Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Friendsgiving 2017

I've always loved Thanksgiving. I know it is based on a myth of pilgrims and Native Americans coming together to share a meal after the indigenous people saved the refugees from dying of starvation. Still, despite the myth, the thought of sharing our bounty with family and friends is a sentiment I love. We start our day with some of us, or all of us, participating in a turkey day run, proceeds go to charity. In recent years, I’ve not signed myself up for the formal walk, but have been there with additional donations, cheering on my daughter and the other racers. Pup has a field day as it is a very dog friendly event. Recent years have raised over $100,000 for our local family service and food shelf. What better way to show appreciation (and get a little healthy activity) than raising money for  your neighbors that need it before joining your own loved ones for a hearty meal. Amazing.

My birthday is Thanksgiving week as is a good friends. I seem to get the luxury of meetups for coffee and lunch, and great conversations, in part due to the extra-long weekend holiday. The quietness of the office for those that are working make it a relaxing environments and folks linger a bit longer over a cup of tea or sharing lunch at a communal table. The young crowd seem to honor and appreciate the spirit of Thanksgiving as much as I do, having shared meals together, despite their geography. DS usually texts me with a question about some dish he plans to bring to whatever friends is hosting food and football. DD2 is getting in on the act and meeting up with friends for a meal Wednesday afternoon, dubbed Friendsgiving. Even DD1 and friends from countries far and wide joined in a not totally authentic Thanksgiving when she was a student in London in 2013. She is on route though, spending the holiday with us this year, as I type this post. 

Schools all over America are playing Turkey bingo on whatever day is the last one before the break. From Kindergarten to seniors in high school, the cry of Bingo and kids gobbling down the halls has been a silly tradition that I used to think was just in my community. 

I have some shopping to do tonight for my dishes I bring along. I’ll bring in some muffins or pumpkin bread to the office tomorrow, and get a meet up for lunch with a former coworker. I really love working with my current colleagues but so thankful that I’ve kept my friendships from my old place. I really wish my friends from nation far and wide could join me in the US some year. Thanksgiving is not just  stuffing our face, but in the right mind, a time to truly appreciate all I have.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Five Frugal Things and a Few Blips

Heading into this last week, at least in my family, before Christmas season is in full swing, I thought I should take stock of my recent spending habits. Most of the time, I make decent spending decisions. I also have a few blips-not errors, just a bit more spending than perhaps was planned. Such is life, and I try not to stress too much, balancing spending and saving. 

Five Frugal Wins
  • Last week I spent $31 on vouchers for four separate large Papa Murphy Pizzas and two 8 piece chicken dinners. Even if I had purchased these items with store coupons, the pre-purchased vouchers make the take-out's less than 1/2 price. The pizza vouchers never expire, and the chicken dinners are good for 60 days from November 11th. Both sets of vouchers will come in handy in busy December and early January. Yes, it's money spent on take out, but I know we would have take-out on hectic days so I do see this as a spending win.  
  • I was in pretty desperate need of a few sweaters for skirts and dress pants. I pitched a few well worn ones at the end of last winter. I found two very basic sweaters at the Salvation Army store, one a soft grey v-neck form the Gap, and the other a thicker knit light blue chunky turtle neck. Added to the timeless fisherman cable sweater I bought on clearance back in April and  tucked away, I will be toasty warm for the grand sum of $14 for all three. 
  •  In doing some more organizing, a skirt and pair of pants I like resurfaced in my closet. The zipper was wonky on the pants and the skirt needed a hem job. I am not a sewer, but for a couple dollars, I improvised with some Velcro for the pants and hem magic for the skirt.The skirt looks just fine, and the pants, well, worn with the chunky sweater above, no one will be the wiser. 
  • Decided to pass, even though I really wanted to splurge, on Minnesota Orchestra tickets for a film and live orchestra concert of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. It is the same week as DD2's orchestra concert, and same weekend as her choir Christmas concert, plus holiday party for show choir. We're meeting up with friends after the concert, plus it's the last weekend before Christmas, chance for any last  preparations. As much as we would have enjoyed it, I think trying to cram one more thing into an already packed two weeks would have taken away from the experience. 
  • After winging it last week a bit too much, I meal planned-really meal planned on Sunday, including using up lingering food into new meals. I bought only what I needed at the grocery store.
Budget Blips
  • We hadn't planned on a pricey night out last Saturday, but my sister and husband had two extra tickets to a Kansas concert in downtown Minneapolis. In appreciation, we paid for dinner before hand and drinks at the venue. Still less than the two tickets, but we spent  $126.
  • Some confusion with Show Choir payments, and I over paid for this year. It would be a nightmare getting it straightened out, so it will just stay in her account until next year. We also will have some more fundraising money. I had hoped to have a decreased final payment, but this isn't money lost as it will just be applied  to next year instead of her last payment. 
  • Friday night I stopped at the new Hyvee for groceries for dinner. I hadn't really checked it out much and thought to give it a look. It is a very beautiful store, with lots of treats and extras. It's also large, very busy, and I was overwhelmed trying to find what I needed for dinner. I ended up spending probably 30% more on basic cheese, lettuce, guacamole, beans, and salsa had I just swung into Aldi's.  I think I've cured my case of FOMO for now.  
Money spending ebbs and flows. I'm doing OK with my Christmas gift giving budget so far. I need to stop tonight or tomorrow after work and pic up a hoodie at Kohl's, using my $30 Kohls' cash, for my nephew. They have Under Armour, Nike, and Adidas on sale roughly in that range. I'm holding out ordering a skateboard ramp for another nephew, our Godson until December 1st, the last day of an on-line coupon for both a discount and free shipping. There is only a 30 day guarantee return policy, so I want to make sure he uses the ramp and it is not defective within the time limit. That will give me a 5 day cushion. Where are you having spending successes? Any blips to share?

