the mail when it comes in because we know there is no bill out there with our name on it that we forgot about.
In the end, living without credit cards is not for everyone, but for us, it works. The beauty of personal finance is that its personal. If you do something that works for you, that does not for me, that’s great! I don’t think one decision is better than the other, they are just different. As long as you have a plan and working that plan, then good for you!

Tell me: Do you use credit cards? If so, how many do you have?  If not, when did you get rid of yours? Why did you get rid of them?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Friday Confessions: Homecoming Edition

Happy Friday Y'all!

Its State Fair time here in Texas, and that can only mean one thing, Homecoming! While I don't have any desire to go to my high school, college, or graduate school homecoming, it does take me down memory lane.  Its Friday night lights, high school dances, and of course looking around to find out who has the biggest mum.
While this was not my mum, I did have some pretty righteous mum's during my high school years! 

So in honor of Homecoming, I thought I would give you some blast from the past Friday confessions from my high school years.

1.I backed my car over the mailbox at the house. I was backing out of the driveway and somehow I ended up in the grass with the mailbox under my car. I drove off.

2. I got sent home from school most Friday's. At my high school we had a dress code for shorts and skirts, they had to be a dollar bill width above the knee. On Friday's I would wear a skirt and hike it up before my geometry class. We had quizzes each Friday and my geometry teacher was my soccer coach.

3. I closed my eyes during my drivers test. We were driving over a bridge and I got scared. So I closed my eyes and the instructor freaked, but somehow still gave me my license.

4. I offered to buy my soccer coach cigarettes and porn. When I turned 18 I wanted to do something with my newfound adulthood. I asked him that during practice one day. He was not amused.

5. I dated a guy who was a drummer but didn't tell anyone it was in the high school band. I thought it made me sound cool to date a drummer, I just didn't tell anyone where he drummed. They found out eventually and made fun of me.

6. I broke up with said guy 2 hours before prom and refused to go with him. I told him I was sick, and when he came over, I broke up with him. But, did manage to go water skiing with him the next day.

Alright friends, fess up!!!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Tales from my Iphone

Gas for $2.87. I have not seen gas prices that low in years! Time to fill up the tank! 
Had a court date on Monday. We were issued a criminal citation for having tree limbs in the front  yard. We had the tree trimmed and the company but the limbs on the curb. Their truck came by less than 2 hours later to pick them up. In the 2 hours they finished a city inspector drove by and gave us a citation. I had to go before a judge and explain it. She dismissed it right away. What an enormous waste of time. 

I have been obsessed with this song. I listed to it on repeat while I ran 6 miles. 

Our dog stands like this for about 30 minutes every single morning 

Woot woot! Got lots of packages!!! 

Last week's couponing haul. About $50.00 worth of product for $11.50! 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Money Monday: The Cash Envelope System

5 years ago, my husband and I decided that we were done using credit cards, and switch to using cash and our debit card.
Our cash envelope wallet. 
We were trying to get out of debt, control our spending, and simply of financial life.
For us, the envelope system means that we use cash to pay for the majority of the things we purchase through out the month.
Here is how our system works:
We withdrawal cash twice a month, on the 1st and 15th. On the first, withdrawal pull cash for the following categories for the month:

