Monday, January 27, 2014

No Spend: Week Three In Review

Hi Everyone.  I'm here to tell you how the most-difficult-week-of-my-life went.  Ok, I'm being a little over dramatic but it was no walk in the park.  It seems the 3rd week of our "No Spend" challenge has proved once again to be the most challenging.

Let me you remind you once again what our "No Spend" challenge is all about:  After a month of holiday spending, my hubby and I are taking the month of January to get our finances back on track and have officially made January a "No Spend" month.  This means we gave ourselves a $200 budget for the ENTIRE month which includes all expenses (excluding gas for our vehicles and normal bills like our mortgage).

We started out the week by going to our favorite restaurant, Culver's.  We did pretty good here, for the three of us that ate, we managed to keep our bill at $10 with coupons.  We used a gift card to pay for night for us!  Woohoo.  All three of us also managed to get free custard with some vouchers we had saved from previous visits (although I'm still bitter I had to share mine with the baby, for as much as that kid can eat, I have no idea how he is only the 10th percentile).  Double score, free custard!  While we did really good this night, this trip seemed to open the gates to other spending.  Spending we weren't so good with: like the online stamp purchase at Papertrey Ink (yeah, weak willpower on their release night), a splurge trip to TJ Max that resulted in me walking out with alcohol artist markers (that were a good deal but I still should have skipped this deal), and another night out for dinner at McDonald's.

Ugh, it was a looooong week.  I chalk it up to the fact that I worked a lot of hours (you know, at my real full time job) and coupled with really crummy weather, weak willpower, and self talk that kept telling me, "I earned it", I just gave in.

There were some bright spots this week.  My oldest son (5) was invited to a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese and we managed to buy all the above for $25 as a gift for the birthday girl.  Count it, that's four canvases, 10 bottles of acrylic paint, and 10 paintbrushes.  Great deal, right?  The canvases were all half off. Even better, I used a gift card so nothing came out of our bank account.  I love this gift.  It is so hard to find nice gifts that are not over commercialized, I thought this was the perfect gift for a budding artista (and my son's future wife).

I made this card to go with the gift.  I love making cards that fit the theme of the gift, it makes for such a nice little touch.  It tells the recipient that you put some time and thought into the gift that you just gave to them.

I think our gift was a hit and it is hopefully coming in handy right now on these bitterly cold days (-40 degrees with the windchill, even for Wisconsin, that's cold).  

Well even though that week didn't turn out the way I had hoped, we are not giving up.  We're still sticking to our "No Spend" challenge.  With a 10 day stretch to go, I'm feeling pessimistic that we will make our goal, but hey, even if we don't, we're still walking away winners.  

Here is a summary of our spending this week:

$22.58   Papertrey Ink purchase
$7.37     Groceries (rice and frozen strawberries)
$.16       Lunch @ Noodles (free voucher)
$16.67  30 pack of artist alcohol blending markers (was $30 but I used a $15 gift card)
$10.56  groceries (apples, milk, and butter)
$10.68  Dinner at McDonald's
$68.02  Ouch!  

I'll be back later this week with a recipe that will not only save you a few bucks at the grocery store but will knock your socks off with how delicious it is:  Homemade Yogurt.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

PTI January 2014 Blog Hop

It's a blog hop day!  I love when the blog hop falls on a Saturday!  This month's challenge was a fun one.

See the full post and photo credit's here.

While my little one takes his morning nap, I quickly put a card together using new stamps and dies I bought this month from Papertrey Ink.

I was just itching to use those new feather dies and stamps I just got in the mail (after all they will be the reason I fail my "No Spend" challenge).   I die cut three different sized feathers and stamped them in three different shades of pink (all stampin' up ink pads:  blushing bride, rose red, melon mambo) and  I layered them on PTI's stone card stock (my favorite color, I use it ALL the time).  

I added some spray on glitter to the card stock (I found mine a Joann's).  This close up gets you a nice glimpse at the pretty shimmer.    

I also added some sequins.  I've been trying to glue these sequins on for months now and I just wasn't happy with the results.  I was starting to wonder why the little sequins are such a hot trend right now.......  then I had a light bulb moment today.......GLUE DOTS!  Duh!  Sometimes I'm a real dummy!  That took me an embarrassing long amount of time to figure out.  Now I get it.  These little babies are fun.

I love the final product, so pretty, so feminine, so soft, so cute!  I hope you enjoyed!  I can't wait to see what everyone else came up with this month.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Holiday Crafts

Here is a holiday tag I made for a co-worker.  I was going for simple and classic.  Although nothing seems super simple these days.  My little ones are keeping me busy.  Every year she gives her neighbors a jar full of her top secret alcoholic frozen drink (it has Bailey's in it, that's all I know).  I know this is a little past the holiday season but you could easily make this  into a nice little Valentine's day gift!  

