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! 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

In the Garden of Beasts, a review

I recently finished reading In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson, Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin.

I picked it up a few weeks ago to read on a trip, and just got around to finishing it.

The book is about William Dodd, who became the the U.S. ambassador to Germany on the eve of World War II. Dodd and his family were at first enchanted by the Nazi party. The atrocities they were committing were not widely published, and life was fairly normal and predictable in Berlin. In cities around the country the Nazi party was starting its campaign against the Jews, they were beating Americans in the streets, and began to reveal their true character to the world.

The book focuses a good amount of time on the life of Dodd's daughter, Martha. She was a young woman in a new city with a known father. The city was her playground, and she had the time of her life dating young Gestapo and SS officers. She had illicit affairs with some of the most powerful men in the country. Eventually, she met and became lovers with a Soviet who was a secret agent, and she was recruited to spy of the Soviet Union.

The book covers a few years prior to the war and the political and social changes that occurred prior to the war, and prior to Hitler taking full power of the country.  We all know what happened in the war, but it was enlightening to read about the events that occurred within the country prior to the outbreak of war.

For me, I find that I am often drawn to reading and learning about life in German before the war. In part, this is due to my family. My grandfather's family lived in Germany prior to the war. In the run up to World War II, his family, Jew's, experienced persecution. They were able to flee the country before the real horror began. Unfortunately, his extended family didn't get the chance to leave, so numerous members of our family perished at the hands of the Nazi's.

For my grandfather and his family, they could not get into the USA directly. They were able to secure passage into Mexico, and eventually made their way North into Texas. Their story of survival is nothing short of miraculous. As my grandfather ages, it is becoming more and more important to me that I embrace my heritage, and am a keeper of the family history. I want to share and pass down my families history.

To read in depth about the place where my great-grandparents lived, and the turbulent times they endured makes me long for them. Though I never met them, I wish I had. I wish that I had been born to hear the stories from them, to learn more about their language, life, and culture.

This book is non fiction, but reads like one. It is a great book full of intrigue, mystery, and political motives of the operatives. I highly recommend it!

Talk it out: Where is your family from? What is your heritage? How did you get to where you are now?