Groceries: Self explanatory
Entertainment/Eating Out: Restaurants, concerts, events, ect.
Pet Supplies: Treats, brushes, food, ect.
Dry Cleaning: Self Explanatory
Home Goods: HBA, Cleaning Supplies, Toilet Paper, ect
Gas: Have to keep the tank full
Fun Money: The money my husband and I get to spend however we please.
At the beginning of the month, we put a set amount into each envelope, and that is all we get to spend for that month on that item. (Barring an emergency of course).
We have found that if we are more likely to spend more money when we don’t use cash, so this is a really good technique that we have found to help us stay on or under budget.
For some reason, for us, me especially, when I use plastic, even my debit card, it does not register that I am spending money. But, when I have to pull out those green dollar bills every time I shop, and I see my envelopes getting thinner and thinner, I think twice about what I buy. Which is why I because such a fan of using coupons. 
On the 15th, we do our second withdrawal. This time, the money we pull from our account may not be used on a monthly basis, so we it will continue to grow if not used. At this withdrawal, we pull money for:
Christmas: We save a set amount each month all year, so that when December comes, we get to spoil the people we love presents!
House: This is for house decorating, minor home improvement projects, furniture savings, ect.
Car: For car maintenance like new tires, oil changes, ect,
Fun Money: A second disbursement of blow money for each of us.
My husband and I each get $40.00 a month in fun money to do whatever we want with. ($20.00 every two weeks) This can be used to eat out, buy a purse, buy shoes, buy make up, buy books, well, that’s what I do with my money.
Finally, at the end of the month, we combine all the cash we have left from the first withdrawal, and as a bonus for staying under budget we each get 10% as a little end of month bonus. The rest gets put into our spontaneous fund that we use as spending money when we buy things for a party we host, or extra spending money when we go on vacations out of town, or for a special night out.
Using cash helps us stay on or under budget, and simplifies our end of month account reconciliations, because there is a lot less activity in our checking account.
This system works great for us. For some, it may not be feasible, and may be easier to use some other system. Doing this motivates us to stay disciplined and encourages us to come in under budget each month.

Tell Me: Are you on the envelope system? How does it work for you? How do you budget and track your different expense categories?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Friday Confessions

Happy Friday y'all!

I hope that y'all have had a great week! Its time for our Friday Confessions.

1. I have a couple of friends on Fitbit and my one goal daily is to beat them. So I march in place all day long.  Even at work, I will talk to someone and step side to side just to keep my step count up.  People ask me all the time if I have to pee. I always have to explain myself.

2. I ate six Twix in a row. The regular sized ones, not the minis. I have a problem. A big one.

3. I take toilet seat covers and put them in my purse every time I go to a public restroom. I drink a ton of water, and I have to pee ALL THE TIME. And because of that, I always have to go to the restroom, so I tend to take a few extra and keep them in my purse in case one of the restrooms I visit does not have any.

4. I wore the same shirt twice this week on accident. I wore it with a skirt one day, and the next day I wore it with pants. I didn't realize it until I got to work, because my assistant pointed it out.

All right gang, its your turn, fess up!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Someone Who's Known Me for a Long Time

Yesterday was my grandmothers 91st birthday. As much as I wanted to be there at her house, I just couldn't. She lives 5 hours away, and it was not feasible logistically. We did spend a long time face timing and chatting, which was great.

As my last remaining grandparent, she holds such a special place in my heart. Her smile, her laugh, her smell. She is one of the last of her generation. She grew up in South Louisiana to a family of Cajun farmers. She still speaks broken English, and when she gets excited she starts speaking in Cajun French. My great uncle, her brother, only speaks Cajun, and so to communicate with him, we have to go thru her.

Last night, face timing with her was bitter sweet. It was such fun to see her laugh, to sing happy birthday to her while she had her chocolate cupcakes in front of her. But, it was sad because, I had to wonder how many birthday's she has left.

While she has never been the most worldly, the most educated, or most well spoken, she has always been one of the people that I am most closest to. Growing up, when times got turbulent, I ran to her house. When I got my license and car, the first place I drove was to her house.  We would spend hours talking, and even more not talking. She was so content to just sit and be with me, and ask nothing in return.

The day I graduated high school, and had a diploma in my hand, I went to her house. I sat next to her rocker, and she held my diploma and cried for joy. See, my grandmother had to drop of of school when she was in 8th grade to help with the family farm. I think she always wanted to go back to school, but never did. Then, when I graduated college and then finished my masters, she again, held both in her hands and cried.

She is one of the few remaining people in my life who has known me for a really long time. One of the people that can look back and recall each phase of my life, what I was like and who I was. She holds as much of my history as anyone.

Looking over her life, I cannot imagine what she must think when she looks at the world today. She's never driven a car, never used a cell phone, or surfed the web. (My mom and dad take their iPad to her house to face time with her). In her lifetime she has seen a world war, schools desegregated, women's right expanded, and a computer placed in nearly every household.

