End Of Year Goals

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How did you do, loyal readers? It’s the last day of the year– you still have time to add a little more to your savings account or make that dreaded credit card payment and almost four more months to contribute to retirement! Did you make a list of your financial goals? And if so, how many of them did you accomplish?

My main ones were to reach a certain number in our savings account and to max out my Roth IRA; both of which I’m proud to say have occurred as of today (New Year’s Eve). Even though I have until April 15th to contribute to my 2014 retirement account, I really wanted to start out the new year only having to focus on the 2015 contributions. This required hefty weekly transfers for the last month and a half to make up for starting this year’s goal in April, but it was worth it! We also gave more than last year to various organizations we believe in–as well as our church, bible study and monthly support (a three year commitment at that) to a couple we know who are Christian missionaries in Chad. I hope to be able to give even more next year!

Our savings is steadily growing toward our home buying goal–it’s like I can see the light ahead of us and it’s within reach. That is a great feeling to finally feel, given the large expense associated with home buying California. Beyond saving for that goal, timing is very important too–I am more than aware that pretty much every decade there is some sort of recession or housing bubble/crisis–and you want to make sure to be buying on the right side of those events so as not to be paying more than your home will be worth in a few short years. This, of course, is unpredictable, but one’s patience will be rewarded.

Now it’s on to financial goals for 2015. Do you have any yet? I have upped our savings goal by a half the 2014 amount and now plan on setting up a weekly automatic transfer to my Roth IRA which will be much less painful than the larger chunks of money I have been stowing away since the Spring. I also want to be better about meeting our grocery budget–which I purposely keep rather low (maybe this needs to be reevaluated) and seem to struggle to accomplish every month. I will likely not be working much, if at all in 2015, so dropping to one income takes some planning and lowered expectations. To be fair, I didn’t work a ton this year–maybe something like six jobs in total that contributed about 15% to our gross income– and most of that simply boosted our savings or retirement as opposed to being the means off which we lived. So in the day to day sense, it won’t be much of a change. I look forward to the adjustment and challenges–as well as figuring in the cost of an additional family member, who should remain a reasonably affordable expense in his first year of life, anyway.

If you haven’t accomplished all you hoped to by this time, what could you do differently for next year? Please share your strategies below to motivate your fellow readers! Happy New Year and congratulations if you did meet your goals!

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Preparing For Baby Doesn’t Have To Be Expensive

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Everyone tells you that having children is expensive. Long-term, that absolutely makes sense when you consider food, clothing, shelter, college–but what are some short-term ways you can save? I am just about 38 weeks pregnant and have only spent $115.00 on a baby I should be giving birth to in the next two weeks. And I waited almost nine months to spend any money at all–specifically until the week of Black Friday. Everything I have purchased so far has been on sale or was discounted in some other way. It took some serious self-restraint–but it was also kind of a fun challenge once I had made up my mind.

Two things factored into my decision to hold out on baby related purchases: I knew I’d be having a shower and that two weeks later would be the biggest sale weekend of the year. I was very generously blessed at my shower and by my parents which covered almost all of my needs. Note I said needs. I didn’t go overboard with my registry–adding every cute thing I wanted–or any decor items, clothes, toys, etc. I tried to be as minimalist as possible, selecting items I thought I’d use in the beginning, knowing that I could reevaluate when I had a better idea of what I was doing and what my baby was like. I also chose things that I thought would work for the baby through the toddler stage so that I wouldn’t have to purchase new gear every year.

The other really great tactic I found was in creating a nursery fund. Similar to my purse fund–I created an envelope of money that was strictly to be used for items that would go in the baby’s room. The money came from selling a large bookshelf that was in the space previously and made it possible for us to buy any crafts, wall decor or little touches we may want for the room without feeling like we were needlessly spending. Some practical nursery items we didn’t receive at the shower like a laundry basket and crib sheets (RH Baby & Child outlet score $69 marked down to 16.99!!) were also purchased using this money rather than “our own”. The big comfy chair I snagged last year from another Restoration Hardware outlet remains and I didn’t change the curtains or shelving (which I made myself!). Using what you already have saves. Baby won’t know. I found a huge free pegboard from a Craigslist post that my neighborhood art store advertised. I went and snagged it, slapped some paint on there to match the curtains and made myself a cute little changing station/wall set up–saving a lot of money in the process! Pegboards are surprisingly expensive.