She wanted to pay me for these but this mamma needed a little alcohol so I said, "You know, I'll give these to you for free if you mix me up a batch of your top secret holiday drink for me".  DONE and DONE.

Let me tell you, that drink is amazing!  I might give up my first born for it...I would DEFINITELY give up the dog for it.  

 What a great bargain for both of us.  She got pretty tags and I got yummy alcohol. 

Speaking of alcohol, here my hubby and I are attending our favorite event of the year, our neighbors' holiday party.  Don't tell my hubby this but he just keeps getting cuter and cuter every year. 

Products:  Dies and stamps are from Papertrey Ink. Paper is from PTI and Stampin' Up. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

No Spend Week 2 Review

Well I thought I would tell you all how the second week of our no spend challenge went.  After a month of holiday spending, my hubby and I are taking the month of January to get our finances back on track and have officially made January a "No Spend" month.  This means we gave ourselves a $200 budget for the ENTIRE month which includes all expenses (excluding gas for our vehicles and normal bills like our mortgage).

I got to say, this second week was not as easy as the first week!  Nope.  Not as easy. We saw lots of spending challenges this week, the biggest one being that I was the matron of honor in a wedding last Saturday.  Weddings are killers on budgets!

Everyone knows how crazy expensive weddings are for the bride and groom, but if you have ever had the honor to stand up in a wedding, you know just how quickly the expenses add up for the wedding party as well (especially the females).  There is the dress, the shoes, hair, make-up, jewelry, purse, rehearsal dinner, the bridal shower, the bachelorette party, and of course, the actual wedding gift.  For females this can quickly add up to $500 or more.  You think I'm joking?  Let's break this down:

$100-$150- Average Dress
$25- Alterations to dress
$40- Shoes
$80- Hair (after tip!)
$30- Make up
$30- Nails
$50- Accessories like jewelry, purse, nylons, etc
$50- bridal shower gift
$50- bachelorette party
$50-$100 on the actual gift

These costs don't even factor in things like a babysitter for the day, new outfits for any of the events you go to, possible the over night stay in a hotel if the wedding is away from your home.  I think you get the point, these expenses add up fast!

Now this isn't to say it isn't all worth it!  It certainly is.  The three weddings I have been privileged enough to stand up in were worth every penny!  Yes, EVERY PENNY.

Our Wedding in Key West, Florida.  November 6, 2004.
I am also extremely grateful for the group that showed up to our wedding, I know it wasn't cheap for them to all fly to the Conch Republic to hang out with us! Each and every person in this above photo made our trip extra special.  THANK YOU!  I walked away with memories that will last me a lifetime!  I hope they all can say the same thing too!  This photo is so cute, everyone looks so young (especially my hubby).  Geeze, now I have a permanent smile on my face for the rest of the day.    LOVE IT.

Me in my wedding "accessories"
Anyway, back to the topic here.  The point I am trying to make is this: weddings can be a budget buster.  If you accept that special honor of standing up in someone's wedding, go into it with a plan because the event can quickly derail your budget.   I did just that this month.  In order for this "No Spend" month to work, I needed a plan.  I couldn't tell my bestie, "sorry hon, no present for you, we're not spending money this month".  We predetermined that everything that was "required" in the wedding (such as the dress) or things that were a "group activity" (like hair) were considered an expense and treated like a bill (i.e. don't count against the budget for "No Spend"), however, any items that I did on my own "just because" counted.  This helped keep the expenses down.  To be frank, most of my spending for this wedding happened in previous months anyway (like the dress, shoes, purse, and shower/bachelorette gift) so there wasn't that much that counted anyway, but you'll see it did put a pretty big dent in our $200 spending goal.

Just to be transparent (because otherwise I feel like it is cheating), here are few additional items we bought but we are counting as an expense because they were "required" or were considered a "group activity" purchase for the wedding:

$85 wedding gift
$20 nylons, yes, I should have bought cheaper ones, I bought thick ones thinking I would get more than one use out of them, but these still got a run in them, lesson learned!
$80 hair
$25 drinks at dinner and reception (between my hubby and I, we only bought 5 drinks total between two locations but it would have been weird to sip water all night)...this one might be a bit of a cheat. I kind of feel it should go up above....but hey, this is my game so we follow my rules :)

If you are in a wedding, here are some ideas or ways to cut costs:

Do your own make-up and/or hair or have a friend do it

At my sister's wedding this summer, I had my make-up done.  It cost roughly $30.  This time around for my friend P's wedding, I did it myself.  FOR FREE.  Nothing beats free.  When I stood up in my friend Ron's wedding, the bride fixed my hair (she is a hairdresser).  Yes, the bride fixed my hair the day of her wedding.