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Meal Planning-Saving Room for the Turkey Edtion

Last week DH bought a roasted chicken-I need to do something about that today so am making soup for supper, plus lunches tomorrow. DD2 was begging for a curry for when she came home, but we had concert tickets and dinner plans with my sister and brother-in-law, so she was left with a microwave fettuccine, fruit, and popcorn. She has another full day ahead of her for show choir so I will make the curry as well. That's two days of meals, plus leftovers for lunches. I'm trying to keep my fridge and pantry minimal so I have room for the various items I need for two family gatherings, a meal then later evening snacks and desert leftover pickings for those still hungry, Plus, need room for the start of jam, jelly, chutney, cookie and candy making for Christmas. DD2 and I have a list of things we may try.

We typically go to my husbands cousin on his dad's side-only family his dad had, for dinner, then stop at my sisters after 5:00 for round two. I'm bringing sweet potatoes and squash, plus a couple pies for  12:00 dinner. DD1 is just going to my sisters as she hasn't seen anyone in my family since last Christmas and did see the cousins this summer at the family wedding. I'm sending a cold veggie and spinach dip tray with her, and she is making a salad of some sort, ensuring her vegetarian palate has ample treats. I'm doubtful anyone will nibble on the veggies and dip until later for the leftover and snack round, but by 6:00 people start getting a little hungry again. 

I hit the grocery store and carefully shopped to fill around what we have on hand until next weekend. Not the thriftiest way of shopping, but organization is more important to me this week, and in the end, I should have less food waste. I'll need to stop on Tuesday or Wednesday morning for pie, veggies, sweet potatoes, and dip items, but here's the sort of plan:

Sunday:Vegetable curry and rice and Homemade chicken noodle soup with dollar bun sliders (I have leftover pork ribs to shred for sandwiches) 
Monday: Leftovers
Tuesday: Cheese or Squash ravioli
Wednesday: Vegetarian chili and corn bread
Friday: Turkey meatloaf (pretend it's ground beef) oven fries, green bean hot dish
Saturday: Not sure. It is my birthday, so maybe will meet up for happy hour drinks and appetizers and call it dinner. Maybe we might pick up a Papa Murphy's pizza. The girls probably will have plans with friends if DD2 is still in town. Might switch up Friday and Saturday. Who knows? It's the long weekend and I'm pretty flexible. 

For my American friends, what's up with your holiday week? Anyone else getting a jump start on baking and Christmas prep next weekend?

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Rain Drop Funds

Many money bloggers use the word snowflakes to call the little bits of money they save or accumulate on the side in order to put towards debt. I've not read much directly from financial planner Dave Ramsey, but my understanding is snowflakes are part of the bigger savings plan to pay off debt, by snowballing efforts on either the largest debt, or the largest interest debt. After living very tight financially in our early years of marriage, when we finally started to have more favorable means, we didn't rush out and spend to our new income levels, thus not accruing unaffordable consumer debt. More than a decade ago we decided to throw a chunk of personal savings and a bit of money DH received after his grandmother passed away and payed off our mortgage.

We have a 0% interest loan on my car, which could be paid off at any time should we want as there is enough in a side savings we set up when we finished paying off a different car. We just kept making payments to ourselves, and continued to do so even after buying the new car two years later. We used that fund to buy a car for DD2 to use, straight cash, after DH came across a brand new small car that through his layering perks and discounts, was able to get for about the same cost as an equivalent five year old car. DH has a lease car through work. Others may disagree with our car budget, but for us, with me commuting 300 miles a week on both freeway, and isolated roads, the peace of mind is worth it. Plus having cars available for our kids to use when they launch out of college is a gift we can afford to give them as one less worry when they started completely on their own. While the older kids did not have new cars to use, both got years out of the cars we passed on until they became unaffordable to drive, saving needed cash flow at the time.

So this is a long back drop story to why we don't really have the need to put snowflake savings towards snowballing debt. We have been extremely fortunate, some through just luck of being in families that elders had put away a bit of money. We've been fortunate to mostly have good jobs, with a few blips in the road with unemployment. In hindsight, those blips probably helped ground us to not spend to our supposed means. This is why for the extras in life, I like to have other pots of money, rain drops for rainy days, that we can tap into without derailing  savings that is intended for retirement and college. The car account is one of those. Continuing to pay ourselves was one way, even after buying the new car, that our cash flow stayed the same with increased earnings, but also did the set aside bank account.

I've been much more deliberate about using credit card and store perks and gift cards, particularly when there are bonus dollars attached, the same as cash, using them towards items or activities I would have spent money on anyway. As of today, I have $215 in gift cards and store perks. These will help in December when we have extra people in the house and to put towards remaining Christmas gifts.

$30 in Kohl's cash 
$25 Kohl's gift card from Mother's Day as for new sheets for cabin, but I ended up getting them elsewhere)(
$15 Target cards
$50 Bar and Grill from last year
$25 balance on movie card from last year
$20 on two different Caribou Coffee cards
$25 Green Mill card from ages ago for coaching
$25 McDonald card that I can't even remember what it was for

I've also started to count and measure the little extra earnings in this way. I've earned $50 reffing volleyball a few nights, and am committed to four more before the end of the year, so another $120 in rain drop money. Well, it covers a few beers out with the girls at least. I helped at a couple fundraisers for choir that will put $50 in DD2's account, which means it won't come out of our bank account. It's not a lot, but every bit helps in not feeling too stretched at the end of the year. I'm a newbie to this snowflake and rain drop game. If others have had great success, let me hear about it. If you blog about your efforts, feel free to include your blog link. No one knows when a little rain in life will fall.