How strange and complicated the world must seem. How very different and complicated from when she grew up and where she came from.

While I know she will never read this, I simply want to say again, Happy Birthday Grandma, I love you. (Chances are my mom will end up reading this to her, so thanks mom!)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Tales from My iPhone

Happy Tuesday everyone. I hope that y'all all had a great Monday. I was making space on my phone to download the new IOS, and I thought I would share some random photos from last week. 

A CVS shopping trip haul. This was about $40.00 worth of products that I paid $4.00 for after coupons. 
This is my office. I like to stand and work, so I grabbed some boxes from storage and stand most of the day.
Why do we still get phone books?
Zac Brown concert Friday night! 
A few weeks ago my little alma mater McNeese State University almost beat Nebraska. 

Tell Me: Where did you go to college? What was the last concert you went to? Any Zac Brown fans out there??

Monday, October 6, 2014

Money Monday: Quality vs Quantity

The Scenario: You budget $300.00 to spend on clothes, and you have to spend it this week, where do you go?

Do you hit up Target and stock up on bargain tops? Do you head to H&M or Forever 21 and buy basically the entire store. Do you head to a mid priced store and buy a few bags of clothes? Do you head to a mid to high store like Banana Republic, JCrew, or Ann Taylor and get a few basics? Or do you hit up one high end store and buy one high quality item?

A few years ago, I would have headed straight to Target and filled my cart with their tops and workout gear. Then, I would have rounded out my day at Gap, and picked as many items from the sales rack if I could until every single cent was spent. 

Today however, my m.o. is different. Rather than buying as many cheaper lower quality clothes as I could, I am a bit more discerning. I would probably head to Banana Republic and search for some high quality pants and tops to last a few years. Over the years, I've noticed that my tastes have changed. I am content with fewer clothes, as long as they will are classic pieces that fit me really well, and feel good on my body. 

Another area that we have changed our tastes is in our food selection. When we were first married, we filled out carts with cheap treats. Lots of refined foods, refined sugars, and cheap meat. Now day's we try to fill our cart with fewer refined foods, and more whole foods, organic meats, and quality grains. While we are not 100% organic, we make a point to buy only organic meats, and as many organic fruits and vegetables as our weekly budget allows. 

In real terms, that means we have to go meatless a few days a week in order for us to eat organic meats. It means we need to fill up on sides like fruits, vegetables, and grains, rather than make meat the center point of our  meal. 

In the end, our choices mean that we get to do less, have less and do without certain things. But, filling our home and lives with higher quality foods, clothes, furniture, and healthcare items, we have found that the things we do own last longer, look and feel better. No better, no worse, but for us, it is a choice we are happy with.

Tell Me: What would you do? 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Friday Confessions

Hey friends! I hope that everyone has had a great week.
It's been a crazy week here in Dallas. Between the ebola patient a mere 10 miles from us, and a major storm that has caused major damages to the city, I think everyone here is ready for a few days off.

With that being said, its time for Friday Confessions!

1. On Sunday we bought a box of brownies. We baked them, and then proceeded to eat the entire pan before it even cooled off.  My husband and I ate ourselves sick. But, it was delicious. We would take a few bites, then put it in the freezer to cool off. 30 seconds later, we would pull it out, take a few bites, and put it back in the freezer to cool off. Repeat about 4 more times, and the pan was gone.

2. I wore 2 different earrings to work. They were vastly different earrings. One was a stud, and the other was dangly. No one told me. No one gave me a heads up. I didn't even notice when I looked at myself in the restroom.

3. I walked out of my office and into Target looking like the picture below.  I had a soccer game Tuesday night, and forgot shoes and a sports bra. When I changed in the restroom at work, I realized what I had done, and so I held my head up high, and walked out of the building and into Target in soccer shorts, a silk top from Banana Republic, and heels. Not to mention the awesome sock line because my dress socks were too tight. Why I didn't just put my black pants back on is beyond me.

Ok, now its your turn. Fess up friends!