Use what you already have whenever you can

This is hard.  Everyone wants new purses, shoes, shawls, etc.  Sometimes the bride has special colors and you have to buy new items but if you already own it, USE IT.  Using what you already own is FREE. P gave us jewelry as a gift, BUDGET SAVER!  I used nail polish that P gave to me as a gift several months earlier (and painted them myself for FREE).

If you have to buy something, buy something you will use again

For P's wedding, I had to wear nude colored shoes.  I bought shoes that I would wear again after the event (and yes, I have already worn them again!).  I bought a dress (actually two, long story) that I can wear again. For my sister's wedding I bought a clutch that I will use again.

Buy thoughtful gifts, not expensive ones

Etsy is my best friend for weddings.  Nice prints are always a great way to go.  Some of my favorite wedding items can be found here, here, and here.  I always buy gifts that fit the style of the wedding or the couple (or hopefully both).  In other words, if they love birds, buy something with birds on it.  If they are going somewhere tropically, buy something with a palm tree on it.  Be carefully, it is easy to get cheesy here instead of thoughtful!

Here I am at my sister's wedding. July 2013

For my sister's wedding, the party bought a group gift.  So my hubby and I also gave her and her groom something non-monetary.  My hubby said he would help with the remodel of their house for a weekend.  I said I would run a 5K with my sister, ugh, I'm still regretting working on that promise.

Now let me give you the run down on our spending for the week:

$.50  Parking meter (at the mall to buy those required nylons)
$23   Eyebrow waxing + tip (yeah, not a group activity for the wedding) but it HAD to get done :)
$15  Coffee, tea, and danishes for the bride and wedding party the morning of the event (I used a gift card to reduce costs, total was $22)
$33.79 groceries for the week (this had nothing to do with the wedding)

Yikes!  A little over that goal of $50 for the week but not too bad considering we had a major event mixed in there.  Luckily we were under budget during the first week.

Well, we are half way through our "No Spending" month.  We have officially spent $101.05 of our $200 budget.  That's not too bad. I'll be back in a couple days with a summary of our 3rd week (The hardest week for me the first time we did this challenge about a year ago).  Come back to see if it is my hardest week this time around as well.

See you soon!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

No Spend Week One Review

Well, we're deep into week two of no spending here in the Stark household.  I thought I'd give you all a little update on how we're doing.  Let me remind you of what our goals are for the month.

After a month of holiday spending, my hubby and I are taking January to get our finances back on track and have officially made January a "No Spend" month.  This means we gave ourselves a $200 budget for the ENTIRE month which includes all expenses (excluding gas for our vehicles and normal bills like our mortgage).  In order to achieve this goal, we're practicing a little self control when it comes to buying things we NEED and/or items we WANT.

Cheap (but delicious) Stew
I found during this first week that sometimes what we WANT is masked as a NEED.  Let me give you a little example.  I ran out of coffee creamer at work this week and I found myself saying that I NEEDED to get to the grocery store to buy another.  However,  in my refrigerator at home,   I had two half bottles.  My focus on my finances made me pause and realize I didn't run out of coffee creamer,  I ran out of my FAVORITE FLAVOR of coffee creamer.  I was masking a WANT with a NEED.  You see what I mean?

Let me give you another example.  I found myself doing it again later in the week with shampoo.  I thought I would have to run out and by more shampoo, however, I have a whole container full of sample shampoos that I've been saving for months and even years.  What am I saving them for?  I tell myself to use them when we go on vacation or camping but I had at least 12 sample bottles and at the rate we go on vacations, that would take me about 15 years to use.  Now these samples are not my favorite brand of shampoo, which is why they have been laying around as long as they have, however they are perfectly fine shampoo.  So, I spent 15 minutes squeezing all those tiny jar samples into my big bottle.  I didn't really NEED more shampoo.

You see how this is working?  These excess products are all over our houses, they are all over mine.  They take up space, they cost money, and their not being utilized.  This was the second biggest reason we wanted to complete a "No Spend" challenge.  We wanted to reduce and in most cases get rid of the products by using them and we're doing just that.  Not only do you save money by not going out and buying more "stuff" but you start to de-clutter your surroundings.  It is truly a win-win situation.

I'm sure you're all wondering how we're doing, right?  Some of you might be secretly hoping we crash and burn at this little challenge, that's fine, I'm a little evil like that too.  Some of you are playing along, that's great!  I hope you are feeling a little uncomfortable but your wallet is feeling a bit fatter!

 We're actually doing really great.  Now I'm not a fool and I know (because I've done this once before) that the first week is the easiest but I'm still really happy with our week.

The boys on New Year's Day
For the first three days we didn't spend a penny.  Not one little penny!  We didn't eat out, we didn't go grocery shopping, We ate lasagna for left overs, made BBQ chicken from the freezer, used up vegetables we had remaining from our CSA.  It was good, not great, but good.  We survived.