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Here are how my money saving purchases went down: The week of Black Friday, Amazon already started their wave of Cyber Monday sales, so I closely monitored them to ensure I wasn’t missing anything I had planned on buying. The place where I registered sent out an email to inform people of the best baby websites having sales that week–which also proved incredibly helpful! I had never been to a Buy Buy Baby before because they aren’t in the city. I waited until I was home for Thanksgiving where there is one close to my parent’s house and went on Black Friday. There were no special sales, but they carry absolutely everything you could dream up and take limitless 20% off coupons the same way Bed, Bath and Beyond does (same company). I also learned they do price matching, which is a pretty sweet deal when you factor in the coupons. I had a few gift cards from my shower, returned some unnecessary items and used cash rewards from our Discover card to purchase everything I didn’t get from Black Friday sales. Using these tactics, I accomplished things like spending .38 cents on my Ergo baby carrier–and $16 on a Graco rocker which was also 35% off on Cyber Monday. Everything you see listed below is not the whole of what I have purchased–it’s just what wasn’t free. All other items were either gifted to me, came out of the nursery fund, or paid for by one of the various methods previously mentioned. And you know what? I could have trimmed the list down even more if I had really wanted to. I don’t need a sunshade for the car yet–I don’t need pacifiers or baby bottles in the beginning. But since I don’t live near a Buy Buy Baby, I was trying to avoid the hour drive it would take to get to the nearest location around here later on.

$29.45 Puj bathtub 50% off

$7.19 sunshade 20% off

$39.99 ear thermometer 20% off

$4.79 nail clipper 20% off

$.38 Ergo carrier gift card

$16.02 Graco rocker 35% off and rewards credit

$4.19 pacifier 20% off

$9.79 bottle 20% off

$3.49 mittens 20% off

= $115.29 total spent on baby so far

As I mentioned last week, my husband and I have still held out on Amazon Prime despite being very tempted to renew it. I’ve found that in November and December, things have arrived in two days despite not being members because of the Christmas rush. And it hasn’t been hard to find more than $35 worth of things to purchase at a time in order to be eligible for free shipping. I didn’t officially register for my baby shower at Amazon, but I privately made a registry so I could get the 10% off after the shower date had passed. Only three of the items on my list were eligible and the total savings was something like $4 because all three things were very cheap. The purchases were covered by a gift card, but I didn’t find that tool to be super helpful. Many will tell you that getting that, coupled with Amazon Mom (free with Prime and adds a 5% bump to registry discount) is well worth it–but I didn’t find that to be the case. And you have a month to use your registry discount, so if you don’t have Prime and are considering it–you can hold out like I did to see if it would be worth investing in for the 15% off.

Of course these items don’t cover maternity needs–like any special care you may want to give yourself to add comfort to your situation, specialty bras or clothes. I did spend money on myself in that capacity–but I don’t consider those items purchases for the baby. And even in doing so, I was careful to watch sales and be smart about what was truly a necessity versus a want. For example, I bought one of those Snoogle pillows women rave about on Craigslist for $15 (it retails for $60-70 depending where you get it) and then bought a new cover on Amazon with credit card rewards points (the covers run around $30). So I saved $75 on the pillow all together. And even after doing so, I am still not convinced it was a need–though others will swear by it. I also kept my clothes shopping to a minimum–even though this is a definite need. I am not the kind of person who minds repeating outfits, in fact I prefer it, so it wasn’t an issue to rotate through the same dozen or so maternity shirts.

The one very obvious and very helpful tool that I haven’t used but you should if you are comfortable with–is borrowing from those who’ve had a baby before you. I know many people who got most of their kid’s wardrobe or gear that way. I am personally not a borrower, even though that probably is in violation of my frugal nature. I like the freedom of knowing I can destroy or lose something and not feel bad about it. Plus you can resell almost everything once you are done having children and that seems like a pretty good way to go.

Lastly, we have really great health insurance. I know this is a choice most people don’t get to control themselves–but I have to say, if you can find a good plan before you start having a family–it is worth it! My husband’s company completely covers labor and delivery so we have a $0 co-pay for the birth and hospital stay. We also get a free breast pump (I believe all carriers are supposed to offer this under the new health care laws), which can retail from $200-$300, if not more.

Obviously this lack of spending is about to change given that the baby will arrive in the next few weeks and new needs will be popping up (like diapering!). But in terms of preparing for the child in this exciting time, you can still be frugal and patient in your search. After all, you will probably be spending money on them for the rest of your life in one way or another–why start earlier than you have to? I highly recommend selling things to not only make room for baby, but to accumulate a nursery fund so you can avoid spending on that. You can also find just about any baby gear used on Craigslist if you keep checking back. And finally, don’t underestimate the generosity of others and the ways they want to provide for you in this time. Haven’t you been to a baby shower by now where you gifted the person of honor? It’s not something to feel bad about assuming you have or would do the same for a friend when her time comes. Imagine how much you could save by implementing a few easy exercises of self-discipline into your nesting expectations. Please share your tactics below!