On day 4, I spend $.99 on an electronic file of lips and mustaches (for a wedding game I was in charge of, more to come next week) and I spent $3.16 on shipping for a brag book I created.  There was a free offer for a brag book from Walgreens with free shipping, I could pass up that offer so I spent a couple hours creating my book.  By the time the book was created, the free shipping coupon disappeared but I decided to buy the book anyway.  I decided by two hours of time was worth $3.16.
On day 5, my oldest son and I went to visit my grandfather who fell ill and was in the hospital, because of poor planning on my part, we ate lunch at the hospital.  That cost us $4.30.  After the hospital, my son and I went to Wal-mart and returned some duplicate Christmas presents that we received.  With that in-store credit we bought two household essentials:  milk and cat food (we were completely out of both and couldn't delay that purchase any longer).  The net amount we spent was $1.51 (after the store credit).  THANK YOU SANTA.

Day 6 was spend free.

$18.80 in groceries, only the necessities
On Day 7, my son and I (his school was closed due to extreme cold) headed back to the hospital to visit my grandfather again, this time with a packed brown bag lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  Are you proud of me?  I learned from my mistake a couple days earlier and gave myself 10 minutes to pack a lunch for us.  Usually I would have used this visit as an excuse to eat on the road, but not today.  On the way home we stopped at the grocery store and picked up some food we needed for school and work lunches.  

So here is the total for the first 7 days:

$.99      Digital file
$3.16    Shipping on a brag book
$4.30    Lunch for J and I
$1.51    Milk and cat food
$18.80  Groceries
$28.76  TOTAL

Well under our $50 for the week, good thing because I have a feeling that I'll need that cushion later in the month!  If you're playing along, share how it's going.  Here is a great blog to read for more inspiration on being FRUGAL.

In my next post I'll probably share with you my biggest hording area and the area that costs my family the most amount of money.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

New Year. No Spend.

Well the holidays are over and a new year has begun.  That means the holiday bills are about to become due!  If you're feeling like you did a little too much "ho ho ho'ing" this holiday season like I am feeling, join me this month as my family attempts another "No Spend" month.

Some of our holiday spending
 The concept is simple.  The goal is to try to spend as little money as possible for the entire month.  Oh, but how fun would it be if the goal was to spend AS MUCH MONEY AS POSSIBLE.  Maybe someday when I fall into a billion dollars.  To start a "No Spend" Challenge is simple:  Set your goal amount, any amount you want really and try to stick with it as hard as it might be.  You exclude bills (if this isn't obviously) that are regularly and currently due.  I'm not 100 percent positive but I'm going to guess that my sons' day care centers would not appreciate me skipping payment for an entire month just because I'm in some "challenge" to not spend....or my mortgage company....or the insurance agent, you get the picture.

The goal is to reduce the day to day spending we all do.  You know, the little things that add up really fast like:  groceries, eating out, a nice yummy FourBucks (aka Starbucks) mocha, a Target run where I only go for one item but come home with at least twelve....I'm sure many of you can relate.  That's the spending that hurts the budget.  That's the spending we are trying to eliminate as much as possible for this month (well any month really). 

Us eating on the cheap back in 2012
 We haven't attempted a No Spend month since October 2012 so it is time once again to try to significantly reduce our spending for an entire month.  With all our holiday spending barely behind us, but the bills yet to come due, I thought the timing couldn't be better and I'm betting a lot of you are feeling the same way.  The goal last time was to only spend $250 for the entire month.  I ended up spending $418 ($254 once gas was excluded).  While we didn't meet our goal to only spend $250, we reaped the benefits to our bank account the following month anyway. This time around, we're aiming for $200 for the entire month (excluding gas).  Yep, I am a glutton for punishment.

That means my budget is $50 a week (I find it easier to focus on a week as a time but you do it your own way).  Now, $50 is less than I usually spend in groceries alone in a week's time so this isn't going to be easy.  There are lots of ways to cut back.  I'll go through some of my tips and tricks and how we get through the weeks (if we do!) in my upcoming posts.

I invite you all to join me and share with me your successes, challenges, and failures along the way.  I'll be doing the same. Tips from you on saving money are especially invited as you play along!  Trust me, even if you don't make your ultimate goal, any amount of cut back really helps the bank account and gets your financial picture back in order after a season of spending giving.  

If you need some inspiration, you can read about my previous No Spend Challenge here:

Week 1: Getting Starting & sharing a cheap recipe, oh, this was fun to read, I announced my pregnancy in one of these posts
Week 2: No Spend Challenges, we announced we were having a baby boy! 
Week 3:  I shared a cheap recipe with you all.
Week 4:  Wrap Up.  Successes, Challenges, Failures. 

Talk to you all real soon!  Now stay in and do something free for a change.  That's what we'll be doing!