 

Gift Giving For The Frugal

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It’s almost mid-December, so I’m sure we’re all knee deep in Christmas shopping, or if you’re anything like me–you might be done by now. Something that occurred to me in this season is that people may assume being frugal and being generous are mutually exclusive in terms of gift giving and I’m here to say that just isn’t the case! It’s all about planning and finding the right gift and the right deal at the right time. A helpful tactic I enjoy with one of my siblings and husband is telling one another what we’d like, sometimes even in November. That way you can track the thing and see if it goes on sale or at the very least have time to plan around the cost of it. And you can ensure that the giftee receives something she would like. It’s always a little tough to take a shot in the dark with gift giving. I know I really care whether or not the recipient would enjoy or get use out of the item I’m buying, so I try to be thoughtful about it. All too often I think people assume that something they would want must be what another would as well.

I tend to steer clear from homemade gifts–partially because I am not talented in any way that would contribute, but also because I don’t want to add to that person’s collection of useless items that may or may not be in her taste. I think it also adds the extra pressure of, “I can’t give this away because so and so made it by hand”. Your recipient shouldn’t feel stressed that she received something she now has to pull out every time you’re over to pretend like it’s in use. I’m sure the idea behind the thought is nice– you’re saving money and making an effort from the heart–but as a fellow frugalite, all I see is the saving money part and wonder if the person actually thought of me at all when making whatever the object is. Can you relate or do you think that’s off the mark? I’m sure there are plenty of talented folk who do just fine handing out mason jars of homemade cocoa and quilts (I wouldn’t mind the former). And to be fair, I’ve actually hired out help to make something creative before, but I’m talking an Etsy artist doing something very specifically geared toward the individual I was giving it to. It certainly didn’t save me any money–but I was very pleased with the personal end result. Maybe all you can afford to do is make gifts because it’s been a hard financial year. No judgment here, but for the purposes of this blog–I am writing to a financially stable audience who likes to save money even though they don’t have to.

Another tip–Black Friday is your friend! There is nothing wrong with this day other than the fact that in certain parts of the country–in certain stores–people go absolutely nuts. But I like to believe those guys are weirdos in general, so all the event is doing is unleashing that person’s flaws that normally show up in other ways. Not that this is good, but I don’t know if it’s really fair to write off a day in which awesome sales occur because you see people on the news losing their minds. That said, I wouldn’t go to Walmart. Anyhow, I’ve never had a stereotypical Black Friday experience in my three years of engaging in it. Last year I discovered that outlet malls were the place to go. Already marked down, sometimes high-end products for an even lower price? The stores are often 50% off the outlet prices and hand out coupons for 10-15% MORE at the door! There’s no better marriage of quality and frugal than that.

If bad parking and long lines for the bathroom still scare you off, Cyber Monday is also a wonderful alternative–and you can find some great deals on Amazon for the entire week. Most other retailers offer free shipping that whole weekend. What have you got to lose? This year Amazon did a discount code for books, which was helpful for one gift and I received daily emails (by choice) to be in the know of what the deal was each day. I’d say this is definitely your safest bet for successful Christmas shopping with little hassle. It’s not something to be scared of or dread. I also noticed this year that if I shopped with my Discover card that they were offering free gift wrapping on things I purchased from Amazon! I didn’t take this option, but it’s nice to know I could save whatever the cost of wrapping paper or paying for the service online would have been had I wanted it. There are a lot of great options out there that allow you to be generous, but cut corners and save money without looking like you did. Also, don’t forget how much goes on sale right before and right after the holiday itself. No better time to stock up on gift wrapping supplies, ornaments or stocking stuffers for next year. I still don’t have Amazon Prime, but managed to avoid all shipping costs by simply spending over the $35 minimum every time I placed an order. It all came within a few days anyway, presumably because of the higher number of purchases this month.

What are your clever tactics for the holiday gift giving season? Do you buy things on sale months in advance? Do you listen for clues at family gatherings? Spy on someone’s Amazon wishlist? I think Christmas registries would be so helpful, but I fear many people would think that goes too far. So for now–we have to be creative in the ways we give! Happy hunting and let us know what worked for you!